Saturday, April 19, 2014


An Enduring and Harmless Pleasure

Anatole France (1844-1924), The Garden of Epicurus, tr. Alfred Allinson (London: John Lane, 1920), pp. 109-110:
The love of books is really a commendable taste. Bibliophiles are often made fun of, and perhaps, after all, they do lend themselves to raillery. But we should rather envy them, I think, for having successfully filled their lives with an enduring and harmless pleasure. Detractors think to confound them by declaring they never read their books. But one of them had his answer pat: "And you, do you eat off your old china?" What more innocent hobby can a man pursue than sorting away books in a press? True, it is very like the game the children play at when they build sand castles on the seashore. They are mighty busy, but nothing comes of it; whatever they build will be thrown down in a very short time. No doubt it is the same with collections of books and pictures. But it is only the vicissitudes of existence and the shortness of human life that must be blamed. The tide sweeps away the sand castles, the auctioneer disperses the hoarded treasures. And yet, what better can we do than build sand castles at ten years old, and form collections at sixty? Nothing will remain in any case of all our work, and the love of old books is not more foolish than any other love.
The French, from Le Jardin d'Épicure, 9th ed. (Paris: Calmann Lévy, 1895), pp. 124-126 (some misprints corrected):
Le goût des livres est vraiment un goût louable. On a raillé les bibliophiles, et peut-être, après tout, prêtent-ils à la raillerie; c'est le cas de tous les amoureux. Mais il faudrait plutôt les envier puisqu'ils ont ornés leur vie d'une longue et paisible volupté. On croit les confondre en disant qu'ils ne lisent point leurs livres. Mais l'un d'eux a répondu sans embarras: «Et vous, mangez-vous dans votre vieille faïence?» Que peut-on faire de plus honnête que de mettre des livres dans une armoire? Cela rappelle beaucoup, à la vérité, la tâche que se donnent les enfants, quand ils font des tas de sable au bord de la mer. Ils travaillent en vain, et tout ce qu'ils élèvent sera bientôt renversé. Sans doute, il en est ainsi des collections de livres et de tableaux. Mais il n'en faut accuser que les vicissitudes de l'existence et la brièveté de la vie. La mer emporte les tas de sable, le commissaire-priseur disperse les collections. Et pourtant on n'a rien de mieux à faire que des tas de sable à dix ans et des collections à soixante. Rien ne restera de tout ce que nous élevons, et l'amour des bibelots n'est pas plus vain que tous les autres amours.

José Gutiérrez Solana, El Bibliófilo



Anatole France (1844-1924), The Aspirations of Jean Servien, tr. Alfred Allinson (London: John Lane, 1912), p. 79 (chapter XI; ellipsis in original):
"You are all the same. You work and sweat and wear yourselves out to make your sons bachelors of arts, and you think the day after the examination the fine fellows will be posted Ambassadors. For God's sake! no more graduates, if you please! We can't tell what to do with 'em....Graduates indeed! Why, they block the road; they are cabdrivers, they distribute handbills in the streets."
The French, from Les Désirs de Jean Servien (Paris: Alphonse Lemerre, 1882), pp. 79-80:
«Vous êtes tous les mêmes. Vous travaillez, vous suez, vous vous épuisez pour faire de vos fils des bacheliers et vous croyez que le lendemain de l'examen ces gaillards-là seront nommés ambassadeurs. Pour Dieu! ne nous donnez plus de bacheliers. Nous ne savons qu'en faire...Les bacheliers! ils encombrent le pavé; ils sont cochers de fiacre, ils distribuent des prospectus dans les rues.»

Friday, April 18, 2014


Breakfast and Supper

Anatole France (1844-1924), The Aspirations of Jean Servien, tr. Alfred Allinson (London: John Lane, 1912), p. 18 (chapter III):
"Here is your son, is it not so? He is like you"—and laying his hand on Jean's head, who clung to his father's coat-tails in wonder at the red waistcoat and the sing-song voice, he asked if the child learned his lessons well, if he was growing up to be a clever man, if he would not soon be beginning Latin.

"That noble language," he added, "whose inimitable monuments have often made me forget my misfortunes.

"Yes, sir, I have often breakfasted on a page of Tacitus and supped on a satire of Juvenal."
The French, from Les Désirs de Jean Servien (Paris: Alphonse Lemerre, 1882), pp. 12-13:
«Voici votre fils, n'est-il pas vrai? Il vous ressemble.»

Et posant la main sur la tête de Jean, qui, pendu à la veste de son père, s'étonnait de ce gilet rouge et de ce parler chantant, il demanda si l'enfant apprenait bien ses leçons, s'il devenait un savant, s'il n'étudierait pas bientôt la langue latine.

—«Cette noble langue, ajouta-t-il, dont les monuments inimitables m'ont fait si souvent oublier mes infortunes.

«Oui, monsieur, j'ai souvent déjeuné d'une page de Tacite et soupé d'une satire de Juvénal.»


The Cost of Freedom

Martial 2.53 (tr. Walter C.A. Ker):
Do you wish to become free? You lie, Maximus; you don't wish. But if you do wish, in this way you can become so. You will be free, Maximus, if you refuse to dine abroad, if Veii's grape quells your thirst, if you can laugh at the gold-inlaid dishes of the wretched Cinna, if you can content yourself with a toga such as mine, if your plebeian amours are handfasted at the price of twopence, if you can endure to stoop as you enter your dwelling. If this is your strength of mind, if such its power over itself, you can live more free than a Parthian king.
A verse translation (by Henry Killigrew?), in Select Epigrams of Martial Englished (London: Printed by Edward Jones, for Samuel Lowndes, 1689), p. 40:
Thou but feign'st, Maximus, thou'dst not be Free:
Or if thou wouldst, by these means thou may'st be.
Thou shalt be Free; if thou at Home can'st Dine;
If thou canst quench thy Thirst with common Wine;
If Rich Men thou can'st Miserable deem,
And such a thread-bare Coat, as mine, esteem;
If in a cheap and vulgar Form delight,
A Room, in which thou scarce can'st stand upright.
If thy Desires, to this Lure, thou can'st bring,
Thou may'st live Freer than the Parthian King.
Another verse translation, by A.E. Street:
You would be free? Nay, Maximus, you lie,
But, if't be true, herein lies liberty;
If you refuse henceforth abroad to dine;
And quench your thirst with little Tuscan wine,
If abject Cinna's plate move your contempt,
If you will go, like me, threadbare, unkempt,
Buy humble amours with a thrifty hand,
Live in a cot where you must stoop to stand;
If you are strong, and will these things to be,
No Parthian king will e'er have been so free.
The Latin:
Vis liber fieri? mentiris, Maxime, non vis:
    sed fieri si vis, hac ratione potes.
liber eris, cenare foris si, Maxime, nolis,
    Veientana tuam si domat uva sitim,
si ridere potes miseri chrysendeta Cinnae,        5
    contentus nostra si potes esse toga,
si plebeia Venus gemino tibi iungitur asse,
    si tua non rectus tecta subire potes.
haec tibi si vis est, si mentis tanta potestas,
    liberior Partho vivere rege potes.        10

7 iungitur Heinsius: vincitur codd.


Mageiros and Magic?

Michael Pollan, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation (New York: Penguin, 2013), p. 5:
Most of us have happy memories of watching our mothers in the kitchen, performing feats that sometimes looked very much like sorcery and typically resulted in something tasty to eat. In ancient Greece, the word for "cook," "butcher," and "priest" was the same—mageiros—and the word shares an etymological root with "magic." I would watch, rapt, when my mother conjured her most magical dishes, like the tightly wrapped packages of fried chicken Kiev that, when cut open with a sharp knife, liberated a pool of melted butter and an aromatic gust of herbs. But watching an everyday pan of eggs get scrambled was nearly as riveting a spectacle, as the slimy yellow goop suddenly leapt into the form of savory gold nuggets. Even the most ordinary dish follows a satisfying arc of transformation, magically becoming more than the sum of its ordinary parts.
Does mageiros really share an etymological root with magic?

According to Hans Dohm, Mageiros: Die Rolle des Kochs in der griechisch-römischen Komödie (Munich: C.H. Beck, 1964), pp. 72-74, Greek μάγειρος (mágeiros = cook) is related to μάχαιρα (máchaira = knife). Dohm gives credit for this etymology to Vittore Pisani, "Una parola greca di probabile origine macedone: μάγειρος," Revue internationale des études balkaniques 1 (1934) 255-259 (non vidi).

But cf. Pierre Chantraine, Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque, III (Paris: Klincksieck, 1974), s.v. μάγειρος, p. 656, who concludes, "Pas d'étymologie établie." Chantraine is also agnostic about μάχαιρα (p. 673): "Mais il n'y a pas d'étymologie: le rapprochement avec μάχομαι n'est pas plausible." Robert Beekes, Etymological Dictionary of Greek, 2 vols. (Leiden: Brill, 2009), is unavailable to me (Brill advertises it as "A must-have research tool that should be on every classicist's desk"—it costs only $575).

On the theory of an etymological connection between μάγειρος and μάγος, see Rüdiger Schmitt, "'Méconnaissance' altiranischen Sprachgutes im Griechischen," Glotta 49 (1971) 95-110 (at 107):
Durch nichts begründet ist Hemmerdingers anschließende lapidare Feststellung: „Sur μάγος sont formés des mots qui ont trait à la boucherie ou la cuisine (μαγειρεῖον, etc.).“
The quotation comes from Bertrand Hemmerdinger, "158 noms communs grecs d'origine iranienne, d'Eschyle au grec moderne," Byzantinoslavica 30 (1969) 18-41 (at 19), which I haven't seen. Other than Hemmerdinger, whose theory Schmitt calls unfounded, I'm not aware of any scholar who connects mageiros with magic.

Hat tip: Jim K.

Thanks very much to Aurelian Isaïcq for transcriptions of Beekes, s.v. μάγειρος:
The word looks non-IE, because of the alternations ει/ī and (if μάχαιρα belongs here) γ/χ. Is it Pre-Greek, deriving from *mak-ary-? Aeol. μάγοιρος, mentioned by LSJ s.v., is only attested in Greg. Cor., which is not a trustworthy source.
and s.v. μάχαιρα:
I compare μάγειρος 'cook', and on account of the interchange γ/χ conclude that it is a Pre-Greek word.


Thursday, April 17, 2014


Ovid in Pontus

C.H. Sisson (1914-2003), "Ovid in Pontus," Collected Poems (Manchester: Carcanet, 1998), p. 158:
I am an old man whose death is foreseen,
Bystanders admire my longevity.
I see them eat every word I mean,
Yes, and excrete pity.
Di maris et coeli, what if the air
Is empty enough to receive prayer?
Do I have to pray? Because Pontic cold
Is under my cloak now I am old?
It is under my skin, fashionable tears.
A suitable place to die, or to make amends;
Failure makes enemies as success friends.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.


A Liking for Savages

John Stuart Blackie (1809-1895), Altavona: Fact and Fiction from My Life in the Highlands (Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1882), pp. 207-208:
FL.—Nevertheless, I must confess, my sympathies in such cases instinctively go with the conquered. If I look forth with wonder on the adventurous admirals of Agricola, drawing with the keels, so to speak, of their long ships a boundary line which should make the limits of the Roman empire to the West identical with the limits of the then known world, my heart is at the same time stirred in sisterly pity towards the blue barbarians, painted with woad—the Epidians, Selgovians, and Novantes, destined to receive civilisation, not without the "delinimenta vitiorum," which, as Tacitus says, the corrupt Romans of those days always brought with them. Generally, I must confess that I have a liking for savages; they may be rude and sometimes cruel, but they are at least natural.

CH.—It is this contrast, no doubt, between the artificial vices of an over-refined civilisation and the natural virtues of unsophisticated semi-savages, which furnishes the key-note to the admirable little tract, De moribus Germanorum, with which every schoolboy is familiar. At the same time, I apprehend it is distance at bottom that, in the case of cerulean savages, as of blue mountains, lends enchantment to the view. Catch a dragon-fly, and your close inspection will annihilate all its play of colour. Live with a savage with stone hatchets and bone necklaces for a week or a day, and you will straightway begin to sigh for saloons and sofas, and silver forks at dinner.

MAC.—Yes, sentimental worshippers of pure nature, and aesthetical worshippers of the middle ages, are capable of any kind of self-deceit. They live in an atmosphere of elegant lies, and the stuff which they find in some moonshiny novel to feed their weak digestion, is as far removed from healthy nature as the phosphorescence of putrid herring in the dark is from the light of day.


Pan and Priapus

Statue of Pan in the Museo Arqueológico Nacional (Madrid):

Statue of Priapus in the same museum:

Thanks to a friend for sending me these photographs.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Beware of the Atmosphere of the Classics

John Stuart Blackie (1809-1895), Altavona: Fact and Fiction from My Life in the Highlands (Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1882), pp. 321-322:
As to what you say about the gloomy aspect and sour Pharisaism of the trans-Grampian religion, it is certainly true, but true at the same time to a considerable extent of Scotland generally. The religion of the so-called Evangelical clergy in the Lowlands is strongly tinged, if not with gloom, certainly with a tone of habitual antagonism to all innocent enjoyment and playful recreation. With these men playing at cards is a deadly sin, and dancing a sort of quick march to hell. For a minister of the gospel to talk on any other subject than God, and hell, and eternity, is to slide into worldly conversation. Living persons should, if possible, always be talking about death. If you read the biographies of some of their most popular spokesmen, you will find that their religious life commences with a profound conviction that the world lies under a curse, that all men are naturally hell-deserving sinners, and that original sin, or moral contamination inherited from our primal progenitor, so far from being a palliation, as it logically must be, is rather to be viewed as an exaggeration of the guilt of any actual sins that a man may commit. In a world so abandoned of God, the only thing a wise man can do is to keep at a distance from it, to look upon all natural pleasures as sinful, and to devote the mind altogether to emotional preparation for a future and higher life, of which the present is only the thorny entrance. Such a religion, like Oriental Buddhism, is in fact a renunciation of humanity and a declaration of war against all temporal and visible enjoyments. It is a temper the very reverse of that which was praised and practised by Socrates and the other wise Greeks. To them religion was rather the art of enjoying the present life according to reason. Hence the notable antipathy which our so-called Evangelical religionists feel to all classical culture. M'Cheyne of Dundee wrote to one of his early friends to "beware of the atmosphere of the classics; it is pernicious, and must be known only as chemists know poisons."1

1 Memoirs of R. Murray M'Cheyne (Edinburgh, 1875), pp. 22, 29, 39, and 54.


The Greatest Period of My Life

Stendhal (1783-1842), The Life of Henry Brulard, tr. John Sturrock (New York: New York Review Books, 2002), p. 99:
Judge of the effect of Don Quijote in the midst of such awful joylessness! The discovery of that book, read beneath the second lime-tree in the walk beside the sunken parterre where the ground was a foot lower, and where I used to sit, is perhaps the greatest period of my life.

Qu'on juge de l'effet de Don Quichotte au milieu d'une si horrible tristesse! La découverte de ce livre, lu sous le second tilleul de l'allée du côté du parterre dont le terrain s'enfonçait d'un pied, et là je m'asseyais, est peut-être la plus grande époque de ma vie.


Textual Criticism as a Branch of Medicine

Cardinal Bessarion, letter to Lorenzo Valla (1453), tr. Brendan Cook:
We have always counted Quintilian as among the foremost authors of the Latin language. Your statement did not merely confirm this opinion of ours, but actually strengthened it so that we now think him second to none in the art of rhetoric. We have recently had the book transcribed, and for beauty of decoration it surpasses other books as the sun outshines the other stars. But in truth this same book, like nearly all of them, is riddled with error. It is surely a great shame that a man of such noble countenance, so ruddy and flushed with blood, whose whole body has a natural beauty and regal dignity, should also be so feeble of frame and frail of limb. We have accordingly decided to have the book attended to with the greatest possible care, so that it may be worthy of its beauty. We do not lack the doctors to achieve this, but the instruments to effect the cure.

In the name of your humanity and our mutual affection, we therefore ask you to send us those instruments, that is to say your Quintilian, the only correct copy on earth. He will remain with us as our guest until our copy makes a full recovery. Afterward he will be returned to you at once safe and sound, feeling that he has earned no small glory from his journey by having restored such a man from illness to good health. For our part, we shall forever remain in your debt, along with our Quintilian.
The Latin:
Fabium Quintilianum unum ex praecipuis Latinae linguae auctoribus semper putavimus; quam opinionem nostram sententia tua non solum confirmavit, verum etiam ita auxit, ut neminem iam huic in arte rhetorica preponendum existimemus. Fecimus proximis diebus eum librum transcribi, tantum inter ceteros libros pulchritudine ac decore praestantem, quantum sol ceteris sideribus lucidior est. Verum idem, ut alii fere omnes, mendosus est; indigna sane res, ut homo facie tam liberalii, multo sanguine, multo rubore suffusa, cui ingenua totius corporis pulchritudo et regius quidam decor inest, adeo imbecillis viribus, adeo nervis infirmus sit. Quare nos quidem statuimus quam maxima fieri poterit diligentia eum librum curari, quo talis sit qualem pulchritudo eius meretur. Ad hoc vero non medici nobis desunt, sed instrumenta ad medendum.

Petimus igitur abs te per humanitatem tuam, per mutuum amorem nostrum, ea instrumenta, idest Quintilianum tuum, qui solus in orbe terrarum correctus est, ad nos mittas. Tamdiu hospitabitur nobiscum quoad noster recte convaluerit. Postea ad te statim integer revertetur; nec parvam sibi laudem ex hac peregrinatione adeptum putabit, qui talem virum ex valetudinario bene valere fecerit. Nos vero una eum Quintiliano nostro tibi perpetuo devincti erimus.
Cf. the use of the words mendosus, sanus, etc., when discussing the soundness of texts. Here is another example, from the prolegomena of Tischendorf's Evangelium Palatinum Ineditum (Leipzig: F.A. Brockhaus, 1847), p. ix:
Ex quo tempore operam dedi ut graecum Novi Testamenti textum ad eam revocarem integritatem quae ex summae vetustatis monumentis diligenter excussis hauriri posset, intellexi, insigne ejus rei subsidium in antiquis interpretationibus latinis positum esse. Ut autem non potest qui ipse aegrotat alii medicus esse: ita nec ad corrigenda graeca tuto adhibueris latina, nisi haec ipsa satis sana esse cognoveris.
And who can forget Housman describing the diagnostic acumen of Bentley?
Lucida tela diei: these are the words that come into one's mind when one has halted at some stubborn perplexity of reading or interpretation, has witnessed Scaliger and Gronouius and Huetius fumble at it one after another, and then turns to Bentley and sees Bentley strike his finger on the place and say thou ailest here, and here.
M. Manilii Astronomicon Liber Primus, ed. A.E. Housman (London: Grant Richards, 1903), p. xvi.

Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014



John Stuart Blackie (1809-1895), Altavona: Fact and Fiction from My Life in the Highlands (Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1882), p. 300:
A genuine Highlander is apt to feel towards English, as your Oxonian does to Latin; however well he knows it, it is not his mother tongue. A man may learn many languages, but he can have only one mother tongue.
This started me thinking about the phrase "mother tongue" and its equivalents, which I don't remember seeing in ancient Greek or Latin. Apparently it first appeared in the 12th century. There's a good article on the subject by Einar Haugen (1906-1994), "The 'mother tongue'," in Robert L. Cooper and Bernard Spolsky, edd., The Influence of Language on Culture and Thought: Essays in Honor of Joshua A. Fishman's Sixty-Fifth Birthday (Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 1991), pp. 75-84 (some pages not visible through Google Books).


Guiding Principles

Ernst Robert Curtius (1886-1956), at the beginning of his European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, tr. Willard E. Trask (1953; rpt. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973), set forth ten "Guiding Principles," in the form of untranslated quotations from five European languages. I could find existing translations of only the first three principles, so I tried to translate the others myself. Thanks very much to friends who patiently answered questions and made suggestions—any remaining errors and infelicities are my own fault. I've also added a few notes. Curtius put the citations after the quotations; I put them before.

1. Herodotus, I, ch. 8:

πάλαι δὲ τὰ καλὰ ἀνθρώποισι ἐξεύρηται, ἐκ τῶν μανθάνειν δεῖ.

Translated by A.D. Godley:

Men have long ago made wise rules from which one ought to learn.

2. Polybius, XV, 4.11:

πατέρων εὖ κείμενα ἔργα.

Translated by Ian Scott-Kilvert:

The noble traditions of our fathers.

It's a bit difficult to understand this phrase, by itself, as a guiding principle. In the original Greek, the words are the object of the verb διαφυλάξαι (to guard, preserve, uphold). "To preserve the noble traditions of our fathers" would be an appropriate principle.

3. Petronius, ch. 118:

... neque concipere aut edere partum mens potest nisi ingenti flumine litterarum inundata

Translated by Michael Heseltine:

... the mind cannot conceive or bring forth its fruit unless it is steeped in the vast flood of literature

4. Proverb:

Ne tu aliis faciendam trade, factam si quam rem cupis.

If you want something done, don't give it to others to be done.

This proverb isn't in Hans Walther, Proverbia Sententiaeque Latinitatis Medii Aevi (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1963-1969), or Renzo Tosi, Dictionnaire des sentences latines et grecques, tr. Rebecca Lenoir (Grenoble: Jérôme Millon, 2010). W.M. Lindsay quotes it as an old proverb (proverbii veteris) in the Latin preface to his edition of Isidore's Etymologiae (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1911), p. vi.

5. Les Narbonnais:

Guillames dist a ceus qui o lui erent:
"Seignor," fet il, "les bones uevres perent;
Fesom aussi con cil qui bien ovrerent."

William spoke to those who were with him:
"Gentlemen," he said, "good deeds perish;
Let us, too, act with those who do good deeds."

See Hermann Sucher, ed., Les Narbonnais: Chanson de Geste (Paris: Librairie de Firmin Didot et Cie, 1898), p. 26, who prints these lines (numbered 611-613) as follows:

Guillames dist a ceux qui o lui erent:
"Segnor," fet il, "les bones hoevres perent.
Fessom ausi con cil qui bien ovrerent!"

6. Goethe, Flüchtige Übersicht über die Kunst in Deutschland (1801):

Vielleicht überzeugt man sich bald, dass es keine patriotische Kunst und patriotische Wissenschaft gebe. Beide gehören, wie alles Gute, der ganzen Welt an und können nur durch allgemeine freie Wechselwirkung aller zugleich Lebenden, in steter Rücksicht auf das, was uns vom Vergangenen übrig und bekannt ist, gefordert werden.

Perhaps people will soon be convinced that there is no patriotic art, no patriotic science. Both belong, like all good things, to the entire world and can be furthered only by free and universal cooperation among all now living, with constant reference to what has been handed down and is familiar to us from past generations.

7. Jacob Burckhardt, Werke, XIV, 57 8:

Auch die Zeiten des Verfalls und Untergangs haben ihr heiliges Recht auf unser Mitgefühl.

Even times of decay and destruction have their sacred right to our sympathy.

8. Gustav Gröber, Grundriss der romanischen Philologie, I (1888), 3:

Absichtslose Wahrnehmung, unscheinbare Anfänge gehen dem zielbewussten Suchen, dem allseitigen Erfassen des Gegenstandes voraus. Im sprungweisen Durchmessen des Raumes hascht dann der Suchende nach dem Ziel. Mit einem Schema unfertiger Ansichten über ähnliche Gegenstände scheint er das Ganze erfassen zu konnen, ehe Natur und Teile gekannt sind. Der vorschnellen Meinung folgt die Einsicht des Irrtums, nur langsam der Entschluss, dem Gegenstand in kleinen und kleinsten Schritten nahe zu kommen, Teil und Teilchen zu beschauen und nicht zu ruhen, bis die Überzeugung gewonnen ist, dass sie nur so und nicht anders aufgefasst werden dürfen.

Unintentional observation and unremarkable beginnings precede the purposeful search, the comprehension of the object in all its aspects. Crossing the area in fits and starts the researcher strives to attain his goal. With a pattern of incomplete views of similar objects, he seems able to grasp the whole before its character and parts are known. Rash opinion follows the insight gained through error, and only slowly does one resolve to approach the object in small and even smaller steps, to examine it part and parcel, and not to rest until convinced that things should be understood in just this way and not otherwise.

9. Antoine Meillet, Esquisse d'une histoire de la langue latine (1928):

On aurait souhaité de n'être pas technique. À l'essai, il est apparu que, si l'on voulait épargner au lecteur les détails précis, il ne restait que des généralités vagues, et que toute démonstration manquait.

One would have liked not to be technical. But in the attempt, it seemed that, if one wanted to spare the reader specific details, there remained only vague generalities, and all proof was lacking.

10. José Ortega y Gasset, Obras (1932), 963:

Un libro de ciencia tiene que ser de ciencia; pero también tiene que ser un libro.

A scientific book must be scientific; but it also must be a book.

Monday, April 14, 2014


High Priests of Learning

John Stuart Blackie (1809-1895), Altavona: Fact and Fiction from My Life in the Highlands (Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1882), p. 47:
FL.—The best thing that could be done for you Germans were to keep you from the sight of a book for at least two months in the year. You pore over old papers, peeping through the fumes of tobacco, till you positively unlearn the natural use of your eyes. How is it that in a company of half-a-dozen Germans three are sure to have spectacles on their noses?

B.—I do not know; but, if we did damage our eyes by too much poring over books, it is no small compensation to think that we have produced such men as Niebuhr and Mommsen, Wolf, Hermann, Boeckh, and Bopp.

FL.—In these names verily you have your reward. You are the high priests of learning, not for yourselves only, but for the whole world.
One German scholar supposedly became blind from poring over old papers, viz. Wilhelm Studemund (1843-1889), who prefixed Catullus' words "Ni te plus oculis meis amarem!" ("Did I not love thee more than my eyes!") to his transcription of the Ambrosian palimpsest of Plautus—T. Macci Plauti Fabularum Reliquiae Ambrosianae: Codicis Rescripti Ambrosiani Apographum (Berlin: Weidmann, 1889). However, Benjamin W. Fortson IV casts doubt on the story in his Language and Rhythm in Plautus: Synchronic and Diachronic Studies (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2008), p. 11, n. 27:
Contrary to popular wisdom, it is not physiologically possible to go blind in this fashion; more likely, Studemund suffered from macular degeneration.


Saint Socrates

John Stuart Blackie (1809-1895), Altavona: Fact and Fiction from My Life in the Highlands (Edinburgh: David Douglas, 1882), p. 24:
CH.—νὴ τὸν κύνα

MAC.—Did not I tell you that a clergyman, a predestinated Dean, and a probable Bishop of the Anglo-Catholic Church of Christ in Great Britain, should not swear?

CH.—You are quite right; it was a bad habit we learned at College—I mean swearing in Greek; we thought there was no harm in that; besides, the man who uses that asseveration, which you call swearing, was a Saint.



MAC.—(Singing to the tune of the Litany of the Virgin—Sancta virgo virginum—that used to be sung by the Roman people at vespers in the street corners.)
O Sancte Socrates, ora pro nobis,
σοφῶν σοφώτατε, ora pro nobis,
λογίων λογιώτατε, ora pro nobis,
λαλῶν λαλίστατε, ora pro nobis,
σιμῶν σιμώτατε, ora pro nobis!
My translation of the song:
O Saint Socrates, pray for us,
Wisest of the wise, pray for us,
Most learned of the learned, pray for us,
Most talkative of the talkative, pray for us,
Most snub-nosed of the snub-nosed, pray for us!
The oath (νὴ τὸν κύνα) means "by the dog."

Related post: The Company of Saints.


The Ninth Age

Juvenal 13.23-30 (tr. Susanna Morton Braund):
What day is so auspicious that it doesn't produce cases of theft, betrayal, and fraud, profit gained by every kind of crime, and money acquired by the blade or poison box? Good people are rare. Count them: they are hardly as many as the gates of Thebes or the mouths of the rich Nile. We are living in the ninth age, an era worse than the age of iron. Nature herself can find no name for its wickedness and has no metal to label it.

quae tam fausta dies, ut cesset prodere furtum,
perfidiam, fraudes atque omni ex crimine lucrum
quaesitum et partos gladio vel pyxide nummos?
rari quippe boni: numera, vix sunt totidem quot
Thebarum portae vel divitis ostia Nili.
nona aetas agitur peioraque saecula ferri
temporibus, quorum sceleri non invenit ipsa
nomen et a nullo posuit natura metallo.

23 fausta Markland, festa codd. | furtum Nisbet, furem codd.
See M.J. McGann, "Juvenal's Ninth Age (13, 28ff.)," Hermes 96 (1968) 509-514.

Sunday, April 13, 2014


A Laughingstock

Pliny the Elder, Natural History 22.7.15 (tr. W.H.S. Jones):
Moreover, most people actually laugh at me for carrying on research in these matters, and I am accused of busying myself with trifles.

immo vero plerisque ultro etiam inrisui sumus ista commentantes atque frivoli operis arguimur.
Related post: Orchideenfach.



Erasmus, letter 125 Allen, tr. Francis Morgan Nichols, The Epistles of Erasmus, Vol. I (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1901), pp. 240-241:
You want to know what I am doing. I devote myself to my friends, with whom I enjoy the most delightful intercourse. With them I shut myself in some corner, where I avoid the gaping crowd, and either speak to them in sweet whispers or listen to their gentle voices, talking with them as with myself. Can anything be more convenient than this? They never hide their own secrets, while they keep sacred whatever is entrusted to them. They speak when bidden, and when not bidden they hold their tongue. They talk of what you wish, as much as you wish and as long as you wish; do not flatter, feign nothing, keep back nothing, freely tell you of your faults, and take no man's character away. What they say is either amusing or wholesome. In prosperity they moderate, in affliction they console, do not vary with fortune, follow you in all dangers, and last out to the very grave. Nothing can be more candid than their relations with one another. I visit them from time to time, now choosing one companion and now another with perfect impartiality.

With these humble friends I bury myself in seclusion. What wealth or what scepters would I take in exchange for this tranquil life? If there is any obscurity in our metaphor, all that I have said about friends is to be understood of books, whose familiarity makes me a happy man, unlucky only in this, that I do not enjoy this felicity with you. Although there is no need to do so, I shall not cease to exhort you to cling with all your heart to noble studies. Do not admire anything that is vulgar or commonplace, but strive always to read what is highest.
The Latin, from P.S. Allen, Opus Epistolarum Des. Erasmi Roterodami, Vol. I (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1906), pp. 288-289:
Quid rerum faciam rogas? Amicis operam do, horum consuetudine gratissima memet oblecto. 'Quos tu tandem amicos mihi iactitas,' inquis, 'homuncio leuissime? An quisquam te visum aut auditum velit?' Equidem non diffiteor fortunatorum amicos esse plurimos; at nec pauperibus desunt amici, et quidem istis non paulo tum certiores tum commodiores. Cum his me concludo in angulum aliquem, et turbam ventosam fugiens aut cum illis dulcia quaedam mussito, aut eos aliquid insusurrantes audio, cum his non secus ас mecum loquor. An quicquam his commodius? Arcana ipsi sua celant nunquam, commissa summa cum fide continent: nihil foris quae liberius inter familiares effundere solemus, renunciant: vocati praesto sunt, inuocati non ingerunt sese: iussi loquuntur, iniussi tacent: loquuntur quae voles, quantum voles, quoad voles: nihil assentantur, fingunt nihil, nihil dissimulant: vitia tua tibi libere indicant, nemini obtrectant: aut iucunda dicunt, aut salutaria: secundis in rebus moderantur, consolantur in afflictis, cum fortuna minime variantur: in omnia pericula te sequuntur, ad extremos usque rogos perdurant: nihil ipsis inter se candidius. Committo subinde, nunc hos, nunc illos mihi asciscens, omnibus aequus.

Cum his amiculis, optime N., sepultus delitesco. Quas ego tandem opes aut quae sceptra cum hac desidia commutauero? Verum ne nostra te fallat metaphora, quicquid de amiculis hactenus sum locutus, de libris dictum intelligas, quorum familiaritas me plane beatum effecit, hoc solo infortunatum quod non tecum mihi haec felicitas contigerit. Te, quanquam nihil opus, hortari non desinam vt toto animo praeclara studia complectaris, ne quid plebeium, ne quid mediocre mireris; ad summa semper enitere.

Thomas Wijck (1616–1677), A Scholar in His Study



From an email:
Years ago, I read a wonderful anecdote describing a book collector or learned person from, probably, the Renaissance era. In the anecdote, the collector is described as having one bookcase filled with Sophocles, Euripides, Aristophanes, among others. At the top of this bookcase was engraved the word "Amo."

He also had a second bookcase, containing only Aeschylus. This bookcase was labeled "Timeo."

It always seemed like I read the story in Victor Hugo's book on Shakespeare, but I recently thumbed through my copy and I think now that is wrong.

Does this story ring any bells, by any chance? I'd enjoy figuring out where I came across it!
I'm not familiar with this story. Perhaps some reader of this blog can help.

Ian Jackson gets the prize. He identified the source as Victor Hugo, William Shakespeare (London: Hurst and Blackett, 1864), p. 101 (Book IV, Chapter I):
A man whom we do not know how to class in his own century, so little does he belong to it, being at the same time so much behind it and so much in advance of it, the Marquis de Mirabeau, that queer customer as a philanthropist, but a very rare thinker after all, had a library, in the two corners of which he had had carved a dog and a she-goat, in remembrance of Socrates, who swore by the dog, and of Zeno, who swore by the goat. His library presented this peculiarity: on one side he had Hesiod, Sophocles, Euripides, Plato, Herodotus, Thucydides, Pindar, Theocritus, Anacreon, Theophrastus, Demosthenes, Plutarch, Cicero, Titus Livius, Seneca, Persius, Lucan, Terence, Horace, Ovid, Propertius, Tibullus, Virgil, and underneath could be read, engraved in letters of gold, "AMO;" on the other side, he had Aeschylus alone, and underneath, this word—"TIMEO."


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