Thursday, July 31, 2014
The Tomb of Flavius Agricola
My home was Tibur; Flavius Agricola I was called. I am the one you can see lying there, just as I used to lie at dinner, carefully looking after myself for all the years Fate allowed me. And I never spared the wine. My darling wife, Flavia Primitiva, died before me, chaste and attentive worshipper of Isis, with whom I spent thirty years of happiness. For consolation, she left me her body's fruit — Aurelius Primitivus, who will tend my grave with piety and will preserve for ever my resting-place. Friends, who read this, heed what I say: mix the wine, bind the garland round your brow, drink far from here. And do not withhold the pleasures of love with beautiful women. When death comes, everything will be consumed by earth and fire.The Latin:
Tibur mihi patria, Agricola sum vocitatus,The inscription is now lost, but the statue is in the Indianapolis Museum of Art, inventory number 1972.148:
Flavius idem, ego sum discumbens ut me videtis.
Sic et aput superos annis, quibus fata dedere,
animulam colui nec defuit umqua(m) Lyaeus.
Praecessitque prior Primitiva gratissima coniuncxs, 5
Flavia et ipsa, cultrix deae Phariaes casta
sedulaque et forma decore repleta
cum qua ter denos dulcissimos egerim annos.
Solaciumque sui generis Aurelium Primitivum
tradidit, qui pietate sua coleret fastigia nostra, 10
hospitiumque mihi secura servavit in aevum.
Amici, qui legitis, moneo miscete Lyaeum
et potate procul redimiti tempora flore
et venereos coitus formosis ne denegate puellis:
cetera post obitum terra consumit et ignis. 15
Katherine M.D. Dunbabin, The Roman Banquet: Images of Conviviality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 103-104 (endnotes, on pp. 229-230, omitted):
A statue now in Indianapolis shows a bearded man reclining on a couch, his upper torso bare; in his left hand he holds a drinking cup, his right is raised to the wreath on his head (Fig. 54). The figure acted as a funerary monument, with an opening at the foot of the couch for the urn that held the ashes of the deceased. The identification of the same ﬁgure in a drawing in the collection of Cassiano dal Pozzo now in Windsor Castle revealed its history; it was discovered in Rome in 1626, in excavations beneath St. Peter's, in what we now call the Vatican Necropolis, when the foundations were being laid for Bernini's baldacchino. For those who were hoping to ﬁnd the tomb of St. Peter, our man was a grave disappointment; even more shocking, however, was the inscription originally written on the base of the couch. The dead man, who gives his name as Flavius Agricola from Tibur, speaks in indifferent hexameters: 'I am reclining here, as you see me, just as I did among the living in the years which fate gave me, I nurtured my little soul and wine was never in short supply.' He goes on to speak of his wife of 30 happy years. Flavia Primitiva, who has died ﬁrst, of her pious worship of the goddess Isis and of her beauty, and then apparently of the support of his stepson Aurelius Primitivus. Then he continues (l.12): 'Friends who read this, I advise you, mix up the wine and drink far away, binding your brows with ﬂowers, and do not spurn the pleasures of Venery with beautiful girls; all the rest after death the earth consumes and ﬁre'. This was too much for the Vatican; the Pope, Urban VIII, ordered the inscription first to be plastered over, then the whole base to be destroyed, and threatened with 'the most rigorous excommunication and the most horrible threats' whoever divulged the verses. The statue, minus base, ended up decorating the garden of the Pope's nephew, Cardinal Francesco Barberini, whose attitude toward these matters was very different from that of his papal uncle.I guess I have incurred excommunication by divulging the verses.
Wednesday, July 30, 2014
The Fog of War
By this time the Athenians were getting into a state of so great confusion and perplexity that it has not been easy to learn from either side just how the several events occurred. In the daytime things are clearer, of course, yet even so those who are present do not know everything that happens, but each man barely knows what happens near himself; but in a battle by night—the only one that took place in this war between large armies—how could anyone know anything clearly?
καὶ ἐνταῦθα ἤδη ἐν πολλῇ ταραχῇ καὶ ἀπορίᾳ ἐγίγνοντο οἱ Ἀθηναῖοι, ἣν οὐδὲ πυθέσθαι ῥᾴδιον ἦν οὐδ' ἀφ' ἑτέρων ὅτῳ τρόπῳ ἕκαστα ξυνηνέχθη. ἐν μὲν γὰρ ἡμέρᾳ σαφέστερα μέν, ὅμως δὲ οὐδὲ ταῦτα οἱ παραγενόμενοι πάντα πλὴν τὸ καθ' ἑαυτὸν ἕκαστος μόλις οἶδεν· ἐν δὲ νυκτομαχίᾳ, ἣ μόνη δὴ στρατοπέδων μεγάλων ἔν γε τῷδε τῷ πολέμῳ ἐγένετο, πῶς ἄν τις σαφῶς τι ᾔδει;
A Happy versus a Discontented Disposition
It is very true; a happy disposition finds materials of enjoyment everywhere. In the city, or the country—in society, or in solitude—in the theatre, or the forest—in the hum of the multitude, or in the silence of the mountains, are alike materials of reflection and elements of pleasure. It is one mode of pleasure to listen to the music of 'Don Giovanni,' in a theatre glittering with light, and crowded with elegance and beauty: it is another to glide at sunset over the bosom of a lonely lake, where no sound disturbs the silence but the motion of the boat through the waters. A happy disposition derives pleasure from both, a discontented temper from neither, but is always busy in detecting deficiencies, and feeding dissatisfaction with comparisons. The one gathers all the flowers, the other all the nettles, in its path. The one has the faculty of enjoying everything, the other of enjoying nothing. The one realises all the pleasure of the present good; the other converts it into pain, by pining after something better, which is only better because it is not present, and which, if it were present, would not be enjoyed. These morbid spirits are in life what professed critics are in literature; they see nothing but faults, because they are predetermined to shut their eyes to beauties. The critic does his utmost to blight genius in its infancy; that which rises in spite of him he will not see; and then he complains of the decline of literature. In like manner, these cankers of society complain of human nature and society, when they have wilfully debarred themselves from all the good they contain, and done their utmost to blight their own happiness and that of all around them. Misanthropy is sometimes the product of disappointed benevolence; but it is more frequently the offspring of overweening and mortified vanity, quarrelling with the world for not being better treated than it deserves.
484-485 (pp. 302-303; Philoctetes to Neoptolemus):
νεῦσον, πρὸς αὐτοῦ Ζηνὸς ἱκεσίου, τέκνον,Many times in the play Philoctetes addresses Neoptolemus with the vocative τέκνον (son), as an older man to a younger. The two characters are not father and son, of course. In most of these passages, Lloyd-Jones translates the form of address, but not here, and also not at 1397-1399 (pp. 398-399):
Consent! In the name of Zeus the god of suppliants himself, be persuaded!
ἔα με πάσχειν ταῦθ᾽ ἅπερ παθεῖν με δεῖ·At lines 484 and 1399, τέκνον is not translated.
ἃ δ᾽ ᾔνεσάς μοι δεξιᾶς ἐμῆς θιγών,
πέμπειν πρὸς οἴκους, ταῦτά μοι πρᾶξον, τέκνον.
Allow me to suffer what it is my fate to suffer! But do for me what you swore, clasping my right hand, that you would do: escort me home!
755-756 (pp. 328-329):
ΝΕΟΠΤΟΛΕΜΟΣHere Lloyd-Jones doesn't translate ἀλλ᾽ οἴκτιρέ με at the end of line 756: "But pity me."
δεινόν γε τοὐπίσαγμα τοῦ νοσήματος.
δεινὸν γὰρ οὐδὲ ῥητόν· ἀλλ᾽ οἴκτιρέ με.
The burden of the sickness is grievous.
Grievous, indeed, and indescribable!
1213-1217 (pp. 376-377; Philoctetes speaking):
ὦ πόλις πόλις πατρία,In line 1216 the Greeks are ἐχθροῖς (hated), but the adjective is not translated. Jebb translates "the Danai, mine enemies."
πῶς ἂν εἰσίδοιμ᾽
ἄθλιός σ᾽ ἀνήρ,
ὅς γε σὰν λιπὼν ἱερὰν
λιβάδ᾽ ἐχθροῖς ἔβαν Δαναοῖς
ἀρωγός· ἔτ᾽ οὐδέν εἰμι.
O my city, O my native city, if only I could see you, wretched man that I am, I who left your sacred stream and went to help the Greeks! I am nothing any more!
Tuesday, July 29, 2014
The History of Mankind
The history of mankind is little else than a narrative of designs which have failed, and hopes that have been disappointed. In all matters of emulation and contest, the success of one implies the defeat of another, and at least half the transaction terminates in misery. And in designs not directly contrary to the interest of another, and therefore not opposed either by artifice or violence, it frequently happens, that by negligence or mistake, or unseasonable officiousness, a very hopeful project is brought to nothing.
Getting Through the Day
But I must say, modern books are very consolatory and congenial to my feelings. There is, as it were, a delightful north-east wind, an intellectual blight breathing through them; a delicious misanthropy and discontent, that demonstrates the nullity of virtue and energy, and puts me in good humour with myself and my sofa.Id., chapter VII:
I contrive to get through my day by sinking the morning in bed, and killing the evening in company; dressing and dining in the intermediate space, and stopping the chinks and crevices of the few vacant moments that remain with a little easy reading.
One Good Thing in the World
Disappointed both in love and in friendship, and looking upon human learning as vanity, he had come to a conclusion that there was but one good thing in the world, videlicet, a good dinner...
Monday, July 28, 2014
Of One Mind
By the union of minds which the Apostle recommends, it must be supposed that he means not speculative, but practical union; not similitude of opinions, but similitude of virtues. In religious opinions, if there was then any disagreement, they had then living authority, to which they might have recourse; and their business was probably, at that time, more to defend their common faith against the heathen, than to debate any subtilties of opinion among themselves. But there are innumerable questions, in which vanity or interest engages mankind, which have little connection with their eternal interest; and yet often inflame the passions, and produce dislike and malevolence. Sects in philosophy, and factions in the state, easily excite mutual contempt, or mutual hatred. He whose opinions are censured, feels the reputation of his understanding injured; he, whose party is opposed, finds his influence resisted, and perhaps his power, or his profit, in danger of diminution. It could not be the intention of St. Peter, that all men should think alike, either of the operations of nature, or the transactions of the state; but that those who thought differently, should live in peace; that contradiction should not exasperate the disputants, or that the heat should end with the controversy, and that the opposition of party (for such there must sometimes be) should not canker the private thoughts, or raise personal hatred or insidious enmity.Id., pp. 125-126:
That a precept of courtesy is by no means unworthy of the gravity and dignity of an apostolical mandate, may be gathered from the pernicious effects which all must have observed to have arisen from harsh strictness and sour virtue: such as refuses to mingle in harmless gaiety, or give countenance to innocent amusements, or which transacts the petty business of the day with a gloomy ferociousness that clouds existence. Goodness of this character is more formidable than lovely; it may drive away vice from its presence, but will never persuade it to stay to be amended; it may teach, it may remonstrate, but the hearer will seek for more mild instruction. To those, therefore, by whose conversation the heathens were to be drawn away from errour and wickedness; it is the Apostle's precept, that they be courteous, that they accommodate themselves, as far as innocence allows, to the will of others; that they should practise all the established modes of civility, seize all occasions of cultivating kindness, and live with the rest of the world in an amicable reciprocation of cursory civility, that Christianity might not be accused of making men less chearful as companions, less sociable as neighbours, or less useful as friends.
NEOPTOLEMUSLiddell-Scott-Jones, s.v. πυρεῖον:
I see an empty dwelling with no man there.
And are there none of the things that make a home in there?
Yes, a bed of leaves pressed down, as though for someone who camps there.
But is the rest bare, and is there nothing there beneath the roof?
Yes, a cup made from a single piece of wood, the work of a poor craftsman, and with it stones for making a fire.
The treasures that you are describing must be his.
ὁρῶ κενὴν οἴκησιν ἀνθρώπων δίχα.
οὐδ᾽ ἔνδον οἰκοποιός ἐστί τις τροφή;
στιπτή γε φυλλὰς ὡς ἐναυλίζοντί τῳ.
τὰ δ᾽ ἄλλ᾽ ἔρημα, κοὐδέν ἐσθ᾽ ὑπόστεγον;
αὐτόξυλόν γ᾽ ἔκπωμα, φλαυρουργοῦ τινος 35
τεχνήματ᾽ ἀνδρός, καὶ πυρεῖ᾽ ὁμοῦ τάδε.
κείνου τὸ θησαύρισμα σημαίνεις τόδε.
firesticks, h.Merc. 111, S.Ph. 36, Thphr.HP5.3.4, D.S.5.67, etc.; τάχ' ἂν ..τρίβοντες, ὥσπερ ἐκ πυρείων, ἐκλάμψαι ποιήσαιμεν τὴν δικαιοσύνην Pl.R.435a; πυρεῖά τε χερσὶν ἐνώμων Theoc.22.33; ἀμφὶ πυρήϊα δινεύεσκον A.R.1.1184; πυρεῖα συντρίψαντες Luc.VH1.32; the stationary piece was called ἐσχάρα, the drill τρύπανον, Thphr.Ign.64.But we know from the same play (lines 295-297) that Philoctetes used stones, not firesticks, to start a fire:
[A]nd then there would be no fire! But by rubbing one stone painfully against another I made the hidden spark flash out, the thing that has always been my preservation.The definition of πυρεῖον in Liddell-Scott-Jones as "firesticks" is probably too restrictive, therefore. Jebb's "means of kindling a fire" (in his commentary on Philoctetes, line 36) would be a better definition.
εἶτα πῦρ ἂν οὐ παρῆν,
ἀλλ᾽ ἐν πέτροισι πέτρον ἐκτρίβων μόλις
ἔφην᾽ ἄφαντον φῶς, ὃ καὶ σῴζει μ᾽ ἀεί.
On various ancient fire-starting techniques see R.J. Forbes, Studies in Ancient Technology, Vol. VI (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1966) pp. 1-13, with notes on pp. 89-92.
Sunday, July 27, 2014
Ah sweet content, where is thy mylde abode?Related post: Sweet Content (by Brian Fairfax).
Is it with shepheardes and light-harted swaynes?
Which sing vpon the downes and pype abroade
Tending their flockes and cattell on the playnes?
Ah sweet content, where doest thou safely rest?
In heauen, with Angels which the prayses sing
Of him that made and rules at his behest
The mindes, and harts of euery liuing thing?
Ah sweet content, where doth thine harbour hold,
Is it in Churches, with Religious men,
Which please the goddes with prayers manifold,
And in their studies meditate it then.
Whether thou doest in heauen, or earth appeare,
Be where thou wilt, thou wilt not harbour here.
Saturday, July 26, 2014
Learning Greek and Latin, or Not
I see, sir, you yet think Greek and Latin are excellent things, are worth the sacrifice of all else. Well, then, on this ground let us meet you. Your boy will go to Eton to learn Greek and Latin; he will stay there eight years (having previously spent four at a preparatory school), he will come away, at the end of his probation, but what Latin or Greek will he bring with him? Are you a scholar yourself, examine then the average of young men of eighteen; open a page of some author they have not read, have not parrot-like got by heart; open a page in the dialogues of Lucian, in the Thebaid of Statius. Ask the youth, you have selected from the herd, to construe it as you would ask your daughter to construe a page of some French author she has never seen before, a poem of Regnier, or an exposition in the Esprit des Lois. Does he not pause, does he not blush, does he not hesitate, does not his eye wander abroad in search of the accustomed “Crib,” does he not falter out something about lexicons and grammars, and at last throw down the book and tell you he has never learnt that, but as for Virgil or Herodotus, there he is your man! At the end then of eight years, without counting the previous four, your son has not learnt Greek and Latin, and he has learnt nothing else to atone for it.
Books Have Become My Life
Mine was a trading family
Living in Nan-Hao district for a hundred years.
I was the first to become a scholar,
Our house being without a single book.
Applying myself for a full decade,
I set my heart on building a collection.
Though not fully stocked with minor writings,
Of major works, I have nearly everything:
Classics, history, philosophy, belles-lettres—
Nothing lacking from the heritage of the past.
Binding up the volumes one by one in red covers,
I painstakingly sew them by hand.
When angry, I read and become happy;
When sick, I read and am cured.
Piled helter-skelter in front of me,
Books have become my life.
The people of the past who wrote these tomes,
If not sages, were certainly men of great wisdom.
Even without opening their pages,
Joy comes to me just fondling them.
As for my foolish family, they can't be helped;
Their hearts are set on money alone.
If a book falls on the floor, they don't pick it up;
What do they care if they get dirty or tattered?
I'll do my best by these books all my days,
And die not leaving a single one behind.
There are some readers among my friends—
To them I'll give them all away.
Better that than have my unworthy sons
Haul them off to turn into cash.
Homesick for the Present
Theoretically, it should make no difference to our enjoyment of it whether a work of art is new or old. There are standards of goodness and badness by which every work of whatever period may be judged. If it is good, then we admire it whether it was created this morning or three thousand years ago; if it is found to be bad, then we don't like it—and there is, or at any rate there should be, the end of the matter.
But this is true only in theory. When it comes to practice we find that this sublime disregard of time and space is not the obvious and easy thing we supposed it to be. Even when we are familiar and at home with every style and convention of art, we find that the period at which any given work was created does condition our appreciation of it. Literary scholars, and all those who for some reason have ever had to shut themselves up for any length of time in a library of nothing but ancient books, know what it is to be homesick from out of the past for the present. After a few weeks of unintermitted reading in the sixteenth century, what a blissful sensation it is to open a contemporary novel—even if it happens to be not a very good one, and even if our ancient reading has been of the choicest! At moments like these we infinitely prefer H.G. Wells to Shakespeare. He is contemporary, he breathes the same atmosphere as ourselves, his problems are our problems, and though his works may prove, in the words of the old poet, "damnably moldy a hundred years hence," when King Lear will still serenely remain what it is and always has been; though we know very well that, judged by any standard, they compare, to say the least of it, poorly with those of Shakespeare; we are ready, after too long a sojourn in the past, to turn to him with passionate avidity.
Friday, July 25, 2014
The Hawking Index
It's beach time, and you've probably already scanned a hundred lists of summer reads. Sadly overlooked is that other crucial literary category: the summer non-read, the book that you pick up, all full of ambition, at the beginning of June and put away, the bookmark now and forever halfway through chapter 1, on Labor Day. The classic of this genre is Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time," widely called "the most unread book of all time."Some years ago I bought a good, sturdy copy of William Langland's Piers the Plowman, with notes by W.W. Skeat, for two dollars. The first eighty lines have interlinear and marginal notes in ink. Obviously the original owner didn't read more than three pages of the text before giving up. I find this very often in secondhand school editions of Greek and Latin texts—English definitions of practically every word, scrawled all over the first few pages, then no sign that the rest of the book was read at all.
How can we find today's greatest non-reads? Amazon's "Popular Highlights" feature provides one quick and dirty measure. Every book's Kindle page lists the five passages most highlighted by readers. If every reader is getting to the end, those highlights could be scattered throughout the length of the book. If nobody has made it past the introduction, the popular highlights will be clustered at the beginning.
Thus, the Hawking Index (HI): Take the page numbers of a book's five top highlights, average them, and divide by the number of pages in the whole book. The higher the number, the more of the book we're guessing most people are likely to have read.
The Hawking Index could be skewed upwards, however, by selective skimming. See, for example, how a young woman describes her friend, a student at Yale, in William Deresiewicz, "Don't Send Your Kid to the Ivy League," New Republic (July 21, 2014):
No one but me knows he fakes being well-read by thumbing through the first and last chapters of any book he hears about and obsessively devouring reviews in lieu of the real thing.Related post: Unit of Taciturnity: The Dirac.
"[T]hese improvements, as you call them, appear to me only so many links in the great chain of corruption, which will soon fetter the whole human race in irreparable slavery and incurable wretchedness: your improvements proceed in a simple ratio, while the factitious wants and unnatural appetites they engender proceed in a compound one; and thus one generation acquires fifty wants, and fifty means of supplying them are invented, which each in its turn engenders two new ones; so that the next generation has a hundred, the next two hundred, the next four hundred, till every human being becomes such a helpless compound of perverted inclinations, that he is altogether at the mercy of external circumstances, loses all independence and singleness of character, and degenerates so rapidly from the primitive dignity of his sylvan origin, that it is scarcely possible to indulge in any other expectation, than that the whole species must at length be exterminated by its own infinite imbecility and vileness."Chapter II:
"I am certain," said Mr Escot, "that a wild man can travel an immense distance without fatigue; but what is the advantage of locomotion? The wild man is happy in one spot, and there he remains: the civilised man is wretched in every place he happens to be in, and then congratulates himself on being accommodated with a machine, that will whirl him to another, where he will be just as miserable as ever."Chapter IV:
"Give me the wild man of the woods; the original, unthinking, unscientific, unlogical savage: in him there is at least some good; but, in a civilised, sophisticated, cold-blooded, mechanical, calculating slave of Mammon and the world, there is none—absolutely none."Chapter VII:
"Profound researches, scientific inventions: to what end? To contract the sum of human wants? to teach the art of living on a little? to disseminate independence, liberty, and health? No; to multiply factitious desires, to stimulate depraved appetites, to invent unnatural wants, to heap up incense on the shrine of luxury, and accumulate expedients of selfish and ruinous profusion. Complicated machinery: behold its blessings. Twenty years ago, at the door of every cottage sate the good woman with her spinning-wheel: the children, if not more profitably employed than in gathering heath and sticks, at least laid in a stock of health and strength to sustain the labours of maturer years. Where is the spinning-wheel now, and every simple and insulated occupation of the industrious cottager? Wherever this boasted machinery is established, the children of the poor are death-doomed from their cradles. Look for one moment at midnight into a cotton-mill, amidst the smell of oil, the smoke of lamps, the rattling of wheels, the dizzy and complicated motions of diabolical mechanism: contemplate the little human machines that keep play with the revolutions of the iron work, robbed at that hour of their natural rest, as of air and exercise by day: observe their pale and ghastly features, more ghastly in that baleful and malignant light, and tell me if you do not fancy yourself on the threshold of Virgil's hell, where
Continuo auditæ voces, vagitus et ingens,
Infantumque animæ flentes, in limine primo,
Quos dulcis vitæ exsortes, et ab ubere raptos,
Abstulit atra dies, et FUNERE MERSIT ACERBO!"