Thursday, September 29, 2016


Greek Tragedy

Goethe, Conversations with Eckermann (May 1, 1825; tr. John Oxenford):
And were not the productions of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, of that kind and of that depth, that they might be heard again and again without being esteemed trite, or put on one side? Even the few noble fragments which have come down to us, are so comprehensive and of such deep significance, that we poor Europeans have already busied ourselves with them for centuries, and shall find nutriment and work in them for centuries still.

Und war das von Äschylos, Sophokles und Euripides Hervorgebrachte nicht der Art und Tiefe, daß man es hören und immer wieder hören konnte, ohne es trivial zu machen und zu töten? — Sind doch diese auf uns gekommenen wenigen grandiosen Trümmer schon von solchem Umfang und solcher Bedeutung, daß wir armen Europäer uns bereits seit Jahrhunderten damit beschäftigen und noch einige Jahrhunderte daran werden zu zehren und zu tun haben.


In Defence of Heavy Drinking

Alexander Pope (1688-1744), Essay on Criticism 215-218:
A little Learning is a dang'rous Thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian Spring:
There shallow Draughts intoxicate the Brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
Largely (218) = "Copiously, abundantly; extensively, greatly, considerably; on a large scale" (Oxford English Dictionary, s.v., sense 2.a). The adverb of course modifies drinking, not sobers.



M.L. West (1937-2015), "Melica," Classical Quarterly 20.2 (November, 1970) 205-215 (at 209, n. 3):
The desire to find hitherto unsuspected sexual meanings in ancient literature frequently seems to blind American scholars to all considerations of relevance, style, and common sense.


Textual Criticism

K.J. Dover (1920-2010), ed., Aristophanes, Clouds (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), p. vii:
I recognize one 'principle' of textual criticism, and one only: to take into account, so far as is humanly possible, everything that is relevant, recognizing that what the manuscripts actually say in a given passage is never more than a portion of the evidence relevant to that passage and that the decisive evidence may appear from any quarter and from any distance.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


Four Seasons

Ovid, Metamorphoses 15.199-213 (tr. Frank Justus Miller; rev. G.P. Goold):
Then again, do you not see the year assuming four aspects, in imitation of our own lifetime? For in early spring it is tender and full of fresh life, just like a little child; at that time the herbage is young, swelling with life, but as yet without strength and solidity, and fills the farmers with joyful expectation. Then all things are in bloom and the fertile fields run riot with their bright-coloured flowers; but as yet there is no strength in the green foliage. After spring has passed, the year, grown more sturdy, passes into summer and becomes like a strong young man. For there is no hardier time than this, none more abounding in rich, warm life. Then autumn comes, with its first flush of youth gone, but ripe and mellow, midway in time between youth and age, with sprinkled grey showing on the temples. And then comes aged winter, with faltering step and shivering, its locks all gone or hoary.

quid? non in species succedere quattuor annum
adspicis, aetatis peragentem imitamina nostrae?        200
nam tener et lactens puerique simillimus aevo
vere novo est: tunc herba recens et roboris expers
turget et insolida est et spe delectat agrestes;
omnia tunc florent, florumque coloribus almus
ludit ager, neque adhuc virtus in frondibus ulla est.        205
transit in aestatem post ver robustior annus
fitque valens iuvenis: neque enim robustior aetas
ulla nec uberior, nec quae magis ardeat, ulla est.
excipit autumnus, posito fervore iuventae
maturus mitisque inter iuvenemque senemque        210
temperie medius, sparsus quoque tempora canis.
inde senilis hiems tremulo venit horrida passu,
aut spoliata suos, aut, quos habet, alba capillos.


A Lesson for All of Us

P.G. Wodehouse (1881-1975), Uncle Fred in the Springtime, chapter 8:
We start out in life with more pimples than we know what to do with, and in the careless arrogance of youth think they are going to last for ever. But comes a day when we suddenly find that we are down to our last half-dozen. And then those go. There is a lesson in this for all of us.


Is Crudus an Auto-Antonym? Probably Not

Lindsay C. Watson, A Commentary on Horace's Epodes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 297-298 (on Epode 8.5-6: hietque turpis inter aridas natis / podex velut crudae bovis):

Discussing crudae bovis, Watson rejects the explanations of Lambinus (quae cibum non concoquit ideoque nec continet, πολυχέσον = which doesn't digest food and so doesn't hold it in, much-defecating) and Müller (quae frustra studet exonerare ventrem = which tries in vain to empty the stomach). Watson used Lambinus' 1561 Lyon edition of Horace, where I don't see the word πολυχέσον on p. 438, nor in Lambinus' 1588 Paris edition, p. 306. The accent seems off in Watson's quotation, wherever he got it (lemma πολύχεσος in Liddell-Scott-Jones) — should it be πολυχέσου? Judging from the explanations of Lambinus and Müller, one would assume that crudus can have two contradictory meanings, viz. afflicted with diarrhea and afflicted with constipation. Neither meaning is recognized in the Oxford Latin Dictionary, s.v. crudus, although constipated could be inferred from sense 3.b: "(of persons or animals) having undigested food in the stomach, dyspeptic," with the citation from Horace's Epodes.


Tuesday, September 27, 2016


Learning Foreign Languages

Anna Danilova, "Metropolitan Hilarion: I Owe Everything in My Life to the Church," PRAVMIR.COM. Orthodox Christianity and the World (July 27, 2016):
Vladyka, you work with a great amount of literature in various languages. How many foreign languages do you know?

– Several languages to varying degrees. I speak and write fluently in English. I would even think in this language when I studied in England. I speak and read in French when the necessity arises, but not so fluently. I also speak Greek, but not so confidently (I don't have enough practice), although I can read fluently in it. And then in descending order of importance I read but don't speak Italian, Spanish and German. Of the ancient languages I studied Ancient Greek, Syrian and Hebrew.

How did you learn foreign languages?

– I studied foreign languages using the Gospel. I always began with the Gospel of John. It is the most convenient Gospel for learning words, they are repeated constantly: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, the same was in the beginning with God." Experts say that the vocabulary of the Gospel of John is half of that of the other Gospels, although in volume it is no less than the others. This lexical laconicism is connected to the fact that many of the words are repeated.

Why is it convenient to learn language from the Gospels? Because when you read a familiar text which you know practically off by heart, you don't have to look up words in the dictionary, you recognize the words. That's how I learnt Greek. At first I read the Gospel of John, then I read the three other Gospels, then I began to read the Epistles of the apostles, then I began to read the Church Fathers in Greek. Moreover, when I studied Greek, I listened to a tape recording of the Liturgy in Greek. I studied it in the pronunciation which is used by Greeks today.

I studied Syrian in a different way. This was in Oxford, I had an excellent professor, the best specialist in Syrian literature in the world, Sebastian Brock. But he said to me right away: I have no intention of teaching you the language, I'm interested in reading texts. So I began to read the texts of Isaac the Syrian with him, and along the way I read the Gospels in Syrian and used Robinson's textbook to master the basics of grammar and syntax.

The most important thing in languages is, of course, practice. No textbook can be a substitute for practical work with a text.
I made one small correction (changed "arise" to "arises").


Cutting Corners on Proofreading

Collected Works of Erasmus, Vol. 33: Adages II i 1 to II vi 100, translated and annotated by R.A.B. Mynors (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991), p. 11 (II i 1 Festina lente = Make haste slowly):
It is provided by law that no man should sew a shoe together or make a cupboard, unless he has been approved by his trade guild; yet these eminent authors, to whose works we owe religion itself, are published to the world by men so ill-educated that they cannot so much as read, so idle that they are not prepared to read over what they print, and so mercenary that they would rather see a good book filled with thousands of mistakes than spend a few paltry gold pieces on hiring someone to supervise the proof-correcting.
In Latin:
Curatum est legibus, ne quis consuat calceum, ne quis faciat scrinium, nisi fuerit ab eius opificii sodalitio comprobatus; et tantos autores, quorum monumentis etiam religio debetur, emittunt in vulgus adeo literarum ignari, vt ne legere quidem possint, adeo ignaui, vt nec relegere libeat, quod excuditur, adeo sordidi, vt citius patiantur sex milibus mendarum oppleri bonum librum quam paucis aureolis velint conducere, qui praesit castigationi.
For a modern example of cutting corners on proofreading see Michael Hendry, "G or L: Who Can Tell?" Curculio (September 26, 2016).


Last Day of Work

Charles Lamb, letter to Henry Crabb Robinson (March 29, 1825):
I have left the d———d India House for Ever!
Give me great joy.
"A Chronology of C.P. Cavafy," in C.P. Cavafy, The Collected Poems. Translated by Evangelos Sachperoglou. Greek Text Edited by Anthony Hirst. With an Introduction by Peter Mackridge (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. xlv-xlviii (at xlvii, under the year 1922):
Cavafy resigns from his office job and proclaims: 'I have been liberated at last from this hateful thing.'

Monday, September 26, 2016



Seneca, On Tranquillity of Mind 2.13-15 (tr. John W. Basore):
[13] Hence men undertake wide-ranging travel, and wander over remote shores, and their fickleness, always discontented with the present, gives proof of itself now on land and now on sea. "Now let us head for Campania," they say. And now when soft living palls, "Let us see the wild parts," they say, "let us hunt out the passes of Bruttium and Lucania." And yet amid that wilderness something is missing—something pleasant wherein their pampered eyes may find relief from the lasting squalor of those rugged regions: "Let us head for Tarentum with its famous harbour and its mild winter climate, and a territory rich enough to have a horde of people even in antiquity." Too long have their ears missed the shouts and the din; it delights them by now even to enjoy human blood: [14] "Let us now turn our course toward the city." They undertake one journey after another and change spectacle for spectacle. As Lucretius [3.1068] says:
Thus ever from himself doth each man flee.
[15] But what does he gain if he does not escape from himself? He ever follows himself and weighs upon himself as his own most burdensome companion. And so we ought to understand that what we struggle with is the fault, not of the places, but of ourselves; when there is need of endurance, we are weak, and we cannot bear toil or pleasure or ourselves or anything very long. It is this that has driven some men to death, because by often altering their purpose they were always brought back to the same things and had left themselves no room for anything new. They began to be sick of life and the world itself, and from the self-indulgences that wasted them was born the thought: "How long shall I endure the same things?"

[13] Inde peregrinationes suscipiuntur vagae et invia litora pererrantur et modo mari se modo terra experitur semper praesentibus infesta levitas. "Nunc Campaniam petamus." Iam delicata fastidio sunt: "Inculta videantur, Bruttios et Lucaniae saltus persequamur." Aliquid tamen inter deserta amoeni requiritur, in quo luxuriosi oculi longo locorum horrentium squalore releventur: "Tarentum petatur laudatusque portus et hiberna caeli mitioris et regio vel antiquae satis opulenta turbae." Nimis diu a plausu et fragore aures vacaverunt, iuvat iam et humano sanguine frui: [14] "Iam flectamus cursum ad urbem." Aliud ex alio iter suscipitur et spectacula spectaculis mutantur. Ut ait Lucretius:
Hoc se quisque modo semper fugit.
[15] Sed quid prodest, si non effugit? Sequitur se ipse et urget gravissimus comes. Itaque scire debemus non locorum vitium esse quo laboramus, sed nostrum; infirmi sumus ad omne tolerandum, nec laboris patientes nec voluptatis nec nostri nec ullius rei diutius. Hoc quosdam egit ad mortem, quod proposita saepe mutando in eadem revolvebantur et non reliquerant novitati locum. Fastidio esse illis coepit vita et ipse mundus, et subît illud tabidarum deliciarum: "Quousque eadem?"
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Sunday, September 25, 2016


Preparation for Study

A.D. Nuttall, Dead from the Waist Down: Scholars and Scholarship in Literature and the Popular Imagination (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), p. 142 (on Isaac Casaubon), with notes on p. 218:
He is berating himself for rising as late as five o'clock — "A quinta (heu quam sero) surreximus." "Got up at five (gosh, how late!)." I have translated this into colloquial modern idiom in order to reflect the extraordinarily easy, free immediacy of Casaubon's Latin. He writes of books as though they were friends or acquaintances. This may momentarily confuse the unprepared reader. Casaubon keeps referring to time given to "Basilius." At last one realises that Basilius is a long-dead author (he is reading Hieronymus Froben's 1598 edition — 698 close-packed folio pages). One sentence sticks in the memory: "Dein pro more pexo capillo museum ingressi," "Then I combed my hair in the usual way and went into my study." Why does Casaubon, the least narcissistic of men, record in his diary that he combed his hair? One wonders for a moment if there is a strain of ritual in this careful preparation of his person before engaging in the wholly private activity of study. Machiavelli famously tells posterity that he put on his court robes before passing into the world of the ancients and reading for four hours, alone.28 Keats told his brother George on 17 September 1819 in a letter how he would brush his hair, put on a clean shirt, and "in fact adonize as I were going out" before sitting down to write poetry.29

28. Letter to Francesco Vettori, 10 December 1513, in The Literary Works of Machiavelli, trans. J.R. Hale (London: Oxford University Press, 1961), 139.

29. The Letters of John Keats, 1814-1821, ed. H.E. Rollins, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1958), 2:186.
For the endnotes (not visible in Google Books) I'm indebted to Ian Jackson, who adds, "And let us not forget that Haydn put on his best wig and formal garb before sitting down to compose." I'm also reminded of the Spartans' habit of combing their hair before battle (Herodotus 7.209.3: νόμος γάρ σφι ἔχων οὕτω ἐστί· ἐπεὰν μέλλωσι κινδυνεύειν τῇ ψυχῇ, τότε τὰς κεφαλὰς κοσμέονται).


An Italian Custom

Byron, letter to Douglas Kinnaird (October 26, 1819):
I have been faithful in my honest liaison with Countess Guiccioli — and can assure you that She has never cost me directly or indirectly a sixpence — indeed the circumstances of herself and family render this no merit. — I never offered her but one present — a broach of brilliants — and she sent it back to me with her own hair in it (I shall not say of what part but that is an Italian custom) and a note to say she was not in the habit of receiving presents of that value — but hoped I would not consider her sending it back as an affront — nor the value diminished by the enclosure.

Saturday, September 24, 2016


Munching to the Glory of God

Rebecca West (1892-1983), Black Lamb and Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia (1941; rpt. New York: Penguin Books, 2007), pp. 764-765:
He drove us through the town to the ruins of Heracleia, the Roman city which lay a mile or so beyond it on the Via Egnatia, the Roman road that ran from the Adriatic through Albania to Salonika and Constantinople. Its excavations are at a stage that can interest only dogs and archaeologists, and my husband and I went and sat for a few minutes in the Orthodox cemetery, which straggles over the hillside near by. I have a deep attachment to this cemetery, for it was here that I realized Macedonia to be the bridge between our age and the past. I saw a peasant woman sitting on a grave under the trees with a dish of wheat and milk on her lap, the sunlight dappling the white kerchief on her head. Another peasant woman came by, who must have been from another village, for her dress was different. I think they were total strangers. They greeted each other, and the woman with the dish held it out to the new-comer and gave her a spoon, and she took some sups of it. To me it was an enchantment; for when St Monica came to Milan over fifteen hundred years ago, to be with her gifted and difficult son, St Augustine, she went to eat her food on the Christian graves and was hurt because the sexton reproved her for offering sups to other people on the same errand, as she had been wont to do in Africa. That protocol-loving saint, Ambrose, had forbidden the practice because it was too like picnicking for his type of mind. To see these women gently munching to the glory of God was like finding that I could walk into the past as into another room.
I owe the reference to James J. O'Donnell, Augustine: A New Biography (New York: Ecco, 2005), p. 355, n. 265.


Textual Criticism as Dentistry

Bernard M.W. Knox (1914-2010), The Heroic Temper: Studies in Sophoclean Tragedy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1964), pp. 104-105 (on Antigone 905-912; endnote omitted):
If we are to believe that these lines were in fact inserted after Sophocles' death by some later actor, producer, or editor, we must face the consequences. And they are grave. Aristotle, the greatest scientific and scholarly intellect of the century after Sophocles, the most influential literary critic there has ever been, the head of a research school which busied itself among many other things with the history of tragedy, saw clearly the difficulties posed by the speech, and called the sentiment 'improbable' (ἄπιστον) and so demanding an explanation by the poet, but it never for a moment occurred to him that the lines might be an interpolation. If they are, then we are forced to conclude that already, in Aristotle's time, the text of the Antigone was so fundamentally corrupt in a crucial passage that there was no criterion, no record, no tradition by which it could be corrected. Such a supposition deals a mortal blow to our confidence in the general soundness of the tragic texts. If that is possible, anything is, and we cannot object to those who would delete and transpose right and left. We must even give our late and reluctant blessing to the shade of August Nauck, who, acting on a principle somewhat like that of the English provincial dentist—"If you won't miss it, why not have it out?" —gave the ungrateful world a text of Euripides some four hundred lines shorter than any it had seen before.

Friday, September 23, 2016


Call to Revolution

Sallust, The War with Catiline 20.11-14 (Catiline speaking; tr. J.C. Rolfe):
Pray, what man with the spirit of a man can endure that our tyrants should abound in riches, to squander in building upon the sea and in levelling mountains, while we lack the means to buy the bare necessities of life? That they should join their palaces by twos or even more, while we have nowhere a hearthstone? They amass paintings, statuary and chased vases, tear down new structures and erect others, in short misuse and torment their wealth in every way; yet, with the utmost extravagance, they cannot get the upper hand of their riches. But we have destitution at home, debt without, present misery and a still more hopeless future; in short, what have we left, save only the wretched breath of life? Awake then! Lo, here, here before your eyes, is the freedom for which you have often longed, and with it riches, honour, and glory; Fortune offers all these things as prizes to the victors.

etenim quis mortalium, cui virile ingenium est, tolerare potest, illis divitias superare, quas profundant in extruendo mari et montibus coaequandis, nobis rem familiarem etiam ad necessaria deesse? illos binas aut amplius domos continuare, nobis larem familiarem nusquam ullum esse? cum tabulas, signa, toreumata emunt, nova diruunt, alia aedificant, postremo omnibus modis pecuniam trahunt, vexant, tamen summa lubidine divitias suas vincere nequeunt. at nobis est domi inopia, foris aes alienum, mala res, spes multo asperior; denique quid reliqui habemus praeter miseram animam? quin igitur expergiscimini? en illa illa quam saepe optastis libertas, praeterea divitiae, decus, gloria in oculis sita sunt. Fortuna omnia ea victoribus praemia posuit.


The Sabines

Ronald Syme (1903-1989), Sallust (1964; rpt. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), p. 8:
The Sabines earned universal commendation as a people of hardy mountaineers, plain and parsimonious, austere and god-fearing, tenaciously attached to the ancient ways. Some will have it that Sabines were prone to mysticism.6 That notion can do little harm if it be added that they also had a tendency to emigration, liked money, and were good with donkeys.

6 E. Bolaffi, Sallustio e la sua fortuna nei secoli (1949), 23: "quella terra di montanari ... proclivi al misticismo." Also ib. 75.


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