Thursday, May 24, 2018


To the Dreamers of Immortality

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), Morgenröte IV, § 211 (tr. R.J. Hollingdale, Daybreak):
To the dreamers of immortality. — So you want this lovely consciousness of yourself to last forever? Is that not immodest? Are you not mindful of all the other things which would then be obliged to endure you to all eternity, as they have endured you up to now with a more than Christian patience? Or do you think to inspire them with an everlasting sense of pleasure at your existence? A single immortal man on earth would be enough to drive everything else on earth to a universal rage for death and suicide out of satiety with him! And you earth-dwellers, with your petty conception of a couple of thousand little minutes, want to burden eternal existence with yourselves everlastingly! Could anything be more importunate! Finally: let us be indulgent towards a being of a mere seventy years! — he has not been able to imagine the 'everlasting boredom' he himself would experience — he has not had enough time to do so!

An die Träumer der Unsterblichkeit. — Diesem schönen Bewußtsein eurer selbst wünscht ihr also ewige Dauer? Ist das nicht schamlos? Denkt ihr denn nicht an alle andern Dinge, die euch dann in alle Ewigkeit zu ertragen hätten, wie sie euch bisher ertragen haben mit einer mehr als christlichen Geduld? Oder meint ihr, ihnen ein ewiges Wohlgefühl an euch geben zu können? Ein einziger unsterblicher Mensch auf der Erde wäre ja schon genug, um alles andere, das noch da wäre, durch Überdruß an ihm in eine allgemeine Sterbe- und Aufhängewut zu versetzen! Und ihr Erdenbewohner mit euren Begriffelchen von ein paar Tausend Zeitminütchen wollt dem ewigen allgemeinen Dasein ewig lästig fallen! Gibt es etwas Zudringlicheres! — Zuletzt: seien wir milde gegen ein Wesen von siebenzig Jahren! — es hat seine Phantasie im Ausmalen der eignen »ewigen Langenweile« nicht üben können, — es fehlte ihm an der Zeit!


The Book of Books

George Herbert (1593-1633), A Priest to the Temple, or The Country Parson, 2nd ed. (London: T. Roycroft, 1671), pp. 8-9 (from Chap. IV):
The country Parson is full of all knowledge. They say it is an ill Mason that refuseth any stone: and there is no knowledge but, in a skilful hand, serves either positively as it is, or else to illustrate some other knowledge. He condescends even to the knowledge of tillage, and pastorage, and makes great use of them in teaching, because people by what they understand, are best led to what they understand not. But the chief & top of his knowledge consists in the book of books, the storehouse and magazene of life and comfort, the holy Scriptures. There he sucks, and lives. In the Scriptures he finds four things; Precepts for life, Doctrines for knowledge, Examples for illustration, and Promises for comfort: These he hath digested severally.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018


But X Did the Same Thing!

Isocrates, Busiris 45 (tr. LaRue Van Hook):
For you do not exonerate him from the charges, but only declare that some others have done the same things, inventing thus a very easy refuge for all criminals. Why, if it is not easy to find a crime which has not yet been committed, and if we should consider that those who have been found guilty of one or another of these crimes have done nothing so very wrong, whenever others are found to have perpetrated the same offences, should we not be providing ready-made pleas in exculpation of all criminals and be granting complete licence for those who are bent on villainy?

οὐ γὰρ ἀπολύεις αὐτὸν τῶν αἰτιῶν, ἀλλ᾿ ἀποφαίνεις ὡς καὶ τῶν ἄλλων τινὲς ταὐτὰ πεποιήκασι, ῥᾳθυμοτάτην τοῖς ἁμαρτάνουσιν εὑρίσκων καταφυγήν. εἰ γὰρ τῶν μὲν ἀδικημάτων μὴ ῥᾴδιον εὑρεῖν ὃ μήπω τυγχάνει γεγενημένον, τοὺς δ᾿ ἐφ᾿ ἑκάστοις αὐτῶν ἁλισκομένους μηδὲν ἡγοίμεθα δεινὸν ποιεῖν, ὅταν ἕτεροι ταὐτὰ φαίνωνται διαπεπραγμένοι, πῶς οὐκ ἂν καὶ τὰς ἀπολογίας ἅπασι ῥᾳδίας ποιήσαιμεν, καὶ τοῖς βουλομένοις εἶναι πονηροῖς πολλὴν ἐξουσίαν παρασκευάσαιμεν;


The Man He Killed

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), "The Man He Killed," Harper's Weekly (November 8, 1902) 1649:
    'Had he and I but met
    By some old ancient inn,
We should have sat us down to wet
    Right many a nipperkin!

    'But ranged as infantry,
    And staring face to face,
I shot at him as he at me,
    And killed him in his place.

    'I shot him dead because —
    Because he was my foe,
Just so: my foe of course he was;
    That's clear enough; although

    'He thought he'd 'list, perhaps,
    Off-hand like — just as I —
Was out of work — had sold his traps —
    No other reason why.

    'Yes; quaint and curious war is!
    You shoot a fellow down
You'd treat if met where any bar is,
    Or help to half-a-crown.'

Tuesday, May 22, 2018


A Fellow Creature

George Orwell, "Looking Back on the Spanish War," The Collected Essays, Journalism & Letters, II: My Country Right or Left, 1940-1943 (1968; rpt. Boston: David R. Godine, 2000), pp. 249-267 (at 253-254):
Early one morning another man and I had gone out to snipe at the Fascists in the trenches outside Huesca. Their line and ours here lay three hundred yards apart, at which range our aged rifles would not shoot accurately, but by sneaking out to a spot about a hundred yards from the Fascist trench you might, if you were lucky, get a shot at someone through a gap in the parapet. Unfortunately the ground between was a flat beet-field with no cover except a few ditches, and it was necessary to go out while it was still dark and return soon after dawn, before the light became too good. This time no Fascists appeared, and we stayed too long and were caught by the dawn. We were in a ditch, but behind us were two hundred yards of flat ground with hardly enough cover for a rabbit. We were still trying to nerve ourselves to make a dash for it when there was an uproar and a blowing of whistles in the Fascist trench. Some of our aeroplanes were coming over. At this moment a man, presumably carrying a message to an officer, jumped out of the trench and ran along the top of the parapet in full view. He was half-dressed and was holding up his trousers with both hands as he ran. I refrained from shooting at him. It is true that I am a poor shot and unlikely to hit a running man at a hundred yards, and also that I was thinking chiefly about getting back to our trench while the Fascists had their attention fixed on the aeroplanes. Still, I did not shoot partly because of that detail about the trousers. I had come here to shoot at "Fascists"; but a man who is holding up his trousers isn't a "Fascist", he is visibly a fellow creature, similar to yourself, and you don't feel like shooting at him.
Id. (at 258-259):
I know it is the fashion to say that most of recorded history is lies anyway. I am willing to believe that history is for the most part inaccurate and biased, but what is peculiar to our own age is the abandonment of the idea that history could be truthfully written. In the past people deliberately lied, or they unconsciously coloured what they wrote, or they struggled after the truth, well knowing that they must make many mistakes; but in each case they believed that "the facts" existed and were more or less discoverable. And in practice there was always a considerable body of fact which would have been agreed to by almost everyone. If you look up the history of the last war in, for instance, the Encyclopaedia Britannica, you will find that a respectable amount of the material is drawn from German sources. A British and a German historian would disagree deeply on many things, even on fundamentals, but there would still be that body of, as it were, neutral fact on which neither would seriously challenge the other. It is just this common basis of agreement, with its implication that human beings are all one species of animal, that totalitarianism destroys. Nazi theory indeed specifically denies that such a thing as "the truth" exists. There is, for instance, no such thing as "science". There is only "German science", "Jewish science" etc. The implied objective of this line of thought is a nightmare world in which the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only the future but the past. If the Leader says of such and such an event, "It never happened" — well, it never happened. If he says that two and two are five — well, two and two are five. This prospect frightens me much more than bombs — and after our experiences of the last few years that is not a frivolous statement.
Id. (at 260):
When I think of antiquity, the detail that frightens me is that those hundreds of millions of slaves on whose backs civilization rested generation after generation have left behind them no record whatever. We do not even know their names. In the whole of Greek and Roman history, how many slaves' names are known to you? I can think of two, or possibly three. One is Spartacus and the other is Epictetus. Also, in the Roman room at the British Museum there is a glass jar with the maker's name inscribed on the bottom, "Felix fecit". I have a vivid mental picture of poor Felix (a Gaul with red hair and a metal collar round his neck), but in fact he may not have been a slave; so there are only two slaves whose names I definitely know, and probably few people can remember more. The rest have gone down into utter silence.
Here is the glass jar Orwell was talking about (British Museum, number 1922,0512.1, found at Faversham, Kent):

The base of the jar, with the inscription:

Id. (at 265):
The damned impertinence of these politicians, priests, literary men, and what not who lecture the working-class Socialist for his "materialism"! All that the working man demands is what these others would consider the indispensable minimum without which human life cannot be lived at all. Enough to eat, freedom from the haunting terror of unemployment, the knowledge that your children will get a fair chance, a bath once a day, clean linen reasonably often, a roof that doesn't leak, and short enough working hours to leave you with a little energy when the day is done. Not one of those who preach against "materialism" would consider life liveable without these things.

Monday, May 21, 2018


A Nun Eating a Banana

Cristina De Stefano, Oriana Fallaci: The Journalist, the Agitator, the Legend, tr. Marina Harss (New York: Other Press, 2017), pp. 30-31:
To prepare for her first Communion, her mother sends her to a convent for a short retreat. Before sending her off, she gives her some chocolate and a banana, an extraordinary luxury. The nuns tell her to leave everything on the altar, as a gift to Jesus. "A little while later I crept into the church to see whether Baby Jesus had eaten the banana and chocolate, but there was nothing left. Not even the banana peel or the chocolate wrapper. This made me suspicious. I left the church, went down a hallway, and there, on the balustrade, was a nun eating my banana."


Worlds Apart

Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), "Two Races," Complete Verse (New York: Anchor Books, 1989), p. 821:
I seek not what his soul desires.
      He dreads not what my spirit fears.
Our Heavens have shown us separate fires.
      Our dooms have dealt us differing years.

Our daysprings and our timeless dead
      Ordained for us and still control
Lives sundered at the fountain-head,
      And distant, now, as Pole from Pole.

Yet, dwelling thus, these worlds apart,
      When we encounter each is free
To bare that larger, liberal heart
      Our kin and neighbours seldom see.

(Custom and code compared in jest —
      Weakness delivered without shame —
And certain common sins confessed
      Which all men know, and none dare blame.)

E'en so it is, and well content
      It should be so a moment's space,
Each finds the other excellent,
      And — runs to follow his own race!
Related post: Flocking Together.


A God Swears by Himself

Aristophanes, Birds 1614 (Poseidon speaking; tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
By Poseidon, that's a very good point.

νὴ τὸν Ποσειδῶ ταῦτά γέ τοι καλῶς λέγεις.
J. Van Leeuwen in his commentary ad loc. points out that Hermes swears by the gods in Aristophanes, Wealth 1147 (πρὸς θεῶν), and that Jupiter sacrifices to himself in Plautus, Amphitruo 983 (mihi quom sacruficem).


They Laughed Themselves to Death

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), Thus Spoke Zarathustra, III, 8 (tr. Walter Kaufmann):
For the old gods, after all, things came to an end long ago; and verily, they had a good gay godlike end. They did not end in a "twilight," though this lie is told. Instead: one day they laughed themselves to death. That happened when the most godless word issued from one of the gods themselves — the word: "There is one god. Thou shalt have no other god before me!" An old grim-beard of a god, a jealous one, thus forgot himself. And then all the gods laughed and rocked on their chairs and cried, "Is not just this godlike that there are gods but no God?"

Mit den alten Göttern ging es ja lange schon zu Ende: – und wahrlich, ein gutes fröhliches Götter-Ende hatten sie! Sie »dämmerten« sich nicht zu Tode — das lügt man wohl! Vielmehr: sie haben sich selber einmal zu Tode — gelacht! Das geschah, als das gottloseste Wort von einem Gotte selber ausging — das Wort: »Es ist ein Gott! Du sollst keinen andern Gott haben neben mir!« — ein alter Grimm-Bart von Gott, ein eifersüchtiger, vergaß sich also: — Und alle Götter lachten damals und wackelten auf ihren Stühlen und riefen: »Ist das nicht eben Göttlichkeit, daß es Götter, aber keinen Gott gibt?«
Related posts:

Sunday, May 20, 2018



Christopher Pelling, Literary Texts and the Greek Historian (London: Routledge, 2000), p. 123, with note on p. 276:
An American observer, so the story goes, once expressed surprise at the way in which Margaret Thatcher dominated the British cabinet. He was advised to read P.G. Wodehouse on Bertie Wooster and his aunts. Comedy tells. And Dionysius of Syracuse, so another story went, once asked Plato to explain to him the nature of Athenian political life. Plato responded by sending him a work of Aristophanes.1

1 Life of Aristophanes (Proleg. XXVIII 46–9, p. 135 Koster); Riginos 1976: 176-8.
Here is the Greek, followed by Jeffrey Henderson's translation:
φασὶ δὲ καὶ Πλάτωνα Διονυσίῳ τῷ τυράννῳ βουληθέντι μαθεῖν τὴν Ἀθηναίων πολιτείαν πέμψαι τὴν Αριστοφάνους ποίησιν, [τὴν κατὰ Σωκράτους ἐν Νεφέλαις κατηγορίαν,] καὶ συμβουλεῦσαι τὰ δράματα αὐτοῦ ἀσκηθέντα μαθεῖν αὐτῶν πολιτείαν.

And they say that when Dionysius the tyrant wanted to learn about the polity of the Athenians, Plato sent him the poetry of Ar. [the accusation against Socrates in Clouds] and advised him to study the plays if he would learn their polity.
Riginos = Alice Swift Riginos, Platonica: The Anecdotes Concerning the Life and Writings of Plato (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1976).

Friday, May 18, 2018


Battle of the Bulls

Phaedrus 1.30 (tr. Ben Edwin Perry):
Poor folk suffer when the mighty quarrel.
A frog looking out from a marsh upon a combat between two bulls,
exclaimed: "Alas, what great destruction is verging upon us!"
Being asked by another frog why he said this,
since those bulls were contending for the sovereignty of the herd
and, as cattle, lived their lives at a distance from the frogs, he replied:
"Granted that their range is remote from ours, and that their species is different,
nevertheless, whichever of them is driven from the lordship of the meadow, and takes to flight,
will come to the secret recesses of our marsh
and will tread us down and crush us with his hard hoofs.
Thus their fury has something to do with our own safety."

Humiles laborant ubi potentes dissident.
Rana in palude pugnam taurorum intuens,
"Heu, quanta nobis instat pernicies" ait.
interrogata ab alia cur hoc diceret,
de principatu cum illi certarent gregis        5
longeque ab ipsis degerent vitam boves,
"Sit statio separata ac diversum genus;
expulsus regno nemoris qui profugerit
paludis in secreta veniet latibula,
et proculcatas obteret duro pede.        10
ita caput ad nostrum furor illorum pertinet."

Thursday, May 17, 2018


The Human Condition

Pascal, Pensées 199 Brunschvicg (tr. H.F. Stewart):
Imagine a number of men in fetters, all condemned to death, and some killed daily in the sight of the rest, and those who are left, reading their own fate in that of their fellows, waiting their turn, looking at each other in gloom and despair. That is a picture of man's state.

Qu'on s'imagine un nombre d'hommes dans les chaisnes, et tous condamnez à la mort, dont les uns estant chaque jour égorgez à la veue des autres, ceux qui restent voyent leur propre condition dans celle de leurs semblables, et, se regardant les uns et les autres avec douleur et sans espérance, attendent à leur tour. C'est l'image de la condition des hommes.


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