Sunday, April 30, 2017



Pliny, Natural History 7.1.1-5 (tr. Horace Rackham):
[1] The first place will rightly be assigned to man, for whose sake great Nature appears to have created all other things—though she asks a cruel price for all her generous gifts, making it hardly possible to judge whether she has been more a kind parent to man or more a harsh stepmother.
[2] First of all, man alone of all animals she drapes with borrowed resources. On all the rest in various wise she bestows coverings—shells, bark, spines, hides, fur, bristles, hair, down, feathers, scales, fleeces; even the trunks of trees she has protected against cold and heat by bark, sometimes in two layers: but man alone on the day of his birth she casts away naked on the naked ground, to burst at once into wailing and weeping, and none other among all the animals is more prone to tears, and that immediately at the very beginning of life; whereas, I vow, the much-talked-of smile of infancy even at the earliest is bestowed on no child less than six weeks old.
[3] This initiation into the light is followed by a period of bondage such as befalls not even the animals bred in our midst, fettering all his limbs; and thus when successfully born he lies with hands and feet in shackles, weeping—the animal that is to lord it over all the rest, and he initiates his life with punishment because of one fault only, the offence of being born. Alas the madness of those who think that from these beginnings they were bred to proud estate!
[4] His earliest promise of strength and first grant of time makes him like a four-footed animal. When does man begin to walk? when to speak? when is his mouth firm enough to take food? how long does his skull throb, a mark of his being the weakest among all animals? Then his diseases, and all the cures contrived against his ills—these cures also subsequently defeated by new disorders! And the fact that all other creatures are aware of their own nature, some using speed, others swift flight, others swimming, whereas man alone knows nothing save by education—neither how to speak nor how to walk nor how to eat; in short the only thing he can do by natural instinct is to weep! Consequently there have been many who believed that it were best not to be born, or to be put away as soon as possible.
[5] On man alone of living creatures is bestowed grief, on him alone luxury, and that in countless forms and reaching every separate part of his frame; he alone has ambition, avarice, immeasurable appetite for life, superstition, anxiety about burial and even about what will happen after he is no more. No creature's life is more precarious, none has a greater lust for all enjoyments, a more confused timidity, a fiercer rage. In fine, all other living creatures pass their time worthily among their own species: we see them herd together and stand firm against other kinds of animals—fierce lions do not fight among themselves, the serpent's bite attacks not serpents, even the monsters of the sea and the fishes are only cruel against different species; whereas to man, I vow, most of his evils come from his fellow-man.

[1] principium iure tribuetur homini, cuius causa videtur cuncta alia genuisse natura magna, saeva mercede contra tanta sua munera, ut non sit satis aestimare, parens melior homini an tristior noverca fuerit.
[2] ante omnia unum animantium cunctorum alienis velat opibus, ceteris varie tegimenta tribuit, testas, cortices, spinas, coria, villos, saetas, pilos, plumam, pinnas, squamas, vellera; truncos etiam arboresque cortice, interdum gemino, a frigoribus et calore tutata est: hominem tantum nudum et in nuda humo natali die abicit ad vagitus statim et ploratum, nullumque tot animalium aliud pronius ad lacrimas, et has protinus vitae principio; at Hercule risus praecox ille et celerrimus ante XL diem nulli datur.
[3] ab hoc lucis rudimento quae ne feras quidem inter nos genitas vincula excipiunt et omnium membrorum nexus; itaque feliciter natus iacet manibus pedibusque devinctis flens, animal ceteris imperaturum, et a suppliciis vitam auspicatur unam tantum ob culpam, quia natum est. heu dementiam ab his initiis existimantium ad superbiam se genitos!
[4] prima roboris spes primumque temporis munus quadripedi similem facit. quando homini incessus! quando vox! quando firmum cibis os! quam diu palpitans vertex, summae inter cuncta animalia inbecillitatis indicium! iam morbi, totque medicinae contra mala excogitatae, et hae quoque subinde novitatibus victae! et cetera sentire naturam suam. alia pernicitatem usurpare, alia praepetes volatus, alia nare: hominem nihil scire nisi doctrina, non fari, non ingredi, non vesci, breviterque non aliud naturae sponte quam flere! itaque multi extitere qui non nasci optimum censerent aut quam ocissime aboleri.
[5] uni animantium luctus est datus, uni luxuria et quidem innumerabilibus modis ac per singula membra, uni ambitio, uni avaritia, uni inmensa vivendi cupido, uni superstitio, uni sepulturae cura atque etiam post se de futuro. nulli vita fragilior, nulli rerum omnium libido maior, nulli pavor confusior, nulli rabies acrior. denique cetera animantia in suo genere probe degunt: congregari videmus et stare contra dissimilia—leonum feritas inter se non dimicat, serpentium morsus non petit serpentis, ne maris quidem beluae ac pisces nisi in diversa genera saeviunt: at Hercule homini plurima ex homine sunt mala.
I corrected "who to eat" to "how to eat" in section 4. The mistake persists in the Digital Loeb Classical Library.

Commentary in Mary Beagon, The Elder Pliny on the Human Animal: Natural History, Book 7 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2005), pp. 108-116.

Saturday, April 29, 2017


Uplifters and Reformers

H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), Minority Report (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1956), p. 84, § 113:
Uplifters of all sorts spend their time cadging money from A to save the so-called underprivileged B. Once they settle down to their business the cadging of this money becomes an end in itself, and they'd keep on doing it even if all the underprivileged were succored. Even setting aside considerations of their private profit, it must be manifest that they are moved largely by mere professional zeal. Every quack always ends by convincing himself that his quackery is a boon to humanity. It is impossible to convince any given uplifter that the world would still go on if his graft were abolished.
Id., pp. 113-115, § 156:
Of all varieties of men, the one who is least comprehensible to me is the fellow who immolates himself upon the altar of what he conceives to be the public interest—in other words, the reformer, the uplifter, the man, so-called, of public spirit. What I am chiefly unable to understand is his oafish certainty that he is right—his almost pathological inability to grasp the notion that, after all, he may be wrong. As for me, I am never absolutely certain that I am right, and for the plain reason that I am never absolutely certain that anything is true. It may seem to me to be true, and I may be quite unable to imagine any proof of its falsity—but that is simply saying that my imagination is limited, not that the proposition itself is immovably sound. Some other man, better born than I was or drinking better liquor, may disprove it tomorrow. And if not tomorrow, then day after tomorrow, or maybe next week, or next year. I know of no so-called truth that quite escapes this possibility. Anything is conceivable in a world so irrational as this one.

But even if the truth were not wobbly I should still hesitate a long while before sacrificing any of my comfort or security to it. The man who does so seems to me to be one who deceives himself doubly. First, as I have noted, he convinces himself that he cannot be wrong, which is nonsense. And then he convinces himself that he is disinterested, which is also nonsense. Actually altruism simply does not exist on earth, at least in our present glorious age. Even the most devoted nun, laboring all her life in the hospitals, is sustained by the promise of a stupendous reward—in brief, billions of centuries of undescribable bliss for a few years of unpleasant but certainly not unendurable drudgery and privation. What passes for altruism among lesser practitioners is even less praiseworthy; in most cases, indeed, it is only too obviously selfish and even hoggish. In the case of the American reformer, in his average incarnation, the motive seldom gets beyond the yearning for power, the desire to boss things, the itch to annoy his neighbors. If they really wanted to be saved from their iniquities he would let them alone; if they bawled to give up their money he would not press them for it; if they did not flee him he would not pursue them. Well, this happens to be a motive that burns in my own breast very feebly, so I am not a reformer. Like all other men, of course, I pant for power—but not the power to afflict and dominate a rabble of my inferiors. I have had the job, in the past, of bossing them, but it gave me no joy, and I got rid of it as soon as possible. Thus I lack altogether the messianic hankering, and to that extent must remain a bad American. When people seem to me to be immersed in error and sin, I can discover no impulse to save them, but only a gentle hope that their follies will soon translate them to bliss eternal, and I'll be rid of the nuisance of their presence.



Xenophon, Hellenica 4.1.35 (tr. Carleton L. Brownson):
And being free is worth, in my opinion, as much as all manner of possessions.

καίτοι ἐλεύθερον εἶναι ἐγὼ μὲν οἶμαι ἀντάξιον εἶναι τῶν πάντων χρημάτων.


Grounds for Hope

Xenophon, Hellenica 3.4.18 (tr. Carleton L. Brownson):
For where men reverence the gods, train themselves in deeds of war, and practise obedience to authority, may we not reasonably suppose that such a place abounds in high hopes?

ὅπου γὰρ ἄνδρες θεοὺς μὲν σέβοιντο, τὰ δὲ πολεμικὰ ἀσκοῖεν, πειθαρχεῖν δὲ μελετῷεν, πῶς οὐκ εἰκὸς ἐνταῦθα πάντα μεστὰ ἐλπίδων ἀγαθῶν εἶναι;

Friday, April 28, 2017


Dedication of a Grammar Book

Rev. John B. Tabb (1845-1909), Bone Rules; or, Skeleton of English Grammar (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1901):

Thursday, April 27, 2017


Adam's Library

Isaac Disraeli (1766-1848), Curiosities of Literature, Vol. II (London: John Murray, 1824), p. 17:
The Irish antiquaries mention public libraries that were before the flood; and Paul Christian Ilsker, with profounder erudition, has given an exact catalogue of Adam's.
Paul Christian Ilsker is really Paul Christian Hilscher (1666-1730), and the work is De Bibliotheca Adami Schediasma (Dresden: Johann Michael Funcke, 1703), which is not a serious catalogue of Adam's books, but rather a list of what various scholars claimed to be books owned, read, or written by Adam. Hilscher's own low opinion of these scholars is evident throughout and especially when (on p. 12) he quotes Horace, Satires 1.5.100 (Credat Iudaeus Apella).

Related post: Books and Felicity.



David Whitehead, The Ideology of the Athenian Metic (Cambridge: Cambridge Philological Society, 1977), p. 7:
At all events, while an adequate translation of metoikos may elude us, its flavour is better captured by 'immigrant' than by such tired translationese as 'resident alien', which makes no attempt to come to grips with the word itself.


Libera Nos, Domine

Owen Hatteras (i.e. H.L. Mencken), "Petition," The Smart Set 36.2 (April, 1912) 157:
From pale parsons with translucent ears and from little girls who speak pieces; from the scent of tuberoses and from medicated lingerie; from dinner invitations from friends who have wives who have sisters who have no living husbands; from tight collars and from "No Smoking" signs; from elderly ladies who have sure cures for toothache, and from barbers with perfumed fingers; from the nocturnes of Chopin, and from the New Thought; from persons who pasture their children in the hallways of hotels, and from postage-due stamps; from the harsh cacophony of liquorish snoring, and from imitation mahogany furniture; from professional G.A.R. men, and from squeaky piano pedals; from adult males who wear diamonds, and from all high functionaries in fraternal orders; from bier-fisch, and from loose rugs on hardwood floors; from obscene novels by lady novelists, and from eczema; from grass butter, and from detachable cuffs; from fat women who loll grotesquely in automobiles, and from theater orchestras; from female bachelors of arts and from drizzly Sundays; from Fletcherism and from actors who speak of their "art;" from transcendentalism and from delirium tremens; from the Declaration of Independence and from cold dinner plates; from the key of B flat minor and from the struggle for existence; from pedants who denounce split infinitives, and from chemical purity; from canned book reviews and from German adverbs; from basso-profundos with prominent Adam's apples, and from platitudes; from Asiatic cholera and from the Harvardocentric theory of the universe—good Lord, deliver us!
Compose your own petition to fit the present day.


Call for an End to Civil Strife

Alcaeus, fragment 70, lines 9-12 (tr. David A. Campbell, with his Greek text and apparatus):
... and may we forget this anger; and let us relax from the heart-eating strife and civil warring, which one of the Olympians has aroused among us, leading the people to ruin ...

... ἐκ δὲ χόλω τῶδε λαθοίμεθ . . [·
χαλάσσομεν δὲ τὰς θυμοβόρω λύας
ἐμφύλω τε μάχας, τάν τις Ὀλυμπίων
ἔνωρσε, δᾶμον μὲν εἰς ἀυάταν ἄγων ...

9 λαθώμεθ᾿ Wilamowitz fort. -μεθ᾿ αὖ Lobel
The same, tr. M.L. West:
                          Let's put rage out of mind,
and let's wind down this spirit-gnawing strife
of kith and kin that some Olympian's roused,
bringing the people to calamity ...
Elementary notes to aid my feeble understanding (I don't have access to a commentary):
ἐκ ... λαθοίμεθ: tmesis for middle optative of ἐκλανθάνω (forget utterly, with genitive)
χόλω τῶδε: Aeolic for Attic χόλου τοῦδε
τὰς θυμοβόρω λύας: Aeolic for Attic τῆς θυμοβόρου λύης, genitive after χαλάσσομεν (LSJ s.v. χαλάω, sense II: have a remission of)
ἐμφύλω ... μάχας: Aeolic for Attic ἐμφύλου ... μάχης, genitive after χαλάσσομεν
ἀυάταν: Aeolic for Attic ἄτην

Wednesday, April 26, 2017



[Lucian,] Loves 27 (tr. M.D. Macleod):
For, generally speaking, unlike irrational animals we do not find solitary existences acceptable, but we are linked by a sociable fellowship and consider blessings sweeter and hardships lighter when shared. Hence was instituted the table that is shared, and, setting before us the board that is the mediator of friendship, we mete out to our bellies the enjoyment due to them, not drinking Thasian wine, for example, by ourselves, or stuffing ourselves with expensive dishes on our own, but each man thinks pleasant what he enjoys along with another, and in sharing our pleasures we find greater enjoyment.

σχεδὸν γὰρ οὐ κατὰ ταὐτὰ τοῖς ἀλόγοις ζῴοις τὰς μονήρεις διατριβὰς ἀσμενίζομεν, ἀλλά πως φιλεταίρῳ κοινωνίᾳ συζυγέντες ἡδίω τά τε ἀγαθὰ σὺν ἀλλήλοις ἡγούμεθα καὶ τὰ δυσχερῆ κουφότερα μετ᾿ ἀλλήλων. ὅθεν εὑρέθη τράπεζα κοινή· καὶ φιλίας μεσῖτιν ἑστίαν παραθέμενοι γαστρὶ τὴν ὀφειλομένην ἀπομετροῦμεν ἀπόλαυσιν, οὐ μόνοι τὸν Θάσιον, εἰ τύχοι, πίνοντες οἶνον οὐδὲ καθ᾿ αὑτοὺς τῶν πολυτελῶν πιμπλάμενοι σιτίων, ἀλλὰ δοκεῖ περπνὸν ἑκάστῳ τὸ μετ᾿ ἄλλου, καὶ τὰς ἡδονὰς κοινωσάμενοι μᾶλλον εὐφραινόμεθα.
Related posts:

Tuesday, April 25, 2017


Inferiority Complex

Anthony Trollope (1815-1882), Ralph the Heir, chapter XVI:
With all his scorn for gentry, Ontario Moggs in his heart feared a gentleman. He thought that he could make an effort to punch Ralph Newton's head if they two were ever to be brought together in a spot convenient for such an operation; but of the man's standing in the world, he was afraid. It seemed to him to be impossible that Polly should prefer him, or any one of his class, to a suitor whose hands were always clean, whose shirt was always white, whose words were soft and well-chosen, who carried with him none of the stain of work. Moggs was as true as steel in his genuine love of Labour,—of Labour with a great L,—of the People with a great P,—of Trade with a great T,—of Commerce with a great C; but of himself individually,—of himself, who was a man of the people, and a tradesman, he thought very little when he compared himself to a gentleman. He could not speak as they spoke; he could not walk as they walked; he could not eat as they ate. There was a divinity about a gentleman which he envied and hated.



Solon, fragment 23 West = Theognis 1253-1254 (tr. Ivan M. Linforth):
Happy is he who hath children dear and horses of uncloven hoof
and dogs for the chase and a friend to receive him in a foreign land.

ὄλβιος, ᾧ παῖδές τε φίλοι καὶ μώνυχες ἵπποι
    καὶ κύνες ἀγρευταὶ καὶ ξένος ἀλλοδαπός.
Others interpret παῖδες sensu erotico as boys. See Ivan M. Linforth, Solon the Athenian (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1919), pp. 175-178, and Maria Noussia-Fantuzzi, Solon the Athenian, the Poetic Fragments (Leiden; Brill, 2010), pp. 343-346. A friend in a foreign land is useful in case one is exiled.

Related post: Recipes for Happiness.


Superior to Any Commentary

Pierre Hadot (1922-2010), The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, tr. Michael Chase (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), p. x:
I have chosen to quote the Meditations abundantly. I hate those monographs which, instead of letting the author speak and staying close to the text, engage in obscure elucubrations which claim to carry out an act of decoding and reveal the "unsaid" of the thinker, without the reader's having the slightest idea of what that thinker really "said." Such a method unfortunately permits all kinds of deformations, distortions, and sleight of hand. Our era is captivating for all kinds of reasons: too often, however, from the philosophical and literary point of view, it could be defined as the era of the misinterpretation, if not of the pun: people can, it seems, say anything about anything. When I quote Marcus Aurelius, I want my reader to make contact with the text itself, which is superior to any commentary. I would like him to see how my interpretation tries to base itself on the text, and that he can verify my affirmations directly and immediately.


How Can Man Die Better?

Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859), "Horatius. A Lay Made about the Year of the City CCCLX," stanza 28, Lays of Ancient Rome:
To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late.
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds,
For the ashes of his fathers,
And the temples of his gods...
Matthew Arnold (1822-1888), "Last Words On Translating Homer":
But Lord Macaulay's
Then out spake brave Horatius,
    The captain of the gate:
'To all the men upon this earth
    Death cometh soon or late.' ...
(and here, since I have been reproached with undervaluing Lord Macaulay's Lays of Ancient Rome, let me frankly say that, to my mind, a man's power to detect the ring of false metal in those Lays is a good measure of his fitness to give an opinion about poetical matters at all)—I say, Lord Macaulay's
To all the men upon this earth
    Death cometh soon or late,
it is hard to read without a cry of pain.
Cf. Arnold's "On Translating Homer," Lecture II: continual falsetto, like the pinchbeck Roman Ballads of Lord Macaulay...
Arthur Quiller-Couch (1863-1944), Studies in Literature: Third Series (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1933), p. 191
Or we may take Macaulay's Lays. Matthew Arnold was utterly wrong in suggesting that these encourage bad taste, or that a liking for them supposes bad taste. So far as they go the Lays are sound, sane, clean as a whistle; and it is a poor game, anyhow, to discourage a boy's thrill over Horatius at the bridgehead and teach him to feel like a little prig...

Monday, April 24, 2017


All the Necessary Ingredients for a Political Career

Aristophanes, Knights 217-219 (tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
You've got everything else a demagogue needs:
a repulsive voice, low birth, marketplace morals—
you've got all the ingredients for a political career.

τὰ δ᾿ ἄλλα σοι πρόσεστι δημαγωγικά,
φωνὴ μιαρά, γέγονας κακῶς, ἀγοραῖος εἶ·
ἔχεις ἅπαντα πρὸς πολιτείαν ἃ δεῖ.


If I Could Only Read

H.L. Mencken, after suffering a stroke, to his brother, quoted in Terry Teachout, The Skeptic: A Life of H.L. Mencken (New York: HarperCollins, 2002), p. 320:
"If I could only read," he would say to August. "The rest of it doesn't matter. But if I could just read I'd be the happiest man in the world."
The source (from p. 386) is Robert Allen Durr, "The Last Days of H.L. Mencken," Yale Review (Autumn, 1958), which is unavailable to me.


Philosophy and the Teaching of Philosophy

Pierre Hadot (1922-2010), Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to Foucault, tr. Michael Chase (1995; rpt. Oxford: Blackwell, 1999), pp. 278-279:
The idea of a conflict between philosophy and the teaching of philosophy goes back to my youth. I think I came across it in Charles Péguy, who said: "Philosophy doesn't go to philosophy classes," and certainly in Jacques Maritain, who wrote: "Thomist metaphysics is called 'Scholastic' after its most severe trial. Scholastic pedagogy is its own worst enemy: it always has to triumph over its intimate adversary, the professor." Ever since I started doing philosophy, I've always believed that philosophy was a concrete act, which changed our perception of the world, and our life: not the construction of a system. It is a life, not a discourse.


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?