Friday, January 20, 2017


Near and Dear

Pindar, fragment 52d = Paean 4, lines 32-35 (tr. Richmond Lattimore):
What is near home, city and hearth
and kinship, this gives a man something to stay
and love, and the passion for what is far away
belongs to vain fools.

τὸ δὲ οἴκοθεν ἄστυ κα[ὶ ἑστία
καὶ συγγένει' ἀνδρὶ φ[ερέγγυα
στέρξαι· ματ[αί]ων δ' [ἔπλετ᾿ ἔρως τῶν
ἑκὰς ἐόντων.

32-33 suppl. Wilamowitz, 34 suppl. Housman
My version:
Home town and hearth and kindred—trustworthy things for a man to love; to empty-headed people belongs a passion for things that are far off.
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Is Barbaros a Barbarian Word?

Edith Hall, Inventing the Barbarian (1989; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991), p. 4:
The Greek term barbaros, by the fifth century used both as a noun and an adjective, was ironically oriental in origin, and formed by reduplicative onomatopoeia. Originally it was simply an adjective representing the sound of incomprehensible speech.5

5 See Weidner 1913; Specht 1939, p. 11; Limet 1972, p. 124. There are similar words in several early oriental languages, especially the Babylonian-Sumerian barbaru, 'foreigner'. Pokorny 1959, pp. 91-2, connects the term with numerous Indo-European words designating the meaningless or inarticulate, including the Latin balbutio, and the English baby.
But cf. Pierre Chantraine, Dictionnaire étymologique de la langue grecque, Vol. I (Paris: Éditions Klincksieck, 1968), p. 165:
On a évoqué sumérien bar-bar «étranger», sém. babyl. barbaru, «étranger»: Weidner, Gl. 4, 1913, 303 sq., Specht, KZ 66, 1939, 11; hypothèse périmée, car. akkad. barbaru signifie toujours «loup» et rien d'autre.
I'm unqualified to judge.



Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986), "Another Poem of Gifts" (tr. Alan Dugan):
I want to give thanks to the divine
Labyrinth of causes and effects
For the diversity of beings
That form this singular universe,
For Reason, that will never give up its dream
Of a map of the labyrinth,
For Helen's face and the perseverance of Ulysses,
For love, which lets us see others
As God sees them,
For the solid diamond and the flowing water,
For Algebra, a palace of exact crystals,
For the mystic coins of Angelus Silesius,
For Schopenhauer,
Who perhaps deciphered the universe,
For the blazing of fire,
That no man can look at without an ancient wonder,
For mahogany, cedar, and sandalwood,
For bread and salt,
For the mystery of the rose
That spends all its color and can not see it,
For certain eves and days of 1955,
For the hard riders who, on the plains,
Drive on the cattle and the dawn,
For mornings in Montevideo,
For the art of friendship,
For Socrates' last day,
For the words spoken one twilight
From one cross to another,
For that dream of Islam that embraced
A thousand nights and a night,
For that other dream of Hell,
Of the tower of cleansing fire
And of the celestial spheres,
For Swedenborg,
Who talked with the angels in London streets,
For the secret and immemorial rivers
That converge in me,
For the language that, centuries ago, I spoke in Northumberland,
For the sword and harp of the Saxons,
For the sea, which is a shining desert
And a secret code for things we do not know
And an epitaph for the Norsemen,
For the word music of England,
For the word music of Germany,
For gold, that shines in verses,
For epic winter,
For the title of a book I have not read: Gesta Dei per Francos,
For Verlaine, innocent as the birds,
For crystal prisms and bronze weights,
For the tiger's stripes,
For the high towers of San Francisco and Manhattan Island,
For mornings in Texas,
For that Sevillian who composed the Moral Epistle
And whose name, as he would have wished, we do not know,
For Seneca and Lucan, both of Cordova,
Who, before there was Spanish, had written
All Spanish literature,
For gallant, noble, geometric chess,
For Zeno's tortoise and Royce's map,
For the medicinal smell of eucalyptus trees,
For speech, which can be taken for wisdom,
For forgetfulness, which annuls or modifies the past,
For habits,
Which repeat us and confirm us in our image like a mirror,
For morning, that gives us the illusion of a new beginning,
For night, its darkness and its astronomy,
For the bravery and happiness of others,
For my country, sensed in jasmine flowers
Or in an old sword,
For Whitman and Francis of Assisi, who already wrote this poem,
For the fact that the poem is inexhaustible
And becomes one with the sum of all created things
And will never reach its last verse
And varies according to its writers,
For Frances Haslam, who begged her children's pardon
For dying so slowly,
For the minutes that precede sleep,
For sleep and death,
Those two hidden treasures,
For the intimate gifts I do not mention,
For music, that mysterious form of time.
Frances Haslam was Borges' English grandmother.

Thursday, January 19, 2017


Certain Words

Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1848-1931), Sappho und Simonides (Berlin: Weidmann, 1913), p. 247, n. 1 (on the word καιρός, my translation):
It is just such words, with no equivalent in any other language, that teach us not only to understand Greek, but to feel in Greek.

Grade solche Wörter, die in keiner anderen Sprache ein Aequivalent haben, lehren nicht nur griechisch verstehen, sondern griechisch fühlen.


The Greatest Goods

Isocrates, Panathenaicus 7-8 (tr. George Norlin):
For I have had my share of the greatest goods of life—the things which all men would pray the gods to have as their portion: first of all, I have enjoyed health both of body and of soul, not in common degree, but in equal measure with those who have been most blessed in these respects; secondly, I have been in comfortable circumstances, so that I have not lacked for any of the moderate satisfactions nor for those that a sensible man would desire; and, lastly, I have been ranked, not among those who are despised or ignored, but among those whom the most cultivated of the Hellenes will recall and talk about as men of consequence and worth.

ἐγὼ γὰρ μετεσχηκὼς τῶν μεγίστων ἀγαθῶν, ὧν ἅπαντες ἂν εὔξαιντο μεταλαβεῖν, πρῶτον μὲν τῆς περὶ τὸ σῶμα καὶ τὴν ψυχὴν ὑγιείας οὐχ ὡς ἔτυχον, ἀλλ᾿ ἐναμίλλως τοῖς μάλιστα περὶ ἑκάτερον τούτων εὐτυχηκόσιν, ἔπειτα τῆς περὶ τὸν βίον εὐπορίας, ὥστε μηδενὸς πώποτ᾿ ἀπορῆσαι τῶν μετρίων μηδ᾿ ὧν ἄνθρωπος ἂν νοῦν ἔχων ἐπιθυμήσειεν, ἔτι τοῦ μὴ τῶν καταβεβλημένων εἷς εἶναι μηδὲ τῶν κατημελημένων, ἀλλ᾿ ἐκείνων περὶ ὧν οἱ χαριέστατοι τῶν Ἑλλήνων καὶ μνησθεῖεν ἂν καὶ διαλεχθεῖεν ὡς σπουδαίων ὄντων.


Holy Crap

Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, tr. Joseph Ward Swain (New York: Collier Books, 1961), p. 261, n. 43:
Even the excreta have a religious character. See Preuss, Der Ursprung der Religion und Kunst, especially ch. ii, entitled Der Zauber der Defäkation (Globus, LXXXVI, pp. 325 ff.).
A fuller reference: Konrad Theodor Preuss (1869-1938), "Der Ursprung der Religion und Kunst," Globus. Illustrierte Zeitschrift für Länder- und Völkerkunde 86 (1904) 321-327, 355-363, 375-379, 388-392, and 87 (1905) 333-337, 347-350, 380-384, 394-400, 413-419.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017


Up Above the World So High

A poem by Nishiyama Sōin (1605-1682), tr. Steven D. Carter, Haiku Before Haiku: From the Renga Masters to Bashō (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), p. 138:
So far removed
from our dusty world—
cool moon in the sky.



Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), "The Olive Tree," Complete Essays, Vol. IV: 1936-1938 (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2001), pp. 419-427 (at 422):
The English are Germans who have partially "gone Latin." But for William the Conqueror and the Angevins we should be just another nation of Teutons, speaking some uninteresting dialect of Dutch or Danish. The Normans gave us the English language, that beautifully compounded mixture of French and Saxon; and the English language molded the English mind. By Latin out of German: such is our pedigree. We are essentially mongrels: that is the whole point of us. To be mongrels is our mission. If we would fulfill this mission adequately we must take pains to cultivate our mongrelism. Our Saxon and Celtic flesh requires to be constantly rewedded to the Latin spirit. For the most part the English have always realized this truth and acted upon it. From the time of Chaucer onwards almost all our writers have turned, by a kind of infallible instinct, like swallows, toward the South—toward the phantoms of Greece and Rome, toward the living realities of France and Italy. On the rare occasions when, losing their orientation, they have turned eastward and northward, the results have been deplorable. The works of Carlyle are there, an awful warning, to remind us of what happens when the English forget that their duty is to be mongrels and go whoring, within the bounds of consanguinity, after German gods.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


Let Us Cease from Wrath

Prince Shōtoku (574-622), Seventeen-Article Constitution, from Article X, tr. W.G. Aston, Nihongi, Chronicles of Japan from the Earliest Times to A.D. 697, Vol. I (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., Limited, 1896 = Transactions and Proceedings of the Japan Society, Supplement I), p. 131:
Let us cease from wrath, and refrain from angry looks. Nor let us be resentful when others differ from us. For all men have hearts, and each heart has its own leanings. Their right is our wrong, and our right is their wrong.


No Common Ground

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), "Writers and Readers," Complete Essays, Vol. IV: 1936-1938 (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2001), pp. 5-29 (at 26-27, footnote omitted):
In the past the minds of cultured Europeans were shaped and shored up by the Bible and the Greek and Latin classics. Men's philosophy of life tended to crystallize itself in phrases from the Gospels or the Odes of Horace, from the Iliad or the Psalms. Job and Sappho, Juvenal and the Preacher gave style to their despair, their loves, their indignations, their cynicisms. Experience taught them the wisdom that flowed along verbal channels prepared by Aeschylus and Solomon; and the existence of these verbal channels was itself an invitation to learn wisdom from experience. Today most of us resemble Shakespeare in at least one important respect: we know little Latin and less Greek. Even the Bible is rapidly becoming, if not a closed, at any rate a very rarely opened book. The phrases of the Authorized Version no longer prop and canalize our minds. St. Paul and the Psalmist have gone the way of Virgil and Horace. What authors have taken their place? Whose words support contemporary men and women? The answer is that there exists no single set of authoritative books. The common ground of all the Western cultures has slipped away from under our feet.


Let's Drink a Cup of Wine

A poem by Chong Ch'ol (1536-1593), tr. Richard Rutt, The Bamboo Grove: An Introduction to Sijo (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971), no. 239, with translator's note:
Let's drink a cup of wine! And then drink another!
                          Let's pluck flowers and lay them out
                          to count off our endless cups!

Once your body is dead
                          it will be bound in a straw mat
                          and carried away on a jiggy,
                          or sway in a brilliant bier followed
                          by thousands of mourners,
                          but still it will go to the reeds and the rushes,
                          the oaks and the willows,
                          where the sun shines yellow
                          and the moon shines white,
                          where fine rain falls
                          and snowflakes whirl in the wind:
                          and then who will say, "Let's drink a cup!"?

Some monkey will come and chatter on your grave,
                          and what use will regrets be then?

A jiggy (Korean chige) is a wooden carrying-frame, held on the shoulders by straps of straw rope. It places the weight of the load in the center of a man's back, and is the ubiquitous equipment of farmers and laborers.


Worthy Themes

Isocrates, Antidosis 76-77 (tr. George Norlin):
First of all, tell me what eloquence could be more righteous or more just than one which praises our ancestors in a manner worthy of their excellence and of their achievements? Again, what could be more patriotic or more serviceable to Athens than one which shows that by virtue both of our other benefactions and of our exploits in war we have greater claims to the hegemony than the Lacedaemonians? And, finally, what discourse could have a nobler or a greater theme than one which summons the Hellenes to make an expedition against the barbarians and counsels them to be of one mind among themselves?

καὶ πρῶτον μὲν ποῖος γένοιτ᾿ ἂν λόγος ὁσιώτερος ἢ δικαιότερος τοῦ τοὺς προγόνους ἐγκωμιάζοντος ἀξίως τῆς ἀρετῆς τῆς ἐκείνων καὶ τῶν ἔργων τῶν πεπραγμένων αὐτοῖς; ἔπειτα τίς ἂν πολιτικώτερος καὶ μᾶλλον πρέπων τῇ πόλει τοῦ τὴν ἡγεμονίαν ἀποφαίνοντος ἔκ τε τῶν ἄλλων εὐεργεσιῶν καὶ τῶν κινδύνων ἡμετέραν οὖσαν μᾶλλον ἢ Λακεδαιμονίων; ἔτι δὲ τίς ἂν περὶ καλλιόνων καὶ μειζόνων πραγμάτων τοῦ τοὺς Ἕλληνας ἐπί τε τὴν τῶν βαρβάρων στρατείαν παρακαλοῦντος καὶ περὶ τῆς πρὸς ἀλλήλους ὁμονοίας συμβουλεύοντος;

Monday, January 16, 2017


Drowning in Filth

George Orwell, Diaries (April 27, 1942):
We are all drowning in filth. When I talk to anyone or read the writings of anyone who has any axe to grind, I feel that intellectual honesty and balanced judgement have simply disappeared from the face of the earth. Everyone's thought is forensic, everyone is simply putting a "case" with deliberate suppression of his opponent's point of view, and, what is more, with complete insensitiveness to any sufferings except those of himself and his friends.


A Bad Habit

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), "Writers and Readers," Complete Essays, Vol. IV: 1936-1938 (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2001), pp. 5-29 (at 5-6):
To a considerable extent reading has become, for almost all of us, an addiction, like cigarette-smoking. We read, most of the time, not because we wish to instruct ourselves, not because we long to have our feelings touched and our imagination fired, but because reading is one of our bad habits, because we suffer when we have time to spare and no printed matter with which to plug the void. Deprived of their newspaper or a novel, reading-addicts will fall back on cookery books, on the literature that is wrapped round bottles and patent medicines, on those instructions for keeping the contents crisp which are printed on the outside of boxes of breakfast cereals. On anything.
Related posts:

Sunday, January 15, 2017



Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), "To Urbanus," lines 17-20 (tr. Niall Rudd):
No page is more welcome to the Muses than that which knows how to combine grave and gay, and to refresh the weary mind with helpful trifles.

Non ulla Musis pagina gratior
Quam quae severis ludicra iungere
    Novit, fatigatamque nugis
        Utilibus recreare mentem.


The Coral Reefs of Scholarship

Michael King (1945-2004), Being Pakeha Now: Reflections and Recollections of a White Native (Auckland: Penguin Books, 1999), p. 218 (Eric = Eric McCormick [1906-1995], at the 41st International PEN Conference in London in 1976):
Of everything that occurred that week, however, I was most moved by a remark Eric made in the course of our evening at Westminster. The function of the scholar, he said then, was analogous to that of the coral organism. One lays down one's own skeleton on the heap of bones left by others, who by so doing have built up a patterned structure. One also does it for the benefit of later comers, who will in turn lay their remains on yours. It is the inclusive effect of this accretion that creates meaning, Eric said, not the individual contribution. I cannot think of any metaphor which better describes the organic growth of culture and scholarship; nor of one which is more indicative of Eric's own monumental patience, humility and achievements as a writer and scholar.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Saturday, January 14, 2017


In Bed

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), "Translation of Lines by Benserade," Poems (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964; rpt. 1975), p. 293:
In bed we laugh, in bed we cry,
And born in bed, in bed we die;
The near approach a bed may shew
Of human bliss to human woe.
French original:
Théâtre des ris et des pleurs
Lit! où je nais, et où je meurs,
Tu nous fais voir comment voisins
Sont nos plaisirs et chagrins.


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