Monday: December 20, 2010
“The period of the winter solstice had been always a great festival with the northern nations, the commencement of the lengthening of the days being, indeed, of all points in the circle of the year, that in which the inhabitants of cold countries have most cause to rejoice. This great festival was anciently called Yule; whether derived from the Gothic Iola, to make merry; or from the Celtic Hiaul, the sun; or from the Danish and Swedish Hiul, signifying wheel or revolution, December being Hiul-month, or the month of return; or from the Cimbric word Ol, which has the important signification of ALE, is too knotty a controversy to be settled here: but Yule had been long a great festival, with both Celts and Saxons; and, with the change of religion, became the great festival of Christmas, retaining most of its ancient characteristics while England was Merry England; a phrase which must be a mirifical puzzle to any one who looks for the first time on its present most lugubrious inhabitants.
“The mistletoe of the oak was gathered by the Druids with great ceremonies, as a symbol of the season. The mistletoe continued to be so gathered, and to be suspended in halls and kitchens, if not in temples, implying an unlimited privilege of kissing; which circumstance, probably, led a learned antiquary to opine that it was the forbidden fruit.
“The Druids, at this festival, made, in a capacious cauldron, a mystical brewage of carefully-selected ingredients, full of occult virtues, which they kept from the profane, and which was typical of the new year and of the transmigration of the soul. The profane, in humble imitation, brewed a bowl of spiced ale, or wine, throwing therein roasted crabs; the hissing of which, as they plunged, piping hot, into the liquor, was heard with much unction at midwinter, as typical of the conjunct benignant influences of fire and strong drink. The Saxons called this the Wassail-bowl, and the brewage of it is reported to have been one of the charms with which Rowena fascinated Vortigern.”
(Thomas Love Peacock, The Misfortunes of Elphin, Chapter XII)
The “roasted crabs” of the third paragraph are surely crab-apples rather than crustaceans.
Wednesday: November 17, 2010
Laudator Temporis Acti quotes Basil L. Gildersleeve:
Platonic scholars, with rare exceptions, are roughly to be divided into two classes, those who can understand the thought but not the Greek and those who can read the Greek but cannot understand the thought . . .
According to Palladas (A.P. 11.305) there is, or was in his day, a third kind, who belongs to neither class but pretends to belong to both:
Child of shamelessness, most ignorant, foster-child of stupidity, tell me, why do you hold your head high, though you know nothing? Among the grammarians you are a Platonist, but if someone asks about Plato’s teachings, you are once again a grammarian. You flee from the one to the other, but neither do you know the grammatical art nor are you a Platonist.
Here is the Greek:
Τέκνον ἀναιδείης, ἀμαθέστατε, θρέμμα μορίης,
εἰπέ, τί βρενθύηι μηδὲν ἐπιστάμενος;
ἐν μὲν γραμματικοῖς ὁ Πλατωνικός· ἂν δὲ Πλάτωνος
δόγματά τις ζητῆι, γραμματικὸς σὺ πάλιν.
ἐξ ἑτέρου φεύγεις ἐπὶ θάτερον· οὔτε δὲ τέχνην
οἶσθα γραμματικήν, οὔτε Πλατωνικὸς εἶ.
If the Greek text is unintelligible, try the PDF version at my long-abandoned Ioci Antiqui page: scroll down to Joke 43 on page 13 (December 13th, 2000).
I wonder if Gildersleeve was thinking of Palladas: he does write “roughly”.
Thursday: February 11, 2010
This is the best thing of its kind since the Sokol hoax.
Wednesday: July 1, 2009
In its article on Leibniz, Wikipedia reports: “No philosopher has ever had as much experience with practical affairs of state as Leibniz, except possibly Marcus Aurelius.” Possibly? Privy Counselor of Justice to the House of Brunswick, trusted adviser to the Electress of Hanover and the Queen of Prussia, and Imperial Court Counselor to the Habsburgs are important positions, beyond the reach of most philosophers, but they hardly compare to being Emperor of Rome.
Thursday: May 22, 2008
Topsius, a fictional German professor of Biblical archaeology who drinks beer with his breakfast:
Socrates é a semente; Platão a flôr; Aristoteles o fructo . . . E d’esta arvore, assim completa, se tem nutrido o espirito humano!
(Eça de Queiroz, A Relíquia, III)
Socrates is the seed, Plato the flower, Aristotle the fruit; and on this tree, thus complete, the human spirit has been nourished!
(Eça de Queiroz, The Relic, Chapter III)
Sunday: November 18, 2007
El cinismo es una filosofía de adolescente inteligente.
Cynicism is a philosphy of the bright adolescent.
(Nicolás Gómez Dávila, Notas, 393)
Sunday: October 21, 2007
Facts about the ancient world, even when mentioned in ancient texts, are not always found in the texts we would think of consulting first, or second, or at all. In his commentary on Martial I, Peter Howell refers (205) to Philodemus, On Methods of Inference (II.3f., if anyone wants to look it up) as the source for a list of “celebrated dwarfs (Egyptian, and possibly Syrian)”. What dwarfs and their names have to do with formal logic is not obvious, though I’m not quite intrigued enough to try to find out.
Sunday: August 27, 2006
This is Richard Stoneman’s paraphrase of a German source:
Frederick the Great . . . has strong views as to how these improvements to the German language shall be effected. For a start, something has to be done to prevent the further corruption of German taste by the appalling plays (die abscheulichen Stücke) of Shakespeare, which have already been translated into German. Not only do these plays not observe the unities, but they allow the mixing of classes on stage: kings and gravediggers may appear in conversation! Frederick’s second recommendation is the imposition of a national or core curriculum on all professors and philosophers: ‘In my view, one should prescribe to every professor precisely the rules which he is to follow in his lectures.’ He proceeds to do so; the rules include the detail that the professor must denigrate the philosophy of Epicurus, defend Galileo, and say nothing at all about Locke.
(Richard Stoneman, “‘A Crazy Enterprise’: German Translators of Sophocles, from Opitz to Boeckh”, Chapter 13 (pages 307-29) of Sophocles Revisited, Essays presented to Sir Hugh Lloyd-Jones, edited by Jasper Griffin, Oxford, 1999, at 310. Stoneman’s footnote on the royal quotation refers to page 81 of H. Steinmetz (ed.), Friedrich II, König von Preussen, und die deutsche Literatur des 18. Jahrhunderts: Texte und Dokumente, Stuttgart, 1985.)
Sunday: May 14, 2006
A link from Martin Kramer led me to two articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education by the pseudonymous ‘Thomas H. Benton’, The 7 Deadly Sins of Students and The 7 Deadly Sins of Professors. Here’s a bit from the first:
Gluttony: It hardly needs saying that most colleges struggle to control alcohol consumption by students and the embarrassing incidents and tragedies that result from it. But there are other manifestations of gluttony these days. For example, when did it become acceptable for students to eat and drink in class as if they were sitting in a cafeteria? Nowadays, I occasionally encounter a student who thinks it’s OK to consume a large, messy, and odorous meal in class. I once saw a student eat an entire rotisserie chicken, a tub of mashed potatoes with gravy, several biscuits, and an enormous soft drink during the first 10 minutes of a lecture. I felt like a jester in the court of Henry VIII. It seems hard these days to find a student in class whose mouth is not stuffed with food. Such students will often say that they have no other time to eat, but previous generations — who were no less busy — managed to consume small snacks between classes. That is why colleges have vending machines.
I don’t know when it became acceptable, but eating in class was not unheard of even thirty years ago. That was when I took a class on Aristotle’s Ethics at the supposedly-ascetic University of Chicago. One day, as we were discussing a chapter on one of the Greek virtues, we watched the plumpest student in the class scarf down three hot dogs and a 20-ounce soda in under 10 minutes, while doing most of the talking. He had some difficulty making himself understood, since his mouth was full the whole time. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the room who had to stifle the urge to say “what the Heck do you know about sophrosyne, you disgusting pig?”
Las escuelas filosóficas fueron las órdenes monásticas de la antigüedad.
El pitagorismo, por ejemplo, se parece más a la reforma cluniacense que al idealismo alemán.
The philosophical schools were the monastic orders of antiquity.
Pythagoreanism, for example, has more resemblance to the Cluniac reform than to German idealism.
(Nicolás Gómez Dávila, Escolios a un Texto Implícito, 1.218)
Sunday: March 5, 2006
Laudator Temporis Acti posts a tidbit from Rabelais about the disgusting habits of the Bonasos, or Paeonian ox, with an ancient parallel from the Elder Pliny. Here is what Pseudo-Aristotle has to say on the subject in chapter 1 of his delightful work De Mirabilibus Auscultationibus, “On Marvellous Things Heard”:
Men say that in Paeonia, on the mountain called Hesaenus, which forms the boundary between the Paeonian and Maedian districts, there is found a wild beast, which is called Bolinthos, but by the Paeonians is named Monaepos. They state that this in its general nature is similar to the ox, but surpasses it in size and strength, and moreover is distinguished from it by its mane; for like the horse it has a mane hanging down very thick from the neck, and from the crown of the head as far as its eyes. It has horns, not such as oxen have, but bent downwards, the tip being low down near the ears; and these severally contain more than three pints, and very black, and shine as though they were peeled; and when the hide is stripped off it occupies a space capable of containing eight couches. When the animal is struck with a weapon it flees, and only stops when it is quite exhausted. Its flesh has an agreeable taste. It defends itself by kicking, and voiding excrement over a distance of about twenty-four feet. It easily and frequently employs this kind of defence, and the excretion burns so severely that the hair of the dogs is scraped off. They say, however, that the excrement produces this effect only when the animal is disturbed, but when it is undisturbed it does not burn. When they bring forth young, assembling in large numbers and being all gathered closely together, the full-grown ones bring forth, and void excrement as a defence round their young; for the animal discharges a large quantity of this excretion.
And here is Aristotle (?) himself, in the History of Animals, 9.45:
The bison is found in Paeonia on Mount Messapium, which separates Paeonia from Maedica; and the Paeonians call it the monapos. It is the size of a bull, but stouter in build, and not long in the body; its skin, stretched tight on a frame, would give sitting room for seven people. In general it resembles the ox in appearance, except that it has a mane that reaches down to the point of the shoulder, as that of the horse reaches down to its withers; but the hair in its mane is softer than the hair in the horse’s mane, and clings more closely. The colour of the hair is brown-yellow; the mane reaches down to the eyes, and is deep and thick. The colour of the body is half red, half ashen-grey, like that of the so-called chestnut horse, but rougher. It has an undercoat of woolly hair. The animal is not found either very black or very red. It has the bellow of a bull. Its horns are crooked, turned inwards towards each other and useless for purposes of self-defence; they are a span broad, or a little more, and in volume each horn would hold about three pints of liquid; the black colour of the horn is beautiful and bright. The tuft of hair on the forehead reaches down to the eyes, so that the animal sees objects on either flank better than objects right in front. It has no upper teeth, as is the case also with kine and all other horned animals. Its legs are hairy; it is cloven-footed, and the tail, which resembles that of the ox, seems not big enough for the size of its body. It tosses up dust and scoops out the ground with its hooves, like the bull. Its skin is impervious to blows. Owing to the savour of its flesh it is sought for in the chase. When it is wounded it runs away, and stops only when thoroughly exhausted. It defends itself against an assailant by kicking and projecting its excrement to a distance of eight yards; this device it can easily adopt over and over again, and the excrement is so pungent that the hair of hunting-dogs is burnt off by it. It is only when the animal is disturbed or alarmed that the dung has this property; when the animal is undisturbed it has no blistering effect. So much for the shape and habits of the animal. When the season comes for parturition the mothers give birth to their young in troops upon the mountains. Before dropping their young they scatter their dung in all directions, making a kind of circular rampart around them; for the animal has the faculty of ejecting excrement in most extraordinary quantities.
Is Pseudo-Aristotle a common plagiarist? I don’t have the books to say, but it certainly looks that way. The translations are by (1) L. D. Dowdall, from The Complete Works of Aristotle, the revised Oxford translation, edited by Jonathan Barnes, Princeton, 1984, volume 2, page 1272, 830a5ff, and (2) D’Arcy W. Thomson, on-line here. Search for ‘45’ to find the chapter. If I’ve coordinated my ancient and modern maps correctly, the habitat of the Paeonian ox is the eastern third of FYROM, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
What LTA does not mention is that Pliny’s Bonasos — Pseudo-Aristotle’s Bolinthos — is surely the bovine known as the European Bison or Wisent, Bison bonasus. It is very similar to the American bison, Bison bison, with two exceptions:
- The European bison is big — up to nine feet long and a ton in weight — but not quite so big as the American.
- It is less oddly-proportioned than the American bison, its shoulders (relatively) not so huge, nor its buttocks so tiny.
The best source for information I’ve found on the web was compiled by Donald Patterson for a Geography class at San Francisco state: it also has the best picture, which I will copy here to avoid link-rot:
A Google search on “European bison” will lead to more information and pictures. The description fits tolerably well: the wisent is indeed bigger than an ox, with a mane and smallish smooth black horns. There doesn’t seem to be anything on the web about voiding excrement when frightened, but frightening a wisent would be difficult, and dangerous, even if it were not illegal to annoy endangered species, so I don’t suppose anyone has checked in the last century.
Here are the most interesting bits from Patterson’s timeline (with references omitted):
1915 – 785 lowland bison survive. World War I—German troops occupy the Bialowieza area and kill close to 600 bison for meat, hides and horns. A German scientist brings to the attention of army officers animals imminent extinction. Protection set up to try to maintain herds at about 200 animals. As war comes to an end, retreating German soldiers shoot all but 9 bison.
1919 - Last wild lowland bison shot by a poacher, Nikolaj Szpakowicz.
1923 – 54 bison survive in zoos and private holdings . . . .
Breeding in the Polish nature reserve at Bialowieza has increased the herd from 35 in 1960 to several hundred today. It’s interesting what can be known or not known in different times and places: the Caucasian subspecies wasn’t even discovered until the 1830s, but we know the name of the man who shot the last wild Lowland Bison in 1919. I hope Nikolaj Szpakowicz spent the rest of his life in jail.
An interesting question for casuits: If Szpakowicz knew he was shooting the last one, and did not know that others survived in zoos, does that make it worse, or might he have argued that the real criminal was whoever shot the last one of the other gender?
Friday: September 30, 2005
Aristotle’s is well-known, the first sentence of the Metaphysics:
pántes hoi ánthropoi toû eidénai orégontai phúsei.
All humans by nature desire knowledge.
Plato’s is less well-known, being tucked away in a complex argument in Book VII of the Republic (535e), where Socrates describes:
anáperon psukhén . . . hè àn tò mèn hekoúsion pseûdos misêi kaì khalepôs phérei auté te kaì hetéron pseudoménon huperaganaktêi, tò d’ akoúsion eukólos prosdékhetai kaì amathaínousá pou haliskoméne mè aganaktêi, all’ eukherôs hósper theríon húeion en amathíai molúnetai.
. . . the lame soul which hates the voluntary falsehood and not only cannot bear to lie itself but is greatly angered when others lie, yet cheerfully accepts the involuntary falsehood and is not distressed when caught in ignorance of something, but wallows in ignorance like a brutal hog.
Friday: August 26, 2005
I’ve been leafing through Fulke Greville’s Caelica, partly as congenial bedtime reading, partly to try to find a favorite passage from years ago. It turns out to be lines 69-74 of poem LXXXIII:
The ship of Greece, the streams and she be not the same
They were, although ship, streams and she still bear their antique name.
The wood which was, is worn, those waves are run away,
Yet still a ship, and still a stream, still running to a sea.
She lov’d, and still she loves, but doth not still love me,
To all except myself yet is, as she was wont to be.
The reference to Heraclitus and the impossibility of stepping in the same stream twice (or even once) is fairly obvious, but “the ship of Greece” is more obscure. The reference is to a story told in Plutarch’s Life of Theseus 23:
The ship on which Theseus sailed with the youths and returned in safety, the thirty-oared galley, was preserved by the Athenians down to the time of Demetrius Phalereus. They took away the old timbers from time to time, and put new and sound ones in their places, so that the vessel became a standing illustration for the philosophers in the mooted question of growth, some declaring that it remained the same, others that it was not the same vessel. (Bernadotte Perrin’s Loeb translation)
This was the subject of an interesting thread on the Classics list that started seven years ago tomorrow: scroll down to “Argo puzzler”. (The person asking about the ship was under the impression that it was Jason’s, not Theseus’.) When I tracked down the passage just now, I found that I had remembered it almost, but not quite, word for word, after something like twenty years. (When I quoted it in 1998, it was from memory.) Which words had I dropped? “They were” in the second line, which don’t seem to add much to the thought or the rhythm.
Wednesday: August 24, 2005
I am now deep in Plato, and intend to go right through all his works. His genius is above praise. Even where he is most absurd,–as, for example, in the Cratylus,–he shows an acuteness, and an expanse of intellect, which is quite a phenomenon by itself. The character of Socrates does not rise upon me. The more I read about him, the less I wonder that they poisoned him. If he had treated me as he is said to have treated Protagoras, Hippias, and Gorgias, I could never have forgiven him.
George Otto Trevelyan, The Life and Letters of Lord Macaulay, i.403.
Monday: August 22, 2005
According to Herodotus, Xerxes wept at the sight of his enormous army to think that, of all these men, not one would be alive in a hundred years’ time; so who cannot but weep at the sight of the thick fair catalogues to think that, of all these books, not one will be alive in ten years’ time.
Sunday: August 21, 2005
As the strata of the earth preserve in succession the living creatures of past epochs, so the shelves of libraries preserve in succession the errors of the past and their expositions, which like the former were very lively and made a great commotion in their own age but now stand petrified and stiff in a place where only the literary palaeontologist regards them.
Essay and Aphorisms, tr. R. J. Hollingdale, Penguin, 1970, page 209.
Monday: August 15, 2005
Buying books would be a good thing if one could also buy the time to read them in: but as a rule the purchase of books is mistaken for the appropriation of their contents.
The art of not reading is a very important one. It consists in not taking an interest in whatever may be engaging the attention of the general public at any particular time. When some political or ecclesiastical pamphlet, or novel, or poem is making a great commotion, you should remember that he who writes for fools always finds a large public. — A precondition for reading good books is not reading bad ones: for life is short.
Essay and Aphorisms, tr. R. J. Hollingdale, Penguin, 1970, page 210.
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