Monday: April 29, 2013
Today is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Constantine Cavafy, and the 80th anniversary of the death of . . . Constantine Cavafy. I can think of many better ways to celebrate one’s 70th birthday than dying on it, but it does make for a nice symmetry.
So where’s the party? I have not seen the doubly significant date mentioned on any of the many websites that I read, some of which are devoted to literature or culture in general. Even www.cavafy.com, “the official website of the Cavafy archive”, and The Cavafy Museum in Alexandria website have nothing posted for the day.
Sunday: May 9, 2010
On a Latin play about Richard III by the master of Caius College, Cambridge (1579):
. . . Legge’s was a poverty-stricken mind; his Latin versification might crimson the cheek of a preparatory schoolboy, and but for the sad fact that by the time they have read sufficiently to write on English literature, scholars have only too often lost the gift, unhappily for their readers, of knowing what is boring and what is not, this fatuous production of a shallow pedant would have been treated with as little respect as it deserves.
(F. L. Lucas, Seneca and Elizabethan Tragedy, 1922, page 97)
He adds a footnote on the last word:
It may be added that John Palmer of St John’s who took the part of Richard “had his head so possest with a prince-like humour” that he behaved like a potentate ever after, and died in prison as a result of his regal prodigalities.
Tuesday: March 17, 2009
When Orson Welles was filming Macbeth, Othello, and Chimes at Midnight, did the crew call him Horson Welles? Behind his back, or to his face, it would have been a thoroughly Shakespearian pun.
Saturday: January 3, 2009
D. A. West, in Horace Odes I: Carpe Diem, Oxford 1995, 6-7:
In Horace the tone is often elusive. Perhaps the nearest thing in English is the parody [of Odes 1.1] by Kipling in ‘A Diversity of Creatures’:
There are whose study is of smells,
Who to attentive schools rehearse
How something mixed with something else
Makes something worse.
Some cultivate in broths impure
The clients of our body; these,
Increasing without Venus, cure
Or cause disease.
Others the heated wheel extol,
And all its offspring, whose concern
Is how to make it farthest roll
And fastest turn.
Me, much incurious if the hour
Present, or to be paid for, brings
Me to Brundisium by the power
Of wheels or wings,
Me, in whose breast no flame has burned
Life long, save that by Pindar lit,
Such lore leaves cold; nor have I turned
Aside for it,
More than when, sunk in thought profound
of what the unaltered Gods require,
My steward (friend but slave) brings round
Logs for my fire.
Tuesday: December 23, 2008
Waking up at 4:20 in the morning singing (inaudibly, I hope) Travis Tritt’s “The Whisky Ain’t Workin’ Anymore”, just the one line, but with “Nyquil” substituted for “whisky”. If you’re awake at 4:20, it’s definitely not workin’.
Sunday: May 25, 2008
Notes from my reading of Book II:
1. Again the passage that most struck me was a classicizing bit, a simile describing Satan’s journey through Chaos (943-50):
As when a Gryfon through the Wilderness
With winged course ore Hill or moarie Dale,
Persues the Arimaspian, who by stelth
Had from his wakeful custody purloind
The guarded Gold: So eagerly the Fiend
Ore bog or steep, through strait, rough, dense, or rare,
With head, hands, wings, or feet persues his way,
And swims or sinks, or wades, or creeps, or flyes:
This has some resemblance rhetorically to 7.501-3, though the latter is more neatly laid out in threes:
Earth in her rich attire
Consummat lovly smil’d; Aire, Water, Earth,
By Fowl, Fish, Beast, was flown, was swum, was walkt
Milton does not mention that the Arimaspians were traditionally one-eyed: did he not think it important, or assume that his readers already knew? ‘Moarie’ is not in the Shorter O.E.D. or www.dictionary.com, and must be a form of ‘moory’, meaning ‘marshy, fenny’.
2. The account of the origins of Sin and Death, featuring rape, incest, head-birth, and bestial transmogrification, manages to outdo Hesiod in gruesomeness.
3. It’s interesting that the music of the fallen angels (546-51) is epic or panegyric, sung “With notes Angelical to many a harp” about themselves and their deeds. The effect is rather Homeric.
Saturday: May 24, 2008
I started a new job two months ago, and now teach part-time at two different high schools. Oddly, I seem to have more spare time for reading now, partly because I have to get to work at the new school at 7:00 to avoid rush-hour traffic, but don’t meet any of my students until 8:15. In the last month, I’ve read half a dozen novels and the first seven books of Paradise Lost, a work I had not read since college. (That would have been 1972 or 1973.) It seems appropriate to blog some desultory thoughts on the work, perhaps three per book. I’ll write about the novels tomorrow.
1. The passage in Book I that most struck me as particularly worth quoting was the description of Mammon, principal architect in Heaven and now in Hell (738-51):
Nor was his name unheard or unador’d
In ancient Greece; and in Ausonian land
Men calld him Mulciber; and how he fell
From Heav’n, they fabl’d, thrown by angry Jove
Sheer ore the Crystal Battlements: from Morn
To Noon he fell, from Noon to dewy Eve,
A Summers day; and with the setting Sun
Dropd from the Zenith like a falling Starr,
On Lemnos th’ Aegaean Ile: thus they relate,
Erring; for hee with this rebellious rout
Fell long before; nor aught availd him now
To have built in Heav’n high Towrs; nor did he scape
By all his Engins, but was headlong sent
With his industrious crew to build in Hell.
2. The only non-famous line that was particularly familiar after all these years was 307:
Busiris and his Memphian Chivalrie
3. Right from the start, I’ve found the poem entertaining, sometimes even hypnotic, but also insubstantial: far more words than matter. So far from being a peer of Homer, Vergil, and Dante, Milton seems a poet in roughly the same class as Statius or Claudian. Is this unfair? He seems to do a mediocre job of justifying the ways of God to men.
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)
Friday: November 2, 2007
I don’t much care about the corruption story, but I do find it fascinating that the Romanian Minister of Agriculture is named Decebal Traian Remes. His parents obviously cared deeply about the Dacian campaigns of the late 1st and early 2nd centuries, but couldn’t decide whether to name him after Decebalus or his conqueror Trajan.
Sunday: September 30, 2007
Amazon and other retailers offer four BBC Shakespeare DVD box sets, of five plays each: Comedies, Histories, Tragedies, and Tragedies II. The list price is $149.99 per box, and Amazon doesn’t discount them nearly as much as most of their DVDs. As I write, the Amazon prices are $134.99 for two of them, $129.99 for the other two, which is as low as I’ve ever seen them. To judge from the thre I’ve seen, they are excellent productions, but $529.96 plus shipping for 20 plays is an awful lot of money, and the seventeen plays not available include some of those I most wanted to see — not least because they are exactly the ones I’m unlikely ever to see in a theater.
There is a simple solution, which I owe to a former colleague I’ll call ‘Dr. Johnson’ for his erudition. Amazon UK sells all 37 canonical plays in a big box for a lot less. When I bought them in May, the price was $238.11, including air-freight shipping: they arrived in six days. The Sterling price must have been £115 or so. As I recall, it was £130, and they subtracted £15 for VAT tax since it was being shipped to North Carolina, were we are not eligible for the VAT-funded National Health. The exchange rate has worsened a bit since then, but the Sterling price is now £99,98 including (I assume) VAT. However you calculate it, buying all 37 plays from Amazon UK costs less than half of what it costs to buy only twenty of them from Amazon US. I wonder if it was the BBC’s idea to soak the colonists? Of the three I’ve watched so far, the best (Winter’s Tale and The Merchant of Venice) are not available in the U.S. (The other is Julius Caesar: not bad, but it didn’t grab me like the other two.)
Of course, you will need a Region 2 or all-region DVD player to play the discs, but even a better-than-average all-region DVD player cost me only $170. It will be useful for more than just BBC Shakespeare. Other movies not available in region 1 versions include three Bergman movies from the U.K. with English subtitles and the Orson Welles Shakespeares (Othello, Macbeth, and Chimes at Midnight) with South Korean subtitles. Even some American movies are only available in Region 2: until the Criterion edition came out a few weeks ago, Jim Jarmusch’s Night on Earth was only available in a U.K. edition. I’m so glad ‘Dr. Johnson’ told me about the Amazon UK edition before I bought any of the U.S. boxes.
Saturday: July 28, 2007
Silius Italicus doesn’t have much of a Nachleben, but here’s a translation of Punica 2.217-221 from The Complete Works of Henry Fielding, Esq., edited by James P. Browne (London, 1903), Volume XI, page 155:
A Simile from Silius Italicus
Aut ubi cecropius formidine nubis aquosae
Sparsa super flores examina tollit Hymettos;
Ad dulces ceras et odori corticis antra,
Mellis apes gravidæ properant, densoque volatu
Raucum connexæ glomerant ad limina murmur.
Or when th’ Hymettian shepherd, struck with fear
Of wat’ry clouds thick gather’d in the air,
Collects to waxen cells the scatter’d bees
Home from the sweetest flowers, and verdant trees;
Loaded with honey to the hive they fly,
And humming murmurs buzz along the sky.
Tuesday: July 24, 2007
InstaPundit links to a story from the Knoxville News about Tina, a Shire breed horse claimed to be the world’s tallest. The dubious historical claim is half a sentence: “Shires date to the Trojan War . . . .” What possible evidence could support that claim?
Thursday: March 1, 2007
. . . and probably influenced by it. This scoptic epitaph is entitled “De Erastenes, Medico” in the cheap paperback edition in which I found it (Rimas de Lope de Vega, ed. Gerardo Diego, Madrid, 1979), “De Erásthenes Medico (with an H) on the Virtual Cervantes site. I wonder if the name should be Eratost(h)enes. Either way, the title requires no gloss. Here is the text, with a rough translation:
Enseñé, no me escucharon;
escribí, no me leyeron;
curé mal, no me entendieron;
maté, no me castigaron;
Ya con morir satisfice;
oh muerte, quiero quejarme,
bien pudieras perdonarme
por servicios que te hice.
I lectured, they did not listen to me;
I wrote, they did not read me;
I ministered badly, they did not understand;
I killed, they did not punish me;
Now, by dying, I have paid in full.
Death, I wish to lodge a complaint:
you might well have pardoned me
for my services to you.
I suppose I should leaf through Book XI of the Anthology to see whether this is modeled on some particular epigram or just written in the same spirit as quite a few of them.
Monday: May 29, 2006
(This is a rewrite of a previous Memorial Day post.)
1. Simonides’ epitaph on the 300 Spartans who died at Thermopylae:
ὦ ξεῖν᾿, ἀγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις ὅτι τῇδε
κείμεθα τοῖς κείνων πειθόμενοι νομίμοις.
Stranger, tell the Lacedemonians that we lie here, obedient to their laws/customs.
The epitaph appeals to the passerby to deliver the message because these men died and were buried far from Sparta: with no post offices or telephones in the ancient world, epitaphs for those who died away from home were often in the form “If you are ever in the town of X, tell Y the son of Z that his son is buried here, far from home”. The only way to send the message was to have it ‘hitchhike’ with someone who happened to be headed in the right direction. In this case, specific names are unnecessary.
Simonides was one of the greatest Greek poets, though little of his work survives — just enough to show us what we’re missing. He was particularly known for his elegies, epitaphs, and threnodies — all the gloomier genres — which were simple and moving. His epitaphs were written for the actual monuments, not as literary exercises. This is Simonides XXIIb in the Oxford Classical Text of Epigrammata Graeca and (with commentary) Further Greek Epigrams, both edited by D. L. Page. The meter is elegiac couplet. Other sources give the last two words as ῥήμασι πειθόμενοι, “obedient to their words”. However, whether he said that the Spartans were “obedient to the words” (= commands) of their kings or “obedient to the customs” of their country, it means that they were willing to follow orders without question even when there was no chance of survival. The word I have translated “obedient to” also means “persuaded by” — a nice example of small-d democracy in the very structure of the Greek language. The movie Go Tell The Spartans takes its title from Simonides’ epitaph, either directly or (perhaps through Cicero) indirectly.
2. Cicero’s paraphrase, from Tusculan Disputations 1.101:
Dic, hospes, Spartae, nos te hic vidisse iacentes
dum sanctis patriae legibus obsequimur.
Stranger, tell Sparta that you saw us lying here, as we obey the sacred laws of our fatherland.
3. A. E. Housman, More Poems XXXVI:
Here dead we lie because we did not choose
To live and shame the land from which we sprung.
Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose;
But young men think it is, and we were young.
The first two lines are a paraphrase of Simonides, generalized for all nations. The last two are Housman’s own addition, though the thought is very pagan and very Greek. Housman’s little poem achieves an impressive degree of Simonidean simplicity. Every word but two is monosyllabic, and even the exceptions hardly count, since ‘nothing’ was originally ‘no thing’ and ‘because’ originally (I think) ‘by cause’. It’s odd that a professional Latinist should write such a thoroughly unLatin poem: just about every word is pure Anglo-Saxon.
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?
Wednesday: March 1, 2006
Terry Teachout quotes some words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., on his 90th birthday:
And so I end with a line from a Latin poet who uttered the message more than fifteen hundred years ago:
“Death plucks my ear and says, Live—I am coming.”
I thought it was odd that Holmes did not name the Latin poet, but it turns out that he is anonymous, or at least pseudonymous. The quoted words are a very close translation of the last line of Pseudo-Vergil’s Copa (”The Barmaid”), on-line here:
Mors aurem vellens «vivite» ait, «venio».
Holmes obviously knows that this is Pseudo-Vergil, since the original Vergil had been dead for 1950 years when he spoke. Of course, his 1500 years is just a very rough guess, and von Albrecht’s History of Roman Literature (to look no further) puts the Copa in the Augustan age.
Sunday: January 22, 2006
The pseudonymous ‘Michael Blowhard’ of 2Blowhards was recommending Maupassant the week before last. Inspired by his enthusiasm, I checked out a collection of short stories, one of which turned out to be very pertinent to (of all things) Latin teaching methods. Here is the relevant passage of “This Business of Latin”, as translated by David Coward in the Oxford World’s Classics volume Guy de Maupassant: Mademoiselle Fifi and Other Stories:
For ten years, Robineau’s Academy had obtained much better examination-results than the town’s grammar school and all the secondary schools in the area, and its continuing success was generally attributed to one lowly assistant master, Monsieur Piquedent, or rather Old Piquedent.
[I pass over the cruel description of Piquedent and his career.]
One day he got the idea of making all the pupils in his class give their answers entirely in Latin. He persisted with this notion until they could keep up a conversation with him as easily as they could in their own tongue.
He listened to them as the conductor of an orchestra listens to musicians rehearsing, and he was forever banging his desk with his ruler, saying:
‘Lefrère, Lefrère, you are perpetrating a howler! Can’t you remember the rule . . . ?’
‘Plantel, that turn of phrase is irretrievably French, not Latin. You must get the feel of the language. Pay attention, listen to me . . .’
At the end of one school year, pupils of Robineau’s Academy walked off with all the prizes for prose composition, unseen translation and Latin diction.
The following session, the headmaster, a small man as sly as the grinning, grotesque monkey he so closely resembled, inserted the following into the prospectus and advertising-matter and also had it painted over the door of the Academy:
Specialization in Latin Studies.
Five First Prizes Awarded in all Five Classes in the Academy.
Two Distinctions in Public Examinations open to all
Grammar and Secondary Schools in France.
For ten years, Robineau’s Academy continued to carry all before it.
Thanks to the pseudonymous ‘J. Cassian’ of February 30th (scroll down to the 19th), I find that the story is on-line in French and (rather clunky) English at this impressively full Maupassant site. Go to the alphabetic list of titles and scroll down to Q: the French title is “La Question du Latin”. Here’s the relevant portion of the French text, for those too lazy to follow the link:
Depuis dix ans, l’institution Robineau battait, à tous les concours, le lycée impérial de la ville et tous les collèges des sous-préfectures, et ses succès constants étaient dus, disait-on, à un pion, un simple pion, M. Piquedent, ou plutôt le père Piquedent.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Un jour, l’idée lui vint de forcer tous les élèves de son étude à ne lui répondre qu’en latin ; et il persista dans cette résolution, jusqu’au moment où ils furent capables de soutenir avec lui une conversation entière comme ils l’eussent fait dans leur langue maternelle.
Il les écoutait ainsi qu’un chef d’orchestre écoute répéter ses musiciens, et à tout moment frappant son pupitre de sa règle :
“Monsieur Lefrère, monsieur Lefrère, vous faites un solécisme! Vous ne vous rappelez donc pas la règle ? . . .”
“Monsieur Plantel, votre tournure de phrase est toute française et nullement latine. Il faut comprendre le génie d’une langue. Tenez, écoutez-moi . . .”
Or il arriva que les élèves de l’institution Robineau emportèrent, en fin d’année, tous les prix de thème, version et discours latins.
L’an suivant, le patron, un petit homme rusé comme un singe dont il avait d’ailleurs le physique grimaçant et grotesque, fit imprimer sur ses programmes, sur ses réclames et peindre sur la porte de son institution :
“Spécialités d’études latines. — Cinq premiers prix remportés dans les cinq classes du lycée.
“Deux prix d’honneur au Concours général avec tous les lycées et collèges de France.”
Pendant dix ans l’institution Robineau triompha de la même façon.
A few random comments:
- The French word translated “assistant master” is ‘pion’, which also means ‘pawn’ in chess. Whether it is related to English (or rather Spanish) ‘peon’ I do not know.
- ‘Piquedent’ must mean ‘Toothpick’ or ‘Picktooth’, so the students of course call him ‘Piquenez’. Do I have to translate that?
- Piquedent’s teaching career comes to a sudden and rather surprising end, but whether it is a bad end or not is difficult to judge. The simian headmaster no doubt thought so.
- The headmaster arranges special lessons for the narrator, charging him five francs an hour, of which Piquedent receives only two.
- Most important, I want to know whether the teacher’s method was something Maupassant invented, or found in real life.
Monday: December 19, 2005
The most recent (though not very recent) post on Gabriel Laguna’s Tradición Clásica is on Statius, Silvae 5.4, the ‘Ode to Sleep’. One of first things I put on the web here was ‘Sonnets to Morpheus’, with texts of Statius’ poem and three elaborate Renaissance imitations, by Jacob Balde and Janus Pannonius in Latin and Francisco de Quevedo y Villegas in Castilian Spanish. (None of them are sonnets: I just like puns.) It’s interesting that all three chose the shortest and (by common consent) best of Statius’ Silvae and then expanded it to lengths more typical of the rest of the Silvae.
I have now fixed the link, which was broken, and changed the background to a less intrusive pattern. One of these days I hope to add an apparatus to the Statius, plus a couple of more poems on the same theme whose authors and titles I have jotted down somewhere in my chaotic files.
Sunday: November 27, 2005
In honor of the 2012th anniversary of the death of Horace, here is the opening of Act I, Scene XIV of Rossini’s delightful Il Turco in Italia, which I saw and heard for the first time today (on DVD). The speaker is the poet Prosdocimo, who constantly interferes in the action in a proto-pomo way:
Ho quasi del mio dramma
Ma un atto è poco a un dramma,
E Orazio dice che minore
Di cinque esser non può.
Ma in due parti dividerlo io dovrò,
Che gli uditori miei
Sarian ben presto, caro Orazio, stufi
Se fosser di cinque atti i drammi bufi.
I’ve almost finished
the plot of my play;
but one act is too little for a stage piece,
and Horace says that it cannot consist
of less than five.
But I’ll have to divide it into two parts,
otherwise, dear Horace,
my listeners would soon be irked
if comedies were written in five acts.
Text and translation are quoted from the liner notes to the 1998 La Scala recording conducted by Ricardo Chailly and sung by Cecilia Bartoli, Alessandro Corbelli, Michele Pertusi, and Ramón Vargas (London 289 458 924-2). Yes, I bought the CD and the DVD before listening to either: I’ve seen and heard enough Rossini to know I was unlikely to be disappointed.
I still have trouble seeing Horace as an authority on dramaturgy. In this case, Rossini seems to have the better of the argument. I watched the DVD of Salieri’s five-act Tarare a few weeks ago. Despite an amusing plot and a libretto by Beaumarchais, I found it rather a bore. On the other hand, Salieri’s two-act Falstaff, which I saw at Wolftrap a year or two ago, was quite diverting.
I suppose the most suitable memorial reading for Horace would be Carmina 3.30.
Tuesday: October 4, 2005
From Charles Johnston, Selected Poems (London, 1985):
Footnote to Housman
To reach the top flight as a poet
you must write an unreadable work,
so obscure that your friends will forgo it
and all but the bravest will shirk.
Then the few who have read it, begrudging
the waste of exertion entailed,
will claim it’s essential for judging
how far you’ve succeeded or failed.
From admiring their own persistence
they’ll come to admiring the screed
and claim that it stands at a distance
from works that are easy to read;
while the reader who skipped it is able
to pretend he enjoyed it himself,
and leave it about on his table,
and show it with pride on his shelf.
It was Housman who worst neglected
the force of this critical rule,
with result that his faults are detected
by infants who read him at school,
while we who admire him, defenceless,
lack some pompier twaddle to quote
and can find nothing prolix or senseless
to claim as the best thing he wrote.
To learn from the fault he committed
is the first of poetical cares.
Lucid intervals may be admitted,
but be lucid the whole time who dares.
I suspect that Johnston chose the limericious meter to reflect his anti-pretentious meaning. In the second-to-last stanza, ‘pompier’ is a pompous (and French) word for ‘pompous’.
(An hour or two later: I’d forgotten that I’d already posted this on July 28th, 2003, but I suppose it’s worth a second look.)
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