Saturday: May 18, 2013
Today is the 100th birthday of Nicolás Gómez Dávila. If you don’t know his work, probably the best place to start is this page. If you don’t think you have time to take on a new author, you’re wrong: he wrote almost nothing except aphorisms - thousands of them, so you won’t run out any time soon, either. Here’s a personal favorite:
Sólo debemos leer para descubrir lo que debemos releer eternamente.
We ought to read only to discover what we ought to reread forever.
(Escolios a un Texto Implícito, 1.214)
Is Gómez Dávila worth rereading forever? You won’t know until you read some more, will you?
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”.
Monday: June 28, 2010
Tim was so learned, that he could name a Horse in nine Languages; So ignorant, that he bought a Cow to ride on.
(Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1750)
Sunday: June 27, 2010
Proud Modern Learning despises the antient: School-men are now laught at by School-boys.
(Poor Richard’s Almanack, 1758)
Monday: August 10, 2009
. . . please e-mail me. My address is gro.oilucruc@oilucruc turned backwards (don’t want to encourage spambots by making it harvestable).
If you are not Michael Gilleland, but happen to know his e-mail, that would be good, too. (I can’t find it anywhere on his site, and have some not-ready-for-publication thoughts on Palladas and Martial I’d like to share with him.)
Update: Thanks, I’ve gotten hold of him.
Monday: June 16, 2008
One of three rivals in love, from a Brazilian novel set in the 1850s:
(Note: the aunt and the baroness are one and the same.)
He was a young man of about twenty-five or twenty-six. His name was Jorge. He wasn’t ugly, but artifice had ruined a little the work of nature on him. Too much attention sickens the plant, said the poet, and this maxim is not only applicable to poetry but to man as well. Jorge had a fine brown mustache, groomed and cared for with excessive dedication. His clear and lively eyes would have been more attractive if he hadn’t moved them with an affectation which was sometimes feminine. The same can be said of his manners, which would have been easy and natural if they hadn’t been so studied and measured. His words came out slow and calculated, as if to make felt all their author’s liberality. He didn’t say them like most people; each syllable was, so to speak, caressed, making it possible to see after a few minutes that he was making the entire beauty of the expression consist in this elongation of the word. His ideas could be evaluated by his manner of expressing them; they were empty, in reality, but they carried a ring of gravity which made one want to go out and amuse his ear with light and trivial things.
These were Jorge’s visible defects. There were others, and of these, the worst was a mortal sin, the seventh. The good name his father had left him and his aunt’s influence could have served him well in some good civil profession; but he preferred to vegetate uselessly, living off the wealth he had inherited from his parents, and off the hopes he had of the baroness. He had no other occupation.
Despite the defects in him, he had good qualities; he knew how to be loyal, he was generous and incapable of low deed, and he had a sincere love for his old aunt.
(Machado de Assis, The Hand & the Glove, tr. Albert I. Bagby, Jr., chapter 7)
In the second paragraph, “deadly sin” would be a better translation than “mortal sin”. I wonder who the poet of the fourth sentence is. Horace is a more likely source than most, but the words don’t ring a bell. Then again, an English translation of a Portuguese sentence translating or alluding to a Latin poet wouldn’t, necessarily.
Saturday: June 14, 2008
He sido para mí, discípulo y maestro. Y he sido un buen discípulo, pero un mal maestro.
I have been my own disciple and my own master. And I have been a good disciple but a bad master.
(Antonio Porchia, Voices, tr. W. S. Merwin, 2003, pp. 86-7)
Oddly, though he provides the Spanish text on the left-hand pages and mentions the Buenos Aires editions of 1943 and 1966, Merwin never gives the Spanish title of the book. Was it perhaps Voces? Thanks to the web, that’s now an easy question to answer, and the answer is yes. There is a whole website devoted to Porchia’s work, with pictures of various editions and numerous quotations, apparently English only. Is the 3rd edition of Voces missing because a copy could not be located?
Sunday: May 11, 2008
Les seules bonnes copies sont celles qui nous font voir le ridicule des méchants originaux.
The only good copies are those which show up the absurdity of bad originals.
(La Rochefoucauld, Maximes 133, translated by Leonard Tancock)
Sunday: May 4, 2008
La plupart des jeunes gens croient être naturels, lorsqu’ils ne sont que mal polis et grossiers.
Most young people think they are being natural when really they are just ill-mannered and crude.
(La Rochefoucauld, Maximes 372, translated by Leonard Tancock)
Thursday: November 22, 2007
If people should ever start to do only what is necessary millions would die of hunger.
(Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Aphorisms, translated by R. J. Hollingdale, C 54)
Here is the German:
Wenn mann nur einmal in der Welt anfangen wollte, das bloß Nötige zu tun, so müßten Millionen Hungers sterben.
(Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Sudelbücher, C 370)
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)
Saturday: November 17, 2007
What snobbism — he wanted to be the Grand Eunuch.
(Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, Unkempt Thoughts, tr. Jacek Galazka, New York, 1962, p. 153)
Friday: November 16, 2007
A sure sign of a good book is that the older we grow the more we like it. A youth of 18 who wanted and above all could say what he felt would say of Tacitus something like the following: Tacitus is a difficult writer who knows how to depict character: and sometimes gives excellent descriptions, but he affects obscurity and often introduces into the narration of events remarks that are not very illuminating; you have to know a lot of Latin to understand him. At 25 perhaps, assuming he has in the interim done more than read, he will say: Tacitus is not the obscure writer I once took him for, but I have discovered that Latin is not the only thing you need to know to understand him — you have to bring a great deal with you yourself. And at 40, when he has come to know the world, he may perhaps say: Tacitus is one of the greatest writers who ever lived.
(Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Aphorisms, translated by R. J. Hollingdale, E 43)
Lichtenberg was still in his early thirties when he wrote this. I take it that the 18-year-old cannot always say what he thinks because he is still in school. Here is the German:
Ein sicheres Zeichen von einem guten Buch ist, wenn es einem immer besser gefällt je älter man wird. Ein junger Mensch von 18, der sagen wollte, sagen dürfte und vornehmlich sagen könnte was er empfindet, wüde von Tacitus etwa folgendes Urteil fällen: Tacitus ist ein schwerer Schriftsteller, der gute Charaktere zeichnet und vortrefflich zuweilen malt, allein er affektiert Dunkelheit und kommt oft mit Anmerkungen in die Erzählung der Begebenheiten herein, die nicht viel erläutern, man muß viel Latein wissen um ihn zu verstehn. Im 25ten vielleicht, vorausgesetzt, daß er mehr getan hat als gelesen, wird er sagen: Tacitus ist der dunkle Schriftsteller nicht für den ich ihn ehmals gehalten, ich finde aber, daß Latein nicht das einzige ist was man wissen muß um ihn zu verstehen, man muß sehr viel selbst mitbringen. Und im 40ten, wenn er die Welt hat kennen lernen, wird er vielleicht sagen, Tacitus ist einer der ersten Schriftsteller, die je gelebt haben.
(Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Sudelbücher, E 197 — 2nd half)
Wednesday: October 31, 2007
The book which most deserved to be banned would be a catalogue of banned books.
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, Aphorisms (G 37 in R. J. Hollingdale’s translation and numeration)
Monday: July 16, 2007
The theory taught in graduate schools of modern literature is like mortadella: it’s expensive, imported, beautifully packaged, made with loving care by experts who have devoted their lives to their work and do it very well . . . but it’s still bologna.
Monday: July 3, 2006
The juvenile sea squirt wanders through the sea searching for a suitable rock or hunk of coral to cling to and make its home for life. For this task, it has a rudimentary nervous system. When it finds its spot and takes root, it doesn’t need its brain anymore so it eats it! (It’s rather like getting tenure.)
(Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained, 177)
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.
Wednesday: May 24, 2006
El paganismo es el otro Antiguo Testamento de la Iglesia.
Paganism is the other Old Testament of the Church.
(Nicolás Gómez Dávila, Escolios a un Texto Implícito, 1.206)
Sunday: May 14, 2006
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)
Thursday: May 11, 2006
El léxico del verdadero escritor no está en ningún diccionario.
The lexicon of the true writer is not in any dictionary.
(Nicolás Gómez Dávila, Escolios a un Texto Implícito, 1.137)
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