Sunday: October 30, 2005
In 1937, a Latin teacher named L. E. Eyres published his “Ludus Elegiacus” in Greece & Rome (pages 56-57 and 155). It is a set of twenty-five epigrams in elegiac couplets, the first five of four lines each, the rest single couplets. As the editor’s introduction states, it was designed “to teach a School Certificate class to recognize the difference in meaning between words of similar appearance, and to use scansion as an aid to translation”. Because of copyright laws, I can’t reproduce the whole thing, but here are a few samples:
6. The street-singer and his dog.
Cane, canet canis hic: solus cantare recusat:
Deest mihi vox: tu, sis, cum cane, cane, cane.
9. Ship’s rations.
Navigat ad Cares coniunx meus: esurit ergo:
Quod tam cara caro, carne carina caret.
17. The scrounger.
Anulus annosae fuerat; mihi saepe precato
Annuit: insipiens est anus, anne sapit?
Of course, this last omits one of the Latin words beginning with an- as inappropriate for schoolboys. No such inhibition was felt by Colin Haycroft of Duckworth & Co. in a letter published in the (London) Spectator on July 20, 1985:
Sir: As the subject of ‘mooning’ at Greenham Common has raised its ugly head (?) in your columns (Home life, 13 July), may I submit to you an epigram (veiled in the decent obscurity of a learned language) inspired by a recent incident that occasioned a lady’s protest?
Terga tuens duri versa ad se militis olim,
‘ei mihi, nil gratum est’ dixerat ‘anus’ anus.
Saturday: October 29, 2005
Tuesday: October 25, 2005
Anthony Grafton’s The Footnote: A Curious History (1997). Here’s my favorite passage so far (62-63):
Around the turn of the century, many American universities began to make themselves over, following what they saw as the German model. Professors, many of whom had enjoyed the adventure of studying in scholarly Göttingen, romantic Heidelberg, or metropolitan Berlin, began to enroll graduate students and offer specialized seminars at home. They carved out new spaces for these advanced courses–often within the impressively crenelated university libraries of the time, in rooms equipped with reference books and primary sources. Students from Berkeley to Baltimore could learn dead languages, master bibliographies, and apply sophisticated research techniques, just as their teachers had. And they could do so without having to live in Germany, drink beer, and translate texts, extemporaneously, into as well as out of Gothic and Anglo-Saxon, as German professors required the members of seminars to do.
Sunday: October 23, 2005
I have added a category in the left column for ‘Lists of Commentaries’. So far, the only one is for Seneca’s Epistulae Morales, though Ovid’s Heroides will follow. This is not a complete bibliography, but a cross-reference of letters against commentators. I made it for my own use, since it is so hard to keep track of who comments on which letter, and post it now since others may find it useful. Similar lists would be very helpful for (e.g.) Pindar: if anyone has one I would be glad to link it or host it.
I have previously posted a one-page PDF version of the Seneca list, and that will be updated soon to reflect the latest information: I only recently learned of the commentaries on Epistles 22 and 23 by Laudizi and 93 and 99 by Op het Veld.
The list is not just a practical tool. It is interesting to see which letters have attracted multiple commentaries, and which (about a third) have attracted none. Editors have their own prejudices: for instance, Motto’s school commentary has a strong preference for the shortest letters, while Summers has a strong preference for those in the range 76-90, commenting on no fewer than 10 1/2 of the 15. If I have missed any, I hope someone will let me know.
Thursday: October 20, 2005
James Lileks finds some coded Latin on a website, but concludes that it must be gibberish, since the online Latin translator couldn’t handle it. That just shows how stupid machines are. It’s not quite classical Latin, but close enough to translate. Lileks’ text is also missing the first letter — easy enough when it’s written in Morse code and the letter is an I. It should read:
IN GIRUM IMUS NOCTE ET CONSUMIMUR IGNI.
Classical Latin would spell the second word GYRUM and the last one IGNE, but this is good Mediaeval (aka Vulgar) Latin. It means “At night we go into a gyre/whirl/circle/ring and are consumed by fire”. That’s not a very clear or satisfying meaning, but better than average for palindromes. With one more syllable at the beginning, it would be a dactylic hexameter: again, that’s probably the best meter we can expect from a palindrome. The version with ECCE (”look!”) inserted after NOCTE fulfills (barely) the minimum requirements for a hexameter, but the meaning is even clunkier.
This site has some interesting, but not entirely accurate, information on the words (click on Palindromes – it’s the first one on the right), plus much more of interest to Latinists. I don’t see anything macaronic about the line, and suspect that a moth would be at least as likely as a mayfly to fly in circles and be consumed by fire. I wonder if this gyre has anything to do with the one Yeats asked someone or other to perne in in “Sailing to Byzantium”.
Monday: October 17, 2005
Not much, to judge by E. M. 22.15, where Natura addresses those dying old:
‘Sine cupiditatibus uos genui, sine timoribus, sine superstitione, sine perfidia ceterisque pestibus; quales intrastis exite.’
“I engendered you without desires, without fears, without superstition, without treachery and the other curses; go out as you were when you came in.”
Very eloquent, but since when are babies born sine cupiditatibus? They have very little else in mind except a few basic desires: to be fed, held, kept clean and warm, and allowed to sleep, all with very little notice and the expectation of immediate obedience. What was Seneca thinking when he wrote this?
I’ve been leafing through the Epistulae Morales, rereading the two dozen or so I’ve read before and dipping into others. Time to read them through? Perhaps not: there are an awful lot of them.
Sunday: October 16, 2005
I just found out that someone calling himself both ‘logoparenthêtês’ (accents in the original) and ‘quislibet’ has translated Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” into Latin. Even those of us generally unfamiliar with Sir Mix-a-Lot’s oeuvre remember the line “I like big butts and I cannot lie” — from Beavis & Butt-Head, if nowhere else. ‘Quislibet’ translates this magnae clunes mihi placent, nec possum de hac re mentiri, which is quite accurate, if a bit wordy.
Thanks (I think) to Dustbury, not least for titling his post ‘Keister Parade’.
Saturday: October 15, 2005
Today is not only the 2,074th birthday of Publius Vergilius Maro and the feast of St. Teresa of Ávila, it is also the feast of
Samuel Isaac Joseph Schereschewsky (1831-1906), Episcopalian bishop of Shanghai, a dedicated missionary who translated the Bible into several Chinese dialects, which over many years he typed with the one finger that had not been paralysed by a stroke. Some Anglican communities have, unofficially, made him patron of the Internet.
(B. Blackburn and L. Holford-Strevens, The Oxford Companion to the Year, 1999, ad diem)
Sunday: October 9, 2005
Helmuth, Graf von Moltke (the Elder):
No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.
Seneca (the Younger):
Vetus proverbium est gladiatorem in harena capere consilium; aliquid adversarii vultus, aliquid manus mota, aliquid ipsa inclinatio corporis intuentem monet. Quid fieri soleat, quid oporteat, in universum et mandari potest et scribi; tale consilium non tantum absentibus, etiam posteris datur: illud alterum, quando fieri debeat aut quemadmodum, ex longinquo nemo suadebit, cum rebus ipsis deliberandum est.
There is an old adage about gladiators, — that they plan their fight in the ring; as they intently watch, something in the adversary’s glance, some movement of his hand, even some slight bending of his body, gives a warning. We can formulate general rules and commit them to writing, as to what is usually done, or ought to be done; such advice may be given, not only to our absent friends, but also to succeeding generations. In regard, however, to that second question, — when or how your plan is to be carried out, — no one will advise at long range; we must take counsel in the presence of the actual situation.
Epistulae Morales 22.1-2, tr. Richard C. Gummere, Loeb Classical Library, 1917
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.)
Sunday: October 2, 2005
In some classical journal — it may have been Mnemosyne — I recently ran across a review of a title guaranteed to confuse just about every non-classicist and some percentage of classicists, too: The Fragments of the Methodists, Volume I. If I’m not mistaken, these are fragmentary medical texts, and the Methodists were rivals of the Dogmatists and the Empiricists.
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