Friday, January 19, 2018

 

A Plump Little Man

Gilbert Highet (1906-1978), Poets in a Landscape (1957; rpt. New York: New York Review Books, 2010), p. 120:
Nowadays Rome is not so crowded, nor so rich and splendid, as it was in Horace's time. Yet it is often recognizably the same city. As one wanders through its busy streets, one occasionally sees a plump little man strolling vaguely along, eyeing the shop windows, glancing at the pretty girls, pausing to buy a lottery ticket, reading the headlines in a newspaper-office window, and at last sitting down to drink a glass of bitter Campari and to watch, with apparent complacency, the noisy traffic swirling past. One puts him down as—well, what? A Milanese business-man, who has just concluded a successful transaction, and is enjoying Rome before returning to his desk and his wife? Or a small landowner from central Italy, on his annual visit to the capital? He may be either of these, the plump little man with the watchful eyes; he may be a metropolitan lawyer, taking the air after a difficult day in court. But it is still possible that he may be an artist, a philosopher, or a poet.

 

What If?

Tertullian, On Christ's Flesh 4.5 (tr. Ernest Evans):
If indeed it had been his will to come forth of a she-wolf or a sow or a cow, and, clothed with the body of a wild or a domestic animal, he were to preach the kingdom of heaven, your censorship I suppose would make for him a ruling that this is a disgrace to God, that this is beneath the dignity of the Son of God, and consequently that any man is a fool who so believes.

si revera de lupa aut sue aut vacca prodire voluisset, et ferae aut pecoris corpore indutus regnum caelorum praedicaret, tua opinor illi censura praescriberet turpe hoc deo et indignum hoc dei filio, et stultum propterea qui ita credat.
Your = Marcion's.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

 

Libelli Famosi

Helen Langdon, Caravaggio: A Life (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998), p. 134, with note on p. 402:
In 1593, for example, a young married woman, Leonora Palelli, who lived near the Piazza dei Santissimi Apostoli, denounced Decio and Onorio for making a disturbance in the streets, beneath her windows — 'singing with lutes and guitars abusive songs in the manner of famous insults' (libelli famosi), and making such a racket that all the neighbours had come out.6

6 S. Corradini, 'Nuove e false notizie sulla presenza del Caravaggio in Roma', in S. Macioce (ed.), Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio: La Vita attraverso i Documenti (Rome, 1995), p. 73. Obscene lyrics were part of the usual weaponry of scorned young men; E. Cohen, in 'Honor and Gender in the Streets of Early Modern Rome', Journal of Interdisciplinary History, xxii, 4, 1992, p. 613, tells the story of a young prostitute, Aurelia, woken by the delicate harmonies of lute and guitar, accompanied by the lyric 'Oh little whore, now comes the summer / Prepare your ass for your lover'.
Andrew Graham-Dixon, Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011), p. 254:
On 28 August [1600], Baglione lodged a complaint with the Governor of Rome about some libelli famosi, or 'famous libels'. The accused were Onorio Longhi, Caravaggio, Orazio Gentileschi and the hapless Filippo Trisegni.
It seems to me that "famous insults" and "famous libels" are misleading translations of the phrase libelli famosi. The phrase, which occurs in both Latin and Italian, would be better translated as "defamatory writings."

 

What Is a Classic?

Alain Finkielkraut, L'Identité malheureuse (Paris: Stock, 2013), p. 193-194:
Qu'est-ce qu'un classique, en effet? C'est un livre dont l'aura est antérieure à la lecture. Nous n'avons pas peur qu'il nous déçoive mais que nous le décevions en n'étant pas à la hauteur. Nous admirons avant de comprendre et, si nous comprenons, c'est parce que l'admiration a tenu bon et forcé tous les obstacles.
A rough translation:
What, indeed, is a classic? It is a book whose reputation precedes its reading. We aren't afraid that it will disappoint us, but that we will disappoint it, by not being up to its level. We admire it before we understand it, and, if we do understand, it's because our admiration stood firm and overcame all obstacles.

 

Architecture

Kirkbride Asylum, Fergus Falls, Minnesota, built in the 1890s:


Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis, Minnesota, built in the 1990s:


I'm just a Philistine, but the contrast symbolizes for me the immense cultural decline that occurred over the space of just a century.

I used to walk by the Weisman Art Museum a few times a week when it was under construction — it reminded me of scrap metal shacks in third-world slums. I call it the ugliest building in Minnesota, but maybe it qualifies as the ugliest building in the United States, or even the whole world. Another Minneapolis eyesore, Riverside Plaza, built in the 1970s, would be a close runner-up for ugliest building, though:


I just read that the Kirkbride Asylum is slated for demolition. A pity. It may not be an architectural masterpiece, but whatever replaces it is bound to be far inferior, aesthetically and structurally.
damnosa quid non inminuit dies?
aetas parentum, peior avis, tulit
nos nequiores, mox daturos
progeniem vitiosiorem.
Another symptom of decline — we used to house and care for the mentally ill in buildings like the Kirkbride Asylum, but now we just dump them on the streets to fend for themselves.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

 

Credulity

Thomas Browne (1605-1682), Pseudodoxia Epidemica, Book I, Chapter 5:
A Third cause of common Errors is, the Credulity of men, that is, an easie assent to what is obtruded, or a believing, at first ear, what is delivered by others. This is a weakness in the understanding, without examination assenting unto things which, from their Natures and Causes, do carry no perswasion; whereby men often swallow falsities for truths, dubiosities for certainties, feasibilities for possibilities, and things impossible as possibilities themselves.

 

The Triumph of Marcantonio Colonna

Helen Langdon, Caravaggio: A Life (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998), p. 9:
On 4 December 1571 an enormous theatrical triumph was staged in Rome. Its hero was Marcantonio Colonna, scion of one of the most illustrious of all Roman families, and commander of the papal galleys in the triumph of the Holy League over the Turks at Lepanto. He progressed from the church of San Sebastiano, on the Appian Way, passing the Baths of Caracalla, and under the triumphal arches of Constantine and Titus, to the monastery of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, built on the holiest site of the Capitol, at the very centre of the old Roman Empire.

Colonna rode, unarmed, on a white horse. He was escorted by a glittering cortège of five thousand people, and 170 liveried and chained Turkish prisoners were driven before him. Before them the standard of the sultan was trailed in the dust. The procession pressed forward through tumultuous applause. 'Here from every part', wrote an observer, 'his name rang out. Everyone rushed to the street, clapping their hands. Crowds of people thronged together, crying out, while trumpets serenaded him. He was greeted from far and near, by people gesturing, shouting, waving caps and banner'. Ringed by twenty-five Cardinals, Colonna crossed the Tiber at the Ponte Sant' Angelo, and then rode to St Peter's and the Vatican Palace, where Pope Pius V received him in the Sala Regia.

His progress was modelled on the triumphs that were granted to generals in ancient Rome and it drew on the splendour of ancient myth. Yet it was also an intensely Christian event. The façade of the church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli was decorated with captured Turkish flags. It bore the proud inscription: `The gratitude which, in their pagan folly, the Ancients offered to their idols, the Christian conqueror, who ascends the Aracoeli, now gives, with pious devotion, to the true God, to Christ the Redeemer, and to His most glorious Mother'. Colonna seemed to bring the new promise of a more joyful Christian era.

Francesco Tramezzino, L'entrata solenne fatta dall'ecmo. Sigr. Marcantono Colonna in Roma doppo la felicissima vittoria havuta dall'armata Christiana contra Turchi (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, accession number 47.105.10). Click to enlarge.

Ludwig Pastor (1854-1928), The History of the Popes, Vol. XVIII, tr. Ralph Francis Kerr (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd., 1929), pp. 431-433 (footnotes omitted):
All Rome was in a stir when the bright and sunny day of December 4th dawned. Thousands of people had gathered along the Via Appia, where, near the basilica of St. Sebastian, Girolamo Bonelli and the Swiss Guard, the Senator and the Conservatori, awaited the arrival of Colonna, who was to come from Marino. Unarmed, and with no decoration but the Golden Fleece, Marcantonio rode upon a white horse given him by the Pope; a black silk mantle lined with fur covered his tunic of cloth of gold, and on his head he wore a black velvet cap, with a white plume fastened with a pearl clasp.

Amid scenes of extraordinary rejoicing, the clash of trumpets, and the firing of guns, the cortège was formed, in which were to be seen the gaily coloured banners of all the city corporations, and the 13 Rioni of Rome. As can easily be understood, the chief interest was excited by the 170 Turkish prisoners, dressed in red and yellow, in chains, and guarded by halbardiers. In front of them rode a Roman in Turkish dress dragging the standard of the sultan in the dust. At the side of the prisoners walked a hermit, who had taken part in the battle, and whom the people, by whom he was greatly loved, called Fate bene per voi, from the words which he was always saying. The standard of the Church was borne by Romegasso, and that of the city of Rome by Giovan Giorgio Cesarini, with whom rode Pompeo Colonna and Onorato Caetani, and the two nephews of the Pope, Michele and Girolamo Bonelli; then came Marcantonio Colonna, who was rapturously acclaimed by all, and was followed by the Senator of Rome and the Conservatori, and a large number of his friends and comrades. The Papal light cavalry brought the procession to an end.

As Charles V. had done 35 years before, so Marcantonio Colonna, entering the city by the Porta S. Sebastiano, and passing the Baths of Caracalla, and under the triumphal arches of Constantine and Titus, chmbed the hill of the Capitol, and came to S. Marco, passing thence along the Via Papale to the Bridge of St. Angelo. On the way he came to the statue of Pasquino, which was gaily decorated; in the left hand was the head of a Turk, with blood pouring from the mouth, and in the right a drawn sword.

After praying in St. Peter's at the tomb of the Prince of the Apostles, and offering, in allusion to his own name, a column of silver, Colonna proceeded to the Vatican, where the Pope received him, accompanied by 25 Cardinals, with the greatest honour. He exhorted the victor of Lepanto to give the glory to God, Who, despite our sins, had been so kind and merciful.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

 

Suggestive Pronouns: This and That

Augustine, Confessions 8.11.26 (tr. Henry Chadwick):
Vain trifles and the triviality of the empty-headed, my old loves, held me back. They tugged at the garment of my flesh and whispered: 'Are you getting rid of us?' And 'from this moment we shall never be with you again, not for ever and ever'. And 'from this moment this and that are forbidden to you for ever and ever.' What they were suggesting in what I have called 'this and that' — what they were suggesting, my God, may your mercy avert from the soul of your servant! What filth, what disgraceful things they were suggesting!

retinebant nugae nugarum et vanitates vanitantium, antiquae amicae meae, et succutiebant vestem meam carneam et submurmurabant, 'dimittisne nos?' et 'a momento isto non erimus tecum ultra in aeternum' et 'a momento isto non tibi licebit hoc et illud ultra in aeternum.' et quae suggerebant in eo quod dixi 'hoc et illud,' quae suggerebant, deus meus, avertat ab anima servi tui misericordia tua! quas sordes suggerebant, quae dedecora!

 

Suicidal Exhibitionists

Peter Brown, The Ransom of the Soul: Afterlife and Wealth in Early Western Christianity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015), pp. 7-8, with notes on p. 214:
Yet, what for Christians such as Cyprian was an "extraordinary" death struck the average pagan as abnormal. Christians were seen by pagans as suicidal exhibitionists. As the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180) wrote in his Meditations: a wise man could decide to leave the world through suicide. But to court death out of a mere spirit of opposition "as is the case with the Christians" was a form of "stage heroics" that repelled him. The phrase "as ... with the Christians" may have been added by a later copyist.11 But the copyist got the point. Some deaths (and not only the deaths of Christians) were public theater of the most obtrusive and unwelcome sort.

We should always remember that, for the average pagan, Christian martyrs were not a unique phenomenon. They fitted all too easily into a long line of gore-soaked and crazed figures. Gladiators played with death in the arena. Their blood and mangled corpses were associated with uncanny powers.12 Maverick philosophers also courted death by going out of their way to insult the powerful. The craziest of these, the philosopher Peregrinus, had even toyed for a time with Christianity. He gained great prestige among Christians as a potential martyr. He ended his life, in 165 AD, by committing suicide through burning himself near the crowds assembled at Olympia for the Olympic Games.13 The deaths of Christian martyrs did not necessarily impress outsiders. Rather, these deaths struck them as bizarre and disturbing. But pagans and Christians had one thing in common: heroic or pathological, the grisly, fully public deaths of the Christian martyrs held their attention, at the expense of more ordinary deaths.

11. Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 11.3, ed. C. Haines, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1961), 294. See R.B. Rutherford, The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius: A Study (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), 188.

12. F. Dölger, "Gladiatorenblut and Märtyrerblut," Vorträge der Bibliothek Warburg 1 (1923-1924), 196-214.

13. Lucian, Peregrinus, 11-14 and 35, ed. A.M. Harmon, Lucian 5, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1972), 12-16 and 38-40; see J. König, "The Cynic and Christian Lives of Peregrinus," in The Limits of Ancient Biography, ed. B. McGing and J. Mossman (Swansea: Classical Press of Wales, 2006), 227-254.

 

Superlatives of Superlatives

Sophocles, Philoctetes 64-65 (tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):
And you may add as many of the most extreme insults against me as you please.

                                                 λέγων ὅσ᾿ ἂν
θέλῃς καθ᾿ ἡμῶν ἔσχατ᾿ ἐσχάτων κακά.
More literally:
Speaking against me evils, most extreme of most extreme, as many as you wish.
T.B.L. Webster ad loc. (on ἔσχατ᾿ ἐσχάτων) cites two works by Holger Thesleff — Studies on Intensification in Early and Classical Greek (Helsingfors, 1954 = Societas Scientiarum Fennica, Commentationes Humanarum Litterarum, XXI.1), § 342, and Studies on the Greek Superlative (Helsingfors, 1955 = Societas Scientiarum Fennica, Commentationes Humanarum Litterarum, XXI.3), §§ 13, 35, both of which are unavailable to me.

In Latin cf. Naevius, comic fragment 118, in Otto Ribbeck, ed., Scaenicae Romanorum Poesis Fragmenta, 3rd ed., Vol. II: Comicorum Fragmenta (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1898), p. 31 (pessimorum pessime = worst of the worst), and Plautus, Captivi 836 (optumorum optume = best of the best).

Related post: King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.

Monday, January 15, 2018

 

Modern Philosophers

Oswald Spengler (1880-1936), The Decline of the West, Vol. I: Form and Actuality, tr. Charles Frances Atkinson (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1926), pp. 42-43 (footnote omitted):
And herein, I think, all the philosophers of the newest age are open to a serious criticism. What they do not possess is real standing in actual life. Not one of them has intervened effectively, either in higher politics, in the development of modern technics, in matters of communication, in economics, or in any other big actuality, with a single act or a single compelling idea. Not one of them counts in mathematics, in physics, in the science of government, even to the extent that Kant counted. Let us glance at other times. Confucius was several times a minister. Pythagoras was the organizer of an important political movement akin to the Cromwellian, the significance of which is even now far underestimated by Classical researchers. Goethe, besides being a model executive minister though lacking, alas! the operative sphere of a great state was interested in the Suez and Panama canals (the dates of which he foresaw with accuracy) and their effects on the economy of the world, and he busied himself again and again with the question of American economic life and its reactions on the Old World, and with that of the dawning era of machine-industry. Hobbes was one of the originators of the great plan of winning South America for England, and although in execution the plan went no further than the occupation of Jamaica, he has the glory of being one of the founders of the British Colonial Empire. Leibniz, without doubt the greatest intellect in Western philosophy, the founder of the differential calculus and the analysis situs, conceived or co-operated in a number of major political schemes, one of which was to relieve Germany by drawing the attention of Louis XIV to the importance of Egypt as a factor in French world-policy. The ideas of the memorandum on this subject that he drew up for the Grand Monarch were so far in advance of their time (1672) that it has been thought that Napoleon made use of them for his Eastern venture. Even thus early, Leibniz laid down the principle that Napoleon grasped more and more clearly after Wagram, viz., that acquisitions on the Rhine and in Belgium would not permanently better the position of France and that the neck of Suez would one day be the key of world-dominance. Doubtless the King was not equal to these deep political and strategic conceptions of the Philosopher.

Turning from men of this mould to the philosophers of to-day, one is dismayed and shamed. How poor their personalities, how commonplace their political and practical outlook! Why is it that the mere idea of calling upon one of them to prove his intellectual eminence in government, diplomacy, large-scale organization, or direction of any big colonial, commercial or transport concern is enough to evoke our pity? And this insufficiency indicates, not that they possess inwardness, but simply that they lack weight. I look round in vain for an instance in which a modern "philosopher" has made a name by even one deep or far-seeing pronouncement on an important question of the day. I see nothing but provincial opinions of the same kind as anyone else's. Whenever I take up a work by a modern thinker, I find myself asking: has he any idea whatever of the actualities of world-politics, world-city problems, capitalism, the future of the state, the relation of technics to the course of civilization, Russia, Science? Goethe would have understood all this and revelled in it, but there is not one living philosopher capable of taking it in.

 

A Fish Out of Water

Theodore Dalrymple, "Mary Neal Lives On," Taki's Magazine (January 13, 2018):
I feel a profound cleavage between my own generation and that of young adults today: I do not understand, and do not really like, their tastes, their ambitions, their enjoyments, their sorrows, their opinions, or even their humor. But then I could say that of my own generation also: I never really belonged to it, or wanted to belong to it. I have always been a fish out of water, ever since I can remember.

 

They Couldn't Bear to Leave

Herodotus 1.165.3 (tr. A.D. Godley):
Not only so, but they sank in the sea a mass of iron, and swore never to return to Phocaea before the iron should again appear. But while they prepared to voyage to Cyrnus, more than half of the citizens were taken with a longing and a pitiful sorrow for the city and the life of their land, and they broke their oath and sailed back to Phocaea.

πρὸς δὲ ταύτῃσι καὶ μύδρον σιδήρεον κατεπόντωσαν καὶ ὤμοσαν μὴ πρὶν ἐς Φωκαίην ἥξειν πρὶν ἢ τὸν μύδρον τοῦτον ἀναφανῆναι. στελλομένων δὲ αὐτῶν ἐπὶ τὴν Κύρνον, ὑπερημίσεας τῶν ἀστῶν ἔλαβε πόθος τε καὶ οἶκτος τῆς πόλιος καὶ τῶν ἠθέων τῆς χώρης, ψευδόρκιοι δὲ γενόμενοι ἀπέπλεον ὀπίσω ἐς τὴν Φωκαίην.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

 

All Alone

Sophocles, Philoctetes 169-179 (tr. Hugh Lloyd-Jones):
I pity him, in that
with none among mortals to care for him        170
and with no companion he can look on,
miserable, always alone,
he suffers from a cruel sickness
and is bewildered by each
need as it arises. How, how        175
does the unhappy man hold out?
O contrivances of the gods!
O unhappy race of mortals
to whom life is unkind!

οἰκτίρω νιν ἔγωγ᾿, ὅπως,
μή του κηδομένου βροτῶν        170
μηδὲ σύντροφον ὄμμ᾿ ἔχων,
δύστανος, μόνος αἰεί,
νοσεῖ μὲν νόσον ἀγρίαν,
ἀλύει δ᾿ ἐπὶ παντί τῳ
χρείας ἱσταμένῳ. πῶς ποτε πῶς        175
δύσμορος ἀντέχει;
ὦ παλάμαι θεῶν,
ὦ δύστανα γένη βροτῶν,
οἷς μὴ μέτριος αἰών.

177 θεῶν
Lachmann: θνητῶν codd.
R.C. Jebb ad loc.:


Seth Schein ad loc.:


Friday, January 12, 2018

 

Tubs and Figs

Aristophanes, fragment 927 Kassel and Austin (tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
I'm from the country: I call the tub a tub.

ἄγροικός εἰμι· τὴν σκάφην σκάφην λέγω.
Poetae Comici Fragmenta, Vol. III 2: Aristophanes, Testimonia et Fragmenta, edd. R. Kassel and C. Austin (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1984), pp. 415-416:


Menander, fragment 507 Kassel and Austin (August Meineke's reconstruction in his Fragmenta Comicorum Graecorum, Editio Minor, Pars I [Berlin: G. Reimer, 1847], p. xxi; tr. Jeffrey Henderson):
I am Refutation here before you,
the friend of truth and frankness,
who calls the figs figs, and the tub a tub.

                 Ἔλεγχος οὗτός εἰμ' ἐγώ
ὁ φίλος ἀληθείᾳ τε καί παρρησίᾳ,
τὰ σῦκα σῦκα καὶ σκάφην σκάφην λέγων.
Poetae Comici Fragmenta, Vol. VI 2: Menander, Testimonia et Fragmenta apud scriptores servata, edd. R. Kassel and C. Austin (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1998), p. 285:


See also Renzo Tosi, Dictionnaire des sentences latines et grecques, tr. Rebecca Lenoir (Grenoble: Jérôme Millon, 2010), p. 1626 (#2272: Τὰ σῦκα σῦκα, τὴν σκάφην σκάφην ὀνομάζων), and Bruce M. Metzger, "'To Call a Spade a Spade' in Greek and Latin," Classical Journal 33.4 (January, 1938) 229-231.

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