Tuesday, January 17, 2017
No Common Ground
In the past the minds of cultured Europeans were shaped and shored up by the Bible and the Greek and Latin classics. Men's philosophy of life tended to crystallize itself in phrases from the Gospels or the Odes of Horace, from the Iliad or the Psalms. Job and Sappho, Juvenal and the Preacher gave style to their despair, their loves, their indignations, their cynicisms. Experience taught them the wisdom that flowed along verbal channels prepared by Aeschylus and Solomon; and the existence of these verbal channels was itself an invitation to learn wisdom from experience. Today most of us resemble Shakespeare in at least one important respect: we know little Latin and less Greek. Even the Bible is rapidly becoming, if not a closed, at any rate a very rarely opened book. The phrases of the Authorized Version no longer prop and canalize our minds. St. Paul and the Psalmist have gone the way of Virgil and Horace. What authors have taken their place? Whose words support contemporary men and women? The answer is that there exists no single set of authoritative books. The common ground of all the Western cultures has slipped away from under our feet.
Let's Drink a Cup of Wine
Let's drink a cup of wine! And then drink another!
Let's pluck flowers and lay them out
to count off our endless cups!
Once your body is dead
it will be bound in a straw mat
and carried away on a jiggy,
or sway in a brilliant bier followed
by thousands of mourners,
but still it will go to the reeds and the rushes,
the oaks and the willows,
where the sun shines yellow
and the moon shines white,
where fine rain falls
and snowflakes whirl in the wind:
and then who will say, "Let's drink a cup!"?
Some monkey will come and chatter on your grave,
and what use will regrets be then?
A jiggy (Korean chige) is a wooden carrying-frame, held on the shoulders by straps of straw rope. It places the weight of the load in the center of a man's back, and is the ubiquitous equipment of farmers and laborers.
First of all, tell me what eloquence could be more righteous or more just than one which praises our ancestors in a manner worthy of their excellence and of their achievements? Again, what could be more patriotic or more serviceable to Athens than one which shows that by virtue both of our other benefactions and of our exploits in war we have greater claims to the hegemony than the Lacedaemonians? And, finally, what discourse could have a nobler or a greater theme than one which summons the Hellenes to make an expedition against the barbarians and counsels them to be of one mind among themselves?
καὶ πρῶτον μὲν ποῖος γένοιτ᾿ ἂν λόγος ὁσιώτερος ἢ δικαιότερος τοῦ τοὺς προγόνους ἐγκωμιάζοντος ἀξίως τῆς ἀρετῆς τῆς ἐκείνων καὶ τῶν ἔργων τῶν πεπραγμένων αὐτοῖς; ἔπειτα τίς ἂν πολιτικώτερος καὶ μᾶλλον πρέπων τῇ πόλει τοῦ τὴν ἡγεμονίαν ἀποφαίνοντος ἔκ τε τῶν ἄλλων εὐεργεσιῶν καὶ τῶν κινδύνων ἡμετέραν οὖσαν μᾶλλον ἢ Λακεδαιμονίων; ἔτι δὲ τίς ἂν περὶ καλλιόνων καὶ μειζόνων πραγμάτων τοῦ τοὺς Ἕλληνας ἐπί τε τὴν τῶν βαρβάρων στρατείαν παρακαλοῦντος καὶ περὶ τῆς πρὸς ἀλλήλους ὁμονοίας συμβουλεύοντος;
Monday, January 16, 2017
Drowning in Filth
We are all drowning in filth. When I talk to anyone or read the writings of anyone who has any axe to grind, I feel that intellectual honesty and balanced judgement have simply disappeared from the face of the earth. Everyone's thought is forensic, everyone is simply putting a "case" with deliberate suppression of his opponent's point of view, and, what is more, with complete insensitiveness to any sufferings except those of himself and his friends.
A Bad Habit
To a considerable extent reading has become, for almost all of us, an addiction, like cigarette-smoking. We read, most of the time, not because we wish to instruct ourselves, not because we long to have our feelings touched and our imagination fired, but because reading is one of our bad habits, because we suffer when we have time to spare and no printed matter with which to plug the void. Deprived of their newspaper or a novel, reading-addicts will fall back on cookery books, on the literature that is wrapped round bottles and patent medicines, on those instructions for keeping the contents crisp which are printed on the outside of boxes of breakfast cereals. On anything.Related posts:
Sunday, January 15, 2017
No page is more welcome to the Muses than that which knows how to combine grave and gay, and to refresh the weary mind with helpful trifles.
Non ulla Musis pagina gratior
Quam quae severis ludicra iungere
Novit, fatigatamque nugis
Utilibus recreare mentem.
The Coral Reefs of Scholarship
Of everything that occurred that week, however, I was most moved by a remark Eric made in the course of our evening at Westminster. The function of the scholar, he said then, was analogous to that of the coral organism. One lays down one's own skeleton on the heap of bones left by others, who by so doing have built up a patterned structure. One also does it for the benefit of later comers, who will in turn lay their remains on yours. It is the inclusive effect of this accretion that creates meaning, Eric said, not the individual contribution. I cannot think of any metaphor which better describes the organic growth of culture and scholarship; nor of one which is more indicative of Eric's own monumental patience, humility and achievements as a writer and scholar.Hat tip: Ian Jackson.
Saturday, January 14, 2017
In bed we laugh, in bed we cry,French original:
And born in bed, in bed we die;
The near approach a bed may shew
Of human bliss to human woe.
Théâtre des ris et des pleurs
Lit! où je nais, et où je meurs,
Tu nous fais voir comment voisins
Sont nos plaisirs et chagrins.
Friday, January 13, 2017
When I have struggled through three hundred years
Of Roman history, and hastened o'er
Some French play—(though I have my private fears
Of flunking sorely when I take the floor
In class),—when I have steeped my soul in gore
And Greek, and figured over half a ream
With Algebra, which I do (not) adore,
How shall I manage to compose a theme?
It's well enough to talk of poor and peers,
And munch the golden apples' shiny core,
And lay a lot of heroes on their biers;—
While the great Alec, knocking down a score,
Takes out his handkerchief, boohoo-ing, "More!"—
But harshly I awaken from my dream,
To find a new,—er,—privilege,—in store:
How shall I manage to compose a theme?
After I've swallowed prophecies of seers,
And trailed Aeneas from the Trojan shore,
Learned how Achilles, after many jeers,
On piggy Agamemnon got to sore,
And heard how Hercules, Esq., tore
Around, and swept and dusted with a stream,
There's one last duty,—let's not call it bore,—
How shall I manage to compose a theme?
Of what avail is all my mighty lore?
I beat my breast, I tear my hair, I scream:
"Behold, I have a Herculean chore.
How shall I manage to compose a theme?"
Every man worthy of the name has, in his heart, a yellow Serpent, set there as on a throne, and which, if he says 'I will!' replies: 'No.'In French:
Plunge your eyes into the unmoving eyes of satyresses and nixies, and the Tooth says: 'Think of your duty!'
Whether you make children or plant trees, or polish verses, or sculpt marbles, the Tooth says: 'Will you be alive, this night?'
Whatever he undertakes or hopes, man never lives a moment without enduring the insufferable Viper's warning.
Tout homme digne de ce nom
A dans le coeur un Serpent jaune,
Installé comme sur un trône,
Qui, s'il dit: «Je veux,» répond: «Non!»
Plonge tes yeux dans les yeux fixes
Des Satyresses ou des Nixes,
La Dent dit: «Pense à ton devoir!»
Fais des enfants, plante des arbres,
Polis des vers, sculpte des marbres,
La Dent dit: «Vivras-tu ce soir?»
Quoi qu'il ébauche ou qu'il espère,
L'homme ne vit pas un moment
Sans subir l'avertissement
De l'insupportable Vipère.
Mangez sur l'herbeI.e.:
Un jour ou l'autre
L'herbe mangera sur vous
Picnic on the grass
One of these days
The grass will picnic on you
Thanks to Ian Jackson for help.
Thursday, January 12, 2017
In Praise of Dogs
For what human being more clearly or so vociferously gives warning of the presence of a wild beast or of a thief as does the dog by its barking? What servant is more attached to his master than is a dog? What companion more faithful? What guardian more incorruptible? What more wakeful night-watchman can be found? Lastly, what more steadfast avenger or defender? To buy and keep a dog ought, therefore, to be among the first things which a farmer does, because it is the guardian of the farm, its produce, the household and the cattle.
Nam quis hominum clarius aut tanta vociferatione bestiam vel furem praedicat, quam iste latratu? quis famulus amantior domini? quis fidelior comes? quis custos incorruptior? quis excubitor inveniri potest vigilantior? quis denique ultor aut vindex constantior? Quare vel in primis hoc animal mercari tuerique debet agricola, quod et villam et fructus familiamque et pecora custodit.
When will the bell ring, and end this weariness?Related posts:
How long have they tugged the leash, and strained apart,
My pack of unruly hounds! I cannot start
Them again on a quarry of knowledge they hate to hunt,
I can haul them and urge them no more.
No longer now can I endure the brunt
Of the books that lie out on the desks; a full threescore
Of several insults of blotted pages, and scrawl
Of slovenly work that they have offered me.
I am sick, and what on earth is the good of it all?
What good to them or me, I cannot see!
So, shall I take
My last dear fuel of life to heap on my soul
And kindle my will to a flame that shall consume
Their dross of indifference; and take the toll
Of their insults in punishment? — I will not! —
I will not waste my soul and my strength for this.
What do I care for all that they do amiss!
What is the point of this teaching of mine, and of this
Learning of theirs? It all goes down the same abyss.
What does it matter to me, if they can write
A description of a dog, or if they can't?
What is the point? To us both, it is all my aunt!
And yet I'm supposed to care, with all my might.
I do not, and will not; they won't and they don't; and that's all!
I shall keep my strength for myself; they can keep theirs as well.
Why should we beat our heads against the wall
Of each other? I shall sit and wait for the bell.
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
A Rare Word in Rabelais
Merdigues, juron. Mère de Dieu. — Soubriant du bout du nez dict. Merdigues, ceste cy estoit mienne. RABELAIS, IV. Prologue. — Marmes, Merdigues. Juremens de gens villageoys en Touraine, ID. Briefve Declar. (III, 197).There seems to be a misprint in Huguet, where the word appears as merdignes (corrected by me to merdigues in the transcription above):
"Briefve Declar." in Huguet's entry is a reference to Briefve declaration d'aulcunes dictions plus obscures contenües on quatriesme livre des faicts et dicts Heroïcques de Pantagruel, published with the Quart Livre in 1552.
M.A. Screech translates merdigues as "Mudder of God," W.F. Smith as "By'r Lakin" (i.e. by our ladykin, an Elizabethan oath). See also Oeuvres de François Rabelais: édition critique publiée sous la direction de Abel Lefranc, Tome sixième: Le Quart Livre, Chapitres I-XVII (Geneva: Librairie Droz, 1955), p. 57 (note 248):
Par la mère de Dieu. "Jurement de gens villageoys en Touraine", Br. Déclar. Amplification de par la Merdé, cf. 1. I, ch. XIII, n. 55, Sainéan, II, 338.But J.M. Cohen translates merdigues as "God's turds," Donald M. Frame as "Turd of God" with the note:
"Merdigues," euphemism for "Mère de Dieu" but with the sound that we show in our translation.Likewise Marie-Luce Demonet, "Pantagrueline humanism and Rabelaisian fiction," in The Cambridge Companion to Rabelais, ed. John O'Brien (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp. 73-92 (at 87), explains the word as "turd of God."
The "index verborum" in the edition of Gargantua edited by Ruth Calder, M.A. Screech, and V.L. Saulnier, for the "Textes littéraires français" series (Geneva: Librairie Droz, 1970), p. 405, glosses "Mer Dé, par la" as:
imprécation, par la merci de Dieu; avec équivoque (merde).The same editors, on p. 91, note 99, gloss "par la mer Dé" in Gargantua, Chapter 12, line 99, as:
Forme variante populaire de l'imprécation Par la merci Dieu, qui tombe bien à propos dans un contexte fécal.Hat tip: Ian Jackson, who provided most of the information above.
The Sole Test of a Translation
The translation is so perfect that one is never aware that it is a translation: it reads like the work of an original genius—which, assuming a sufficient accuracy, is the sole test of a translation.I owe the quotation to Jenny McMorris, The Warden of English: The Life of H.W. Fowler (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001; rpt. 2002), p. 56, with note on p. 221.
Last night by ruined Tus I chanced to go,
An owl sat perched where once the cock did crow.
I asked, "What message from this waste bring'st Thou?"
It said, "The message is, Woe, woe, all's woe!"