Sunday, March 26, 2017


Either Dead or Teaching School

Erasmus, Adagia I x 59, in Collected Works of Erasmus, Vol. 32: Adages I vi 1 to I x 100, translated and annotated by R.A.B. Mynors (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1989), p. 260, with note on p. 381:
59 Aut mortuus est aut docet litteras
He must be either dead or teaching school

Ἤτοι τέθνηκεν ἢ διδάσκει γράμματα, He must be either dead or teaching school. An iambic line current as a proverb, and used in old days to convey that a man was in great misfortune, though it was not clear what he was doing. This passed into common speech, as Zenodotus tells us, on the following occasion. The Athenians, under command of Nicias, had on one occasion fought and lost a battle against the Sicilians; they suffered heavy casualties, and many prisoners were taken and carried off to Sicily, where they were compelled to teach Sicilian children their elements. And so the few who escaped and returned to Athens, when asked what so-and-so was doing in Sicily, used to reply with the line I have quoted above: 'He must be either dead or teaching school.'

59 Taken from Zenobius ('Zenodotus') 4.17. Thought to be a line from comedy (frag. adesp. 20 Kock). Zen. Ath. 1.43
The Latin:
Ἤτοι τέθνηκεν ἢ διδάσκει γράμματα, id est Aut periit aut profecto literas docet. Senarius prouerbialis, quo significabant olim cuipiam omnino male esse, tametsi parum liqueret, quid rerum ageret. Is autem hac occasione venit in vulgi sermonem autore Zenodoto. Athenienses duce Nicia parum feliciter aliquando pugnauerunt aduersus Siculos permultis occisis, plerisque captiuis in Siciliam abductis, qui Siculorum filios literas docere coacti sunt. Proinde pauci, qui fuga elapsi redierant Athenas, rogati quid hic aut ille faceret in Sicilia, modo memorato versiculo respondebant: Aut periit aut docet literas.

Saturday, March 25, 2017


The Temptation of Faith

Emil Cioran (1911-1995), Aveux et Anathèmes (tr. ‎Richard Howard):
If from time to time we are tempted by faith, it is because faith proposes an alternative humiliation: it is, after all, preferable to find oneself in a position of inferiority before a god than before a hominid.

Si de temps en temps on est tenté par la foi, c’est parce qu'elle propose une humiliation de rechange: il est tout de même préférable de se trouver en position d'infériorité devant un dieu que devant un hominien.


Take Nothing Seriously

Lucian, Menippus 21 (tr. A.M. Harmon):
So he took me aside, and after he had led me a good way apart from the others, he bent his head slightly toward my ear and said: "The life of the common sort is best, and you will act more wisely if you stop speculating about heavenly bodies and discussing final causes and first causes, spit your scorn at those clever syllogisms, and counting all that sort of thing nonsense, make it always your sole object to put the present to good use and to hasten on your way, laughing a great deal and taking nothing seriously."

ὁ δὲ δή με ἀπαγαγὼν καὶ πολὺ τῶν ἄλλων ἀποσπάσας ἤρεμα προσκύψας πρὸς τὸ οὖς φησίν, "ὁ τῶν ἰδιωτῶν ἄριστος βίος, καὶ σωφρονέστερος παυσάμενος τοῦ μετεωρολογεῖν καὶ τέλη καὶ ἀρχὰς ἐπισκοπεῖν καὶ καταπτύσας τῶν σοφῶν τούτων συλλογισμῶν καὶ τὰ τοιαῦτα λῆρον ἡγησάμενος τοῦτο μόνον ἐξ ἅπαντος θηράσῃ, ὅπως τὸ παρὸν εὖ θέμενος παραδράμῃς γελῶν τὰ πολλὰ καὶ περὶ μηδὲν ἐσπουδακώς."

Thanks to Eric Thomson for drawing my attention to David Hume (1711-1776), A Treatise of Human Nature and An Enquiry concerning Human Nature, Book 1, Section 7:
[1] But what have I here said, that reflections very refined and metaphysical have little or no influence upon us? This opinion I can scarce forbear retracting, and condemning from my present feeling and experience. The intense view of these manifold contradictions and imperfections in human reason has so wrought upon me, and heated my brain, that I am ready to reject all belief and reasoning, and can look upon no opinion even as more probable or likely than another. Where am I, or what? From what causes do I derive my existence, and to what condition shall I return? Whose favour shall I court, and whose anger must I dread? What beings surround me? and on whom have, I any influence, or who have any influence on me? I am confounded with all these questions, and begin to fancy myself in the most deplorable condition imaginable, invironed with the deepest darkness, and utterly deprived of the use of every member and faculty.

[2] Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours' amusement, I would return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strained, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.

Friday, March 24, 2017


Wasted Effort

Erasmus, Adagia I iv 46, in Collected Works of Erasmus, Vol. 31: Adages I i 1 to I v 100, translated by Margaret Mann Phillips, annotated by R.A.B. Mynors (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982), p. 355, with note:
46 Surdo oppedere
To break wind in front of a deaf man

Παρὰ κωφῷ ἀποπαρδεῖν, To break wind in the presence of the deaf, is said when an action is useless, or when some fault is committed against stupid people who cannot perceive it, or reproaches are heaped on a person who takes no notice, just as if he had not heard. It is mentioned by Diogenianus and Suidas.

46 Taken, as Erasmus tells us, from the Greek proverb-collections, Diogenianus 7.43 and Suidas Π 371.
The Latin:
Παρὰ κωφῷ ἀποπαρδεῖν, id est Apud surdum crepitum aedere, dicitur vbi quid frustra fit aut vbi peccatur apud stupidos, qui non queant sentire. Siue cum conuiciis incessitur is, qui perinde negligit, quasi non audiat. Refertur a Diogeniano et a Suida.
Cf. also Photius Π 251, Hesychius Π 563, Apostolius 13.99, Macarius 6.89, and J. Fr. Boissonade, ed., Anecdota Graeca, Vol. I (Paris, 1829), p. 396. All these additional references are from Photii Patriarchae Lexicon, ed. Christos Theodoridis, Vol. III: Ν-Φ (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2013), p. 162 (Π 251 = παρὰ κωφὸν ἀποπέρδειν).

Dear Michael Gilleland,

Margaret Mann Philips’ translation of “surdo oppedere” as “to break wind in front of a deaf man” seems to me somewhat over-delicate. Oppedere is in fact to fart at somebody as a way of expressing derision, mockery, contempt, opposition; it is to fart in somebody’s face, as it were. At the beginning of Jonson’s The Alchemist, when Subtle tells Face, “I fart at thee!” it is a calque of the Latin oppedo tibi (Greek: καταπέρδω σου). Jonson was familiar with John Baret’s An Aluearie or Triple Dictionarie, in Englishe, Latin, and French (1574), where oppedo is defined: “To fart against one: and metaphorice, to denie with a lowde voice.” A historical example of this would be the "Great Parliament Fart" of 4 March 1607, when Henry Ludlow, the member for Ludgershall, Wiltshire, loudly broke wind (oppepedit) in response to Sir John Croke’s message from the Lords during a debate on the naturalisation of the Scots. Similar to oppedere, the Greek ἀποπαρδεῖν generally implies volition (deliberately farting, as opposed to πέρδω = crepitat mihi venter), as well as direction (farting toward or at somebody or something), and so παρὰ κωφῷ ἀποπαρδεῖν/Apud surdum crepitum aedere would more properly be translated “to let fly with a fart in a deaf man’s house” than “to break wind in the presence of the deaf.” The verb oppedere is not infrequent in the works of Erasmus, e.g. in the letter to Grunnius: “Atqui quum istorum status omnis Romanorum Pontificum auctoritate nitatur, cur illi quoties libuit strenue oppedunt?” (And yet, since their [i.e. the monks’] entire condition rests on the authority of the Roman pontiffs, why do they fart against it so vigorously and so relentlessly?).

Yours sincerely,

Alistair Ian Blyth




Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), "La Chambre Double," final paragraphs (tr. Francis Scarfe):
Ah, yes! Time has returned: Time now governs like a sovereign: and with that hideous old greybeard has returned the whole demoniacal rout of Memories, Regrets, Fits, Fears, Anguishes, Nightmares, Angers, and Neuroses.

I assure you that the Seconds are now strongly and solemnly stressed, and that each one as it jumps from the clock, says: 'I am Life, unbearable, unrelenting Life!'

There is only one Second in human existence whose mission it is to announce good news, the good news, which arouses an inexplicable fear in every man.

Yes, Time reigns, he has resumed his bullying dictatorship. And he drives me on, as if I were a bullock, with his double goad — 'Along with you, you old hack! Sweat, you slave! Live, though you are damned!'

Oh! oui! Le Temps a reparu; Le Temps règne en souverain maintenant; et avec le hideux vieillard est revenu tout son démoniaque cortége de Souvenirs, de Regrets, de Spasmes, de Peurs, d'Angoisses, de Cauchemars, de Colères et de Névroses.

Je vous assure que les secondes maintenant sont fortement et solennellement accentuées, et chacune, en jaillissant de la pendule, dit: — «Je suis la Vie, l'insupportable, l'implacable Vie!»

Il n'y a qu'une Seconde dans la vie humaine qui ait mission d'annoncer une bonne nouvelle, la bonne nouvelle qui cause à chacun une inexplicable peur.

Oui! le Temps règne; il a repris sa brutale dictature. Et il me pousse, comme si j’étais un boeuf, avec son double aiguillon. — «Et hue donc! bourrique! Sue donc, esclave! Vis donc, damné!»


An Enviable Destiny

Emil Cioran (1911-1995), Aveux et Anathèmes (tr. ‎Richard Howard):
Lucretius: we know nothing specific about his life. Specific? Not even vague. An enviable destiny.

Lucrèce: on ne sait sur sa vie rien de précis. De précis? même pas de vague. Un destin enviable.
Related posts:


Slavery and Freedom

Sitting Bull (1831?-1890), tr. E.H. Allison, quoted in Robert M. Utley, The Lance and the Shield: The Life and Times of Sitting Bull (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1993), p. 247, with endnote on p. 386:
White men like to dig in the ground for their food. My people prefer to hunt the buffalo as their fathers did. White men like to stay in one place. My people want to move their tepees here and there to different hunting grounds. The life of white men is slavery. They are prisoners in towns or farms. The life my people want is freedom. I have seen nothing that a white man has, houses or railways or clothing or food, that is as good as the right to move in the open country and live in our own fashion.23

23. James Creelman, On the Great Highway: The Wanderings and Adventures of a Special Correspondent (Boston: Lothrop Publishing Co., 1901), 301.

Thursday, March 23, 2017


A Crappy Family

Cyril Mango, "The Christian Inscriptions of Macedonia," a review of Denis Feissel, Recueil des inscriptions chrétiennes de Macédoine du IIIe au VIe siècle (Paris: Boccard, 1983), in Classical Review 34.1 (1984) 119-120 (at 119):
I particularly like the family whose father was called Stercorius and whose daughters were Stercoria and Stercorilla (No. 9).
Here is the inscription (Feissel, p. 31):

Παραμόνα τῷ γλ̣[υ]-
κυτάτῳ ἀνδρὶ
καὶ τὰ τέκνα αὐτοῦ
Στερκορία καὶ Στερ-
κορίλλα καὶ Ἐπινί-
κις καὶ Κερβίων
Στερκορίῳ μνίας
χάριν· ζήσῃς ἐν θεῷ.
Paramona to her most sweet husband, and his children Sterkoria and Sterkorilla and Epinikis and Kerbiōn to Sterkorios in memoriam. May you live in God!
Related posts:

From Eric Thomson:
On the subject of crappy names, don’t forget that eminent Kapellmeister in the chapel-of-ease, Samuel Scheidt (pronounced Shite). I'm quite good at recognizing composers on the radio but have never had the pleasure of declaring "That's definitely a piece of Scheidt". That would be schützpah.



Political Changes

Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540), Ricordi Politici e Civili, number 380 (tr. Ninian Hill Thomson):
I would be ready enough to labour for changes in a government that I disliked could I hope to effect them by myself alone. But when I remember that I must combine with others, and for the most part with fools or knaves, who neither know how to be silent nor how to act, nothing disgusts me more than to think of changes.

Io sarei pronto a cercare le mutazione degli Stati che non mi piacessino, se potessi sperare mutargli da me solo; ma quando mi ricordo che bisogna fare compagnia con altri, e el piú delle volte con pazzi e con maligni, e quali né sanno tacere, né sanno fare, non è cosa che io aborrisca piú che el pensare a questo.


Love of Neighbor

Emil Cioran (1911-1995), Aveux et Anathèmes (tr. ‎Richard Howard):
To love one's neighbor is inconceivable. Does one ask a virus to love another virus?

Aimer son prochain est chose inconcevable. Est-ce qu'on demande à un virus d'aimer un autre virus?


Talking Rashly and Without Foresight

Erasmus, Adagia I v 72, in Collected Works of Erasmus, Vol. 31: Adages I i 1 to I v 100, translated by Margaret Mann Phillips, annotated by R.A.B. Mynors (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1982), p. 447, with note:
72 Quicquid in buccam venerit
Whatever came into his mouth

Whatever came into his mouth. Used whenever we speak of people talking freely and in security, without premeditation, saying whatever comes into their heads. This is what we do in the company of our loyal friends, with whom we can joke and that with confidence. Cicero to Atticus, book 14: 'If there is nothing special, write to me whatever comes into your mouth.' Again in book 12, 'When we are together, and chatter away with whatever comes into our mouths.' This is applicable to those who talk rashly and without forethought, just as if their words were born not in their hearts but in their throats.

72 Taken, it seems, directly from Cicero Ad Atticum 14.7.2; 12.1.2. Otto 273 gives many more examples from Greek as well as Latin. We are more likely to say 'whatever comes into our heads.'
The Latin:
Quicquid in buccam venerit. Quoties libere quospiam ac tuto loqui significamus, incircumspecte et quicquid forte fortuna in animum inciderit. Quemadmodum apud fidos amiculosfacere solemus, apud quos impune quiduis nugamur atque effutimus. M. Tullius ad Atticum libro decimoquarto: Aut si nihil erit, quod in buccam venerit scribes. Idem libro duodecimo: Quid cum coram sumus et garrimus quicquid in buccam venit. Recte torquebitur et in eos, qui temere atque inconsiderate loquuntur, perinde quasi sermo illis non in pectore nascatur, sed in faucibus.
A. Otto, Die Sprichwörter und sprichwörtlichen Redensarten der Römer (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1890), p. 59:

I'm reminded of a schoolyard taunt from my childhood: "You have diarrhea of the mouth and constipation of the brain."

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


New Enterprises

Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540), Ricordi Politici e Civili, number 152 (tr. Ninian Hill Thomson):
Take heed how you involve yourself in new enterprises or engagements; for once in, you are forced to go on. Whence it results that men are often found labouring through tasks which being embarked in they cannot withdraw from, though had they foreseen a tenth part of their difficulty they would have gone a thousand miles to avoid them. This rule holds most of all in feuds, factions, and wars, before taking part in which, or in anything of a like nature, no amount of careful and cautious consideration will be excessive.

Abbiate grandissima circumspezione innanzi entriate in imprese o faccende nuove, perché doppo el principio bisogna andare per necessità; e però interviene spesso che gli uomini si conducono a camminare per difficultà, che se prima n'avessino immaginato la ottava parte, se ne sarebbono alienati mille miglia; ma come sono imbarcati, non è in potestà loro ritirarsi. Accade questo massime nelle inimicizie, nelle parzialità, nelle guerre; nelle quali cose e in tutte l'altre, innanzi si piglino, non è considerazione o diligenzia sì esatta che sia superflua.


A Musical Instrument

Aristophanes, Clouds 165 (my translation):
The anus is a trumpet...

σάλπιγξ ὁ πρωκτός ἐστιν...
Related post: Rectal Music.



Death with Dignity

Emil Cioran (1911-1995), Aveux et Anathèmes (tr. ‎Richard Howard):
On this estate dedicated, like its manor house, to the crackbrained enterprises of charity, everywhere one looks there are old women kept alive by virtue of surgical operations. There was a time when one died at home, in the dignity of solitude and desertion; now the moribund are collected, crammed, and their indecent throes extended as long as possible.

Dans ce parc affecté, comme le manoir, aux entreprises loufoques de la charité, partout des vieilles qu'on maintient en vie à coup d'opérations. Avant, on agonisait chez soi, dans la dignité de la solitude et de l'abandon, maintenant on rassemble les moribonds, on les gave et on prolonge le plus longtemps possible leur indécente crevaison.

Monday, March 20, 2017


Man's Worst Enemy

Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540), Ricordi Politici e Civili, number 361 (tr. Ninian Hill Thomson):
Man has no worse enemy than himself, for almost all the many troubles, dangers, and afflictions he has to endure have no other source than his own excessive desires.

Non ha maggiore inimico l'uomo che sé medesimo; perché quasi tutti e mali, pericoli e travagli superflui che ha, non procedono da altro che dalla sua troppa cupidità.


An Old Fogey

Lucian, A Professor of Public Speaking 10 (tr. A.M. Harmon):
That is what this man will say, the impostor, the absolute old fogey, the antediluvian, who displays dead men of a bygone age to serve as patterns, and expects you to dig up long-buried speeches as if they were something tremendously helpful...

ὁ μὲν ταῦτα φήσει, ἀλαζὼν καὶ ἀρχαῖος ὡς ἀληθῶς καὶ Κρονικὸς ἄνθρωπος, νεκροὺς εἰς μίμησιν παλαιοὺς προτιθεὶς καὶ ἀνορύττειν ἀξιῶν λόγους πάλαι κατορωρυγμένους ὥς τι μεγιστον ἀγαθόν...
Related posts:

Sunday, March 19, 2017


Youth and Old Age

Mimnermus, fragment 2 (tr. M.L. West):
But we are like the leaves that flowery spring
    puts forth, quick spreading in the sun's warm light:
for a brief span of time we take our joy
    in our youth's bloom, the future, good or ill,
kept from us, while the twin dark Dooms stand by,        5
    one bringing to fulfillment harsh old age,
the other, death. The ripeness of youth's fruit
    is short, short as the sunlight on the earth,
and once this season of perfection's past,
    it's better to be dead than stay alive.        10
All kinds of worry come. One man's estate
    is failing, and there's painful poverty;
another has no sons—the keenest need
    one feels as one goes down below the earth;
sickness wears down another's heart. There's none        15
    Zeus does not give a multitude of ills.

ἡμεῖς δ᾿, οἷά τε φύλλα φύει πολυάνθεμος ὥρη
    ἔαρος, ὅτ᾿ αἶψ᾿ αὐγῇς αὔξεται ἠελίου,
τοῖς ἴκελοι πήχυιον ἐπὶ χρόνον ἄνθεσιν ἥβης
    τερπόμεθα, πρὸς θεῶν εἰδότες οὔτε κακὸν
οὔτ᾿ ἀγαθόν· Κῆρες δὲ παρεστήκασι μέλαιναι,        5
    ἡ μὲν ἔχουσα τέλος γήραος ἀργαλέου,
ἡ δ᾿ ἑτέρη θανάτοιο· μίνυνθα δὲ γίνεται ἥβης
    καρπός, ὅσον τ᾿ ἐπὶ γῆν κίδναται ἠέλιος.
αὐτὰρ ἐπὴν δὴ τοῦτο τέλος παραμείψεται ὥρης,
    αὐτίκα δὴ τεθνάναι βέλτιον ἢ βίοτος·        10
πολλὰ γὰρ ἐν θυμῷ κακὰ γίνεται· ἄλλοτε οἶκος
    τρυχοῦται, πενίης δ᾿ ἔργ᾿ ὀδυνηρὰ πέλει·
ἄλλος δ᾿ αὖ παίδων ἐπιδεύεται, ὧν τε μάλιστα
    ἱμείρων κατὰ γῆς ἔρχεται εἰς Ἀΐδην·
ἄλλος νοῦσον ἔχει θυμοφθόρον· οὐδέ τίς ἐστιν        15
    ἀνθρώπων ᾧ Ζεὺς μὴ κακὰ πολλὰ διδοῖ.


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