Gibbon’s Plan of Classical Education


“The perusal of the Roman classics was at once my exercise and reward. Dr. Middleton’s History, which I then appreciated above its true value, naturally directed the to the writings of Cicero. The most perfect editions, that of Olivet, which may adorn the shelves of the rich, that of Ernesti, which should lie on the table of the learned, were not in my power. For the familiar epistles I used the text and English commentary of Bishop Ross: but my general edition was that of Verburgius, published at Amsterdam in two large volumes in folio, with an indifferent choice of various notes. I read, with application and pleasure, all the epistles, all the orations, and the most important treatises of rhetoric and philosophy; and as I read, I applauded the observation of Quintilian, that every student may judge of his own proficiency, by the satisfaction which he receives from the Roman orator. I tasted the beauties of language, I breathed the spirit of freedom, and I imbibed from his precepts and examples the public and private sense of a man. Cicero in Latin, and Xenophon in Greek, are indeed the two ancients whom I would first propose to a liberal scholar; not only for the merit of their style and sentiments, but for the admirable lessons, which may be applied almost to every situation of public and private life. Cicero’s Epistles may in particular afford the models of every form of correspondence, from the careless effusions of tenderness and friendship, to the well guarded declaration of discreet and dignified resentment. After finishing this great author, a library of eloquence and reason, I formed a more extensive plan of reviewing the Latin classics, under the four divisions of, 1. historians, 2. Poets, 3. orators, and 4. philosophers, in a chronological series, from the days of Plautus and Sallust, to the decline of the language and empire of Rome: and this plan, in the last twenty-seven months of my residence at Lausanne (Jan. 1756—April 1758), I nearly accomplished. Nor was this review, however rapid, either hasty or superficial. I indulged myself in a second and even a third perusal of Terence, Virgil, Horace, Tacitus, &c.; and studied to imbibe the sense and spirit most congenial to my own. I never suffered a difficult or corrupt passage to escape, till I had viewed it in every light of which it was susceptible: though often disappointed, I always consulted the most learned or ingenious commentators, Torrentius and Dacier on Horace, Catrou and Servius on Virgil, Lipsius on Tacitus, Meziriac on Ovid, &c.; and in the ardour of my inquiries, I embraced a large circle of historical and critical erudition. My abstracts of each book were made in the French language: my observations often branched into particular essays; and I can still read, without contempt, a dissertation of eight folio pages on eight lines (287-294) of the fourth Georgic of Virgil. Mr. Deyverdun, my friend, whose name will be frequently repeated, had joined with equal zeal, though not with equal perseverance, in the same undertaking. To him every thought, every composition, was instantly communicated; with him I enjoyed the benefits of a free conversation on the topics of our common studies.

But it is scarcely possible for a mind endowed with any active curiosity to be long conversant with the Latin classics, without aspiring to know the Greek originals, whom they celebrate as their masters, and of whom they so warmly recommend the study and imitation;

—Vos exemplaria Graeca
Nocturna versate manu, versate diurna.
It was now that I regretted the early years which had been wasted in sickness or idleness, or mere idle reading; that I condemned the perverse method of our schoolmasters, who, by first teaching the mother-language, might descend with so much ease and perspicuity to the origin and etymology of a derivative idiom. In the nineteenth year of my age I determined to supply this defect; and the lessons of Pavilliard again contributed to smooth the entrance of the way, the Greek alphabet, the grammar, and the pronunciation according to the French accent. At my earnest request we presumed to open the Iliad; and I had the pleasure of beholding, though darkly and through a glass, the true image of Homer, whom I had long since admired in an English dress. After my tutor had left me to myself, I worked my way through about half the Iliad, and afterwards interpreted alone a large portion of Xenophon and Herodotus. But my ardour, destitute of aid and emulation, was gradually cooled, and, from the barren task of searching words in a lexicon, I withdrew to the free and familiar conversation of Virgil and Tacitus. Yet in my residence at Lausanne I had laid a solid foundation, which enabled me, in a more propitious season, to prosecute the study of Grecian literature.”

-Edward Gibbon, Memoirs of My Life and Writings

Fragmentary Friday: Why Did Menelaos Win Helen’s Hand? Money.


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Some of the longer fragments of the Hesiodic Catalogue of Women deal with the wooing of Helen. While later traditions offer various explanations for why Menelaos prevailed, several fragments isolate one feature of her future bridegroom:

Hesiod, Fr.204 85-57

“But everyone
The son of Atreus, war-loving Menelaus conquered
Because he brought the most [gifts]….”
… ἀλ̣λ̣’ ἄ̣[ρα πάντας
᾿Ατρε[ίδ]ης ν̣[ίκησε]ν ἀρηΐφιλος Μενέλαος
πλεῖ̣[στ]α πορών…

Hesiod, fr. 198 2-6

“The sacred strength of Odysseus wooed her too,
the son of Laertes who understood clear things.
He did not send any gifts for the sake of the slender-ankled girl.
for he knew in his mind that fair Menelaos
would prevail, since he was the best of the Achaians in property.”

ἐκ δ’ ᾿Ιθάκης ἐμνᾶτο ᾿Οδυσσῆος ἱερὴ ἴς,
υἱὸς Λαέρταο πολύκροτα μήδεα εἰδώς.
δῶρα μὲν οὔ ποτ’ ἔπεμπε τανισφύρου εἵνεκα κούρης·
ἤιδεε γὰρ κατὰ θυμὸν ὅτι ξανθὸς Μενέλαος
νικήσει, κτήνωι γὰρ ᾿Αχαιῶν φέρτατος ἦεν·

It seems that the wealth of the Atreids was a motif contrasted with the qualities of other families:

Hes. Fr. 203

“The Olympian gave bravery to the descendants of Aiakos,
Brains to the offspring of Amythaon, and wealth to the sons of Atreus.”

ἀλκὴν μὲν γὰρ ἔδωκεν ᾿Ολύμπιος Αἰακίδηισι,
νοῦν δ’ ᾿Αμυθαονίδαις, πλοῦτον δ’ ἔπορ’ ᾿Ατρεΐδηισι.

Aiakos was the father of Peleus and Telamon, making him the grandfather of Achilles and Ajax. The descendants of Amythaon were prophets through his son Melampous. The sons of Atreus were Agamemnon and Menelaos.

Nelly knew this answer. I am sure of it:

Two Valuable Chests


“But these schools may assume the merit of teaching all that they pretend to teach, the Latin and Greek languages: they deposit in the hands of a disciple the keys of two valuable chests; nor can he complain, if they are afterwards lost or neglected by his own fault. The necessity of leading in equal ranks so many unequal powers of capacity and application, will prolong to eight or ten years the juvenile studies, which might be despatched in half that time by the skilful master of a single pupil. Yet even the repetition of exercise and discipline contributes to fix in a vacant mind the verbal science of grammar and prosody: and the private or voluntary student, who possesses the sense and spirit of the classics, may offend, by a false quantity, the scrupulous ear of a well-flogged critic. For myself, I must be content with a very small share of the civil and literary fruits of a public school. In the space of two years (1749, 1750), interrupted by danger and debility, I painfully climbed into the third form; and my riper age was left to acquire the beauties of the Latin, and the rudiments of the Greek tongue.”

-Edward Gibbon, Memoirs of My Life and Writings

Was Nausikaa a “Ship-Burner”? Speaking Names and Etymology


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In a recent post, Palaiophron talks about seeing me lecture and kindly does not make it clear that when a student first asked me for the etymology of Nausikaa, I was flabbergasted and admitted it. The context was a discussion of the names Nausithoos (“swift-in-ships”) and Nausinoos (“ship-minded”) in the Homeric and Hesiodic traditions. Why wouldn’t I think that the offering of two etymologies might prompt an audience member to wonder about a third, when I mentioned the name as a parallel?

The embarrassing truth is that for some unknown reason I had never really thought about the meaning of the name Nausikaa. So, on the spot, I suggested Ναυσι+ καίω for something like “ship-burner”. Palaiophron rightly reacted that this would be preposterous for the narrative of the Odyssey and eventually dug up the records of the ancients who tied the name to either a form of καίνυμι (to excel, or surpass) or from κοσμέω (to arrange, adorn).

So, he cites Pseudo-Zonaras, in his Lexicon, writes: “Nausikaa. Excelling in ships.” (Ναυσικάα. ταῖς ναυσὶ κεκασμένη) confirmed by Etymologicum Magnum which adds Nausikaa: “Excelling (that is, honored [or, an ornament to?]). Ναυσικάα: Κεκασμένη (ὅ ἐστι κεκοσμημένη). Kallierges repeats this (598.28): Ναυσικάα: Κεκασμένη (ὅ ἐστι κεκοσμημένη) ταῖς ναυσί.

Continue reading

Gibbon, from Translations to Originals


“To the university of Oxford I acknowledge no obligation; and she will as cheerfully renounce me for a son, as I am willing to disclaim her for a mother. I spent fourteen months at Magdalen College; they proved the fourteen months the most idle and unprofitable of my whole life: the reader will pronounce between the school and the scholar; but I cannot affect to believe that Nature had disqualified me for all literary pursuits. The specious and ready excuse of my tender age, imperfect preparation, and hasty departure, may doubtless be alleged; nor do I wish to defraud such excuses of their proper weight. Yet in my sixteenth year I was not devoid of capacity or application; even my childish reading had displayed an early though blind propensity for books; and the shallow flood might have been taught to flow in a deep channel and a clear stream. In the discipline of a well-constituted academy, under the guidance of skilful and vigilant professors, I should gradually have risen from translations to originals, from the Latin to the Greek classics, from dead languages to living science: my hours would have been occupied by useful and agreeable studies, the wanderings of fancy would have been restrained, and I should have escaped the temptations of idleness, which finally precipitated my departure from Oxford.”

-Edward Gibbon, Memoirs of My Life and Writings

Vituperation of Cyclic Poets, and the Unreliability of Scholia


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The following, taken from the Scholia Vindobonensia, illustrates one of the central problems with scholia: some are incredible storehouses of information and textual elucidation, while others are either wildly inaccurate or hopelessly absurd. Much of the Scholia Vindobonensia consists of straightforward explication, but the following is a preposterous ad hoc explanation which reflects the Scholiast’s lack of familiarity with early Greek poetry:

“Cyclicus is used here as a pronominatio, that is, as a name used in place of another name, which is sometimes used for praise, sometime for blame, so that by the same force of the word we can understand either sense. Here, however, we can understand the word to be meant as vituperation. A cycle (cyclus) is a line drawn around, but not brought back to the same point. In this way, Horace means that the Cyclic poet never touches on the matter at hand, but has rather gone around and around it, thus diverging farther and farther from the subject with every turn.”

cyclicus est pronominatio, id est, nomen pro nomine positum, quod fit aliquando pro laude, aliquando pro vituperatione, ut in ipsa vi vocabuli possimus utrumque notare. hic vero fit, ut vituperationem possimus ibi notare. vocatur enim cyclus linea circumducta, non ad idem reducta. et per hoc notat eum non rem tetigisse, sed circa ipsam rem ivisse; et semper magis ac magis discedit ab ipsa re.

The Faults of Pope’s Homer and Vergil’s Aeneid



“Before I left Kingston school I was well acquainted with Pope’s Homer and the Arabian Nights Entertainments, two books which will always please by the moving picture of human manners and specious miracles: nor was I then capable of discerning that Pope’s translation is a portrait endowed with every merit, excepting that of likeness to the original. The verses of Pope accustomed my ear to the sound of poetic harmony: in the death of Hector, and the shipwreck of Ulysses, I tasted the new emotions of terror and pity; and seriously disputed with my aunt on the vices and virtues of the heroes of the Trojan war. From Pope’s Homer to Dryden’s Virgil was an easy transition; but I know not how, from some fault in the author, the translator, or the reader, the pious Aeneas did not so forcibly seize on my imagination; and I derived more pleasure from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, especially in the fall of Phaeton, and the speeches of Ajax and Ulysses.”

-Edward Gibbon, Memoirs of My Life

Burning for the Etymology of Nausikaa

I recently attended a talk given by my very distinguished and erudite friend, Mr. SententiaeAntiquae himself, when a young student stumped both of us by asking what the name Nausikaa meant. The connection with ships was clear enough, but the final element -kaa was not readily analyzed by either of us. Dr. S.A. suggested a possible derivation from καίω (for which, see below), but I felt less than convinced, not because I found the formation linguistically implausible, but rather because I found the notion of Nausikaa as “Ship-burner” to be a wildly inappropriate name for her character.

Because perplexity is the beginning of all wisdom, I was motivated by my ignorance to seek out an answer among the Greek authorities, which I present here. Of course, I also post this in the hope that some reader has an authoritative answer!

Pseudo-Zonaras, in his Lexicon, writes:

“Nausikaa. Excelling in ships.”

Ναυσικάα. ταῖς ναυσὶ κεκασμένη.

Eustathius (TLG1.241.31)(Vers. 101.)

“Nausikaa is a particularly interesting name, because of its singularity. Homer usually uses eta in the word “ships” (neusi, not nausi). But these are put together with an alpha: Nausikaa, Nausithoos, Nausiklutos, and similar names.

Τὸ δὲ Ναυσικάα, σημειῶδες, ἐπεὶ τὸ μὲν ἁπλοῦν, νηυσὶ διὰ τοῦ η παρὰ τῷ ποιητῇ. τὰ δὲ σύνθετα, διὰ τοῦ α. Ναυσικάα. Ναυσίθοος. Ναυσίκλυτος. καὶ τὰ ὅμοια.

Etymologicum Magnum:

Nausikaa: “Excelling (that is, honored [or, an ornament to?]).

Ναυσικάα: Κεκασμένη (ὅ ἐστι κεκοσμημένη)

In the Suda, we find an interesting description fitting Dr. S.A.’s conjecture:

“Nausikaa: A proper name. Homer says that she is the Phaiacian princess fit for that land, because the Phaiacians – being the excellent mariners that they are – burn pitch upon their ships for stability.”

Ναυσικάα: ὄνομα κύριον. μέμνηται ῞Ομηρος Ναυσικάας Φαιακικῆς

βασιλικῆς παιδὸς προσφυῶς τῇ χώρᾳ· ἐπεὶ ναυτικώτατοι ὄντες ἐπέκαιον ταῖς ναυσὶ

πίσσαν πρὸς ἀσφάλειαν.


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