Cicero Delayed Publishing a Book of Poetry Because the Acknowledgements Would Be Too Long

Cicero, Letters to Friends  30 Lentulus Spinther 1.9. 29

“I have also composed a three book poem On My Times which I ought to have send you previously if I thought it right to publish it. For these books are truly an eternal testament of your efforts for me and my duty to you. But I was reluctant not because of those who might judge themselves wounded by it—I have done this rarely and gently—but because of those who had helped me, if I had named them at all I would have gone on for ever.

But you will still see these books if I can find anyone I can rightly trust to bring them to you. I will entrust this for your preservation. I pass to you for judgment this part of my life and my practice, however much I am able to accomplish in literature, in research and in our old pleasures, I send to you who have always loved these things.”

scripsi etiam versibus tris libros De temporibus meis, quos iam pridem ad te misissem si esse edendos putassem; sunt enim testes et erunt sempiterni meritorum erga me tuorum meaeque pietatis. sed quia verebar, non eos qui se laesos arbitrarentur (etenim id feci parce et molliter), sed eos quos erat infinitum bene de <me> meritos omnis nominare ∗ ∗ ∗quos tamen ipsos libros, si quem cui recte committam invenero, curabo ad te perferendos. atque istam quidem partem vitae consuetudinisque nostrae totam ad te defero; quantum litteris, quantum studiis, veteribus nostris delectationibus, consequi poterimus, id omne <ad> arbitrium tuum, qui haec semper amasti, libentissime conferemus.

 

Wild Etymology of the Night

Giovanni Boccaccio, The Genealogy of the Pagan Gods, 1.9:

“The fact that Night is clothed in a painted coat clearly indicates that she is the very decoration of the sky, by which the sky is covered. Night (nox) however, as Papias says, is so called ‘because she harms (noceat) the eyes’; for she takes away their power of sight, since we see nothing at night. Night is harmful, further, in that she is well-suited to evil-doers, since we say ‘one who does evil hates the light’ – from this it follows that the evil-doer loves the shadows because they are more suited to the evil work. Even Juvenal says, ‘Thieves rise at night to cut the throats of others.’ Furthermore, Homer calls her the subduer of the gods in the Iliad, by which we may understand that since great-spirited people turn over important matters in their hearts at night, nevertheless night (not being suited to such things at all) oppresses their overflowing spirits, and overpowers them, subdued, all the way until the light.”

Image result for boccaccio

Quod autem picta palla amicta sit, facile videri potest illam celi ornatum significare quo tegitur. Nox autem, ut ait Papias, ideo dicitur quia noceat oculis; aufert enim illis videndi officium, cum nil nocte cernamus. Nocet insuper quia male agentibus apta est, cum legamus: Qui male agit odit lucem; exquo sequitur ut tenebras amet tanquam malo operi aptiores. Et dicit etiam Iuvenalis: Ut iugulent homines surgunt de nocte latrones. Omerus preterea in Yliade eam domitricem deorum vocitat, ut sentiamus quoniam nocte magnanimes ingentia pectoribus versant, tamen nox minime talibus apta ebullientes opprimit spiritus, eosque tanquam domitos in lucem usque coercet.

The Preservation of Ancient Studies

Hugh Lloyd-Jones, Introduction to Wilamowitz-Moellendorff’s History of Classical Scholarship:

“The monuments of ancient literature and art are such as to appeal powerfully to some people in every generation, whatever the prevailing fashion; and so long as historical studies of any kind continue, the history of the world of classical antiquity, the direct ancestor of our own, can hardly suffer a complete neglect. Scholars cannot give up the noble conception of the study of the ancient world as a whole. They must guard perpetually against the danger of dryness, both the dryness that comes from an excessive concentration on technique and the dryness that comes from the adoption of too narrowly historical a standpoint. They do not maintain that the classics offer an ideal pattern for imitation. Nor indeed can the classicists of the Renaissance or the age of Goethe justly be reproached with this; the idea of imitation of an ideal pattern hardly suffices to explain the relation of a Michelangelo or of a Goethe to the ancient artists from whom they drew inspiration. The study of ancient civilization presents us not with patterns to be copied but with working models of possible beliefs and methods, which if intelligently and unsentimentally presented can save us from the provincialism of those who only know their own period. The ancients saw no reason to suppose that human nature was likely to change much, whatever social and historical circumstances might prevail; their art and literature dealt with what is constant rather than what is ephemeral; and that makes their literature, art and history particularly likely to provide experiences that may be useful, together with other experiences, in our own practice. The value of that experience, over and above whatever value may be assigned to the maintenance of the tradition that links us with antiquity, must be held to justify the continuance of these studies, so long as any historical and literary studies are thought to be justified.”

Image result for hugh lloyd jones

Meme Police: A Collection of things Aristotle Did Not Say

This is likely to be an ongoing list. If you have any additions, explanations, or counterclaims, leave a comment and we will integrate it.

 

1. “It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it”

This is probably a willful twisting of something from the Nicomachean Ethics

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1, 1094a24-1095a

“It is right that we ask [people] to accept each of the things which are said in the same way: for it is the mark of an educated person to search for the same kind of clarity in each topic to the extent that the nature of the matter accepts it. For it is similar to expect a mathematician to speak persuasively or for an orator to furnish clear proofs!

Each person judges well what they know and is thus a good critic of those things. For each thing in specific, someone must be educated [to be a critic]; to [be a critic in general] one must be educated about everything.”

τὸν αὐτὸν δὴ τρόπον καὶ ἀποδέχεσθαι χρεὼν ἕκαστα τῶν λεγομένων· πεπαιδευομένου γάρ ἐστιν ἐπὶ τοσοῦτον τἀκριβὲς ἐπιζητεῖν καθ’ ἕκαστον γένος, ἐφ’ ὅσον ἡ τοῦ πράγματος φύσις ἐπιδέχεται· παραπλήσιον γὰρ φαίνεται μαθηματικοῦ τε πιθανολογοῦντος ἀποδέχεσθαι καὶ ῥητορικὸν ἀποδείξεις ἀπαιτεῖν. ἕκαστος δὲ κρίνει καλῶς ἃ γινώσκει, καὶ τούτων ἐστὶν ἀγαθὸς κριτής. καθ’ ἕκαστον μὲν ἄρα ὁ πεπαιδευμένος, ἁπλῶς δ’ ὁ περὶ πᾶν πεπαιδευμένος.

2. “A Whole is greater than the sum of its parts”

This really popular misattribution may be a poor translation of the Metaphysics

Aristotle, Metaphysics 8.6 [=1045a]

“For however many things have a plurality of parts and are not merely a complete aggregate but instead some kind of a whole beyond its parts, there is some cause of it since even in bodies, for some the fact that the there is contact is the cause of a unity/oneness while for others there is viscosity or some other characteristic of this sort.

 πάντων γὰρ ὅσα πλείω μέρη ἔχει καὶ μή ἐστιν οἷον σωρὸς τὸ πᾶν ἀλλ᾿ ἔστι τι τὸ ὅλον παρὰ τὰ μόρια, ἔστι τι αἴτιον, ἐπεὶ καὶ ἐν τοῖς σώμασι τοῖς μὲν ἁφὴ αἰτία τοῦ ἓν εἶναι, τοῖς δὲ γλισχρότης ἤ τι πάθος ἕτερον τοιοῦτον.

3.  “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.” [and many variations thereof]

This one has absolutely no basis. Aristotle says many things about education, this just ain’t one of them.

4. “We are What we repeatedly do. Excellence is an act, not a habit.”

This one is has likely slipped into the Internet Aristotle Quotarium from Will Durant’s misconstruing of the Nicomachean Ethics. Indeed, this has been debunked more than a few times.

Here’s the closest Aristotle actually gets:

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1105b

“It is therefore well said that a person becomes just by doing just things and prudent from practicing wisdom. And, no one could ever approach being good without doing these things. But many who do not practice them flee to argument and believe that they are practicing philosophy and that they will become serious men in this way. They act the way sick people do who listen to their doctors seriously and then do nothing of what they were prescribed. Just as these patients will not end up healthy from treating their body in this way, so most people won’t change their soul with such philosophy.”

εὖ οὖν λέγεται ὅτι ἐκ τοῦ τὰ δίκαια πράττειν ὁ δίκαιος γίνεται καὶ ἐκ τοῦ τὰ σώφρονα ὁ σώφρων· ἐκ δὲ τοῦ μὴ πράττειν ταῦτα οὐδεὶς ἂν οὐδὲ μελλήσειε γίνεσθαι ἀγαθός. ἀλλ’ οἱ πολλοὶ ταῦτα μὲν οὐ πράττουσιν, ἐπὶ δὲ τὸν λόγον καταφεύγοντες οἴονται φιλοσοφεῖν καὶ οὕτως ἔσεσθαι σπουδαῖοι, ὅμοιόν τι ποιοῦντες τοῖς κάμνουσιν, οἳ τῶν ἰατρῶν ἀκούουσι μὲν ἐπιμελῶς, ποιοῦσι δ’ οὐδὲν τῶν προσταττομένων. ὥσπερ οὖν οὐδ’ ἐκεῖνοι εὖ ἕξουσι τὸ σῶμα οὕτω θεραπευόμενοι, οὐδ’ οὗτοι τὴν ψυχὴν οὕτω φιλοσοφοῦντες.

5. “Knowing Yourself is the Beginning of all Wisdom”

No. I don’t even need to look this up. No. No. No. This is a version of the Delphic Oracles “know thyself” Γνῶθι σαυτόν. At least attribute it to Plato or Aristotle something. Or do what Diogenes Laertius does at give it to Pittakos (1.79.10)

6. “Whosoever is delighted in solitude, is either a wild beast or a god.”

This is almost Aristotle. It is mostly Francis Bacon (‘Essays’, XXVII “On Friendship” (1612, rewritten 1625). Aristotle said something not to far off, but still not this

Aristotle, Politics 1.2 1253a25–30

“It is clear that the state is naturally prior to each individual person. If each person when separated is not sufficient on his own, just as other parts are to the whole while a person who is incapable of joining commonwealth or does not need any part of a state because of self-sufficiency is either a beast or a god.”

ὅτι μὲν οὖν ἡ πόλις καὶ φύσει πρότερον ἢ ἕκαστος, δῆλον.  εἰ γὰρ μὴ αὐτάρκης ἕκαστος χωρισθείς, ὁμοίως τοῖς ἄλλοις μέρεσιν ἕξει πρὸς τὸ ὅλον, ὁ δὲ μὴ δυνάμενος κοινωνεῖν ἢ μηθὲν δεόμενος δι᾿ αὐτάρκειαν οὐθὲν μέρος πόλεως, ὥστε ἢ θηρίον ἢ θεός.

7. “Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation.” 

This is total super-capitalist, corporate double-speak nonsense. It does not even remotely sound like Aristotle. I am not sure where it comes from and I cannot find it debunked, but I will kept looking

8. “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” 

This one is likely a mistranslation or an attribution of a lost saying by Seneca in On Tranquility of mind. But I can’t really justify that by what I have found in the Seneca. Regardless, this is more neo-capitalist nonsense. I have a hard time believing this is anywhere in Aristotle.

9. “Well-begun is half done”

This is not really Aristotle. The idea is proverbial even when it is kind of quoted by Aristotle. But these words belong to someone else.  Here is as close as Aristotle gets:

Aristotle, Politics 5, 1303b

“For the mistake happens in the beginning and the beginning is said to be half of the whole, so that even a minor mistake at the beginning is equal to those made at different stages.”

ἐν ἀρχῇ γὰρ γίγνεται τὸ ἁμάρτημα, ἡ δ᾿ ἀρχὴ λέγεται ἥμισυ εἶναι παντός, ὥστε καὶ τὸ ἐν αὐτῇ μικρὸν ἁμάρτημα ἀνάλογόν ἐστι πρὸς τὰ ἐν τοῖς ἄλλοις μέρεσιν.

This particular quotation comes from the Benjamin Jowett translation and is replicated on the wikiquote site. Aristotle in phrasing this as “it is said” (λέγεται) is marking the line as a proverb. Horace’s “The one who has begun has completed half the task.” dimidium facti, qui coepit, habet (Epistle 1.2) is closer to the popular version. Hesiod has “fool does not know that half is greater than the whole” ( Νήπιοι οὐδ’ ἴσασιν ὅσῳ πλέον ἥμισυ παντός:)

Image result for aristotle sad bust

Why? Why?

Sophoclean Sententiae Saturday II

Sophocles, Antigone:

“There is no sense in doing things beyond the usual measure.”

τὸ γὰρ περισσὰ πράσσειν οὐκ ἔχει νοῦν οὐδένα. [67-68]

 

“Zeus hates the boasts of an overweening tongue.”

Ζεὺς γὰρ μεγάλης γλώσσης κόμπους ὑπερεχθαίρει [127-128]

 

“It is impossible to know the spirit, thought, and mind of any man before he be versed in sovereignty and the laws.”

ἀμήχανον δὲ παντὸς ἀνδρὸς ἐκμαθεῖν ψυχήν τε καὶ φρόνημα καὶ γνώμην πρὶν ἂν

ἀρχαῖς τε καὶ νόμοισιν ἐντριβὴς φανῇ. [175-7]

 

“No one is so foolish that they wish to die.”

οὔκ ἔστιν οὕτω μῶρος ὃς θανεῖν ἐρᾷ. [220]

 

“But the profit-motive has destroyed many people in their hope for gain.”

ἀλλ᾽ ὑπ᾽ ἐλπίδων ἄνδρας τὸ κέρδος πολλάκις διώλεσεν. [221-2]

 

“No one loves the bearer of bad news.”

στέργει γὰρ οὐδεὶς ἄγγελον κακῶν ἐπῶν. [277]

 

“Nothing has harmed humans more than the evil of money – money it is which destroys cities, money it is which drives people from their homes.”

οὐδὲν γὰρ ἀνθρώποισιν οἷον ἄργυρος κακὸν νόμισμ᾽ ἔβλαστε. τοῦτο καὶ πόλεις πορθεῖ, τόδ᾽ ἄνδρας ἐξανίστησιν δόμων [295-297]

 

“There are many wondrous things in this world, but none more wondrous than humans.”

πολλὰ τὰ δεινὰ κοὐδὲν ἀνθρώπου δεινότερον πέλει. [332-3]

 

“A second thought proves one’s first thought false.”

ψεύδει γὰρ ἡ ‘πίνοια τὴν γνώμην [389]

 

“For one who lives amidst such evils as I do, how could it not be best to die?”

ὅστις γὰρ ἐν πολλοῖσιν ὡς ἐγὼ κακοῖς ζῇ, πῶς ὅδ᾽ Οὐχὶ κατθανὼν κέρδος φέρει;[464- 5]

 

“You don’t know how to yield to your misfortunes.”

εἴκειν δ᾽ οὐκ ἐπίσταται κακοῖς. [472]

 

“I hate it when someone is caught in the midst of their evil deeds and tries to gloss over them.”

μισῶ γε μέντοι χὤταν ἐν κακοῖσί τις ἁλοὺς ἔπειτα τοῦτο καλλύνειν θέλῃ. [495-496]

 

“But tyranny is a happy state in many ways, and the tyrant has the power to act and speak as they wish.”

ἀλλ᾽ ἡ τυραννὶς πολλά τ᾽ ἄλλ᾽ εὐδαιμονεῖ κἄξεστιν αὐτῇ δρᾶν λέγειν θ᾽ ἃ βούλεται. [506-507]

 

“One’s enemy does not become one’s friend when they die.”

οὔτοι ποθ᾽ οὑχθρός, οὐδ᾽ ὅταν θάνῃ, φίλος. [522]

 

“I do not care for the friend who loves in word alone.”

λόγοις δ᾽ ἐγὼ φιλοῦσαν οὐ στέργω φίλην. [543]

 

“My soul died long ago so that I could give some help to the dead.”

ἡ δ᾽ ἐμὴ ψυχὴ πάλαι τέθνηκεν, ὥστε τοῖς θανοῦσιν ὠφελεῖν. [559-60]

 

“Blessed are those whose lives have no taste of suffering.”

εὐδαίμονες οἷσι κακῶν ἄγευστος αἰών. [583]

 

“What wound is greater than a false friend?”

τί γὰρ γένοιτ᾽ ἂν ἕλκος μεῖζον ἢ φίλος κακός; [651-2]

 

“It is a fine thing to learn from those who speak well.”

καὶ τῶν λεγόντων εὖ καλὸν τὸ μανθάνειν. [722]

 

“The state which belongs to one man is no state at all.”

πόλις γὰρ οὐκ ἔσθ᾽ ἥτις ἀνδρός ἐσθ᾽ ἑνός. [737]

 

“I will become the bride of Acheron.”

ἀλλ᾽ Ἀχέροντι νυμφεύσω. [816]

 

“See, you leaders of Thebes, what sorts of things I, its last princess, suffer at the hands of such men.”

λεύσσετε, Θήβης οἱ κοιρανίδαι τὴν βασιλειδᾶν μούνην λοιπήν, οἷα πρὸς οἵων ἀνδρῶν πάσχω [940-942]

 

“It is common to all of humanity to make mistakes.”

ἀνθρώποισι γὰρ τοῖς πᾶσι κοινόν ἐστι τοὐξαμαρτάνειν [1023-4]

 

“It is the sweetest thing to learn from one speaking well, if they speak profitably.”

τὸ μανθάνειν δ᾽ ἥδιστον εὖ λέγοντος, εἰ κέρδος λέγοι. [1031-2]

 

“The race of tyrants loves shameful profit.”

τὸ δ᾽ ἐκ τυράννων αἰσχροκέρδειαν φιλεῖ. [1056]

 

“But when people lose their pleasures, I do not consider this life – rather, it is just a corpse with a soul.”

τὰς γὰρ ἡδονὰς ὅταν προδῶσιν ἄνδρες, οὐ τίθημ᾽ ἐγὼ ζῆν τοῦτον, ἀλλ᾽ ἔμψυχον ἡγοῦμαι νεκρόν. [1165-7]

 

“The great words of the arrogant pay the penalty by suffering great blows, and teach one to reason in old age.”

μεγάλοι δὲ λόγοι μεγάλας πληγὰς τῶν ὑπεραύχων ἀποτίσαντες γήρᾳ τὸ φρονεῖν ἐδίδαξαν. [1350-1353]

 

Related image

Nope, Aristotle Did Not Say, “It Is the Mark of an Educated Mind to Entertain a Thought Without….”

Oh, Internet, why do you abuse Aristotle so?

This has been bouncing around lately with the hashtag #Aristotle

Like many of the fake-istotle quotes, this one can be googled out of existence in about 5 seconds. According to wikiquote, this was first attributed to Aristotle by Lowell L. Bennion in his Religion and the Pursuit of Truth 1989, 52). They suggest that it is a misunderstanding of Nicomachean Ethics 1094b24. The density of the passage provides some grounds for why it may have been (over)simplified. But since it stands so early at the beginning of the Ethics, I suspect that there was a kind of smash and run search for an authoritative sounding quotation. As a side note, there is an interesting–by which I mean crazy–discussion of what this fake quote might mean on Quora. Some of the content there is interesting and accurate (about the idea of the fake quotation, not the actual bit); other parts are like Ancient Aliens crazy.

Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1 1094a24-1095a

“It is right that we ask [people] to accept each of the things which are said in the same way: for it is the mark of an educated person to search for the same kind of clarity in each topic to the extent that the nature of the matter accepts it. For it is similar to expect a mathematician to speak persuasively or for an orator to furnish clear proofs!

Each person judges well what they know and is thus a good critic of those things. For each thing in specific, someone must be educated [to be a critic]; to [be a critic in general] one must be educated about everything.”

τὸν αὐτὸν δὴ τρόπον καὶ ἀποδέχεσθαι χρεὼν ἕκαστα τῶν λεγομένων· πεπαιδευομένου γάρ ἐστιν ἐπὶ τοσοῦτον τἀκριβὲς ἐπιζητεῖν καθ’ ἕκαστον γένος, ἐφ’ ὅσον ἡ τοῦ πράγματος φύσις ἐπιδέχεται· παραπλήσιον γὰρ φαίνεται μαθηματικοῦ τε πιθανολογοῦντος ἀποδέχεσθαι καὶ ῥητορικὸν ἀποδείξεις ἀπαιτεῖν. ἕκαστος δὲ κρίνει καλῶς ἃ γινώσκει, καὶ τούτων ἐστὶν ἀγαθὸς κριτής. καθ’ ἕκαστον μὲν ἄρα ὁ πεπαιδευμένος, ἁπλῶς δ’ ὁ περὶ πᾶν πεπαιδευμένος.

An Old Catonian Joke for the Road

Macrobius, Saturnalia 2.2.8:

“There was once among the ancients a type of sacrifice which they called a ‘for the road.’ The custom was that if anything was left over from a feast, it was burned in the fire. This is the source of one of Cato’s jokes. He said that a certain Albidius, who had consumed his own goods and had recently lost everything which was left in a fire had made a ‘for the road’ – what he wasn’t able to consume, he burned!”

Image result for ancient sacrifice roman

Sacrificium apud veteres fuit quod vocabatur propter viam. In eo mos erat ut, si quid ex epulis superfuisset, igne consumeretur. Hinc Catonis iocus est. Namque Albidium quendam, qui bona sua comedisset et novissime domum quae ei reliqua erat incendio perdidisset, propter viam fecisse dicebat: quod comesse non potuerit, id combussisse.

No Better(er) A Man: Mimnermus’ Memory of War

Mimnermus fr. 14

“That man did not have this kind of strength and proud spirit
As I learn from those who came before me
Who saw him turning back the Lydian cavalry’s teeming ranks
On the Hermion plan, a man with an ash-spear in his hand.
Pallas Athena never carped at his heart’s
Rushing strength when he sped into the front-fighters,
In the clash of the bloody war,
Disappointing his enemies’ bitter bolts.
For not one of his opponents was a better man
At facing the work of powerful war,
When he [went] like the rays of the sun…”

οὐ μὲν δὴ κείνου γε μένος καὶ ἀγήνορα θυμὸν
τοῖον ἐμέο προτέρων πεύθομαι, οἵ μιν ἴδον
Λυδῶν ἱππομάχων πυκινὰς κλονέοντα φάλαγγας
῞Ερμιον ἂμ πεδίον, φῶτα φερεμμελίην [1
τοῦ μὲν ἄρ’ οὔ ποτε πάμπαν ἐμέμψατο Παλλὰς ᾿Αθήνη
δριμὺ μένος κραδίης, εὖθ’ ὅ γ’ ἀνὰ προμάχους
σεύαιθ’ αἱματόεν<τος ἐν> ὑσμίνηι πολέμοιο,
πικρὰ βιαζόμενος δυσμενέων βέλεα·
οὐ γάρ τις κείνου δηίων ἔτ’ ἀμεινότερος[2] φὼς
ἔσκεν ἐποίχεσθαι φυλόπιδος κρατερῆς
ἔργον, ὅτ’ αὐγῆισιν φέρετ’ εἴκελος[3] ἠελίοιο

This poem is not one of the best attributed to Mimnermus, but it has an a few interesting images and some instructive hapax legomena [“words that occur only once”]

1. A hapax legomenon [word only occuring once]: φερεμμελίην, “ash-spear” wielding”

2. ἀμεινότερος: a double formation, adding the comparative suffix –oter– to the irregular comparative ameinôn

3. Most editions have ὠκέος ἠελίοιο in the final line. I prefer εἴκελος because it works better with the dative αὐγῆισιν

Image result for Mimnermus ancient greek
εἴκελος

 

Tacitus on Germanic Standards for Women and Child-Rearing

Some of the rhetoric here seems a bit familiar…

Tacitus, Germania 19-20

In that country, no one finds vice amusing; nor is seducing or being seduced celebrated as a sign of the times. Even better are those communities where only virgins marry and a promise is made with the hope and vow of a wife. And so, they have only one husband just as each has one body and one life so that there may be no additional thought of it, no lingering desire, that they may not love the man so much as they love the marriage. It is considered a sin to limit the number of children or to eliminate the later born. There good customs are stronger than good laws.

There are children there naked and dirty in every house growing into the size of limbs and body at which we wonder. Each mother nourishes each child with her own breasts; they are not passed around to maids and nurses.”

nemo enim illic vitia ridet, nec corrumpere et corrumpi saeculum vocatur. melius quidem adhuc eae civitates, in quibus tantum virgines nubunt et cum spe votoque uxoris semel transigitur. sic unum accipiunt maritum quo modo unum corpus unamque vitam, ne ulla cogitatio ultra, ne longior cupiditas, ne tamquam maritum, sed tamquam matrimonium ament. numerum liberorum finire aut quemquam ex agnatis necare flagitium habetur, plusque ibi boni mores valent quam alibi bonae leges.In omni domo nudi ac sordidi in hos artus, in haec corpora, quae miramur, excrescunt. sua quemque mater uberibus alit, nec ancillis aut nutricibus delegantur.

Image result for medieval manuscript Tacitus germania

Grammar, the Driest and Deathliest of All Disciplines

Basil Gildersleeve, Hellas and Hesperia

“According to the conditions of the Foundation, the lecturer is to speak of that which lies within the range of his special studies, and it is a sad fact that most of those who know me at all, know me, first, as the author of a Latin Grammar, and next, as a professor of Greek — Greek, which they tell me is doomed, and grammar which is damned already. Some years ago I had a new shudder, as Victor Hugo calls it, when I found that in some schools there are classes in Gildersleeve as there are classes in Conic Sections. ‘Grammar,’ says an eminent academic authority, himself a Hellenist, ‘is to the average healthy human being the driest and deathliest of all the disciplines;’ and grammarians have not been looked on with much favor in either ancient or modern times, at best as a higher type of hedge schoolmaster. Such a hedge schoolmaster figures in the Greek Anthology. His name has an aristocratic ring and recalls the great Arcadian seeress who taught Socrates the secret of true love. But Diotimus had come down in the world, and the mocking anthologist sings :

Αἰάζω Διότιμον ὃς ἐν πέτραισι κάθηται
Γαργαρέων παισὶν βῆτα καὶ ἄλφα λέγων

or, if he had lived to-day, and been utterly desperate, would perhaps have sung :

Diotimus, poor grammarian!
If my heart hath pitied e’er a one,
It is he.
Who, an almost centenarian,
Perched upon a ‘peak in Darien,’
Teaches little Jack and Mary Ann
ABC

In the same anthology, a grammarian of a somewhat better class is ridiculed, a university
professor, who is supposed to say:

Χαίρετ’ Ἀριστείδου τοῦ ῥήτορος ἑπτὰ μαθηταί
τέσσαρες οἱ τοῖχοι καὶ τρία συψέλια

which is being interpreted:

I’m a success, sir, I’m a success, sir,
Seven steady students are at each lecture.
Count if you please, sir, four walls and three desks, sir.

Now if these things were done in the green wood of antiquity, what is to be expected of the dry wood of modern times ? All literature is full of absurd grammarians, Dominie Sampsons, and Doctor Panglosses, and Doctor Syntaxes; and though I am a great stickler for the honor of the guild to which I belong, still I must say again that I should not like to have my individuality merged in my Latin Grammar, and this sensible warm motion to become the kneaded clod of a crabbed textbook. To be sure, in Browning’s Grammarian’s Funeral, the poet has done something to redeem the craft, and I welcome the vindication; for whilst Browning and his commentators do not fail to tell us that the technical grammarian of the present day was not meant so much as the grammarian of the Renascence — the student of antique literature — still the man who ‘properly based oun, dead from the waist down,’ belongs to our guild. He belongs to the ‘corner-hummers’ and ‘monosyllablers’ of the old epigram.

 

 

%d bloggers like this: