Greek Verse Forming Sexuality & Character

John Addington Symonds, Memoirs:

“Mr. Knight could not be called an ideal tutor. He was sluggish, and had no sympathy for boys. Yet he was a sound scholar of the old type, and essentially a gentleman. He let me browse, much as I liked, about the pastures of innocuous Greek and Latin literature. He taught me to write Latin verses with facility. If I did not acquire elegance, that was the defect of my own faculty for style. I think he might have grounded me better in grammar than he did; and it would have been an incalculable advantage to me if he had been able to direct my keen, though latent, enthusiasm for books. In this respect, I owe him one only debt of gratitude. We were reading the sixth book of the Aeneid. He noticed what a deep hold the description of Elysium took on my imagination, and lent me Warburton’s ‘Divine Legation of Moses.’ A chapter in that book about the Mysteries opened dim and shadowy vistas for my dreaming thoughts. I cannot remember any other instance of my tutor s touching the real spring of thirst for knowledge in my nature. For the rest, he took care that I should understand the Odes of Horace and be capable of reproducing their various metres. This gave me a certain advantage when I came to Harrow. With Mr. Knight I read a large part of the Iliad. When we came to the last books I found a passage which made me weep bitterly. It was the description of Hermes, going to meet Priam, disguised as a mortal:

κούρῳ αἰσυμνητῆρι ἐοικὼς

πρῶτον ὑπηνήτῃ, τοῦ περ χαριεστάτη ἥβη.

The Greek in me awoke to that simple, and yet so splendid vision of young manhood, ‘In the first budding of the down on lip and chin, when youth is at her loveliest.’ The phrase had all Greek sculpture in it, and drew my tears forth. I had none to spare for Priam prostrate at the feet of his son’s murderer; none for Andromache bidding a last farewell to Hector of the waving plumes. These personages touched my heart, and thrilled a tragic chord. But the disguised Hermes, in his prime and bloom of beauty, unlocked some deeper fountains of eternal longing in my soul. Somewhat later, I found another line which impressed me powerfully, and unsealed hidden wells of different emotion. It was in the Hippolytus of Euripides:

ἡ γλῶσσ’ ὀμώμυχ’, ἡ δὲ φρὴν ἀνώμοτος

[“My tongue has sworn, but my heart is uncommitted…”]

The sense of casuistry and criticism leapt into being at that touch. I foresaw, in that moment, how pros and cons of moral conduct would have to be debated, how every thesis seeks antithesis and resolution in the mental sphere. These were but vague awakenings of my essential self For the most part, I remained inactive, impotent, somnambulistic, touching life at no edged point, very slowly defining the silhouette of my eventual personality.”

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