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.”

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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.”

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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]


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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!”

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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.

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

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.



Disguise Your Villainy

Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria 3.8

“Meanwhile, should anyone persuade a good man of dishonest, let them remember not to persuade them as dishonest thing, as some declaimers say that Sextus Pompeius should turn to piracy precisely because it is shameful and cruel. Rather, one should give unpleasant acts a certain favorable coloring even among the wicked, because no one is so evil that they wish to appear to be so. Thus Catiline speaks in Sallust in such a way that he seems to undertake the most wicked crime not from malice but from indignation. Thus Atreus in Varius says, ‘Now I will undertake the most unspeakable things, now I am compelled to do so.’ How much more should this display be maintained by those who care about their reputation! For this reason we will even give Cicero the counsel to entreat with Anthony, or even to burn his Philippics if Antony promised to leave him alive, and we will not attribute this to his desire to stay alive (even if this is his chief motive, it will have its force as we remain silent on the matter. But we will urge the Republic to save itself. It is necessary for it on this occasion that one not be ashamed of such prayers. We will even affirm to Julius Caesar, as we persuade him to take the throne, that the republic can not stand unless it be ruled by one man. For one who deliberates about a nefarious deed only asks how he might appear to have sinned the least.”

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Interim si quis bono inhonesta suadebit, meminerit non suadere tamquam inhonesta, ut quidam declamatores Sextum Pompeium ad piraticam propter hoc ipsum, quod turpis et crudelis sit, inpellunt, sed dandus illis deformibus color idque etiam apud malos: neque enim quisquam est tam malus ut videri velit. XLV. Sic Catilina apud Sallustium loquitur ut rem scelestissimam non malitia sed indignatione videatur audere, sic Atreus apud Varium “iam fero” inquit “infandissima, iam facere cogor”. Quanto magis eis quibus cura famae fuit conservandus est hic vel ambitus. XLVI. Quare et cum Ciceroni dabimus consilium ut Antonium roget, vel etiam ut Philippicas, ita vitam pollicente eo, exurat, non cupiditatem lucis adlegabimus (haec enim si valet in animo eius, tacentibus quoque nobis valet), XLVII. sed ut se rei publicae servet hortabimur – hac illi opus est occasione, ne eum talium precum pudeat: et C. Caesari suadentes regnum adfirmabimus stare iam rem publicam nisi uno regente non posse. Nam qui de re nefaria deliberat id solum quaerit, quo modo quam minimum peccare videatur.

Linguistic Laws: Look to the Learned

Aeneas Silvius Piccolomini, de Liberorum Educatione:

“There is the greatest number of those who pamper and arrange their hair, who drink at the baths, who dine out with unseemly zeal, who serve unlawful profit and pleasure. There are few who abstain from these things. Let it not be that we imitate the former; let us avoid them. How many there are, who degrade the Latin language! In place of the word ‘love’ (amare) and ‘to chase after ladies with carnal desire,’ the people of this land say hovizare. They call ‘the expenses incurred on a journey’ cerealia. When they want to say that someone will come, they do not say, ‘he will come,’ but ‘the coming will be soon.’ What then? Shall we follow these people (because they are the majority) and adopt our mode of speaking from the mob? Let this error go away. For indeed, though something faulty has settled in the minds of ever so many people, it should not be accepted as a rule of speech, because good morals – not vice – make for linguistic correctness. Just as it is proper, in life, to call upon and imitate the custom of the good, so too in the field of speech, we must call upon and imitate the established usage of the learned.”

Maximus est eorum numerus, qui comas nutriunt et in gradus frangunt, qui perpotant in balneis, qui summo studio cenas sectantur, qui lucris illicitis, qui libidini serviunt; pauci, qui ab his abstinent. Absit, ut illos imitemur; istos fugiamus. Quam multi sunt, qui verba Latina depravant! Pro eo, quod est ‘amare’ atque ‘insequi Veneris cupiditate feminas,’ ‘hovizare’ huius terrae populus dicit; ‘sumptus qui fiunt ab itinerantibus,’ ‘ceralia’ vocat; quando venturum quemquam significare vult, ipse inquit non ‘veniet,’ sed ‘erit cito venire.’ Quid igitur? Sequemurne istos, quia plurimi sunt, et loquendi consuetudinem ex multitudine recipiemus? Facessat hic error. Non enim, quod vitiose quamvis multis insiderit, pro regula sermonis accipiendum erit, quia non vitia sed mores boni consuetudinem faciunt. Sicut ergo vivendi consensum bonorum, sic et loquendi consonantiam eruditorum appellare et imitari consuetudinem oportebit.

Beaten in School, but Only Once

Guibert of Nogent, Gesta Dei per Francos:

“I was beaten once in school; but that school was nothing else but the dining room of our home. On my account, the teacher abandoned all concern for the others whom he had accepted as students. For my mother had prudently extracted this concession from him by increasing her complains and denouncing his honor. When therefore I was free from that study, whatever it was, for a few evening hours, I came to my mother’s knees after being flogged gravely and beyond what was deserved. When she asked – as was her habit – whether I was beaten that day, I denied that it had happened at all, lest I seem to be bringing a charge against my teacher. She, whether I wanted it or not, tore off my undershirt, which they call a subucula or rather a camisia, she noted the bruised little ribs of my back from the striking of the rod and the skin swelling everywhere. When she grieved for the violence brought against my softness with excessive severity, she, stormy and seething, with eyes suffused with sadness, said ‘You will never afterward be a cleric, nor will you again pay such penalties for the sake of learning your letters.’ I looked back at her with whatever animadversion I could muster and said, ‘Even if it kills me, I will not cease to learn my letters and become a cleric.’ For she had promised that if I wished to become a knight, she would provide me with my military equipment and weapons when I had reached the appropriate age.”

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Semel in schola vapulaveram; schola autem non alia erat quam quoddam domus nostrae triclinium. Aliorum enim, quos aliquando docens acceperat, mei solius causa curas obmiserat. Sic enim aucto questu, et delatione honoris prudens ab eo mater exegerat. Soluto igitur vespertinis quibusdam horis qualicunque illo studio, ad materna genua graviter etiam praeter meritum caesus accesseram. Quae cum an eo vapulassem die, ut erat solita, rogitare coepisset, et ego, ne magistrum detulisse viderer, factum omnino negarem, ipsa, vellem nollem, rejecta interula, quam subuculam, imo camisiam vocant, liventes attendit ulnulas dorsiculi ex viminum illisione cutem ubique prominulam. Cumque meae teneritudini ad nimium saeve illatam visceraliter doluisset, turbulenta et aestuans, et oculos moerore suffusa: « Nunquam, ait, deinceps clericus fies, nec ut litteras discas ulterius poenas lues. » Ad haec ego eam cum qua poteram animadversione respiciens: « Si, inquam, proinde mori contingeret, non desistam quin litteras discam, et clericus fiam. » Promiserat enim si eques vellem fieri, cum ad id temporis emersissem, apparatum se mihi militiae et arma daturam.

Breaking the Chains of the Mind, Shaking Off the Chains of the Past

Gilbert Murray, Religio Grammatici

“On these lines we see that the scholar’s special duty is to turn the written signs in which old poetry or philosophy is now enshrined back into living thought or feeling. He must so understand as to re-live. And here he is met at the present day by a direct frontal criticism. ‘Suppose, after great toil and the expenditure of much subtlety of intellect, you succeed in re-living the best works of the past, is that a desirable end? Surely our business is with the future and present, not with the past. If there is any progress in the world or any hope for struggling humanity, does it not lie precisely in shaking off the chains of the past and looking steadily forward?’ How shall we meet this question ?

First, we may say, the chains of the mind are not broken by any form of ignorance. The chains of the mind are broken by understanding. And so far as men are unduly enslaved by the past, it is by understanding the past that they may hope to be freed. But, secondly, it is never really the past — the true past — that enslaves us ; it is always the present. It is not the conventions of the seventeenth or eighteenth century that now make men conventional. It is the conventions of our own age, though, of course, I would not deny that in any age there are always fragments of the uncomprehended past still floating like dead things pretending to be alive. What one always needs for freedom is some sort of escape from the thing that now holds him. A man who is the slave of theories must get outside them and see facts; a man who is the slave of his own desires and prejudices must widen the range of his experience and imagination. But the thing that enslaves us most, narrows the range of our thought, cramps our capacities, and lowers our standards, is the mere present — the present that is all round us, accepted and taken for granted, as we in London accept the grit in the air and the dirt on our hands and faces. The material present, the thing that is omnipotent over us, not because it is either good or evil, but just because it happens to be here, is the great jailer and imprisoner of man’s mind; and the only true method of escape from him is the contemplation of things that are not present. Of the future ? Yes ; but you cannot study the future. You can only make
conjectures about it, and the conjectures will not be much good unless you have in some way studied other places and other ages. There has been hardly any great forward movement of humanity which did not draw inspiration from the knowledge or the idealization of the past.

No : to search the past is not to go into prison. It is to escape out of prison, because it compels us to compare the ways of our own age with other ways. And as to progress, it is no doubt a real fact. To many of us it is a truth that lies somewhere near the roots of our religion. But it is never a straight march forward ; it is never a result that happens of its own accord . It is only a name for the mass of accumulated human effort, successful here, baffled there, misdirected and driven astray in a third region, but on the whole and in the main producing some cumulative result. I believe this difficulty about progress, this fear that in studying the great teachers of the past we are in some sense wantonly sitting at the feet of savages, causes real trouble of mind to many keen students. The full answer to it would take us beyond the limits of this paper and beyond my own range of knowledge . But the main lines of the answer seem to me clear. There are in life two elements, one transitory and progressive, the other comparatively, if not absolutely, non-progressive and eternal, and the soul of man is chiefly concerned with the second. Try to compare our inventions, our material civilization, our stores of accumulated knowledge with those of the age of Aeschylus or Aristotle or St. Francis, and the comparison is absurd. Our superiority is beyond question and beyond measure. But compare any chosen poet of our age with Aeschylus, any philosopher with Aristotle, any saintly preacher with St. Francis, and the result is totally different. I do not wish to argue that we have fallen below the standard of those past ages ; but it is clear that we are not definitely above them. The things of the spirit depend on will, on effort, on aspiration, on the quality of the individual soul, and not on discoveries and material advances which can be accumulated and added up.”

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Learning, Poetry, and Madness

Petrarch, Secretum Book 3:

“What good has it been to know many things if you never learned how to accommodate them to your needs? For my part, I admired your error more in pursuing solitude, because you knew what the best authors among the ancients said against it, and you even added new ones. You complained often that solitude could do you no good, which you said in many places, especially in that poem which you wrote about your own condition. Meanwhile, as you sang, I was delighted by the sweetness of the song, and I was astounded because such a sweet sounding song sprang from your insane mouth in the middle of your spiritual storms, or I was astounded at what love could kept the Muses from fleeing from their accustomed house when they were assailed by such whirlwinds and such an alienation of their host. For, as Plato says, ‘one who is sane knocks on the doors of poetry in vain’, and as his successor Aristotle has it, ‘there is no great talent without some mixture of insanity.’ But these quotations apply to a different kind of insanity than yours; we shall discuss this later.”


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