The Work of a Greek Scholar

Gilbert Murray, The Interpretation of Greek Literature:

“If this were a new University, or if Greek were what it was at the Renaissance, a new and unexplored subject, there would be all sorts of suggestions and prospects of interest to lay before you. But in a University of vast traditions, of long-tried efficiency and fame, the first thing that a new Professor should think of is not to change something in Oxford, but to do his best to be worthy of Oxford. And something similar holds of the subject. True, research is a necessity to understanding : and no study that is really flourishing can help both seeking and finding new things ;true, also, that we have Crete and the Papyri before our eyes. Yet, on the whole, the main work of a Greek scholar is not to make discoveries or to devise new methods, but merely to master as best he can, and to reorder according to the powers of his own understanding, a vast mass of thought and feeling and knowledge already existing, implicit or explicit, in the minds or the published works of his teachers.”

Image result for greek scholar

True Wealth: Happiness in Poverty

Seneca, Epistulae ad Lucilium 1.4:

“Do you know what limits the law of nature would fix for us? Not to feel hunger, thirst, or pain. To dispel hunger and thirst, it is not necessary to sit at the thresholds of fat-cats, not to suffer a weighty brow or even the insulting mass of humanity; nor is it necessary to try your luck on the sea or enlist as a soldier. What Nature wants is easily gotten and ready to hand. All of the sweating in life is over unnecessary trifles – those things which wear out a toga, which compel us to grow old under a tent, which push us to foreign shores. There lies at our fingertips what is enough. The one who finds poverty agreeable is rich indeed.”

Lex autem illa naturae scis quos nobis terminos statuat? Non esurire, non sitire, non algere. Ut famem sitimque depellas non est necesse superbis assidere liminibus nec supercilium grave et contumeliosam etiam humanitatem pati, non est necesse maria temptare nec sequi castra: parabile est quod natura desiderat et appositum. [11] Ad supervacua sudatur; illa sunt quae togam conterunt, quae nos senescere sub tentorio cogunt, quae in aliena litora impingunt: ad manum est quod sat est. Cui cum paupertate bene convenit dives est. Vale.


Greek: Just Beauty and Perfection

Basil Gildersleeve, Hellas and Hesperia

“No lover can avoid the catalogue of the charms of his mistress. Petrarch is eloquent in sonnet and canzone on the subject of Laura’s eyes. Shall our mistress lack eyes? Again, your true lover is sublimely indifferent to the fact that the audience is utterly unacquainted with the object of his adoration, and so even after many years of close communion with Greek, I was capable in 1869 of holding forth ecstatically on its physical charms, for I am enough of a heathen to recognize in physical beauty the only true incentive of love. It is the physical beauty of Greek that constitutes its intimate attraction, that redeems, for instance, the tedious obviousnesses of the old man eloquent, and I could still rhapsodize, as I did forty years ago, on the sequences of vowels and the combinations of consonants, the concert of mute and liquid, the clear-cut outline of every word in Greek, clear and sharp as the sky-line of the mountains of Greece, as the effigies on Greek coins. I could still wax lyrical about the paradigm of the Greek verb. The Greek verb is, indeed, a marvel.

‘Flexible and exact, simple in its means, abundant in its applications, with varying tones for colorless statement, for eager wish, for purpose, for command, now despatching the past with impatient haste, now unrolling it in panoramic procession, but bringing forth its treasure of vowels and diphthongs to mark the striving of the will, the thought, the desire, toward the future,’ and so on and so on. Perhaps discourse like this might rouse the curiosity of the student and win here and there a friend for Greek. The teacher can never know whether shall prosper either this or that. I remember to have read in Gogol’s ‘Dead Souls’ a eulogy of Russian that would have Inspired me, if I had been endowed with ample leisure, to attempt the acquisition of that difficult idiom. But I am not quite sure that this unverifiable laudation Is the right way to lend vitality to the study. ‘The king’s daughter is all glorious within.’ But he that is without remains cold as a rule. The love of a language from this point of view is a matter of individual experience, a business to be transacted under four eyes only, and as much of the physical beauty of a language depends on the pronunciation, it may be well to relegate the whole thing to the realm of ‘fancy,’ that admirable old word for love. I will, therefore, waive the whole subject of the perfection of the Greek language, both in Its form and Its function, the wealth of its vocabulary, and the flexibility of its syntax, and limit myself to a few remarks on the relation of Greek to our daily life.”


The Accidental Birth of Demogorgon

C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image

“Before leaving Statius I cannot forbear adding a paragraph(which the incurious are invited to skip) on a mere curiosity. In the fourth Book of the Thebaid he alludes to a deity he will not name-‘the sovereign of the threefold world ‘ (516). The same anonymous power is probably meant in Lucan’s Pharsalia (vi, 744) where the witch, conjuring a reluctant ghost back into the corpse, threatens it with Him

quo numquam terra vocato
Non concussa tremit, qui Gorgona cernit apertam.

Lactantius in his commentary on the Thebaid says that Statius ‘ means δημιουργόν, the god whose name it is unlawful to know’. This is plain sailing: the demiurge (workman) being the Creator in the Timaeus. But there are two variants in the manuscripts; one is demogorgona, the other demogorgon. From the latter of these corruptions later ages evolved a completely new deity, Demogorgon, who was to enjoy a distinguished literary career in Boccaccio’ s Genealogy of the Gods, in Spenser, in Milton, and in Shelley. This is perhaps the only time a scribal blunder underwent an apotheosis.”

Education, Degraded to a Trade

Mark Pattison, Suggestions on Academical Organisation

“For teaching, there is required a persuasion, as well as for advocacy, though of a different kind. The highest education cannot be given through a literature or a science which has no other than an educational value. Classical learning, or Greek and Latin, is often spoken of by its advocates in this country as if it had no intrinsic value, as if it was an instrument of training and nothing more. If this were the case, Greek and Latin, however proper a matter for school discipline, would not be an adequate subject of the superior education. The university is hereby distinguished from the school, that the pupil here takes leave of disciplinal studies, and enters upon real knowledge. The further consideration of this distinction belongs to the section on ‘Studies;’ it only concerns us here as it points to a difference between the school teacher and the university teacher. The student comes to the university to enter upon the studies of men, to grapple with those thoughts which are occupying the men of the time. He is the apprentice of a faculty which is to introduce him into the real business of life. The teacher here cannot be content with knowing a little more than his pupil, with reading ahead of him; he must be a master in the faculty. Our weakness of late years has been that we have not felt this; we have known no higher level of knowledge than so much as sufficed for teaching. Hence, education among us has sunk into a trade, and, like trading sophists, we have not cared to keep on hand a larger stock than we could dispose of in the season. Our Faculties have dried up, have become dissociated from professional practice at one end, and from scientific investigation on the other, and degrees in them have lost all value but a social one. The intrinsic value of knowledge being thus lost sight of, and its pursuit being no longer a recognised profession, it is easy to see how the true relations of teacher and learner have become distorted or inverted. The masters of arts, the heads and fellows of the colleges, who constituted the university, and who were maintained here ‘to godliness and good learning,’ have become subordinate to the uses of the students, for whom alone all our arrangements are now made. It is because our own life here is wanting in scientific dignity, in intellectual purpose, in the ennobling influences of the pursuit of knowledge, that it is owing that our action upon the young is so feeble. The trading teacher, whatever disguise he may assume whether he call himself professor or tutor is the mere servant of his young master. But true education is the moulding of the mind and character of the rising generation by the generation that now is. We cannot communicate that which we have not got. To make others anything, we must first be it ourselves.”

Image result for mark pattison lincoln college

An Idyllic University Life

Mark Pattison, Suggestions on Academical Organisation:

“As teaching institutions, their universities have great merits and equally great defects. But as establishments for the cultivation and encouragement of the highest learning, the German universities have left everything of the kind at this moment existing in Europe behind them. Though known to us as the German system, there is, however, nothing peculiarly Germanic in the arrangements of their universities, so far as their commanding reputation is due to those arrangements. The only peculiarity which they derive from country is one which may possibly be lost to them before long. The rivalry between a number of petty states, ambitious to compensate for their political insignificance by distinction in science, has been at least one cause of the eminence which the German university system has now attained. However this may be, it is not as schools, but as centres of mental activity in science, that these institutions command the attention of Europe, and have become the referees to whose verdict every product of mind must be unconditionally submitted. The German university, Dr. Dollinger goes so far as to say, has nothing but the name in common with the university of France, or the universities of England. It is an association of men of learning and science, under the title of professors. The position created for them is such as to place them under the most powerful inducements to devote their whole mind and energies to the cultivation of some practical branch of knowledge. In a large university, such as Berlin, every science, and almost every subdivision of science, is represented. Of teachers of various grades, Berlin numbers now about 170. These are not endowed out of Church property, or out of rent of land in any shape, but are paid out of the annual taxation. This is not certainly an advantage either to themselves or to the country, but is mentioned to show what sacrifices other countries, not so rich as ourselves, are willing to make for an object which we have not yet come in sight of as a desideratum. The reputation of Berlin rests not upon any education given to its 2000 students, but upon the scientific industry of its professors. ‘The life of a professor’ (Professor Ritschl is reported to have said) ‘would be a very pleasant one if it was not for the lecturing.'”

O, I Am Smitten With a Hatchet’s Jaw

A.E. Housman, Fragment of a Greek Tragedy:

CHORUS: O suitably-attired-in-leather-boots
Head of a traveller, wherefore seeking whom
Whence by what way how purposed art thou come
To this well-nightingaled vicinity?
My object in inquiring is to know.
But if you happen to be deaf and dumb
And do not understand a word I say,
Then wave your hand, to signify as much.

ALCMAEON: I journeyed hither a Boetian road.
CHORUS: Sailing on horseback, or with feet for oars?
ALCMAEON: Plying with speed my partnership of legs.
CHORUS: Beneath a shining or a rainy Zeus?
ALCMAEON: Mud’s sister, not himself, adorns my shoes.
CHORUS: To learn your name would not displease me much.
ALCMAEON: Not all that men desire do they obtain.
CHORUS: Might I then hear at what thy presence shoots.
ALCMAEON: A shepherd’s questioned mouth informed me that–
CHORUS: What? for I know not yet what you will say.
ALCMAEON: Nor will you ever, if you interrupt.
CHORUS: Proceed, and I will hold my speechless tongue.
ALCMAEON: This house was Eriphyle’s, no one else’s.
CHORUS: Nor did he shame his throat with shameful lies.
ALCMAEON: May I then enter, passing through the door?
CHORUS: Go chase into the house a lucky foot.
And, O my son, be, on the one hand, good,
And do not, on the other hand, be bad;
For that is very much the safest plan.
ALCMAEON: I go into the house with heels and speed.



In speculation
I would not willingly acquire a name
For ill-digested thought;
But after pondering much
To this conclusion I at last have come:
This truth I have written deep
In my reflective midriff
On tablets not of wax,
Nor with a pen did I inscribe it there,
For many reasons: LIFE, I say, IS NOT
Not from the flight of omen-yelling fowls
This fact did I discover,
Nor did the Delphine tripod bark it out,
Nor yet Dodona.
Its native ingenuity sufficed
My self-taught diaphragm.


Why should I mention
The Inachean daughter, loved of Zeus?
Her whom of old the gods,
More provident than kind,
Provided with four hoofs, two horns, one tail,
A gift not asked for,
And sent her forth to learn
The unfamiliar science
Of how to chew the cud.
She therefore, all about the Argive fields,
Went cropping pale green grass and nettle-tops,
Nor did they disagree with her.
But yet, howe’er nutritious, such repasts
I do not hanker after:
Never may Cypris for her seat select
My dappled liver!
Why should I mention Io? Why indeed?
I have no notion why.


But now does my boding heart,
Unhired, unaccompanied, sing
A strain not meet for the dance.
Yes even the palace appears
To my yoke of circular eyes
(The right, nor omit I the left)
Like a slaughterhouse, so to speak,
Garnished with woolly deaths
And many sphipwrecks of cows.
I therefore in a Cissian strain lament:
And to the rapid
Loud, linen-tattering thumps upon my chest
Resounds in concert
The battering of my unlucky head.

ERIPHYLE (within): O, I am smitten with a hatchet’s jaw;
And that in deed and not in word alone.
CHORUS: I thought I heard a sound within the house
Unlike the voice of one that jumps for joy.
ERIPHYLE: He splits my skull, not in a friendly way,
Once more: he purposes to kill me dead.
CHORUS: I would not be reputed rash, but yet
I doubt if all be gay within the house.
ERIPHYLE: O! O! another stroke! that makes the third.
He stabs me to the heart against my wish.
CHORUS: If that be so, thy state of health is poor;
But thine arithmetic is quite correct.