Poet or Lying Sack of Shit?

Petrarch, Against a Certain Physician 1.38:

We leave the lying to you, as well as the worst kind of falsehood, lying with the greatest danger and loss to those who believe it. If you don’t believe me, ask the common people, who have turned it into a proverb to say to one lying openly, “You lie like a physician.” The pursuit of a poet – I would not dare to deem myself worthy of this name, which you in your madness have leveled as an insult against me – I say, the pursuit of a poet is to adorn the truth of things with beautiful coverings, so that it may elude the ignorant mass (of which you are the deepest part) and so that it can be more difficult and more sweet for intelligent and eager readers to discover.

Otherwise, if you persuade yourself falsely, as do the uneducated who curse what the cannot understand, that the business of a poet is to lie, then I would have you believe in this consequence as well: that you are then the greatest of poets, a man whose lies nearly exceed the words he has spoken. Old Homer would yield to you readily, Euripides would concede defeat, as would Vergil, and Helicon would be left empty just for you, with the laurel unplucked and the Castalian fountain undisturbed.

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Mentiri vobis liquimus; quodque gravissimum mendacii genus est, mentiri summo cum discrimine damnoque credentium. Id si michi non credis, vulgus interroga, cui et illud in proverbium versum est, ut apertissime mentienti dicant: “Mentiris ut medicus”. Poete – neque enim me hoc nomine dignari ausim, quod tu michi, demens, ad infamiam obiecisti – poete, inquam, studium est veritatem rerum pulcris velaminibus adornare, ut vulgus insulsum, cuius tu pars ultima es, lateat, ingeniosis autem studiosisque lectoribus et quesitu difficilior et dulcior sit inventu. Alioquin, si tibi falso persuades – quod quidam indocti solent, qui quod consequi nequeunt execrantur – ut scilicet poete officium sit mentiri, illud tibi consequenter persuadeas velim: esse te poetarum maximum, cuius prope plura mendacia sunt quam verba. Ultro tibi meonius senex cedet, victus cedet Euripides, cedet Maro, vacuus tibi Elicon linquetur, indecerpta laurea illibatusque castalius fons.

Healthy Contempt for the Intangible

E.M. Forster, The Longest Journey:

“‘What does philosophy do?’ the propper continued. ‘Does it make a man happier in life? Does it make him die more peacefully? I fancy that in the long-run Herbert Spencer will get no further than the rest of us. Ah, Rickie! I wish you could move among the school boys, and see their healthy contempt for all they cannot touch!’ Here he was going too far, and had to add, ‘Their spiritual capacities, of course, are another matter.’ Then he remembered the Greeks, and said, ‘Which proves my original statement.’

Submissive signs, as of one propped, appeared in Rickie’s face. Mr. Pembroke then questioned him about the men who found Plato not difficult. But here he kept silence, patting the school chapel gently, and presently the conversation turned to topics with which they were both more competent to deal.

‘Does Agnes take much interest in the school?’

‘Not as much as she did. It is the result of her engagement. If our naughty soldier had not carried her off, she might have made an ideal schoolmaster’s wife. I often chaff him about it, for he a little despises the intellectual professions. Natural, perfectly natural. How can a man who faces death feel as we do towards mensa or tupto?’

‘Perfectly true. Absolutely true.’

Mr. Pembroke remarked to himself that Frederick was improving.”

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The Three Words That Best Describe You: DRINK! DRANK! DRUNK!

Tobias Smollett, Roderick Random (Chp. XLV):

The ceremonious physician returned immediately and sat down by me, asking a thousand pardons for leaving me alone: and giving me to understand that what he had communicated to Mr. Medlar at the bar, was an affair of the last importance, that would admit of no delay. He then called for some coffee, and launched out into the virtues of that berry, which, he said, in cold phlegmatic constitutions, like his, dried up the superfluous moisture, and braced the relaxed nerves. He told me it was utterly unknown to the ancients; and derived its name from an Arabian word, which I might easily perceive by the sound and termination. From this topic he transferred his disquisitions to the verb drink, which he affirmed was improperly applied to the taking of coffee, inasmuch as people did not drink, but sip or sipple that liquor; that the genuine meaning of drinking is to quench one’s thirst, or commit a debauch by swallowing wine; that the Latin word, which conveyed the same idea, was bibere or potare, and that of the Greeks pinein or poteein, though he was apt to believe they were differently used on different occasions: for example—to drink a vast quantity, or, as the vulgar express it, to drink an ocean of liquor, was in Latin potare, and in Greek poteein; and, on the other hand, to use it moderately, was bibere and pinein;—that this was only a conjecture of his, which, however, seemed to be supported by the word bibulous, which is particularly applied to the pores of the skin, and can only drink a very small quantity of the circumambient moisture, by reason of the smallness of their diameters;—whereas, from the verb poteein is derived the substantive potamos, which signifies a river, or vast quantity of liquor. I could not help smiling at this learned and important investigation; and, to recommend myself the more to my new acquaintance, whose disposition I was by this time well informed of, I observed that, what he alleged, did not, to the best of my remembrance, appear in the writings of the ancients; for Horace uses the words poto and bibo indifferently for the same purpose, as in the twentieth Ode of his first Book.

    “Vile potabis modicis sabinum cantharis—
    —Et praelo domitam caleno tu bibes uvam.”

That I had never heard of the verb poteein, but that potamos, potema, and potos, were derived from pino, poso, pepoka, in consequence of which, the Greek poets never use any other word for festal drinking. Homer describes Nestor at his cups in these words,

    “Nestora d'ouk elathen iache pinonta perempes.”

And Anacreon mentions it on the same occasion always in every page.

          “Pinonti de oinon hedun.
          Otan pino ton oinon.
          Opliz' ego de pino.”

And in a thousand other places. The doctor who doubtless intended by his criticism to give me a high idea of his erudition, was infinitely surprised to find himself schooled by one of my appearance; and after a considerable pause cried, “Upon my word, you are in the right, sir—I find I have not considered this affair with my usual accuracy.” Then, accosting me in Latin, which he spoke very well, the conversation was maintained full two hours, on a variety of subjects, in that language; and indeed he spoke so judiciously, that I was convinced, notwithstanding his whimsical appearance and attention to trifles, that he was a man of extensive knowledge, especially in books; he looked upon me, as I afterwards understood from Mr. Medlar, as a prodigy in learning, and proposed that very night, if I were not engaged, to introduce me to several young gentlemen of fortune and fashion, with whom I had an appointment at the Bedford coffee house.

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Improving on Antiquity

Coluccio Salutati, de Laboribus Herculis 1.7.11

“The investigations of any science would quickly dry up if posterity had accepted each field’s principles with such simplicity that it thought nothing therein worth inquiring after but what the original thinkers either could or would make known. Indeed, our sciences have grown mature by successive and continual gradations; and, by the force of new and daily considerations, many things have been discovered which not only could escape, but in fact did escape the notice of the first thinkers.”

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Nimis etenim arida foret cuiuslibet artis speculatio si que ex arte dicta sunt adeo simpliciter posteritas recepisset quod nichil in eis duceret speculandum nisi quod inventores ipsi potuerint vel voluerint declarare. Adoleverunt equidem artes successivis et continuis incrementis, et novis in dies considerationibus multa sunt deprehensa que priscos illos nedum latere potuerunt sed sine dubio latuerunt.

Horace: A Break From Serious Labor

R.C. Jebb, Richard Bentley (Chp. VIII):

As early as 1702 Bentley had been meditating an edition of Horace. I translate from his Latin preface his own account of the motive.

‘When, a few years ago [i. e. in 1700] I was promoted to a station in which official duties and harassing cares, daily surging about me, had distracted me from all deeper studies, I resolved — in order that I might not wholly forget the Muses and my old loves — to set about editing some writer of the pleasanter sort, comparatively light in style and matter, such as would make in me, rather than claim from me, a calm and untroubled mind ; a work that could be done bit by bit at odd hours, and would brook a thousand interruptions without serious loss. My choice was Horace; not because I deemed that I could restore and correct more things in him than in almost any other Latin or Greek author; but because he, above all the ancients — thanks to his merit, or to a peculiar genius and gift for pleasing — was familiar to men’s hands and hearts. The form and scope of my work I defined and limited thus; — that I should touch only those things which concern the soundness and purity of the text; but should wholly pass by the mass of those things which relate to history and ancient manners, — that vast domain and laboratory of comment.’

Bentley began printing his Horace, with his own emendations embodied in the text and the common readings given at the foot of the page, before he had written the critical notes which were to justify these changes. In August, 1706, he says: — ‘I have printed three new sheets in it this last fortnight, and I hope shall go on to finish by next spring.’ Sinister auguries were already heard in certain quarters. ‘I do not wonder,’ he writes to a friend, ‘that some… do talk so wildly about my Horace… I am assured none of them will write against my notes. They have had enough of me, and will here- after let me alone.’ The rumour of Bentley’s new labours inspired his old enemy, Dr King, with a satire called ‘Horace in Trinity College.’ Horace is supposed to have fulfilled his dream of visiting our remote island (visam Britannos), but to have lost the airy form in which he proposed to make that excursion, — under the influence of solid cheer supplied to him from the butteries of Trinity College.

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What About Essayschylus?

Virginia Woolf, The Decay of Essay Writing:

We are not—there is, alas! no need to prove it—more subject to ideas than our ancestors; we are not, I hope, in the main more egoistical; but there is one thing in which we are more highly skilled than they are; and that is in manual dexterity with a pen. There can be no doubt that it is to the art of penmanship that we owe our present literature of essays. The very great of old—Homer and Aeschylus—could dispense with a pen; they were not inspired by sheets of paper and gallons of ink; no fear that their harmonies, passed from lip to lip, should lose their cadence and die. But our essayists write because the gift of writing has been bestowed on them. Had they lacked writing-masters we should have lacked essayists. There are, of course, certain distinguished people who use this medium from genuine inspiration because it best embodies the soul of their thought. But, on the other hand, there is a very large number who make the fatal pause, and the mechanical act of writing is allowed to set the brain in motion which should only be accessible to a higher inspiration.

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F**k Your Faulty Footnotes, Fool!

Henry Edwards Davis,

An Examination of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Chapters of Mr. Gibbon’s History:

“The remarkable mode of quotation, which Mr. Gibbon adopts, must immediately strike ever one who turns to his notes. He sometimes only mentions the author, perhaps the book, and often leaves the reader the toil of finding out, or rather guessing at the passage.

The policy, however, is not without its design and use. By endeavouring to deprive us of the means of comparing him with the authorities he cites, he flattered himself, no doubt, that he might safely have recourse to misrepresentation; that his inaccuracies might escape the piercing eye of criticism; and that he might indulge his wit and spleen, in fathering the absurdest opinions of the most venerable writers of antiquity. For, often, on examining his references, when they are to be traced, we shall find him supporting his cause by manifest falsification, and perpetually assuming to himself the strange privilege of inserting in his text what the writers referred to give him no right to advance on their authority.

This breach of the common faith reposed in authors, is particularly indefensible, as it deceives all those who have not the leisure, the means, nor the abilities, of searching out the passages in the originals.”

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