Servius Rails Against Idle Nonsense

Servius tries to explain to empty-headed readers why Vergil’s Aeneid begins with the word ‘arma.’ (Commentary 1.1)

“Many people reason in various ways about why Vergil began his poem with ‘arms,’ but it is clear that their heads are full of idle nonsense, since it is obvious that he began his poem in another spot, as has been made clear in the biographical sketch already presented*. By ‘arms’ he means ‘war,’ and this is the literary device known as metonymy. For, he has substituted for war the arms which we use in war, just as the toga which we use in peace may substitute for the peace itself, as in that saying of Cicero, ‘Let arms yield to the toga,’ that is, let war give way to peace.”

*In his life of Vergil, Servius explains that the opening lines of the Aeneid were originally

‘I am he, who once measured out my song on the slender reed,
and emerging from the forests I compelled the neighboring fields
to obey the farmer, however grasping he might be –
all a pleasing work for farmers, but now I sing the awful
arms of Mars, and the man….”

Ille ego, qui quondam gracili modulatus avena
carmen, et egressus silvis vicina coegi
ut quamvis avido parerent arva colono,
gratum opus agricolis, at nunc horrentia Martis

ARMA multi varie disserunt cur ab armis Vergilius coeperit, omnes tamen inania sentire manifestum est, cum eum constet aliunde sumpsisse principium, sicut in praemissa eius vita monstratum est. per ‘arma’ autem bellum significat, et est tropus metonymia. nam arma quibus in bello utimur pro bello posuit, sicut toga qua in pace utimur pro pace ponitur, ut Cicero cedant arma togae, id est bellum paci.

Learning to Think in Greek

C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy:

“I arrived at Gastons (so the Knock’s home was called) on a Saturday, and he announced that we would begin Homer on Monday. I explained that I had never read a word in any dialect but the Attic, assuming that when he knew this he would approach Homer through some preliminary lessons on the Epic language. He replied merely with a sound very frequent in his conversation which I can only spell ‘Huh’. I found this rather disquieting; and I woke on Monday saying to myself, ‘Now for Homer. Golly!’ The name struck awe into my soul. At nine o’clock we sat down to work in the little upstairs study which soon became so familiar to me. It contained a sofa (on which we sat side by side when he was working with me), a table and chair (which I used when I was alone), a bookcase, a gas stove, and a framed photograph of Mr. Gladstone. We opened our books at Iliad, Book I. Without a word of introduction Knock read aloud the first twenty lines or so in the “new” pronunciation, which I had never heard before. Like Smewgy, he was a chanter; less mellow in voice, yet his frill gutturals and rolling R’s and more varied vowels seemed to suit the bronze-age epic as well as Smewgy’s honey tongue had suited Horace. For Kirk, even after years of residence in England, spoke the purest Ulster. He then translated, with a few, a very few explanations, about a hundred lines. I had never seen a classical author taken in such large gulps before. When he had finished he handed me over Crusius’ Lexicon and, having told me to go through again as much as I could of what he had done, left the room. It seems an odd method of teaching, but it worked. At first I could travel only a very short way along the trail he had blazed, but every day I could travel further. Presently I could travel the whole way. Then I could go a line or two beyond his furthest North. Then it became a kind of game to see how far beyond. He appeared at this stage to value speed more than absolute accuracy. The great gain was that I very soon became able to understand a great deal without (even mentally) translating it; I was beginning to think in Greek. That is the great Rubicon to cross in learning any language. Those in whom the Greek word lives only while they are hunting for it in the lexicon, and who then substitute the English word for it, are not reading the Greek at all; they are only solving a puzzle. The very formula, ‘Naus means a ship,’ is wrong. Naus and ship both mean a thing, they do not mean one another. Behind Naus, as behind navis or naca, we want to have a picture of a dark, slender mass with sail or oars, climbing the ridges, with no officious English word intruding.”

No Irrelevant Erudition

J.E. Sandys, A History of Classical Scholarship Vol. 1:

“Aristophanes of Byzantium was probably nearly 60 when he counted among his pupils his successor Aristarchus of Samothrace (c. 217-5 — 145-3 B.C), who lived in Alexandria under Ptolemy Philometor (181-146), and, on the murder of his pupil Philopator Neos and the accession of Euergetes II (146), fled to Cyprus, where he died soon after. His continuous commentaries (ὑπομνήματα) filled no less than 800 volumes, partly as notes for lectures, partly in finished form. These were valued less highly than his critical treatises (συγγράματα) on such subjects as the Iliad and Odyssey, on the naval camp of the Achaeans, and on Philetas and on Xenon (one of the earliest of the chorizontes, who ascribed the Iliad and the Odyssey to different poets). As a commentator he avoided the display of irrelevant erudition, while he insisted that each author was his own best interpreter. He also placed the study of grammar on a sound basis ; he was among the earliest of the grammarians who definitely recognised eight parts of speech, Noun, Verb, Participle, Pronoun, Article, Adverb, Preposition and Conjunction’. As a grammarian he maintained the principle of Analogy, as opposed to that of Anomaly. He produced recensions of Alcaeus, Anacreon and Pindar; commentaries on the Lycurgus of Aeschylus, and on Sophocles and Aristophanes; and recensions, as well as commentaries, in the case of Archilochus and Hesiod. He had a profound knowledge of Homeric vocabulary, and was the author of two recensions of the Iliad and the Odyssey, with critical and explanatory symbols in the margin of each.”

The Return to School: A Preparation for Death

This Monday marks my return to school. I love teaching, but I distinctly remember when, in the summer before entering 4th grade, I was lying in a hammock at my aunt’s house on the coast. The warm sea breeze and the *sense* of total freedom made it all the more painful to reflect that in three short weeks, I would be 600 miles north in one of those tortuous school desks. Can a child get a taste of nihilistic despair? I abandoned all hope of future happiness, and could no longer enjoy even the three weeks still left to me. All the sorrows of a Sunday were drawn out for twenty one days. That was twenty years ago, but the dread of returning never disappears. So, although this has nothing to do with antiquity, I am posting my favorite passage from C.S. Lewis. Here’s to next summer!

C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy:

“So much for Oldie’s; but the year was not all term. Life at a vile boarding-school is in this way a good preparation for the Christian life, that it teaches one to five by hope. Even, in a sense, by faith; for at the beginning of each term, home and the holidays are so far off that it is as hard to realise them as to realise heaven. They have the same pitiful unreality when confronted with immediate horrors. To-morrow’s geometry blots out the distant end of term as to-morrow’s operation may blot out the hope of Paradise. And yet, term after term, the unbelievable happened. Fantastical and astronomical figures like “This time six weeks” shrank into practicable figures like “This time next week”, and then “This time to-morrow”, and the almost supernatural bliss of the Last Day punctually appeared. It was a delight that almost demanded to be stayed with flagons and comforted with apples; a delight that tingled down the spine and troubled the belly and at moments went near to stopping the breath. Of course this had a terrible and equally relevant reverse side. In the first week of the holidays we might acknowledge that term would come again–as a young man, in peace time, in full health, acknowledges that he will one day die. But like him we could not even by the grimmest memento mori be brought to realise it. And there too, each time, the unbelievable happened. The grinning skull finally peered through all disguises; the last hour, held at bay by every device our will and imaginations knew, came in the end, and once more it was the bowler-hat, the Eton collar, the knickerbockers, and (clop-clop-clop-clop) the evening drive to the quay. In all seriousness I think that the life of faith is easier to me because of these memories. To think, in sunny and confident times, that I shall die and rot, or to think that one day all this universe will slip away and become memory (as Oldie slipped away into memory three times a year, and with him the canes and the disgusting food, the stinking sanitation and the cold beds)–this is easier to us if we have seen just that sort of thing happening before. We have learned not to take present things at their face value.”

Still Life - Infinite Vanitas by Kevin Best, 2011. Digital art.As you might imagine, I look at a lot of art. On a normal day, I usually reject about three pieces for every one I post. One of the problems I often have when posting to this blog...

Infinite Vanitas by Kevin Best

Theft and Fraud for Love of Books

J.E. Sandys, A History of Classical Scholarship Vol. 1

“The Ptolemies are said to have resorted to many ingenious devices with a view to adding to the treasures of their Libraries. We are told by Galen (xvii a p. 606) that the numerous vessels which entered the harbour were compelled to surrender any mss which they had on board, and that the owners of these mss had to rest content with copies of the same ; these mss were known as τὰ ὲκ πλοίων [‘the ones from the ships’], and among them (according to one version of the story) was a MS of a book of Hippocrates brought to Alexandria by the physician Mnemon of Side in Pamphylia. Galen is also the authority for the story already quoted (p. 58) as to the way in which the official text of the three great tragic poets of Athens was secured for Alexandria by Ptolemy Euergetes, i.e. either the first of that name (247-222 B.C.), or the second, also known as Ptolemy Physcon (146-117 B.C.). The keenest rivalry arose between the royal patrons of learning at Alexandria and Pergamon. It is even stated that one of the Ptolemies, probably Philadelphus, prohibited the export of paper made from the Egyptian papyrus, and thus led to the use of skins of animals as materials for writing in the reign of the Pergamene prince, Eumenes (I, 263-241 B.C.) But such materials had been long in use, so that we can only infer that improvements in their preparation were introduced at Pergamon. In process of time skins were made smooth for writing on both sides, instead of only one, and the material thus manufactured was called charta pergamena, or ‘parchment’; but the word is not found earlier than the Edict of Diocletian (301 A.D.) Eumenes II (197-159 B.C.) is said to have invited the Alexandrian Librarian, Aristophanes of Byzantium, to leave Alexandria for Pergamon, and the mere suspicion that the Librarian was ready to accept such an invitation prompted Ptolemy Epiphanes (205-182 b.c) to put him in prison. The royal passion for collecting mss at Alexandria and Pergamon naturally led to the fabrication of many spurious works; and to various devices tor giving recent copies a false appearance of antiquity; it also led to careless transcription for the mere sake of rapidity of production.”

Zenodotus, the Uncritical Critic

R.C. Jebb, Homer

“In the dawn of the new scholarship, he [Zenodotus] appears as a gifted man with a critical aim, but without an adequate critical method. He insisted on the study of Homer’s style ; but he failed to place that study on a sound basis. One cause of this was that he often omitted to distinguish between the ordinary usages of words and those peculiar to Homer. In regard to dialect, again, he did not sufficiently discriminate the older from the later Ionic. And, relying too much on his own feeling for Homer’s spirit, he indulged in some arbitrary emendations. Still, he broke new ground; his work had a great repute ; and, to some extent, its influence was lasting.”

Pliny’s Confusing Account of Eclipses

Pliny, Natural History 2.47

“To be sure, it is clear that the sun is hidden by the intervention of the moon, and the moon by the opposition of the Earth, and the same moon takes off the same rays of the sun by its intervention as the Earth takes off from the moon with its intervention. When it comes between, shadows are suddenly brought forth and the sun is made dull by its shade. Nor is night anything but the shadow of the Earth, but the figure of the shadow is similar to a cone or an inverted spinning-top, when it only approaches it at its point, and does not exceed the altitude of the moon, since no other star is obscured in the same way, and such a form always draws off into a point.”

quippe manifestum est solem interventu lunae occultari lunamque terrae obiectu ac vices reddi, eosdem solis radios luna interpositu suo auferente terrae terraque lunae. hac subeunte repentinas obduci tenebras rursumque illius umbra sidus hebetari. neque aliud esse noctem quam terrae umbram, figuram autem umbrae similem metae ac turbini inverso, quando mucrone tantum ingruat neque lunae excedat altitudinem, quoniam nullum aliud sidus eodem modo obscuretur et talis figura semper mucrone deficiat.