Thinking of Classical Parallels

E.M. Forster, The Longest Journey (Chp. 4):

Mr. Pembroke remarked to himself that Frederick was improving.

“If a man shoots straight and hits straight and speaks straight, if his heart is in the right place, if he has the instincts of a Christian and a gentleman—then I, at all events, ask no better husband for my sister.”

“How could you get a better?” he cried. “Do you remember the thing in ‘The Clouds’?” And he quoted, as well as he could, from the invitation of the Dikaios Logos, the description of the young Athenian, perfect in body, placid in mind, who neglects his work at the Bar and trains all day among the woods and meadows, with a garland on his head and a friend to set the pace; the scent of new leaves is upon them; they rejoice in the freshness of spring; over their heads the plane-tree whispers to the elm, perhaps the most glorious invitation to the brainless life that has ever been given.

“Yes, yes,” said Mr. Pembroke, who did not want a brother-in-law out of Aristophanes. Nor had he got one, for Mr. Dawes would not have bothered over the garland or noticed the spring, and would have complained that the friend ran too slowly or too fast.

“And as for her—!” But he could think of no classical parallel for Agnes. She slipped between examples. A kindly Medea, a Cleopatra with a sense of duty—these suggested her a little. She was not born in Greece, but came overseas to it—a dark, intelligent princess. With all her splendour, there were hints of splendour still hidden—hints of an older, richer, and more mysterious land. He smiled at the idea of her being “not there.” Ansell, clever as he was, had made a bad blunder. She had more reality than any other woman in the world.

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Curricular Compulsion

Roger Ascham, The Scholemaster:

Yes forsothe: as wise as they be, either in other mens opinion, or in their owne conceite, I will bring the contrarie iudgement of him, who, they them selues shall confesse, was as wise as they are, or else they may be iustlie thought to haue small witte at all: and that is Socrates, whose iudgement in Plato is plainlie this in these wordes: which, bicause they be verie notable, I will recite them in his owne tong, ouden mathema meta douleias chre manthanein: οὐδὲν μάθημα μετὰ δουλείας τὸν ἐλεύθερον χρὴ μανθάνειν. οἱ μὲν γὰρ τοῦ σώματος πόνοι βίᾳ πονούμενοι χεῖρον οὐδὲν τὸ σῶμα ἀπεργάζονται, ψυχῇ δὲ βίαιον οὐδὲν ἔμμονον μάθημα: in Englishe thus, No learning ought to be learned with bondage: For bodelie labors, wrought by compulsion, hurt not the bodie: but any learning learned by compulsion, tarieth not long in the mynde: And why? For what soeuer the mynde doth learne vnwillinglie with feare, the same it doth quicklie forget without care.

And lest proude wittes, that loue not to be contraryed, but haue lust to wrangle or trifle away troth, will say, that Socrates meaneth not this of childrens teaching, but of som other higher learnyng, heare, what Socrates in the same place doth more plainlie say: Μὴ τοίνυν βίᾳ, εἶπον, ὦ ἄριστε, τοὺς παῖδας ἐν τοῖς μαθήμασιν ἀλλὰ παίζοντας τρέφε, that is to say, and therfore, my deare frend, bring not vp your children in learning by compulsion and feare, but by playing and pleasure. And you, that do read Plato, as ye shold, do well perceiue, that these be no Questions asked by Socrates, as doutes, but they be Sentences, first affirmed by Socrates, as mere trothes, and after, giuen forth by Socrates, as right Rules, most necessarie to be marked, and fitte to be folowed of all them, that would haue children taughte, as they should.

And in this counsell, iudgement, and authoritie of Socrates I will repose my selfe, vntill I meete with a man of the contrarie mynde, whom I may iustlie take to be wiser, than I thinke Socrates was. Fonde scholemasters, neither can vnderstand, nor will folow this good counsell of Socrates, but wise ryders, in their office, can and will do both: which is the onelie cause, that commonly, the yong ientlemen of England, go so vnwillinglie to schole, and run so fast to the stable: For in verie deede fond scholemasters, by feare, do beate into them, the hatred of learning, and wise riders, by ientle allurements, do breed vp in them, the loue of riding. They finde feare, & bondage in scholes, They feele libertie and freedome in stables: which causeth them, vtterlie to abhore the one, and most gladlie to haunt the other. And I do not write this, that in exhorting to the one, I would dissuade yong ientlemen from the other: yea I am sorie, with all my harte, that they be giuen no more to riding, then they be: For, of all outward qualities, to ride faire, is most cumelie for him selfe, most necessarie for his contrey, and the greater he is in blood, the greater is his praise, the more he doth excede all other therein. It was one of the three excellent praises, amongest the noble ientlemen the old Percians, Alwaise to say troth, to ride faire, and shote well: and so it was engrauen vpon Darius tumbe, as Strabo beareth witnesse.

    Darius the king, lieth buried here,

          Who in riding and shoting had neuer peare.

But, to our purpose, yong men, by any meanes, leesing the loue of learning, whan by tyme they cum to their owne rule, they carie commonlie, from the schole with them, a perpetuall hatred of their master, and a continuall contempt of learning. If ten Ientlemen be asked, why they forget so sone in Court, that which they were learning so long in schole, eight of them, or let me be blamed, will laie the fault on their ill handling, by their scholemasters.

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The Wounds of the Sun

Macrobius, Saturnalia 1.21:

They say that Adonis was killed by a boar, metaphorically representing the image of winter in this animal, because the bristly and rugged boar rejoices in wet, muddy spots covered in frost, and it properly feeds upon acorns, the produce of winter. Therefore, winter is something like the wound of the sun, which diminishes its light and heat for us: both of these things also happen to animals in death.

There is an image of this goddess fashioned on Mount Lebanon with a veiled head, a sad countenance, and holding her face behind her clothes with her left hand. It is believed that tears flow from her when people are looking. This image, in addition to being an image of a grieving goddess (as we have said), is also the image of the winter on earth when the land stands bereft of the sun, veiled by clouds, and the springs, those eyes of the earth, gush more abundantly while the fields, deprived of their cultivation, show their sad face. But when the sun comes from the lower parts of the earth and moves past the boundary of the spring equinox, lengthening the day, then Venus is happy and then spring forth fields green with crops, meadows with grass, trees with leaves. And it is for that reason that the ancients called April Venus.

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Rubens, Venus Mourning Adonis

Ab apro autem tradunt interemptum Adonin, hiemis imaginem in hoc animali fingentes, quod aper hispidus et asper gaudet locis humidis lutosis pruinaque contectis, proprieque hiemali fructu pascitur, glande: ergo hiems veluti vulnus est solis, quae et lucem eius nobis minuit et calorem: quod utrumque animantibus accidit morte. Simulachrum huius deae in monte Libano fingitur capite obnupto, specie tristi, faciem manu laeva intra amictum sustinens, lacrimae visione conspicientium manare creduntur: quae imago, praeter quod lugentis est, ut diximus, deae, terrae quoque hiemalis est, quo tempore obnupta nubibus sole viduata stupet, fontesque veluti terrae oculi uberius manant, agrique interim suo cultu vidui maestam faciem sui monstrant. 6 Sed cum sol emersit ab inferioribus partibus terrae, vernalisque aequinoctii transgreditur fines augendo diem: tunc est Venus laeta, et pulchra virent arva segetibus, prata herbis, arbores foliis. Ideo maiores nostri Aprilem mensem Veneri dicaverunt.

Poetry’s Manifest Superiority

Sir Phlip Sidney, The Defense of Poesy:

And first, truly, to all them that, professing learning, inveigh against poetry, may justly be objected that they go very near to ungratefulness, to seek to deface that which, in the noblest nations and languages that are known, has been the first light-giver to ignorance, and first nurse, whose milk by little and little enabled them to feed afterwards of tougher knowledges. And will they now play the hedgehog, that, being received into the den, drove out his host? Or rather the vipers, that with their birth kill their parents? Let learned Greece in any of her manifold sciences be able to show me one book before Musæus, Homer, and Hesiod, all three nothing else but poets. Nay, let any history be brought that can say any writers were there before them, if they were not men of the same skill, as Orpheus, Linus, and some other are named, who, having been the first of that country that made pens deliver of their knowledge to their posterity, may justly challenge to be called their fathers in learning. For not only in time they had this priority—although in itself antiquity be venerable—but went before them as causes, to draw with their charming sweetness the wild untamed wits to an admiration of knowledge. So as Amphion was said to move stones with his poetry to build Thebes, and Orpheus to be listened to by beasts,—indeed stony and beastly people. So among the Romans were Livius Andronicus and Ennius; so in the Italian language the first that made it aspire to be a treasure-house of science were the poets Dante, Boccace, and Petrarch; so in our English were Gower and Chaucer, after whom, encouraged and delighted with their excellent foregoing, others have followed to beautify our mother-tongue, as well in the same kind as in other arts.

This did so notably show itself, that the philosophers of Greece durst not a long time appear to the world but under the masks of poets. So Thales, Empedocles, and Parmenides sang their natural philosophy in verses; so did Pythagoras and Phocylides their moral counsels; so did Tyrtæus in war matters, and Solon in matters of policy; or rather they, being poets; did exercise their delightful vein in those points of highest knowledge which before them lay hidden to the world. For that wise Solon was directly a poet it is manifest, having written in verse the notable fable of the Atlantic Island which was continued by Plato. And truly even Plato whosoever well considers, shall find that in the body of his work though the inside and strength were philosophy, the skin as it were and beauty depended most of poetry. For all stands upon dialogues; wherein he feigns many honest burgesses of Athens to speak of such matters that, if they had been set on the rack, they would never have confessed them; besides his poetical describing the circumstances of their meetings, as the well-ordering of a banquet, the delicacy of a walk, with interlacing mere tales, as Gyges’ Ring and others, which who knows not to be flowers of poetry did never walk into Apollo’s garden.

And even historiographers, although their lips sound of things done, and verity be written in their foreheads, have been glad to borrow both fashion and perchance weight of the poets. So Herodotus entitled his history by the name of the nine Muses; and both he and all the rest that followed him either stole or usurped of poetry their passionate describing of passions, the many particularities of battles which no man could affirm, or, if that be denied me, long orations put in the mouths of great kings and captains, which it is certain they never pronounced.

Sir Philip Sidney from NPG.jpg

Love Theoretically

Laurence Sterne, Tristram Shandy (3.36):

Now, because I have once or twice said, in my inconsiderate way of talking, That I was confident the following memoirs of my uncle Toby’s courtship of widow Wadman, whenever I got time to write them, would turn out one of the most complete systems, both of the elementary and practical part of love and love-making, that ever was addressed to the world—are you to imagine from thence, that I shall set out with a description of what love is? whether part God and part Devil, as Plotinus will have it—

—Or by a more critical equation, and supposing the whole of love to be as ten—to determine with Ficinus, ‘How many parts of it—the one,—and how many the other;’—or whether it is all of it one great Devil, from head to tail, as Plato has taken upon him to pronounce; concerning which conceit of his, I shall not offer my opinion:—but my opinion of Plato is this; that he appears, from this instance, to have been a man of much the same temper and way of reasoning with doctor Baynyard, who being a great enemy to blisters, as imagining that half a dozen of ’em at once, would draw a man as surely to his grave, as a herse and six—rashly concluded, that the Devil himself was nothing in the world, but one great bouncing Cantharidis.—

I have nothing to say to people who allow themselves this monstrous liberty in arguing, but what Nazianzen cried out (that is, polemically) to Philagrius—

‘εὖγε!’ O rare! ’tis fine reasoning, Sir indeed!—’ ὅτι φιλοσοφεῖς ἐν Πάθεσι’ and most nobly do you aim at truth, when you philosophize about it in your moods and passions.


Forget Aristotle, Julian Founds the Lice-eum

Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (XXII):

In a satirical performance, which was designed for the public eye, the emperor descants with pleasure, and even with pride, on the length of his nails, and the inky blackness of his hands; protests, that although the greatest part of his body was covered with hair, the use of the razor was confined to his head alone; and celebrates, with visible complacency, the shaggy and populous* beard, which he fondly cherished, after the example of the philosophers of Greece. Had Julian consulted the simple dictates of reason, the first magistrate of the Romans would have scorned the affectation of Diogenes, as well as that of Darius.

*[In a footnote, Gibbon hints at what he means by a ‘populous’ beard, but leaves the passage which he references in (as he would say) the decent obscurity of a learned language. Julian writes, in his Misopogon, Ταῦτά τοι διαθεόντων ἀνέχομαι τῶν φθειρῶν ὥσπερ ἐν λόχμῃ τῶν θηρίων. (“I put up with the lice running up and down my beard as though they were in a park for wild animals.”)]

Emperor Julian


On Second Thought, F**k This Life

Seneca, Quaestiones Naturales 1.4:

It was hardly worth being born if I were not admitted to these things. For, what reason is there that I should be glad to be placed among the number of the living? So that I can swallow food and drink? So that I can stuff this needy and languid body which will perish if it doesn’t get filled? So that I can live as a minister to my own sick self? So that I can spend my time fearing the death for which all of us are born? Take away this inestimable good: life is not worth so much that I should sweat for it, that I should work myself into a heat for it.

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Nisi ad haec admitterer, non fuerat nasci. Quid enim erat, cur in numero uiuentium me positum esse gauderem? an ut cibos et potiones percolarem? ut hoc corpus causarium ac fluidum, periturumque nisi subinde impleatur, sarcirem, et uiuerem aegri minister? ut mortem timerem, cui omnes nascimur? Detrahe hoc inaestimabile bonum, non est uita tanti, ut sudem, ut aestuem.