In the Shallows Now

Erasmus, Adagia 45 – In Vado

The proverbial metaphor To be in the shallows is used to mean: in safety, and beyond the point of danger. It’s taken from either swimmers or sailors. Terence has:

The whole affair is in the shallows.

Plautus, in his Aulularia, writes:

This business seems to be pretty much in the shallows of safety now.

The shallows are the lowest part of the water. Anyone who stands in them has already escaped the danger of being submerged.

45 – IN VADO

Metaphora prouerbialis In vado esse pro eo, quod est: in tuto citraque discrimen, sumpta a natantibus aut nauigantibus. Terentius:

Omnis res in vado est.

Plautus in Aulularia:

Haec propemodum iam esse in vado salutis res videtur.

Vadum autem est aquae fundus; in quo quisquis constiterit, is iam effugit periculum ne mergatur

Commonplace vs. Common Sense

Henry Felton, A Dissertation on the Classics (1710):

The first is, that your lordship should never be persuaded into what they call Common-Places, which is a Way of taking an Author to Pieces, and ranging him under proper Heads, that You may readily find what he hath said upon any Point, by consulting an Alphabet. This practice is of no Use but in Circumstantials of Time and Place, Custom, and Antiquity, and in such Instances where Facts are to be remembered, not where the Brain is to be exercised. In these Cases it is of great Use: It Helpeth the Memory, and serveth to keep those Things in a Sort of Order and Succession.

But, my Lord, Common-Placing the Sense of an Author, is such a stupid Undertaking, that, if I may be indulged in saying it they want Common Sense that practice it. What Heaps of this Rubbish have I seen! O the Pains and Labour to record what other People have said, that is taken by those, who have Nothing to say themselves! Your Lordship may depend upon it, the Writings of these Men are never worth the Reading; the Fancy is cramp’d, the Invention spoiled, their Thoughts on every Thing are prevented, if they think at all; but ‘tis the peculiar Happiness of these Collectors of Sense, that they can write without Thinking.

I do most readily agree, that all the bright sparkling Thoughts of the Ancients; their finest Expressions, and noblest Sentiments, are to be met with in these Transcribers: But how wretchedly are they brought in, how miserably put together! Indeed, my Lord, I can compare such Productions to nothing but rich Pieces of Patchwork, sewed together with Packthread.

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The Age of Achilles

Politian, Miscellanies 1.45:

There is an opinion long disseminated and accepted among everyone that Patroclus was younger than Achilles and was, as it were, loved by him as Hylas was by Hercules. Martial seems to make a nod to this when he says

The young friend was closer to Aeacides.

Therefore a dirty little verse from the Hermaphrodite was commonly applauded. Statius however claims in his Achilleid that they were both of equal age, writing,

There follows, joined then by a great love, Partoclus, and works as a rival to Achilles’ great deeds, equal in his pursuits and age, but much inferior in physical strength, and nevertheless set to see Troy with an equal fate.

Plato, however, argues something far different in the Symposium. For he declares that Achilles was much younger and that he was loved by Patroclus, being still beardless and not only more beautiful than Patroclus, but also than all the other heroes. Indeed, for that cause, he says, the gods loaded him with exceptional honors to send him off to the Blessed Isles, because he made such a big deal of his lover that he not only opted to die for him, but even chose to die for him rather than to grow old in his homeland.

Indeed, Plato criticizes Aeschylus for being a clown because he put forth the claim that Achilles was Patroclus’ lover and cited Homer as the authority for the ages of the two. If anyone would like the words of Homer to be shown to them, they may read them in the eleventh book of the Iliad in the character of Nestor with the orders which Menoetius used to send his son Patroclus to the war.

Shackleton Bailey on LSD

Martin Amis, Experience:

Professor D.R. Shackleton Bailey, a.k.a. Shack – though the former appellation is the more descriptive. Shack is still a world-class authority on Cicero. He was, moreover, I always thought, the diametrical opposite of my father: a laconic, unsmiling, dumpty-shaped tightwad. I used to say to myself: Mum’s had enough of charm. Still, Shack had an interesting head. For twenty years, before he took up the professorship at Michigan, he was the Cambridge University Lecturer in Tibetan. And I was once around the place when he experimented, as they say, with LSD. To me he seemed to be on the verge of total freakout for several hours, but he later pronounced himself pleased with the exercise.

[footnote on p. 152 of the Vintage paperback edition]

Analinguistic Reflections

Politian, Miscellanies 1.2:

Valerius Catullus says in a certain epigram:

With that very tongue of yours, if you ever needed to, you could lick assholes and leather shoes.

Many have asked but no one yet has explained what carpatinae or carbatinae or crepidae are. Each of these are right, but even carbasinae is sometimes found. Certain literary hacks and charlatans remove this word and substitute who knows what: either cercopythas or coprotinas, words which they got from the pigpen and not from school; mere words, hollow names, the sounds of nothing. I will whip out from my Greek tool box (as if drawing from the pantry) authorities not to be despised or distrusted, by which the reading can be laid out unharmed and shaken free of interpretive fog.

First of all, Julius Pollux himself in his ninth book for Commodus says that carbatinas are a kind of rustic shoes whose name was derived from the Carians. Aristotle, in Book II of On the History of Animals, says that camels wear leather shoes so that they aren’t tired out by long military marches. There are four incredibly elegant little books in Greek called the Poemenicon, in the second of which a certain old man is introduced wearing a pouch and leather shoes. Lucian, in his dialogue called Alexander or The False Prophet says that some orators from Paphlagonia wore leather shoes. Xenophon, the follower of Socrates, says in the third book of his Anabasis, “When there old shoes were no longer any good, they had leather shoes (carbatinas) made from fresh hides.” Suidas cites this passage (while ignoring the author). Indeed, some commentator or other on Xenophon says that carbatinae are barbarian shoes.

Lips to the Ciceronian Udder

Paolo Cortesi, Letter to Politian:

I would venture even now to assert what I have often said in the past: that no one after Cicero has ever earned praise in writing (excepting one or two people here and there) who was not raised and nourished as it were on Ciceronian milk. But there was then a certain mode of imitation which ran up against a rejection of similarity and so that shining mode of writing was seasoned with a sprinkling of cheer. But now that mode lies either neglected or ignored among people of our time. My dear Politian, I would like to be similar not as an ape to a human but as a son to his parent. That ridiculous imitator only fixes with similitude the deformities and depraved faults of the body. The son, however, represents the countenance, the walk, the stature, the movement, the form, the voice, and finally even the figure of the parent’s body, and yet has in this similarity something of his own, something different, such that when they are compared, they still seem to be not entirely the same as each other.

Ausim nunc etiam affirmare idem quod saepe: neminem post Marcum Tullium in scribendo laudem consecutum, praeter unum aut alterum, qui non sit ab eo eductus et tamquam lactis nutrimento educatus. Sed erat tum quaedam certa imitandi ratio, quae et fastidio similitudinis occurrebatur et nitidum illud genus hilaritate quadam aspersa condiebatur. Nunc autem illa ab hominibus nostris aut neglecta est aut ignorata. Similem volo, mi Politiane, non ut simiam hominis sed ut filium parentis. Illa enim ridicula imitatrix tantum deformitates et vitia corporis depravata similitudine effingit. Hic autem vultum, incessum, statum, motum, formam, vocem denique et figuram corporis representat, et tamen habet in hac similitudine aliquid suum, aliquid naturale, aliquid diversum, ita ut cum comparentur dissimiles inter se esse videantur.

The Shock of the New

Martial 5.10

What should I call this, that fame is denied to the living, and that readers rarely love their own times? Regulus, these are obviously just the ways of jealousy that it always prefers ancient things to new. Thus we ungratefully seek the ancient shade of Pompeius, thus old men praise the cheap temples of Catulus. Rome, you read Ennius while Vergil was alive, and Homer was mocked in his own day. Rarely did the theater applaud for Menander when he was crowned; only Corinna new Ovid. But you, my little books, don’t hurry: if glory comes only after death, I will not rush.

“Esse quid hoc dicam uiuis quod fama negatur

et sua quod rarus tempora lector amat?”

Hi sunt inuidiae nimirum, Regule, mores,

     praeferat antiquos semper ut illa nouis.

Sic ueterem ingrati Pompei quaerimus umbram,              5

     sic laudant Catuli uilia templa senes;

Ennius est lectus saluo tibi, Roma, Marone,

     et sua riserunt saecula Maeoniden;

rara coronato plausere theatra Menandro;

     norat Nasonem sola Corinna suum.              10

Vos tamen o nostri ne festinate libelli;

si post fata uenit gloria, non propero.

Greek Poetry Every Day

Gilbert Murray, A History of Ancient Literature (Preface):

To read and re-read the scanty remains now left to us of the Literature of Ancient Greece, is a pleasant and not a laborious task; nor is that task greatly increased by the inclusion of the ‘Scholia’ or ancient commentaries. But modern scholarship has been prolific in the making of books; and as regards this department of my subject, I must frankly accept the verdict passed by a German critic upon a historian of vastly wider erudition than mine,and confess that I ‘stand helpless before the mass of my material.’ To be more precise, I believe that in the domain of Epic, Lyric, and Tragic Poetry, I am fairly familiar with the researches of recent years; and I have endeavoured to read the more celebrated books on Prose and Comic Poetry. Periodical literature is notoriously hard to control; but I hope that comparatively few articles of importance in the last twenty volumes of the Hermes, the Rheinisches Museum, the Philologus, and the English Classical Journals, have escaped my consideration. More than this I have but rarely attempted.

If under these circumstances I have nevertheless sat down to write a History of Greek Literature, and have even ventured to address myself to scholars as well as to the general public, my reason is that, after all, such knowledge of Greek literature as I possess has been of enormous value and interest to me; that for the last ten years at least, hardly a day has passed on which Greek poetry has not occupied a large part of my thoughts, hardly one deep or valuable emotion has come into my life which has not been either caused, or interpreted, or bettered by Greek poetry. This is doubtless part of the ordinary narrowing of the specialist, the one-sided sensitiveness in which he finds at, once his sacrifice and his reward; but it is usually, perhaps, the thing that justifies a man in writing.

Cicero and Caesar: Destroyers of Latin Education

Edmund Wilson, Reflections on the Teaching of Latin:

It is still possible for a student to- day, as it was forty years ago, to have been through four or five years of Latin and yet, as I have recently had a chance to note, not to have learned, for example, the words for the commonest colors and animals, the parts of the body and the seasons of the year. Why?

The answer is: Caesar and Cicero – the military vocabulary of the one, the highfalutin rhetoric of the other. And what is the reason for prescribing these writers? The answer to this is that Caesar, at some now remote point of the past, was selected as the only example of classical Latin prose that was simple and straight-forward enough for a schoolboy to make his way through, and that Cicero represented the ideal of Latin diction at a time when it was thought essential for every educated man to write Latin. And why the years of grinding at grammar at the expense of learning to read? This is a part of the ancient tradition of abstract intellectual discipline. The justification for it is the same as the justification for piling problems of algebra on students who have no mathematical interests and will never have occasion to use algebra. Both at worst have a minimum of practical use. Latin syntax does give us some training in the relation of words in a sentence, as algebra gives us some idea of what is involved in mathematical method; but there is nevertheless a fallacy in this old ideal. It strikes us as rather monstrous when we read about how Karl Marx, that intellectual prodigy, used to exercise his mental muscles by committing to memory whole pages of languages he did not understand; yet actually our teaching of Latin inflicts something not very different. The student is made to memorize pages of declensions, conjugations, and rules for grammatical constructions that mean little or nothing to him as language.

Does the minimum of real Latin that he acquires in this way serve any useful purpose in later life? The lawyer hardly needs this instruction to pick up the Latin phrases of the law; the student in most scientific fields can learn the terminology of his subject without worrying about Cicero and Caesar.

Caesar, Cicero and 'The Best and Most Vigilant Consulship' « The ...