Enjoying Homer in a Maturer Way

C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy:

“Kirk did not, of course, make me read nothing but Homer. The Two Great Bores (Demosthenes and Cicero) could not be avoided. There were (oh glory!) Lucretius, Catullus, Tacitus, Herodotus. There was Virgil, for whom I still had no true taste. There were Greek and Latin compositions. (It is a strange thing that I have contrived to reach my late fifties without ever reading one word of Caesar.) There were Euripides, Sophocles, Aeschylus. In the evenings there was French with Mrs. Kirkpatrick, treated much as her husband treated Homer. We got through a great many good novels in this way and I was soon buying French books on my own. I had hoped there would be English essays, but whether because he felt he could not endure mine or because he soon guessed that I was already only too proficient in that art (which he almost certainly despised) Kirk never set me one. For the first week or so he gave me directions about my English reading, but when he discovered that, left to myself, I was not likely to waste my time, he gave me absolute freedom. Later in my career we branched out into German and Italian. Here his methods were the same. After the very briefest contact with Grammars and Exercises I was plunged into Faust and the Inferno. In Italian we succeeded. In German I have little doubt that we should equally have succeeded if I had stayed with him a little longer. But I left too soon and my German has remained all my life that of a schoolboy. Whenever I have set about rectifying this, some other and more urgent task has always interrupted me.

But Homer came first. Day after day and month after month we drove gloriously onward, tearing the whole Achilleid out of the Iliad and tossing the rest on one side, and then reading the Odyssey entire, till the music of the thing and the clear, bitter brightness that lives in almost every formula had become part of me. Of course my appreciation was very romanticised–the appreciation of a boy soaked in William Morris. But this slight error saved me from that far deeper error of ‘classicism’ with which the Humanists have hoodwinked half the world. I cannot therefore deeply regret the days when I called Circe a ‘wise-wife’ and every marriage a ‘high-tide’. That has all burned itself out and left no snuff, and I can now enjoy the Odyssey in a maturer way. The wanderings mean as much as ever they did; the great moment of “eucatastrophe” (as Professor Tolkien would call it) when Odysseus strips off his rags and bends the bow, means more; and perhaps what now pleases me best of all is those exquisite, Charlotte M. Yonge families at Pylos and elsewhere. How rightly Sir Maurice Powicke says, ‘There have been civilised people in all ages.’ And let us add, ‘In all ages they have been surrounded by barbarism.'”

Life, Death, and Latin

John Williams, Stoner (Chp. 3):

“His dissertation topic had been ‘The Influence of the Classical Tradition upon the Medieval Lyric.’ He spent much of the summer rereading the classical and medieval Latin poets, and especially their poems upon death. He wondered again at the easy, graceful manner in which the Roman lyricists accepted the fact of death, as if the nothingness they faced were a tribute to the richness of the years they had enjoyed; and he marveled at the bitterness, the terror, the barely concealed hatred he found in some of the later Christian poets of the Latin tradition when the looked to the death which promised, however vaguely, a rich and ecstatic eternity of life, as if that death and promise were a mockery that soured the days of their living. When he thought of Masters, he thought of him as a Catullus or a more gentle and lyrical Juvenal, an exile in his own country, and thought of his death as another exile, more strange and lasting than he had known before.”

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St. Patrick Says: Pray Pray Pray, Food’s on the Way!

St. Patrick, Confession 19:

“After three days we reached land and made a journey through a desert; food was lacking, and famine prevailed over them, and one day the captain began to speak to me,

‘What’s all this, Christian? You say that your God is great and all powerful; why can you not say a prayer for us? We’re being sorely tried by famine. It’s hardly likely that we will see any other person out here.’

I then confidently replied to them,

‘Turn yourselves, in your faith and from all your heart to the Lord my God, because nothing is impossible for him, so that he send food to you today, enough for your journey, because he has an abundance everywhere.’

And, with the help of God, so it happened. There, a flock of pigs appeared in the road before our eyes, and the men killed many of them, and remained there for two nights. They were much revived, and their dogs too were restored, because many of them had fallen off and been left half-dead on the road. After this, they gave the greatest thanks to God, and I was honored in their eyes, and from this day they possessed food abundantly. They even found honey of the forest and offered part to me, and one of them said, ‘It is a little offering.’ Thanks to God, I ate none of it.”

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et post triduum terram cepimus et uiginti octo dies per desertum iter fecimus et cibus defuit illis et fames inualuit super eos, et alio die coepit gubernator mihi dicere: ‘Quid est, Christiane? tu dicis deus tuus magnus et omnipotens est; quare ergo non potes pro nobis orare? quia nos a fame periclitamur; difficile est enim ut aliquem hominem umquam uideamus’. Ego enim confidenter dixi illis: ‘Conuertimini ex fide ex toto corde ad Dominum Deum meum, quia nihil est impossibile illi, ut hodie cibum mittat uobis in uiam uestram usque dum satiamini, quia ubique habundat illi’, et adiuuante Deo ita factum est: ecce grex porcorum in uia ante oculos nostros apparuit, et multos ex illis interfecerunt et ibi duas noctes manserunt et bene refecti et canes eorum repleti sunt, quia multi ex illis defecerunt et secus uiam semiuiui relicti sunt, et post hoc summas gratias egerunt Deo et ego honorificatus sum sub oculis eorum, et ex hac die cibum habundanter habuerunt; etiam mel siluestre inuenerunt et mihi partem obtulerunt et unus ex illis dixit: ‘Immolaticium est’; Deo gratias, exinde nihil gustaui.

Historians: Record it All, Great and Small

Tacitus, Annals 4.32:

“I am aware that many of the things which I have set down here and which I will write later may perhaps seem small and too trifling to remember, but none of my Annals will contend with the writings of those who wrote out the ancient affairs of the Roman people. They recorded huge wars, the sackings of cities, kings driven to retreat or even captured; if they turned their attention to internal affairs, they related with a free passage the disagreements of the consuls and the tribunes, agrarian and grain legislation, and the contests between the plebeians and the nobles. But my work is narrowly confined and inglorious: an inert or at any rate only moderately disturbed peace, the affairs of a sad city, and an emperor who was wholly unconcerned with enlarging the limits of empire. Yet it would not be useless to look more closely at those things which seem at first sight to be trifling, from which quite often the first movements of great affairs take their start.”

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Pleraque eorum quae rettuli quaeque referam parva forsitan et levia memoratu videri non nescius sum: sed nemo annalis nostros cum scriptura eorum contenderit qui veteres populi Romani res composuere. ingentia illi bella, expugnationes urbium, fusos captosque reges, aut si quando ad interna praeverterent, discordias consulum adversum tribunos, agrarias frumentariasque leges, plebis et optimatium certamina libero egressu memorabant: nobis in arto et inglorius labor; immota quippe aut modice lacessita pax, maestae urbis res et princeps proferendi imperi incuriosus erat. non tamen sine usu fuerit introspicere illa primo aspectu levia ex quis magnarum saepe rerum motus oriuntur.

Knowledge Before the Grave

Ammianus Marcellinus, Histories 28.4:

“Some people, despising learning as though it were poison, read only Juvenal and Marius Maximus with attentive care, poring over no books but these in their limitless leisure. But it is beyond my small power of judgment to explain why this is.

Though they ought to read over many various things in light of the magnificence of their glory and their lineage, hearing that Socrates, when was destined to die and thrown into prison, asked a musician who was doing an excellent job of singing a song of Stesichorus the lyric poet to teach him how to do it while there was still time. When the musician asked what good it would do for him, since he was going to die the day after, Socrates responded, ‘At least I will leave this life knowing a bit more.'”

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Quidam detestantes ut venena doctrinas, Iuvenalem et Marium Maximum curatiore studio legunt, nulla volumina praeter haec in profundo otio contrectantes, quam ob causam non iudicioli est nostri.

cum multa et varia pro amplitudine gloriarum et generum lectitare deberent, audientes destinatum poenae Socratem, coniectumque in carcerem, rogasse quendam scite lyrici carmen Stesichori modulantem, ut doceretur id agere, dum liceret : interroganteque musico quid ei poterit hoc prodesse morituro postridie, respondisse ‘ut aliquid sciens amplius e vita discedam”.

From Prostitute to Goddess

Giovanni Boccaccio, Famous Women: Flora (Part II)

(For Part I, please see yesterday’s post, Flora F**ks for Financial Freedom.)

“This Flora, however, (to come to my point) when the end of life was approaching, had no son but a desire of perpetuating her name. Employing, as it seems to me, her feminine cunning, she declared the Roman people to be the heirs of her property for the future glory of her name. In this will, however, a part of her property was set aside so that all of the annual interest would be spent on an anniversary of her birthday with public games. Nor did her opinion deceive her. For, when she had gotten hold of the goodwill of the Roman people through the dispensation of her will, she easily obtained the institution of the annual games in her name. In these games, the people saw among other shameful things (as I think, it was a spectacle calculated to show her profession to posterity) nude prostitutes performing the business of the mimes to the highest delight of the spectators, and exercising themselves in various obscene gestures. From this disgraceful display it was brought about that, whether from the aforementioned interest or from the public treasury, the plebeians (always prone to enjoy sexuality) insisted upon games of this sort, although they were of the most holy character. These games were then called the Floralia after the woman who instituted them.

Yet indeed, after some time the senate, being conscious of the origin of the Floralia, grew embarrassed by the fact that the city which was now the mistress of all the world was being blotted by such an obscene stain, when everyone rushed to sing the praises of a prostitute. When the senate noticed that this stain could not easily be effaced, it imposed upon the initial baseness a detestable and ridiculous error.

The senate fabricated a story for the glorification of Flora, the famous maker of the will, and recited it to the then ignorant public. The story asserted that she had been a native nymph of miraculous beauty, named Clora, who was most ardently beloved and then married by Zephyrus (whom they called Favonius in Latin). This wind, whom she was numbering among the gods due to her own stupidity, gave her either as a gift or as a dowry the status of a deity. To this was added the duty that at the beginning of spring, she would adorn the trees and hills and meadows with flowers and stand forth among them all. Thereupon, her named was gradually changed from Clora to Flora. And since fruits would follow from the blossoms, as – her deity having been satisfied by the games – she would grant them fruits with a certain ample liberty and bring them to fruition, a sacrificial offering and altars and games were granted to Flora by the ancients.

Deceived by this fiction, the Romans numbered along with Juno and the other goddesses this Flora, who while alive had frequented the brothels, laid out before anyone for even a small payment; and they treated her as though Zephyrus carried her into the heavens with his wings. Thus, through her own intelligence and the gift of fortune from ill-gotten money, Flora was converted from a prostitute into a nymph and enriched by the marriage of Zephyrus and the power of divinity, she was celebrated by mortals as sitting in temples with divine honors to such an extent that not only was she changed from Clora to Flora, but she was made famous everywhere though she started off as a remarkable prostitute in her own time.”

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Primavera by Sandro Botticelli

Hec autem, ut eo tendam quo cupio, adveniente mortalis vite termino, cum nullus illi filius esset et nominis perpetuandi cupido, ut reor, femineo astu, in futuram sui nominis gloriam, romanum populum substantiarum suarum sibi dixit heredem; in hoc tamen parte divitiarum servata, ut, quod ex ea annuum susciperetur fenus, in anniversarium natalis sui, ludis publice factis, erogaretur omne. Nec eam fefellit opinio. Nam cum gratiam romane plebis ex hereditate suscepta captasset, annuos in memoriam sui nominis fieri ludos obtinuit facile: in quibus, spectante vulgo, ad eius puto questum posteris ostendendum, inter alia turpia, nude meretrices mimorum officium, summa cum inspicientium voluptate, gesticulationibus impudicis et variis exercebant. Qua illecebri ostentatione actum est ut, seu ex fenore suscepto, seu ex ere publico, annis singulis cum instantia ludi huiusmodi, tanquam sanctissimi, a plebe, in libidinem prona, peterentur; et florales ab institutrice etiam dicerentur.

Sane tractu temporis cum senatus, originis eorum conscius, erubesceret, urbem, iam rerum dominam, tam obscena maculari nota, ut in meretricis laudes concurreret omnis, adverteretque illam facile deleri non posse, ad ignominiam subtrahendam, turpitudini detestabilem atque ridiculum superiniunxit errorem.

Finxit quippe in splendorem Flore, inclite testatricis, fabulam, et ignaro iam populo recitavit: illam asserens iam dudum mire pulchritudinis indigenam fuisse nynpham, nomine Cloram, et a zephyro vento, quem latine favonium dicimus, ardentissime amatam et postremo in coniugem sumptam; eique, ab eodem quem, stultitia sua, inter deos nominabant, dotalitio quodam munere, seu propter nuptias, ut fit, deitatem fuisse concessam: hoc cum officio, ut vere primo arbores colles et prata floribus exornaret eisque preesset; et inde ex Clora, Flora etiam diceretur; et quoniam fructus ex floribus sequerentur, ut, deitate eius placata ludis, illos ampla quadam liberalitate concederet et in fructum deduceret, eidem dee sacrum aras ludosque a vetustate fuisse concessos.

Qua seducti fallacia, eam, que vivens fornices coluerat, a quibuscunque etiam pro minima stipe prostrata, quasi suis alis zephyrus illam in celum detulerit, cum Iunone regina deabusque aliis sedere arbitrati sunt. Et sic ingenio suo Flora et fortune munere ex male quesita pecunia, ex meretrice nynpha facta est zephyrique lucrata coniugium et deitatis numen, apud mortales, in templis residens, divinis honoribus celebrata, adeo ut, non solum ex Clora Flora, sed clara ubique locorum, ex insigni sui temporis scorto, facta sit.

Start with the Best Teachers

Vergerio, de ingenuis moribus et liberalibus adulescentiae studiis, XLIX:

“It seems right here to lay out some definitions of learning and intelligence and the types of each. In which it should first be noted that it is proper to receive not only those lessons which are given to advanced students, but even the very first elements of knowledge from the best teachers; and, that it is proper not to waste time on any random authors, but to look into the best ones. For this reason Philipp, the king of the Macedonians, wanted his son Alexander to learn his first lessons from Aristotle; for this reason, the ancient Romans took care that when they sent their children to school, they would first be brought up on Vergil. Each of these choices was made with the best reason. For, that which is instilled into young minds will set deep roots, and will not easily be removed by any force afterward.

Therefore, if students accustom themselves to the best authors at the beginning, they will always have them foremost and will always use them as guides. If, however, they should drink in any draught of error along the way, they will require twice as much time in their education – they must first get rid of their errors, and then they can partake of true learning. For this reason Timotheus, a famous musician in his own time, who was ordered into exile from Sparta because he increased the number of strings on the cithara and discovered new musical modes, used to charge a fixed price from those students who had never learned anything before; yet he charged a double price from those who had learned something from other teachers.”

Ac de doctrinis quidem et ingeniis ac utrorumque generibus ita videtur definiendum. In quibus est id ante omnia animadvertendum, quod non modo maiora illa praecepta quae provectoribus traduntur, sed et prima quoque atrium elementa ab optimis praeceptoribus accipere convenit, et ex auctoribus librorum, non quibuslibet passim immorari, sed optimis. Qua ratione et Philippus, rex Macedonum, primas litteras ab Aristotele discere Alexandrum voluit, et veteres Romanos suos liberos scholae mancipantes in Vergilio primum erudiri curabant; optima utrique ratione. Nam quod teneris mentibus insitum est, alte radices mittit, nec facile postea divelli ulla vi potest. Ergo si melioribus initio assueverint, illos habebunt praecipuos et veluti ducibus semper utentur. Sin vero errores ullos imbiberint, his duplici tempore opus erit, primum ut errores excutiant, ac deinde ut vera praecepta condiscant. Quamobrem Timotheus, musicus suo tempore illustris, qui ob multiplicatas in cithara chordas et novorum modorum adinventionem Sparta iussus est exulare, ab discipulis quidem, qui nihil apud alios profecissent, certam paciscebatur mercedem, ab iis vero, qui ex aliis quippiam edidicerant, duplam exigebat.