Two Epigrams From Grumpy Grammarians

11.140 Loukillios

“To those chattering song-fighters at the feast,
The greased-up grammarians of Aristarchus,
Men who don’t like to joke or drink but lie there
Playing childish games with Nestor and Priam,
Don’t leave me—in their words—to be “booty and spoil”.
Today I am not eating “Goddess, sing the rage…”

Τούτοις τοῖς παρὰ δεῖπνον ἀοιδομάχοις λογολέσχαις,
τοῖς ἀπ’ ᾿Αριστάρχου γραμματολικριφίσιν,
οἷς οὐ σκῶμμα λέγειν, οὐ πεῖν φίλον, ἀλλ’ ἀνάκεινται
νηπυτιευόμενοι Νέστορι καὶ Πριάμῳ,
μή με βάλῃς κατὰ λέξιν „ἕλωρ καὶ κύρμα γενέσθαι”·
σήμερον οὐ δειπνῶ „μῆνιν ἄειδε, θεά.”

11.378 Palladas

“I can’t endure a wife and grammar,
Impoverishing grammar, and a wife unjust.
The suffering from both is death and fate.
I have now just barely fled from grammar,
But I cannot retreat from this man-fighting wife:
Our contract and Roman custom forbid it!”

Οὐ δύναμαι γαμετῆς καὶ γραμματικῆς ἀνέχεσθαι,
γραμματικῆς ἀπόρου καὶ γαμετῆς ἀδίκου.
ἀμφοτέρων τὰ πάθη θάνατος καὶ μοῖρα τέτυκται.
τὴν οὖν γραμματικὴν νῦν μόλις ἐξέφυγον,
οὐ δύναμαι δ’ ἀλόχου τῆς ἀνδρομάχης ἀναχωρεῖν·
εἴργει γὰρ χάρτης καὶ νόμος Αὐσόνιος.

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Maybe Just Sparknotes for Aristotle?

F.R. Leavis, The ‘Great Books’ and a Liberal Education:

Perhaps the case today is not as utterly hopeless—not quite as hopeless—as the Great Books scheme would make it appear, even though such a scheme, fervently advocated with wide and powerful support, suggests that all notion of what a living tradition is like has been lost. But I will, at any rate for the moment, put aside talk about “tradition” (that tricky concept which needs such delicate and positive handling) and make some points that must have occurred to anyone who, as a “teacher,” is concerned with liberal education at a place where, in a modern community, liberal education is at least a recognized and institutional concern: a university. Thinking of correctives to academic tendencies, one tells oneself that there will be this mark of a student’s having spent his time not without profit: he will leave the university knowing to much better effect that there are renowned works he needn’t take as seriously as convention affirms, and others that, though they will repay the right reader’s study, are not for him. For an instance of the first class, there is Aristotle’s Poetics, a treatise prescribed among the Great Books. There may be some point in a student’s looking up the Poetics when he is going into Tragedy under the guidance of Gilbert Murray, Jane Harrison, Cornford, and the other anthropologizing Hellenists. But the man who leaves the university able to suppose that in the Poetics he has studied an illuminating treatise on the foundations of literary criticism has not used his time to real educational profit—even if he has won high academic distinction. It is characteristic of the academic conventionality of the Great Books ethos to endorse the conventional academic standing of the Poetics.

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Edouard Manet, The Reader

 

“Don’t Know Grammar, Don’t Give a F**k”

Gregory of Tours, The History of the Franks (Preface):

On the verge of writing the wars of kings with enemy nations, of martyrs with pagans, of the churches with heretics, I would first like to bring forth a display of my faith, so that one who reads me will not doubt that I am a Catholic. That plan has pleased me because of those, who despair of the approaching end of the world, so that the chief points of preceding times collected through chronicles and histories, and how many years there have been since the beginning of the world, may be clearly explained. But first I entreat the pardon of my readers, if I have run off the rails of grammatical art in my letters or my syllables, because I was not really educated with that skill, instead pursuing only that I may retain what is preached in the church without any recoiling or hesitation of my heart, because I know that one who is corrupted by sings is nevertheless able to obtain God’s pardon through a pure credulity.

Scribturus bella regum cum gentibus adversis, martyrum cum paganis, eclesiarum cum hereticis, prius fidem meam proferre cupio, ut qui legerit me non dubitet esse catholicum. Illud etiam placuit propter eos, qui adpropinquantem finem mundi disperant, ut, collectam per chronicas vel historias anteriorum summa, explanetur aperte, quanti ab exordio mundi sint anni. Sed prius veniam legentibus praecor, si aut in litteris aut in syllabis grammaticam artem excessero, de qua adpaene non sum inbutus; illud tantum studens, ut quod in eclesia credi praedicatur sine aliquo fugo aut cordis haesitatione reteneam, quia scio peccatis obnoxium per credulitatem puram obtinere posse veniam apud Deum.

Butcherly Feare in Making Latines

John Brinsley, Ludus Literarius (Preface)

There is a way (saith Mr. Askame) touched in the first booke of Cicero de Oratore,which wisely brought into Schooles, truly taught, & constantly vsed would not onely take wholly away that butcherly feare in making Latines, but would also with ease and pleasure, and in short time as I know by good experience, worke a true choise and placing of words, a right ordering of sentences, an easie vnderstanding of the tongues, a readinesseto speake, a facilitie to write, a true iudgement both of his owne, and other mens doings, what tongue so euer he doth vse.

This way, as he sheweth, is by causing the Schollar first to vnderstand the matter which he learneth: secondly, to construe truely: thirdly, to parse exactly: fourthly, to translate into English plainely: fiftly, to translate out of the English into the Latine of the Author againe: and so after to compare with the  Author how neere he came vnto it. Finally, by much translating both wayes, chiefely out of the English into Latine, as hee setteth downe in the beginning of his second booke; and hereby hee saw those strange experiments of the increase of learning, which hee reporteth of Mr. Iohn Whitney, and others.

Now, whereas these things are very hard to bee performed in the common schooles; especially for lacke of time to trie and compare euery schollars translation, and euer giuing them new peeces to translate, and those such as are meete for euery forme; by the meanes of these translations of our first schoole Authors, all these things may bee performed in euery Author and forme, most certainely and constantly, and with much ease and delight both to Maister and Schollars; as I trust will be found.

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Read Homer and Vergil – Everything Else is Crap

Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria 10.1:

We should take the same order through the Roman authors, too. And so, as among the Greek authors Homer gives one the most auspicious beginning, so too does Vergil among the Romans. Of all the Greek and Roman poets of that time, Vergil is undoubtedly the closest to Homer. I will employ the very words which I took from Domitius Afer as a youth, who told me when I asked him who in his opinion came closest to Homer, ‘Vergil is second to Homer; but he’s much closer to first place than to third.’ And indeed, as we have ceded to that celestial and immortal nature, so perhaps there is more care and diligence in Vergil because he had to work harder than Homer, and although we are overcome by his outstanding passages, perhaps we can compensate for this with the evenness of Vergil’s work. Everyone else follows far behind him.

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Idem nobis per Romanos quoque auctores ordo ducendus est. Itaque ut apud illos Homerus, sic apud nos Vergilius auspicatissimum dederit exordium, omnium eius generis poetarum Graecorum nostrorumque haud dubie proximus. LXXXVI. Vtar enim verbis isdem quae ex Afro Domitio iuvenis excepi, qui mihi interroganti quem Homero crederet maxime accedere “secundus” inquit “est Vergilius, propior tamen primo quam tertio”. Et hercule ut illi naturae caelesti atque inmortali cesserimus, ita curae et diligentiae vel ideo in hoc plus est, quod ei fuit magis laborandum, et quantum eminentibus vincimur, fortasse aequalitate pensamus. Ceteri omnes longe sequentur.

Homer? Hell Yes! But Horace Needs the Old Heave-Ho!

Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria 1.8:

It was most excellently set down that a student’s reading should begin with Homer and Vergil, even though one needs a firmer judgment for understanding the virtues of those poets, for there will be time to develop it, since they will not be read just once. Meanwhile, the mind should rise up with the sublimity of heroic song, and it should raise the spirit with the greatness of the subject matter, and be filled with the finest examples. Tragedies are useful: even lyric poetry can afford some nourishment, if you make a careful selection not just of the authors but also of the parts of the work. For a lot of the Greek lyrics are licentiously written, and I would not really want some of the bawdier parts of Horace explained.

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Ideoque optime institutum est ut ab Homero atque Vergilio lectio inciperet, quamquam ad intellegendas eorum virtutes firmiore iudicio opus est: sed huic rei superest tempus, neque enim semel legentur. Interim et sublimitate heroi carminis animus adsurgat et ex magnitudine rerum spiritum ducat et optimis inbuatur. VI. Vtiles tragoediae: alunt et lyrici, si tamen in iis non auctores modo sed etiam partes operis elegeris: nam et Graeci licenter multa et Horatium nolim in quibusdam interpretari.

Humanizing a Monster (or Monsters Deserve Love Too)

As a high-school Latin teacher, I am tasked with guiding young minds through the world’s finest piece of propaganda literature, Vergil’s Aeneid. We read through substantial portions of the text in preparation for the AP Latin exam, but this reading is largely dictated by a syllabus of readings which do not include the part of the poem which I regard as the most emotionally affecting scene in all of Latin literature. This is the scene in which Aeneas describes his first glimpse of the cyclops Polyphemus:

“Hardly had he spoken, when we saw the pastor Polyphemus moving himself in a great mass among his flocks and seeking the well-known beach – a horrible monster, deformed, huge, whose eye had been taken. A broken pine guided his hand and firmed his step, while his woolly sheep kept him company; that was his one pleasure, the one solace in his suffering.” (Aeneid 3.655-661)

Vix ea fatus erat summo cum monte videmus
ipsum inter pecudes vasta se mole moventem
pastorem Polyphemum et litora nota petentem,
monstrum horrendum, informe, ingens, cui lumen ademptum.
trunca manum pinus regit et vestigia firmat;
lanigerae comitantur oves; ea sola voluptas
solamenque mali.

To be sure, Polyphemus is described as an object of horror, but lines 660-1 (ea sola voluptas solamenque mali) turn Polyphemus into an object of pity rather than revulsion. [Indeed, I think that this is intentional; throughout the poem, Ulysses is portrayed as an unequivocal villain, and Polyphemus can be read as one of his many victims here.] I made sure to include this scene on my class syllabus (though not required for the course), because I think that it is an excellent example of subtle psychological complexity on Vergil’s part. Yet, as I was discussing the scene with my students, it occurred to me that this complexity was not Vergil’s invention it all – Homer had already built this into the character of Polyphemus! In Odyssey Book IX, Odysseus is attempting to escape from Polyphemus’ cave by hiding on the underside of a ram, which is moving slowly in response to the burden. Polyphemus then addresses the ram:

“Oh gentle ram, why do you come from the cave behind the rest of the flock? You never before tarried behind the other skeep, but striding far before the others you snatched the mild blossoms, you came first to the banks of the rivers, and you ever desired first to return home in the evening. But now you are last by far. Are you worried about my eye, which that rotten bastard Noone and his awful friends took from me after wrecking my mind with wine – I do not say that he has escaped death. Would that you could be of one mind with me, and could tell me where that man has fled from my wrath. Once slain, his brain would drip through my cave here and there to the ground, and it would ease my heart from those troubles which that worthless bastard Noone gave me.” (Odyssey 9.446-460)

κριὲ πέπον, τί μοι ὧδε διὰ σπέος ἔσσυο μήλων
ὕστατος; οὔ τι πάρος γε λελειμμένος ἔρχεαι οἰῶν,
ἀλλὰ πολὺ πρῶτος νέμεαι τέρεν᾽ ἄνθεα ποίης
μακρὰ βιβάς, πρῶτος δὲ ῥοὰς ποταμῶν ἀφικάνεις,
πρῶτος δὲ σταθμόνδε λιλαίεαι ἀπονέεσθαι
ἑσπέριος: νῦν αὖτε πανύστατος. ἦ σύ γ᾽ ἄνακτος
ὀφθαλμὸν ποθέεις, τὸν ἀνὴρ κακὸς ἐξαλάωσε
σὺν λυγροῖς ἑτάροισι δαμασσάμενος φρένας οἴνῳ,
Οὖτις, ὃν οὔ πώ φημι πεφυγμένον εἶναι ὄλεθρον.
εἰ δὴ ὁμοφρονέοις ποτιφωνήεις τε γένοιο
εἰπεῖν ὅππῃ κεῖνος ἐμὸν μένος ἠλασκάζει:
τῷ κέ οἱ ἐγκέφαλός γε διὰ σπέος ἄλλυδις ἄλλῃ
θεινομένου ῥαίοιτο πρὸς οὔδεϊ, κὰδ δέ κ᾽ ἐμὸν κῆρ
λωφήσειε κακῶν, τά μοι οὐτιδανὸς πόρεν Οὖτις.

As horrifying as his earlier behavior had been, and as menacing as his threats to repaint his walls with Odysseus’ blood may sound, this speech is nevertheless given in the context of a much more deeply humanizing emotion: Polyphemus’ solicitous concern for his ram. He knows these animals, and evinces a tender regard for their well-being even in the midst of his own suffering. Indeed, this affectionate concern for his ram serves as a stark counterpoint to the actions of Odysseus, who throughout the poem shows no apparent serious regard for his companions. At no point in the poem does Odysseus show any outward emotional attachment to his men, and it is notable that even in his own tale of his sufferings, the loss of his men is primarily framed as something which happened to him. Polyphemus is thus portrayed as being, despite his monstrous qualities, a more compassionate figure than Odysseus.

Yet, putting Odyssean knavery aside, I think that the lines in the Aeneid reflect a very close reading of the Odyssey. Polyphemus tells his ram that murdering Odysseus would alleviate the sufferings in his heart (κὰδ δέ κ᾽ ἐμὸν κῆρ λωφήσειε κακῶν), but once the ram has left the cave, he is deprived of his chance at attaining this relief. Consequently, it is literally true that his flocks are now his only comfort. So, while it may appear that the phrase “that was his one pleasure, his one solace in his suffering” (ea sola voluptas solamenque mali) is included simply to heighten the pathos of the scene and underscore the humanity of even a monster like Polyphemus, it turns out that this brilliant psychological conceit is deeply rooted in a few lines of Homer.