Looking For A Good Game for Your Holiday Get-Togethers? Try Plutarch’s Questions

Plutarch’s “Table-talk” stands alongside Athenaeus’ Deipnosophists and Petronius Satyricon as presenting a wide variety of fragments and subjects discussed within a somewhat fragile narrative frame. When compared to the other works, Plutarch’s seems to offer even less of an effort to unite the various topics as “Table-talk”. Over nine books, Plutarch presents 90 topics for discussion by a rotating case of characters (often including himself).

Below I have excerpted all of the questions without any of the answers. For a dinner party or get-together with classical or philosophical themes, or just any gathering you might fear will lack good cheer and exciting conversation, I suggest putting each question on a card and distributing them randomly for hilarity.

[PS: if you do this, take notes or record it and share it with the world]

Plutarch Table Talk, [Moralia]

1.1 [612] “Is it right to practice philosophy while drinking?
Εἰ δεῖ φιλοσοφεῖν παρὰ πότον

1.2 [615] “Should the host assign seats to his guests or should they arrange themselves?”
Πότερον αὐτὸν δεῖ κατακλίνειν τοὺς ἑστιωμένους τὸν ὑποδεχόμενον ἢ ἐπ᾿ αὐτοῖς ἐκείνοις ποιεῖσθαι;

1.3 [619] “Why the position called the ‘consul’s’ gained honor?”
Διὰ τί τῶν τόπων ὁ καλούμενος ὑπατικὸς ἔσχε τιμήν

1.4 [620] “What sort of person should be in charge of drinking?”
Ποῖόν τινα δεῖ τὸν συμποσίαρχον εἶναι;

1.5 [622] “Why do people say that “Love teaches the poet”?
Πῶς εἴρηται τὸ “ποιητὴν δ᾿ ἄρα Ἔρως διδάσκει”;

1.6 [623] “On Alexander the Great’s excessive drinking”
Περὶ τῆς Ἀλεξάνδρου πολυποσίας;

1.7 [625] “On why old men like strong drinks”
Διὰ τί μᾶλλον ἀκράτῳ χαίρουσιν οἱ γέροντες;

1.8 [625] “Why do the elderly have to read words from farther away?”
Διὰ τί τὰ γράμματα πόρρωθεν οἱ πρεσβύτεροι μᾶλλον ἀναγιγνώσκουσιν

1.9 [626] “Why are clothes washed with fresh water instead of salt water?”
Διὰ τί τῷ ποτίμῳ μᾶλλον ἢ τῷ θαλαττίῳ πλύνεται τὰ ἱμάτια

1.10 [628] “Why is any representative of the trivbe of Ajas never judged last in Athens?”
Διὰ τί τῆς Αἰαντίδος φυλῆς Ἀθήνησιν οὐδέποτε τὸν χορὸν ἔκρινον ὕστατον;

2.1 [629] What are the matters about which Xenophon says that people are pleased to be questioned and mocked about while drinking?”
Τίν᾿ ἐστὶν ἃ Ξενοφῶν παρὰ πότον ἥδιον ἐρωτᾶσθαί φησι καὶ σκώπτεσθαι ἢ μή;

2.2 [635] “Why do people get hungrier in the fall?”
Διὰ τί βρωτικώτεροι γίγνονται περὶ τὸ μετόπωρον;

2.3 [635] “Which came first, the hen or the egg?”
Πότερον ἡ ὄρνις πρότερον1 ἢ τὸ ᾠὸν ἐγένετο;

2.4 [638] “Is wrestling really the oldest sport?”
Εἰ πρεσβύτατον ἡ πάλη τῶν ἀγωνισμάτων;

2.5 [639] “Why does Homer always put the boxing first, following by wrestling and ending with racing in the athletic contests?”
Διὰ τί τῶν ἀθλημάτων Ὅμηρος πρῶτον ἀεὶ τάττει τὴν πυγμὴν εἶτα τὴν πάλην καὶ τελευταῖον τὸν δρόμον;

2.6 [640] “Why are pine and firm and similar plants not grafted?”
Διὰ τί πεύκη καὶ πίτυς καὶ τὰ ὅμοια τούτοις οὐκ ἐνοφθαλμίζεται;

2.7 [641] “Concerning the sucking-fish?”
Περὶ τῆς ἐχενηίδος

2.8 [641] “Why people say that horses who are bitten by wolves are temperamental”
Διὰ τί τοὺς λυκοσπάδας ἵππους θυμοειδεῖς εἶναι λέγουσιν

2.9 [642] “Why do sheep which are wolf-bitten have meat which is sweeter but wool which is covered in lice?”
Διὰ τί τὰ λυκόβρωτα τῶν προβάτων τὸ κρέας μὲν γλυκύτερον τὸ δ᾿ ἔριον φθειροποιὸν ἴσχει;

2.10 [642] “Did people in ancient days do better with their individual portions than people of today who dine from a shared plate?”
Πότερον οἱ παλαιοὶ βέλτιον ἐποίουν πρὸς μερίδας ἢ οἱ νῦν ἐκ κοινοῦ δειπνοῦντες;

3.1 [646A] “Should flower-garlands be used at Drinking parties?
Εἰ χρηστέον ἀνθίνοις στεφάνοις παρὰ πότον;

3.2 [648] Is the nature of ivy hot or cold?”
Περὶ τοῦ κιττοῦ πότερον τῇ φύσει θερμὸς ἢ ψυχρός ἐστιν

3.3 [650] “Why women are hardest to get drunk but old men easiest?”
Διὰ τί γυναῖκες ἥκιστα μεθύσκονται τάχιστα δ᾿ οἱ γέροντες

3.4 [650]“Are women colder in their mettle than men or hotter?”
Πότερον ψυχρότεραι τῇ κράσει τῶν ἀνδρῶν ἢ θερμότεραί εἰσιν αἱ γυναῖκες

3.5 [651] “Is wine more cold in is strength?”
Εἰ ψυχρότερος τῇ δυνάμει ὁ οἶνος

3.6 [653] “When is the right time for sex?”
Περὶ καιροῦ συνουσίας

3.7 [655] “Why does sweet wine intoxicate the least?”
Διὰ τί τὸ γλεῦκος ἥκιστα μεθύσκει

3.8 [653] “Why are very drunk less crazy than the merely tipsy?”
Διὰ τί τῶν ἀκροθωράκων λεγομένων οἱ σφόδρα μεθύοντες ἧττον παρακινητικοί εἰσιν;

3.9 [657] “On the proposal to “drink five or three not four”
Περὶ τοῦ “ἢ πέντε πίνειν ἢ τρί᾿ μὴ τέσσαρα”

3.10 “Why does meat rot more under the moon than the sun?”
Διὰ τί τὰ κρέα σήπεται μᾶλλον ὑπὸ τὴν σελήνην ἢ τὸν ἥλιον;

4.1 [660] “Is a variety of food easier to digest than simple fare?”
Εἰ ἡ ποικίλη τροφὴ τῆς ἁπλῆς εὐπεπτοτέρα;

4.2 [664] “Why do truffles seem to be created by thunder and why do people think that lightning never strikes sleeping people?”
Διὰ τί τὰ ὕδνα δοκεῖ τῇ βροντῇ γίνεσθαι, καὶ διὰ τί τοὺς καθεύδοντας οἴονται μὴ κεραυνοῦσθαι;

4.2 [666] “Why do people invite as many as possible to wedding meals?”
Διὰ τί πλείστους ἐν γάμοις ἐπὶ δεῖπνον καλοῦσιν;

4.4 [667] “Is the sea more full of delicacies than the land?”
Εἰ ἡ θάλασσα τῆς γῆς εὐοψοτέρα;

4.5 [669] “Do Jews avoid the meat because they revere or despise pork?”
Πότερον οἱ Ἰουδαῖοι σεβόμενοι τὴν ὗν ἢ δυσχεραίνοντες ἀπέχονται τῶν κρεῶν;

4.6 [671] “Who is the Jews’ god?”
Τίς ὁ παρ᾿ Ἰουδαίοις θεός;

4.7 [672] “Why are days named for the planets arranged in an order different from the planets’ order? And, on the position of the sun?”
Διὰ τί τὰς ὁμωνύμους τοῖς πλάνησιν ἡμέρας οὐ κατὰ τὴν ἐκείνων τάξιν ἀλλ᾿ ἐνηλλαγμένως ἀριθμοῦσιν· ἐν ᾧ καὶ περὶ ἡλίου τάξεως

4.8 “Why do people carry seal rings on the finger next to the middle finger?”
Διὰ τί τῶν δακτύλων μάλιστα τῷ παραμέσῳ σφραγῖδας φοροῦσιν

4.9 “Is it more appropriate to wear images of gods or wise men on seal rings?”
Εἰ δεῖ θεῶν εἰκόνας ἐν ταῖς σφραγῖσιν ἢ σοφῶν ἀνδρῶν φορεῖν

4.10 “Why don’t women eat lettuce hearts?”
Διὰ τί τὸ μέσον τῆς θρίδακος αἱ γυναῖκες οὐ τρώγουσιν

5.1 [673] “Why do we feel pleasure hearing people act like they are angry and sad but displeasure when people are actually feeling these things?”
Διὰ τί τῶν μιμουμένων τοὺς ὀργιζομένους καὶ λυπουμένους ἡδέως ἀκούομεν, αὐτῶν δὲ τῶν ἐν τοῖς πάθεσιν ὄντων ἀηδῶς;

5.2 [674] “Was the poetic competition truly ancient?”
Ὅτι παλαιὸν ἦν ἀγώνισμα τὸ τῆς ποιητικῆς;

5.3 “For what reason was the pine considered sacred to Poseidon and Dionysus?
Τίς αἰτία δι᾿ ἣν ἡ πίτυς ἱερὰ Ποσειδῶνος ἐνομίσθη καὶ Διονύσου;

5.4 [677] “What do we think about the Homeric phrase “mix the wine stronger?”
Περὶ τοῦ “ζωρότερον δὲ κέραιε”;

5.5 [678]“What do we think of those who invite many to dinner?”
Περὶ τῶν πολλοὺς ἐπὶ δεῖπνον καλούντων;

5.6 [679] “What’s the reason there is not enough space for diners at the beginning of a meal but plenty later?”
Τίς αἰτία τῆς ἐν ἀρχῇ στενοχωρίας τῶν δειπνούντων εἶθ᾿ ὕστερον εὐρυχωρίας;

5.7 [680] “What do we think of those who cast a spell and have an evil eye?”
Περὶ τῶν καταβασκαίνειν λεγομένων καὶ βάσκανον ἔχειν ὀφθαλμὸν

5.8 [683] “Why does Homer call an apple tree “splendid in fruit while Empedocles calls apples hyperphloia?”
Διὰ τί τὴν μηλέαν “ἀγλαόκαρπον” ὁ ποιητὴς εἶπεν, Ἐμπεδοκλῆς δ᾿ “ὑπέρφλοια” τὰ μῆλα;

5.9 [684] “What’s the reason that the fig tree produces the sweetest fruit even though it is the most bitter tree?”
Τίς ἡ αἰτία, δι᾿ ἣν ἡ συκῆ δριμύτατον οὖσα δένδρον γλυκύτατον παρέχει τὸν καρπόν

5.10 [684] “Who are ‘salt and bean’ friends and, in connection, why does Homer call salt holy?”
Τίνες οἱ περὶ ἄλα καὶ κύαμον· ἐν ᾧ καὶ διὰ τί τὸν ἅλα “θεῖον” ὁ ποιητὴς εἶπεν;

6.1 [686] “What is the reason those who are fast are thirstier than they are hungry?”
Τίς ἡ αἰτία, δι᾿ ἣν οἱ νηστεύοντες διψῶσι μᾶλλον ἢ πεινῶσιν;

6.2 [687] “Are hunger and thirst caused by something missing or by a transformation of passages?”
Πότερον ἔνδεια ποιεῖ τὸ πεινῆν καὶ διψῆν ἢ πόρων μετασχηματισμός;

6.3 [689] “Why people stop being hungry if they drink but they get thirstier when they eat?”
Διὰ τί πεινῶντες μέν, ἐὰν πίωσι, παύονται, διψῶντες δ᾿, ἐὰν φάγωσιν, ἐπιτείνονται;

6.4 [689] “What is the reason that water which is drawn from awell gets cooler if remains in the air of the well over night?”
Διὰ τίν᾿ αἰτίαν τὸ φρεατιαῖον ὕδωρ ἀρυσθέν, ἐὰν ἐν αὐτῷ τῷ τοῦ φρέατος ἀέρι νυκτερεύσῃ, ψυχρότερον γίνεται

6.5 [690] “What is the reason that pebbles and bits of led thrown into water make it colder?”
Διὰ τίν᾿ αἰτίαν οἱ χάλικες καὶ αἱ μολιβδίδες ἐμβαλλόμεναι ψυχρότερον τὸ ὕδωρ ποιοῦσιν;

6.6 [691] “Why do people preserve snow with a covering of straw and cloths?”
Διὰ τίν᾿ αἰτίαν ἀχύροις καὶ ἱματίοις τὴν χιόνα διαφυλάττουσι;

6.7 [692] “Is it necessary to strain wine or not?”
Εἰ δεῖ τὸν οἶνον ἐνδιηθεῖν;

6.8 [693] “What is the cause of bulimia?”
Τίς αἰτία βουλίμου;

6.9 [694] “Why does Homer use particular epithets for other liquids while he only calls olive oil liquid?”
Διὰ τί ὁ ποιητὴς ἐπὶ μὲν τῶν ἄλλων ὑγρῶν τοῖς ἰδίοις ἐπιθέτοις χρῆται, μόνον δὲ τὸ ἔλαιον ὑγρὸν καλεῖ;

6.10 [696] “what is the reason that sacrificial meat becomes more tender when it is suspended on a fig tree?”
Τίς αἰτία, δι᾿ ἣν ψαθυρὰ γίνεται ταχὺ τὰ ἐκ συκῆς κρεμαννύμενα τῶν ἱερείων;

7.1 [698] “Against those who attack Plato because he says that drink goes through the lungs?”
Πρὸς τοὺς ἐγκαλοῦντας Πλάτωνι τὸ ποτὸν εἰπόντι διὰ τοῦ πλεύμονος ἐξιέναι;

7.2 [700] “Who is the “hornstruck” man according to Plato and why are seeds that fall on the horns of cattle harder?”
Τίς ὁ παρὰ τῷ Πλάτωνι κερασβόλος, καὶ διὰ τί τῶν σπερμάτων ἀτεράμονα γίγνεται τὰ προσπίπτοντα τοῖς κέρασι τῶν βοῶν;

7.3 [701] “What is the reason that the middle of wine is best, while olive oil is better at the top and honey is better near the bottom?”
Διὰ τί τοῦ μὲν οἴνου τὸ μέσον, τοῦ δ᾿ ἐλαίου τὸ ἐπάνω, τοῦ δὲ μέλιτος τὸ κάτω γίνεται βέλτιον;

7.4 [702] “Why did ancient Romans forbid that an empty table be removed or that a lamp be extinguished?”
Διὰ τί τοῖς πάλαι Ῥωμαίοις ἔθος ἦν μήτε τράπεζαν αἰρομένην περιορᾶν κενὴν μήτε λύχνον σβεννύμενον;

7.5 [703] “Is it the case that it is necessary to guard against the pleasures of degenerate music and how one must do it?”
Ὅτι δεῖ μάλιστα τὰς διὰ τῆς κακομουσίας ἡδονὰς φυλάττεσθαι, καὶ πῶς φυλακτέον;

7.6 [706] “A question about so-called “shadows” and if it is right to go to one person’s dinner at the invitation of others and when this is right and what kinds of hosts it is right for.”
Περὶ τῶν λεγομένων σκιῶν, καὶ εἰ δεῖ βαδίζειν καλούμενον πρὸς ἑτέρους ὑφ᾿ ἑτέρων ἐπὶ δεῖπνον, καὶ πότε, καὶ παρὰ τίνας;
7.7 [710] “is the music of flute girls right while drinking?
Εἰ δεῖ παρὰ πότον αὐλητρίσι χρῆσθαι;

7.8 [712] “What is the best entertainment at dinner?”
Τίσι μάλιστα χρηστέον ἀκροάμασι παρὰ δεῖπνον;

7.9 [714] “is it true that taking council on public affairs while drinking is no less Greek than Persian?”
Ὄτι βουλεύεσθαι παρὰ πότον οὐχ ἧττον ἦν Ἑλληνικὸν ἢ Περσικόν

7.10 [714] “Do those who deliberate while drinking do it well?”
Εἰ καλῶς ἐποίουν βουλευόμενοι παρὰ πότον;

8.1 [717] “About the days on which famous people were born and, in addition on births alleged from divine parents”
Περὶ ἡμερῶν ἐν αἷς γεγόνασί τινες τῶν ἐπιφανῶν· ἐν ᾧ καὶ περὶ τῆς λεγομένης ἐκ θεῶν γενέσεως

8.2 [718] “How did Plato mean that god was always doing geometry.”
Πῶς Πλάτων ἔλεγε τὸν θεὸν ἀεὶ γεωμετρεῖν;

8.3 [720] “Why is night more echoic than the day.”
Διὰ τί τῆς ἡμέρας ἠχωδεστέρα ἡ νύξ;

8.4 [724] “What’s the reason that different athletic competitions have different wreaths but all if them have the palm-frond. Also, why do people call large dates Nicolauses”
Διὰ τί τῶν ἱερῶν ἀγώνων ἄλλος ἄλλον ἔχει στέφανον, τὸν δὲ φοίνικα πάντες· ἐν ᾧ καὶ διὰ τί τὰς μεγάλας φοινικοβαλάνους Νικολάους καλοῦσιν;

8.5 [725] “Why do those who sail take water from the Nile before day?”
Διὰ τί πρὸ ἡμέρας ἐκ τοῦ Νείλου οἱ πλέοντες ὑδρεύονται;

8.6 [725] “Concerning people who come late to dinner. In addition, where the term akratisma [“breakfast”] and ariston [“lunch/breakfast”] and deipnon [“dinner”]
Περὶ τῶν ὀψὲ παραγινομένων ἐπὶ τὸ δεῖπνον· ἐν ᾧ καὶ πόθεν ἀκράτισμα καὶ ἄριστον καὶ δεῖπον ὠνομάσθη;

8.7 [727] “Concerning the Pythagorean injunction against inviting a swallow into the home and not to shake out the bedclothes right after rising.”
Περὶ συμβόλων Πυθαγορικῶν, ἐν οἷς παρεκελεύοντο χελιδόνα οἰκίᾳ. μὴ δέχεσθαι καὶ τὰ στρώματα συνταράττειν εὐθὺς ἀναστάντας

8.8 [728] “What’s the reason that Pythagoreans resist eating fish more than any other creature.”
Διὰ τί μάλιστα οἱ Πυθαγορικοὶ ἐμψύχων τοὺς ἰχθῦς παρῃτοῦντο;

8.9 [731] “Is it possible for new diseases to develop and what are their causes?”
Εἰ δυνατόν ἐστι συστῆναι νοσήματα καινὰ καὶ δι᾿ ἃς αἰτίας;

8.10 [734] “Why do we believe our dreams least in the autumn?”
Διὰ τί τοῖς φθινοπωρινοῖς ἐνυπνίοις ἥκιστα πιστεύομεν;

9.1 [736] “On timely and untimely quotations”
Περὶ στίχων εὐκαίρως ἀναπεφωνημένων καὶ ἀκαίρως;

9.2 [737] “Why is it that alpha is the first letter in the alphabet?”
Τίς αἰτία, δι᾿ ἣν τὸ ἄλφα προτέτακται τῶν στοιχείων;

9.3 [738] “What is the numerical relationship between vowels and semi-vowels?”
Κατὰ ποίαν ἀναλογίαν ὁ τῶν φωνηέντων καὶ ἡμιφώνων ἀριθμὸς συντέτακται;

9.4 [739] “Which of Aphrodite’s hands did Diomedes wound?”
Ποτέραν χεῖρα τῆς Ἀφροδίτης ἔτρωσεν ὁ Διομήδης;

9.5 “Why did Plato claim that Ajax’s soul was the twentieth to come to the drawing of lots?”
Διὰ τί Πλάτων εἰκοστὴν ἔφη τὴν Αἴαντος ψυχὴν ἐπὶ τὸν κλῆρον ἐκθεῖν;

9.6 [740] “What secret meaning does the tale of Poseidon’s defeat have? Also, why did the Athenians skip the second day of the month of Boedromion?”
Τί αἰνίττεται ὁ περὶ τῆς ἥττης τοῦ Ποσειδῶνος μῦθος; ἐν ᾧ καὶ διὰ τί τὴν δευτέραν Ἀθηναῖοι τοῦ Βοηδρομιῶνος ἐξαιροῦσιν;

9.7 [741] “What’s the cause for the division of melodies into a triad?”
Τίς αἰτία τῆς εἰς τριάδα διαιρέσεως τῶν μελῶν;

9.8 [741] “What difference is there between consonant and melodic intervals?”
Τίνι διαφέρει τὰ ἐμμελῆ διαστήματα τῶν συμφώνων;

9.9 [741] “What causes consonance? Also, why, when consonant notes are sounded, does the melody follow the one with lower pitch?”
Τίς αἰτία συμφωνήσεως; ἐν ᾧ καὶ διὰ τί, τῶν συμφώνων ὁμοῦκρουομένων, τοῦ βαρυτέρου γίνεται τὸ μέλος;

9.10 “What’s the reason that, when the sun and moon have equal ecliptic periods, the moon seems to enter into eclipse more often than the sun?”
Διὰ τί, τῶν ἐκλειπτικῶν περιόδων ἡλίου καὶ σελήνης ἰσαρίθμων οὐσῶν,3 ἡ σελήνη φαίνεται πλεονάκις ἐκλείπουσα τοῦ ἡλίου;

I swear, this idea could make me a million dollars.

Hurt Me Too Deep: Millennia of ‘Marriage Story’

“What is love? Baby don’t hurt me…”

– Haddaway

Watching Marriage Story, I could not help but be reminded of that other, similarly-titled film with a narrow focus on the evolution of a relationship, Love Story. While the ending of Marriage Story is, in the strictest sense of the term, more tragic, I found myself far more devastated by the ending of Love Story, if for no reason than the fact that the inexorable workings of fate can still produce outcomes which are far more heartbreaking than the ways in which humans casually but steadily ruin their own lives.

A part of the dramatic backdrop for the relationship between Charlie and Nicole is their joint development of a modern adaptation of Electra, which is slated to move to Broadway as the couple begin their separation, with Nicole moving out to L.A. to resume her pursuit of a screen acting career. Electra serves as a potent precursor to the dramatic fallout between Charlie and Nicole, given that Electra (along with her brother Orestes) avenge their father Agamemnon’s murder at the hands of their mother, Clytemnestra. There, too, a once (apparently?) happy couple had been driven apart by distance and bad decisions on the part of a husband. While Nicole claims throughout the movie that Charlie had neglected her emotionally because he was too absorbed in his own work to take note of anyone else’s needs, so too one might see Agamemnon’s violent sacrifice of his daughter Iphigenia as the summit of professional self-absorption.

For a movie entirely separate from the horror genre, Marriage Story features two separate Halloweens – one near the middle of the film, and the other in the last scene. When we first see Nicole on the set of her new TV pilot, she is trying on different masks. The film is pressing us hard to see our individual characters as just that – masks or personae, mutable projections of who we are to an external audience whose love and adoration we seek. When, in the middle of the film, Henry opts to go as a ninja for Halloween rather than the Frankenstein costume which was custom made for him back in New York, he is not only asserting his nascent sense of autonomy in a new setting, but he is rejecting the persona which his father (a respected director) is offering him, one which would have him represented as the intentional creation of a mad genius.

We are inclined to think that love is a deeply genuine and authentic experience of penetrating behind the veil of fabricated social personae. America’s leading philosopher of relationships, Chris Rock, once said that marriage involved learning to love “the crust of that person.” One night stands and casual dating are dismissed as superficial lust or mere attraction, while the noun love is freighted with hefty emotional and spiritual baggage.

“Now I know what love is.”

nunc scio quid sit Amor

Vergil, Eclogues 8.43

It is, perhaps, for this reason that a contemporary reader of Roman love elegy finds it so perplexing. As a genre, elegy was built around a set of conventional tropes and expressions, many of which involved the most passionate effusions of romantic sentiment and devotion. And yet, the mistress of the Roman love elegist was either a fiction, or (if a real person), a persona or stylized version of that person placed in genre-appropriate situations and scenes. While the love poems of Catullus can on occasion appear to be sincere enough, he is not really an elegist. By the time that Ovid and Propertius are on the scene, we get the sense that they are keen enough on love, but perhaps even more keen on writing about it in novel ways. This requires not only that they fashion mistresses and fictional backdrops for their poems, but also that they contrive expressions of their own personae as lovers. Consider Propertius 1.8B as a parallel to a situation in Marriage Story. After she leaves for L.A., Charlie is eager for Nicole to return to New York, and a central point of their potential redemption as a couple in his mind is her return to this geographical center:

“Here she will be! Here she remains! Fuck the haters! We have won – she did not withstand our constant prayers.”

Hic erit! hic iurata manet! rumpantur iniqui!

    vicimus: assiduas non tulit illa preces.

Despite Charlie’s initial hope that their romance can be renewed, and later his hope that he can at least give his son Henry a New York life, the geographical decentering of his life in New York into a far-flung and sprawling L.A. existence serves as a metaphor for the gradual dissolution of his family’s bonds.

2020 golden globe nominations

While much of the love talk from poetic personae among the Roman poets may seem to us somewhat disingenuous (playing upon such grave emotion for artistic effect), Marriage Story presents us with a romance shot through the filter of hyperrealism. The film’s most believable and affecting scene begins as an attempt at reconciliation between Charlie and Nicole, who have realized that the lawyers involved in the process of divorce have complicated matters substantially. A series of small misunderstandings and frustrations lead this conversation into their most heated argument in the whole movie:

Nicole: You’re so merged with your own selfishness, you don’t even identify it as selfishness anymore! You’re such a dick!

Charlie: Every day I wake up and I hope you’re dead! Dead, like if I could guarantee Henry would be okay, I’d hope you’d get an illness, and then get hit by a car and die! Oh, God! I’m sorry.

Nicole: Me too.

One of the hardest parts of watching Marriage Story is trying to convince yourself that Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver were ever a happy couple. But if you can suspend this initial disbelief, the movie is so captivating because it is so real, and this particular argument was one of the most believable lovers’ quarrels on film, because it ended not with violence or with one party storming away, but with an utterly pathetic Charlie on his knees, apologizing for the winged words which just escaped the bulwark of his teeth. Love, like death, wounds us so deeply because we cannot really understand it.

For the film starring Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson, Jade  Healy used the couple's apartments to signify their breakup.

Old Sinatra sings,

Love and marriage, love and marriage

They go together like a horse and carriage

This I’ll tell you brother

You can’t have one without the other

We know, of course, that this is the kind of facile codswollop that people love in popular music, but it is manifestly untrue to experience, unless one takes the metaphor to suggest that love (the horse) is yoked to the institution of marriage (the carriage) until it has been so thoroughly worn out by dragging it that it collapses and dies. To be sure, I know some people whose marriages still seem imbued with a spirit of love and romance, but I know just as many who have settled into a kind of loveless cohabitation with the other parent of their child. (A friend of mine once said bluntly, “We definitely don’t love each other anymore – he’s kind of a jerk – but we’re like roommates with kids, and divorce is expensive.” Indeed, though the internet has managed to distort the narrative into some kind of Charlie vs. Nicole prize fight, it seems clear that the only villain in the story is the teeming mass of swamp monsters that make up the legal profession.)

Love is something which simply happens to you, but marriage is a project which must be made to work. English novels in the 19th century were wholly absorbed with the theme of marriage, yet somehow managed never to get around the central paradox of the marriage plot: all of the older married couples were insufferably meddling and obviously miserable, yet the highest happiness is held out to the young prospective couple if only they can get married. Why do we never see the central young couple of the 19th century grow to hate each other? Because the novel always ends when they get married! George Eliot reversed this trope in Middlemarch, with a conscious intention to write a story which begins, rather than ends, with the heroine’s marriage. This marriage, which begins as a wholly loveless but idealistic (for Dorothea) and practical (for Casaubon) business produces nothing but misery for the young Dorothea. But, as Aeschylus says, learning from suffering and all that, eh? Dorothea comes into her own as an unhappy bride, and then later as a widow. Only at the end of the book does she manage to fuse the concepts of love and marriage when she is betrothed to Will Ladislaw. (Of course, we never know how that goes in the end.) Moreover, despite its ostensible simplicity, Marriage Story is a rather complicated title, because the movie is not about marriage so much as divorce, i.e. the end of a marriage. Whereas most marriage-driven narratives work us toward the point of marriage as a goal of life, Marriage Story explores lives which have moved beyond marriage as something left behind.

Love is one of the oldest and most well-trodden paths in our literature, but no amount of analysis will ever resolve its mysteries. Marriage Story takes up in medias res, and presents us with a muddling mess of a life shared between two people who still love each other in some way. So much of our narrative focuses on the inception of love that Marriage Story can hold our attention almost by default, as something of a novelty – how often do you see such a genuine and honest movie about divorce? There is no real resolution in the end – just a final shot of a former couple who have begun to adjust to a different kind of relationship. Charlie and Nicole may not be Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, but they join the ranks of countless couples before them, whose lives outstripped their loves.

Murder of Agamemnon, Pierre-Narcisse Guérin

“Was never true love loved in vain,
For truest love is highest gain.
No art can make it: it must spring
Where elements are fostering.
So in heaven’s spot and hour
Springs the little native flower,
Downward root and upward eye,
Shapen by the earth and sky.”

-George Eliot, Middlemarch

Obscenity & Bungled Neuter Nouns

Unfortunately, Lawrence’s stylistic preference for dramatic repetitions of the Latin phrases which he employs here simply remove any doubt that it was a mere slip of the pen:

D.H. Lawrence, Pornography and Obscenity:

The same with the word obscene: nobody knows what it means. Suppose it were derived from obscena: that which might not be represented on the stage,—how much further are you? None! What is obscene to Tom is not obscene to Lucy or Joe, and really, the meaning of a word has to wait for majorities to decide it. If a play shocks ten people in an audience, and doesn’t shock the remaining five hundred, then it is obscene to ten and innocuous to five hundred: hence,the play is not obscene, by majority. But Hamlet shocked all the Cromwellian Puritans, and shocks nobody today, and some Aristophanes shocks everybody today, and didn’t galvanise the later Greeks at all, apparently. Man is a changeable beast, and words change their meanings with him, and things are not what they seemed, and what’s what becomes what isn’t,and if we think we know where we are it’s only because we are so rapidly being translated to somewhere else. We have to leave everything to the majority,everything to the majority, everything to the mob, the mob, the mob. They know what is obscene and what isn’t, they do. If the lower ten million doesn’t know better than the upper ten men, then there’s something wrong with mathematics. Take a vote on it! Show hands, and prove it by count! Vox populi, vox Dei. Odi profanum vulgum. Profanum vulgum! profanum vulgum. [sic – Read ‘vulgus’.]

So it comes down to this: if you are talking to the mob, the meaning of your words is the mob-meaning, decided by majority. As somebody wrote to me: the American law on obscenity is very plain, and America is going to enforce the law.—Quite, my dear, quite, quite, quite! The mob knows all about obscenity. Mild little words that rhyme with spit or farce are the height of obscenity. Supposing a printer put “h” in the place of “p”, by mistake, in that mere word spit? Then the great American public knows that this man has committed an obscenity, an indecency,that his act was lewd, and as a compositor he was pornographical. You can’t tamper with the great public, British or American. Vox populi, vox Dei, don’t you know. If you don’t we’ll let you know it.—At the same time,this vox Dei shouts with praise over movie-pictures and books and newspaper accounts that seem, to a sinful nature like mine, completely disgusting and obscene. Like a real prude and Puritan, I have to look the other way. When obscenity becomes mawkish, which is its palatable form for the public, and when the Vox populi, vox Dei is hoarse with sentimental indecency, then I have to steer away,like a Pharisee, afraid of being contaminated. There is a certain kind of sticky universal pitch that I refuse to touch.

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Excellence in Historiography

Joseph Addison, The Spectator (No.420):

“As the Writers in Poetry and Fiction borrow their several Materials from outward Objects, and join them together at their own Pleasure, there are others who are obliged to follow Nature more closely, and to take entire Scenes out of her. Such are Historians, natural Philosophers, Travellers, Geographers, and in a Word, all who describe visible Objects of a real Existence.

It is the most agreeable Talent of an Historian, to be able to draw up his Armies and fight his Battels in proper Expressions, to set before our Eyes the Divisions, Cabals, and Jealousies of great Men, and to lead us Step by Step into the several Actions and Events of his History. We love to see the Subject unfolding it self by just Degrees, and breaking upon us insensibly, that so we may be kept in a pleasing Suspense, and have time given us to raise our Expectations, and to side with one of the Parties concerned in the Relation. I confess this shews more the Art than the Veracity of the Historian, but I am only to speak of him as he is qualified to please the Imagination. And in this respect Livy has, perhaps, excelled all who went before him, or have written since his Time. He describes every thing in so lively a Manner, that his whole History is an admirable Picture, and touches on such proper Circumstances in every Story, that his Reader becomes a kind of Spectator, and feels in himself all the Variety of Passions which are correspondent to the several Parts of the Relation.”

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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


Kidnapping and Theft

Antiphanes, fr. 75 (=Athenaeus 490a)

“But I will tell you clearly:
If you know anything about the kidnapping of my child,
You need to tell me quickly before you’re hanged.”

ἀλλ᾿ ἐγὼ σαφῶς φράσω·
τῆς ἁρπαγῆς τοῦ παιδὸς εἰ ξύνοισθά τι,
ταχέως λέγειν χρὴ πρὶν κρέμασθαι.

Philo, On the Special Laws 339

“The penalty for kidnapping and enslaving those from another country should be whatever the court will charge, but for those who kidnap and enslave their own people the penalty should be death without any appeal. For these people are your relatives, neighbors not far off from blood at a greater distance”

δίκη δ᾿ ἔστω κατὰ μὲν τῶν ἑτεροεθνεῖς ἀνδραποδισαμένων, ἣν ἂν τιμήσηται τὸ δικαστήριον, κατὰ δὲ τῶν τοὺς ὁμοφύλους πρὸς τῷ ἀνδραποδίσασθαι καὶ πεπρακότων θάνατος ἀπαραίτητος· ἤδη γὰρ οὗτοί γε συγγενεῖς εἰσιν οὐ πόρρω τῶν ἀφ᾿ αἵματος κατὰ μείζονα περιγραφὴν γειτνιῶντες.

Euripides, Children of Herakles 813–817

“This man who does not respect the people who listen to his words
Nor feel shame at his own cowardice when he’s a general,
Does not dare to come near a brave spear
But he’s the worst. Does a man like this
Come here to enslave the children of Herakles?”

ὁ δ᾿ οὔτε τοὺς κλύοντας αἰδεσθεὶς λόγων
οὔτ᾿ αὐτὸς αὑτοῦ δειλίαν στρατηγὸς ὢν
ἐλθεῖν ἐτόλμησ᾿ ἐγγὺς ἀλκίμου δορός,
ἀλλ᾿ ἦν κάκιστος· εἶτα τοιοῦτος γεγὼς
τοὺς Ἡρακλείους ἦλθε δουλώσων γόνους;

A new report shows the Trump administration was prepared to separate 26,000 children from their parents, despite knowing it couldn’t keep track of them.”

From Woodhouse Greek-English Dictionary

Controversial Topics for the Thanksgiving Table: HOMER VS. VERGIL

John Dryden, Fables, Ancient and Modern (Preface):

I resume the thrid of my discourse with the first of my translations, which was the First Iliad of Homer. If it shall please God to give me longer life, and moderate health, my intentions are to translate the whole Ilias; provided still that I meet with those encouragements from the public which may enable me to proceed in my undertaking with some cheerfulness. and this I dare assure the world before-hand, that I have found by trial Homer a more pleasing task than Virgil, (tho’ I say not the translation will be less laborious). For the Grecian is more according to my genius than the Latin poet. In the works of the two authors we may read their manners and natural inclinations, which are wholly different. Virgil was of a quiet, sedate temper; Homer was violent, impetuous, and full of fire. The chief talent of Virgil was propriety of thoughts, and ornament of words; Homer was rapid in his thoughts, and took all the liberties, both of numbers and of expressions, which his language, and the age in which he liv’d, allow’d him. Homer’s invention was more copious, Virgil’s more confin’d; so that if Homer had not led the way, it was not in Virgil to have begun heroic poetry; for nothing can be more evident than that the Roman poem is but the second part of the Ilias; a continuation of the same story, and the persons already form’d; the manners of Æneas are those of Hector superadded to those which Homer gave him. The adventures of Ulysses in the Odysseis are imitated in the first six books of Virgil’s Æneis; and tho’ the accidents are not the same, (which would have argued him of a servile, copying, and total barrenness of invention,) yet the seas were the same, in which both the heroes wander’d; and Dido cannot be denied to be the poetical daughter of Calypso. T

he six latter books of Virgil’s poem are the four and twenty Iliads contracted: a quarrel occasion’d by a lady, a single combat, battles fought, and a town besieg’d. I say not this in derogation to Virgil, neither do I contradict anything which I have formerly said in his just praise: for his episodes are almost wholly of his own invention; and the form which he has given to the telling makes the tale his own, even tho’ the original story had been the same. But this proves, however, that Homer taught Virgil to design; and if invention be the first virtue of an epic poet, then the Latin poem can only be allow’d the second place. Mr. Hobbes, in the preface to his own bald translation of the Ilias (studying poetry as he did mathematics, when it was too late)—Mr. Hobbes, I say, begins the praise of Homer where he should have ended it. He tells us that the first beauty of an epic poem consists in diction, that is, in the choice of words, and harmony of numbers: now the words are the coloring of the work, which in the order of nature is last to be consider’d. The design, the disposition, the manners, and the thoughts, are all before it: where any of those are wanting or imperfect, so much wants or is imperfect in the imitation of human life; which is in the very definition of a poem.

Words, indeed, like glaring colors, are the first beauties that arise and strike the sight: but if the draught be false or lame, the figures ill dispos’d, the manners obscure or inconsistent, or the thoughts unnatural, then the finest colors are but daubing, and the piece is a beautiful monster at the best. Neither Virgil nor Homer were deficient in any of the former beauties; but in this last, which is expression, the Roman poet is at least equal to the Grecian, as I have said elsewhere; supplying the poverty of his language by his musical ear, and by his diligence.

But to return: our two great poets, being so different in their tempers, one choleric and sanguine, the other phlegmatic and melancholic; that which makes them excel in their several ways is that each of them has follow’d his own natural inclination, as well in forming the design as in the execution of it. The very heroes shew their authors: Achilles is hot, impatient, revengeful, Impiger, iracundus, inexorabilis, acer,&c.; Æneas patient, considerate, careful of his people, and merciful to his enemies; ever submissive to the will of Heaven—Quo fata trahunt retrahuntque sequamur. I could please myself with enlarging on this subject, but am forc’d to defer it to a fitter time.

From all I have said I will only draw this inference, that the action of Homer being more full of vigor than that of Virgil, according to the temper of the writer, is of consequence more pleasing to the reader. One warms you by degrees: the other sets you on fire all at once, and never intermits his heat. ’Tis the same difference which Longinus makes betwixt the effects of eloquence in Demosthenes and Tully. One persuades; the other commands. You never cool while you read Homer, even not in the second book (a graceful flattery to his countrymen); but he hastens from the ships, and concludes not that book till he has made you an amends by the violent playing of a new machine. From thence he hurries on his action with variety of events, and ends it in less compass than two months. This vehemence of his, I confess, is more suitable to my temper; and therefore I have translated his first book with greater pleasure than any part of Virgil; but it was not a pleasure without pains. The continual agitations of the spirits must needs be a weak’ning of any constitution, especially in age; and many pauses are requir’d for refreshment betwixt the heats; the Iliad of itself being a third part longer than all Virgil’s works together.

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