God, Latin, the Cane…

George Orwell: Such, Such Were the Joys

“The child and the adult live in different worlds. If that is so, we cannot be certain that school, at any rate boarding school, is not still for many children as dreadful an experience as it used to be. Take away God, Latin, the cane, class distinctions and sexual taboos, and the fear, the hatred, the snobbery and the misunderstanding might still all be there. It will have been seen that my own main trouble was an utter lack of any sense of proportion or probability. This led me to accept outrages and believe absurdities, and to suffer torments over things which were in fact of no importance. It is not enough to say that I was ‘silly’ and ‘ought to have known better.’ Look back into your own childhood and think of the nonsense you used to believe and the trivialities which could make you suffer. Of course my own case had its individual variations, but essentially it was that of countless other boys. The weakness of the child is that it starts with a blank sheet. It neither understands nor questions the society in which it lives, and because of its credulity other people can work upon it, infecting it with the sense of inferiority and the dread of offending against mysterious, terrible laws. It may be that everything that happened to me at Crossgates could happen in the most ‘enlightened’ school, though perhaps in subtler forms. Of one thing, however, I do feel fairly sure, and that is that boarding schools are worse than day schools. A child has a better chance with the sanctuary of its home near at hand. And I think the characteristic faults of the English upper and middle classes may be partly due to the practice, general until recently, of sending children away from home as young as nine, eight or even seven.”

Image result for george orwell

Textual Scholarship, A Stepping-Stone to Faith

John Henry Newman, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent:

“For let it be observed first, that all knowledge of the Latin classics comes to us from the medieval transcriptions of them, and they who transcribed them had the opportunity of forging or garbling them. We are simply at their mercy; for neither by oral transmission, nor by monumental inscriptions, nor by contemporaneous manuscripts are the works of Virgil, Horace, and Terence, of Livy and Tacitus, brought to our knowledge. The existing copies, whenever made, are to us the autographic originals. Next, it must be considered, that the numerous religious bodies, then existing over the face of Europe, had leisure enough, in the course of a century, to compose, not only all the classics, but all the Fathers too. The question is, whether they had the ability. This is the main point on which the inquiry turns, or at least the most obvious; and it forms one of those arguments, which, from the nature of the case, are felt rather than are convertible into syllogisms. Hardouin allows that the Georgics, Horace’s Satires and Epistles, and the whole of Cicero, are genuine: we have a standard then in these undisputed compositions of the Augustan age. We have a standard also, in the extant medieval works, of what the thirteenth century could do; and we see at once how widely the disputed works differ from the medieval. Now could the thirteenth century simulate Augustan writers better than the Augustan could simulate such writers as those of the thirteenth? No. Perhaps, when the subject is critically examined, the question may be brought to a more simple issue; but as to our personal reasons for receiving as genuine the whole of Virgil, Horace, Livy, Tacitus, and Terence, they are summed up in our conviction that the monks had not the ability to write them. That is, we take for granted that we are sufficiently informed about the capabilities of the human mind, and the conditions of genius, to be quite sure that an age which was fertile in great ideas and in momentous elements of the future, robust in thought, hopeful in its anticipations, of singular intellectual curiosity and acumen, and of high genius in at least one of the fine arts, could not, for the very reason of its pre-eminence in its own line, have an equal pre-eminence in a contrary one. We do not pretend to be able to draw the line between what the medieval intellect could or could not do; but we feel sure that at least it could not write the classics. An instinctive sense of this, and a faith in testimony, are the sufficient, but the undeveloped argument on which to ground our certitude.”

Image result for john henry newman

Caesar’s Sorrow

Thornton Wilder, The Ides of March:

“[Here Caesar continues the letter in his own hand:]

You talk of the past.

I do not let my thoughts dwell on it for long. All of it, all of it, seems of a beauty that I shall not see again. Those presences, how can I think of them? At the memory of one whisper, one pair of eyes, the pen falls from my hand, the interview in which I am engaged turns to stone. Rome and her business become a clerk’s task, arid and tedious, with which I fill my days until death relieves me of it. Am I peculiar in this? I do not know. Can other men weave past joy into their thoughts in the present and their plans for the future? Perhaps only the poets can; they alone use all of themselves in every moment of their work.

I think that such a one has come among us to replace our Lucretius. I am enclosing a sheaf of his verses. I want you to tell me what you think of them. This mastership of the world which you ascribe to me is more worth administering since I have seen these examples of what our Latin tongue can do. I am not enclosing the verses which have reference to myself; this Catullus is as eloquent in hatred as in love.”

Image result for thornton wilder

Clodius The Monster and the Origin of “Cui Bono”

Cicero, Pro Milone 32

“How, then, is it possible to prove that Clodius conspired against Milo? For such an audacious, nefarious monster it is enough to show that he had a great reason, that great hope resided in the death of Milo, and that there was great purpose to it. And so, let that proverb of Cassius “Who profited from it?” [cui bono fuerit] frame the players on the stage, if truly good men are compelled to deception by no prize while the wicked often are moved by a small one.

Once Milo was killed, Clodius advanced in these ways: not only was he as a praeter under no consul who would do something about his crime, but he was also a praeter serving under consuls with whose plans if not their actually help he hoped that he would be able to get away with his planned insanities. These men, as I am sure we were thinking, would not want to restrain his actions if they could, since they would think about the great benefit they owed him; men who, even if they wanted to, would hardly be capable of squashing the boldness of the most criminal person, an audacity fully strengthened by time.”

Quonam igitur pacto probari potest insidias Miloni fecisse Clodium? Satis est in illa quidem tam audaci, tam nefaria belua docere, magnam ei causam, magnam spem in Milonis morte propositam, magnas utilitates fuisse. Itaque illud Cassianum, “cui bono fuerit,” in his personis valeat, etsi boni nullo emolumento impelluntur in fraudem, improbi saepe parvo. Atqui Milone interfecto Clodius haec adsequebatur, non modo ut praetor esset non eo consule, quo sceleris nihil facere posset, sed etiam ut eis consulibus praetor esset, quibus si non adiuvantibus, at coniventibus certe speraret posse se eludere in illis suis cogitatis furoribus: cuius illi conatus, ut ipse ratiocinabatur, nec cuperent reprimere, si possent, cum tantum beneficium ei se debere arbitrarentur, et, si vellent, fortasse vix possent frangere hominis sceleratissimi conroboratam iam vetustate audaciam.

The Cassius in question is L. Cassius Longinus, Tribune of the Plebs in 127 BCE . We have mentioned the polarizing P. Clodius Pulcher before.

Cicero was a fan of this saying.

Cicero, Pro Sexto Roscio Amerino, 84

The famous Lucius Cassius, whom the Roman people used to consider the most truthful and wisest judge, often used to say in evaluating cases “who stood to profit” [cui bono fuisset]. This is the human way: no one pursues a crime without the hope of some profit.”

Cassius ille, quem populus Romanus verissimum et sapientissimum iudicem putabat, identidem in causis quaerere solebat, “cui bono” fuisset. Sic vita hominum est, ut ad maleficium nemo conetur sine spe atque emolumento accedere.

Roman Coin depicting Vestal Virgin on one side and L. Cassius on the other (he famously prosecuted the Vestal Virgins for not being chaste)

 

 

The Effect of the Classics on Young and Old

John Henry Newman, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent:

“Let us consider, too, how differently young and old are affected by the words of some classic author, such as Homer or Horace. Passages, which to a boy are but rhetorical common-places, neither better nor worse than a hundred others which any clever writer might supply, which he gets by heart and thinks very fine, and imitates, as he thinks, successfully, in his own flowing versification, at length come home to him, when long years have passed, and he has had experience of life, and pierce him, as if he had never before known them, with their sad earnestness and vivid exactness. Then he comes to understand how it is that lines, the birth of some chance morning or evening at an Ionian festival, or among the Sabine hills, have lasted generation after generation, for thousands of years, with a power over the mind, and a charm, which the current literature of his own day, with all its obvious advantages, is utterly unable to rival.”

Image result for j.h. newman

Intense Thinking Makes Him a Prometheus

Herman Melville, Moby Dick:

“But as the mind does not exist unless leagued with the soul, therefore it must have been that, in Ahab’s case, yielding up all his thoughts and fancies to his one supreme purpose; that purpose, by its own sheer inveteracy of will, forced itself against gods and devils into a kind of self-assumed, independent being of its own. Nay, could grimly live and burn, while the common vitality to which it was conjoined, fled horror-stricken from the unbidden and unfathered birth. Therefore, the tormented spirit that glared out of bodily eyes, when what seemed Ahab rushed from his room, was for the time but a vacated thing, a formless somnambulistic being, a ray of living light, to be sure, but without an object to colour, and therefore a blankness in itself. God help thee, old man, thy thoughts have created a creature in thee; and he whose intense thinking thus makes him a Prometheus; a vulture feeds upon that heart for ever; that vulture the very creature he creates.”

Theodoor Rombouts, Prometheus

Healthy Contempt for the Intangible

E.M. Forster, The Longest Journey:

“‘What does philosophy do?’ the propper continued. ‘Does it make a man happier in life? Does it make him die more peacefully? I fancy that in the long-run Herbert Spencer will get no further than the rest of us. Ah, Rickie! I wish you could move among the school boys, and see their healthy contempt for all they cannot touch!’ Here he was going too far, and had to add, ‘Their spiritual capacities, of course, are another matter.’ Then he remembered the Greeks, and said, ‘Which proves my original statement.’

Submissive signs, as of one propped, appeared in Rickie’s face. Mr. Pembroke then questioned him about the men who found Plato not difficult. But here he kept silence, patting the school chapel gently, and presently the conversation turned to topics with which they were both more competent to deal.

‘Does Agnes take much interest in the school?’

‘Not as much as she did. It is the result of her engagement. If our naughty soldier had not carried her off, she might have made an ideal schoolmaster’s wife. I often chaff him about it, for he a little despises the intellectual professions. Natural, perfectly natural. How can a man who faces death feel as we do towards mensa or tupto?’

‘Perfectly true. Absolutely true.’

Mr. Pembroke remarked to himself that Frederick was improving.”

Image result for e.m. forster

%d bloggers like this: