Italian Hours, Italian Days

It often comes as some surprise to those who learn how much time I have spent studying Latin literature that I have never been to Italy. I can provide no reason for this which would not sound either wistfully romanticized or pathetic, but I leave for Rome tomorrow, and will never again have to content myself with the idle conjuring of my imagination. Earlier this week, I happened (and it was purely fortuitous) on a copy of Henry James’ Italian Hours, a collection of essays from his time spent touring Italy. They are all suitably romantic and backward-looking in tone for one of my ruefully anachronistic temperament, and the luxuriant pace of James’ prose serves to put one in the perfect state simply to experience. 

Venice [1882]:

From the moment, of course, that you go into any Italian church for any purpose but to say your prayers or look at the ladies, you rank yourself among the trooping barbarians I just spoke of; you treat the place as an orifice in the peep-show. Still, it is almost a spiritual function–or, at the worst, an amorous one–to feed one’s eyes on the molten colour that drops from the hollow vaults and thickens the air with its richness. It is all so quiet and sad and faded and yet all so brilliant and living.

It is poor work, however, talking about the colour of things in Venice. The fond spectator is perpetually looking at it from his window, when he is not floating about with that delightful sense of being for the moment a part of it, which any gentleman in a gondola is free to entertain. Venetian windows and balconies are a dreadful lure, and while you rest your elbows on these cushioned ledges the precious hours fly away. But in truth Venice isn’t in fair weather a place for concentration of mind. The effort required for sitting down to a writing-table is heroic, and the brightest page of MS. looks dull beside the brilliancy of your milieu. All nature beckons you forth and murmurs to you sophistically that such hours should be devoted to collecting impressions. Afterwards, in ugly places, at unprivileged times, you can convert your impressions into prose.

But it is hard, as I say, to express all this, and it is painful as well to attempt it–painful because in the memory of vanished hours so filled with beauty the consciousness of present loss oppresses. Exquisite hours, enveloped in light and silence, to have known them once is to have always a terrible standard of enjoyment. Certain lovely mornings of May and June come back with an ineffaceable fairness. Venice isn’t smothered in flowers at this season, in the manner of Florence and Rome; but the sea and sky themselves seem to blossom and rustle.

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The Revival of Greek in Italy

Paolo Giovio, 

Elogia Doctorum Virorum: Chrysoloras

“Emanuel Chrysoloras, who first brought Greek literature back to Italy seven hundred years after it had been driven out by various barbarian invasions, was endowed with such humanity of liberal intellect in his teaching, that his famous image seems worthy of being placed first among the images of Greeks of exceptional merit, although no monuments of his weighty learning remain except some rules on the art of grammar. He was an indefatigable teacher, but he is open to the charge of having been lazy in writing, since the other part of the glory which we have chosen was sought by his useful profession.

He was sent from Byzantium by the emperor John to seek aid for Greece, which was on the verge of collapse, by pleading with all of the kings of Europe. He completed this task with such diligent traveling that he finally stopped in Italy when Greece was liberated from fear, since Tamerlane – the terror of the East – had captured alive near Mount Stella the Ottoman sultan Bayezid I (who had received the epithet of “Lightning” from the incredible swiftness of his movements). And so Chrysoloras, delighted that Greece had been freed from such an awful enemy, first in Venice, then in Florence, Rome, and finally in Pavia, which was under the rule of Giangaleazzo Visconti, managed to excite such a zeal for Greek literature that there sprang from his school minds worthy of the highest honor which on that account will never perish. Among these were Leonardo Bruni, Francesco Barbaro, Francesco Filelfo, Guarino Veronese, and Poggio Bracciolini. Later, when the synod which was called for resolving the controversy surrounding the pseudo-pontificate roused with desire to see such a spectacle, when Baldassare Cossa was deposed. Chrysoloras died in Constance. Poggio Bracciolini decorated his tomb with these lines:

‘Here lies Manuel Chrysoloras, the ornament of the Attic tongue, who came here to seek help for his afflicted country. Italy, this was a fortunate event for you, for he restored to you the grace of the Greek language, so long hidden. This was a fortunate event for you, Emanuel, for you found on Italian soil the honor which Greece never gave you – Greece, ruined in war.'”


The World’s Saddest Book: A Review

No book, ancient or modern, serves as an apt comparison to Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy, a literary monster which not only defies summary or explanation, but is also nearly impossible to read in a traditional sense. There are two viable methods for approaching Burton’s work: one (and this is perhaps the sane and sensible method) involves simply flipping it open from time to time and perusing it for anything of interest. You may open to a random page; you may consult the index; you may find your way into this literary labyrinth anyway you like, knowing that you may extract yourself any time at your leisure. The other method – sure to induce melancholy, if you were not already in its grip – is to make the heroic effort to plough through the book from cover to cover. I have tried both methods over the years, yet I found myself wholly unable to make substantial headway on it. This literary mass, this rudis indigestaque moles has been beckoning me for years, and so – being a wholly unreasonable person – I committed to setting myself about the plough, and for the past ten days have devoted all of my reading time to Burton. In one sense, I have spent a week and a half reading one book; in another, I have spent a week and a half reading everything that Burton ever read, at least in summary format. Burton himself freely acknowledges that his work is likely to cause a certain amount of cognitive and spiritual strain: “After a harsh and unpleasing discourse of melancholy, which hath hitherto molested your patience, and tired the author…” []

The Anatomy of Melancholy is a reader’s book, a writer’s book, a scholar’s book. Though I suspect that the material contained between its rather distantly-spaced covers is sufficiently broad that any reader would, perusing it long enough, find something which addressed their interests, it nevertheless remains true that the true bookworm – the helluo librorum – is the reader most likely to appreciate Burton’s approach. Burton is, through and through, a reader. There are moments at which his prose is worked up rather nicely (in particular in the lengthy prefatory section Democritus to the Reader), but substantial chunks of the book are little more than quotations or (what is still more frustrating now that many of Burton’s sources are not only out of print but perhaps even lost entirely) bare citations of works in rapid succession. These do not make for the most enlivening reading, especially if the book has begun to tax your mental stamina. Samuel Johnson famously claimed of The Anatomy of Melancholy that it was the only book which compelled him to wake up two hours early every morning to read it. Given Johnson’s own confession to reading books in an unsystematic and discursive way, in conjunction with his advice against reading a book for which you do not feel an immediate inclination, I suspect that Johnson went in for the purple passages more than anything.

On the topic of Johnson, it appears that the expression given to his aversion to nautical travel in Boswell’s Life may owe something to his reading of Burton. In The Anatomy of Melancholy, we read, “What is a ship but a prison?” [Part] Johnson, according to Boswell, claimed, “No man will be a sailor who has contrivance enough to get himself into a jail; for being in a ship is being in a jail, with the chance of being drowned.” To be sure, the parallel may be purely coincidental, but approaching Burton after having read through Boswell’s Life three times, I felt in some ill-defined way a continuity from Burton’s thought to Johnson’s.

Johnson’s primary criticism of the book, that “It is, perhaps, overloaded with quotation,” hits on exactly that part of the work which is most likely to trouble modern readers, while simultaneously being one of the work’s primary charms. Johnson’s assertion that “there is great spirit and great power in what Burton says, when he writes from his own mind,” seems true enough, but Burton’s original writing constitutes only a small portion of the total unwieldy mass of the book.

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And here it is that it becomes clear that the book’s primary appeal will be to other bookish types: there is something undeniably fascinating about the amount which Burton read, digested, and organized. He seems less a man than a machine. The book is divided into three overarching partitions, each of which is meticulously divided into sections, membra, subsections, and so on. This is all organized in that hyper systematized mode which was very much the fashi in the 17th century. The quotations are not simply a disordered mass; each of them is specifically and intentionally marshalled to illustrate some particular point. Burton has translated many of the Greek quotations into Latin, and has occasionally either modified the Latin quotations or slipped when citing them from memory.

No one could doubt the man’s Classical attainments, yet it is his general approach toward Classical quotation which fascinated me. Burton was the true polymath, and gathered together ancient, Medieval, and contemporary sources without explicitly or consciously discriminating between them. Burton’s polymathy cuts across time and disciplines, and the panoptic view of all subjects within The Anatomy reminds us just how silly the rigorous demarcation of intellectual disciplines can be. Burton had an admirable command of Classical literature which would shame many a Classicist today. One could use his book as a “crammer” for many of the most famous and well-loved of Classical references and quotations, and if it were not so hard, it could serve as a Classical education in miniature. But The Anatomy shares something in common with another monstrous work of English prose: Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. When reading Gibbon, one must already be thoroughly steeped in ancient and medieval history and geography to fully appreciate much of the narrative. Similarly, much of The Anatomy is best appreciated if you have at least some grounding in Latin, and the Classical quotations are perhaps best appreciated when you recognize them, even if you find that you are no longer able to place them immediately.

Burton’s book is not simply a storehouse of quotation, but when asked what I was reading, I found that I had considerable difficulty describing the book, as it defies any attempt at non-pretentious summary. “You see, it is a book about everything and nothing…” Perhaps the simplest way to describe it is as a loose collection of about five or six thoughts on various topics, which are qualified by 1,200 pages of footnotes. Or perhaps it makes more sense to say that The Anatomy is a highly-systematized commonplace book, in which Burton occasionally adds commentary in his own voice. It contains little of what could be deemed original thought, yet it is very much sui generis and feels far more creative than it should.

The Anatomy is also Burton’s autobiography. He is the archetypal umbraticus doctor [cloistered pedant], who has lived his life ass to chair, elbows to desk, eyes to codex. He freely admits to having done nothing beyond study. Indeed, though he expatiates at some length on the topic of love, and adopts a rather polemical tone toward travel writers (claiming that he would set all of their geography straight if he had undertaken their voyages), he freely admits that he has never sampled from the gardens of Venus or ventured far beyond the library. Despite that apparent limitation, he bestrides the world of learning like a colossus, and seems to have become a man of the world without experience.

Burton does not always quote uncritically, and on occasion shows touches of a more progressive, humanistic understanding. In the early pages of his third partition, dealing with melancholy brought on by love, we read page after page of distilled misogyny from ancient to contemporary sources, focusing chiefly with what are perceived to be the manifest dangers and deformities of women. Yet, after collecting all of this together, Burton asks the reader not to impute misogyny to him – he claims that he is a mere compiler, and invites the reader to substitute “him” for “her” in all of his quoted passages, arguing that they would all be equally true with pronouns replaced, as reminders of how degraded all of humanity really is. But Burton certainly lapses into the prejudices of his time and place in the final portion of his book, in which he cites a heap of anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic, and anti-Muslim sources in his discussion of Religious Melancholy. The third partition is in many ways the least enjoyable, in part because it gives us a more reactionary, more ossified, more myopic and narrowly prejudicial Burton than the humorous cynic whom we encounter in the first. Our scholar is on far firmer footing when discussing such subjects as The Miseries of Scholars than when wading into the pangs of despised love, and in general his commentary on books reads far better than his commentary on life itself.

Ultimately, it is hard to determine how to approach and read The Anatomy. At times, the entire project seems like a ridiculous satire of itself, a monument to the absurdity not only of bookish learning, but of the whole of life. Burton wrote the book to work through his own melancholy, and yet, after well over 1,000 pages of modern text, no real progress seems to have been made toward understanding or treating it, even in a strictly theoretical way. It is as though Burton, in the character of Democritus Junior, winks at us from the pages and says, “Behold, dear reader, how I have wasted my life. Read this book, and know that yours has been wasted too.”

The Anatomy of Melancholy is torture to read from cover to cover, but it is exquisite torture, not without its gratifications. I confess that I feel that it took something from me to finish it all. Yet, having finished a cover-to-cover reading, I look forward to enjoying it for the rest of my life by flipping through it at random for scraps of erudition and delight. It is a wholly incomparable book, an entire liberal education in and of itself; and though it may actually induce melancholy or madness in the reader, no literary experience will ever rival this stupendous monument to the wonder, the thrill, and the vanity of scholarship.

In Defense of Obscenity

Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo

“I will fuck you guys in the ass and make you suck my cock…”

So Catullus begins his infamous sixteenth poem, which may stand scrutiny to this day as the most terse and elegant defense of aesthetic obscenity ever penned. The general purport of the poem is this: Two censorious critics, Furius and Aurelius, have upbraided Catullus for the lascivious nature of his verses. Catullus responds by playfully bandying about obscene threats, and notes that “it is fitting that a poet be chaste, but his verses need not be so,” adding further that they are rendered all the more charming by their very obscenity. Catullus urges us not to be blockheads or amateur readers – he urges us to separate the author from his work.

Surely, this is a sentiment which even modern readers can readily appreciate. Stern Catos, begone! The Culture Wars may still rage on in this country, but the warm embrace offered by Evangelicals and other cultural conservatives in America to a man who resembles a rotten apricot, oozing the putrescent slime of every 1980’s porn fantasy, suggests that they never cared about culture (or at any rate, certainly not about prurience or obscenity) in the first place. As so often happens, a prudish and censorious attitude has served as little more than a pose taken to lend a veneer of moral respectability to the overarching project of gaining power over the human body. Thus, ostensibly conservative critics may in fact feel very little cognitive dissonance between their stated views on the morality of explicitly sexual content in art and their support of a man so eager to commit sexual violence.

One might think that, of all subjects, ancient literature would surely have little to do with this moral and intellectual conflict. Many people whom I meet are surprised that anyone still reads ancient texts at all, and seem wholly unaware of the fact that many of the texts which are deemed ‘canonical’ contain substantial amounts of material ranging from the moderately raunchy to the most blatant smut. Young students of the Classics are often wholly taken aback when they are first exposed to the more prurient side of ancient literature. I recall entertaining a vague notion in those benighted days of my youth that Greek and Latin poetry were lofty and elevated, sublime and beautiful. And so they can be. Yet, there is also a certain artistry in the perfectly executed bawdy joke or sexual epigram. You may consider tossing out Aristotle and Longinus, because Martial – an actual poet – has given us the final word on poetics:

“Cornelius, you complain that I write poems which are not serious enough, and which a teacher would not read in school: but my poems, just like a husband with his wife, cannot please without a penis.”

Versus scribere me parum seueros
nec quos praelegat in schola magister,
Corneli, quereris: sed hi libelli,
tamquam coniugibus suis mariti,
non possunt sine mentula placere.

[Martial, 1.35]

Poems which a teacher would not read in school? If this was true in Martial’s time, how much more perilous is it in an age still influenced by the dark vestiges of our Puritan past? I would not dare to let my students read Catullus 16 or indeed any of my favorite ribald and raunchy writings of antiquity because I would, if at all possible, like to remain employed. And yet, I know that exposure to such poems was one of my most thrilling intellectual experiences as an undergraduate. And yet, I know that these students already hear far worse in their various entertainments. And yet, it is absurd to pretend that there is something fundamentally wrong or immoral about obscenity, whether it simply be puerile bathroom humor, or prurient sexual jokes. Indeed, I conjecture that obscenity ought to be introduced to the young as alcohol should – under guidance and supervision, to ensure the development of respectful and responsible use. We have all known the friend in college who, upon first letting the sweet gift of Bacchus touch their lips, was then wholly unable to enjoy alcohol temperately. Yet, we also know those who learned a sense of discretion and moderation by being taught how to drink. Similarly, if our cultural critics have noticed a descent into base, crass, immoderate obscenity, it may be because the subject is never discussed with our children in any reasonable or intellectualized light; it is, rather, entirely forbidden to them, until they expose themselves to the cheap and pre-fabricated obscenity available everywhere. Martial understood that a form of refined and polite obscenity was characteristic of the urbane and educated reader:

“You who are too stern a reader can go away now; I have written this for the sophisticated Roman.”

Qui gravis es nimium, potes hinc jam, lector, abire
quo libet: urbanae scripsimus ista togae [11.16]

Classics, like many Humanist disciplines, is steeped in the old Arnoldian tradition of citing the appeal of “sweetness and light” as a potential reward for countless laborious hours of nasal-codical union. Gentle reader, I invite you to recall your own mindset as a teenager, and consider whether loftiness and sublimity would have been appealing enough to goad you on to writing out declension charts; surely, conjugation would have proved far more interesting. I would not have students exposed to a constant barrage of obscenity, but given how much of the surviving corpus of ancient literature contains at least some prurient material, I would submit that we should avoid the opposite extreme exemplified by Fordyce’s “school friendly” edition of Catullus, which omitted 32 poems from the already exiguous collection of surviving work.

My students regularly ask whether I will teach them some “Latin swear words,” but I am forced to fall back upon the old expedient of telling them that they will simply have to comb through the dictionary if they want them. Perhaps there is some pedagogical merit in this – I remember scouring Webster’s Dictionary in third grade for the word boobs, which, as I reflect upon it, seems to have become a piece of wholly outmoded slang. Yet such, such were the joys! Though my nascent curiosity regarding sexual matters was hardly gratified by this memorable ramble through the groves of lexicography, I do recall adding to my store of knowledge an avian species and a variant word for ‘fool.’ This could hardly compensate for my disappointment at the time, hoping as I did that a definition bearing more upon mammaries would be attended by an illuminating illustration, but I suppose in retrospect that the experience was, on the whole, educational. Prurient interest here functions much like the honey which Lucretius likens to his verse – a sweetener to make the medicine less bitter. Nurses

“First encircle the rim of the cup with the sweet and tawny nectar of honey…”

prius oras pocula circum
contingunt mellis dulci flavoque liquore

[de Rerum Natura, 1.937-8]

Primarily on the basis of its infamous Nausikaa episode, James Joyce’s Ulysses was for some time banned in this country on the basis of its “obscenity.” To be sure, people were then, just as now, still masturbating, shitting, and fucking, but it all seemed somehow indecent to read about those things. The standard applied here was the Hicklin Test, which defined obscenity as anything which tended “to deprave and corrupt those whose minds are open to such immoral influences.” Though it would no doubt appear otherwise to cultural conservatives, I am highly suspicious of the notion that art and literature more generally are capable of exerting a corrupting influence on the mind or morals, and would fall back upon a variant of the Catullan defense: just as one ought not confuse authors with their works, so too one ought not to suppose that “you are what you read.”

Granting the premise that exposure to obscenity might alter our characters, I would submit that it does so for the better. How many literary and artistic geniuses have dallied with filth? How many prurient censors have contributed anything meaninful to human civilization? Conjectural etymology suggests that Latin obscenus is derived from caenum, “filth.” Is filth not just as much a part of our human experience as the loftiness and sublimity of duty, honor, love, etc.? Cicero once wrote of Cato that he “gives his opinion as though he lives in Plato’s Republic, not in the shit-heap of Romulus.” [dicit enim tamquam in Platonis πολιτείᾳ , non tamquam in Romuli faece sententiam, ad Atticum 2.1.8]. I would side with Joyce over John Sumner, with Catullus over Cato, and with all of those who readily embrace the full range of human experience over those who would willfully ignore such an important and entertaining part of human life.

“Lucretia blushed and set aside my book in front of Brutus. But Brutus, go away – she will read it again!”

Erubuit posuitque meum Lucretia librum,
sed coram Bruto; Brute,recede: leget.

[Martial, 11.16]

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If You’re Sad and Have the Urge, Eat Hellebore and Take a Purge!

Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy:

“Black hellebore, that most renowned plant, and famous purger of melancholy, which all antiquity so much used and admired, was first found out by Melanpodius a shepherd, as Pliny records, lib. 25. cap. 5 who, seeing it to purge his goats when they raved, practised it upon Elige and Calene, King Praetus’ daughters, that ruled in Arcadia, near the fountain Clitorius, and restored them to their former health. In Hippocrates’s time it was in only request, insomuch that he writ a book of it, a fragment of which remains yet.


Cornelius Celsus only remaining of the old Latins, lib. 3. cap. 23, extol and admire this excellent plant; and it was generally so much esteemed of the ancients for this disease amongst the rest, that they sent all such as were crazed, or that doted, to the Anticyrae, or to Phocis in Achaia, to be purged, where this plant was in abundance to be had. In Strabo’s time it was an ordinary voyage, Naviget Anticyras [let him sail to Anticyra]; a common proverb among the Greeks and Latins, to bid a dizzard or a mad man go take hellebore; as in Lucian, Menippus to Tantalus, Tantale desipis, helleboro epoto tibi opus est, eoque sane meraco, thou art out of thy little wit, O Tantalus, and must needs drink hellebore, and that without mixture. Aristophanes in Vespis, drink hellebore, &c. and Harpax in the Comoedian, told Simo and Ballio, two doting fellows, that they had need to be purged with this plant. When that proud Menacrates ὀ ζεὺς, had writ an arrogant letter to Philip of Macedon, he sent back no other answer but this, Consulo tibi ut ad Anticyram te conferas [I advise you to go to Anticyra], noting thereby that he was crazed, atque ellebore indigere, had much need of a good purge.”


Walk, Get Fit! But First of All, Go Take a Shit!

Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy 2.2.2:

“I have declared in the causes what harm costiveness hath done in procuring this disease; if it be so noxious, the opposite must needs be good, or mean at least, as indeed it is, and to this cure necessarily required; maxime conducit, saith Montaltus, cap. 27. it very much avails. Altomarus, cap. 7commends walking in a morning, into some fair green pleasant fields, but by all means first, by art or nature, he will have these ordinary excrements evacuated. Piso calls it, Beneficium ventris, the benefit, help or pleasure of the belly, for it doth much ease it. Laurentius, cap. 8, Crato, consil. 21. l. 2.prescribes it once a day at least: where nature is defective, art must supply, by those lenitive electuaries, suppositories, condite prunes, turpentine, clysters, as shall be shown. Prosper Calenus, lib. de atra bile, commends clysters in hypochondriacal melancholy, still to be used as occasion serves; Peter Cnemander in a consultation of his pro hypocondriaco, will have his patient continually loose, and to that end sets down there many forms of potions and clysters. Mercurialis, consil. 88. if this benefit come not of its own accord, prescribes clysters in the first place: so doth Montanus, consil. 24. consil. 31 et 229. he commends turpentine to that purpose: the same he ingeminates, consil. 230. for an Italian abbot. ‘Tis very good to wash his hands and face often, to shift his clothes, to have fair linen about him, to be decently and comely attired, for sordes vitiant, nastiness defiles and dejects any man that is so voluntarily, or compelled by want, it dulleth the spirits.”

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The Trials of a Publisher

Aldus Manutius, 

Preface to ‘Theocritus, Hesiod, Theognis: Selected Works’

“Yet, if you read anything here which remains uncorrected, most learned teacher, then here just as in other books, which I take care to publish for the use of all scholars (for I do not deny that there are some), do not impute the faults to me, but to the exemplars which I had to hand. For I have not set myself about the task of emending texts – for some of them, an Oedipus would be required to make conjectural emendation! They are so mutilated and muddled that the original authors themselves, were they to be revived, could scarcely hope to emend them.

Yet, I will try with the utmost zeal to see that they are at least printed more correctly than the exemplars. We did this in the text of Apollonius the grammarian, and thus we did it in this book in those eclogues which we added, thinking it better to have something rare than to have nothing. If an error lies hidden in obscurity, it is rarely or rather never corrected. If, however, it issues forth into the public, there are many who will criticize it, especially over a long time. Thus we see that it happened with Quintilian, thus it happened with Pliny the younger, and thus in several others, who are every day being corrected, and every day approach closer to their ancient elegance and candor. But those who accuse me are unfair and ungrateful. I would ask nothing of them but that they try at some time to publish Greek books as I have. Then they would have a different set of ideas on the subject. But enough of this…”


Woe for a Wednesday

Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy [1.2.10]

“This for the most part is the humour of us all, to be discontent, miserable, and most unhappy, as we think at least; and show me him that is not so, or that ever was otherwise. Quintus Metellus his felicity is infinitely admired amongst the Romans, insomuch that as Paterculus mentioneth of him, you can scarce find of any nation, order, age, sex, one for happiness to be compared unto him: he had, in a word, Bona animi, corporis et fortunae, goods of mind, body, and fortune, so had P. Mutianus, Crassus. Lampsaca, that Lacedaemonian lady, was such another in Pliny’s conceit, a king’s wife, a king’s mother, a king’s daughter: and all the world esteemed as much of Polycrates of Samos. The Greeks brag of their Socrates, Phocion, Aristides; the Psophidians in particular of their Aglaus, Omni vita felix, ab omni periculo immunis [lucky all his life, immune to all danger] (which by the way Pausanias held impossible;) the Romans of their Cato, Curius, Fabricius, for their composed fortunes, and retired estates, government of passions, and contempt of the world: yet none of all these were happy, or free from discontent, neither Metellus, Crassus, nor Polycrates, for he died a violent death, and so did Cato; and how much evil doth Lactantius and Theodoret speak of Socrates, a weak man, and so of the rest. There is no content in this life, but as he said, All is vanity and vexation of spirit; lame and imperfect. Hadst thou Sampson’s hair, Milo’s strength, Scanderbeg’s arm, Solomon’s wisdom, Absalom’s beauty, Croesus’ wealth, Pasetis obulum, Caesar’s valour, Alexander’s spirit, Tully’s or Demosthenes’ eloquence, Gyges’ ring, Perseus’ Pegasus, and Gorgon’s head, Nestor’s years to come, all this would not make thee absolute; give thee content, and true happiness in this life, or so continue it. Even in the midst of all our mirth, jollity, and laughter, is sorrow and grief, or if there be true happiness amongst us, ’tis but for a time,

Desinat in piscem mulier formosa superne:
A handsome woman with a fish’s tail,

a fair morning turns to a lowering afternoon. Brutus and Cassius, once renowned, both eminently happy, yet you shall scarce find two (saith Paterculus) quos fortuna maturius destiturit, whom fortune sooner forsook. Hannibal, a conqueror all his life, met with his match, and was subdued at last, Occurrit forti, qui mage fortis erit [there came upon a strong man a man still stronger]. One is brought in triumph, as Caesar into Rome, Alcibiades into Athens, coronis aureis donatus, crowned, honoured, admired; by-and-by his statues demolished, he hissed out, massacred, &c. Magnus Gonsalva, that famous Spaniard, was of the prince and people at first honoured, approved; forthwith confined and banished. Admirandas actiones; graves plerunque sequuntur invidiae, et acres calumniae: ’tis Polybius his observation, grievous enmities, and bitter calumnies, commonly follow renowned actions. One is born rich, dies a beggar; sound today, sick tomorrow; now in most flourishing estate, fortunate and happy, by-and-by deprived of his goods by foreign enemies, robbed by thieves, spoiled, captivated, impoverished, as they of Rabbah put under iron saws, and under iron harrows, and under axes of iron, and cast into the tile kiln,

Quid me felicem toties jactastis amici,
Qui cecidit, stabili non erat ille gradu.
Why do you so often say that I was lucky, friends? One who has fallen never had a stable step.

He that erst marched like Xerxes with innumerable armies, as rich as Croesus, now shifts for himself in a poor cock-boat, is bound in iron chains, with Bajazet the Turk, and a footstool with Aurelian, for a tyrannising conqueror to trample on. So many casualties there are, that as Seneca said of a city consumed with fire, Una dies interest inter maximum civitatem et nullam, one day betwixt a great city and none: so many grievances from outward accidents, and from ourselves, our own indiscretion, inordinate appetite, one day betwixt a man and no man. And which is worse, as if discontents and miseries would not come fast enough upon us: homo homini daemon [humans are demons to each other], we maul, persecute, and study how to sting, gall, and vex one another with mutual hatred, abuses, injuries; preying upon and devouring as so many, ravenous birds; and as jugglers, panders, bawds, cozening one another; or raging as wolves, tigers, and devils, we take a delight to torment one another; men are evil, wicked, malicious, treacherous, and naught, not loving one another, or loving themselves, not hospitable, charitable, nor sociable as they ought to be, but counterfeit, dissemblers, ambidexters, all for their own ends, hard-hearted, merciless, pitiless, and to benefit themselves, they care not what mischief they procure to others.”

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The Importance of Meter in Poetry

Gerardus Vossius, On the Nature and Constitution of the Poetic Art, Cap. II:

Whether the name of poet is given for making verses or for contriving stories.

“The latter opinion pleased Aristotle and even Plato. Words in metrical form were not sufficient to get someone called a poet; rather, the diction had to be worked up and bound by meter, and animated by the poetic spirit. Yet although meter was not sufficient to make something a poem, yet that is always required. The opposite opinion is attrbuted to Aristotle both by others and by Robortellus. How greatly the most learned men seem to disagree with him about what Aristotle understood by plain words or epic poetry and the speeches of Socrates. Assent has been granted to them who understand plain words to mean prose; epic to mean imitation wrought either in prose or in song; the speeches of Socrates to mean the dialogues of Plato. Those who claim that the mimes of Sophron were written in prose have been deceived by a corrupt passage in the Suda. The true sense of song (carminis) can be recognized by that alone, that the name of poets comes more from the meter than from the contrivance of fiction. It would be right to call the history of Herodotus poetry if it were worked out in verse, and Homer’s Iliad prose if it were written without meter.”

Utrum poetis a faciendis versibus, an a fingendis fabulis, nomen impositum sit. Posteriorem sententiam placuisse Aristoteli, atque etiam Platoni. Λόγον ἔμμετρον non sufficere, ut quis poeta dicatur: sed exigi praeterea dictionem metro ligatam, et spiritu poetico animatam. Utcumque vero non sufficiat metrum, ut quid poema dicatur, semper tamen id requiri. Contrariam sententiam tribui Aristoteli, cum ab aliis, tum Robortello. Quantopere de eo dissentiant homines doctissimi, quid Aristoteles intellexerit per ψιλοὺς λόγους , per ἐποποΐαν , et per Socratis sermones. Iis assensum, qui per ψιλοὺς λόγους intelligunt sermonem pedestrem; per ἐποποΐαν , imitationem seu prosa, seu carmine, institutam; per Socratis sermones, Platonis dialogos. corrupto Suidae loco deceptos, qui Sophronis mimos prosa fuisse scriptos contendunt. Carminis ἔτυμον , ac vel eo solo cognosci, poetis potius a metro esse nomen, quam a fictione. Quo nomine vocare oporteat Herodoti historiam, si in carmen redigatur; vel Homeri Iliada, si eadem prosa conscribatur.


One Hand Washes the Other

Erasmus, Adagia 1.1.33:

“Socrates, in Plato’s Axiochus, says to the sophist Prodicus that this verse of the comic poet Epicharmus was always on his tongue:

Ἡ δὲ χεὶρ τὴν χεῖρα κνίζει, δός τι καὶ λάβοις τι,

that is,

‘One hand rubs the other – give something and receive something.’

Obviously this was spoken upbraiding the acquisitiveness of a man who would teach no one for free and by whom, as he often affirmed, he had learned what he was going to say, and that not free, but only after paying a fee. The saying is variously applied to a Sicilian and to a cunning poet; for thus Cicero names him. He does however warn that no person can be found who would do a favor for another from whom he did not expect that he would receive a favor in return – rather, kindness is elicited by kindness, and favors are called forth by other favors. The same adage is reported in this way, Χεὶρ χεῖρα νίπτει, that is One hand washes the other. Each of these metaphors has the same effect, for it is a mutual benefit whenever one hand rubs or washes the other. This distich is circulated among collections of Greek sayings:

Ἀνὴρ γὰρ ἄνδρα καὶ πόλις σῴζει πόλιν.

Χεὶρ χεῖρα νίπτει, δάκτυλός τε δάκτυλον,

that is,

“City saves city, and one man saves another; one hand washes the other, one finger another.”

Seneca also employs this saying in his absurd book about the death of Claudius.”

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Manus manum fricat.xxxiii

Socrates in Axiocho Platonis ait Prodico sophistae hunc Epicharmi comici versiculum semper in ore fuisse :

Ἡ δὲ χεὶρ τὴν χεῖρα κνίζει, δός τι καὶ λάβοις τι,

id est

Affricat manum manus, da quiddam et aliquid accipe,

videlicet hominis quaestum facete taxans, qui neminem gratis doceret et a quo se quoque quae tum dicturus esset, didicisse affirmabat, at ne id quidem gratuito, immo numerata mercede. Sententia digna tum homine Siculo tum vafro poeta ; sic enim illum appellat Cicero. Monet autem neminem ferme mortalium inveniri, qui velit in quempiam beneficium collocare, a quo non speret aliquid emolumenti vicissim ad se rediturum, sed officium invitari officio, beneficium beneficio provocari. Idem adagium effertur et hoc pacto : Χεὶρ χεῖρα νίπτει, id est Manum manus lavat. Idem pollet utraque metaphora. Nam mutua commoditas est, quoties vel fricat vel abluit manus manum. Circumfertur inter Graecanicas sententias hujusmodi distichon :

Ἀνὴρ γὰρ ἄνδρα καὶ πόλις σῴζει πόλιν.

Χεὶρ χεῖρα νίπτει, δάκτυλός τε δάκτυλον,

id est

Urbs servat urbem, servat itidem vir virum.

Manus manum, digitumque digitus abluit.

Utitur eo et Seneca in ludicro libello de morte Claudii Caesaris.

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