Pedantry, Bibliophilia, and Rotten Apples

Lionel A. Tollemache, Recollections of Pattison:

“Certainly his [Mark Pattison’s] standard of the requirements of a literary life was rigid to the verge of pedantry. A very able (and far too penitent) friend of his writes:

‘He suggested that I should edit Selden’s Table Talk. The preparation was to be, first to get the contents practically by heart, then to read the whole printed literature of Selden’s day, and of the generation before him. In twenty years he promised me that I should be prepared for the work. He put the thing before me in so unattractive a way that I never did it or anything else worth doing. I consider the ruin of my misspent life very largely due to that conversation.’ That this severe judgment on the Rector may not be taken too literally, I will quote from the same letter, ‘He was one of the best friends I ever had. He was not in the least donnish when one came to know him.’

One learns without surprise that, in the words of a near relation, ‘he had a quite human fondess for his books; nothing annoyed him so much as to hear one of them fall; and dusting them, which he reduced to a science, seemed to give him real pleasure. In his last illness the sight of any of his favourites depressed him greatly. ‘Ah!,’ he would say, ‘I am to leave my books, and sometimes, they have been more to me than my friends.’ He would ask for them one after the other, till he was literally covered almost to his shoulders as he lay, and the floor around him was strewn with them. He used to say that the sight of books was necessary to him at his work; and, once reading how Schiller always kept ‘rotten apples’ in his study because their scent was beneficial to him, he pointed to some shelves above his head, where he kept his oldest and most prized editions, and said: ‘There are my rotten apples.'”

The Ballad of Hampstead Heath

James Elroy Flecker, The Ballad of Hampstead Heath:

“From Heaven’s Gate to Hampstead Heath
Young Bacchus and his crew
Came tumbling down, and o’er the town
Their bursting trumpets blew.
The silver night was wildly bright,
And madly shone the Moon
To hear a song so clear and strong,
With such a lovely tune.

From London’s houses, huts and flats,
Came busmen, snobs, and Earls,
And ugly men in bowler hats
With charming little girls.

Sir Moses came with eyes of flame,
Judd, who is like a bloater,
The brave Lord Mayor in coach and pair,
King Edward, in his motor.

Far in a rosy mist withdrawn
The God and all his crew,
Silenus pulled by nymphs, a faun,
A satyr drenched in dew,

Smiled as they wept those shining tears
Only Immortals know,
Whose feet are set among the stars,
Above the shifting snow.

And one spake out into the night,
Before they left for ever,
‘Rejoice, rejoice!’ and his great voice
Rolled like a splendid river.

He spake in Greek, which Britons speak
Seldom, and circumspectly;
But Mr. Judd, that man of mud,
Translated it correctly.

And when they heard that happy word,
Policemen leapt and ambled:
The busmen pranced, the maidens danced,
The men in bowlers gambolled.

A wistful Echo stayed behind
To join the mortal dances,
But Mr Judd, with words unkind,
Rejected her advances.

And passing down through London Town
She stopped, for all was lonely,
Attracted by a big brass plate
Inscribed, FOR MEMBERS ONLY.

And so she went to Parliament,
But those ungainly men
Woke up from sleep, and turned about,
And fell asleep again.”

Steven Clark - Dionysus

No Return to Phoebus or Pan

John Addington Symonds, Sketches and Studies in Italy and Greece:

“This shore would stand for Shelley’s Island of Epipsychidion, or the golden age which Empedocles describes, when the mild nations worshipped Aphrodite with incense and the images of beasts and yellow honey, and no blood was spilt upon her altars—­when ’the trees flourished with perennial leaves and fruit, and ample crops adorned their boughs through all the year.’  This even now is literally true of the lemon-groves, which do not cease to flower and ripen.  Everything fits in to complete the reproduction of Greek pastoral life.  The goats eat cytisus and myrtle on the shore; a whole flock gathered round me as I sat beneath a tuft of golden green euphorbia the other day, and nibbled bread from my hands.  The frog still croaks by tank and fountain, ‘whom the Muses have ordained to sing for aye,’ in spite of Bion’s death.  The narcissus, anemone, and hyacinth still tell their tales of love and death.  Hesper still gazes on the shepherd from the mountain-head.  The slender cypresses still vibrate, the pines murmur.  Pan sleeps in noontide heat, and goat-herds and wayfaring men lie down to slumber by the roadside, under olive-boughs in which cicadas sing.  The little villages high up are just as white, the mountains just as grey and shadowy when evening falls.  Nothing is changed—­except ourselves.  I expect to find a statue of Priapus or pastoral Pan, hung with wreaths of flowers—­the meal cake, honey, and spilt wine upon his altar, and young boys and maidens dancing round.  Surely, in some far-off glade, by the side of lemon-grove or garden, near the village, there must be still a pagan remnant of glad Nature-worship.  Surely I shall chance upon some Thyrsis piping in the pine-tree shade, or Daphne flying from the arms of Phoebus.  So I dream until I come upon the Calvary set on a solitary hillock, with its prayer-steps lending a wide prospect across the olives and the orange-trees, and the broad valleys, to immeasurable skies and purple seas.  There is the iron cross, the wounded heart, the spear, the reed, the nails, the crown of thorns, the cup of sacrificial blood, the title, with its superscription royal and divine.  The other day we crossed a brook and entered a lemon-field, rich with blossoms and carpeted with red anemones.  Everything basked in sunlight and glittered with exceeding brilliancy of hue.  A tiny white chapel stood in a corner of the enclosure.  Two iron-grated windows let me see inside:  it was a bare place, containing nothing but a wooden praying-desk, black and worm-eaten, an altar with its candles and no flowers, and above the altar a square picture brown with age.  On the floor were scattered several pence, and in a vase above the holy-water vessel stood some withered hyacinths.

As my sight became accustomed to the gloom, I could see from the darkness of the picture a pale Christ nailed to the cross with agonising upward eyes and ashy aureole above the bleeding thorns.  Thus I stepped suddenly away from the outward pomp and bravery of nature to the inward aspirations, agonies, and martyrdoms of man—­from Greek legends of the past to the real Christian present—­and I remembered that an illimitable prospect has been opened to the world, that in spite of ourselves we must turn our eyes heavenward, inward, to the infinite unseen beyond us and within our souls.  Nothing can take us back to Phoebus or to Pan.  Nothing can again identify us with the simple natural earth.”

A New Musical Papyrus

The discovery of a new and substantial musical papyrus lifts the heart even as it raises the eyebrows.  The papyrus under discussion first came to light in California in the 1930s but seems mirabile dictu to have attracted no notice since then; this brief editio princeps, it is hoped, will serve as a stimulus to the learned readership of Sententiae Antiquae in the elucidation of the papyrus’ history and its place in the fields of ancient religion and music.

The text, I claim, preserves the transcript of a magical ceremony, one that has few outright parallels but many mysterious connections to those attested in Greek Macaronical Papyri.  The ceremony seems to involve an officiant performing an unusual baptism upon a layman, whom the officiant addresses throughout (λῇς ‘you desire’ 4, 8, 19; λαικέ ‘layman’ 5, 6, πάσσ’ ‘sprinkle’ 13-16) with particularly hydrological phrasing (σεῖν ‘piss’ 2, τέγγ’ ‘drench’ 4, 8, 9, 19, βρέχομαι ‘I’m getting wet’ 12, ἅμας ‘water-buckets’ 14, 16).  Syncretism is of course to be expected in a magical document of this sort, but the combination of Egyptian proper nouns (Neith 3, Ailou 15) with Pythagoreanism (καλὰ δέκα ‘the beautiful ten’, 18) and cryptic references to the sacred chickens of Roman divination (5, 7) bespeaks a wider spectrum of cultural borrowing than usual.

Perhaps most mysterious of all is the single line of Latin text (17).  Bilingual papyri are “very rare”;[1] the present example, however, seems to be unique in preserving, via a second language, not a simple translation of another part of the text but a comment from the text’s author on the nature of the text itself.  (Peculiar as the ceremony seems, there is no easy way to include the material of this line within the narrative of the baptismal events.)   Here the anonymous author proudly proclaims to his readership the excellence of his text and, in coining a maxim on the topic of wasted effort (cf. γλαῦκ’ εἰς Ἀθήνας, “coals to Newcastle”, vendre des coquilles à ceux qui viennent de Saint-Michel), he defies anyone to improve upon it.

What to make of the brief notation in line 20?  Unless the digamma—in other words, two gammas—is some sort of code by which to identify the composer of the music (though I do not know of any such use of initials in ancient papyri), perhaps it is best, as the following translation assumes, simply to interpret it as a vocalized comment on the nature of the papyrus itself.

I suggest that the four brief lines preserved at the bottom edge of the papyrus are a sort of index, providing the incipits of other magical ceremonies, perhaps even ones with music written by the same unknown composer of the music under discussion.  But whether any papyri preserving these other ceremonies will ever be discovered, only time or more heuretic papyrologists can tell.[2]

I have said that this papyrus preserves musical notation throughout the text—and so it does; for certain technical reasons, however, I have been unable to reproduce the notation in this edition.  Even so, those who take the time to speak the Greek text out loud may find themselves uncannily able to reproduce the original music on their own.

P.Hollywood.inv.2019 H x W = 29 x 22 cm California, ca. 1937 CE

ἰούσῃ ίθ’ ἦρ, ἀν’ αἴσῃ αἰθήρ
ἰοὺ σεῖν ίθ’ ἦρ, ἀν’ αἴσῃ ναὶ θήρ
ίθ’ ἦρ, αἰθήρ, Νηὶθ ἦρ, ναὶ θήρ
λῇς καλὰ θεῷ τέγγ’ ὄφ
ἰοὺ λαικὲ ποτητὼ ἄναι λαικέ ποτ’ ἄτω                                               5
ἰοὺ λαικὲ τομὴ θῶ; ἄναι λαικὲ τομὰ θῶ;
ποτητώ ποτ’ ἄτω τομὴ θῶ; τομὰ θῶ;
λῇς καλὰ θεῷ τέγγ’ ὄφ
βάτω ἰφύι καλὰ θεῷ τέγγ’ ὀφθὲν
νοῦ ἱμάς τε πάρ τε                                                                                 10
ἀνδῶ ἰφύι ἐφ’ ἧπαρ τεθὲν
θάττομαί τε βρέχομαι ἄρτε
σὼ ἶφι ἰοὺ λαικὲ πάσσ’ ἡμᾶς
ἄναι λαικὲ πάσσ’ ἅμας
Αἴλου ἦρ πάσσ’ ἡμᾶς                                                                              15
ἦν γ’ ἔφα πάσσ’ ἅμας
FOR VI NOVI NIDIS ADDAS OVI
βῆτα καλὰ δέκα λίγγ’ ὂφ ὄφ
λῇς καλὰ θεῷ τέγγ’ ὄφ
Ϝ                                                                                                                  20
ἰδεῖν Νέσσος ᾖρ’· ἐλεήσω;
ἀλλά, Φύσι, τοὺς τῇ
ὦ αἶγά τε πλήν τι ἄνα τήν
ᾤμην ἔρριφα

Translation

Go, spring, for the lady who goes; heaven is upon destiny.
Whoopie! Piss! Go, spring! Yes, a wild animal is upon destiny!
Go, spring, heaven! Neith, spring, yes, a wild animal!
You desire beautiful things for the god; drench, ah!

Whoopie, layman! Two birds (fulfillments, layman!) were finally insatiate!
Whoopie, layman! Cutting; shall I set (it)? Fulfillments, layman! Shall I set sharp things?
Two birds were finally insatiate! Cutting; shall I set it? Shall I set sharp things?
You desire beautiful things for the god; drench, ah!

Let beautiful things go to the eyebrow; drench for the god what was seen;
both the mind-strap and together
Let me bind on the eyebrow what was put on the liver,
and I sit for myself; I’m getting wet, bread!

Your pair with strength: whoopie, layman! Besprinkle us!
Fulfillments, layman! Besprinkle the water-buckets!
The spring in Ailou; besprinkle us!
I said, he/she said, “Besprinkle the water-buckets.”
I speak via strength! I know! You would add some egg to the nests!
B, the beautiful ten, twang, ah, ah!

Wow.

Nessus denied that he had seen (it); shall I pity (him)?
But, Nature, those (in) the
Oh, both the goat, only something along the
I thought, I have thrown

[1] Idunno, Oracles, Curses, and Risk among the Ancient Greeks (2007) 45.

[2] See Zeitschrift für papyrologische Enttaüschungen 36 (1979) 75-76.

File:Organist and horn player, the gladiator mosaic at the Roman villa in Nennig, Germany (9291661708).jpg
Organist and horn player, the gladiator mosaic at the Roman villa in Nennig, Germany

N.B. The papyrus under discussion may not be real.  This post is brought to you by Christopher Brunelle (@BrunelleMN), who taught Classics for decades and prefers Ovid to Vergil. Don’t you?

Where to Laugh in Greek

Virginia Woolf, On Not Knowing Greek:

“Further, in reckoning the doubts and difficulties there is this important problem–Where are we to laugh in reading Greek? There is a passage in the Odyssey where laughter begins to steal upon us, but if Homer were looking we should probably think it better to control our merriment. To laugh instantly it is almost necessary (though Aristophanes may supply us with an exception) to laugh in English. Humour, after all, is closely bound up with a sense of the body. When we laugh at the humour of Wycherley, we are laughing with the body of that burly rustic who was our common ancestor on the village green. The French, the Italians, the Americans, who derive physically from so different a stock, pause, as we pause in reading Homer, to make sure that they are laughing in the right place, and the pause is fatal. Thus humour is the first of the gifts to perish in a foreign tongue, and when we turn from Greek to English literature it seems, after a long silence, as if our great age were ushered in by a burst of laughter.

These are all difficulties, sources of misunderstanding, of distorted and romantic, of servile and snobbish passion. Yet even for the unlearned some certainties remain. Greek is the impersonal literature; it is also the literature of masterpieces. There are no schools; no forerunners; no heirs. We cannot trace a gradual process working in many men imperfectly until it expresses itself adequately at last in one. Again, there is always about Greek literature that air of vigour which permeates an ‘age’, whether it is the age of Aeschylus, or Racine, or Shakespeare. One generation at least in that fortunate time is blown on to be writers to the extreme; to attain that unconsciousness which means that the consciousness is stimulated to the highest extent; to surpass the limits of small triumphs and tentative experiments. Thus we have Sappho with her constellations of adjectives; Plato daring extravagant flights of poetry in the midst of prose; Thucydides, constricted and contracted; Sophocles gliding like a shoal of trout smoothly and quietly, apparently motionless, and then, with a flicker of fins, off and away; while in the Odyssey we have what remains the triumph of narrative, the clearest and at the same time the most romantic story of the fortunes of men and women.”

Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton, and a Case of Anxiety of ...

Plato’s Political Ends

Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies:

“The two attitudes, historicism and social engineering, occur sometimes in typical combinations. The earliest and probably the most influential example of these is the social and political philosophy of Plato. It combines, as it were, some fairly obvious technological elements in the foreground, with a background dominated by an elaborate display of typically historicist features. The combination is representative of quite a number of social and political philosophers who produced what have been later described as Utopian systems. All these systems recommend some kind of social engineering, since they demand the adoption of certain institutional means, though not always very realistic ones, for the achievement of their ends. But when we proceed to a consideration of these ends, then we frequently find that they are determined by historicism. Plato’s political ends, especially, depend to a considerable extent on his historicist doctrines. First, it is his aim to escape the Heraclitean flux, manifested in social revolution and historical decay. Secondly, he believes that this can be done by establishing a state which is so perfect that it does not participate in the general trend of historical development. Thirdly, he believes that the model or original of his perfect state can be found in the distant past, in a Golden Age which existed in the dawn of history; for if the world decays in time, then we must find increasing perfection the further we go back into the past. The perfect state is something like the first ancestor, the primogenitor, of the later states, which are, as it were, the degenerate offspring of this perfect, or best, or ‘ideal’ state; an ideal state which is not a mere phantasm, nor a dream, nor an ‘idea in our mind’, but which is, in view of its stability, more real than all those decaying societies which are in flux, and liable to pass away at any moment. Thus even Plato’s political end, the best state, is largely dependent on his historicism; and what is true of his philosophy of the state can be extended, as already indicated, to his general philosophy of ‘all things’, to his Theory of Forms or Ideas.”

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Reprioritizing and Reallocating: Tulsa’s Cuts to the Humanities

“Education, however, is like the most good and noble companions who stay by your side right up to death”

 τῆς δὲ παιδείας καθάπερ οἱ καλοὶ κἀγαθοὶ τῶν ἀνδρῶν μέχρι θανάτου παραμενούσης –Iamblichus

A twitter correspondent reached out to me to let me know about a series of cuts planned at the University of Tulsa. The major education news sites have not reported on this yet (although the philosophy blog The Daily Nous has a write-up). In the Arts, the theater degrees are done and gone as well are a bunch of music performance majors; under the ax from the Division of Humanities: A History MA, minors in Greek, Classics, Russian, Latin and Linguistics; the BA in Philosophy, the BA in Religion. Vocational programs are not spared: from education, the program in Deaf Education has been axed. Also cut are legal programs for Native Americans (connected to the region and the school’s historical founding as a Presbyterian school for young women of the Creek Nation).

Now, the webpage insists that faculty members were consulted during this process and that no tenure-track faculty will be eliminated. As someone who has seen similar processes contemplated at a public University, such a guarantee is blithe misdirection: many of these programs were likely taught by contract and contingent faculty; faculty lines will likely not be replaced as people retire.

We also need to talk about this: Tulsa is a private university with an endowment of over a billion dollars as of 2017. I know little of the school’s internal finances, but this is not a crisis like others. (Although, I would imagine the opening of a new college of Health Sciences in 2016 and the continued operation of a law school has strained the finances. Here is an excellent thread mentioning some of the bad financial decisions which were made over the past decade). Politically motivated elected officials have not demanded the school make these cuts; financial exigency caused by lower contributions from the state or federal coffers has not made these cuts necessary. No, a Board of Trustees populated almost entirely by CEOs and lawyers has decided to re-brand the school as a “STEM University”.

What kind of arrogant and ignorant twaddle is this from a leader of an educational institution! To imagine that the sciences and the humanities can function effectively without one another is to demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of the history of ideas or the way that intellectual inquiry actually proceeds. I would suggest for this board and this provost a nice moral tale like Shelley’s Frankenstein, but I fear they would not have the patience to finish it.

To put it kindly, this is a heist. This is a surgical and intentional reshaping of a private University into a vocational school for business and industry. Beyond the crass, soul-crushing love of profit behind this move, there is a deeper peril: these subjects are domains that are critically misunderstood in modern political discourse. How many of our recent discussions are mere repetitions of madness with no historical memory? How impoverished is our public understanding of religions (domestic and ‘foreign’)? Given recent events, can anyone claim that an ignorance of Russian language and history has no peril? And Philosophy? Who needs to think about what it means to be a human being when we are so stoked to invest all our money in making bigger more beautiful toys and pumping up that quarterly revenue?

“Greed considers what it wants not what is right”

Quod vult cupiditas cogitat, non quod decet  –Publilius Syrus

Note, I have not yet spoken of the elimination of the Classics program. The Majors seem safe, while the Minors are being cut. Now, I would suggest that cutting Minors is not, well, a minor thing. It forces students to choose, deprives them of a good option, and narrows the credentials and experience a program can offer students without actually achieving any real savings. The elimination of a Minor is a first step in undermining and delegitimizing a major. Ok, simply put: there is no financial reason to eliminate minors. This is about curtailing student options.

Attacking the Liberal Arts and centering the studies we call the Classics as ‘useless’ is by now a typical polemical trope. As Erik argued recently, this is a class-oriented attack from those who have access to this kind of education against those who don’t. And, as I suggested last year, such an attack is our capitalism on steroids quashing the only disciplines capable of mounting a successful critique of its own self-heralded manifest destiny as the only system which can bring human beings “freedom”, “happiness” and “efficiency”.

The closing of Liberal Arts programs and the Classics at some Universities and not others is one small component of the immense cultural machine re-establishing an intellectual caste system. These closings communicate and reinforce the idea that ‘these subjects’ are only for people who can afford it. In a country where class and race are braided together in an oppressive rope, the closing of programs at some schools and not others is a reassertion of a racist hegemony.

Public institutions are facing these cuts all the time. The storied and successful classics program at the University of Vermont (where both my siblings are alumni and my sister majored in Classics) has been threatened with poorly justified cuts (There is a petition opposing this). But this is not just happening at secular institutions: the Jesuit affiliated Wheeling has published plans to cut most of its liberal arts staff. This is not a new playbook. One of the alleged reasons President Teresa Sullivan was forced out from UVA in 2012 was her resistance to the Board of Visitors’ plans to eliminate the departments of German and Classics.

This is in part connected to the specious and insidious long-term attack on non-vocational and non-Stem higher education; and it is also a feature of a strange blend of American cultural imperialism (who needs to learn to speak other languages when dollars are in English) and nativist isolationism (press 1 for English; press 2 for English; press 3 to vote for Trump and for English).

But it is also not just a Republican problem (even though Republican-led legislatures in a majority of states have gutted public funding for education over the past few decades): from 2013-2016 over 651 language programs were closed at the collegiate level. The passage of No Child Left Behind, which codified and made permanent the stripping of content and critical thinking from pre-collegiate education, was bipartisan. And President Obama supported problematic initiatives like the common core and a higher education ‘Scorecard’ which included an unsurprising albeit depressing emphasis on employment outcomes.

“The examination of words is the beginning of education.”

ἀρχὴ παιδεύσεως ἡ τῶν ὀνομάτων ἐπίσκεψις -Antisthenes

Tulsa

This is a problem of values, our sense of what our community is beyond the transactional, and who we think counts as a human being. Just look at the cowardly bureaucratic language of Tulsa’s infographic: “These changes are about reprioritizing and reallocating our resources to support those programs with the greatest demand”. Here is the patronizing and prevaricating justification: “The PPRC simply acknowledged and acted upon what our students have been trying to tell us for years. In most cases, our students have already voted with their feet.”

This is the full metempsychosis of higher education into a consumer model but without a deep understanding of the cultural and economic trends that influence student choice. Or, the way that institutions have learned to guide student feet away from student majors from (1) the way they recruit, (2) the way they promote themselves, (3) the way they orientate their students, and (4) they way they advise them.

 “Socrates, when asked what is sweetest in life, said “education, virtue, and the investigation of the unknown”

Σωκράτης ὁ φιλόσοφος ἐρωτηθεὶς τί ἥδιστον ἐν τῷ βίῳ εἶπε· „παιδεία καὶ ἀρετὴ καὶ ἱστορία τῶν ἀγνοουμένων”. GnomVat

 

There’s still some hope out there: after a year of struggle, the decision to close a large swathe of Liberal Arts programs at the University of Wisconsin Stevens point has been reversed. I don’t know how much protest matters, but I know it does. When a Dean at Brandeis University, where I work, tried to close the Department of Classical Studies and eliminate Greek altogether, faculty stood together in revolt and opposed that decision. But that worked at Brandeis because faculty governance matters here; a majority of faculty members still have the protection of tenure; and we were facing a manufactured controversy instead of an actual one.

But sometimes the voices of faculty go unheard. Sometimes they don’t have the freedom to speak because they fear for their contracts.  So, in what is now proving to be a regular act, let’s support the students and faculty at Tulsa who have been thrust into this madness without asking for it. Sense, argument, and emotional appeals don’t seem to move administrations much anymore. But sometimes noise still does.

“You must learn as long as you are ignorant, if we may trust the proverb, as long as you live”

Tamdiu discendum est, quamdiu nescias si proverbio credimus, quamdiu vivas –Seneca

Here is a good thread about it: