Hey Poindexter, You Don’t Know Sh*t!

Petrarch, On His Own Ignorance (32):

“I don’t say these things in an effort to avoid their judgment, but so that they who are ignorant may feel some shame (if they are capable of it) in making their judgment. For, on this subject, I do not just embrace the opinion of friendly jealousy, but even the judgment of hostile hatred, and in sum, if someone pronounces that I am ignorant, I agree with him! When I myself think over how many things are lacking to me, toward which my mind, eager for knowledge, exerts itself, I sadly and silently recognize my own ignorance. But in the meantime, while the end of my present exile is near, at which point this imperfection (from whence our knowledge derives) will be terminated, I am consoled by the thought of our shared nature. I think that it happens to all good and modest minds, that they learn about themselves and derive consolation therefrom. For those who get hold of great knowledge (I am speaking according to the standards of human learning), it is always small when considered in itself, but it becomes great in light of the narrow circumstances from which it is derived, and certainly looks great when compared to others. Otherwise, I ask you, how small and insignificant is the knowledge granted to one mind? Nay, how much like nothing is the knowledge of any one person, whoever they be, when it is compared not just to the knowledge of God, but to one’s own fund of ignorance?”


Non hec dico, ut declinem forum, sed ut pudeat, siquis est pudor, iudicasse qui nesciunt. Ego etenim de hac re non modo sententiam amicabilis amplector invidie, sed hostilis odii, et ad summam, quisquis ignarum me pronuntiat, mecum sentit. Nam et ego ipse recogitans quam multa michi desint ad id quo sciendi avida mens suspirat, ignorantiam meam dolens ac tacitus recognosco. Sed me interim, dum presentis exilii finis adest, quo nostra hec imperfectio terminetur, qua ex parte nunc scimus, nature communis extimatione consolor. Idque omnibus bonis ac modestis ingeniis evenire arbitror, ut agnoscant se pariter ac solentur; his etiam quibus ingens obtigit scientia — secundum humane scientie morem loquor — que in se semper exigua, pro angustiis quibus excipitur, et collata aliis ingens fit. Alioquin quantulum, queso, est, quantumcunque est, quod nosse uni ingenio datum est? Imo quam nichil est scire hominis, quisquis sit, si non dicam scientie Dei, sed sui ipsius ignorantie comparetur?

Mind Bending Poetry

Cristoforo Landino, Preface to Vergil in a Florentine Gymnasium (Part 5)

But, in order to finally return from such distant regions to Italy and Latium specifically, we should in no way think, my lords, that before Livy who (as Cicero has it) in the 410th year after the foundation of the republic first published the story that there was no poet among the Latins, when Marcus Cato in his Origins wrote that it was the most ancient custom for the notable deeds of excellent men to be sung to the tibia at dinner parties. Livy however, the truest historian of all, related that song was established in sacred ceremonies by Numa Pompilius. But I think that it has now been demonstrated by the most obvious arguments that there was no type of writers by which the poets were surpassed in antiquity.

But now, lest anything which we proposed be omitted, consider in the briefest account how much utility and pleasantness they offer both publicly and privately. But, since amidst such an abundance of material it is far more difficult to find the end than the beginning, I cannot find what I should say first, and what later. But in order to begin from that eloquence by whose strength nearly everything is ruled and which is rightly called “mind-bending”, who could be found with such a dull mind, that he doesn’t see how much spirit, how much splendor, how much dignity the poet offers to the orator? Who is ignorant of how sublime they are in the greatest matters, how moderated in the middling ones, how elegant in trifles? Let their exordia be attended to, let their narrations be read, their divisions be numbered, let their affirmations and refutations be weighed out carefully, and finally let their conclusions and epilogues not be passed over: you will understand, surely, that nothing could be found more accommodated to fostering good will, nothing more brief or clear for the purpose of narrating, nothing more indissoluble for division, nothing weightier in proof nor more forceful in refutation, nothing finally more abundant or ornate for delivering a conclusion. But all of these things pertain to oratorical arguments. Who handled philosophy itself more splendidly? Not only do poets select diverse passages from it and adorn them with a certain wondrous sweetness, but they even encompassed the whole business most totally, as we see among the Greeks Pittacus of Mytilene, Xenophanes, Parmenides, Empedocles, and many others from the family of the Pythagoreans; and among the Latins Lucretius, and Marcus Varro, whom Jerome called the most learned of all the Romans.

Sed ut quandoque ex tam longinquis regionibus in Italiam Latiumque redeamus, nullo pacto existimandum est, domini viri, ante Livium illum qui, ut est apud Ciceronem, decimo et quadringentesimo post conditam urbem anno primus fabulam edidit, nullum apud Latinos poetam fuisse, cum M. Cato in suis Originibus scriptum reliquerit vetustissimam fuisse consuetudinem, ut in conviviis egregia excellentium virorum facta ad tibiam canerentur. Livius autem, historicus omnium verissimus, a Numa Pompilio carmen in sacris cerimoniis institutum refert. Sed iam nullum esse scriptorum genus, a quo poetae antiquitate superentur, manifestissimis argumentationibus demonstratum esse arbitror.

Nunc vero, ne quid ex iis quae a nobis proposita sunt omittatur, quantum illi utilitatis, quantum etiam iocunditatis publice privatimque afferant, brevissimis accipite. Verum, quoniam in tanta rerum copia multo difficilius est finem quam initium invenire, quid prius, quid posterius dicam non reperio. Sed ut ab ea, cuius vi pene omnia reguntur quaeque iure «flexianima» appellata est, eloquentia exordiar, quis adeo hebeti erit ingenio, ut quantum spiritus, quantum splendoris, quantum dignitatis oratori poeta afferat non viderit? Quis quantum illi in maximis rebus sublimes, in mediocribus temperati, in humilibus elegantes sint ignoraverit? Attendantur exordia, legantur narrationes, enumerentur divisiones, pendantur diligentius confirmationes et confutationes, denique conclusiones epilogique non praetereantur: intelligetis profecto neque ad captandam benivolentiam accomodatius neque ad narrandum brevius et apertius neque ad dividendum absolutius neque ad confirmandum gravius neque ad confutandum vehementius neque postremo ad concludendum copiosius ornatiusque quicquam inveniri. Sed haec ad oratorias argumentationes pertinent. Philosophiam vero ipsam quis splendidius tractavit? Neque enim solum diversos ex ea locos decerpunt atque mira quadam suavitate condiunt poetae, verum etiam totam rem absolutissime perscripserunt, quemadmodum apud Graecos Pittacum Mytilenaeum, Xenophanem, Parmenidem, Empedoclem et plerosque alios ex Pythagoreorum familia, apud vero Latinos Lucretium et quem Romanorum omnium doctissimum Hieronymus appellavit M. Varronem videmus.

Ultra-Ancient Poetic Authority

Cristoforo Landino, Preface to Vergil in a Florentine Gymnasium (Part 4)

But why should I go on about the Greeks when, among the Hebrews, the most ancient people of all (as they themselves have it and we acknowledge as true), their king David wrote the poems which they call Psalms? Nor should we deny that he is to be numbered among the ancients, since indeed he lived while Codrus ruled in Athens, more than four hundred years before the founding of Rome. Indeed, it is even agreed that both Deuteronomy and Isaiah are the products of his son Solomon – Josephus and Origen, the most serious authorities, attest to this. Indeed, in earlier times, even Moses, a man most distinguished for both war and learning, who freed the Egyptians from the Ethiopians and the Hebrews from the Egyptians, and who, since he was the first (according to the Greek author Eupolemus) to have discovered letters, was called Hermes Trismegistus by the Egyptians; Moses, I say, was hardly an ignoble poet, as is evident from his writings. He was a man so ancient that, when in his eightieth year he lead the Hebrews from captivity, Cecrops was ruling in Athens, and all of the wonderful things which are related by the Greeks of their own history happened after Cecrops. But even before Moses there was Job of Edom who, as can be gleaned from his own book, lived three ages after Israel, and wrote a consolation of hexameter and pentameter verses.

Sed quid plura de Graecis, cum apud Hebraeos populum, ut ipsi volunt et nos concedimus, omnium antiquissimum, David eorum rex quos Psalmos appellant carmine scripserit? Neque est quod in priscis hunc enumerandum negemus, siquidem, Codro Athenis regnante, supra quadringentos annos ante Romam conditam fuit. Quin, et eius filii Salomonis et Deuteronomii et Isaiae canticum versibus constare et Iosophus et Origenes gravissimi auctores testantur. Verum prioribus saeculis Moyses etiam vir et bello et doctrina praestantissimus, qui et Aegyptios ab Aethiopibus et ab Aegyptiis Hebraeos liberavit quique cum primus, ut ait E<u>pulemus Graecus scriptor, litteras adinvenisset, ab Aegyptiis Mercurius Trimegistus appellatus est; Moyses, inquam, poeta, ut ex eius scriptis apparet, haud ignobilis fuit. Vir adeo priscus ut, cum iam octoginta annos natus Hebraeos ex captivitate deduceret, Cecrops Athenis regnaret: omnia vero quae apud Graecos mira traduntur post Cecropem fuerunt. Sed et ante Moysem Idumaeus Iob qui, ut ex suo libro colligitur, tribus fere aetatibus post Israel fuit, consolationem exametro pentametroque versu scripsit.

Poetry, Our Oldest Pursuit

Cristoforo Landino, Preface to Vergil in a Florentine Gymnasium (Part 3)

We have said therefore both what the art of poetry is and where the poet got a name for himself, and from where that name drew its origins. But now take this in the briefest possible words about the antiquity of poetry itself. You will find no nation so old, nor any republic so antique in the monuments of literature that it didn’t flourish from its very beginning with poets. Greece had no historians still, when heroic times and the Trojan War were being described by Homer. No philosophers were yet disputing about life and ethics when that same poet was explaining all the precepts which urge us on to living well and blessedly. Nor did he explain only those things which make us more learned in governing the republic or leading an army, but he also set out most excellently those things which set us up in private and leisured life. That most celebrated land of Greece was not yet glorying in its Seven Sages when it had already been made illustrious by Orpheus, Linus, Musaeus, and Amphion. Nor was any theologian found in this most learned nation who set down divine things in letters before the birth of Hesiod and some other poets. So, if we wish to speak more truly and to follow the thought of Aristotle, a poet is nothing other than a theologian. The faculty of speech did no sooner show how much skill in speaking, how much sweetness in delighting, nor indeed how much strength in persuading it had, before the speeches of Ulysses, and Phoenix, and the other heroes had been expressed in a poetic composition.

Penn Libraries call number: Inc B-720

Diximus ergo et quid ars poetica sit et unde sibi nomen vendicaverit poeta, unde etiam originem suam traxerit. Nunc vero de antiquitate ipsius brevissimis accipite. Neque enim ullam aut nationem adeo vetustam aut rem publicam adeo priscam litterarum monumentis reperies, quae vel ab ipso statim initio poetis non floruerit. Nullos enim adhuc Graecia historicos habuerat, quando ab Homero heroica tempora et Troiana bella describebantur. Nulli adhuc philosophi de vita et moribus disputabant, cum vel idem vates omnia praecepta, quae ad bene beateque vivendum nos adhortantur, explicabat; neque solum quae aut in re publica temperanda aut in exercitu ductitando nos doctiores reddunt, verum et ea quae in privata atque ociosa vita nos instituunt, optime exposuerat. Nondum septem sapientibus celebratissima illa Graecia gloriabatur, et iam ab Orpheo, Lino, Musaeo, Amphione illustrata fuerat; neque apud hanc tam doctam nationem quisquam theologus invenitur qui, nisi post natum Hesiodum et non nullos alios poetas, divinas res litteris mandasset. Quin, si verius loqui et Aristotelis sententiam sequi volumus, nil aliud poeta est quam theologus. Facultas vero oratoria neque quantum acuminis in dicendo neque quantum suavitatis in delectando neque postremum quantum vehementiae in permovendo habeat, antea ostendit quam orationes Ulyssis et Phoenicis aliorumque heroum poetico carmine expressae essent.

Wouldn’t You Know It, We’re All Poets!

Cristoforo Landino, Preface to Vergil in a Florentine Gymnasium (Part 2)

But there are many who, if they can do anything with the modulations of their voice, think straightaway that they have completed a task perfectly. These, however, are entirely condemned by Plato as trifling and common musicians, especially those who, even though they provide a sweet sensation for the ears, are able to offer up nothing magnificent besides. Others however, and these are indeed more rare (for all noble things are uncommon), who, imitating the divine harmony with a graver and firmer sense of judgment express the lofty and intimate senses of the mind in an elegant song, and blown up by that divine madness, they often produce things so miraculous and so far beyond human strength with a certain rather grand spirit that, when that spirit relaxes a little later, they marvel at and are struck dumb by themselves.

For this reason, they are not just fawned upon by the ears of their listeners, but even soak their minds with the sweetest nectar and divine ambrosia. These are therefore divine poets and the sacred priests of the Muses, these are called “sanctified” by Ennius with just cause; it has been divinely granted to these alone to mix in their songs the deepest gravity with the highest delight, not without the stupor of the listeners; these, finally, are able not just to express and narrate, but even with a certain miraculous art to polish and illuminate all of the disciplines of all the good arts, which have been found and developed in various ages.

On that account, and from a certain rather violent activation of their minds, they are called ‘vates’ by the Latins. The Greeks have however called them poets, for in their language they say poiein for “to make.” For although other writers are considered poets of (that is, creators of) their own volumes, nevertheless, since these alone far surpass others with a certain marvelous artifice in speech and even an almost unlimited supply of material, have appropriated for themselves the name which could have been common to all.

Sed sunt plerique qui, si vocum solummodo modulationibus quicquam valeant, negocium se statim absolutissime perfecisse putent: sed hi a Platone tanquam leviores vulgaresque musici omnino contemnuntur, quippe qui, etsi aurium sensum demulceant, nihil praeterea magnificum praestare possunt. Alii autem, et hi quidem rariores (omnia enim praeclara rara), qui graviori ac firmiori iudicio divinam harmoniam imitati, altos intimosque mentis sensus eleganti carmine exprimunt atque, divino ipso furore afflati, res saepe adeo mirabiles adeoque supra humanas vires constitutas grandiori quodam spiritu proferunt, ut paulo post cum iam furor ille resederit, ipsi se ipsos admirentur atque obstupescant: quapropter non auribus solum auditorum adulantur, sed suavissimo nectare atque divina ambrosia mentes perfundunt. Hi igitur divini vates sunt et sacri Musarum sacerdotes, hi iure optimo «sancti» ab Ennio appellantur, his solum divinitus concessum est, ut suis carminibus summae iocunditati summam gravitatem, non sine auditorum stupore, permisceant, hi denique omnes omnium bonarum artium disciplinas, quae variis aetatibus ab hominibus inventae absolutaeque sunt, non solum exprimere atque enarrare, verum etiam miro quodam artificio expolire atque illustrare valent. Quapropter a Latinis ex vehementiori quadam mentis concitatione vates appellantur. Graeci autem eos poetas nominarunt: poiein enim facere illi dicunt. Nam quanvis reliqui quoque scriptores suorum voluminum poetae, idest effectores, iure habeantur, nihilominus, quoniam hi soli cum mirifico quodam dicendi artificio tum infinita pene rerum copia ceteros longe superant, nomen id quod omnibus comune esse poterat, tanquam proprium sibique addictum vendicaverunt.

That Old Time (Heavenly) Rock and Roll…

Cristoforo Landino, Preface to Vergil in a Florentine Gymnasium (Part 1)

Since I am about to bring into the middle, in this annual event of ours, that poet who, of all the regions whose inhabitants are known to history or of all the times which have come down to our own recollection thanks to the good offices of writers, is either the first poet or at any rate entirely equal to the first, I have judged it neither alien to my duty nor unpleasing to your ears if, before we approach the interpretation of Vergil himself, I bring to your notice in the briefest manner not only on what poetry is, and from where it drew its origins and where the name of the poet stems from, but also expatiate on what venerable fame and what ample honor it has been held from the earliest ages of humanity and among various nations. I will add finally that it did not only confer dignity and glory upon individual and private people, but also that it has always stood out in well-ordered republics and the most successful peoples, and has always been a not trifling use, and even a great ornament.

Poetry is not, I would say, one of those arts which our ancestors called liberal, but one which, embracing them all, bound by certain meters and distinguished by various lights and blossoms, ornaments whatever it is that people have done or known with wonderful contrivances and translates them into other forms. As the divine Plato shows in his Phaedrus, and the Platonic Cicero demonstrates in his Tusculan Disputations, no mortal was ever able to attain to poetry without some divine madness. For, when that philosopher whom I just mentioned describes the three other types of divine madness, he expresses, unless I am mistaken, the fourth, which he wishes to be the poetic, in this idea. For he says that our minds, while they were still in their celestial seats, were participants in that harmony which consists in the eternal mind of God, and in that harmony which is made by the motions of the heavens. Then, weighed down by the contagion of mortal affairs and on that account devolving to lower things, enclosed in bodies, impeded by terrestrial limbs and bodies bound to fail, they were barely able to perceive with their ears those sounds which were made by mortal industry. Which, nevertheless, even if they are far from those heavenly sounds, nonetheless, since they are simulacra or images of them, draw us on to a silent recollection of the first music and inflame us with the most burning desire of flying back to our ancient fatherland so that we can experience that true music, whose shadowy image this is. But meanwhile, as much as one can in this most vexatious prison of the body, we strive to imitate that heavenly music with these sounds of ours.

Cum eum vobis poetam hoc annuo cursu in medium allaturus essem, qui vel ex omnibus regionibus <quarum habitatores> historia cognoscantur vel ex omnibus saeculis quae ad nostram usque memoriam scriptorum beneficio pervenerint, aut primus sit aut primo omnino par atque aequalis, neque ab officio nostro alienum neque auribus vestris iniocundum futurum existimavi si, antea quam ipsius Maronis interpretationem aggredimur, brevissimis quidem verbis non solum quid ars poetica sit atque unde originem traxerit unde<que> poetae nomen deducatur in medium afferam, verum etiam quam vetustissima a priscis hominum saeculis apud multas variasque nationes maxima celebritate amplissimisque honoribus fuerit disseram. Addam postremo illam non solum singulis privatisque hominibus dignitatem gloriamque attulisse, verum bene institutis rebus publicis florentissimisque populis et usui non mediocri et ornamento maximo semper extitisse.
Est igitur poetica disciplina non dicam unam ex iis artibus quas nostri maiores liberales appellarunt, sed quae illas universas complectens, certis quibusdam numeris astricta variisque luminibus ac floribus distincta, quaecunque homines egerint, quaecunque norint miris figmentis exornet atque in alias quasdam speties traducat. Quam quidem rem, ut et divinus ille Plato in Phaedro et Platonicus Cicero in Tusculanis disputationibus ostendit, nemo unquam mortalium sine divino quodam furore attingere potuit. Nam cum is quem paulo ante dixi philosophus et tria alia divini furoris genera describat, quartum quem poeticum esse vult hac, nisi fallor, sententia exprimit. Ait enim animos nostros, dum in caelestibus sedibus versarentur, et eius harmoniae, quae in aeterna Dei mente consistit, et eius, quae caelorum motibus conficitur, participes fuisse; deinde, cum mortalium rerum contagione degravati et propterea ad inferiora iam devoluti corporibus includantur, iam terrenis arctubus et moribundis membris impeditos, vix eos concentus, qui mortalium industria conficiuntur, auribus percipere posse. Qui tamen, quicunque ii sint, etsi a caelestibus longe absint, nihilominus cum simulachra quaedam ac imagines illorum existant, nos in tacitam quandam primorum recordationem inducunt ardentissimaque cupiditate ad antiquam patriam revolandi inflamant, ut veram ipsam musicam, cuius adumbrata quaedam haec imago est, pernoscamus. Interim vero, quoad per molestissimum nobis corporis carcerem licet, hac nostra illam imitari contendimus.

Yes to Vergil, No to Lucan

J.E. Sandys, Harvard Lectures on the Revival of Learning:

“Cicero and Virgil became the principal text-books of the Revival of Learning. Petrarch describes them in one of his poems as the ‘two eyes’ of his discourse. In his very boyhood he had been smitten with the charm of Virgil, and, even in his old age, he was still haunted by the mediaeval tradition of the allegorical significance of the Aeneid. But, unlike the mediaeval admirers of Virgil, he does not regard the Latin poet as a mysteriously distant and supernatural being; he finds in him a friend, and he is even candid enough to criticise him. Under his influence the Aeneid was accepted as the sole model that was worthy of imitation by the epic poets of the succeeding age. A German critic regards this result with regret, a regret that few, if any, will share; nor is it easy to believe that any scholar would really have preferred seeing Petrarch throw the weight of his example on to the side of any other Latin epic poet, such as Lucan.”

Image result for petrarch

Put the U Back into ‘Humility’

Giovanni Boccaccio, On the Downfalls of Famous Men (2.16):

The mortal condition is calamitous, to be sure: one minute you’re a king, the next minute a slave; one minute you shine with the most wonderful splendor, and the next you’re wasting away in disgusting squalor; one minute you’re issuing haughty commands, and the next you’re fawning over and begging for the most humble things. Why are you so greedy for lofty station, when you see ruin so thickly-packed all over? Why don’t you consider humble things, in which alone one can find stability? Why don’t you look at the things you should pity? Why do you not sharpen your eyes on your own health and safety?

If the other examples of fragile things failed, these Hebraic kings should have alone sufficed to show you. You will hardly see so many chains on the people, so many exiles, so many dishonorable deaths, so many shames, so many anxieties (which you think is the most unfortunate thing). If Amasias had remained among them and away from his victories, he would have survived in Lachish.

Thus too Oxias, had he been held back by common humility, would not have deserved to incur leprosy by tempting the divine. And Ozias, if he had been an unknown man of the people, would have been able to die under his country’s sky and with his paternal gods. Nor would Senacherib died in a temple, slain by his own sons eager for the throne. Thus Ioachaz, thus Ioachim, thus even most wretched Sedechias could have lived as private citizens, could have enjoyed time with their wives, could have raised and left behind sweet children, could have looked at the sky, and died free in their fatherland among the kisses and embraces of their families. And yet, each one found himself unable to stand firm when raised to the apex of power.

What does it matter to be raised to the point that I seem, am recognized as, and considered the greatest, when I am not well enough to fix my step and seem in that same lofty spot to be on a cliff or to be hurled with a precipitate fall. If you had any sense, when you see that there is nothing stable, nothing fixed, nothing firm except for humility, you would strive for it with all of your strength, and would place yourself entirely in its embrace. While you flee it foolishly, you make it so that you are not painfully afflicted by the fault of Fortune (just as you might complain of some loss), but by your own cowardice.

Mortalium profecto calamitosa conditio est: nunc regnas, nunc servis; nunc summo splendore prefulges, nunc turpi squalore tabescis; nunc superba iubes, nunc humiliata obsequeris et precaris. Quid celsorum locorum avida es, cum tam crebras assidue ruinas prospectes? Quid humilia non respicis, in quibus solis stabilitas posita? Quid tibi miseranda non prospicis? Quid oculos in tuam salutem non acuis? Si labilium rerum cetera cessent veritatis exempla, hi tantum reges hebrei suffecisse debuerant. Vix facile tot in plebe catenas, tot exilia, tot inhonestas mortes, tot dedecora, tot anxietates (quam tu infelicissimam putas) invenies. In qua si stetisset Amasias, uti absque victoriis, sic intrepidus vixisset in Lacis; sic et Ozias, plebeia humilitate detentus, non ausus divina temptare, lepram non meruisset incurrere; et Ozias, si popularis incognitus fuisset, sub celo patrio mori et patriis in laribus potuisset; nec a filiis regni cupidine Senacherib occisus cecidisset in templo. Sic Ioachaz, sic Ioachim, sic et miserrimus Sedechias privatus potuisset vivere, cum uxoribus oblectari, dulces alere ac superstites derelinquere natos, celum cernere et liber inter suorum oscula et amplexus in patria mori: et in regni fastigium sublimatus stare non potuit. Quid refert eo extolli ut videar et cognoscar et habear maximus, quo gradum figere non valens, ibidem conspiciar esse in pendulo aut prepeti deici casu? Heu si saperes, cum nil stabile, nil fixum, nil firmum preter humilitatem aspicias, quam totis viribus in illam tenderes, teque eius locares in sinu! Quod dum insipidal refugis, id agis ut non Fortune crimine, prout deiecta quereris, sed dolens tua ignavia affligaris.


Charles Dickens, David Copperfield (Chp. 16):

My stool was such a tower of observation, that as I watched him reading on again, after this rapturous exclamation, and following up the lines with his forefinger, I observed that his nostrils, which were thin and pointed, with sharp dints in them, had a singular and most uncomfortable way of expanding and contracting themselves—that they seemed to twinkle instead of his eyes, which hardly ever twinkled at all.

‘I suppose you are quite a great lawyer?’ I said, after looking at him for some time.

‘Me, Master Copperfield?’ said Uriah. ‘Oh, no! I’m a very umble person.’

It was no fancy of mine about his hands, I observed; for he frequently ground the palms against each other as if to squeeze them dry and warm, besides often wiping them, in a stealthy way, on his pocket-handkerchief.

‘I am well aware that I am the umblest person going,’ said Uriah Heep, modestly; ‘let the other be where he may. My mother is likewise a very umble person. We live in a numble abode, Master Copperfield, but have much to be thankful for. My father’s former calling was umble. He was a sexton.’


Stripping the Integuments of Fiction

Giovanni Boccaccio, Genealogy of the Pagan Gods (1.3):

So here you have, my noble king, a ridiculous story. But we have come to the point where it is convenient to remove the bark of fiction from the truth, though we must first respond to those who ask why the poets covered the works of God, or of nature, or of humans under this veil of fictions. Was there not another way? There was, to be sure, but just as not all people are equal in appearance, so too the faculty of judgment differs among them. Achilles preferred arms to leisure, Aegisthus indolence to arms; Plato followed philosophy to the neglect of everything else, while Phidias sculpted statues with his chisel and Apelles painted images with his brush.

Habes, rex inclite, ridiculam fabulam, verum eo ventum est, ubi oportunum sit a veritate amovere fictionis corticem, sed prius respondendum est persepe dicentibus, quid poete dei opera vel nature vel hominum hoc sub fabularum velamine tradidere? Non erat eis modus alter? Erat equidem, sed uti non equa facies omnibus, sic nec animorum iudicia. Achilles arma preposuit ocio, Egisthus desidiam armis, Plato phylosophiam omissis ceteris secutus est, statuas celte sculpere Phydias, Apelles pinnaculo ymagines pingere.


Law School? More Like “Lie School”!

Giovanni Boccaccio, de Casibus Virorum Illustrium 3.10:

Our present age, having ignored ancient custom, rips little children away, I will not say from the rules of grammar, but from the breasts of their mothers, so that it can force them out not into the schools but into the brothels, in which sacrosanct laws are dragged with a base sort of prostitution from the most just into sinful seductions. This is not done, as some pretend, so that a tender age which will not lose what it has learned will be more aptly imbued with the laws, but rather so that it can be more quickly accommodated to serving avarice. Nor do those who, decked out in robes, mount the cathedrals and pulpits fear to profess this in a sonorous clamour while omitting philosophical proofs as though unnecessary, and defiling the parts from which justice consists and by which the manners of people are reformed for the better by saying, “Let’s forget about these things – they’re superfluous, and don’t teach us how to seek our bread.”

And so, while it doesn’t suffice for armored asses to have neglected what they don’t know, they try even to shamefully mar what is known if they can, pressing on with this mission with all of their strength to the point from which they can disembowel the simplicity and sanctity of the laws and extract quarrels unwilling to come into public notice, and to make the disputes among the litigants immortal with their raillery. And since they celebrate with the loudest acclamation one who, with subterfuge and nefarious sagacity has protected mendacity against the truth for a long time, they nevertheless cultivate, praise, and extol the one to whom, by any fraud whatever, much wealth has accrued, as a father of the laws, an archive of justice, and the reliquary of the truth. O unbending justice of God, how long will you permit this crap?

Portrait by Raffaello Morghen, circa 1822

Presens autem evum, spreta veteri solertia, non dicam a grammaticalibus regulis, sed a nutricum uberibus evellit infantulos, ut eos non in scholis sed in fornicibus trudat, in quibus sacrosancte leges turpi quodam lenocinio ex iustissimis in scelestas trahuntur illecebras; nec agitur hoc – ut aliqui conantur pretendere – ut tenella etas, non dimissura quod ceperit, aptius imbuatur legibus, quin imo ut citius avaritie serviatur. Nec hoc verentur profiteri clamore sonoro qui, fimbriati, cathedras conscendunt et pulpita, dum, omissis phylosophicis demonstrationibus tanquam superfluis et quibus ex partibus iustitia constat et mores hominum reformantur in melius, ore spurcido et obsceno vocabulo aientes: «Sinamus hec: superflua sunt; nec de pane querendo nos instruunt». Et sic dum faleratis onagris non sufficit neglexisse quod nesciunt, conantur etiam turpi nota fedasse, si possint, eo totis incumbentes viribus unde ex simplicitate ac sanctitate legum eviscerare possint nolentia in publicum devenire litigia, et litigantium lites cavillationibus immortales facere. Et cum illum boatu summo celebrent, qui subterfugiis astutiisque nephariis adversus veritatem diu mendacium tutatus est, eum tamen cui quibuscunque fraudibus ample devenere substantie legum patrem iuris archivum veritatisque sacrarium colunt predicant et extollunt. O Dei indeflexa iustitia quam diu pateris hec?