Love Ruins Everyone in Baiae (Love Week)

Giovanni Pontano, Baiae 1.3:

“Batilla went to the baths of Baiae,
and with her went that gentle companion, Cupid.
They bathe together and keep each other warm
while they lie together on the soft bed –
she plays games and starts some naughty combats,
and when Cupid is tired – just worn out –
Batilla laughs and grabs his bow.
Soon she covers her side with the painted quiver
and she tosses off the gentle arrows here and there.
Nothing, o, nothing you wretched little lovers,
nothing remains impenetrable to these arrows:
Alas, Baiae is ruinous for old and young alike!”

File:Joseph Mallord William Turner - The Bay of Baiae, with Apollo and the Sibyl - Google Art Project.jpg
Joseph Mallord William Turner – The Bay of Baiae

Baianas petiit Batilla thermas
Dumque illi tener it comes Cupido
Atque una lavat et fovetur una,
Dum molli simul in toro quiescit
Ac ludos facit improbasque rixas,
Sopito pueroque lassuloque
Arcum surripuit Batilla ridens,
Mox picta latus instruit pharetra
Et molles iacit huc et huc sagittas.
Nil, o nil reliquum miselli amantes,
Nil his impenetrabile est sagittis:
Heu, cladem iuvenum senumque, Baias!

Love = Death

Jacopo Sannazzaro, Epigrams 2.56
(To His Own Soul)
“You burned, and the flame consumed your wretched marrow –
your desiccated bones dissolved into tenuous ash.
You wept, and your eyes poured forth a perennial dew;
Sebeto himself grew from your tears.
Why this unbridled desire for burning and crying?
O, my soul, you should learn to fear your funeral,
and not to go on seeking over and over for your destruction, your death.
Be happy that you have made it past the Sirens’ rocks.”
Image result for jacopo sannazzaro
Titian, Portrait of Jacopo Sannazzaro
Arsisti; et miseras consumsit flamma medullas;
Aridaque in cineres ossa abïere leves:
Flevisti; roremque oculi fudere perennem;
Sebethus lacrimis crevit et ipse tuis:
Ardendi, fledique igitur quae tanta cupido est?
O anime, exsequias disce timere tuas;
Neve iterum tua damna, iterum tua funera quaeras:
Sirenum scopulos praeteriisse juvet.

Reading Like a Scholar (i.e. Like a Boss)

Celio Calcagnini, Letter to Tommaso Calcagnini:

“For my part, whatever I read, whatever I think, I store it in the storehouses of my mind as if I were about to bring it forth for the use of human activity. And since I think that it is too difficult to excerpt everything separately, I put many things into a commentary, or write it separately on a little sheet. But in the margin, I make compendious notes, separate from the text, of everything which seems worth of some notice. If any of these things really stand out as particularly capital or excellent, I place them in the peak (or one might say the crown) of the margin. From this practice springs some utility, allowing me to reconsider several volumes within the space of an hour and a half. I once tried to wrangle Pliny’s Natural History into an epitome, since I always burned with wondrous desire for that author. But undoubtedly I acted the fool, because I ended up copying out almost everything in Pliny.”


Ego profecto quicquid lego, quicquid meditor, ita omne in arcanis animi recondo, quasi mox ad usum humanarum actionum expositurus. Et quoniam arduum nimis reor omnia seorsum excerpere, multa sane in commentarium refero, aut seorsum in pagella exscribo. Sed in margine compendiose omnia, quae digna sunt aliqua animadversione, sepono: quod siqua praestant, quasi coryphaea et optimatia in summa marginis coronide. Hinc ea mihi utilitas nascitur, ut vel sesquihora multa possim volumina recognoscere. Tentavi aliquando Plinii Naturalem Historiam in epitomen revocare, quando eius autoris mira semper cupidine exarsi: sed rem sine controversia ridiculam feci, qui omnem ferme Plinium exscripserim.

Filthy Friday: Rank Misogyny

Antonio Beccadelli, Hermaphroditus 2.8:

“If such a tremendous stink were always blowing upon the sea, so that no one’s nose could bear the shore, what sailor would be a shipwreck on the Adriatic or Scythian or Tyrrhenian Sea? But you – don’t be afraid. When you get it up for Ursa, when you really want her badly, her stinking vagina will drive you off. It breathes such a horrid stench, that a fat and stinking corpse would smell like lilies when set against it; it blows out such a smell that if one were to compare her crotch to shit, a huge sewer would suddenly see like violets and roses. If your nose is not put off by such a smell, I will give you something to make it tighter.”



Thanks for the Homer!

Petrarch, Epistulae Familiares 18.2:

“My dearest man, remembering both my desire and your promise, you gave this book to me, and – what adds more than a little to the gift – you gave it to me, not funneled by some violent channel into another language, but pure and uncorrupted, from the very springs of Greek eloquence, just as it first flowed from Homer’s divine intellect. I consider it the highest gift and, if the true price of the thing be considered, it is one of entirely incalculable value. Nothing more could be added to it if you would bestow along with Homer your gracious presence, with the aid of which I first entered upon the narrow paths of a foreign tongue. Happily would I enjoy your gift, and astonished I would glance the ‘light’ and the ‘visual marvels’ about which Horace writes in his Art of Poetry, 

 Antiphates and Scylla, and the Cyclops with Charybdis.”

Image result for scylla and charybdis

Hunc tu michi, vir amicissime, donasti, promissi tui simul ac desiderii mei memor, quodque non modicum dono adicit, donasti eum non in alienum sermonem violento alveo derivatum, sed ex ipsis greci eloquii scatebris purum et incorruptum et qualis primum divino illi perfluxit ingenio. Summum utique et, si verum rei precium exquiritur, inextimabile munus habeo, cuique nil possit accedere si cum Homero tui quoque presentiam largireris, qua duce peregrine lingue introgressus angustias, letus dono tuo fruerer attonitusque conspicerem “lucem” illam et “speciosa miracula” de quibus in Arte poetica Flaccus ait:

 Antiphatem Scyllamque et cum Cyclope Caribdim.


Against Pedantry

“..[D]on’t listen to the pedantic and specific precepts of grammarians; but heed your own ear…”

non finitiones illas praerancidas neque fetutinas grammaticas spectaveris, sed aurem tuam interroga

Aulus Gellius, Attic Nights 13.21

When I was applying to graduate school and asked what it was like, I remember my first Greek teacher telling me a story about his PhD qualifying exams. During the two-hour oral component, some eminent professor of distinguished achievement remained conspicuously silent. When he did speak up, he looked critically at the examinee (a Homerist) and asked a single question: “What is the name of Odysseus’ mother?” My teacher could not remember and it caused enough trauma that this was the story he used to characterize his experience in graduate school almost 30 years later.

When I was in a PhD program myself, this anecdote was the first thing that came to my mind as I looked over the returned draft of the first three chapters of my dissertation. Most dissertations leave behind them legacies of confusion, shame, and pain. Mine was not completely traumatizing, but that’s because, after struggling for six months to write over 100 pages of well-footnoted dreck, I had the audacity to throw everything away and start from scratch. During a feverish long-weekend in February 2006, I re-started from page 1 and ended up writing the first draft of a ‘chapter’ that, at over 100 pages, became the first three chapters of a messy, long, but ultimately ‘successful’ dissertation. (Spoiler: I passed).

When you submit chapters of your dissertation to advisors, the ensuing period of silence can be maddening. (And sometimes that long wait never ends.) When I did receive a marked-up version of my magnum opus, I scurried away from my advisor to start poring over his responses, hoping for some clue that I was on the right track, to divine some sign of my future. And inside: Corrected misspellings; Commas inserted and deleted; A Greek accent was repaired. The longest actual comment I could find was scrawled next to a footnote: the word “Phaeacia” was scratched out, next to it: “The Phaeacians live in Skheria.”

This was not the first warning I received in graduate school about the world into which I was seeking initiation. Any failure to translate adequately in seminars was met with sudden questions about obscure aorist stems. In casual conversation, I remember being corrected for calling someone “long-lifed”, when the right way of saying it is “long-lived”. But I am a blustery and confident sort. When I was asked in a seminar why I didn’t know the defective aorist of bainô, I responded, probably with a bit of acid, “because I am a student. I am here to learn.”

The first lesson I was taught in graduate school was either to shed the Socratic notion of owning up to my ignorance or be prepared for shame as a reward for my loyalty to Platonic dogma. The second lesson was really just the application of one I already knew: the best defense is a good offense. Know the nitty-gritty details; and, if you don’t, just put someone else on the spot first.

precise man

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F**k Sleep, I’m Going to the Library!

Petrarch, Epistulae Familiares 19.16:

“You know how I eat, and even how I sleep – no fortune could ever persuade me to add anything to these. Rather, I subtract a little every day, and it has reached the point now that only a little bit can be subtracted. Even if some royal fortune befell me, it could not drive frugality from my table or drive me to look for more sleep at night. My bed never holds me if I am healthy and awake, and I never toss in the sheets unless I am sick or sleeping. As soon as sleep departs from me, I depart from the bed, and I will lie enough or even more than enough on a bed of earth or rock.

Thinking about it, I hate my bed and I never return to it but at the urging of necessity, but soon I sense that I am freed from it as from the chains of nature, and without delay I rip myself out of it and flee to the closest library as though it were a citadel. This divorce occurs between me and my bed in the middle of the night: if by chance a shorter night or some late hours drag on, yet certainly dawn never sees us together. Finally, I strive with all my heart to prevent anything from coming between me and my more pleasant concerns, except that which the necessity of nature extracts from me in an imperious way – I mean things like sleep, food, and the short and honorable solace which is just enough for relaxing the body and replenishing the spirit.”

Image result for petrarch library

Victum meum nosti, somnum quoque; his ut addam, nulla michi unquam fortuna suaserit; demo potius aliquid in dies, iamque eo perventum est ut modicum demi possit; denique non si regie opes advenerint, aut e mensa frugalitatem pellere poterunt aut in cubiculum longos somnos arcessere. Nunquam me sanum ac vigilem lectus habet, nunquam nisi eger aut dormiens stratis versor; simul et me somnus et ego lectum desero, et somnum morti et lectulum busto simillimum duco. Cum supremus sopor obrepserit, satis superque satis in cubiculo terreo seu saxeo iacebimus; id meditans lectulum meum odi et ad illum nisi urgente necessitate non redeo, sed ab illo mox ut me nature vinclis explicitum sentio, incuntanter avellor inque bibliothecam illi proximam velut in arcem fugio. Fit hoc inter nos media nocte divortium, quod siquando forte vel nox brevior vel vigilie longiores traxerint, at profecto nunquam simul aurora nos invenit; postremo modis omnibus nitor nequid melioribus curis interveniat, preter id solum quod imperiose necessitas nature exigit, somnum dico et cibum et breve honestumque solatium vegetando corpori refovendoque animo duntaxat ydoneum.  Id enimvero quia pro varietate temporum ac locorum variari oportet, et quale michi nunc sit nisi audias nosse non potes, dicam. Amo solitudinem ut soleo sectorque silentium nisi inter amicos, inter quos nemo me loquacior, hanc reor ob causam quod amicorum presentia solito rarior nunc est; raritas autem desiderium accendit. Sepe igitur annuum silentium diurna loquacitate compenso rursumque amicis abeuntibus mutus fio; importunum negotium cum vulgo loqui aut omnino cum homine quem non amor tibi seu doctrina conciliet.