Latin vs. Philology, Part XXI:

Francesco Filelfo, Letter to Lorenzo Medici (Part 21):

“Who, however, will deny after hearing these many things which we have laid out up to this point that there was a common Latin tongue which was for the orator not as much a source of admiration if he knew it as it was a source of mockery if he didn’t know it, since the people would think (as Crassus says) that he was not only not an orator, but scarcely even a person if he couldn’t speak it?

Therefore, we shouldn’t wonder if, in a language known to all, the whole theater shouted, ‘We know that it’s barbarous!’ if one syllable had been pronounced either too short or too long. For the habit of daily speech was to be preserved, which was a consensus of the educated, as we say that the mode of living which we should preserve is that decreed by the consensus of good people.”

Image result for plautus and naevius

Quis autem ex iis, quae non pauca in hunc usque locum perstrinximus, negare audeat latinum sermonem fuisse vulgarem, quem orator, si sciret, non tantae admirationi erat quantae, ubi nesciret, irrisioni, cum eum, ut dicebat Crassus, non oratorem modo, sed ne hominem quidem putarent esse?

Non igitur mirari oportebat si, in lingua omnibus cognita, theatra tota exclamabant “barbare scimus!”, si fuit una syllaba prolata aut brevior aut longior. Nam consuetudo quottidiani sermonis servanda erat, quae ita erat quidam eruditorum consensus, ut vivendi bonorum consensum dicimus.

Love Libraries and Despise Fools

Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy 2.2.4:

“King James, 1605, when he came to see our University of Oxford, and amongst other edifices now went to view that famous library, renewed by Sir Thomas Bodley, in imitation of Alexander, at his departure brake out into that noble speech, If I were not a king, I would be a university man: and if it were so that I must be a prisoner, if I might have my wish, I would desire to have no other prison than that library, and to be chained together with so many good authors et mortuis magistris. So sweet is the delight of study, the more learning they have (as he that hath a dropsy, the more he drinks the thirstier he is) the more they covet to learn, and the last day is prioris discipulus [the student of the one before]; harsh at first learning is, radices amarae [bitter roots], but fructus dulces [sweet fruits], according to that of Isocrates, pleasant at last; the longer they live, the more they are enamoured with the Muses.

Heinsius, the keeper of the library at Leyden in Holland, was mewed up in it all the year long: and that which to thy thinking should have bred a loathing, caused in him a greater liking. I no sooner (saith he) come into the library, but I bolt the door to me, excluding lust, ambition, avarice, and all such vices, whose nurse is idleness, the mother of ignorance, and melancholy herself, and in the very lap of eternity, amongst so many divine souls, I take my seat, with so lofty a spirit and sweet content, that I pity all our great ones, and rich men that know not this happiness.

I am not ignorant in the meantime (notwithstanding this which I have said) how barbarously and basely, for the most part, our ruder gentry esteem of libraries and books, how they neglect and contemn so great a treasure, so inestimable a benefit, as Aesop’s cock did the jewel he found in the dunghill; and all through error, ignorance, and want of education. And ’tis a wonder, withal, to observe how much they will vainly cast away in unnecessary expenses, quot modis pereant (saith Erasmus) magnatibus pecuniae, quantum absumant alea, scorta, compotationes, profectiones non necessariae, pompae, bella quaesita, ambitio, colax, morio, ludio, &c., what in hawks, hounds, lawsuits, vain building, gormandising, drinking, sports, plays, pastimes, &c. If a well-minded man to the Muses, would sue to some of them for an exhibition, to the farther maintenance or enlargement of such a work, be it college, lecture, library, or whatsoever else may tend to the advancement of learning, they are so unwilling, so averse, that they had rather see these which are already, with such cost and care erected, utterly ruined, demolished or otherwise employed; for they repine many and grudge at such gifts and revenues so bestowed: and therefore it were in vain, as Erasmus well notes, vel ab his, vel a negotiatoribus qui se Mammonae dediderunt, improbum fortasse tale officium exigere, to solicit or ask anything of such men that are likely damned to riches; to this purpose. For my part I pity these men, stultos jubeo esse libenter, let them go as they are, in the catalogue of Ignoramus.”

Dialogus creaturarum moralisatus. [Geneva]: Jean Belot, 1500. Illustration at beginning of book (a1v). Sp Coll S. M. 1986.

Latin vs. Philology, Part XVII

Francesco Filelfo, Letter to Lorenzo Medici (Part 17)

“How great a change of speech and of manners occurred in the Roman people is made clear enough to us by the opinion of Publius Scipio Aemilianus. When he returned after the defeat and ruin of Numantia, he had scarcely entered the city when, led forth onto the speaker’s platform by the tribune of plebs Gnaeus Carbo, who was eager to agitate the Gracchan sedition had been nearly extinguished, asked him what his opinion was on the death of Tiberius Gracchus. Carbo did not doubt that Scipio would censure his death, since he had his sister conjoined in marriage, and he thought that it would transpire that he would add much to the flames of sedition from the authority of such a great man. But the outcome was much different than he had hoped.

For Scipio, being a man endowed with gravity and a singular sense of justice, said that it appeared that Gracchus had been justly killed. When the assembly, provoked by the tribune’s goading and its own madness, was railing against this response, he said, ‘Those to whom Italy is a stepmother – not a mother – should be silent.’ He then added, ‘…those, whom I sold under the crown.’ And when a murmur arose again, he said, ‘You will not bring it about that I fear those whom I led as captives now that they are free.’ Scipio said that Italy was the stepmother, not the mother, to that ignorant mob, because it had been mixed together from so many and such different peoples.

Therefore, it was not absurd for Lucius Crassus to advise (as we read in Cicero), that there was no better mode of speaking, ‘than Latin, so that we can speak plainly, aptly, and fittingly for whatever is the matter at hand.’

He adds that we would try in vain to teach one who does not know how to speak, and that further, we cannot hope that one will speak decorously if they cannot speak Latin.”

Comic History of Rome p 240 Scipio Aemilianus cramming himself for a Speech after a hearty Supper.jpg

Quanta esset in populo romano et locutionis et morum facta mutatio perspicuo nobis sit argumento unius Publii Scipionis Aemiliani sententia, qui post eversionem ruinasque Numantiae ubi revertisset, vix urbem ingressus cum esset, productus in rostra a Cn. Carbone tribuno plebis, qui gracchanam seditionem iam propemodum extinctam excitare cupiebat, quae sua de Tyberii Gracchi morte sententia foret interrogavit. Non enim Scipionem dubitabat Carbo illius necem accusaturum, quoniam eius sororem coniunctam matrimonio haberet, et ita fore ut ex auctoritate amplissimi viri incrementi plurimum, quod animo cogitarat, seditionis incendiis adiiceret. Sed longe evenit contra.

Nam Scipio, ut erat vir gravitate et iustitia singulari, respondit illum iure sibi caesum videri. Ad quod quidem dictum ubi concio, tribunicio suasu furoreque irritata, obstreperet, “Taceant” inquit “quibus Italia noverca, non mater est”. Moxque addidit: “quos ego sub corona vendidi”. Atque orto deinde murmure, “Non” inquit “efficietis ut quos vinctos adduxi, solutos verear”. Italiam inquit Scipio novercam esse, non matrem, illi multitudini imperitae, quod ex tot et tam variis gentibus confusa esset.

Non igitur absurde monet apud Ciceronem L. Crassus, nullum esse dicendi modum meliorem “quam ut latine, ut plane, et ad id, quodcunque agetur, apte congruenterque dicamus”.

Subditque frustra conandum esse ut eum doceamus qui loqui nesciat, nec sperandum, qui latine non possit, hunc ornate esse dicturum.

Buried Under Mountains of Philology

James Loeb,

Letter from A Symposium on the Value of Humanistic, Particularly Classical, Studies as a Training for Men of Affairs:

“It would be a waste of your time and of my energy, were I to try to plead the cause of the Classics. America does not stand alone in its decreasing attention to Greek and Latin. Schoolmasters and university professors in England, France, and Germany make the same complaint. We must not close our eyes to the fact that the prevalent methods of teaching classical literature are largely to blame for this decrease. The dry, pedantic insistence on grammatical and syntactical detail, so usual in High School and University, has driven many a student out of the fold. It is asking too much of even a well-disciplined lad to read the Prometheus or the Antigone in this spirit. His eyes must be opened to the human values and to the aesthetic charm of -ancient literature ; and for this the teacher is often too incapable or too unwilling. I am confident that the younger generation of teachers, who are now coming into their own, and who have ‘tasted the dragon’s blood’ in Greece or in Italy, will inject new life into their subject, or rather, that they will understand how to show forth to their hearers that eternal life and beauty of the Classics which is so often buried under mountains of dry philology.

In an age like ours, where ambitious youth no longer treads the cloistered walk, where ‘Make Money,’ ‘Win Success,’ ‘Out-do Croesus’ are written in large letters on the blackboard of School, College, and University, usurping the place of the γνῶθι σαυτόν, how can we expect people to find value in Homer or Euripides, in Caesar or Catullus?

$uccess, written with the dollar sign, instead of with the commoner, but more harmless sibilant, is the shibboleth of our day. In his last year’s Phi Beta Kappa oration President Woodrow Wilson, of Princeton, said:

Is it not time we stopped asking indulgence for learning and proclaimed its sovereignty? Is it not time that we reminded the College men of this country that they have no right to any distinctive place in any community unless they can show it by intellectual achievement? that if a University is a place for distinction at all, it must be distinguished by conquest of mind?

Splendid! But what does the average undergraduate think of such words as these? ‘Stuff and nonsense; very pretty in theory, but how do they apply to my case to me, who want to make a Success of my life?’ We have made the path of education too smooth; our young men and women rush over it on the soft cushions of hurrying automobiles. They are no longer forced to face that healthy struggle for knowledge that wearies the body, but refreshes the mind. Why, there are Colleges and Universities in our land where ‘original research’ is recommended to young people as a profitable pastime before they know what a bibliography looks like! Most things can be popularized; original research cannot.”

Pondering the Past

James Bryce,

Letter from A Symposium on the Value of Humanistic, Particularly Classical, Studies as a Training for Men of Affairs:

“I do not say that the classics will make a dull man bright, nor that a man ignorant of them may not display the highest literary or the highest practical gifts, as indeed many have done. Natural genius can overleap all deficiencies of training. But a mastery of the literature and history of the ancient world makes every one fitter to excel than he would have been without it, for it widens the horizon, it sets standards unlike our own, it sharpens the edge of critical discrimination, it suggests new lines of constructive thought. It is no doubt more directly helpful to the lawyer or the clergyman or the statesman than it is to the engineer or the banker. But it is useful to all, for the man of affairs gains, like all others, from whatever enables him better to comprehend the world of men around him and to discern the changes that are passing on in it.

Without disparaging the grammatical and philological study of Greek and Latin, the highest value a knowledge of these languages contains seems to me to lie less in familiarity with their forms than in a grasp of ancient life and ancient thought, in an appreciation of the splendor of the poetry they contain, in a sense of what human nature was in days remote from our own. It is for all of us necessary to live for the present and the immediate future. But it is a mistake to live so entirely in the present as we are apt to do in these days, for the power of broad thinking suffers. It is not only the historian who ought to know the past, nor only the philosopher and the statesman who ought to ponder the future and endeavor to divine it by filling his mind with the best thought which the men of old have left to us.”

This famous illustration for which the manuscript is named has been the subject of numerous scholarly interpretations.

Philology is Not Enough

Henry Wright, Preface to Maxime Collignon’s A Manual of Greek Archaeology 

“MODERN culture owes to the civilisation of the ancient Greeks a profound debt, which is at once direct and indirect. The direct debt has arisen principally from the place long held by Greek studies in our system of education. The indirect debt, which is more subtle and less easily recognised, is that of many forces, inspirations, and models, in art, literature, and science, that have been transmitted to us from a remote past, through various peoples and through diverse civilisations. In our schools, and to a certain extent still in our colleges and universities, we understand by Greek studies almost exclusively the study of the language and literature of the ancient Hellenes. But the Hellenic spirit and it is this only that gives life to these studies has revealed itself in a novel and distinctly different manner, and with equal if not with greater vividness, delicacy, and force, in the manifold remains of Greek art, from the rudest specimens of the potter’s industry, up to the glorious monuments due to the genius of the sculptor and architect in the service of religion. Greek studies, then, that leave out of view the art of the ancient Greeks, are one-sided, fragmentary, and essentially defective.”

Latin vs. Philology, Part XII

Francesco Filelfo, Letter to Lorenzo Medici (Part 12)

“We read in Cicero’s first book of Tusculan Disputations something like this: ‘Since bodies fell into the earth and were then covered by the ground [humus], from which we get the phrase ‘to bury’ [humari], they used to think that the rest of the life of the dead was led underground. Great errors have followed this opinion, and poets have increased them. A great crowd in the theater, in which crowd some women are to be found, is moved by hearing such a grand song: I am here and I have scarcely arrived from Acheron by a deep and arduous road, a cave strewn with the greatest suspended crags, where the thick smoke of the dead stands firm. So strong has the error grown, which seems to me to have been dispelled, that even though they knew that bodies were burned, they pretended that things happened in the underworld which could not occur nor be understood without physical bodies. Indeed, spirits living entirely of themselves could not be comprehended by the mind – they were seeking some kind of form and figure.’

And how came it that the women were so moved by those verses, nay even terrified, if they did not understand what was being recited?

Another tragedy was put on at the Ludi Apollinares, and Gnaeus Pompey was there with the rest of the people. In his presence, the tragedian Diphilus, as he came in the performance to the verse with the meaning, ‘He has grown great from your misery,’ did not fear to hold out his hands toward Pompey the Great and to pronounce the verse with great pity, and as he was called back by the people somewhat, again without any hesitation he did not cease to demonstrate that he was in the conduct of things a man of excessive and intolerable power, and he came to this verse employing the same perseverance, ‘There will come a time when you will greatly bewail that very virtue.’ Could Diphilus have been so frequently recalled by the people as though applauding if it had only poorly heard and understood what he was singing?”

Murderer of Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, 106 BC - 48 BC, Pompey, (Murderer of Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, 106 BC - 48 BC, Pompey, Pompey the Great, a military and...)

Legimus apud M. Tullium Ciceronem, libro primo Quaestionum Tusculanarum, huiusmodi verba: “In terram enim cadentibus corporibus iisque humo tectis, e quo dictum est humari, sub terra censebant reliquam vitam agi mortuorum. Quam eorum opinionem consecuti magni errores sunt, quos auxerunt poetae. Frequens enim consessus theatri in quo sunt mulierculae movetur audiens tam grande carmen: ‘Adsum atque advenio Acheronte vix via alta atque ardua, spelunca saxis structa asperis pendentibus maximis, ubi rigida constat crassa caligo inferum’. Tantumque invaluit error, qui mihi quidem iam sublatus videtur, ut corpora cremata cum scirent, tamen ea fieri apud inferos fingerent, quae sine corporibus neque fieri possent neque intelligi. Animos enim per se ipsos viventis non poterant mente complecti, formam aliquam figuramque quaerebant”.

Et quo pacto mulierculae versibus illis commotae essent, perinde atque perterritae, ni quae recitabantur intellexissent?

Agebatur alia tragoedia ludis Apollinaribus, intereratque una cum universo populo G. Pompeius Magnus. Quo quidem praesente non est veritus Diphilus tragoedus, cum inter agendum ad illum venisset versum quo sententia haec continebatur: “Miseria vestra magnus est”, directis in Pompeium Magnum manibus, miserabiliter eum pronunciare, ut aliquotiens revocatus a populo, sine ulla rursus cunctatione nimiae illum et intolerabilis potentiae rerum gestu perseveranter demonstrare non destitit, ad eum usque locum eadem usus perseverantia: “Virtutem istam, Veniet tempus cum graviter gemas”. Num Diphilus fuisset totiens a populo tanquam applaudenti revocatus, si minus quae canebantur et audisset et cognovisset?