Didn’t Get What You Want for Christmas? Cicero Writes His Brother About Books

Cicero, Letters to Quintus 25

“I believe that you will anticipate that I didn’t lose those books without some kind of a stomach ache…”

puto enim te existimaturum a me illos libros non sine aliquo meo stomacho esse relictos.

Cicero, Letters to Quintus 24

“Concerning the issue of supplementing your Greek library and trading books in order to acquire Latin ones, I would really like to help get this done, since these exchanges are to my benefit as well. But I don’t have anyone even for my own purposes whom I can trust with this. The kinds of books which are helpful are not for sale and they cannot be procured without a deeply learned person who has a serious work ethic.”

De bibliotheca tua Graeca supplenda, libris commutandis, Latinis comparandis, valde velim ista confici, praesertim cum ad meum quoque usum spectent. sed ego mihi ipsi ista per quem agam non habeo. neque enim venalia sunt, quae quidem placeant, et confici nisi per hominem et peritum et diligentem non possunt.

Bonus Quotes from Cato, Dicta Catonis

“Read books”

“Remember the things you read”

Libros lege.

Quae legeris memento.

 

A Stomach Ache: Cicero Writes His Brother About Books

Cicero, Letters to Quintus 25

“I believe that you will anticipate that I didn’t lose those books without some kind of a stomach ache…”

puto enim te existimaturum a me illos libros non sine aliquo meo stomacho esse relictos.

Cicero, Letters to Quintus 24

“Concerning the issue of supplementing your Greek library and trading books in order to acquire Latin ones, I would really like to help get this done, since these exchanges are to my benefit as well. But I don’t have anyone even for my own purposes whom I can trust with this. The kinds of books which are helpful are not for sale and they cannot be procured without a deeply learned person who has a serious work ethic.”

De bibliotheca tua Graeca supplenda, libris commutandis, Latinis comparandis, valde velim ista confici, praesertim cum ad meum quoque usum spectent. sed ego mihi ipsi ista per quem agam non habeo. neque enim venalia sunt, quae quidem placeant, et confici nisi per hominem et peritum et diligentem non possunt.

Bonus Quotes from Cato, Dicta Catonis

“Read books”

“Remember the things you read”

Libros lege.

Quae legeris memento.

 

Leprosy in Ancient Myth? Marginalia from Bernard Knox on Hesiod

Recently I ordered a used copy of Merkelbach’s and West’s Fragmenta Hesiodea online. When I received the book in the mail, I discovered that it had once belonged to the late Hellenist Bernard Knox.

Inside the Front Cover

Inside the Front Cover

This was exciting and interesting in a way only a classicist or a bibliophile could understand completely. There is something about making inter-generational connections this way that is both humbling and attractive. In a morbid way, it made me wonder if people would still be acquiring used books some day after my passing…

For those of us who love them, books are a private and intense connection. A friend of mine from graduate school was so intense about this connection that he refused to ever give books as a gift. He quipped that books were as intimate as underwear—would you give undergarments just to anyone?

And marginal notes can be both embarrassing and illuminating. I write all over my books and I shudder to think of anyone making sense of my scribblings or forming any judgment based on them. I should start writing in pencil.

Apart from such musings, the book has marginal notes I can only assume come from the man himself. They are in a light, fine pencil. Where he writes Greek, his letters have the fine clarity of someone long accustomed to writing Greek in a school setting. Most of his markings are mere lines showing interest or surprise. What is interesting about the passage is often unclear, but one section made me laugh out loud.

 

Leprosy?

Leprosy?

Fragment 133

“Dread flowed from the sore over their heads,
Their skin turned white all over, and their hair was streaming
From their heads as their noble scalps were stripped bald.”

P. Oxy. 2488A, ed. Lobel

[ ]δε̣.ο̣[
[ ]ἀπείρονα γαῖαν
καὶ γάρ σφιν κεφαλῆισι κατὰ κνύος αἰνὸν ἔχευεν·
ἀλφὸς γὰρ χρόα πάντα κατέσχ<εθ>εν, αἱ δέ νυ χαῖται
ἔρρεον ἐκ κεφαλέων, ψίλωτο δὲ καλὰ κάρηνα.

This passage seems to describe a plague and may be part of the madness afflicted by Hera on the daughters of Proitos (relieved by the seer Melampous). Knox’s identification of this as leprosy is striking because (1) I cannot tell if he is serious and (2) it is one of the only English words written in the whole text.

I cannot judge whether or not this is a joke because I don’t know anything about leprosy or sexually transmitted diseases in the ancient world. Anyone?

Biblioklepty? Lives of Crime and Missing Books, a New Classics Confessional Game

Earlier today, we re-tweeted a tale about the tragic theft of some Plutarch:

http://twitter.com/QuidAgitur/status/605373378007048192

This made me think of my own history of kleptobiblia (or should it be biblioklepty? Let’s go with that). The only time I can think of planning to and actually stealing a book was when I was in middle school. My parents and my friends’ parents were mostly aging history. One friend’s father had Abbie Hoffman’s classic on his shelf.

steal this book

What could one do but steal it?

Now, I am sure that antiquity has many anecdotes of book-theft to contemplate and even more certain that the history of classical scholarship, peopled by myriad rogues and bibliophiles, must have as many if not more. But I can’t think of any (apart from the apocryphal Alexandrian edict on the surrender of books).

But I am equally certain that just as the books we read (and display) say something about us, so too the books we ‘steal’ (and don’t) have something essential to communicate. So, my new classics confessional game is this: what book did you ‘steal’ (or acquire by less-than-legit means); what book do you wish you hadn’t (absconded with); and what book do you wish you had (taken)?

Here’s my list:

Book I ‘stole’: Albert Lord’s The Singer of tales. My undergraduate adviser lent it to me and I loved it. I never gave it back. To make amends, I became a Homerist.

Book I wish I hadn’t: While in graduate school I walked out of a famous library with their edition of the first volume of the Cambridge Commentary on the Iliad. It was purely accidental. I had my own copy at home! No alarms went off. I was too embarrassed to return it. It sits on my shelf to this day, unopened, a token of my lingering shame.

Book I wish I had: When I was leaving graduate school, I had designs on Slater’s Lexicon to Pindar. I had this crazy idea I was going to translate all of Pindar’s odes. I chickened out. But then, Perseus put it online. All’s well that ends…

Any other confessions out there?

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