Vacation: Putting the Skholê back into Scholarship

Dio Chrysostom, On Retirement 3

“No, these guys are obviously running away and going AWOL. They have no excuse and could expect no pardon for this kind of vacation and desertion.”

ἀλλ᾿ οὗτοι μὲν δῆλον ὅτι φεύγουσί τε καὶ δραπετεύουσι, καὶ οὐκ ἂν εἴη πρόφασις αὐτοῖς οὐδὲ συγγνώμη τῆς τοιαύτης σχολῆς τε καὶ ἀποδράσεως.

scholar 2

As many people know, the word scholarship is somewhere in the past derived from the Ancient Greek skholê for “leisure” (since literary and linguistic studies were both the sorts of things people did in their leisure time and you had to be a person with leisure time to do them). This also happens to be the word that Woodhouse’s English-Greek Dictionary provides as the translation for English “vacation”.

(also, just ruminate on the Latin etymology of vacation for a minute, the implied emptiness…)


One of the popular—and politically expedient—myths about people who teach (both at the college level and lower) is that we are people of leisure—we have too much idle time to engage in (1) not doing ‘real’ work or (2) brainwashing those naïve children society entrusts to us. The truth—especially for college faculty on contract or in contingent positions, for those early in their career or looking for jobs, or for anyone who teaches elementary through high school—is that the past generation has seen the slow but steady erosion of the boundary between leisure and work.

Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae 7

“When will this year end?” One man gives games and even though he set a great worth on being able to do so, now says, “When will I flee them?” Another lawyer is praised over the whole forum and attracts a great crowd extending farther than they can hear, yet he complains, “When will I get a break?”

Everyone hurries life on and suffers a desire for the future and a weariness from the present. But the one who dedicates all his time to his own use, who orders every day as if it is the last one, neither desires nor fears tomorrow.”

“Quando hic annus praeteribit?” Facit ille ludos, quorum sortem sibi optingere magno aestimavit: “Quando,” inquit, “istos effugiam?” Diripitur ille toto foro patronus et magno concursu omnia ultra, quam audiri potest, complet: “Quando,” inquit, “res proferentur?” Praecipitat quisque vitam suam et futuri desiderio laborat, praesentium taedio. At ille qui nullum non tempus in usus suos confert, qui omnem diem tamquam ultimum ordinat, nec optat crastinum nec timet.

This boundary has moved not in our favor but in the direction of creating an environment in which teachers and academics never stop working. This is true for many fields where technology and the unholy god of efficiency has extended work hours and expected employees to take work home and to answer work communication at all hours. But it is especially damaging for mental health in higher ed and high school where we buy in to the idea of the life of the mind and willingly submit to the elision between our personal and professional selves.

This means that high school teachers grade until 9 or 10 at night (on an early night) because they are with students until almost dinner time. This means that professors teaching adjunct courses still feel compelled to answer emails at 1 AM because they don’t want lower teaching evaluations. This means that early career professors in the tenure track put off having children or being in relationships for decades because they don’t have the time. This means that life passes us by because we are trying so hard to make the most out our lives.

A few years back in Facebook, Dr. S. Culpepper Stroup (a fantastic name of which I am very jealous) makes a great point about the difference between otium (leisure) and negotium (business) in Latin. The long-and-short of it is that the Roman lexicon reflects an inverse relationship between our work and vacation. But, here are her finer words (quoted with permission):

Speaking of *otium* (as I always do) and its centrality to the Roman intellectual sphere, consider its opposite: *negotium*. Latin instructors often team *otium* as “leisure” and *negotium* as “business,” both of which absolutely miss the train in terms of semantic designation.

(Leisure comes from the Latin *licet*, so it indicates a time when one is *allowed* to do a specific activity, which absolutely lacks the strong autonomous sense of *otium*.)

Anyway, *negotium* is—obviously—the privative of *otium* (early on we see it in Plautus as “nec otium mihi”). *Negotium* is the time when you are deprived of *otium*.

The English “vacation” completely reverses that, making work the “full” thing (full of work, that is), and vacation the privative.

I far prefer the Roman sense of *otium*, as a self-owned time that needed no apologies.

Euripides, Hippolytus 383-384

“Life has many pleasures
Long talks and leisure, a pleasant evil…”

… εἰσὶ δ’ ἡδοναὶ πολλαὶ βίου,
μακραὶ δὲ λέσχαι καὶ σχολὴ τερπνὸν κακόν.

Smarter and more well-informed people than I can make the argument about the evils of neo-liberal capitalism and the commodification of everything. They can point out the insidious culture that insists us to see our online persona as our actual selves and to envision the ‘life’ we pursue there as a never ending process of branding and re-branding to ensure that we will never be less than fully commodifiable. I can merely confess that the anxiety, workload, and self-identification has shaped me in such a way that it is really, really hard to take any time off.

I was grading exams the days both of my children were born (and I got reprimanded by my chair for not entering grades soon enough after). When my daughter was learning to walk, I cheered her on as I furiously finished a book and a few articles to ensure I received tenure. I took one week off when my father died suddenly. I have brought sick kids to class repeatedly. I took one day off when my grandmother died.. None of this is necessary, admirable, or worthy of praise; all of it is from guilt, pressure, and our toxic work culture. And I know I don’t have it particularly bad. I have tenure. I have a place in the world, job security, and safety.

But at this point, I am what I do and I do what I am. I take articles to read at the playground. I proof articles while my kids are at swimming lessons. I have dragged work to Italy, India, France, Germany. Somehow I have not totally ruined my relationship with my spouse by slinking out of bed regularly at 5 am or answering emails after the children are asleep. I have lived through my work and despite my work. And I worry about the long-term consequences.

But I keep going because I love my material, because I love my students and my institution, and because of the fear and guilt: I know there are many others who are smarter, who have worked harder, but who have not had some of the dumb luck I have (or the privilege to which I was born) to end up where I am.

Cicero, Pro Murena 28

“No one can be famous for being wise if it is concerning the type of knowledge which is worthless anywhere beyond Rome and even at Rome too during a vacation. No one can be an expert on something which everyone knows because there can’t be any disagreement on the matter. A subject cannot be considered difficult just because it exists in a very few and rather obscure documents.”

Sapiens existimari nemo potest in ea prudentia quae neque extra Romam usquam neque Romae rebus prolatis quicquam valet. Peritus ideo haberi nemo potest quod in eo quod sciunt omnes nullo modo possunt inter se discrepare. Difficilis autem res ideo non putatur quod et perpaucis et minime obscuris litteris continetur.

At the end of the day (and a life!), I cannot be sure that work that I do is worth the emotion I have put into it. But, of course, this does not mean I can or will stop. I can, however, try to reset definitions a bit and remember to enjoy life a little more and take time off.

So, I am not going to go all memento mori and carpe diem today. (My students already think I have some sort of death-obsessed insanity.) And I won’t claim to be especially unlucky when I know the opposite is true. But I will say that we have a problem in education, especially: we spend a lot of time claiming that we can teach about the value of human life even as we fail so terribly at honoring the worth of our own.

So, the next week of posts will be repeats, cleverly repackaged along with a few retrospective posts I threw together earlier. I am going to try not to do work for a week. Again.

Ok, wait, Screw it. We are ALL GOING TO DIE. Here’s some advice from Ashurbanipal:

“Know well that you are mortal: fill your heart
By delighting in the feasts: nothing is useful to you when you’re dead.
I am ash, though I ruled great Ninevah as king.
I keep whatever I ate, the insults I made, and the joy
I took from sex. My wealth and many blessings are gone.
[This is wise advice for life: I will never forget it.
Let anyone who wants to accumulate limitless gold.]

εὖ εἰδὼς ὅτι θνητὸς ἔφυς σὸν θυμὸν ἄεξε,
τερπόμενος θαλίῃσι· θανόντι σοι οὔτις ὄνησις.
καὶ γὰρ ἐγὼ σποδός εἰμι, Νίνου μεγάλης βασιλεύσας·
κεῖν’ ἔχω ὅσσ’ ἔφαγον καὶ ἐφύβρισα καὶ σὺν ἔρωτι
τέρπν’ ἔπαθον· τὰ δὲ πολλὰ καὶ ὄλβια πάντα λέλυνται.
[ἥδε σοφὴ βιότοιο παραίνεσις, οὐδέ ποτ’ αὐτῆς
λήσομαι· ἐκτήσθω δ’ ὁ θέλων τὸν ἀπείρονα χρυσόν.]

Image result for Ancient Greek Leisure
It is a race, but we all know where it ends.

Father Neleus Had How Many Sons?

Schol. A ad 11.692a

“There were twelve sons of blameless Neleus. According to the Separatists, Homer records that there were twelve children of Neleus in the Iliad but had three in the Odyssey where he provides the genealogy: “And I saw surpassingly beautiful Khloris” and soon after, “Nestor and Khromios, and proud Periklymenos”. It is likely that the children born before came to him from another woman and these three came from Khloris, for Priamos said, “I had fifty children. When the sons of the Achaeans came / 19 of them were from a single womb / the rest women bore to me in my home.”

δώδεκα γὰρ Νηλῆος <ἀμύμονος υἱέες ἦμεν>: πρὸς τοὺς Χωρίζοντας (fr. 5 K.), ὅτι ἐν μὲν ᾿Ιλιάδι δώδεκα Νηλῆος παῖδας λέγει, ἐν δὲ τῇ ᾿Οδυσσείᾳ τρεῖς γεγονέναι, ὡς γενεαλογεῖ· „καὶ Χλῶριν εἶδον περικαλλέα” (λ 281) καὶ ἐν τοῖς ἑξῆς „Νέστορά τε Χρομίον τε Περικλύμενόν τ’ ἀγέρωχον” (λ 286). ἐνδέχεται δὲ προγεγονότων αὐτῷ ἐξ ἑτέρας γυναικὸς παίδων ὕστερον ἐκ Χλώριδος τοὺς τρεῖς γεγονέναι· καὶ γὰρ ὁ Πρίαμός φησι· „πεντήκοντά μοι ἦσαν, ὅτ’ ἤλυθον υἷες ᾿Αχαιῶν· / ἐννεακαίδεκα μέν μοι ἰῆς ἐκ νηδύος ἦσαν, / τοὺς δ’ ἄλλους μοι ἔτικτον ἐνὶ μεγάροισιν <γυναῖ-κες>”

Image result for neleus and pelias
Neleus’ Brother Pelias on a Fresco from Pompeii

Brevity and Wit: Demetrius on Compression

See earlier posts for Demetrius on the words for punctuation

Demetrius, On Style 9

“This smallest part of a composition is called a phrase [komma]. This often defines a phrase: it is shorter than a clause” [kôlon], as in the previously quoted “Dionysus [is] in Korinth” or “know yourself” or “follow god”, those sayings of the wise men. Brevity is a characteristic of proverbs and maxims and it is cleverer to compress a lot of meaning into a small space, just as seeds have the power of whole trees. If someone works a proverb out at length, it develops into teaching or rhetoric instead of a proverb.”

(9) ἡ δὲ τοιαύτη βραχύτης κατὰ τὴν σύνθεσιν κόμμα ὀνομάζεται. ὁρίζονται δ᾿ αὐτὸ ὧδε, κόμμα ἐστὶν τὸ κώλου ἔλαττον, οἷον τὸ προειρημένον, τὸ [τε] “Διονύσιος ἐν Κορίνθῳ,” καὶ τὸ “γνῶθι σεαυτόν,” καὶ τὸ “ἕπου θεῷ,” τὰ τῶν σοφῶν. ἔστι γὰρ καὶ ἀποφθεγματικὸν ἡ βραχύτης καὶ γνωμολογικόν, καὶ σοφώτερον τὸ ἐν ὀλίγῳ πολλὴν διάνοιαν ἠθροῖσθαι, καθάπερ ἐν τοῖς σπέρμασιν δένδρων ὅλων δυνάμεις· εἰ δ᾿ ἐκτείνοιτό τις τὴν γνώμην ἐν μακροῖς, διδασκαλία γίνεταί τις καὶ ῥητορεία ἀντὶ γνώμης.

Image result for brevity is the soul of wit

Writing Season Advice: Don’t Make Your Clauses Too Long. Or Too Short

For more on punctuation and ancient Greek words, see Demetrius

Demetrius, On Style 4

“Don’t write very long clauses, since your sentence then becomes unmeasured and hard to understand. Even poetry rarely exceeds the bound of a hexametric line, and only a little bit. For it would be ridiculous of poetry had no limits and we would forget what started when the line began! And yet, if the length of some clauses are not proper to prose because it goes on too long, others are too short and would create what is called “dry composition” as in the phrase, “life is short, art long, the right time brief.”

(4) Δεῖ δὲ οὔτε πάνυ μακρὰ ποιεῖν τὰ κῶλα, ἐπεί τοι γίνεται ἄμετρος ἡ σύνθεσις ἢ δυσπαρακολούθητος· οὐδὲ γὰρ ἡ ποιητικὴ ὑπὲρ ἑξάμετρον ἦλθεν, εἰ μή που ἐν ὀλίγοις· γελοῖον γὰρ τὸ μέτρον ἄμετρον εἶναι, καὶ καταλήγοντος τοῦ μέτρου ἐπιλελῆσθαι ἡμᾶς πότε ἤρξατο. οὔτε δὴ τὸ μῆκος τῶν κώλων πρέπον τοῖς λόγοις διὰ τὴν ἀμετρίαν, οὔτε ἡ μικρότης, ἐπεί τοι γίνοιτ᾿ ἂν ἡ λεγομένη ξηρὰ σύνθεσις, οἷον ἡ τοιάδε “ὁ βίος βραχύς, ἡ τέχνη μακρά, ὁ καιρὸς ὀξύς.”

Image result for greek hexameter inscription
An early christian inscription

Small Parts Make A Whole: Writing Advice from Demetrius

For more on Demetrius and our words for period, comma, and colon, see this post

Demetrius, On Style, 1-2

“Just as poetry is separated by meters—such as half-lines, hexameters, and the rest—so too will sections called clauses [kôla] separate and define prose composition. They allow rests to the speaker and what is spoken and they give the composition boundaries in many places, since it would be long and endless and would just exhaust anyone reading it otherwise.

These clauses are really meant to bring an end to a thought. Sometimes they convey a complete thought on their own, as when Hekataios says at the beginning of his History, “Hekataios speaks thus”. In this a case a whole thought coincides with a single clause and both end together. At another time, a clause doesn’t effect a complete thought, but merely part of one.

For, just as the hand is a whole thing but has individual parts of the whole, such as the fingers and the wrist—each of which has its own particular shape and recognizable parts—so too will the parts of a larger thought which is complete and whole be subsumed within it even though they too are recognizable and defined.”

(1) Ὥσπερ ἡ ποίησις διαιρεῖται τοῖς μέτροις, οἷον ἡμιμέτροις ἢ ἑξαμέτροις ἢ τοῖς ἄλλοις, οὕτω καὶ τὴν ἑρμηνείαν τὴν λογικὴν διαιρεῖ καὶ διακρίνει τὰ καλούμενα κῶλα, καθάπερ ἀναπαύοντα τὸν λέγοντά τε καὶ τὰ λεγόμενα αὐτά, καὶ ἐν πολλοῖς ὅροις ὁρίζοντα τὸν λόγον, ἐπεί τοι μακρὸς ἂν εἴη καὶ ἄπειρος καὶ ἀτεχνῶς πνίγων τὸν λέγοντα.

(2) βούλεται μέντοι διάνοιαν ἀπαρτίζειν τὰ κῶλα ταῦτα, ποτὲ μὲν ὅλην διάνοιαν, οἷον ὡς Ἑκαταῖός φησιν ἐν τῇ ἀρχῇ τῆς ἱστορίας, “Ἑκαταῖος Μιλήσιος ὧδε μυθεῖται”· συνείληπται γὰρ διάνοια τῷ κώλῳ ὅλῳ ὅλη, καὶ ἄμφω συγκαταλήγουσιν. ἐνίοτε μέντοι τὸ κῶλον ὅλην μὲν οὐ συμπεραιοῖ διάνοιαν, μέρος δὲ ὅλης ὅλον. ὡς γὰρ τῆς χειρὸς οὔσης ὅλου τινὸς μέρη αὐτῆς ὅλα ὅλης ἐστίν, οἷον δάκτυλοι καὶ πῆχυς (ἰδίαν γὰρ περιγραφὴν ἔχει τούτων τῶν μερῶν ἕκαστον, καὶ ἴδια μέρη), οὕτω καὶ διανοίας τινὸς ὅλης οὔσης μεγάλης ἐμπεριλαμβάνοιτ᾿ ἂν μέρη τινὰ αὐτῆς ὁλόκληρα ὄντα καὶ αὐτά·

Image result for greek bronze hand
From Christie’s Auction Catalogue

Patroklos Talking About Oysters

Schol A. ad Il. 16.747a

This man would feed many by seeking oysters. He uses this word “oyster” only once. It is a kind of marine shellfish. See the Separatists on this. For they claim that the poet of the Iliad does not present heroes using fish at food, while the Odyssey poet does. But it is clear that, if he did not present them as using them, they knew it, from the fact that Patroklos talks about oysters. Note how the poet tends to avoid the trivial. And surely, he does not show people eating greens. But, nevertheless, he does say “The enslaved women using shit to fertilize his great property”

πολλοὺς ἂν κορέσειεν ἀνὴρ <ὅδε τήθεα διφῶν>: ὅτι ἅπαξ εἴρηκε τήθεα. ἔστι δὲ εἶδος τῶν θαλασσίων ὀστρέων. πρὸς τοὺς Χωρίζοντας φασὶ γὰρ ὅτι ὁ τῆς ᾿Ιλιάδος ποιητὴς οὐ παρεισάγει τοὺς ἥρωας χρωμένους ἰχθύσιν, ὁ δὲ τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας (cf. δ 368. μ 331). φανερὸν δὲ ὅτι, εἰ καὶ μὴ παράγει χρωμένους, ἴσασιν, ἐκ τοῦ τὸν Πάτροκλον ὀνομάζειν τήθεα. νοητέον δὲ τὸν ποιητὴν διὰ τὸ μικροπρεπὲς παρῃτῆσθαι. καὶ μὴν οὐδὲ λαχάνοις παρεισάγει χρωμένους. ἀλλ’ ὅμως φησὶ „δμῶες ᾿Οδυσσῆος τέμενος μέγα κοπρήσοντες” (ρ 299).

Schol T ad 16.784

“The poet also does not show heroes eating fish or birds, but still Odysseus’ companions do try to under compulsion. Generally, the poet avoids this kind of habit because of its triviality, but he has [heroes] eat roasted meat.”

οὐδὲ γὰρ ἰχθύσι χρωμένους εἰσήγαγεν ἢ ὄρνισιν, ἀλλ’ ὅμως δι’ ἀνάγκην καὶ τοῖς τοιούτοις ἐπεχείρουν οἱ ᾿Οδυσσέως ἑταῖροι (cf. δ 368. μ 331)· καθόλου γὰρ τὴν τοιαύτην χρῆσιν διὰ τὸ μικροπρεπὲς παρῃτήσατο, κρέασι δὲ ὀπτοῖς χρῆσθαι αὐτούς φησιν.

Suda, 477 Tau

“têthea: Oysters. Know that the ancients also ate these even though they do not provide much pleasure or nourishment.”

Τήθεα: ὄστρεα. ἰστέον ὅτι καὶ τούτοις ἐχρῶντο οἱ παλαιοί, καίτοι τῆς τούτων ἐδωδῆς οὐ πολὺ ἐχούσης τὸ ἡδὺ καὶ ὠφέλιμον.

Ostreidae ja 20090114.JPG


Surprising Plot Twists from Servius

Servius Danielis, schol. ad Vergil’s Aeneid, 1.273,

“There are different accounts provided by different authors on the origin and the founding of the city. Clinias reports that the daughter of Telemachus, named Rhomê, was Aeneas’ wife and that the city was named after her. [….] claims that Latinus, a child of Ulysses and Circe, called the state Rome in honor of his dead sister.”

sed de origine et conditore urbis diversa a diversis traduntur. Clinias refert Telemachi filiam Romen nomine Aeneae nuptam fuisse, ex cuius vocabulo Romam appellatam. ** dicit1 Latinum ex Ulixe et Circe editum de nomine sororis suae mortuae Romen civitatem appellasse.

Servius Danielis, schol ad. Vergil’s Aeneid, 6.14

“Menekrates claims that Daedalus went to Crete after he killed his paternal cousin and that his son Icarus, driven from Attica, died by shipwreck while looking for his father. This is why the sea got its name.”

Menecrates Daedalum occiso patruele fratre Cretam petisse dicit; Icarum filium eius ab Atticis pulsum, dum patrem petit, naufragio perisse, unde mari nomen.

Maurus Servius Honoratus is the original commentator and all-around learned man from Rome. “Danielis” is given to a set of additions that creep into his manuscript tradition around the 10th and 11th centuries.

Icarus 1
Daedalus constructs wings for Icarus
 Andrea Sacchi