Tuesday, March 21, 2017


New Enterprises

Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540), Ricordi Politici e Civili, number 152 (tr. Ninian Hill Thomson):
Take heed how you involve yourself in new enterprises or engagements; for once in, you are forced to go on. Whence it results that men are often found labouring through tasks which being embarked in they cannot withdraw from, though had they foreseen a tenth part of their difficulty they would have gone a thousand miles to avoid them. This rule holds most of all in feuds, factions, and wars, before taking part in which, or in anything of a like nature, no amount of careful and cautious consideration will be excessive.

Abbiate grandissima circumspezione innanzi entriate in imprese o faccende nuove, perché doppo el principio bisogna andare per necessità; e però interviene spesso che gli uomini si conducono a camminare per difficultà, che se prima n'avessino immaginato la ottava parte, se ne sarebbono alienati mille miglia; ma come sono imbarcati, non è in potestà loro ritirarsi. Accade questo massime nelle inimicizie, nelle parzialità, nelle guerre; nelle quali cose e in tutte l'altre, innanzi si piglino, non è considerazione o diligenzia sì esatta che sia superflua.


A Musical Instrument

Aristophanes, Clouds 165 (my translation):
The anus is a trumpet...

σάλπιγξ ὁ πρωκτός ἐστιν...
Related post: Rectal Music.



Death with Dignity

Emil Cioran (1911-1995), Aveux et Anathèmes (tr. ‎Richard Howard):
On this estate dedicated, like its manor house, to the crackbrained enterprises of charity, everywhere one looks there are old women kept alive by virtue of surgical operations. There was a time when one died at home, in the dignity of solitude and desertion; now the moribund are collected, crammed, and their indecent throes extended as long as possible.

Dans ce parc affecté, comme le manoir, aux entreprises loufoques de la charité, partout des vieilles qu'on maintient en vie à coup d'opérations. Avant, on agonisait chez soi, dans la dignité de la solitude et de l'abandon, maintenant on rassemble les moribonds, on les gave et on prolonge le plus longtemps possible leur indécente crevaison.

Monday, March 20, 2017


Man's Worst Enemy

Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540), Ricordi Politici e Civili, number 361 (tr. Ninian Hill Thomson):
Man has no worse enemy than himself, for almost all the many troubles, dangers, and afflictions he has to endure have no other source than his own excessive desires.

Non ha maggiore inimico l'uomo che sé medesimo; perché quasi tutti e mali, pericoli e travagli superflui che ha, non procedono da altro che dalla sua troppa cupidità.


An Old Fogey

Lucian, A Professor of Public Speaking 10 (tr. A.M. Harmon):
That is what this man will say, the impostor, the absolute old fogey, the antediluvian, who displays dead men of a bygone age to serve as patterns, and expects you to dig up long-buried speeches as if they were something tremendously helpful...

ὁ μὲν ταῦτα φήσει, ἀλαζὼν καὶ ἀρχαῖος ὡς ἀληθῶς καὶ Κρονικὸς ἄνθρωπος, νεκροὺς εἰς μίμησιν παλαιοὺς προτιθεὶς καὶ ἀνορύττειν ἀξιῶν λόγους πάλαι κατορωρυγμένους ὥς τι μεγιστον ἀγαθόν...
Related posts:

Sunday, March 19, 2017


Youth and Old Age

Mimnermus, fragment 2 (tr. M.L. West):
But we are like the leaves that flowery spring
    puts forth, quick spreading in the sun's warm light:
for a brief span of time we take our joy
    in our youth's bloom, the future, good or ill,
kept from us, while the twin dark Dooms stand by,        5
    one bringing to fulfillment harsh old age,
the other, death. The ripeness of youth's fruit
    is short, short as the sunlight on the earth,
and once this season of perfection's past,
    it's better to be dead than stay alive.        10
All kinds of worry come. One man's estate
    is failing, and there's painful poverty;
another has no sons—the keenest need
    one feels as one goes down below the earth;
sickness wears down another's heart. There's none        15
    Zeus does not give a multitude of ills.

ἡμεῖς δ᾿, οἷά τε φύλλα φύει πολυάνθεμος ὥρη
    ἔαρος, ὅτ᾿ αἶψ᾿ αὐγῇς αὔξεται ἠελίου,
τοῖς ἴκελοι πήχυιον ἐπὶ χρόνον ἄνθεσιν ἥβης
    τερπόμεθα, πρὸς θεῶν εἰδότες οὔτε κακὸν
οὔτ᾿ ἀγαθόν· Κῆρες δὲ παρεστήκασι μέλαιναι,        5
    ἡ μὲν ἔχουσα τέλος γήραος ἀργαλέου,
ἡ δ᾿ ἑτέρη θανάτοιο· μίνυνθα δὲ γίνεται ἥβης
    καρπός, ὅσον τ᾿ ἐπὶ γῆν κίδναται ἠέλιος.
αὐτὰρ ἐπὴν δὴ τοῦτο τέλος παραμείψεται ὥρης,
    αὐτίκα δὴ τεθνάναι βέλτιον ἢ βίοτος·        10
πολλὰ γὰρ ἐν θυμῷ κακὰ γίνεται· ἄλλοτε οἶκος
    τρυχοῦται, πενίης δ᾿ ἔργ᾿ ὀδυνηρὰ πέλει·
ἄλλος δ᾿ αὖ παίδων ἐπιδεύεται, ὧν τε μάλιστα
    ἱμείρων κατὰ γῆς ἔρχεται εἰς Ἀΐδην·
ἄλλος νοῦσον ἔχει θυμοφθόρον· οὐδέ τίς ἐστιν        15
    ἀνθρώπων ᾧ Ζεὺς μὴ κακὰ πολλὰ διδοῖ.

Saturday, March 18, 2017


Our Ignorance

Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540), Ricordi Politici e Civili, number 141 (tr. Ninian Hill Thomson):
No wonder that we are ignorant of what has happened in past ages, or of what is happening now in distant countries and remote cities. For if you note it well, you will perceive that we have no true knowledge even of the present, and of what goes on from day to day in our own town. Nay, often between the palace and the marketplace there lies so dense a mist or is built a wall so thick that no eye can penetrate it; so that the people know as much of what their rulers are doing, or their reasons for doing it, as they know of what is being done in China. And for this reason the world is readily filled with empty and idle beliefs.

Non vi maravigliate che non si sappino le cose delle età passate, non quelle che si fanno nelle provincie o luoghi lontani; perché se considerate bene, non s'ha vera notizia delle presenti, non di quelle che giornalmente si fanno in una medesima città; e spesso tra il palazzo e la piazza è una nebbia sì folta, o uno muro sì grosso, che non vi penetrando l'occhio degli uomini, tanto sa el popolo di quello che fa chi governa, o della ragione per che lo fa, quanto delle cose che fanno in India; e però si empie facilmente el mondo di opinione erronee e vane.
Related post: Difficulty of Ascertaining Historical Truth.

Thanks to the reader who sent me the following via email:
Guicciardini's claim "that we have no true knowledge even of the present, and of what goes on from day to day in our own town" reminded me of an anecdote given by Orwell — I have no idea where he got it — in his column 'As I please' in the London Tribune, 4 Feb. 1944:
When Sir Walter Raleigh was imprisoned in the Tower of London, he occupied himself with writing a history of the world. He had finished the first volume and was at work on the second when there was a scuffle between some workmen beneath the window of his cell, and one of the men was killed. In spite of diligent enquiries, and in spite of the fact that he had actually seen the thing happen, Sir Walter was never able to discover what the quarrel was about; whereupon, so it is said — and if the story is not true it certainly ought to be — he burned what he had written and abandoned his project.


Offensive Behavior

Nirad C. Chaudhuri (1897-1999), Thy Hand, Great Anarch! India 1921-1952 (London: The Hogarth Press, 1987), pp. 189-190:
My brothers never made any insulting remarks to me. But I could see how they disapproved of me. I also saw, rightly or wrongly, looks of cold contempt when they met me. What distressed me most then was the alienation from my elder brother, who had led me into jaunts of buying books and pictures. Even late in 1924 we had come triumphantly home with a porter behind us carrying many volumes of the Arden edition of Shakespeare, and though he himself did not read French he had abetted me in buying a very pretty edition of Molière in eight volumes which had once belonged to Sir John Lubbock (Lord Avebury). But he had become not only wholly unco-operative but also hostile, so much so that after buying a Medici print of the Mona Lisa in 1926 I hid the print for some weeks to avoid giving offence to his eyes.

More distant relatives were vocally abusive. Although they were not supporting me, they were making very insulting remarks, even going to the point of saying that I should be whipped. And these remarks were always brought to me by those to whom they were made. What exasperated them was in the first place my giving up a Government post. That was bad enough, but not satisfied with that offence I went just then on a wild spree of spending on books and pictures. I might say I went berserk. This was not the kind of extravagance which they could disapprove silently. If in my desperation I had begun to visit brothels or taken to drugs or drink, nobody woud have said a word, for in our society it was not decorous to be open about such failings. But what I did was not so clearly immoral as to become unmentionable, but was offensive enough as behaviour to be condemned.
Id., p. 193:
Besides, books were to me mental nourishment, as much as they were material adjuncts of mental life at a civilized level. Therefore I did not think I could give up buying books and artistic objects simply because I had no money or very little money. In any case, though I bought things on credit I finally paid for them with my own money or at its worst with my father's. But, of course, in our society as it had become even spending one's own money on such things was not approved of. An elderly relative of mine said to me one day: 'I do not ask you to give up buying books, but at present you should lay by something, and when you have enough buy books.' I could not tell him to his face that he might as well have told me to put off eating until I had enough in the bank. I might add here that even at the end of my life, I have not gone back on my conviction that our beautiful material possessions are only the outward signs of an inward grace, or in plain words material symbols of a full and active mental life. I have always held the saying 'Plain living and high thinking' in contempt. Plain living (which is not simple living) results in very poor thinking.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Friday, March 17, 2017



Emil Cioran (1911-1995), Syllogismes de l'amertume (tr. ‎Richard Howard):
Vacillating instincts, corroded beliefs, obsessions, and anility: everywhere conquerors in retreat, rentiers of heroism confronting the young Alarics who lie in wait for Rome and Athens; everywhere paradoxes of the lymphatic. There was a time when salon sallies traversed whole countries, foiled stupidity or refined it. Europe, coquettish and intractable, was in the flower of her age; — decrepit today, Europe excites no one. Even so, certain barbarians await their chance to inherit the finery, impatient at her long agony.

Instincts vacillants, croyances avariées, marottes et radotages. Partout des conquérants à la retraite, des rentiers de l'héroïsme, en face de jeunes Alaric qui guettent les Rome et les Athènes, partout des paradoxes de lymphatiques. Autrefois les boutades de salon traversaient les pays, déroutaient la sottise ou l'affinaient. L'Europe, coquette et intraitable, était dans la fleur de l'âge; — décrépite aujourd'hui, elle n'excite plus personne. Des barbares cependant attendent d'en hériter les dentelles et s'irritent de sa longue agonie.


We the People

Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540), Ricordi Politici e Civili, number 140 (tr. Ninian Hill Thomson):
To speak of the people is in truth to speak of a beast, mad, mistaken, perplexed, without taste, discernment, or stability.

Chi disse uno popolo disse veramente uno animale pazzo, pieno di mille errori, di mille confusione, sanza gusto, sanza diletto, sanza stabilità.
Id., number 345:
To speak of the people is to speak of a madman; of a monster stuffed with inconsistencies and errors; whose empty judgments lie as far from truth, as Spain, according to Ptolemy, from India.

Chi disse uno populo, disse veramente uno pazzo; perché è uno mostro pieno di confusione e di errori, e le sue vane opinione sono tanto lontane dalla verità, quanto è, secondo Ptolomeo, la Spagna dalla India.


Glory and Loveliness Have Passed Away

John Keats (1795-1821), "Dedication. To Leigh Hunt, Esq.," Poems (London: C. and J. Ollier, 1817):
Glory and loveliness have passed away;
   For if we wander out in early morn,
   No wreathed incense do we see upborne
Into the east, to meet the smiling day:
No crowd of nymphs soft voic'd and young, and gay,
   In woven baskets bringing ears of corn,
   Roses, and pinks, and violets, to adorn
The shrine of Flora in her early May.
But there are left delights as high as these,
   And I shall ever bless my destiny,
That in a time, when under pleasant trees
   Pan is no longer sought, I feel a free
A leafy luxury, seeing I could please
   With these poor offerings, a man like thee.

Thursday, March 16, 2017


The Afterlife

Robert Browning (1812-1889), "The Bishop Orders his Tomb at St. Praxed's," lines 80-84:
And then how I shall lie through centuries,
And hear the blessed mutter of the mass,
And see God made and eaten all day long,
And feel the steady candle-flame, and taste
Good strong thick stupefying incense-smoke!



Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540), Ricordi Politici e Civili, number 12 (tr. Ninian Hill Thomson):
The same or similar proverbs, though differently expressed, are found among all nations. And this because these spring from experience or from the observation of things, which are everywhere the same or similar.

Quasi tutti e medesimi proverbi o simili, benché con diverse parole, si truovono in ogni nazione; e la ragione è che e proverbii nascono dalla esperienzia o vero osservazione delle cose, le quali in ogni luogo sono le medesime o simili.


Latin Ash and Greek Dust

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867), "La Voix," lines 1-4 (tr. Francis Scarfe):
My cradle had its back to the book-case,
a gloomy Babel in which novels, works of science, medieval tales,
everything including Latin ash and Greek dust,
was jumbled together. I was no taller than a folio.

Mon berceau s'adossait à la bibliothèque,
Babel sombre, où roman, science, fabliau,
Tout, la cendre latine et la poussière grecque,
Se mêlaient. J'était haut comme un in-folio.

The contents of the book-case in my parents' house, so far as I can remember:

Monday, March 13, 2017


Historical Recurrence

Francesco Guicciardini (1483-1540), Ricordi Politici e Civili, number 76 (tr. Ninian Hill Thomson):
Whatsoever has been in the past or is now will repeat itself in the future; but the names and surfaces of things will be so altered, that he who has not a quick eye will not recognise them, or know to guide himself accordingly, or to form a judgment on what he sees.

Tutto quello che è stato per el passato è al presente, sarà ancora in futuro; ma si mutano e nomi e le superficie delle cose in modo, che chi non ha buono occhio non le ricognosce, né sa pigliare regola, o fare giudicio per mezzo di quella osservazione.
Cf. id., number 336:
Past events throw light on future, because the world has always been the same as it now is, and all that is now, or shall be hereafter, has been in time past. Things accordingly repeat themselves, but under changed names and colours, so that it is not every one who can recognise them, but only he who is discerning and who notes and considers them diligently.

Le cose passate fanno lume alle future, perché el mondo fu sempre di una medesima sorte; e tutto quello che è e sarà, è stato in altro tempo, e le cose medesime ritornano, ma sotto diversi nomi e colori; però ognuno non le ricognosce, ma solo chi è savio, e le osserva e considera diligentemente.


National Differences

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), "An Examination of Certain Abuses, Corruptions, and Enormities in the City of Dublin," Prose Works, ed. Temple Scott, Vol. VII: Historical and Political Tracts—Irish (London: George Bell and Sons, 1905), pp. 267-282 (at 270):
But, to proceed to other enormities: Every person who walks the streets, must needs observe the immense number of human excrements at the doors and steps of waste houses, and at the sides of every dead wall; for which the disaffected party have assigned a very false and malicious cause. They would have it, that these heaps were laid there privately by British fundaments, to make the world believe, that our Irish vulgar do daily eat and drink; and, consequently, that the clamour of poverty among us, must be false, proceeding only from Jacobites and Papists. They would confirm this, by pretending to observe, that a British anus being more narrowly perforated than one of our own country; and many of these excrements upon a strict view appearing copple crowned, with a point like a cone or pyramid, are easily distinguished from the Hibernian, which lie much flatter, and with less continuity. I communicated this conjecture to an eminent physician, who is well versed in such profound speculations; and at my request was pleased to make trial with each of his fingers, by thrusting them into the anus of several persons of both nations, and professed he could find no such difference between them as those ill-disposed people allege. On the contrary, he assured me, that much the greater number of narrow cavities were of Hibernian origin. This I only mention to shew how ready the Jacobites are to lay hold of any handle to express their malice against the government. I had almost forgot to add, that my friend the physician could, by smelling each finger, distinguish the Hibernian excrement from the British, and was not above twice mistaken in an hundred experiments; upon which he intends very soon to publish a learned dissertation.



Finger Names in Greek

Erasmus, Adages II iv 91, in Collected Works of Erasmus, Vol. 33: Adages II i 1 to II vi 100, translated and annotated by R.A.B. Mynors (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991), pp. 234-235, with notes on p. 419:
Plutarch5 in the essay he called 'How a man may become aware of his Progress,' writes that it was an old custom to learn by heart the names of the fingers, and use these when frightened as though they would help. I will copy his actual words: 'Some people get by heart the names of their own fingers and use them as a protection against terrors, quietly repeating each one in turn, as if it were a remedy against ills.' The names of the fingers in Greek are given by Gellius in his Attic Nights.6

5 Plutarch] Moralia 85B. Erasmus has been misled here, as in Parabolae col 583 (CWE 23:188), by an error in the Aldine Plutarch; it should be 'the names,' not 'of one's own fingers' (idiôn daktylôn) but 'of the Idaean Dactyls' (Idaiôn Daktylôn), mythical gnomes who lived on Mount Ida in Crete...

6 The Greek names of the fingers are not in Aulus Gellius; they can be found in Pollux, Gnomasticon 2.145.
Gnomasticon is a misprint for Onomasticon.

Donald C. Swanson, "Modern Greek Corrections to Buck's Dictionary," American Journal of Philology 78.4 (1957) 401-413 (at 403-404):
4.34 (FINGER) Modern Greek shows some dialectal and individual differences in the names of the fingers. A dialect atlas of Greece would have to include these terms on its list. It is unfortunate that Buck did not give the other finger names; he lists only THUMB. A few days' research on this semantic area revealed a preliminary conclusion that in many European languages the 'ring finger' has no name, or no common name, or only an artificial name. Likewise the middle finger, for which French for example has the obviously learned Latinism médius. The little finger seems to be so called in most European languages. There is much complication in this whole area, and very likely a sizable dissertation could be written on the subject. The modern Greek equivalents, so far as I have been able to determine them, are the following:

a. 'forefinger' δείχτης from the verb δείχνω (ancient δείκνυμι) 'point out,' but the ancient noun is λιχανός from the zero grade of the verb λείχω 'lick,' plus suffix. Is the modern word a recent coinage? Unlikely. Andriotis3 does not list the word.

b. 'middle finger' μεσαῖος. The ancient is μέσος, as found in Plato and Aristotle. (See Liddell-Scott-Jones, s.v.)

c. 'ring finger' παράμεσος, also not listed in Andriotis. It seems to be a post-classical coinage, since it is first found in Apuleius (II A.D.), and in three contemporary Greek technical writers.4

d. 'little finger' μικρό δάχτυλο (as in ancient Gk.: Aristotle has μικρὸς δάκτυλος).

In leaving this subject I should mention that many foreign-language-to-English dictionaries which I have consulted lacked names for several of the fingers, giving chiefly or only thumb and forefinger. Is this because of the apparent triviality of the subject, or were the compilers culture-bound to English, this language using only phrases for the last three fingers? This may be an unexplored lexicographical problem.

3 For this reference and others see bibliographical remarks at end. [pp. 412-413: N.P. Andriotis, Etymologiko Lexiko tis Koinis Neoellinikis (Athens, 1951)]

4 Apuleius, Metam., X, 21 (ed. R. Halm [1913], p. 252 note; Adlington-Gaselee in the Loeb [1915], p. 596). These two editors excise the passage from their texts, but regard it as authentic since two MSS carry it in the margin. The pertinent words are: 'Ac dein digitis, hypate, lichano, mese, paramese, et nete' (sic Gaselee). The passage is defective and difficult but the names of fingers, and/or of tones (of a five-stringed instrument) named from the fingers, are clearly intended.

The Greek references (Liddell-Scott-Jones) are as follows: Pollux, II, 145, Rufus Medicus, Onom., 83, Galen, II, 264. By a curious coincidence all these authors, including Apuleius, are of the 2nd century A.D.
Pollux, Onomasticon, ed. Erich Bethe, Fasc. I (Leipzig: B.G. Teubner, 1900), pp. 127-128 (2.145):
ὀνομάζονται δὲ οἱ δάκτυλοι μικρόc, παράμεcοc, μέcοc, λιχανόc, ἀντίχειρ ἢ μέγαc.
All of these are adjectives modifying δάκτυλος (finger) understood.



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