His memories in a trunk

Reflections on literature, language(s), and music

An epistolary request for reading suggestions

I’ve been reading through parts of the correspondence of Fronto (c. 100-170), and among his letters are some to Emperor-Philosopher Marcus Aurelius (or, Richard Harris for those whose concerns with Roman history do not reach far beyond Gladiator), and in one such letter,[1] he requests of his teacher:

Mitte mihi aliquid quod tibi disertissimum videatur, quod legam, vel tuum aut Catonis aut Ciceronis aut Sallustii aut Gracchi aut poetae alicuius, χρῄζω γὰρ ἀναπαύλης, et maxime hoc genus, quae me lectio extollat et diffundat ἐκ τῶν καταλειφυιῶν φροντίδων; etiam si qua Lucretii aut Ennii excerpta habes εὐφωνότατα, ἁδρά et sicubi ἤθους ἐμφάσεις.

An English rendering:

Send me something to read that seems most eloquent to you, either something of yours, Cato’s, Cicero’s, Sallust’s, Gracchus’, or some poet’s, for I need a break, and especially that kind the reading of which gives me a lift and cheers me up from confining cares. Also, if you have some bits from Lucretius or Ennius that sound the best, are extraordinary, and anywhere show their character, send those.

Fronto’s letters are littered with Greek phrases, as we see even in this short excerpt, and in the English translation, I’ve put the Greek phrases in bold.

[1] Epistulae, IV.1 (ed. M. van den Hout, Teubner, 1988, 105). Find more of Fronto’s letters here:

  • Latin text here
  • another text (Lat. and Fr.) here
  • LCL edition, with an older text and an Eng. tr. here from archive.org

Instead of watching moving pictures…

Whether as a resolution for the new year (as here) or simply because, regardless of the date, you want to make of your soul something more than a continual receptacle for the light and sound a television or computer screen emits, here, in a random order, are twenty-five things to do instead of watching TV. This a list I’ve made for myself, but maybe it’ll be fruitfully suggestive to others, too. If so, feel free to say so in the comments, or add your own suggestions!

  1. Look thoughtfully at some art
  2. Call your mother
  3. Listen to music
  4. Read to anyone who’ll listen
  5. Play the guitar, banjo, trumpet, violin, etc.
  6. Recite and memorize poetry
  7. Write letters to friends new and old or to family
  8. Sing
  9. Study a new language
  10. Read a graphic novel
  11. Write a story
  12. On purpose and right now, savor the presence, feel, and taste of one you love
  13. Read Proust
  14. Build something
  15. Sleep
  16. Study the history of your birthplace
  17. Fix a meal for someone who needs it
  18. Get off your ass and move (walk, run, swim, yoga, kettlebells, pull-ups, etc.)
  19. Draw or paint
  20. Clean your house
  21. Talk to someone (in person, video chat, phone)
  22. Do something with your children
  23. Read a biography
  24. Take a bath or shower
  25. Meditate (however broadly understood)
From my backyard, late summer.

From my backyard, late summer.

Running vocabulary to First Reader in Russian, 1-5

Ann Rolbin’s First Reader in Russian is a good, brief initiation to some simple Russian sentences. It is more modest in content than the typical reader or chrestomathy of the nineteenth century, but it may make for a good enough praelectio to those kinds of books. It contains a glossary at the end, but it is not comprehensive, and there is no apparent rationale for the words that have been omitted from it. I decided to make a running vocabulary list for the book by each lesson, with the words that are in the book’s glossary at the end as well as the omitted words, but I have included neither prepositions, which may be found, among other places, here and here, nor pronouns, available at the previous link. The words are given as-is in the text, not in their lexical form, and once given, words are not repeated. Here are the first five lessons:

1

  • семья family
  • город city
  • столица capital
  • улице street
  • живёт lives (v.)
  • большом large
  • доме house
  • квартира apartment
  • пятом fifth
  • этаже floor, story
  • хорошая good, nice
  • гостиная living room
  • родителей parents
  • зобут they call (i.e. so-and-so is named, with the named person[s] as object)
  • детей children
  • собаку dog

2

  • утром in the morning
  • восемь eight
  • часов clock
  • утра morning
  • идёт goes
  • станции метро metro station
  • руке hand
  • портфель briefcase
  • бумаги paper
  • документы documents
  • завтрак breakfast
  • хлеб bread
  • сыр cheese
  • колбаса sausage
  • пятнадцать fifteen
  • девятого ninth
  • работу work (n.)
  • работает works (v.)
  • почте post office
  • сумка bag
  • половине half
  • школу school
  • книги books
  • тетради notebooks
  • остаётся stays, remains
  • сидит sits
  • смотрит looks
  • дверь door
  • скучно boring

3

  • друг friend
  • покупают they buy
  • гастрономе grocery store
  • молоко milk
  • потом then
  • лет years
  • сегодня today
  • холодно cold
  • снег snow (идёт снег it’s snowing)
  • выходит goes out
  • кресле armchair
  • мальчики boys
  • приносят they bring
  • пирог pie
  • спасибо thank you
  • говорит says
  • молодцы fellows, young men

4

  • среда Wednesday
  • три three
  • дия day
  • играют they play
  • дворе yard
  • настольный теннис table-tennis
  • довольно rather, quite, pretty
  • плохо bad
  • но but
  • старается tries
  • прибегает runs to
  • хватает grabs
  • шарик ball
  • убегает escapes
  • кричит screams
  • всё everything, all
  • игра game
  • закончена is finished
  • нельзя cannot

5

  • кафе café
  • сливочное butter
  • мороженое ice cream
  • стакан glass
  • минеральной воды mineral water
  • пожалуйста please
  • официант waiter
  • бутылку bottle
  • белого white
  • вина wine
  • шоколадное chocolate
  • две two
  • чашки cups
  • чёрного black
  • кофе coffee
  • чай tea
  • я заказал I ordered

Gruß vom Krampus!

Over at Weird Tales there’s an amazing collection of old Krampus-cards, along with some lore and history of St. Nicholas’ lesser-known other. As it happens, I have my own Krampus photo to share, thanks to last evening’s potation, Krampus from Southern Tier Brewing in New York:

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You can read more about the beer here.

Italian with the poets II

Here’s an easy passage from Petrarch, 232, lines 12-14. Before these lines, Petrarch has given exemplars of damage and destruction wrought in individuals too heedless in their anger: Alexander, Tydeus, Sulla, Valentinianus, and Ajax.

Ira è breve furore; et chi nol frena,

è furor lungo che ‘l suo possessore

spesso a vergogna et talor mena a morte.

Vocabulary:

  • ira anger
  • furor(e) madness
  • nol = non la [ira]
  • frenare to restrain
  • spesso often
  • vergogna shame
  • talor(a) sometimes
  • menare to lead
  • morte death

Aranea aestiva

From late summer till now our front porch has been the residence of a golden silk orb-weaver, a large and beautiful spider (genus Nephila) that spins strong strands in great webs. Her web has had four settings, it being accidentally damaged twice, and she having moved it of her own accord another time. She is around 9cm at the longest, but with her legs not fully extended. There was a diminutive male around briefly, but he has long since disappeared. The pictures speak for themselves, but more is here, and for some related folklore, be sure to note the Jorōgumo (aka “whore spider”)!

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Taken soon after she arrived. Comparatively smaller than in the later photos.

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Preparing to dine on a bumblebee. From time to time you could hear crunching as she worked on the insect’s body.

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Xenophon on a barley-beer in Armenia

A preface. A few days ago I chanced upon an example of one of those infestations of the internet, a graphic with a quote attributed to some famous person. This one, due to the subject matter, caught my attention, and I thought it worth investigating a little further. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “People are often misquoted on the internet.” The bearded and tall-hatted president is also made to say, “The problem with quotes on the internet is that you can’t be sure of their accuracy.” Of these two humorous attributions, the former puts the facts more truly. As for the second, while the internet has provided a breeding ground for misattribution and garbled words even when the attribution is seemingly correct, it also provides, thanks to full-text searchability in various languages, the means to check any attribution for those with interest and energy to do so. That said, if we think someone else’s words so much worth sharing, if those words are in a citeable place, why not clearly indicate what the place is along with the words themselves? This is not pedantic overactivity: text editions, and often translations made on their basis, include easy ways — book, chapter, and section numbers, etc. — to point out the source of a text, and anyone quoting them thus sees them, and they do well to take the extra few seconds and extra few keystrokes to throw them in along with any quotation. (Of course, some proffered quotations do not even go so far as to indicate the work from which the quote might come, only the speaker.) So there is a series of concentric circles, the center being the quote itself, next perhaps the section number, then the chapter, then the book (in the older sense, e.g. the Odyssey having 24 books, Augustine’s Confessions 13), then the work with its unique title (as in De re rustica, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, Toxophilus, A Canticle for Leibowitz), and the more precise we are when text-pointing, the better.

Back to the quote-graphic I mentioned. It will be found here. (The date 500 BC(E) in the title there is wrong, given the author’s lifetime: c. 430-c.350 BCE.) The words are said to be Xenophon‘s, and from his well-known work, which used to be youthful fodder of many a student of ancient Greek, the Anabasis. Unlike many such quote-graphics, this one thankfully does give an accurate citation (§ 4.5, and subsections 26-27, to be more precise), so its creator deserves our gratitude. A look at the work in question reveals the quote, but the surrounding sections are of equal interest so here they are in full, below the map, in Greek and English.

For the Greek text and a (somewhat different) translation, see Carleton L. Brownson, Xenophon, Anabasis, Books IV-VII, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press; London: William Heinemann, 1922), available at https://archive.org/details/xenophon04xenogoog and at the Perseus Project at http://tinyurl.com/loyzqux. The translation presented here has been adapted from Brownson’s. I have changed some of the wording and sentence structure and generally brought the translation more in line with the Greek text as given below. (For those that appreciate finer typography than is typically present on a webpage, here is a PDF of the Greek and my translation revised from Brownson: xenophon_beer_barley_armenia.)

P.S. I gave a talk on alcoholic beverages in Syriac literature some time ago, and the paper based on that lecture is available here. Found there are also a few references to alcoholic beverages elsewhere in the near / middle east besides Syriac.

http://www.gutenberg.org/files/26390/26390-h/images/map1.jpg

The route of the Greeks in the Anabasis

Xenophon, Anabasis 4.5.25-34

Greek text
[25] αἱ δ᾽ οἰκίαι ἦσαν κατάγειοι, τὸ μὲν στόμα ὥσπερ φρέατος, κάτω δ᾽ εὐρεῖαι: αἱ δὲ εἴσοδοι τοῖς μὲν ὑποζυγίοις ὀρυκταί, οἱ δὲ ἄνθρωποι κατέβαινον ἐπὶ κλίμακος. ἐν δὲ ταῖς οἰκίαις ἦσαν αἶγες, οἶες, βόες, ὄρνιθες, καὶ τὰ ἔκγονα τούτων: τὰ δὲ κτήνη πάντα χιλῷ ἔνδον ἐτρέφοντο. [26] ἦσαν δὲ καὶ πυροὶ καὶ κριθαὶ καὶ ὄσπρια καὶ οἶνος κρίθινος ἐν κρατῆρσιν. ἐνῆσαν δὲ καὶ αὐταὶ αἱ κριθαὶ ἰσοχειλεῖς, καὶ κάλαμοι ἐνέκειντο, οἱ μὲν μείζους οἱ δὲ ἐλάττους, γόνατα οὐκ ἔχοντες: [27] τούτους ἔδει ὁπότε τις διψῴη λαβόντα εἰς τὸ στόμα μύζειν. καὶ πάνυ ἄκρατος ἦν, εἰ μή τις ὕδωρ ἐπιχέοι: καὶ πάνυ ἡδὺ συμμαθόντι τὸ πῶμα ἦν.

[28] ὁ δὲ Ξενοφῶν τὸν ἄρχοντα τῆς κώμης ταύτης σύνδειπνον ἐποιήσατο καὶ θαρρεῖν αὐτὸν ἐκέλευε λέγων ὅτι οὔτε τῶν τέκνων στερήσοιτο τήν τε οἰκίαν αὐτοῦ ἀντεμπλήσαντες τῶν ἐπιτηδείων ἀπίασιν, ἢν ἀγαθόν τι τῷ στρατεύματι ἐξηγησάμενος φαίνηται ἔστ᾽ ἂν ἐν ἄλλῳ ἔθνει γένωνται. [29] ὁ δὲ ταῦτα ὑπισχνεῖτο, καὶ φιλοφρονούμενος οἶνον ἔφρασεν ἔνθα ἦν κατορωρυγμένος. ταύτην μὲν τὴν νύκτα διασκηνήσαντες οὕτως ἐκοιμήθησαν ἐν πᾶσιν ἀφθόνοις πάντες οἱ στρατιῶται, ἐν φυλακῇ ἔχοντες τὸν κώμαρχον καὶ τὰ τέκνα αὐτοῦ ὁμοῦ ἐν ὀφθαλμοῖς. [30] τῇ δ᾽ ἐπιούσῃ ἡμέρᾳ Ξενοφῶν λαβὼν τὸν κώμαρχον πρὸς Χειρίσοφον ἐπορεύετο: ὅπου δὲ παρίοι κώμην, ἐτρέπετο πρὸς τοὺς ἐν ταῖς κώμαις καὶ κατελάμβανε πανταχοῦ εὐωχουμένους καὶ εὐθυμουμένους, καὶ οὐδαμόθεν ἀφίεσαν πρὶν παραθεῖναι αὐτοῖς ἄριστον: [31] οὐκ ἦν δ᾽ ὅπου οὐ παρετίθεσαν ἐπὶ τὴν αὐτὴν τράπεζαν κρέα ἄρνεια, ἐρίφεια, χοίρεια, μόσχεια, ὀρνίθεια, σὺν πολλοῖς ἄρτοις τοῖς μὲν πυρίνοις τοῖς δὲ κριθίνοις. [32] ὁπότε δέ τις φιλοφρονούμενός τῳ βούλοιτο προπιεῖν, εἷλκεν ἐπὶ τὸν κρατῆρα, ἔνθεν ἐπικύψαντα ἔδει ῥοφοῦντα πίνειν ὥσπερ βοῦν. καὶ τῷ κωμάρχῳ ἐδίδοσαν λαμβάνειν ὅ τι βούλοιτο. ὁ δὲ ἄλλο μὲν οὐδὲν ἐδέχετο, ὅπου δέ τινα τῶν συγγενῶν ἴδοι, πρὸς ἑαυτὸν ἀεὶ ἐλάμβανεν.

[33] ἐπεὶ δ᾽ ἦλθον πρὸς Χειρίσοφον, κατελάμβανον κἀκείνους σκηνοῦντας ἐστεφανωμένους τοῦ ξηροῦ χιλοῦ στεφάνοις, καὶ διακονοῦντας Ἀρμενίους παῖδας σὺν ταῖς βαρβαρικαῖς στολαῖς: τοῖς παισὶν ἐδείκνυσαν ὥσπερ ἐνεοῖς ὅ τι δέοι ποιεῖν.
[34] ἐπεὶ δ᾽ ἀλλήλους ἐφιλοφρονήσαντο Χειρίσοφος καὶ Ξενοφῶν, κοινῇ δὴ ἀνηρώτων τὸν κώμαρχον διὰ τοῦ περσίζοντος ἑρμηνέως τίς εἴη ἡ χώρα. ὁ δ᾽ ἔλεγεν ὅτι Ἀρμενία.

English translation

[25] The houses here were underground, with an opening like that of a well, but spacious below, and while entrances had been dug for the beasts of burden, people went down by a ladder. In the houses were goats, sheep, cattle, chickens, and their young, and all the animals ate their fodder there in the houses. [26] There was also wheat, barley, beans, and barleywine in large bowls. These barley-corns were in the drink up to the brim, straws were in it, some larger and some smaller, without joints. [27] When someone was thirsty, they had to take these straws into their mouths and suck. It was quite pure unless it was diluted with water, yet quite pleasant when one was used to it.

[28] Xenophon made the chief of this village his dinner-guest and commanded him not to worry, telling him that he would not be deprived of his children, and that before they went away they would fill his house with provisions as compensation, if he should turn out to have directed the army well until they should reach another tribe. [29] He promised to do this and kindly told them where there was some wine buried. That night  all [Xenophon's] soldiers, thus billeted, went to bed in plenty, with the village-chief under guard and his children all together within sight. [30]On the next day Xenophon took the village chief and set out [to visit] Cheirisophus. Whenever he passed a village, he would stop [to see about] those in the villages, and everywhere on arrival he found them to be sumptuously entertained and happy. The [people] did let them go from any place without setting lunch before them, [31] and there was nowhere where they did not set before them on the same table lamb, kid, pork, veal, and chicken, together with lots of bread, some wheat and some barley. [32] And whenever someone wanted kindly to drink to another’s health, they would take him to the bowl, and they had drink like an ox, having bent over and gulped it down. To the village-chief they offered the privilege of taking whatever he wanted. He accepted nothing, but whenever he saw one of his kinsmen, he would always take hold of him.

[33] When they got to Cheirisophus, on arrival they also found [those soldiers] billeted and crowned with wreaths of hay, and Armenian boys in their strange, foreign dress, serving them, and they were showing the boys what to do [by signs], as if they were deaf and dumb. [34] When Cheirisophus and Xenophon had greeted each other, they together asked the village-chief, through their Persian-speaking interpreter, what this land was. He replied that it was Armenia.

From Conan Doyle’s “Lot № 249″

http://img1.fantasticfiction.co.uk/images/t0/t534.jpgI recently got a used copy of Hauntings: Tales of the Supernatural, ed. Henry Mazzeo, with illustrations by Edward Gorey (1968). I’m about a third of the way through it and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s “Lot № 249″ (pp. 61-93), first published in 1892, is so far, and will probably remain, a favorite. (Text online here.) Here are a few especially fine lines:

  • “Yet when we think how narrow and how devious this path of nature is, how dimly we can trace it, for all our lamps of science, and how from the darkness which girds it round great and terrible possibilities loom ever shadowly upwards, it is a bold and confident man who will put a limit to the strange by-paths into which the human spirit may wander.” (62)
  • “…but apart from their dress no one could look at their hard-cut, alert faces without seeing that they were open-air men — men whose minds and tastes turned naturally to all that was manly and robust.” (63)
  • “They knew each other very well–so well that they could sit now in that soothing silence which is the very highest development of companionship.” (63)
  • “There’s something damnable about him — something reptilian. My gorge always rises at him. I should put him down as a man with secret vices — an evil liver.” (64)
  • Of a textbook of anatomy: “…plunged into a formidable, green-covered volume, adorned with great, colored maps of that strange, internal kingdom of which we are the hapless and helpless monarchs.” (65)
  • “With his firm mouth, broad forehead, and clear-cut, somewhat hard-featured face, he was a man who, if he had no brilliant talent, was yet so dogged, so patient, and so strong that he might in the end overtop a more showy genius.” (66)
  • “What a chap you are to stew! I believe an earthquake might come and knock Oxford into a cocked hat, and you would sit perfectly placid with your books among the ruins.” (75)
  • “He has spoiled my night’s reading, and that’s reason enough, if there were no other, why I should steer clear of him in the future.” (77)
  • “Bellingham’s face when he was in a passion was not pleasant to look upon.” (77)
  • “…as he was a bachelor, fairly well-to-do, with a good cellar and a better library, his house was a pleasant goal for a man who was in need of a brisk walk.” (80)
  • “With his fat, evil face he was like some bloated spider fresh from the weaving of his poisonous web.” (84)
  • The story’s closing line: “But the wisdom of men is small, and the ways of nature are strange, and who shall put a bound to the dark things which may be found by those who seek for them?” (93)

In addition, on p. 63 is the usage of “liquor” as a verb (= to drink liquor): “I don’t liquor when I’m training.” (For some other examples, see the OED s.v., mng. 6, where it is said to be slang.)

Conan Doyle is known, of course, especially for the Sherlock Holmes stories, but there’s more to his œuvre than that, and this story merits Mazzeo’s selection and reprinting in Hauntings, as well as, perhaps, your reading.

Some online sources for classical Arabic poetry

I posted this page a few weeks ago that lists several easily accessible (older) books for studying Arabic poetry. In case anyone interested has missed it so far, now they are informed. Many of the sources have Arabic text, but there are also a few translations. Enjoy!

Old iron and wood

Today my family and I were fortunate enough to visit Tannehill Ironworks Historical State Park in McCalla, Alabama. It had probably been two decades or so since I’d last been there, but it was much the same as I remembered. This time I was armed with a camera, and here are a few photographs of its old inhabitants.IMG_5183 IMG_5184 IMG_5185 IMG_5186 IMG_5188 IMG_5189 IMG_5190 IMG_5191 IMG_5193 IMG_5194 IMG_5195 IMG_5196 IMG_5197 IMG_5198 IMG_5216 IMG_5220 IMG_5222

Underbelly of the bridge.

Underbelly of the bridge.

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Conducting water to the mill-wheel.

Conducting water to the mill-wheel.

At the mill's wheel.

At the mill’s wheel.

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