Your government, does it still exist right now?

From Talleyrand’s Memoires (v.3, pg. 422), a portion of a letter he sent home from London explaining the difficulty of his negotiating position during his mission in the early 1830s.

Un négociateur n’a pas aisément le ton haut et ferme quand on peut lui demander à chaque instant: Votre gouvernement existe-t-il encore à l’heure qu’il est?

A negociator cannot easily keep an upper-handed and strong tone when someone might ask at every moment: “Your government?  Does it still exist right now?”

 

So that we may acquire a habit of mind not σοφιστικὴν or ἱστορικὴν but ἐνδιάθετον and φιλόσοφον

Below is the conclusion to Plutarch’s On Listening.  The text and translation are from the Loeb edition – Moralia v.1 pg.259 – but I think the translation rather dilutes the point.

Finally, if there be need of any other instruction in regard to listening to a lecture, it is that it is necessary to keep in mind what has here been said, and to cultivate independent thinking along with our learning, so that we may acquire a habit of mind that is not sophistic or bent on acquiring mere information, but one that is deeply ingrained and philosophic, as we may do if we believe that right listening is the beginning of right living.

Εἰ δεῖ τινος οὖν πρὸς ἀκρόασιν ἑτέρου παραγγέλματος, δεῖ καὶ τοῦ νῦν εἰρημένου μνημονεύοντας ἀσκεῖν ἅμα τῇ μαθήσει τὴν εὕρεσιν, ἵνα μὴ σοφιστικὴν ἕξιν μηδ᾿ ἱστορικὴν ἀλλ᾿ ἐνδιάθετον καὶ φιλόσοφον λαμβάνωμεν, ἀρχὴν τοῦ καλῶς βιῶναι τὸ καλῶς ἀκοῦσαι νομίζοντες.

The bolded phrase could get 20+ pages of comparanda and discussion without coming any closer to a satisfying rendering.  My sense would be “so that we may acquire a mental disposition oriented not toward hair-splitting or pedantism but focused on our inner selves and in love with true wisdom.”  The directive, as I read it, is to avoid the distractions of externally-oriented mental activity – wasting energy on the squabbling style of sophists and the small-minded detail focus of data inquiry – and instead turn inward for more Platonic self-cultivation.

But – because it’s never good to be too sure  – here are the relevant LSJ entries (borrowed from Perseus) to offer confounding alternatives.

σοφισ-τικός , ήόν,

A.of or for a sophist, “βίος” Pl.Phdr.248eτὸ ςγένος the class of sophistsId.Sph.224c –κή (sc. τέχνηsophistry, ib.224d, al.

A.exact, precise, scientific, “μίμησις” Pl.Sph.267eτῶν παρὰ τοῖς ἄλλοιςεὑρημένων . well-informed respecting . . or able to recount . . Arist.Rh.1359b32; “ἀποδείξεις ἱστορικῶν” Phld.D.1.23. Adv. κῶς scientifically, accuratelyArist.GA757b35by personal observation, “κατ αμαθεῖν τιGal.14.275.
II. belonging to history, historical, “πραγματεῖαι” D.H.1.1τύπος (opp. λογικόςId.Dem.24; “ἀναγραφή” Id.1.4; “γράμματα” Plu.Them.13: Subst., historianArist. Po.1451b1, Aristeas 31Phld.Rh.1.200S.D.H.4.6D.S.1.6, etc.; “ώτατος βασιλέων” Plu.Sert.9. Adv. “κῶςκαὶδιδασκαλικῶς” Str. 1.1.10καὶ ἐξηγητικῶς, opp. ἀποδεικτικῶςPhld.Mus.p.12 K.; but ἐξηγητικώτερον  –ώτερον, of Aristotle’s method in HAAntig.Mir.60.

ἐνδιά-θετος , ον,

A.residing in the mind (ἐν τῇ διαθέσει, opp. ἐν τῇ προφορᾷPorph.Abst.3.3), λόγος conception, thought, opp. προφορικὸς λ. (expression), Stoic.2.43, etc.; of the immanent reason of the world, Ph.1.598ἕξις ib.36Plu.2.48d ἄνθρωποςthe inner man, Corp.Herm.13.7 (s. v. l.).
2. innate, “περιαυτολογία” Plu.2.44a: hence, unaffected, spontaneousHermog.Id.2.7τὸ . ib.1.11, al.
3. τὸ σὸν εἰς ἡμᾶς . your disposition towards us, PAmh.2.145.12(iv/v A. D.). Adv. τως λέγειν speak from the heartHermog.Id.2.7βοᾶν Sch.Arat.968εὔχεσθαι Eust.ad D.P. 739.
II. deep-seated, opp. “ἐπιπόλαιονἄλγημα” Gal.14.739.
2. Adv. fixedly, opp. προσκαίρωςSor.1.92.
A.lover of wisdom; Pythagoras called himself φιλόσοφος, not σοφός, Cic Tusc.5.3.9D.L.Prooem.12; “τὸν φσοφίαςφήσομεν ἐπιθυμητὴν εἶναι πάσης” Pl.R.475b, cf. Isoc.15.271; “ ὡς ἀληθῶς φ.” Pl.Phd.64e sq.; φφύσειτὴν φύσιν, Id.R.376cφτῇ ψυχῇ, opp. φιλόπονος τῷσώματι, Isoc.1.40: used of all men of education and learning, joined with φιλομαθής and φιλόλογος, Pl.R.376c582e; opp. σοφιστής, X.Cyn.13.6,9; later, academician, of the members of the Museum at Alexandria, OGI712 (ii A. D.), etc.
2. philosopher, i. e. one who speculates on truth and reality, οἱ ἀληθινοὶ φ., defined as οἱ τῆςἀληθείας φιλοθεάμονες, Pl.R.475eφιλόσοφος, of Aristotle, Plu.2.115b σκηνικὸςφ., of Euripides, Ath.13.561a; as the butt of Com., Philem.71.1Bato 5.11Anaxipp.4Phoenicid.4.16.
II. as Adj., loving knowledge, philosophic, “ἄνδρεςHeraclit.35; “ἀνήρ” Pl.Phd. 64d; “τὸ φγένοςId.R.501eφφύσις ib.494aψυχή ib.486bδιάνοιαib.527b; “πειθώ” Phld.Rh.1.269 S.σύνεσις ib.p.211S.(Comp.); “οἱ φιλοσοφώτατοι” Pl.R.498a, cf. IG5(1).598 (Sparta).
2. of arguments, sciences, etc., scientific, philosophic, “λόγοι” Pl.Phdr.257bλόγοι –ώτεροι, of instructive speeches, Isoc.12.271; “ώτερον ποίησις ἱστορίας” Arist.Po.1451b5τὸ φ., opp. τὸ θυμοειδές, as an element of the soul, Pl.R.411e, but = φιλοσοφίαPlu.2.355b.
3. ingenious, Ar.Ec.571 (hex.).
III. Adv. “φωςδιακεῖσθαι πρός τι” Isoc. 15.277; “φἔχειν περί τινος” Pl.Phd.91a, cf. Cic.Att.13.20.4, etc.; opp. ῥητορικῶς, Phld. Rh.2.134S.; Comp. “ωτέρως” Arist.Sens.436a20; “ώτερον” Cic.Att.7.8.3. [Ar. l. c. has the penult. long, nowhere else found in poetry.]

And malt does more than Milton can to justify God’s ways to man

Quoted misleadingly out of context from From A.E. Housman’s A Shropshire Lad:

LXII – Terence, this is stupid stuff

‘TERENCE, this is stupid stuff:
You eat your victuals fast enough;
There can’t be much amiss, ’tis clear,
To see the rate you drink your beer.
But oh, good Lord, the verse you make, 5
It gives a chap the belly-ache.
The cow, the old cow, she is dead;
It sleeps well, the horned head:
We poor lads, ’tis our turn now
To hear such tunes as killed the cow. 10
Pretty friendship ’tis to rhyme
Your friends to death before their time
Moping melancholy mad:
Come, pipe a tune to dance to, lad.’

Why, if ’tis dancing you would be, 15
There’s brisker pipes than poetry.
Say, for what were hop-yards meant,
Or why was Burton built on Trent?
Oh many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse, 20
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God’s ways to man.
Ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Look into the pewter pot 25
To see the world as the world’s not.
And faith, ’tis pleasant till ’tis past:
The mischief is that ’twill not last.
Oh I have been to Ludlow fair
And left my necktie God knows where, 30
And carried half way home, or near,
Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer:
Then the world seemed none so bad,
And I myself a sterling lad;
And down in lovely muck I’ve lain, 35
Happy till I woke again.
Then I saw the morning sky:
Heigho, the tale was all a lie;
The world, it was the old world yet,
I was I, my things were wet, 40
And nothing now remained to do
But begin the game anew.

Therefore, since the world has still
Much good, but much less good than ill,
And while the sun and moon endure 45
Luck’s a chance, but trouble’s sure,
I’d face it as a wise man would,
And train for ill and not for good.
’Tis true, the stuff I bring for sale
Is not so brisk a brew as ale: 50
Out of a stem that scored the hand
I wrung it in a weary land.
But take it: if the smack is sour,
The better for the embittered hour;
It should do good to heart and head 55
When your soul is in my soul’s stead;
And I will friend you, if I may,
In the dark and cloudy day.

There was a king reigned in the East:
There, when kings will sit to feast, 60
They get their fill before they think
With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
He gathered all that springs to birth
From the many-venomed earth;
First a little, thence to more, 65
He sampled all her killing store;
And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
Sate the king when healths went round.
They put arsenic in his meat
And stared aghast to watch him eat; 70
They poured strychnine in his cup
And shook to see him drink it up:
They shook, they stared as white’s their shirt:
Them it was their poison hurt.
—I tell the tale that I heard told. 75
Mithridates, he died old.

The reference is to Milton’s proem and invocation in Book 1 of Paradise Lost

OF Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal tast
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat, [ 5 ]
Sing Heav’nly Muse, that on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That Shepherd, who first taught the chosen Seed,
In the Beginning how the Heav’ns and Earth
Rose out of Chaos: Or if Sion Hill [ 10 ]
Delight thee more, and Siloa’s Brook that flow’d
Fast by the Oracle of God; I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventrous Song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th’ Aonian Mount, while it pursues [ 15 ]
Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime.
And chiefly Thou O Spirit, that dost prefer
Before all Temples th’ upright heart and pure,
Instruct me, for Thou know’st; Thou from the first
Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread [ 20 ]
Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss
And mad’st it pregnant: What in me is dark
Illumin, what is low raise and support;
That to the highth of this great Argument
I may assert Eternal Providence, [ 25 ]
And justifie the wayes of God to men.

The fault I find with our journalism

From Du côté de chez Swann (pg.25-26 in the new Pleiade).  The translation is Moncrieff’s.

The fault I find with our journalism is that it forces us to take an interest in some fresh triviality or other every day, whereas only three or four books in a lifetime give us anything that is of real importance. Suppose that, every morning, when we tore the wrapper off our paper with fevered hands, a transmutation were to take place, and we were to find inside it — oh! I don’t know; shall we say Pascal’s Pensées?”

Ce que je reproche aux journaux c’est de nous faire faire attention tous les jours à des choses insignifiantes tandis que nous lisons trois ou quatre fois dans notre vie les livres où il y a des choses essentielles. Du moment que nous déchirons fiévreusement chaque matin la bande du journal, alors on devrait changer les choses et mettre dans le journal, moi je ne sais pas, les . . . Pensées de Pascal!

I am accustomed to inquire rather than to decide

From Aulus Gellius Noctes Atticae 20.1.9:

“Don’t ask me,” said Favorinus, “what I think.  For you know that I am accustomed, according to the rule of the sect that I follow, to inquire rather than to decide.”

“Noli” inquit Favorinus “ex me quaerere, quid ego existumeme.  Scis enim solitum esse me pro disciplina sectae, quam colo, inquirere potius quam decernere.”

The future of flying

I found out the other day that basic economy is now a possibility for intercontinental flights – no checked luggage, no assigned seats, no tatters of dignity to cling to.  Here, from the opening pages of Balzac’s Un début dans la vie, is where we are heading.

The translation is by Katharine Prescott Wormeley – who, incidentally, seems to have had an interesting life given her wide range of French translations (complete works of Balzac, Moliere, and my favorite Saint-Simon) and service as a nurse in the American Civil War.

Pierrotin’s present establishment consisted of two vehicles. One, which served in winter, and the only one he reported to the tax-gatherer, was the coucou which he inherited from his father. The rounded flanks of this vehicle allowed him to put six travellers on two seats, of metallic hardness in spite of the yellow Utrecht velvet with which they were covered. These seats were separated by a wooden bar inserted in the sides of the carriage at the height of the travellers’ shoulders, which could be placed or removed at will. This bar, specially covered with velvet (Pierrotin called it “a back”), was the despair of the passengers, from the great difficulty they found in placing and removing it. If the “back” was difficult and even painful to handle, that was nothing to the suffering caused to the omoplates when the bar was in place. But when it was left to lie loose across the coach, it made both ingress and egress extremely perilous, especially to women.

Though each seat of this vehicle, with rounded sides like those of a pregnant woman, could rightfully carry only three passengers, it was not uncommon to see eight persons on the two seats jammed together like herrings in a barrel. Pierrotin declared that the travellers were far more comfortable in a solid, immovable mass; whereas when only three were on a seat they banged each other perpetually, and ran much risk of injuring their hats against the roof by the violent jolting of the roads. In front of the vehicle was a wooden bench where Pierrotin sat, on which three travellers could perch; when there, they went, as everybody knows, by the name of “rabbits.” On certain trips Pierrotin placed four rabbits on the bench, and sat himself at the side

Our descendants will be mightily mistaken if they fancy that thirteen persons including Pierrotin were all that this vehicle could carry. On great occasions it could take three more in a square compartment covered with an awning, where the trunks, cases, and packages were piled; but the prudent Pierrotin only allowed his regular customers to sit there, and even they were not allowed to get in until at some distance beyond the “barriere.” The occupants of the “hen-roost” (the name given by conductors to this section of their vehicles) were made to get down outside of every village or town where there was a post of gendarmerie; the overloading forbidden by law, “for the safety of passengers,” being too obvious to allow the gendarme on duty—always a friend to Pierrotin—to avoid the necessity of reporting this flagrant violation of the ordinances.

Le matériel de Pierrotin consistait alors en deux voitures. L’une, qui servait en hiver et la seule qu’il présentât aux agents du Fisc, lui venait de son père, et tenait du coucou. Les flancs arrondis de cette voiture permettaient d’y placer six voyageurs sur deux banquettes d’une dureté métallique, quoique couvertes de velours d’Utrecht jaune. Ces deux banquettes étaient séparées par une barre de bois qui s’ôtait et se remettait à volonté dans deux rainures pratiquées à chaque paroi intérieure, à la hauteur de dos de patient. Cette barre, perfidement enveloppée de velours et que Pierrotin appelait un dossier, faisait le désespoir des voyageurs par la difficulté qu’on éprouvait à l’enlever et à la replacer. Si ce dossier donnait du mal à manier, il en causait encore bien plus aux épaules quand il était en place ; mais quand on le laissait en travers de la voiture, il rendait l’entrée et la sortie également périlleuses, surtout pour les femmes. Quoique chaque banquette de ce cabriolet, au flanc courbé comme celui d’une femme grosse, ne dût contenir que trois voyageurs, on en voyait souvent huit serrés comme des harengs dans une tonne. Pierrotin prétendait que les voyageurs s’en trouvaient beaucoup mieux, car ils formaient alors une masse compacte, inébranlable ; tandis que trois voyageurs se heurtaient perpétuellement et souvent risquaient d’abîmer leurs chapeaux contre la tête de son cabriolet, par les violents cahots de la route. Sur le devant de cette voiture, il existait une banquette de bois, le siège de Pierrotin, et où pouvaient tenir trois voyageurs, qui, placés là, prennent, comme on le sait, le nom de lapins. Par certains voyages, Pierrotin y plaçait quatre lapins, et s’asseyait alors en côté

Nos neveux seraient dans l’erreur s’ils pouvaient croire que cette voiture ne pouvait emmener que treize personnes, y compris Pierrotin : dans les grandes occasions, elle en admettait parfois trois autres dans un compartiment carré recouvert d’une bâche où s’empilaient les malles, les caisses et les paquets ; mais le prudent Pierrotin n’y laissait monter que ses pratiques, et seulement à trois ou quatre cents pas de la Barrière. Ces habitants du poulailler, nom donné par les conducteurs à cette partie de la voiture, devaient descendre avant chaque village de la route où se trouvait un poste de gendarmerie. La surcharge interdite par les ordonnances concernant la sûreté des voyageurs était alors trop flagrante pour que le gendarme, essentiellement ami de Pierrotin, pût se dispenser de dresser procès-verbal de cette contravention.

None of us can be said to constitute a material whole

From Du côté de chez Swann – I’ve lost the page but it’s within the first twenty of the new Pleiade edition.  Translation is Moncrieff’s.

Even in the most insignificant details of our daily life, none of us can be said to constitute a material whole, which is identical for everyone, and need only be turned up like a page in an account-book or the record of a will; our social personality is created by the thoughts of other people. Even the simple act which we describe as “seeing some one we know” is, to some extent, an intellectual process. We pack the physical outline of the creature we see with all the ideas we have already formed about him, and in the complete picture of him which we compose in our minds those ideas have certainly the principal place. In the end they come to fill out so completely the curve of his cheeks, to follow so exactly the line of his nose, they blend so harmoniously in the sound of his voice that these seem to be no more than a transparent envelope, so that each time we see the face or hear the voice it is our own ideas of him which we recognise and to which we listen.

Mais même au point de vue des plus insignifiantes choses de la vie, nous ne sommes pas un tout matériellement constitué, identique pour tout le monde et dont chacun n’a qu’à aller prendre connaissance comme d’un cahier des charges ou d’un testament; notre personnalité sociale est une création de la pensée des autres.  Même l’acte si simple que nous appelons «voir une personne que nous connaissons» est en partie un acte intellectuel. Nous remplissons l’apparence physique de l’être que nous voyons, de toutes les notions que nous avons sur lui et dans l’aspect total que nous nous représentons, ces notions ont certainement la plus grande part. Elles finissent par gonfler si parfaitement les joues, par suivre en une adhérence si exacte la ligne du nez, elles se mêlent si bien de nuancer la sonorité de la voix comme si celle-ci n’était qu’une transparente enveloppe, que chaque fois que nous voyons ce visage et que nous entendons cette voix, ce sont ces notions que nous retrouvons, que nous écoutons.

What else should one do in the time before sunset?

From Plato’s Phaedo (61e) – a portion of Socrates’ conversation with his friends on the day of his sunset execution.  I’ve wanted to use this on bookplates but no one is set up to print Greek.

And it’s perhaps especially fitting for one who is about to take his leave to examine the life beyond and tell stories about it: what kind of experience we think it is. What else should one do in the time before sunset?

καὶ γὰρ ἴσως καὶ μάλιστα πρέπει μέλλοντα ἐκεῖσε ἀποδημεῖν διασκοπεῖν τε καὶ μυθολογεῖν περὶ τῆς ἀποδημίας τῆς ἐκεῖ, ποίαν τινὰ αὐτὴν οἰόμεθα εἶναι· τί γὰρ ἄν τις καὶ ποιοῖ ἄλλο ἐν τῷ μέχρι ἡλίου δυσμῶν χρόνῳ;

 

Reaping asphodel

Erasmus Adagia 377 – from the section of proverbial phrases for pointless tasks.

Τὸν ἀνθέρικον θερίζειν (‘to reap Asphodel’) is said of those who take in hand an empty and profitless task.  Asphodel is a kind of herb which cannot be reaped [with a scythe] but requires being plucked by hand like linen….

Τὸν ἀνθέρικον θερίζειν, id est Anthericum metere, dicebantur, qui laborem inanem ac sterilem caperent. Anthericus, herbae genus, quod meti non possit, sed velli manibus necesse est velut et linum….

Aside from Achilles in Bk 11 of the Odyssey walking off through an asphodel meadow in the underworld (μακρὰ βιβᾶσα κατ᾽ ἀσφοδελὸν λειμῶνα) and a similar notice in Bk 24 of the same work the only other reference point I have for asphodel in classical literature is early – lines 37-41 – in Hesiod’s Works and Days where he criticizes his brother Perses’ behavior on the death of their father:

Already we had divided our inheritance but you snatched up and carried off the greater part, honoring the gift-eating (i.e. feeding on bribes) kings who are willing to judge such a case.  Fools, who do not know how much more the half is than the whole nor what great benefit there is in mallow and asphodel.

ἤδη μὲν γὰρ κλῆρον ἐδασσάμεθ᾽, ἀλλὰ τὰ πολλὰ
ἁρπάζων ἐφόρεις μέγα κυδαίνων βασιλῆας
δωροφάγους, οἳ τήνδε δίκην ἐθέλουσι δίκασσαι.
νήπιοι, οὐδὲ ἴσασιν ὅσῳ πλέον ἥμισυ παντὸς
οὐδ᾽ ὅσον ἐν μαλάχῃ τε καὶ ἀσφοδέλῳ μέγ᾽ ὄνειαρ.

The general sense in West’s commentary on Works and Days is simply that mallow and asphodel – examples of the poorest fare – are recommended under the same conscious paradox as guides ‘the half better than the whole.’  The point is the preferability of honestly obtained poor fare to dishonestly obtained luxury.  No commentaries mention Erasmus’ adage – or the harvesting experience it springs from – but it seems something of a confirming contribution to Hesiod’s point – that Asphodel as terrible food and a pain to obtain is still better than wrongly gotten luxury.

And with this thought process I myself have reaped asphodel.

Apoplexy on its way to replace paralysis

Found in Linda Kelly’s Talleyrand in London – a caricature by Honoré Daumier from 26 Feb. 1835 titled L’apoplexie allant remplacer a Londres la paralysie (Apoplexy on its way to replace paralysis in London).  Talleyrand on the right is being replaced as French ambassador by Sebastiani.  Talleyrand’s hair and cane constitute a sort of saintly iconography – as further below in Thomas Mclean’s ‘Lame leading the blind’ of Talleyrand and Lord Palmerston.

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