On the field of the battle that never was

From Stanislaw Lem’s Cyberiad – in the first sally of Trurl and Klapaucius:

Sensing that something had gone amiss, Ferocitus nodded to the twelve buglers at his right hand. Atrocitus, from the top of his hill, did likewise; the buglers put the brass to their lips and sounded the charge on either side. At this clarion signal each army totally and completely linked up. The fearsome metallic clatter of closing contacts reverberated over the future battlefield; in the place of a thousand bombardiers and grenadiers, commandos, lancers, gunners, snipers, sappers and marauders—there stood two giant beings, who gazed at one another through a million eyes across a mighty plain that lay beneath billowing clouds. There was absolute silence. That famous culmination of consciousness which the great Gargantius had predicted with mathematical precision was now reached on both sides. For beyond a certain point militarism, a purely local phenomenon, becomes civil, and this is because the Cosmos Itself is by nature wholly civilian, and indeed, the minds of both armies had assumed truly cosmic proportions! Thus, though on the outside armor still gleamed, as well as the death-dealing steel of artillery, within there surged an ocean of mutual good will, tolerance, an all-embracing benevolence, and bright reason. And so, standing on opposite hilltops, their weapons sparkling in the sun, while the drums continued to roll, the two armies smiled at one another. Trurl and Klapaucius were just then boarding their ship, since that which they had planned had come to pass: before the eyes of their mortified, infuriated rulers, both armies went off hand in hand, picking flowers beneath the fluffy white clouds, on the field of the battle that never was.

I must take care of my wife

From Treasures of the British Museum on the Townley Collection:

The bust was purchased from Prince Laurenzano at Naples in 1772 and was Charles Townley’s favourite sculpture.  It is related that when, as a Roman Catholic, he was obliged to flee from the London mob at the time of the bloody Gordon riots (1780) his priorities were such that he secured his cabinet of gems, then taking Clytie in his arms with the words ‘I must take care of my wife’, ‘he left his house, casting one last, longing, look at the marbles which, as he feared, would never charm his eyes again’.


I am a neo-frivolist

From Antal Szerb’s The Pendragon Legend (pg. 178):

“I really don’t understand you.  I’d so much rather be in your position.  To devote one’s life to scholarship … to truth, and the service of mankind …”

“You may rest assured that my personal scholarship has never served mankind.  Because there is no such thing as justice, no universal humanity.  There are only versions of justice and different sorts of people.  And it has always given me particular pleasure that my own scholarly efforts, let’s say, in the field of old English ironworking, have never been of the slightest use to anyone.”

“You speak like someone who has no ideals.”

“True.  I am a neo-frivolist.”

“And how does that differ from old-fashioned frivolity?”

“Mostly in the ‘neo’ prefix.  It makes it more interesting.”

it follows that when it came to philosophy, Lenin was a Neo-Thomist

From Umberto Eco’s On the Shoulders of Giants – in his lecture on The Abstract and the Relative

A specular theory of truth is adaequatio rei et intellectus (the equation of the intellect and the thing), as if our mind were a mirror that, when working properly and not a distorting one or misted over, must faithfully reflect things as they are.  This is the theory put forward by Thomas Aquinas, for example, but also by Lenin in his Materialism and Empirio-Criticism (1909).  And since Aquinas could not have been a Leninist, it follows that when it came to philosophy, Lenin was a Neo-Thomist.

βούλομαι γὰρ Ἀθηναίους τοῦτο λαλεῖν

From Plutarch’s Life of Alcibiades (9.1)

ὄντος δὲ κυνὸς αὐτῷ θαυμαστοῦ τὸ μέγεθος καὶ τὸ εἶδος, ὃν ἑβδομήκοντα μνῶν ἐωνημένος ἐτύγχανεν, ἀπέκοψε τὴν οὐρὰν πάγκαλον οὖσαν. ἐπιτιμώντων δὲ τῶν συνήθων καὶ λεγόντων ὅτι πάντες ἐπὶ τῷ κυνὶ δάκνονται καὶ λοιδοροῦσιν αὐτόν, ἐπιγελάσας, ‘γίνεται τοίνυν,’ εἶπεν, ‘ὃ βούλομαι: βούλομαι γὰρ Ἀθηναίους τοῦτο λαλεῖν, ἵνα μή τι χεῖρον περὶ ἐμοῦ λέγωσι.’

Possessing a dog of wonderful size and beauty, which had cost him seventy minas, he had its tail cut off, and a beautiful tail it was, too. His comrades chid him for this, and declared that everybody was furious about the dog and abusive of its owner. But Alcibiades burst out laughing and said: ‘That’s just what I want; I want Athens to talk about this, that it may say nothing worse about me.’

Strictly speaking, this story should not be written or told at all

From Flann O’Brien’s John Duffy’s Brother

Strictly speaking, this story should not be written or told at all. To write it or to tell it is to spoil it. This is because the man who had the strange experience we are going to talk about never mentioned it to anybody, and the fact that he kept his secret and sealed it up completely in his memory is the whole point of the story. Thus we must admit that handicap at the beginning—that it is absurd for us to tell the story, absurd for anybody to listen to it, and unthinkable that anybody should believe it.

A few background touches to that idyllic voyage

From Stanislaw Lem’s More Tales of Pirx the Pilot:

The radiotelegraph operator, however, coped not by belting up but by jettisoning things: trapped in the space between ceiling, deck, and walls, he would reach into his pants pockets, throw out the first item at hand—his pockets were a storage bin of miscellaneous weights, key chains, metal clips—and allow the thrust to propel him gently in the opposite direction. An infallible method, unerring confirmation of Newton’s second law, but something of an inconvenience to his shipmates, because, once discarded, the stuff would ricochet off the walls, and the resulting whirligig of hard and potentially damaging objects might last a good while. This is just to add a few background touches to that idyllic voyage.

the original pair that were preserved in Noah’s Ark

From Richard Cowtan’s 1872 Memories of the British Museum – quoted as less length in the opening pages of Marjorie Caygill’s Treasures of the British Museum

When we think of the facilities now afforded to visitors of the Museum, it should be remembered that, in those early days (~1835), persons wishing to view the collections were requested to leave their names, and attend at a fixed hour on some other day appointed, when they were hurried through the several rooms without any respect to their taste for any particular department


Few that saw them [in the Montagu House entrance hall] will forget the giraffes that stood on the upper landing of the staircase, which looked so stiff and rigid as to have given one an idea that they died under the influence of strychnia, or were the original pair that were preserved in Noah’s Ark.

The giraffes in question:


Oh! Thank heaven to be away from it all!

From Flann O’Brien’s (as Lir O’Connor) I’m Telling You No Lie! – collected in The Short Fiction of Flann O’Brien

Or perhaps it is because—and here, I believe, we are getting nearer to the truth—the colours of the creature have awakened in me a feeling that I had thought was long since dead. For, whenever I hear a few bars from an old Irish song or have a few glasses of an old Irish whiskey my thoughts go out across oceans and continents to the land where I was born. Through the swirling mists I can picture a little thatched, whitewashed crubeen on the side of a hill. Leaning over the half-door, a leather-faced bonnav-dealer puffs away at his blackened old cruiskeen lawn as he gazes down thoughtfully into the valley. Through the smoky twilight within I see his aged help-meet, or colleen bawn, crouching over the turf fire stirring away at her three-legged poteen of carrageen, pausing now and then to gather an odd sad air from her harpeen. With a heart too full for words I reflect that this is my country, and that these people are my own kith and kin, and something like a prayer escapes me as I sob: “Oh! Thank heaven to be away from it all!”