You’ve only to pay ’em the Dane-geld and then you’ll get rid of the Dane

Rudyard Kipling’s Danegeld, from a light biography of Alfred the Great I’ve begun (The White Horse King: The Life of Alfred the Great). Danegeld should really be resurrected as a metaphor in modern politics.

It is always a temptation to an armed and agile nation
To call upon a neighbour and to say: —
“We invaded you last night–we are quite prepared to fight,
Unless you pay us cash to go away.”

And that is called asking for Dane-geld,
And the people who ask it explain
That you’ve only to pay ’em the Dane-geld
And then you’ll get rid of the Dane!

It is always a temptation for a rich and lazy nation,
To puff and look important and to say: —
“Though we know we should defeat you, we have not the time to meet you.
We will therefore pay you cash to go away.”

And that is called paying the Dane-geld;
But we’ve proved it again and again,
That if once you have paid him the Dane-geld
You never get rid of the Dane.

It is wrong to put temptation in the path of any nation,
For fear they should succumb and go astray;
So when you are requested to pay up or be molested,
You will find it better policy to say: —

“We never pay any-one Dane-geld,
No matter how trifling the cost;
For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
And the nation that pays it is lost!”

You may remember the old Persian saying

From the conclusion to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Case of Identity:

“And Miss Sutherland?”

“If I tell her she will not believe me. You may remember the old Persian saying, ‘There is danger for him who taketh the tiger cub, and danger also for whoso snatches a delusion from a woman.’ There is as much sense in Hafiz as in Horace, and as much knowledge of the world.”

I tried tracing the exact citation for this line but could find nothing online. The footnote in the New Annotated Sherlock Holmes surrenders as well:

“Hafiz” is also spelled “Hafez.” His more complete name is Mohammed Shams Od-Dīān Haāfez (b. 1325/26, Shīāraāz, Iran–d. 1389/90, Shīāraāz), and he was one of the finest lyric poets of Persia. The Diwan (Collected Poems) of the poet was not translated in its entirety into English prose until 1891. However, scholars have been unable to trace the proverb to any published works of Hafiz.

“Horace” is Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65–8 B.C.), the greatest of the Latin lyric poets.

This was still unsatisfying so I went digging further and found what at first appeared a real suggestion in a book by John Yohannan called Persian Poetry in England and America: A 200 Year History

When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle put into the mouth of his famous sleuth Sherlock Holmes the observation that “there is as much sense in Hafiz as in Horace and as much knowledge of the world,” he was probably chiefly inspired by the advantage of alliteration in the poets’ names. the sentiment he attributed to Hafiz in “A Case of Identity” … was more likely an adaptation of the fifty-third Maxim in Sadi’s Gulistan in Eastwick’s translation.

That passage in the translation referenced reads:

Maxim LIII
To consult with women is ruin, and to be liberal to the mischievous is a crime.

To sharp-toothed tigers kind to be
To harmless flocks is tyranny.

Aside from the convenient collocation of women and tigers, I don’t find the proposed source at all convincing.

Overall I’m rather inclined to lean on this being an invented source, inspired only by Conan Doyle’s taste for giving Holmes occasional outbursts hinting at deep knowledge in out-of-the-way fields – something like the intellectual equivalent of his eccentricity in keeping ‘his tobacco in the toe end of a Persian slipper’ (per The Musgrave Ritual).

And so, all of a sudden, you realize how alone we are in the world.

From a selection of Dino Buzzati’s short stories called Restless Nights

The Survivor’s Story

We arrive from distant countries, from wars, from cataclysms. As the speeding train hastens our return, we look forward to the joys of our native land. Among the greatest of these is the joy of telling stories. We could continue for days without stopping, we could deliver lectures, write huge volumes. The things we have seen were beautiful, bizarre, frightening. Just to be able to tell our friends about them would be worth the pain of so much effort. The train hurries us home, and we seem to be happy.

But how strange! No sooner do we enter our houses than the long tale dies in our breast. We relate two or three things, and then that’s it. Suddenly we stop, feeling that we no longer have anything important to say. Where have our romantic adventures gone? Where are the dangers, mysteries, encounters of which we were proud? Have they disappeared, then? Have all the days and months and years that we spent in faraway lands vanished into thin air? Does nothing remain? Oh no: every dawn, every sunset, every night lies within us one on top of the other, intact, with profound significance. The problem is that when we tell our stories—what a bitter surprise!—they now appear vague, strange, boring, and no one is willing to listen to them, not even our mothers.

“I remember,” we begin, “one morning just at the edge of the forest…”

“But tell me,” someone interrupts, “now that you’ve returned, what do you think you’ll do?”

“The worst encounter happened last March,” we begin, “when the order came to…”

“Excuse me,” another person says, “but I’m already late for an appointment. We can get together tomorrow, can’t we?”

“For two months,” we begin, “we slept in some sort of cave, but we had to make sure that…”

“What about women?” someone else interrupts. “How did you make out with the women down there?”

Then you begin to understand how so many memories, etched into the vital essence of our souls, now sustain our lives. For the others, for everyone else without exception, our memories are only empty phantasms, mere words. Yet they are the people who love us most, they are true friends, ready to sacrifice themselves for us. Nonetheless, they don’t give a damn about our stories, they don’t know what to make of our treasure. And so, all of a sudden, you realize how alone we are in the world.

But your isolation must not be mechanical, but spiritual, that is, must be elevation

From Emerson’s Self-Reliance in Essays: First Series

But now we are a mob. Man does not stand in awe of man, nor is his genius admonished to stay at home, to put itself in communication with the internal ocean, but it goes abroad to beg a cup of water of the urns of other men. We must go alone. I like the silent church before the service begins, better than any preaching. How far off, how cool, how chaste the persons look, begirt each one with a precinct or sanctuary! So let us always sit. Why should we assume the faults of our friend, or wife, or father, or child, because they sit around our hearth, or are said to have the same blood? All men have my blood and I have all men’s. Not for that will I adopt their petulance or folly, even to the extent of being ashamed of it. But your isolation must not be mechanical, but spiritual, that is, must be elevation. At times the whole world seems to be in conspiracy to importune you with emphatic trifles. Friend, client, child, sickness, fear, want, charity, all knock at once at thy closet door and say,—’Come out unto us.’ But keep thy state; come not into their confusion. The power men possess to annoy me I give them by a weak curiosity. No man can come near me but through my act. “What we love that we have, but by desire we bereave ourselves of the love.”

Had the painter sent you to Purgatory, I would have used my best efforts to get you released, but I exercise no influence in hell

From Mary McCarthy’s The Stones of Florence:

when a prelate criticized the nude figures in ‘The Last Judgment’, Michelangelo at once added him to the fresco, showing him in hell, wearing horns, with a serpent twisted around his loins, and when the prelate complained to the pope (Paul III), the pope replied: ‘Had the painter sent you to Purgatory, I would have used my best efforts to get you released, but I exercise no influence in hell; ubi nulla est redemptio.’

The major source of the story is Giorgio Vasari’s Life of Michelangelo in his The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects.

Michelagnolo had already carried to completion more than three-fourths of the work, when Pope Paul went to see it. And Messer Biagio da Cesena, the master of ceremonies, a person of great propriety, who was in the chapel with the Pope, being asked what he thought of it, said that it was a very disgraceful thing to have made in so honourable a place all those nude figures showing their nakedness so shamelessly, and that it was a work not for the chapel of a Pope, but for a bagnio or tavern. Michelagnolo was displeased at this, and, wishing to revenge himself, as soon as Biagio had departed he portrayed him from life, without having him before his eyes at all, in the figure of Minos with a great serpent twisted round the legs, among a heap of Devils in Hell; nor was Messer Biagio’s pleading with the Pope and with Michelagnolo to have it removed of any avail, for it was left there in memory of the occasion, and it is still to be seen at the present day.

But I think the Pope’s witty reply comes from another contemporary writer, Lodovico Domenichi – whose account I haven’t tried digging up.


The fool, with all his other faults, has this also,—he is always getting ready to live

From Seneca’s Epistles (13.16)

But now, to close my letter, I have only to stamp the usual seal upon it, in other words, to commit thereto some noble message to be delivered to you: “The fool, with all his other faults, has this also,—he is always getting ready to live.” Reflect, my esteemed Lucilius, what this saying means, and you will see how revolting is the fickleness of men who lay down every day new foundations of life, and begin to build up fresh hopes even at the brink of the grave. Look within your own mind for individual instances; you will think of old men who are preparing themselves at that very hour for a political career, or for travel, or for business. And what is baser than getting ready to live when you are already old?  I should not name the author of this motto, except that it is somewhat unknown to fame and is not one of those popular sayings of Epicurus which I have allowed myself to praise and to appropriate. Farewell.

Sed iam finem epistulae faciam, si illi signum suum inpressero, id est aliquam magnificam vocem perferendam ad te mandavero. “Inter cetera mala hoc quoque habet stultitia: semper incipit vivere.” Considera quid vox ista significet, Lucili virorum optime, et intelleges, quam foeda sit hominum levitas cotidie nova vitae fundamenta ponentium, novas spes etiam in exitu inchoantium. Circumspice tecum singulos; occurrent tibi senes, qui se cum maxime ad ambitionem, ad peregrinationes, ad negotiandum parent. Quid est autem turpius quam senex vivere incipiens? Non adicerem auctorem huic voci, nisi esset secretior nec inter vulgata Epicuri dicta, quae mihi et laudare et adoptare permisi. Vale.

Depending on your interpretation of what Epicurus meant (and there’s no confirming context surviving) and what Seneca wants him to mean this potentially goes much against the spirit of Socrates’ advice in today’s earlier extract from the Laches.

Iusta autem ab iniustis petere insipientia est

Some wordplay from Mercury’s prologue in Plautus’ Amphitruo (33-36).  Found in Democritus to His Reader in Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy.  The translation is from Wolfgang de Melo’s recent Loeb set of Plautus – and a much better one than others I’ve read (partly because he tosses meter for accuracy).

iustam rem et facilem esse oratam a uobis uolo,
nam iustae ab iustis iustus sum orator datus.
nam iniusta ab iustis impetrari non decet,
iusta autem ab iniustis petere insipientia est;

I want to ask you for a just and small favor: I was appointed as a just pleader pleading with the just for a just cause. For it wouldn’t be right to obtain what’s unjust from the just; but it would be stupidity to demand what’s just from the unjust.

But to leave ourselves as we now are, this I do not advise

From the conclusion of Plato’s Laches (201B)

Socrates: ….Now if in the debates that we have just held I had been found to know what our two friends did not know, it would be right to make a point of inviting me to take up this work: but as it is, we have all got into the same difficulty, so why should one of us be preferred to another? In my own opinion, none of us should; and this being so, perhaps you will allow me to give you a piece of advice. I tell you, gentlemen—and this is confidential—that we ought all alike to seek out the best teacher we can find, first for ourselves—for we need one—and then for our boys, sparing neither expense nor anything else we can do: but to leave ourselves as we now are, this I do not advise. And if anyone makes fun of us for seeing fit to go to school at our time of life, I think we should appeal to Homer, who said that “shame is no good mate for a needy man.”

ΣΩ. Καὶ γὰρ ἂν δεινὸν εἴη, ὦ Λυσίμαχε, τοῦτό γε, μὴ ἐθέλειν τῳ συμπροθυμεῖσθαι ὡς βελτίστῳ γενέσθαι. εἰ μὲν οὖν ἐν τοῖς διαλόγοις τοῖς ἄρτι ἐγὼ μὲν ἐφάνην εἰδώς, τώδε δὲ μὴ εἰδότε, δίκαιον ἂν ἦν ἐμὲ μάλιστα ἐπὶ τοῦτο τὸ ἔργον παρακαλεῖν· νῦν δ᾿, ὁμοίως γὰρ πάντες ἐν ἀπορίᾳ ἐγενόμεθα· τί οὖν ἄν τις ἡμῶν τινὰ προαιροῖτο; ἐμοὶ μὲν οὖν δὴ αὐτῷ δοκεῖ οὐδένα· ἀλλ᾿ ἐπειδὴ ταῦτα οὕτως ἔχει, σκέψασθε ἄν τι δόξω συμβουλεύειν ὑμῖν. ἐγὼ γάρ φημι χρῆναι, ὦ ἄνδρες—οὐδεὶς γὰρ ἔκφορος λόγος—κοινῇ πάντας ἡμᾶς ζητεῖν μάλιστα μὲν ἡμῖν αὐτοῖς διδάσκαλον ὡς ἄριστον—δεόμεθα γάρ—ἔπειτα καὶ τοῖς μειρακίοις, μήτε χρημάτων φειδομένους μήτε ἄλλου μηδενός· ἐᾷν δὲ ἡμᾶς αὐτοὺς ἔχειν, ὡς νῦν ἔχομεν, οὐ συμβουλεύω. εἰ δέ τις ἡμῶν καταγελάσεται, ὅτι τηλικοίδε ὄντες εἰς διδασκάλων Βἀξιοῦμεν φοιτᾷν, τὸν Ὅμηρον δοκεῖ μοι χρῆναι προβάλλεσθαι, ὃς ἔφη οὐκ ἀγαθὴν εἶναι αἰδῶ κεχρημένῳ ἀνδρὶ παρεῖναι.

The Homer quote is from Odyssey 17.347 as Telemachus and Odysseus-as-beggar have arrived in Odysseus’ home:

Then Telemachus called the swineherd to him, and, taking a whole loaf from the beautiful basket, and all the meat his hands could hold in his grasp, spoke to him, saying:

“Take, and give this to the stranger, and bid him go about himself and beg of the suitors one and all. Shame is no good thing in a man that is in need.”

Τηλέμαχος δ᾿ ἐπὶ οἷ καλέσας προσέειπε συβώτην,
ἄρτον τ᾿ οὖλον ἑλὼν περικαλλέος ἐκ κανέοιο
καὶ κρέας, ὥς οἱ χεῖρες ἐχάνδανον ἀμφιβαλόντι·

“δὸς τῷ ξείνῳ ταῦτα φέρων αὐτόν τε κέλευε
αἰτίζειν μάλα πάντας ἐποιχόμενον μνηστῆρας·
αἰδὼς δ᾿ οὐκ ἀγαθὴ κεχρημένῳ ἀνδρὶ παρεῖναι.”



So to me there is nothing unusual, or unpleasant either, in being tried and tested by Socrates

From Plato’s Laches, as Nicias preps Lysimachus, Socrates’ two partners in the dialogue, for what’s in store.  Text and translation are the Loeb.

Nicias: You strike me as not being aware that, whoever comes into close contact with Socrates and has any talk with him face to face, is bound to be drawn round and round by him in the course of the argument—though it may have started at first on a quite different theme—and cannot stop until he is led into giving an account of himself, of the manner in which he now spends his days, and of the kind of life he has lived hitherto; and when once he has been led into that, Socrates will never let him go until he has thoroughly and properly put all his ways to the test. Now I am accustomed to him, and so I know that one is bound to be thus treated by him, and further, that I myself shall certainly get the same treatment also. For I delight, Lysimachus, in conversing with the man, and see no harm in our being reminded of any past or present misdoing: nay, one must needs take more careful thought for the rest of one’s life, if one does not fly from his words but is willing, as Solon said, and zealous to learn as long as one lives, and does not expect to get good sense by the mere arrival of old age. So to me there is nothing unusual, or unpleasant either, in being tried and tested by Socrates; in fact, I knew pretty well all the time that our argument would not be about the boys if Socrates were present, but about ourselves.

Οὔ μοι δοκεῖς εἰδέναι ὅτι, ὃς ἂν ἐγγύτατα Σωκράτους ᾖ [λόγῳ ὥσπερ γένει]1 καὶ πλησιάζῃ διαλεγόμενος, ἀνάγκη αὐτῷ, ἐὰν ἄρα καὶ περὶ ἄλλου του πρότερον ἄρξηται διαλέγεσθαι, μὴ παύεσθαι ὑπὸ τούτου περιαγόμενον τῷ λόγῳ, πρὶν ἂν ἐμπέσῃ εἰς τὸ διδόναι περὶ αὑτοῦ λόγον, ὅντινα τρόπον νῦν τε ζῇ καὶ ὅντινα τὸν παρεληλυθότα βίον βεβίωκεν· ἐπειδὰν δ᾿ ἐμπέσῃ, ὅτι οὐ πρότερον αὐτὸν ἀφήσει Σωκράτης, πρὶν ἂν βασανίσῃ ταῦτα εὖ τε καὶ καλῶς ἅπαντα. ἐγὼ δὲ συνήθης τέ εἰμι τῷδε καὶ οἶδ᾿ ὅτι ἀνάγκη ὑπὸ τούτου πάσχειν ταῦτα, καὶ ἔτι γε αὐτὸς ὅτι πείσομαι ταῦτα εὖ οἶδα· χαίρω γάρ, ὦ Λυσίμαχε, τῷ ἀνδρὶ πλησιάζων, καὶ οὐδὲν οἶμαι κακὸν εἶναι τὸ ὑπομιμνήσκεσθαι ὅ τι μὴ καλῶς ἢ πεποιήκαμεν ἢ ποιοῦμεν, ἀλλ᾿ εἰς τὸν ἔπειτα βίον προμηθέστερον ἀνάγκη εἶναι τὸν ταῦτα μὴ φεύγοντα, ἀλλ᾿ ἐθέλοντα κατὰ τὸ τοῦ Σόλωνος καὶ ἀξιοῦντα μανθάνειν ἕωσπερ ἂν ζῇ, καὶ μὴ οἰόμενον αὐτῷ τὸ γῆρας νοῦν ἔχον προσιέναι. ἐμοὶ μὲν οὖν οὐδὲν ἄηθες οὐδ᾿ αὖ ἀηδὲς ὑπὸ Σωκράτους βασανίζεσθαι, ἀλλὰ καὶ πάλαι σχεδόν τι ἠπιστάμην, ὅτι οὐ περὶ τῶν μειρακίων ἡμῖν ὁ λόγος ἔσοιτο Σωκράτους παρόντος, ἀλλὰ περὶ ἡμῶν αὐτῶν.

Solon’s actual words (referred to again later in the dialogue and in more exact fashion) survive in one of his fragments (fr.10): γηράσκω δ᾿ αἰεὶ πολλὰ διδασκόμενος, “I grow old learning ever more and more”.

Omne ignotum pro magnifico

From Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Red-Headed League in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.  This story was a favorite as a kid, partly because it’s the first Jeremy Brett episode I remember watching.

Sherlock Holmes’ quick eye took in my occupation, and he shook his head with a smile as he noticed my questioning glances. “Beyond the obvious facts that he has at some time done manual labour, that he takes snuff, that he is a Freemason, that he has been in China, and that he has done a considerable amount of writing lately, I can deduce nothing else.”

Mr. Jabez Wilson started up in his chair, with his forefinger upon the paper, but his eyes upon my companion.

“How, in the name of good-fortune, did you know all that, Mr. Holmes?” he asked. “How did you know, for example, that I did manual labour. It’s as true as gospel, for I began as a ship’s carpenter.”

“Your hands, my dear sir. Your right hand is quite a size larger than your left. You have worked with it, and the muscles are more developed.”

“Well, the snuff, then, and the Freemasonry?”

“I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you how I read that, especially as, rather against the strict rules of your order, you use an arc-and-compass breastpin.”

“Ah, of course, I forgot that. But the writing?”

“What else can be indicated by that right cuff so very shiny for five inches, and the left one with the smooth patch near the elbow where you rest it upon the desk?”

“Well, but China?”

“The fish that you have tattooed immediately above your right wrist could only have been done in China. I have made a small study of tattoo marks and have even contributed to the literature of the subject. That trick of staining the fishes’ scales of a delicate pink is quite peculiar to China. When, in addition, I see a Chinese coin hanging from your watch-chain, the matter becomes even more simple.”

Mr. Jabez Wilson laughed heavily. “Well, I never!” said he. “I thought at first that you had done something clever, but I see that there was nothing in it after all.”

“I begin to think, Watson,” said Holmes, “that I make a mistake in explaining. ‘Omne ignotum pro magnifico,’ you know, and my poor little reputation, such as it is, will suffer shipwreck if I am so candid.

The Latin phrase literally means ‘everything unknown [is regarded as] great/distinguished/splendid.’  The quote is from a speech in Tactitus’ Agricola delivered by the British chieftain Calgacus before the battle of Mons Graupius (though, as always with ancient historians, the whole thing is likelier of the author’s own making.  And, by some opinions, Calgacus himself is an invention as well.)  Below is the Loeb translation and text:

“As often as I survey the causes of this war and our present straits, my heart beats high that this very day and this unity of ours will be the beginning of liberty for all Britain. For you are all here, united, as yet untouched by slavery: there is no other land behind us, and the very sea even is no longer free from alarms, now that the fleet of Rome threatens us. Battle therefore and arms, the strong man’s pride, are also the coward’s best safety. Former battles, which were fought with varying success against Rome, left behind them hopes of help in us, because we, the noblest souls in all Britain, the dwellers in its inner shrine, had never seen any shores of slavery and had preserved our very eyes from the desecration and the contamination of tyranny: here at the world’s end, on its last inch of liberty, we have lived unmolested to this day, defended by our remoteness and obscurity. Now the uttermost parts of Britain lie exposed, and the unknown is ever magnified. But there are no other tribes to come; nothing but sea and cliffs and these more deadly Romans, whose arrogance you cannot escape by obedience and self-restraint. Robbers of the world, now that earth fails their all-devastating hands, they probe even the sea: if their enemy have wealth, they have greed; if he be poor, they are ambitious; East nor West has glutted them; alone of mankind they covet with the same passion want as much as wealth. To plunder, butcher, steal, these things they misname empire: they make a desolation and they call it peace.

“Quotiens causas belli et necessitatem nostram intueor, magnus mihi animus est hodiernum diem consensumque vestrum initium libertatis toti Britanniae fore; nam et universi coistis et servitutis expertes, et nullae ultra terrae ac ne mare quidem securum inminente nobis classe Romana. ita proelium atque arma, quae fortibus honesta, eadem etiam ignavis tutissima sunt. priores pugnae, quibus adversus Romanos varia fortuna certatum est, spem ac subsidium in nostris manibus habebant, quia nobilissimi totius Britanniae eoque in ipsis penetralibus siti nec ulla servientium litora aspicientes, oculos quoque a contactu dominationis inviolatos habebamus. nos terrarum ac libertatis extremos recessus ipse ac sinus famae in hunc diem defendit; nunc terminus Britanniae patet, atque omne ignotum pro magnifico est: sed nulla iam ultra gens, nihil nisi fluctus ac saxa, et infestiores Romani, quorum superbiam frustra per obsequium ac modestiam effugias. raptores orbis, postquam cuncta vastantibus defuere terrae, iam mare scrutantur: si locuples hostis est, avari, si pauper, ambitiosi, quos non Oriens, non Occidens satiaverit: soli omnium opes atque inopiam pari adfectu concupiscunt. auferre trucidare rapere falsis nominibus imperium, atque ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.

The speech is more famous, especially nowadays, for its early commentary on Roman imperialism – “they make a desolation and they call it peace” (atque ubi solitudinem faciunt, pace appellant).