That was a miserable expedition for them

A fragment of Eubulus (and see Richard Hunter’s book for the best survey) preserved in Athenaeus 1.25:

Where does Homer refer to any Achaean as
eating fish? And all they did with their meat was roast it;
he never has any of them stew something,
not even a little. And none of them laid eyes on a
courtesan; they had to jerk off for ten years.
That was a miserable expedition for them; they only captured
one city, and they left with their assholes enlarged more
than the gates of the town they captured

ἰχθὺν δ᾿ Ὅμηρος ἐσθίοντ᾿ εἴρηκε ποῦ
τίνα τῶν Ἀχαιῶν; κρέα δὲ μόνον ὤπτων, ἐπεὶ
ἕψοντά γ᾿ οὐ πεπόηκεν αὐτῶν οὐδένα,
ἀλλ᾿ οὐδὲ μικρόν. οὐδ᾿ ἑταίραν εἶδέ τις
αὐτῶν, ἑαυτοὺς δ᾿ ἔδεφον ἐνιαυτοὺς δέκα·
πικρὰν στρατείαν δ᾿ εἶδον, οἵτινες πόλιν
μίαν λαβόντες εὐρυπρωκτότεροι πολὺ
τῆς πόλεος ἀπεχώρησαν ἧς εἷλον τότε.

For this is the life of the gods

From Athenaeus’ Deipnosophistae (The Learned Banqueters) 1.8.d:

Ἀντιφάνης δέ φησι·

βίος θεῶν γάρ ἐστιν, ὅταν ἔχῃς ποθὲντἀλλότρια δειπνεῖν, μὴ προσέχων λογίσμασι

Antiphanes (fr. 252) says:For this is the life of the gods—when you have the chance to eat someone else’s food and not worry about the bills.

The vanity of the sciences

From Pascal’s Pensées – 23 in any Lafuma edition.

Vanité des sciences.

 La science des choses extérieures ne me consolera pas de l’ignorance de la morale au temps d’affliction, mais la science des mœurs me consolera toujours de l’ignorance des sciences extérieures

The vanity of the sciences.

Physical science will not console me for the ignorance of morality in the time of affliction. But the science of ethics will always console me for the ignorance of the physical sciences.

English can’t easily capture the fluidity of French science – both (fields of) science and general learning, knowledge.

And the candle cures the seems

I found this passage in an anthology of Iris Origo’s creation, The Vagabond Path (pg 39). It is attributed to Samuel Taylor Coleridge but without specific reference and google returns no results. I imagine it comes from his notebooks – only because the full edition begun in the 50s isn’t in public domain so likely wouldn’t be indexed anywhere online.

A little boy, lying in bed one night in the year 1802, was feeling unhappy. He called for a candle – the seems, he said, were troubling him. “What do you mean, my love?” “The Seems, the seems. What seems to be and is not, men and faces and I do not know what – ugly and sometimes pretty and those turn ugly, and they seem when my eyes are open, and worse when they are shut – and the candle cures the seems.”

He had outgrown his library as one outgrows a waistcoat

Selections from Notebook B of Lichtenberg’s Waste Books (in the NYRB edition translated by Hollingdale):

Every man also has his moral backside which he refrains from showing unless he has to and keeps covered as long as possible with the trousers of decorum

He was so witty that any thing served him as an intermediate term for comparing any pair of other things with one another.

He had outgrown his library as one outgrows a waistcoat. Libraries can in general be too narrow or too wide for the soul.

People often become scholars for the same reason they become soldiers: simply because they are unfit for any other station. Their right hand has to earn them a livelihood; one might say they lie down like bears in winter and seek sustenance from their paws.

If I should ever produce an edition of his life, go straight to the index and look up the words bottle and conceit: they will contain the most important facts about him.

We begin reading early and we often read much too much, so that we receive and retain large amounts of material without putting it into employment and our memory becomes accustomed to keeping open house for taste and feeling; this being so, we often have need of a profound philosophy to restore to our feelings their original state of innocence, to find our way out of the rubble of things alien to us, to begin to feel for ourselves and to speak ourselves, and I might almost say to exist ourselves.

How did you enjoy yourself with these people? Answer: very much, almost as much as I do when alone.

To learn how to teach and test yourself brings much comfort and is not as dangerous as shaving yourself; everyone should learn it at a certain age for fear of one day becoming the victim of an ill-guided razor.

The description of wit is the best I’ve ever seen.

Omnia certe concacavit

From Seneca’s Apocolocyntosis (The Pumpkinification), on the death of Claudius. I hate politics but the mind can’t help but drift sometimes and pumpkins are often orange…

The following were the last words of his to be heard on earth, after he had emitted a louder noise from that end from which he spoke the easiest: “Oh my, I think I just shat myself.” For all I know, he did. He certainly shat on everything else.

ultima vox eius haec inter homines audita est, cum maiorem sonitum emisisset illa parte, qua facilius loquebatur: “vae me, puto, concacavi me.” quod an fecerit, nescio; omnia certe concacavit.


I’ve always wondered if Vespasian’s last words – according to Suetonius, at least (23.4) – don’t have an echo of this – Vae, puto deus fio (“Alas, I think I am becoming a god”).

The Castelfranco Madonna

On my mind today because I bought my wife as Christmas gift a book on the theft(s) of the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb – this is Giorgione’s Castelfranco Madonna, usually dated to 1503-4 and one of only a few works of his where the attribution is not periodically overturned – much like the monthly reversals on the worth of eggs and red wine.

This one was stolen in 1972 but recovered – via ransom – a few weeks later in an abandoned house in the city. The original NY Times brief is below but I haven’t found a full summary of the recovery, unfortunately. It is back in situ and, a rare plus, there’s little chance of being bothered by others if you should visit.

VENICE, Italy. Dec. 19— Thieves broke into the cathedral of Castelfranco Veneto, northwest of here, last night and stole Giorgione’s painting “The Madonna With SS. Liberalis and Francis.” The disappearance of the celebrated work—one of the few attributed with certainty to Giorgione and believed to date from 1504.—caused consternation throughout Italy.

Officials of the Government’s Department for Antiquities and Fine Arts here called the stolen painting “absolutely priceless.” They theorized that the thieves had acted on commission from racketeers, who could never sell a rare authenticated Giorgione, but could collect a huge ransom for its return.

Bernardo Rossi Doria, secretary general of Italia Nostra, the country’s strongest conservationist organization, voiced concern that the Giorgione theft may strengthen the argument for taking art treasures out of churches and other traditional places of display and locking them up in museums.

The vulture that probes our inmost liver

A fragment of Petronius, quoted by Fulgentius (Mythologies 2.6):

[on Prometheus] although Nicagoras . . . records that Prometheus was the first to have embodied the image, and that he exposes his liver to a vulture, as if it portrays a metaphor for envy. From this Petronius also says: “The vulture that probes our inmost liver and tears out our heart and inmost entrails, is not a bird, as our witty poets claim, but the evils of our heart, envy and lust.”

[de Prometheo] quamvis Nicagorus . . . primum illum formasse idolum referat et, quod vulturi iecur praebeat, livoris quasi pingat imaginem. unde et Petronius Arbiter ait

“qui vultur iecur intimum pererrat
pectusque eruit intimasque fibras,
non est quem lepidi vocant poetae,
sed cordis <mala>, livor atque luxus.”

Reminiscent of Ishmael’s analysis of Ahab in ch.44 of Moby Dick:

God help thee, old man, thy thoughts have created a creature in thee; and he whose intense thinking thus makes him a Prometheus; a vulture feeds upon that heart for ever; that vulture the very creature he creates.

I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore

This started when I remembered last year’s Advent Carol service at Westminster where I’d ended up sitting next to Isaac Newton’s tomb and the whole time kept trying to reconstruct the wording of a famous quote I’d frequently seen attributed to him:

I do not know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me

I then forgot until today to look up the source. It turns out to have several but none are Newton’s own writings. The usual citation is to an 1855 work – Memoirs of the Life, Writings, and Discoveries of Sir Isaac Newton by David Brewster (pg. 407) – that provides no originating source. But there is a much earlier work – Anecdotes, Observations and Characters, of Books and Men by the Rev. Joseph Spence (pg. 41) – from the mid 18th century that presents it as something Newton said “a little before he died” and sources the report to Andrew Michael Ramsay while also in a footnote connecting the imagery to this passage from Milton’s Paradise Regained (4.322-330)


who reads
Incessantly, and to his reading brings not
A spirit and judgment equal or superior
(And what he brings, what needs he elsewhere seek)
Uncertain and unsettl’d still remains,
Deep verst in books and shallow in himself,
Crude or intoxicate, collecting toys,
And trifles for choice matters, worth a spunge;
As Children gathering pibles on the shore.

But – so as not to bundle it too neatly – I notice that Ramsay’s Wikipedia biography (for what it is worth) puts him in France at the time of Newton’s death (1727).