Say, why are beauties prais’d and honour’d most, the wise man’s passion, and the vain man’s toast?

From Alexander Pope’s Rape of the Lock, Canto 5. I think this is my favorite of of Pope’s bathetic appropriations from ancient epic – if only for how core a scene the original has become for interpreting the social politics of epic or epic-informed culture.

Then grave Clarissa graceful wav’d her fan;
Silence ensu’d, and thus the nymph began.

       “Say, why are beauties prais’d and honour’d most,
The wise man’s passion, and the vain man’s toast?
Why deck’d with all that land and sea afford,
Why angels call’d, and angel-like ador’d?
Why round our coaches crowd the white-glov’d beaux,
Why bows the side-box from its inmost rows?
How vain are all these glories, all our pains,
Unless good sense preserve what beauty gains:
That men may say, when we the front-box grace:
‘Behold the first in virtue, as in face!’
Oh! if to dance all night, and dress all day,
Charm’d the smallpox, or chas’d old age away;
Who would not scorn what housewife’s cares produce,
Or who would learn one earthly thing of use?
To patch, nay ogle, might become a saint,
Nor could it sure be such a sin to paint.
But since, alas! frail beauty must decay,
Curl’d or uncurl’d, since locks will turn to grey,
Since painted, or not painted, all shall fade,
And she who scorns a man, must die a maid;
What then remains but well our pow’r to use,
And keep good humour still whate’er we lose?
And trust me, dear! good humour can prevail,
When airs, and flights, and screams, and scolding fail.
Beauties in vain their pretty eyes may roll;
Charms strike the sight, but merit wins the soul.”

Here is Pope’s own rendering of the relevant scene in the Iliad – bk 12 310-328 between Sarpedon (speaking) and Glaucus. This one, from his full translation, is a slight revision from an earlier selection of episodes. My edition – the Twickenham v.2 – points out that the parody is closer to a translation by John Denham, though I haven’t found a readily available digital copy to check.

Then casting on his friend an ardent look,
Fired with the thirst of glory, thus he spoke:
“Why boast we, Glaucus! our extended reign,
Where Xanthus’ streams enrich the Lycian plain,
Our numerous herds that range the fruitful field,
And hills where vines their purple harvest yield,
Our foaming bowls with purer nectar crown’d,
Our feasts enhanced with music’s sprightly sound?
Why on those shores are we with joy survey’d,
Admired as heroes, and as gods obey’d,
Unless great acts superior merit prove,
And vindicate the bounteous powers above?
’Tis ours, the dignity they give to grace;
The first in valour, as the first in place;
That when with wondering eyes our martial bands
Behold our deeds transcending our commands,
Such, they may cry, deserve the sovereign state,
Whom those that envy dare not imitate!
Could all our care elude the gloomy grave,
Which claims no less the fearful and the brave,
For lust of fame I should not vainly dare
In fighting fields, nor urge thy soul to war.
But since, alas! ignoble age must come,
Disease, and death’s inexorable doom,
The life, which others pay, let us bestow,
And give to fame what we to nature owe;
Brave though we fall, and honour’d if we live,
Or let us glory gain, or glory give!”

and the Greek because it is always prettiest.

Γλαῦκε τί ἢ δὴ νῶϊ τετιμήμεσθα μάλιστα
ἕδρῃ τε κρέασίν τε ἰδὲ πλείοις δεπάεσσιν
ἐν Λυκίῃ, πάντες δὲ θεοὺς ὣς εἰσορόωσι,
καὶ τέμενος νεμόμεσθα μέγα Ξάνθοιο παρ᾽ ὄχθας
καλὸν φυταλιῆς καὶ ἀρούρης πυροφόροιο;
τὼ νῦν χρὴ Λυκίοισι μέτα πρώτοισιν ἐόντας
ἑστάμεν ἠδὲ μάχης καυστείρης ἀντιβολῆσαι,
ὄφρά τις ὧδ᾽ εἴπῃ Λυκίων πύκα θωρηκτάων:
οὐ μὰν ἀκλεέες Λυκίην κάτα κοιρανέουσιν
ἡμέτεροι βασιλῆες, ἔδουσί τε πίονα μῆλα
οἶνόν τ᾽ ἔξαιτον μελιηδέα: ἀλλ᾽ ἄρα καὶ ἲς
ἐσθλή, ἐπεὶ Λυκίοισι μέτα πρώτοισι μάχονται.
ὦ πέπον εἰ μὲν γὰρ πόλεμον περὶ τόνδε φυγόντε
αἰεὶ δὴ μέλλοιμεν ἀγήρω τ᾽ ἀθανάτω τε
ἔσσεσθ᾽, οὔτέ κεν αὐτὸς ἐνὶ πρώτοισι μαχοίμην
οὔτέ κε σὲ στέλλοιμι μάχην ἐς κυδιάνειραν:
νῦν δ᾽ ἔμπης γὰρ κῆρες ἐφεστᾶσιν θανάτοιο
μυρίαι, ἃς οὐκ ἔστι φυγεῖν βροτὸν οὐδ᾽ ὑπαλύξαι,
ἴομεν ἠέ τῳ εὖχος ὀρέξομεν ἠέ τις ἡμῖν.

Plus a bonus parallel from Milton’s Paradise Lost 2.450

Wherefore do I assume
These royalties and not refuse to reign,
Refusing to accept as great a share
Of hazard as of honour, due alike to him
Who reigns, and so much to him due
Of hazard more, as he above the rest
High honour’d sits.

A fair apparel of patience I will don, longer and longer for vigil make my nights

From Martin Lings’ Sufi Poems: A Medieval Anthology.

From Abu Bakr al-Shibli:


A fair apparel of patience I will don,
Longer and longer for vigil make my nights.
Unwillingly patient, not yet willing am I,
But little by little my soul I seek to enlist.

From Abu’l Abbas al-Qasim as-Sayyari of Marv (who may or may not be this Al-Qushayri – their dates are close but one generation off)


Patiently pleasures I shunned till they shunned me.
I made my soul forsake them; steadfast she stood.
The soul’s for man to make her as he would:
If fed, she seeks more; else, resigned she’ll be.
Mine was an arrogant soul; but when she knew
Me resolute for humbleness, humble she grew.

As rich as the selections are, I’m limiting myself to these two excerpts since Ling’s translations are elsewhere far from engaging – partly through archaism of vocabulary, more through archaism of syntax and what I suspect is an effort to mirror Arabic word order in English. A sample from his Al-Hallaj selections:

Thy spirit with my spirit mingled is,
Even as amber mingled is with musk
In blended perfumes. So, if aught Thee touch,
It toucheth me. Thus art Thou I inseparably.

I appreciate a respectfully literal translation – down to preserving word order – but there are limits.

The aspect of my furniture is so terrific at this point that I really must stop

From the too-plainly titled Ghost Stories by M.R. James. I’ve never read James but have been browsing a collection of his greatest tales this evening. As in this excerpt he often delights more in the follies of the genre than I’d expected.

Some classes of ghost stories it is very hard, seriously speaking, not to believe. Omens, Family Tokens and Forewarnings are of this sort.

Here is one, “never before published,” told me by an old man “who was there at the time.” I suppress names.

In the early part of last century, the wife of the squire of a certain village was driving across her park on the way to a county ball. The evening was gray and misty. [This goes without saying.]

Suddenly she looked out of the carriage window and “saw suffen”; as to what the something was my old man would not venture a statement. I gathered, however, that it was the lady’s “double.”

One of the horses broke loose, the other turned straight back to the Hall.

The lady never went out of the house again except in her coffin. [Impressive silence.] Of course my informant didn’t go to believe no such thing; but still, there was the story.

One really authentic one, which I fear a good many people must know, and I will lay my unquiet pen.

To be short: General Blucher was returning home alone from the wars. On entering the house he saw, sitting at the fire in a peculiar attitude, his parents—long since dead, and his sisters sitting around the room.

On greeting them he received no answer.

One of his sisters rose and touched him. He swooned, and when he came to himself was alone.

He was for some days delirious, but in a lucid interval, feeling himself at the point of death, he sent for his sovereign, told him the facts: said his sister had warned him he was to die that day, and so expired.

The aspect of my furniture is so terrific at this point that I really must stop.



With varying vanities, from ev’ry part, they shift the moving toyshop of their heart

From Canto 1 of Alexander Pope’s Rape of the Lock. Setting aside the gendering, I love these lines as a general description of all of us.

Oft, when the world imagine women stray,
The Sylphs through mystic mazes guide their way,
Thro’ all the giddy circle they pursue,
And old impertinence expel by new.
What tender maid but must a victim fall
To one man’s treat, but for another’s ball?
When Florio speaks, what virgin could withstand,
If gentle Damon did not squeeze her hand?
With varying vanities, from ev’ry part,
They shift the moving toyshop of their heart;
Where wigs with wigs, with sword-knots sword-knots strive,
Beaux banish beaux, and coaches coaches drive.
This erring mortals levity may call,
Oh blind to truth! the Sylphs contrive it all.

Edmund Crispin also liked ‘moving toyshop’ enough to take it as the title of one of his novels. He later borrowed a second title from another of Pope’s works – Elegy to the Memory of an Unfortunate Lady. That one is, depending on printing, either Sudden Vengeance or Frequent Hearses, both from the same couplet.

On all the line a sudden vengeance waits,
And frequent hearses shall besiege your gates.

A very paltry gift, of no account, My father, for a scholar like to thee

The dedication by Walafrid Strabo of his poem Hortulus to a former teacher (or brother of a former teacher, depending) Grimald of Weissenburg. The full text of Hortulus can be found here (Latin only). The translation is from Helen Waddell’s Medieval Latin Lyrics.

The garden pictured is that of St. Gall where Grimald was abbot. I’d have gone there – largely for the library – last fall had corona not struck….

A very paltry gift, of no account,
My father, for a scholar like to thee,
But Strabo sends it to thee with his heart.
So might you sit in the small garden close
In the green darkness of the apple trees
Just where the peach tree casts its broken shade,
And they would gather you the shining fruit
With the soft down upon it; all your boys,
Your little laughing boys, your happy school,
And bring huge apples clasped in their two hands.
Something the book may have of use to thee.
Read it, my father, prune it of its faults,
And strengthen with they praise what pleases thee.
And may god give thee in thy hands the green
Unwithering palm of everlasting life.

Haec tibi servitii munuscula vilia parvi
Strabo tuus, Grimalde pater doctissime, servus
Pectore devoto, nullius ponderis offert.
Ut cum conseptu viridis consederis horti
Super opacatas frondenti germine malos,
Persicus imparibus crines ubi dividit umbris,
Dum tibi cana legunt tenera lanugine poma
Ludentes pueri, schola laetabunda tuorum,
Atque volis ingentia mala capacibus indunt;
Grandia conantes includere corpora palmis:
Quo moneare habeas nostri pater alme laboris
Dum relegis quae dedo volens, interque legendum
Ut vitiosa seces deposco, placentia firmes.
Te Deus aeterna faciat virtute virentem,
Immarcescibilis palmam contingere vitae;
Hoc Pater, hoc Natus, hoc Spiritus annuat almus.

He laid down a rule of continence for himself

From Helen Waddell’s The Desert Fathers – in Fragments From the Paradisus of Palladius (pg 256-7):

A certain Apollonius, that had been a merchant and renounced the world, came to live on Mount Nitria: and since he could learn no art, hindered as he was by weight of years, nor could practice the abstinence laid down in Holy Write, he laid down a rule of continence for himself. For out of his own purse and labour he bought every kind of remedy and food-stuffs in Alexandria, and provided the brethren that were ailing with whatever they needed. You might see him from early morning till the ninth hour traversing up and down through all the monasteries, whether of men or women, in and out of door after door where there were any sick, carrying with him raisins, and pomegranates, and eggs, and fine wheaten flour, especially necessary for the ailing. To such a life for which alone he was adapted, did this servant of Christ devote his old age.

To which can be compared Bhagavad Gita 3.35

Better is one’s own dharma, though imperfectly performed, than the dharma of another well performed. Better is death in the doing of one’s own dharma: the dharma of another is fraught with peril.

For it’s an outrage for an abstaining reader to pass judgment on a badly drunk poet

From Ausonius’ A Riddle of the Number Three (Griphus Ternarii Numeri). I’m sticking with the Loeb translation, old-fashioned as it is, because I like the Edwardian savour.

And that you may know me for a boaster—I began these bits of verses during tiffin and finished them before messtime, that is to say, while drinking and a little before drinking (again). Your criticism, therefore, must allow for the subject and the season. Nay, do you too read this same book when a trifle “gay” and “wutty”; for it is unfair for a teetotal critic to pass judgment on a poet half-seas over.

ac ne me nescias gloriosum, coeptos inter pranden­dum dum versiculos ante cenae tempus absolvi, hoc est, dum bibo et paulo ante quam biberem. Sit ergo examen pro materia et tempore, set tu quoque hoc ipsum paulo hilarior et dilutior lege; namque iniurium est de poeta male sobrio lectorem abstemium iudicare.

The last line alone I’ll re-render – ‘for it’s an outrage for an abstaining reader to pass judgment on a badly drunk poet.’

Who sits in solitude and is quiet hath escaped from three wars

A few more from The Sayings of the Fathers in Helen Waddell’s The Desert Fathers

Book 2, Of Quiet
2. The abbot Antony said, “who sits in solitude and is quiet hath escaped from three wars: hearing, speaking, seeing: yet against one thing shall he continually battle: this is, his own heart.”

9. A certain brother came to the abbot Moses in Scete seeking a word from him. And the old man said to him, “Go and sit in they cell, and they cell shall teach thee all things.”

Book 7, Of Patience or Fortitude
34. A brother asked an old man, saying, “What shall I do, Father, for I do nothing a monk should, but in a kind of heedlessness I am eating and drinking and sleeping and always full of bad thoughts and great perturbation, going from one task to another, and from one thought to another?” And the old man said, “Sit thou in they cell, and do what thou canst, and be not troubled: for the little that thou dost now is even as when Antony did great things and many in the desert. For I have this trust in God, that whoever sits in his cell for His name and keeps his conscience shall himself be found in Antony’s place.”

Book 10, Of Discretion
15. They told of a certain old man that he had lived fifty years neither eating bread nor readily drinking water: and that he said, “I have killed in me lust and avarice and vainglory.” the abbot Abraham heard that he said these things, and he came to him and said, “Hast thou spoken thus?” And he answered, “Even so.” And the abbot Abraham said, “Behold, thou dost enter they cell, and find upon they bed a woman: canst thou refrain from thinking that it is a woman?” And he said, “No: but I fight my thoughts, so as not to touch that woman.” And the abbot Abraham said, “So then, thou has not slain lust, for the passion itself liveth, but it is bound. Again, if thou art walking on the road and sees stones and potsherds, and lying amongs them gold, canst thou think of it but as stones?” And he answered, “No: but I resist my thought, so as not to pick it up.” And the abbot Abraham said, “So then, passion liveth: but it is bound.” And again the abbot Abraham said, “If thou shouldst hear of two brethren, that one loves thee and speaks well of thee, but the other hates thee and disparages thee, and they should come to thee, wouldst though give them an equal welcome?” And he said, “No: but I should wrest my mind so that I should do as much for him that hated me as for him that loved me.” And the abbot Abraham said, “So then these passions live, but by holy men they are in some sort bound.”

This last can be difficult and I wish I had the original Latin at hand. I want to connect the sentiment to Bhagavad Gita 3.34

The love and hatred that the senses feel for their objects are inevitable. But let no one come under their sway; for they are one’s enemies


and 3.28

But, O mighty Arjuna, he who knows the truth about the gunas and action, and what is distinct from them [atman, the self] holds himself unattached, perceiving that it is the gunas that are occupied with the gunas (guna gunesu vartanta).

Guna here can, with grand unsatisfying imprecision, be taken as ‘senses and sensory objects.’

They wander in deep woods, in mournful light

From Helen Waddell’s Medieval Latin Lyrics, an atmospheric excerpt from a longer poem of Ausonius’ (Cupido Cruciatur) that she gives as The Fields of Sorrow (pg. 31).

They wander in deep woods, in mournful light,
Amid long reeds and drowsy headed poppies,
and lakes where no wave laps, and voiceless streams,
Upon whose banks in the dim light grow old
Flowers that were once bewailed names of kings.

errantes silva in magna et sub luce maligna
inter harundineasque comas gravidumque papaver
et tacitos sine labe lacus, sine murmure rivos,
quorum per ripas nebuloso lumine marcent
fleti, olim regum et puerorum nomina, flores

A bunch of grapes in the desert

From Helen Waddell’s The Desert Fathers – in the History of the Monks of Egypt, translated from the Greek by Rufinus of Aquileia (pg. 80). Her introduction and selections try to rehumanize the early monks by swapping focus from the excesses of someone like Simeon Stylites to the simple kindness and community of the mass of brothers.

They tell that once a certain brother brought a bunch of grapes to the holy Macarius: but he who for love’s sake thought not on his own things but on the things of others, carried it to another brother, who seemed more feeble. And the sick man gave thanks to God for the kindness of his brother, but he too thinking more of his neighbour than of himself, brought it to another, and he again to another, and so that same bunch of grapes was carried round all the cells, scattered as they were far over the desert, and no one knowing who first had sent it, it was brought at last to the first giver. But the holy Macarius gave thanks that he had seen in the brethren such abstinence and such loving-kindness and did himself reach after still sterner discipline of the life of the spirit.