I deal myself the best hand I can, and then accept it

From Montaigne 1.20 – That to Philosophize is to Learn to Die:

It is enough for me to spend my time contentedly. I deal myself the best hand I can, and then accept it. It can be as inglorious or as unexemplary as you please:

 Prætulerim delirus inersque videri,
Dum mea delectent mala me, vel denique fallant,
Quam sapere et ringi.
[I would rather be delirious or a dullard if my faults pleased me, or at least deceived me, rather than to be wise and snarling.]

Car il me suffit de passer à mon aise; et le meilleur jeu que je me puisse donner, je le prens, si peu glorieux au reste et exemplaire que vous voudrez,

praetulerim delirus inérsque videri,
Dum mea delectent mala me, vel denique fallant,
Quam sapere et ringi.

The Latin is from Horace – Epistles 2.2.126

I always hear an echo of this passage in a favorite line from Moby Dick’s opening chapter – I guess Melville would’ve had the Cotton translation or, less likely, the Florio.

I abandon the glory and distinction of such offices to those who like them. For my part, I abominate all honorable respectable toils, trials, and tribulations of every kind whatsoever. It is quite as much as I can do to take care of myself

An admirable evasion of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish disposition to the charge of a star

Edmund in 1.2 of King Lear:

This is the excellent foppery of the world, that,
when we are sick in fortune,–often the surfeit
of our own behavior,–we make guilty of our
disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars: as
if we were villains by necessity; fools by
heavenly compulsion; knaves, thieves, and
treachers, by spherical predominance; drunkards,
liars, and adulterers, by an enforced obedience of
planetary influence; and all that we are evil in,
by a divine thrusting on: an admirable evasion
of whoremaster man, to lay his goatish
disposition to the charge of a star!

My personal locus classicus for such observations is Zeus in Odyssey 1.30ish, on the troubles Aegisthus has brought upon himself – even though there he wobbles a bit in conceding a different manner of predestination.

Look you now, how ready mortals are to blame the gods. It is from us, they say, that evils come, but they even of themselves, through their own blind folly, have sorrows beyond that which is ordained.

ὢ πόποι, οἷον δή νυ θεοὺς βροτοὶ αἰτιόωνται:
ἐξ ἡμέων γάρ φασι κάκ᾽ ἔμμεναι, οἱ δὲ καὶ αὐτοὶ
σφῇσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὑπὲρ μόρον ἄλγε᾽ ἔχουσιν,

Then we shall see if my arguments come from my lips or my heart.

From Montaigne’s Essays 1.19 – That We Should Not Be Deemed Happy Until After Our Death

So it seems likely to me that [Solon] was … intending to tell us that happiness in life (depending as it does on the tranquillity and contentment of a spirit well-born and on the resolution and assurance of an ordered soul) may never be attributed to any man until we have seen him act out the last scene in his play, which is indubitably the hardest.10 In all the rest he can wear an actor’s mask: those fine philosophical arguments may be only a pose, or whatever else befalls us may not assay us to the quick, allowing us to keep our countenance serene. But in that last scene played between death and ourself there is no more feigning; we must speak straightforward French; we must show whatever is good and clean in the bottom of the pot:

Nam veræ voces tum demum pectore ab into
Ejiciuntur, et eripitur persona, manet res
[Only then are true words uttered from deep in our breast. The mask is ripped off: reality remains.]

That is why all the other actions in our life must be tried on the touchstone of this final deed. It is the Master-day, the day which judges all the others; it is (says one of the Ancients) the day which must judge all my years now past. The assay of the fruits of my studies is postponed unto death. Then we shall see if my arguments come from my lips or my heart.

je trouve vray-semblable qu’il aye regardé plus avant, et voulu dire que ce mesme bon-heur de nostre vie, qui dépend de la tranquillité et contentement d’un esprit bien né, et de la resolution et asseurance d’un’ame reglée, ne se doive jamais attribuer à l’homme, qu’on ne luy aye veu jouer le dernier acte de sa comedie, et sans doute le plus difficile. En tout le reste il y peut avoir du masque: ou ces beaux discours de la Philosophie ne sont en nous que par contenance; ou les accidens, ne nous essayant pas jusques au vif, nous donnent loysir de maintenir tousjours nostre visage rassis. Mais à ce dernier rolle de la mort et de nous, il n’y a plus que faindre, il faut parler François, il faut montrer ce qu’il y a de bon et de net dans le fond du pot,

Nam verae voces tum demum pectore ab imo
Ejiciuntur, et eripitur persona, manet res.

Voylà pourquoy se doivent à ce dernier traict toucher et esprouver toutes les autres actions de nostre vie. C’est le maistre jour, c’est le jour juge de tous les autres: c’est le jour, dict un ancien, qui doit juger de toutes mes années passées. Je remets à la mort l’essay du fruict de mes estudes. Nous verrons là si mes discours me partent de la bouche, ou du coeur

The two lines are Lucretius, III, 57.

Oft our displeasures, to ourselves unjust, destroy our friends and after weep their dust

From All’s Well That Ends Well (5.3.58):

but love that comes too late,
Like a remorseful pardon slowly carried,
To the great sender turns a sour offence,
Crying, ‘That’s good that’s gone.’ Our rash faults
Make trivial price of serious things we have,
Not knowing them until we know their grave:
Oft our displeasures, to ourselves unjust,
Destroy our friends and after weep their dust.
Our own love, waking, cries to see what’s done,
While shameful hate sleeps out the afternoon.

The last line has a notable alternate reading – curiously not acknowledge by the editors of the Arden 3rd – ‘shame full late’…

It is like a barber’s chair that fits all buttocks

From All’s Well That Ends Well (2.2):

LAVATCH
Truly, madam, if God have lent a man any manners, he
may easily put it off at court: he that cannot make
a leg, put off’s cap, kiss his hand and say nothing,
has neither leg, hands, lip, nor cap; and indeed
such a fellow, to say precisely, were not for the
court; but for me, I have an answer will serve all
men.
COUNTESS
Marry, that’s a bountiful answer that fits all
questions.
LAVATCH
It is like a barber’s chair that fits all buttocks,
the pin-buttock, the quatch-buttock, the brawn
buttock, or any buttock.
COUNTESS
Will your answer serve fit to all questions?
LAVATCH
As fit as ten groats is for the hand of an attorney,
as your French crown for your taffeta punk, as Tib’s
rush for Tom’s forefinger, as a pancake for Shrove
Tuesday, a morris for May-day, as the nail to his
hole, the cuckold to his horn, as a scolding queen
to a wrangling knave, as the nun’s lip to the
friar’s mouth, nay, as the pudding to his skin.
COUNTESS
Have you, I say, an answer of such fitness for all
questions?
LAVATCH
From below your duke to beneath your constable, it
will fit any question.
COUNTESS
It must be an answer of most monstrous size that
must fit all demands.
LAVATCH
But a trifle neither, in good faith, if the learned
should speak truth of it: here it is, and all that
belongs to’t. Ask me if I am a courtier: it shall
do you no harm to learn.
COUNTESS
To be young again, if we could: I will be a fool in
question, hoping to be the wiser by your answer. I
pray you, sir, are you a courtier?
LAVATCH
O Lord, sir! There’s a simple putting off. More,
more, a hundred of them.
COUNTESS
Sir, I am a poor friend of yours, that loves you.
LAVATCH
O Lord, sir! Thick, thick, spare not me.
COUNTESS
I think, sir, you can eat none of this homely meat.
LAVATCH
O Lord, sir! Nay, put me to’t, I warrant you.
COUNTESS
You were lately whipped, sir, as I think.
LAVATCH
O Lord, sir! spare not me.
COUNTESS
Do you cry, ‘O Lord, sir!’ at your whipping, and
‘spare not me?’ Indeed your ‘O Lord, sir!’ is very
sequent to your whipping: you would answer very well
to a whipping, if you were but bound to’t.
LAVATCH
I ne’er had worse luck in my life in my ‘O Lord,
sir!’ I see things may serve long, but not serve ever.
COUNTESS
I play the noble housewife with the time
To entertain’t so merrily with a fool.
LAVATCH
O Lord, sir! why, there’t serves well again.
COUNTESS
An end, sir; to your business.

Plures crapula, quam gladius, is a true saying, the board consumes more than the sword

From Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy (136 in the NYRB edition, to avoid the horrendous Part 1 etc. citations):

Plures crapula, quam gladius, is a true saying, the board consumes more than the sword. Our intemperance it is, that pulls so many several incurable diseases upon our heads, that hastens old age, perverts our temperature, and brings upon us sudden death.

Crapula in Latin and κραιπάλη in Greek are both limited to excessive drinking – without any commentary on gluttony. I’m not sure if English translations of the period broadened the sense or if Burton just wanted the rhyme.

Noctua volat – the owl flies

Erasmus Adagia 76:

From the same superstition this Greek proverb take its origin: ‘the owl flies’ or ‘the owl has flown.’ Among the early Athenians the flight of an owl was thought representative of victory because this bird was believed sacred to Athena, who was said to bring good fortune to any doing of Athens, even when poorly planned. On this topic I’ll speak later in the proverb ‘Atheniensium inconsulta temeritas‘. From this association it was customary to say ‘the owl flies’ when matters went well and as desired. Zenodotus and Suidas provide the authority on this.
Not unwittily is an owl said to have flown whenever a matter is thought completed not by energy or strength but by the intervention of money – since the Athenian money had an owl imprinted on it. Whence also that proverb ‘Lauriotic Owls’ which is recounted elsewhere.

Ex eadem superstitione manauit et illud Graecanicum: Γλαὺξ ἵπταται, [G] siue ἵπτατο, [C] id est [A] Noctua volat, [C] siue volauit. [A] Nam priscis Atheniensibus noctuae volatus victoriae symbolum existimabatur, propterea quod auis haec Mineruae sacra crederetur, quae quidem dicta est etiam male consulta Atheniensium bene fortunare. [C] Qua de re copiosius aliquanto dicemus in prouerbio Atheniensium inconsulta temeritas. [A] Inde rebus felicius atque ex animi sententia succedentibus dici consueuit Noctua volat. Autores Zenodotus et Suidas. [G] Non illepide dicetur volasse noctua, quoties res non viribus, sed pecuniarum interuentu confecta creditur, quod Atheniensium nomisma noctuam haberet insculptam. Vnde et illud Laurioticae noctuae, quod alibi recensetur.

The two other proverbs are numbers 744 and 1731.

Quick! quick! so that the time may not be lost by little love!

From Salvador Dali’s series of woodblock prints for the Commedia. This is Purgatory XVIII, the terrace of the slothful. I liked it less than others at first (Inferno 1 and Purgatory 2 are my favorites) but it has grown on me over time.

But taken from me was this drowsiness
Suddenly by a people, that behind
Our backs already had come round to us.

And as, of old, Ismenus and Asopus
Beside them saw at night the rush and throng,
If but the Thebans were in need of Bacchus,

So they along that circle curve their step,
From what I saw of those approaching us,
Who by good-will and righteous love are ridden.

Full soon they were upon us, because running
Moved onward all that mighty multitude,
And two in the advance cried out, lamenting,

“Mary in haste unto the mountain ran,
And Caesar, that he might subdue Ilerda,
Thrust at Marseilles, and then ran into Spain.”

“Quick! quick! so that the time may not be lost
By little love!” forthwith the others cried,
“For ardour in well-doing freshens grace!”

Ma questa sonnolenza mi fu tolta
subitamente da gente che dopo
le nostre spalle a noi era già volta.

E quale Ismeno già vide e Asopo
lungo di sé di notte furia e calca,
pur che i Teban di Bacco avesser uopo,

cotal per quel giron suo passo falca,
per quel ch’io vidi di color, venendo,
cui buon volere e giusto amor cavalca.

Tosto fur sovr’ a noi, perché correndo
si movea tutta quella turba magna;
e due dinanzi gridavan piangendo:

“Maria corse con fretta a la montagna;
e Cesare, per soggiogare Ilerda,
punse Marsilia e poi corse in Ispagna.”

“Ratto, ratto, che ‘l tempo non si perda
per poco amor,” gridavan li altri appresso,
“che studio di ben far grazia rinverda.”


The rule, put shortly, which the philosophers seek to express in endless words and volumes

From Pliny the Younger’s Epistles (7.26):

Possum ergo quod plurimis verbis plurimis etiam voluminibus philosophi docere conantur, ipse breviter tibi mihique praecipere, ut tales esse sani perseveremus, quales nos futuros profitemur infirmi. Vale.

So here for our guidance is the rule, put shortly, which the philosophers seek to express in endless words and volumes: in health we should continue to be the men we vowed to become when sickness prompted our words.

I found this cited in Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy (Part. 1 Sect. 1 Memb. 1 Subs. 1) but his imprecision of quotation drives me mad if I don’t have the OET commentary volumes at hand. The above becomes:

summum esse totius philosophiae, ut tales esse sani perseveremus, quales nos futuros profitemur infirmi

This is the sum of all philosophy – in health we should continue to be the men we vowed to become when sickness prompted our words

Which when googled for the source only ends up putting you into a loop always connecting back to Burton.

Parable of a Murderer Graced by a Glance

Attar’s Parable of a Murderer Graced by a Glance from The Conference of the Birds (Wolpe translation, pg. 116)

A Sufi saw in his dream a murderer who was executed by a king. The dead fellow was cruising Paradise in great joy, strutting proudly and laughing.

The Sufi asked him: “You were a murderer and always on the run, how have you come to be here and achieve such a high station?”

The man replied: “When my blood was flowing onto the ground, Habib Ajmi, that pure soul, happened to be passing by. That wise Wayfarer secretly cast a glance in my direction. All this honor, and a hundred-fold more, was bestowed on me in that single glance.”

If the royal glance falls upon you, in that moment
a hundred secrets will be unveiled to your soul.
But if such a glance does not grace you
you may never know yourself or gain awareness.

If all your life you seek solitude,
how can you then move forward
without a guide in the Path?
You must walk with a wise one.
Do not walk the Path alone.
Do not plunge into the sea like one blind.

A knower of the Way has come to be your guide
to shelter you through hardship and adversity.
You who cannot see the pitfalls in the road,
how will you manage walking it without a cane?

The road is long and your eyes look but do not see.
Only a sage can guide you in this Path.
You will know no shame if you walk this Road
in the shadow of an enlightened sage.

If you are graced by such fortune,
even the thornbrush in your hand
will burst into flowers.