The civilest way of describing an ignoramus

From the author’s footnote to Anecdotes – Juvenal in v.1 of Thomas de Quincey’s Posthumous Works:

The passion which made Juvenal a poet.‘ The scholar needs no explanation; but the reader whose scholarship is yet amongst his futurities (which I conceive to be the civilest way of describing an ignoramus) must understand that Juvenal, the Roman satirist, who was in fact a predestined poet in virtue of his ebullient heart, that boiled over once or twice a day in anger that could not be expressed upon witnessing the enormities of domestic life in Rome, was willing to forego all pretensions to natural power and inspiration for the sake of obtaining such influence as would enable him to reprove Roman vices with effect.

They drove him into the underworld like a peg

A modestly amusing footnote in the Loeb edition of Apollonius’ Argonautica (1.55ish), as the poet enumerates the crew.

And from wealthy Gyrton came Caeneus’ son, Coronus—a brave man, but no braver than his father. For bards sing of how Caeneus, although still living, perished at the hands of the Centaurs, when, all alone and separated from the other heroes, he routed them. They rallied against him, but were not strong enough to push him back nor to kill him, so instead, unbroken and unbending, he sank beneath the earth, hammered by the downward force of mighty pine trees*

They drove him into the underworld like a peg, hence he perished while still alive; cf. Pindar, fr. 128f.


ἤλυθε δ᾿ ἀφνειὴν προλιπὼν Γυρτῶνα Κόρωνος
Καινεΐδης, ἐσθλὸς μέν, ἑοῦ δ᾿ οὐ πατρὸς ἀμείνων.
Καινέα γὰρ ζωόν περ ἔτι κλείουσιν ἀοιδοὶ
Κενταύροισιν ὀλέσθαι, ὅτε σφέας οἶος ἀπ᾿ ἄλλων
ἤλασ᾿ ἀριστήων· οἱ δ᾿ ἔμπαλιν ὁρμηθέντες
οὔτε μιν ἀγκλῖναι προτέρω σθένον οὔτε δαΐξαι,
ἀλλ᾿ ἄρρηκτος ἄκαμπτος ἐδύσετο νειόθι γαίης,
θεινόμενος στιβαρῇσι καταΐγδην ἐλάτῃσιν

The Pindar fragment (with the Loeb edition by the same editor/translator as Apollonius) is:

128f The same papyrus gives scraps of vv. 3–8. A scholion on Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica. “Apollonius took it from Pindar, who said” (vv. 7–9):

(lines 1–2 are fragmentary)
excel(?)
famous(?)
5and Castor(?)
. . . . . .
But Caeneus,6 (struck with) green (fir trees)
disappears after splitting the earth with his upright
foot.

Cf. Plutarch, The Stoics Talk More Paradoxically Than the Poets. “Pindar’s Caeneus used to be criticized for being an implausible creation—invulnerable to iron, feeling nothing in his body, and finally having sunk unwounded under the ground, ‘after splitting the earth with his upright foot.’”

But the best telling is Ovid’s (Metamorphoses 12.490is) in Nestor’s version of the battle of  the Centaurs and the Lapiths:

Now, quite beside themselves, the double monsters rushed on with huge uproar, and all together against that single foe they aimed and drove their weapons. The spears fell blunted, and Caeneus, the son of Elatus, still stood, for all their strokes, unwounded and unstained. The strange sight struck them speechless. Then Monychus exclaimed: ‘Oh, what a shame is this! We, a whole people, are defied by one, and he scarcely a man. And yet he is the man, while we, with our weak attempts, are what he was before. Of what advantage are our monster-forms? What our twofold strength? What avails it that a double nature has united in our bodies the strongest living things? We are not sons of any goddess nor Ixion’s sons, I think. For he was high-souled enough to aspire to be great Juno’s mate, while we are conquered by an enemy but half-man! Come then, let us heap stones and tree-trunks on him, mountains at a time! let’s crush his stubborn life out with forests for our missiles! Let sheer bulk smother his throat, and for wounds let weight suffice.’ He spoke and, chancing on a tree-trunk overthrown by mad Auster’s might, he hurled it at his sturdy foe. The others followed him; and in short time Othrys was stripped of trees and Pelion had lost his shade. Buried beneath that huge mound, Caeneus heaved against the weight of trees and bore up the oaken mass upon his sturdy shoulders. But indeed, as the burden mounted over lips and head, he could get no air to breathe. Gasping for breath, at times he strove in vain to lift his head into the air and to throw off the heaped-up forest; at times he moved, just as if lofty Ida, which we see yonder, should tremble with an earthquake. His end is doubtful. Some said that his body was thrust down by the weight of woods to the Tartarean pit; but the son of Ampycus denied this. For from the middle of the pile he saw a bird with golden wings fly up into the limpid air. I saw it too, then for the first time and the last.


ecce ruunt vasto rabidi clamore bimembres
telaque in hunc omnes unum mittuntque feruntque.
tela retusa cadunt: manet inperfossus ab omni
inque cruentatus Caeneus Elateius ictu.
fecerat attonitos nova res. ‘heu dedecus ingens!’
Monychus exclamat. ‘populus superamur ab uno
vixque viro; quamquam ille vir est, nos segnibus actis,
quod fuit ille, sumus. quid membra inmania prosunt?
quid geminae vires et quod fortissima rerum
in nobis natura duplex animalia iunxit?
nec nos matre dea, nec nos Ixione natos
esse reor, qui tantus erat, Iunonis ut altae
spem caperet: nos semimari superamur ab hoste!
saxa trabesque super totosque involvite montes
vivacemque animam missis elidite silvis!
massa premat fauces, et erit pro vulnere pondus.’
dixit et insanis deiectam viribus austri
forte trabem nactus validum coniecit in hostem
exemplumque fuit, parvoque in tempore nudus
arboris Othrys erat, nec habebat Pelion umbras.
obrutus inmani cumulo sub pondere Caeneus
aestuat arboreo congestaque robora duris
fert umeris, sed enim postquam super ora caputque
crevit onus neque habet, quas ducat, spiritus auras,
deficit interdum, modo se super aera frustra
tollere conatur iactasque evolvere silvas
interdumque movet, veluti, quam cernimus, ecce,
ardua si terrae quatiatur motibus Ide.
exitus in dubio est: alii sub inania corpus
Tartara detrusum silvarum mole ferebant;
abnuit Ampycides medioque ex aggere fulvis
vidit avem pennis liquidas exire sub auras,
quae mihi tum primum, tunc est conspecta supremum.

Call it rather a sort of beggarly day-dreaming

A masterly footnote from ch 3 of Coleridge’s Biographia Literaria

To anonymous critics in reviews, magazines, and news-journals of various name and rank, and to satirists with or without a name in verse or prose, or in verse-text aided by prose-comment, I do seriously believe and profess, that I owe full two-thirds of whatever reputation and publicity I happen to possess. For when the name of an individual has occurred so frequently, in so many works, for so great a length of time, the readers of these works—(which with a shelf or two of beauties, elegant Extracts and Anas, form nine-tenths of the reading of the reading Public*)—cannot but be familiar with the name, without distinctly remembering whether it was introduced for eulogy or for censure.

*For as to the devotees of the circulating libraries, I dare not compliment their pass-time, or rather kill-time, with the name of reading. Call it rather a sort of beggarly day-dreaming, during which the mind of the dreamer furnishes for itself nothing but laziness, and a little mawkish sensibility; while the whole materiel and imagery of the doze is supplied ab extra by a sort of mental camera obscura manufactured at the printing office, which pro tempore fixes, reflects, and transmits the moving phantasms of one mans delirium, so as to people the barrenness of a hundred other brains afflicted with the same trance or suspension of all common sense and all definite purpose. We should therefore transfer this species of amusement—(if indeed those can be said to retire a musis, who were never in their company, or relaxation be attributable to those, whose bows are never bent)—from the genus, reading, to that comprehensive class characterized by the power of reconciling the two contrary yet coexisting propensities of human nature, namely, indulgence of sloth, and hatred of vacancy. In addition to novels and tales of chivalry to prose or rhyme, (by which last I mean neither rhythm nor metre) this genus comprises as its species, gaming, swinging, or swaying on a chair or gate; spitting over a bridge; smoking; snuff-taking; tete-a-tete quarrels after dinner between husband and wife; conning word by word all the advertisements of a daily newspaper in a public house on a rainy day, etc. etc. etc.

Some footnotes

These are all the footnotes from Borges and Bioy-Casares’ Six Problems for Don Isidoro.  Like the excerpt a few days ago mocking trends in experimental poetry, the authors here are playfully taking the piss on a practice that has only grown worse since their time – the useless footnote.

[1] Affectionate nickname for H. Bustos Domecq used among his intimates. [Footnote by H.B.D.]

[2] See footnote 2. [Footnote by H.B.D.]

[3] Carlos Anglada’s commendable bibliography also comprises the following: the crude naturalistic novel Drawing-Room Flesh (1914), the magnanimous palinode Drawing-Room Spirit (1914), the long since superseded manifesto Words to Pegasus (1917), the travel notes In the Beginning Was the Pullman Car (1923), and the four numbered numbers of the review Zero (1924-27).

[4] Mario is sometimes so aggressive. [Footnote contributed by Dona Mariana Ruiz Villalba de Anglada.]

[5] Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitate—Entities are not to be multiplied without necessity. [Footnote submitted by Dr. William Ockham.]

[6] Not at all. We—contemporaries of the machine gun and biceps—repudiate this delicate rhetoric. I should say, with the finality of a bullet, “I put salesroom and atelier on the ground floor. I lock the Chinamen upstairs.” [Footnote written in the hand of Carlos Anglada.]

[7] In fact, the doctor smiled and gave a greeting. [Author’s note.]

[8] The duelists have crossed swords. The reader can already hear the clash of rival steel. [Marginal note by Gervasio Montenegro.]

[9] A bucolic touch. [Original note by José Formento.]

Footnote 1 – the ‘author’ references himself in third person.

Footnote 2 – points recursively to itself.

Footnote 3 – for no logically apparent reason continues an unfinished list started in the main text.

Footnote 4 – a useless aside from a recurring character in the stories

Footnote 5 – a quotation ‘submitted’ by the semi-disguised fourteenth century philosopher William of Ockham.

Footnote 6 – another useless aside from a recurring character.

Footnote 7 – ‘author’s’ correction of his narrator’s sequence – “the face that now greets you and smiles.”

Footnote 8 – a third useless aside from a third recurring character.

Footnote 9 – a fourth useless aside from a fourth recurring character.