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

It is a busy idleness that is our bane

From Horace Epistles 1.11.25-29 in the Loeb edition. The middle line (caelum … currunt) is the famous one but I like the Huxleyan strenua nos exercet inertia better:

For if it is reason and wisdom that take away cares, and not a site commanding a wide expanse of sea, they change their clime, not their mind, who rush across the sea. It is a busy idleness that is our bane; with yachts and cars we seek to make life happy.

nam si ratio et prudentia curas,
non locus effusi late maris arbiter aufert,
caelum, non animum, mutant, qui trans mare currunt.
strenua nos exercet inertia: navibus atque
quadrigis petimus bene vivere.

‘Yachts and cars’ (for a literal ‘boats and chariots’) shows the translation’s age (1926) – but also how much closer to Horace life still was 100 years ago. Modernizing to ‘streaming and twitter’ is grotesque to ponder.

If this book is boring, two years from now it will be wrapping butter at the grocer’s

From Stendhal’s Souvenirs d’egotisme (Memoirs of an Egotist in an English translation):

Si ce livre est ennuyeux, au bout de deux ans il enveloppera le beurre chez l’épicier ….

If this book is boring, two years from now it will be wrapping butter at the grocer’s ….

I would like a history of all such phrases – bad books as food wrappings. I know of three in Latin literature and a near parallel in English but I’m sure I’ve read others without retaining them:

Catullus XCV.9:

But the Annals of Volusius will die by the river Padua where they were born, and will often furnish a loose wrapper for mackerels.

at Volusi annales Paduam morientur ad ipsamet laxas scombris saepe dabunt tunicas


Horace Epistles 2.1.265-70

Not for me attentions that are burdensome, and I want neither to be displayed anywhere in wax, with my features misshaped, nor to be praised in verses ill-wrought, lest I have to blush at the stupid gift, and then, along with my poet, outstretched in a closed chest, be carried into the street where they sell frankincense and perfumes and pepper and everything else that is wrapped in sheets of useless paper.

nil moror officium quod me gravat, ac neque ficto in peius voltu proponi cereus usquamnec prave factis decorari versibus opto,ne rubeam pingui donatus munere, et unacum scriptore meo, capsa porrectus operta, deferar in vicum vendentem tus et odores et piper et quidquid chartis amicitur ineptis

Persius 1.40-45

 Is there anyone who would disown the desire to earn the praise of the people?—or, when he’s produced compositions good enough for cedar oil, to leave behind him poetry which has nothing to fear from mackerels or incense?

an erit qui velle recusetos populi meruisse et cedro digna locutuslinquere nec scombros metuentia carmina nec tus?

And Lyly’s Euphues (To the Gentleman readers):

We commonly see the book that at Christmas lieth bound on the stationer’s stall at Easter to be broken in the haberdasher’s shop

Better a witty fool, than a foolish wit

From Twelfth Night (1.5):

Feste
Wit, an’t be thy will, put me into good fooling!
Those wits, that think they have thee, do very oft
prove fools; and I, that am sure I lack thee, may
pass for a wise man: for what says Quinapalus?
‘Better a witty fool, than a foolish wit.’

The Arden note says:

An invented Latin authority, probably inspired – given the context of rhetorical and logical discussion (cf. syllogism, 46) – by Quintilian(us), author of the Institutio Oratoria, a book much studied in Elizabethan schools and universities. This allusion may be ‘contaminated’ by another Latin auctoritas, Apuleius, author of The Golden Ass, and by the name of the Roman coin quinarius or quinary, worth five bronze ‘asses’ and bearing the type of the victoriate, whose ‘weight standard had come from Illyria.’ Shakespeare seems to be imitating Rabelais’ pseudo-pedantic way with invented auctoritates. In any case, as Mahood observes, ‘this no longer gets a laugh.’

The pseudo authority feels right but I’ll add another comically farfetched possibility that just occurred to me. Continuing the Latin theme of the Arden note, start with the definition of the word palus in Lewis and Short:

I Lit. (very freq. and class.; syn.: sudes, stipes): ut figam palum in parietem, Plaut. Mil. 4, 4, 4; id. Men. 2, 3, 53: damnati ad supplicium traditi, ad palum alligati, Cic. Verr. 2, 5, 5, § 11: palis adjungere vitem, Tib. 1, 8 (7), 33; Ov. F. 1, 665: palos et ridicas dolare, Col. 11, 2, 11; Varr. 1. 1.—The Roman soldiers learned to fight by attacking a stake set in the ground, Veg. Mil. 1, 11; 2, 23; hence, aut quis non vidit vulnera pali? Juv. 6, 246.—And, transf.: exerceamur ad palum: et, ne imparatos fortuna deprehendat, fiat nobis paupertas familiaris, Sen. Ep. 18, 6.—In the lang. of gladiators, palus primus or palusprimus (called also machaera Herculeana, Capitol. Pert. 8), a gladiator’s sword of wood, borne by the secutores, whence their leader was also called primus palus, Lampr. Commod. 15; Inscr. Marin. Fratr. Arv. p. 694.—Prov.: quasi palo pectus tundor, of one astonished, stunned, Plaut. Rud. 5, 2, 2.—
II Transf., = membrum virile, Hor. S. 1, 8, 5.

The element I want is option 2, the unique transferred meaning of membrum virile. The single passage is from Horace’s Satires and quoted below:

Once I was a fig-wood stem, a worthless log, when the carpenter, doubtful whether to make a stool or a Priapus, chose that I be a god. A god, then, I became, of thieves and birds the special terror; for thieves my right hand keeps in check, and this red stake, protruding from unsightly groin…..

Olim truncus eram ficulnus, inutile lignum,cum faber, incertus scamnum faceretne Priapum,maluit esse deum. deus inde ego, furum aviumque maxima formido; nam fures dextra coercet obscenoque ruber porrectus ab inguine palus;…..

The English disguises this but the narrating Priapus describes itself as possessed of an ‘ab inguine palus‘ – which produces a sound sequence ‘guinepalus‘ terribly close to Shakespeare’s ‘quinapalus.’ Which would then turn the reference to a learned but bawdy citation of his own dick as his source of wisdom. I have now proven the undesirability of a foolish wit.

I rub on privus privatus

From Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy

….amidst the gallantry and misery of the world; jollity, pride, perplexities and cares, simplicity and villainy; subtlety, knavery, candour and integrity, mutually mixed and offering themselves; I rub on privus privatus; as I have still lived, so I now continue, statu quo prius, left to a solitary life, and mine own domestic discontents: saving that sometimes, ne quid mentiar, as Diogenes went into the city, and Democritus to the haven to see fashions, I did for my recreation now and then walk abroad, look into the world, and could not choose but make some little observation, non tam sagax observator ac simplex recitator, not as they did, to scoff or laugh at all, but with a mixed passion.

Bilem saepe, jocum vestri movere tumultus.
Ye wretched mimics, whose fond heats have been,
How oft! the objects of my mirth and spleen.

I did sometime laugh and scoff with Lucian, and satirically tax with Menippus, lament with Heraclitus, sometimes again I was petulanti splene cachinno, and then again, urere bilis jecur, I was much moved to see that abuse which I could not mend.

Bilem saepe … – Horace Epistles 1.20.  Burton flowers it a bit.

Petulanti splene cachinno – Persius Satires 1.12.  The grammar of the quote doesn’t fold into the grammar of the context.  I give the context at greater length because it better connects with Burton’s application than the other quotes.

nam Romae quis non—a, si fas dicere—sed fas
tum cum ad canitiem et nostrum istud vivere triste
aspexi ac nucibus facimus quaecumque relictis,
cum sapimus patruos. tunc tunc—ignoscite (nolo,
quid faciam?) sed sum petulanti splene—cachinno.


Is there anyone at Rome who doesn’t  —oh, if only I could say it—but I may, when I look at our grey heads and that gloomy life of ours and everything we’ve been doing since we gave up our toys, since we started sounding like strict uncles. Then, then—excuse me (I don’t want to, I can’t help it), but I’ve got a cheeky temper—I cackle.

urere bilis iecur – a slight misquote of Horace Satires 1.9.65 – meum iecur urere bilis – ‘my liver burns with bile’

Do not stir the fire with a sword

From Erasmus’ Adagia (2.6).  My own hasty rendering.

IGNEM NE GLADIO FODITO

‘Do not stir the fire with a sword’, that is to say, do not provoke someone already stirred to anger.  It is far better to yield and calm his enraged spirit with kind words.  This is the opinion of Saint Jerome and of Demetrius of Byzantium, cited by Athenaeus.
Diogenes Laertius explains that the choleric temperament of violent and wrathful men ought not to be stirred up with reproaches, because the more a flame is stirred up, the stronger it grows.
Plutarch does not judge any differently.
Plato, however, in Book 6 of The Laws, has used this saying of men who strive in vain for what can be in no way accomplished, showing this to have been a type of game – that they would cut up a fire with a sword.
Saint Basil mentions a nearly identical sense in his letter to his nephews – how they wish to cut fire with a sword and draw water with a sieve.
And it is surely to that definition that Lucian refers in book 2 of his True History.  He tells that that at his departure from the Isles of the Blessed, Rhadamanthus ordered him to follow three rules when he came back to our earth: not to stir the fire with a sword, not to eat beans, and not to bed a boy more than 18 years old.  If he kept these in mind, he would one day return to the isle.
It seems that Horace, by this saying, points out cruelty mixed with madness.  For love is in itself mad and if it breaks forth into fighting and murder, the fire is pierced by a sword.  Satire 2.3: “Add bloodshed to these and stire the fire with a sword.”


Πῦρ σιδήρῳ μὴ σκαλεύειν, id est• Ignem gladio ne fodito, hoc est ira percitum ne
lacessas. Quin magis concedere conuenit et blandis verbis tumidum animum
placare. Ita diuus Hieronymus et apud Athenaeum Demetrius Byzantius.
Diogenes Laertius exponit potentium et ferocium iracundiam non esse
conuitiis exagitandam, propterea quod flamma quo magis exagitatur, hoc
magis atque magis inualescit. Neque dissentit ab hoc interpretamento Plutarchus.
Quanquam Plato libro De legibus sexto sic vsurpauit, vt de iis dici
solitum videatur, qui frustra moliuntur quod effici nullo pacto queat, osten-
dens id lusus genus quoddam fuisse, vt ignem gladio dissecarent. Ad eundem
ferme sensum retulit diuus Basilius in Epistola ad nepotes, vt idem sibi velint
ignem gladio dissecare et cribro haurire aquam. Huc nimirum allusit Lucianus
in secundo Verarum narrationum libro, cum ex insulis fortunatis dimitteretur,
fingens se a Rhadamantho admonitum, vt si quando rediret in hunc nostrum
orbem, tria quaedam obseruaret, Μὴ πῦρ μαχαίρᾳ σκαλεύειν, μήτε θερμούς
ἐσθίειν, μήτε παιδὶ ὑπὲρ τὰ ὀκτωκαίδεκα• ἔτη πλησιάζειν, id est Ne gladio ignem
diuerberaret, ne lupinis vesceretur, ne se puero decimumoctauum annum egresso adiunge-
ret. Si quidem horum meminisset, futurum vt aliquando ad eam insulam
reuerteretur. Horatius hoc dicto videtur indicare crudelitatem cum insania
coniunctam. Amor enim per se furor est, qui si erumpat in pugnas ac caedes,
ignis gladio perfoditur. Libro Sermonum secundo, satyra iii.: His adde cruorem
/ atque ignem gladio scrutare.