Forced to become pygmies in order to find room in Pandemonium

From Chamfort’s Maximes et Pensees, number 65 in my edition. I’ll first give W.S. Merwin’s rendering even though I very much feel he improves the thought by mistranslation:

Men becomes little as they become alike. They are Milton’s devils, forced to become pygmies in order to find room in Pandemonium.

Les hommes deviennent petits en se rassemblant ; ce sont les diables de Milton, obligés de se rendre pygmées, pour entrer dans le Pandémonium.

I can find no dictionary entry for ‘rassembler’ as resemble, which is where Merwin’s ‘become alike’ has to have originated. Unless there is an alternate reading of ‘ressembler’ not given in my Folio Classique edition.  More accurate to my text but less well phrased would be:

Men become small as they are gathered together – they are Milton’s devils, forced to make themselves pygmies in order to enter Pandemonium.

The distinction I’m making is that Merwin’s version is rosier than the original. By his rendering, reduction of personhood/character/etc. is a product of assimilation, not of the act of gathering together. This would seem to leave open the possibility that one could exist in a social context without being reduced by it (provided you didn’t ‘become like’ your peers). But Chamfort – as I read him at least – makes that reduction an automatic byproduct of all existence in a social context – that we in our totalities and potentialities are necessarily diminished by being crammed against one another.

My failing, and the frailty of wayward flesh

From Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (beinning ~2430) in the W.S. Merwin translation – which I much preferred to the Armitage I read last year.

“But your belt,” Gawain said, “God reward you for it!
I will be glad to wear it, not for the gold on it,
Nor the sash itself, nor the silk, nor the pendants around it,
Nor its value, nor the honor in it, nor the glorious workmanship,
But I shall look at it often to remind me of my wrongdoing.
When I ride in triumph remorse will recall to me
My failing, and the frailty of wayward flesh,
How easily it is splashed with stains that defile it.
And so when pride from prowess at arms stirs me,
The sight of this love token will humble my heart.


‘Bot your gordel’, quoþ Gawayn, ‘God yow forзelde!
þat wyl I welde wyth guod wylle, not for þe wynne golde,
Ne þe saynt, ne þe sylk, ne þe syde pendaundes,
For wele ne for worchyp, ne for þe wlonk werkkez,
Bot in syngne of my surfet I schal se hit ofte,
When I ride in renoun, remorde to myseluen
þe faut and þe fayntyse of þe flesche crabbed,
How tender hit is to entyse teches of fylþe;
And þus, quen pryde schal me pryk for prowes of armes,
þe loke to þis luf-lace schal leþe my hert.