Showing posts with label Cicero. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cicero. Show all posts

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Quote: The Ordinary Course of Latin

From the preface to Edwin N. Brown's 1894 Treasury of Latin Gems:

In the arrangement of the ordinary course in Latin, the first four years is commonly apportioned somewhat as follows: Beginning Book and Grammar, Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic War, Cicero's Orations in the Senate, and Vergil's Aeneid; and so closely and exclusively is the course pursued that not a few pupils have been known to leave school at the end of the course with the idea that there were only three Latin writers, and that they had read them all. It requires but a moment's reflection to observe that such a course as the one just described is about the equivalent in breadth, interest, and richness of thought to a course like the following for a foreign student desiring to enter upon a four years' study of English: Beginning Book and Grammar, Grant's Memoirs of the Rebellion, Clay's Congressional Speeches, and Milton's Paradise Lost. If to this should be added a year of Shakespeare and a year of Tennyson, we should perhaps have a college course in English of about the same quality and breadth as that commonly pursued in Latin.
We have no disposition to criticise the ordinary course in Latin...which, with certain modifications, is doubtless as good, all things considered, as any that might be suggested. We do however maintain emphatically that the course should be supplemented by constant reference to other writers...
There are many who, for various reasons, do not continue the study of Latin more than two or three years; and such receive comparatively little that is really rich in thought... If the student has only a few years to spend in the study of Latin, it is so much more important that he be introduced to as much rich Latin thought as possible. 

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Cicero, Frightful Reactionary

You know an academic just finished a book and is ready to start hocking it when they start publishing a lot of fun, fluffy articles that people will actually read. Enter Mary Beard's "10 Best Ancient Romans." We'll of course ignore the ridiculous title, which we assume was written by an editor, and won't castigate the author for applying such a ridiculous criterion of "best" to the category of Romans. Whatever that means, she wrote 10 blurbs, one about Cicero.

The whole list vexes me, especially that of Cicero, whose description especially irks me for three reasons.

First, saying that you have many reasons but not articulating them makes that pronouncement of them a dishonest qualifier. Obviously there is no space there for lengthy explication and evidence, but the ambiguity is misleading and confusing: is she emphasizing that Cicero was predominately reactionary or that he wasn't wholly reactionary? I guess everyone can think what he wants. The fact that she subsequently refers to the events of Catiline's conspiracy as a low point invites someone to interpret that as evidence of Cicero's reactionary views, although I fail to see how it does.

Second, the word frightful is a cheap shot. It's the kind of word people casually toss in when they want to let you know that someone doesn't hold the approved opinions. I guess Cicero wasn't a LibDem. Who knew?

Third, she mentions that Cicero was exiled for the summary execution of Catiline's conspirators as if it was justice, when in fact Cicero's exile was simply what suited the advancement of Pompey, Crassus, and Caesar and provided Clodius an opportunity to take revenge on Cicero. In February of 58BC Clodius as tribune proposed a law which would exile anyone who did or had executed a citizen without due process. While a redundant law, it would exact revenge on Cicero and distract the optimates. It is telling that, when Clodius passed a law which further punished Cicero, forbidding him from living within 400 miles of Rome and forbidding anyone from giving him aid, Cicero didn't have trouble finding people to put him up.

As for the conspiracy itself, it is unclear whether the found arms sufficiently demonstrate intent to betray the fatherland and thus condemn Catiline's conspirators. If it was, then one could argue they had by taking up arms against Rome relinquished their citizenship.

I'm not exonerating Cicero here, and I'm not doing justice to the intricacies of the conspiracy either. I guess the situation deserves a little more than a glib remark.

Fourth, what of such forthright criticism and disdain for being a reactionary when others get a pass in the very same article? Ovid gets a pass for being subversive and opposed to Augustus' moral regime, the wife of that same emperor gets a pass for no other reason, it seems, than she was female, and Caligula of all people gets a pass after brushing off "most" allegations as "invented or embroidered." I'm not condemning Ovid, Augustus, or even Caligula, but why is Cicero held to a completely different standard. Usurers, corrupt emperors, provocative poets–everyone gets a pass and Cicero slammed in this list of favorite people? I guess it's still better than being compared to Obama.

I realize Beard wasn't out to pick out the most moral and upright Romans. (Who would do such a terrible thing like that nowadays?) Her selections are all colorful characters, but alas, bias has to enter. Perhaps less bias than insecurity, for her criticism reminds me of when someone qualifies their agreement with someone by adding, "Not that I agree with everything he says," as if anyone would assume such a thing. As if, though, I would assume anyone of notoriety today would approve of Cicero. As an aside, though, how typically liberal is this list??

A hypocritical conservative white man is in charge, women are oppressed, evil men are victims of bad press, and a cool hip author write about sex. Reaction and conservatism are out, opposition to traditional power is in. Worst: Caelius est in horto needs to be translated. O temp–oh never mind.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Slaves, All Slaves

One of the most striking modern positions is the reluctance to consider the concepts of freedom and slavery from other than political premises. By political premises I mean those factors which control the individual from without. It also seems that people of all types avoid the question, for conservatives, libertarians, and liberals all most often consider economic liberty. The former groups think that that once he is not compelled by the deliberate force of another individual, they think, a man is fully free. The latter often have a broader view, to their credit, but not only do they so often sit ready to enslave some to free others, but they also neglect the human choice in pursuing virtue and true freedom, seeing only victims of circumstance. Eluding all are the various ways in which men enslave themselves.

Cicero enumerates these ways well in one of his least known treatises, Paradoxa Stoicorum, in which he discusses Stoic philosophy's maxims, called paradoxes, (from Gk. παράδοξος, strange) because they contradicted popular opinion. The illustrative section discusses the fifth paradox, that:

Ὄτι μόνος ὁ σοφὸσ ἐλεύθεροσ καὶ πας ἄφρων δουλος.
solum sapientem esse liberum, et omnem stultum servum.
Every wise man is free and every fool a slave.
We see plainly this view considers freedom not from the vantage point of politics, but of virtue. Let us consider the same.

N.B.: I move freely between Cicero's text, in Latin and translation, and my own thoughts.

Cicero begins by questioning the liberty of the man who cannot control his desires. Indeed it seems plain that a man who lusts for food or flesh or is driven by avarice or anger is certainly not free. He is controlled by no one, not even himself, and so he is not free. Freedom is not the total absence of constrictions, but self-control.

#1: Enslaved to Yourself

Suppose then a man is in total self-control, then. Is he by nature free? Let us consider the example of a killer, who controls himself rigidly so that he can achieve his grisly ends. He may deny himself things he wishes, but because his end is wicked we would not consider him free. As Cicero says, he is free who follows the right things, who is virtuous. It is also important to consider the reverse of this position: that a man who only does good because he fears reprisal or out of accident or incidence is not free, for his path is chosen for him, either by force or occasion. Cicero puts it best when he says that he is free who rejoices in duty (qui gaudet officio) and who "says nothing, does nothing, and thinks nothing indeed except gladly and freely," (qui nihil dicit nihil facit nihil cogitat denique nisi libenter ac libere.) Liberty is a condition of the mind, then, and slavery the "obedience of a broken will," (obedientia fracti animi.)

#2: Enslaved by Others

Cicero's next consideration is the slavery of the uxorious man, hilariously caricatured by the felicitous brevity of Latin: poscit, dandum est; vocat, veniendum; eiicit, abeundum; minatur, extimescendum. We might expand Cicero's explanation and say that he is not free who is under anyone's command under compulsion. He may be a king who tyrannizes with taxation, a robber who threatens your life, a bully who hangs ostracism over you, or even a lover or friend who manipulates by withholding, but any such person controls you.

#3: Enslaved to Things: The Lautiores Servi

One of the great trends of Cicero's day was the collection of foreign, especially Greek, artworks and the construction of grand houses. Today we may add gadgets, totems of fashion, luxury cars, and exotic vacations to the list of temptations to which people yield. Cicero is harsh upon the fools he observed oohing and aahing over works of art, saying such things ought to be "non ut vincula virorum sint sed ut oblectamenta puerorum," not chains of men but amusements for children. We may pause to wonder here whether Cicero is fully endorsing this harsh stoic tenet or merely presenting it for the Roman audience, and we may make prudent room for finery, travel, and technology, namely that their pursuit must for enriching ones virtue.

For example, one should dress well not to impress others because you are insecure about your status, but because it is fitting for a man to adorn a fine character with fine clothes. Similarly, one should travel not so that one is seen traveling, but to see loved ones or complete his duties for work. Likewise one should purchase art not to compete with other collectors or be thought fashionable nor one not gaze at nonsensical art so that others think you are a profound thinker, but rather one should collect good art and give oneself to that art which ennobles and enriches the spirit by drama and beauty. Finally, one should use not technology to do his job or as playthings, but to augment his ability to complete his work. By their nature, then, things enslave which one pursues either for the wrong reason or immoderately for the proper reason.

#4: Enslaved to Money

In its most simple sense, enslavement to money is tantamount to enslavement to any physical thing, as above. If one works for money to buy things, then one is still enslaved to the things one hopes to buy. If one acquires money for status, then one is enslaved to the opinions of others. And so on and so forth. Yet because money is no end in itself, but a means to an end, we must also consider it in a different light. Many times we hear people say that they earn money not for anything in particular and that they do not covet money, but that they desire the ability to do what they want. This might seem some wisdom, the realization that money is mere means, but how demeaning is it to work with no purpose in mind! Such work is not the rational pursuit of an end, but either the base indulgence of whim or a waste of one's time, i.e. life. We may rightly think of Creon's words to the guard,

καὶ ταῦτ᾽ ἐπ᾽ ἀργύρῳ γε τὴν ψυχὴν προδούς. (Antigone 322)
One indeed does sell one's life for money, for work is chosen as money, as means to end. One does not live to work, but works to attain leisure. Ebenezer Scrooge is the archetype, but there are many cheerful Scrooges in the world, not grumpy and miserly, but just as wasteful of life.

#5: Enslaved to Advancement

Cicero then writes of the blind ambition for political office and what a domineering a mistress she is. How people debase themselves climbing the ladder. I would more broadly cast this argument as the blind pursuit of improvement. Who does not see people who pursue more money, better jobs, more interesting friends, more attractive lovers, and so on ad infinitum? This is not in fact pursuit, but flight, flight from what one has and fears to love, and who in fear flees is not free.

#6: Enslaved to Guilt

Finally, we may consider the slavery of the guilty man. Cicero writes in consideration of a man who because of some crime he committed, is not free. This man fears the opinions of all, for he suspects them of knowing his guilt, and as such they are all his masters for he fears them all.

We see then that the waters of liberty are challenging to navigate, not only the political seas but the personal. It is one thing–a good and necessary thing–to free oneself from a political yoke, but it is another–a good and necessary thing too–not to be a slave to oneself. We ought not cast off the rule of the tyrant and declare liberty, for if we do so without regard for self-knowledge, self-mastery and the disciplined pursuit of virtue, then in the words of Cicero, we have simply changed masters.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Figures of Rhetoric and Syntax

This list of Latin and Greek rhetorical devices was born slowly and out of frustration with existing reference materials, which failed students insofar as they variously:
  1. Were incomplete, leaving out significant figures.
  2. Did not cite examples in Latin.
  3. Did not give the references for the examples.
  4. Provided no explanation.
  5. Gave confusing explanations.
  6. Had contradictory entries.
  7. Did not give alternative names and Greek names.
While there are many books and websites of great use and which have served me well, it is my hope that this list somehow rectifies these common errors and makes useful improvements. I add a few caveats.
  1. It is not exhastive, and there are some figures known to me for which I cannot presently offer any good Latin examples. 
  2. Some of the definitions are textbook, others I adapted for clarity, and others I took the liberty of writing myself.
  3. Some examples are common or famous, the classica exempla of the figure, others more obscure.
  4. I have refrained from explanation where I thought the defninition, example, or annotation (boldfacing, italicizing, et cetera) sufficient.
  5. For authors with only one work to their name or only one extant work, such as Valerius Flaccus and Lucan, the works are not listed in the entries.
  6. I have risked cluttering the page refrained from abbreviations for the benefit of those less familiar or unfamiliar with the authors of the Latin canon.
Finally, regarding both the selections and definitions, I make no pretensions of originality. I reiterate what Cicero said of his philosophy, verba tantum adfero, I only supply the words, (Epistulares Ad Atticum, 12.52) and while I have not so copius a supply as he, I hope this list is of some use.

Accumulatio: Latin, “heaping, piling up,” in Gk. ἀνακεφαλαιωσις, “summary of an argument,” also Latin Recapitulatio, “restatement of points, summing up,” and Enumeratio, “listing,” the return to points made previously, this time in a compact, forceful manner. It is often used with climax to present the summation of a speech.

Suae pudicitiae proditor est, insidiator alienae; cupidus intemperans, petulans superbus; impius in parentes, ingratus in amicos, infestus cognatis; in superiores contumax, in aequos et pares fastidiosus, in inferiores crudelis; denique in omnes intolerabilis. (Pseudo Cicero. De ratione dicendi ad C. Herennium 4.52)
Adunaton: Gk. ἀδύνατον, “impossible,” extreme hyperbole to suggest an impossibility. It is especially common of lovers’ oaths.

cum Paris Oenone poterit spirare relicta,
  ad fontem Xanthi versa recurret aqua.
(Ovid. Heroides. 5. 29f)
When Paris will breathe with Oeneone abandoned, / turned to the source, the waters of the Scamander will return.
From the choral ode in Euripides' Medea: ἄνω ποταμῶν ἱερῶν χωροῦσι παγαί (410)

Allegory:  Gk. ἀλληγορία, “veiled language, figurative,” an extended metaphor in which abstract ideas figure as circumstances or persons.

The personification of rumor in Vergil. Aeneid. 4.173-197.
Alliteration: Latin, littera, “letter,” the repetition of the same sound beginning several words in sequence.

Viri validis cum viribus luctant. (Ennius. Annales. 307)
timidae tellus tutissima matri (Statius. Achilleis. 1.211)
Anacoluthon: Gk. ἀνακόλουθον, “not following,” a lack of grammatical sequence; a change in the grammatical construction within the same sentence.

Si, ut dicunt, omnes Graios esse. (Cicero. De Re Publica. 1.58)
Here, the si expects a parallel omnes graii sunt, but instead we have an indirect statement dependent on dicunt

Anadiplosis: Gk. ἀναδίπλωσις, "doubling back," the repetition of a word that ends one clause at the beginning of the next.

Senatus haec intellegit, consul videt; hic tamen vivit. Vivit? (Cicero. In Catilinam. 1.2)
Anaphora: Gk. ἀναφορά, “carrying back” the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive phrases, clauses or lines.

Nihil agis, nihil moliris, nihil cogitas, quod non ego non modo audiam, sed etiam videam planeque sentiam. (Cicero. In Catilinam. 1.8)
da nomina rebus, da loca; da vocem qua mecum fata loquantur. (Lucan. 6.773-4) 
nec, quid Hymen, quid Amor, quid sint conubia curat. (Ovid. Metamorphoses. 1.480)
Anastrophe: Gk. ἀναστροφή, “a turning up,” the transposition of normal word order; most often found in Latin in the case of prepositions and the words they control. Anastrophe is a form of Hyperbaton.

errabant acti fatis maria omnia circum.  (Vergil. Aeneid. 1.32) 
cur ulla puer iam tempora ducit te sine? (Statius. Achilleis. 1.129)
Antimetabole: Gk. ἀντιμεταβολή: from ἀντί, "against, opposite" and μεταβολή, "turning about, change, "the repetition of words in successive clauses in changed order.

Miser ex potente fiat ex misero potens. (Seneca. Thyestes. 1.35)
Antistrophe: Gk. ἀντιστροφή, “a turning back,” the repetition of the same word or phrase at the end of successive clauses. Also called Epiphora, Gk. επιφορά and Epistrophe, Gk. ἐπιστροφή.

Laelius homo novus erat, ingeniosus erat, doctus erat. (Pseudo Cicero. De ratione dicendi ad C. Herennium 4.19)
Click "Read More" below for the rest of the list.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Vitae Praecepta Beatae

In the last decades before the birth of Christ, as the Roman people learned to embrace the yoke of an ostensibly reluctant autocrat, the historian Titus Livy began the history of his people from their founding up to the final crisis of their ordered liberty. If St. Jerome is correct in setting Livy's birth in the year 59 BC, then it was a propitious date on which to inaugurate the birth of Rome's patriotic, moralist-historian, for such was the year of Caesar's consulship. A nominal consulship for a nominal republic, the year also marked the year when the First Triumvirate–the cadre of Crassus, Pompey, and Caesar–began blazingly to run roughshod over the remnant of the old order.

Yet this beginning of the republican end, with its wars foreign and domestic, its sullied politics–oh poor beshitted Bibulus!–and its civil strife were not foremost what fascinated Livy, though he knew these years, the most infamous in Roman history then and now, would attract readers, festinantes ad haec hova, more than timeworn tales about the past, hoary retellings of Horatius at the Bridge. The Old History, Livy confesses, is a happy diversion from debates about the contentious years through which his people had navigated.

It is more from that spirit less than that of history proper that I would consider the virtues which animated Livy's history. I do not wish to dwell on comparisons–instructive but dolorous and already complete–to nations long powerful making their own demise, nor will not conjecture whether, paraphrasing Charles Cochrane, mere republicanism can save a republic or mere religiosity religion. Whether traditional republican virtues could be broadly revitalized today and if they could, what effect they would have on the American polity, is beyond my scope here.

It is not now my goal to consider history, furnishing examples by which a republic may prosper or decline, yet, labente disciplina, I would look at those virtues which carried the Romans, and which they carried, so far. My approach will be to systematize and rationalize in the Aristotelian fashion of setting means between excess and deficiency, but recall that these virtues were for the Roman traditional, religious, and instinctive. My modest hope is that their presentation might prove salubrious to the individual, not condemnation but encouragement to their prudent consideration and application.

Virtues: Lack, Moderation, Excess

Religio is of course the concept with which to start and what today will either offend people or send them scurrying toward some other virtue they hope to practice without any obligation. The essence of religio is not the definition common today, a system of beliefs, but rather constraint of human endeavor in the face of divine force. Religio vetuit, religion forbids. In Gaul after his consulship Caesar, as he slaughtered the Gauls, wrote as praise that they were dedita religionibus, (De bello Gallico, 6.16.1) dedicated to religion, and thus undertook certain rituals for administering to the dead. Underneath the ritual, though, is the recognition of a divine realm with which one must be in accord. Roger Scruton writes, "[Man] confronts in [worldly things] not objects only, but the eyes of the gods, who remind him of his duties and offer comforting socially endorsed instructions."  [Scruton, 33] The religious impulse then requires first discrimination, namely between sacred and vulgar, between things of utility and the divine which is for its own sake. Second it requires tradition, accepted practices of propitiation, for those on the rock radices non habent, οὗτοι ῥίζαν οὐκ ἔχοθσιν (John, 8.13) they have no root, and cannot cultivate the seed.

When religio reaches extremes we are left either with superstition or materialism, both sharing the common failure to distinguish between the sacred and vulgar. In removing the agency of man, superstition removes his burden of responsibility to discern and act upon the good, enervating both intellectual and moral virtues. In contrast, materialism, in denying any realm which man does not dominate, elevates man to the role of measurer of all things. Nothing escapes his judgment, which is ultimate and which meddles in all affairs sacred and profane, public and private, and through past, present, and future. There exists a balance between the prudential governance of the material world, “a healthy secularism of the State, by virtue of which temporal realities are governed according to their own norms," as Benedict XVI called it, and the acknowledgment that, ipse fecit nos, et non ipsi nos, God mad us, not we ourselves (Psalm 99, 1-2), and therefore we do not dictate all. Laws which are beyond our right to change make claims on us.

The virtue of pietas, then, is the acknowledgement and fulfillment of such claims. Piety is the fulfillment not of contract, but duty, the making of vows, not promises, and the consecration of life not by technology or human will, but by sacrament, action given power by the word of God.

Lack of piety may stem of course from a lack of religiosity, an indifference to the mystery of the passing generations in which one partakes, but it may also stem from a conscious rejection of tradition. Such rejection begins when one finds tradition onerous instead of ennobling and the rejection takes flight when a tradition is first broken and no one sounds the alarm. It is not without reason that Aristotle wrote that a man's crime is worse if he is the first to commit it (1375a,) for once the chain is broken and the world does not promptly end, the chain is thought to have been perfunctory, stuffy, tradition.

Now it would be easy to propose piety and religious obligation as a panacea for modern woes. Recoiling from this extremity I would consider religiosity and piety as balances upon worldliness. Besides its obligations, religiosity is an inducement to eschew the world of utility, of gaining and spending, and to set something aside as not for meddling. Likewise piety encourages us to consider in our actions and reactions not what we are owed by law, but what we owe by nature.

Similarly, and in contrast to the exacting of one's will and the extraction of one's pound of flesh under pain of law, we find clementia, the willingness to forego what is owed.

In the modern world, or rather transition from the ancient to the modern, the Enlightenment, we find clemency at the heart of each mature Mozart opera: In Die Entführung Pasha Selim permits the escaping lovers to depart, the Countess pardons her cheating husband in Figaro, the men forgive their wayward fiancees in Così fan tutte, Die Zauberflöte's Sarastro tutors the inconstant acolytes, and Titus forgives the conspirators. Among the forgivers, there is no compensation for damages, no quid pro quo, just deference to the love which is greater than the penitent transgression. (We see now that virtue begets virtue, clemency implying penitence.) With the exception of Così, which ends philosophical in confusion, we can feel the great-souledness magnifying Selim and the sacred grandeur of forgiveness permeating Sarastro and Countess Almaviva. We feel them grow large in their glad pardoning–the hilaris clementia of Martial 12.5–and we feel the joy of magnanimity with them as Mozart's music brings to us the "consoling vision which religion grants to all its supplicants." [Scruton, 42]

The only exception is Don Giovanni, who thrice unrepentant and bending no knee is dragged to Hell.

Of clementia we can see its defect in both the polity and individual, in excessive grievance. When an individual is only sated when he gets what he feels owed, when he must have his pound of flesh regardless of details which out to modify his expectations–such as past kindness, good reputation, virtues which balance vices, intent, misjudgment, misfortune, and human weakness–he is a small man. This man prefers to sue than settle, and as his way is imitated, private reconciliation by equity is replaced by public adjudication.

The excess of clementia seems easy to imagine: the insolent or downright criminal run rampant over the good. This is surely a possibility, but I would suggest that an excess of desire to seem forgiving is the more observable and pernicious phenomenon, for transgressing a virtue weakens the individual, but its meretricious application weakens perception of the virtue itself. Such application is present, though I would not argue that it constitutes, the impulse behind plea-bargaining. From a desire to appear magnanimous, forgiving, and liberal, offering a plea-bargain confuses admittance with repentance and in doing so confuses a commuted sentence with forgiveness. Moreover, and even worse than the obvious inducing of the accused to expect lessened punishment, the attempted institutionalization of a virtue which can only be practiced by the offended party, not a judge, confuses law and equity. Worst of all, plea-bargaining debases the virtues–in this respect unwritten laws which are not exacted by force–by extending them unasked to those who broke written laws which are backed up by force, and he who would break a written law would certainly break an unwritten, and thus unenforced, one. [Aristotle, 1374] The bargaining process also admits great corruption against the accused. Dr. Dalrymple writes,

...plea-bargaining is intrinsically unjust because it may induce the innocent to plead guilty and the guilty to hold out for a lesser punishment than they deserve. It encourages prosecutors to intimidate defendants by multiplying and exaggerating charges on the great Hitlerian principle that if you sling enough mud, some of it sticks. It undermines the principle that the prosecutor’s purpose is not to secure a conviction at any price, but to secure justice. [Link]
A judge may adjudicate only according to objective legislation and policy of administration. Law is therefore a more harsh and less flexible standard than equity, which may moderate disputes with less severity.

After religio, it is likely gravitas which is the most neglected of Roman virtues. After all, who wants to be the stiff rather than the wit, the killjoy than the life of the party? Yet to the Roman mind, man and his life were predominately serious. The disposal of life, literally the putting down of it, that is, the doing of it, is not a trivial business. To carry oneself with gravitas is not to be a pompous, officiating Polonius, but to walk as if your existence has purpose and consequence. Gravitas does not imply seeking attention or conceit, adrogantia, but simply being counted in the reckoning.

That hard edge of gravitas is burnished by the good humor of comitas, which bids us be responsible and serious, but not stiff. While gravitas urges us to value our dignity, comitas urges courtesy, an ease which does not assert but attends. If gravitas cautions us not to be timid, comitas reminds us to note the humor of life. Still, as Cicero says, however useful it might be, leve enim est totum hoc risum movere. (De Oratore, 2.218) Humor is a relief, not a mainstay, and comitas should never degenerate into levitas, being lighthearted when we ought to be serious.

Pliny the Younger, writing to the orator Arrianus, (Epistulae 8.21.1), advices moderation:
Ut in vita sic in studiis pulcherrimum et humanissimum existimo severitatem comitatemque miscere, ne illa in tristitiam, haec in petulantiam excedat.
Mix, Pliny urges, the light and the severe, so that we do not gravitate toward the extremes of gloom or frivolity.

Again, the false appearance of a virtue is the most damaging. Livy again, writing about Appius Claudius–most famous for the construction of the Via Appia and Aqua Appia under the tenure of his censorship–points to a noteworthy contrast when he observes Appius' fraternizing and canvassing: profecto haud gratuitam in tanta superbia comitatem fore. (Ab urbe condita, 3.35.6) That is to say, the arrogant man may use graciousness to further his ends, therefore in him it is conspicuous.

We join the twin virtues of firmitas and constantia, the latter the origin of a most lovely name. It is easy to caricature constancy of character as obtuseness, but apart from Cicero's philosophizing connection of it to Stoic εὐπάθεια, the Old Roman was not a thinker, let alone one of subtlety. He did not value sophistical refutations and live at the cutting edge of philosophical trends. Caesar, less praising now, writes of the inconstancy of the Gauls, consiliis capiendis mobiles (De bello Gallico, 4.5.1), and how they take new plans easily and must retreat from their errors of their foolish fickleness. In amusing imitation of a self-made Roman, Petronius' Trimalchio, the freedman who made it big, wanted written on his tomb: nec umquam philosophum audivit. (Satyricon, 71) He never listened to a philosopher. Roman virtue was a process less of intellect than tradition, and the Roman did not consider a lot of subtle thinking in choosing the right path.

It is of course worth exploring the philosophical tack in Tusculan 4.12, in which Cicero, summarizing the Stoic position, observes that man naturally seeks what is good and thus what seems good, but in seeking his desire is twofold: either founded in prudence, called volition, or founded in violent desire, lust, which is found in fools (in omnibus stultis invenitur.) Therefore incitement of the former is joyful, whereas excitement of the latter is immoderate elation away from the control of reason. Thinking from the Stoic position, then, we can view inconstantia as an immoderate, immature response to the appearance of the good. It is appropriately associated with youth, who seeing the various goods cannot choose among them but move from one to the other.

One extreme of constantia is of course obtuseness, literally dullness to other observations. This stubbornness can manifest itself as A. pride, for example an intelligent man ignoring reasoning which contradict him, B. anti-intellectualism, an irrational distrust of thinking subtler or finer than our own, or C. traditionalism, distrust of the new. The other extreme is fickleness, in which we find A. an irrational distrust of our own judgment, B. the excessive worship of reason, which trusts what is argued more than what is demonstrated, and C. faddism, which prefers the new simply because it is new. The obtuse persist in error and the fickle wander from error to error.

Constantia then requires disciplina, the learning by which one chooses the good, for he cannot attain the good if he does not aim at it, and who can aim who does not see his target. Let us commend, though, the discussion of humanistic and Christian education to elsewhere, and discuss frugalitas, satisfaction in economy. Of frugalitas Marcus Aurelius spoke best, recalling what he learned from his adopted father: enjoy the luxuries which fortune may furnish, but do not miss them when absent. (Meditations 1.16) Live neither as a pauper nor helluo, poor man or squanderer.

All of these virtues require two more: severitas, the strictness to moderate oneself, and virtus, one's manly essence and full worth. Of all we have mentioned these virtues are perhaps naturally twin, for the exuberance and outward exertion of the virtus implies a need for severitas, a restraint. The virtus must be cultivated, surely with the good allowed to grow and the bad pruned, but even with the good pruned moderate, lest even one good grow at the expense of choking some other virtue.

The excess of these virtues are the most gross, and their defects the most pitiful. Untutored and unmoderated, severitas mistakes self-debasement for self-mastery. Severitas degenerates into excessive fault-finding and doubt. Excess severity is paralyzing, not ennobling as severitas should be. In detriment of severity we find excuse-making, as inimical toward manliness today as it was ever.

In immoderate virtus in excess becomes hubris, arrogance, and insolence run riot. Again we find Don Juan, in the words of David Cairns:
There is no protection against his fundamentally destructive energies... He is the logical consequence of the Enlightenment's cult of individualism and unrestrained liberty. 
In detriment the manly spirit is timid, weak, and enervated. It is cowed when it should be assertive, sluggish when it should soar, and reluctant when it should be ready. Reason fusts in him unused and he plods, but sleeping and feeding.

The modern idioms of looking at oneself in the mirror with pleasure and waking up in the morning with gusto might have pleased a Roman. Wake up neither with regret nor ready for mischief, the extremes of severity, but prepared for a prudent and disciplined day, and seek in the mirror neither the prideful nor pitiable, the extremes of virtus, but the cultivated self.

Auream quisquis mediocritatem
diligit, tutus caret obsoleti
sordibus tecti, caret invidenda
     sobrius aula.

Barrow, R. H. The Romans. Penguin Books. Middlesex. 1949.

Cairns, David. Mozart and His Operas. University of California Press. Berkeley and Los Angeles. 2006.

Cochrane, Charles Norris. Christianity and Classical Culture. Oxford University Press. 1968. (Reprint from Clarendon Press, 1940)

Duff, J. Wight & Duff, A. M. A Literary History of Rome. Barnes and Noble. New York. 1960.

Scruton, Roger. An Intelligent Person's Guide to Modern Culture. St. Augustine's Press. South Bend Indiana. 2000.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Mini-Review: Thank You For Arguing

Thank You For Arguing. by Jay Heinrichs. Ch. 26

I don't know quite what to say about a chapter which begins with a leading quote that translates, "Quid multa? clamores," as "I brought the house down." The Latin is a self-satisfied remark from Cicero to his intimate friend Atticus (letter I.14) in February of 61 BC about a particularly quick comment the orator tossed off. The tendentiously-related English is from Ch. 26 of Jay Heinrich's Thank You for Arguing, in which Heinrichs purports to demonstrate the brilliance and utility of President Obama's rhetorical prowess. The gap between the English and Latin, though, speaks volumes. Namely, it says that the author is not serious about scholarship or precision, but is content to repackage serious work for lazy readers. I'll charitably assume this is the case rather than considering if the author hasn't done his homework or that the author of a book on rhetoric doesn't know Latin and Greek.

To cut to the chase, though, it's the title of the chapter, not the book, which held my interest in the store: Capture Your Audience: The Obama Identity: Steal the tricks of a first-class orator. Dear reader, that's one wacca away from full blown incredibility. Let's break this down.

Skipping over the introduction in which the author relives the glory of Obama's ascendency, the sloppiness starts. First we get the turn of phrase that "Aristotle wanted political speeches to be deliberative," which makes anyone who has read Book I of the Rhetoric cringe at the kitschy summarization of Aristotle's detailed taxonomy. Then, Heinrichs uses the word demonstrative, which doesn't explain to the reader what epideictic means in a formal, specific, Aristotelian sense. All political or demonstrative or forensic oratory be demonstrative in some loose sense? In fact Heinrichs goes out of his way not to use this word, saying on p. 30 that only academics use it because "they're just being demonstrative," which is his periphrastic way of saying people who use this word are assholes. I wonder what he thinks of people who write it in Greek! Third, he writes that "in a speech that seeks to bring people together, you want to get demonstrative" with no explanation. He's not wrong at all, but that statement tells us almost as little as his next, which reads, "Get to know demonstrative rhetoric'll become a better orator yourself." Manum de tabula, discipuli, the master has arrived!

Worst perhaps is his tag that, "This is rhetoric the way the ancients taught it." Well, I know what he means, which is that this is authentic ancient style, but besides the fact that it's not, he's using a modern example of use to prove how ancient rhetoric was taught. We don't have to get into the history of rhetorical manuals and progymnasmata, but this is sloppy.

Next he breaks then-Senator Obama's 2004 keynote address at  the Democratic National Convention into five parts: Introduction, Narration, Division, Proof, Refutation, Conclusion.

In the introduction, he praises Obama for "establishing his character" at the beginning of the speech by citing Obama's phrase, "My presence on this stage is pretty unlikely." How does acknowledging your presence on a stage establish character? It was obvious he was standing there. Those words don't describe, explain, depict, or evoke anything.

In his demonstration of Obama's narratio he explains that "a moral" links Obama's character with the American way. A moral what? He has three choices:
  1. the moral teaching or practical lesson contained in a fable, tale, experience, etc.
  2. the embodiment or type of something. 
  3. morals, principles or habits with respect to right or wrong conduct.
I can't find what "moral" could mean in the speech.

Next he writes that "the good orator uses the division to represent both sides." The division of what? What is "the division?" Does he mean the division of the speech in to introduction, facts and details, proof, and conclusion? Is the division a part of the speech? He says to "use the division to sound like you're more reasonable than the other side," which is so vague and incomplete that you have to question whether he knows  what he's talking about. At any rate, it's impossible for such an explanation to be of use to anyone, let alone a layman.

Even if we assume that by division of the speech he means its organization into exordium, narratio, probatio, and peroratio, how could one say as he does that, "the good orator uses the division to represent both sides," an exceedingly general statement.

Then he cites the use of a catalogue as "proof," in place of, say, direct evidence like witnesses and contracts, argumentation from evidence or example, or even an emotional appeal. A list constitutes proof. Wow.

After this he cites the following as evidence of the entire refutatio:
Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America.
That's not bad, but it's not at all enough by itself to constitute a full-blown refutatio.

As far as conclusions go, fine, let's say the speech has one, if only so we can admit it's over.

Finally, it's very telling that Heinrichs sees this speech as being successful because it's all about Obama, even though it was supposed to get John Kerry elected. This is a clever way of avoiding the fact that the speech failed. Of course many great speeches, even the best, have failed to produce the outcome their authors had hoped, but to call either set of Philippics, say, failures is not the same as to call this speech a failure. Cicero and Demosthenes might have chosen poor tacks of persuasion, hypothetically, but they didn't fail by having the ulterior motive of aggrandizing themselves. So either Obama wrote a bad speech or he deliberately threw Kerry under the bus to promote himself, a fact about which "Cicero would be proud." Don't let that tack-on about Cicero being proud pass, though. Heinrichs uses his presumption of Ciceronian approval to justify an ulterior motive which he imputes to Obama, all to avoid the fact that the speech failed. Now that is some rhetoric.

Now Heinrichs turns his attention to some of Obama's other speeches, citing and praising a line from President Obama's 2009 Inaugural Address in which Heinrichs finds an instance of prosopopoeia. Literally "to put on a face," this device most properly involves adopting a persona through which one speaks, especially the guise of a deceased. More loosely some categorize under the umbrella of prosopopoeia the use of the historic present and the introduction as speaking of any absent party. Cicero's usages are perhaps the most famous, especially the instance in the Pro Caelio (s.34) in which Cicero, adopting the character of Appius Claudius Caecus, excoriates the infamous Clodia, his wicked distant progeny. As notable is the use in the First Catilinarian (s. I.7) in which he pleads with Catiline in the voice of the Roman people.

The difference in Obama's usage is that there is no layer of mimesis, no moment in which he puts on the mask of another. He is actually speaking for the people. Also, Obama uses we 32 times throughout this short speech, and as such no given moment nor the whole is prosopopoeia.

After a some preposterous praise not worth our attention, Heinrichs characterizes the following passage as "pure enargeia," Greek for vividness:
One march was interrupted by police gunfire and tear gas, and when the smoke cleared, 280 had been arrested, 60 were wounded, and one 16-year-old boy lay dead.
That's vivid? A sentence with no imagery, told in the present tense, with no amplification by structure, and no characters? Heinrichs is at pains to paint this scene as vivid, pointing out how the unfolding story seems to "zoom in" on the details as it progresses. But the narration is bland chronological, that is to say, normal. How is this order "cinematic" and "pure enargeia?"

Compare it to Cicero's vivid narration of the night raid in which the lackeys of Verres, a corrupt governor of Sicily, attempt to steal statues from the square at Agrigentum. We may identify in this passage against Verres (In Verrem II.IV), devices such as the vivid present, pleonasm, characterization, impersonal verbs (emphasizing action), diminutives, sarcasm, the charge of sacrilege, humor, imagery, assonance, emphatic placement, and climax, which constitute enargeia. There is no enargeia in Obama's sentence in which he tells a story with no details or characters in a past tense.

Heinrichs is aware of Obama's tense problem, though, for admitting the story is in the past tense he hurries to say that "it's in the service of demonstrative rhetoric" and that its "secret" lies in that alleged cinematic narration. Since demonstrative rhetoric is concerned with praising or censuring someone and is concerned with the present state, it's hard to reconcile this sentence to the speech. Heinrichs seems by demonstrative to mean simply anything that has a point.

The remaining examples which Heinrichs points out are not misnamed as rhetoric but simply bland and unremarkable instances. Calling attention to them, let alone lauding them, is akin to praising Transformers for adhering to Aristotelian tragic theory because its action takes place in one day. Yet Heinrichs seems to know his praise of Obama's rhetoric is not on the firmest  ground, conceding in his closing paragraph that, "Soon after taking office, Obama toned down his demonstrative rhetoric, choosing to deal with pragmatic policies between campaigns." First, the time "between campaigns" is usually referred to as a presidency. Second, Obama spoke ad infinitum and ad nauseam during his first term. He also spoke poorly, but just as poorly as he ever did. It's not surprising that liberals want to remember a perfect honeymoon, though.

Their desire to agree agree with and elevate their idol has clouded their judgment and this chapter of Heinrichs' Thank You For Arguing demonstrates what I've written elsewhere about reactions to Obama's rhetoric: if you already agree, you'll love it. Unfortunately, that's not the stuff of great rhetoric. Likewise, sloppy uses of terminology, sketchy examples, encomiastic editorializing, and imprecise explanations are not the stuff of great books. If you're looking for a sophomoric justification of Obama's greatness, though, this will surely float your boat. Thanks, but no thanks.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

That Delightful Rest

The philosophy of Aristotle lacks little, but a gaping omission is a human face. There is no smart aleck Socrates with whom we may laugh and grow irate, nor can we spy a troubled soul, like Marcus Aurelius, behind the words. If there was a character, real or imagined, in the lost works of the Aristotelian corpus, the "rivers of gold" according to Cicero, then we are all the more at a loss, for Aristotle's work is decidedly not that of the mechanical, technocratic mind. His philosophy is not cold and calculating, and we'll find it warm and lived in if we peer behind the notational style. This is nowhere more evident than in the chapter of the Ethics on friendship where he defines a friend, in part, as someone before whom you might do something foolish and still not blush. Yet if this man from antiquity is largely lost to us, there as another face for the philosophy.

Cicero's own philosophical works make no boast of originality, the non plus ultra to the modern mind, but who wouldn't be content, christened "Rome's greatest Aristotelian" by Dante, of all? Unlike their Aristotelian origins, many of Cicero's works are structured not as treatises but dialogues, which give human faces to the dense and often obscure discourses which they summarize or critique. Still there are moments of genuine and unique revelation in Cicero's philosophy when he sheds a new light, filtered by years of study, personal suffering, and the struggles with nation he strove to save, on philosophy.

For me the most poignant of these moments comes toward the end of de Amicitia, written in the summer of 44 BC just before Cicero returned to Rome to launch his famous Philippics against Marc Antony. Here the statesman-philosopher re-imagines Platonism and Aristotelianism, especially the Lysis and penultimate books of Aristotle's Ethics, as a dialogue centered around Gaius Laelius the Wise, the preeminent author and orator of the generation preceding Cicero's. Laelius remembers his friend Scipio Aemilianus, i.e. Africanus the Younger:
Numquam illum ne minima quidem re offendi, quod quidem senserim, nihil audivi ex eo ipse quod nollem. [de Amicitia, 103. The Latin Library]
It seems innocuous enough, obvious even, but there's so much insight in these few words, insight only gained by personal experience. There's so much substance under that polished parallel style.

On the surface, sure, Laelius is saying the obvious that his good friend never said anything which offended him in the least, which he would have noticed, nor vice versa, but this is something we overlook today, I think. With our legal system which functions on the premise that the contest of contrary opinions will reveal truth, a pluralistic polity, and the economic necessity of competition, we perhaps let variety and rivalry get the better of us.

Of rivalry we often consider speaking our mind more than a right but a duty. How quickly do we feel that we'll be implicated if we don't speak up for, or against, something. How quickly do we offer unsolicited opinions simply because they're relevant, even if they're unnecessary. Who doesn't feel the urge to pile on when someone is being dragged through the mud? Laelius' point is of course that he and Scipio didn't offend one another, but surely some of that accord resulted from the prudential application of silence, or at least deferred judgment.

Of variety, how often do we hear platitudes about having rights to opinions, and rights to be heard, and so on. We forget, and Cicero reminds us, that the soul finds rest in the harmony of friendship.

The dialogue contains also in that euphonious and compact relative clause, quod quidem senserim, a subtle nod to the empathy implicit in friendship. Simply, we have to pay attention to how the other person feels, what hurts and delights our loved ones. We need to know that look in their eyes, they way they shuffle in their seats, the way they grow quiet, that tells us we've hurt them, and we have to care enough not to do it again. The very thought of that look, of that quiet, has to pain us so much that we need to avoid it. The dialogue of course is idealized, and it's unlikely anyone has not hurt his friend at some point, but we see the tempered wisdom of Cicero behind the ideal.

Finally, Laelius draws attention to the littlest things, minima, which always need our attention. How our friends cater to our little pet peeves, and how easily we take their considerations for granted. Maybe they let us tell the same story over and over, or they avoid a certain topic to which we are sensitive, maybe they curb their playful teasing, or perhaps they simply stopped slurping their soda for us, but the absence of these irksome bits gradually becomes an environment in which we can find ease, and ourselves, in each other. It's a rest so consoling, so powerful, that we feel it, moreover we can exist in it, even when the activity of friendship is broken off by distance, whether by travel or, as Laelius says about his lifelong friend, by death.

So in but a small sentence Cicero through the voice of Laelius reminds us what restraint, consideration, and appreciation are necessary to make, find, and keep that delightful rest we call friendship.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Book Review: Ten Latin Anthologies

Teaching Latin literature courses always runs into several conundrums. Chief among these, perhaps, is whether the course will be structured around one or a few large works, or shorter selections. The former approach has the advantage of encouraging in-depth discussion of an author, genre, or work, but it's easy to get mired in a long text which students cannot move through with great speed. The latter choice necessitates a compilation of texts, and so enters the anthology.

A few notes and exceptions. These are all aimed at the high school, or perhaps undergraduate, level, and thus do not any of them contain an apparatus. I exclude anthologies dedicated to specific collections, such as sacred, medieval, or historical works and likewise omit any text books even if they have a great deal of literature as does Keller and Russell's Learn to Read Latin. Finally, I've surely not compiled an exhaustive list and any recommendations are most welcome

I. An Anthology of Latin Prose [Amazon]
ed. D. A. Russell

This is one of my favorites of the bunch. Russell's compilation gives in selections of about fifty lines each a useful sample of Latin authors and genres. The text's chronological arrangement gives the reader a good sense of evolving style and the brevity of the selections highlights the variety. Russell's notes are minimal, and mostly confined to translating Greek quotations, pointing out omissions and contracted forms, and explaining idioms and less common meanings. There's no help with complex clauses and no glossary, but Russell's introduction is a good one to prose periods and rhythms. Its generous helping of Cicero covers the author's philosophy, legal speeches, public speeches, and letters.

The quantity, brevity, and variety of the selections suits a survey course for proficient students.

II. Cambridge Latin Anthology [Amazon]
ed. Ashley Carter and Phillip Parr

This more slender reader provides equal measures of prose and poetry, with both sections providing a few long selections and then a number of smaller ones grouped by kind. For example, the editors provide four 60-line selections of Ovid and Vergil, and then group a variety of Horace, Martial, and Catullus into categories of love, leisure, and so forth.

The organization chaffed at first, but it's a not imprudent compromise. The lengthy sections provide opportunity for in-depth study while the topically-arranged groups give room for comparing genre, style, author, and content. Unfortunately, none of the poems are numbered and there is no identification of the prose selections, a decision which strips the literature of context, especially given the scant introductions and nonexistent notes. There is bountiful help with vocabulary though, with long-marks, facing-page vocabulary, and a glossary. A teacher's handbook is available that contains notes and commentary. It's not so necessary for teaching these texts, but it might be useful for students who can't read without a little help. The teacher's handbook doesn't contain any translations.

Overall, this reader is a good compromise between poetry and prose, and lengthy and short selections, but its lack of notes (without the handbook) limits its utility for the neophyte and lack of quantity limits its use to the sophisticated reader. Also, the layout is relatively inefficient and with all the dead space, this 180-page volume doesn't have that much Latin.

III. Oxford Latin Reader [Amazon]
ed. Maurice Balme and James Morwood

This anthology succeeds the three-part Oxford Latin Course and is best viewed as a sampler of the most notable sections from the most notable Latin authors: Cicero, Caesar, Catullus, Vergil, Livy, and Ovid. The text offers copious historical introductions and extremely generous notes which quite often translate the Latin outright. There is plentiful vocabulary and a small appendix on scansion. This reader would suit a class of weaker students in which you wanted to focus less on the Latin, to some extent, and more on history, culture, and such, while still getting the students to work in the canonical texts.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Unity of the Muses

Mozart encompasses the entire domain of musical creation, but I've got only the keyboard in my poor head. –F. Chopin

Most minds relish the familiar. We like familiarity, consistency, and sameness, whether it's in our television programming, house furnishings, or daily routines. Yes, some people seem to worship all things new, but that's just an attempt to relive the thrill of novelty. Smart people are not exempt either, most only holding a few stock ideas about which they ramble before attaining senility. Even the mind of a genius is usually confined to relatively tight quarters. Yet we have all-encompassing geniuses like Aristotle and DaVinci, and lesser polymaths from Cicero to Jefferson, but far-seeking minds are the most rare, and the most rare of them was Mozart. Mozart absorbed, innovated, and perfected with a speed which amazes and terrifies. The Greeks would have called him δεινός, marvelous, wondrous, and terrible.

21 piano sonatas, 27 piano concertos, 41 symphonies, 18 masses, 13 operas, 9 oratorios and cantata, 2 ballets, 40 plus concertos for various instruments, string quartets, trios and quintets, violin and piano duets piano quartets, and the songs. This astounding output includes hardly one work less than a masterpiece. –George Szell

Absorbed, innovated, perfected. Each of those words needs a little qualifying. Mozart absorbed the work of his models with astonishing rapidity, from his father's early assignments at the harpsichord, in which little Woferl delighted, to string quartets, concerti, and fugues. One story from April 1770, when Mozart was fourteen and impressing the Italian contrapuntists in Rome, paints the picture. Herr Mozart and his son attended a performance of Gregorio Allegri's Fiftieth Psalm, a passion piece for two choirs, four- and five-part, which concludes with a finale that interweaves both choruses in nine-part counterpoint. Shortly after the performance the teenage composer proceeded to write out the piece from memory. (W. A. Mozart by H. Abert. p. 135)

From this immense facility for absorption grew Mozart's own interpretations in his early maturity. Hoary polyphony and contrapuntal exercises became the ebullient Salzburg masses. Mozart devours set after set of Haydn's string quartets and again and again throws the spear from sight. The prettified keyboard tinkering of the galant becomes an endless parade of Mozartian characters. The snoozy nocturnes and pompous end-of-semester finalmusik become the serene lightness of the Gran Partita. Endlessly rhyming, sing-songy, and audience pleasing singspiels become the the giddy love of Die Entführung and a frightening, untamed spirit is breathed into old an workhorse text in Idomeneo.

Finally, perfection unto death. The body of Mozart concerti is one of most stupendous achievements ever, without qualification. The endless variety of melody, the relentless ability to tease excitement and novelty from sonataform and even rondo, shifting keys, moods, and characters, is nothing short of astounding. Not only do we find with glee intellectual rigor and structural novelty, but even in its most tumultuous depths, the cosmos-rending D minor, the Mozart concerto is life-affirming, pleasing the heart and the mind. And what love Mozart has for his instruments: the jovial horn, the oboe here sprightly there melodious, and the chimerical clarinet.

All the while, through the counterpoint and delayed tonal areas of the quintets and the vast sonataforms of the operas, and the ever more-delicate symphonies, always we find a unity of style and affect. We're never distracted by learned or simple elements for all is reconciled by the most perfect taste and order. We don't hear a contrapuntal marvel when we see finale to Act I of Don Giovanni, we see a carnival. We don't hear a north German choral in Die Zauberflöte but see the initiate poised before his sacred trial. We don't listen for fugato in Piano Sonata No. 18, but delight in the interplay between these wildly diverse themes. There is only the music, unifying as it goes: time, place, us, everything.

Mozart tapped the source from which all music flows, expressing himself with a spontaneity and refinement and breathtaking rightness. - Aaron Copland

Mozart's earthy side confuses many, whether it's by his priapic joke in the Champagne Aria, his song Kiss My Ass, or his bawdy letters to his cousin. It's not a side that would have confused, say, Catullus or Rimbaud, but it befuddles those who seek a clean idol. We need a pure font because we see time as expendable. We need to get and use as much of time and Mozart as we can. Yet it is time which is sacred, not the man Mozart. Yet he doesn't have to be because he has preserved the best of us in time, and we don't nee to horde it, nor do we even need to share it. We nee to be it. We need to feel his melodies in our step and his shapes in our thoughts. We need to feel his terror and chipper love, his lonely afternoons and sumptuous galas. Mozart is not the font, but the unity of the Muses, and beyond performance and beyond listening there is living, where the perfected goes on forever, though only for a time through us.

Mozart's music is the mysterious language of a distant spiritual kingdom, whose marvelous accents echo in our inner being and arouse a higher, intensive life. –E. T. A. Hoffmann

Saturday, November 2, 2013

A New Convention

An old adage instructs writers to accept the criticism that something is wrong in their work, but reject recommendations to fix it. Another saying comes to mind: beware tinkerers. This sophomoric article in The Atlantic prompts these tidbits of wisdom not so much for what it says that what it doesn't. The premise isn't unreasonable: the constitution is imperfect. Fair enough, and I agree to boot. Even some recommendations are prudent. It's slipshod reasoning, gung-ho mentality, and lack of humility make it a poster example, however, of why change should be undertaken with great care.

This is my count of assertions, faulty reasoning, or incomplete ideas.
  1. Perpetual constitutions are impossible because Jefferson said so. 
  2. If Jefferson and Madison wrote a constitution today, it would be different. 
  3. The constitution too short.
  4. The constitution guarantees gridlock. 
  5. "The constitution failing" because Sanford Levinson and a "growing cadre" say so.
  6. We've learned a lot from science.
  7. Other countries "solved" what "cripples" us.
  8. Other countries learned from us, so we should learn from them.
  9. Stability equals old.
  10. More detail is better. 
  11. Because other countries' constitutions don't turn out exactly like America's, America's wasn't the model
  12. Because America's constitution is not copied and/or popular, it's less worthy of being copied.
  13. The government staying open and doing things is preferable to people who can't agree, not agreeing. Someone has to win and someone has to lose.
  14. Consensus does not equal majority. Derp!
  15. Something needs to be done about "campaign finance." Because that's a thing and the author said so. Clear enough?
  16. The constitution is too hard, the hardest even, to amend.
  17. Having more information available will help, because facts. 
There are prudent observations about improving representation and the concession that the amendment process might work is surprising, but the shoot-from-the-hip tone should terrify anyone of sound mind. The piece reads and reasons like a kid who just got the keys to the car. That we don't see mention of Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, et al, should alarm us. I throw those names around not to appeal to their authority, but to chasten the exuberance which scientific and technological progress seem to be fostering in young people for the notion that you can remake a constitution, and thus nation and people, or make a new one, like a version of Microsoft Windows.

This thinking asks not of virtue or human nature beyond what present scientific trends seem to indicate. Worst of all, it seems to have no limiting principle. We find in such thinking no faith in specific principles but rather in "democratic ideals" and progress and managerial technocracy. Ready for a revolution?

Friday, August 9, 2013

Presidential Rhetoric VI: John Quincy Adams

Welcome to Part Six of our series on the rhetoric of American presidential inaugural addresses. Please feel free to look at the previous entries in the series:
  1. Worthy of Marble?
  2. John Adams
  3. Thomas Jefferson
  4. James Madison
  5. James Monroe
We continue with our present look at the rhetoric of John Quincy Adams' inaugural address. The first presidential son of a president, John Quincy fittingly owes his considerable education, Classical and otherwise, to his father.

As a child he was instructed in history yes, but with a point of observing "treachery, perfidy, cruelty, and hypocrisy" which he "should learn to detest." Before his teens he delighted in Shakespeare, though in old age he confessed what humor he had missed as a child. Later, visiting Johnny at the Passy Academy in Paris in 1778, the father Adams would remark, "this child. . . learned more french in a day than I could learn in a Week with all my books." Years on when studying at Leyden, Johnny would receive from his father a gift of Terence in  both French and Latin, which the boy had of course learned by now de rigueur. From Leyden Johnny would write how he was "writing in Homer, the Greek grammar, and the Greek testament every day," although his father would write, outraged that the curriculum didn't include Cicero and Demosthenes, an inclusion upon which he insisted. Johnny's Harvard years, which he didn't reflect on with too much affection, rounded out his formal education, before adding to it an MA from his alma mater and joining the bar, age 23.

Let us see to what end the second presidential Adams' considerable intelligence, education, and experience met the occasion of his Inaugural Address, delivered Friday, March 4, 1825.

As usual, the speech is available via Bartleby, which we reproduce here boldface, with my comments following.

[A] IN compliance with an usage coeval with the existence of our Federal Constitution, and [B] sanctioned by the example of my predecessors in the career upon which I am about to enter, [C] I appear, [D] my fellow-citizens, in your presence and in that of Heaven [E] to bind myself by the solemnities of religious obligation [F] to the faithful performance of the duties allotted to me [G] in the station to which I have been called.

For his opening, Adams has folded all of his introductory ideas into one sentence. He begins with two parallel prefaces in which he identifies the occasion of his inauguration as [A] coeval, and thus of equal authority, as the constitution, and [B] sanctioned by his predecessors' examples, and thus sanctioned by tradition and excellence. Adams delays his appearance in the speech until [C], which coming after his prefaces about the history of the constitution and the previous presidents, gives the effect of Adams appearing at this moment, a subtle and effective instance of style mirroring content. No sooner does he introduce himself, though, than he addresses his fellow-citizens [D], smartly associating himself with the people and continuing the image of the speaker presenting himself to the people. Adams continues with overt religious analogy by identifying his oath as sacred [E], his duties as both [F] obligatory (faithful performance) and specific (allotted), and his election as democratic. [G]

The most succinct opening yet, Adams packs a lot of detail into a very small span with his Latinate and Ciceronian phrasing.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Just Plain Bad

The latest speech from the 21st century Cicero has arrived and it's a doozy. How long and boring and tedious it is!

It's all over the place, from attempts at epithets, "proud Maytag workers," stranded analogies, "the bargain began to fray," and inexplicable shifts in tense:
Technology made some jobs obsolete. Global competition sends a lot of jobs overseas. It became harder for unions to fight for the middle class.

We get some awkward ordering of phrases:
But by the time I took office in 2009 as your president, we all know the bubble had burst.
 Then there are plain old bizarre turns of phrase:
doled out bigger tax cuts to the very wealthy and smaller minimum wage increases for the working poor.
You can dole cuts? "Smaller minimum increases?"

Strained connections:
And so what happened was that -- (applause) -- the -- the link between higher productivity and people's wages and salaries was broken.
A link between three things?

Don't forget pointless asides:
Or they'll bring up "Obamacare" -- this is tried and true -- despite the fact that our businesses
So what's tried and true? That they bring it up? Doesn't that imply that you were just lying?

Then there are the vast gaps in explanation:
we've got to continue to end the war in Afghanistan
So we've been ending it? When? How? When was the middle? When did the end begin? What constitutes an end? Can you in fact be ending before you've ended, or is there simply an end?

We get perhaps the worst antistrophe ever:
That's what we have to spend our time on and our energy on and our focus on.
"Let's see, which word should get the emphasis? Hmmm. I know, on, because words!"

Don't forget the plain old ugly: It does not require havingeverybody who's fighting to get intothe cornerstones of what it means. Oh the humanity!

Finally, there's the incomprehensible:
This growing inequality not just of result, inequality of opportunity, this growing inequality -- it's not just morally wrong; it's bad economics because when middle-class families have less to spend, guess what?
Nope, I'm not guessing anymore. I'm out of here.

Sum and Part

Daphnis ego in silvis hinc usque ad sidera notus
formonsi pecoris formonsior ipse.
–Vergil. Eclogue VI. 43-44

The connection between man and deed is a curious one, not nearly so obvious and finite as it seems. Philosophy asks if what we do is ethical, most often approach the question from the perspective of agency, focusing on ethics and effect. The natural sciences are concerned with cause and process. Similarly, psychology asks us why we do something and history asks who did what, when. There is between these pursuits, though, the strange phenomena of how deeds and ideas adhere to man, who exists as he fashions himself, as his deeds form him, and how he is perceived by others. None of these factors is predictable or permanent. What do we make of men, then, when each one is Proteus?

History hands down as it transforms. On the one hand, we inherit Heraclitus as the weeping philosophy and Haydn as the laughing composer. Cicero is the model republican, Pericles the model statesman. Like Cleobis and Biton, these figures are frozen in time and honor as epitomes of virtue. On the other hand, Julius Caesar varies from age to age. Is he the tyrant, the betrayed, or the commander? Why do some deeds seem to shake right off their perpetrators? Caesar doesn't take much flak for the Gallic War, Pericles for the Peloponnesian, Cicero for being pompous, Augustus or Napoleon for police states, and so on.

The famous, however, stand exceptions to the rule that it is man's fate to be forgotten by this world. Even we mortals style ourselves, though. Sometimes we identify with our profession, sometimes by our faith or ideas, sometimes by one virtue or other. We act one way with one person, and another with others. We wonder about or avoid our motivations. It is often noted that only the individual ever knows himself, but less so that there's an element of perpetual uncertainty even for that endeavor.

When I act, then, is it the intellectual, the Catholic, the teacher, the man, the friend? Do I act from principle or as some grand whole greater than the sum of its parts?

Strangely, that which escapes man attains a unique grandeur. I speak not of natural phenomena such as caverns, sunsets, and great trees, but works of man which seem not to have been authored but rather in anonymity gifted into nature's domain. Consider the nameless medieval cathedrals and the chants which echo through the ages. How different is it reading Aristotle than Plato, the latter's thoughts being bound up in the curious character of Socrates whom we come to know while Aristotle's colorless, humorless treatises seem sprung from logic itself. (All for that quirk of fate that his other writings were lost.) How different is it to read Vergil in the context of 1) Vergil's art, 2) the politics of the early Roman Empire, 3) Augustus, and 4) the influence of other authors, than it is to read Homer, who reaches out raw but pure from the darkness. There seems such a freedom in the figures on those Greek jars, created not in some academic paradigm for a museum, but for living.

Like the ambiguities about ourselves, those of nature often do not obscure but refract and reflect us in our attempts not at analysis, not at use, but at contemplation. They invite not study, but a, if not pure then primarily, aesthetic experience.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Odi et Amo

Some attain immortality by doing great deeds, others by getting swept up in the affairs of great men. It's unlikely we would remember a fourth-rate crook like Gaius Verres had Cicero not so ferociously denounced the fool, nor would an obscure archbishop like Hieronymous Colloredo be remembered but for getting under the skin of a certain W. A. Mozart. Lesbia, as her lover called her, we know for her affair with the greatest poet of his age, Catullus. Her reputation fared somewhat better than those of Verres and Colloredo, who were both eviscerated to rags, but we generally remember her as the woman not who loved, but who tortured Catullus. Lesbia is not the inspirational Muse that Simonetta Vespucci played to Botticelli, inspiring thoughts of a perfected beauty to be contemplated and never defiled, but the spark of Catullus' very earthy passions of love and hate.

We really do owe to the ancient lovers a great debt, though, for the poet's pains bore one great fruit: a poignant, poetical crystallization of that curiously close kinship between love and hate.

That brilliant single couplet of poem 85, odi et amo, gets the glory, but Catullus 85 is best seen as the culmination of thoughts more fully explored in poem 72.

Here, Catullus begins by retracing his affair with Lesbia.

1 Dicebas quondam solum te nosse Catullum,
2 -----Lesbia, nec prae me velle tenere Iovem.
3 dilexi tum te non tantum ut vulgus amicam,
4 -----sed pater ut gnatos diligit et generos.
5 nunc te cognoui: quare etsi impensius uror,
6 -----multo mi tamen es uilior et levior.
7 qui potis est, inquis? quod amantem iniuria
8 -----talis cogit amare magis, sed bene velle minus.

The first two lines are a miniature masterpiece describing the good old days, a couplet structured around dicebas and te, which set up the two parallel, sequential indirect statements describing Lesbia's promise.

On the one hand Lesbia once promised that she loved Catullus alone (1), and on the other that she didn't prefer even Jove to him (2). It's a simple, even slight, notion which only someone head-over-heels could have taken to heart. I wonder just when and why made this "promise?" To coax her reticent, junior lover, maybe? In flagrante delicto? Or maybe, perish the thought, the poor, proud boy, as she ushered him out the back door, paused at the threshold and asked how much she loved him, to which she replied with invisible irony, More than Jove, darling.

Perhaps, though, Lesbia did make this promise a full-hearted confession to Catullus one afternoon in some sacred lovers' grove and for a time at least, truly meant it. Either way, Catullus seems to have thought the love both permanent and binding, seeing how he interweaves the thoughts. Notice how solum...Catullum (Catullus alone) surrounds te nosse (you knew), how Catullum runs into Lesbia on the next line, and how nec prae me (not before me) literally precedes velle tenere Iovem (you wanted to hold Jove.)

3 dilexi tum te non tantum ut vulgus amicam,
4 -----sed pater ut gnatos diligit et generos.

The word order of the next couplet is a twofold contrast. Instead of discussing Lesbia's promise we move on to Catullus' love, and instead of interweaving the thoughts, they are simple and linear. I loved you not as a crowd [loves] someone, but as a father loves his sons and sons-in-law. The contrast within the couplet is between vulgar, public, and temporary effusion, and heartfelt, private, and perpetual love.

5 nunc te cognoui: quare etsi impensius uror,
6 -----multo mi tamen es uilior et levior.

The third couplet opens with a brutal contrast, continuing the parallelism in the hexameters of leading with the main verb giving action to te (Lesbia) but viciously subverting the meaning. We move from Dicebas...te (you were saying... that you) to Dilexi te (I loved you) to Nunc te cognovi, Now I know you. All of Catullus' love seems to shatter and we expect a torrent of vituperation, but the poet twists our expectations by returning immediately to the thought of his love, which is not diminished byt amplified in impensius uror (althought I burn more strongly.) Catullus leaves us hanging at the end of line 5 and then drives home his point:

6 -----multo mi[hi] tamen es uilior et levior.
6 -----by much to me you are cheap and meaningless. 

This is the final evolution of the second person characterization of Lesbia:

Dicebas...te - you were saying that you...
Dilexi...te - I loved you
te cognovi - I know you
es vilior et levior - you are...

Here, however, Catullus opens line 6 not with Lesbia, but with his valuation (multo) and himself (mihi.)

The structure of the closing couplet encapsulates the whole of the poem, introducing by a rhetorical question Catullus' lesson: such injury urges lovers to love more, but to regard less.

What a delicious paradox: Catullus hates her for rejecting him even as that spurning betrayal inflames his ardor. As he values her less, he wants her more. It's a sentiment which has to be felt to be believed. On the one hand the rejection spurs furious outrage at the perfidy and indignity. It means nothing to be rejected by her. How could I ever have valued her highly?

On the other hand her faithlessness implants the secret suggestion that somehow, in denying you, she's demonstrated that she has higher standards, a tantalizing and infuriating fancy. Every tricksy turn, then, inspires both hate and love, and thus the full weight behind Catullus' most famous lines.

Odi et amo. quare id faciam, fortasse requiris.
-----nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Post #500: A Quiz for Myself

For the 500th post, fulfilling a kind request with thanks.

  1. Your favorite virtue? courage
  2. Your favorite qualities in a man? self-control
  3. Your favorite qualities in a woman? charm
  4. Your favorite occupation? anything which requires my full attention
  5. Your chief characteristic? thorough
  6. Your idea of happiness? joyful piety
  7. Your idea of misery? being a feminist
  8. Your favorite color and flower? no preference
  9. If not yourself, who would you be? Benjamin Franklin
  10. Where would you like to live? at home
  11. Your favorite poets? Horace, Catullus
  12. Your favorite painters and composers? Botticelli, Rembrandt; Mozart, Bach
  13. Your favorite heroes in real life? Cicero, John Adams
  14. Your favorite heroines in real life? Abigail Adams
  15. Your favorite heroes in fiction? Samwise Gamgee
  16. Your favorite heroines in fiction? Susanna in Mozart's Figaro, Cordelia in King Lear, Penelope
  17. Your favorite food and drink? lentil soup and cranberry juice
  18. Your favorite names? m. any virile, meaningful name; f. Jennifer
  19. Your pet aversion? gum chewing; see #7 below
  20. What characters in history do you most dislike? Alcibiades, Gracchi Brothers 
  21. What is your present state of mind? aequus
  22. For what fault have you most toleration? slowness
  23. Your favorite motto? Be good and do good. (John Adams to his children)

Ten Random Facts
  1. Age: 27 years
  2. unmarried
  3. born, raised, residing in Bronx, NY
  4. BA in Classical Languages
  5. grouchy when hungry
  6. prolix when angry
  7. misophonia
  8. baritone
  9. right-handed
  10. geek/nerd