Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Casualties of the Propaganda War

Umberto Eco, tr. Geoffrey Brock, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana (Harcourt, 2004), pp. 233-4.
Since it would clearly have been difficult simply to dispatch a platoon of SS or Blackshirts to occupy New York, we had, for several years already, been waging war in comic books, from which the speech balloons had disappeared, replaced by captions beneath each picture.  Then--as I must have seen happen in various comics--the American characters simply began to vanish, replaced by Italian imitations, and in the end--and this, I think, was the last, most painful barrier to fall--the famous mouse was killed.  The same adventures continued as if nothing had happened, but from one week to the next, without any notice, the protagonist ceased to be Toplino [Mickey Mouse] and became a certain Toffolino, who was a human, not a mouse, although he still  had four fingers, like all Disney's anthropomorphic animals, and his friends, though also humanized, continued to go by their original names.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Herodotean Humor

Herodotus 3.46 (tr. Aubrey de Sélincourt)
When those who had been forced to leave the island reached Sparta, they procured an audience with the magistrates and made a long speech to emphasize the urgency of their request.  The Spartans, however, at this first sitting, answered the speech by saying that they had forgotten the beginning of it, and could not understand the end; so the Samians had to try again.  At the second sitting they brought a bag, and merely remarked that bag needed flour -- to which the Spartans replied that the word 'bag' was superfluous.' 
The Penguin edition explains in a note:

'H. seems here to be having a little fun with the laconic Spartans, who were notorious for their parsimony with words.'

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Ciceronian Humor, Part II

More excerpts from Plutarch's life of Cicero, in Fall of the Roman Republic: Six Lives by Plutarch, tr. Rex Warner (Penguin, 1958)  :
Then at the time when Caesar had a decree passed for distributing the land in Campania among his soldiers, many of the senators were strongly opposed to it and Lucius Gellius, who was about the oldest of them, declared that so long as he lived it should never be done.  'Let us wait, then,' said Cicero, 'since Gellius does not ask us to postpone things for long.'


Then there was a young man who was suspected of having given a poisoned cake to his father.  This young man put on a very bold air and said that he proposed to give Cicero a bit of his mind.  'I would much prefer it,' said Cicero, 'to a bit of your cake.'


Then there was Marcus Appius who opened his speech in a lawsuit by saying that his friend had begged him to show care, eloquence, and integrity.  'And how can you be so hard-hearted,' said Cicero, 'as not to exhibit a single one of those qualities which your friend demanded of you?'


Once too he met Voconius in the company of his three daughters who were extremely ugly and he quoted the verse:
                             'Apollo never meant him to beget.'

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Ciceronian Humor, Part I

Excerpts from Plutarch's life of Cicero, in Fall of the Roman Republic: Six Lives by Plutarch, tr. Rex Warner (Penguin, 1958)
This kind of thing was characteristic of his love for praise, as was the fact that his ability to put things cleverly would often lead him to forget good manners.  For instance, he once defended Munatius in court, and Munatius was no sooner acquitted than he prosecuted Sabinus, a friend of Cicero's.  It is said that Cicero was so infuriated at this that he exclaimed: 'Did you imagine, Munatius, that you were acquitted on your merits?  Let me tell you that it was I who produced the necessary darkness in the court to prevent your guilt from being visible to everyone.'

Then he once made a public speech from the rostra in praise of Marcus Crassus and got much applause for it.  A day or two later he made another speech attacking him violently, and Crassus said: 'Were you not standing there yourself and praising me only a few days ago?'  To which Cicero replied: 'Yes, I was.  It is good practice in oratory to make a speech on a bad subject.'  On another occasion Crassus first said that no Crassus had ever lived in Rome to be older than the age of sixty, and then attempted to deny it.  'What can I have been thinking of,' he exclaimed, 'to have said that?'  'You knew,' said Cicero, 'that the Romans would be pleased to hear it and you were trying to make yourself popular.'  And when Crassus expressed approval of the Stoic doctrine 'The good man is always rich', Cicero said: 'Are you sure that you don't mean their doctrine "All things belong to the wise"?' -- Crassus having the reputation of being much too fond of money...

So much for the way in which he behaved towards Crassus.  Vatinius himself had swellings on his neck and once, when he was speaking in the courts, Cicero referred to him as a 'tumid' orator.  On another occasion Cicero was informed that Vatinius was dead and then shortly afterward learned for certain that he was alive.  'Bad luck to the man,' said Cicero, 'who told the lie.'

Friday, July 8, 2011

Damned if I'll die for any one!

Another entry in the catalog of classicists wounded in war.  Graves shares with Knox and Blair an indignation at a life prematurely terminated.  Though it seems a bit heavy-handed, I enjoy the mythological retelling of his reprieve from oblivion.

(August 6, 1916.--Officer previously reported died of wounds, now reported wounded: Graves, Captain R., Royal Welch Fusiliers. )
...but I was dead, an hour or more.
I woke when I'd already passed the door
That Cerberus guards, and half-way down the road
To Lethe, as an old Greek signpost showed.
Above me, on my stretcher swinging by,
I saw new stars in the subterrene sky:
A Cross, a Rose in bloom, a Cage with bars,
And a barbed arrow feathered in fine stars.
I felt the vapours of forgetfulness
Float in my nostrils.  Oh, may Heaven bless
Dear Lady Proserpine, who saw me wake,
And, stooping over me, for Henna's sake
Cleared my poor buzzing head and sent me back
Breathless, with leaping heart along the track.
After me roared and clattered angry hosts
Of demons, heroes, and policeman-ghosts.
"Life! life!  I can't be dead!  I won't be dead!
Damned if I'll die for any one!" I said....
Cerberus stands and grins above me now,
Wearing three heads--lion, and lynx, and sow.
"Quick, a revolver!  But my Webley's gone,
Stolen!...No bombs ... no knife....  The crowd swarms on,
Bellows, hurls stones....  Not even a honeyed sop...
Nothing....  Good Cerberus!... Good dog!... but stop!
Stay!...  A great luminous thought ... I do believe
There's still some morphia that I bought on leave."
Then swiftly Cerberus' wide mouths I cram
With army biscuit smeared with ration jam;
And sleep lurks in the luscious plum and apple.
He crunches, swallows, stiffens, seems to grapple
With the all-powerful poppy ... then a snore,
A crash; the beast blocks up the corridor
With monstrous hairy carcase, red and dun--
Too late! for I've sped through.
O Life!  O Sun!

Related Post: Indignata.  Quia iuvenis erat.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Sympathy For The Devil, Part II

Sophocles, Ajax 121-6 (tr. Richard C. Jebb):
Odysseus: I pity him in his misery for all that he is
my foe, because he is bound fast to a dread doom.  I
think of my own lot no less than his.  For I see that
we are but phantoms, all we who live, or fleeting shadows.

                                ...ἐποικτίρω δέ νιν
δύστηνον ἔμπας, καίπερ ὄντα δυσμενῆ,
ὁθούνεκ᾽ ἄτῃ συγκατέζευκται κακῇ,
οὐδὲν τὸ τούτου μᾶλλον ἢ τοὐμὸν σκοπῶν:
ὁρῶ γὰρ ἡμᾶς οὐδὲν ὄντας ἄλλο πλὴν
εἴδωλ᾽ ὅσοιπερ ζῶμεν ἢ κούφην σκιάν.

Related posts: Sympathy for the Devil, The Sweetest Laugh

De Amicitia

Misfortune and time reveal the worth of a friend.  Shakespeare counters.

Sophocles, Oedipus Tyrannus 611-15 (tr. Richard C. Jebb): 
Creon: I count it a like thing for a man to cast off a true friend as to cast away the life in his own bosom, which he most loves.  You will learn these things with sureness in time, for time alone shows a just man; but you could discern a knave even in one day.

φίλον γὰρ ἐσθλὸν ἐκβαλεῖν ἴσον λέγω
καὶ τὸν παρ᾽ αὑτῷ βίοτον, ὃν πλεῖστον, φιλεῖ.
ἀλλ᾽ ἐν χρόνῳ γνώσει τάδ᾽ ἀσφαλῶς, ἐπεὶ
χρόνος δίκαιον ἄνδρα δείκνυσιν μόνος:
κακὸν δὲ κἂν ἐν ἡμέρᾳ γνοίης μιᾷ.
Euripides, Hecuba 1226-7 (tr. James Morwood)
Hecuba: For while prosperity never lacks fair-
weather friends, in bad times it is the good men
who show true friendship.

ἐν τοῖς κακοῖς γὰρ ἁγαθοὶ σαφέστατοι
φίλοι: τὰ χρηστὰ δ᾽ αὔθ᾽ ἕκαστ᾽ ἔχει φίλους.
Shakespeare, Troilus and Cressida 3.2.145-53
Ulysses: Time hath, my lord, a wallet at his back,
Wherein he puts alms for oblivion,
A great-siz'd monster of ingratitudes:
Those scraps are good deeds past; which are devour'd
As fast as they are made, forgot as soon
As done: perseverance, dear my lord,
Keeps honour bright: to have done, is to hang
Quite out of fashion, like a rusty nail
In monumental mockery.