Equal and Unequal

“Man, it seems, is not equal to setting up a just social order on his own. He is hardly able even to perceive the two principles upon which he has to build, namely that men are equal and unequal, and consequently that he must be true to both principles. As a rule he prefers the easier way and takes only one as his starting point: either equality, or inequality. The result of this one-sidedness is always a catastrophe. But even if the necessity and the validity of both principles are recognised theoretically (and this is still far from being the case) the immeasurable difficulty only begins in applying the principles in practice. And I am of the opinion that at this point man cannot, of his own strength, reach a satisfactory conclusion. He needs illumination, the immediate help of God in prayer and in leadership.” (Theodor Haecker, 1950, Journal in the Night)

The Great Faults of Conversation

“– What are the great faults of conversation? Want of ideas, want of words, want of manners, are the principal ones, I suppose you think. I don’t doubt it, but I will tell you what I have found spoil more good talks than anything else; — long arguments on special points between people who differ on the fundamental principles upon which these points depend. No men can have satisfactory relations with each other until they have agreed on certain ultimata of belief not to be disturbed in ordinary conversation, and unless they have sense enough to trace the secondary questions depending upon these ultimate beliefs to their source. In short, just as a written constitution is essential to the best social order, so a code of finalities is a necessary condition of profitable talk between two persons. Talking is like playing on the harp; there is as much in laying the hand on the strings to stop their vibrations as in twanging them to bring out their music.” (Oliver Wendell Holmes, The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table)

What a Satire

“– What a satire, by the way, is that machine [Babbage’s] on the mere mathematician! A Frankenstein-monster, a thing without brains and without heart, too stupid to make a blunder; that turns out results like a corn-sheller, and never grows any wiser or better, though it grind a thousand bushels of them!” (Oliver Wendell Holmes, The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table)

“In the light of this description the analogy so passively received nowadays, of the mind as computer, is manifestly fallacious. A computer does not think, it feels nothing, and what it is said to ‘know’ — bits of information all cast in the digital mode — has no fringe. Nor has it a memory, only storage room. On any point called for, the answer is all or none. Vagueness, intelligent confusion, original punning on words or ideas never occur, the internal hookups being unchangeable; they were determined once for all by the true minds that made the machine and the program. When plugged in, the least elaborate computer can be relied on to work to the fullest extent of its capacity; the greatest mind cannot be relied on for the simplest thing; its variability is its superiority. Homer nods, Shakespeare writes twaddle, Newton makes mistakes, you and I have been known to talk nonsense. But they and we can (as the phrase goes) surpass ourselves, invent, discover, create. The late John von Neumann, mathematician, logician, and inventor of game theory, would not allow one to liken the mind to a computer. He knew how his mind worked and he understood his computer. So goodbye to all the bright remarks, in fiction and conversation, about programming oneself to pass an interview.” (Jacques Barzun, A Stroll with William James)

All Truly Creative Minds

“The ground for your complaint seems to me to lie in the constraint imposed by your reason upon your imagination. I will make my idea more concrete by a simile. It seems a bad thing and detrimental to the creative work of the mind if Reason makes too close an examination of the ideas as they come pouring in — at the very gateway, as it were. Looked at in isolation, a thought may seem very trivial or very fantastic; but it may be made important by another thought that comes after it, and, in conjunction with other thoughts that may seem equally absurd, it may turn out to form a most effective link. Reason cannot form any opinion upon all this unless it retains the thought long enough to look at it in connection with the others. On the other hand, where there is a creative mind, Reason — so it seems to me — relaxes its watch upon the gates, and the ideas rush in pell-mell, and only then does it look them through and examine them in a mass… You critics, or whatever else you may call yourselves, are ashamed or frightened of the momentary and transient extravagances which are to be found in all truly creative minds and whose longer or shorter duration distinguishes the thinking artist from the dreamer. You complain of your unfruitfulness because you reject too soon and discriminate too severely.” (Freud, 1900, The Interpretation of Dreams)

Collections of Horace Translations

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  • 195 English Translations of Horace’s Carpe Diem (PDF)
  • 220 English Translations of Horace’s Integer Vitae (PDF)
  • 156 English Translations of Horace’s Aequam Memento (PDF)
  • 209 English Translations of Horace’s Otium Divos (PDF)
  • 239 English Translations of Horace’s Donec Gratus Eram (PDF)
  • 181 English Translations of Horace’s Diffugere Nives (PDF)

Lift Up Your Hearts

“It is not without good reason, it seems to me, that the Church forbids the promiscuous, reckless, and indiscreet use of the holy and divine songs which the Holy Spirit dictated to David. We must not mix God into our actions except with reverence and with devout and respectful attention. His word is too divine to have no other use than to exercise our lungs and please our ears; it should be uttered from the conscience and not from the tongue. It is not right that a shop apprentice, amid his vain and frivolous thoughts, should entertain himself and play with it. Nor assuredly is it right to see the holy book of the sacred mysteries of our belief bandied about a hall or a kitchen. Formerly they were mysteries; at present they are sports and pastimes. It is not in passing and in whirlwind fashion that we should handle so serious and venerable a study. It must be a premeditated and sober action, to which we should always add this preface of our service, sursum corda, and always bring even the body disposed in a demeanor that attests a particular attention and reverence. It is not everyone’s study; it is the study of the persons who are dedicated to it, whom God calls to it. The wicked, the ignorant, grow worse by it. It is not a story to tell, it is a story to revere, fear, and adore. Comical folk, those who think they have made it fit for the people to handle because they have put it into the language of the people! Is it just a matter of the words, that they do not understand all they find in writing? Shall I say more? By bringing it this little bit closer to the people, they remove it farther. Pure ignorance that relied entirely on others was much more salutary, and more learned, than this vain and verbal knowledge, the nurse of presumption and temerity. I also believe that this freedom for everyone to disperse a word so sacred and important into so many kinds of idioms has in it much more danger than utility. The Jews, the Mohammedans, and almost all others have espoused, and revere, the language in which their mysteries were originally conceived; and any alteration or change in them is forbidden, not without reason. Are we quite sure that in the Basque country or Brittany there are enough competent judges to warrant this translation made into their language? The universal Church has no judgment more arduous and solemn to make. In preaching and speaking, the interpretation is vague, free, mutable, and piecemeal; so it is not the same thing. One of our Greek historians justly accuses his age because the secrets of the Christian religion were scattered about the market place in the hands of the merest artisans, so that anyone might argue and talk about them according to his lights; and he thinks that it was shameful of us, who, by the grace of God, enjoy the pure mysteries of piety, to let them be profaned in the mouths of ignorant and common people, seeing that the Gentiles forbade Socrates, Plato, and the wisest men to speak of and inquire into the things committed to the priests of Delphi. He says also that the factions of princes in theological disputes are armed not with zeal but with anger; that zeal takes after divine reason and justice when it guides itself with order and moderation, but changes into envious hatred and produces tares instead of wheat and nettles instead of grapes when it is guided by human passion.” (Montaigne, tr. Donald Frame)

To Give Them Courage

“L’avaricieux le prie pour la conservation vaine et superflue de ses thresors; l’ambitieux, pour ses victoires et conduite de sa passion; le voleur l’employe à son ayde pour franchir le hazart et les difficultez qui s’opposent à l’execution de ses meschantes entreprinses, ou le remercie de l’aisance qu’il a trouvé à desgosiller un passant. Au pied de la maison qu’ils vont escheller ou petarder, ils font leurs prieres, l’intention et l’esperance pleine de cruauté, de luxure, d’avarice.” (Montaigne, Des Prières)

“The covetous man sueth and praieth unto him for the vaine increase and superfluous preservation of his wrong-gotten treasure. The ambitious he importuneth God for the conduct of his fortune, and that he may have the victorie of all his desseignes. The theefe, the pirate, the murtherer, yea and the traitor, all call upon him, all implore his aid, and all solicite him, to give them courage in their attempts, constancie in their resolutions to remove all lets and difficulties, that in any sort may withstand their wicked executions and impious actions, or give him thanks if they have had good successe; the one if he have met with a good bootie, the other if he returne home rich, the third if no man has seene him kill his enemie, and the last though he have caused an execrable mischiefe. The souldier, if he but goe to besiege a cottage, to scale a castle, to rob a church, to pettard a gate, to force a religious house, or any villanous act, before he attempt it praieth to God for his assistance, though his intents and hopes be full-fraught with crueltie, murther, covetise, luxurie, sacrilege, and all iniquitie.” (John Florio Translation)

“The miser prays to him for the vain and superfluous conservation of his treasures; the ambitious man, for his victories and the guidance of this passion; the thief uses his help to pass through the risks and difficulties that oppose the execution of his wicked enterprises, or thanks him for having found it easy to cut a passer-by’s throat. Standing beside the house they are going to scale or blow up, they say their prayers, with their intentions and hopes full of cruelty, lust, and avarice.” (Donald Frame Translation)

Heavens Wide-Bounding Vault

“Florio’s greatest gift was the ability to make his book come to life for the Elizabethan imagination. Approximately the same forces surged through France and England in the Renaissance, but if Montaigne was to be fused into an integral part of the English mind and not left as a foreign classic, not only his spirit but the form of his expression had to be naturalized. And throughout his translation, sometimes consciously, more often instinctively, Florio creates a Montaigne who is an actual Elizabethan figure.

“His speech assumes the high-flung pitch of his new surroundings. Florio was no poet, but he shared some of the qualities which make it so often appear that the Englishman of the late-sixteenth century wrote with greater ease in poetry than in prose. He speaks of the ‘heavens wide-bounding vault,’ ‘swift-gliding Time,’ the sun’s ‘all-seeing eye,’ and ‘manyheaded confusion,’ with absolutely no hint from Montaigne. ‘Sa pyramide’ is ‘his high-towring Pyramis, or Heaven-menacing Tower,’ ‘de l’ombre et du doubte,’ ‘from out the shadow of oblivion or dungeon of doubt.’ Similar phrases characterize the great flow of Elizabethan verse; and Florio’s, to be sure, have no originality, but are repetitions of the accepted convention. In accordance, too, with the demands of this convention he introduces classic allusions. ‘Le soleil’ becomes ‘Phoebus’ bearing his ‘mourning weedes.’ ‘No human judgment is so vigilant or Argos-eied’ is his rendering of ‘Il n’est jugement humain si tendu.’ Usually these poeticisms add little, but once at least we feel the alchemy of imagination, when ‘la verdeur des ans’ becomes ‘the Aprili of my yeares.’

“The translator is constantly trying to discover a way to substitute the concrete for the abstract, to give color to an idea by an image. When Montaigne states an aphorism, ‘Mais aucun bien sans peine,’ Florio pours new life into it: ‘But no good without paines; no Roses without prickles.’ In addition to the general statement is an illustration; there is not only an appeal to the mind, but an appeal to the eye. ‘Men of their coate’ for ‘hommes de leur sorte’ achieves power of suggestion through being definite. In countless other cases the introduction of a graphic detail brings a new vividness and intimacy to the plain statement of the idea. Examples are everywhere: ‘to play the wilie Foxe’ for ‘de faire le fin,’ ‘in the twinkling of an eye’ for ‘en un moment,’ and the especially felicitious ‘to goe about to catch the winde in a net’ for ‘de negocier au vent.’ On the occasions where Montaigne himself had used an image, Florio develops it more fully with uncalled-for but charming detail. To the French proverb ‘Ce sont les pieds du paon, qui abbatent son orgueil,’ Florio adds, ‘It is the foulenesse of the Peacockes feete, which doth abate his pride, and stoope his gloating-eyed tayle.’ And when he translates ‘cercher le vent de la faveur des Roys’ into ‘to seeke after court holy-water and wavering-favours of Princes,’ he uses a phrase that may have caught Shakespeare’s eye, and have been appropriated for the Fool’s speech in Lear: ‘O Nunkle, court holy-water in a dry house, is better than this rain-water, out o’ doore.'” (F. O. Matthiessen, 1965, Translation, An Elizabethan Drama)

This Distracted World We Live In

“Four hundred years have passed since Montaigne was born. It is hard to realise that this adorer of the Ancients is already becoming so ancient himself. He remains so modern — the first modern man, more advanced in many ways than this distracted world we live in, which only too closely resembles his in its fanaticism and brutality, and has so much still to learn from him. Today he seems nearer to us in mind than Shakespeare, who was younger and is as immortal; than Rousseau, who imitated his ideas and his self-revelations two centuries later; than our own grandparents. Generations have peered over Montaigne’s shoulder into the little mirror where he studied himself, to find their own features looking back at them; generations to come, for whom the most flashing novelties of 1933 have grown dull and rusty, will bend over that mirror still. That a gaily self-indulgent old gentleman in Périgord once loved scratching his ears is and will be remembered where lives, by the thousand, of desperate industry and devoted idealism leave not a ripple on the inky waters of oblivion. Such is justice. He would have been the first to smile at the irony of it. And yet it is not unreasonable. Montaigne has done more to civilise Europe by quietly recording what he was, than they by all they do. That quiet voice has filled our whole world with echoes. They meet us, disguised, in Hamlet and Measure for Measure and The Tempest. Webster wove its sentences into his bitter verse. Ben Jonson remarked in verse as bitter how good Montaigne was to steal from. Bacon followed in his tracks (Montaigne had been familiar with Anthony Bacon at Bordeaux); then Burton, and Addison, and Sterne. His influence has crossed the Atlantic as easily as the Channel, to mould Emerson and Thoreau. And in his own country, unlike Ronsard, he has never lost his place: admired as ‘l’incomparable auteur de l’art de conferer’ and detested as a pagan by Pascal; a still living friend for Madame de Lafayette and Madame du Deffand; a master for La Bruyère and La Rochefoucauld, for Montesquieu and Rousseau; the sceptic ancestor of Sainte-Beuve and Renan and Anatole France.” (F. L. Lucas, 1934, The Master Essayist)

Doubt Thou the Stars are Fire

“He [Alexander Gerschenkron] spent a pleasant summer with my grandmother examining one hundred translations of Hamlet’s quatrain to Ophelia, ‘Doubt thou the stars are fire,’ in languages from Catalan to Icelandic to Serbo-Croatian to Bulgarian — all as preparation for an essay in which they argued that translation invariably distorts meaning.” (Nicholas Dawidoff, The Fly Swatter)

Erica Gerschenkron and Alexander Gerschenkron (1966), The Illogical Hamlet: A Note on Translatability. Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Vol. 8, No. 3, pp. 301–336. From the Essay: “A scholar must assume that the phenomena which he studies are amenable to rational explanations. A translator must assume that the foreign text is translatable. Those assumptions — or mental predispositions — are necessary. Without them there can be neither scholarly research nor translation. But the optimism, alas, is not always justified. Mounin’s impressive translatability thesis notwithstanding. Hamlet’s quatrain in his letter to Ophelia is a curious and instructive instance. The purpose of this Note is to review one hundred attempts — in sixteen languages — to translate those four lines. We shall try to show why in most, though not all, languages the translators had to struggle with a fundamental and actually insurmountable difficulty.”

Collections of English Translations of the Odes of Horace.