Thursday, February 21, 2008

Recalled to Life

Something very serious and considerably more important will occupy me in the next few weeks. So, if any stumble by here, welcome, but expect nothing but silence for a while.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Aspiration and Pretense

I have begun adding some links to the left, and it seems to me one of the positive wonders of the internet that such things are easily available here whch are sometimes unavailable in print, or prohibitively expensive.

That I link to something not in English doesn't necessarily mean that I can read it, or, in some cases, do much more than painfully decipher it, word by word. So at least some of the links should be understood as where I'd like to be able to go, rather than where I am able to go presently.

And I hope they make it easiler to pick up what may be under consideration, say, for example, the following passage from yesterday's reading for the second Sunday of Lent:

וַאֲבָרְכָה מְבָרְכֶיךָ, וּמְקַלֶּלְךָ, אָאֹר

וְנִבְרְכוּ בְךָ כֹּל מִשְׁפְּחֹת הָאֲדָמָה

"And I will bless those blesssing you, and those cursing you, curse, and will be blessed in you all families in the earth ("ha-adamah")."

As I have not yet figured out how to type in a foreign alphbet it may be helpful to be able to lift things from text already any in it.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


I have lately been reading, simultaneously, Theodore Mommsen's History of Rome and the third and last volume of John Julian Norwich's history of Byzantium. In Mommsen I have reached his last section, the imposition of the military monarchy, in Norwich the declining fortunes of the Greek empire during the first century of the crusades.

Mommsen describes what has become a sort of paradigmatic shift for us (embodied lately in "Star Wars," of all places), the collapse of the Republic into the (evil) Empire--except that Mommsen has no sympathy with the democratic tendencies of the "revolutions" of the second century B.C. under the Gracci, and his favorable treatment of the murderous Sulla portends a sympathy with the imposition of the military monarchy that is somewhat averse to our normal American scale of values. At least until the recent present.

Twelve hundred years later the Byzantine emperors are in the midst of another situation well-beloved of our phrase-turners, the Barbarians at the Gate--barbarians including not only the Turks and Syrians, but the Franks, Germans, Venetians, and those perpetual and insatiable warmongers, the Normans. Norwich's Byzantium vacilates between holding the balance as the great center of civilization and plunging into periods of almost unbelievable cruelty and xenophobia. A massacre of Franks under Andronicus doesn't excuse the Fourth Crusade (still far off, as Crusader Jerusalem still stands), but it portends the growing hatred that will be exploited by expansionist powers in the West for short-term plunder and the long-term collapse of Christendom in Asia.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Tribute to a Dog

Amy June, 2000-2008
Mutt, mostly terrier, small dog with Napoleon complex
Killed after digging out under fence and being hit by a car
Survivors include one very broken-hearted teenage girl

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Kaum ein Hauch

So yesterday I read in the on-line version of the New York Review of Books that there are about 100 million blogs. A hundred million and one, now.

This is from a volume of collected poems by Goethe, published by Suhrkapf a few years back.

I have not yet figured out how to do umlauts and the like. So here I just follow the umlauted letter with an "e."

Ueber alle Gipfeln
Ist Ruh,
In alle Wipfeln
Spuerest du
Kaum ein Hauch;
Die Voegelein schweigen im Walde.
Warte nur, balde
Ruhest du auch.

A little piece like this is untranslatable, of course. Interestingly, in this volume, there is not only the translation of the editor, Robt. Middleton, but an additional one by Longfellow.

So I couldn't resist trying my own hand at it:

Over the hilltops
It is still,
Throughout the copse
You can feel
Hardly a breeze.
The birds have ceased their tune.
Be patient. Soon
You too will be at ease.

Monday, February 11, 2008


When, some years ago, I was considering what looked like a retreat into simplicity, I remember thinking much of Yeats' "Lake Isle of Innisfree." The following from Fray Luis de Leon has been occupying my thoughts in a similar way more recently:

Dichose el humilde estado
del sabio que se retira
de aqueste mundo malvado,
y con pobre mesa y casa,
en el campo deleitoso
con solo Dios se compasa,
y a solas su vida pasa,
ni envidiado ni envidioso.

This is from an anthology recently published called "The Golden Age: Poems of the Spanish Renaissance," with parallel English translation by Edith Grossman.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


There is a scene in "The Jerk" in which Steve Martin's character goes into ecstacies when he first finds his name in a phone book: "I'm somebody!" It's a somewhat similar thing with a blog, I think--awfully easy to be fooling around on the net one day, come across an invitation to create one of these things, and then it's done and there you are up in front of the whole world (even if nobody else is there). This, too, may be vanity.

But, what the heck, give it a try. The title is of course Erasmus' "The Praise of Folly," with a pun on the name of his friend Thomas More, and the two exemplify for me a sort of Christian humanism that I take as a personal ideal.

So, should I persevere, I hope to reflect here on some things that interest me--philosophy, religion, literature, history, law and politics. I like to fool around in the other languages I've tried to pick up, but I'm a beginner in all. And I've no intention of getting too very personal, certainly revealing no secrets and making no confessions.

Saturday, February 9, 2008


Vanite de vanites, dit Qohelet;
vanite de vanites, tout est vanite.
Quel profit trouve l'homme a toute la peine
qu'il prend sous le soleil?
Un age va, un age vient,
mais la terre tient toujours.