January 13, 2011


"Where earlier critics had chided Milton for writing English as if it were Latin, Ricks credits Milton with verbal wit and imaginative precision in playing English and Latin senses against each other. A famous example is the new created river that moves "with serpent error wand'ring" (7.302). Here "serpent" and "error" have Latin senses (serpere, "to creep"; errare, "to wander") but both words are also ominously proleptic in a poem where the serpent Satan will indeed lead man into error."

—John Leonard, "Milton, John" in The Classical Tradition (Harvard, 2010)

December 8, 2010


"Jim Antle writes that Gary Johnson is “badly positioned to make a credible presidential run,” and Dan McCarthy adds that he is “setting himself up to play the libertarian stock villain in the GOP’s quadrennial opera buffa.” They’re both right, but I have to admit that this is part of what I find appealing about the prospect of a Johnson candidacy. He isn’t just badly positioned–he’s horribly positioned, but there’s a chance that he might run anyway and have a salutary effect on the primary contest. His candidacy would force debates on civil liberties, foreign policy, and the drug war, which are all subjects where most of the other likely candidates hold misguided and sometimes appalling views. The rest of the field will all be officially pro-life, but perfectly content with the idea of starting wars, detaining suspects indefinitely, and perhaps even torturing detainees when “necessary.” The contrast would be useful and instructive, and it might even lead some pro-life voters to insist that their leaders show more consistent respect for human life. All right, that last part is pretty unlikely, but it couldn’t hurt to try."

Daniel Larison

November 29, 2010

julian seeing contempt

"Observing, then, that there is great contempt for the gods
among us"—he says in his solemn way.
Contempt. But what did he expect?
Let him organise religion as much as he liked,
write to the High Priest of Galatia as much as he liked,
or to others of his kind, inciting them, goading them on.
His friends weren't Christians; that much was certain.
But even so they couldn't play
as he could (brought up a Christian)
with a new religious system,
ludicrous in theory and application.
They were, after all, Greeks. Nothing in excess, Augustus.

—Constantine Cavafy

October 24, 2010

here & there

"In a country so unfortunate as to have a religion that God has not revealed, it is necessary for it to be agreeable to morality; because even a false religion is the best security we can have of the probity of men." —Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws (ch. 14)

"For different natures must first have existed in all those things that among the nations were to be differentiated. This at any rate is seen if one observes how very different in their bodies are Germans and Scythians from Libyans and Egyptians. Can this also be due to a bare decree, and does not the climate or the country have joint influences with the gods…?" —Julian the Apostate, Against the Galileans (143E)

"Thus do the gods justify the life of man, in that they themselves live it!— the only satisfactory theodicy!" —Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy (ch. 3)

"Note the precise characterization of the German ancien régime as the one which 'only imagines that it still believes in itself' —one can even speculate about the meaning of the fact that, during the same period, Kierkegaard deployed his idea that we humans cannot ever be sure what we believe: ultimately, we only 'believe that we believe.' The formula of a régime which 'only imagines that it believes in itself' nicely captures the cancellation of the performative power ('symbolic efficiency') of the ruling ideology: it no longer effectively functions the fundamental structure of the social bond. And, we may ask, are we not today in the same situation?" —Slavoj Zizek, First as Tragedy, Then as Farce

October 21, 2010

in the blood–bedewed halls

I found myself reading Poe today (some sort of leap from something I read in Julian the Apostate), and read "The Masque of the Red Death" for the first time in a while. While I hate to find metaphor where the author may have intended none, there is something of an analogy for our times in it.

illus. Aubrey Beardsley, downloaded from Wikipedia