An Ancient Roman Bathroom Book

A collection of stories, legends, and snappy comebacks preserved for us by one of the most entertaining companions among ancient writers. It’s a long and rambling conversation with an ancient Roman whose mind is full of trivia, and who knows how to make those trivia as interesting to us as they are to him.

I am told there is a Law at Thebes, which commands Artificers, both Painters and Potters, to make the Figures as good as may be. This Law menaceth to those who mould or paint them not well a pecuniary mulct.

Socrates being very old fell sick; and one asking him how he did, “Well, saith he, both waies: for if I live longer, I shall have more Emulators; if I die, more Praisers.”

I have heard of a woman that could sound a Trumpet, which art was her way of living, by name Aglais, daughter of Megacles; she wore a Periwig and a plume on her head, as Posidippus relates. At one meal she did devour twelve pounds of flesh, and four Chœnixes of bread, and drank a Congius of wine.

Which of these two was the better General, Demetrius Poliorcetes, or Timotheus the Athenian? I will tell you the nature of both, and then you may judge which deserves to be preferred. Demetrius by force and avarice, and oppressing many, and committing injustice, took Cities, battering their Walls with Engines, and undermining them: but Timotheus by discourse, persuading them it was most to their advantage to obey the Athenians.

The Various History of Aelian, at Amazon.com.

You’ll Want to Quote The Miscellaneous Chesterton

Chesterton was always Chesterton. No matter where he was writing or what the subject, his mind ranged over the whole universe of thought. These occasional pieces are as filled with his eccentric but provoking wisdom as any of his more famous writings, and they have this great advantage: you probably haven’t read them yet.

A great drama of the past does not consist of one sincerity. A great drama consists often of twenty sincerities, all colliding with each other.

A teacher who is not dogmatic is simply a teacher who is not teaching.

While order would make the Cabinet Minister appear as automatic as the cow, literature would, on the other hand, make the cow appear as disturbing and incredible as the Cabinet Minister.

I am concerned here only with urging that aristocracy is in its essence anarchic. It is a mere trend towards that vague victory of the fortunate over the unfortunate which would occur more completely if there were no government at all.

Aristocracies in a state mean simply the strength of Nature and the weakness of the state; just as weeds in a garden mean the strength of Nature and the weakness of the gardener.

Political equality grows greater by being remembered, like the words of the American Declaration. But political inequality grows greater by being forgotten, like the power of the American Trusts.

Capitalism is not at present even a practical success, far less a moral or artistic one.

Art exists solely in order to create a miniature universe, a working model of the universe, a toy universe which we can play with as a child plays with a toy theatre.

When chaos overcomes any moral or religious scheme, it is not merely the vices that are let loose. The vices are let loose and wander and do terrible damage. But the virtues are let loose even more; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage.

A seven-headed dragon is, perhaps, a very terrifying monster. But a child who has never heard about him is a much more terrifying monster than he is. The maddest griffin or chimera is not so wild a supposition as a school without fairy-tales.

Our historians lie much more than our journalists; our fashionable conceptions of the past change with every fashion; and like most fashions, are fantastic and hideous.

The first use of good literature is that it prevents a man from being merely modern.

The only object of education is to make us ignore mere schemes of education. Without education we are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.

In dealing with the arrogant asserter of doubt, it is not the right method to tell him to stop doubting. It is rather the right method to tell him to go on doubting, to doubt a little more, to doubt every day newer and wilder things in the universe, until at last, by some strange enlightenment, he may begin to doubt himself.

The Miscellaneous Chesterton, at Amazon.com.

Euripides and His Age: a Book About Everything

A book about Euripides? Yes, but it’s much more than that. Far from a dry academic study, this is one of the most riveting books you’ll ever read. With remarkable insight, Gilbert Murray traces the history of all our most important human ideas—democracy, patriotism, war, hate, forgiveness—and shows how Euripides filters them all through his towering genius. This is a book you’ll read again and again, a book you’ll quote to friends, a book you’ll keep with you for the rest of your life.

When this book was first published more than a century ago, the author wrote that “quite apart from his disputed greatness as a poet and thinker, apart from his amazing and perhaps unparalleled success as a practical playwright, Euripides is a figure of high significance in the history of humanity and of special interest to our own generation.”

That’s still true today. Yes, it’s a book about Euripides. But it’s also a book about everything it means to be human. Even if you have never read Euripides, or never liked him when you did read him, you will still probably enjoy this book. You may end up loving this book. Gilbert Murray had one of those great minds that can effortlessly find the universal in the particular, and here are just a few of the remarkable thoughts you’ll find here:


Every man who possesses real vitality can be seen as the resultant of two forces. He is first the child of a particular age, society, convention; of what we may call in one word a tradition. He is secondly, in one degree or another, a rebel against that tradition. And the best traditions make the best rebels. (Chapter 1.)

In every contest that goes on between Intelligence and Stupidity, between Enlightenment and Obscurantism, the powers of the dark have this immense advantage: they never understand their opponents, and conse­quently represent them as always wrong, always wicked, whereas the intelligent party generally makes an effort to understand the stupid and to sympathize with anything that is good or fine in their attitude. (Chapter 2.)

We must distinguish carefully between the two notions, Enlightenment and Democracy. They happen to have gone together in two or three of the greatest periods of human progress and we are apt to regard them as somehow necessarily allied. But they are not. (Chapter 5.)

Irony is the mood of one who has some strong emotion within but will not quite trust himself on the flood of it. And romance is largely the mood of one turning away from realities that disgust him. (Chapter 5.)

After all they were a democracy; and, as Thucydides fully recognizes, a great mass of men, if it does commit infamies, likes first to be drugged and stimulated with lies: it seldom, like the wicked man in Aristotle’s Ethics, “calmly sins.” (Chapter 5.)

Euripides and His Age at Amazon.com.

The Man in Lower Ten by Mary Roberts Rinehart

A ruthless criminal who will stop at nothing to squash the evidence against him. A beautiful woman with a mysterious secret. A doomed express train. A murdered man in a sleeping compartment. An amateur detective up on all the latest inductive methods. And a hero who looks for all the world like a murderer.

You can rely on these ingredients to produce first-rate entertainment, and you can rely on Mary Roberts Rinehart, the queen of American mystery writers, to make the best use of her ingredients.

The Man in Lower Ten at Amazon.com.

A Great Saint, a Great Translation

The Douay Bible was Bishop Challoner’s most famous work: he revised the stilted language of the 1600s original to produce the beautiful and mem­orable English version beloved by gene­ra­tions of Catholics.

Challoner applied the same genius for straight­forward dignity to his transla­tion of the most famous work of Christian litera­ture outside the Bible. In Challoner’s mem­orable prose, St. Augustine of Hippo comes alive on the page, speaking to us across the centuries.

For those who already know Augustine’s Confes­sions, here is a trans­la­tion that brings new life to a familiar text. For those who are en­coun­tering Augustine for the first time, this version is the ideal intro­duction to the most thoroughly self-examined per­sonality of ancient times.

Richard Challoner was an English Catholic bishop respected by Catholics and Protestants alike for his ability to seize on what was common to both faiths. His faithful and vigorous translation of St. Augustine’s Confessions was first published in 1739.

St. Augustine’s Confessions: The Challoner Translation, at Amazon.com.

Anti-Pamela by Eliza Haywood

Young gentleman, have you found a perfectly innocent young lady who seems like your ideal choice for a wife? Let Mrs. Haywood show you what really goes on in the little vixen’s head.

Samuel Richardson’s Pamela gave us a scrupulously virtuous heroine who would make any sacrifice to preserve her innocence. Mrs. Haywood gives us the exact opposite of Pamela.

Or is Pamela really so different from Anti-Pamela? What lies behind that façade of virtue? Enter the sordid world of the Anti-Pamela, and learn “the Mischiefs that frequently arise from a too sudden Admiration.”

This new edition is taken faithfully from the original edition of 1741, with a new introduction by H. Albertus Boli.

Oroonoko, by the Ingenious Mrs. Aphra Behn

“This is a true Story, of a Man Gallant enough to merit your Protection; and, had be always been so Fortunate, he had not made so Inglorious an end: The Royal Slave I had the Honour to know in my Travels to the other World; and though I had none above me in that Country, yet I wanted power to preserve this Great Man. If there be any thing that seems Romantick, I beseech your Lordship to consider, these Countries do, in all things, so far differ from ours, that they produce unconceivable Wonders; at least, they appear so to us, because New and Strange. What I have mention’d I have taken care shou’d be Truth, let the Critical Reader judge as he pleases. ’Twill be no Commendation to the Book, to assure your Lordship I writ it in a few Hours, though it may serve to Excuse some of its Faults of Connexion; for I never rested my Pen a Moment for Thought.”

From the Epistle Dedicatory

Famous wit, notorious libertine, mystery woman, spy, the ingenious Mrs. Aphra Behn may also have been the first woman in history to make her living as a professional writer. Of all her works, this romantic tragedy of the enslaved African prince is the one best known today—a tale as mysterious as the woman who wrote it. Is it a novel? Is it a true story? Or is it, as H. Albertus Boli argues in his new introduction, a mixture of both?

Oroonoko; Or, the Royal Slave, at Amazon.com.