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.

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.

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.