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Monday: January 16, 2006

Reading I: Pliny on the Murder of Larcius Macedo

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:09 PM GMT-0500

Dear Acilius,

1 A terrible thing, worthy of more than just a letter, has been suffered at the hands of his slaves by Larcius Macedo, a man of praetorian rank, a haughty and savage master who remembered too little — or rather too well — that his own father had been a slave. 2 He was bathing in his villa at Formiae. Suddenly his slaves surround him. One attacks his throat, another strikes his face, another his chest and belly, and even (disgusting to say) batters his private parts; and when they thought he was dead, they threw him down on the heated stone pavement to test whether he was alive. Either because he was unconscious, or because he was pretending to be unconscious, he lay outstretched and motionless and convinced them that he was entirely dead. 3 Only then is he carried out, as if he had been overcome by the heat. His more faithful slaves take him up, and his concubines come running with howling and shouts. Roused by their cries and revived by the coolness of the place he shows by opening his eyes and moving his body (as it was now safe) that he is still alive. 4 The slaves scatter; most of them have been captured, the rest are being sought. He himself, kept alive with difficulty for a few days, passed away, not without the consolation of vengeance, avenged while he was alive as those who have been murdered are avenged. 5 You see how many dangers, how many outrages, how many insults we are exposed to; nor is it possible for anyone to be safe just because he is lenient and kind; for it is not by rational calculation that masters are murdered, but by viciousness.

6 But enough about that. What else is new? Nothing, otherwise I would append it, for the page is not yet full, and the holiday allows further composition. I will add something that just occurred to me about the same Macedo. Once, as he was bathing in the public baths at Rome, a remarkable and (as the outcome showed) ominous thing occurred. 7 A Roman knight, lightly touched by a slave of his so that he would step aside, turned around and struck with the palm of his hand not the slave by whom he had been touched, but Macedo himself, so hard that he almost fell down. 8 Thus by a kind of gradation the baths were for him a place first of dishonor, afterwards of death. Goodbye.

(from The Younger Pliny, Letters, 3.14. Latin text here.)

Ancient Text of the Week

Filed under: — site admin @ 11:04 PM GMT-0500

Coming up shortly, as promised, the Younger Pliny on the murder of Larcius Macedo. This is a private letter, but no doubt polished up, since Pliny published it himself in his own lifetime. I have tried to translate it fairly closely. For instance, like other Latin authors, Pliny makes much use of the historical present for vividness, and I have translated these as presents whenever possible.

Questions, comments, and objections will be most welcome. These may be on the substance of the letter or the obscurities and infelicities in my translation.


Filed under: — site admin @ 10:22 PM GMT-0500

If anyone out there has the CD of the Studio der Frühen Musik’s Carmina Burana, Vol. 2 (Teldec 8.44012), and could burn me a copy, please e-mail. This is a reconstruction of the Mediaeval music, conducted by Thomas Binkley, not the Carl Orff modernization, and the last two cuts, Tempus est iocundum and Ne gruonet aver diu heide, are particular favorites. I still have the records, but no record player, and a malicious student stole the CD (but not the cover or booklet) at my previous teaching job. Since it seems to be out of print and entirely unavailable new or used, it seems to me that burning a copy would be only technically illegal and morally unexceptionable. I’ve already paid for the damned thing once and would gladly do so again if there were copies for sale anywhere.

Catching Up On My Listening

Filed under: — site admin @ 9:18 PM GMT-0500

With the help of the U.N.C. library and a helpful student, I’ve been catching up on (a) music I haven’t listened to in years decades, and (b) music I’ve never gotten around to checking out. Brief verdicts so far:

Category A:

  • The Beatles: Since selling off the records many years ago I hadn’t missed much. The early, unpretentious stuff is not bad, but what was all the fuss about? Their best stuff seems roughly as good as Buck Owens, and he’s a lot more consistently good.
  • John Lennon: Ditto, only more so. Ho hum.
  • Yoko Ono: Not as bad as I had remembered, which isn’t saying much. To put it another way, I probably have worse things on my iTunes, though I can’t think what. On the other hand, when one of her tunes comes up in shuffle play, I don’t immediately recognize it as trash: it’s more a gradual dawning of comprehension that this (oh no!) must be Yoko.

Category B:

  • The Beach Boys: Pet Sounds. Everyone says this is such a great album, and I rather like the relatively few BB tunes that I couldn’t avoid hearing over the years, but this album? A total bore.
  • Ella Fitzgerald: Wow! Why hadn’t I gotten around to checking her out (in more ways than one) before? I’m just annoyed that U.N.C. only gave me disc 1 of Ella Fitzgerald sings the Cole Porter Songbook, so I have to go back and get disc 2 — assuming they even have it.
  • Frank Sinatra: I thought I hadn’t really heard anything by him except “New York, New York”, which is annoying and annoyingly ubiquitous, but one tune on Frank Sinatra Sings the Select Sammy Cahn was totally familiar: the theme for Married with Children. Somehow I hadn’t connected that performance with anyone famous or talented. Despite my aversion to anything that could conceivably be classified as ‘Easy Listening’, I’m finding all three Sinatra albums (the other two are Songs for Young Lovers and Swing Easy, combined on one CD) worth hearing and even rehearing. Am I turning into an old fart, or just showing my good taste?

Having now gone through Terry Teachout’s recommendations in his four-part article “The Great American Songbook” (Commentary, February-May 2002), I was disappointed to find that U.N.C. has no only four or five of the fifty albums named, and only one or two can be checked out. Oh well, I guess I need to get a full-time job and buy them myself.


Filed under: — site admin @ 12:10 AM GMT-0500

The Pliny’s running a bit late. Fortunately, tomorrow (I mean today) is a holiday, so I’ll have plenty of time to polish up my translation and post it.