Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Another Book

This one is one of -- I was about to say that it was part of the best book bargain I ever had, but I've gotten quite a few books for free. The public library in Anchorage discarded a lot of books and periodicals, set them out on tables for anyone who wanted to take them away. Mostly stuff pretty much nobody would want, but a lot of perfectly good stuff, too. Why did they discard all that good stuff? The most striking example of perfectly good stuff I found on the discard table was the first volume, Das Land ohne Tod, of Alfred Doeblin's three-novel trilogy Amazonas.A hardcover copy from the Walter Verlag collected works of Doeblin. So now I had one hardcover volume of Doeblin to go with a couple of paperbacks, and the library had a hardcover collected works of Doeblin with one volume missing in the middle. I went and checked, the collected works on their shelf now seemed to be complete except for the volume I now had. I felt like going to someone who worked at the library and say, Hey, seems like you made a mistake here, there's no way you actually wanted to throw this away, right? But I was angry that they did such a stupid thing, and I already dealt, more then I wanted to, with library employees who didn't know what I was talking about when attempted to borrow items via ILL.

Clearly, I am seriously out of touch with a lot of the world around me. It's evident in libraries and bookstores, and in the prices of various items at library book sales and, to a lesser degree, in used-book stores. I can rant about it, or I can continue to function somewhat like those birds who live off of the crud on rhinoceri, or the small fish who follow big sharks around and clean them off.

This book, the subject of today's essay, Die Geschichte Der Paepste. Die Roemischen Paepste in Den Letzten Vier Jahrhunderten,The History of the Popes. The Popes of Rome in the Last Four Centuries, by Leopold von Ranke, was part of the haul I made the first time I visited a thrift store near Amsterdam and 96th St in Manhattan, which I might never had noticed, had they not had a sign out front saying "Fill a bag of books for a buck." Why, yes, thank you! I believe perhaps I shall!

Turned out you could fill a bag with books for three bucks any time there. The one-buck special happened I believe once a week. This store had a large basement, about one-half of which was overflowing with books. They didn't seem to have a lot of people coming there to buy the books. Besides the Ranke I found two little harbound copies of plays by Gerhart Hauptmann; Ihr werdet Deutschland nicht wiedererkennenby Walter Hasenclever -- not the Expressionist writer Walter Hasenclever who emigrated from Germany to France in 1933 and took his own life in 1940 rather than fall into the hands of the Nazis, but his less-well-known son of the same name whom he had sent to the US; some things in French, some in Italian, some in Hungarian -- it was a haul. I don't remember exactly what all was in that first bagfull, I just remember that it was tremendous. I went back to that store on a few other days before I had, from my point of view, cleaned them out. It didn't matter to me whether on a particular day the bag cost one dollar or three, either way, I was getting treasure for nothing.

I'm supposed to be talking about the book by Ranke, but I seem to be rambling a la Tristram Shandy;or at least I assume I'm being Shandyish: I've had a copy of Sterne's novel on my shelf for some years now, but I haven't yet read it. So much to read, you know, and only one of me. But a writer whom I very much admire once said of some of my writing that there was a Tristram Shandy-ish flavor to it, and he said that he meant it as a high compliment. He was brilliant and angry and always at odds with the drudges who ran the university English department in which he worked as an MA and an Instructer, many times more brilliant than any of those PhD's and Full Professors would ever be... It's a familiar story. Flee, young writers! from the English departments!

My copy of Ranke's Paepste is from the K.G. Kohler Verlag edition of 1953, with an introduction by Friedrich Baethgen. It's got over 1400 pages but it's not a big volume, not thick at all; it's printed on those very thin pages on which Bibles are often printed, for which there may not be a word in English, which the Germans call Duenndruck; the volume has a pleasantly heavy and solid feel. The last several hundred pages contain "Analekten," analects, gleanings from the source material, mostly in Italian and Latin, interspersed with Ranke's comments in German. Ranke (1795-1886), the most widely-admired historian before Mommsen (1817-1903), in Germany at least, and perhaps in parts of the wider world as well, was for a time a mentor to Jacob Burckhardt (1818-1897), who declined to follow Ranke in the extra-special super-dooper-prestigious chair of history at Berlin -- trust me, Germans take such academic positions much more seriously than, for example, Americans. This seriousness has both its good and its bad sides -- and who in his turn was a mentor to Nietzsche (1844-1900) at Basel. Maybe I make too much of these personal relationships, first between Ranke and Burckhardt, then between Burckhardt and Nietzsche. But I enjoy thinking about this intellectual dynasty, this succession, which may exist mostly in my head.

Ranke's history of the Popes appeared in the in two volumes in 1834 and 1836, and was placed on the Catholic Index in 1841 -- why?! Why?! Ranke was a Protestant, and he had his opinions, but his works were and are thoroughly inoffensive, it would seem to me, to anyone, Catholic, Protestant, atheist, Moslem or what have you. It would seem to me that almost anyone would have to admit that Ranke was objective and fair, if anyone ever was. But libraries and the Vatican do not consult me before they act. Nor, I scarceley need add, do they always seem to me to be objective or fair.

No, seriously, Ranke's very good, you ought to check him out.

Monday, August 24, 2009

One Book

It's an old Teubner edition of Luciliusand Accius.C. Lucili saturarum reliquiae. Emendavit et adnotavit L. Mueller. Accedunt Acci et suei carminum reliquiae. Lipsaiae in aedibus B.G. teubneri. a. MDCCCLXXII, it sez on the title page. The remains of the satires of Lucilius, edited and notated by L.Mueller, to which are added the remains of Accius' poems, from the house of B.G. Tuebner in Leipzig in 1872. And on the next leaf is the dedication: Concilio professorum imperatorii Instituti Histororici Philologici hanc Lucili saturarum recensionem D.D.D. Lucianus Mueller. Lucian Mueller dedicates this edition of Lucilius' satires to the council of professors of the Imperial Institute of History and Philology. I'm not entirely sure exactly which Imperial Institute of History and Philology is meant; I would've assumed it was a German institute, very freshly imperial in the brand-new German Empire established in 1871, but the only institute of that name of which I can find mention was a Russian one, in St. Petersburg. You can see a copy much like mine at Google Books.

I got my copy for $11.50 +tax at a used-book store. I have no reason to suspect that this was a steal of the kind one occasionally finds at thrift stores, yard sales and some used-book stores: the owner of this store seems to check very conscientiously before pricing his books, so that they're not going for much less or more than the general going rate. But it feels like I ripped the good man off, like I really got away with one, spending so little for a book in Latin so old and in such good condition. Maybe the general book market doesn't consider the book to be in good condition. The cover is coming loose from the spine. But that doesn't bother me so much. I handle my books very gently, and so the cover is not going to come the rest of the way off. The pages are all unmarked, the paper is of good quality from before the age of acidic paper.

Maybe I'm just much more fond of solidly-made volumes from the late 19th century than the general book market is, and so assume a unrealistically high market value for them. I am passionately interested in books, but utterly disinterested in book collecting, speculating in first editions and autograph copies and all of those things which make all the difference to the general market.

In every scholarly article on Lucilius which I have found, and I've found quite a few, the two-volume edition by F. Marx published in 1904-5 is praised as the best, and this 1872 volume by Lucian Mueller is not. mentioned. at. all. Maybe that's why it doesn't fetch much on the market. Good luck for me, then: the differences between editions which make so very much difference to many scholars make very little difference to me.

Lucilius is generally credited with having originated the genre of satire. The oldest known literary genres in Latin, by writers a little older than Lucilius but young enough that he could have known them when they were old and he was young, were tragody, comedy and epic poetry, very closely copied from Greek models, or were nothing more or less than translations of Greek works, such as Livius Andronicus'translation of Homer's Odyssey. Against this background, Lucilius' achievement in writing in a distinctly Roman way is all the more impressive. Not that he was ignorant of Greek or felt that there was too much Greek influence in Roman culture, as did his contemporary Cato the Elder, one of the most highly-praised men of his time for reasons which entirely escape me and H.G. Wellsor the author Juvenal, who followed Lucilius in the genre of satire but not in Lucilus' broadminded tolerant sophistication. Juvenal thought he was being very witty when he bitterly referred to "Rome, that Greek city;" Lucilius was very familiar with Greek literary genres even though he didn't copy them as his Roman contemporaries did -- at least, as all of his literary contemporaries of whom we know did. As thoroughly natively Roman as they were, Lucilius included some Greek passages in his satires. He wrote about the people around him and the political and commercial and military business of the day. A lot of the people around him spoke and wrote a lot of Greek, either because they were Greeks or because they were upper-class Romans who typically got some education in Greece, and who were, as is obvious by the nature of most of the Roman literature of the time, and by Roman mythology which borrowed so much from Greek mythology, in love with many things Greek. Lucilius was fine with all of that, he was no hater like Cato or Juvenal.

Only a fraction, about 1300 lines, of Lucilius' 30 books of satires have survived. There are about 40 pages of preface in Mueller's 1872 edition, then remains of the 30 books over 132 pages -- but on many of these pages footnotes occupy more space than the main text -- then 26 pages of uncertain material: maybe Lucilius, maybe not -- then about two pages which Mueller calls doubtful, two pages he calls very doubtful, a little over 7 pages he classes as falsely attributed to Lucilius, then 20 pages of material by ancient authors about him. Then over 100 pages of commentary. Then the few pages devoted to Accius which seem to me like such a tacked-on afterthought in this volume. Then again, Accius was a near-contemporary of Lucilius. And perhaps, if these pages by and on Accius were going to appear in book form at all, and not just in some periodical devoted to Classical studies, putting them here made as much sense as anything. But maybe there's more to it, a connection between the witty satirist Lucilius and the somber tragodian Accius which further study may make more plain to me. (I really doubt it.) Altogether there are a little over 400 pages in this small quattro, which measures about 8 inches by 5 and a half inches by an inch.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Chess and Vanity

They cancel each other out: if you're vain about your chess abilities, they'll never advance very far, and if you're playing good chess, it means that, at least when it comes to the moves you've made in the game -- typically each player will move somewhere between 20 and 60 times in a game -- you're not kidding yourself, you're not dreaming, you're paying attention to the 64 squares in front of you and the 32 or fewer pieces on them. There are no grey areas, no room for subjective interpretation when it comes to the result of a game: you either win, lose or draw. This is perhaps even more clearly the case when you're playing chess against a computer program, or playing over the Internet with software which automatically detects game results and disallows moves which are against the rules and so forth.

One of the best chess players I've known personally once remarked that chess is a game of mistakes. (He was probably about a 2000-level player. I say probably because he had stopped playing in rated tournaments.) This seems to be true. What separates high level play from novices is the infrequency and subtlety of mistakes, but at any level, the player who wins, assuming my friend's remark was correct -- his level of chess is so far above mine, 800 or 900 points above, that I have to take his word about the nature of the game up there. I don't grasp it myself, not at all -- is the one who goofs the least often, who notices most often when his opponent goofs and who takes the best advantage of his opponent's mistakes. At my level blunders -- say, for instance, the opportunity to capture a piece without giving up any positional strength, or even the opportunity to checkmate the opponent right away -- sometimes go unnoticed for several moves.

In Internet chess, which is the type of chess I play most of the time these days, there is an additional type of mistake which can be made: the mouse slip. You meant to move a piece to a certain square, but your hand slipped on the mouse and the piece ended up somewhere else. Typically on Internet chess sites there is the possibility to give the opponent the opportunity to take back a move. On the site where I play, I've disabled this option. No takey-backies when you play me. If my hand slips when I'm moving, I live with the result. If you tell me your hand slipped -- well, for one thing, I wonder whether you're lying, and it wasn't your hand but your mind that slipped. And anyway, chances are I won't notice you trying to tell me anything during the game: I expand the chessboard to full-screen so that it covers the entire entire console where messages are exchanged. I didn't come to the website to chat, and I certainly don't want to talk during a game: feeble as my efforts are, they're the result of my attempt to concentrate fully on the game at hand. If I shrink the board so that I can see the console where players send messages, it's because my opponent hasn't moved in quite a while and I've become bored while waiting. If I see a private message to me from my opponent claiming that he had a mouse slip -- they're in bright yellow, they stand out from the steady stream of public messages -- I don't reply. Because I don't know any polite way to say: I don't care. Your mistakes are your responsibility. Mouse slips are an ever-present possibility in Internet chess. You ought to watch out for that.

There are currently over 20,000 rated players on FICS the site where I play. About four-fifths of them are better than I am. The result of every rated game affects both players ratings: if their rating are very close going in, and one player wins, the winner has 8 points added to his rating, and the loser drops 8 points. (On Blitz games, anyway, which include almost all the games I play there. Blitz means that each player has a total of between 3 and 15 minutes to make all of his moves, or he forfeits the game on time. Or there is incremental time-keeping which is reckoned to be equivalent: 2 minutes a side, for example, plus 12 seconds added every time you move. I don't like the incremental timekeeping, I've pretty much stopped playing games timed that way. On the website you can also play lightning games, with less time than blitz games, and standard games, with more time than blitz.) If the game is a draw, each player's rating stays the same. If the players' rating are mismatched, the higher player will win less than 8 points by winning and lose than 8 by losing the game, and in the event of a draw he will lose a couple of points, and the lower-ranked player stands to gain more and lose less. I've played a bunch of games there, and my rating -- that is, my Blitz rating. Most of the games played there are blitz games -- is currently 1130-something. Occasionally I've dropped lower than 1000 and risen higher than 1200. 1300 seems lie a beautiful grail to me. So, I'm not very good at all.

And I make no excuses about it. 16,000 or so players are rated above me in blitz chess on FICS. That means they're playing better chess than I, no more, no less. I make no excuses, and I have no interest in the excuses other players make. Your mouse slipped? Bummer. Your boss busted you and you want to adjourn the game? That sort of thing's gonna hurt your rating, Sparky. You didn't mean to move there? I know the feeling, it sucks.

There are some players, playing in cyberspace and also in 3-D, in the meat world, who give and take takebacks all the time, routinely. It doesn't seem to me that they're really playing chess. Seems to me they're refusing to learn how to play it for realsies. In baseball, or even in the most casual slow-pitch softball game, you don't get do-overs because your hand slipped on the bat or because you missed a fly ball because the sun was in your eyes.

So what's my point, anyway? I'm not sure. I think it may be just that a lot of life is very murky and uncertain and subjective and mysterious, and that chess may be comforting because it can be a complete contrast to all of that, even if it is only a meaningless game played for no stakes other than for its own sake.

PS, 28. August 2012: I've been getting a little better: my current rating is 1263, and my best is 1329, which I reached on 2. April 2012. (And FICS continues to grow and improve, 1329 represents a higher level of play in 2012 than it did in 2009, just as it would in the world of tournaments.) Now 1400 and beyond is the possible-seeming grail.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

History of Ancient Rome, Condensed Version, Part II

Around the middle of the 2nd century BC there began a great struggle of the question of whether the lower classes in Rome, the plebians, were to be given more rights and powers. Two brothers, Tiberius and Gaius Graccus, proposed things like taking some land from the aristocratic families, the patricians, and distributing it more widely among the general population. They were both killed by the patricians and their followers, but their example lived on. Other politicians made careers by proclaiming that they were on the side of the masses. To what extent they really were, and how much it was just talk, was a much-debated question then, as it still is today about populist politicians. Whatever their platforms and whatever their real motivations, the conflicts between leading politicains became more and more synomymous with battles between leading generals and their armies. Marius, Sulla, Crassus, Catullus, Pompey and other contenders for the leadership of Rome came and went, and the conflicts between them came to be more and more full-scale wars. Romans had always been opposed to any monarch ruling them, but occasionally someone was appointed dictator for a short period of time in order to deal decisively with a period of chaos and strife. Julius Caesar, who always presented himself as a champion of the masses, held the dictatorship very briefly in 49 BC, then again for a year from 48 to 47, then in 46 he was appointed dictator for ten years, and then early in 44 he was named "dictator in perpetuity." He was being heaped with other honors and titles and looking more and more like a king, which disturbed a lot of people as it seemed to violate Rome's democratic traditions and principles, and so less than two months after being named dictator in perpetuity, he was assassinated by a group of senators.

It had looked as if Caesar's dictatorship might have ushered in a period of tranquility in Rome. His death at the hands of senators, however, initiated another period of intense and bloody civil conflict, which finally ended when Octavian, Caesar's grand-nephew and chosen heir, defeated his last opponents, Marc Anthony and his partner the Egyptian queen Cleopatra, in 30 BC. In 27 BC the senate voted to give Octavian the name and title Augustus. The beginning of the Roman empire, the end of the republic, is said by many to have begun at that moment. However, Augustus was known as Caesar Augustus, and as all emperors after Augustus were also called Augustus, so also all the title of Caesar was given to all heirs to the imperial throne, making the case for placing the beginning of the empire in the brief reign of Caesar. Whether one marks the end of the republic at 44 BC or 27 BC or sometime in between, the pretense that Rome was not a monarchy, that the emperor ruled with the senate, not over it, and at their pleasure and under their control, persisted for another several centuries.

The good thing about a monarchy is that one person can make decisions about the running of a state much more quickly and simply than a group of people. Groups tend to argue, to squabble, to draw decisions out and bog things down. The bad thing about monarchy, of course, is that the quality of the decisions made on behalf of the state is entirely dependent upon one person, who may or not be competent, wise or sane. This problem is compounded if the monarch is absolute, and not removable by any group more or less representative of some concept of the people, and compounded again if the monarch is not elected, but appointed by the previous monarch, who may very well be blinded by familial affection, or if the monarchy automatically goes to an eldest son or what have you. Augustus seems to have been a very competent monarch indeed, so competent and far-sighted that the system of government he put in place in large part compensated for the incompetence of some members of his family who succeeded him. The period of time beginning with his reign and lasting for over two centuries is known as the pax romana, the Roman peace. Rome kept fighting other states and expending its territory, but within its expanding borders, things in fact were relatively peaceful during this period, and people and goods could move about in relative safety.

During this whole time, as apparently at all times all over the world, some writers had little or nothing to do with politics, some were not politicians themselves, but passionately took sides in political contests, and some were politicians. Caesar wrote twobooksabout his military exploits which have been widely read from his time to ours. (They may not be as widely read today as a century or so ago, when Caesar was often thought of as an ideal role model for boys.) Caesar's occasional partner, sometimes his rival, Cicero, had a combination of political success and high literary reputation equaled by no one else I can think of except Winston Churchill -- although Cicero was a lawyer by trade, not a soldier like Churchill, and although I think that Cicero is overrated as a writer and that Churchill is not. Those who really like Cicero must be delighted that so very very many of his letters, speeches and philosophical works, a whole shelf's worth, have survived intact to our day. Lucretius wrote a wonderful book-length poem, de rerum natura,dealing with belief in God (He was against it.) and science and philosophy (He was for them, especially the Epicurean philosophy which taught that it was wisest to stick to a small group of good friends and let the rest of the world screw itself up.)

During Augustus' reign, two leading poets were Vergil, who wrote the Aeneid, the poem about the mythical beginnings of Rome to which I refer at the start of Part I, and who seems to have been compelled to praise Augustus in a particularly lavish manner -- although who can say how sincere the praise may have been -- and Ovid, a particularly apolitical person who nonetheless fell afoul of Augustus, we don't know how, although the leading theory is that he made a dirty joke about a female member of Augustus' family. For this, Ovid, the quintessential Roman urbanite, was banished to a fort on the Black Sea, on the Wild East frontier of the empire, for the rest of his life. His two greatest poems are the Metamorphoses,dealing with those Greek dieties and myths which had been adopted by the Romans, and the Fasti,a calender of the native Roman religious festivals.

The slavish praise of Vergil (and others) and the banishment of Ovid point to a dark side of the pax romana, a humorless demand that the emperor be not just obeyed, but worshiped, as a god.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

History of Ancient Rome, Condensed Version, Part I

We -- or at least, I -- don't know very much about the history of Rome before about 500 BC. But I will mention a couple of things from the Roman legends of the time before 500 BC, because I think they shed some light on the way things were in Rome. First of all, the Romans believed -- if they believed in their traditional legends. How seriously did they take these legends? Good question! -- that they were descended from a Trojan, Aeneas, the hero of Vergil'sAeneid, who, because of his valiant behavior during the Trojan War, was set free by the conquering Greeks, to wander hither in yon in Vergil's poem, which copied Homer's Odysseyvery closely, until he found a new home among the Latins, the precursors of the Romans, just as in Homer's poem Odysseys must wander long before regaining control of his home of Ithaca.

But Aeneas' settling with the Latins was still a few centuries before the -- legendary -- founding of the city of Rome proper. This occurred on April 21, 753 BC. The city was founded by the twins Romulus and Remus, who had been raised by a she-wolf. But Remus did not live to see the city completed, because as they were laying out the outlines of the city walls, he kept jumping back and forth over the lines in a playful manner, and so Romulus killed him. Because you weren't supposed to play with such important things.

From these legends you can see two important threads in Roman culture: an awed reverence before the achievements of Greece; and a particularly grim seriousness. Of course, you can't sum up any culture so simply: not all Romans were in awe of Greece, and not all were grimly serious. But those were prominent tendencies.

Actual Roman history starts around 500 BC, when the city of Rome threw off the overlordship of the Etruscan empire. The Etruscans, who once competed with the Greeks and the Phoenicians for mastery of the Mediterranean world, faded so thoroughly as Rome rose that their language, although conserved in many inscriptions, wriiten in letters taken from the Greeks and very similar to those of the Romans, is now undecipherable. They gave their name to the Italian region of Tuscany. The Romans, meanwhile, began to expand their power in a truly spectacular way. (From not long after 500 BC, when Rome consisted either only of a small town, or that town and a few square miles around it, dated the Twelve Tables, the earliest preserved version of Roman law. Law & order were always very big in Rome, and to this day, Roman law is still enthusiastically studied by lawyers.) By the mid-fourth century BC they had gone from a small town to the rulers of a third or so of the Italian peninsula; by the mid-third century they ruled almost all of the peninsula and were beginning to butts heads with the Greeks and the Phoenicians. The latter were referred to by this time as the Carthaginians, after their capital city on the northern coast of Africa, although the name by which we refer to Rome's wars with Carthage, the Punic Wars, is related to the word Phoenician. The Phoenician or Carthaginian language spoken around the time of Christ, when it remained a widespread lingua france in the Mideast, is usually referred to as Aramaic. It is still the first language of at least hundreds of thousands of people, maybe millions, I don't know for sure. And it is the liturgical languages of the Syriac Church which has millions of adherents. The language as it is used today is called Syriac, or Aramaic, or Assyrian. Why does the name of these people and their language keep changing? Good question!

In keeping with the general tendency of grim Roman seriousness, there is not much evidence of any well-developed native literature before 200 BC. We have the image of a people concentrated on law, commerce, war and other grimly serious things, with little interest in or even comprehension of literary pursuits. Still, the Romans admired the Greeks, and the Greeks were often anything but grimly serious. The earliest lengthy specimens of Latin literature of which we know are the comic plays of Plautusand Terrence,written in a style of Greek plays well-established in Alexandria. One may find it odd that the earliest known genre to flourish in Rome was comedy, or one may find it a natural reaction to an atmosphere which could be overly grim and stuffy. Not long after Plautus and Terrence, Luciliusestablished the genre of satire, which remained quite popular in Rome throughout the ancient period. (Which makes perfect sense to me: the more stuffy seriousness there is all around one, the more there is to make fun of, and the more readers will appreciate writers who do so.)

To return, sadly, from the joys of the muses to the grim political world: as I said, by the middle of the third century BC, Rome was almost as big as the entire Italian peninsula, big enough to begin to a serious rival to the Greeks and the Phoenicians/Carthagenians/Aramaics. The Carthagenian leader Hannibal put a crimp in the steady advance of Rome for a while, famously crossing into Roman territory from the north, over the Alps, and causing the Romans serious problems. But Rome eventually defeated Hannibal, and he was the greatest exception to a fairly steady progress of Roman expansion. By the middle of the second century BC, Rome was the biggest power in the mediterranean world, and as it continued to expand, the greatest threat to Rome gradually came to be, not any foreign power, but the fighting of Roman generals and politicians against each other. But despite assassinations and civil wars Rome continued to expand, until by 30 BC the entire coastline of the Mediterranean was under Roman control, and by the end of the first century AD Roman rule stretched from present-day northern England in the west to present-day Armenia and Iraq in the east.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Persistence of Latin

Sometimes referred to as Neo-Latin. I'm going to list just a few examples.

For the most part, new volumes of Classical Latin and Greek texts from Oxfordand Teubnerare still appearing with prefaces in Latin. The few recent exceptions with prefaces and/or appendices in vernacular languages disturb me not a little.

Apart from Classical Studies, the only current communication in Latin of which I know is a Finnish website which still presents the news in Latin.

I own several volumes of volumes written by Catholic clergy in Latin in the 20th century, before the 2nd Vatican Council from 1962 to 1965, some consisting of theology, others of general news and notes from this or that order.

They say that the use of Latin persisted longer in the fields of mathematics and botany than elsewhere. For now I'm taking their word for it about botany. When it comes to math, as late as when Thomas Paine was blithely calling for ancient languages to be discarded, one of the leading mathematicians of the time, Leonhard Euler,was writing and publishing in Latin, as were, I presume, many of his contemporary mathematicians, and many more for quite a while after.

A little earlier, in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, Isaac Newton published his Philosophiæ naturalis principia mathematica in Latin; and Newton's rival -- or his punching-bag, depending upon how one views the matter -- Leibniz, although born and raised in Germany, was writing and publishing almost exclusively in Latin and French. As a young man Leibniz briefly met and corresponded with Spinoza, who wrote a few things in Dutch, but whose fame rests for the most part upon his Latin works, which today, for whatever reason, seem to be extraordinarily hard to find in untranslated book form. (Beaucoup translations of Spinoza's works. What th Heck are the translators translating from? as a character in William Gaddis' JR asked who was, it's not such a stretch to presume, representing Gaddis wondering in the face of the volume of fan mail he got about The Recognitions, are they all passing one copy around?)

Milton and Hobbes wrote quite a bit in Latin as well as in English. Milton's Latin poems -- and his Greek ones! Boy howdy! -- can be had in some anthologies;his Latin prose, although available translated everywhere you look, just like Spinoza's stuff, seem to be even rarer untranslated. (Or -- a possibility which my readers should assumed is implied. Always -- I'm just clueless.)

It would seem that a working knowledge of Latin was still assumed in some circles in the 17th century, not just in math and other sciences and philosophy, but among politicians and readers of history as well. In his collection of eywitness and near-contemporary accounts of the battle of White Mountain in 1620,Anton Gindely includes among his 44 sources 12 written in Latin. (Along with 20 in German, 3 in French, 4 in Spanish, 3 in Czech and 1 in English, which adds up to 43 and means, you're right, I counted wrong. But you get the idea.)

Some collections of letters give me the impression that Elizabeth I and Henry VIII of England wrote much more and much better in Latin, and possibly in French as well, than in English. (Which would mean that that scene in A Man For All Seasons where Henry meets Thomas More's daughter and the subject of Latin comes up, and she starts chattering away in the language and Henry can only haltingly respond with a few words, and he gets embarassed and angry, is historicaly waaaay off. Unless someone ghost-wrote all those letters of Henry's, but you know what? I doubt that!)

How far back into the past, into the history of western Europe, does one have to go to reach the point where Latin was more prevelant as a written language than the venacular? It really depends upon which group one considers, which profession or specialty, which social class, too. Latin seems always to have been more prevalent the higher one climbed on the social ladder. Perhaps the higher classes consciously used it as a means of separating themselves from the masses or of making the separation greater. Thomas Paine reacted by rejecting the language. I take just the opposite tack, I say it's just one more reason for us unwashed masses to learn it, one more way to seize what was denied our kind.