Saturday, June 11, 2016

My Memory Isn't Immaculate, But It's Fun

I'm pretty sure that somewhere on this blog I have mistakenly attributed the saying "ars longa vita brevis" or "ars longa vita brevis est" (Latin for "art is long and life is short") to Horace. Probably more than once. I'm going to have to find those misattributions and correct them. After thorough research today, and much research before today, I am ready to admit, once and for all, that Horace, one of my favorite writers, never wrote "ars longa vita brevis," one of my favorite sayings, and that Seneca, one of my least favorite writers, did, translating "Ὁ βίος βραχύς, ἡ δὲ τέχνη μακρή" by Hippocrates.

I know -- I'm pretty, sure, that is. One theme of this post is the unreliability of my memory -- I'm pretty sure that the first time I encountered this thought, it was expressed neither in Greek nor in Latin, but in English, by Joseph Conrad: "Art is long and life is short, and success is very far off." I'm fairly sure that I did not read it where Conrad left it, in the Preface to a novella of his whose title is today completely politically incorrect. I'm pretty sure I first came upon it when some other writer quoted it -- Hunter S Thompson? I don't know. (Did Thompson ever refer to himself as an artist? Seems a bit unlike him, come to think of it. Maybe he quoted Conrad to emphasize how far from art he considered his work to be? I dunno.)

Until today it puzzled me greatly how I could have come to believe that Horace wrote "ars longa vita brevis," believe it so strongly that I thought I had remembered reading those 4 words in my copy of Horace's works, a middling-thick Oxford Classical Texts copy, old enough that the pages of the text are unnumbered. Don't ask me why, but until a few decades ago many of the volumes of the Oxford Classical Texts didn't have page numbers for the text. My copy of Horace, printed in 1957, has Roman numerals, i through x, for the prefaces and siglia, and then no page numbers for the text. My OCT copy of Lucretius, also printed in 1957, has no page numbers whatsoever.

My OCT copy of Grenfell and Hunt's Hellenica oxyrhychia cum Theopompi et cratippi fragmentis is so old that it has no date following the title page -- and so old that its cover is orange, not blue, making the mimicry of Teubner that much more obvious. I'm guessing it was printed about 1910, a year after the date of the preface. It has Roman numerals for the prefatory material and no numerals for the pages. (Those Roman numerals which look like page numbers are just keeping track of the numbered books of Theopomus.)

(Many editions of Plato have standardized page numbers and subdivisions of pages -- based on what, I don't know -- so that one page may be numbered 315c, and the next 316b, or what have you. It's a whole big thing that happens. Seems these standardized page numbers for Plato may have been some of the earliest text page numbers in the OCT. I have 2 volumes of Plato from the OCT, one printed in 1958 and the other in 1961. Both have these standardized page numbers for the texts and no Roman numerals for the prefatory pages.)

To this day, most of the volumes of the OCT and the Teubner Classics have no tables of contents. Why? They go to such extraordinary lengths of exacting editing and thorough critical apparatus, provide detailed bibliographies and exhaustive indices -- but a table of contents telling you what page various parts of the volume begins on, somehow that would just be too much trouble.

I think I got my copy of Horace in the early 1990's, which would have made it one of the first volumes in Latin which I owned, at a time when I was just beginning to learn Latin. Wherever I came across "ars longa vita brevis," my recognition that Conrad had anglicized it was probably one of the first instances of my recognizing such quotes from the Classics and from the Bible which positively pepper the works of authors who wrote back in the good old days when the Classics and the KJV were more widely read.

And as far as how I became so strongly convinced that I had read "ars longa vita brevis" in my copy of Horace, one of the very first volumes of Latin I ever owned -- it may be that I saw the word "ars" in the phrase "ars longa vita brevis" over the front door of a yuppie bar in Columbus, Ohio, and at about the same time in the title of Horace's work "ars poetica," and confused the phrase with the title because "ars" was one of the very first Latin words I learned. Or it may be that I read a misattribution of the phrase by someone, or several people, who had confused the motto and the title in a very similar way. Or it may have been a combination of those things.

Recently I covered the cover of my copy of Horace, and my OCT copy of Lucretius -- I think the Lucretius was the very first volume of Latin I ever obtained, and the Horace the second, both roughly a quarter-century ago -- in scotch tape. Now they both are much more readable for me, because the covers are no longer unpleasant to touch. Just because of the tape. It's a big deal. It's a huge deal.

In conclusion: you gotta believe me, the Classics, ancient Greek and Latin, are waycool, and if you're not neck-deep in this stuff, you're missing out, I'm telling you. I will try to clean up the misattributions to Horace in the blog, I promise.

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