Category Archives: Books

On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book XIV

Index to this series | Text of Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad

When Neptune was helping the Greeks stave off certain defeat, I tried to suggest that divine intervention in the course of events might be understood as human resolve to change that course. This was in Book XIII of the Iliad, where Neptune took the form of one of the Greeks—Calchas—in order to exhort the others. They would have listened to Calchas anyway; he was a prophet. Ajax Oileus said he could tell Calchas was “really” a god; we can read this to mean Calchas was inspiring. We can say this of somebody today, without meaning to suggest any supernatural influence.


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On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book XIII

Index to this series | Text of Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad

Usually when your defenses are breached, you are lost. Thus when the Ottoman Turks under Mehmet I found a way through the Theodosian Walls on Tuesday morning, May 29, 1453, the city of Constantinople was theirs.

Now the Trojans under Hector have breached the wall around the Greek ships, and—the ships are not theirs. How does Homer explain this?

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NL XXVIII: The Forms of Political Action

Index to this series

Executive summary (added September 12, 2018): Continuing a thought from the previous chapter, we observe that to condemn political discussion is also to wish for tyranny. Though the ruling class need not share their deliberations with the ruled class, it is better if they do. As our understanding of the reason for an action evolves from utility to conformity with a rule, so ruling, originally by decree, has evolved to include legislation. However, law does not require a formal structure to be enforced, and international law is an example. The best reason for an action is duty. Though the German Treitschke says our highest duty is to the state, he gives the state no duty, and so his politics are entirely utilitarian.


In Plato’s Republic, Socrates seeks understanding of the just human being through examination of the just state. In the New Leviathan, the order is reversed. What we first considered in somebody, we now look at in the “body politic.”

Narthex of the former Taksiyarhis Church (now museum), Ayvalık, Balıkesir, Turkey, August 30, 2018

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On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book XII

Index to this series | Text of Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad

Both first and last place may be prominent in a narrative. Occurring three-quarters of the way into Book XII of the Iliad, but presented last below, Sarpedon’s great speech on leadership ought to be known by everybody with authority and power.

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On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book XI

Index to this series | Text of Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad

After the active night of Book X comes the dawn of a thrilling day.

  1. AVrora, out of restfull bed, did from bright Tython rise,
  2. To bring each deathlesse essence light, and vse, to mortall eyes.

The deathless essence called Jove sends Discord to the Greeks. She lights on the ship of Ulysses, in the middle of the fleet, so all can hear as she belts out her “Orthian song.”

  1. And presently was bitter warre, more sweet a thousand times
  2. Then any choice in hollow keeles, to greet their natiu climes.

The sweetness of war is the theme of the book. Continue reading

On Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad, Book X

Index to this series | Text of Chapman’s Homer’s Iliad

In Book X of the Iliad, Diomedes and Ulysses go to spy on the Trojan camp at night. When they return to the Greek camp,

  1. Then entred they the meere maine sea, to cleanse their honord sweate
  2. From off their feet, their thighes and neckes…

I can enter the same sea now. After more than ten months, I return to my reading of Homer, and Chapman’s Homer, as I have returned to the place where I was doing it last year, on the Aegean coast opposite Lesbos, after the sweat-soaked struggle of—teaching in the Nesin Mathematics Village, south of here, in the hills above Ephesus.

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A New Kind of Science

Executive summary: There are sciences called descriptive, empirical, or natural; and there are sciences called prescriptive or normative. A third kind of science studies the criteria as such that a thinking being, such as one of us, imposes on itself as it tries to achieve success. Collingwood developed the concept and coined the term criteriological for such a science. Logic, ethics, aesthetics, and economics are Collingwood’s examples; I propose also linguistics as an example.

Some sciences are not recognized for what they are. The sciences themselves are not new, but a proper understanding of them may be new to some of us, including myself.

Here I supplement and update “Strunk and White,” a post in which I took issue with a professional linguist’s attacks on The Elements of Style. This book was William Strunk’s “little book” (53 pages), made slightly less little (71 pages) by E. B. White. In The Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (1842 pages), Geoffrey Pullum and Rodney Huddleston claim to present English grammar descriptively; in an essay called “50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice,” Pullum thinks Strunk and White fail to understand English grammar, even as they give a prescriptive account of its use. Continue reading

On Knowing Ourselves

In a 2012 post in this blog, I criticized a 2009 essay called “50 Years of Stupid Grammar Advice.” The putative advice was that of Strunk and White; but their advice was not in fact grammatical. They wrote not the elements of grammar, but The Elements of Style. They gave style advice by precept and example. The advice is good, if well understood. The critic should recognize that, as I wrote, “Rules of style are supposed to induce thinking, not obedience.”

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Some Say Poetry

Potted palms with plaster farm animals on hillside behind

Kuzguncuk, 2017.11.05

I originally set out to preserve here, for future reference, a poetry review that I liked. A remark on being a student had drawn my attention:

In My Poets, a work of autobiographical criticism with occasional ventriloquial interludes, McLane recalls two “early impasses in reading,” freshman-year encounters with Charles Olson and Frank O’Hara. She writes about not “getting it” but wanting to get it, about a desire to get it that was left wanting by code-breaking and analysis and satisfied by hearing and feeling.

I shall try to say more about learning and creating, in poetry and also in mathematics, after quoting the review in its entirety. It constitutes the second half of a “New Books” column by Christine Smallwood, in the Reviews section of Harper’s, July 2017.

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Women and Men

This began as an update to “Confessions,” which concerns the man called G. H. Hardy and the woman called Sylvia Plath. I had originally included a photograph of the subjects’ respective books. On Hardy’s, the author poses reluctantly; on Plath’s, a woman applies powder in a compact mirror.

Plath’s book was the 2013 Faber and Faber 50th Anniversary Edition of The Bell Jar, and the cover is controversial. See Alexandra Topping, “The Bell Jar’s new cover derided for branding Sylvia Plath novel as chick lit” (The Guardian, Friday 1 February 2013). I learned of the controversy from Emily Van Duyne, “Sylvia Plath Looked Good in a Bikini—Deal With It,” in Electric Literature, hosted by Medium (October 9, 2017). Medium had promoted the essay to me when I read Brian E. Denton, “The World Will Not Quarrel: Day 282 of A Year of War and Peace.

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