Stoic Prayer

Edward Vernon Arnold, Roman Stoicism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1911), pp. 235-236 (footnotes omitted):

The whole problem of prayer is so fully and admirably treated upon Stoic lines by Juvenal in his Tenth Satire, that nothing can be added to his exposition but the evidence that his teaching is in fact Stoic. Let us then enter the temples and listen to men’s prayers. First they beg the doorkeeper for admission, though the deity is equally near to them outside; then they raise their hands to the sky, or press their mouths close to the ear of an image. To the unlistening deity they pour out wishes so shameful that they could not let a fellow-man share their secret. Decrepit old men babble prayers for long life, and make themselves out younger than they are. Another prays for riches, or for some other thing that will do him harm. Undertakers pray for a busy season. Parents and nurses (and these are the nearest to innocence) pray for the success of their children in life. They may be excused, but the thoughtful man should know that the advantages for which friends have prayed have often in the end proved a man’s destruction. He should examine his own heart, and recognise that his prayers till now have been unworthy and foolish. Since the gods wish us well, let us leave it to them to choose what is best for us. ‘Look up to God, and say: deal with me for the future as thou wilt: I am of the same mind as thou art. I am thine, I refuse nothing that pleases thee.’ ‘Seek not that the things which happen should happen as you wish; but wish the things that happen to be as they are: and you will have a tranquil flow of life.’

Prayer so regarded becomes not merely an act of resignation, in which a man ceases to battle against a destiny that is too strong for him; it is a daily examination of his soul, to know whether it is in tune with the purposes of the universe. This examination is a religious exercise, never to be omitted before sleep. It is inculcated both by Seneca and Epictetus. ‘How beautiful’ says Seneca, ‘is this custom of reviewing the whole day! how quiet a sleep follows on self-examination! The mind takes its place on the judgment-seat, investigates its own actions, and awards praise or blame according as they are deserved.’

I have been thinking about putting together a cheap and handy edition of the most popular Stoics, say a 5×7 paperback that includes both the Enchiridion and Discourses of Epictetus, the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, and Seneca’s Letters.

As far as I know, no one else has published such a thing… Should I set it in Doves Type?

Rembrandt, Old Man in Prayer (1630)

Godmother of the Nudie Bar

Hans Ostwald, Sittengeschichte der Inflation (Berlin: Neufeld & Henius, 1931), p. 134:
(From the draft of my translation, soon to be published as A Moral History of the Inflation.)

Nude dancing was widespread [during the Weimar Republic]. In every cabaret, in all of the better dance halls, in every bar that also offered music and entertainment, you could find nude dancers performing on their own or in groups. This mass phenomenon could only have taken hold after the war. After all that sorrow there was a surging lust for life, and a general increase in freedom favoured the trend.

It had its origins in the pre-war period. Around 1900 the American Isadora Duncan came to Berlin and demonstrated her new dances to German artists. Her performances contained none of the elements that had constituted artistic dance in previous centuries. There was no pointe technique, nor anything else reminiscent of customary, traditional ballet. Instead there were jumps, strides, glides, and movements that hearkened back to the vase paintings of ancient Greece. Even the ballet dancer’s patterned clothing, with a billowing tutu around the middle, the legs in tights, and the upper body sheathed in a bodice — it all disappeared. Instead there were loose, veil-like garments that allowed all of the body’s supple movements and limbs to be seen. There were no more stockings or ballet shoes. There was a push for a newer, more carefree beauty, and it had won its first victory.

Isadora Duncan (photo taken at the Atelier Elvira in Munich, c 1904)

A Window Between Reader and Author

Beatrice Warde, The Crystal Goblet: Sixteen Essays on Typography (London: Sylvan Press, 1955), pp. 15-17:

The book typographer has the job of erecting a window between the reader inside the room and that landscape which is the author’s words. He may put up a stained-glass window of marvellous beauty, but a failure as a window; that is, he may use some rich superb type like text gothic that is something to be looked at, not through. Or he may work in what I call transparent or invisible typography. I have a book at home, of which I have no visual recollection whatever as far as its typography goes; when I think of it, all I see is the Three Musketeers and their comrades swaggering up and down the streets of Paris. The third type of window is one in which the glass is broken into relatively small leaded panes; and this corresponds to what is called ‘fine printing’ today, in that you are at least conscious that there is a window there, and that someone has enjoyed building it. That is not objectionable, because of a very important fact which has to do with the psychology of the subconscious mind. That is that the mental eye focuses through type and not upon it. The type which, through any arbitrary warping of design or excess of ‘colour’, gets in the way of the mental picture to be conveyed, is a bad type. Our subconsciousness is always afraid of blunders (which illogical setting, tight spacing and too-wide unleaded lines can trick us into), of boredom, and of officiousness. The running headline that keeps shouting at us, the line that looks like one long word, the capitals jammed together without hair-spaces — these mean subconscious squinting and loss of mental focus….

Printing demands a humility of mind, for the lack of which many of the fine arts are even now floundering in self-conscious and maudlin experiments. There is nothing simple or dull in achieving the transparent page. Vulgar ostentation is twice as easy as discipline. When you realise that ugly typography never effaces itself; you will be able to capture beauty as the wise men capture happiness by aiming at something else. The ‘stunt typographer’ learns the fickleness of rich men who hate to read. Not for them are long breaths held over serif and kern, they will not appreciate your splitting of hair-spaces. Nobody (save the other craftsmen) will appreciate half your skill. But you may spend endless years of happy experiment in devising that crystalline goblet which is worthy to hold the vintage of the human mind.

Hans Thomas, Blick auf den Holzhausenpark (1883)

Highly Speculative Work

Stanley Unwin, The Truth About Publishing (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1929), pp. 320-322:

The publication of translations is highly speculative, much more so than the publication of an original work, because there are in effect two authors to pay instead of one, and both, as a rule, call for immediate payment and are unable or unwilling to let their remuneration depend upon the result. Foreign authors and publishers who have heard of the wonderful sales of some particular translated book are apt to have the most fantastic ideas of the value of the English translation rights, and if the word “America” is breathed, I have known foreign publishers name a figure for which one would think they would be pleased to sell their whole business. Even twenty years ago, translation rights were almost invariably sold for a small lump sum; to-day the most impossible royalties are asked. Probably the fairest plan to both parties is a lump sum for a definite number of copies with a royalty thereafter. It would seem to be clear that if a royalty is granted from the start, it should only be a proportion of what would be paid for an original work. In other words, there is no justification for paying a foreign author plus a translator more than would be paid for a corresponding work by an English author. This sounds obvious, but one constantly encounters publishers (American publishers in particular) who in the same breath admit that they cannot afford more than 10 per cent, royalty for a work by an unknown writer, and that they have just agreed to pay 10 per cent, for some translation rights of a work by an author of whom few people have ever heard. They seem oblivious of the fact that by the time they have paid the translator they are probably paying the equivalent of 20 per cent, for authorship. One such publisher recently admitted to me that he had never yet made any money on translations. I am afraid he never will.

Georg Friedrich Kersting, Lesender bei Lampenlicht (1814)

Welcome Aboard

If you used to follow my old blog, welcome aboard.

The content here will be much the same —plenty of passéisme, but with more of my own translations and the occasional glimpse into the workings of the Obolus Press.

I may not post quite as frequently as I once did, so if you would like to receive updates by email rather than having to check the web site, just sign up below.

You may, of course, unsubscribe at any time.