Page images
PDF
EPUB

them. She has been accused of being an adventuress; that

; she was an adept at card-playing and in speaking falsehoods ; that she smoked cigarettes and was given to profanity; that she was of tempestuous temper and often sulky as a spoiled child ; that she would call her most devoted disciples psychol

l ogized puppets ;” that nine out of every ten of her followers finally deserted her in disgust; that her great book, Isis Unveiled, is a jumble of plagiarisms; that her personal letters written to her intimate friend, Madame Coulomb, reveal a depravity of duplicity and insincerity; that she deliberately practiced fraud in her magic wonders. We have sought for the refutation of these charges, but have come from our investigation with the sore feeling that they are in the main true. But, suppose that they were all proven false, still this psychic wonder has not impressed the world with her spirituality. She has not gone to and fro in the earth as an angel of blessing, as did Florence Nightingale, Elizabeth Fry, and Frances E. Willard, and as still goes Clara Barton. If the character of a doctrine is reflected in the character of its foremost devotees we must decline to bow at the shrine of Blavatsky. We return then to the romances as the clearest, fairest, and probably the fullest statement of the ideal of this orientalism ; and come from our study with the conviction that theosophy is itself a romance.

AH. Tuale.

ART. III.—THE PROVERBS OF THE SO-CALLED

DIONYSIUS CATO.

DURING the Middle Ages one of the most widely known of the Latin classics and most generally used for teaching purposes was the collection of hexameter couplets variously entitled Dionysii Catonis Disticha de Moribus ad Filium, Dicta Marci Catonis ad Filium Suum, Libri Catonis Philosophi, etc. The youth of those days learned here their grammar, prosody, and morals; and many a luckless birch switch has doubtless found its Acheron, as Plautus has it, in the effort to convince wayward minds that it was worth while to pay close attention to the study of these sententious maxims. Older heads, meanwhile, did not scorn to pore over them and comment learnedly and piously on their real or supposed meaning.

The present generation of schoolmasters, in spite of occasional manifestations of restiveness appearing now and then in the appointment of committees “of ten,” “ of twelve,” “ of fifteen,” seems tolerably well contented to continue assuring the pupils of to-day of the imperishable truths that “all Gaul is divided into three parts,” that Xenophon led the ten thousand for “thirty parasangs” on various occasions, that Catiline grievously "abused the patience” of the consul that preferred not arms but the toga, and that the bachelor bard of Mantua deliberately put into the mouth of Jove's messenger the immortal sentiment that "a woman is always a fickle thing!” What matters it? Is it not constantly reiterated upon us that "truth is one?” Doubtless for him who can fathom that unity of all truth there lie at no very great depth beneath the surface of these superficially trite and erroneous statements ethical pearls fit to adorn the diadem of the author of Ecclesiastes and The Proverbs of Solomon. But the wayfaring landsman, who is hardly prepared for such plunges, is glad to wait long on the shore of truth till some chance vessel maybe shall bring tidings from a hitherto unknown or long-forgotten region and display rare treasures before his eager eyes. Such an opportunity has been recently afforded by the revival of interest in the collection of proverbs which is the subject of this article—a critical edition of the text having been prepared by a Hungarian scholar, Geyza Némethy, and learned Prolegomena having been written by Dr. Erich Bischoff, discussing thoroughly the history and present condition of the collection.

It appears that the first of the titles quoted above, in which the authorship of the work is attributed to a certain Dionysius Cato, depends for its accuracy on a statement of Scaliger that a very ancient manuscript which he had heard of, but had never seen, was so entitled. No snch author, however, is known from any other source. Furthermore, the very name bears on its face indications that it is the creation of somebody's imagination. “Dionysius” is neither a Gentile name nor a prænomen according to the Roman usage, while, on the other hand, “ Cato” belongs decidedly in tone to the older régime when such novel combinations in names had never been heard of. Among the conjectures resorted to in attempting to explain this name are the followingsome of which are ingenious, while others presuppose idiocy on the part of somebody more or less remotely concerned : (1) Some unknown author named Dionysius wrote a work entitled Cato, thus imitating Cicero’s habit of naming his rhetorical and philosophical dialogues, Brutus, Lælius, Cato Maior, or Hortensius. The blending of author and title would then be a not unnatural blunder. (2) “ Cato” is to be regarded as a dative case, referring to the person to whom some Dionysius or other dedicated the work. The title then would have read something like this: Dionysius Cato Scripsit. (3) The folly of some copyist in giving loose rein to his imagination transformed an innocent word like diï or dia into an abbreviation for Dionysius, so that perhaps the superscription Dii Catonis Disticha became Dionysii Catonis Disticha. (4) Ancient manuscripts often contained the works of more than one author. In such a manuscript a work of some Dionysius may have been followed by the Catonis Disticha." Very likely the former ended at the bottom of a page with the words, explicit liber Dionysii (“Here ends the book of Dionysius "), and the next page

a

a

[ocr errors]

began with the title, Catonis Philosophi Liber (“The book of the philosopher Cato”). Bearing in mind the old-fashioned custom, still to be seen in books printed a century or two ago, of adding at the bottom of the page before turning a leaf the first word of the next page, we can easily imagine how the expression, “ Liber Dionysii Catonis Philosophi,or something of the sort, may have sprung into being.

These amusing guesses at the possible origin of the connection between the names “ Dionysius ” and “Cato” serve only to strengthen the conviction that this connection is merely fortuitous, and do not assist in explaining the presence of the word “ Cato" in all forms of the title. If we undertake to refer the distichs in their present form to any of the known Catos of Roman history or Roman literature we have little success in finding anybody that they will fit. To be sure, we are informed by ancient writers that Cato the Censor wrote for his son a book of precepts or practical teachings. But that was probably written in prose, certainly not in the comparatively faultless hexameters of this collection. To other suggestions similar objections arise. If the theory is advanced that “ Cato" is a mere title, like Lælius, Brutus, or Cato Maior, the reply is made that in this work Cato in person figures nowhere, while the individuals referred to in similar titles do in each case. Even when it is urged that the name may imply that the collection was made by a later writer out of earlier works of Cato by selecting the sentiments and versifying them, we are met with the not unreasonable argument that the title Cato would be an inappropriate one for such a diluted extract of Cato's wit and wisdom. Nevertheless, it seems to us a rather attractive, and not wholly absurd, idea that this title may have been given to such a collection of couplets, if some of them had been borrowed in essence from certain of Cato's lost works and others had been added from other sources. If so, the title as we have it would mean simply that the collection is worthy to represent theoretically the practical wisdom and ethical teaching of such a common-sense veteran as Cato the Censor. Certainly no one familiar with the shrewd and pointed advice in the extant book of Cato on agriculture can doubt that if he had chosen to write proverbs in hexameter conplets their flavor at least would not have been essentially different from that of these.

In its present condition the collection seems to be but a part of an earlier and larger work. This is indicated by the various additions that appear in different manuscripts, by the nature of the collection itself, and by the existence of other matter which apparently belonged to such an earlier work, for example, a number of single verses of similar sentiment attributed to an Irish monk of the seventh century, Columbanus by name. (This Columbanus, by the way, is not to be confused with St. Columba.) Dr. Bischoff in his Prolegomena discusses this subject with great critical acumen.

For fear that the total results of our discussion thus far may be compared to those achieved by the storied king who with all his men first marched up the hill and then marched down again, we hasten to recapitulate and to pass to the consideration of the proverbs themselves. The work then which we possess is of unknown authorship, and is probably but a por: tion of a more comprehensive collection. The critical edition of Némethy goes under the simple title, Dicta Catonis. It comprises four books, containing respectively forty, thirtyone, twenty-four, and forty-nine distichs, followed by an appendix of stray distichs, or fragments, to the number of fourteen, and preceded by a prose “ Præfatio" of six lines and a series of fifty-seven “sententiæ." These “sententiæ" are very brief-usually two or three words each-and, despite the learned efforts of certain scholars to prove them metrical, are surely plain prose throughout. Némethy explains them as a sort of table of contents of some one of the various collections that were excerpted from the original, larger work. The little prose “ Præfatio," written by an unknown hand—evidently not by Cato to his son-reads thus: “Noticing that people are often far astray from the path of ethical truth, I have judged it my duty to bolster up their principles and have an eye to their reputation, particularly that they might succeed in living honorably and dying nobly. I have accordingly written out in detail what one should do and what he should imi. tate, that life may be perfected by right actions. Now then,

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »