[lit-ideas] Askesis Spartiatiké

  • From: Jlsperanza@xxxxxxx
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Tue, 27 Nov 2007 23:26:36 EST

Gird up your loins! (or not?)
"Pray extend your Spartan jejunity to the length of a competent letter."  
BENTLEY Epist., to S. Clarke 18 Nov., 1719

Perhaps a better word, to follow Pater, would be _ascesis_. And I'm glad  the 
OED quotes his Greek Studies:
      "The sanity of soul and body..the perfecting  of both by reasonable 
exercise or  ascésis."
                 1880  Greek Studies (1895) 267 
I have checked with Dowling, "Hellenism in Victorian Oxford" (Cornell  
Univ.), and while she considers Pater in detail, I don't think it's _there_ I  
read about Pater's ascesis. Maybe then it was Jenkins, but it's not to  hand 
as I write this.
I read from amazon:
Richard Jenkyns is Professor of the Classical Tradition at  the University of 
Oxford and a Fellow of Lady  Margaret Hall. His books include The Victorians 
and Ancient Greece and  Dignity and Decadence: Victorian Art and the Classical 
--- The first book cited above is a good one --, and I thought superficial,  
but I see Dowling considers it seriously. Jenkyns has an agenda to fight with, 
 and his criticism of Pater is not altogether honest. 
(Jenkins and Dowling do refer to this Dorian 'ideal' which was popular (and  
perhaps it still is) among the code of England's upper-class. But then one has 
 to be careful with codes. Usually the _existence_ of a code is to _inhibit_ 
a  behaviour that is prevalent in a society and the coder wants _out_ (But 
then  cfr. the Ten Commandments -- don't you find it _sarcastic_ that Jehova 
have  to _descend_ from Heaven to tell us, "Thou shalt not kill". Surely that 
makes  little sense unless he has _seen_ people killing each other -- 
gratuitously?  Oddly, "You shall fast" is no requirement in any code, 
necessarily as 
it would  lead to death.
Pater's first quote is more ambiguous. Is from his Renaissance book,
     The charm of ascesis, of the austere and  serious 
     girding of the loins in youth. 
but Geary must help me with my Greek here for 'girding of the loins'. 
Webster has "to gird one's loins" = to prepare for action. But again, I'll  
need to go OED. 
(Greek or Hebrew, or both?)
to gird one's loins
1535 COVERDALE 2 Kings iv. 29 
Girde vp thy loynes, and take my staffe in thy hande, and go  thy waye.  Luke 
xii. 35 Let youre loynes be  gerded aboute. 
1810 SCOTT Lady of L. III. vii, He girt his  loins and came. 
1672 CAVE Prim. Chr. I. iii. (1673) 49 The  mind is strengthened and girt 
close by indigence and frugality. 
So I suppose it's a good thing. As Helm reminded us, Spartan girls (and I'd  
add boys or youth) were oiled toe to head and exercised (ascesis) naked. So I  
suppose a little belt around the waist -- to hold a sword -- is just as well 
--  PROVIDED you _prepare for action_ (= war). In peace, and that's the charm 
of it,  I'd say, _pace_ Pater, it's the ungirding of the loins (which is back 
to  Physis). 
Perhaps Pater is clearer somewhere else. I cannot see how he can expand on  
'ascesis' in the preface to the book on the Renaissance. These Victorian types  
are too far-ranging for me!

That's for those entre nous who like to stick a  notion, like  _ascesis, and 
I don't _need_ that, to a historical context. With _ascesis_ it's  perhaps 
advisable, since the word has strong Christian connotations -- and  Jewish (see 
quotes below) that it would seem reasonable to see what's Greek,  what's 
Spartan, and what not about this, apparently originally Greek (or is it  
notion? I note one quote relating fasting (jejunity) and ascesis. 
Funny how _ascesis_ and jejunity remains in Spanish. Word for 'breakfast'  in 
Romance languages -- like "dejeneur" and "desayuno" -- are the strict  
equivalent of 'break-the-fast'. So it's 'ayuno' in Spanish that carries all the 
meaning of the Latin 'jejunum'. 
It's not clear what the role of _ascesis_ in Spartan 'games' (or 'martial  
arts') was. Plato constantly laughs at 'athletes' 'stuffing up' to win the  
panthleton -- but that's _athletes_ or _gynmnastai_, not necessarily _milites_  
who, if to win, must be _fit_, not stuffed up, and what best way that have them 
'trained' in 'ascesis'?

   BA, A 
ascesis: [ad. Gr.  askesis exercise, training, f.  askein, to exercise.]  
[ad. Gr.  adj., f.  , f. - to exercise] 
The practice of self-discipline.  

1873 PATER  Renaissance p. xii, 
The charm of ascesis, of the austere and  serious girding of the loins in 
1880  Greek Studies (1895) 267 
The sanity of soul and body..the perfecting of both  by reasonable exercise 
or ascésis. 
1890 E. JOHNSON Rise Christendom 107 
In the conduct of life they establish a strict  ascesis..as a means of a 
closer communion with the Divine. 
1924 J. KELMAN Prophets of Yesterday i. 24 
The Greek idea of askesis was but the habit  of the athlete. 
1944 AUDEN For Time Being (1945) 84 The  vision That plain men can predict 
through an Ascesis of their senses.
1646 SIR T.  BROWNEPseud.  Ep. viii. 126 
This ascetic rule, which held that a saint was  disgraced by the very society 
which his mild Master sought and loved. 
1682  Chr. Morals (1756) 97 
The old Ascetick christians found a paradise in a  desert. 
1757  BURKE Abridgm. Eng. Hist. Wks. X. 276  A monastery which had acquired 
great renown for..the severity of  its ascetick discipline. 
1850 TENNYSON In Mem. cix, High nature amorous  of the good, But touch'd with 
no ascetic gloom.
1822 BURROWES Cycl., Ascetic, the title  of certain books on devout 
1868  PATTISON Academ. Org. §5. 122 The  knowledge to be cultivated is not 
ascetic divinity.
1673 CAVE Prim. Chr. III. ii. 253 One of  the primitive Asceticks. 
1776  GIBBON Decl. & F. xxxvii. (R.) The  Ascetics, who obeyed and abused the 
rigid precepts of the gospel. 
1861 A. BERESFORD-HOPE  Eng. Cathedr. 19th C. v. 165 The  deserts of the 
Thebaïd had been peopled by troops of sturdy and gaunt but  God-fearing 
1660  JER.  TAYLOR Ductor Dubit. II. iii. 8. §4 The  primitive Christians 
were generally such ascetics in this instance of fasting.  
1862  STANLEY Jewish Ch. (1877) I. i. 17  
He is not an ascetic..but full of the affections and  interests of family and 
1751  CHAMBERS Cycl. s.v., Books of spiritual  exercises. As the ascetics, or 
devout treatises of St. Basil.
a1617 BAYNE  On Eph. (1866) 331 Hence it is that ascetical sermons..are not 
in that request. 1697  tr. Dupin's Eccl. Hist. II. 145  The Ascetical Books 
attributed to St. Basil. 
1884 ADDIS & ARNOLD Cath. Dict. s.v., St. Francis of  Sales and St. Alphonsus 
Liguori may be mentioned as modern saints whose  ascetical works are most 
1836  HOR.  SMITH Tin Trump. (1876) 161 Our  English puritans with their 
ascetical bigotry.
c1800  E. C.  KNIGHT  Autobiog. I. 82 The Duke of Parma used frequently to 
clothe himself in a friar's  robe, and live ascetically. 
1842 J. H. NEWMAN Ch. of Fathers 367 Nor live  ascetically for the sake of 
1646 SIR T.  BROWNE  Pseud. Ep. VIII.  (1845) 126 Doomed to a life of 
celibacy by the asceticism which  had corrupted the simplicity of Christianity. 
1859 MILL Liberty ii. 89 In its horror of  sensuality, it made an idol of 
1850 W.  HOWITT  Year-bk. of Country  iv. 106 Lent, with all its ascetism and 
abstinence, and gloom, is  over. 
1870  Contemp. Rev. XIII. 391 The  melodramatic ascetism upon which such 
great store was then set. 
1889  Macm. Mag. Jan. 236/1 There is  certainly not a tinge in Shakespeare of 
sympathy with Catholic ascetism.

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