Grammarians, Whores, Buffoons

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From an anonymous colleague:

I'm currently auditing Jennifer Houseman Wegner's class on Cleopatra. Today, in a Powerpoint lecture on Ptolemy IV, she showed the following quote from Edwyn Bevan's "A History of Egpyt under the Ptolemaic Dynasty": (Metheun, 1927, p.233)

"Agathocles and Agathoclea still, as before, ruled the king's [Ptolemy IV] corrupt affections. The palace swarmed with literary pretenders, poets, grammarians, whores, buffoons, philosophers."

Somehow put me in mind of Language Log.

Heavens!  What a motley crew!

Old Bevan really seems to have had it in for Ptolemy IV (Philopator), and was especially hard on him for his "literary dilettantism."

"There have been princes whose nature was corrupted by the enjoyment of despotic power, but Ptolemy IV came to the throne already corrupted. He cast back to his grandfather, the dilettante and voluptuary, but he reproduced his grandfather’s vices in a more extravagant form, without the serious intellectual interests which gave a touch of greatness to the second Ptolemy. The grandson not only followed ease and pleasure, but he was indifferent to the character of the people whom he allowed to direct the affairs of the kingdom, so long as they provided him the means for a life of literary and aesthetic sensuality and saved him the trouble of governing." p. 220

"Love of ease, wine, lasciviousness, literary dilettantism, had so swallowed up in this young degenerate every natural affection that he did, at the suggestion of [his minister] Sosibius, in order to remove uncomfortable agitations from his life, have his uncle, his brother, and his mother killed. It was arranged that when young Magas was having a bath, scalding water should be poured over him…" p. 221

"To one form of emotional exaltation the king was especially addicted – the orgiastic worship of Dionysos. From this god the house of Ptolemy claimed to be descended, and Ptolemy IV desired apparently to reproduce in some way in his own person his divine ancestor." p. 233

This particular fault has made it into Wikipedia, although Bevan is not cited:

"Philopator was devoted to orgiastic forms of religion and literary dilettantism."

The anonymous colleague who sent these materials to me is a devoted reader of Language Log.  But I must inform him that, here at Language Log headquarters, although we do have plenty of grammarians, as well as syntacticians, phonologists, and morphologists, we do not have any literary dilettantes / pretenders, much less whores and buffoons, though we do have a few linguists who moonlight as poets and philosophers, and a stray philologist or two, such as myself.

[Thanks to Ross Bender]


  1. Adam F said,

    October 19, 2015 @ 3:15 am

    For some reason, that reminds me of this famous Orwell quote:

    One sometimes gets the impression that the mere words ‘Socialism’ and ‘Communism’ draw towards them with magnetic force every fruit-juice drinker, nudist, sandal-wearer, sex-maniac, Quaker, ‘Nature Cure’ quack, pacifist, and feminist in England.

  2. Chris Hunt said,

    October 19, 2015 @ 6:54 am

    "This particular fault has made it into Wikipedia, although Bevan is not cited"

    He is now!

  3. David Morris said,

    October 19, 2015 @ 9:07 pm

    What's wrong with grammarians, anyway?

  4. Graeme said,

    October 20, 2015 @ 5:46 am

    Hands up, who could not resist some 'orgiastic forms of … literary dilettantism'?

  5. Ross Bender said,

    October 20, 2015 @ 10:53 am

    @Graeme — Certainly not linguists, who have the "collective morals of a very loose alley cat.":

    "Huh," I replied thoughtfully. "There may be something in that. Ya know, at the Linguistics Society meeting last month somebody gave a paper where they raised the idea that perhaps morality is an innate universal – sort of like generative grammar. They don't really have a handle on it yet – it'll probably take years of study to nail this one down – but it's significant that the question would be raised among a bunch of linguists, considering that as a group they have the collective morals of a very loose alley cat. You oughta see what goes on at some of those meetings."

  6. J. W. Brewer said,

    October 20, 2015 @ 3:18 pm

    I was interested to learn from the internet that Edwyn Bevan was one of the brothers of the rather notorious, who would have probably attributed any shortcomings in the administration of Ptolemy IV to the machinations of a Judeo-Masonic conspiracy. (Or, given the bad press Pt.4 is given in 3 Maccabees, concluded instead that he was an admirable monarch unfairly maligned by such a conspiracy.)

  7. seriously said,

    October 20, 2015 @ 10:17 pm

    "we do not have any literary dilettantes / pretenders, much less whores and buffoons,"

    More's the pity.

  8. outeast said,

    October 25, 2015 @ 5:51 am

    Ah, you're not counting us commenters then.

  9. Ross Bender said,

    October 27, 2015 @ 7:28 pm

    Not to beat a dead horse or anything, but it turns out that the trope "whores and buffoons" has a distinguished history. In her Dangerous Women, Libertine Epicures, and the Rise of Sensibility, 1670-1730 (British Literature in Context in the Long Eighteenth Century), (Ashgate, 2011), Laura Linker quotes John Ayloffe's Brittania and Raleigh:

    "A colony of French possess the court;
    Pimps, priests, buffoons i' the privy-chamber sport.
    Such slimy monsters ne'er approach'd a throne
    Since Pharoah's reign, nor so defil'd a crown…"


    "But his fair soul, transform'd by that French dame,
    Had lost all sense of honor, justice, fame.
    Like a tame spinster in's seragl' he sits,
    Beseig'd by whores, buffoons, and bastard chits…"

    Apparently what so distressed Ayloffe, Marvell and other satirists were Charles II's French mistresses….

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