Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Quote of the Day: Bulfinch’s Mythology

 

“Our work is not for the learned, nor for the theologian, nor for the philosopher, but for the reader of English literature, of either sex, who wishes to comprehend the allusions so frequently made by public speakers, lecturers, essayists, and poets, and those which occur in polite conversation.”–Thomas Bulfinch

Ah. Polite conversation. Remember when people in public life engaged in polite conversation? Me neither, for the most part. (Of course, there are exceptions.)

But (please note there is nothing before “but”) it must be said that the current round of “impolite conversation” has sunk to such a level of vulgarity that, instead of reaching for my copy of Bulfinch’s Mythology, perhaps to learn why the term “narcissist” has come to mean what it does, I generally have to steel myself, grit my teeth, make sure my granddaughter isn’t looking over my shoulder, and open up the Urban Dictionary. (Language warning. Oh, I see they cover narcissists, too, right there on the home page. Not like Bulfinch, though. Another language warning.)

And when public discourse today isn’t unconscionably and repetitively vulgar, it’s ignorant, banal, and moronic. Thus, we see the Speaker of the House of Representatives talking, publicly and seriously about “doggy doo,” the President of the United States using on occasion what can only be described as “word salad” to try to get his point across, Hank Johnson worrying that Guam will tip over and fall in the sea, and AOC equating children in the southern United States suffering from ringworm (a common fungal disease of the same family as athletes foot) to third world children with intestinal parasites. Then, in a class all by himself, there is Joe Biden, who’s never done better in the polls than since he began hiding in his basement and largely keeping his mouth shut after telling one potential voter, “you’re a lying dog-faced pony soldier,” and another–a Detroit factory worker–“you’re full of [expletive].” (You won’t find references to either of those allusions in Bulfinch.)

Wait. What’s this? “Tweet anything at me, Jack. I’ll show ya where to put it, ya two-timing eggman.” Surely not even Biden actually said that? Rats. He didn’t. There’s a BidenInsultBot, and it’s from there. Gosh, it’s good though, innit? Here’s another: “Why, you’re just a chicken-hearted circus peanut.” Even I have to admit that these are pretty funny. But now we’ve gone beyond amusing to that whole “vote for Trump and you ain’t black” business. Crimenutely. Oh for a serious politician, with serious, right-thinking ideas, the ability to get things done and to win elections, and the verbal facility to form a complete thought in his mind and get it out of his mouth in one piece without insulting a sizeable proportion of his constituents along the way. Really? Is that too much to ask?

I long for the days when even impolite conversation was as erudite and interesting as its more civil counterpart. When it wasn’t full of suggestions that we all go off and do the anatomically impossible, or accusations that each of us enjoys carnal relations with our own mother. When vulgarity was infrequent enough that it could still actually shock, rather than simply repel, or even worse, not even register. Or when insults were somewhat clever. The days when FDR called Herbert Hoover a “fat, timid capon,” and Hoover responded by calling FDR a “chameleon on plaid.” Or Churchill’s less well-known takedown of Ramsey Macdonald, “he is a sheep in sheep’s clothing.” (The other one is here.)

Thomas Bulfinch, the son of a Boston architect who designed parts of the US Capitol, was educated at Phillips Exeter Academy, and Harvard College, and worked lifelong at the Merchant’s Bank of Boston. The study of myth and fable was an avocation for him, not a career, and he was dedicated only to:

telling the stories of mythology in such a manner as to make them a source of amusement. We have endeavored to tell them correctly, according to the ancient authorities, so that when the reader finds them referred to he may not be at a loss to recognize the reference. Thus we hope to teach mythology not as a study, but as a relaxation from study; to give our work the charm of a story-book, yet by means of it to impart a knowledge of an important branch of education. The index at the end will adapt it to the purposes of a reference, and make it a Classical Dictionary for the parlor.

It’s a quaint idea, this Victorian one–that ordinary people must want to educate themselves, and that they could become learned and could read their way to an education without in any way compromising their “station” in life or getting above themselves, and that they would be better people for so doing. And I found it interesting, in today’s quote of the day, that in 1855, the year Age of Fable, or Stories of Gods and Heroes was published, Bulfinch was equally committed to enlightening, and informing, both men and women, regardless (or irregardless as the case may be) of the readers’ sex.

Bulfinch’s Mythology, published fourteen years after his death, was a compilation of his three earlier works on myths, fables and romance. It was the go-to standard for study and enjoyment of the ancient stories for almost a century. (The Kindle edition is just$2.99 on Amazon.) I read great gobs of it when I was a child, although by the time I attended college, it had been superseded by Edith Hamilton’s Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes. Which is also quite good.

Thomas Bulfinch died 153 years ago, on May 27, 1867.

Did you read Bulfinch’s Mythology as a child? Or in school? What’s your favorite myth? Do you miss erudite conversation in the public sphere? (Thank goodness we have Ricochet.) And do you have a favorite insult or witty rejoinder (either one of your own, or a famous one) that’s you’d like to share?

I’ll start:

Dorothy Parker tells me of the last time she encountered Playwright Clare Boothe Luce. The two ladies were trying to get out of a doorway at the same time. Clare drew back and cracked, “Age before beauty, Miss Parker.” As Dorothy swept out, she turned to the other guests and said. “Pearls before swine.”–Sheila Graham, Hartford Courant, Oct. 14, 1938.

Published in General
This post was promoted to the Main Feed by a Ricochet Editor at the recommendation of Ricochet members. Like this post? Want to comment? Join Ricochet’s community of conservatives and be part of the conversation. Get your first month free.

There are 36 comments.

Become a member to join the conversation. Or sign in if you're already a member.
  1. RightAngles Member

    Another Dorothy Parker, one of my favorites since college: “The woman speaks eight languages and can’t say ‘no’ in any of them.”

    • #1
    • May 27, 2020, at 10:06 AM PDT
    • 10 likes
  2. RightAngles Member

    Bulfinch’s was one of our textbooks in freshman English.

    • #2
    • May 27, 2020, at 10:08 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  3. RightAngles Member

    Abe Lincoln: “If this is coffee, please bring me tea. If this is tea, please bring me coffee.”

    • #3
    • May 27, 2020, at 10:09 AM PDT
    • 9 likes
  4. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I went to a more progressive school. Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes, by Edith Hamilton (1942). It was only about thirty years old when I got to it.

    • #4
    • May 27, 2020, at 10:12 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  5. Misthiocracy got drunk and Member
    Misthiocracy got drunk and Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    FYI: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/4928

    • #5
    • May 27, 2020, at 10:55 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  6. RightAngles Member

    Churchill had a million of ’em. There was one exchange between him and George Bernard Shaw, where Shaw told him he was giving him two tickets to his new play, and that he could “Bring a friend. If you have any.” And Churchill said he’d attend on the second night “if there is one.”

    • #6
    • May 27, 2020, at 10:58 AM PDT
    • 11 likes
  7. RightAngles Member

    Percival (View Comment):

    I went to a more progressive school. Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes, by Edith Hamilton (1942). It was only about thirty years old when I got to it.

    We also had Hamilton.

    • #7
    • May 27, 2020, at 11:00 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  8. She Reagan
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Churchill had a million of ’em. There was one exchange between him and George Bernard Shaw, where Shaw told him he was giving him two tickets to his new play, and that he could “Bring a friend. If you have any.” And Churchill said he’d attend on the second night “if there is one.”

    I love that one. Churchill was peerless in the insult department, even if it first appeared he was on the losing end. There’s the one with Nancy Astor:

    “Nancy Astor: “Sir, if you were my husband, I’d poison your tea.”
    Winston Churchill: “Madame, if you were my wife, I’d drink it!”

    or, failing that, the other one with Nancy Astor:

    “Nancy Astor: “Winston, you are drunk!”
    Winston Churchill: “And you, madam, are ugly. But I shall be sober in the morning.”

     

    • #8
    • May 27, 2020, at 11:15 AM PDT
    • 8 likes
  9. Arahant Member

    If I know Bullfinch, and trust me, I have seen a lot of Bullfinch, that is a full load of Bullfinch.


    This is the Quote of the Day. If you have a quotation you would like to share, we have several openings left in June. Why not sign up today?

    • #9
    • May 27, 2020, at 11:19 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  10. Arahant Member

    She: Do you miss erudite conversation in the public sphere?

    I certainly do.

    • #10
    • May 27, 2020, at 11:33 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  11. She Reagan
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    She: What’s your favorite myth?

    OK, Here it is. “Baucis and Philemon.” The old, grizzled couple who take in Zeus and Hermes (Jupiter/Mercury), who are desperate for a place to sleep, having been rejected by all others in the town that night. It’s a version of “be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares–Hebrews 13:2” and since, over the years, I’ve written three very different posts on this topic:

    https://ricochet.com/228745/archives/november-22-surprise-entertaining-angels-four-legged-ones-mostly/

    https://ricochet.com/566800/archives/quote-of-the-day-entertaining-angels/

    https://ricochet.com/718689/entertaining-angels-the-lamb-in-the-living-room/

    I think I get to own it.

     

    • #11
    • May 27, 2020, at 11:34 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  12. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Lady Astor: Winston, if you were my husband, I would put poison in your coffee.

    Winston Churchill: Madam, if you were my wife, I’d drink it.

    • #12
    • May 27, 2020, at 11:35 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  13. Arahant Member

    She (View Comment):
    I think I get to own it.

    Until @kentforrester comes along and steals it.

    • #13
    • May 27, 2020, at 11:51 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  14. KentForrester Moderator

    Arahant (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):
    I think I get to own it.

    Until @kentforrester comes along and steals it.

    Ha, ha. I wouldn’t think of such a thing. I noticed you used “criminently,” Mrs. She. You owe me ten cents.

    • #14
    • May 27, 2020, at 12:00 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
    • This comment has been edited.
  15. Arahant Member

    KentForrester (View Comment):
    Ha, ha. I wouldn’t think of such a thing. 

    Crimenutely, Kent. You’d never do such a thing.

    • #15
    • May 27, 2020, at 12:02 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  16. KentForrester Moderator

    Arahant (View Comment):

    KentForrester (View Comment):
    Ha, ha. I wouldn’t think of such a thing.

    Crimenutely, Kent. You’d never do such a thing.

    That’s twenty cents you owe me now.

    • #16
    • May 27, 2020, at 12:04 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  17. SkipSul Coolidge
    SkipSul Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I think my first exposure to the Greek myths was through the illustrated D’Aulaires version, followed by another one once I reached sufficient age (wasn’t Bullfinch or Hamilton, but I do not remember the author). I don’t know as if I have a favorite myth though – each has its charms (so to speak) depending on how it is told. CS Lewis’s Till We Have Faces brings the story of Psyche and Cupid to life in a way that I’ve seen in no other telling of that myth. Orpheus is heartbreaking.

    I’m bad at remembering quips. I don’t remember where I first heard this one, but it works: “if you’re going to eavesdrop, at least pay attention.”

    • #17
    • May 27, 2020, at 12:53 PM PDT
    • 5 likes
  18. Goldwaterwoman Thatcher

    She: Did you read Bulfinch’s Mythology as a child? Or in school? What’s your favorite myth? Do you miss erudite conversation in the public sphere? (Thank goodness we have Ricochet.) And do you have a favorite insult, or witty rejoinder (either one of your own, or a famous one) that’s you’d like to share?

    I love to quote some of my born and bred in Texas husband’s sayings. One of his favorites, when referring to a particularly supercilious individual was “He’s ten pounds lighter than a straw hat.”

    • #18
    • May 27, 2020, at 1:12 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  19. The Reticulator Member

    She: The days when FDR called Herbert Hoover a “fat, timid capon,” and Hoover responded by calling FDR a “chameleon on plaid.” Or Churchill’s less well-known take down of Ramsey Macdonald, “he is a sheep in sheep’s clothing.”

    That is a high standard. 

    • #19
    • May 28, 2020, at 7:32 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  20. JosePluma Thatcher

    RightAngles (View Comment):

    Abe Lincoln: “If this is coffee, please bring me tea. If this is tea, please bring me coffee.”

    Pogo: “If it was coal, it wasn’t bad. . .If it was licorice, it was terrible.”

    • #20
    • May 28, 2020, at 11:45 PM PDT
    • 6 likes
  21. JayCee Member

    I’m reading, well, listening to, “Mythos” by Stephen Fry. I’m enjoying it a lot.

    • #21
    • May 29, 2020, at 8:31 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  22. EODmom Coolidge

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    Arahant (View Comment):

    KentForrester (View Comment):
    Ha, ha. I wouldn’t think of such a thing.

    Crimenutely, Kent. You’d never do such a thing.

    That’s twenty cents you owe me now.

    You guys are having too much fun. Go back to social distancing. Which term has earned its place ahead of political correctness in uselessness. 

    • #22
    • May 29, 2020, at 9:35 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  23. Lilly B Coolidge

    We have a Shakespearean insult mug, purchased in a tourist shop in Seattle. One of our family favorites from the mug is: “I do desire we may be better strangers.” From As You Like It. It sounds like such a polite way to socially-distance. You can also try, “it’s not you, it’s COVID.” 

    • #23
    • May 29, 2020, at 10:03 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  24. Western Chauvinist Member
    Western Chauvinist Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    One of my favorites (appropriate for the PIT) is from the movie Roxanne where the mayor salutes the townspeople after they put out the fire: “I’d rather be with you people than the finest people in the world!” 

    • #24
    • May 29, 2020, at 1:55 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  25. Arahant Member

    Western Chauvinist (View Comment):

    One of my favorites (appropriate for the PIT) is from the movie Roxanne where the mayor salutes the townspeople after they put out the fire: “I’d rather be with you people than the finest people in the world!”

    And we’d rather you join us in the PIT.

    • #25
    • May 29, 2020, at 1:58 PM PDT
    • 2 likes
  26. Manny Member

    I don’t recall ever having to look up anything in Bulfinches Mythology from either polite or crude conversation. Hahaha, what a great essay. Who would have thought of turning that innocuous, throw-away phrase into a sparkling piece. She, you are among the best essayists here.

    • #26
    • May 29, 2020, at 2:38 PM PDT
    • 4 likes
  27. She Reagan
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Manny (View Comment):

    I don’t recall ever having to look up anything in Bulfinches Mythology from either polite or crude conversation. Hahaha, what a great essay. Who would have thought of turning that innocuous, throw-away phrase into a sparkling piece. She, you are among the best essayists here.

    Thank you, @manny. You made my day!

    • #27
    • May 29, 2020, at 4:20 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  28. KentForrester Moderator

    She (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):

    I don’t recall ever having to look up anything in Bulfinches Mythology from either polite or crude conversation. Hahaha, what a great essay. Who would have thought of turning that innocuous, throw-away phrase into a sparkling piece. She, you are among the best essayists here.

    Thank you, @manny. You made my day!

    Oh don’t be such a pushover, Mrs. She. 

    • #28
    • May 29, 2020, at 4:24 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  29. Charlotte Member
    Charlotte Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I always loved that some anti-federalist Senators called John Adams “His Rotundity”.

    • #29
    • May 30, 2020, at 6:26 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  30. She Reagan
    She Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    KentForrester (View Comment):

    She (View Comment):

    Manny (View Comment):

    I don’t recall ever having to look up anything in Bulfinches Mythology from either polite or crude conversation. Hahaha, what a great essay. Who would have thought of turning that innocuous, throw-away phrase into a sparkling piece. She, you are among the best essayists here.

    Thank you, @manny. You made my day!

    Oh don’t be such a pushover, Mrs. She.

    Crimenutely, @kentforrester. Flattery will get you everywhere. You know that, otherwise you wouldn’t post so many trolling photos of Bob.

    • #30
    • May 30, 2020, at 6:50 AM PDT
    • 2 likes