Page 27. " There were kings of France named Pepin "
 Julian slightly mistakes Richard's last name, which is Papen. There were a number of medieval Kings of the Franks called Pepin, who ruled over parts of what is now France and western Germany. Famous Pepins included Pepin the Short, the father of Charlemagne, Pepin the Hunchback (Charlemagne's son) and various Pepins of Aquitaine.
Page 31. " it was full of Montblanc fountain pens, Meisterstücks, at least a dozen of them. "

Meisterstück nibs
Creative Commons AttributionMeisterstück nibs - Credit: Bsodmike

Montblanc is a German company that produces luxury fountain pens. The company takes it name from Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps. Meisterstücks (German for 'masterpiece') first appeared in 1925, and are the company's most famous model of pen.

Page 32. " After all, Plato only had one teacher, and Alexander "

 For four generations in Ancient Greece there existed a begatting of knowledge in which Socrates taught Plato, who taught Aristotle, who went on to teach Alexander the Great.

Education was important in Ancient Greek civilisation, and could be formal (occurring in a school, or with a private tutor) or informal (occurring in an ad-hoc public forum, with an unpaid teacher or philosopher, such as Socrates.) Greek education focused on training the whole person, mind, body and spirit. Generally speaking, education was an exclusively male preoccupation, though there were exceptions, such as in the Spartan system or among followers of Pythagoras.

Page 33. " We'll be studying Dante, Virgil, all sorts of things. "

 Dante Alighieri (c.1265-1321) was a medieval Florentine poet, famous the Divine Comedy. The poem describes Dante's journey through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven, accompanied by the Roman poet Virgil, and is one of the world's most important and influential literary masterpieces. It can be read in English, side-by-side with the Italian, at the World of Dante.








 Virgil (70-09 B.C.) was a Roman poet, the author of an epic poem, the Aeneid, which describes the journey of Aeneas, survivor of the Trojan War and founder of the empire of Rome, on his way back from Troy to Italy. Virgil also wrote the Eclogues and the Georgics.



Page 33. " But I wouldn't advise you to go out and buy a copy of Goodbye, Columbus "

 Goodbye, Columbus was the first book published by the American author Philip Roth, published in 1959. The book contained the novella Goodbye, Columbus as well as five short stories. Although the book was a critical and commercial success, winning the 1960 National Book Award, it also attracted criticism for the negative portrayal of some of its Jewish characters, particularly the Jewish sergeant in the story Defender of the Faith. Goodbye, Columbus was adapted into a film in 1969.

The inclusion of contemporary fiction on university reading lists is often considered controversial by those who feel that curricula should be restricted to established literary masterpieces, members of the canon. On one hand, updating these lists can refresh courses that have become stale and irrelevant to students. On the other, reading lists can become subject to passing literary fads, overlooking more worthwhile books in favour of modern works that do not stand the test of time.


Page 34. " Cubitum eamus? "

Francis is propositioning Richard in Latin. 'Cubitum eamus?' means, roughly, shall we lie down/ go to bed together? At this point, though, Richard doesn't understand any Latin and fails both the test of his sexuality and that of his language skills.

Page 36. " Well, of course you've read Koine "

Koine Greek was the most popular and widespread dialect of Ancient Greek. It was spread by the armies of Alexander the Great to become the lingua franca of Ancient Greece and the Near East. A variety of Koine was used in early translations of the Bible, which was originally written in Hebrew or Aramaic (the latter being Jesus's own language).

Page 37. " I have never, to this day, read a word by Plotinus. "

 Plotinus (c.204/5–270A.D.) was a Roman philosopher who is considered to be responsible for the revival of Plato's ideas known as Neoplatonism. His metaphysical writings influenced the mystical teachings of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, particularly through his philosophy of the 'One', a supreme, transcendant entity, linked to the idea of a single God in monotheistic religions.

Page 37. " The Eclogues? No, dammit, that was Virgil. "
 The Eclogues were Virgil's first major work. Also known as the Bucolics, they are written in a pre-existing rustic genre of poetry which was Greek in origin. The Eclogues involve scenes of country herdsmen discussing the revolutionary change that was occurring in Rome at the time of their composition (around 44 and 38 B.C.) or recounting love stories.



Page 38. " about loss of self, about Plato's four divine madnesses "

In Plato's Phaedrus, the philosopher lists these madnesses. In the dialogue, Plato recounts Socrates saying, firstly, that there are two madnesses: one produced by 'human infirmity' and one of divine origin. Socrates then goes on to sum up the latter madnesses thus:

"The divine madness was subdivided into four kinds, prophetic, initiatory, poetic, erotic, having four gods presiding over them; the first was the inspiration of Apollo, the second that of Dionysus, the third that of the Muses, the fourth that of Aphrodite and Eros."

The 'initiatory' madness of Dionysus is the madness of religious ritual, the 'loss of self', as Julian says, through ecstatic worship.

For more on the cultural significance of madness in Ancient Greece, try E.R. Dodds' famous work The Greeks and the Irrational, Chapter III, 'The Blessings of Madness'.



Page 38. " Remember the Erinyes? "
 The Erinyes, Eumenides (or Furies, as Bunny says) were figures from Ancient Greek myth responsible for punishing those who had sworn a false oath, or otherwise bringing vengeance for the dead. The Furies were female figures, sometimes depicted with the wings of bats or birds, and sometimes with serpents attached to their bodies (like the Gorgons) or the body of a dog.
Page 39. " as old Cephalus once heard Sophocles say, the least of us know that love is a cruel and terrible master "

 Cephalus quotes Sophocles thus in Plato's Republic, a Socratic dialogue written around 380 B.C.. In the book, Socrates argues with various other figures including Cephalus about the nature of justice and the proper way to run a city state such as Athens. Plato used the work to put forward his ideas about politics and justice, as well as his Theory of Forms.

Sophocles (c.497-406 B.C.) was an Ancient Greek dramatist, famous for tragedies such as the Theban plays, including Oedipus Rex, which was the starting point for Freud's theory of the Oedipus complex.

Page 39. " Though after all your Xenophon and Thucydides I dare say there are not many young people better versed in military tactics "

 Ancient Greek historians whose books recount the wars of Ancient Athens.

Thucydides (c.460-395 B.C.) wrote the famous History of the Peloponnesian War, which is still studied in military schools today, and is said to be the favourite reading of neoconservative American politicians. The book describes the history of the war between Sparta and Athens in the fifth century B.C.

Xenophon (c. 430–354 B.C.) was an Ancient Greek writer and soldier. He was a contemporary admirer of Socrates. His book Hellenica follows on directly from events in Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War, to the extent that it begins "Following these events..."



Page 39. " I expect Apollo and Athena Nike would come down to fight by your side "

 Apollo is the Ancient Greek god of light, truth, medicine, music, poetry and the prophetic powers of the Oracle of Delphi. Athena is the goddess of civilisation, wisdom and justice.

In Ancient Greek literature it was not uncommon for the gods to come down from Mount Olympus to join in battle on the side of the favourite humans. In Homer's Iliad the gods frequently join in: Aphrodite fights for the Trojans, protecting Paris and Hector until an order from Zeus forced her to abandon the latter. Athena and Ares, god of war, also fight, and Ares is injured.

Page 39. " as the Oracle at Delphi said to the Spartans "

 Ancient Delphi was the site of a prophetic Oracle known as the Pythia. The Greek God Apollo gave the female Pythia the power of prophecy, and her temple offered advice and guidance for many years, from the 8th century B.C. to 393 A.D., when the emperor Theodosius ordered the closure of all pagan temples.

A great many writers mention the oracles, including Plato, Aristotle, Thucydides, Sophocles, Xenophon, Euripides and Ovid.

Delphic advice was notoriously open to interpretation. Herodotus recounts that when Croesus of Lydia consulted the oracles before his war with Persia he was told that if he went to war he would 'destroy a mighty empire'. He took this to be an encouragement: in fact, the empire he destroyed was his own.

Attempts have been made to find  a scientific explanation for the oracles at Delphi. A common theory is that hallucinogenic gases from the Kerna spring were responsible for the Pythia's obscure messages; others think that a network of spies collected information for her.

Page 40. " the bloodiest parts of Homer and Aeschylus are often the most magnificent "
 Homer is the name by which we refer to an unknown poet, or several unknown poets, who composed the Iliad and the Odyssey. Nothing about him as an historical person is known. Three ancient cities claimed to be his birthplace: Chios, Smyrna and Ephesus, and the Iliad and the Odyssey are thought to have been composed between the late 8th and early 7th centuries B.C..

Aeschylus (c. 524- 455 B.C.) was an Ancient Greek dramatist, one of the three great tragedians alongside Sophocles and Euripides. He wrote the famous trilogy of plays called the Oresteia, from which Camilla quotes lower down the page.

Both Homer and Aeschylus' work are full of bloody descriptions of conflict and murder like the lines Camilla quotes. Homer's Iliad takes place during the Trojan War and often recounts the deaths of men in that conflict; and Aeschylus' Oresteia describes the bloody, vengeful consequences of one particular act which takes place during the same war. In the first play of the Oresteia, Agamemnon, Clytemnestra kills her husband Agamemnon, the king of Argos, in revenge for his having sacrificed their daughter Iphigenia to appease the gods before he joins the Trojan War.

Page 41. " Iambic trimeter. Those really hideous parts of the Inferno, for instance "

Iambic trimeter is a meter often found in Ancient Greek poetry. Each line consists of three iambs. An iamb is a two-syllable foot where the second syllable is emphasised, such as in the words 'today', 'amuse', or 'begin'. An example of a poem written in English in iambic trimeter is Emily Dickinson's The Only News I Know:


The only news I know

Is bulletins all day

From Immortality. [...]


The Inferno is the first volume of Dante's Divine Comedy (see bookmark to Page 33, "We'll be studying Dante, Virgil, all sorts of things." above) It is written in terza rima, an interlocking three-line rhyme scheme; Dante's is the first recorded use of this scheme.

Page 41. " remember how Suetonius describes his body being borne away on the litter "

 Suetonius (c.70-135 A.D.) was a Roman historian, the author of The Twelve Caesars, which describes lives of the first twelve emperors of the Roman Empire from Julius Caesar to Domitian. Suetonius wrote that, after Julius Caesar's murder: "All the conspirators made off, and he lay there lifeless for some time, until finally three common slaves put him on a litter and carried him home, with one arm hanging down." (translated by J.C. Rolfe)

Page 41. " Death is the mother of beauty "

A quote from the fifth stanza of a poem by the American poet Wallace Stevens, Sunday Morning:


Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her,

Alone, shall come fulfillment to our dreams

And our desires.


The whole poem can be read online here.

Page 42. " poetic, prophetic, and, finally, Dionsysian. "


 The following passage is central to The Secret History. The class discusses the idea of Dionysian madness, one of the four discussed earlier (see above, bookmark to Page 38: "about loss of self, about Plato's four divine madnesses") and Richard remembers reading Euripides' play The Bacchae.

Of all the classical literature mentioned in The Secret History, The Bacchae is the most useful aid to understanding Tartt's novel. Euripides (c. 480-406 B.C.) was one of the three great tragedians of Athens, alongside Sophocles and Aeschylus. The Bacchae was the last extant play he wrote; it was composed in Macedonia after Euripides' voluntary exile from Athens. In the play, Pentheus, ruler of Thebes, is punished for failing to recognise the god Dionysus. The god lures away Pentheus's mother Agave and the rest of the women of Thebes, bringing them to the mountains where they perform wild Dionysian rituals. In the end Pentheus, tempted by Dionysus to spy on these rituals, is killed by his own mother while she is in the grip of a Dionysian frenzy.

In the play, a herdsman describes the bloody and ecstatic rituals of the Bacchae; his speech can be found here. During their rituals, the women (called the Maenads) lose all sense of themselves, to the extent that Agave fails to recognise her own son; as Julian says, Dionysus offers his followers an escape from their own consciousness.