ricardienne: (christine)
At a library book sale, I came across Sarah Emily Holt's Lady Sybil's Choice, and the frontispiece plus first paragraph caught my attention:
Alix says I am a simpleton. I don't think it is very pleasant. Sometimes she says I am a perfect simpleton: and I cannot say that I like that any better. Nor do I think that it is very civil in one's sister to put her opinion on record in this certainly perspicuous, but not at all complimentary manner.
Excellent! I thought. It sounds like a 19th century version of Catherine Called Birdy! The narrator, Elaine, is the youngest daughter (age 14 at the beginning) of the Count of Poitou during the Second Crusade; the novel takes her from her home in France to the Holy Land as she goes to accompany her elder brother, the knight Guy, to the court of the Kingdom of Jerusalem.
Here There Be Lots and Lots of Christianity, but also some other interesting things )
ricardienne: (Default)
Last night's Colbert Report was super classical! (I watch on the internet, a day or so behind and especially when I'm grading) Oh, and it also had Anthony Everett, noted popularizing historian of Ancient Rome on it.

The contrast was interesting! Colbert's opening segment was an incredibly tasteless routine about Donald Trump. Seriously problematic jokes about coerced pathic homosexuality --- oh, hey Catullus/Martial/Juvenal/... But really. There's an interesting point of continuity with the ancient world, there: male identity, power, authority, who gets to speak, sexual domination. But elderly (white, male) professorial types waxing fondly in British accents about the Empire, mostly in terms of its military and its exciting imperial personalities? Not so much.

I'm not bothered by the gross generalizations, the really bizarre statements about Romanization (straight out of the 19th century), the reduction of Rome to a homogenous machine enlivened with a few salacious anecdotes. (I'm a pedant and I have a field of expertise: of course I think he said everything wrong!) I'm just a little annoyed that this is what history, and especially Roman history apparently means. When there are so many more interesting things being done, and so many more interesting people doing them (plenty of whom are popularizing personalities, I might add), why is it still comforting traditional authorities and Great Man history?
ricardienne: (Default)
and it keeps bothering me. I remember seeing the Yul Brynner movie as a kid, and loving the costumes and pageantry but being uncomfortable with it all the same (and that goes at least quintuple for Anna Lenowens' actual memoir). I think it's probably possible do to a more sensitive, deconstructed version of that musical (see e.g. the thoughts here), but advertising it as Disney's Beauty and Beast is really going the wrong direction!
ricardienne: (tacitus)
No seriously. This was an actual thing in a respected commentary:

Henry Furneaux, Cornelii Taciti Vita Agricola (Oxford, 1898):
ad Agr. 30.7: auferre, trucidare, rapere falsis nominibus imperium, atque ubi desertem faciunt, pacem appellant.
pacem, the ' pax gentium ' of H. 1. 84, 9, 'pax Romana' of Seneca (de Prov. 4, 14), Pliny (N. H. 27.1, 3), &c.; the peace and order established through the Roman world, which warlike and predatory races naturally abhorred. Cp. 'additis qui pacem nostram metuebant,' A. 12. 33, 2.

That's right, guys! People don't like being conquered and added to empires because THEY HATE PEACE. Trufax, as they say.

So context: this is maybe the most famous moment of the big speech of the British chieftain Calgacus as he rallies the Britons to fight (and lose, by the way) against the Roman invaders in Tacitus' biography/euology/monograph on his father-in-law. Who is the Roman general, so obviously this is a complicated and problematic set-piece on How We Need to Defend Our Freedom, and people who go around saying things like "the great Roman historian Tacitus said of empires, that they "make a desert and call it peace" are talking, so to speak, out of their hats and probably horrifying the manes of dear Publius Cornelius T. But it's long, it's complex, it's rhetorically and emotionally compelling, and it is very much part of the debate on whether/how to fight or/and comply with (bad) power that Tacitus is rather interested in, at least.

Anyway, times have really changed. Not least because, as I was rereading the speech and translating it, I couldn't help but think that it would have worked really well during WWII, with very little changed.

Here's a translation of Calgacus's speech up to that point, for the interested:
Whenever I consider the the reasons and our necessity of war, I am completely of the opinion that this day today and your alliance will be the beginning of freedom for all of Britain; for both are we devoid of the universal state of enslavement and is no land and not even the sea secure, while the Roman fleet hangs over us. So battle and to arms, which are an honorable course to the brave and the safest course even to cowards. The previous skirmishes, where the fighting against the Romans fell out with varying success, kept hope and help in our hands, because we, the noblest men of all Britain and therefore set in her innermost corner itself, since we do not see the shores of the enslaved, have kept even our eyes from violation by the miasma of arbitrary power. The remoteness and seclusion of our reputation has protected us, inhabitants of the outermost lands and freedom, until this day; (that is because since anything unknown is considered magnified.) But now the boundary of Britain lies open; no race of people further out, nothing but rivers and stones, and -- even more inhospitable -- the Romans, from whose arrogance compliance and moderation would provide you with useless avenues of escape. Rapists of the world, after there is nothing left on the land they have destroyed, they turn their gaze even to the sea; if an enemy is rich, they are greedy, if poor, then ambitious. Neither the east nor the west has sated them; they alone of all people lust with equal passion for one's wealth and one's want. Plunder, slaughter, rape get the false name "empire," and where they make a desert, they call it "peace."
ricardienne: (tacitus)
1840 play about the reign of Caracalla featuring Thrasea Priscus, the wild-eyed Republican senator.

"But, [livejournal.com profile] ricardienne," someone says, "I have been dutifully following your many allusions and linkages to those illustrious names, and I am pretty sure that they are different people, neither of whom lived in Antonine climes!" There actually is a Thrasea Priscus on record getting himself executed in the reign of Caracalla. Sir Ronald includes him at the end of his monograph on the subject,* and he's probably in Gibbon. Nevertheless, there are probably better ways to introduce such a character than:
Thrasea Priscus—
Last of the line of that Thrasea Poetus, [sic]
And that Helvidius Priscus, who, in the days
Of Nero, (bad enough, but better yet
Than these,) were patriots, that outlived
Rome's liberty, and perished for their folly,
Yet are by Tacitus immortalized.
The best thing to read, however, is the introductory essay, which is basically a rant about how this play is so awesome that no one would put it on, because the modern theatre world is degenerate and doesn't understand TRUE ART and all of that.

*[Syme, Ronald. “A political group.” Reprinted in Roman Papers VII. Oxford: 1991. 568-587.]


EDIT: Full name: Lucius Valerius Messalla Thrasea Poplicola Helvidius Priscus.
ricardienne: (library)
So obviously a 1919 Loeb of Martial, as I checked my reading against a translation, is going to engage in creative translation; in fact, I had been being rather impressed with how well you can read between the lines of "commits debaucheries" or "has relations with" -- but maybe that's just an index of how often one comes across translations like that!

But then I got to this poem, a not very nice epigram against Bassa, because she prefers women:

I.XC

Quod numquam maribus iunctam te, Bassa, videbam
Quodque tibi moechum fabula nulla dabat,
Omne sed officium circa te semper obibat
Turba tui sexus, non adeunte viro,
Esse videbaris, fateor, Lucretia nobis:
At tu, pro facinus, Bassa, fututor eras.
Inter se geminos audes committere cunnos
Mentiturque virum prodigiosa Venus.
Commenta es dignum Thebano aenigmate monstrum,
Hic ubi vir non est, ut sit adulterium.


Here is Walter C.A. Ker's version:

"In that I never saw you, Bassa, intimate with men,/ and that no scandal assigned you a lover,/ but every office a throng of your own sex round you performed without the approach of man—/you seemed to me, I confess, a Lucretia;/ yet, Bassa—oh, monstrous ! you are, it seems, a nondescript./ You dare things unspeakable/, and your portentous lust imitates man. /You have invented a prodigy worthy of the Theban riddle,/ that here, where no man is, should be adultery!"

First of all, there's the rather hilarious translation speech act of line 7, because what Ker calls "things unspeakable" that Bassa dares are actually very very explicit (cunnus is cognate with what you think it is, you non-Latinists).

But what the fututum (pardon my vulgar Latin) is going on with "nondescript" in line 6? In my language, "nondescript" means "plain, ordinary, not worth being described." Again, the opposite of what Martial is getting at! But there was something so strange and quaint about it, that I resorted to that wonderful last resort. No surprise but it turns out that "nondescript" originally means "not previously described," so, "anomalous, unusual." Which makes Ker's "you are, it seems, a nondescript" a pretty acceptable, if rather -- dare I bring modern usage back into it and say -- "nondescript" way of anticipating Martial's "unnatural" theme. Which Martial himself does, because "fututor" (again, cognate) is a masculine noun.

Do I need a tag for "anxiously edgy posts about ancient obscenity"?
ricardienne: (christine)
(x-posted to facebook)

And here is one of the points in which the treatment of the situation by Sophocles is more skilful than its treatment by Euripides. The latter secludes the injured princess in a cottage, far from the irritating presence of the oppressors, and out of sight of the splendours which they usurped. There is everything to reconcile her with her lot: she lives among a happy peasantry, who enthusiasically appreciate the charms of a low estate. There is nothing to remind us that she is particularly heroic, for everyone else is behaving equally well. But, in Sophocles, Electra suffers on the scene of her father's murder -- in the palace which should be her brother's -- amidst the luxuries which should be her own. Hardest of all, the advantages which Electra has sacrificed to duty are paraded by the sister who should have been her ally, but is only her temptress -- a weaker Goneril or Regan, serving as a foil to a more masculine Cordelia.
--R.C. Jebb, Electra ad 328
ricardienne: (tacitus)
I do think it is a rule that there is no even moderately compelling scene from classical literature that wasn't illustrated by some second-rate 18th or 19th century painter, and I finally happened across one of the death of Thrasea, by a certain Feodor Bronnikov. Sadly, the only internet image that seems to exist of it has a giant watermark across the front: click for exitus clari viri )

Thrasea, naturally, is the man in the chair; the two women must be his daughter Fannia and his wife Arria (I would guess Arria is the one in purple and red and Fannia is the one in blue.) The bearded man in the dark blue cloak is the Cynic philosopher Demetrius, and the man reading the scroll is named Domitius Caecilianus. Helvidius Priscus is probably either the guy in the foreground in the yellow cloak and blue shoes (because he's next to Demetrius) or one of the two guys standing behind Thrasea (probably the one standing rather stiffly behind his wife ?Fannia's chair, and but if he's the one leaning over then the woman in purple then she's probably Fannia. Either way, if Helvidius isn't the guy in yellow, that guy is probably our hot-headed young Tribune Arulenus Rusticus, although I'm not sure why either HP or AR would not be wearing a toga when all the other Romans in the room are, so maybe he's another philosopher.
ricardienne: (library)
No seriously, how AWESOME is this? (Correct answer: very very fascinating)

(I still suspect that the Quarrel de le Roman de la Rose was the first wanky internet flame-war, however.)
ricardienne: (tacitus)
How could a certain violent and bitter indignation not have beset his noble mind more each day and deeply disturbed it? Who does not see that what contributed so much to the pleasing and happy style of writing, which he used as a young man, must have been altered? For this is the rule and nature of the human mind: if someone who has been enraged and savaged once achieves a moment of expounding what things anguish and oppress his mind, he will indulge his everlasting anger with voluble, outpouring speech. If on the other hand for a length of time he is forced to force in his soul's impetus, when at last the power of speaking is returned, having spent so much time in angry thoughts he will lay bare his old indignation in harsh, short, truncated, bitter turns of phrase. Tacitus, for fifteen years forced into unwilling idleness and shameful silence, oppressed and injured by exceptionally cruel rule, in which Domitian, with no intervals of time and pauses for breath, but, as it were, with a single blow drank down the commonwealth, Tacitus, who watched so great a slaughter of former consuls, so many exiles and near-escapes of the most highly-born ladies, drenched as if with "the blood of innocent Senecio," in mental suffering and anguish spent a life full and packed with continuous anger and indignation.

For which reason it is not strange at all that he, when he finally began to compose "the memory of prior servitude and witness of present goods," the ability to speak freely finally restored, he was unable to revive that blooming and luxuriant, copious and even style in which he had flourished as a young man, just as a field injured and stricken down by continuous rains does not resurrect its earlier original and luxuriant growth, especially when it had begun to put up rich and frequent ears of grain. Such a style no longer fit his stricken, afflicted, embittered soul; he was almost unable to use another style than the one he did: short and vigorous, sometimes harsh and bitter.

Quare fieri non poterat, quin dolor quidam vehemens et acerbus nobilem eius animum in diem magis occuparet et penitus perturbaret. Quod quantum valuerit ad gratum illud ac laetum diceudi genus, quo iuvenis usus erat, immutandum, quis non videt? Nam haec est animi humani ratio ac natura, ut, si quis iratus ac lacessitus statim nanciscatur occasionem aperiendi, quae animum angant et premant, oratione volubili, profluente, perenni irae indulgeat, si vero per quoddam tempus ad animi impetum coercendum cogatur, oblata tandem libere loquendi potestate, diu in cogitationibus iracundis versatus, indignationem inveteratam patefaciat sententiis asperis, brevibus, abruptis, acerbis. Per quindecim annos Tacitus ad invitam desidiam et turpe silentium coactus, durissimo imperio pressus ac vexatus, quo Domitianus non per intervalla et spiramenta temporum sed continuo et velut uno ictu rem publicam exhausit, tot consularium caedes, tot nobilissimarum feminarum exsilia et fugas intuitus, innocenti Senecionis sanguine quasi perfusus, vitam degerat animi dolore et angore, continua ira ac indignatione plenam ac refertam. Quare minime mirum, eum, cum recuperata tandem libere loquendi facultate „memoriam prioris servitutis et testimonium praesentium bonorum" componere inciperet, redintegrare non potuisse floridum illud ao laetum, numerosum et aequabile dicendi genus, quo iuvenis viguerat, sicut continuis imbribus vexata et prostrata seges non ad priorem integrum laetumque florem resurgit, cum praesertim uberes iam et frequentes spicas conceperit. Animo eius concusso, exacerbato, indignato talis sermo non amplius conveniebat; uti potuit oratione non fere alia, quam qua usus est, brevi et nervosa, interdum aspera et acerba. --De Tacito Dialogi Auctore, Johann Andreas Heinrich Gerard Jansen (Gronigen: 1878), 69-70
ricardienne: (tacitus)
It never ceases to amuse me that Tacitus literally *does not* call a spade a spade.

The only upside of having signed up for an article presentation in German (it was stupid, yes) is that I get to read pages and pages of 19th century German squee about Tacitus. That, I can get behind.


To be sure this style (the charming and comfortable style of Herodotus, Xenophon, and Livy) has its own great advantages. However, history contains greater themes which it is able to fulfill with difficulty. Powerful struggles, enormous vicissitudes of great individuals and whole nations, the irrepressible passions that wrestle with one another -- these will, if we are to be wholly aware of them, have to be portrayed in a different style than one whose primary aim is to amuse us. The greatest historians of antiquity are above all aware of these stronger themes: Thucydides, Sallust, and Tacitus, and one can say that their greatness lies even in this awareness. They discerned that the task of history was not to amuse, but to apprehend and to ravish, and to impart to the reader the same powerful movement that roars in the life of history." --Nipperdey, Die Antike Historiographie

Who writes semnôs (=with solemnity), he writes first of all in an high style. In all of ancient literature, which indeed until the time of its decline bore an aristocratic exclusivity, there was no writer (with just possibly Thucydides excepted), who wrote so thoroughly in a high register as Tacitus. "I hate everything that is common" sounds around us on every side. He never descends to the level of his reader, he insists that one come to him, but he makes it difficult: he disdains to insert pleasant digressions for the amusement of the reader; there are indeed a few digressions, but they do not serve pleasure, being rather, as in Thucydides and Sallust, political or cultural-historical or personal (especially Annals 4.32) in content.--Eduard Norden, Die Antike Kunstprosa
ricardienne: (tacitus)
The Possibilities of Mind Reading


Nikola Tesla........The Scientific American

It can be taken as a fact, which the theory of the action of the eye implies, that for each external impression, that is, for each image produced on the retina, the ends fo the visual nerves concerned in the conveyance of the impression to the mind must be under a peculiar stress or in a vibratory state. It now does not seem improbably that, when by the power of thought an image is evoked, a distant reflex action, no matter how weak, is exerted upon certain ends of the visual nerves, and, therefore, upon the retina. Will it ever be within human power to analyze the condition of the retina when disturbed by thought of reflect action, by the help of some optical or other means of such sensitiveness that a clear idea of its state might be gained at any time.

If this were possible, then the problem of reading one's thoughts with precision, like the characters of an open book, might be much easier to solve than many problems belonging to the domain of positive physical science, in the solution of which many if not the majority implicitly believe. Helmholtz has shown that the fundi of the eyes are themselves luminous, and he was able to see, in total darkness, the movement of his arm by the light of his own eyes. This is one of the most remarkable experiments recorded in the history of science, and probably only a few men could satisfactorily repeat it, for it is very likely that the luminosity of the eyes is associated with uncommon activity of the brain and great imaginative power. It is fluorescence of brain-action, as it were, in all its essential essence.
Current Literature vol. 14, 626 (1893)


First the late 19th century promised me airships adorned with gaily-colored lights, and now NIKOLA TESLA promises mind reading on totally scientific grounds! Why did the 20th century fail so much, you guys?

I'm also quite taken with this notion of ability to see in the dark correlating with brain power.
ricardienne: (library)
A.R. Benner's gloss of δαιμόνι᾽ in Iliad II.190: 'sir! your conduct is unacountable!'
ricardienne: (tacitus)
Or: this poetry is really bad, right? (I was going to post the whole thing, but it goes on forever, so here are the highlights, as it were)
Thrasea
Henry Sewell Stokes

Of Paetus Thrasea no bust remains,
But in the graphic page of Tacitus
He lives and moves, and still before us stands
Amid the Senate—still his earnest voice.
Though few and terse his words, is eloquent;
And now, as on the World's great theatre,
In the most awful drama of all time
We see and hear him his high part sustain ;
Dauntless as Brutus, but unstain'd with blood,
And worthy to be Cato's countryman.

And yet he seldom comes upon the state.. )

I can't imagine anyone actually reading this all the way through.
ricardienne: (library)
There are only two weeks left: Greek Tragedy meets twice this week and then no more, and the linguistics paper is due a week from Thursday. And then I'm done -- if done means no more excuses for not getting back to Thrasea, Helvidius, & Co. All I want to do is read Trollope and Lysias, and I don't want to wait two more weeks to do it; I rediscovered my favorite window seat on the fourth floor of the library, and I have secreted a Greek dictionary there.

It face the Shakepseare shelf, and while I was browsing a book about How Much Better Shakespeare's Classical Plays are than Johnson's, I found a reference to this story. It's one of the most hilarious things I've read in a while, I think -- the first half for the Latin, and the second half for the Boys School Story.

Also, I am weirdly fascinated by 19th century translations of Shakespeare into Greek (more here)

I know that being able to turn Shakespeare or Milton or Keats into Sophoclean trimeter is not the most useful classics-related skill to have, but...
ricardienne: (heiro)
Kings is really bad. But since it's more or less as trashy fantasy novel (kingdom? yes. heroic idealistic (and rather boring) young main character? yes. war with evil country? yes. evil courtiers and intrigue? yes. lame attempts at humor? yes. even lamer attempts to be insightful? yes.) I am completely hooked. This is bad: I have to much work to start watching a silly tv show.

I am trying to divide monster-chapter in two, and am meandering around as a result in Quintilian. Also in ancient issues of Harvard Studies in Classical Philology (someone was writing his dissertation on De praepositionis sub usu:"In this thesis I have examined all the Latin writers through Suetonius in order to determine the usage of the temporal sub." My man Henry Litchfield, however, wrote about National exempla virtutis in Roman literature:
Given the ideal virtues, founded on a practical basis of patriotic motive, we have to ask: How had the Roman moral teachers, in seeking to inculcate them, been the supplying the want which Christianity later satisfied by the inspiration of the lives of Jesus of Nazareth and of His saints? If we find, as surely we shall find, that the age which produced an Imitatio Christi was yet, if anything, less given to reliance upon moral instances than was that which preceded it, we shall naturally seek some explanation of their prominence in the Roman ethical system.


And my favorite (and slightly culturally relevant part):
In a society which exalts Washington and all by deifies Lincoln, the casuist is yet trained almost instinctively to ask himself not "What would Washington or Lincoln do in the given situation?" but "What would Jesus do? Or St. Paul?" This will doubtless be even more the case under other than republican governments, which seem to be the natural nursury of exempla.


Poor Mr. Litchfield would be sadly disappointed, I think, to learn that we are now more likely to ask "What would make a good Facebook status in the given situation?" than anything.
ricardienne: (library)
Courtesy of Jacob Burkhardt:
We ought to jettison the habit of wishing that past times might have been different from what they were, if only because in our own time and our daily life we often wish for foolish things. But at least in relation to Hellenism it is out of the question to wish things had been otherwise. It would make no sense -- and this is not merely a matter of the historian's quirky curiosity -- to wish that instead of the Macedonian supremacy in Greece, and the conquest of Persia, Greece in its divided and weakened condition should have been overrun by some new barbaric elemental force from Asia or the Scythian North. The most likely consequence of this -- that Rome should have remained deprived of Hellenic culture -- is something impossible to wish for; for it is only the Philhellenism of Rome, the love of a Greece that was still alive, that was responsible for the whole ancient world. Hellenistic Rome was the indispensable basis for the spread of Christianity, and Christianity, apart from its role as a religion, was to be the single bridge destined to unite the old world with its Germanic conquerors.


So we must imagine, I think, that there were 19th century German Hellenists who liked to fantasize about how wonderful it would have been if Germanic-type tribes (who would at that time have been from Asia or Scythia) had conquered and absorbed Greek culture without the intermediary of so much degenerate extra Mediterranean mediation.
ricardienne: (library)
I'm reading Tacitus' Dialogus de Oratoribus (I should be reading Livy, but what the heck, I'm sick: I'll read whomever I want!), and it's making me fall in love with Tacitus all over again. My understanding of it had been confined to two points (apart from the "abnormal style"/"early work" etc. stuff): (1) The "oratory can only exist with the free republic political turmoil" (crossouts in the original, of course) thing, and (2) The business with Maternus and his subversive play.

(2) comes right at the beginning, and it is so much better than I could have believed:

-"Aren't you worried, Maternus, about these malicious rumors, so that you're less in love with the offensiveness of your Cato. Or -- I know -- you've just taken it up again to re-edit, and, once everything that might be liable to prejudiced interpretation is removed, you'll release it again, a better play and a safer one."
-"Oh, you'll read what Maternus owed to himself, and you'll recognize it. And if Cato has left anything out, my Thyestes will say it in an upcoming performance..."

But then, Aper comes in from a completely different angle, and it turns into oratory vs. poetry, and modernity vs. antiquity, and somehow the responsibility of the individual in unpleasant time is completely wound up in all of it. Which is so Tacitean -- even with the style rather different, how could the Renaissance have got it so wrong?

I'm reading out of a reprint 1890's edition, and in the interests of recording the hilarious things old-fashioned commentators had to say, I present this beautiful theory about the development of Tacitus' style, courtesy of Charles Edwin Bennett, who once taught at Cornell University (NB. he uses an obsolete dating where the Dialogus is considered the earliest work by a lot.):
Moreover the period intervening between the composition of the two works (sc. Dialogus and Agricola was occupied by the reign of Domitian, the baneful character of which had made the deepest impression on Tacitus... Under these circumstances, and after so great a lapse of time, his style might well have taken on a different character.

Not to minimize the baneful character of the senatorial experience under Domitian, but "Tacitus was so traumatized by Domitian's reign that he began to write incomprehensibly." The mind boggles, and giggles.
ricardienne: (Default)
Sometimes I wonder if I am not sticking with the major mostly to enjoy the crazy and cringeworthy of the 19th century trying to acceptibilify their texts.

From the commentary to Cicero's recap of Caesar in Catiline IV:
4. Sapientes. By the "wise" are here meant those imbued with what Caear regards as the true principles of philosophy! [stuff about Stocicism] ... Caesar, who was an Epicurean, if he was any thing [sic] at all, artfully avails himself of the fact that many of the Stoic sect having actually put an end to their existence, and applies it to the establishment of his peculiar doctrine.


(NB: as Cicero quotes it, C's arguments are pretty Epicurean, with the exception of "and so some particularly brave men even seek death out.")

My favorite part is the exclamation point, which I first read as applying to the idea of calling those imbued with "philosophic principles" wise, although I suppose it is better taken as amazement that these principles could be considered true.

I also am fond of, but a bit confused by how "peculiar" they find the idea of death-is-not-to-be-feared. I am sure that a school commentator wouldn't want to seem to espouse Epicureanism, or really, anything not Christianity, and I suppose it is sort of implied that death is nullity, and not just absence of punishment for the wicked, but the commentary still comes across as saying "isn't it queer, the idea that dire punishments don't await after death?" Obviously, Jonathan Edwards would disapprove of no fiery pit, but by 1840? I guess my experience with Victorians and death has mostly been poetry of the sappy, infants and rosebuds, and eternal crowns of glory with the angels variety.

It is particularly weird, actually, in that they are pretty okay with Cicero dismissing fables of infernal punishment in the next section as fables for the coercement of the populace.
ricardienne: (Default)
So I'm reading Virgil out of my 1840 Cooper's Virgil, where the "study questions" are based entirely on the one-paragraph introductions to each eclogue and the copious and fairly irrelevant notes. One gets the impression that the most important thing to get out of Virgil's eclogues is the classification of different kinds of nymphs. But I digress. Mr. Cooper's commentary is equally amusing in its determination to find one to one "historical" analogues for every single character. Virgil, of course, features in every eclogue (except for IV, because that one is All About Jesus, even though Virgil didn't quite know it). In the fifth, two shepherds lament the death and celebrate the apotheosis of a particularly wonderful and talented youth/poet/shepherd. Obviously this is actually about Julius Caesar (disclosure: I am not averse to reading political/historical allusion into Virgil. Just not, you know, on an allegorical "X actually is A" level.)

This produces some entertaining glosses, such as, on the line
cum complexa sui corpus miserabile nati
atque deos atque astra vocat crudelia mater
(When, embracing the pitiable body of her son, his mother calls both gods and stars cruel): "Cerdanus understands by mater the wife of Caesar, who a little before his death dreamed her husband was stabbed in her breast." I mean, we all know that Caesar's mother was quite influential in his upbringing and life, but… that influential? Oh Virgil, you naughty poet.

Also, amusingly, in the 1920's, D.L. Drew ("Virgil's Fifth Eclogue: A Defence of the Julius Caesar-Daphnis Theory", CQ vol. 16 no. 2) argues that "mother" must be a code-word for either Venus or Roma (both indeed more plausible than Calpurnia) and therefore point to Julius Caesar because mothers do not belong in Pastorals:
For what has a mourning matron to do with a Daphnis? Another step and the local attorney would be there and the family doctor to follow. At such a deathbed we admit nymphs and fauns and Venuses, even Aesculapius -- anything, almost, rather than a mother, who is human.
I was extremely tempted to present the quote without the last three words, but that, I suppose would have been tendentious. And I suppose that given that Daphnis = archetypical Shepherd prince, it is maybe odd to have the intrusion of a mother (although, seriously, it isn't as though mourning women aren't a rather standard topos). On the other hand, given that the movement is from death (i.e. mortal, human) to apotheosis (i.e. divine, mythical) having a human mother show up early to mourn serves that very well, whether D. merely evokes Caesar, is independent of Caesar, or *actually is* Caesar.

And -- April is Poetry month and Springtime Happiness month, so this post is Entirely Relevant. All it needs is a link to the poem itself (translation by Dryden; it's on page 429, if the link doesn't bring you right to the "fifth pastoral".)

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