Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Argos (Ἀργώ, meaning 'swift')

When wise Ulysses, from his native coast
Long kept by wars, and long by tempests toss'd,
Arrived at last, poor, old, disguised, alone,
To all his friends, and ev'n his Queen unknown,
Changed as he was, with age, and toils, and cares,
Furrow'd his rev'rend face, and white his hairs,
In his own palace forc'd to ask his bread,
Scorn'd by those slaves his former bounty fed,
Forgot of all his own domestic crew,
The faithful Dog alone his rightful master knew!

Unfed, unhous'd, neglected, on the clay
Like an old servant now cashier'd, he lay;
Touch'd with resentment of ungrateful man,
And longing to behold his ancient lord again.
Him when he saw he rose, and crawl'd to meet,
('Twas all he could) and fawn'd and kiss'd his feet,
Seiz'd with dumb joy; then falling by his side,
Own'd his returning lord, look'd up, and died!
- Alexander Pope
As they were speaking, a dog that had been lying asleep raised his head and pricked up his ears. This was Argos, whom Odysseus had bred before setting out for Troy, but he had never had any enjoyment from him. In the old days he used to be taken out by the young men when they went hunting wild goats, or deer, or hares, but now that his master was gone he was lying neglected on the heaps of mule and cow dung that lay in front of the stable doors till the men should come and draw it away to manure the great close; and he was full of fleas. As soon as he saw Odysseus standing there, he dropped his ears and wagged his tail, but he could not get close up to his master. When Odysseus saw the dog on the other side of the yard, dashed a tear from his eyes without Eumaeus seeing it, and said:
'Eumaeus, what a noble hound that is over yonder on the manure heap: his build is splendid; is he as fine a fellow as he looks, or is he only one of those dogs that come begging about a table, and are kept merely for show?'
'This dog,' answered Eumaeus, 'belonged to him who has died in a far country. If he were what he was when Odysseus left for Troy, he would soon show you what he could do. There was not a wild beast in the forest that could get away from him when he was once on its tracks. But now he has fallen on evil times, for his master is dead and gone, and the women take no care of him. Servants never do their work when their master's hand is no longer over them, for Zeus takes half the goodness out of a man when he makes a slave of him.'

So saying he entered the well-built mansion, and made straight for the riotous pretenders in the hall. But Argos passed into the darkness of death, now that he had fulfilled his destiny of faith and seen his master once more after twenty years.
-Homer, "Odyssey"

Monday, February 25, 2013

Pervigilium Veneris

He that never loved before,
Let him love to-morrow!

He that hath loved o'er and o'er,
Let him love to-morrow!

Spring, young Spring, with song and mirth,
Spring is on the newborn earth.

Spring is here, the time of love—
The merry birds pair in the grove,
And the green trees hang their tresses,
Loosen'd by the rain's caresses.

To-morrow sees the dawn of May,
When Venus will her sceptre sway,
Glorious, in her justice-hall:
There where woodland shadows fall,
On bowers of myrtle intertwined,
Many a band of love she'll bind.

He that never, &c.

To-morrow is the day when first
From the foam-world of Ocean burst,
Like one of his own waves, the bright
Dione, queen of love and light,
Amid the sea-gods' azure train,
'Mid the strange horses of the main.

He that never, &c.

She it is that lends the Hours
Their crimson glow, their jewel-flowers:
At her command the buds are seen,
Where the west-wind's breath hath been,
To swell within their dwellings green.

She abroad those dewdrops flings,
Dew that night's cool softness brings;
How the bright tears hang declining,
And glisten with a tremulous shining,
Almost of weight to drop away,
And yet too light to leave the spray.

Hence the tender plants are bold
Their blushing petals to unfold:
'Tis that dew, which through the air
Falls from heaven when night is fair,
That unbinds the moist green vest
From the floweret's maiden breast.

'Tis Venus' will, when morning glows,
'Twill be the bridal of each rose.

Then the bride-flower shall reveal,
What her veil cloth now conceal,
The blush divinest, which of yore
She caught from Venus' trickling gore,
With Love's kisses mix'd, I trow,
With blaze of fire, and rubies' glow,
And with many a crimson ray
Stolen from the birth of day.

He that never, &c.

All the nymphs the Queen of Love
Summons to the myrtle-grove;
And see ye, how her wanton boy
Comes with them to share our joy?

Yet, if Love be arm'd, they say,
Love can scarce keep holiday:
Love without his bow is straying!
Come, ye nymphs, Love goes a Maying.

His torch, his shafts, are laid aside—
From them no harm shall you betide.

Yet, I rede ye, nymphs, beware,
For your foe is passing fair;
Love is mighty, ye'll confess,
Mighty e'en in nakedness;
And most panoplied for fight
When his charms are bared to sight.

He that never, &c.

Dian, a petition we,
By Venus sent, prefer to thee:
Virgin envoys, it is meet,
Should the Virgin huntress greet:
Quit the grove, nor it profane
With the blood of quarry slain.

She would ask thee, might she dare
Hope a maiden's thought to share—
She would bid thee join us now,
Might cold maids our sport allow.

Now three nights thou may'st have seen,
Wandering through thine alleys green,
Troops of joyous friends, with flowers
Crown'd, amidst their myrtle bowers.

Ceres and Bacchus us attend,
And great Apollo is our friend;
All night we must our Vigil keep—
Night by song redeem'd from sleep.

Let Venus in the woods bear sway,
Dian, quit the grove, we pray.

He that never, &c.

Of Hybla's flowers, so Venus will'd,
Venus' judgment-seat we build.
She is judge supreme; the Graces,
As assessors, take their places.

Hybla, render all thy store
All the season sheds thee o'er,
Till a hill of bloom be found
Wide as Enna's flowery ground.

Attendant nymphs shall here be seen,
Those who delight in forest green,
Those who on mountain-top abide,
And those whom sparkling fountains hide.

All these the Queen of joy and sport
Summons to attend her court,
And bids them all of Love beware,
Although the guise of peace he wear.

He that never, &c.

Fresh be your coronals of flowers,
And green your overarching bowers,
To-morrow brings us the return
Of Ether's primal marriage-morn.

In amorous showers of rain he came
T' embrace his bride's mysterious frame,
To generate the blooming year,
And all the produce Earth does bear.

Venus still through vein and soul
Bids the genial current roll;
Still she guides its secret course
With interpenetrating force,
And breathes through heaven, and earth, and sea,
A reproductive energy.

He that never, &c.

She old Troy's extinguish'd glory
Revived in Latium's later story,
When, by her auspices, her son
Laurentia's royal damsel won.

She vestal Rhea's spotless charms
Surrender'd to the War-god's arms;
She for Romulus that day
The Sabine daughters bore away;
Thence sprung the Rhamnes' lofty name,
Thence the old Quirites came;
And thence the stock of high renown,
The blood of Romulus, handed down
Through many an age of glory pass'd,
To blaze in Cæsar's at last.

He that never, &c.

All rural nature feels the glow
Of quickening passion through it flow.

Love, in rural scenes of yore,
They say, his goddess-mother bore;
Received on Earth's sustaining breast,
Th' ambrosial infant sunk to rest;
And him the wild-flowers, o'er his head
Bending, with sweetest kisses fed.

He that never, &c.

On yellow broom out yonder, see,
The mighty bulls lie peacefully.

Each animal of field or grove
Owns faithfully the bond of love.

The flocks of ewes, beneath the shade,
Around their gallant rams are laid;
And Venus bids the birds awake
To pour their song through plain and brake.

Hark! the noisy pools reply
To the swan's hoarse harmony;
And Philomel is vocal now,
Perch'd upon a poplar-bough.

Thou scarce would'st think that dying fall
Could ought but love's sweet griefs recall;
Thou scarce would'st gather from her song
The tale of brother's barbarous wrong.

She sings, but I must silent be:—
When will the spring-tide come for me?

When, like the swallow, spring's own bird,
Shall my faint twittering notes be heard?

Alas! the muse, while silent I
Remain'd, hath gone and pass'd me by,
Nor Phœbus listens to my cry.
And thus forgotten, I await,
By silence lost, Amyclæ's fate.
-Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine, (June 1843)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Wrath of Akhilleus

Then did the warrior sons of Argos strip with eager haste from corpses strown all round the blood-stained spoils. But ever Peleus' son gazed, wild with all regret, still gazed on her, the strong, the beautiful, laid in the dust; and all his heart was wrung, was broken down with sorrowing love, deep, strong as he had known when that beloved friend Patroklos died.

Loud jeered Thersites, mocking to his face : `Thou sorry-souled Akhilleus! art not shamed to let some evil power beguile thine heart to pity of a pitiful Amazon whose furious spirit purposed naught but ill to us and ours? Ha, woman-mad art thou, and thy soul lusts for this thing, as she were some lady wise in household ways, with gifts and pure intent for honoured wedlock wooed! Good had it been had her spear reached thine heart, the heart that sighs for woman-creatures still! Thou carest not, unmanly-souled, not thou, for valour's glorious path, when once thine eye lights on a woman! Sorry wretch, where now is all thy goodly prowess? where thy wit? And where the might that should beseem a king all-stainless? Dost not know what misery this self-same woman-madness wrought for Troy? Nothing there is to men more ruinous than lust for woman's beauty; it maketh fools of wise men. But the toil of war attains renown. To him that is a hero indeed glory of victory and the War-god's works are sweet. 'Tis but the battle-blencher craves the beauty and the bed of such as she!'

So railed he long and loud: the mighty heart of Peleus' son leapt into flame of wrath. A sudden buffet of his resistless hand smote 'neath the railer's ear, and all his teeth were dashed to the earth: he fell upon his face: forth of his lips the blood in torrent gushed: swift from his body fled the dastard soul of that vile niddering . . .

- Quintus Smyrnaeus, "Fall of Troy"

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Fluid Transitions

Another text from the mythologists. The Greeks fabled that Venus was born of the foam of the sea. Nothing interests us which is stark or bounded, but only what streams with life, what is in act or endeavor to reach somewhat beyond. The pleasure a palace or a temple gives the eye, is, that an order and method has been communicated to stones, so that they speak and geometrize, become tender or sublime with expression. Beauty is the moment of transition, as if the form were just ready to flow into other forms. Any fixedness, heaping, or concentration on one feature, — a long nose, a sharp chin, a hump-back, — is the reverse of the flowing, and therefore deformed. Beautiful as is the symmetry of any form, if the form can move, we seek a more excellent symmetry. The interruption of equilibrium stimulates the eye to desire the restoration of symmetry, and to watch the steps through which it is attained. This is the charm of running water, sea-waves, the flight of birds, and the locomotion of animals. This is the theory of dancing, to recover continually in changes the lost equilibrium, not by abrupt and angular, but by gradual and curving movements. I have been told by persons of experience in matters of taste, that the fashions follow a law of gradation, and are never arbitrary. The new mode is always only a step onward in the same direction as the last mode; and a cultivated eye is prepared for and predicts the new fashion. This fact suggests the reason of all mistakes and offence in our own modes. It is necessary in music, when you strike a discord, to let down the ear by an intermediate note or two to the accord again: and many a good experiment, born of good sense, and destined to succeed, fails, only because it is offensively sudden. I suppose, the Parisian milliner who dresses the world from her imperious boudoir will know how to reconcile the Bloomer costume to the eye of mankind, and make it triumphant over Punch himself, by interposing the just gradations. I need not say, how wide the same law ranges; and how much it can be hoped to effect. All that is a little harshly claimed by progressive parties, may easily come to be conceded without question, if this rule be observed. Thus the circumstances may be easily imagined, in which woman may speak, vote, argue causes, legislate, and drive a coach, and all the most naturally in the world, if only it come by degrees. To this streaming or flowing belongs the beauty that all circular movement has; as, the circulation of waters, the circulation of the blood, the periodical motion of planets, the annual wave of vegetation, the action and reaction of Nature: and, if we follow it out, this demand in our thought for an ever-onward action, is the argument for the immortality.
- Emerson "Conduct of Life" (Beauty)

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Change is Good... But Into What?

And the Great Protector, having crushed all his rivals, stands proudly erect in the chariot of State, a full-blown tyrant: Let us enquire into the nature of his happiness.

In the early days of his tyranny he smiles and beams upon everybody; he is not a 'dominus,' no, not he: he has only come to put an end to debt and the monopoly of land. Having got rid of foreign enemies, he makes himself necessary to the State by always going to war. He is thus enabled to depress the poor by heavy taxes, and so keep them at work; and he can get rid of bolder spirits by handing them over to the enemy. Then comes unpopularity; some of his old associates have the courage to oppose him. The consequence is, that he has to make a purgation of the State; but, unlike the physician who purges away the bad, he must get rid of the high-spirited, the wise and the wealthy; for he has no choice between death and a life of shame and dishonour. And the more hated he is, the more he will require trusty guards; but how will he obtain them? 'They will come flocking like birds—for pay.' Will he not rather obtain them on the spot? He will take the slaves from their owners and make them his body-guard; these are his trusted friends, who admire and look up to him. Are not the tragic poets wise who magnify and exalt the tyrant, and say that he is wise by association with the wise? And are not their praises of tyranny alone a sufficient reason why we should exclude them from our State? They may go to other cities, and gather the mob about them with fine words, and change commonwealths into tyrannies and democracies, receiving honours and rewards for their services; but the higher they and their friends ascend constitution hill, the more their honour will fail and become 'too asthmatic to mount.' To return to the tyrant—How will he support that rare army of his? First, by robbing the temples of their treasures, which will enable him to lighten the taxes; then he will take all his father's property, and spend it on his companions, male or female. Now his father is the demus, and if the demus gets angry, and says that a great hulking son ought not to be a burden on his parents, and bids him and his riotous crew begone, then will the parent know what a monster he has been nurturing, and that the son whom he would fain expel is too strong for him. 'You do not mean to say that he will beat his father?' Yes, he will, after having taken away his arms. 'Then he is a parricide and a cruel, unnatural son.' And the people have jumped from the fear of slavery into slavery, out of the smoke into the fire. Thus liberty, when out of all order and reason, passes into the worst form of servitude...
from the Jowett Summary of Plato's "Republic"

Inter arma silent leges

Monday, February 18, 2013

A Story for Princes

And now I will tell a fable for princes who themselves understand. Thus said the hawk to the nightingale with speckled neck, while he carried her high up among the clouds, gripped fast in his talons, and she, pierced by his crooked talons, cried pitifully. To her he spoke disdainfully: `Miserable thing, why do you cry out? One far stronger than you now holds you fast, and you must go wherever I take you, songstress as you are. And if I please I will make my meal of you, or let you go. He is a fool who tries to withstand the stronger, for he does not get the mastery and suffers pain besides his shame.' So said the swiftly flying hawk, the long- winged bird.
Hesiod, "Works and Days" (ll. 202-211)

"Verba volant, scripta manent"
- Caio Titus

Friday, February 15, 2013

Is it Progress or Evolution?

The age of giant progress,
Americans all hail!
The land all interwoven
With telegraph and rail;
No sluggish chains shall bind us,
No tardiness delay;
The morning light is breaking (waking),
O'er our destiny.

The age of trained lightning.
"Despatching" human thought;
What wondrous revolution
The scheme of Morse hath wrought!
No time, no space can hinder
The quick, electric fire;
Intelligence is flashing, (dashing),
O'er the magic wire.

The age of grand conceptions,
The "cable of the deep!"
It "snapped," but we will mend it,
We have no time to weep.
The great Pacific Railroad!
'Twill not be long before
The railroad cars are flying (hieing),
From the golden shore.

The age of priceless knowledge,--
The scholar's jubilee!
The land all dotted over
With institutions free.
Our public schools! O, hail them!
They offer treasures cheap:
The boys and girls are scaling (hailing),
Science's rugged steep.
- H. De Marsan, "The Age of Progress" (1860)

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Emotive Pathways

Deliverance is not for me in renunciation.
I feel the embrace of freedom in a thousand bonds of delight.

Thou ever pourest for me the fresh draught of thy wine of various
colours and fragrance, filling this earthen vessel to the brim.

My world will light its hundred different lamps with thy flame
and place them before the altar of thy temple.

No, I will never shut the doors of my senses.
The delights of sight and hearing and touch will bear thy delight.

Yes, all my illusions will burn into illumination of joy,
and all my desires ripen into fruits of love.
-Rabindranath Tagore

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Temporary Escapes

AS she laughed I was aware of becoming involved
in her laughter and being part of it, until her
teeth were only accidental stars with a talent
for squad-drill. I was drawn in by short gasps,
inhaled at each momentary recovery, lost finally
in the dark caverns of her throat, bruised by
the ripple of unseen muscles. An elderly waiter
with trembling hands was hurriedly spreading
a pink and white checked cloth over the rusty
green iron table, saying: "If the lady and
gentleman wish to take their tea in the garden,
if the lady and gentleman wish to take their
tea in the garden ..." I decided that if the
shaking of her breasts could be stopped, some of
the fragments of the afternoon might be collected,
and I concentrated my attention with careful
subtlety to this end.
- TS Eliot, "Hysteria"