Lockdown

Gaol

As we face into the first full week of Lockdown it’s a good time to ponder the words of Richard Lovelace, and other great prison poets who used the cofinement of their person to liberate their mind.

The prison is of your own making.  Use the #Coronavirus pandemic to escape the normal confines of your existence.  What adventure can you pursue today from the comfort of your own chair?

To Althea, from Prison: by Richard Lovelace

When Love with unconfinèd wings
hovers within my gates,
and my divine Althea brings
to whisper at the grates;
when I lie tangled in her hair,
and fettered to her eye,
the Gods that wanton in the air,
know no such liberty.

When flowing Cups run swiftly round
with no allaying Thames,
our careless heads with roses bound,
our hearts with loyal flames;
when thirsty grief in wine we steep,
when healths and draughts go free,
fishes that tipple in the deep
know no such liberty.

When (like committed linnets) I
with shriller throat shall sing
the sweetness, mercy, majesty,
and glories of my King;
when I shall voice aloud how good
he is, how great should be,
enlargèd winds, that curl the flood,
know no such liberty.

Stone walls do not a prison make,
nor iron bars a cage;
minds innocent and quiet take
that for an hermitage.
If I have freedom in my love,
and in my soul am free,
angels alone that soar above,
enjoy such liberty.

A hateful son

apocalypse

Now that the Covid-19 media apocalypse is upon us here in Ireland I am taking a moment to think about the boy who gave us the name for next month.

The painting above is the Benjamin West 1795 “Death on a pale horse” which depicts the Biblical four horsemen of the apocalypse, Pestilence, War, Famine and Death, riding successively horses coloured white, red, black and pale.

In the ancient world disease killed more armies than battle, and was a constant companion of any assembled army.  Famine followed in the wake of every army as they stripped the land bare of food, like a plague of locusts.  Death of course is the bride of war.

So it is interesting to look at the parallels between the apocalyptic horsemen and the earlier Greco-Roman depictions of the Roman Mars (for whom we name March) and his Greek origination as the God Ares.

Homer, in the Illiad, quotes Zeus as calling Ares the god most hateful to him.  Such a thing to say to your own son!

The Greeks, for all their warlike tendencies, had a suspicion of unbridled passion.  They saw Eros (uncontrolled love) as a form of madness.  In Ares they saw the passion needed to succeed in battle, but they also saw the brutality.  Untamed aggression was achieved by letting slip the reins of mental discipline.

Like the later four horsemen Ares travelled in a gang of four.  Himself, the God of war, accompanied in his chariot by his two sons Phobos (Fear) and Deimos (Terror) and his daughter/lover Enyo (Discord).  Indeed it was Enyo who started the Trojan war.  But that’s a different story.

Ares had four sure-footed, gold bridled, immortal horses who pulled his chariot; Aithon, Phlogios, Konabos and Phobos (same name as his son).

The Greeks saw Ares as a destabilising force, and saw war as a necessary evil, both to be avoided if possible.  Ares is often ridiculed or embarrased in Greek mythology.

Rome took a different line.  Rome placed Mars in the top 3 of their Gods.  The Romans viewed War as the means to Peace and they treated their god of war with reverence and dignity.  Instead of being incestuously linked to Discord like Ares the Roman Mars is married to Nerio, the Goddess of Valor.

So we can see that the four horsemen of the bible have more in common with the Greek god of war than they do with the Roman Mars.

And now back to the painting.  In a twist of fate it carries its own apocalyptic tale.  When the first American Academy of art burned down a volunteer fireman cut the painting from its frame and saved it from the conflagration.

Telling lies #14: False Attribution

Aristotle.jpg

So you want to say something, but you are not sure if anyone will take to it.  Make your point stronger by attributing it as a quote to a famous philosopher.  There is a version doing the rounds at the moment.  We are told that Aristotle said ” It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it”.

Sounds legit.  Paste it onto a photo of a statue of a dude with a beard and who is going to question the source?  Like, you would need some anally retentive scholar with a fluent knowledge of ancient Greek to question the attribution.  Somebody like this perhaps:  Sententiae Antiquae

What did Aristotle really say? for it is the mark of an educated person to search for the same kind of clarity in each topic to the extent that the nature of the matter accepts it

Not so catchy is it?  In fact that makes it look like you would have to actually read Nicomachean Ethics to understand what Aristotle is actually arguing.  Ain’t nobody got time for that!  So the mis-quote is retweeted, printed and hung up in the workplace as a motivational poster.

The lie part creeps in when the person promulgating the quote has an agenda.  They are trying to influence circumstances and they are greasing the path to their goal by intentionally creating or using false quotes, or by the lesser crime of reattributing a useful quote from someone obscure or unpopular to someone who carries gravitas.

“Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History” is a snappy book title from Laurel Thatcher Ulrich but it sounds much better if you put it in the mouth Marilyn Monroe.  Most of the good quotes are from literary people and only people who read books have heard of them.  Just re-attribute to someone who is popular with your audience.

Finally… if my photo above is annoying you I can confirm that is not Aristotle.  It is a bust ATTRIBUTED to Hadrian.  But maybe it’s just some random dude who liked the Hadrianic hairdo.

 

 

The fantasy and the truth.

Pagans1.jpg

Winter solstice, in your dream fantasy, is a rowdy pagan affair.  Naked young flesh pulsating in the flickering light of heathen torches.  Bare breasts heaving with excitement, gooseflesh skin tingling with anticipation as the winter sun crests the ancient stones.

So you drive for hours and fuss over the parking arrangements.  Dress warmly, for the wind over Salisbury plain is a scour in winter.  You tramp your way to the stones and arrive well after sunrise.  Is that Mrs Neville, the butchers wife?  Must remember to say Happy Christmas.

Pagans2

Toward the Winter Solstice; by Timothy Steele

Although the roof is just a story high,
it dizzies me a little to look down.
I lariat-twirl the cord of Christmas lights
and cast it to the weeping birch’s crown;
a dowel into which I’ve screwed a hook
enables me to reach, lift, drape, and twine
the cord among the boughs so that the bulbs
will accent the tree’s elegant design.

Friends, passing home from work or shopping, pause
and call up commendations or critiques.
I make adjustments. Though a potpourri
of Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, and Sikhs,
we all are conscious of the time of year;
we all enjoy its colorful displays
and keep some festival that mitigates
the dwindling warmth and compass of the days.

Some say that L.A. doesn’t suit the Yule,
but UPS vans now like magi make
their present-laden rounds, while fallen leaves
are gaily resurrected in their wake;
the desert lifts a full moon from the east
and issues a dry Santa Ana breeze,
and valets at chic restaurants will soon
be tending flocks of cars and SUVs.

And as the neighborhoods sink into dusk
the fan palms scattered all across town stand
more calmly prominent, and this place seems
a vast oasis in the Holy Land.
This house might be a caravansary,
the tree a kind of cordial fountainhead
of welcome, looped and decked with necklaces
and ceintures of green, yellow, blue, and red.

Some wonder if the star of Bethlehem
occurred when Jupiter and Saturn crossed;
it’s comforting to look up from this roof
and feel that, while all changes, nothing’s lost,
to recollect that in antiquity
the winter solstice fell in Capricorn
and that, in the Orion Nebula,
from swirling gas, new stars are being born.

A Christmas Wish

Family Stone

The Family Stone: A tale of Christmas Dysfunctionality

Everybody thinks they are right.  If you asked Hitler, Stalin, Ivan the Terrible or Robert Mugabe about their records they would explain to you why they were right and what they did was right and there is a good chance that after an hour with any of them you would begin to accept that they had a valid position.

Everybody thinks they are right.

Christmas is time for families.  If anyone knows how to push all your emotional trigger buttons it is your close family.  This makes Christmas a time of stress and tension for many.  Old arguments bubble to the surface.  Kind words and gestures are over-analysed and misinterpreted and rejected.

If you have stress in your relationships here is some sage advice from John Greenleaf Whittier.  Just forgive. Whittier is one of the “Fireside Poets” and born this day in 1807.  I like to think of the Fireside poets in terms of life before TV, when you might spend a cold winters evening by the fire sharing poetry and stories.  Time spent with family and friends, like Christmas.

Forgiveness is hard, because if you mean it then it must be unconditional.  You are not offering an olive branch to begin peace talks.  You are giving it away, opening your own heart with no expectation of any reciprocal action on the other side.  That is real forgiveness.

 

Forgiveness; by John Greenleaf Whittier

My heart was heavy, for its trust had been
abused, its kindness answered with foul wrong;
so, turning gloomily from my fellow-men,
one summer Sabbath day I strolled among
the green mounds of the village burial-place;
where, pondering how all human love and hate
find one sad level; and how, soon or late,
wronged and wrongdoer, each with meekened face,
and cold hands folded over a still heart,
pass the green threshold of our common grave,
whither all footsteps tend, whence none depart,
awed for myself, and pitying my race,
our common sorrow, like a mighty wave,
swept all my pride away, and trembling I forgave!

Depression is rage spread thin.

George Santayana Quotes - iPerceptive

George Santayana is a classic case of a man born before his time.  This is a man who was made for Twitter.  His philosophy is spelled out in aphorisms, short and very quotable statements.  They have been quoted but more often misattributed to other people.

Born in Madrid, Dec 16th, 1863 and raised in Ávila to the age of 8 when he emigrated to Boston, the home of the father of his older half siblings.  Yes even in the 19th Century American marriages appear to have been very complicated.

Educated in Harvard, Berlin and Cambridge, UK.  He resigned from a position in Harvard and returned to Spain.  After some travelling he settled into Rome for the last 40 years of his life.

If you are ever stuck for something witty to quote on Twitter just Google his name.  You will find all sorts of gems such as:

History is a pack of lies about events that never happened told by people who weren’t there.

Never build your emotional life on the weaknesses of others.

Habit is stronger than reason.

 

 

 

Depression art.

ethel-hays-jay-walkers

Art-Deco cartoon of Ethel Hays

Born this day in 1869 Ellis Parker Butler was a full time banker and a part time author.  Between 1931 and 1936 Ethel Hays illustrated his short stories.  She was a well known cartoonist of the 20’s and 30’s and later became a childrens book illustrator.

I pose a question here, and feel free to comment if you have an insight.  If we look at art in the great depression 1930 – 1936 and compare it with art in the recent depression 2008 – 2014 ; can we draw any commonalities?  What are the major themes that emerge?

A Minute; by Ellis Parker Butler

She plucked a blossom fair to see;
upon my coat I let her pin it;
and thus we stood beneath the tree
a minute.

She turned her smiling face to me;
I saw a roguish sweetness in it;
I kissed her once;—it took, maybe,
a minute.

The time was paltry, you’ll agree;
it took but little to begin it;
but since my heart has not been free
a minute.