Topless towers burnt down

Sophia_schliemann_treasure

Was this the face that launched a thousand ships and burnt the topless towers of Ilium? asked Christopher Marlowe in Dr Faustus.

Ilium, the city of Troy, canvas of heroes.  On the fields of Troy Homer introduced us to Ajax, Agamemnon, Menelaus, Priam, Hector, Paris and a cast of thousands.  Achilles the almost invincible and his lover Patroclus.  Cassandra who saw the future but was cursed never to be believed.  The wily Odysseus, AKA Ulysses and his 20 year journey home.  The seeds planted in Troy have germinated and multiplied to inspire a wealth of literature from ancient to modern times.

The Julii Caesares, who gave us Caesar and Augustus, claimed descent from the hero Aeneas who fled from burning Troy with his bride, a daughter of Priam.  Virgil made a career of that tale in the court of the First Emperor of Rome.

It was ostensibly on this day, April 24th in the year 1184 BC that Troy was sacked and burned by the Greeks.  For many that was as far as the myth went.  Then Heinrich Schliemann, a German Businessman, decided that there was no smoke without fire.  So he read Homer as a travel guide instead of as a legend.  He followed the clues and lo and behold he found the ancient city.  Burned, exactly as described.

He bedecked his wife in the jewelry he found there and put her on display for high society to see.  Then he followed more clues and found the tomb of Agamemnon at Mycenae.  A new form of archaeology was born and led to many discoveries all over the world.  Today the science has evolved to the point where Satellite images from earth orbit are being used to search for ancient sites.

 

No Second Troy; by William Butler Yeats

Why should I blame her that she filled my days
with misery, or that she would of late
have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,
or hurled the little streets upon the great,
had they but courage equal to desire?
What could have made her peaceful with a mind
that nobleness made simple as a fire,
with beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
that is not natural in an age like this,
being high and solitary and most stern?
Why, what could she have done, being what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?

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Happy Birthday Petrarch

christ-on-the-sea-of-galilee

Eugene Delacroix : Christ on the sea of Galilee

Born on this day in 1304 Petrarch is called by some the father of the Renaissance, by others the father of Humanism and by still others as the father of the Sonnet.  It takes a great man indeed to father so many illustrious children.  Mountaineers consider him the first Alpinist as he is the first person recorded to ascend a mountain (Mont Ventoux) for recreation alone.

A latin scholar he encouraged other scholars to scour the libraries of the world for the writings of ancient Greece and Rome.  He acquired a copy of Homer’s Odyssey but lamented his lack of Greek saying that “Homer was dumb to me and I was deaf to Homer”.  He had more success with his discovery of a cache of the letters of Cicero, who is our key primary source for the political and judicial goings on in the late Roman Republic when Cicero wrote of the day to day doings of Julius Caesar, Pompeii, Brutus, Cassius, Cato, Marc Anthony et al.

As a writer he was a contemporary and a correspondent of Boccaccio.  His writings had a major impact on the evolution of the modern Italian language.  His use of the poetic form of the Sonnet had an enormous impact on the world of poetry and especially on the works of Shakespeare.  Sonnets are somewhat easier to rhyme in Italian than they are in English, but here is a translation of one of his poems.  It sits nicely in this blog site as it is a classic “Mind Ship” as he uses the metaphor of a storm battered ship to personify the ravages of age.

La vita fugge, et non s’arresta una hora; by Francesco Petrarch (Trans A.S. Kline)

Life flies, and never stays an hour,
and death comes on behind with its dark day,
and present things and past things
embattle me, and future things as well:
and remembrance and expectation grip my heart,
now on this side, now on that, so that in truth,
if I did not take pity on myself,
I would have freed myself already from all thought.
A sweetness that the sad heart knew
returns to me: yet from another quarter
I see the storm-winds rattling my sails:
I see no chance of harbour, and my helmsman
is weary now, and my masts and ropes are broken,
and the beautiful stars, I used to gaze on, quenched.

Happy Bloomsday 2017

Bloomsday

The day has dawned bright and sunny and warm and augurs well for feather boas and straw boaters.  Dust down your butchers shop delivery bicycle with the large wicker basket on the front.  Break out your dickey bow and your silver handled cane.  Hunt out a monocle and a fedora.  Throw your self back to 1904 once again when Leopold Bloom perambulated his way about Dublin in his reenactment of the trial of Odysseus.  It is a day to be Homeric!

 

Ulysses; by Alfred Lord Tennyson

 

It little profits that an idle king,
by this still hearth, among these barren crags,
match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
unequal laws unto a savage race,
that hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
life to the lees. All times I have enjoy’d
greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
that loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
vext the dim sea. I am become a name;
for always roaming with a hungry heart
much have I seen and known,- cities of men
and manners, climates, councils, governments,
myself not least, but honor’d of them all,
and drunk delight of battle with my peers,
far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.

I am a part of all that I have met;
yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
forever and forever when I move.

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
to rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breathe were life! Life piled on life
were all too little, and of one to me
little remains; but every hour is saved
from that eternal silence, something more,
a bringer of new things; and vile it were
for some three suns to store and hoard myself,
and this gray spirit yearning in desire
to follow knowledge like a sinking star,
beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
to whom I leave the sceptre and the isle,
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
this labor, by slow prudence to make mild
a rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
subdue them to the useful and the good.

Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
in offices of tenderness, and pay
meet adoration to my household gods,
when I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail;
there gloom the dark, broad seas. My mariners,
souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me,
that ever with a frolic welcome took
the thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
free hearts, free foreheads, you and I are old;
old age hath yet his honor and his toil.

Death closes all; but something ere the end,
some work of noble note, may yet be done,
not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
the long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
moans round with many voices. Come, my friends.
‘t is not too late to seek a newer world.

Push off, and sitting well in order smite
the sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
to sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.

It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
it may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
and see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
we are not now that strength which in old days
moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are,
one equal temper of heroic hearts,
made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Happy Birthday Alexander Pope

Alexander Pope

Famous in his own lifetime and famous ever since, Alexander Pope is the second most frequently quoted author in the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations after William Shakespeare.   Poet, essayist and translator of both Odyssey and Iliad by Homer.

It is funny the things that lead to a ‘revival’ for a writer.  Recently Kirsten Dunst played Mary in a film about a couple who undergo a mind wipe procedure to erase the pain of their memories of a love affair.  She trots out a quote from the Pope poem “Eloisa to Abelard”.  Overnight Pope was popular again.  I can’t remember the name of the movie but the quote in question is this:

How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot! 
The world forgetting, by the world forgot
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d.

 

 

Ode on Solitude; by Alexander Pope

Happy the man, whose wish and care
A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air,
In his own ground.

Whose heards with milk, whose fields with bread,
Whose flocks supply him with attire,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
In winter fire.

Blest! who can unconcern’dly find
Hours, days, and years slide soft away,
In health of body, peace of mind,
Quiet by day,

Sound sleep by night; study and ease
Together mix’d; sweet recreation,
And innocence, which most does please,
With meditation.

Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
Thus unlamented let me dye;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
Tell where I lye.

eternal-sunshine-of-the-spotless-mind