Friday, November 01, 2002

A Poem by me: Lyrics

When action taken under circumstance
That seems then to be the one true path
Proves, with back-sight's unforgiving eye,
Chimerical shifting and arbitrary cast -
Yesterday's demands too lightly or too seriously
Considered -
Judgement sure now sands unshook
Decisions just now hollow reeds -
My Lords, my Ladies, look ye here -
No footings hold, no causeway safe.
The keep's the cottage wattle-walled
The gamesman's shanty now a fortress strong.
The king's the foll
The fool's a god,
And your friend, my own, tomorrow's tool.

At dawn the wood in fogs concealed
The path misplaced in sorrow's weal.
Preoccupations go unchecked
Till bankrupt reason sees the way,
Lost, in bracken, far afield,
Five county's width from safety's bay.
Now, go forward? Or turn back?
A road unforged to beat through glades
Where feet tread sure a virgin track.
Will future pilgrims walk my road
And comment We pass where he was first to go?

I got curious about this because in my class we read a section of Xenophon's Anabasis where they (the 10,000 Greek mercenaries hired by the little brother, Cyrus, of the Persian king, Artaxerxes, to overthrow him) were marching through Persia and they came to a place which was a plain, all flat like the sea, covered with absinthe, which is wormwood, an herb. There were beasts of all kinds, mules of the field, deer, bustards (whatever the hell those are), and ostriches. The Greek word for ostrich is strothai megalai - big sparrows. They seemed to like this constrast thing. Their word for strength is related to their word for mouse.
They engaged in pursuit of the beasts, and the mules would run a ways, and stop, and stand still. The ostriches ran with their wings held out like a sail. They could not catch any of the ostriches, but they caught something else, a deer maybe, and cooked it and ate it, and I tell you, it was good.
This is my translation so it's not in quotation marks. Le droit c'est moi.
So I got curious about absinthe. I already knew the real thing is now illegal. I found out that what made the real thing such a kick-ass drink was wormwood. Now all you can get is Pernod, which is absinthe without the wormwood. I wanted to try it. I was hoping to find a little bottle, an airplane bottle would have been ideal. I couldn't find anything but a fifth, which cost almost $25. After weeks - literally - of deliberating I broke down and bought one. At first I didn't like it. Then, it kind of grew on me, but - I tell you - a bottle of Pernod is not a good thing to have around the house. It's gone now, and I'm glad.

Thursday, October 31, 2002

How a Languages Becomes "Dead"
On Cicero:
"And then comes Cicero, in whom Latin Hellenism reaches its perfection. Cicero not only knew Greek perfectly, but had assimilated all the Greek culture of his day. In Athens and in Rhodes he had studied rhetoric and philosophy as deeply as any Greek. His culture was profound, not a superficial veneer, not an affectation. He translated Aratus, Plato, and some of the orators. He could declaim in Greek like a Sophist. He carried on part of his correspondence in Greek - his private letters are full of Greek words and Greek quotations, so that in his prose Greek and Latin become 'the perfect consort, dancing together.' One feels that he thought in Greek,and that he was writing to men like himself, who could appreciate his subtleties. He often uses Greek for finer shades of meaning that Greek alone, with its rich vocabulary, can express. He also uses it to add variety, and for an occasional joke. If he sometimes seems to overdo it, this is because Greek for him forms part of a homely kind of Latin - it appears most plainly in his most intimate letters - that he can use in a sort of literary game that he loves playing because it involves using his - and every other educated man's - favorite language: as in his private notebook a Frenchman of our own day - Charles Du Bos, for instance, or V. Larbaud - will use English, or, betterstill, as a German in the time of Baron Grimm would use French. And the result is a living language with nothing bookish about it - in fact Cicero is himself the only witness to many of the Greek words he uses - words borrowed from the vocabulary of the contemporary koinae."

But uh oh, a hundred years later, we have the second Pliny:
"A generation later, with Pliny the Younger, we enter a society in which Greek is still highly esteemed. Pliny's friends were educated men utraque lingua, who knew both languages; the composed Greek epigrams, wrote Greek history books, and were always quoting Homer, even in the Senate. Pliny himself knew Greek well - he also had been a kind of infant prodigy and at the age of fourteen had compsed a Greek tragedy. He had done Greek rhetoric under the celebrated Nicetas of Smyrna, and at the same time Latin under Quintillian. He had been to the philosophers, he had listened to the Sophists lecturing, and he knew his classics - in his letters he is always quoting Homer, the comic poets, Thucydides, Demosthenes. In fact we might be back in Cicero's time.
"But the resembance is so perfect that it becomes slightly suspicious, and one begins to wonder whether there is not a trace of affectation in Pliny and his friends. Clearly Pliny wants his correspondence to remind us of Cicero's, and so he imitates it, conscientiously, down to using Greek; but what a vast gulf there is between his laborious efforts, his frequent pedantry, and the spontaneous humour of the letters to Atticus."
from H.I. Marrou, A History of Education in Antiquity, 1956

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

On A Different Note:
I made a Mr. Temple finger puppet today. Mr. Temple is the name of a character in a very, very good movie about Gilbert & Sullivan named "Topsy Turvey." Mr. Temple is the actor who plays the Mikado in "The Mikado." In last Sunday's New York Times in the arts section there was an article about the real-life actor, whose name escapes me, and there was a small photo of him in his Mikado costume, making a funny face. The photo was just the right size for a finger puppet.
Now all I need is about a dozen more Japanese finger puppets and two more hands, and I can put on a finger-production of "The Mikado."