Monday, March 26, 2012

Ovid group schedule

Our schedule for the remainder of 2012 is now linked on the right, thanks to Mussy, who keeps us ever on track. It's also here.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A visit to the Vatican's secret archives

We'll resume Ovid on April 4th with Erysichthon's consuming problems. But also, hopefully, with a brief digression:
The Vatican Secret Archives (Latin: Archivum Secretum Vaticanum), located in Vatican City, is the central repository for all of the acts promulgated by the Holy See. The Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, having primal incumbency until death, owns the archives until the next appointed Papal successor. The archives also contain the state papers, correspondence, papal account books,[1] and many other documents which the church has accumulated over the centuries. In the 17th century, under the orders of Pope Paul V, the Secret Archives were separated from the Vatican Library, where scholars had some very limited access to them, and remained absolutely closed to outsiders until 1881, when Pope Leo XIII opened them to researchers, of whom now more than a thousand examine its documents each year.[2]

At our next meeting, on Wed. April 4, we can look forward to hearing about the archives from Arline, who will be back from a trip to Rome.

She wrote to say:
The link on the blog to Roman fountains was most appropriate and good timing, as I am off to Rome next week, esp to see exhibit at Capitoline Museum, LUX in ARCANA, on historical sacred documents from 400 years of Vatican archives.
Meanwhile, we can pay a virtual visit to the Capitoline Museums and to the home site of Lux Arcana, the private papal archives through these links:

Capitoline Museums

Lux in Arcana

More about the documents

Update: Video from Arline of one of the many ancient Meleager sarcophagi.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ovid's birthday celebrated in Sarasota

David Raeburn of Oxford and New College being introduced by Georgia of Bookstore 1. The reading from his translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses proved most enjoyable, as he's a terrific reader.

Afterward, our group celebrated Ovid's 2055th with a toast, composed and delivered by our own incomparable Lola Laubheim:

Let's have a toast 
To Ovid's ghost 
He's MMLV 
And now he's only history. 

But not to you 
And not to me. 
So meet us at 
Gulf Gate Library.

[Add:] David Raeburn is a wonderful reader, and his rendering of Ovid lends itself to a sonorous and dramatic fullness of tale and telling. From book 1, he read Ovid's story of the beginning of things, and then his fine version of Apollo and Daphne. He next turned to the powerful description of the plague on Aegina, then to Narcissus and Echo, and last to Pygmalion. What a wonderful Audiobook he could make!

The unhappy consumer

In The Tempest, Ariel is trapped in a tree, and owes his liberty to the magic of Prospero, who managed the spirit's liberation from the wood.

In Book 8 of Metamorphoses, a devotee of Ceres who lives in a sacred oak protests when Erysichthon begins to chop it down:
He was hewing at the oak-tree repeatedly, when the sound of a voice came from inside the oak, chanting these words:
“I am a nymph, most dear to Ceres,
under the surface of this wood,
who prophesy to you, as I die,
that punishment will follow blood:
out of my ruin, the only good.”

Nympha sub hoc ego sum Cereri gratissima ligno,
quae tibi factorum poenas instare tuorum
vaticinor moriens, nostri solacia leti.”
The nymph is linked to the oak; instead of feeling liberated from the dark wood, she falls with it, her last words a vatic prophecy of the poenas that will be visited upon her unwanted liberator.

Monday, March 12, 2012

"The third is Ovid"

And then my righteous master said to me: 
     “Take note of him who bears that sword held fast
     And, as their lord, precedes the other three.
That is Homer, sovereign poet, unsurpassed.
     Horace the satirist is next in sight.
     The third is Ovid; Lucan is the last.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Bettany Hughes on the roots of democracy

Temple for two

Ovid's story of Baucis and Philemon told by Lelex in Book 8 has no known source, although it's possible the tale did exist. It has a kind of inevitability, given the code of hospitality, or Xenia, which was the superb Greek solution to dealing with strangers.

As we noted in our reading, the tale is full of warm, realistic detail, as Baucis hitches up her skirts to fix the table, or when she and old Philemon try to capture the goose, their "estate's" sole guardian.

It gets a bit eerie as they climb the steep hill -- there's no roar of wind or weather, no Achelousian sturm und drang. The old couple turn, look down, and see a wide blank of placid water where their town had been. And one house, their own.

As they mourn for their lost neighbors, the house metamorphoses into a temple. How different from the usual procedure in the ancient world! Normally you'd have a town, then a city, then the ability to finance the construction of a temple -- i.e., the economic possibility of temples was bound up with the wealth of cities, which itself depended upon agriculture, and even more, upon trade. And trade  depended for its existence upon civil relations with strangers. For the Greeks, the road to prosperity and to fine temples appears to be embedded in the code of Xenia.

Here, Philemon and Baucis's home becomes a shining temple of marble and gold at the moment the population vanishes. The logic of the story suggests that the appearance of the temple is another of these divine ratifying appearances (as with Ariadne, or Daedalus) that reveal what was already the case. From the moment the gods entered the humble home and were met with honorable hospitality, the house was, noumenally, a temple.

Ovid is not about to tell us that divinity lies within the individual's faith, hope, and love, and that the body of the pious person is a temple, as the Christians will claim. But the manifestation of a divine order of being that comes from the Xenia of one married couple is a step, and probably a reflection of the Zeitgeist of Ovid's time.

With this in mind, it might surprise us less to find an echo of this tale surfacing in the Acts of the Apostles, in Lystra, which was on the way to Phrygia, the ancient homeland of Baucis and Philemon:

14:8 And there sat a certain man at Lystra, impotent in his feet, being a cripple from his mother's womb, who never had walked: 14:9 The same heard Paul speak: who stedfastly beholding him, and perceiving that he had faith to be healed, 14:10 Said with a loud voice, Stand upright on thy feet. And he leaped and walked. 
14:11 And when the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men. 
14:12 And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius, because he was the chief speaker. Acts 14

Sunday, March 4, 2012

How to use a river god

Returning to Athens from the hunt in Calydon, Theseus and his companions are warned not to attempt to cross the river Achelous. By Achelous.

Theseus visits Achelous
". . . do not commit yourself to my devouring waters. They are liable to carry solid tree-trunks along, in their roaring, and roll great boulders over on their sides. I have seen whole stables, near the bank, swept away, with all their livestock: and neither the cattle’s strength nor the horses’ speed was of any use. Many a strong man has been lost in the whirling vortices, when the torrent was loosed, after mountain snows. You will be safer to stay till my river runs in its normal channel, when its bed holds only a slender stream."
As Prof. Anderson notes, there's an interesting split here between the voice of the river and the rapacious waters it speaks of. Achelous expresses genuine concern for Theseus, but the root of the concern is about the superhuman force of his own waters. He speaks of his power as though it belonged to another. When humans do this, it often has a comical quality, because of the suggestion of compulsion -- e.g., a boxer who cannot stop throwing punches continually has to warn people to beware of his fists. The god asks the Athenian hero, whom he admires, to pause and use his hospitality rather than hubristically dare to cross at this time.

With a witty zeugma, Theseus agrees to use both Achelous' home and his counsel:

Adnuit Aegides, “utarqueAcheloe, domoque
consilioque tuorespondit; et usus utroque est.

Hercules and Achelous
The warning of Achelous speaks to the question of scale. For the ancients, the gods were powerful and immortal, but still capable of being imaginatively represented (as opposed to the god of the Old Testament, who forbids any attempt to depict him, yet nonetheless is anthropomorphized within certain kinds of stories). A river god is a mysterious flowing presence -- rivers are far better known for their endings than their often veiled beginnings -- and they possess powers to fertilize, nourish and destroy. A river seems not to be able to go from flood to calm at will, though as Achelous will go on to say, he can change into a bull and a serpent, as he did when he wrestled Hercules. (Similarly, Achilles in the Trojan war will fight Xanthus, aka Scamander.)

Hesiod conveys something of the fertile variety of rivers in his catalog in the Theogony. The power to remember the names of all the Earth's streams is beyond any mortal:

And Tethys bore to Ocean eddying rivers, Nilus, and Alpheus, and deep-swirling Eridanus, Strymon, and Maeander, and the fair stream of Ister, and Phasis, and Rhesus, and the silver eddies of Achelous, Nessus, and Rhodius, Haliacmon, and Heptaporus, Granicus, and Aesepus, and holy Simois, and Peneus, and Hermus, and Caicus' fair stream, and great Sangarius, Ladon, Parthenius, Euenus, Ardescus, and divine Scamander. Also she brought forth a holy company of daughters1who with the lord Apollo and the Rivers have youths in their keeping—to this charge Zeus appointed them—Peitho, and Admete, and Ianthe, and Electra, and Doris, and Prymno, and Urania divine in form, Hippo, Clymene, Rhodea, and Callirrhoe, Zeuxo and Clytie, and Idyia, and Pasithoe, Plexaura, and Galaxaura, and lovely Dione, Melobosis and Thoe and handsome Polydora, Cerceis lovely of form, and soft eyed Pluto, Perseis, Ianeira, Acaste, Xanthe, Petraea the fair, Menestho, and Europa, Metis, and Eurynome, and Telesto saffron-clad, Chryseis and Asia and charming Calypso, Eudora, and Tyche, Amphirho, and Ocyrrhoe, and Styx who is the chiefest of them all. These are the eldest daughters that sprang from Ocean and Tethys; but there are many besides. For there are three thousand neat-ankled daughters of Ocean who are dispersed far and wide, and in every place alike serve the earth and the deep waters, children who are glorious among goddesses. And as many other rivers are there, babbling as they flow, sons of Ocean, whom queenly Tethys bare, but their names it is hard for a mortal man to tell, but people know those by which they severally dwell. Theogony 337 ff
Parada also has an annotated list of River Gods.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The house of Achelous

Grottoes were all the rage in 16th Century Italy, and humanists of the time turned to Ovid for the loci classici.

The cave of Achelous in Book 8 is clearly one such scene, where the river god offers Theseus and his companions hospitality:
[Theseus] entered the dark building, made of spongy pumice, and rough tufa. The floor was moist with soft moss, and the ceiling banded with freshwater mussel and oyster shells.
Another is the grotto of Diana in Book III:
There was a valley there called Gargaphie, dense with pine trees and sharp cypresses, sacred to Diana of the high-girded tunic, where, in the depths, there is a wooded cave, not fashioned by art. But ingenious nature had imitated art. She had made a natural arch out of living pumice (pumice vivo) and porous tufa. On the right, a spring of bright clear water murmured into a widening pool, enclosed by grassy banks. Here the woodland goddess, weary from the chase, would bathe her virgin limbs in the crystal liquid. Kline.
Vallis erat piceis et acuta densa cupressu,
nomine Gargaphie, succinctae sacra Dianae.
Cuius in extremo est antrum nemorale recessu,
arte laboratum nulla: simulaverat artemingenio natura suo; nam pumice vivo                          160
et levibus tofis nativum duxerat arcum.
Fons sonat a dextra, tenui perlucidus unda,
margine gramineo patulos succinctus hiatus.
Hic dea silvarum venatu fessa solebatvirgineos artus liquido perfundere rore. III.156 ff
This is the arched grotto and pool where Actaeon met his fate.

A grotto of Diana was included in the gardens of the Villa d'Este in Tivoli:

Villa d'Este pools, fountains gardens

Ovid hints that when one creates a cave of tufa and pumice, one imitates nature imitating art.

Grotte du Grand Roc, Dordogne

Mono Lake, CA

More Italian grottoes:

Grotto of Boboli Gardens, Firenze

Im park der Villa d'Este, Carl Blechen

More images of Italian fountains, some by Bernini, can be found here.