Monday, June 13, 2016

Divina Commedia: Inferno II

Wallace Fowlie's A Reading of Dante's Inferno (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1981).

Having finished reading this guide, here's another handful of memorable insights.

". . . a man may lose his soul before he dies . . . and then, on earth, a devil inhabits the body until its natural death . . ." (page 207).

"The medieval world cultivated and protected a sense of mystery . . ." (page 220).

"No poet, no writer exists alone . . . they are one and many . . . Their art is not unique but comes from others who proceeded them and will be continued in others who come after . . ." (page 226).

"A river is eternal, and thus designates the permanence of man [humankind]. A river flows by and is never the same, and thus designates the mutability of man" (page 228). 
"In the unfolding of the Inferno, of [James Joyce's] Ulysses, and [Marcel Proust's] A la recherche, one human failing in particular is condemned, one trait that returns over and over again in the pages of the poem and the novels: the human will to power. When a man [person] finds himself in a position of power, he finds at the same time in those people who wait upon and for him both clear and disguised signs of suspicion and hatred. Power inevitably brings about its own collapse. To offset this insidious drive, Dante makes it clear that he needs Virgil, and that Virgil likewise needs Dante. A similar pattern of restriction and control is visible in Joyce's Stephen and Bloom, and in Proust's Marcel and Swann" (page 229). 

The poem underscores "the struggle of free will against forces that attempt to nullify it" (page 21). 

And finally: "These two themes, the unseen God and the development of selfhood, will never be lost sight of . . . " (page 21). 

And thus ends today's salute to Disco Inferno

Today's Rune: The Mystery Rune. Illustrations by William Blake and Sandro Botticelli. 

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Haunted Mississippi: Second Cycle

Spanish moss and cemetery, Grand Gulf, Mississippi, May 2016.
Ammo pit from 1863, Fort Wade, Grand Gulf, Mississippi, May 2016.
Confederate caisson and limber dumped into the Big Black River in May 1863, recovered in 1965-1966, and on display at Grand Gulf Military Monument, Mississippi, May 2016. 

Edge of the Mississippi River as seen from the spectral remains of Fort Cobun (1863), Grand Gulf, Mississippi. 

Today's Rune: Defense. 

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Haunted Mississippi: First Cycle

Champion Hill battleground, May 2016.
Closeup: collapsed ruin in Edwards, Mississippi.
Confederate battle flag graffiti, railroad bridge over Big Black River, Mississippi. Big Black battle area in 1863.

Today's Rune: Signals. 

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Divina Commedia: Inferno

Next up is Wallace Fowlie's A Reading of Dante's Inferno (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1981). It's fun to read The Inferno without any guide, but Fowlie's work makes things much easier to decipher even after the fact. 
Each chapter has a "Principal Signs and Symbols" section. Here's an important tidbit from Canto 2: "Three images of help: in the order of their appearance in the poem, Beatrice, Lucia, and Mary; in the order of their help to Dante, Mary, Lucia, and Beatrice (Fowlie, page 29).  
Saint Lucia, aka Saint Lucy. She can be found just about anywhere, starting in Europe from Italy to Sweden and Spain. She's not just for Catholics anymore.  
Saint Lucia in a work dating close to Dante's time (Dante lived from about 1265 to 1321 A.D.)  In painting, a Little Red Riding Hood phase?

One can read Fowlie's book in a jiffy. As for Little Red Riding Hood, this tale may trace back 2,000 years or so. For more about its origins and spread, here's a link.

Today's Rune: The Mystery Rune. 

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Inferno of Dante (Pinsky Verse Translation): Response II

The Inferno of Dante: A New Verse Translation by Robert Pinsky, Bilingual Edition, Illustrated by Michael Mazur with Notes by Nicole Pinsky and Foreword by John Freccero. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994, 1995 printing.

Let's run down a few more touchstones from Dante's Disco Inferno, shall we?

From Canto XIV (page 141): 

". . . All over the sand
Distended flakes of fire drifted from aloft
Slowly as mountain snow without a wind." 

Compare a snippet from the devilish 1969 Stooges song, "I Wanna Be Your Dog:"

"And now I'm ready to close my mind
And now I'm ready to feel your hand
And lose my heart on the burning sand
And now I want to be your dog . . ."
Dante Running from the Three Beasts by William Blake, 1820s
Tales of Brave Ulysses (Odysseus).

Canto XXVI (page 277):  

"You were not born to live as a mere brute does . . .

Turning our stern toward the morning light,
We made wings of our oars, in an insane
Flight . . ." 

Moonlight Mile

Canto XXIX (page 305):

"'. . . And already the moon
Is under our feet: the time we are allowed
Has now grown short, and more is to be seen

Than you see here. . .'"

Down in the Bottom / The Wishing Well.

Canto XXXII (page 341):

"It is not jokingly that one begins
To describe the bottom of the universe --
Not a task suited for a tongue that whines

Mamma and Dadda . . ."*

The Cooling Board.

Canto XXXII (page 347):

"'. . . down where the sinners are put
To cool . . .'"

The Stooges, "Real Cool Time" (1969):

"We will have a real cool time tonight,
Tonight . . ."

*"Mamma o babbo" in the original Italian (page 340). Bottom Line: the influence of Dante on fellow artists during the past 700 years is demonstrably effervescent and plentiful.  

Today's Rune: The Mystery Rune.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Inferno of Dante (Pinsky Verse Translation): Response I

The Inferno of Dante: A New Verse Translation by Robert Pinsky, Bilingual Edition, Illustrated by Michael Mazur with Notes by Nicole Pinsky and Foreword by John Freccero. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994, 1995 printing.

Dante's Inferno still packs heat 700 years into its publication. A salute to Dante Alighieri (circa 1265-1321) via this lively translation by Robert Pinsky (b. 1940).

A few snippets about Hell and Writing, beginning in Year 1300.

This is pertinent to many a tale, embracing nonfiction and fiction alike:

For my demanding theme so pulls my story,
To multiply the telling would be too little
For the multitude of fact that filled my journey.
(Canto IV, page 43).

Wow. So, Less must be More, More or Less, as so, too, would say the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969). One can only provide so many telling details. James Joyce's Ulysses (1918-1922) takes readers on a crazy romp through a single day -- June 16, 1904 -- in a mere 700 pages of text. Even so, there are still gaps. Do these catch Dante's drift?

"Why do you squander?" and "Why do you hoard?" 
(Canto VII, page 67). 

Good question. We do people squander?  Why do people hoard? Human nature, very sinful. Simple as pie or a stye in the eye.

And he said more that I don't remember now --
(Canto IX, page 89).

This nifty statement covers a multitude of sins and omissions, no doubt. Handy at times in writing specifically and throughout life in general.

More to come, or in Dante's words as spoken by Virgil, refashioned by Pinsky,

". . . it pleases me
To go now; for above us in the skies
The Fish are quivering at the horizon's edge,
And the whole Wagon lies over Caurus -- and this,
Farther ahead, is where we descend the ridge." 
(Canto XI, page 115).

In the next post, we'll go deeper. 

Today's Rune: Defense. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Searching for Sappho (2016)

Philip Freeman, Searching for Sappho: The Lost Songs and World of the First Woman Poet (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2016). 

An easy to read overview of the life, times and art of Sappho (circa 630-570 B.C.), and Freeman makes it all seem easy, translating from ancient Greek into modern English. We learn that in Classical Greek marriages, men were generally ten or twelve years older than their brides. Mystery cults and religions abounded. Sensuality was then, as now, complex. The biggest hope -- and danger -- for many woman was pregnancy. Heterosexual men could -- and did -- supplement their love lives with regular courtesans and hetaira, "the companions often pictured on drinking cups. . . skilled not only in giving sexual pleasure, but also in music and conversation" (page 55).

Women of pregnancy age had to be more clever than men if they wished to supplement or compliment their marriages. Relations with other women made a lot of sense, as in the case of Sappho, who was at least for a time married to an older man (probably) and had one daughter that we know of (per Freeman). Why avoid pregnancy?  It was very dangerous, riskier than fighting in a war, to the mother, who could easily die in childbirth. Men could also turn to other men, if so wired or inclined.

We also learn that Sappho probably sang most of her poems, a sort of trobairitz with a lyre. Freeman has her performing at weddings and other ceremonies, and put in exile at least twice due to power struggles on Lesbos.

Freeman pieces together what he can, but most of Sappho's poetry is known only in beautiful fragments. Still, there is hope that more verses will continue to be recovered, as has been the case during the past century. 

And of time, how we measure it can be confusing and misleading. We may tend to think of ancient times as one big suck hole, but consider this: "By the time of Sappho [2600 years before this post], the pyramids were almost as ancient to her as she is to us . . ." (page 99)! 

Finally, Freeman notes that there are about one hundred known women poets of Classical Greco-Roman times -- there are many more to explore. Like Sappho, much of their so far rediscovered poetry is in the form of fragments. And let us imagine new finds among other civilizations and cultures as well. Let's hope, let's seek, let's find!

Sappho #147.  "Someone, I say, will remember us in time to come" (page 278).  And we do, as others will remember us. 

Today's Rune: Initiation.