Wednesday, June 30, 2010

To Mercury

An old translation by John Conington, 1882:

Grandson of Atlas, wise of tongue,
O Mercury, whose wit could tame
Man's savage youth by power of song
And plastic game!

Thee sing I, herald of the sky,
Who gav'st the lyre its music sweet,
Hiding whate'er might please thine eye
In frolic cheat.

See, threatening thee, poor guileless child,
Apollo claims, in angry tone,
His cattle;—all at once he smiled,
His quiver gone.

Strong in thy guidance, Hector's sire
Escaped the Atridae, pass'd between
Thessalian tents and warders' fire,
Of all unseen,

Thou lay'st unspotted souls to rest;
Thy golden rod pale spectres know;
Blest power! by all thy brethren blest,
Above, below!

Two translations of the Homeric Hymn to Hermes: Evelyn-White, and here.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Satyr in the corner

NPR had an interesting story recently about Botticelli's painting, Venus and Mars. Apparently no scholar had noticed until now that in the lower right corner, next to the little horned satyr, is a plant known to possess hallucinogenic powers.

This opened a new angle of interpretive interest in the painting, about which we can read more here. The point of interest just now is the presence of the satyr. Horace will also bring satyrs into the Ars Poetica more than once, and of course made his poetic reputation first as a writer of satires. While "satire" does not derive directly from the Greek word for satyr, Σάτυρος, the literary use of the term seems to have been influenced by it.

From Wikipedia:

The satyrs' chief was Silenus, a minor deity associated (like Hermes and Priapus) with fertility. These characters can be found in the only remaining satyr play Cyclops by Euripedes and the fragments of SophoclesThe Tracking Satyrs (Ichneutae). The satyr play was a lighthearted follow-up attached to the end of each trilogy of tragedies in Athenian festivals honoring Dionysus. These plays would take a lighthearted approach to the heavier subject matter of the tragedies in the series, featuring heroes speaking in tragic iambic verse and taking their situation seriously as to the flippant, irreverent and obscene remarks and antics of the satyrs. The groundbreaking tragic playwright Aeschylus is said to have been especially loved for his satyr plays, but none of them have survived.

More here.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A few supplemental links for Horace

Horace tacitly assumes his readers will be entirely familiar with Aristotle's Poetics, which he cites, alludes to, and plays off of throughout the Ars Poetica.

Many of the key oppositions in the Ars -- virtus et venus, ordo / facundia, utile / dulce - derive from Aristotle's systematic approach to speech and theater in the Poetics as well as in the Rhetoric.

Here is how the philosopher parses the modes of persuasion:

it has three divisions -- (1) the speaker's power of evincing a personal character which will make his speech credible (ethos); (2) his power of stirring the emotions of his hearers (pathos); (3) his power of proving a truth, or an apparent truth, by means of persuasive arguments (logos).
The rich Greek word logos (λόγος) is set in opposition to lexis, the outward form that motions of the soul take when clothed in words. See, in the Poetics, book III, on style. Curiously, even as this distinction becomes a fundamental opposition in the Ars Poetica, its binary terms are actually forms of the same root, as Wikipedia notes:
both words, both logos and lexis derive from the same verb legō (λέγω), meaning "to count, tell, say, speak."
Finally, the question of where poets are supposed to acquire the logos:
To have good sense, is the first principle and fountain of writing well. 
            scribendi recte sapere est et principium et fons
leads to Plato:
 The Socratic papers will direct you in the choice of your subjects
For the readers of the Ars Poetica, the Symposium and the Phaedrus, and the Republic, at the least, would help. Behind the tension between logos and lexis stands the banishment of the poets by the Philosopher King.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Sampler of 17th Century British Poets

Beginning July 7, as agreed, we'll be reading a few 17th Century British poets. Mussy has been looking at online resources and sent some links that will give us a head start. If you feel strongly about a poet or a poem, do share. Of course these are not exhaustive:

John Donne also here

Richard Lovelace

Sir John Suckling

Thomas Carew

George Herbert

Robert Herrick

Edmund Waller

Andrew Marvell

John Dryden: here  and Mac Flecknoe

John Wilmot, Earl of Rochester (Caveat lector: naughty words)

Any others? Here's one from Donne to set us in motion:

by John Donne

MARK but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is ;
It suck'd me first, and now sucks thee, 
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be.
Thou know'st that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead ;
    Yet this enjoys before it woo,
    And pamper'd swells with one blood made of two ;
    And this, alas! is more than we would do.

O stay, three lives in one flea spare,
Where we almost, yea, more than married are.
This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is.
Though parents grudge, and you, we're met,
And cloister'd in these living walls of jet.
    Though use make you apt to kill me,
    Let not to that self-murder added be,
    And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.

Cruel and sudden, hast thou since
Purpled thy nail in blood of innocence?
Wherein could this flea guilty be,
Except in that drop which it suck'd from thee?
Yet thou triumph'st, and say'st that thou
Find'st not thyself nor me the weaker now.
'Tis true ; then learn how false fears be ;
Just so much honour, when thou yield'st to me,
Will waste, as this flea's death took life from thee.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

To Torquatus: Practice with Horace

From A.S. Kline's online Horace:

Bk I Ep V:1-31 An invitation to dinner

If you can bear to recline at dinner on a couch
By Archias, and dine off a modest dish of greens,
Torquatus, I’ll expect to see you here at sunset.
You’ll drink wine bottled in Taurus’ second term,
Between marshy Minturnae, and Mount Petrinum 
Near Sinuessa. If you’ve better, have it brought,    
Or obey orders! The hearth’s bright, the furniture’s
Already been straightened. Forget airy hopes, the fight
For wealth, and Moschus’ case: tomorrow, Caesar’s birthday
Gives us a reason for sleeping late: we’re free to spend
A summer’s night in pleasant talk with impunity.
What’s the use of my fortune if I can’t enjoy it?
The man who scrimps and saves on behalf of his heirs,
Too much, is next to mad. I’ll start the drinking, scatter
Flowers, and even allow you to think me indiscreet. 
What can’t drunkenness do? It unlocks secrets, and makes
Secure our hopes, urges the coward on to battle,
Lifts the weight from anxious hearts, teaches new skills.
Whom has the flowing wine-bowl not made eloquent?
Whom constrained by poverty has it not set free?  
Here’s what, willing and able, I commit myself
To provide: no dirty seat-covers, no soiled napkins
To offend your nose, no plate or tankard where you can’t
See yourself, no one to carry abroad what’s spoken
Between good friends, so like may meet and be joined  
To like. I’ll have Butra and Septicius for you,
And Sabinus unless he’s detained by a prior
Engagement, and a prettier girl. There’s room too
For your ‘shadows’: but goatish smells spoil overcrowded
Feasts. You reply with how many you want, then drop 
Your affairs: out the back, evade the client in the hall!  

This letter to Torquatus breathes the urbanity of Horace. At once casual, conversational, and learned, amusing, yet never to be underestimated in terms of his range of reference.

In this brief invitation to a lawyer friend, he downplays his furniture, specifies the wine (with allusions that might relate to the lawyer's family history), freely labels fiscally conservative people as borderline mad (insano), then launches into a vision of how he'll begin drinking and scattering flowers, and even let his legal eagle buddy think him less than entirely discreet (inconsultus).

This leads to the question at the exact midpoint of the poem (Horace is big on centers):

Quid non ebrietas dissignat?
What can intoxication not unseal?

The poem then turns to explore manifold modes of opening that link indiscretion with courage, confidence with confidentiality, empowerment to learn with encouragement to hope, eloquence of tongue with the accession to a kind of freedom from care.

From the promised flow of wine and talk, the poet goes on to talk about his napkins, silverware and who's on the guest list. The thought of close quarters sets up a joke about body odor.

The remarkable fluidity of the poem, its physicality, its playful scamper up and down the tonal gamut, the joy of anticipating an intimate evening with trusted friends, seems effortless -- how could anyone, even a harried lawyer, refuse the enticing summons:

rebus omissis
atria servantem postico falle clientem

                                                       then drop                      
Your affairs: out the back, evade the client in the hall!     

Looking ahead to the 17th Century

After Horace, the plan is to look at a few 17th Century British poets, to expand our context for Milton. There are some resources on the Net -- this overview on Wikipedia, and this collection (scroll down) which includes fine samples from the Cavalier poets (Jonson, Herrick, Lovelace, Carew et al), and the "metaphysicals," (Donne, Herbert, Vaughn, Marvell, and more).

Most of the above lived and wrote before Milton published Paradise Lost. With the Restoration, other poets came to the scene, including John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester and Famous Rake, and John Dryden. Good overview of Restoration Literature here (and of Restoration Comedy here.)

Got a 17th c. poem or poet you particularly want us to read? Let us know.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Fish and Horace on Classical Education

In today's times, Stanley Fish, former Milton scholar and current New York Times blogger, offers "A Classical Education, Back to the Future," in which he discusses three books that appear to share the common aim of persuading the nation of the need to return to a classical model of education.

As we begin to read Horace's Epistle to the Pisos, it might be worth looking at how the Roman poet speaks to us of the uses and abuses of art, of poetry, of making in a very broad sense (poiesis), and then ask whether, after spending some time with him, we think Horace would applaud the classical model that Fish presents.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Tentative Summer Schedule of dates and readings

June 16    Ars Poetica

June 30    Ars poetica

July 7th    Ars Poetica or 17th C. British Poets (Milton's contemporaries)

July 21     Poets

August 4  Poets

August 18 Job

Sept. 1     Job

Sept. 15   Nietzsche, Birth of Tragedy

Sept. 29   Nietzsche

Links for Horace

Horace didn't call his poem about poetry "Ars Poetica" - that title was conferred only later. It was known in his day as the third poem of his second book of Epistles. It was also known as the Epistula ad Pisones (Letters to the Pisos, a prominent plebeian Roman family).

It's worth noting that the second book of Epistles, published in 14 B.C., contains only three fairly long poems. The first of these mature works, Epistles II.i, is addressed to Emperor Augustus, and is a wide ranging summation of the poet's thoughts about Roman culture, its relation to the Greeks, the place of the arts and of poetry in the larger cultural matrix. Epistles II.ii, To Florus, is a witty tour de force about why he never answers letters and dislikes writing poetry. It deepens into a meditation on time, its passing, and on the relation of poetry to philosophy.

Epistles II.iii, Ad Pisos, is Horace's best known, most widely quoted poem. Here are a few links:

The Perseus site offers the Latin text - click on almost any word, and it will open a new page where you can get brief or detailed dictionary entries for the word. A few nouns are not defined because they are "obscene," by the standards of Classical Lit editors and professors.

Perseus also allows you to open an English prose translation on the same page. Go to the right, and click where it says "load," and this will open the English next to the Latin, with footnotes below the English. If you click on "focus," the English text will open on the left, and the Latin will disappear (but can be opened by clicking on "load," on the right. It's rather arcane.)

For those who wish to refer to the Perseus English without bothering with the Latin, the full English prose translation is here,.with line numbers and notes. This has the advantage of having the English all on one page.

Another translation we'll be using is A. S. Kline's free verse version, with a few notes, here.

So, for now, three ways to access Horace's Ad Pisos:

Perseus Site (Hyperlinked Latin + English Prose with notes)

Perseus English on one page