01 March 2016

Sam and Argos

I was crossing Connecticut Avenue this afternoon behind a fluffy white table-dog, the kind a daughter of mine would call a “kick-me dog,” and I thought I should check to see if Homer had actually said "table-dog".  The charming Maltese whelp was a table dog.  Was I only remembering a translation?

You will recall that when Odysseus first returns to his house, the first living creature to greet him is his old dog Argos. Odysseus tears up, and says that clearly used to be a fine dog, not like those “table dogs”. Homer does say that: τραπεζῇες κΰνες. 

When my husband and I honeymooned in Paris in 1988, we took a barge trip from the north of the city down to the Seine. There was a table on the barge, surrounded by all the characters from Renoir's Boating Party (which lives two blocks from me), especially the young woman ignoring her date and talking baby-talk to her dog. I was enchanted with the living painting, as I had been enchanted the previous afternoon on the train through fields of living Monet's.

The first time I visited Ireland, in the mid-90s, I was taken to the farm of my daughter's in-laws. The first thing I really noticed as we drove up the hill to the house was a large pile of cattle manure with an old dog lying on top – it was an icy day. We parked beside the manure. I got out of the car, and the old dog staggered towards me. “Argos!” I gasped, burst into tears, and put my arms around him.

Inside the house was a table dog, a fluffy King Charles spaniel, Sam, who won prizes in dog shows. And this is where the story turns somewhat tragic.  A couple of years later, my son-in-law, Sean, was working on the farm with a tractor.  Sam ran under the tractor. Sean had to take his mother the news and the remains of Sam. 

The next weekend there was a family wedding. When my daughter and Sean arrived, the various children ran up crying out, "Sean, you killed Sam!"  Of course, he felt wretched. When they had lost interest and gone off, a ten-year old sidled up, not quite looking at Sean. "Sean, Sean! " he hissed.  "How flat was Sam?"

21 December 2015

Nauplion Christmas

This was our Christmas in Nauplion 38 years ago, when my children were younger than my grandchildren are now, and when Greece was an endearingly different world: when most people had little money instead of being attacked by incompetent government, when the old town was full of homes instead of little pink hotels, when the ringing we heard was the hourly bell instead of cell phones, when the voices of children were heard in the streets, and when we met neighbors taking their lunches to be cooked in the bakery ovens. It is a world that has disappeared more completely than Dicken's London, because that world is good for seasonal merchandise and Nauplion of the 70s has had no literary genius.  Greeks will remember a different Christmas: this was ours seen from the culture of Washington, DC.

* * * * * * * *

It rained relentlessly for the first three weeks of December, and during those same three, there was no mail. We felt abandoned.  There were no Christmas carols played in Nauplion stores, no crass commercialization, no blatant attempts to blackmail us into buying presents we did not need, no cranberries, no cider, no fireplaces. No anticipating the Christmas Eve party where the grownups wore evening dress, or Vespers at the cathedral, no driving around the North Capitol Street neighborhood to look at lights. And no Christmas trees.

As far as we had been able to learn, Christmas trees were available only in Athens and there at high prices. Then the younger girls ran up the stairs crying out that one of the tourist hotels had just brought a tree in its front door. At the hotel, the desk clerk said the tree had come from the florist shop in Argos opposite the bus stop. We were on the next bus to Argos. The florist said to come back after 2:30, when his tree delivery was to arrive. We had lunch in one of the venerable old restaurants on the town square, a cavernous grey room, hung with enormous fading photographs of stern Greek royalties. The other patrons seemed to all be very old men who smoked a great deal and watched us closely. We ate hurriedly and went out to see the newest diggings.

It is the misfortune of the residents of Argos to live on a site inhabited without interruption for six thousand years, and given special attention by the Romans. Every time someone wanted to build a house, add an extra room or storage shed, or do something to the garage, they dug up another Roman relic. Legally, all such discoveries were to be reported to the Ephor of Antiquities and the site properly investigated before any more building. A proper investigation might not come for years, and the land could then be appropriated by the government at its own evaluation. Anyone with any sense at all, of course, followed the advice of the Duke of Wellington and buried the damn thing immediately. Still, it did happen that something was embroiled in official attention, and every visit to Argos turned up a dig or two worth looking at.

Just after 2:30, the florist had a load of trees, each of them perfect, each bearing a lead government seal. Christmas trees in Greece came from government plantations. Those approved for sale were marked, and possession of an unmarked tree could mean a year in jail. The previous Christmas, Jorn and Erika, from South Africa, had  suggested we go in their van to a tree plantation and liberate our own trees. We went to a ski resort down in the Peloponnesos on the slopes of Menelaion. It was a splendid day, the snow was knee-deep and the children raced about throwing snowballs with Erika, and watching for approaching traffic. Jorn and I, stumbling with saws and implements hidden in our boots and sleeves, slid into snow-covered crevices looking for trees. Sawing through tree trunks was more difficult than we had anticipated, and after we had slipped into more crevices taking the trees back to the road, we crouched behind rocks until Erika signaled that it was safe to dash to the van with our trees. Crossing the plain of Tripolis coming home, we bought large sacks of potatoes and walnuts. That was last year.

In Argos we selected an elegant silver fir which cost three times what I had ever paid for a tree, and walked it to the bus stop where it waited in line with us for tickets. The other passengers and the passers-by admired it so generously that we began to feel we were performing a social service. The bus driver, however, adamantly refused to put the tree into his empty luggage compartment. Should I have had any doubts on the matter, he explained that he had never transported trees and never would. I shoved the children on the bus where two of them immediately began to cry with a moderate degree of sincerity. In those days Greeks could not abide seeing children cry, especially blond children. The passengers on the bus began shouting at the driver. He shouted at the bystanders on the sidewalk and pointed at me and the tree. I fancied I bore a certain resemblance to Joan of Arc carrying her own stake. The bystanders shouted at each other and the tree and the bus, and I had the hopeful impression that the driver was very close to being lynched. He must have had a similar impression, for he abruptly decided the tree could ride in the luggage carrier on top of the bus.

For the twenty minutes back to Nauplion, I watched the shadow of the tree in the low afternoon light ripple along the side of the road. The shadow rippled over the reed thatch on the roadside stands hung with bunches of oranges, it rippled across the great stones of Tiryns, and it rippled over the yellow prison walls. In Nauplion, we walked our tree home, supporting it with arms through the branches as if it were an unsteady friend, pausing constantly for it to be admired. 

We have always collected decorations, each decoration bearing a memory to be recounted every year during the decorating: a china bell from Irene's godmother; the gold birds from the Christmas I was pregnant with Kathleen; the straw stars made by my father's German POWs; a glass unicorn made one Midsummer's Eve on the Boardwalk at Ocean City; a Robert Kennedy button, Jan's red paper dolls from Denmark (the last remnants above). We added tiny Greek dolls and icons, and Diana Stravouradis brought a dozen sugar mice from Wales. Elias, Arete, Apostolos, Evangelitsa,Yannis, Sophia, Michaelis, Costas, Maritsa, all saw the lights from the street and came up to admire. "Afto inai oreio. Inai kalo." It is beautiful, it is good. Strangers knocked on the door and asked if they might bring their children who had never seen a Christmas tree before. The next day we cycled to the far side of Palamidi – now gnawed up by roads and houses – to collect armfuls of heather, narcissus and pine. We put tall beeswax candles and crêches in the window alcoves – Irene's from Nigeria (still with us this Christmas), Kathleen's from Mexico, Rosalind's from Germany.

Abruptly, Nauplion prepared for Christmas. Soldiers from the local army base set up a life-sized crêche with Byzantine-style figures in the main square, in front of the Venetian armory. Beside it they put a fishing boat hung with colored lights: there was always a competition to have one's boat chosen. Agios Vasilios brings gifts at New Year's in his boat. The windows on the main streets were heaped with sweets in shiny colored papers and boxes. The dark, narrow shops on the side streets smelling of chocolate and oranges – now all become boutiques – were crammed with shiny things piled on the counters and hanging from the ceiling like stalagtites.

The hunchbacked fiddler from across the bay strolled up and down the main streets, fiddling a carol over and over. We went over to him, he said the children were beautiful, then spat to protect them from the Evil Eye. The gypsies came to town.  An aged woman sat near the post office asking for contributions, her grown idiot son sprawled inertly across her lap, the two making a hideous pietà, . A man led a muzzled bear cub about on a rope. When he bashed its feet with a stick, it lifted them up and down: this was dancing. When poked with a stick, it growled: this demonstrated ferocity, and observers squealed. A teen-aged gypsy boy leaned against a pillar of the church porch under our window. He played "St. James Infirmary" on his clarinet in a dozen styles and variations. He was an artist. I wanted to know his name, to hear him play more, but the old man near him spoke sharply and set him to playing a proper carol The old man talked to me for a bit, anxious that I know him to be a "real Christian," that is, one baptized in church, unlike most gypsies. He said the boy was rebellious, and did not know his place.

On December 23, the mail finally arrived. It took three trips to the post office to retrieve all the packages. Phillipa, a graceful Australian, came up the stairs and asked if she could visit. She had been traveling alone for a month and wanted to see someone at Christmas who spoke English. The morning of Christmas Eve, we were awakened by the fire house band, composed mostly of drums, clarinets and tubas. Rosalind ran down to join the horde of small children who danced behind, up and down all the streets of the old town collecting contributions of small change and candy. More packages arrived. The children went out to deliver fruit cakes – I had brought bourbon and pecans for this, and we baked them in the bakery oven next to Evangelitsa's shop (now a bank) – and small gifts to our friends. They returned with more cakes and gifts than they had taken. We made tablecloths from lengths of blue and white material, and set out the silverware, and blue and white china we had brought with us.

The silver had nearly got us into trouble. When we packed to come to Greece, I put household supplies in containers that were carried in the ship's hold, but the sterling I put into my hiking boots in one of the suitcases, thinking we might want to use it before we had access to the containers. We arrived at customs with six suitcases, a trunk, two musical instruments and assorted bags. With stunning intuition, the customs inspector only opened the suitcase with the hiking boots stuffed with silver. No one at customs spoke English, nor did any of us speak Greek. After a long period in a smoke-filled room where several men shouted at each other and at me, I tearfully managed to get one of them to notice the scratches, bent tines and tarnish that might indicate the silver had been in our possession for a while.

We hadn't enough plates to set out all we had cooked, and when guests began arriving with their contributions, there wasn't enough room for all the food, either. Everyone we had invited had found a foreigner who wanted an American Christmas -- two Australian families in the campground, an Irishwoman camping on the beach, an American schoolteacher, a German couple, two Englishwomen who had married Naupliots, several Greeks who had lived in America, and they all brought bottles of drinks and more food. As soon as the first guests appeared, the kitchen sink detached itself from all of its pipes and fell off the wall. We tried to ignore this.

We were interrupted several times by shouts from the Hotel Otto across the street for phone calls from the States, and at the hotel we acquired two solitary salesmen morosely watching television. At midnight, the church bells rang and the ships blew their whistles.
Christmas morning we woke to the bells and incense of Panagia and the warm tones of the priest's chanting. Phillipa breakfasted with us on leftover ham and Roquefort, and then we took the bus to Argos.

Argos has a conical hill crowned with a castle, described in a medieval chronicle as spreading down into the plain like a tent. We climbed up the long way and sat in the arched casements and looked over the snow-covered mountains deep in the Peloponnesos. A troup of merry little boys joined us. They found great amusement in snatching at sweaters and purses and Kathleen's long hair. It seemed best to go back down, but we were looking for what the Blue Guide said was a carving of a Thracian horseman. We had no idea of where to look or what a Thracian horseman might look like. Phillipa asked the boys, but we were saying hippos, which was classical, when we should have said alogos. Phillipa tried sketching a series of men-on-horseback. One of the boys pointed to one and showed us, not ten feet away, a disappointingly small, grubby bas-relief of a man on a horse with a snake. The church on the hill above is a Ag. Georgios. Ag. Georgios is always shown with a dragon. Centuries ago someone thought this carving of a horseman and serpent was he. Bored with archeology, the boys threw stones at us the rest of the way down the hill. Back home at dusk, there was just enough time to start the Franklin stove before we wrapped in blankets and lay across the bed in the firelight to listen to the Queen's Christmas message. We cried a lot and said it was the best Christmas we had ever had. The next morning we were up at six to begin two weeks of being migrant workers picking mandarinis.


29 October 2015

The Rev. Hartley views the Morea

From Researches in Greece & the Levant by the Rev. John Hartley, M.A., 1833. 
The Rev. Hartley's route in 1828 from Napoli to Kakovouni, then Napoli to 
Tripolitza, Mistra, Leondari, Karitena, Demitzani, Megaspelaion, and back 
to Napoli are shown by a very pale dotted line.

From the Rev. John Hartley, English missionary to Greece and Asia Minor.

March 29, 1828 – for the second time, I find myself in this celebrated fortress. We sailed from the Port of Kranidi at eight o'clock, and in six hours arrived here.
March 30 – I have distributed several copies of Lord Lyttleton on St. Paul, and of Bishop Porteus's Evidences – books which I find of great value in the present crisis.
March 31 – Since I was in Napoli, our Agent has sold all the Scriptures with which he was entrusted: viz. 30 small Testaments, 17 large, and one Hellenic; and he has paid me, deducting the per-centage, 124 piastres, 30 paras. I hope soon to send him a much larger supply. Visited with much pleasure the Lancasterian School: it has 170 scholars, and is in excellent order: many Boys repeated, at length, passages of Scripture History. . . . Valled on N. Skuphas and conversed with his sisters. They shewed me the “Pilgrim's Progress” . . . which their father had sent them from Smyrna.
April 1 – I presented a supply of books, for the School of Demitzani, to Niketas Kallas, one of the Managing Committee; and others for the Lancasterian School in Napoli.

            I extract from a former Journal the following Narrative:

Oct. 17, 1827 – I have been highly interested by a visit, which we have just paid to Griva, Commandant of the Palamidi. This Chief, after having held possession of that important fortress for more than a year, found himself unwilling to give it up; and, impelled by his vindictive feelings, actually wged war on his countrymen. About two months ago he commenced firing on the lower castle and on the town, and even proceeded to throw bombs. No less than one hundred and fifty persons became the victims of this outrage.

On reaching the summit of the remendous rock on which the fortress is built, I was surprised to find Griva himself, waiting to receive us. He is a fine-looking young man; and, apparelled as he was in a magnificent Albanian dress, he presented such a noble and warlike figure as I had never before seen. After receiving us with a friendly Greek welcome, he introduced us to his quarters; where his wife, a young lady of elegant appearance, arrayed in a handsome Turkish costume, exhibited herself for a few moments, and then suddenly disappeared; -- this Mussulman retirement of females still existing among some of the Greek Clans. With Griva we had much conversation. I told him, as I do many others, the history of the Bible Society; and left with him, for the use of the Garrison, two copies of the New Testament. Judge of our surprise at his answer: --”they are a good thing for those who can read: but I do not know how to read.” . . . I was thunder-struck, to fina a man, so prince-like in demeanor, and Commandant of the famous fortress of Palamidi, making such a discovery. He expressed, however, his regret --”His father had never profided such an advantage for him.” Our conversation turned chiefly on the politics of the day: he threw out hints, which he evidently meant as a justification of his recent conduct: “Men,” he said, “who possess no merit, who have never fought for their country, are preferred to offices of importance; while those who have distinguished themselves to the utmost are passed by with disregard.” He also intimated, that he waiting the coming of Count Capo d”Istria, in order to give up the fortress to him.

After accompanying us, with one of his brothers, to the various works of the fortification, he introduced us to another brother, who was laid up with sickness. They described to us the warlike habits of the family. They told us that they never lived on the three articles of bread, meat, and win together: if they had bread, they had no meat: if they had meat, they had no bread. For months in succession, they never changed their dress: they were accustomed to heat, cold, rains, and snows-- to wade rivers up to the neck – and to encounter many other appalling hardships. If they were tow months without an expedition, they grew sick. They had never paid tribute to the Grand Signor: -- when they could not find Turks to fight, they attacked their own countrymen!

More to come from Rev. Hartley.

02 September 2015

Time ages in a hurry

Μετὰ τὴν σσιάν τάχιστα χρόνος. After the shadow time ages in a hurry.

Time Ages in a Hurry is the title of a marvelous book of short stories by Antonio Tabucchi, published by archipelagobooks.org. The line, attributed in the book to the Critias, is from a late antique commentary.

Time surprises. Time ages in a hurry. I have never been so aware of time. I am currently making plans for moving in December from Seattle -- after twelve years in this wonderful house, back to Washington, DC.  I will be going back to the apartment where I have lived longer than any place in my life, taking it over from the daughter who took it over when I moved here.

This will be my 15th move as an adult, and the first I have not wanted. This house is full of light: it faces due east and on sunny mornings, I begin my day by coming down the stairs into pools of liquid light. I have never before lived where I could have a garden but I have grown roses here, and developed my own garden.  There is a grape arbor -- I've mentioned that before.  And there have been the birds!  The smaller ones follow me around the yard and when I go on walks. The crows track me from room to room in the house, and a member of the third generation I have fed informs me quietly when their food pan is empty. His parents below -- a pairing that lasted only for a year -- would come sit near us when we would sit in the yard.   This small corner lot is overflowing with gratitude.

Meanwhile, I find I am not able to maintain this blog reliably.  There will be erratic posts while I try to decide what to do about it.  I am grateful for my readers -- there have been nearly half a million individual looks at material here, and especially for you who have taken the trouble to comment or write me. If Time permits, I would love to continue writing.

18 August 2015

On vacation: Marietta's Song

 "Marietta's Song", sung by Anne Sofie von Otter, 
from Die tote Stadt by Erich Korngold, 1920.

Glück, das mir verblieb,
rück zu mir, mein treues Lieb.
Abend sinkt im Hag
bist mir Licht und Tag.
Bange pochet Herz an Herz
Hoffnung schwingt sich himmelwärts.

Wie wahr, ein traurig Lied.
Das Lied vom treuen Lieb,
das sterben muss.

Ich kenne das Lied.
Ich hört es oft in jungen,
in schöneren Tagen.
Es hat noch eine Strophe—
weiß ich sie noch?

Naht auch Sorge trüb,
rück zu mir, mein treues Lieb.
Neig dein blaß Gesicht
Sterben trennt uns nicht.
Mußt du einmal von mir gehn,
glaub, es gibt ein Auferstehn.

Joy, that near to me remains,
Come to me, my true love.
Night sinks into the grove
You are my light and day.
Anxiously beats heart on heart
Hope itself soars heavenward.

How true, a sad song.
The song of true love,
that must die.

I know the song.
I heard it often in younger,
in better days.
It has yet another verse—
Do I know it still?

Though sorrow becomes dark,
Come to me, my true love.
Lean (to me) your pale face
Death will not separate us.
If you must leave me one day,
Believe, there is an afterlife

08 August 2015

On vacation: Oranges

Wrapped Oranges, William J. McCloskey, 1889.
12” x 16”. Amon Carter Museum, Ft. Worth, TX

31 July 2015

On first looking into Chapman's Homer

In recent weeks I have been sorting through Pierre MacKay's boxes and drawers and shelves and desks. The last project so far was the heavy glass-fronted bookcase beside his bed full of, he said, his father's poetry books. Most of these were late 19th-century and early 20th-century editions of all the English poets, perhaps not as interesting to me as they should be. One book stood out, and its photograph is above.

There are several thousand books in this house, quite a few of them important. I have rarely been interested in an old book or a first edition. Books to me are primarily tools. I read with a pencil, fold down corners, make notes, break spines (though not intentionally). A beautiful edition is very nice to look at, but otherwise useless. So nothing in my life had prepared me for the thrill of this book. The blackening along the top edge has a very faint charred smell, souvenir of its surviving a fire in Princeton.  This book that touched fire was, is, Chapman's Homer. This is the book Keats wrote about.

When George Chapman began translating Homer, he issued it in installments beginning in 1598.  It was not until 1616 that he issued his complete Homer -- the first complete translation in English -- with copious marginal notes, fulsome dedicatory poems and prefaces, and remarkable etchings.

Wikipedia has an excellent article about Chapman, a prolific playwright, and possible the rival poet mentioned in Shakespeare's Sonnets.  When Chapman was reissued in 1998 and 2001, the London Review of Books published an eloquent discussion of the man and his work. I will not try to repeat them here, but I urge you to read the LRB because it so well explains how magic happens.  Chapman translated the Iliad in iambic heptameter and rhyming couplets.  Take this of Phoenix from Book 9 -- the spelling takes getting used to:

O thou that like the gods art fram'd: fince (deareft to my heart)
I us'de thee fo, though lov'dft none elfe; nor any where wouldft eate,
Till I had crownd my knee with thee, and caru'd thee tendrest meate,
And given thee wine for much, for love, that in thy infancie,
(Which ftill difcretion muft protect, and a continuall eye)
My bofome lovingly fuftain'd; the wine thine could not beare;

Here is a view from the Odyssey, this in iambic pentameter and rhyming couplets, Odysseus speaking to Nausicaa: 

 And here, John Keats describes what happened to him when he read Chapman's Homer, and what happened to me when I found it in that dark corner of the bookcase:

Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
   And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
   Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
   That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne;
   Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
   When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
   He star'd at the Pacific—and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise—
   Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
                                                           John Keats

24 July 2015

Cheilas' Cleofe

Mistra in shrouds. Photo by Stella Chrysochoou.

The monody by Nikiforos Cheilas is the last of the four monodies delivered at the mnemosyne for Cleofe in late May of 1433. I have used them frequently in entries here for information, and have looked individually at those by Plethon, Pepagomenos, and Bessarion. This by Cheilas was the third delivered that day, and the one that probably would have been most remembered by those who heard him. On first reading, it appears to rush from one high point of emotion to the next, at times almost near hysteria, but it is the most literary of the four, and demonstrates the most concern for rhetoric.

Cheilas begins, and ends, with a justification for mourning (and includes a dig at Plethon and Pepagomenos, accusing them of showing off), both times bringing the mourning directly home by listing the mourners: the godly despot, the despots, his relatives, her most dear daughter, the priests, the monastic orders, the senators, the others, and the cities and villages.  These at the beginning are all present at the mnemosyne, while at the conclusion, he gives a shorter and different list, more poetic and more poignant: all kingdoms, groves and meadows, the Graces, widows, orphans, captives, the impoverished, and your subjects.

This identification with the listeners carries throughout as he talks about Cleofe and their grief in ways that they would wish they could have thought of, moving back and forth between factual statements about her life, and then rhapsodical images of what they have lost.  The image of light is preeminent: it is one of the oldest and most persistent of the topoi of Greek mourning. "The land of Hesperia sent her, a light flowing out from a golden race, but she shone back with a radiance that made all the brilliance of that race seem less." "O ornament of queens, or rather, queen among all queens, as you shown out, surpassing them in all your virtues."  (Here he used βασιλὶς βασιλίδων in a graceful recognition of the Palaiologos βασιλεὺς or βασιλέως βασιλεων.) "You, our sun, have set." Then inverting the metaphor he says, "What a change has come to hide away what was sweetest and best, igniting the entire flame of griefs and wretchedness."

Earlier he inverts a metaphor to great effectiveness: "You gave us then a celebration, showing us all something new, a reason to sing sweetly, songs worthy of your goodness and of the good fortune that came to us from you, . . . But now you set us to deep grieving, to uttering long cries of pain, to weaving a tragic song, antiphonal to our former hymns, singing farewell to the hopes we had in better times."

He inverts another metaphor, working with κιβωτὸς, ark: "O, bitter ark, that made away with such beauty. The psalmist of old even danced before the ark, when it was returning whence it came, but before this bitter ark which carries off our great queen to the tomb, it is entirely right for us to stand and wail continuously, and to mourn, and do everything short of trying to exhume her from it."

Cheilas reminds his listeners of Cleofe's intelligence, of her quiet and effective assistance in council, of her diligence in Bible study, and her self-discipline.  He indicates a more intimate knowledge when he tells of her standing in prayer all night, and that she had said quietly to a few that she would not live through this childbirth. He is the source for the information that she died on Good Friday at noon, and was buried almost immediately.  He confirms and supplements information in Pepagomenos and Bessarion.

Towards the end, Cheilas lets loose a cascade of metaphors: "She departed leaving behind amazement . . . O, shell of our common existence, what a change has come to hide away what was sweetest and best . . . O, who was it that did not spare this loveliest and most beautiful eye for us, cutting it out? Who was it that made this loveliest object and image of all the virtues and graces vanish? O, what a thing has been looted from us in her beauty, what loveliness has been destroyed? What light is now hidden under the bushel? O, what a sun has abruptly gone down into the tomb and is now miserably concealed? What a tongue full of grace has been imprisoned in final silence. Where has such loveliness ever before been extinguished? When has a flower so utterly withered, how has that precious gem been shattered?"

His conclusion is quiet, gentle, after the summary of the mourners: "Accept these words offered by us to you, O, in all things for us best and most holy, and most regal lady, they are entirely insufficient, but we could not mourn our loss in silence."

Just before his conclusion, Cheilas said: "Therefore I think that for all time and among all nations, this account, both as a written and as unwritten message will be sent out, and you will be remembered among all men until day and night yield to one another." As far as survivals are concerned, they never mentioned her again.

Translation by Pierre A. MacKay.

17 July 2015

The black saint of the Holy Roman Empire

St. Maurice (detail) 1520-25.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art recently published a monograph about an addition to the collection, a panel by Lucas Cranach the Elder (and his workshop) showing St. Maurice who is wearing the most gorgeous clothes in the whole world.

Here is the whole St. Maurice panel, and below, a second St. Maurice whose panel is still attached to his altarpiece in the Marktkirche, Halle.

Both of these panels are based on this drawing of a reliquary statue of St. Maurice.

Both drawings from the Liber ostensionis, 1526/27.

According to an account written about 450 AD, St. Maurice was a member of the Egyptian Theban Legion which was composed of Christians. Sent to France and ordered by the Emperor Maximian (ca.250-ca.310) to persecute Christians, they refused, and eventually were all executed. Another version of the story written a little later says that they were martyred for refusing to worship the Roman gods.

By 515 the ruler of Burgundy built a basilica and monastery in Valais for the throngs of pilgrims who were coming to visit Maurice's relics. In the 10th century Maurice's cult was promoted by Otto the Great who ultimately pronounced Maurice patron saint of the Holy Roman Empire.

Statue of St. Maurice, ca.1240-50.
Cathedral of St. Maurice and St. Catherine. Magdeburg.

St. Maurice and the Theban Legion. 

South German Master (early 16th C).
Private collection, NYC.

This panel painting of the Theban Legion dresses them in the spirit of the Vatican's Swiss Guards. The feathered headdresses look as if the painter knew of the tradition that produced. Ag. Alexandros from Kastoria in northern Greece.

The Meeting of St. Maurice and St. Erasmus.
 Matthias Grünewald, ca. 1520-24. Alte Pinakothek, Munich.

Finally, this Grünewald panel of St. Maurice who gives him the most extraordinarily luminous armor.