12 February 2011

These I have shored against my ruins

This is one of the five bookcases in my workroom, one of at least twenty-five or so in the house, but it is difficult to be definitive because a couple of rooms have them on three or four walls and under the windows. These are our warmth against the chill of an increasingly vulgarized culture, our tools, and our companions.

The bookcase closest to my desk hold books most used for current work -- several by friends, and the 15th-century historians: Sphrantzes, Doukas, Kritobulos, Chalkokondyles.  And of course, other things have fetched up there, like a stack of dissertations on top. The middle bookcase is books on Nauplion, Athens, Mistra, and Crete, plus 3 shelves of dictionaries, and one of other peoples' offprints. And other things.

 Some Athens, and a reminder of my roots.

The one nearest the door, the one pictured at the top, is art and architecture, while behind me and bumped when we open the door is Pierre's enormous collection of Greek texts.  The fifth is small and has more library books, books that should be shelved somewhere else, files and books for the next shared writing project.  Inter-library loan books unstack themselves on the floor among seven file boxes. There is also a bed, usually blanketed in books, so it hardly counts as a bed, though I managed to get it usable for visits from Nick Nicholas and Michael Pettinger, my authorities for medieval Greek and Latin.

My reminder from Theocritus: "It is not easy to find."
The "emeralds" are a 32-year family joke.

The floor has a very nice Persian-style carpet, though the degree of niceness is irrelevant as it is mostly covered by the boxes of files I am using for the Kladas book* which is processing slowly but surely.  Slowly, because I have been surprised by time.  Slowly, because I have written several long articles in the past year, most on material that I use in the book, and four speeches.  Slowly, because the fifteenth-century Morea was such a spirit-sucking culture that I find myself frequently drained. The accepted level of peacetime violence, the frequency of plague, the exploitations by the archon class, the corruption of a church organization that possessed one-third of the land and thus removed it from the tax base, the cultural misogyny, the evident despair of the Palaiologoi and their withdrawal from responsibility (always with the exception of Constantine), the dreariness of the Mistra intellectuals who could do little more than harp on the Procession of the Holy Spirit, the Ottoman threat always present like a bad smell in the drains --these devour psychic energy and must have done so in the fifteenth century.

 Yeats wrote:
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.
 John, the Merbaka Virgin, the Palaiologoi,
a horseshoe from the barn my great-grandfather built in Alabama,
and my dear Ephraim Boms,** in a coma in Athens since September.

Nevertheless, I now know the Palaiologoi  at least as well as my own family.  Kladas I know no better than I did when I first wrote about him in my dissertation 13 years ago.  I have found previously unused information, and I have evolved ideas I have seen nowhere else, but the man himself resolutely remains a stranger to me.  I have gained no access to him through his peers though I have become admiring of Petro Bua. I have a sense of Demetrios Asan and Manuel Rallis, despite their repugnant personal activities; I have a certain sympathy, though dislike, for Demetrios Palaiologos, and a deep affection for Demetrios Pepagomenos. The great Bessarion, Cyriaco of Ancona (after all I have written about Cyriaco, I have no sense of him, either), and Giovanni Dario, have become my private Trinity.***  But there is a shell surrounding Kladas -- perhaps in compensation.

* The Knight and Death: The Kladas Affair and the Fifteenth-Century Morea.

** Ephraim Boms, after nearly a year in a coma, died on August 7, 2011. A Reader at St. Paul's Anglican Church in Athens, he had been preparing to study for ordination as a minister.  He leaves a wife, and daughter and son in Nigeria.

*** I notice that these are all people for whom I have contemporary portraits, though Cyriaco looks nothing like I had pictured him.  I wonder how much that matters?


  1. I love a room filled with books -- the more the merrier. It puts me at easy and surrounds me with a sense of belonging. It sparks my curiousity and my nose tickles at the smell of old books. When books are a part of an ongoing journey, as are yours, they come alive and are like old friends.

    Thanks for sharing your creative space.

  2. I thought I was the only one with lots of books and bookcases! Well done - you can never have enough books is what I say. Books are knowledge and you can never have enough knowledge. How lovely to fill your house entirely with books.


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