The Widow of Ephesus Conquers Her Eating Disorder

The Widow of Ephesus by Philip Banken

 

Bid her awake; for Hymen is awake,

And long since ready forth his maske to move . . .

Edmund Spenser, “Epithalamion

 

It was Federico Fellini who first turned me on to Petronius the Arbiter, the Oscar Wilde of Nero’s reign, a witty hedonist famed for his exquisite taste.   In fact, Petronius’s official function in Nero’s court was to determine what was tasteful (or not), hence his title arbiter elegantiarum, judge of elegance.

Scholars don’t know much about him.  Here’s a snippet from Tacitus’s Annals copped from Wikipedia:

He spent his days in sleep, his nights in attending to his official duties or in amusement, that by his dissolute life he had become as famous as other men by a life of energy, and that he was regarded as no ordinary profligate, but as an accomplished voluptuary. His reckless freedom of speech, being regarded as frankness, procured him popularity. Yet during his provincial government, and later when he held the office of consul, he had shown vigor and capacity for affairs. Afterwards returning to his life of vicious indulgence, he became one of the chosen circle of Nero’s intimates, and was looked upon as an absolute authority on questions of taste in connection with the science of luxurious living.

Unfortunately, however, like so many in Nero’s circle, Petronius was tried and convicted of treason.  Rather than waiting for the inevitable sentence, the Arbiter took matters into his own hands.

Again, Tacitus:

Yet he did not fling away life with precipitate haste, but having made an incision in his veins and then, according to his humour, bound them up, he again opened them, while he conversed with his friends, not in a serious strain or on topics that might win for him the glory of courage. And he listened to them as they repeated, not thoughts on the immortality of the soul or on the theories of philosophers, but light poetry and playful verses. To some of his slaves he gave liberal presents, a flogging to others. He dined, indulged himself in sleep, that death, though forced on him, might have a natural appearance. Even in his will he did not, as did many in their last moments, flatter Nero or Tigellinus or any other of the men in power. On the contrary, he described fully the prince’s shameful excesses, with the names of his male and female companions and their novelties in debauchery, and sent the account under seal to Nero. Then he broke his signet-ring, that it might not be subsequently available for imperiling others.

At any rate, none of this would be of any interest if Petronius had not written the Satyricon, a fragmentary mishmash of verse and prose that satirizes Roman life in the first century BC.  I actually wrote a paper on this picaresque “novel” in the spring semester of my senior year, but alas, like many sections of the Satyricon itself, that work of genius has been lost to the ages [cue sarcastic cough].

Click below, if you dare, to watch the trailer of Fellini’s Satyricon.

 

Although “Trimalchio’s Dinner” is the most famous section of the Satyricon (Fitzgerald at one point thought about entitling The Great Gatsby as Trimalchio in West Egg), my favorite section is the vignette “The Widow of Ephesus,” an oft-repeated tale that traditionally has been interpreted as an invective against the fickleness of women; however, in Petronius’s version, sophisticated readers might see it, to quote Douglas Galbi, as showing “the imperatives of the living trumping respect for the dead.”

In other words, reading it as “pro life” in the best sense of that phrase,

Amphetaminic Synopsis of  Petronius’s “The Widow of Ephesus”[1]

A widow renowned for her chastity goes apeshit after her husband dies, and with over-the-top historonics  (exposing her breast and beating it, e.g), she follows his corpse’s funeral parade into an underground crypt.

There, attended by a “most loyal slave-woman,” the widow keens, gouges her face, and yanks out her tresses with the intention to starve herself so she can join her husband in Oblivionville.

Impervious to the pleadings of her parents and her loyal slave, for five days, without food or drink, the widow continues her frenzied mourning, out-Niobe-ing  Niobe,  “tearing her hair, plac[ing] the tresses on the corpse of her dead husband.”

Meanwhile, a soldier stationed to guard two crucified robbers hears the widow and abandons his post to see what’s going on.[2]  Once he’s hip to the scoop, he returns with food, which she refuses, but the slave woman “seduced by the odor of wine,” indulges, and once renourished, starts in on her mistress.

”What good will this do you, if you will have been undone by starvation? — if you will have buried yourself alive? — if you will have poured forth your life’s breath when you have not yet been condemned to die, before the fates demand it?”

As Margaret Atwood once noted, “Hunger is a powerful reorganizer of the conscience,” and the widow gives in. Once she’s sated, the soldier starts cajoling her to ditch her chastity.  Though we don’t get to hear his love talk, it must have been Barry-White-like and coming from the mouth of one sexy [insert noun from two-word Prince title that begins with “Sexy.”]

Click arrow below for an example of what I mean by “Barry-White-like”:

 

She submits.

So they as my mother would put it, “shack up” in the sepulcher, he sneaking out now and then to procure food and presents.

During his frequent absences from his station, a relative snatches one of the crucified men and buries him. When the soldier notices the missing body, he knows he’s a goner, so he decides to dispatch himself before the judge’s sentence comes crashing down.[3]

He informs the widow and asks “her only allot him a place, since he was doomed to die, and make the fatal tomb common to both her friend and her husband. “

Here’s the key passage:

The woman, who was no less merciful than chaste, [my italics] said, ”May the gods not allow that — that I should at the same time look upon the deaths of the two men most dear to me. I prefer to sacrifice the dead man rather than to kill the one who is alive.” In accordance with this pronouncement, she orders the corpse of her husband to be lifted out of its coffin and affixed to that cross which was empty. The soldier made use of the ingenious scheme of that most judicious woman, and the next day all the townspeople marveled at how the dead man had gone onto the cross.”

Oil paining of crucified slaves in ancient Rome

As Horace Walpole famously said, “Life is a tragedy for those who feel, but a comedy for those who think.”  One equipped with a tragic vision might turn this story into a heartbreaker, the widow refusing to the very end, her gaunt body wild-eyed as she hallucinates tender scenes from her married life.  However, there’s something deep down in every living thing that prompts it to live.  Even if buried beneath the cement of a sidewalk, a weed will attempt to push its way through the cracks towards the sun.

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —

Gerard Manly Hopkins, excerpt from “God’s Grandeur”


[1]Quotes are from John R. Porter’s translation.

[2]He’s guarding them so their relatives won’t remove the bodies to give them proper burial. Some scholars claim this alludes to Jesus’s crucifixion story, but if it does, then it doesn’t jive with Petronius’s dates.

[3]Note how eerily similar this is to Petronius’s eventual fate.

How Can Such a Clownish Spray-Painted Raccoon-Eyed, Combed-over Lard-Ladled Cement-Tongued Buffoon End Up Being a Cult-Figure?

Oh, good God, all these erstwhile free traders turned protectionists don’t give a flying flivver about Donald Trump’s backflip on whatever. He’s right.  He could gun down the Dalai Lama on the street, and his supporters would still worship him as a latter-day incarnation of Vishnu. Trump will get 40% of the vote in 2020, and given the bias the Constitution has for rural voters, again a minority might be enough.

What gives?  How can such a clownish spray-painted raccoon-eyed, combed-over lard-ladled cement-tongued buffoon end up being a cult-figure?

I blame Jerry Springer, pro wrestling, underfunded education, xenophobia, radon, and in-breeding – not to mention abstinence-only sex education.

Here is this century’s William Jennings Bryan[1] regaining Marco Rubio’s support by explaining that he meant to say “wouldn’t” instead of “would.”[2]

I thought that I made myself very clear by having just reviewed the transcripts—I have to say, I came back and I said, “what is going on, what is the big deal?” So I got a transcript, I reviewed it, I actually went out and reviewed a clip of an answer that I gave, and I realized there is a need for some clarification. It should have been obvious, I thought it would be obvious, but I would like to clarify just in case it wasn’t. In a key sentence in my remarks I said the word would instead of wouldn’t. The sentence should have been, “I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t,” or “why it wouldn’t be Russia.” So just to repeat it, I said the word would instead of wouldn’t. And the sentence should have been, and I thought I would be maybe a little bit unclear on the transcript or unclear on the actual video, the sentence should have been, “I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.” So sort of a double negative. So you can put that in, and I think that probably clarifies things pretty good by itself.

Yes, Donald, your sensitive linguistic distrust of using a double negative does “clarif[y] things pretty good.”

It clearly demonstrates you’re an incorrigible liar.

So what we get this morning is a barrage of tweets, this one garnering the most absurd award:

Like I said, incorrigible liar.


[1]Imagine Donald at the Snopes trial.

[2]BTW, not seeing “any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia” is as mealy mouth as you get given the intelligence agencies VOCE MAGNAhave said yes, yes, very yes, it was, was, yes the Russians who hacked the 2016 election.

The Nowhere That Is Not Necessarily Everywhere

Reading the late James Hillman’s Selected Writings (edited by Thomas Moore) frustrates me because Hillman deals with terms  — soul, archetype, spirit – that by his own definition defy definition.  He creates metaphors, uses Greek gods and goddesses as examples.  The gist is that like Steppenwolf’s Harry Haller, we have an infinite number of selves that slosh around the in a murky swamp of soul, a sort of neuronbuzz that connects mind to body.  What frustrates me is his lack of empiricism – where does he get his ideas? from an oracle? Nor does he provide case histories to help embody these archetypal inner beings.

Nevertheless, I agree with much of what says about our contemporary world, and he offers some wonderful turns of phrase.

illustration of James Hillman by Jason Stout

For example:

Dumb sex is cultural. Our white American speech doesn’t provide good words for genitals and intercourse – and hardly any phrases about places, rhythms, touches, and tastes.  Listen to the marvelous language of foreign erotica; jade stalk, palace gates, ambrosia!  Compare these with cock, prick, dick, nuts, balls, with suck, jerk blow, yank, and with gash, bush, frog, slit, clit, hole.  A Chinese plum is to be deliciously enjoyed; our cherries are to be taken, popped, or broken [. . .] Our Puritan prose cannot encompass the sexual imagination to which great temples are built in India.

The human person as a data bank does not need to read more than functionally.  A data bank deciding yes or no on the basis of feedback (i.e. reinforcement) need not imagine beyond getting, storing, and spending.  Just get the instructions right; never mind the content. Learn the how rather than the what with its qualities, values, and subtleties.  The human agent becomes an incarnated credit card performing the religious rituals of consumerism.

[. . .] places tend to remind us of history, of ethic and earthly differences that cannot be homogenized into the universal sameness of our contemporary utopias, the nowhere everywhere of our shopping centers and roads to and from them.

West Ashley (Charleston, SC at rush hour

So, according to Hillman, materialism has triumphed over spirituality.

Although perhaps generally true, it certainly isn’t universally true.  I cannot think of one close friend who prefers things to experiences, who would drive a Range Rover at the expense of not being able to travel.  The few very wealthy acquaintances I know are interested in both mind and spirit and never flaunt their fortunes.  And my Chico Feo bar buddies, many who live from paycheck to paycheck, seem well satisfied with their lives.  Before work each morning (and perhaps, even more impressively, on weekends), my friend Jason watches the sun rise above the Stono River and then posts a photograph with an accompanying prose passage, poem or song.

Today’s (11 July 2018) sunrise captured by Jason Chambers

Nevertheless, fighting traffic at rush hour through a wasteland of billboards and cell phone towers on the thoroughfares Hillman describes does indeed suck/blow/yank — especially if you’re in a hurry.  But if you’re riding in an air-conditioned vehicle with a system that plays music or words you select, you shouldn’t complain too loudly.

Summon your inner Apollo or Athena, or, in my case, given that I’m likely to be listening to James Brown or the Rolling Stones, inner Dionysius.

And remember (see the story of Lazarus for an example) Jesus was never in a hurry.

Jason and Me at Chico Feo (photo credit Caroline Traugott)

 

Prufrock Turns 103

at the Commodore Club

Prufrock Turns 103

Time for you and time for me

[to hear J. Alfred read his poem, click the arrow below]

 

South of menopause,

unmarried

straight

women

and men

cannot really be

platonic friends.

 

When push

comes

to thrust,

the he is going to be

libidinous.

 

So, madam, be careful

not to compliment

those cuff links

or straighten

that lapel,

or soon enough

you’ll find yourself

throwing off that shawl,

turning towards the window,

and saying,

“That is not it at all,

That is not what I meant, at all.”

So Long Seville, Hello Folly

After eleven days of flirtation with Africa in Vejer, we drove north to Seville to spend two nights before flying back to the good ol’ USA in time for Folly Beach’s 4thof July festivities, which include, drinking, eating, drinking, watching people compete at cramming hotdogs down their gullets, drinking, fireworks, and drinking.

You can experience Folly on the 4th by clicking here (and also groove on bartender Charlie Neely’s classic dance moves: https://wlm3.com/2015/07/05/celebrating-the-4th-on-folly-after-the-alcohol-ban/

Anyway, Seville is a beautiful city rich in parks, architecture, and history.  In fact, its history is essentially the history of Western Europe writ small.

Spain Square (Plaza de Espana). Seville, Spain.
source: siliconluxembourgh.lu

We stayed in the Jewish quarter, once a walled city within a city where abandoned Moorish mosques had been transformed into synagogues.  At the Jewish museum, we learned that under benevolent governance, the Jews of Seville flourished, working with the monarchy in managing the realm’s finances and also by contributing to science and the arts.

Unfortunately, thanks to a plague that killed half the city’s population and the scapegoating of fanatical priests spewing hate-filled sermons, in 1391 the Jews’ were forced to either convert to Christianity or face exile. It was a melancholy sight to see the arrows tracing the Jews flight from Seville and to contemplate their descendant’s fate in places like Eastern Europe and the Netherlands.

So the converted mosques that had become synagogues were transformed into cathedrals.

A 100 years later, after Columbus discovered the Indies, Seville became the exclusive site of New World trade, and, of course, became incredibly wealthy.

We didn’t have time to see much of its glories, however.  The lines stretching to get into Seville Cathedral (The Cathedral of Saint Mary of the See), the world’s fourth-largest church building, conjured images of multitudes waiting to board Charon’s river transport so we missed out on what probably was some wondrous head craning.

Seville Cathedral

Of course, Andalucía is Flamenco Central, and we took in two more shows.  I really dig the guitar-playing, the percussive hand-clapping, the foot-stomping, and back-bending, but the vocals just don’t do it for me.  The singers don’t so much sing as screed plaintively in a limited vocal range that to my ears lacks nuance.  It sort of sounds like I did when my brother Fleming removed stiches from my back with pliers a year after they were supposed to removed.*


*Long story, near fatal car crash, hazy memory re. doctor’s instructions.

Ayyyyyyyy ayyyyyyyyyyyy ohhhhhhhhhhh ayyyyyyyyyyyyy noooooooooooooo.

However, The lyrics are pretty cool, if you’re into self-pity/flagellation.  Here are some lines I copped from theartsdesk.com:

Cuando yo me muera, te pío un encargo, Que con las trenzas de tu pelo negro me marren las manos.

When I come to die I ask of you one favour, /That with the braids of your black hair they tie my hands.

Reniego de mi sino, reniego de ti,  Como reniego de la horita en que te conosí.

I curse my fate, I curse you, As I curse the hour/ In which I knew you.

They say just before daylight is the darkest hour.

Anyway, the sun did rise on 2 July; we packed our bags and drove to the airport, my co-pilot Caroline guiding me around the roundabouts, Brooks patiently sitting in the backseat.  We endured the Kafkaesque return of the rental (some idiot had accidently thrown away the keys when cleaning out the car at drop off point), the propeller plane from Seville to Lisbon didn’t crash (though some idiot left his carry-on bag on the plane), and the trans-Atlantic flight went off without a hitch.

So ole, Espana!

Now, I’m back at Folly, urging the clouds away so I can indulge in some American culture for a change.

“Eat that dog!! Go! Go! Cram it in there. Ole, ole!