Tuesday, July 29, 2014


A friend of mine showed me a poem she wrote. She used the image of the oars in the water, churning the water to foam. Which reminded me of the end of book nine of the Odyssey. Our hero is fleeing after having blinded Polyphemus. The phrase Homer uses is πολιὴν ἅλα polien hala. Literally the grizzled salt, but obviously Homer is talking about the churning sea water. Odyssey 9.556ff

So then all the day, until the sun sank
We feasted, sharing ample flesh, sweet wine.
When the sun set and the shadows came,
Lulled by the breakers, we slept on the beach.

With the early rosy fingered light of dawn,
I roused my drowsy comrades, ordered them
To board the ship, to let slip the anchor.

And they at once boarded and on their benches sat
Crouching rows, the grizzled salt sea they struck with oars.

So we sailed away, grieving in our hearts,
Glad to have escaped death, our dear friends dead.

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Dying Socrates.

The Socrates of Xenophon was more bourgeois than Plato's gadfly, more practical than the pale, barefoot, long-haired comic foil of Aristophanes. In many ways the Socrates of Xenophon is the most human. The Socrates of Xenophon does not see the taking of hemlock as a glorious attack on a corrupt, and fickle democracy, rather the taking of hemlock is the fitting end to a well lived life. This would also go a long way to explaining the willful mockery of the court that Socrates produced in place of a defense.

This is from The Memorabilia of Socrates 4.8.8. Maybe his death should be seen, similar to the trial and death of Jesus, as a sort of state sponsored euthanasia. For in the end can one be free if one is not able to say, as Roberto Durán said, no mas?

It is hard to make Xenophon sing, as he was a better soldier than he was an author, but he does have a simple, clear style which makes it easier for an intermediate amateur like myself to follow.

I have tried to capture the feel, and some of the imagery of Xenophon. I had fun, and hopefully you will too. If it does disappoint at least it is a short song.

And if I was to live on?
Another season or two...
Would not my life be like prison?
Unable to pay the debt of old age.
My sight and hearing lessened.
My thoughts reduced.
It would become,
Harder to learn
Easier to forget.
From the best
To the worst
I would fall.

And truly, even if I did not grasp
These changes, my life would be
Insufferable. But if I did notice,
Would not my life be constrained?
Would life itself not become
Distasteful, like poison?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Moon

So a pal o' mine posted on facebook a quiz from The Guardian The moon in literature. One question in the quiz was a Sappho poem. Or rather a translation by Edwin Arnold, "Greek Poets in English Verse." Ed. William Hyde Appleton. Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1893.

The stars about the lovely moon
fade back and vanish very soon,
When, round and full, her silver face
Swims into sight, and lights all space

So I searched out the "original"

Ἄστερες μὲν ἀμφὶ κάλαν σελάνναν
ἂψ ἀπυκρύπτοισι φάεννον εἶδος,
ὄπποτα πλήθοισα μάλιστα λάμπῃ
γᾶν [ἐπὶ πᾶσαν]
... ἀργυρία ...

and made my own translation.

Stars around the beautiful moon
At once hide their shining forms
When her full light swells,
Making all glow silver.

Sunday, July 20, 2014


We are, The Philosopher said, animals whose nature it is to be artificial.

Sitting and and at the same time hurtling 100 kilometers per hour down the highway, through showers of heavy rain, listening to Radio National, I made my way to the Schoolhouse Gallery, Rosny Farm to see the exhibit Man-Made. An exhibit of recent paintings by two local artists Peter Tankey & Aaron Wasil. Even the the Schoolhouse Gallery itself comments on the dichotomy of the natural and the artificial. The building was built as a bicentennial project and is modeled on a schoolhouse that was built at Osterly about 1890.

The works exhibited were described by Aaron as “a silent but evident struggle between natural and manufactured”; or to use a more classical structuralist metaphor, “the raw and the cooked”.

I enjoyed both painters works. The artists had very different styles, but both seemed to be pointing in similar directions. Aaron Wasil used a slick, cool style. With a simple color palette his style emphasized angles and varied points of view. The works of Peter Tankey, on the other hand, created a kaleidescopic rush of color and form. The detritus of everyday life gathered in staged, and at the same time almost random locations.

The exhibit brought together two different styles. One, almost photo-realist in style, the other more mannered. This difference reflects and reinforces the overall theme of the exhibit and allows us to see different responses to similar material conditions. differences that arise out of twenty years of friendship and shared artistic journey. Differences that arise from late night, wine fueled discussions of artistic practice. Differences that are more about style than they are about philosophy.

This worth seeing exhibition continues until the 10th August. Tues – Fri 11am – 4pm Sat – Sun 12pm - 4pm. More information can be found at the exhibit's facebook page

We live in a world that is full of change. We live in a world which does not know how to change, a world that is unsure and seemingly afraid to change. A world afraid to reflect, a world that seems to me to be similar to Europe before the First World War. So I will leave the final word to Rainer Maria Rilke. In the first of his Duino Elegies Rilke wrote:

...and the nosing beasts soon scent
how insecurely we're housed in this signposted World.
And yet a tree might grow for us
upon some hill for us to see and see again each day.