Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The Two Cantos of Mutability by Edmund Spenser.

Now, after almost five months of reading The Faerie Queene, it's time for the final part of the poem: Mutability.

In October 1598 Edmund Spenser's castle in Kilcolman (County Cork) was burnt to the ground by the Irish forces of Aodh Ó Néill during the Nine Years War. Spenser escaped with his family (though Ben Jonson believed his son was killed in the fire) and arrived in London around about the 24th December of that year. He died less than a month later on 16th January 1599. Spenser's printed works survived of course, but his unprinted manuscripts appear to largely have been lost in the fire. In 1609, however, ten years after Spenser's death, the Two Cantos of Mutability appeared under the heading:

Tᴡᴏ Cᴀɴᴛᴏs
ᴏғ
Mᴠᴛᴀʙɪʟɪᴛɪᴇ
Which, both for Forme and Matter, appeare to be
parcell of some following Booke of the
Fᴀʀɪᴇ Qᴜᴇᴇɴᴇ
Vɴᴅᴇʀ ᴛʜᴇ Lᴇɴɢᴇɴᴅ
of
Constancie.

As far as I'm able to find out, it's not known quite where they came from: a bookseller issued a reprint of The Faerie Queene which included these two complete cantos and one unfinished canto (adding on the title "Neuer before imprinted"), referred to by some as the fragmentary remains of Book VII, but how the bookseller came by them is a mystery to me despite best efforts of trying to find out. What we do know is that Spenser envisaged The Faerie Queene to consist of twelve books: he wrote to Sir Walter Raleigh telling him he planned 
... twelve private morall vertues, as Aristotle hath devised, the which is the purpose of these first twelve bookes...
The virtues of Books I - VI (published between 1590-96) consist of Holiness, Temperance, Chastity, Friendship, Justice, and Courtesy. It is thought that Books VII - XII, either unwritten or lost, contained this fragment on the 'Legend of Constancy'. Yet, each book contains a central figure; a knight - we have Redcrosse (I), Guyon (II), Britomart (III), Cambell and Triamond (IV), Artegal (V), and Calidore (VI): Mutability has no such knight, but, as with the previous virtues, the virtue of constancy has a very clear enemy: change - Mutability, the Titan Goddess, in verse very much inspired by Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy (524 A.D.). 


Proud Change (not pleasd, in mortall things,
  beneath the Moone, to raigne)
Pretends, as well of Gods, as Men,
  to be the Soueraine.

The first canto of Mutability is know as 'Mutability: Canto VI'. It begins,
What man that sees the euer-whirling wheele
Of Change, the which all mortall things doth sway,
But that therby doth find, & plainly feele,
How Mᴠᴛᴀʙɪʟɪᴛʏin them doth play
Her cruell sports, to many mens decay?
Which that to all may better yet appeare,
I will rehearse that whylome I heard say,
How she at first her selfe began to reare,
Gainst all the Gods, and th'empire sought from them to beare.
Spenser goes on to describe Mutability or Change as a goddess -
... Her antique race and linage ancient,
As I haue found it registred of old,
In Faery Land mongst records permanent:
She was, to weet, a daughter by descent
Of those old Titans, that did whylome striue
VVith Saturnes sonne for heauens regiment...
Her ambition is to rule supreme, however the effects of which caused great pain to many. Spenser begins with Nature: of all things "which Nature had establisht first" Mutability "did pervert". Not content with Nature, she also changed "Iustice, and ... Policie". With the world turned upside down, she then turns her attentions to the heavens:
Thence, to the Circle of the Moone she clambe,
Where Cynthia raignes in euerlasting glory,
To whose bright shining palace straight she came,
All fairely deckt with heauens goodly story:
Whose siluer gates (by which there sate an hory
Old aged Sire, with hower-glasse in hand,
Hight Tyme) she entred, were he liefe or sory:
Ne staide till she the highest stage had scand,
VVhere Cynthia did sit, that neuer still did stand. 
After the heavens, Night itself: "Boldly she bid the Goddess downe descend / And let her selfe into that Ivory throne". Perpetual darkness leads to fear on Earth that "Chaos broken had this chaine". The lesser gods together visit Jove "To know what meant that suddaine lack of light". Hermes "(the sonne of Maia") is sent to the moon:
The wingd-foot God, so fast his plumes did beat,
That soone he came where-as the Titanesse
Was striuing with faire Cynthia for her seat:
At whose strange sight, and haughty hardinesse,
He wondred much, and feared her no lesse.
Yet laying feare aside to doe his charge,
At last, he bade her (with bold stedfastnesse)
Ceasse to molest the Moone to walke at large,
Or come before high Ioue, her dooings to discharge.
Mutability sternly sends him away, "Sith shee his Ioue and him esteemed nought, / No more then Cynthia's selfe; but all their kingdoms sought." Hermes swiftly returns to Jove to tell him of her response. Jove replies, denouncing Mutability, saying she is "bred" "Of that bad seed" and that the gods and goddesses must work together to find "What way is best to driue her to retire". Before they can decide upon a course of action she arrives to visit the gods. Jove commands her to speak and she begins by giving an account of her ancestors:
... I am a daughter, by the mothers side,
Of her that is Grand-mother magnifide
Of all the Gods, great Earth, great Chaos child:
But by the fathers (be it not envide)
I greater am in bloud (whereon I build)
Then all the Gods, though wrongfully from heauen exil'd.
For, Titan (as ye all acknowledge must)
Was Saturnes elder brother by birth-right;
Both, sonnes of Vranus: but by vniust
And guilefull meanes, through Corybantes slight,
The younger thrust the elder from his right:
Since which, thou Ioue, iniuriously hast held
The Heauens rule from Titans sonnes by might;
And them to hellish dungeons downe hast feld:
Witnesse ye Heauens the truth of all that I haue teld.
These references to the Titans recalls the Titanomachy - the war between the Titans and the Olympians in which the Titans were defeated (Hesiod's Theogony tells this tale). Jove remembers too, mentioning some of the Titans, and he addresses Mutability:
But now, this off-scum of that cursed fry,
Dare to renew the like bold enterprize,
And chalenge th'heritage of this our skie;
Whom what should hinder, but that we likewise
Should handle as the rest of her allies,
And thunder-driue to hell? ...
The two argue in a dialogue that reminded me very much of John Milton's Paradise Lost (1667) - no wonder, as Milton said of Spenser that he was "a better teacher then Scotus or Aquinas". Mutability appeals to Jove:
But thee, ô Ioue, no equall Iudge I deeme
Of my desert, or of my dewfull Right;
That in thine owne behalfe maist partiall seeme:
But to the highest him, that is behight
Father of Gods and men by equall might;
To weet, the God of Nature, I appeale.
There-at Ioue wexed wroth, and in his spright
Did inly grudge, yet did it well conceale;
And bade Dan Phoebus Scribe her Appellation seale.
It is decided that a trial should take place "Where all, both heauenly Powers & earthly wights, / Before great Natures presence should appeare, / For triall of their Titles and best Rights". It takes place at Galtymore, the highest mountain peak near Kilcolman in Ireland where Spenser lived: Spenser refers to it as "Arlo-hill" and gives a mythical history. He tells of a nymph, Molanna, and Diana, and the "Foolish god Faunus" who wished "To see her naked mongst her Hymphes in priuity". He tricked Molanna by flattering her, and she showed him a place to hide so that he may see Diana bathe with the nymphs.
There Faunus saw that pleased much his eye,
And made his hart to tickle in his brest,
That for great ioy of some-what he did spy,
He could him not containe in silent rest;
But breaking forth in laughter, loud profest
His foolish thought. O foolish Faune indeed,
That couldst not hold thy selfe so hidden blest,
But wouldest needs thine owne conceit areed.
Babblers vnworthy been of so diuine a meed.
He is found and after being mocked turned into a stag (recalling Ovid's retelling of Diana and Actaeon in Book III of Metamorphoses). Molanna is punished too, by stoning: "They, by commaund'ment of Diana, there / Her whelm'd with stones". The canto concludes,
Them all, and all that she so deare did way,
Thence-forth she left; and parting from the place,
There-on an heauy haplesse curse did lay,
To weet, that Wolues, where she was wont to space,
Should harbour'd be, and all those Woods deface,
And Thieues should rob and spoile that Coast around.
Since which, those Woods, and all that goodly Chase,
Doth to this day with Wolues and Thieues abound:
Which too-too true that lands in-dwellers since haue found.

Pealing, from Ioue, to Natur's Bar,
  bold Alteration pleades
Large Euidence: but Nature soone
her righteous Doome arades.

The second canto of Mutability, or 'Mutability: Canto VII', begins -
Ah! whither doost thou now thou greater Muse
Me from these woods & pleasing forrests bring?
And my fraile spirit (that dooth oft refuse
This too high flight, vnfit for her weake wing)
Lift vp aloft, to tell of heauens King
(Thy soueraine Sire) his fortunate successe,
And victory, in bigger noates to sing,
Which he obtain'd against that Titanesse,
That him of heauens Empire sought to dispossesse.
Spenser now returns to the trial of Mutability, describing first those present, so many "That Arlo scarsly could them all containe". Nature presides over the trial; Mutability arrives and speaks:
To thee ô greatest goddesse, onely great,
An humble suppliant loe, I lowely fly
Seeking for Right, which I of thee entreat;
Who Right to all dost deale indifferently,
Damning all Wrong and tortious Iniurie,
Which any of thy creatures doe to other
(Oppressing them with power, vnequally)
Sith of them all thou art the equall mother,
And knittest each to each, as brother vnto brother.
She goes on to challenge the sovereignty of Jove and the gods and goddesses, and claims that she is the true ruler, something reflected by Nature herself: this section here is for me the most vivid and memorable of all of The Faerie Queene. She begins with the four elements: Earth "great mother of vs all", Water, Air, then fire, and the changes that take place within them, proving "in them all raignes Mutabilitie". From there to the seasons, "lusty Spring, all dight in leaues of flowres", "iolly Summer", "Autumn all in yellow clad", and "Winter cloathed all in frize". She then goes through each month of the year: as this is my favourite section I'd like to quote it in full:
These, marching softly, thus in order went,
And after them, the Monthes all riding came;
First, sturdy March with brows full sternly bent,
And armed strongly, rode vpon a Ram,
The same which ouer Hellespontus swam:
Yet in his hand a spade he also hent,
And in a bag all sorts of seeds ysame,
Which on the earth he strowed as he went,
And fild her womb with fruitfull hope of nourishment.
Next came fresh Aprill full of lustyhed,
And wanton as a Kid whose horne new buds:
Vpon a Bull he rode, the same which led
Europa floting through th'Argolick fluds:
His hornes were gilden all with golden studs
And garnished with garlonds goodly dight
Of all the fairest flowres and freshest buds
Which th'earth brings forth, and wet he seem'd in sight
With waues, through which he waded for his loues delight.
Then came faire May, the fayrest mayd on ground,
Deckt all with dainties of her seasons pryde,
And throwing flowres out of her lap around:
Vpon two brethrens shoulders she did ride,
The twinnes of Leda; which on eyther side
Supported her like to their soueraine Queene.
Lord! how all creatures laught, when her they spide,
And leapt and daunc't as they had rauisht beene!
And Cupid selfe about her fluttred all in greene.
And after her, came iolly Iune, arrayd
All in greene leaues, as he a Player were;
Yet in his time, he wrought as well as playd,
That by his plough-yrons mote right well appeare:
Vpon a Crab he rode, that him did beare
With crooked crawling steps an vncouth pase,
And backward yode, as Bargemen wont to fare
Bending their force contrary to their face,
Like that vngracious crew which faines demurest grace.
Then came hot Iuly boyling like to fire,
That all his garments he had cast away:
Vpon a Lyon raging yet with ire
He boldly rode and made him to obay:
It was the beast that whylome did forray
The Nemaean forrest, till th'Amphytrionide
Him slew, and with his hide did him array;
Behinde his back a sithe, and by his side
Vnder his belt he bore a sickle circling wide.
The sixt was August, being rich arrayd
In garment all of gold downe to the ground:
Yet rode he not, but led a louely Mayd
Forth by the lilly hand, the which was cround
With eares of corne, and full her hand was found;
That was the righteous Virgin, which of old
Liv'd here on earth, and plenty made abound;
But, after Wrong was lov'd and Iustice solde,
She left th'vnrighteous world and was to heauen extold.
Next him, September marched eeke on foote;
Yet was he heauy laden with the spoyle
Of haruests riches, which he made his boot,
And him enricht with bounty of the soyle:
In his one hand, as fit for haruests toyle,
He held a knife-hook; and in th'other hand
A paire of waights, with which he did assoyle
Both more and lesse, where it in doubt did stand,
And equall gaue to each as Iustice duly scann'd.
Then came October full of merry glee:
For, yet his noule was totty of the must,
Which he was treading in the wine-fats see,
And of the ioyous oyle, whose gentle gust
Made him so frollick and so full of lust:
Vpon a dreadfull Scorpion he did ride,
The same which by Dianaes doom vniust
Slew great Orion: and eeke by his side
He had his ploughing share, and coulter ready tyde.
Next was Nouember, he full grosse and fat,
As fed with lard, and that right well might seeme;
For, he had been a fatting hogs of late,
That yet his browes with sweat, did reek and steem,
And yet the season was full sharp and breem;
In planting eeke he took no small delight:
Whereon he rode, not easie was to deeme;
For it a dreadfull Centaure was in sight,
The seed of Saturne, and faire Nais, Chiron hight,
And after him, came next the chill December:
Yet he through merry feasting which he made,
And great bonfires, did not the cold remember;
His Sauiours birth his mind so much did glad:
Vpon a shaggy-bearded Goat he rode,
The same wherewith Dan Ioue in tender yeares,
They say, was nourisht by th'I[d]oean mayd;
And in his hand a broad deepe boawle he beares;
Of which, he freely drinks an health to all his peeres.
Then came old Ianuary, wrapped well
In many weeds to keep the cold away;
Yet did he quake and quiuer like to quell,
And blowe his nayles to warme them if he may:
For, they were numbd with holding all the day
An hatchet keene, with which he felled wood,
And from the trees did lop the needlesse spray:
Vpon an huge great Earth-pot steane he stood;
From whose wide mouth, there flowed forth the Romane floud.
And lastly, came cold February, sitting
In an old wagon, for he could not ride;
Drawne of two fishes for the season fitting,
Which through the flood before did softly slyde
And swim away: yet had he by his side
His plough and harnesse fit to till the ground,
And tooles to prune the trees, before the pride
Of hasting Prime did make them burgein round:
So past the twelue Months forth, & their dew places found.
From the seasons to Day and Night, then the Hours, and finally Life and Death:
And after all came Life, and lastly Death;
Death with most grim and griesly visage seene,
Yet is he nought but parting of the breath;
Ne ought to see, but like a shade to weene,
Vnbodied, vnsoul'd, vnheard, vnseene.
But Life was like a faire young lusty boy,
Such as they faine Dan Cupid to haue beene,
Full of delightfull health and liuely ioy.
Deckt all with flowres, and wings of gold fit to employ.
The judgement begins, and the difference between Time and Times is debated: times change, time does not. Within change their is constancy, but Mutability goes on to tell the gods that they themselves change, nothing is constant bar the sky stars.

At last a silence, and everyone looks to Nature. Eventually she replies: change does not rule, in fact it is the contrary:
Then ouer them Change doth not rule and raigne;
But they raigne ouer change, and doe their states maintaine.
The canto ends with Nature advising Mutability:
Cease therefore daughter further to aspire,
And thee content thus to be rul'd by me:
For thy decay thou seekst by thy desire;
But time shall come that all shall changed bee,
And from thenceforth, none no more change shall see.
So was the Titaness put downe and whist,
And Ioue confirm'd in his imperiall see.
Then was that whole assembly quite dismist,
And Natur's selfe did vanish, whither no man wist.
After this, there is just one more unfinished canto, "The VIII Canto, vnperfite", so short it can be quoted in full:
When I bethinke me on that speech whyleare,
Of Mutability, and well it way:
Me seemes, that though she all vnworthy were
Of the Heav'ns Rule ; yet very sooth to say,
In all things else she beares the greatest sway.
Which makes me loath this state of life so tickle,
And loue of things so vaine to cast away;
Whose flowring pride, so fading and so fickle,
Short Time shall soon cut down with his consuming sickle. 
Then gin I thinke on that which Nature sayd,
Of that same time when no more Change shall be,
But stedfast rest of all things firmely stayd
Vpon the pillours of Eternity,
That is contrayr to Mutabilitie:
For, all that moueth, doth in Change delight:
But thence-forth all shall rest eternally
With Him that is the God of Sabbaoth hight:
O thou great Sabbaoth God, graunt me that Sabaoths sight.
And there ends The Faerie Queene. It's been quite a ride I must say! I'm not quite finished yet though, I just want to write one final summary post, not least because writing all these posts and summaries really helps to get my head around it. Until then, the final illustrations by Walter Crane for The Two Cantos of Mutability:

Monday, 26 September 2016

An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde.

Oscar Wilde.
An Ideal Husband is a political play by Oscar Wilde, first performed in 1895, the same year as what is probably Wilde's most famous play, The Importance of Being Earnest

The action centres around Sir Robert Chiltern, the 'ideal husband' of the title, who is somewhat of a complex man. Wilde describes him in the stage directions:
A man of forty, but looking somewhat younger.  Clean-shaven, with finely-cut features, dark-haired and dark-eyed.  A personality of mark.  Not popular—few personalities are.  But intensely admired by the few, and deeply respected by the many.  The note of his manner is that of perfect distinction, with a slight touch of pride.  One feels that he is conscious of the success he has made in life.  A nervous temperament, with a tired look.  The firmly-chiselled mouth and chin contrast strikingly with the romantic expression in the deep-set eyes.  The variance is suggestive of an almost complete separation of passion and intellect, as though thought and emotion were each isolated in its own sphere through some violence of will-power.  There is nervousness in the nostrils, and in the pale, thin, pointed hands.  It would be inaccurate to call him picturesque.  Picturesqueness cannot survive the House of Commons.  But Vandyck would have liked to have painted his head.
His wife is Lady Chiltern, "a woman of grave Greek beauty, about twenty-seven years of age". The play begins at a party in London hosted by the Chilterns. To their surprise, Mrs. Cheveley arrives. She is -
... tall and rather slight.  Lips very thin and highly-coloured, a line of scarlet on a pallid face. Venetian red hair, aquiline nose, and long throat.  Rouge accentuates the natural paleness of her complexion. Gray-green eyes that move restlessly.  She is in heliotrope, with diamonds.  She looks rather like an orchid, and makes great demands on one’s curiosity.  In all her movements she is extremely graceful.  A work of art, on the whole, but showing the influence of too many schools.
It is revealed that she knows a secret about Sir Chiltern: he made his fortune by selling government secrets. As Mrs. Cheveley puts it,
I realise that I am talking to a man who laid the foundation of his fortune by selling to a Stock Exchange speculator a Cabinet secret.
1899 edition.
She will keep his secret (of which she has proof in a letter), but at a great price: previously Chiltern has been against the building of a canal in Argentina. Mrs. Cheveley tells Chiltern that unless he reverses his opinion and publicly supports the canal she will reveal his secret. He is forced to agree, however when he informs Lady Chiltern of his change of opinion she pressures him to go back on his promise to Mrs. Cheveley, leaving Sir Chiltern in a very awkward position indeed.

As the play progresses the situation gets more difficult and complex, particularly as Lady Chiltern, a moral and rather inflexible character, persists in seeing her husband as 'ideal'. As she says,
Robert, that is all very well for other men, for men who treat life simply as a sordid speculation; but not for you, Robert, not for you.  You are different.  All your life you have stood apart from others. You have never let the world soil you.  To the world, as to myself, you have been an ideal always. Oh! be that ideal still.  That great inheritance throw not away—that tower of ivory do not destroy. Robert, men can love what is beneath them—things unworthy, stained, dishonoured.  We women worship when we love; and when we lose our worship, we lose everything.  Oh! don’t kill my love for you, don’t kill that!
More characters are drawn in as Mrs. Cheveley becomes increasingly determined to see her plans realised. The Chilterns' marriage becomes strained as unrealistic expectations of love and marital unity are tested, and we also see a great challenge of the 'ideal wife'; the 'angel' that haunted some of Virginia Woolf's works: blindly supportive and highly moral. Despite these rather serious themes, this is Wilde - very funny indeed, and entertaining, though perhaps not my favourite. Even so, it's a play I'd very much like to see one day.

And that was my 39th title for the Deal Me In Challenge. Next week another play - Philaster by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Book VI (Cantos VII - XII) of The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser.


Turpine is baffuld, his two knights
  doe gaine their treasons meed;
Fayre Mirabellaes punishment
  for loues disdaine decreed.

We left Canto VI with Arthur and 'the savage' leaving Turpine's castle whilst Turpine plotted his revenge. Now Arthur has left Turpine has donned his armour and gone to seek him, but on the way he meets two knights and he tells them he is seeking a knight who has done him and his lady a great wrong. The knights naturally believe him and when they see Arthur they attack him but Arthur, the stronger knight, subdues them and then tells them the real story. He then asks one of the knights to bring Turpine to him whilst holding the other knight hostage. Turpine, believing Arthur is dead, accompanies the knight but soon realises that Arthur is simply sleeping. He prepares to kill the sleeping Arthur but the knight stops him. On waking up Arthur prevents any attack and hangs Turpine upside down from a tree as punishment:
And after all, for greater infamie,
He by the heeles him hung vpon a tree,
And baffuld so, that all which passed by,
The picture of his punishment might see,
And by the like ensample warned bee,
How euer they through treason doe trespasse....
We now return to Serena and Timias who, now recovered, have left the hermitage. Spenser wrote in Canto VI how, on their journey, they met "a faire Mayden clad in mourning weed" accompanied by "lewd foole" and "a mangy iade". Once, Spenser writes, the lady was renowned for her beauty but she grew proud and rejected all her suitors:
She was a Ladie of great dignitie,
And lifted vp to honorable place,
Famous through all the land of Faerie,
Though of meane parentage and kindred base,
Yet deckt with wondrous giftes of natures grace,
That all men did her person much admire,
And praise the feature of her goodly face,
The beames whereof did kindle louely fire
In th'harts of many a knight, and many a gentle squire.
But she thereof grew proud and insolent,
That none she worthie thought to be her fere,
But scornd them all, that loue vnto her ment:
Yet was she lou'd of many a worthy pere;
Vnworthy she to be belou'd so dere,
That could not weigh of worthinesse aright.
For beautie is more glorious bright and clere,
The more it is admir'd of many a wight,
And noblest she, that serued is of noblest knight.
This lady, Mirabella, was sentenced by Cupid to make amends for her wrongs - killing the knights who loved her by disappointing them (I believe this is what's suggested!). She must wander the world in poverty and save as many lives as she has ruined. At the point of meeting Timias and Serena she has saved just two lives; she has 22 lives to save in total. Meanwhile the fool (named Scorn) whips her and the jade (Disdain) taunts her. Timias, trying to help her, attacks Disdain however he is defeated and Disdain ties him up, unconscious. Serena, thinking he is dead, runs away:
The faire Serena, when she saw him fall
Vnder that villaines club, then surely thought
That slaine he was, or made a wretched thrall,
And fled away with all the speede she mought,
To seeke for safety, which long time she sought:
And past through many perils by the way,
Ere she againe to Calepine was brought;
The which discourse as now I must delay,
Till Mirabellaes fortunes I doe further say.

Prince Arthure ouercomes Disdaine,
  Quites Mirabell from dreed:
Serena, found of Saluages,
  By Calepine is freed.

Mirabella, Spenser writes, is an example of how cruel pride is the enemy of happiness and love:
And as ye soft and tender are by kynde,
Adornd with goodly gifts of beauties grace,
So be ye soft and tender eeke in mynde;
But cruelty and hardnesse from you chace,
That all your other praises will deface,
And from you turne the loue of men to hate.
Ensample take of Mirabellaes case,
Who from the high degree of happy state,
Fell into wretched woes, which she repented late.
They carry on their journey and soon encounter Arthur and the knight - Enias. Enias fights Disdain, but again Disdain gains the upper hand. Arthur intervenes and defeats Disdain but Mirabella stops him from killing him, explaining how this was Cupid's punishment of her. She then explains she wishes to fulfil her punishment's obligations, and she leaves them, alone. 

Serena meanwhile is still running, thinking Timias is dead. When she feels danger has passed she stops to rest, not realising she is near a group of cannibals. They find her, strip her, and prepare to sacrifice her. However Calepine arrives and saves her:
From them returning to that Ladie backe,
Whom by the Altar he doth sitting find,
Yet fearing death, and next to death the lacke
Of clothes to couer, what they ought by kind:
He first her hands beginneth to vnbind,
And then to question of her present woe;
And afterwards to cheare with speaches kind.
But she for nought that he could say or doe,
One word durst speake, or answere him a whit thereto.

Calidore hostes with Meliboe
  and loues fayre Pastorell;
Coridon enuies him, yet he
  for ill rewards him well.

We now return to Calidore, who we left chasing the Blatant Beast. He rests a while with a group of shepherds and there he sees a shepherdess - Pastorella:
And soothly sure she was full fayre of face,
And perfectly well shapt in euery lim,
Which she did more augment with modest grace,
And comely carriage of her count'nance trim,
That all the rest like lesser lamps did dim:
Who her admiring as some heauenly wight,
Did for their soueraine goddesse her esteeme,
And caroling her name both day and night,
The fayrest Pastorella her by name did hight.
Colin Clout in The Shepheardes Calender (1579).
She is loved by a shepherd, Coridon, but does not return his love. That night Pastorella's father Meliboee invites Calidore to stay with them. Meliboee is a good host, and they talk of shepherding, knighthood, and praise the simple life, Calidore observing -
How much (sayd he) more happie is the state,
In which ye father here doe dwell at ease,
Leading a life so free and fortunate,
From all the tempests of these worldly seas,
Which tosse the rest in daungerous disease?
Where warres, and wreckes, and wicked enmitie
Doe them afflict, which no man can appease,
That certes I your happinesse enuie,
And wish my lot were plast in such felicitie.
During this time Calidore becomes very taken by Pastorella, however she is more interested in Colin Clout (Colin features in Spenser's The Shepheardes Calender, 1579; in The Faerie Queene Spenser writes, "who knowes not Colin Clout?") and his music. However, once Calidore is dressed like a shepherd Pastorella favours him; Coridon becomes jealous and ultimately challenges Calidore to a wrestling match, and of course Calidore wins however he graciously gives the winning garland to Coridon. All seems well, however the canto ends:
Thus Calidore continu'd there long time,
To winne the loue of the faire Pastorell;
Which hauing got, he vsed without crime
Or blamefull blot, but menaged so well,
That he of all the rest, which there did dwell,
Was fauoured, and to her grace commmended.
But what straunge fortunes vnto him befell,
Ere he attain'd the point by him intended,
Shall more conueniently in other place be ended.

Calidore sees the Graces daunce,
  To Colins melody:
The whiles his Pastorell is led,
  Into captiuity.

Calidore has now abandoned his mission from the Faerie Queene to slay the Blatant Beast, preferring to spend his time with Pastorella. One day whilst the two are walking Calidore sees a hill:
It was an hill plaste in an open plaine,
That round about was bordered with a wood
Of matchlesse hight, that seem'd th'earth to disdaine;
In which all trees of honour stately stood,
And did all winter as in sommer bud,
Spredding pauilions for the birds to bowre,
Which in their lower braunches sung aloud;
And in their tops the soring hauke did towre,
Sitting like King of fowles in maiesty and powre.
And at the foote thereof, a gentle flud
His siluer waues did softly tumble downe,
Vnmard with ragged mosse or filthy mud;
Ne mote wylde beastes, ne mote the ruder clowne
Thereto approch, ne filth mote therein drowne:
But Nymphes and Faeries by the bancks did sit,
In the woods shade, which did the waters crowne,
Keeping all noysome things away from it,
And to the waters fall tuning their accents fit.
They approach and Calidore sees ladies dancing to the tune of Colin Clout's pipe.
All they without were raunged in a ring,
And daunced round ; but in the midst of them
Three other Ladies did both daunce and sing,
The whilest the rest them round about did hemme,
And like a girlond did in compasse stemme:
And in the middest of those same three, was placed
Another Damzell, as a precious gemme,
Amidst a ring most richly well enchaced,
That with her goodly presence all the rest much graced.
Looke how the Crowne, which Ariadne wore
Vpon her yuory forehead that same day
That Theseus her vnto his bridale bore,
When the bold Centaures made that bloudy fray
With the fierce Lapithes, which did them dismay;
Being now placed in the firmament,
Through the bright heauen doth her beams display,
And is vnto the starres an ornament,
Which round about her moue in order excellent. 
Suddenly however they all disappear apart from poor Colin. He tells Calidore about the women;
They are the daughters of sky-ruling Ioue,
By him begot of faire Eurynome,
The Oceans daughter, in this pleasant groue,
As he this way comming from feastfull glee,
Of Thetis wedding with Æacidee,
In sommers shade himselfe here rested weary.
The first of them hight mylde Euphrosyne,
Next faire Aglaia, last Thalia merry:
Sweete Goddesses all three which me in mirth do cherry. 
The woman at the centre of the circle however is unknown, but Colin calls her Gloriana -
Sunne of the world, great glory of the sky,
That all the earth doest lighten with thy rayes,
Great Gloriana, greatest Maiesty,
Pardon thy shepheard, mongst so many layes,
As he hath sung of thee in all his dayes,
To make one minime of thy poore handmayd,
And vnderneath thy feete to place her prayse;
That when thy glory shall be farre displayd
To future age of her this mention may be made. 
Calidore returns to Pastorella, but as ever Coridon is trying to compete with Calidore, despite the fact she loves Calidore (which intensifies when he saves her from a  tiger). One day however their pastoral world is attacked and Pastorella and Coridon are kidnapped by "A lawlesse people, Brigants hight of yore" who hide them and plan to sell them as slaves. The canto ends,
But for to tell the dolefull dreriment,
And pittifull complaints, which there she made,
Where day and night she nought did but lament
Her wretched life, shut vp in deadly shade,
And waste her goodly beauty, which did fade
Like to a flowre, that feeles no heate of sunne,
Which may her feeble leaues with comfort glade.
But what befell her in that theeuish wonne,
Will in an other Canto better be begonne.

The theeues fall out for Pastorell,
  VVhilest Melibee is slaine:
Her Calidore from them redeemes,
  And bringeth backe againe.

The captain of the Brigants begins to take a fancy to Pastorella and, for fear of angering him, she pretends to reciprocate, and when she fears he will take things further she must pretend she ill. When merchants arrive to buy the captive shepherds they wish to buy Pastorella, but unsurprisingly the captain refuses, and so the merchants refuse to buy any of the shepherds. The Brigants urge the captain to reconsider and a fierce fight breaks out. Many shepherds are killed, inluding Meliboe and his wife. Coridon however escapes during the fight, in which the captain is eventually killed. Pastorella is also left for dead amongst the corpses:
There lay she couered with confused preasse
Of carcases, which dying on her fell.
Tho when as he was dead, the fray gan ceasse,
And each to other calling, did compell
To stay their cruell hands from slaughter fell.
Sith they that were the cause of all, were gone.
Thereto they all attonce agreed well,
And lighting candles new, gan search anone,
How many of their friends were slaine, how many fone.
She is saved and looked after, but still she remains a captive.

Meanwhile Calidore goes looking for Pastorella, and he soon meets with Coridon who believes her to be dead. Eventually they find her and after a long battle she is saved along with the sheep and the other captives.


Fayre Pastorella by great hap
  her parents vnderstands:
Calidore doth the Blatant beast
  subdew, and bynd in bands.

Calidore now knows he must return to his quest: to stop the Blatant Beast:
For all that hetherto hath long delayd
This gentle knight, from sewing his first quest,
Though out of course, yet hath not bene mis-sayd,
To shew the courtesie by him profest,
Euen vnto the lowest and the least.
But now I come into my course againe,
To his atchieuement of the Blatant beast;
Who all this while at will did range and raine,
Whilst none was him to stop, nor none him to restraine.
He takes Pastorella to Castle Belgrade, the home of Sir Bellamour and Claribell and there he leaves her to go in search of the Beast. Whilst Pastorella stays there, it is revealed that she is in fact the daughter of Claribell, and they are happily reunited. Meanwhile Calidore has finally cornered the Beast which has been running rampant through churches and monasteries:
But Calidore thereof no whit afrayd,
Rencountred him with so impetuous might,
That th'outrage of his violence he stayd,
And bet abacke, threatning in vaine to bite,
And spitting forth the poyson of his spight,
That fomed all about his bloody iawes.
Tho rearing vp his former feete on hight,
He rampt vpon him with his rauenous pawes,
As if he would haue rent him with his cruell clawes.
The beast attacks but Calidore manages to muzzle him:
Full cruelly the Beast did rage and rore,
To be downe held, and maystred so with might,
That he gan fret and fome out bloudy gore,
Striuing in vaine to rere him selfe vpright.
For still the more he stroue, the more the Knight
Did him suppresse, and forcibly subdew;
That made him almost mad for fell despight.
He grind, hee bit, he scratcht, he venim threw,
And fared like a feend, right horrible in hew.
Or like the hell-borne Hydra, which they faine
That great Alcides whilome ouerthrew,
After that he had labourd long in vaine,
To crop his thousand heads, the which still new
Forth budded, and in greater number grew.
Such was the fury of this hellish Beast,
Whilest Calidore him vnder him downe threw;
Who nathemore his heauy load releast,
But aye the more he rag'd, the more his powre increast.
Tho when the Beast saw, he mote nought auaile,
By force, he gan his hundred tongues apply,
And sharpely at him to reuile and raile,
With bitter termes of shamefull infamy;
Oft interlacing many a forged lie,
Whose like he neuer once did speake, nor heare,
Nor euer thought thing so vnworthily:
Yet did he nought for all that him forbeare,
But strained him so streightly, that he chokt him neare.
At last when as he found his force to shrincke,
And rage to quaile, he tooke a muzzell strong
Of surest yron, made with many a lincke;
Therewith he mured vp his mouth along,
And therein shut vp his blasphemous tong,
For neuer more defaming gentle Knight,
Or vnto louely Lady doing wrong:
And thereunto a great long chaine he tight,
With which he drew him forth, euen in his own despight.
Like as whylome that strong Tirynthian swaine,
Brought forth with him the dreadfull dog of hell,
Against his will fast bound in yron chaine,
And roring horribly, did him compell
To see the hatefull sunne, that he might tell
To griesly Pluto, what on earth was donne,
And to the other damned ghosts, which dwell
For aye in darkenesse, which day light doth shonne:
So led this Knight his captyue with like conquest wonne.
The people of Faerie Land celebrate seeing the Beast finally muzzled and chained, however it would not remain tied up forever. The Beast escaped and remains to this day on the loose.
So now he raungeth through the world againe,
And rageth sore in each degree and state;
Ne any is, that may him now restraine,
He growen is so great and strong of late,
Barking and biting all that him doe bate,
Albe they worthy blame, or cleare of crime:
Ne spareth he most learned wits to rate,
Ne spareth he the gentle Poets rime,
But rends without regard of person or of time. 
And there ends the final completed book of The Faerie Queene. What remains now is the Two Cantos of Mutability (which I would love to write about tomorrow if I can find the time). Until then, I'll try and get my head around Book VI!

The title of Book VI is -

The Sixth
Booke of the
Faerie Qveene.
Contayning
The Legend of S. Calidore
or
Of Covrtesie.

There is our knight - Sir Calidore - and our theme: courtesy. Courtesy in Spenser's Faerie Queene is not merely politeness, it is a virtue, it's humanity, it's the very act of being civil. Book V was on justice, Book VI follows the theme: whereas justice is based upon the law, courtesy is a social necessity, still rules and obligations, but not legal ones, but even so, without such rules and obligations society would fall apart. Courtesy, just as much as justice, ensures harmony. 

The enemy of courtesy is the Blatant Beast: the word 'blatant' was actually coined by Spenser himself and most likely was inspired by the Latin blatire: "to babble". The beast, as the name suggests, is a monster, uncivilised, uncouth, and as dangerous as any monsters so far in The Faerie Queene. One must be vigilant: Calidore was not, and so it entered into the churches and monasteries, threatening the very fabric of society. Here another contrast is shown: the courtly life of the knights and the pastoral life of the shepherds.

This is not the only obstacle of Book VI: exactly like the other books there are challenges faced by a variety of other characters throughout, but it is the theme of courtesy and discourtesy that run throughout them. We have many tyrants whose behaviour is not merely rude but oppressive. Abiding by the law, Spenser shows, is not enough to bring perfection. There is also the debate of nature and nurture in The Faerie Queene: Calidore is naturally courteous:
In whom it seemes, that gentlenesse of spright
And manners mylde were planted naturall;
To which he adding comely guize withall,
And gracious speach, did steale mens hearts away.
(Canto I)
The savage however learns a degree of courtesy: he is not Calidore's opposite here, Turpine is: Turpine is the savage at heart decked out as a knight, and he is naturally aligned with the Blatant Beast in nature. The law does not change this, and neither birth nor upbringing has the final say.

Unlike the other heroes of The Faerie Queene however, this monster is never really defeated, only briefly subdued, which makes for a strange ending. Spenser certainly was not finished with The Faerie Queene, six other books were planned if not written, however here it ends, almost on an anti-climax. Book VI was strange, perhaps not as strong as the others, and I don't feel I got as much out of it as previous books. But I'm not quite done: there is still Mutability remaining. And I've already read it and enjoyed it, so I shall have a few words to say on it very soon. Until then, the illustrations for the final half of Book VI by Walter Crane:

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Chapters XVIII - XX of The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens.

Time for the seventh instalment of The Pickwick Papers! In September 1836, 180 years ago, New York (Madison County) had four inches of snow; this wouldn't reach England until October, the start of one of the worst winters on record for this country. September seems to be the calm before the storm so to speak; in fact, when I looked up notable dates for September '36 all I could find was the birth of the Right Honourable Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (Prime Minister from 1905 to 1908). But of course Dickens' audience weren't to know this was at all significant! 

Once again, there wasn't much in the way of cliff-hangers from the sixth instalment: Chapter XVII ended with Mr. Pickwick's short story 'The Parish Clerk: A Tale Of True Love'. So, onward to Chapter XVIII.

Chapter XVIII
Briefly Illustrative of Two Points; First, the Power of Hysterics, 
and, Secondly, the Force of Circumstances

Chapter XVIII contains in it a rather explosive argument between Mr. Winkle and Mr. and Mrs. Pott. We find Winkle at the beginning of the chapter alone in the breakfast room then suddenly,
... the door was hastily thrown open, and as hastily closed, on the entrance of Mr. Pott, who, stalking majestically towards him, and thrusting aside his proffered hand, ground his teeth, as if to put a sharper edge on what he was about to utter, and exclaimed, in a saw-like voice—
'Serpent!'
'Sir!' exclaimed Mr. Winkle, starting from his chair.
'Serpent, Sir,' repeated Mr. Pott, raising his voice, and then suddenly depressing it: 'I said, serpent, sir—make the most of it.'
It goes on and Mr. Pott finally reveals the source of his anguish: a poem published in the 'Independent':
"LINES TO A BRASS POT 
Oh Pott! if you'd known
How false she'd have grown,
When you heard the marriage bells tinkle;
You'd have done then, I vow,
What you cannot help now,
And handed her over to W*****
'What,' said Mr. Pott solemnly—'what rhymes to "tinkle," villain?'
Undeniably 'Winkle'. Mrs. Pott throws a spectacular hysterical fit on finding out:
Mrs. Pott read the paragraph, uttered a loud shriek, and threw herself at full length on the hearth-rug, screaming, and tapping it with the heels of her shoes, in a manner which could leave no doubt of the propriety of her feelings on the occasion.
And Winkle, at this point, finds it prudent to make a sharp exit from the establishment. Off he goes with Tupman and Snodgrass to Bury St. Edmunds to meet Mr. Pickwick, and they learn Mr. Wardle has invited them to a wedding at Manor House between Trundle and Isabella Wardle at Christmas time. Mr. Pickwick finds, meanwhile, he is to be sued by Dodson and Fogg acting behalf of Mrs. Bardell for "breach of promise of marriage". He plans on visiting the solicitors as soon as he is able.

Chapter XIX
A Pleasant Day with an Unpleasant Termination

'Mr. Pickwick in the Pound'
by Phiz.
The chapter begins with a lovely description of the first day of September:
In plain commonplace matter-of-fact, then, it was a fine morning—so fine that you would scarcely have believed that the few months of an English summer had yet flown by. Hedges, fields, and trees, hill and moorland, presented to the eye their ever-varying shades of deep rich green; scarce a leaf had fallen, scarce a sprinkle of yellow mingled with the hues of summer, warned you that autumn had begun. The sky was cloudless; the sun shone out bright and warm; the songs of birds, the hum of myriads of summer insects, filled the air; and the cottage gardens, crowded with flowers of every rich and beautiful tint, sparkled, in the heavy dew, like beds of glittering jewels. Everything bore the stamp of summer, and none of its beautiful colour had yet faded from the die.
The Pickwickians are going hunting, though Mr. Pickwick, still suffering from rheumatism, must go in a wheelbarrow. It's not a wildly successful trip although Tupman shoots a partridge, it was entirely by accident:
On one occasion, after performing this feat, Mr. Tupman, on opening his eyes, beheld a plump partridge in the act of falling, wounded, to the ground. He was on the point of congratulating Mr. Wardle on his invariable success, when that gentleman advanced towards him, and grasped him warmly by the hand.
'Tupman,' said the old gentleman, 'you singled out that particular bird?'
'No,' said Mr. Tupman—'no.'
'You did,' said Wardle. 'I saw you do it—I observed you pick him out—I noticed you, as you raised your piece to take aim; and I will say this, that the best shot in existence could not have done it more beautifully. You are an older hand at this than I thought you, Tupman; you have been out before.'
It was in vain for Mr. Tupman to protest, with a smile of self-denial, that he never had. The very smile was taken as evidence to the contrary; and from that time forth his reputation was established. It is not the only reputation that has been acquired as easily, nor are such fortunate circumstances confined to partridge-shooting. 
At lunch Mr. Pickwick has a little too much to drink and is left to sleep it off, however the owner of the land, Captain Boldwig, finds him and literally carts him off to the animal pound:
'Who are you, you rascal?' said the captain, administering several pokes to Mr. Pickwick's body with the thick stick. 'What's your name?'
'Cold punch,' murmured Mr. Pickwick, as he sank to sleep again.
'What?' demanded Captain Boldwig.
No reply.
'What did he say his name was?' asked the captain.
'Punch, I think, sir,' replied Wilkins.
'That's his impudence—that's his confounded impudence,' said Captain Boldwig. 'He's only feigning to be asleep now,' said the captain, in a high passion. 'He's drunk; he's a drunken plebeian. Wheel him away, Wilkins, wheel him away directly.'
Where shall I wheel him to, sir?' inquired Wilkins, with great timidity.
'Wheel him to the devil,' replied Captain Boldwig.
'Very well, sir,' said Wilkins.
'Stay,' said the captain.
Wilkins stopped accordingly.
'Wheel him,' said the captain—'wheel him to the pound; and let us see whether he calls himself Punch when he comes to himself. He shall not bully me—he shall not bully me. Wheel him away.'
He is later rescued from a baying crowd by Mr. Wardle and Sam Weller and happily his good humour prevails.

Chapter XX. Showing How Dodson and Fogg Were Men of Business, 
and their Clerks Men of Pleasure; and 
How an Affecting Interview Took Place between Mr. Weller and his Long-lost Parent; 
Showing also what Choice Spirits Assembled at the Magpie And Stump, 
and What A Capital Chapter the Next One Will Be

'Mr. Pickwick and Sam in the Attorney's Office'
by Phiz.
On now to the serious matter of Mr. Pickwick being sued.
In the ground-floor front of a dingy house, at the very farthest end of Freeman's Court, Cornhill, sat the four clerks of Messrs. Dodson & Fogg, two of his Majesty's attorneys of the courts of King's Bench and Common Pleas at Westminster, and solicitors of the High Court of Chancery—the aforesaid clerks catching as favourable glimpses of heaven's light and heaven's sun, in the course of their daily labours, as a man might hope to do, were he placed at the bottom of a reasonably deep well; and without the opportunity of perceiving the stars in the day-time, which the latter secluded situation affords.
The clerks' office of Messrs. Dodson & Fogg was a dark, mouldy, earthy-smelling room, with a high wainscotted partition to screen the clerks from the vulgar gaze, a couple of old wooden chairs, a very loud-ticking clock, an almanac, an umbrella-stand, a row of hat-pegs, and a few shelves, on which were deposited several ticketed bundles of dirty papers, some old deal boxes with paper labels, and sundry decayed stone ink bottles of various shapes and sizes. There was a glass door leading into the passage which formed the entrance to the court, and on the outer side of this glass door, Mr. Pickwick, closely followed by Sam Weller, presented himself on the Friday morning succeeding the occurrence of which a faithful narration is given in the last chapter.
They finally meet with Dodson and Fogg who inform Pickwick he is to be sued for £1500. Pickwick calls them swindlers and they leave. Feeling "rather ruffled" (quite understandably) Pickwick feels a brandy and warm water is in order and so they go to the nearest tavern, where they meet Sam's father:
'Wy, Sammy!'
'Who's that, Sam?' inquired Mr. Pickwick.
'Why, I wouldn't ha' believed it, Sir,' replied Mr. Weller, with astonished eyes. 'It's the old 'un.'
'Old one,' said Mr. Pickwick. 'What old one?'
'My father, sir,' replied Mr. Weller. 'How are you, my ancient?' And with this beautiful ebullition of filial affection, Mr. Weller made room on the seat beside him, for the stout man, who advanced pipe in mouth and pot in hand, to greet him.
'Wy, Sammy,' said the father, 'I ha'n't seen you, for two year and better.'
'Nor more you have, old codger,' replied the son. 'How's mother-in-law?' 
After exchanging some pleasantries Sam tells his father about Jingle and Job Trotter; Mr. Weller recognises the descriptions and tells them he saw them on the Ipswich coach:
'Then I know where they are, and that's all about it,' said Mr. Weller; 'they're at Ipswich, safe enough, them two.'
'No!' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Fact,' said Mr. Weller, 'and I'll tell you how I know it. I work an Ipswich coach now and then for a friend o' mine. I worked down the wery day arter the night as you caught the rheumatic, and at the Black Boy at Chelmsford—the wery place they'd come to—I took 'em up, right through to Ipswich, where the man-servant—him in the mulberries—told me they was a-goin' to put up for a long time.'
'I'll follow him,' said Mr. Pickwick; 'we may as well see Ipswich as any other place. I'll follow him.'
'You're quite certain it was them, governor?' inquired Mr. Weller, junior.
'Quite, Sammy, quite,' replied his father, 'for their appearance is wery sing'ler; besides that 'ere, I wondered to see the gen'l'm'n so formiliar with his servant; and, more than that, as they sat in the front, right behind the box, I heerd 'em laughing and saying how they'd done old Fireworks.'
'Old who?' said Mr. Pickwick.
'Old Fireworks, Sir; by which, I've no doubt, they meant you, Sir.'
There is nothing positively vile or atrocious in the appellation of 'old Fireworks,' but still it is by no means a respectful or flattering designation. The recollection of all the wrongs he had sustained at Jingle's hands, had crowded on Mr. Pickwick's mind, the moment Mr. Weller began to speak; it wanted but a feather to turn the scale, and 'old Fireworks' did it.
'I'll follow him,' said Mr. Pickwick, with an emphatic blow on the table.
Firstly, however, they must see Mr. Wardle's solicitor, Mr. Perker. He, however, is away so he meets with Peter Lowten (Perker's clerk) at Gray's Inn to inform him of the legal action being taken against him. He then stays a little while and sees Jack Bamber:
The individual to whom Lowten alluded, was a little, yellow, high-shouldered man, whose countenance, from his habit of stooping forward when silent, Mr. Pickwick had not observed before. He wondered, though, when the old man raised his shrivelled face, and bent his gray eye upon him, with a keen inquiring look, that such remarkable features could have escaped his attention for a moment. There was a fixed grim smile perpetually on his countenance; he leaned his chin on a long, skinny hand, with nails of extraordinary length; and as he inclined his head to one side, and looked keenly out from beneath his ragged gray eyebrows, there was a strange, wild slyness in his leer, quite repulsive to behold.
The instalment then concludes,
This was the figure that now started forward, and burst into an animated torrent of words. As this chapter has been a long one, however, and as the old man was a remarkable personage, it will be more respectful to him, and more convenient to us, to let him speak for himself in a fresh one.
What will Jack Bamber have to say? We'll find out in October... 

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The Odes of Pindar.

Pindar (522 B.C. - 443 B.C.) is an Ancient Greek poet and known as one of the Nine Lyric Poets (these poets date from the 7th to 5th Century B.C.). Only about a quarter of his works survive, but when this is compared to, say, Sappho, Sophocles, or Aeschylus, it would seem that Pindar's works were more carefully preserved. They were collected into seventeen books, of which four survive: the Epinician or Epinikion (ἐπινίκιον) Odes, known as 'victory odes'. These choral odes were written in celebration of the Panhellenic Games, which comprised of:

  1. Olympic Games, held in Olympia to honour Zeus.
  2. Pythian Games of Delphi, honouring Apollo.
  3. Nemean Games of Nemea and Corinthia, honouring Zeus and Heracles.
  4. Isthmian Games of Isthmia and Sicyon honouring Poseidon.
The games covered a range of activities; races (chariot, mule-car, horses, on foot and in armour), wrestling, boxing, the pentathlon and, oddly enough, flute playing, and the title of each poem corresponds with the games and are numbered, for example 'Pythian X', 'Olympian XVI', 'Nemean V', Isthmian II' etc. These were numbered by Aristophanes of Byzantium, who numbered them in order of importance. It was the nature of victory itself that interested Pindar, though. Details of the various games are sparse: Pindar wrote on talent and strength and the glory that was almost god-like: Pindar would praise not only the athletes but the gods and goddesses themselves, though the poems are dedicated largely to various athletes, for example Hippokleas of Thessaly, Ergoteles of Himera, Diagoras of Rhodes, and many others. 

Perhaps one of the most famous poems of the 45 poem collection is 'Olympian I' (written in 476 B.C.), which was dedicated to Hieron of Syracuse, winner in the horse race. It's divided into four parts, and I'll quote the first part in full:
Water is the best thing of all, and gold
Shines like flaming fire at night,
More than all a great man's wealth.
But if, my heart, you would speak
Of prizes won in the Games,
Look no more for another bright star
By day in the empty sky
More warming than the sun,
Nor shall we name any gathering
Greater than the Plympian.
The glorious song of it is clothed by the wits of the wise:
They sing aloud of Kronos' song,
When they come to the rich and happy hearth of Hieron,
Who sways the sceptre of law
In Sicily's rich sheep-time pasture.
He gathers the buds of all perfections,
And his splendor shines in the festal music,
Like our own merry songs
When we gather often around that table of friends.
But take down from its peg the Dorian lute,
If surely the beauty of Pisa, the beauty of Pherenikos,
Loaded our hearts with the sweetest thoughts,
When by Alpheios he raced past,
Giving strength in the course, not waiting for the spur,
And brought to triumph his master,
The King of Syracuse, the soldier-horseman.
His fame is bright in the great assembly of men
Which Lydian Pelops founded:
He, with whom the mighty Earth-Shaker Poseidon fell in love,
When Klotho lifted him out of the cleansing cauldrom,
With his shoulders of ivory, white and fine.
There are many wonders, and it may be
Embroidered tales overpass the true account
And trick men's talk
With their enrichment of lies.
Hieron of Syracuse was regarded as a tyrant in the traditional sense of the word: an absolute ruler. In 'Olympian I' Pindar praises him and then goes on to write of Pelops, king of Pisa and son of Tantalus, the founder of the House of Atreus. Pelops, Pindar writes, defeated Oenomaus in a race and thus won the hand of his daughter Hippodameia (other suitors had been killed). As a thanksgiving for winning and in memory of King Oenomaus, these races would be held regularly; it was thought by some that this was the origin of the Olympic Games. Pindar then returns to Hieron, putting him in the same ranks as Pelops, and celebrates his victory and strength. By winning in the Olympic Games, the winner, in this case Hieron, is a hero. 

And this is the general pattern of the Odes: the celebration of not only victory but the personal attributes needed to be victorious, as well as retellings of myths of the gods and mortals in the context of the games. It is not the easiest of reads, but they are certainly fascinating, if not a little confusing at times. It's certainly a book I'd like to read again and spend a little more time with; on the face of it, the Olympics is not something that would appeal to me but I very much appreciated the mythical element that so much of the poems comprises of. 

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Further Reading

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