Ephemeris is updated every few days, then archived at the end of each month 





December 31, 2023: “Will this be a serious inquiry?” How am I to know? A voice in my head, on occasion, puts the inquiry question to me, but half the time, I am hardly aware that it – the voice – is asking. Even so, sometimes I hear an answer. No, not from me; from other sources. Say in Mary Renault, she with her trenchant sentences all clothed in priestly garments, pagan vestiture... Ace Costume Wear & Accessories?

That in her book The Bull from the Sea, Renault has Hippolyta speak, Theseus addressed, of who and what they are, and what is to become of them as man and woman, husband and wife. (Renault has Theseus doubly hitched, married to both Hippolyta and Phaedra. For he is High King of Athens, and war smoke is getting close, Scythians and Amazons on the way with their bows and arrows and spears and desire to kill Athenians.) Unpopular in Athens, as she will not accept the traditional role of women, which is to be submissive to their spouses, Hippolyta, ‘warrior-woman’, speaks her mind at her ‘partner’, her tone one of urgency and thoughtfulness: ‘Fate and Necessity are near, and like us, they are what they are.’

Ah, huge import. Early instance of ‘it is what it is situational ethics’? Could be. Or far from it. Nevertheless, Hippolyta has gone against her kind to be with Theseus – as his equal in love and war and the hunt. Theseus has gone against the customs of his people to love Hippolyta, and he insists that she remain his equal in love and war and the hunt. In any case, I am not knocking Renault; I am only bending the ‘upshot’, so to speak, to the question: will this be a serious inquiry? And again, I hardly know. I suppose when there is no longer an argument to make about anything, everything, even the Flavour of the Month, may be construed as a must-have argument for or against democracy, for or against arch supports and ‘mindfulness’, the whole fabric of the universe at stake.

And this sort of thing happens when everything is trashed with ‘malice aforethought’, when everyone is in on the trashing, exchanging truth for better truth, and all too often buying into lies. Was Hippolyta a fantasy in Mary Renault’s head, a romantic configuration of love, pride, honour, all the good stuff? Could she have been what was missing in the fascist 30s, an answer to the Nazis, say, or was she the Original Calendar Girl? Could there have been a basis in reality for the fiction of Hippolyta, let alone the myth? &c. People will tell you they have thought things through. You bet, soldier, the thing has been thought through. But what they have done is but test the winds, and there is your truth: exhausting, holding that finger up. Mencken, he say: Democracy is also a form of worship. It is the worship of jackals by jackasses.

Cornelius W Drake of Champaign-Urbana? He would have me reappraise. The object of this reappraisal? Led Zeppelin, a band to which I never really warmed. But this ought to link up nicely with my own reappraisals of Proust to whom I may be cooling just a little. For Mr Drake used to bang on the drums. And because he used to bang on the drums, he is attuned to time signatures, and ‘Kashmir’ is 9/8s to a measure (in some parts of the song), unheard of rock-and-roll, so says Mr Drake; and overall, the whole song-thing Zeppelinized is a doozy at first blush. But will this be a serious inquiry? Proust in 4/4 time, steady as she goes? In a discussion of Diana Rigg (she of The Avengers fame) Mr Drake suggests that the words ‘doll’ and small 'd' ‘dame’, epithets of the past, be returned to service. I say, fine, just that those words would only get across a very small part of the woman’s obvious charms: her wit and intelligence. Will this be a serious inquiry? Rigg and her male co-star would often ad lib their schtick, and no doubt, they suppressed their giggles. But yes, this is serious inquiry. That Rigg, by managing to keep her cool and her face somewhat straight, kept a show (the three season 4 episodes I have seen, at least) from going so over the top that it is forgettably too silly for words.

War aims, however? What war aims? Over the heart of the Levant there is a can of Raid. It is way up there in the sky, and on the ground, amidst the rubble, there is vermin. Disease and famine have followed. What was an argument, both sides of it problematic, is now a declaration, one single-sided justification for slaughter, one dedicated to the proposition that where you cannot see them, they do not exist, and even if they could (exist), they do not deserve to take up space. Shall a desert be made to bloom, and who shall 'bloom' it? Will this be a serious inquiry? Have we not been here before? Yes. And how many times before?

So, power and money. Money and power. Hence, more bombs, to be sure. Delivery systems. Guaranteed delivery or sue us. Intractable are those things money and power, and so too, bombs. I have never believed that that is all of the human picture: that money and power are what humankind boils down to sooner or later, give it time. And bombs in triplicate. It seems to go without saying: what is love or any of its adjuncts such as empathy when power and money occupy the throne and the throne is a gigantic latrine with a megaphone attached, propaganda and lies and self-justifying lies what courses through the slop? Say what, intemperate language on my part? Huge imports of meaning, perhaps, eenie meenie minie moe having a go in a cul-de-sac of moral confusion. Shall we step out on the verandah and smoke? In Proust’s Within a Budding Grove Part Two, the author has Elstir the painter go on a tear, and the words have oblique bearing on the above, very oblique, rotator cuffs optional:

‘There is no man,’ he began, ‘however wise, who has not at some period of his youth said things, or lived in a way the consciousness of which is so unpleasant to him in later life that he would gladly, if he could, expunge it from his memory. And yet he ought not entirely to regret it, because he cannot be certain that he has indeed become a wise man – so far as it is possible for any of us to be wise – unless he has passed through all the fatuousness or unwholesome incarnations by which that ultimate stage must be preceded.’ &c &c. Well, I suppose you had to have been there. But are you not now obliqued? Is it now worth asking: is Robert Plant (of Led Zeppelin fame) a wise man for the nonce? Netanyahu? You wish I would condemn Hamas? Sure, the actions Hamas took on October 7, 2023 are condemnable, exceedingly so, but for once we can compare duelling outrages. Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May (or fill in the appropriate time frame). Many generations will come and go yet before the memory of the past couple of months (more to come) fades away. And someone somewhere, in the meanwhile, will have rhymed a pun and thought it clever, wink-worthy: Putin with poutine. Hey, is BlinkenWynkenandNod susceptible to puns? He has that Ivy League goof look, the one that says the joke is lost on him….

Whereas Lunar: ‘Not much today, I'm afraid. I'm in conversation with a woman in Ukraine with whom I've been playing chess. She plays in order to take her mind off the war; I play in order to be in warfare. Ukraine is being dumped just as I knew it would sooner or later and just as Gaza will sooner or later be dumped. If some celebrity gets into trouble the news of that will come before either Gaza or Palestine but then what about Sudan, nary a peep on the news or what the Azeris are presently doing to Armenian historical sites, churches, and graves. And and and.’ ….

And in the Yes-We-Knew-That-But-Say-It-Anyway-Department, Mencken, he say: ‘The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out... without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, intolerable.' What, you think you are one of those?

Postscript I: The Carpentariat

Postscript II: … …. But if we look more carefully, we will find that the advances of the human mind, and of each individual in particular, consist for the most part in becoming aware of our past errors…. … from Leopardi’s Zibaldone, 1821. One of those tedious truisms, I suppose, that seem innocuous to us now and yet, still packs a punch, however much fungus it carries.

Postscript III: I wonder what books Talking Avocado has come by, these days, the man a fellow who has committed himself to living off the avails of his local Recycling Depot?

Postscript IV: Hail, dear monkey! Hail, I say, for fortune still guides beasts by the hand and so has brought you from where you were born to me who, after realizing that you are a great lord in the form of a beast, just as Pythagoras was a philosopher in the form of a rooster, dedicate to you these labors or, rather, these pastimes of eighteen consecutive mornings – not as to an ape, monkey or baboon but as to a great lord. Had I not learned from Nature’s intimate that you were indeed a lord, I would have dedicated the Dialogues of Nanna and Antonia as to a beast. Why, even the Romans, after having inflicted capital punishment on a man who killed a crow – whose only virtue was that it saluted Caesar – not only had the bird carried on a litter by two Ethiopians preceded by bagpipes but even named the place where it was buried “Ridicule”. So the absurdity of many wise ancients may excuse that of one foolish modern. Opening salvo from Aretino’s Dialogues, as by one Pietro Aretino, back in them there Renaissance days. In any case, something in the tenor, in the tone, in the sound of an uttered ‘cack’ satisfies my need for wry toast and sweet scorn. Happy New Year, all youse.

December 27, 2023: There is some question in circles with which I am somewhat a party to that Proust was a creep. Here I have Proust on tap yet again as when he wrote in Within a Budding Grove Part Two, and he is describing the face of a young woman: … …. the one with geranium cheeks and green eyes… Unprepossessing words. Nothing special. Not Creepsville, so far as I can determine. But in those words, I see a great many women I have known in some capacity or other, even those who do not, in fact, have green eyes…. And because this vision (on the part of Proust’s narrator) was connected to a sea front (the fictional Balbec on the Normandy coast), I read the words that comprise the ‘vision’, and I have an all too brief but unmistakable whiff of sea air that I last ‘whiffed’ on a North Atlantic ship crossing from England…. All I am saying is this: sometimes words are alchemy, and they produce effects more vivid than any seen on a screen.

To be sure, Proust, in his novels, will go on about this and that, and then this and that again, and again, but one knows that a clever plot-line avails one nothing, zip, nada, is a cheap trick, whereas to smell a sea wind suddenly wafting off a sheet of pulp, after reams of exposition, or to see in one’s eyes a young, smiling woman plainly happy to be alive, and that the kicker that reality is will surely follow, and the characters shall stand more revealed – this is what writing, this is what the reading of it is all about or should be. To be sure, I could be watching some turgid arthouse flick of blockhead cinema, desperately waiting for a plot-line to happen along….

Or else, in a different prose register, Mary Renault’s The Bull from the Sea, and every moment in the lives of her main characters is life and death, is duly fraught with peril for the soul and yet, no twists in the plot are pouring adrenalin onto the fire. And though I figure ancient lives must have been chockful of tedium, if a tedium unlike ours, I might with some justification wonder how they got through life minus the distractions we have at our disposal in which to bury ourselves. Me, I do not do ‘games’, at least not virtually, but, in addition to my addiction to books, I am, truth to tell, addicted to movie-watching. In other words, perhaps I have to admit that distraction figures large in my life.

And about those movies, for the majority of them, there is not much to say, as there is little substance in them with which to achieve any worthwhile verbal traction. But then I watch subpar things so as to, in fact, distract myself, to dull what are already dubious mental capacities. And yet I will learn that if one is an airline crash investigator one will come to cinema’s table willy-nilly imbued with drama; a plot, never fear, will extrude from some Creator nostril or other. Yes, and the one intellectual bit of exercise I get from it all goes along the lines of: were the screen treatment mine to write, I would have written X,Y, and Z instead. I am really sorry for your loss … do not these words add up to be the emptiest sentence in the American playbook of sentences?

And now I have come to a part in Proust’s Within a Budding Grove Part Two where I am suddenly caught up short and I am saying – to myself, “To sit and have a beer with this fellow? Now I’m not so sure….” How many writers have we adjudged ‘good’ simply because they have winning personalities? For Proust’s narrator Marcel (who very much wants to meet a certain girl and has been hanging around the studio of a celebrated painter in the midst of painting something – a flower, who might possibly enable a meeting, but that he is, for the moment engrossed in his flower, Marcel chafing and frustrated) has alluded to his own considerable egoism. It would seem there is not a chemical process on this earth that does not involve his own molecules and yet, verily, we only have our own eyes with which to see. That to see through another set of eyes – that requires imagination and a fluke or two…. Whether he is going to meet this girl or not, the narrator Marcel still on about the painter Elstir and 'girls' and art, muses on: But on that day in Balbec, when I saw that Elstir was leaving the girls and had not called me, I learned for the first time that the variations in the importance which a pleasure or a pain has in our eyes may depend not merely on this alternation of two moods, but on the displacement of invisible beliefs, such, for example, as make death seem to us of no account because they bathe it in a glow of unreality, and thus enable us to attach importance to an evening party, which would lose much of its charm for if, on the announcement that we were sentenced to die by the guillotine…. Anybody got a light? When is the 3:10 to Yuma? I suppose one might say there is alchemy and there is alchemy.

Postscript I: From a young man I know (well, he is younger than yours truly by a considerable margin): … …. ‘I'm reading Norman Mailer's "Armies of the Night: History as novel, novel as history" because it's apparently a mutt of "New Journalism" and Historical Fiction. Do journalists and historians have anything in common other than their supposed commitment to the truth? And how often do they crossbreed? I'm trying to make a list. Mailer and his bookish school of the 40s co., donning themselves "sober radicals" have a hard time protesting Vietnam with the hippies, who apparently swapped literature for music and raw emotions. Though Mailer seems like a very un-sober man. A lot of Gaza protests going around here, and it's not about music from what I see.’ … ….  Clearly, the man is trying to work something out. I was at, one time, going to read that book Armies of the Night. And then I could not face it, Mailer once the sort of writer I wished to be, and then he was the sort of writer I did not wish to be, and this has nothing to do with Mailer’s penchant for pugilism….

Postscript II: I receive a message from Cornelius W Drake that near melts my computer screen. To do with Gaza…

Postscript III: Received from Slick Williams of the archtop guitar a link to some of John Fahey’s fellow travellers and adherents. I listen for a while and I have to say that Fahey still tops them all, that the man was a one-off; that, say, Skip James and Eric Satie combined in the man to make for a single sensibility, not a split-personality in his compositions and arrangements; and though he could not paint worth a damn he painted even so, and for all I know, poemized; and that, of especial notice, he decked Antonioni once over something or other (Fahey was hired to compose the movie’s score, Zabrisksie Point being that flick), but that Fahey found the filmmaker to be a pretentious blockhead.

Postscript IV: What a quantity of sagacious verses lie buried in the mime! – from Seneca’s Epistulae Morales.

Postscript V: The Carpentariat

December 23, 2023: Through his narrator, the young Marcel, Proust is keen on a group of women whom he has seen on the beach of Balbec, fictional town, Normandy coast. He tells one as much, or that he is keen, just that, in the telling, he presents one with the full panoply of his psyche, along with his sleep patterns and, perhaps, the contents of his wardrobe. At any moment, his dietary regimen might insert itself in the august proceedings, august because we are in the Pavilion of Time, and time, God knows, fugit….

And what we get in the Proustian prose (as ventured by Moncrieff in his translation) is not art so much as philosophy. And we get science. And if not philosophy and science as such, then the spirit of each that means to glorify the mind… If it sounds to you like I am picking on the man (Proust), I am not. How would it profit me to pick on the guy, says I, as if working a toothpick, as if about to bully an election worker along the lines of election meddling in some ostentatious manner?

Even so, philosophy and science notwithstanding, while Marcel is allowing himself to be ravished by a woman’s glance in ‘real time’, as it must have happened to Proust in his ‘real time’, Marcel is not philosophically mulling neo-pragmatism. It is only in the re-telling that… ah well… the retelling… And just so you know, Within a Budding Grove Part Two is the book that concerns us here. And just so we are clear: Atomic Propositions would not be the name of a punky rock-and-roll band; it would be Wittgenstein mulling language with an artist’s smock on, should we encounter more philosophy deeper on in the book. For we do not necessarily read horizontally and vertically when we read a page; we are drawn inwards, and we come to other dimensions altogether, if the author is able to deliver a world.

In other news:

Four snow-white horses pulled the golden chariot, encrusted with gems flashing in the sun’s first rays. There was no driver. The beautiful horses galloped at full speed across the windswept cliff and plunged into the sparkling sea below. These words, not necessarily peerless, are from a book entitled The Poison King. Which has to do with the life of Mithradates, ‘Rome’s deadliest enemy’ &c. (As authored by Adrienne Mayor and published by Princeton Press.) This Mithradates whom I compare to Putin, tongue three-quarters rubbing up against my jaw….

And the words in italics cited above have immediately to do with horse sacrifice. And horse sacrifice, so far as I understand, is nowhere a part of Proust’s magisterial seven volume work entitled (in English) In Remembrance of Things Past, even if horses, metaphors for human passions, and as energies in their own right, can turn on one and do one in. (I worked, one summer, on a stud ranch when a lad. Learned the hard way what devious horses can get up to.)

I had read the book (The Poison King) in a previous decade. I had read parts of it at any rate, and this time around, you might say I read it more carefully, as I was looking for corroboration with certain parts of Colleen McCullough’s novel The Grass Crown in which the action does involve Mithradates (who was a monster, but an interesting one, much more than a thuggish boor). Mithradates, when he was really up against it with the Romans, Lucullus after his hide, and then Pompey the Great, either took on as a wife (or concubine or both) one Hypsicratea or Hypsicrates – the masculine form of her name. For she was an Amazon, a woman warrior, a horse woman to boot. That is to say, she was an accomplished warrior and rider, and she was apparently beautiful and more than a match for Mithradates’ capabilities, of which he had some. And the love between them in their outlaw existence in the shadow of Rome does seem to have been genuine. A case is made later on in the Poison King book that Hypsicrates survived the campaigns in which the Romans chased her and her swain across half the world. Somehow, she wound up in Julius Caesar’s entourage, writing history, the works lost….

Should you wish to know, horse sacrifice was prevalent in Eurasian regions. It was meant to insure prosperity and fertility and the legitimacy of a king. Mithradates’ sacrifice alluded to above was to honour Mithra, Helios (a couple of sun gods, those two) and Poseidon, god of the sea and earthquakes and, incidentally, horses. Which brings me to Mary Renault and her Theseus who seems to have a direct connection to the horse god, inasmuch as many of his hunches, intuitions, presentiments involve Poseidon, so much so that this Theseus can even sense earthquakes coming, especially the one that takes the life of Oedipus as Renault has it in her book The Bull from the Sea.

And despite the near cheesiness of the prose which recounts a gathering of Amazon nubiles dancing at their campfire, Theseus and his men in the bushes unlawfully looking on, Mary Renault, so I imagine, was attempting to get at some elemental forces no less present in the human mind than predilections to ‘philosophy’ and ‘science’: the need to feel oneself in some kind of harmonious relations with ‘whatever is out there’. So, without further ado, a duel ensues between Theseus and and a young woman name of Hippolyta. She seems to be the leader of the group pursuing their rituals around a fire, and she determines that Theseus must pay for his violation of a sacred space, he and his men being where they are not ever meant to be – in Artemis’ precinct, and such transgression carries the penalty of death.

The duel, however, goes Theseus’ way. Hippolyta, as part of the bargain, having lost, must become his wife. In some quarters it is a love match even so, while in other quarters… well, Hippolyta is but the spoils of war and does not have a lot to say in the matter. As for Mary Renault’s quarter, I have yet to see how it is all going to pan out, but I will be filtering my reading – messily – through my reading of Jane Harrison’s books on Greek myth, a bit of Robert Graves thrown in. Or Plutarch. Or Shakespeare. Or Carpenter. (See Postscript III below.)

Postscript I: Lunar has it that ‘José Ferrer's Cyrano in English is equal to Depardieu's in French, both superb, the tear factor the same. The Ferrer nose is a bit exaggerated. The French is the classier-looking film of course. [And the schnozz?] The shame of it is Depardieu's monstrous behaviour, which will probably see his films cancelled.’ As you can see, guys will discourse about anything, even the Double Hook DH rule. Baseball.

Postscript II: Cornelius W Drake of Champaign-Urbana has heard from P M Carpenter of the USA. He quotes him to this effect: ‘What does concern and puzzle the hell out of me is that my readers have never had anything to say about the Israel-Palestine war. I suspect they're afraid they'll say something that someone will construe as antisemitic? I really don't know. But it's weird, the silence. Same with the Ukraine war. Nothing. And there there's no fear about antisemitism. What's the matter with people? Is all they want just more Trump-bashing? Does the world outside the US not exist for them? I don't understand it. But as to this morning's post, here I was writing about unfathomable war crimes, the mass execution of thousands of Gazans, the IDF's indifference to it all and the US's contribution to the slaughter — and not a fucking soul had even one word to say about any of it. I'm writing for a void. It's depressing as hell. Perhaps I should concentrate on posting videos of cute kittens and puppies rolling around.’ Mr Drake went on to say that he sees in Clark Clifford an analogy to Cicero. Which I myself do not see. But in any case, Clifford was an adviser to various American presidents, and he had been a Defense Secretary at some point in the course of the Vietnam War (succeeding McNamara?), and was something of a Zionist and so, was puzzled all the more when Israeli airborne strafers and torpedo boats attacked the USS Liberty in June, 1967, killing 34 crew members and injuring over 100 two days after the Six Day War….

Postscript III: The Carpentariat

Postscript IV: Talking Avocado: ‘A sibling of mine died and I’m much taken up with that, though my roof’s repaired. I’m ignoring Christmas. Not baking. Therefore, I’ll not be eating – what? fruitcake? The world, the whole lot of it, is fruitcake-y enough. And keep Proust away from me. Forfend. Not in the mood for it. I’d re-familiarize myself with the Christian fathers and their dicta (God, if only evangelicals knew what those guys were on about…), only I’m not in the mood for that either. But anyway, take Origen, he an Alexandrian who was all French in his reasoning, but argued against the pagans anyway: “the dead body of the Christ would appear differently to different observers according to their spiritual capacities” – a quote I’ve got from somewhere. Not that it matters. Not that it matters in the slightest to my dog.’


December 19, 2023:One is, after all, the point of one’s existence. I can see Proust saying as much, as if by way of a retort to some trifler at a dinner party. Too Tall Poet tells me he prefers Proust to Joyce, even if it took Proust fifty pages to get a guy to the store for a pack of cigarettes and back. Or was that Victor Hugo?

But in any case, this morning early, as I continued on in my re-reading of Within A Budding Grove Part Two, it seemed to me that Proust was always on the verge of distraction; that if he was a novelist most famous for his sense of smell, it was his eye that carried the game; it was forever responding to the most minute shift of gradation in the light playing on the surfaces of things; and that he was sensitive to spatial volumes, or that which separates one entity from another, though the air be thick with the dance of male and female, or any other sort of arrangement in a dining hall. She is going to be wearing a straw hat festooned with field flowers, no matter that, in the corner of the novelist’s eye, Christ could be dying on His cross or Napoleon marching on Russia.

The other day, another friend of mine called Proust a snob and a bore. I did try to explain to him what I thought I was getting out of reading the man. I received, for my trouble, a look of infinite pity. This look might have been quoting Marcus Aurelius to this effect: He who does not know that the Universe exists, does not know where he is. As for the man who cannot please himself, can he be pleased by another? And so forth and so on…

And perhaps because of the news, I have mass carnage on the brain. Also, I happen to have just finished Colleen McCullough’s The Grass Crown. It is a fictional depiction of the Social War and the Roman civil war as fought between Sulla and Gaius Marius. Ms McCullough incorporates a great deal of primary sources in her account, and, so far as I can tell, Plutarch and Appian are among those sources. In which book – The Grass Crown – there is a great deal of carnage to describe, hence its length: 800 pages worth.

(In the post previous, and this does have to do with McCullough’s book, I dropped a remark that Putin is the Mithradates of our time. Mithradates, contemporary to Sulla, master propagandist, intelligence-gatherer, so-so general, was also an author of mass slaughter, having had 80,000 Romans and ‘Italians’ and 70,000 of their slaves dispatched, that is to say, snuffed out, in ‘Asia Province’. Carnage up close and personal, the sword the chief instrument of death. He was also proficient in twenty or so languages, wrote a pharmacological treatise on poisons and their antidotes which text seems to have been passed from Caesar to Caesar for generations. He was a genuine patron of the arts, Mithradates was. The arts were not just a tax break. Mozart had not been invented yet.)

And she, Ms McCullough, portrayed young Cicero as being rather squeamish at the prospect of mass beheadings. Which led me to wonder if Homer had ever witnessed the sort of blood-letting that he depicted in The Iliad and at the end of The Odyssey. Yes? No? Does it amount to a hill of beans? Perhaps, we have gotten so used to the notion that we are above such behaviour that we cannot see it coming or know where it is taking us. After all, the UN is the point of our existence, so I have been led to believe by every podcast since the dawn of time. That friend of mine somewhat averse to Proust, laid three volumes of Seneca’s letters on me (as well as a ‘complete’ Horace), as he has been in the process of dismantling his library, having moved from a country abode to a suburban condo. As he did not wish to discuss the ‘news’ lest he trivialize the horrors with cheap, easily summoned homilies. I have always found something rather smug in Seneca… ….

But there is no question that Rome bled ‘Asia Province’ dry. (Tax farming.) It thereby incurred the undying hatred of the provincials. Which made it easy for Mithradates to bring about the slaughter mentioned above. And when he captured a Roman general name of Manlius Aquillius, a man all too greedy for Asian gold, Mithradates seems to have refined the notion of ‘just desserts’. He dispatched Aquillius to the afterlife by way of the gold he craved. That is to say, Mithradates had a bunch of the stuff melted down. The cocktail was poured down Aquillius’ throat. Mithradates then had the corpse slit open and the gold retrieved. Whereupon the corpse was given over to dogs. We hold that life is precious. (We hold it so when it is convenient for us to hold it so.) Life is precious, given the fact that the ‘universe’ is absolute. What is so effing absolute about the universe is the fact of its indifference to our individual fates, yours and mine.

Sulla also seems to have died by way of just desserts. A man who lost himself at times in mass slaughter, also gave himself over to drinking and general carousing with actors and low-lifes. That his bowels ‘rotted’, that his body was riddled with worms, and that, dead, he stank so bad, his corpse had to be perfumed on its funeral pyre, and then a lit torch was brought to bear.

Postscript I: Lunar brings Laura Nyro the singer-songwriter to my attention. I am always the last to know.

Postscript II: Cornelius W Drake: ‘I used to listen to so much music. I'm not sure why I stopped, but I suspect melancholy. I associate the music I loved with a lot of good times. Those times are over, and listening to their music now is saddening. Geez, I sound like I'm on the Dr. Phil show….’

Postscript III: Talking Avocado: ‘Funny you should mention it, but I too never turn down a Mary Renault when one of her books presents itself at the Recycling Depot. I too roll my eyes at her pagan pieties and yet, find myself immersed. Into what I don’t rightly know. In The Bull from the Sea there is a little scene wherein an old woman living alone in a shack has done Theseus the king a kindness and then, soon after, dies. Whereupon Theseus turns her shack into a shrine and has a ‘servant’ tend it as such for the rest of the servant’s life, her hair ‘going gray’. For some reason that moves me. As if, once upon a time in this world, people had the time and so, could take the time to care for the memory of some person’s insignificant little life. Otherwise, for me, kemo sabe, it’s been roof repair and the news. Can I say as much? Can I say that, to the south of here, it’s like this? That half the country has gone mad from a drug or drugs they don’t even realize they’ve ingested, and the other half is mad, too, from the effects of drugs they full well know they’ve put into their bloodstream. Which gives us – what? Pretty much a blanket coast-to-coast madness. Like an advancing weather front with deep pockets. Israel-Gaza? You don’t want to get me started. Music? I go from jug band music to Beethoven’s Last Quartets. Ours is not to reason why. …. With whom I had just been talking in my dream… …. That’s from Proust. As if one has just announced that one was going out to check the mail…. The point being that, no, there’s no especial import here…’

Postscript IV, and For the Hell of It: The cabinet met three times today, and on the late news it is put out that Eden has resigned. We spend much of the morning listening to Hitler’s Reichstag speech on the wireless. It is meant to be moderate, but his references to foreign countries, his talk of ‘steel and iron’, are received with wild, demoniac yells. Diary entry, 20th February 1938. From Harold Nicolson’s Diaries and Letters, 1930-39.

Postscript V: The Carpentariat

December 13, 2023: All heroic virtue rests on truth. Plutarch quoting Pindar the poet. Turn that around and every which way like a prism in the light.

And this: So, without meaning to do so, he became the instrument of quite intolerable forces which, by means of civil war and assassination, were aiming directly at dictatorship and the subversion of the constitution. Of how many House Republicans might this one day be written in light of the Trumpers, though as it is, these words were written by Plutarch some two thousand years ago in his life of Gaius Marius, the man nominally a halfways decent man (at least as fictionalized by Colleen McCullough) but who did wind up a monster in his war (civil) with Sulla who was heinous. Where are we when monsters fight monsters and have all the oxygen in the air at their disposal to our cost? Nowhere salubrious.

And where’s a superpower when we need one in light of a four-letter word beginning with ‘G’ and ending with ‘a’?

And distant forbears of those words immediately above might have had an inning or two in some passage or other of Plutarch or Appian (historian as well), but as it is, it is a cheap shot by Sibum with this on his mind, as per Appian: Thus every year some horror would defile public life. Some quasi-legal criminality in the political arena having clear criminal intent... Someone’s hands on the more tender parts of the republic… Now as then and then as now, just that nowhere shall the twain meet save in some fuggy attic of the imagination or in a knock-your-socks-off podcast….

Anyone who has read the previous two posts will understand that I have been reading Colleen McCullough, her The First Man in Rome under my belt, and now The Grass Crown. These are works of historical fiction treating with the years, roughly, of the Social War and how they segued into Rome’s first civil war, that one fought between Gaius Marius and Sulla. Of course, I see all sorts of parallels between those years and what I see happening to the south of here, and I might even see the Israel-Gaza affair as having some parallel with ancient goings-on. That the un-Roman Italic provinces, under the Roman boot, had wanted the Roman franchise, that is to say, voting rights and certain legal rights (seeing as they were often enough manning Roman legions). That Palestine wants its state. It would be a parallel not of kind but of consequence, one that the world is now obliged to handle one way or the other. But then there is ‘being historical fiction’ and there is being histrionic. The Italians must be taught that Rome and Romans are inviolate. Ms McCullough put these words into the mouth of Sulla, let parallelism fall where it may. War crimes? Mass slaughter? On all sides? But of course. That was the cost of doing business in those days. Right down to the war profiteers….

The trouble is that those who are left in the House are by and large the dried-up, rattly bits of shit hanging around the sheep’s arse. An example of some salty dialogue on the part of Ms McCullough interspersed throughout pages and pages of meta-history… The ‘House’ refers to the Roman senate, and its quality or lack thereof…. And… ….

We of Rome have no king. Yet within Italy, every last one of us acts like a king. Because we like the sensation it gives us, we like to see our inferiors crawl about under our regal noses. We like to play at kings. Were the people of Italy genuinely our inferiors, there might be some excuse for it. But… …. Words put (by Ms McCullough) in the mouth of Marcus Livius Drusus, a conservative member of the senate who nonetheless argued for the right to Roman citizenship for Italians. He was murdered on account of this. Cornelius W cognominated Drake would argue with me that Americans are not inherently a violent people, but, Great Scott! there does seem to be a lot of evidence to the contrary percolating about….

If we flog our Italian kindred of this peninsula, we will have to coexist with people who loathe us for our cruelty. If we prevent their attaining our citizenship, we will have to coexist with people who loathe us for our snobbery. If we impoverish them through outrageous fines, we will have to coexist with people who loathe us for our cupidity. If we evict them from their homes, we will have to coexist with people who loathe us for our callousness. How much loathing does that total? More by far, Conscript Fathers, Quirites, than we can afford to incur from people who live in the same lands we do ourselves. Words put (by Ms McCullough) into the mouth of one Rutilius Rufus, a liberal-leaning senator on the matter of the ‘franchise’. Can you think of an historical epoch in which these words might not have been spoken by some Johnny-On-the-Spot in a futile argument with a short-sighted status quo? Quirites? Who? Roman citizens when exercising their more peaceable capacities…

Putin as Mithradates?

In my reading of Rome history, I have tended to concentrate more on the imperial Caesars than on the years of the late Republic, an oversight I am endeavouring to redress now. I have wondered as to what possessed Ms McCullough to write two 800 page novels on the subject (the Social War, the civil war), and just now (by way of Talking Avocado, a correspondent of mine) I learn she took the ‘narrative’ right up to Augustus Caesar, a passel of books comprising her Masters of Rome series. And why, of course, there it is, that information – in a blurb, though I tend to ignore blurbs on book jackets. What was not in a blurb: that a former Australian premier lobbied Ms McCullough’s publisher to the effect that she ought to be allowed to write her Rome material and leave off with the ‘romantic tripe’ that was no doubt making him bucko profits. See postscript immediately below.

Postscript I: Talking Avocado: ‘Didn’t you know? I know you just like to read the books, don’t much care how they come about, but… McCullough’s Rome books? A bit, as you say, programmatic (the learning impressive however), but… I guess (from what I’ve seen of them) I’m saying I agree with you: for anyone interested in the history they’re a worthwhile read. Her eyesight went, you know. That was the only thing that prevented her from taking things as far as the Flavians. The Flavians, no less. As for Proust? Within a Budding Grove Part Two? Nothing to tell you this time around. It’s as if I’m saving him for a time when I need to be convinced there was sanity in this world once upon a time. Some heavy rain, and the cabin has developed a couple of problems. Oh, and this dream I had last night. I’d invited people over for a barbecue. People came with guitars. The acoustic kind, the other kind. A woman, looking very troubled, was riffing on hers. No one but me even noticed her. A pickup backed into the yard loaded with firewood. The wood looked rather crusty, as if a poor quality of firewood. Someone said, “Don’t worry, it’s natural carbon”, as if there could be any other kind, as in an unnatural kind of wood, wood that was all artificial flavouring. What about you? Are you behind the eight-ball, as it were, or are you being cuffed about the table, random power strokes suppling kinetic force? Alright then, don’t tell me. Hang on. Got a bucket to empty….’

Postscript II: Cornelius W Drake of Champaign-Urbana: ‘I know you're sick of me saying this, but only 2024 will tell us what shakes out. Could be, either way we see violence. If Trump wins his repressive measures could cause, shall we say, kinetic pushback. But I don't see a high probability of that. Trump would have at his disposal all the police power of the country, which would be kinda nuts to take on. And by whom? If Trump loses there's a greater likelihood of his mob going crazy. Already they don't accept the legitimate president as president, so another round could be worse. But even there, what organized force or forces would violently confront the full power of the federal government? Jan 6 showed them their likely future, and it has spooked them ever since. So while 2024 will be a watershed year, its significance will be either Trump's final defeat and the unraveling of Trumpism, or peaceful authoritarianism. At this point I haven't a clue as to which will be which. And the suspense is killing me. I hope I live long enough to see the outcome.’   

Postscript III: The Carpentariat.

Postscript IV: We talked about John’s book, about Pound, about Tom Eliot, about Byron. Desmond evolved a theory that Mallarmé wrote in his opalescent manner because he did not know English well enough to understand it, but well enough to see the colours of the thing. He then changed his mind and said that Pound and Eliot made a mistake in thinking that they knew Latin because they didn’t: that a line like ‘Love and the fine Greek hills’ was a bad line to us because we knew how far the words and phrases were hackneyed, but that only a great scholar could tell whether a line in Virgil was or was not a great line, because only a great scholar would know the background of the words used…. … Dinner table patter. Quoted for the hell of it, from Harold Nicolson Diaries and Letters 1930-39, and here we are talking January, 1934.


December 7, 2023: I take it that the war cabinet of Israel can find no righteous people in Gaza. (I would refer you to the book of Genesis, starting at Chapter 12 or thereabouts.)

Otherwise, I had intended to say that when it comes to the historical fiction of Mary Renault, every sentence is an utterance. Sometimes it is laid on a little too thick and the effect palls; sometimes it certainly has poetic torque, and one might believe (however naively) that, among the ancients, there was something like honour in their daily lives, combat and politics notwithstanding. To be sure, the odds are high that Renault was fanciful in this. The majority of ancient Greeks cannot have been imbued with the voice of some inner (Socratic) daemon or a god telling one what to do, crisis in the works, conscience at stake. Elsewise, what now for human nature? That the current House Speaker thinks he is Moses. Which can only mean he gets a daily to-do list from the Christian God. And then there is this: It’s a great challenge, politically manipulating the People. A general has his legions. A demagogue has nothing sharper than his tongue. Which it is – the italics – a snippet of dialogue between two politicians in Rome (Late Republic) as dreamed up by Colleen McCullough in her The First Man in Rome, sort of the life and times of one Gaius Marius and one Sulla and the prefiguring of the Julius Caesar to come, his foot on the throat of all that had been sacred, or the republic.

Colleen McCullough’s prose has qualities I like, but too often it sounds off like characters born of bad TV writing, especially in the dialogue parts, and a Roman consul has all the depth of Fred Flintstone, no matter that a fair number of current congressmen do have those Flintstonian parameters, i.e. are walking cartoons. The wife fares somewhat better, Mary Tyler Moore-ish, if not outright Marjorie Taylor Greene. I cannot account for this, as elsewhere in the writing the prose is certainly shrewd enough when it comes to the players and to what they think and what they wind up doing. Wit, irony, a sense of the ridiculous – all of it is provided with plenty of scope to play in the course of 800 pages. Not to mention the author’s grasp of the history which I see as consummate. And where she has no source material to back her up in her assertions as to ‘what took place’, say in the consulship of Marcus Minucius Rufus and Spurius Postumius Albinus (just for the sake of a there-you-go), and her affixing personalities to names that are just names to us, or who have all the substantiality of shadows, her inferences strike me, if not Shakespearean, then as reasonable.

It was easy for a woman to counterfeit sexual desire, sexual pleasure too, but a man couldn’t counterfeit sexual desire any more than he could sexual pleasure. If men were by nature more truthful than women, thought Sulla, it was surely because they carried a tattletale truth teller between their legs into every sexual encounter, and this coloured all aspects of masculine life. And if there was a reason why men were drawn to men, it lay in the fact that the act of love required no accompanying act of faith. Again, from McCullough’s book cited above. It is what pops up in the book often enough: a ‘shrewd observation’ hijacks one’s attention, an observation perhaps meant to carry beyond the confines of the times that inform the book. A female’s ‘male gaze’? But why should gender preclude one from writing about the opposite sex (despite all the new shibboleths attached to doing just that)? As ever, the imaginative faculty in our species is not to be trusted. Plato, meet Political Correctness. In any case, though I have known women who do not much care for women, I have yet to meet one who could be accused of misogyny, should the politics of the observation in question give you pause.

And in a back cover blurb to The Grass Crown, McCullough’s follow-on novel to the one cited above, there is: Ms McCullough is terrific…. Her characters quiver with life. Well, it is just a blurb, one served up by The New York Times Book Review, but it is one reason why I have long, long since stopped taking any kind of ‘review-blurb’ seriously, most of which ‘reviews’ are scumbaggery. Scumblurbly? But that, sure, were I to have met Ms McCullough, I could easily agree that the woman was ‘terrific’ and I would very much have liked her, and would have wanted to pick her brains about a great many things, but this ‘quivering with life business’ – a touch embarrassing. Yes, who writes these things?

As for politics as vengeance, as score-settling, as a perpetual scrum wherein someone throttles another someone until that other says ‘uncle’ or says, ‘okay, enough already, you’ve got my vote’, egos so much more at stake than matters of state, Ms McCullough handles the scrums with zest, and I hear from a source that she wrote a trashy romance series just so she could then work on her real passion, which was Rome and its civic life. If the current antics of the current sessions of the US Congress – House and Senate – mystify you, Ms McCullough explains it all by way of the Roman senate, and what differences there are rest only with degree, not kind. Humans are perverse. They are so for the hell of it, and because they want to stay out of prison while filling up the jails. As per Tracy Lord (Katherine Hepburn) in The Philadelphia Story: “Hi there, Bibi. Hello, Donald.”

Postscript I: From a friend who lives there, I hear: ‘In Slovakia they elected Mr Fico, a sort of former socialist trying to be a demagogue until his last remaining decent instincts get the better of him. He's cancelled Slovakia's military aid to Ukraine which is an utterly empty gesture as the previous government had already given Ukraine all its spare military hardware. So Fico can talk the talk, which is all the Slovaks really want from him. Walking the walk is not a step they require.’ … …. (The words put me in mind of some diaries I have read over the years, those kept by diplomats and politicos. Just saying.)

Postscript II: And from Lunar because I confessed ignorance: ‘You are just about to receive the most important lesson of your life. "Owt" means anything as in "Did you get owt from her?" "Nowt" means nothing. So you come to me and say "Owt?" my response will be "Nowt." What is this sit-com? Presumably it is from north of the country [Britland]?’ These words put me… …. never mind…

Postscript III: Whereas Mr Cornelius W Drake of Champaign-Urbana queried: ‘Is poetry ever serialized a la Dickens?’ I could not recall an instance, but I figured that the rhapsodes of old (with lyres in hand) must have done The Iliad in shifts, the audience (Anatolians?) knocking back their tankards. Browning, he of the long, long poems? Bucketloads of tea and truckloads of petit fours? Is Sordello Sordello still, and still a bit obscure?

Postscript IV: Talking Avocado: “How are you getting on with Proust? It sometimes seems to me, when I come back to him (after my adventures with hosts upon hosts of other literary giants), that I am looking into a quiet pool and yet, it’s a pool teeming with life. Teeming. Damn, the word invites cliché. But the story he has to tell is put to the reader with an un-shrill voice (thus far), irrespective of the mayhem – under the surface of things or out in the open – with which the stories are replete. Hey, am I getting ponciful? Too much island living? The quietness says, if the stories don’t, that we are all of us, somewhere in our souls, both witnesses and scumbags, the latter word a word Proust might never use (though we use it all the time), was not born to use, but whose sense he would thoroughly understand, and he might permit himself a rueful smile upon hearing the word do its duty. Bad taste, but true enough all the same. Yes but, the girls. And yes, that brings it all home: the girls, the Balbec beach. Page after page, and the narrator – young Marcel – is taking the measure of them and is being measured, and it takes but a few seconds, the measuring, though all those pages are required. (Within a Budding Grove Part Two.) That they are well-off, those girls. That they relish how it is they are offending the proprieties of the old fuddy-duddies half dead in their chairs on the ‘front’ alongside the beach. That they are all ‘beauties’, these girls, and they know it, and the dance is on, the male gaze in a losing battle with female (and somewhat athletic) hauteur. Enough. Treacherous sands ahead. Proust may have written in politically tumultuous times, but compared to what we’re passing through – when every follicle on one’s head is examined for its inclinations and the right to have those inclinations…. One, two, buckle my shoe... .... One author we both admire but never discuss: Lampedusa. The man who wrote The Leopard. We’ll have to address this at some point. The ultimate ironist (in the guise of Prince Don Fabrizio of the Sicilian nobility). Was so ironical that he came out the other side a raging idealist. That's what I'm guessing. Opposites as stylists, not necessarily brothers in politics, Lampedusa and Proust are otherwise spiritually joined at the hip, so I’d say. It’s not for lack of talent that the Yanks have yet to produce their equal, it has something to do with the cycles of history, and Old Worlders have had more of them, way more. Don’t you find it bizarre? That the Americans are passing into senescence, and the Old Worlders would present themselves as fresh new faces on the world stage? It’s all just a little fraught, say what, kemo sabe? Well, I see you’ve had a dump of snow.”

Postscript V: Otherwise, see The Carpentariat.