Thursday, July 19, 2007
I recalled a passage from Steiner's "No Passion Spent" wherein he broaches this topic of books continuing on long after author and readers are long gone. "Marble crumbles, bronze decays, but written words - seemingly the most fragile of media - survive. They survive their begetters - Flaubert cried out against the paradox whereby he lay dying like a dog whereas that whore, Emma Bovary, his creature, sprung of lifeless letters scratched on a piece of paper, continued alive."
"Erasmus, a sensitive and authoritative judge of Latinity, held that if allowances were made for the fact (a rather unfortunate fact, he seems to think) that More was a lawyer, and that from the standpoint of letters nothing is more barbarous than English law, his literary talents were remarkable. Writing in 1528, he regrets that More's immersion in public life does not allow him more literary activity." Ciceronianus, I, 1012-1013. Footnote in The Yale Edition of The Complete Works of St. Thomas More, Vol.3, Pt.1, xxxvi. Ed. Craig R. Thompson.
Copley's "Exclusus Amator" is the text most often referred to anent this topic (the title is from Lucretius, 4. 1177). Nisbet and Hubbard in their discussion of Horace's Parcius Iunctas (Car. I. 25) offer a generous number of references on this topic (e.g. Alcaeus, Plautus, Asclepiades, Catullus, Propertius, Ovid, Horace). A Commentary on Horace's Odes. Bk I.
There are variations on the theme. Propertius, for example, represents the door as speaker, quoting the lover's song (I.16). Rufinus (P.A. 5.103) and Ovid (Ars, 3.69 ff.) take umbrage at the locked door but concentrate on scolding the woman hiding behind it and foretelling a cold, wrinkled, loveless future for her. Moses Hadas, discussing Theocritus (3), properly identifies the poem as being of the paraklausithyron type and goes on to show "how absurd convention can become for the lady lives in a doorless cave and the lover has only to stride in." A History of Greek Literature, p. 206.
Phaedromos in Plautus' Curculio sings the praises of the door of the pimp's house where he'll find his beloved. He speaks of "otiumst oculissimum" (15) - most adorable - and Palinurus answers mockingly "ostium occlussissumum" (16) - most shut.
Squeaky hinges could be problematic in erotic contexts, v. Nisbet, loc. cit., pp. 294-5 for references. Hor., Car. 3. 5. speaks of the lover stretched out before the heartless door and queries the unresponding woman, do you hear the noise the door makes? (Audis quo strepitu janua?) As one might expect, a lover would be very grateful for a door that made no sound opening or closing (Curculio). And so on...