Wednesday, July 01, 2009


Like Another Erysichthon

Kenelm Henry Digby, Compitum; or, The Meeting of the Ways at the Catholic Church. The Second Book, 2nd ed. (London: C. Dolman, 1852), pp. 30-31:
There was an oak, itself a grove, una nemus, under whose spreading branches I had sat and read old books each day during two summers. No repose like this under the greenwood tree. Here the ancients would have thought the Dryads led the festal dance; for under no other shade on all that common was the grass so delicate. If unacquainted with enterprising men of money, who, as Pliny says of Nero, accelerate the death even of trees, one might have thought that it would have outlived generations yet unborn, like the lofty chestnut, with deep roots, proof against the wintry tempest, that Virgil describes,
—————"immota manet, multosque per annos
Multa virûm volvens durando secula vincit."‡
To me it was like already an old friend: though I did not, like Papienus Crispus, the consul, kiss it and embrace it, as he used to do the beech tree on the Tusculan hill, I used to lie under it, and feel transported to Camaldoli and Vallombrosa, and even talk to it as many have talked to trees, like Perigone, daughter of Sinis, who flying from Theseus, after he had slain her father, implored the thorns and wild asparagus, as if they could hear, to screen her from view, promising in return never to cut them more, for which reason the Toxides, as sprung from her, respected these poor plants. Alas! on my return, after an absence of some months, I found that less gentle visitors than even Shakspeare's duke, who would drink under this tree, had been to that spot; for the mayor of the adjacent town, like another Erysichthon, had profanely cut it down. One day carelessly he sent his wood-cutter,
"Et nemora evertit multos ignava per annos,
Antiquasque domos avium cum stirpibus imis
I came but in time to see the ground strewed with some naked branches, and the last waggon that was employed in their removal. Thus was I directed to a better and more lasting shade.

‡ Georg. ii. 295. § Georg. ii. 208.
The tree hugger "Papienus Crispus" is a mistake for "Passienus Crispus" — see Pliny, Natural History 16.91.242 (tr. John Bostock and H.T. Riley):
In the territory about the suburbs of Tusculum, upon a hill known by the name of Corne, there is a grove which has been consecrated to Diana by the people of Latium from time immemorial; it is formed of beeches, the foliage of which has all the appearance of being trimmed by art. Passienus Crispus, the orator, who in our time was twice consul, and afterwards became still more famous as having Nero for his step-son, on marrying his mother Agrippina, was passionately attached to a fine tree that grew in this grove, and would often kiss and embrace it: not only would he lie down, too, beneath it, but he would also moisten its roots with wine.

est in suburbano Tusculani agri colle, qui Corne appellatur, lucus antiqua religione Dianae sacratus a Latio, velut arte tonsili coma fagei nemoris. in hoc arborem eximiam aetate nostra amavit Passienus Crispus bis cos., orator, Agrippinae matrimonio et Nerone privigno clarior postea, osculari conplectique eam solitus, non modo cubare sub ea vinumque illi adfundere.
Here are translations, by H. Ruston Fairclough, of the two passages from Vergil's Georgics quoted by Digby:
Unmoved it abides, and many generations, many ages of men it outlives, letting them roll by while it endures. (2.194-295)

Levelling groves that have idled many a year, and up-tearing by their deepest roots the olden homes of the birds. (2.208-210)
Related posts: The Fate of Old Trees; Scandalous Misuse of the Globe; The Groves Are Down; Massacre; Executioners; Anagyrasian Spirit; Butchers of Our Poor Trees; Cruel Axes; Odi et Amo; Kentucky Chainsaw Massacre; Hornbeams; Protection of Sacred Groves; Lex Luci Spoletina; Turullius and the Grove of Asclepius; Caesarian Section; Death of a Noble Pine; Two Yew Trees in Chilthorne, Somerset; The Fate of the Shrubbery at Weston; The Trees Are Down; Hornbeams; Sad Ravages in the Woods; Strokes of Havoc; Maltreatment of Trees; Arboricide; An Impious Lumberjack; Erysichthon in Ovid; Erysichthon in Callimachus; Vandalism.

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