Tuesday, February 23, 2010


Pitiful Destruction

Thanks to Eric Thomson for adding the following to my collection of literary reactions to or descriptions of arboricide—Statius, Thebaid 6.84-117 (tr. J.H. Mozley):
In another region the army hastens at the bidding of the wise augur to raise an airy pile, high as a mountain, of tree-trunks and shattered forests, to expiate the crime of the serpent's slaying and make dark burnt-offering for the ill-omened war. These labour to cut down Nemea and its shady glens and hurl them to the ground, and to lay the forests open to the sunlight. Straightway a wood that axe has never shorn of its ancient boughs is felled, a wood than which none more rich in abundant shade between the vales of Argolis and Mount Lycaeus ever raised aloft its head above the stars; in reverend sanctity of eld it stands, and is said not only to reach back in years beyond the grandsires of men, but to have seen Nymphs pass and flocking Fauns and yet be living. Upon the wood came pitiful destruction: the beasts are fled, and the birds, terror-driven, flutter forth from their warm nests; the towering beeches fall and the Chaonian groves and the cypress that the winter harms not, spruces are flung prostrate that feed the funeral flames, ash-trees and trunks of holm-oak and yews with poisonous sap. And mountain ashes destined to drink the gore of cursed battle, and oaks unconquerable by age. Then the daring fir is cloven, and the pine with fragrant wound, alders that love the sea bow to the ground their unshorn summits, and elms that give friendly shade to the vines. The earth groans: not so are the woods of Ismarus swept away uprooted, when Boreas breaks his prison cave and rears his head, no swifter does the nightly flame tear through the forest before the south wind's onset; hoar Pales and Silvanus, lord of the shady glen, and the folk, half-god, half-animal, go forth weeping from the leisure haunts they loved, and as they go the woodland groans in sympathy, nor can the Nymphs loose the trees from their embrace. As when a leader gives over to the greedy conquerors the captured towers to plunder, scarce is the signal heard, and the city is nowhere to be found; they drive and carry, take captive and strike down in fury unrestrained: the din of battle was less loud.

Parte alia gnari monitis exercitus instat
auguris aëriam truncis nemorumque ruina,
montis opus, cumulare pyram, quae crimina caesi
anguis et infausti cremet atra piacula belli.
[his labor accisam Nemeen umbrosaque tempe
praecipitare solo lucosque ostendere Phoebo.]
sternitur extemplo veteres incaedua ferro
silva comas, largae qua non opulentior umbrae
Argolicos inter saltusque educta Lycaeos
extulerat super astra caput: stat sacra senectae
numine, nec solos hominum transgressa veterno
fertur avos, Nymphas etiam mutasse superstes
Faunorumque greges. aderat miserabile luco
excidium: fugere ferae, nidosque tepentes
absiliunt (metus urguet) aves; cadit ardua fagus
Chaoniumque nemus brumaeque illaesa cupressus,
procumbunt piceae, flammis alimenta supremis,
ornique iliceaeque trabes metuendaque suco
taxus et infandos belli potura cruores
fraxinus atque situ non expugnabile robur.
hinc audax abies et odoro vulnere pinus
scinditur, acclinant intonsa cacumina terrae
alnus amica fretis nec inhospita vitibus ulmus.
dat gemitum tellus: non sic eversa feruntur
Ismara cum fracto Boreas caput extulit antro,
non grassante Noto citius nocturna peregit
flamma nemus. linquunt flentes dilecta locorum
otia cana Pales Silvanusque arbiter umbrae
semideumque pecus, migrantibus aggemit illis
silva, nec amplexae dimittunt robora Nymphae.
ut cum possessas avidis victoribus arces
dux raptare dedit, vix signa audita, nec urbem
invenias; ducunt sternuntque abiguntque feruntque
immodici, minor ille fragor quo bella gerebant.
Chaucer, Knight's Tale 2913-2966, imitated Statius, in the form of a praeteritio ("I wol nat tellen"):
Heigh labour and ful greet apparaillynge
Was at the service and the fyr-makynge,
That with his grene top the hevene raughte;
And twenty fadme of brede the armes straughte—
This is to seyn, the bowes weren so brode.
Of stree first ther was leyd ful many a lode.
But how the fyr was maked upon highte,
Ne eek the names that the trees highte,
As ook, firre, birch, aspe, alder, holm, popler,
Wylugh, elm, plane, assh, box, chasteyn, lynde, laurer,
Mapul, thorn, bech, hasel, ew, whippeltree—
How they weren feld shal nat be toold for me;
Ne hou the goddes ronnen up and doun,
Disherited of hire habitacioun,
In which they woneden in reste and pees,
Nymphes, fawnes and amadrides;
Ne hou the beestes and the briddes alle
Fledden for fere, whan the wode was falle;
Ne how the ground agast was of the light,
That was nat wont to seen the sonne bright;
Ne how the fyr was couched first with stree,
And thanne with drye stikkes cloven a thre,
And thanne with grene wode and spicerye,
And thanne with clooth of gold and with perrye,
And gerlandes, hangynge with ful many a flour;
The mirre, th' encens, with al so greet odour;
Ne how Arcite lay among al this,
Ne what richesse aboute his body is;
Ne how that Emelye, as was the gyse,
Putte in the fyr of funeral servyse;
Ne how she swowned whan men made the fyr,
Ne what she spak, ne what was hir desir;
Ne what jeweles men in the fyre caste,
Whan that the fyr was greet and brente faste;
Ne how somme caste hir sheeld, and somme hir spere,
And of hire vestimentz, whiche that they were,
And coppes fulle of wyn, and milk, and blood,
Into the fyr, that brente as it were wood;
Ne how the Grekes, with an huge route,
Thries riden al the fyr aboute
Upon the left hand, with a loud shoutynge,
And thries with hir speres claterynge;
And thries how the ladyes gonne crye;
And how that lad was homward Emelye;
Ne how Arcite is brent to asshen colde;
Ne how that lyche-wake was yholde
Al thilke nyght; ne how the Grekes pleye
The wake-pleyes; ne kepe I nat to seye
Who wrastleth best naked with oille enoynt
,Ne who that baar hym best, in no disjoynt.
I wol nat tellen eek how that they goon
Hoom til Atthenes, whan the pley is doon;
But shortly to the point thanne wol I wende
And maken of my longe tale an ende.
Here is a translation of Chaucer by Gerard NeCastro:
Much labor and great preparation was there for the service and the making of the pyre, which reached heaven with its green top and stretched its arms twenty fathoms in breadth; that is to say, the boughs reached that far. First there were laid many loads of straw. But how the pyre was built up on high, the kinds of the trees as well (such as oak, fir, birch, aspen, alder, holm, poplar, willow, elm, plane, ash, box, chestnut, linden, laurel, maple, thorn, beech, hazel, yew, cornel), and how they were felled I shall not tell! And how the gods ran up and down, disinherited of their habitation, in which they had long time dwelt in peace and rest, nymphs, fauns, and hamadryads of the woods; and how all the beasts and birds fled for fear when the wood was felled; and how the ground was aghast of the light that was not accustomed to see the bright sun; and how the fire was laid first with a bed of straw, and then with dry sticks cloven in three, and green wood, and then with spicery and cloth of gold and gems, and garlands hanging with many flowers, and myrrh and incense and sweet odors; and how Arcite lay among all this and amid what treasures; and how Emily, as was the custom, applied the funeral torch, how she swooned when men made the fire and what she spoke and what she thought; what jewels men cast into the fire when it was burning high; how some cast shields and some spears and certain of their vestments, and cups full of wine, milk and blood into the furious fire; and how the Greeks in a huge company rode three times around the fire toward the left with loud shouts, clattering their spears three times; how the ladies cried aloud three times, and Emily was led homeward; how Arcite was burned to cold ashes; and how the wake was held all that night, and how the Greeks played in the funeral games—all this I care not to tell, nor who wrestled best, naked and anointed with oil, nor who bore him best in a hard clinch; nor will I tell how they went home to Athens when the games were done.
Related posts: Enemy of Orchards; Arboricide and Matricide; The Sacrilegious Axe; Arboricide on the Wayne Ranch; The Woods of Bachycraigh; Papadendrion; Papadendrion Again; A Bewilderment of Birds; Ancient Protests Against Deforestation; Illustrations of Erysichthon; Prayer and Sacrifice to Accompany Tree Cutting; A Spirit Protects the Trees; St. Martin and the Pine Tree; The Geismar Oak; Bregalad's Lament; Petition of a Poplar; Cactus Ed and Arboricide; Views from the Center of Highgate Wood; Artaxerxes and Arboricide; When the Last Tree Falls; The Hamadryads of George Lane; Sorbs and Medlars; So Foul a Deed; Like Another Erysichthon; 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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