Tuesday, December 06, 2011


Trees Are Like People

Robin Nisbet, "The Oak and the Axe: Symbolism in Seneca, Hercules Oetaeus 1618ff.," in M. Whitby and P. Hardie, edd., Homo Viator: Classical Essays for John Bramble (Bristol: Bristol Classical Press, 1987), pp. 243–252 (at 243, footnotes omitted):
Trees are like people. They have a head (vertex), a trunk (truncus), arms (bracchia). They stand tall like a soldier, or look as slender as a bridegroom (Sappho, 115 L-P). Their life moves in human rhythms, which in their case may be repeated: sap rises and falls, hair (coma) luxuriates, withers, drops off. Sometimes they are superior and aloof, sometimes they go in pairs, whether as comrades-in-arms (Hom. Il. 12.132ff., Virg. Aen. 9.679ff.) or husband and wife (Ov. Met. 8.720). They whisper like lovers (Ar. Nub. 1008), embrace, support, cling, and the stricken elm grieves for the vine more than himself (Stat. Theb. 8.544ff.). When the storm bears down, they suffer, heave, bend, as on Soracte or Wenlock Edge, but though they may take a battering (Hor. Carm. 1.28.27: 'plectantur silvae'), they remain robust ('oaken') and tenacious. Even under the axe they are resilient, like the Romans in the Punic War, and put out new growth (Hor. Carm. 4.5.5: 'duris ut ilex tunsa bipennibus...').
Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527-1593), Winter

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