Saturday, July 06, 2013


Nec Morti Esse Locum

Iris Origo (1902-1988), Images and Shadows (London: John Murray, 1970), pp. 152-153 (on her teacher Solone Monti):
I suddenly heard, as I approached the ruins, a familiar voice and saw, seated on one of the lower steps of the theatre in his rusty black town suit only enlivened by a very old Panama hat, with some peaches on his lap and a paper bag of dry biscuits, dear Monti, talking to his host's two sons. When the greetings were over and we had eaten the biscuits and peaches, we begged him to say some lines to us before going home.

"It's getting late," he demurred, "and I feel lazy." Then he added, "but you are right, children; it is the time and place."

And very slowly, very quietly, leaning back against the stones, with his hat tilted over his eyes to shield him from the setting sun, he recited to us the famous lines in which Virgil grants to the bees something of the divine essence:
...deum namque ire per omnia,
terrasque tractusque maris caelumque profundum;
hinc pecudes, armenta, viros, genus omne ferarum,
quemque sibi tenues nascentem arcessere vitas;
scilicet huc reddi deinde ac resoluta referri
omnia, nec morti esse locum, sed viva volare
sideris in numerum atque alto succedere caelo.
"They fly aloft," he repeated, "and find their rest in heaven." While he was speaking, the bees were still humming round us among the mint and thyme, but now the sun was getting low and they were withdrawing into their hives.

"Look, there's the old Corycian going home."

And, indeed, down the path to the farm an old man was making his way home 'like a king', with his basket 'of food unbought'—some fresh onions and beans, a few peaches and a cucumber—and an old goat hobbling behind him.

"Buona sera, signoria."

"Buona sera, nonno, vai a cena? Buon appetito!"

For the first time I became aware of poetry as something not disconnected with life, but incorporated in it, and also realized how profoundly the classical tradition was still rooted in the Mediterranean world—transmitted not only in the the cadences of words but in nature itself and in the most familiar objects of daily use. As I looked around me, there was nothing in sight that Virgil himself might not have seen: the olive-trees and figs and vines, the fat-bellied gourd trailing in the grass, the single clump of lilies beside the farm door, the pungent thyme beneath our feet, the oxen slowly plodding home, the goat (and Virgil, too, knew that the damage wrought by goats is even worse than that of drought or early frost), even the wooden flails leaning against one of the walls of the amphitheatre, the small curved sickle with which a bare-armed, dark-skinned girl was cutting a bundle of grass, and the round bee-hives placed, as the poet advised, beside a little channel of running water.
*...for a deity
There is pervading the whole earth and all
The expanses of the sea, and heights of heaven:
That from him flocks and herds, men and wild beasts
Of every kind, each at its birth drinks in
The subtle breath of life; and thus all beings
Soon return thither, there to be dissolved
And so restored; nor for death is there a place;
But living still, into the ranks of stars
They fly aloft, and find their rest in heaven.
             Georgics IV, 221-30, translated by R.C. Trevelyan

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