Monday, November 27, 2017


Getting to the Heart of the Matter

Nicholas Horsfall, The Epic Distilled: Studies in the Composition of the Aeneid (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), p. 1:
In modern Rome, in the spring, if you want to buy an artichoke, a carciofo (also good Italian for 'blockhead'), you carry off from your chosen market stall a delectable little jewel, neatly trimmed and edible in all its parts:1 the outer leaves have been removed, the base trimmed, and the choke, anyway very small in a young carciofo, has also been removed. Steam, dress, eat. In Britain, however, the patient feeder removes a couple of leaves from the cooked artichoke (a large, mature specimen, inevitably), dips them in vinaigrette and sucks off a tiny quantity of succulent flesh from the base of the leaves. As you proceed towards the centre, the quantity does increase, noticeably. But then progress comes to a complete halt, as you have to detach every trace of the inedible choke (ital., 'barba', beard). Now at last you have reached the delectable 'heart'. A quarter of a century ago, I thought that this long, slow struggle was not bad as a metaphor for our struggle to reach the heart of a difficult passage in the Aeneid. It still seems not bad at all.

1 What happens in the supermarket I simply do not know.

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