Sunday, October 19, 2008


Up a Tree

Euripides, Bacchae 1058-1074 (tr. T.A. Buckley), in which a messenger reports how Pentheus prepared to spy on the Maenads:
And the unhappy Pentheus said, not seeing the crowd of women: "Stranger, from where we are standing I cannot see these false Maenads. But on the hill, ascending a lofty pine, I might view properly the shameful acts of the Maenads." And then I saw the stranger perform a marvelous deed. For seizing hold of the lofty top-most branch of the pine tree, he pulled it down, pulled it, pulled it to the dark earth. It was bent just as a bow or a curved wheel, when it is marked out by a compass, describes a circular course: in this way the stranger drew the mountain bough with his hands and bent it to the earth, doing no mortal's deed. He sat Pentheus down on the pine branch, and let it go upright through his hands steadily, taking care not to shake him off. The pine stood firmly upright into the sky, with my master seated on its back.
John Buchan, Witch Wood (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1927), chapter X (What the Moon Saw), in which the Reverend David Sempill prepared to spy on some of his parishioners who followed pagan ways:
He scrambled up hill again till he was in touch with the outcrop of rock, and then suddenly found himself looking down on the glade where stood the altar. It was very dark, and the stone was only a ghostly blur. But the darkness was a blessing, for the place was not as he had seen it before, and the sight of it did not revive the terrors he had feared. It looked no more than a woodland glade, and the fact that a rabbit scurried from under his feet seemed a friendly omen. On the far side the trees grew thick, and he selected a gnarled Scots fir as his perch for the night. Its trunk, branchless for sixty feet, was too thick to climb, but he found a younger and slimmer tree, up which he could squirm and from its upper branches traverse to the other. He had not tried the game since he was a boy, and at first his legs and arms seemed too feeble; but the exercise warmed him, and after twice sliding back to the ground, he at last reached the umbrella-like spread of the crest. To gain the other tree proved more difficult than he had thought, and he was compelled to let his body swing and make a long stretch with his right arm. But the task was accomplished in the end, and he found himself on a platform of crooked fir boughs, hidden from everything but the stars, and with a view through the gaps of the branches to the glade below him. He had now a clear sight of the sky. The moon was three-quarters up, and the whole of Melanudrigill, with its slopes and valleys, was washed in silver. He was in it and yet above it and outside it, like a man on a hillside looking into a cleft. He made his body comfortable in a crutch of the tree, and looked down on the stage beneath him. It was now lighting up, and the altar was whitened by a stray moonbeam.

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