Tuesday, November 05, 2019


The Tower of Fake News

John Milton (1608-1674), "On the Fifth of November," lines 170-193, in his Latin Poems, tr. Walter MacKellar (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1930), pp. 129, 131:
There is a place, men say, that looks toward the waters of Mareotis, equally distant from Asia and the fertile land of Europe; here stands the lofty tower of Fame, the Titanian goddess, brazen, wide, resounding, nearer to the golden stars than Athos, or Pelion piled upon Ossa. A thousand doors and a thousand windows stand open, and the spacious courts within shine through the thin walls. Here a swarming crowd raises a confused murmur, like the buzzing of flies about milk-pails or wattled sheepfolds, when in the heat of summer the Dog Star seeks the summit of the heavens. Fame herself, who avenges her mother, sits upon the topmost height, and lifts her head that is girt with numberless ears, with which she gathers the slightest whisper, and catches the airiest murmur from the ends of the wide-spread earth. Not even you, Argus, false guard of the heifer Io, rolled so many eyes in your savage face, eyes that never grow drowsy in silent sleep, eyes gazing far and wide over the lands beneath, eyes with which she often searches places devoid of light, places inaccessible even to the rays of the sun. What she has heard and seen, with a thousand babbling tongues she heedlessly pours out to any one; now with lies she lessens the truth, now with invented speeches she augments it.
The Latin (id., pp. 128, 130):
Esse ferunt spatium, qua distat ab Aside terra        170
Fertilis Europe, et spectat Mareotidas undas;
Hic turris posita est Titanidos ardua Famae,
Aerea, lata, sonans, rutilis vicinior astris
Quam superimpositum vel Athos vel Pelion Ossae.
Mille fores aditusque patent, totidemque fenestrae,        175
Amplaque per tenues translucent atria muros.
Excitat hic varios plebs agglomerata susurros;
Qualiter instrepitant circum mulctralia bombis
Agmina muscarum, aut texto per ovilia iunco,
Dum Canis aestivum caeli petit ardua culmen.        180
Ipsa quidem summa sedet ultrix matris in arce,
Auribus innumeris cinctum caput eminet olli,
Queis sonitum exiguum trahit, atque levissima captat
Murmura, ab extremis patuli confinibus orbis.
Nec tot, Aristoride, servator inique iuvencae        185
Isidos, immite volvebas lumina vultu,
Lumina non unquam tacito nutantia somno,
Lumina subiectas late spectantia terras.
Istis illa solet loca luce carentia saepe
Perlustrare, etiam radianti impervia soli.        190
Millenisque loquax auditaque visaque linguis
Cuilibet effundit temeraria; veraque mendax
Nunc minuit, modo confictis sermonibus auget.
Milton was writing about Guy Fawkes Day in 17th century England, but his words also seem suited to Election Day 2019 in the United States of America.

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