In Which I Flippantly Consider Venus’s Purple Buskins; & What Are Your Favorite Agatha Christie Novels?

Sarah Ruden’s translation of the Aeneid is the first in English by a woman.

I am obsessed with Virgil.  As  I’ve written many times since I began this blog five years ago, rereading the Aeneid in Latin is one of my guilty pleasures.  Virgil’s epic poem about the founding of Rome by Trojan refugees is partly a brilliant homage to Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, partly a  celebration of empire to flatter Augustus, and partly an anti-war poem.

There are many critical interpretations of the Aeneid; hence comparing translations to the Latin can be illuminating.  This fall I am reading the English for the first time since Robert Fagles’ superb translation was published in 2006.  I am fascinated by two new (or newish) translations, the poet David Ferry’s and the classical philologist Sarah Ruden’s.

I love David Ferry’s spellbinding new translation, though occasionally he wanders from the Latin to perfect the beauty of his own lines.  But why, I lament flippantly, did he leave out Venus’s purple (or crimson) buskins (open-toed  boots with laces)? When she disguises herself as a huntress in Carthage to confront and advise her son Aeneas, she denies to him that she is a goddess and says she is just a normal Tyrian girl wearing the current fashion.

Before we look at Ferry’s, here is my literal translation of the Latin (and the Latin lines are below, at the end of the Virgil section of this post).  “Then Venus said: ‘Indeed, I am not worthy of such an honor./ It is the fashion for Tyrian girls to wear a quiver/ and purple buskins  tied high on the calves.'”

Venus as huntress (in  crimson buskins) appears to Aeneas in Carthage

Ferry is a very great poet, but he chooses to add a bow to the quiver and subtracts the purple from the boots.

Ferry writes, “Then Venus:  ‘I am not worthy of that honor./It is the custom of Tyrian maidens to wear/Such hunting boots and carry a quiver and bow.'”

Sarah Ruden, the first (and only?) woman to translate the Aeneid into English (Yale University Press, 2008), has a different, more literal approach. She lines up her  English lines of blank verse almost exactly with Virgil’s Latin , and  since Latin is much more concise  than English this is quite an achievement. Her translation is less poetic than Ferry’s, but equally effective. And, yes, she mentions the purple boots.  Here is Ruden’s translation of those three lines:

“She answered, ‘That would surely not be right./These quivers are what Tyrian girls all carry; /We all wear purple boots, laced on our calves.”

I love it!   And that famous purple dye, which ranged from violet to crimson, is worth a mention:  it was, later, one of the main Tyrian exports.

And here’s the Latin of those three lines:

Tum Venus: ‘Haud equidem tali me dignor honore;               335
virginibus Tyriis mos est gestare pharetram,
purpureoque alte suras vincire cothurno.

WHAT ARE YOUR FAVORITE AGATHA CHRISTIE BOOKS?

This weekend we saw and very much enjoyed Kenneth Branagh’s new movie adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express.  It was so much fun!

It made me want to curl up with an Agatha Christie, so I found my copy of Murder on the Orient Express.  And then, looking around for more,  I found a charming article at the Barnes and Noble Reads blog about “10 Absolutely Essential Agatha Christie Classics.”

Here is the list, and do let me know your favorite Christies!  I have enjoyed the Jane Marple mysteries, but have many Hercule Poirots yet to read.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
The ABC Murders
Murder on the Orient Express
And Then There Were None
Curtain
Death on the Nile
Endless Night
Peril at End House
The Mysterious Affair at Styles
The Murder at the Vicarage

Three New Books & The Scarlet Letter: “B” Is for Bookish

Demi Moore as Hester Prynne in “The Scarlet Letter”

I was doing very well at not buying books.

And then the urge struck me.  I bought three books and smuggled them into the house, so as not to be lectured by Himself.

I am not a bookish Puritan, but I felt a bit like Hester in The Scarlet Letter, only with a scarlet “B” for “bookish.”

But really I enjoy books too much to wear the “B.”

Here’s what tempted me:

 John Crowley’s Ka.  Crowley’s books are fantasy/literary fiction, loved by critics Harold Bloom and Michael Dirda as well as by fans of brilliant, entertaining novels.  He has won the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award in Literature and the World Fantasy Award.

I have just begun his new novel, Ka.  It is the story of a crow, Dar Oakley, who is our guide through 2000 years of history.  If you loved Watership Down, you’ll find Dar’s account of crow life fascinating, and a bit  post-modern.

Here is a passage from Elizabeth Hand’s review in the L.A. Times.

So yes: John Crowley is a writer’s writer, the rare stylist whose stories can feature both downtown New York City bars and 16th century cosmologist and martyr for science Giordano Bruno. Yet Crowley is also a serious reader’s writer. As with Middle Earth, his imaginary worlds so enchant and entice that many fans read and reread his books obsessively, the closest we can come to inhabiting them. But, unlike Tolkien’s legendarium, most of Crowley’s fiction is resolutely set in our own world. Even those works that venture onto other planets maintain quicksilver ties to this one. Decades before George R.R. Martin’s series “A Song of Ice and Fire,” Crowley’s first novel, “The Deep” (1975), recounted an ancient, seemingly endless conflict that evokes the War of the Roses and its precursors. In his second novel, 1976’s “Beasts,” humans and genetically engineered sentient animals make their way across a near-future U.S. devastated by civil wars and a totalitarian government.

Virgil’s Aeneid, translated by David Ferry.  Ferry, a National Book Award winner, is one of my favorite American poets.  He is also a brilliant Latinist who knows his Virgil:  his translations of the Eclogues and the Georgics are lovely.

I reread the Aeneid every year in LatinSo why buy Ferry’s translation?  His style is brilliant, and I am anxious to see how he handles problems in translation.

As I grow older I appreciate the Aeneid more and more, particularly Virgil’s brave characterization of the first weak hero.  (I am calling it the first, but I should say my first.)  I first taught the Aeneid as a T.A. many years ago, and many, many times later as a prep-school Latin teacher.

I’ve been thinking about Latin descriptions of passion.  Virgil often uses the words amens (pronounced ah-mens, and literally meaning “out of one’s mind”).  In Book II, during the fall of Troy, Aeneas is amens  when he loses his wife Creusa as they are running away during the fall of Troy.  Ferry translates it “in my frenzy.” (And that is an excellent, popular translation.)  But I keep visualizing the more pictorial amens   (“a” means “away from” and mens “mind”):  a diagram of  a man outside his mind.  Later, in Book IV, Dido, the queen of Carthage, is amens when she falls madly in love with Aeneas.  So perhaps Aeneas was only really passionate about Creusa?  Poor Aeneas.

Sara Maitland’s Three Times Three.  In Shaun Bythell’s The Diary of a Bookseller, he mentions  Sara Maitland.   Three Times Three was one of my favorite novels of the ’90s.  I ordered a cheap copy online, and it arrived today.  I can’t wait to reread it!

HAVE YOU STRAYED AND BOUGHT MORE BOOKS THAN YOU NEED LATELY?  LET ME KNOW.

 

David Ferry’s New Translation of Virgil’s Aeneid

David Ferry’s new translation of  Virgil’s Aeneid  has just been published by University of Chicago Press.

Are you excited?  I am.

That’s because I know Ferry’s poetry.  In his National Book Award-winning collection, Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations, he included excerpts from his translation of the Aeneid.  Ferry is not only a translator, but a poet in his own right.

I reread Virgil in Latin every year (yes, I’m a classicist), but not everybody is so lucky. When I taught the Aeneid in Latin,  I also assigned parts of Robert Fagles’ translation, because intermediate students could not read the poem in entirety in Latin in a semester.   The translation gave them a broader perspective on the poem as a whole.

Michael Dirda of The Washington Post is enthusiastic about Ferry’s new translation, and about Virgil in general.  He writes,

Ours is a great age for classical translation. Just in the past dozen years, Virgil’s “Aeneid” has been tackled by Robert Fagles, Stanley Lombardo, Frederick Ahl, Sarah Ruden and, now, David Ferry, who previously gave us the best modern English version of Horace’s odes . Being the work of an award-winning poet, Ferry’s “Aeneid” can be read with excitement and pleasure — but so can all those other translations. What really matters is to read at least one of them.

And Dirda beautifully explains the influence of Virgil’s epic on Western culture..  He reminds us that after Virgil’s death in 19 B.C.,

For the next 1,800 years, “The Aeneid” was generally viewed as the preeminent masterpiece of the Western literary tradition. Its famous opening words, “Arma virumque cano” — Ferry translates them straightforwardly as “I sing of arms and the man” — can be found scribbled as graffiti at Pompeii. An awed Dante follows the arch-poet through Hell and Purgatory. In essence, wherever Latin was studied, Virgil’s poetry was revered. An English “Aeneid” first appeared in a 16th-century Scottish version by Gavin Douglas — highly praised by Ezra Pound — and was followed in the 17th century by John Dryden’s classic rendering in heroic couplets.

Robert Fagles’ translation is very good.

I love the Aeneid, and have often tried to sell it as a beach book:  see my post on The Epic As Beach Read.   I said, “The best beach epic of all, and possibly the best epic poem in any language, is Virgil’s Aeneid,  the story of the founding of Rome by a refugee of the Trojan War.”

Every Roman schoolboy read Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey in Greek, and the Aeneid is in part Virgil’s homage to Homer. The first half of the Aeneid corresponds to the Odyssey, as Aeneas and the survivors of the Trojan War sail from their native country to find a new home in Italy (Rome), their journey as long and tangled and god-thwarted as that of the trickster Odysseus.  And the last half of the Aeneid is a  Roman Iliad, the story of the war between the Trojans and inhabitants of  Italy, before they can found Rome, as the gods prophesied. 

The Aeneid has been read as a celebration of empire; it has also been read as an anti-war poem. Most important, it is a great story, with beautiful imagery and complex figures of speech.

Most translations of Virgil have good introductions. The Fagles has detailed notes, glossaries, character lists, and place lists.  (I do not yet have Ferry’s book, but have already read many excerpts, and assume there are notes. I also recommend his translation of Virgil’s Eclogues and Georgics.)

Meanwhile, here is Ferry’s elegant translation of the first 34 lines of Book I of the Aeneid.

Virgil’s Aeneid Translation of Book I. 1-34

I sing of arms and the man whom fate had sent
To exile from the shores of Troy to be
The first to come to Lavinium and the coasts
Of Italy, and who, because of Juno’s
Savage implacable rage, was battered by storms
At sea, and from the heavens above, and also
Tempests of war, until at last he might
Build there his city and bring his gods to Latium,
From which would come the Alban Fathers and
The lofty walls of Rome. Muse, tell me
The cause why Juno the queen of heaven was so
Aggrieved by what offence against her power,
To send this virtuous faithful hero out
To perform so many labors, confront such dangers?
Can anger like this be, in immortal hearts?

There was an ancient city known as Carthage
(Settled by men from Tyre), across the sea
And opposite to Italy and the mouth
Of the Tiber river; very rich, and fierce,
Experienced in warfare. Juno, they say,
Loved Carthage more than any other place
In the whole wide world, more even than Samos.
Here’s where she kept her chariot and her armor.
It was her fierce desire, if fate permitted, that
Carthage should be chief city of the world.
But she had heard that there would come a people,
Engendered of Trojan blood, who would some day
Throw down the Tyrian citadel, a people
Proud in warfare, rulers of many realms,
Destined to bring down Libya. Thus it was
That the Parcae’s turning wheel foretold the story.

Fearful of this and remembering the old
War she had waged at Troy for her dear Greeks,
And remembering too her sorrow and her rage
Because of Paris’s insult to her beauty,
Remembering her hatred of his people,
And the honors paid to ravished Ganymede –
For all these causes her purpose was to keep
The Trojan remnant who’d survived the Greeks
And pitiless Achilles far from Latium,
On turbulent waters wandering, year after year,
Driven by fates across the many seas.

So formidable the task of founding Rome.

Is Virgil’s “Aeneid” a Weepie? (The Restored Version)

If there is one word on which we can fix, which will suggest the maximum of what I mean by the term “a classic’, it is the word maturity. I shall distinguish between the universal classic, like Virgil, and the classic which is only such in relation to the other literature in its own language, or according to the view of a particular period.
― “What Is a Classic?” by T. S. Eliot

Is Virgil’s Aeneid a weepie?

I tell everyone it is a beach read.

Some of us read it because we love it. Some of us read it in school. Perhaps you remember the opening words of the epic, arma virumque cano… “Of arms (war) and the man I sing…”

The poet sings of two wars, the Trojan war and a later war in Italy, and the man is Aeneas.

I read this Roman classic every summer. I focus on the elegance of the Latin, but this time found myself weeping over Aeneas’s harsh fate. A leader by default–everyone else is dead–he must lead the survivors of the Trojan War to their new homeland in Italy and found Rome. The gods says it is his fate. He is a reluctant hero, even whiny sometimes. He seems like a human being. Not just an epic hero.

Why was this so shattering to read? The Trojan plight seems so fraught, so war-torn, so modern. Exile is horrendous, whether it is by war (Aeneas) or emperor’s mandate (Ovid’s exile, which he wrote about in Tristia, “Sad things,” and Epistulae ex Ponto, “Letters from the Black Sea”). I kept visualizing Aeneas’s and the Trojans’ wanderings, driven from place to place, welcome no place. Modern refugees of war, too.

The young women I taught in third-year Latin much preferred Book IV of the Aeneid, a kind of romance. But the heroic fate wrecks that, too. When Aeneas and his men are shipwrecked at Carthage, Dido, a refugee widow and queen of a new city, Carthage, takes them in. She and Aeneas become lovers. But he flees when his mother, Venus, tells him to go and follow fate. He tries to slip away without Dido’s knowing.

During the years I taught Virgil, I gradually became more sympathetic towards Aeneas. Constantly referred to as pius Aeneas, he is ripped apart by pietas, which is not quite“piety,” but a very Roman notion of duty to the gods, one’s country, and family.

After a shipwreck at Carthage, can he cry and moan? Only privately. He wishes he had died at Troy.

His duty is to make an encouraging speech to his men.

And he says the famous line:

Forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit.
“Perhaps sometime it will please us even to remember these things.”

The literal order of the Latin words is as follows:
“Perhaps even these things someday to remember will be pleasing.”.

Emphasis on “perhaps even.”

Does this stoic sentiment even make sense? Not for Aeneas, who has lost wife, father, and friends. He says what he has to to comfort his followers.

Does Virgil believe it? In the context of the poem, I doubt it, though he certainly flatters Augustus when necessary. Perhaps this is a line generals will quote in future wars.

I certainly do not believe the Trojans will someday find these things pleasing to remember.

Hence my lacrimae rerum, “tears over these things” (Aeneid, Book I, line 462).

The Epic As Beach Book: Homer, Virgil, & Others

Robert Fagles' translation is stunning.

Robert Fagles’ translation (Penguin)

At Barnes and Noble, the last bookstore in our fair city, I was delighted to find a copy of The Odyssey on a “Beach Reads” table. It was a very old translation by George Herbert  Palmer, but never mind.   I love to imagine a reader picking up Homer for the first time since ninth-grade English, or a freshman Classics in Translation class.  I read Greek, so I don’t bother much about translations, but I have seen students inspired by the translations of Lattimore, Fitzgerald, or Fagles.

iliad 41zzK2KjwzL._AC_UL320_SR208,320_Epic poems make great beach books, because narrative is as important as the language. It is easy to lose oneself, slathered with sun block under the umbrella, in Homer’s riveting poem about Odysseus’ adventures on the return trip home from the Trojan War, impeded by storms, Cyclops, sirens, and witches.  I read and reread Milton’s suspenseful epic rendering of devious Satan’s tempting of Adam and Eve in  Paradise Lost.  It’s a pity so many of us find Satan sympathetic:  that was not Milton’s intention.  But in Paradise Regained, he is the  unreconstructed villain we remember from the New Testament.

What else would I like to see on that Beach Reads table?   Homer’s Iliad, Virgil’s Aeneid, Dante’s Divine Comedy, Derek Walcott’s Omeros,and Alice Oswald’s Memorial.  (Let me know your favorite beach epics!)

The best beach epic of all, and possibly the best epic poem in any language, is Virgil’s Aeneid,  the story of the founding of Rome by a refugee of the Trojan War.  In the essay “What Is a Classic?” T. S. Eliot explains why Virgil’s epic is a  “classic”.

A classic can only occur when a civilizsation is mature; when a language and a literature are mature; and it must be the work of a mature mind. It is the importance of that civilization and of that language, as well as the comprehensiveness of the mind of the individual poet, which gives the universality.

the aeneid virgil 51bBUTqwlZL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_Virgil’s sense of history, the maturity of Roman literature, and his knowledge  of both Latin and Greek literature gives him a rare command of style, consciousness, and vocabulary.  The Aeneid has been read as a celebration of empire; it has also been read as an anti-war poem: there is evidence for both readings. It is a homage to Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, the texts studied by educated Roman schoolboys.  Books I-VI of The Aeneid are about homecoming, or rather about traveling to find their fated home in Italy, and it is loosely based on the Odyssey.  Books VII-XII is a story of war, a  Roman Iliad:  after the Trojan refugees arrive in Italy, Aeneas and his men must fight for the right to stay and Aeneas must marry Princess Lavinia.

Virgil begins the poem:

arma virumque cano…

A literal translation is “arms and the man I sing…”

The first word arma refers to the war described in the last six books. The second word, virum, refers to the man , Aeneas, whom we meet during his trials in the first six books., as The Odyssey is about the man Odysseus.  Note that these two words, the subject of The Aeneid, open the poem.

Without knowing anything about Roman culture, it can be tough to understand The Aeneid. I wonder how Seamus Heaney’s new translation of Book VI, in which Aeneas visits the Underworld, fares with the common reader who has not read the entire poem.  There is a lot to take in:  the homage to the Odyssey, the odd behavior of the Sibyl, the significance of the golden bough, the pageant of the future…

The best bet, even if you decide just to read the Heaney, is to get a copy of Robert Fagles’s translation of The Aeneid for background.  First reaason:  the whole poem is there.  Second Reason:  the brilliant Bernard Knox, who was probably as close to a celebrity classicist as the U.S. has ever had,  writes the introduction beautifully and succinctly, and intelligently gives you all the background you need.  Of pietas, he writes:

Pietas describes another loyalty and duty, besides that to the gods and the family. It is for the Roman, to Rome, and in Aeneas’ case, to his mission to found it in Hesperia, the western country, Italy.

As state budget cuts threaten or slash language departments at public high schools and the state universities where , by the way, the majority of Americans study languages, classics departments bite the bullet and peppily teach culture classes.  SUNY Albany eliminated it classics department, along with French, Italian, Russian, and theater.  I worry that in the not-so-distant  future classics will  be yanked from business-oriented curricula and taught only at the most exclusive expensive prep schools and private universities.   If that day comes, the division of the rich and poor will be even more exaggerated than now:   only the elite will have knowledge of ancient languages and culture. I am not exaggerating:  that is our heritage.  But Budget cuts are making war on the middle class.  Without Latin and Greek, we would be a poorer civilization.

Amatory Lit 101: Book IV of Virgil’s Aeneid & Doris Lessing’s Landlocked

pulp love cover cd0c32c52e8a6ed2730d959432329ddeThe first amatory classic I read was Jane Eyre.  I don’t think Peyton Place,  The Robe, or Max Shulman’s Rally Round the Flag, Boys!, count, do you?  At 12, I was enthralled by Jane’s love for  Mr. Rochester.  I knew that one day I, too would fall in love with Mr. Rochester.  The operative word was “fall.”

But is “falling” love?

I suppose so.

Amatory lit can be sexy.  But so often it is not quite about love.

Take two amatory classics I read recently.  They are about sex and passion, but love?

Aeneid Rolfe Humphries c99ea633518bd50c8c3027ab79b6d8a6Book IV of Virgil’s Aeneid is one of the world’s most famous tragic love stories.  I reread it every year, preferably on the Mediterraean, actually at Ahkwabi State Park, since I never  find myself on the Mediterranean.  Dido, Queen of Carthage, is desperately in love with the Trojan hero, Aeneas, who is is driven off course to Carthage by a storm on his way to Italy.  There are many different interpretations of this elaborate, glittering poem:  it is the sympathetic portrait of a passionate woman, or a condemnation of a queen who puts love before duty, or a vindication of Aeneas’s obedience to the gods and devotion to the pursuit of power. It was the most influential Latin poem in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance,  the inspiration for Christopher Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage, Henry Purcell’s opera, Dido and Aeneas, Berlioz’s opera, Les Troyens (The Trojans), and innumerable works of art.

Dido is a powerful widowed queen in exile, building a new city for her people.  But in Book IV, she is obsessed with Aeneas, and fears it is disloyalty to her dead husband.  Virgil describes her love as a disease:  wounded by love, she feeds the wound.

One of the best translations of the 20th century is Rolfe Humphries’, which is close to the Latin and reflects the economy of the language. (I also love Robert Fagles’ translation, but he adds phrases that are not in Virgil.)  Book IV begins,

But the queen finds no rest. Deep in her veins
The wound is fed; she burns with hidden fire.

The Latin lines are alliterative and arranged in interlocking word order:  The second line of the Latin below shows the repeating v’s and c’s, as you can see here:

vulnus alit venis, et caeco carpitur igni.

(vulnus = wound)… (venis = veins),,, (caeco = blind) (carpitur = consumed)

"Dido Building Carthage," b JMW Turner

“Dido Building Carthage,” b JMW Turner

The balance and style of the poem are elegant and the plot is compelling, especially for women.    During a storm, Dido and Aeneas take refuge in a cave and make love.  Dido regards their relationship as a marriage.  But Mercury comes with a message from Jove, ordering him to go to Italy, reminding him he must found Rome for his son.  Aeneas prepares the fleet’s departure without telling Dido, but she confronts him.  After he leaves, she commits suicide.  And Virgil revives the images of the fire and the wound:   she builds a pyre, then kills herself by falling on his sword.

Virgil’s description of the end of her life is  grotesque.

And her wound made a gurgling hissing sound.
Three times she tried to lift herself; three times
Fell back; her rolling eyes went searching heaven
And the light hurt when she found it, and she moaned.

Traditionally, classicists speculate that the Romans would have mistrusted the love affair, comparing  the dalliance of Dido and Aeneas to that of Cleopatra and Antony. Antony’s affair with a foreign queen fueled a war and drove Cleopatra to suicide.  And Augustus had defeated Antony, and Virgil was a patriotic poet, very much Augustus’s poet.  So would the audience  at Virgil’s poetry readings have approved Aeneas’s flight from Dido?  Or would the women have been fuming?  Should we be postmodern? Or traditional?

Love is a wound.

Lessing landlocked 328419Doris Lessing’s Landlocked., the fourth in Nobel Prize winner Lessing’s Children of Violence series.

 Landlocked, written after her masterpiece, The Golden Notebook, which certainly taught Lessing how to write about love and sex, is the most polished novel in this series.  Set during World War II, Martha waits in Africa for the end of the war to divorce the husband she married for political reasons.  She  left her first husband, a civil servant, and their daughter Caroline to  become a Communist activist and support herself as a secretary.   She made the disastrous marriage to Anton Hesse, a communist refugee from Germany, so he would not be interned in a camp or deported.  Anton is terrible in bed, they have no chemistry, and Martha insists on having affairs, reminding him that they are not really “married.”

The political climate changes, the town again become hostile to the left, and the communist group is unraveling..

But the most important aspect of the novel is Martha’s discovery of sex.   Tomas, a Polish Jew, a farmer, and a communist who simply loves women, introduces her to great sex.  She has never been happier. But the affair is a brief idyll, and she knows it.  He will not leave his wife, and is determined to go back to Europe.  She will go to London.

Nothing can wipe out the memory of violence.  Martha is  aware that if he had not left Europe with his wife, he would have died.

If he had not–well, none of his family was left alive, several dozen brothers, sisters, cousins,, relations–they were all dead, they had died in the gas ovens, on the gallows, in the prisons and the concentration camps in those years of our Lord, 1939-1945.   But here Thomas was alive.  And all her life Martha would say to herself–whatever else had  been untrue, whatever else had not existed, this had been true:  this was true, she must hold on to it, even though, when she touched Thomas it was with the anxiety that related not to Thomas now and here, but to the scene she could create by a slight dislocation in her mind: Thomas very nearly had not left Poland.

This is a gorgeous novel, with some of Lessing’s best writing.  It is the gateway to the experimental, genre-busting fifth book in the series, The Four-Gated City, which is actually my favorite.

It is so good to see Martha happy.  So much lies ahead of her after the war, when she goes to London.

The Cat Collection, the British Library, & Wearing a Cat Sweatshirt in London

taintor crazy cat lady 36639_catladyI love cats.  I  am a crazy cat lady.  I have lived with cats for decades:  Chloe the wild Siamese, Grendel the laid-back black-and-white,  Miss Beethoven the explorer…the list goes on.  As a cat lady, I open cans of tuna, chat to them, and ensure the furniture is “cat-proof.”  I arrange tables and chairs where they can jump up and look out the window. I let them play in paper sacks.

Cats have distinctive  personalities.  Chloe was so wild she playfully batted my pens to stop me writing, ran up the curtains and hung there, and also once incredibly clawed her way across a fiberglass ceiling.  Miss Beethoven loved to explore bizarre unknown crawl spaces under the sink.  How many hours did we spend calling, “Miss Beethoven! Miss B!”  And then she would pop back out, and it turned out we needn’t have worried.

People give you cat stuff if you are a cat lady.  I have received many, many kitschy cat figurines, cat mugs, cat sweatshirts, a cat charm bracelet, and a cat fire screen.  Most of the cat collection is in the basement, but I do drink from cat mugs and like my wooden cat figures (which are seldom upright, because the cats like to knock them over).

IMG_3523

You can’t have too many cat sweatshirts to wear in your freezing cold house in winter.  (Thanks, Mom!)

But a cat sweatshirt isn’t quite the thing in London.  It is like going out in your pajamas.

I’m pretty sure everybody at the British Library wore black the day I wore my cat sweatshirt. While I huddled at a table on the piazza  rereading Jane Eyre after seeing Charlotte Bronte’s “fair copy” in a glass case,  researchers indoors sat at tables in the halls staring at their computers.  What research, I wondered, could get them out of the hall and into the fantastic Reading Rooms?

Anyone can apply for a reader’s pass, though not everyone gets one.   I couldn’t think of any research I had to do.  If I wore my cat sweatshirt to apply for a reader’s pass,  I would probably have said,  “I am very interested in your, er, material on…cats.”

Cats, Kat?  Don’t you mean…Katherine?

Katherine Somebody…

Looking up Katherine at the British Library, I came up with Katherine by Anya Seton (a historical novel); “Katherine,” words and music by Osborne, Stuart James; or, this sounds promising, Katherine, notes from http://www.katherinetailoring.co.uk/ available only in our Reading Rooms.  But I went to the website and it just isn’t me.

My subject?  Oh, yeah, I do remember.  Classics…I taught it… .and to tell the truth I reread Book IV of The Aeneid in Latin recently.

How about a paper on Aeneas’s bad luck with women, or, more appropriately phrased:  “Aeneas and Women:  Relationships with Queens, Princesses, and Goddesses”? His mother is Venus, the goddess of love; but Juno, the queen of the gods, hates him.  He is unlucky with women:  he lost his first wife, Creusa, in the smoky chaos while escaping from burning Troy. Fortunately her ghost appeared and said it was all good.  Years later, he drove his lover Dido, the queen of Carthage, to suicide, and later in Italy, the middle-aged Queen Amata stirred up a war to prevent his marrying her daughter Lavinia.    Aeneas wasn’t a misogynist, but women had reason to hate him.  Was he a good husband to Lavinia?  One must read Ursula K. Le Guin’s Lavinia to find out.

Nice try, Kat, but this isn’t a British Library kind of thing, is it? They do have fragments of an illuminated manuscript of The Aeneid, but that won’t help.  You can do this at home.  You’d better go back to cats if you want to do research at the British Library!

P.S. I left my cat sweatshirt in London to make room for 15 paperbacks in my suitcase.