On Anacreon

Posted in Art, Poetry with tags , , , , on November 18, 2016 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

pandura

Oh beloved who didst love the clear lute, O thou who didst sail through thy whole life with song and with love.

Text: Anonymous, The Greek Anthology VII:23B translated by W. R. Paton. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1917
Image: Anonymous, Woman sitting on a rock and playing the lute or pandura, 1st quarter of the 3rd century BC, Musée du Louvre

Ida Levin In Memoriam

Posted in Music with tags on November 18, 2016 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

ida-levin

As we were posting the preceding epitaph we received sad news of the untimely death of the brilliant violinist Ida Levin. We had the honour some years ago of meeting her and hearing her play and even on such a brief acquaintance her great character and musicality left an unforgettable impression. May her memory be a blessing.

On Alcman

Posted in Object, Photo, Poetry with tags , , , on November 18, 2016 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

stele

Do not judge the man by the stone. Simple is the tomb to look on, but holds the bones of a great man. Thou shalt know Alcman the supreme striker of the Laoconian lyre, possessed by the nine Muses. Here resteth he, a cause of dispute to two continents, if he be a Lydian or a Spartan. Minstrels have many mothers.

Text: Antipater of Thessalonica, The Greek Anthology VII:18 translated by W. R. Paton. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1917
Image: Marble stele [MAMA XI 70 (Sebaste)], 3rd century AD, Private collection

Religion is valid poetry…

Posted in Painting, Philosophy with tags , on November 18, 2016 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

giovanni-battista-tiepolo-allegory-of-the-planets-and-continents-1752-met

“…morality and spirit, in my view, express specific and contrary vital interests, as in politics. To assert that one such political or vital interest, say the Jewish or the Anglo-Saxon, coincides with the total inspiration of the universe, is egotism in excelsis, and a plain illusion of animal vanity and egotism. Banish that illusion: the vital and political interest concerned remains standing, but only as one local and temporary movement of animal life on earth. It is its own excuse for being, but it leaves the speculative spirit free to transcend it and to admit equally, in their places, all the other vital and political interests that may arise. I would relax English prejudices in the Catholic and naturalistic direction by a single and consistent insight, not by casual contrary sympathies. Catholicism is paganism spiritualised: it is fundamentally naturalistic; and the transcendental spirit and the wise statesman may accept Catholicism, where it naturally arises, as a good poetic symbol for the forces and the issues of human life in that phase; not, however, as a scientific revelation of reality or a history of literal facts. Religion is valid poetry infused into common life. It is not a revelation truer than perception or than science. Nature, where it breeds life, is undoubtedly animated by a spirit kindred to man’s and to human morality; hence the dramatic sympathy in us with all real or imagined vitality in the universe. Yet this sympathy should chasten rather than inflate us, because it reveals to us how accidental are the objects of our love.”

Text: George Santayana, My Host the World. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953
Image: Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Allegoria dei pianeti e continenti, 1752, Metropolitan Museum

Agrigentum

Posted in Painting, Philosophy with tags , , , on November 17, 2016 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

pierre-henri-de-valenciennes-agrigentum

“I felt more joyful and breathed more freely, when I passed to the southern coast, and saw something Greek. Agrigentum, in its desolation, left much to the imagination, but stirred it deeply. Not so much the ruins as the magnificent site, as if all the seven hills of Rome had been linked together in a chain, doubled in height, and been made to overhang the forum and the lower town in a broad curve. That vast acropolis must have been a sublime thing. Outwards, on the convex side, it is a sheer precipice; inwards its horns descend to the plain and make it accessible. One of these horns is occupied by what remains of the town. I climbed to the top, partly by steps. There was a little square, with a café, but no vestiges of the temples that must have stood there: for a  reward I saw some large white goats, apparently clean as lambs, browsing among the steep lanes or perched upon the stone enclosures that bordered them. These ancient fortresses, in the days of peace, must have been very domestic and country-like in the simplicity and monotony of their ways. Dull, except for the recurring festivals and the frequent wars, yet well fitted, in both aspects, to fix the character of tragedy and comedy, as the Greeks fixed it, limited, monotonous, liturgical, but intensely felt, profoundly human, wonderfully central and final.

Agrigentum was a colony, suddenly rich, like an American mushroom city, short-lived and ruined even more suddenly than it had grown up; but for its day it was enormous, and it gave birth to a great poet-philosopher, the literary model of Lucretius, and a grander personage, with his tragic end soon enveloped in legend. Both Lucretius and Empedocles are said to have killed themselves, or voluntarily become gods: in any case they saw the world as the gods would: that is to say, as we all should, if we could surmount our accidental humanity and let the pure spirit in us speak through our mouths. I wonder if a mushroom civilisation, by its very thinness and sudden brilliancy, like fire in straw, may not be easier for the spirit to profit by and to transcend than a more deeply rooted tradition.”

Text: George Santayana, My Host the World. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953
Image: Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes, L’ancienne ville d’Agrigente, 1787, Musée du Louvre

The Idea of God

Posted in Art, Book with tags , on November 17, 2016 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

william-blake-ancient

“Was the idea of God alive at all in me? No: if you mean the traditional idea. But that was a symbol, vague, variable, mythical, anthropomorphic; the symbol for an overwhelming reality, a symbol that named and unified in human speech the incalculable powers on which our destiny depends. To observe, record, and measure the method by which these powers operate is not to banish the idea of God: it is what the Hebrews called meditating on his ways. The modern hatred of religion is not, like that of the Greek philosophers, a hatred of poetry, for which they wished to substitute cosmology, mathematics, or dialectic, still maintaining the reverence of man for what is superhuman. The modern hatred of religion is hatred of the truth, hatred of all sublimity, hatred of the laughter of the gods. It is puerile human vanity trying to justify itself by a lie.”

Text: George Santayana, My Host the World. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953
Image: William Blake, The Ancient of Days setting a Compass to the Earth, frontispiece to copy K of Europe a Prophecy, 1821, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Doric

Posted in Architecture, Philosophy, Photo with tags , , , on November 17, 2016 by Dylan Thomas Hayden

alexander-john-ellis-paestum-1841alexander-john-ellis-paestum-1841a

“…I went to Paestum, and there saw Doric temples for the first time, symbols of severity, simplicity, harmony, and strength. There was the pure vein to be traced in the quartz of Roman accumulations and grossness…

Doric purity is not a thing to be expected again in history, at least not yet. It indicates a people that knows its small place in the universe and yet asserts its dignity. In early Christian art there may be simplicity and naïveté, but never self-knowledge. The aspiration in it is childlike. For anything like Doric fortitude in the West we must look to the castles, not to the churches; and the castles are Christian only by association. Here then was an ultimate point of reference, a principle of manly purity, to mark one extreme in the moral scale of all human arts…”

Text: George Santayana, My Host the World. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1953
Image: Alexander John Ellis, two daguerreotypes of the temple of Hera at Paestum, 1841. via Getty Images