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It's still acceptable to use livejournal to announce shitty things in one's life, right?

Well, my grand-uncle's been diagnosed with dementia, and his short-term memory seems to be degrading by the week. And I'm stuck in Montana, rather than hauling ass to Boston, because I can't get a fucking job anywhere in this damn country.

This is turning out to be one hell of a bad year.

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For a long time I've been a big fan of the old Arthurian tales, Mallory & Gottfried and the like. So about three months ago I wrote a short story, my attempt to take an episode like you might find in Le Morte, and do it in a more modern, naturalistic style. If anyone happens to read this, I hope you enjoy. 

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CVSTODES ouium tenerae propaginis, agnum,
quaeritis ignem? ite huc. quaeritis? ignis homost.

si digito attigero, incendam siluam simul omnem,

omne pecus flammast, omnia qua uideo.

Guardians of the tender sheep & lamb of the race,
you seek the fire? Come here. You seek? The fire is Man.
If I will touch with a finger, I will set the wood, & the world, aflame,
all the herd is a flame, all that I see.

Ignis Homo Est, Porcius Licinus, ca. 100 B.C.

Current Mood:
good good
Current Music:
Boards of Canada - Forest Moon
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So I've taken to translating lesser-known pieces of Latin poetry, including the Old Latinists. It's good practice, and while some of them may not be the best poetry ever, they have some interesting images. Here's the first one.

ADVLESCENS tam etsi properas, hoc te saxulum
rogat ut se aspicias, deinde, quod scriptum est, legas.
hic sunt poetae Pacuui Marci sita
ossa. hoc uolebam, nescius ne esses. uale.

Although you, so young, hurry, this little rock
asks that you look, then, read, what is written —
“Here are the bones of the poet Marcus Pacuvius.”
This I wanted — that you not be unaware. Farewell.

— The Epitaph of M. Pacuvius (220-130 B.C.)

Current Mood:
good good
Current Music:
Baths - Departure
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I'm sorry for the break for the past few weeks - the end of the semester got pretty hectic. But the first semester of thesis is complete, and I get a month off to relax and read a whole myriad of stuff. To make up for the silence, have a poem I wrote for the Great Books class.

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The original Fata Apostolorum is an Anglo-Saxon poem by Cynewulf, and it's not much longer than mine - only 122 lines. I wrote this as an attempt to render that Old English verse into a Miltonian blank verse style (think Paradise Lost). I don't think I succeeded. Where Milton is dramatic (all those speeches!), I'm almost all narrative. One might say that if this poem was extended, then perhaps that might be overcome? But I think the problem in synthesizing the two is deeper. The unifying image of the original work is that of the Twelve Apostles as war-retainers to Jesus, who engage in battle against pagans, and in their deaths are accorded glory and honor worthy of a loyal thane. Milton doesn't really take that tone. His angels can be glorious in battle, but people are too spirit-wounded for that kind of glory to be a good indicator of what to do.

I may not have succeeded in what I set out to do - make a work that unifies the two styles - but my appreciation for both grew tremendously with the task completed.

Current Mood:
tired tired
Current Music:
Tim Hecker - 200 Years Ago
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I finished Njal's Saga earlier this week, but haven't really had the time to write about it. Time to rectify that.

In case you weren't following my twitter, let me just say that Njal's Saga is one of the greatest works concerning the evils of vengeance I've ever read. Feuds erupt from injuries to the body or to honor, and then build upon themselves until people are killing each other who have no connection to the original issue.

Perhaps the only works that come close to the narrative force of Njal's Saga on this subject are the Orestes of Euripides or Aeschylus' Oresteia trilogy. Both (as told by their name) deal with Orestes who, in revenge for the murder of his father Agamemnon, kills his mother Clytaemnestra who herself had done the deed at the urging of her lover Aegisthus. Just as in Njal's Saga, violence builds upon violence as more and more blood is shed to bring justice. But where in the myth of Orestes, it is through the lawful judgement of Athena in Athens that Orestes (and by his example all of society) is set free from the eternal cycle, Njal's Saga has a different take.

Njal's Saga makes the very powerful case that law, in its purely human creation, is not enough to break the cycle of violence. The Icelanders love law. They litigate and they bring cases against each other, not just for themselves but for their clients and kinsmen. All according to forms laid down at the Althing. But what the law cannot do here that it did in ancient Greece is break the urge to feud. All too often a party will reject a settlement, their pride having been pricked. At a decisive point in the book, a huge weregild (3 times the standard amount - 600 ounces of silver!) is rejected when the gift of a cloak is misconstrued as an insult to the opponent's masculinity. This collection, which had been brought together by most of the attendees, is useless to actually stopping the underlying causes of the bloodletting. As an even stronger episode, later on the Althing itself becomes a battleground between two factions, and they involve others in the fighting who have nothing at all to do with the original dispute. As the law is - which is just a purely human creation - it can only imperfectly apply a stop to the tendency of most men towards the escalation of violence. Near the end of the work, the author includes a terrifying vision of the fate of men in this cycle, where their destinies are made by witch women (I instantly thought of Clotho, Lotho, and Lachesis) on a loom where entrails are woven, with heads as weights, and swords as beaters. In this vision, there is no escape.

But Njal's Saga does not leave us in the grips of despair. Chapters 100-105 detail the conversion of Iceland from heathenism to Christianity. And this episode sets the stage for how men can get out of what seems inevitable. Several times after the conversion, men will say to themselves before an act that "this is a grave crime we are committing, for we are both Christians". They go about it anyway, but the author really shows how it takes time for the values of Christianity - repentance and peace especially - to filter down into the actions of the Icelanders. Njal himself, essentially a prophetic figure, dies without raising a hand to his enemies, and although left in a burning house, his body is found miraculously unharmed by the flames. And it is ultimately that spirit that saves the last important characters.

Flosi and Kari battle each other across the North Atlantic, Flosi trying to reach Rome and repent his horrific crimes. Kari essentially hunts him, killing off members of Flosi's band when he comes across them in revenge for the death of his young son Thord. It is only after both make their way to Rome, receive absolution, and then return to Iceland that we see how the Christian mentality of the author can save men from themselves. Kari, who has just landed at the start of winter, goes to Flosi's home to test him. When he arrives, Flosi embraces him as a friend, and offers him hospitality for the winter. And with that, the feuds that had antecedents 60 years earlier are gone. The hatred and evil has disappeared as quickly as a summer thunderstorm before the strength of penitence. It's a beautiful showing of just how violence can pop in and out of our lives.

I have read few works as powerful and compelling as Njal's Saga. The style is sparse and direct, and Its characters are terribly human; their flaws, mistakes, and vices riddle the landscape. It truly deserves to be read more widely.

Current Mood:
tired tired
Current Music:
Sufjan Stevens - Star of Wonder
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Here's a song for today.


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Current Mood:
melancholy melancholy
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I read this story on Saturday, and wrote this for my Great Books class yesterday, but here are some thoughts on it regarding truth. I suppose there are some spoilers in this, if you care.
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Current Mood:
tired tired
Current Music:
Laura - I Hope
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For today, have some Boards of Canada. This song, off of the "Boc Maxima" release, is one of my favorites by the duo.

Tags:
Current Mood:
tired tired
Current Music:
Boards of Canada - Everything You Do Is A Balloon
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TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
--The Second Coming, William Butler Yeats (1919)

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Current Mood:
thoughtful thoughtful
Current Music:
Nervous Doll Dancing - Cello
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