Friday, February 15, 2019

Jack Harvey writes

Quo Fata Ferunt

Kill tragedy,
the significance of events
in scenic magnificence
leads to nothing.

The world of mythology,
of  human history,
blows up our scant landscape
to a transient iridescent bubble;
stories and fables,
famous and fabulous
as all get-out
shifting and disconcerting,
forever haunt our minds.

Samson bulges straining,
short-haired in Gaza;
Theseus escapes the labyrinth,
guided by a skein gifted
by the love of a girl;
the glass shoe fits Cinderella. 

The orchestra sounds
a final note, signaling
a change of scene and
Venus, Bacchus and
their followers troop in
in scanty costume,
casting doubt on the wisdom
of the golden mean
on the purpose of modesty.

Waiting in the wings,
Cassandra and her crew
crow out the dictates of fate;
from the gods they know them all,
so they say.

Lively, extraordinary,
with remarkable gestures,
under the cracking pillars
Samson, unfazed, keeps at it.

In another clime,
a heroic battle;
Beowulf kills a mother
of a monster.

Continuous counterparts,
the bunch of them and
others like them,
meet their doom or
find some salvation,
some way out,
in the last loud accident,
the last catastrophe avoided
or met head-on.

The lesson is clear;
at the end of our passage here,
triumphant in the palace
or among the ruins
failing and falling,
all will be well,
as Oedipus said,
or better yet,
all will come to
the same blessed close,
the same unfettered outcome
to be told and retold
until we know that fate
has no hand, no say
in the claptrap way
we save ourselves
from the trouble
of uncertainty,
from knowing that
in the end
in this land of dreams
our tragedies, our triumphs
lead to nothing.    
Image result for kevin rolly samson paintings
Final Vengeance (The Death of Samson) -- Kevin Rolly


  1. Between 29-19 BCE, Publius Vergilius Maro collected scattered accounts of the Trojan hero Aeneas and reworked them into the epic poem "The Aeneid." Known to Homeros as "Aineias" (possibly derived from a Greek word meaning "praised"), he was the son of Aphrodite and Anchises, the grandson of Ilus the founder of Troy. After the Trojan defeat by the Greeks he led the survivors to various Mediterranean locales. After leaving Carthago he returned to Sicilia and was told by the spirit of Anchises, “Quo fata ferunt retrahuntque sequamur; Quidquid erit, superanda omnis fortuna ferendo est” (Let us follow where the Fates take us or take us back; Whatever will be, every misfortune can be overcome through perseverance.”) He later founded Lavinium in Italia and was the ancestor of Romulus and Remus, the founders of Roma; his grandson Brutus was regarded as the ancestor of the legendary kings of Britain, including king Arthur. According to "Ab Urbe Condita," the history of Roma by Virgil's contemporary Titus Livius Patavinus, Jupiter had the river god Numicus cleanse Aeneas of all his mortal parts and then his grandmother Venus (the Roman version of Aphrodite) anointed him with ambrosia and nectar to make him immortal.

  2. Cassandra, the daughter of Priam, the last king of Troy, was a priestess of Apollo who had taken a vow of chastity. However, Apollo, promised to give her the gift of clairvoyance if she became his lover. When she fell asleep in the temple a snake whispered in her ear so she could hear the future. But she reneged on her offer, and Apollo spit into her mouth and coupled his gift with a curse: No one would ever believe her true prophecies. She instructed her twin brother Helenos, but his prophecies were always believed. In the final year of the Trojan War, Helenus vied against his brother Deiphobus for the hand of the widowed Helen after the death of their brother Paris[, but when Helen was given to Deiphobus, Helenus retreated to Mount Ida, where Odysseus captured him. He told the Greeks that they would win if took the bones of Pelops to Troy, stole the Trojan Palladium, and enlisted Philoctetes and Achilles' son Neoptolemus into their army. Pelops had been murdered and dismembered by his father Tantalus to be served as a stew for the gods. To punish him, Ilus deposed Tantalus and drove him from his kingdom. The gods eventually reassembled Pelops and brought him back to life, but Zeus expelled him from Olympus after learning that his father had stolen ambrosia and nectar and revealed the secrets of the gods to his people. Later, Pelops invaded Troy to avenge his father's defeat but was vanquished and expelled by Ilus. The Palladium was a wooden image of Pallas (whom the Greeks identified with Athena and the Romans with Minerva) which fell from the sky in answer to a prayer of Ilus and served as a protector of his kingdom. Odysseus was able to enter Troy at night, disguised as a beggar, and Helen told him where the Palladium was located. Odysseus returned with Diomedes and stole the statue. Eventually it was taken to Italia by Aeneas. Odysseus and Diomedes were also responsible for recruiting Neoptolemus and Philoctetes; Neoptolemus slew Herkles' grandson Eurypylus in battle and then in the aftermath of the war murdered Priam and his children Polyxena and Polites, and Astyanax the infant son of Hector and Andromache, made Andromache his concubine (through whom Alexander the Great was descended via his mother Olympias), and captured Helenos; after Neoptolemus was killed by Orestes in a dispute over Hermione, the daughter of Menelaus and Helen, Helenos succeeded him and married Andromache (their grandson was Frankus, the ancestor of the Franks (French). When Aeneas stopped in his kingdom, Helenus foretold the founding of Roma. Cassandra foresaw that her brother Paris' abduction of Helen for his wife would bring about war with the Greeks, the destruction of Troy via the Greek ruse of hiding inside the Trojan Horse, Agamemnon's death, her own demise at the hands of Agamemnon's faithless wife and her lover Aegisthus, their murder by Agamemnon's children Electra and Orestes, her own mother Hecuba's fate as the slave of Odysseus (and her transformation into a dog after snarling at him after she went insane upon seeing the corpses of 2 of her slain children), and the 10-year wandering of Odysseus on his way home from the war.

  3. The name Theseus was derived from the same root as "thesmos" (Greek for "gathering"). He was responsible for the political unification of Attica under Athens. His fathers were king Aegeus of Athens and the sea god Poseidon, but he was raised secretly in Troezen by his mother. In Athens, Aegus became the consort of Medeia after she had killed her children by the hero Jason and fled Corinth. After learning of his true identity Theseus traveled to Athens, and Medeia, realizing who he was, tried to poison him to keep him from challenging her son Medus; mother and son then fled to Iran and became the ancestors of the Medes. After Minos of Crete defeated Aegeus in war, the Athenians had to send 14 young men and women every year to be sacrificed to the half-man/half-bull Minotaur. Theseus volunteered to go to Crete to end the practice, and Minos' daughter Ariadne fell in love with him and gave him directions and a ball of thread (a clew) to guide him in and out of the Labyrinth where the Minotaur was kept. He killed the monster and left the island with Ariadne and her sister Phaedra. He abandoned Ariadne on Naxos and proceeded to Athens, but forgot to furl white sails instead of the black ones with which he had left, a signal that he was returning alive; believing that Theseus was dead, the king committed suicide by jumping into the sea (thus giving it its name, the Aegean sea). Theseus then ruled, with Phaedra as his wife, until he lost popularity and was exiled to Skyros by Menestheus, who ruled the kingdom at the time of the Trojan War. To gain Menestheus' favor, king Lycomedes threw Theseus from a cliff. (Lycomedes had concealed Achilles in female disguise in an attempt to avoid serving in the war, and his daughter was the mother of Neoptolemus; Odysseus had tricked Achilles to reveal himself, but Neoptolemus remained with his grandfather until Odysseus summoned him to join the Greeks.)

  4. To avoid a prophecy that his son would kill him, king Laius of Thebes had his newborn son's ankles pierced and tied together so that he could not crawl (hence, the son's name Oedipus, "swollen foot") and abandoned him to die on a mountain; but the boy was raised by a shepherd and eventually adopted by the rulers of Corinth. When he was told that he was fated to kill his father and marry his mother, he decided to leave Corinth. En route to Thebes got into a fight with Laius and killed him. Further on his journey he outwitted the Sphinx and was given the the widowed queen Jocasta as his bride in recompense. Years later the city was struck by a plague of infertility, and Oedipus swore to punish the murderer of Laius. As the true story unfolded, Jocasta hanged herself, Oedipus removed a brooch from her gown and used it to blind himself and was exiled by his sons Polynices and Eteocles, who were to take turns ruling in his stead (but Eteocles refused to surrender his place after the 1st year), and his daughter Antigone guided him from place to place. They were given refuge at Kolonos by Theseus, and Oedipus offered to give him his burial site as a gift to ensure victory in a future war with Thebes. Theseus claimed that the 2 cities were at peace, but Oedipus insisted that "only the gods can never age, the gods can never die. All else in the world almighty Time obliterates, crushes all to nothing." In the war over who shall rule Thebes permanently, Eteocles and Polynices killed each other in personal combat.

  5. Samson (Shimshon‎, "man of the sun," in Hebrew) was a leader of the Jews before they instituted a monarchy. His superhuman strength enabled him to slay a lion with his bare hands and massacre 1,000 Philistine warriors using only the jawbone of an ass as a weapon. Extrabiblical accounts claim that his shoulders were 60 cubits (30 meters) broad. (Talmudic commentaries interpreted that to mean that he had the ability to carry a burden that size on his shoulders); though lame in both feet, he could step with one stride from Zorah to Eshtaol, and the hairs on his head would clash against one another and be heard for a like distance; he was able to rub 2 mountains together like 2 clods of earth. He fell in love with Delilah (meaning "She dwindles"), who was given 1,100 silver coins to find out the secret of his power; she seduced him into revealing that he would lose his strength if his hair were cut. While he was asleep she had him shorn, and he was captured and blinded. The Philistines took him to Gaza and put him to work turning a large millstone and grinding corn. The Philistine rulers and 3,000 observers went to the temple of Dagon ("grain") to thank the deity for delivering their enemy to them. Samson prayed to have his strength restored, "bowed himself with all his might," and brought the temple down upon everyone inside. Immediately after the narrative of Samson and Delilah in the "Book of Judges," the mother of Micah ("Who is like God?") consecrated 1,100 silver shekels to Yahweh for the purpose of creating a carved image and silver idol, which she placed in Micah's house. As a result, in medieval midrash the the 2 accounts were conflated to make Delilah the mother of Micah.

  6. Beowulf was a hero of the Geatas (Goths) of southern Sweden, the son-in-law of king Hrēðel (Hrethel). Hrōðgār (Hróarr), a 6th-century Danish king, summoned him to Heorot, his mead hall in the modern village of Lejre, near Roskilde, to assist against Grendel, a monstrous descendant of Cain, the 1st murderer according to "Genesis." Though Beowulf's men are unable to pierce Grendel's skin with their swords, Beowulf tore off his arm, forcing the mortally wounded creature to flee. The next night, in retaliation, Grendel's mother attacked Heorot again; in Beowulf's absence, she slew Æschere, Hrothgar's advisor who knew mysteries or enigmas. Beowulf and his men foundnd Æschere's severed head at the entrance to Grendel's mother's lair under a lake. One of Hrōðgār's followers, Hunferð, had earlier mocked Beowulf (and Beowulf had responded by boasting that as a youngster he had swum the North Sea in full armor while carrying a sword, killed 9 sea-monsters who dragged him to the ocean floor, and was had been taken by the currents to the land of the Finns), loaned him "a rare and ancient sword named Hrunting. / The iron blade with its ill-boding patterns / had been tempered in blood. It had never failed / the hand of anyone who hefted it in battle, / anyone who had fought and faced the worst / in the gap of danger." Beowulf assigned his estate to Hunferð in case of his death and plunged into the lake. At the bottom he entered a cavern and found the remains of various victims. In his combat against Grendel's mother, Beowulf found that Hrunting was useless, but he cut off her head with another sword he found in the cavern. He then located Grendel's corpse and cut off its head; the toxic blood dissolved the entire blade, leaving only the hilt intact. Returning to Heorot, Beowulf presented Grendel's head and the sword hilt to Hrōðgār, who gave him the sword Nægling as a reward. Fifty years later, after Beowulf has succeeded to the throne, a dragon (the 1st one in literature to breathe fire) ravaged the land in retaliation against the theft of a golden cup. beowulf advanced to his lair at Earnanæs (possibly near Skara on the shore of lake Vänern, in Västergötland, or south of Gothenburg between Kungsbacka and Varberg in Halland), but was mortally wounded by the dragon's fire even though he wounded the dragon. Wiglaf, his only surviving relative, a distant cousin, went to his aid, even though his shield was consumed by fire. Beowulf attacked the dragon again, but his his own strength was too great and caused Næġling to shatter. Wiglaf struck the dragon with his father's sword and tore its throat, preventing it from breathing fire and allowing Beowulf to finish the job. Then Wiglaf collected the dragon's treasure, and Beowulf named him as his successor. The loot was then placed on Beowulf's funeral pyre.


  7. Cinderella appeared (as Cendrillon) in the 1697 "Histoires ou contes du temps passé: Les Contes de ma Mère l'Oye" (Tales and Stories of the Past with Morals: Tales of Mother Goose) by Charles Perrault after Louis XIV's finance minister Jean Baptiste Colbert forced him into retirement as secretary of the Académie royale des Inscriptions et Médailles, a position he had held since its foundation in 1663. Cinderella was forced into a position of servitude by her stepmother. When her 2 cruel stepsisters go to a royal ball, Cinderell'a fairy godmother transformed a pumpkin into a golden carriage, mice into horses, a rat into a coachman, lizards into footmen, and Cinderella's rags into a beautiful jeweled gown, complete with a pair of glass slippers. However, she failed to leave before midnight, and the spell was broken. However, one of her slippers was recovered by the prince, who used it to locate its owner. When he arrived at Cinderella's house, it fit her perfectly, and he married her. As Perrault explained, "Without doubt it is a great advantage to have intelligence, courage, good breeding, and common sense. These, and similar talents come only from heaven, and it is good to have them. However, even these may fail to bring you success, without the blessing of a godfather or a godmother."


Join the conversation! What is your reaction to the post?