Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Bene est, cui deus ..

   I don't have hives of bees from Calabria
   Busily making their honey just for me;

   I don't have jars of rare Laestrygonian wine
   Slowly maturing itself only for me;

   I have no Gallic pasturelands where sheep
   Are growing their wool exclusively for me ..

Every morning, now, when I have to awaken to read that someone has been celebrating the greed of Mitt Romney, I can't help but be grateful to have been raised another way. It will be a long, grueling year with illiterates of humility, demanding. Demanding, demanding. It's their pitch that makes their agony so exquisitely base. One can't remark on them every day, one can't allow them to dedicate one to the narrow rut of their clamour. But we know now, how they will run. They will prey on the pervasiveness of greed. Greed will be the engine but parsimony their cover, for the fero-cious villainy they crave to perpetrate. Yet only the mercy of their defeat could limit their suffering, to say nothing of ours.

For the 1st of February, and implicitly for the first day of every month this year, I will love that this was shared with me:

Watchdogs watching, thick tower walls, oak doors,
Such things would have been quite sufficient to keep

The lovers of Danaë from getting in
By night to where she was, locked up from them.

But Jupiter and Venus only laughed,
Because they knew the way to get in was easy:

Jupiter had but to turn himself into gold.
Gold loves to get itself past sentinels

And loves to make its way through solid rock.
Gold has more power than Jupiter's lightning bolts.

Gold brought the house of the Argive prophet down;
Gold given by Philip of Macedon opened the gates

Of cities and made its way beneath the thrones
Of mighty kings, and thus their thrones fell down.

The more the money grows the more the greed
Grows too; also the anxiety of greed.

Maecenas, glory of simple knighthood, this
Is the reason I myself was always afraid

Of too much ambition and of rising too high.
The more a man can do without, the more

The gods will do for him. So, empty-handed,
Deserting the camp of the rich, I seek the camp

Of those who ask for little, and thus I am
A more impressive master of all the wealth

I happily have contempt for than if I
Were that poor thing belittled by his riches,

Hiding away in his storehouse everything garnered
From the rich Apulian fields his peasants till.

The splendid lord of the riches of Africa
Mistakenly thinks he's better off than I,

With my little farm whose crops I'm certain of,
And my quiet little stream of pure brook water.

Quamquam nec Calabrae mella ferunt apes,
nec Laestrygonia Bacchus in amphora
languescit mihi, nec pinguia Gallicis
crescunt vellera pascuis,

I don't have poverty, either, to worry about,
And if I were in need of anything more,

I know Maecenas would not deny it to me.
The less I want the more I seem to have.

It's better than if I owned what Midas owned,
Combined with everything that Croesus ownded.

Want much, lack much. That man has just enough
To whom the gods have given just enough.

  III, 16
David Ferry
op. cit.


  1. Those who cannot remember the past ... etc. In a culture of envy posturing as aspiration, "that man has just enough to whom the gods have given just enough" indeed!

    1. Thank you for your visit and this thoughtful comment, BL. I feel that Horace very much hit the same nail as you in his reference to anxiety - if I'm not mistaking you, of course - and this pathetic aspect is always sad to see in the individual case. In the organised case, as you say, it threatens the reliving of terrible calamity. There are many strands in this "culture of envy" which we have watched being conceived and trained and rewarded and promoted, in our lifetime; but to anyone young, I suppose it is second-nature.

      But I do not mean to implicate you in these suggestions; it's just that we know that you do teach, and I know you know the feeling of seeming to violate someone's nature, simply to convey understanding.

  2. J. S. Bach created great works because of the limitations imposed by form and the rules of voice leading which do not permit excess. Likewise, there is no art to campaigns that spend 14 million in one state to trash talk. Too much saying nothing. Give me campaign finance reform.

  3. For finance reform, do ring up the Bush family, and ask if they'd like to revoke their appointments of Thomas, Alito, and Roberts, and then we won't have to see the unborn brought to adulthood under the rules of the Citizens United case. But as you astutely and rather heartbreakingly observe, the very conception of "form" is incongruous under the genius of the Roberts Court and of Mitt Romney, to exalt the "personality" of corporations.

    As I try to say, how much better that they should be brought to account by electoral, rather than (as you say) less "limited" other constraint. Nothing could be more clear than that this is what they are begging for in 2012, very possibly their last chance to benefit from it.

    Thank you very much for bringing up Bach. Just think (as I know you do, every day, and help others to do) of the profoundly thrilling and rich room for liberty of performance there is in his forms; and among other things, you will be inspired again to show it to those who do not see it, yet. All best to you.

  4. You always know the thing to say at the time to say it, Tom. I know what you mean.