This is the reason why these birds swim in flocks, for when in large numbers they are in no danger from the enemy; as by dashing up the spray with their wings they blind him. Again, it often happens that the eagle is not able to carry the bird aloft on account of its weight, and in consequence they both of them sink together.
Some writers add to the above a seventh kind, which they call the "bearded" 28 eagle; the Tuscans, however, call it the ossifrage. This stone has the quality also, in a manner, of being pregnant, for when shaken, another stone is heard to rattle within, just as though it were enclosed in its womb; it has no medical properties, however, except immediately after it has been taken from the nest. Eagles build among rocks and trees; they lay three eggs, and generally hatch but two young ones, though occasionally as many as three have been seen. Being weary of the trouble of rearing both, they drive one of them from the nest: for just at this time the providential foresight of Nature has denied them a sufficiency of food, thereby using due precaution that the young of all the other animals should not become their prey.
During this period, also, their talons become reversed, and their feathers grow white from continued hunger, so that it is not to be wondered at that they take a dislike to their young. The ossifrage, however, a kindred species, takes charge of the young ones thus rejected, and rears them with its own; but the parent bird still pursues them with hostility, even when grown up, and drives them away, as being its rivals in rapine. And indeed, under any circumstances, one pair of eagles requires a very considerable space of ground to forage over, in order to find sufficient sustenance; for which reason it is that they mark out by boundaries their respective allotments, and seek their prey in succession to one another.
They do not immediately carry off their prey, but first deposit it on the ground, and it is only after they have tested its weight that they fly away with it. They die, not of old age, nor yet of sickness, or of hunger; but the upper part of the beak grows to such an extent, and becomes so curved, that they are unable to open it. They take the wing, and begin upon the labours of the chase at mid-day; sitting in idleness during the hours of the morning, until such time as the places 30 of public resort are filled with people.
The feathers of the eagle, if mixed with those of other birds, will consume them. Caius Marius, in his second consulship, assigned the eagle exclusively to the Roman legions. Before that period it had only held the first rank, there being four others as well, the wolf, the minotaur, the horse, and the wild boar, each of which preceded a single division. Since then, it has been remarked that hardly ever has a Roman legion encamped for the winter, without a pair of eagles making their appearance at the spot.
The first and second species of eagle, not only prey upon the whole of the smaller quadrupeds, but will attack deer even. Rolling in the dust, the eagle covers its body all over with it, and then perching on the antlers of the animal, shakes the dust into its eyes, while at the same time it beats it on the head with its wings, until the creature at last precipitates itself down the rocks.
Nor, indeed, is this one enemy sufficient for it; it has still more terrible combats with the dragon, 33 and the issue is much more doubtful, although the battle is fought in the air. The dragon seeks the eggs of the eagle with a mischievous avidity; while the eagle, in return, carries it off whenever it happens to see it; upon these occasions, the dragon coils itself about the wings of the bird in multiplied folds, until at last they fall to the earth together. There is a very famous story about an eagle at the city of Sestos. Having been reared by a little girl, it used to testify its gratitude for her kindness, first by bringing her birds, and in due time various kinds of prey: at last she died, upon which the bird threw itself on the lighted pile, and was consumed with her body.
In memory of this event, the inhabitants raised upon the spot what they called an heroic monument, 34 in honour of Jupiter and the damsel, the eagle being a bird consecrated to that divinity. Of the vultures, the black ones 35 are the strongest. No person has yet found a vulture's nest: hence it is that there are some who have thought, though erroneously, that these birds come from the opposite hemisphere. Umbricius, the most skilful among the aruspices of our time, says that the vulture lays thirteen eggs, 37 and that with one of these eggs 38 it purifies the others and its nest, and then throws it away: he states also that they hover about for three 39 days, over the spot where carcases are about to be found.
There has been considerable argument among the Roman augurs about the birds known as the "sangualis" and the "immusulus. Massurius says, 40 that the sangualis is the same as the ossifrage, and that the immusulus is the young of the eagle, before the tail begins to turn white.
Some persons have asserted that these birds have not been seen at Rome since the time of the augur Mucius; for my part, I think it much more likely, that, amid that general heedlessness as to all knowledge, which has of late prevailed, no notice has been taken of them. This last is by the Romans known as the "buteo;" indeed there is a family 44 that has taken its surname from it, from the circumstance of this bird having given a favourable omen by settling upon the ship of one of them when he held a command.
The Greeks call one kind 45 "epileus;" the only one, indeed, that is seen at all seasons of the year, the others taking their departure in the winter. The various kinds are distinguished by the avidity with which they seize their prey; for while some will only pounce on a bird while on the ground, others will only seize it while hovering round the trees, others, again, while it is perched aloft, and others while it is flying in mid air.
Hence it is that pigeons, on seeing them, are aware of the nature of the danger to which they are exposed, and either settle on the ground or else fly upwards, instinctively protecting themselves by taking due precautions against their natural propensities. In the part of Thrace which lies above Amphipolis, men 47 and hawks go in pursuit of prey, in a sort of partnership as it were; for while the men drive the birds from out of the woods and the reed—Beds, the hawks bring them down as they fly; and after they have taken the game, the fowlers share it with them.
It has been said, that when sent aloft, they will pick 48 out the birds that are wanted, and that when the opportune moment for taking them has come, they invite the fowler to seize the opportunity by their cries and their peculiar mode of flying. The night-hawk is called cybindis; 51 it is rarely found, even in the woods, and in the day-time its sight is not good; it wages war to the death with the eagle, and they are often to be found clasped in each other's talons.
The cuckoo seems to be but another form of the hawk, 52 which at a certain season of the year changes its shape; it being the fact that during this period no other hawks are to be seen, except, perhaps, for a few days only; the cuckoo, too, itself is only seen for a short period in the summer, and does not make its appearance after. It is the only one among the hawks that has not hooked talons; neither is it like the rest of them in the head, or, indeed, in any other respect, except the colour only, while in the beak it bears a stronger resemblance to the pigeon.
In addition to this, it is devoured by the hawk, if they chance at any time to meet; this being the only one among the whole race of birds that is preyed upon by those of its own kind. It changes its voice also with its appearance, comes out in the spring, and goes into retirement at the rising of the Dog-star. It always lays its eggs in the nest of another bird, and that of the ring-dove 53 more especially,-mostly a single egg, a thing that is the case with no other bird; sometimes however, but very rarely, it is known to lay two.
It is supposed, that the reason for its thus substituting its young ones, is the fact that it is aware 54 how greatly it is hated by all the other birds; for even the very smallest of them will attack it. Hence it is, that it thinks its own race will stand no chance of being perpetuated unless it contrives to deceive them, and for this reason builds no nest of its own: and besides this, it is a very timid animal.
In the meantime, the female bird, sitting on her nest, is rearing a supposititious and spurious progeny; while the young cuckoo, which is naturally craving and greedy, snatches away all the food from the other young ones, and by so doing grows plump and sleek, and quite gains the affections of his foster-mother; who takes a great pleasure in his fine appearance, and is quite surprised that she has become the mother of so handsome an offspring. In comparison with him, she discards her own young as so many strangers, until at last, when the young cuckoo is now able to take the wing, he finishes by devouring 55 her.
For sweetness of the flesh, there is not a bird in existence to be compared to the cuckoo at this season. The kite, which belongs to the same genus, is distinguished from the rest of the hawks by its larger size. It has been remarked of this bird, extremely ravenous as it is, and always craving, that it has never been known to seize any food either from among funereal oblations or from the altar of Jupiter at Olympia; nor yet, in fact, does it ever seize any of the consecrated viands from the hands of those who are carrying them; except where some misfortune is presaged for the town that is offering the sacrifice.
These birds seem to have taught man the art of steering, from the motion of the tail, Nature pointing out by their movements in the air the method required for navigating the deep. Kites also disappear during the winter months, but do not take their departure before the swallow. It is said, also, that after the summer solstice they are troubled with the gout.
The first distinctive characteristic among birds is that which bears reference more especially to their feet: they have either hooked talons, or else toes, or else, again, they belong to the web-footed class, geese for instance, and most of the aquatic birds. Those which have hooked talons feed, for the most part, upon nothing but flesh. Crows, again, have another kind of food.
Nuts being too hard for their beak to break, the crow flies to a great height, and then lets them fall again and again upon the stones or tiles beneath, until at last the shell is cracked, after which the bird is able to open them. This is a bird with a very ill-omened garrulity, though it has been highly praised by some. The crow is most inauspicious at the time of incubation, or, in other words, just after the summer solstice. All the other birds of the same kind drive their young ones from their nest, and compel them to fly; the raven, for instance, which not only feeds on flesh, but even drives its young, when able to fly, to a still greater distance.
Hence it is that in small hamlets there are never more than two 58 pairs to be found; and in the neighbourhood of Crannon, in Thessaly, never more than one, the parents always quitting the spot to give place to their offspring. There have been some differences observed between this and the bird last mentioned. Ravens breed before the summer solstice, and continue in bad health for sixty days—Being afflicted with a continual thirst more particularly—Before the ripening of the fig in autumn; while, on the other hand, the crow is attacked by disease after that period.
The raven lays, at most, but five eggs. It is a vulgar belief, that they couple, or else lay, by means of the beak; and that, consequently, if a pregnant woman happens to eat a raven's egg, she will be delivered by the mouth. It is also believed, that if the eggs are even so much as brought beneath the roof, a difficult labour will be the consequence.
Aristotle denies it, and assures us in all good faith that there is no more truth in this than in the same story about the ibis in Egypt; he says that it is nothing else but that same sort of billing that is so often seen in pigeons. They are of the very worst omen when they swallow their voice, as if they were being choked. The birds of the night also have crooked talons, such as the owlet, 61 the horned owl, and the screech-owl, for instance; the sight of all of which is defective in the day-time. The horned owl is especially funereal, and is greatly abhorred in all auspices of a public nature: it inhabits deserted places, and not only desolate spots, but those of a frightful and inaccessible nature: the monster of the night, its voice is heard, not with any tuneful note, but emitting a sort of shriek.
Hence it is that it is looked upon as a direful omen to see it in a city, or even so much as in the day-time. I know, however, for a fact, that it is not portentous of evil when it settles on the top of a private house. It cannot fly whither it wishes in a straight line, but is always carried along by a sidelong movement. A horned owl entered the very sanctuary of the Capitol, in the consulship of Sextus Palpelius Hister and L.
Pedanius; in consequence of which, Rome was purified on the nones 62 of March in that year. An inauspicious bird also is that known as the "incendiary;" 63 on account of which, we find in the Annals, the City has had to be repeatedly purified; as, for instance, in the consulship of L. Cassius and C. Marius, 64 in which year also it was purified, in consequence of a horned owl being seen. What kind of bird this incendiary bird was, we do not find stated, nor is it known by tradition. Some persons explain the term this way; they say that the name "incendiary" was applied to every bird that was seen carrying a burning coal from the pyre, or altar; while others, again, call such a bird a "spinturnix; 65 though I never yet found any person who said that he knew what kind of bird this spinturnix was.
I find also that the people of our time are ignorant what bird it was that was called by the ancients a "clivia. We also find a bird mentioned by Nigidius as the "subis," which breaks the eggs of the eagle. In addition to the above, there are many other kinds that are described in the Etruscan ritual, but which no one now living has ever seen.
About the Author
It is surprising that these birds are no longer in existence, since we find that even those kinds abound, among which the gluttony of man commits such ravages. Among foreigners, a person called Hylas is thought to have written the best treatise on the subject of augury. He informs us that the owlet, the horned owl, the woodpecker, which makes holes in trees, the trygon, and the crow, are produced from the egg with the tail 66 first; for the egg, being turned upside down through the weight of the head of the chick, presents the wrong end to be warmed by the mother as she sits upon it.
The owlet shows considerable shrewdness in its engagements with other birds; for when surrounded by too great a number, it throws itself on its back, and so, resisting with its feet, and rolling up its body into a mass, defends itself with the beak and talons; until the hawk, attracted by a certain natural affinity, comes to its assistance, and takes its share in the combat.
Nigidius says, that the incubation of the owlet lasts sixty days, during the winter, and that it has nine different notes. There are some small birds also, which have hooked talons; the wood-pecker, for example, surnamed "of Mars," of considerable importance in the auspices. To this kind belong the birds which make holes in trees, and climb stealthily up them, like cats; mounting with the head upwards, they tap against the bark, and learn by the sound whether or not their food lies beneath; they are the only birds that hatch their young in the hollows of trees.
It is a common belief, that if a shepherd drives a wedge into their holes, they apply a certain kind of herb, 67 immediately upon which it falls out. Trebius informs us that if a nail or wedge is driven with ever so much force into a tree in which these birds have made their nest, it will instantly fly out, the tree making a loud cracking noise the moment that the bird has lighted upon the nail or wedge.
These birds have held the first rank in auguries, in Latium, since the time of the king 68 who has given them their name. One of the presages that was given by them, I cannot pass over in silence. Many birds of this kind feed also on acorns and fruit, but only those which are not carnivorous, with the exception of the kite; though when it feeds on anything but flesh, it is a bird of ill omen.
The birds which have hooked talons are never gregarious; each one seeks its prey by itself. They nearly all of them soar to a great height, with the exception of the birds of the night, and more especially those of larger size. They all have large wings, and a small body; they walk with difficulty, and rarely settle upon stones, being prevented from doing so by the curved shape of their talons. We shall now speak of the second class of birds, which is divided into two kinds; those which give omens 70 by their note, and those which afford presages by their flight.
The variation of the note in the one, and the relative size in the other, constitute the differences between them. These last, therefore, shall be treated of first, and the peacock shall have precedence of all the rest, as much for its singular beauty as its superior instinct, and the vanity it displays.
When it hears itself praised, this bird spreads out its gorgeous colours, and especially if the sun happens to be shining at the time, because then they are seen in all their radiance, and to better advantage. At the same time, spreading out its tail in the form of a shell, it throws the reflection upon the other feathers, which shine all the more brilliantly when a shadow is cast upon them; then at another moment it will contract all the eyes 71 depicted upon its feathers in a single mass, manifesting great delight in having them admired by the spectator.
The peacock loses its tail every year at the fall of the leaf, and a new one shoots forth in its place at the flower season; between these periods the bird is abashed and moping, and seeks retired spots. The peacock lives twenty-five years, and begins to show its colours in the third. By some authors it is stated that this bird is not only a vain creature, but of a spiteful disposition also, just in the same way that they attribute bashfulness to the goose. The orator Hortensius was the first Roman who had the peacock killed for table; it was on the occasion of the banquet given by him on his inauguration in the college of the priesthood.
Aufidius Lurco 73 was the first who taught the art of fattening them, about the time of the last war with the Pirates. From this source of profit he acquired an income of sixty thousand sesterces. Next after the peacock, the animal that acts as our watchman by night, and which Nature has produced for the purpose of arousing mortals to their labours, and dispelling their slumbers, shows itself most actuated by feelings of vanity.
The cock knows how to distinguish the stars, and marks the different periods of the day, every three hours, by his note. These animals go to roost with the setting of the sun, and at the fourth watch of the camp recall man to his cares and toils. They do not allow the rising of the sun to creep upon us un- awares, but by their note proclaim the coming day, and they prelude their crowing by clapping their sides with their wings.
They exercise a rigorous sway over the other birds of their kind, and, in every place where they are kept, hold the supreme command. This, however, is only obtained after repeated battles among themselves, as they are well aware that they have weapons on their legs, produced for that very purpose, as it were, and the contest often ends in the death of both the combatants at the same moment.
If, on the other hand, one of them obtains the mastery, he instantly by his note proclaims himself the conqueror, and testifies by his crowing that he has been victorious; While his conquered opponent silently slinks away, and, though with a very bad grace, submits to servitude. And with equal pride does the throng of the poultry yard strut along, with head uplifted and crest erect. These, too, are the only ones among the winged race that repeatedly look up to the heavens, with the tail, which in its drooping shape resembles that of a sickle, raised aloft: and so it is that these birds inspire terror even in the lion, 75 the most courageous of all animals.
Some of these birds, too, are reared for nothing but warfare and perpetual combats, and have even shed a lustre thereby on their native places, Rhodes and Tanagra. The next rank is considered to belong to those of Melos 76 and Chalcis. Hence, it is not without very good reason that the consular purple of Rome pays these birds such singular honours.
It is from the feeding of these creatures that the omens 77 by fowls are derived; it is these that regulate 78 day by day the movements of our magistrates, and open or shut to them their own houses, as the case may be; it is these that give an impulse to the fasces of the Roman magistracy, or withhold them; it is these that command battles or forbid them, and furnish auspices for victories to be gained in every part of the world. It is these that hold supreme rule over those who are themselves the rulers of the earth, and whose entrails and fibres are as pleasing to the gods as the first spoils of victory.
When castrated, cocks cease to crow. This operation is performed two different ways. Either the loins of the animal are seared with red-hot iron, or else the lower part of the legs; after which, the wound is covered up with potter's clay: this way they are fattened much more easily. At Pergamus, 80 there is every year a public show of fights of game-cocks, just as in other places we have those of gladiators.
We find it stated in the Roman Annals, that in the 81 consulship of M. Lepidus and Q. Catulus a dung-hill cock spoke, at the farm-house of Galerius; the only occasion, in fact, that I know of. The goose also keeps a vigilant guard; a fact which is well attested by the defence of the Capitol, at a moment when, by the silence of the dogs, the commonwealth had been betrayed: 82 for which reason it is that the Censors always, the first thing of all, attend to the farming-out of the feeding of the sacred geese. What is still more, too, there is a love-story about this animal. One might almost be tempted to think that these creatures have an appreciation of wisdom: 84 for it is said, that one of them was the constant companion of the philosopher, Lacydes, and would never leave him, either in public or when at the bath, by night or by day.
Our people, however, are more wise; for they only esteem the goose for the goodness of its liver. Seius, a contemporary of his, and a Roman of equestrian rank. However, a thing about which there is no dispute, it was Messalinus Cotta, the son of the orator Messala, who first discovered the art of roasting the webbed feet of the goose, and of cooking them in a ragout with cocks' combs: for I shall faithfully award each culinary palm to such as I shall find deserving of it. It is a wonderful fact, in relation to this bird, that it comes on foot all the way from the country of the Morini 87 to Rome; those that are tired are placed in the front rank, while the rest, taught by a natural instinct to move in a compact body, drive them on.
A second income, too, is also to be derived from the feathers of the white goose. In some places, this animal is plucked twice a year, upon which the feathers quickly grow again. It is from this fruitful source that we have repeated charges brought against the commanders of our auxiliaries, who are in the habit of detaching whole cohorts from the posts where they ought to be on guard, in pursuit of these birds: indeed, we have come to such a pitch of effeminacy, that now-a-days, not even the men can think of lying down without the aid of the goose's feathers, by way of pillow.
The part of Syria which is called Commagene, has discovered another invention also; the fat of the goose 89 is enclosed with some cinnamon in a brazen vessel, and then covered with a thick layer of snow. Under the influence of the excessive cold, it becomes macerated, and fit for use as a medicament, remarkable for its properties: from the country which produces it, it is known to us as "Commagenum. To the goose genus belong also the chenalopex, 91 and the cheneros, 92 a little smaller than the common goose, and which forms the most exquisite of all the dainties that Britannia provides for the table.
The tetrao 93 is remarkable for the lustre of its plumage, and its extreme darkness, while the eyelids are of a scarlet colour. Another species 94 of this last bird exceeds the vulture in size, and is of a similar colour to it; and, indeed, there is no bird, with the exception of the ostrich, the body of which is of a greater weight; for to such a size does it grow, that it becomes incapable of moving, and allows itself to be taken on the ground. The Alps and the regions of the North produce these birds; but when kept in aviaries, they lose their fine flavour, and by retaining their breath, will die of mere vexation.
Next to these in size are the birds which in Spain they call the "tarda," 95 and in Greece the "otis:" they are looked upon however as very inferior food; the marrow, 96 when disengaged from the bones, immediately emits a most noisome smell. By the departure of the cranes, which, as we have already stated, 97 were in the habit of waging war with them, the nation of the Pygmies now enjoys a respite. The tracts over which they travel must be immense, if we only consider that they come all the way from the Eastern Sea.
During the night, also, they place sentinels on guard, each of which holds a little stone in its claw: if the bird should happen to fall asleep, the claw becomes relaxed, and the stone falls to the ground, and so convicts it of neglect. The rest sleep in the meanwhile, with the head beneath the wing, standing first on one leg and then on the other: the leader looks out, with neck erect, and gives warning when required.
These birds, when tamed, are very frolicsome, and even when alone will describe a sort of circle, as they move along, with their clumsy gait. It is a well-known fact, that these birds, when about to fly over the Euxine, first of all repair to the narrowest part of it, that lies between the two 99 Promontories of Criumetopon and Carambis, and then ballast themselves with coarse sand.
When they have arrived midway in the passage, they throw away the stones from out of their claws, and, as soon as they reach the mainland, discharge the sand by the throat. Cornelius Nepos, who died in the reign of the late Emperor Augustus, after stating that thrushes had been fattened for the first time shortly before that period, has added that storks were more esteemed as food than cranes: whereas at the present day, this last bird is one of those that are held in the very highest esteem, while no one will so much as touch the other.
Up to the present time it has not been ascertained from what place the storks come, or whither they go when they leave us. There can be no doubt but that, like the cranes, they come from a very great distance, the cranes being our winter, the storks our summer, guests. When about to take their departure, the storks assemble at a stated place, and are particularly careful that all shall attend, so that not one of their kind may be left behind, with the exception of such as may be in captivity or tamed; and then on a certain day they set out, as though by some law they were directed to do so.
No one has ever yet seen a flight of cranes taking their departure, although they have been often observed preparing to depart; and in the same way, too, we never see them arrive, but only when they have arrived; both their departure as well as their arrival take place in the night. Although, too, we see them flying about in all directions, it is still supposed that they never arrive at any other time but in the night.
Pythonos- come is the name given to some vast plains of Asia, where, as they assemble together, they keep up a gabbling noise, and tear to pieces the one that happens to arrive the last; after which they take their departure. It has been remarked that after the ides of August, they are never by any accident to be seen there.
There are some writers who assure us that the stork has no tongue. So highly are they esteemed for their utility in destroying serpents, that in Thessaly, it was a capital crime for any one to kill a stork, and by the laws the same penalty was inflicted for it as for homicide. Geese, and swans also, travel in a similar manner, but then they are seen to take their flight. The flocks, forming a point, move along with great impetus, much, indeed, after the manner of our Liburnian beaked galleys; and it is by doing so that they are enabled to cleave the air more easily than if they presented to it a broad front.
The flight gradually enlarges in the rear, much in the form of a wedge, presenting a vast surface to the breeze, as it impels them onward; those that follow place their necks on those that go before, while the leading birds, as they become weary, fall to the rear. Storks return to their former nests, and the young, in their turn, support their parents when old. It is stated that at the moment of the swan's death, it gives utterance to a mournful song; but this is an error, in my opinion, at least I have tested the truth of the story on several occasions. These birds will eat the flesh of one another.
Having spoken of the emigration of these birds over sea and land, I cannot allow myself to defer mentioning some other birds of smaller size, which have the same natural instinct: although in the case of those which I have already mentioned, their very size and strength would almost seem to invite them to such habits. The quail, which always arrives among us even before the crane, is a small bird, and when it has once arrived, more generally keeps to the ground than flies aloft. These birds fly also in a similar manner to those I have already spoken of, and not without considerable danger to mariners, when they come near the surface of the earth: for it often happens that they settle on the sails of a ship, and that too always in the night: the consequence of which is, that the vessel often sinks.
These birds pursue their course along a tract of country with certain resting-places. When the south wind is blowing, they will not fly, as that wind is always humid, and apt to weigh them down. Still, however, it is an object with them to get a breeze to assist them in their flight, the body being so light, and their strength so very limited: hence it is that we hear them make that murmuring noise as they fly, it being extorted from them by fatigue.
It is for this reason also, that they take to flight more especially when the north wind is blowing, having the ortygometra for their leader. The first of them that approaches the earth is generally snapped up by the hawk. When they are about to return from these parts, they always invite other birds to join their company, and the glottis, otus, and cychramus, yielding to their persuasions, take their departure along with them. The glottis protrudes a tongue of remarkable length, from which circumstance it derives its name: at first it is quite pleased with the journey, and sets out with the greatest ardour; very soon, however, when it begins to feel the fatigues of the flight, it is overtaken by regret, while at the same time it is equally as 10th to return alone, as to accompany the others.
Its travels, however, never last more than a single day, for at the very first resting-place they come to, it deserts: here too it finds other birds, which have been left behind in a similar manner in the preceding year. The same takes place with other birds day after day. The cychramus, however, is much more persevering, and is quite in a hurry to arrive at the land which is its destination: hence it is that it arouses the quails in the night, and reminds them that they ought to be on the road.
Chapter Three: Poems (1842)
The otus is a smaller bird than the horned owl, though larger than the owlet; it has feathers projecting like ears, whence its name. Some persons call it in the Latin language the "asio;" in general it is a bird fond of mimicking, a great parasite, and, in some measure, a dancer as well. Like the owlet, it is taken without any difficulty; for while one person occupies its attention, another goes behind, and catches it.
If the wind, by its contrary blasts, should begin to prevent the onward progress of the flight, the birds immediately take up small stones, or else fill their throats with sand, and so contrive to ballast themselves as they fly. The seeds of a certain venomous plant are most highly esteemed by the quails as food; for which reason it is that they have been banished from our tables; in addition to which, a great repugnance is manifested to eating their flesh, on account of the epilepsy, to which alone of all animals, with the exception of man, the quail is subject.
The swallow, the only bird that is carnivorous among those which have not hooked talons, takes its departure also during the winter months; but it only goes to neighbouring countries, seeking sunny retreats there on the mountain sides; sometimes they have been found in such spots bare and quite unfledged. Upon gaining a victory, he would send the news by them to his friends; for after staining them the colour of the party that had gained the day, he would let them go, immediately upon which they would make their way to the nests they had previously occupied.
Fabius Pictor also relates, in his Annals, that when a Roman garrison was being besieged by the Ligurians, a swallow which had been taken from its young ones was brought to him, inorder that he might give them notice, by the number of knots on a string tied to its leg, on what day succour would arrive, and a sortie might be made with advantage.
In a similar manner also, the blackbird, the thrush, and the starling take their departure to neighbouring countries; but they do not lose their feathers, nor yet conceal themselves, as they are often to be seen in places where they seek their food during the winter: hence it is that in winter, more especially, the thrush is so often to be seen in Germany.
It is, however, a well-ascertained fact, that the turtle-dove conceals itself, and loses its feathers. The ring-dove, also, takes its departure: and with these too, it is a matter of doubt whither they go. It is a peculiarity of the starling to fly in troops, as it were, and then to wheel round in a globular mass like a ball, the central troop acting as a pivot for the rest. Swallows are the only birds that have a sinuous flight of remarkable velocity; for which reason it is that they are not exposed to the attacks of other birds of prey: these too, in fine, are the only birds that take their food solely on the wing.
The time during which birds show themselves differs very considerably. Some remain with us all the year round, the pigeon, for instance; some for six months, such as the swallow; and some, again, for three months only, as the thrush, the turtledove, and those which take their departure the moment they have reared their young, the witwall and the hoopoe, for instance. They are a species of African poultry, having a hump on the back, which is covered with a mottled plumage. These are the latest among the foreign birds that have been received at our tables, on account of their disagreeable smell.
The tomb, however, of Meleager has rendered them famous. Those birds are called seleucides, which are sent by Jupiter at the prayers offered up to him by the inhabitants of Mount Casius, when the locusts are ravaging their crops of corn. Whence they come, or whither they go, has never yet been ascertained, as, in fact, they are never to be seen but when the people stand in need of their aid.
The Egyptians also invoke their ibis against the incursions of serpents; and the people of Elis, their god Myiagros, when the vast multitudes of flies are bringing pestilence among them; the flies die immediately the propitiatory sacrifice has been made to this god. With reference to the departure of birds, the owlet, too, is said to lie concealed for a few days. No birds of this last kind are to be found in the island of Crete, and if any are imported thither, they immediately die. Indeed, this is a remarkable distinction made by Nature; for she denies to certain places, as it were, certain kinds of fruits and shrubs, and of animals as well; it is singular that when introduced into these localities they will be no longer productive, but die immediately they are thus transplanted.
What can it be that is thus fatal to the increase of one particular species, or whence this envy manifested against them by Nature? What, too, are the limits that have been marked out for the birds on the face of the earth? Rhodes possesses no eagles. In Italy beyond the Padus, there is, near the Alps, a lake known by the name of Larius, beautifully situate amid a country covered with shrubs; and yet this lake is never visited by storks, nor, indeed, are they ever known to come within eight miles of it; while, on the other hand, in the neighbouring territory of the Insubres there are immense flocks of magpies and jackdaws, the only bird that is guilty of stealing gold and silver, a very singular propensity.
It is said that in the territory of Tarentum, the woodpecker of Mars is never found. It is a peculiarity of this bird, that it becomes bald every year at the time of sowing rape. At Rome, neither flies nor dogs ever enter the temple of Hercules in the Cattle Market. There are numerous other instances of a similar nature in reference to all kinds of animals, which from time to time I feel myself prompted by prudent considerations to omit, lest I should only weary the reader. Theophrastus, for example, relates that even pigeons, as well as peacocks and ravens, have been introduced from other parts into Asia, as also croaking frogs into Cyrenaica.
There is another remarkable fact too, relative to the birds which give omens by their note; they generally change their colour and voice at a certain season of the year, and suddenly become quite altered in appearance; a thing that, among the larger birds, happens with the crane only, which grows black in its old age. From black, the blackbird changes to a reddish colour, sings in summer, chatters in winter, and about the summer solstice loses its voice; when a year old, the beak also assumes the appearance of ivory; this, however, is the case only with the male.
In the summer, the thrush is mottled about the neck, but in the winter it becomes of one uniform colour all over. The song of the nightingale is to be heard, without intermission, for fifteen days and nights, continuously, when the foliage is thickening, as it bursts from the bud; a bird which deserves our admiration in no slight degree. First of all, what a powerful voice in so small a body! And then, too, it is the only bird the notes of which are modulated in accordance with the strict rules of musical science. Then it will warble to itself, while taking breath, or else disguise its voice in an instant; while sometimes, again, it will twitter to itself, now with a full note, now with a grave, now again sharp, now with a broken note, and now with a prolonged one.
Sometimes, again, when it thinks fit, it will break out into quavers, and will run through, in succession, alto, tenor, and bass: in a word, in so tiny a throat is to be found all the melody that the ingenuity of man has ever discovered through the medium of the invention of the most exquisite flute: so much so, that there can be no doubt it was an infallible presage of his future sweetness as a poet, when one of these creatures perched and sang on the infant lips of the poet Stesichorus.
That there may remain no doubt that there is a certain degree of art in its performances, we may here remark that every bird has a number of notes peculiar to itself; for they do not, all of them, have the same, but each, certain melodies of its own. They vie with one another, and the spirit with which they contend is evident to all.
The one that is vanquished, often dies in the contest, and will rather yield its life than its song. The younger birds are listening in the meantime, and receive the lesson in song from which they are to profit. The learner hearkens with the greatest attention, and repeats what it has heard, and then they are silent by turns; this is understood to be the correction of an error on the part of the scholar, and a sort of reproof, as it were, on the part of the teacher.
Hence it is that nightingales fetch as high a price as slaves, and, indeed, sometimes more than used formerly to be paid for a man in a suit of armour. I know that on one occasion six thousand sesterces were paid for a nightingale, a white one it is true, a thing that is hardly ever to be seen, to be made a present of to Agrippina, the wife of the Emperor Claudius.
A nightingale has been often seen that will sing at command, and take alternate parts with the music that accompanies it; men, too, have been found who could imitate its note with such exactness, that it would be impossible to tell the difference, by merely putting water in a reed held crosswise, and then blowing into it, a languette being first inserted, for the purpose of breaking the sound and rendering it more shrill.
Its colour, too, becomes changed, and at last, throughout the winter, it totally disappears. The tongue of the nightingale is not pointed at the tip, as in other birds. It lays at the beginning of the spring, six eggs at the most. The change is different that takes place in the ficedula, for this bird changes its shape as well as its colour.
The cenanthe, too, is a bird that has stated days for its re- treat. At the rising of Sirius it conceals itself, and at the setting of that star comes forth from its retreat: and this it does, a most singular thing, exactly upon both those days. The chlorion, also, the body of which is yellow all over, is not seen in the winter, but comes out about the summer solstice.
The blackbird is found in the vicinity of Cyllene, in Arcadia, with white plumage; a thing that is the case nowhere else. The ibis, in the neighbourhood of Pelusium only is black, while in all other places it is white. The birds that have a note, with the exception of those previously mentioned, do not by any chance produce their young before the vernal or after the autumnal equinox. As to the broods produced before the summer solstice, it is very doubtful if they will survive, but those hatched after it thrive well. It is for this that the halcyon is more especially remarkable; the seas, and all those who sail upon their surface, well know the days of its incubation.
This bird is a little larger than a sparrow, and the greater part of its body is of an azure blue colour, with only an intermixture of white and purple in some of the larger feathers, while the neck is long and slender. There is one kind that is remarkable for its larger size and its note; the smaller ones are heard singing in the reed-beds. They hatch their young at the time of the winter solstice, from which circumstance those days are known as the " halcyon days:" during this period the sea is calm and navigable, the Sicilian sea in particular. They make their nest during the seven days before the winter solstice, and sit the same number of days after.
Their nests are truly wonderful; they are of the shape of a ball slightly elongated, have a very narrow mouth, and bear a strong resemblance to a large sponge. It is impossible to cut them asunder with iron, and they are only to be broken with a strong blow, upon which they separate, just like foam of the sea when dried up. It has never yet been discovered of what material they are made; some persons think that they are formed of sharp fish-Bones, as it is on fish that these birds live. They enter rivers also; their eggs are five in number. The sea-mew also builds its nest in rocks, and the diver in trees as well.
These birds produce three at the very most; the sea-mew in summer, the diver at the beginning of spring. The form of the nest built by the halcyon reminds me also of the instinctive cleverness displayed by other birds; and, indeed, in no respect is the ingenuity of birds more deserving of our admiration. The swallow builds its nest of mud, and strengthens it with straws.
If mud happens to fail, it soaks itself with a quantity of water, which it then shakes from off its feathers into the dust. It lines the inside of the nest with soft feathers and wool, to keep the eggs warm, and in order that the nest may not be hard and rough to its young when hatched. It divides the food among its offspring with the most rigid justice, giving it first to one and then to another. With a remarkable notion of cleanliness, it throws out of the nest the ordure of the young ones, and when they have grown a little older, teaches them how to turn round, and let it fall outside of the nest.
There is another kind of swallow, also, that frequents the fields and the country; its nest is of a different shape, though of the same materials, but it rarely builds it against houses. The nest has its mouth turned straight upwards, and the entrance to it is long and narrow, while the body is very capacious. It is quite wonderful what skill is displayed in the formation of it, for the purpose of concealing the young ones, and of presenting a soft surface for them to lie upon.
At the Heracleotic Mouth of the Nile in Egypt, the swallows present an insuperable obstacle to the inroads of that river, in the embankment which is formed by their nests in one continuous line, nearly a stadium in length; a thing that could not possibly have been effected by the agency of man. In Egypt, too, near the city of Coptos, there is an island sacred to Isis.
In the early days of spring, the swallows strengthen the angular corner of this island with chaff and straw, thus fortifying it in order that the river may not sweep it away. This work they persevere in for three days and nights together, with such unremitting labour, that it is a well-known fact that many of them die with their exertions. This, too, is a toil which recurs regularly for them every year. There is, again, a third kind of swallow, which makes holes in the banks of rivers, to serve for its nest. The young of these birds, reduced to ashes, are a good specific against mortal maladies of the throat, and tend to cure many other diseases of the human body.
These birds do not build nests, and they take care to migrate a good many days before, if it so happens that the rise of the river is about to reach their holes. The bird, also, that is known as the acanthyllis, makes its nest of a similar shape, and interweaves it with pieces of flax. The nest of one of the woodpeckers, very much like a cup in shape, is suspended by a twig from the end of the branch of a tree, so that no quadruped may be able to reach it.
It is strongly asserted, that the witwall sleeps suspended by its feet, because it fancies that by doing so it is in greater safety.
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A thing, indeed, that is well-known of them all, is the fact that, in a spirit of foresight, they select the projecting branches of trees that are sufficiently strong, for the purpose of supporting their nests, and then arch them over to protect them from the rain, or else shield them by means of the thickness of the foliage. In Arabia there is a bird known as the "cinnamolgus. In Scythia there is a bird, the size of the otis, which produces two young ones always, in a hare's skin suspended from the top branches of a tree.
Pies, when they have observed a person steadily gazing at their nest, will immediately remove their eggs to another place. This is said to be accomplished in a truly wonderful manner, by such birds as have not toes adapted for holding and removing their eggs. They lay a twig upon two eggs, and then solder them to it by means of a glutinous matter secreted from their body; after which, they pass their neck between the eggs, and so forming an equipoise, convey them to another place. No less, too, is the shrewdness displayed by those birds which make their nests upon the ground, because, from the extreme weight of their body, they are unable to fly aloft.
There is a bird, known as the "merops," which feeds its parents in their retreat: the colour of the plumage on the inside is pale, and azure without, while it is of a somewhat reddish hue at the extremity of the wings: this bird builds its nest in a hole which it digs to the depth of six feet. Partridges fortify their retreat so well with thorns and shrubs, that it is effectually protected against beasts of prey. They make a soft bed for their eggs by burying them in the dust, but do not hatch them where they are laid: that no suspicion may arise from the fact of their being seen repeatedly about the same spot, they carry them away to some other place.
The females also conceal themselves from their mates, in order that they may not be delayed in the process of incubation, as the males, in consequence of the warmth of their passions, are apt to break the eggs. The males, thus deprived of the females, fall to fighting among themselves; and it is said that the one that is conquered, is treated as a female by the other. Trogus Pompeius tells us that quails and dunghill cocks sometimes do the same; and adds, that wild partridges, when newly caught, or when beaten by the others, are trodden promiscuously by the tame ones.
Through the very pugnacity thus inspired by the strength of their passions, these birds are often taken, as the leader of the whole covey frequently advances to fight with the decoy-Bird of the fowler; as soon as he is taken, another and then another will advance, all of which are caught in their turn. The females, again, are caught about the pairing season; for then they will come forward to quarrel with the female decoy-Bird of the fowler, and so drive her away. Indeed, in no other animal is there any such susceptibility in the sexual feelings; if the female only stands opposite to the male, while the wind is blowing from that direction, she will become impregnated; and during this time she is in a state of the greatest excitement, the beak being wide open and the tongue thrust out.
The female will conceive also from the action of the air, as the male flies above her, and very often from only hearing his voice: indeed, to such a degree does passion get the better of her affection for her offspring, that although at the moment she is sitting furtively and in concealment, she will, if she perceives the female decoy-Bird of the fowler approaching her mate, call him back, and summon him away from the other, and voluntarily submit to his advances. Indeed, these birds are often carried away by such frantic madness, that they will settle, being quite blinded by fear, upon the very head of the fowler.
If he happens to move in the direction of the nest, the female bird that is sitting will run and throw herself before his feet, pretending to be over-heavy, or else weak in the loins, and then, suddenly running or flying for a short distance before him, will fall down as though she had a wing broken, or else her feet; just as he is about to catch her, she will then take another fly, and so keep baffling him in his hopes, until she has led him to a considerable distance from her nest.
As soon as she is rid of her fears, and free from all maternal disquietude, she will throw herself on her back in some furrow, and seizing a clod of earth with her claws, cover herself all over. It is supposed that the life of the partridge extends to sixteen years. Next to the partridge, it is in the pigeon that similar tendencies are to be seen in the same respect: but then, chastity is especially observed by it, and promiscuous intercourse is a thing quite unknown. Antippas, Andy P. Assad, T. Brashear, William R. Studies in English Literature, The Hague: Mouton, Buckley, Jerome H.
Tennyson: The Growth of a Poet. Cambridge, Mass. Cadbury, William. Camus, Albert. The Rebel. An Essay on Man in Revolt. Anthony Bower. New York: Knopf, Dodsworth, Martin. Isobel Armstrong, Lincoln, Neb. Donahue, Mary Joan. Fredeman, William E. Simeon Stylites. Gladstone, W. Grob, Alan. Hellstrom, Ward. On the Poems of Tennyson. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, Hornback, Bert G. Kincaid, James R. Kissane, James. Korg, Jacob. Langbaum, Robert. New York: Random House, Leggett, B.
Mill, John Stuart. London Review 1 July, , Mitchell, Charles.
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Rackin, Phyllis. Ryals, Clyde de L. Theme and Symbol in Tennyson's Poems to Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, Sendry, Joseph. Storch, R. Tennyson, Hallam, Lord. Alfred, Lord Tennyson: A Memoir. New York: MacMillan, There is, in his work, a strong movement away from elaboration toward compression and understatement, from amplification of a clear situation toward obliquity and spare indirection. Further, having mastered the presentation of ironic theme, Tennyson now turned to experiments with ironic rhetoric.
The volume is filled with poems that create a subtle bondage within for their characters and an equally subtle bondage without for their readers. But the most important technique is the removal of moral or ethical context poem after poem presents a situation which seems to demand a judgment or a series of judgments and which, at the same time, either make secure judgment impossible or makes contradictory judgments necessary.
The greatest poems of this volume are those which inevitably project a moral or social dilemma without suggesting the means for solving that dilemma; they work equally hard to bring forth and to render doubtful our judgments and our decisive responses. They not only present but engender an ironic position. The direct statement are deliberately localized and simple, making concrete the emotion of the poem without stating its implications. Because the poem is so indirect, a good many competing interpretations have been advanced, but all are based on perceptions of the poem's structure.
The middle part of the poem — the image of the children's happiness and of the stately ships — is framed by an address to the sea. The explicit terms of the address change a great deal, of course, between the first and the last stanza:. Break, break, break, On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter The thoughts that arise in me. Break, break, break, At the foot of thy crags, O Sea! But the tender grace of a day that is dead Will never come back to me. Though it has been argued that the last lines represent for the speaker a kind of acceptance, even a positive resolution, 1 they seem to me not to release tension or to solve a real dilemma but to state an agonized perception.
That is, the original problem of achieving speech yields to a greater, genuinely impossible problem. The and which begins the third line of the first stanza implies an imagined bond with the sea; the speaker searches for union with the blank, monotonous continuity of the indifferent, smashing waves. The middle two stanzas of the poem, however, present a vision of joy and assured life so alien to and distant from the speaker that, by the time he returns to the immediate focus of the rocks and the breaking sea in the last stanza, he senses, not fundamental unity — not even a unity with the sea's unconcern — but fundamental disjunction.
The and is replaced by but : instead of nature's participation in his grief, he sees nature's absolute impersonality.
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He is mocked not only by the joy of the laughing children at play but by the bleak harshness of the sea as well; for he is denied even the continuity of memory. The speaker's self-indulgent, romantic communion with the rocks and the indifferent sea whips back on him, and he is left only with the certainty that there is no continuity and no meaning in time, memory, or death.
He is left in pointless, unheroic isolation. But this is a problem externally imposed by critics, probably by analogy with most of the other poems in this volume, where the means and terms of judgment are indeed key issues. Here, however, the ironic situation is balanced in such a way as to suspend judgment absolutely.
She is in isolation; she is lured away; she invokes the curse. Artistic withdrawal is neither condemned nor approved. The necessity for judgment is just what marks the difference between rhetorical irony and the complex but basically contained thematic irony in this poem. One might, interestingly enough, have made a good case for rhetorical irony in the version of the poem.
At least it would have been a better case, since the revisions for the volume almost all act to broaden the focus of the poem by removing our attention from the Lady herself and directing it to her environment. To take one of many instances, lines are changed from. But who hath seen her wave her hand? Or at the casement seen her stand? Or is she known in all the land? The broadest, most general irony of the poem is that the Lady simply exchanges one kind of imprisonment for another; her presumed freedom is her death. The Lady is most commonly seen as a form of the artist, and doubtless her absorption in weaving the beautiful web suggests that.
All these possibilities coalesce around the central ironic pattern: the carefree but incomplete self, imprisoned in that self and cut off entirely from any direct experience, is drawn by the lure of sexuality, beauty, growth, and change — life itself — not into freedom and expression but into obliteration. The real dilemma is one that can be neither judged nor solved. The Lady must obey and must defy the curse. The opening of the poem quickly establishes the ironic contrast, setting up a picture of the world that is both true and false, true in objective fact but with terribly misleading implications:.
On either side the river lie Long fields of barley and of rye, That clothe the wold and meet the sky; And through the field the road runs by To many-towered Camelot; And up and down the people go. The center of this microcosm is Camelot, many-towered as a temple, the source of the apparently benign and unified activity.
Even the suggestive revelation that the curse is connected not to isolation but to life, that she is not cursed now but will be if she chooses to live, is submerged in the continuous development of the basic ironic contrast. Part 2 ll. The main reality presented here is motion itself. Notice the indiscriminate or that connects the funeral and the lovers. Life offers funerals or marriages; both are equal: love is equivalent to death.
The next section ll. For the Lady, he is the symbol of personality and fulfillment in the vast scene of the world's growth and beauty. He seems to her to provide an even more specific promise: the achievement of individual identity. He is the first person to be named in the poem, and he seems to guarantee the validity of names and their ability to give permanence and meaning to the self. Images of oppression and waste surround her. Pathetically, she still tries, by writing her name on the prow of a boat to claim the promise of personality Lancelot had held out to her.
But her personality is not confirmed, even by her death, and the tragic assertion of being is burlesqued. Who is this? And in the lighted palace near Died the sound of royal cheer; And they crossed themselves for fear, All the knights at Camelot. Lancelot, however, is presumably differentiated from this confusion and muses quietly a moment — only to exhibit how undifferentiated he actually is;.
We move only from one level of incomprehension to another. Lancelot is a structurally heightened parody of those figures at the end of a tragedy — Horatio is an example — whose duty it is to interpret, clarify, and keep alive the story of the tragic action, thus ensuring the institution of a new order. Here the death is uninterpreted because there is no context to give it meaning an no interpreter. Lancelot turns from the Lady after a perfunctory benediction, dismissing her and thus permanently fixing the absurdity of her death.
The Lady is born into death. The secret of this extension was not in the abolition of old certainties but in the reinforcement of them. Still, and it is a large qualification, these certainties are never unopposed, they are never adequately supported, and they never provide solutions. They are certainly present and we are asked to make judgments based on them, but these judgments are either contradictory or, more.
They go nowhere. They never answer the questions that are raised in the poem, though they do create others. Most of all, these judgments do not provide comfort or release; they construct the ironic prison. This rhetoric clearly involves a refinement of irony's traditional control of perspective. It is nothing new for irony to vary our perspective abruptly, asking us to see as immediate and painful what we had supposed was comfortably distant and secure.
Still, though the reader is often moved against his will, he always knows where he is.
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In the volume, however, Tennyson is striving to project the state which irony embodies, to create the suspension and discomfort the poems discuss. Previous poems had been made ambiguous by structural or thematic means; here the ambiguity is achieved rhetorically, by making our perspective on the poem uncertain. The most radical form of this uncertain perspective is found in the dramatic monologue , where the removal of context makes it extremely difficult not only to know how to judge but to be sure if one should judge at all.
Robert Langbaum's The Poetry of Experience , a brilliant discussion of the problem of perspective in the dramatic monologue, uses a very open appeal to our experience in the poem to demonstrate that an overtly satiric reading of a dramatic monologue is a possible, but rather crude and uninteresting response.
To see that Ulysses's comments on Telemachus are contemptuous is one thing; to argue that this contempt acts to condemn Ulysses is something else. By removing rhetorical securities, the dramatic monologue does, as Langbaum insists, force us to experience the speaker himself, not a meaning which is external to him. Still, the tendency of this form to find the extreme case, in fact to be generally effective in direct proportion to the outrageousness of its argument and the distance of the speaker and action from conventional moral and social norms, means that our instinct to make judgments is very strongly activated.
Langbaum argues that the tendency to the extreme case and the bizarre subject reduces judgment to absurdity and further indicates the widely accepted need of the poet to resuscitate, to drive through customary associations and revivify life. One can grant these arguments but see them as subservient to another principle he mentions but then seems, in particular analyses, to ignore: the tension between sympathy and judgment.
It seems to me that, contrary to what I take to be the implications of Langbaum's argument, judgment is not an attendant or superficial response but an immediate and powerful one. But it is also given no place to rest, no terms with which to deal, and this very fact accounts for the ironic rhetoric. We are asked to respond simultaneously on two contradictory levels: that of distant critical judgment and that of absorbed, direct experience.
The dramatic monologue manifests a special form of the ironic rhetoric, which works to to suspend the case of judgment by making perspective unstable. Though many of the poems that follow in my discussion here are not pure. But there is something new here, a further irony connected with point of view.
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Though the dominant current of the poem is Oenone's lament, a passionate song that involves us strongly, there is, at the same time, an inner contradiction that is crucial but that can be perceived only by suspending our involvement. Put briefly, the contradiction is this: Oenone's surrender to her emotions begins to look like that of her ostensible betrayer. Thus we see her as something other than a simple victim of Paris or the arbitrary power of the goddesses.
She is also victimized by her own passion, perhaps finally by the absurdity and irrationality that rule in in human affairs. But the acceptance of Pallas's offer seems, in the end, both necessary and impossible, as Oenone herself goes on to demonstrate. Oenone reacts to Paris's decision by echoing exactly the unreasoning feelings that had controlled her false lover.
She does not rise to Pallas's counseled self-control but competes on the same grounds as the love goddess Aphrodite:. Fairest — why fairest wife? My love hath told me so a thousand times. Instead of self-reverence, she feeds on thoughts of self-destruction; instead of law, she thinks of revenge. This is clearly a reading to which only a part of us attends; it ignores much of the poem and distorts our full response, but it is, I think, an approximation of our critical, judgmental reaction.
That judgment is in constant tension with the vision of Oenone as a completely innocent victim. There is no way we can blame her for her passion; passion is all that works, and she has, in any case, no choice in the matter. The extreme argument presented, however, the attempt to persuade us that death is the ecstatic completion to any sane and sensitive life, seems to demand some kind of judgment.
The result is a poem about release, the effect of which is to increase tension. We are unable to resist the appeal of the mariners and equally unable to yield to it. Admitting the hypnotic power of the mariners' escape plan and the fact that we are likely these days to find an argument from ironic premises very apt, one can still acknowledge the barriers the poem erects against the complete surrender of the critical faculty. Buckley, p. The final irony is that both the courageous Ulysses and the mariners who eat the lotos have an easier time of it than the reader; they, at least, can make choices and dissolve the tension.
The balance of sympathy and judgment is carefully controlled throughout the poem. Despite all the negative indications, it is, at the same time, difficult to resist an appeal which is so shrewdly grounded in a comic impulse: the desire for peace and order. They very deliberately reject a world of absurd and impersonal change for one of sameness, even if that sameness means death.
But it is not only quiet that they seek. They are both advancing and retreating, condemned and admired. The same uncomfortable mixture is stressed in the curiously appealing conjunction of the tendency to isolation and to union. The lotos allows complete self-absorption, yet somehow communion as well. They are, in one sense, guilty of the ultimate social insult, and they give very short shrift to the appeal of home and family ll.
They reject a community of activity, turmoil, waste, and life for one of quiet, consummation, and death. It is a strange fellowship, but one that is difficult to deny. By far the dominant appeal of the poem, of course, is to the other half of the comic equation: the magnification of the isolated self. They meet cosmic indifference with an indifference of their own; in the face of nothingness they become nothing. It is the balance of the ironic rhetoric that ensures our being unable either to accept or to reject this invitation. There are complex modulations in tone, certainly, but for most readers the poem moves toward an expression of serene confidence:.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though We are not now that strength which in old days Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are ll. But Ulysses is much more than another indomitable superman, beyond the reach of time and death. He, in fact, grants the power of circumstance, even of age and physical weakness. He does not stand above these forces but is caught by them, and he knows it. Yet he refuses to see himself as a victim and thus provides an answer to irony: the undefeated will; see Charles Mitchell, for a reading that emphasizes this point.
In the face of death, the comic will asserts an irreducible ego; the acceptance of reality amounts to a triumph over it. The great modern hero is this old man, who has already had his heroic adventures and who now achieves his personality and defines the hope of ours simply by refusing not to be. The comic and heroic will is the poem's subject; its primary motive is the relaxation of ironic tension. But the tension is relaxed only within, not outside, the poem; for Ulysses, but not for us.
The view of heroism is made comprehensive as well as intense, and it is this completeness that causes the escape to be closed to us. The force of the will projected here is enormous, but it is also, we sense, highly specialized. The poem lacks entirely comedy's usual sense of inclusiveness. Because the poem is so explicit about this pruning, we can see the magnitude and variety of the human spirit being sacrificed for its heroic but naked endurance.
The result is the only heroism and the only solution to irony now possible, both compelling and impossibly restrictive. Despite the resounding, positive conclusion, the poem has worked to deny us the ability to participate in it uncritically. The two poems also seem to have similar strategies for attacking the ironic dualism by heightening one-half of it: they both magnify the isolated, individual ego. Though the means of satisfying the ego are very different, perhaps even opposite, in the two poems, both solutions are equally exclusive and equally extreme. The rejection of community begins at once:.
It little profits that an idle king, By this still hearth, among these barren crags, Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole Unequal laws unto a savage race, That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me. The values associated with unity, order, and harmony, with love, family, and nation, are treated with lofty and imposing contempt. What strikes us here is the control and the breathtaking rapidity with which all these civilized values are swept aside by the rush of the demands of the primitive self. The correctives we might apply are based on moral and social values that have been made irrelevant.
Ulysess proceeds in the next lines with an expansive, positive tone that provides us with a kind of rhetorical breather. His affirmations of a life-hunger act as a form of flattery, emphasizing the indiscriminate richness and value of simple experience. But the real work of this second section ll. Love and all other mere externals are flattened and reduced to insignificance.
Related The Land of the Lotus Eaters (No Everyday Dragon Book 4)
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