Monthly Archives: April 2008
That feeling of relief and freedom when the little white figure of the walk-signal lights up. You or a fellow pedestrian or all three of you have already punched the button more times than necessary. Several times already you may have contemplated breaking the law, furtively scanning about for any cops. But then, suddenly, thankfully, you see the yellow light out of the corner of your eye, then red. And predictably you glance at the once red-orange “Don’t Walk” that has now dimmed and been superseded by the blessed Symbol of Walk. And so you go. Free again to live, thrive, and move on with your life.
In the first century C.E. Ovid gave “Mother Earth” an important, dramatic role in his account of the story of PhaÃ«thon and his unsuccessful, presumptuous attempt to assume his father’s place and steer the sun. As PhaÃ«thon scorches her forests and boils her brother’s seasâ€”as they continue to burn and boilâ€”she cries out in pain and disbelief:
The Earth at length, on ev’ry side embrac’d With scalding seas that floated round her waste, When now she felt the springs and rivers come, And crowd within the hollow of her womb, Up-lifted to the Heav’ns her blasted head, And clapt her hand upon her brows, and said (But first, impatient of the sultry heat, Sunk deeper down, and sought a cooler seat): “If you, great king of Gods, my death approve, And I deserve it, let me die by Jove; If I must perish by the force of fire, Let me transfix’d with thunder-bolts expire. See, whilst I speak, my breath the vapours choak (For now her face lay wrapt in clouds of smoak), See my singe’d hair, behold my faded eye, And wither’d face, where heaps of cinders lye! And does the plow for this my body tear? This the reward for all the fruits I bear, Tortur’d with rakes, and harrass’d all the year? That herbs for cattle daily I renew, And food for Man, and frankincense for you? But grant me guilty; what has Neptune done? Why are his waters boiling in the sun? The wavy empire, which by lot was giv’n, Why does it waste, and further shrink from Heav’n? If I nor he your pity can provoke, See your own Heav’ns, the Heav’ns begin to smoke! Shou’d once the sparkles catch those bright abodes, Destruction seizes on the Heav’ns and Gods; Atlas becomes unequal to his freight, And almost faints beneath the glowing weight. If Heav’n, and Earth, and sea, together burn, All must again into their chaos turn. Apply some speedy cure, prevent our fate, And succour Nature, ere it be too late.” She cea’sd, for choak’d with vapours round her spread, Down to the deepest shades she sunk her head.Ovid, Metamorphoses Book II, “PhaÃ«thon,” Tr. John Dryden, et al
Or, if you like, a prose version,
Nevertheless, kindly Earth, surrounded as she was by sea, between the open waters and the dwindling streams that had buried themselves in their mother’s dark womb, lifted her smothered face. Putting her hand to her brow, and shaking everything with her mighty tremors, she sank back a little lower than she used to be, and spoke in a faint voice â€˜If this pleases you, if I have deserved it, O king of the gods, why delay your lightning bolts? If it is right for me to die through the power of fire, let me die by your fire and let the doer of it lessen the pain of the deed! I can hardly open my lips to say these words’ (the heat was choking her). Look at my scorched hair and the ashes in my eyes, the ashes over my face! Is this the honour and reward you give me for my fruitfulness and service, for carrying wounds from the curved plough and the hoe, for being worked throughout the year, providing herbage and tender grazing for the flocks, produce for the human race and incense to minister to you gods? Even if you find me deserving of ruin, what have the waves done, why does your brother deserve this? Why are the waters that were his share by lot diminished and so much further from the sky? If neither regard for me or for your brother moves you pity at least your own heavens! Look around you on either side: both the poles are steaming! If the fire should melt them, your own palace will fall! Atlas himself is suffering, and can barely hold up the white-hot sky on his shoulders! If the sea and the land and the kingdom of the heavens are destroyed, we are lost in ancient chaos! Save whatever is left from the flames, and think of our common interest!Ovid, Metamorphoses Book II, “PhaÃ«thon,” Tr. Anthony S. Kline
The earth again, 2,000 years later, is trembling in fear, pain, and disbelief. Listen carefully, especially at night, do you hear? ?
Oh! in his rapture he was weeping even over those stars, which were shining to him from the abyss of space, and “he was not ashamed of that ecstasy.” — , The Brothers Karamazov VII.4