Posted by Eric » 1 Comment »
I saw one of the best correctives I’ve come across in a while to academic extravagance in mountain-out-of-a-molehill-making (often in evidence in my own papers) while watching part two of Scorsese’s recent Bob Dylan bio-pic No Direction Home. During the footage of a 1965 press conference in San Francisco, a reporter tries to inquire into the ‘significance’ of the Triumph Motorcycle t-shirt he is wearing on the cover of Highway 61 Revisited, telling him that there is a ‘philosophy’ embedded in it. Dylan’s response is to laugh and tell the reporter he hasn’t really spent a lot of time looking at it (the reporter says he has spent a lot of time looking at it) and says it was just a picture somebody took one day while he was sitting on the steps.
Not one to give up, the reporter asks if he can talk about the meaning of the motorcycle image in his song-writing. Dylan’s only response to this is, ‘Well, we all like motorcycles, don’t we?’, or something to that effect.
The moral of this story is: sometimes a t-shirt is just a t-shirt. I have to remind myself of that sometimes, when puzzling over individual words in a poem and attempting to make an entire interpretation hang on what, to the author, might have been a rather insignificant detail. That doesn’t mean these details are always insignificant, but it seems good at least to pause over them, to take a step back and ask the more general questions: does this interpretation I’m gleaning from this one word make sense in the broader scope of the poem? How does it fit in with the whole body of data I’m working with? Would the author have used the word in this way and with this significance? What is his normal practice? How does he mark what is important and what is not in his poem, if at all? Am I foisting my own intent on the author, trying to make a square poem fit in a round hole, as it were? Or does it cohere with the rest of the work?
Ok. I’m done babbling. But it is always nice to find a reminder in a surprising place which causes some reflection on the pitfalls of interpretation–one which pulls me for a moment from the hermetically-sealed bubble in which I often attempt to work with ancient texts out into the wider world.
Posted by Eric » 1 Comment »
solidus \SAH-luh-dus\ noun
1 : an ancient Roman gold coin introduced by Constantine and used to the fall of the Byzantine Empire
*2 : a mark / used typically to denote “or” (as in and/or), “and or” (as in straggler/deserter), or “per” (as in feet/second)
In her latest thriller, the author manipulates her readers into believing there are two killers until the final page, where she connects their two names with a solidus.
Did you know?
Call it a solidus, or call it a slash/diagonal/slant/virgule — whatever you call it, you are bound to run into this useful mark with some regularity. These days, one place the mark is commonly seen is in Internet addresses (http://www.merriam-webster.com/cgi-bin/mwwod.pl, for example), but the history of the word “solidus” takes us back to a time well before computers. The ancient Roman emperor Constantine the Great borrowed the Latin term for “solid” (“solidus”) for the gold coin that was the successor to the aureus. And in Medieval Latin, “solidus” designated the shilling. Before the introduction of decimal coinage, abbreviations of the shilling (“s,” “sh,” or “shil”) were used. Eventually, the abbreviations were replaced with the simple symbol “/,” which became known as a solidus.
*Indicates the sense illustrated in the example sentence.
I never knew that the mark ‘/’ was called a solidus. So perhaps now we should begin saying things such as ‘The web address is aitch tee tee pee colon solidus solidus…’?
Posted by Sarah » Add Comment »
A draft of this post has been sitting for a while, but I find myself with some free time this Thanksgiving holiday.
For my class on Reception (of the classical world) a couple of weeks ago, I was assigned to read a letter from Alberti to Brunelleschi. For those interested, here’s a site with some pictures of Alberti’s architectural designs, and here’s one for Brunelleschi. Each quote Vasari’s Lives of the Artists, which we’ve also been reading from for Reception, so much so that I’ve become interested enough to want to own it– if only I could find a bilingual edition!
As I mentioned in a previous post (Sono italiana in spirito!*), I’ve become really excited about Italian. As such, I was very pleased that my professor provided both English and Italian versions of the letter. Here’s an excerpt, in which Alberti is marvelling about Brunelleschi’s architectural accomplishment, the Duomo (i.e. Santa Maria del Fiore) of Florence (from On Painting and On Sculpture, ed. and trans. by Cecil Grayson, Phaidon, 1972):
What man, however hard of heart or jealous, would not praise Filippo the architect when he sees here such an enormous construction towering above the skies, vast enough to cover the entire Tuscan population with its shadow, and done without the aid of beams or elaborate wooden supports? Surely a feat of engineering, if I am not mistaken, that people did not believe possible these days and was probably equally unknown and unimaginable among the ancients.
Chi mai sì duro o sì invido non lodasse Pippo architetto vedendo qui struttura sì grande, erta sopra e’ cieli, ampla da coprire con sua ombra tutti e’ popoli toscani, fatta sanza alcuno aiuto di travamenti o di copia di legname, quale artificio certo, se io ben iudico, come a questi tempi era incredibile potersi, così forse appresso gli antichi fu non saputo né conosciuto?
I chose this quotation because the Duomo is my favorite building–it really is awesome (in the original sense of the word), which is what Alberti is trying to convey here. Oh, and notice that Alberti calls his friend by the familiar “Pippo” in the Italian, but that’s not reflected in the translation.