Statius’ Silvae

Statius’ Silvae

Specifics regarding the life of Publius Papinius Statius (c.45 AD-96 AD) are for the most part derived from material in the Silvae. Scholars believe that Statius’ biography is recoverable. Perhaps, but most scholarly conclusions are of the speculative kind. The questions surrounding his date of birth and death have not resulted in secure answers. The birth dates vary widely over a decade long period. All statements that allege that ‘he probably did this or probably did that’ reveal little more than an author’s agreement or disagreement with certain passages or with a historian’s ingenuity with details: only in rare cases do the learned judgments bring us closer to the truth.

Indeed, the bare bones facts are these: he was born of Italian stock, educated well in Greek and Latin, won a number of prizes for his poetry, even married a widow with children, although he himself remained childless. Much else is debatable. His present fame now is attended by specific volumes of poetry yet extant: Thebaid, an epic poem based on the classic Seven against Thebes, another unfinished epic entitled Achilleid, and his Silvae, a five book series of verse compositions.

There is a an assortment of material in the Silvae: e.g., Book I: The Statue of Domitian, The Villa of Manilius Vopiscus, The Baths of Claudius Etruscus and The Kalends of December; Book II: The Tree of Atedius Melior, To Pollo on Lucan’s birthday; Book III: The Hercules at Surrentum, The Hair of Flavius Earinus; Book IV: Ode to Vibius Maximus, Jesting to Plotius Gryphus; Book V: On the Death of Prisicilla. The titles mentioned do not represent a comprehensive listing; each of these compositions is excellent in its own way.

No one knows how or when poems and proverbs originated. As for the former, the earliest written records contain them. The transmission of poetry within popular oral lore is definite. The literary remains of cuneiform tablets, hieroglyphic, ancient Hebrew and archaic Greek, just to name a few, prove that poetry comes in a number of different forms and genres. Finding meaning in a set of verses often involves the usage of a variety of critical tools. The meanings of poetic inscriptions, by nature, tend to be as elusive in their concealment of fact, as they are allusive in their use of indirect references. Despite the obstacles a reader may face, the thrill of completion is reward in itself.

Readers of ancient poetry should search for covert and overt lexical meanings. A strict analysis of ancient Greek or Roman poetry along the 19thcentury German philological lines of investigation is avoided herein. That mode of study was often austere in its approach to texts, Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) and Johann W. von Goethe (1749-1832) being the 18thcentury anti-types. Shunning the eloquence of which thousands would have wanted to learn – as British classicists did learn – dry metrical evaluations supplanted much appreciation of literary qualities and, for no less than two generations, misdirected many imitators of German scholarly conventions.

The story is sadder still after a century of New Criticism: things have gone in reverse as forms of theoretical critiques have displaced both classical literary studies and philological analyses in numerous journals and publications. To compose or interpret extempore poetry requires tools of another kind: wit and imagination. Quintilian (10.3.17) gave a description of what he believed Silvae to be: “a quickly sketched draft written in an impromptu fashion, following the heat and impulse of the moment.”

Poetry can be composed in that way. It is likely that ancient comedy and tragedy included much impromptu material. The texts of Statius’ Silvae now in our possession do not strike one, however, as ad lib. Neither side can prove their case beyond a doubt. Philologically, one may attempt to deconstruct each and every line of verse, showing various hands or timeframes in its creation. But to what end? – to the creation of a painfully unedifying construal? By all accounts impressionistic painting draws from the resources of heart, mind and soul. The canvas, no less, becomes the medium of presentation. But in the end, the picture—with all its varied imagery and corresponding meanings—is no more than a manifestation of thought and sight and sound. A poem is design of images, all related by verbal arrangements. It is difficult to explain it otherwise, absent of acknowledgment of that one idea.

How did Statius imbue his writings with a kind of eloquence that caused his poems to be repeatedly copied? He wrote his poems in accordance with the first century semantic range of the word, silvae: defined as ‘wood’ or ‘forest.’ His jottings consist of literary timber and are constructed to be a place where the reader can become lost—in a forest of literary enjoyments—while at the same time, he or she wanders about pushing back artistic limbs and branches. It’s a world of culture that many neglect. The process is pedantic. And it is fortuitous that anyone should find the time to read extracts of poetry which derived much inspiration from the likes of Virgil, Ovid, and a host of other writers; but proving the inter-texuality of Statius’ Silvae and similar ancient passages demands much more time than is allotted here.

Statius makes a good companion. I recall travelling by bus from San Francisco to Santa Rosa. North-Central California, with its rustic hills and wide open spaces that face a vast body of water, has much in common with the landscape of Statius’ Italy. The latter is beautiful country and is the source of great bodies of literature: see Gilbert Highet’s (1906-1978) superbly written volume, Poets in a Landscape, Random House 1957, reissued with new introduction by M.C.J. Putnam, NYRB Classics 2010)

At least I had my trusty standby edition of Statius’ Silvae.  Reading my way through the Latin texts, I arrived at II.4 and came upon his eulogy on a Parrot (Psittacus Eiusdem). This brief lament was written to mark the death of the parrot of Atedius Melior. On that day, as the wheels of time turned slowly and I made my way through Statius’ writings, I even found time to scrawl a few impromptu verses.

THAT DAY: An Extempore Poem
There were lowering clouds that day.
Outside was a thick mist and fog which seemed to
brood over troubled hearts. Onward pressed the lad though,
Roaming pages from beginning to end,
searching his texts for a new place to start.


Statius often meditated on “death’ in his Silvae. Several of his compositions remind readers of someone who has died. Hades and his helper, Thanatos, worked in tandem and ensured their presence was felt throughout numerous stories of ancient myth. Statius employed these specters while likewise finding it suitable to praise and memorialize friends and wealthy patrons in print. As my vehicle rolled across the famed Golden Gate Bridge, I thought of the many sad persons who had leaped to their death.

At certain times, writers have compared ‘freedom’ to the flight of birds. John Keats (1795-1821) composed the poem ‘Stay, Ruby Breasted Warbler, Stay’ in first person speech and as a monologue because he knew that his winged friend at any time would take flight. In his petition, Keats pleaded ‘Stay…, and let me see thy sparkling eye… nor bow thy pretty head to fly…’. As had other ancient writers, Statius’ pen spilled forth ink on avine freedom, but its conception in these passages is embedded in the verse-structure of a bird’s demise. He wrote of other creatures, once of a predatory cat. Leo, the tame lion had been a famed animal-gladiator, free to kill, now free to let live. In an earlier day, crowds greeted his appearance, but Leo died a conquered soul vanquished by a fleeing beast—sed victus fugiente fera (II 5.11), one that must remain unknown to readers.

Also within book two are compositions similar to epigrams in Martial’s corpus of writings. Martial was witty, scathing, and if you add a mixture of satire, his fiery vocabulary was severe at times. There is little need to say much of Statius’ Latin syntax. Most of our antique literature is confined to remnant pieces written for the educated classes. All theories to the contrary can be disputed on the grounds that writers from Late Antiquity well into the Early and Later Renaissance eras sought to preserve in their own way those they deemed to be the very best Greek and Latin writers. If imitation is the best form of flattery, Cicero would have been pleased.

Privately – in monasteries and private libraries perhaps, individuals spent time trying to unravel knotty poetic lines of ages past. And yes, Statius did obfuscate from time to time, like Persius (c.AD34-62) did, when he wanted to—but that was the manner of several ancient poets. Some of Statius’ terms have stumped readers until now, keeping them from hurrying through his work at more than a snail’s pace.

Statius had a broad vocabulary. He points readers to a multitude of historical signs known throughout the world of antiquity. The best poets dare to accomplish the unique, see the unusual, and compose an original opus, thereby securing its status as a normative text.

There was hardly room for poetic regulation in the expansive minds of our maverick authors of yesteryear. Homer wrote with two hearts, two hands and two minds. His twin volumes, Iliad and Odyssey, are not identical but yet bear all the marks of a literary invention generated from the same seed. No comparable literature has been found among the archaic cultures that come before the persons commonly held to have initiated “the Greek miracle”. Poets treated a wide variety of subjects. Why animals are often referred to in ancient passages I have no idea. Undoubtedly Statius would have found a friend or two among modern-day animal lovers. Pets were domesticated for millennia prior to Statius’ birth. And parrots in particular, were tamed easily and caged in homes, surely by the time Christ was born. Pliny (Nat. Hist. 10.58) thought that if you hit one upside the head with an iron rod they would speak.

Regarding Statius’ eulogy on the virtues of a deceased parrot, every ornithologist would like to own a bird as humane as the one Statius described. Read Statius’ words in which he depicted his fowl-friend in SilvaeII.4.1 asPsittace, dux volucrum/the parrot, the foremost of birds. The statement seems ironic. Why ascribe such a position of power to a brightly colored tropical bird? Can this species truly produce a leader or chief of the winged fowl of the air? At first glance, the statement appears doubtful. Birds have many qualities. Rank and structure is prominent within several genera. This epitaph of 37 verses is forceful, brilliant if you can believe that gods and goddesses have not created another hook-billed bird equal to this one that can mimic human speech. A winged-creature with striking features, its dappled beauty embellishes the skyline when in flight. A clever imitator of human speech (II.4.2 humanae sollers imitator… linguae), the bird died and was quietly sent to an unending oblivion (II.4.8 aeterna silentia Lethes).

Statius knows all these things and more. Toward the end, he did enlist the raven and partridge in contrast to the noted merits of his guide-bird. This portrayal set the stage for a fresh caricature of Statius’ parrot, his companion. He was presented to us in as humane a way as possible. The poem’s parrot is eloquent, he attends meals and he dwells in some sort of a house. Statius is writing as though he lost a good friend, one, with whom he once carried on dinner conversations. The poor thing now has passed from this life.

At II.4.11-14 (at tibi quanta domus rutila testudine fulgens…), one might imagine that Statius told of a lifeless cadaver that formerly housed a screeching inhabitant: a resident of a feathery domain who possessed a red crested plume, striped with bright vibrant colors. Alas, the squawking has ceased. The beaked-aviary is empty. In its place, (II.4.16 doctae, ‘learned’) birds of noble voice – the parrot’s kith and kin – are beckoned to behold the loss and to cry aloud on account of it, informing creatures nearby and afar. Circling in the skies above, the heavens are filled with their cries, mournful elegies of those who yearn to see a relative revived; but it is not to be.

The use of and loss of animal life of all kinds was viewed variously in the classical world. Much can be learned about elephants form Aristotle and Aretaeus. Some farm animals lived and died in harness (capistrum); dogs were both a blessing and curse to owners: Greek poets used them in similes at times. An owl could mimic sounds, but an owl was no parrot. Affection and disdain for animals of certain types was well known. All living thing eventually die. Therefore a great deal can be learned from classical writers. Back then, even a few people dreamed of and constructed theories of mammalian rebirth.

It remains to be asked, ‘what does one make of all Statius’ talk of the parrot’s eventual resurrection from the dead like an ancient phoenix?’ This idea was widespread. The ancient Church fathers (cf. First Clement 25) wrote of the phoenix bird of myth. Legends of it reached faraway lands. Several Greek Fathers of the early church were conversant with Hellenistic period literature, Egyptian saga and other writings of the ancient near east. Their early apologetic material was composed to fight off the encroaching slander of adversaries who sought to withstand the insights of Christianity. Concerning supposedly “self-created” birds like the Beñu and the Phoenix, Professor Nanno Marinatos of the Department of Classics and Mediterranean Studies at UIC, related these data:

“The Benu  bird is  an Egyptian mythical concept with a corresponding image. It dates to the pharaonic period. There are images on funerary papyri from Dynsasty 21, for example.  The etymology of Benu is related to Egyptian weben ‘to rise’ and it refers to a bird with solar connections rising from the earth at sunrise. It was considered immortal because it followed the sun. Herodotus says [he] assumed that it built a nest of aromatic boughs”.

During its career in mimicry, Statius’ parrot is said to have greeted several strong personalities. It is the picture of a bird that knew important people (29-30). Using little more than 220 words, Statius objectified avian behavior. In addition, he interspersed near eastern ideas into the tribute, using powerful imagery to draw up comparisons to his esteemed bird. Statius neither deems its departure to death’s lair to have been vain-glorious (II.433-34 at non inglorious umbris mittitur), nor does he look for the bird to be ‘raised again’ from the shades-umbris. However, Statius does summon readers to lament the demise of a creature he suspected was greater in glory than other creatures of repute. In any case, this green-feathered fowl conversed with the elite and sought no earthly rewards.

2018 is designated by select organizations ‘The Year of the Bird’. The above is a brief contribution for people who reflect fondly on the peculiar ways of Parrots.

Darrell Sutton lives and writes in Red Cloud, Nebraska (USA)

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The Party’s Over

The Mexican-American Barrier

The Party’s Over

by Ilana Mercer

No good deed goes unpunished. Jeff Sessions wants to restore to America the “sound principles of asylum” and long-standing tenets of immigration law, abandoned by American leaders over the decades.

That makes the attorney general a Hitler, to use liberal argumentation. Condemned for all eternity.

As the left sees it, if America isn’t going to police the world; it must at least provide shelter to all people from unpoliced parts of the world.

That’s the left’s reason du jour for opposing the restoration of American immigration sovereignty.

And now, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is piling on.

By narrowing promiscuously broad asylum criteria—the system is being gamed, attests Andrew Arthur, a former immigration judge—Sessions stands accused of flouting the “right to life” of the women of the world.

No matter that America has its own share of abused women “persecuted by their husbands and ignored by their own governments.” The last, parenthetic remarks were uttered by immigration lawyers, who mask greed with prattle about values.

This legal club is looking out exclusively for the women of the world, not the women of America. To them, we are the world.

Over the objections of such rent-seekers, Sessions has dared to say “no!” “Finita la pacchia”.

“Asylum was never meant to alleviate all problems—even all serious problems—that people face every day all over the world,” reasoned Sessions, sagaciously.

To manipulate Americans, politicians (save the likes of President Trump and his attorney general) use the values cudgel.

With respect to immigration, the idea is to impress upon pliable Americans that the world has a global Right of Return to the U.S. Fail to accept egalitarian immigration for all into America; and you are flouting the very essence of Americanism.

When a politician or a high priest like Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the USCCB, pules about “the values that make our country great” (originally the mantra of Mrs. Hillary Clinton), this is what they invariably mean:

Wide-swung borders, multiculturalism, pluralism; accepting Islam as peace and the majority in America as dangerously pale and privileged; “recognizing” that communities divided in diversity are a strength, and that a living, breathing, mutating Constitution mandates all of the above.

Just ask Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

For them, “protecting” the abstraction that is “our way of life” trumps the protection of real individual lives. “We must guard against a weakening of the values that make us who we are,” dissembled Barack Obama in the waning weeks before he was gone.

Meandered U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, Democrat from the state of Nevada:

“Attorney General Sessions continues to betray every American value of compassion, justice, and respect for the rule of law. This is not who [sic] America is.”

The hollow values phrases are meant to make the sovereign citizen forget government’s most important role, if not its only role: to uphold the individual rights of its citizens.

Self-government, and not imposed government, implies that society, and not The State, is to develop its own value systems.

The State’s role is to protect citizens as they go about their business peacefully, living in accordance with their peaceful values.

Whenever you hear an appeal to “permanent values”—”the values that make our country great”— you know you are dealing with world-class crooks. These crooks want to swindle you out of the freedom to think and believe as you wish.

For in the classical conservative and libertarian traditions, values are private things, to be left to civil society—the individual, family and church—to practice and police.

The American government is charged purely with upholding the law, no more. Why so? Because government has police and military powers with which it could enforce its “values.”

A free people dare not entrust such an omnipotent entity with setting or policing values, at home or abroad. For values enforced are dogma.

When incontestable majorities call on government to curb Islamic and Latin-American in-migration because this imperils American lives, President Trump’s unswerving opponents, on this front—Ryan, McCain, Graham, Schumer and their media mafia—invariably intone, “That’s not who we are.”

When you hear that manipulative chant, tell them to mind their own business. Tell them to stick to their strict constitutional mandate to protect the people, not police their minds.

Remember: Through an appeal to values, the State aggrandizes itself.

A limited government, serving an ostensibly free people, has no right to push through illegitimate government policy by appealing to “our values,” because a legitimate American government has no right to enforce values.

Ilana Mercer has been writing a weekly, paleolibertarian column since 1999. She is the author of “Into the Cannibal’s Pot: Lessons for America From Post-Apartheid South Africa” (2011) & “The Trump Revolution: The Donald’s Creative Destruction Deconstructed” (June, 2016). She’s on Twitter, FacebookGab & YouTube


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Aldeburgh Festival 2018

The Mule Track, Paul Nash

Aldeburgh Festival 2018

Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Suffolk, concert given on Friday 8th June, reviewed by TONY COOPER

The ongoing theme in this year’s Aldeburgh Festival (the 71st) focuses on Britten and America reflecting the year of 1948 when the festival laid down its roots not only enriching the cultural life of Suffolk and its environs but the country as a whole.

Britten and Bernstein (the centenary of the latter’s birth falls this year) were both towering figures in the world of music working not just as composers, pianists and conductors but also as educators at a time when education was in its infancy in the creative world.

Both men were celebrated and revered and here their music can be heard side by side. Many connections resonate across this festival including the likes of Peter Grimes, W H Auden, the Revd Walter Hussey and their bosom friend, Aaron Copland, whom, incidentally, Britten met for the first time at the 1938 ISCM Festival in London where El Salón México and Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge were played at the same concert.

And in the opening concert at the Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Copland was on the bill with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under the baton of John Wilson delivering a sensitive, atmospheric and compelling reading of Quiet City, a work featuring soloists from the orchestra, Mark O’Keeffe (trumpet) and James Horan (cor anglais). A mellow and inviting work offering an ode to New York, Quiet City was composed for Irwin Shaw’s play of the same name which, unfortunately, never made it past preview performances.

Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2 The Age of Anxiety – the title emanating from W H Auden’s poem of the same name – regally followed. Completed in March 1949 in New York City, the work was dedicated to and commissioned by the Russian-born conductor, Serge Koussevitzky, who was preparing to end his 25-year career conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra in that year.

Bernstein considered Auden’s poem, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1948, ‘one of the most shattering examples of pure virtuosity in the history of English poetry’ and added that a ‘composition of a symphony based on ‘‘The Age of Anxiety’’ acquires an almost compulsive quality.’ Bernstein recalled that ‘When I first read the book I was breathless.’

Bernstein was an innovative and forward-thinking composer. He scored his second symphony for solo piano and orchestra thereby abandoning the traditional symphonic form and dividing the piece into six subsections (mirroring Auden’s text) split equally into two parts and performed without interruption.

The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra delivered an exhilarating and thrilling performance which Bernstein, surely, would have loved. The French-born pianist Cédric Tiberghien heightening the excitement of the audience particularly in the showy and jazz-influenced movement ‘The Masque’ that touched upon boogie-woogie, the musical craze sweeping America in the 1920s.

The first half of the concert, however, was more reserved focusing on Britten and featuring the Sinfonia da Requiem (dedicated to the composer’s parents) and the Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo. Britten, in fact, wrote the Sinfonia (his largest purely orchestral work) in 1940 at the age of 26 and at its world première at Carnegie Hall in March 1941 with the New York Philharmonic under Sir John Barbirolli, it was well received. In this fine and detailed performance by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Maestro Wilson it found great favour, too.

Following the work’s première a further performance was arranged in Boston under Serge Koussevitzky which ultimately led to the commission of Peter Grimes from the Koussevitzky Music Foundation.

The opening bars of the Sinfonia, comprising strong percussive sounds coupled with the solemnity of the woodwind, bring to the fore Britten’s sensitivity to conflict and, indeed, reflected his pacifist viewpoint while the tightly-played higher-register strings and screaming brass that followed reminded one of the horrors and devastation of war. In stark contrast, the last movement (Requiem aeternam) offered a more rounded and serene sound particularly in the middle section in which the strings wallowed in a relaxed and flowing melody. When the work came to its quiet and unassuming end, punctuated by one long-lasting note held by the clarinet, it hinted, perhaps, at a brighter future.

The Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo– a song-cycle composed by Britten in 1940 for Peter Pears and a work that the singer considered one of the greatest works the composer had given him – was heard on this occasion in a new orchestral version (an Aldeburgh commission) by Colin Matthews, who acted as an assistant to Britten for many years and worked closely, too, with Imogen Holst.

Robert Murray was the chosen soloist and his strong and eloquent tenor voice radiated round the vastness of the Snape Maltings Concert Hall with consummate ease that more than endeared the audience to the singer’s musical prowess and, indeed, to the sonnets themselves which speak so tenderly of love.

The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra made a weekend of it and I hope that some of its members enjoyed an ‘out-of-the-paper’ fish-and-chip supper from Aldeburgh’s well-appointed fish shop. However, their second concert at Snape offered a rich and varied programme opening with a strong and pleasing interpretation of the Four Sea Interludes and Passacaglia from Peter Grimes while Russian-born pianist, Pavel Kolesnikov, proved an exceptional soloist in Britten’s Diversions for Piano Left Hand and Orchestra composed in 1940 and a work seldom heard.

The programme was completed by a 16-minute piece by Bernstein entitled ‘Ḥalil’, a work for flute and chamber orchestra composed in 1981 in memory of the young Israeli flautist, Yadin Tanenbaum, who was killed during the 1973 Yom Kippur war at the Suez Canal. Premièred at the Sultan’s Pool, Jerusalem, in May 1981, the soloist was Jean-Pierre Rampal with Bernstein conducting the Israel Philharmonic. In this performance, though, American-born, Claire Chase – who made her début with the San Diego Symphony at the age 14 in 1992 – was the soloist. Her breath control and technique were simply immaculate and it would be hard to come across a better performance of a work which is largely unknown and not frequently played.

The concert also included Copland’s lively and boisterous Billy the Kid suite conducted with flair and preciseness by John Wilson whose personality and confidence not only reached out to his players but also to members of the audience. Maestro Wilson seems as happy in charge of a major symphony orchestra as he is with his own show-stopping show-biz orchestra, The John Wilson Orchestra, who also occupied the Maltings over the weekend delivering an all-Bernstein programme comprising a selection of numbers from some of the composer’s well-known shows such as West Side Story and On the Town to those lesser-known ‘beauties’ as Trouble in Tahiti and The Skin of Our Teeth.

The Aldeburgh Festival runs until Sunday 24th June.

Box office: 01728 687110

Check out the full programme by visiting

Tony Cooper is QR‘s opera critic

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What’s in a Name?

Lohengrin, by Ferdinand Leeke

What’s in a Name?

Lohengrin, Romantic opera in three acts, music and libretto by Richard Wagner, directed by David Alden, orchestra of the Royal Opera House conducted by Andris Nelsons, Royal Opera, Thursday 7th June 2018, reviewed by LESLIE JONES

In expressionism, the presentation of the world is distorted for emotional effect. The buildings of the tiered sets that depict Brabant, in director David Alden’s new production of Lohengrin, accordingly, are lopsided, even vertiginous, reminiscent of a recent staging of Korngold’s Die Tote Stadt. The military costumes of the crowd, generally grey and drab, evoke the turbulent Europe of the post 1918 era. But also the Third Reich of the 1940’s, for in Act 1, an earlier German führer, Heinrich der Vogler (Georg Zeppenfeld), is recruiting troops to resist an invasion from the east. The Nazi/fascist sub-text is unmissable. As critic Richard Morrison noted in The Sunday Times, Mussolini once staged Lohengrin with 10,000 singers on a 300 foot wide stage.

Alden is master of the subliminal image. At one point, the falsely accused Elsa von Brabant (Jennifer Davis) appears blindfolded, as in Paul Delaroche’s iconic picture of the execution of Lady Jane Grey.

Wagnerian opera, unlike belle canto with its standout arias etc, is driven partly by ideas. The pre-eminent concept in Lohengrin, bringing to mind Greek tragedy, is that God/fate ultimately decides everything, as in the trial by combat between Telramund and the Swan Knight. There are echoes here of Richard the Second (Act 1) and of King Lear (Act 3). Might, then, is right. Note also that Telramund (Thomas J Mayer) bears something akin to the mark of Cain.

Elsa von Brabant and Lohengrin (Klaus Florian Vogt), both dressed in white, make a decidedly handsome couple. Several reviewers have compared Vogt to a “pop star”. “The splendour of this man is overwhelming”, Elsa remarks. Or as boxer “Jake” LaMotta, played by Robert de Niro, says of a forthcoming opponent in Raging Bull, “I don’t know whether to f*** him or fight him”. For this reviewer, however, Vogt’s voice lacked power, or was mezza voce, according to one commentator.

“Mein Gott, this audience is so undisciplined”. My erudite Austrian companion had a point. Second acts in Wagner (notably Parsifal) can be wearying. The German submariners who sank the Lusitania reportedly received medals. So too, perhaps, should veterans of Wagner’s operas.

Lohengrin pivots on a titanic struggle between two powerful women, Elsa and Ortrud, representing good and evil. Ortrud, played by Christine Goerke, arguably delivered the night’s standout performance. In how many operas are two women to be seen on the stage for so long?

Immense credit to the chorus, for its outstanding singing. And conductor Andris Nelsons, likewise, did more than justice to Wagner’s magnificent score. One minor quibble. The arrival of Lohengrin in a boat, drawn by a swan, was done by lighting and was unconvincing. But in every other respect, this was a memorable evening.

Elsa von Brabant, by Ferdinand Leeke

Leslie Jones is Editor of QR

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Antiquity Matters


Antiquity Matters

Antiquity Matters, Frederic Raphael, Yale University Press, 2017, £20, 376 pp., $26.00, reviewed by STODDARD MARTIN

At first glance, this is a work of almost bewildering erudition. Reminded of Roberto Calasso’s Cadmus and Harmony, one prepares to sit back and enjoy a flow of superior knowledge, relinquishing desire for too many sign-posts and reposing faith in the pilot to steer the bark he sets us in towards a sound destination. Shoals and rapids will be crossed, and you may have to hang on. Indeed, at some moments, as in a riverine disaster film, survival may oblige you to bail out the bottom and caulk holes in the planks.        

Frederic Raphael is an author who has penned numerous screenplays, novels, studies of gestural romantics – Byron, for example, to whom he alludes, as befits what is in part a paean to Greece. Raphael came of age in an era when the fictive odyssey of James Joyce was seen as a ne plus ultra of the Word. Now ostensibly nearing his end – he is 87 – he does not have the time or urge to write for pedestrian intellects. Men of wit are his chosen: notably those trained in the classics, or at least familiar with them. A dying breed these days, they were alive and well when Wittgenstein impressed him at Cambridge; and nostalgia for the back and forth of ephebes and cognoscenti speaks through his remarkable book.

Continue reading

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Demonising Whites

Ilana Mercer

Demonising Whites

by Ilana Mercer

Melinda Gates, a silly woman with an enormously wealthy husband, has decided to reinvent herself as a venture capitalist with a difference.

With her husband’s billions, Mrs. Gates announced her intention to venture into funding start-up companies that are likely to fail.

In an interview with Fortune Magazine, Gates “bashed ‘white guys,’” and vowed to favor women and people of color in her investment choices.

Using pigment and gender as criteria in allocating her abundant resources is hardly a prudent investment strategy.

But Mrs. Gates can afford to lose money. Her husband is Bill Gates, a lily-white billionaire (with lots of liver spots).

From the vertiginous heights of ignorance, Mrs. Bill Gates has scolded the venture-capital industry:

“Enough with your love for ‘the white guy in a hoodie’” (whatever that means). Continue reading

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ENDNOTES, June 2018

Paul Nash, Wittenham Clumps

ENDNOTES, June 2018

In this edition: a world première at the English Music Festival; preview of the 2018 Welsh Proms.

For those of us driving from the South East, via Wokingham and Henley, the road to Dorchester-on-Thames (home of the English Music Festival) takes in some of England’s most beautiful scenery – a route which, in late May, is garlanded in white by roadside Queen Anne lace and the full canopy of green on the stately tree-lined road out of Henley. The town’s bridge marks the border with Oxfordshire, and from then on, a rolling landscape – with hints of an ancient past (Iron Age hill-forts, Saxon churches) – unfolds. Wallingford, with its associations of King Alfred, soon comes into view; and a few miles on, the famous Wittenham Clumps – a wooded ridge (memorialised by the 20th century artist, Paul Nash) looks down upon Dorchester, whose ancient Abbey is the main concert venue for the English Music Festival.

The visitor is, therefore, immediately put into the right frame of mind for a weekend of Vaughan Williams, Holst, Bliss, Elgar and Peter Warlock. But for the Festival’s founder, Em Marshall-Luck, English music does not begin and end with these famous names: instead, the equivalent of an archaeological dig has been initiated, one which has brought to light lost or rare masterpieces; and a host of composers – such as Sir George Dyson, Sterndale Bennett, Ethel Smyth, Arwel Hughes, Ivor Gurney – who have suffered years of neglect in our country’s concert programmes. Continue reading

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Marriage Matters

The Split Man – Victoria’s Way, by Daniel Dudek

Marriage Matters

by Bill Hartley

Periodically the question of divorce reform features in the media. The last serious attempt to bring about change was by John Major’s government which apparently ignored what students of constitutional law are taught: that no minority administration should ever attempt to legislate on a moral issue. Admittedly Major’s government wasn’t quite in a minority but his majority following the 1992 general election was only 21 and the government should have first calculated how many Roman Catholic MPs there were in the Parliamentary Conservative Party; the sort of people likely to have viewed it as a moral issue. Anyway it was all rendered academic because Major lost the 1997 general election. Tony Blair’s government was smart enough to sidestep a moral issue. As a consequence, the Matrimonial Causes Act (1973) remains the law on divorce in this country.

Critics of the existing law (and Major’s government based its intentions on this) insist that divorce shouldn’t be ‘fault based’. They are presumably in favour of a petitioner being able to approach the county court and see the marriage dissolved without any evidential checks being left in place. Of course there are the financial and child care arrangements and doubtless a court would wish to be satisfied that these had been established. Overall the desired approach would be to reduce divorce to an administrative process lightly overseen by the courts whose task would be to record that the marriage had been dissolved. However, just because the current law has been in operation for 47 years doesn’t necessarily mean it is bad law. The Law of Property Act for example, a far more complex piece of legislation, continues to regulate the sale of houses and no-one is crying out for it to be reformed simply because it is nearly a hundred years old and society has changed. Continue reading

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White Lines

The grave of Wilhelm Fliess, Cemetery Dahlem, Berlin

White Lines

Freud, the Making of an Illusion, Frederick Crews, Henry Holt and Co., New York, 2017, pp 746, HB, US 40$, reviewed by LESLIE JONES

Frederick Crews is Professor Emeritus of English at the University of California. Once an acolyte, he now competes with Jeffrey Masson and Michel Onfray for the coveted title “King of the Freud debunkers” (see “Sigmund Freud, from myth to counter myth”, QR, Autumn 2010).

In Freud, the Making of an Illusion, extensive use is made of the Brautbriefe, the engagement letters of Freud and Martha Bernays, written between 1882 and 1886. Hitherto, some of these letters were unavailable or only available in redacted form. Three of the five planned volumes of this revealing and unexpurgated correspondence have already appeared. Crews contends that they will revolutionize Freud scholarship. The attempts by Freud’s disciples and relatives (especially his daughter Anna) to censor the compromising material therein, including alleged breaches of medical ethics, is a major theme of this book.

The eldest child of Jacob and Amalie Freud, Sigmund was born in Freiberg, Moravia, in 1856. It was here that his father’s wholesale wool business went belly up. He never worked again. In 1860, the family re-located to a Leopoldstadt, a poor, predominantly Jewish quarter of Vienna. Crews maintains that this background of economic insecurity and poverty imbued Sigmund with an insatiable ambition for material success and social advancement. He had five younger sisters and a younger brother (another boy Julius died in early childhood). The family’s hopes rested on the “goldener Sigi”. His uncle Josef’s imprisonment for forging rubles, in 1865, doubtless reinforced his sense of being an outsider. Referring to Freud’s stellar, subsequent career as anatomist, paediatric-neurologist, research scientist, family doctor and scientific author, Crews remarks, “None of those achievements and honours… would slake his appetite for greatness or earn him more than temporary peace of mind” (page 12). Continue reading

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Pickled in Formaldehyde

Pickled in Formaldehyde

ILANA MERCER dissects the liberal brain

“There are no more civil libertarians left,” warned celebrated attorney Alan Dershowitz.

The topic was the left. The location was Tucker Carlson’s TV studio, May 30.

Dershowitz, a life-long liberal and civil-libertarian, has refused “to allow partisan politics to pre-empt his views on the Constitution,” in general, and in the matter of Grand Inquisitor Robert Mueller and his tribunal, in particular.

Conversely, the  American Civil Liberties Union has supported the FBI’s manifestly unconstitutional raid on Michael Cohen’s offices, even asserting that the seizing of client-attorney privileged files from the Trump attorney was kosher.

“… all indications thus far are that the search was conducted pursuant to the rule of law,” crowed the ACLU, in “stunning rebuke to the basic concepts behind the [organization’s] mission.”

To ACLU silence—and in contravention of that quaint thing called the Fourth Amendment—Mueller had previously taken possession of tens of thousands of emails exchanged among President Donald Trump’s transition team. Continue reading

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