I'm reading a really fascinating book called "The Art of Memory" by Frances Yates, which traces ancient Greek techniques of "artificial memory" through European history. In the medieval chapter, there's talk of a 14th century English friar by the name of Robert Holcot:
Holcot's Moralitates are a collection of material for the use of preachers in which the 'picture' [memory] technique is lavishly used....He places such images, in imagination, on the pages of a Scriptural text, to remind him of how he will comment on the text. On a page of the prophet Hosea he imagines the figure of Idolatry to remind him of how he will expand Hosea's mention of that sin. He even places on the text of the prophet an image of Cupid, complete with bow and arrows! The god of love and his attributes are, of course, moralised by the friar, and the 'moving' pagan image is used as a memory image for his moralising expansion of the text.
The preference of these English friars for the fables of the poets as memory images, as allowed by Albertus Magnus, suggests that the artificial memory may be a hitherto unsuspected medium through which pagan imagery survived in the Middle Ages. (pp. 98-99)
Something about pagan doodles on the pages of Hosea seems connected to our project in some odd way I haven't yet thought through, but I thought I'd post it here.
Despina, an inveterate mystery reader, mentioned that the epigraph to Poe's Murders in the Rue Morgue
is this line from Chapter 5 of Sir Thomas Browne's HYDRIOTAPHIA, Urne-Buriall OR, A Brief Discourse of the Sepulchrall Urnes Lately Found in Norfolk.
What song the Syrens sang, or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among women, though puzling questions are not beyond all conjecture.
Sir Thomas appends a note that says "The puzling questions of Tiberius unto Grammarians. Marcel. Donatus in Suet."
So I went to Suetonius
and found the following entertaining bits about Tiberius and exile, along with the question about the sirens:
10 At the flood-tide of success, though in the prime of life and health, he suddenly decided to go into retirement and to withdraw as far as possible from the centre of the stage; perhaps from disgust at his wife, whom he dared neither accuse nor put away, though he could no longer endure her; or perhaps, avoiding the contempt born of familiarity, to keep up his prestige by absence, or even add to it, in case his country should ever need him.... At the time he asked for leave of absence on the ground of weariness of office and a desire to rest; and he would not give way either to his mother's urgent entreaties or to the complaint which his step-father openly made in the senate, that he was being forsaken. On the contrary, when they made more strenuous efforts to detain him, he refused to take food for four days. Being at last allowed to depart, he left his wife and son in Rome and went down to Ostia in haste, without saying a single word to any of those who saw him off, and kissing only a very few when he left.
11 From Ostia he coasted along the shore of Campania, and learning of an indisposition of Augustus, he stopped for a while. But since gossip was rife that he was lingering on the chance of realising his highest hopes, although the wind was all but dead ahead, he sailed directly to Rhodes, for he had been attracted by the charm and healthfulness of that island ever since the time when he put in there on his return from Armenia. Content there with a modest house and a villa in the suburbs not much more spacious, he adopted a most unassuming manner of life, at times walking in the gymnasium without a lictor or a messenger, and exchanging courtesies with the good people of Greece with almost the air of an equal.
13 He also gave up his usual exercises with horses and arms, and laying aside the garb of his country, took to the cloak and slippers; and in this state he continued for upwards of two years, becoming daily an object of greater contempt and aversion. This went so far that the citizens of Nemausus threw down his statues and busts, and when mention was once made of him at a private dinner party, a man got up and assured Gaius that if he would say the word, he would at once take ship for Rhodes and bring back the head of "the exile," as he was commonly called. It was this act especially, which made his position no longer one of mere fear but of actual peril, that drove Tiberius to sue for his recall with most urgent prayers, in which his mother joined; and he obtained it, although partly owing to a fortunate chance. Augustus had resolved to come to no decision of the question which was not agreeable to his elder son, who, as it happened, was at the time somewhat at odds with Marcus Lollius, and accordingly ready to lend an ear to his stepfather's prayers. With his consent therefore Tiberius was recalled, but on the understanding that he should take no part or active interest in public affairs.
70 He was greatly devoted to liberal studies in both languages. In his Latin oratory he followed Messala Corvinus, to whom he had given attention in his youth, when Messala was an old man. But he so obscured his style by excessive mannerisms and pedantry, that he was thought to speak much better offhand than in a prepared address. He also composed a lyric poem, entitled "A Lament for the Death of Lucius Caesar," and made Greek verses in imitation of Euphorion, Rhianus, and Parthenius, poets of whom he was very fond, placing their busts in the public libraries among those of the eminent writers of old; and on that account many learned men vied with one another in issuing commentaries on their works and dedicating them to the emperor. 3 Yet his special aim was a knowledge of mythology, which he carried to a silly and laughable extreme; for he used to test even the grammarians, a class of men in whom, as I have said, he was especially interested, by questions something like this: "Who was Hecuba's mother?" "What was the name of Achilles among the maidens?" "What were the Sirens in the habit of singing?"
[I should mention that Sir Thomas Browne is one of my favorite guys, I wrote a piece
many years ago based on The Garden of Cyrus
, which oddly enough happens to be being performed tonight in NYC(!)]