Homage to Delacroix

Study for Homage to Delacroix

 

When Eugène Delacroix died on August 13, 1863, the modesty of his funeral was seen as an insult by all those who considered him to be one of France’s greatest artists. Henri Fantin-Latour, especially, was outraged that no official tribute had been made. As it was common in the 19th century to celebrate prominent figures, he wanted to raise this monument himself with a manifesto painting that reunited the tenants of the modern movement, which he exhibited at the Salon of 1864. This sketch bears witness to the first project, in which six artists are gathered around the bust of Delacroix, crowned by one of them.

 

The Apotheosis of Homer

 

While it is clear that Fantin made deliberate reference to the coronations of the great men of theater on stage, the most striking source of inspiration for this artwork remains the 1827 painting by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, Apotheosis of Homer. The artist made use of the same pyramid composition, with the bust of Delacroix placed in the center. Fantin, who depicts himself in the lower right of the composition with his palette and painter’s smock, draws the viewer’s eye to the object of veneration. By making reference to the painting by Ingres, he thus renders the significance of his work more easily understood: Delacroix, like Homer, embodies the genius that will be passed on to the next generations. The identities of the other figures in the sketch are more difficult to ascertain. They can nonetheless be deduced from the first list on a preparatory drawing with the names Legros, Whistler, Manet, Bracquemond, Duranty, Cordier, Myrionnet, and Régamey.

After producing a number of sketches for this painting, Fantin eventually decided on a final version that is housed at the Musée d’Orsay and far removed from this drawing. The final composition removes Myrionnet and Régamey, replacing them with Baudelaire, Champfleury, and Balleroy. The contemporaries are now positioned around a painted portrait of Delacroix, and no longer a bust.

 

Homage to Delacroix

Seated: Louis Edmond Duranty, Fantin-Latour himself, Champfleury et Charles Baudelaire.

Standing: Louis Cordier, Alphonse Legros, James Whistler, Édouard Manet, Félix Bracquemond et Albert de Balleroy.

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What These Ithakas Mean

The Old Man Kills the Minotaur, Duane Michals, 1976

 
 

ITHAKA

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

Constantine P. Cavafy

Penelope’s Hungry Eyes

Self-portrait, London, 1972

 

Abe Frajndlich was born in 1946 to in Frankfurt. At the age of ten he moved to the United States via Israel, France and Brazil. His role model and mentor was photographer Minor White, from whom he learnt “the art of seeing”.

It is with “hungry eyes”, but also with a tenacity and patience only equaled by Penelope’s firm belief in the return of her husband Odysseus, that over the last 30 years Abe Frajndlich has taken portraits of his famous fellow photographers. A selection of over 100 pictures from the ever growing portrait collection has been published in book form for the first time under the title Penelope’s Hungry Eyes. It features grand old masters of the art and photographic artists, contemporaries of the author and younger masters from the Düsseldorf School.

Abe Frajndlich has succeeded in luring the world’s most famous photographers out from behind their cameras and in front of his. With extraordinary skill, he has trained his lens on people used to hiding their own eyes behind a camera. For each of his portraits (some in color, some black and white) Frajndlich has conceived an individual setup that brings into focus in diverse ways the photographer’s primary organ, namely their eyes, which are as special as the voice of talented singers. Some of the photographers shy away by closing their eyes, wearing a mask or turning away (Cindy Sherman, Annie Leibovitz, Thomas Struth or Hans Namuth). Others use props such as glasses, mirrors or magnifying glasses to set their eyes in scene (Bill Brandt, Duane Michals, Andreas Feininger, Lillian Bassman) and still others draw attention to the vulnerability of their eyes using knives and scissors (Imogen Cunningham, Lucas Samaras). Yet many of the subjects respond to the unfamiliar “change of perspective” by looking directly into Frajndlich’s camera (Candida Höfer, Berenice Abbott, Gordon Parks).

Abe Frajndlich has presented a Who’s Who of recent photographic history, enriched with a highly subtle eye for humorous situations. In images and text (the photographer has added a personal note to each portrait) Frajndlich sets out to discover the ever enigmatic relationship between the real person and their own legend.

 

Lucas Samaras
 

Bill Brandt

 

Josef Koudelka

 

Arnold Newman

 

Robert Lebeck

 

Imogen Cunningham

 

Elliott Erwitt

 

William Wegman

 

Marc Riboud

 

Ruth Bernhard

 

Lillian Bassman

 

Louise Dalh-Wolfe

 

Ilse Bing

 

Dennis Hopper

 

David Hockney

 

Richard Avedon

 

Annie Leibovitz

 

Cindy Sherman

 

Andres Serrano

 

Harold Edgerton

 

Horst P. Horst

 

Norman Parkinson

 

Gordon Parks

 

Masahisa Fukase

 

Daidō Moriyama

 

Eikoh Hosoe

Illustrated Masterpiece of Pastiche

 
 

Kafka’s Soup is a literary pastiche in the form of a cookbook. It contains 14 recipes each written in the style of a famous author from history. As of 2007 it had been translated into 18 languages and published in 27 countries. Excerpts from the book have appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald and the New York Times. Theatrical performances of the recipes have taken place in France and Canada. Kafka’s Soup is Mark Crick‘s first book. He has subsequently written two other books with similar themes; Sartre’s Sink and Machiavelli’s Lawn which are literary pastiches in the form of a DIY handbook and a gardening book respectively. Anybody who prefers their recipes to be a simple list of foolproof instructions should stay away.

Recipes include: tiramisu as made by Marcel Proust, cheese on toast by Harold Pinter, clafoutis grandmere by Virginia Woolf, chocolate cake prepared by Irvine Welsh, lamb with dill sauce by Raymond Chandler, onion tart by Geoffrey Chaucer, fenkata (rabbit stew) by Homer, boned stuffed poussins by the Marquis de Sade, mushroom risotto by John Steinbeck, tarragon eggs by Jane Austen, Vietnamese chicken by Graham Greene and Franz Kafka‘s Miso soup. Also included are recipes in the style of Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez.

Among the recipes that did not make the original edition of the book was “plum pudding à la Charles Dickens” which was written but rejected by Mark Crick for being “too long-winded”. It was, however, included in a subsequent paperback edition of the book along with two recipes, Rösti à la Thomas Mann and moules marinieres à la Italo Calvino, originally created for the German and Italian translations respectively.

Kafka’s Soup has become a cult hit. Andy Miller of The Telegraph called the recipes “note-perfect parodies of literary greats”. Emily Stokes of The Observer called it an “illustrated masterpiece of pastiche” citing the lamb with dill sauce as “particularly good”. C J Schüler wrote that Virginia Woolf’s clafoutis grandmere is the “pièce de resistance” and called the collection “irresistibly moreish”. He later called the book “a little gem of literary impersonation”. Schüler believes that “part of the book’s appeal lies in the fact that the recipes…actually work.”

 
 

 
 

Kafka’s Soup is illustrated with paintings by the author in the style of a number of famous artists including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, William Hogarth, Giorgio De Chirico, Henry Moore, Egon Schiele and Andy Warhol.

The idea for Kafka’s Soup arose during a conversation between Crick and a publisher. Crick noted his dislike for cookbooks saying that he enjoyed looking at the pictures but found the accompanying text dull. When asked what would it take for him to read beyond the ingredients list he replied “if [the text] was written by the world’s greatest authors.” The publisher liked the idea and, in Crick’s words, “she said that if I wrote it she’d publish it.”

Most of the recipes in the book are Crick’s own, although some, such as the chocolate cake, came from his friends. Crick notes the implausibility of some of his authors cooking their stated dishes (for example he states that John Steinbeck “would never have eaten [mushroom risotto]” and “I certainly accept any challenge that Kafka would not have eaten miso soup”). He says that he selected the recipes based on the ability of each dish to allow him to use the language he wished to use. Chocolate cake was selected for Irvine Welsh because “people become terribly selfish when there’s chocolate cake around, just as they do with drugs. It’s the closest many get to taking heroin.”

Crick says that he found Virginia Woolf the most difficult of the authors to write while Raymond Chandler was the easiest.

Thwarted by Outside Forces

Romeo and Juliet as depicted by Joseph Christian Leyendecker, 1929

 
 

“Star-crossed” or “star-crossed lovers” is a phrase describing a pair of lovers whose relationship is often thwarted by outside forces. The term encompasses other meanings, but originally means the pairing is being “thwarted by a malign star” or that the stars are working against the relationship. Astrological in origin, the phrase stems from the belief that the positions of the stars ruled over people’s fates, and is best known from the play Romeo and Juliet by the Elizabethan playwright William Shakespeare. Such pairings are often but not always said to be doomed from the start.

The phrase was coined in the prologue of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet:

“From forth the fatal loins of these two foes,

A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life” (5–6).

It also refers to destiny and the inevitability of the two characters’ paths crossing each other. It usually but not always refers to unlucky outcomes, since Romeo and Juliet’s affair ended tragically. Further, it connotes that the lovers entered into their union without sufficient forethought or preparation; that the lovers may not have had adequate knowledge of each other or that they were not thinking rationally.

 
 

Wuthering Heights (William Wyler, 1939)

 
 

Examples of famous star-crossed lovers vary in written work. Pyramus and Thisbe are usually regarded as the source for Romeo and Juliet, featured in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights are considered one of the greatest love stories in literary works. In Wuthering Heights, the narrative tells the tale of the all-encompassing and passionate, yet thwarted, love between Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw, and how this unresolved passion eventually destroys them and many around them.

 
 

The Parting of Lancelot and Guinevere, Julia Margaret Cameron, 1874. Albumen silver print from glass negative. David Hunter McAlpin Fund, 1952

 
 

Lancelot and Guinevere are often remembered for their affair. Guinevere was the queen of Camelot and wife of King Arthur, while Lancelot was a trusted knight of Arthur’s Round Table. In some versions of the tale, she is instantly smitten, and when they consummate their adulterous passion, it is an act which paves the way for the fall of Camelot and Arthur’s death.

 
 

The End of The Song,  Edmund Leighton, 1902

 
 

The legend of Tristan and Iseult (also known as Tristan and Isolde) is an influential romance and tragedy, retold in numerous sources with as many variations. The tragic story is of the adulterous love between the lovers. The narrative predates and most likely influenced the Arthurian romance of Lancelot and Guinevere, and has had a substantial impact on Western art and literature since it first appeared in the 12th century. While the details of the story differ from one author to another, the overall plot structure remains much the same.

Hero and Leander is a Greek myth, relating the story of Hero (Greek: Ἡρώ), a priestess of Aphrodite who dwelt in a tower in Sestos, at the edge of the Hellespont, and Leander (Greek: Λέανδρος, Leandros), a young man from Abydos on the other side of the strait. Leander fell in love with Hero and would swim every night across the Hellespont to be with her. Hero would light a lamp at the top of her tower to guide his way.

 
 

Sarah Bernhardt in Pelléas et Mélisandre

 
 

Pelléas and Mélisande (French: Pelléas et Mélisande) is a Symbolist play by Maurice Maeterlinck about the forbidden, doomed love of the title characters. A classical myth, was a common subject for art during the Renaissance and Baroque eras.

Troilus and Cressida is a tragedy by Shakespeare, believed to have been written in 1602. The play (also described as one of Shakespeare’s problem plays) is not a conventional tragedy, since its protagonist (Troilus) does not die.The play ends instead on a very bleak note with the death of the noble Trojan Hector and destruction of the love between Troilus and Cressida.Venus and Adonis is classical myth during the Renaissance. Heer Ranjha is one of the four popular tragic romances of the Punjab.

 
 

The fainting of Laylah and Majnun, Author unknown, c. 1550-1600

 
 

Layla and Majnun ( by the Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi) is a classical Arabian love story . It is based on the real story of a young man called Qays ibn al-Mulawwah from the northern Arabian Peninsula, in the Umayyad era during the 7th century. There were two Arabic versions of the story at the time. In one version, he spent his youth together with Layla, tending their flocks. In the other version, upon seeing Layla he fell passionately in love with her. In both versions, however, he went mad when her father prevented him from marrying her; for that reason he came to be called Majnun Layla, which means “Driven mad by Layla”. To him were attributed a variety of incredibly passionate romantic Arabic poems, considered among the foremost examples of the Udhari school.

 
 


The Butterfly Lovers is a Chinese legend about the tragic romance between two lovers, Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai. The legend is sometimes regarded as the Chinese equivalent to Romeo and Juliet.

 
 

Other classic star-crossed lovers include Devdas and Paro (Parvati) in Devdas, Paris of Troy and Helen of Sparta in The Iliad, Oedipus and Jocasta in Oedipus the King, Mark Antony and Cleopatra during the time of the Roman Empire, Khosrow and Shirin during the time of Sassanid Persia, Heloise and Peter Abelard during the Middle Ages, and Emperor Jahangir and Anarkali, Cyrano and Roxane in Cyrano de Bergerac, Hagbard and Signy and Maratha Peshwa (Prime Minister) Bajirao and Mastani during the peak of Maratha Empire.

The Nymph’s Apotheosis and The Birth of a Goddess

“Raphael did not mean for Galatea to resemble any one human person, but to represent ideal beauty.”

Giorgio Vasari

 
 

Il Trionfo di Galatea (The Triumph of Galatea), Raphael, c. 1514

 
 

The fresco is a mythological scene of a series embellishing the open gallery of the building, a series never completed which was inspired to the Stanze per la giostra of the poet Angelo Poliziano.

According to Ovid‘s Metamorphoses, Acis was the son of Faunus and the river-nymph Symaethis, daughter of the River Symaethus. His version of the tale occurs nowhere earlier and may be a fiction invented by him, “suggested by the manner in which the little river springs forth from under a rock”. According to Athenaeus, ca 200 CE the story was first concocted as a political satire against the Sicilian tyrant Dionysius I of Syracuse, whose favourite concubine, Galatea, shared her name with a nereid mentioned by Homer. Others claim the story was invented to explain the presence of a shrine dedicated to Galatea on Mount Etna.

Raphael did not paint any of the main events of the story. When asked where he had found a model of such beauty, Raphael reportedly said that he had used “a certain idea” he had formed in his mind. He chose the scene of the nymph’s apotheosis (Stanze, I, 118-119). Galatea appears surrounded by other sea creatures whose forms are somewhat inspired by Michelangelo Buonarroti, whereas the bright colors and decoration are supposed to be inspired by ancient Roman painting. At the left, a Triton (partly man, partly fish) abducts a sea nymph; behind them, another Triton uses a shell as a trumpet. Galatea rides a shell-chariot drawn by two dolphins.

 
 

La Naissance de Vénus, William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1879.

 
 

The subject matter, as well as the composition, resembles a previous rendition of Sandro Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, as well as Raphael’s The Triumph of Galatea.

The First Day of Every Month

The Judgement of Paris, Calendar 1895 by Alphons Mucha

 
 

Sketches for a calendar design (date unknown)

 
 

The Four Seasons, Calendar 1897

 
 

Page of Calendar 1988

 
 

The English word calendar is derived from the Latin word kalendae, which was the Latin name of the first day of every month.The primary practical use of a calendar is to identify days: to be informed about and/or to agree on a future event and to record an event that has happened. Days may be significant for civil, religious or social reasons. For example, a calendar provides a way to determine which days are religious or civil holidays, which days mark the beginning and end of business accounting periods, and which days have legal significance, such as the day taxes are due or a contract expires. Also a calendar may, by identifying a day, provide other useful information about the day such as its season.

An Ancient Emblem of Liberty

Jacqueline Kennedy en route to lunch with President and Mrs. Charles de Gaulle, Paris, May 31, 1961

 
 

Jackie KennedyJacqueline Kennedy during her official visit to Paris, on May 1961. She was wearing Alaskine (wool and silk) created by Oleg Cassini and pill-box hat created by Roy Halston Frowick

 
 

Jacqueline Kennedy, First Lady of the United States from 1961 to 1963, was well known for her “signature pillbox hats” from circa 1961 to 1963

 
 

PREDECESSORS

 
 

Memorial Stained Glass window, Class of 1934, Royal Military College of Canada, Kingston Ontario, Canada

 
 

A pillbox hat is a small woman’s hat with a flat crown and straight, upright sides, and no brim. Historically, the pillbox hat was military headgear, often including a chin strap, and it can still be seen on ceremonial occasions in some countries, especially from those which are of the Commonwealth of Nations. For example, the Royal Military College of Canada dress uniform includes a pillbox hat.

 
 

Castor wearing a pileus-like helmet, detail from a scene representing the gathering of the Argonauts

 
 

Odysseus offering wine to the Cyclops. Ancient statue in the Vatican, Rome

 
 

During the late Roman Empire, the pillbox, then known as the pileus or “Pannonian cap” was worn by Roman soldiers. The pileus was especially associated with the manumission of slaves. who wore it upon their liberation. It became emblematic of liberty and freedom from bondage.

 
 

SUCCESOR

 
 

Reese Whiterspoon as Elle Woods on Legally Blonde 2: Red, White & Blonde (Charles Herman-Wurmfeld, 2003), sequel to the film, Legally Blonde (Robert Luketic, 2001). Costume design by Sophie de Rakoff

The Suggestion of an Infinite Book

Jorge Luis Borges at the Hotel des Beaux Arts, Paris, in 1969. Photo: José María Pepe Fernández.

 
 

The Thousand and One Nights

Jorge Luis Borges

1980

tr. Eliot Weinberger, 1984

The Georgian Review (Fall 1984): 564-574.

 
 

A major event in the history of the West was the discovery of the East. It would be more precise to speak of a continuing consciousness of the East, comparable to the presence of Persia in Greek history. Within this general consciousness of the Orient — something vast, immobile, magnificent, incomprehsible — there were certain high points, and I would like to mention a few. This seems to me the best approach to a subject I love so much, one I have loved since childhood, The Book of the Thousand and One Nights or, as it is called in the English version — the one I first read — The Arabian Nights, a title that is not without mystery, but is less beautiful.

I will mention a few of these high points. First, the nine books of Herodotus, and in them the revelation of Egypt, far-off Egypt. I say “far-off” because space was measured by time, and the journey was hazardous. For the Greeks, the Egyptian world was older and greater, and they felt it to be mysterious.

We will examine later the words Orient and Occident, East and West, which we cannot define, but which are true. They remind me of what St. Augustine said about time: “What is time? If you don’t ask me I know; but if you ask me I don’t know.” What are East and the West? If you ask me, I don’t know. We must settle for approximations.

Let us look at the encounters, the campaigns, and the wars of Alexander, who conquered Persia and India and who died finally in Babylonia, as everyone knows. This was the first great meeting with the East, and an encounter that so affected Alexander that he ceased to be Greek and became partly Persian. The Persians have now incorporated him into their history — Alexander, who slept with a sword and the Iliad under his pillow. We will return to him later, but since we are mentioning Alexander, I would like to recall a legend that may be of interest to you.

Alexander does not die in Babylonia at age thirty-three. He is separated from his men and wanders through the deserts and forests, and at last he sees a great light. It is a bonfire, and it is surrounded by warriors with yellow skin and slanted eyes. They do not know him, but they welcome him. As he is at heart a soldier, he joins in battles in a geography that is unknown to him. He is a soldier: the causes do not matter to him, but he is willing to die for them. The years pass, and he has forgotten many things. Finally the day arrives when the troops are paid off, and among the coins there is one that disturbs him. He has it in the palm of his hand, and he says: “You are an old man; this is the medal that was struck for the victory of Arbela when I was Alexander of Macedon.” At that moment he remembers his past, and he returns to being a mercenary for the Tartars or Chinese or whoever they were.

That memorable invention belongs to the poet Robert Graves. To Alexander had been prophesied the dominion of the East and the West. The Islamic countries still honor him under the name Alexander the Two-Horned, because he ruled the two horns of East and West.

Let us look at another example of this great — and not infrequently, tragic — dialogue between East and West. Let us think of the young Virgil, touching a piece of printed silk from a distant country. The country of the Chinese, of which he only knows that it is far-off and peaceful, at the further reaches of the Orient. Virgil will remember that silk in his Georgics, that seamless silk, with images of temples, emperors, rivers, bridges, and lakes far removed from those he knew.

Another revelation of the Orient is that admirable book, the Natural History of Pliny. There he speaks of the Chinese, and he mentions Bactria, Persia, and the India of King Porus. There is a poem of Juvenal I read more than forty years ago, which suddenly comes to mind. In order to speak of a far-off place, Juvenal says, “Ultra Auroram et Gangem,” beyond the dawn and the Ganges. In those four words is, for us the East. Who knows if Juvenal felt it as we do? I think so. The East has always held a fascination for the people of the West.

Proceeding through history, we reach a curious gift. Possibly it never happened; it has sometimes been considered a legend. Harun al-Rashi, Aaron the Orthodox, sent his counterpart Charlemagne an elephant. Perhaps it was impossible to send an elephant from Baghdad to France, but that is not important. It doesn’t hurt to believe it. That elephant is a monster. Let us remember that the word monster does not mean something horrible. Lope de Vega was called a “Monster of Nature” by Cervantes. That elephant must have been something quite strange for the French and for the Germanic king Charlemagne. (It is sad to think that Charlemagne could not have read the Chanson de Roland, for he spoke some Germanic dialect.)

They sent the elephant, and that word elephant reminds us that Roland sounded the olifant, the ivory trumpet that got its name precisely because it came from the tusk of an elephant. And since we are speaking of etymologies, let us recall that the Spanish word alfil, the bishop in the game of chess, means elephant in Arabic and has the same origin as marfil, ivory. Among Oriental chess pieces I have seen an elephant with a castle and a little man. That piece was not the rook, as one might think from the castle, but rather the bishop, the alfil, or elephant.

In the Crusades, the soldiers returned and brought back memories. They brought memories of lions, for example. We have the famous crusader Richard the Lion-Hearted. The lion that entered into heraldry is an animal from the East. This list should not go on forever, but let us remember Marco Polo, whose book is a revelation of the Orient — for a long time it was the major source. The book was dictated to a friend in jail, after the battle in which the Venetians were conquered by the Genoese. In it, there is the history of the Orient, and he speaks of Kublai Khan, who will reappear in a certain poem by Coleridge.

In the fifteenth century in the city of Alexandria, the city of Alexander the Two-Horned, a series of tales was gathered. Those tales have a strange history, as it is generally believed. They were first told in India, then in Persia, then in Asia Minor, and finally were written down in Arabic and compiled in Cairo. They became The Book of the Thousand and One Nights.

I want to pause over the title. It is one of the most beautiful in the world . . . . I think its beauty lies in the fact that for us the word thousand is almost synonymous with infinite. To say a thousand nights is to say infinite nights, countless nights, endless nights. To say a thousand and one nights is to add one to infinity. Let us recall a curious English expression: instead of forever, they sometimes say forever and a day. A day has been added to forever. It is reminiscent of a line of Heine, written to a woman: “I will love you eternally and even after.”

The idea of infinity is consubstantial with The Thousand and One Nights.

In 1704, the first European version was published, the first of the six volumes by the French Orientalist Antoine Galland. With the Romantic movement, the Orient richly entered the consciousness of Europe. It is enough to mention two great names: Byron, more important for his image than for his work, and Hugo, the greatest of them all. By 1890 or so, Kipling could say: “Once you have heard the call of the East, you will never hear anything else.”

Let us return for a moment to the first translation of The Thousand and One Nights. It is a major event for all European literature. We are in 1704, in France. It is the France of the Grand Siècle; it is the France where literature is legislated by Boileau, who dies in 1711 and never suspects that all his rhetoric is threatened by that splendid Oriental invasion.

Let us think about the rhetoric of Boileau, made of precautions and prohibitions, of the cult of reason, and of that beautiful line of Fénelon: “Of the operations of the spirit, the least frequent is reason.” Boileau, of course, wanted to base poetry on reason.

We are speaking in the illustrious dialect of Latin we call Spanish, and it too is an episode of that nostalgia, of that amorous and at times bellicose commerce between Orient and Occident, for the discovery of America is due to the desire to reach the Indies. We call the people of Montezuma and Atahualpa Indians precisely because of this error, because the Spaniards believed they had reached the Indies. This little lecture is part of that dialogue between East and West.

As for the word Occident, we know its origin, but that does not matter. Suffice to say that Western culture is not pure in the sense that it exists entirely because of Western efforts. Two nations have been essential for our culture: Greece (since Rome is a Hellenistic extension) and Israel, an Eastern country. Both are combined into what we call Western civilization. Speaking of the revelations of the East, we must also remember the continuing revelation that is the Holy Scripture. The fact is reciprocal, now that the West influences the East. There is a book by a French author called The Discovery of Europe by the Chinese — that too must have occurred.

The Orient is the place where the sun comes from. There is a beautiful German word for the East, Morgenland, land of evening. You will recall Spengler‘s Der Untergang des Abendlandes, that is, the downward motion of the land of evening, or, as it is translated more prosiacally, The Decline of the West. I think that we must not renounce the word Orient, a word so beautiful, for within it, by happy chance, is the word oro,gold. In the word Orient we feel the word oro, for when the sun rises we see a sky of gold. I come back to that famous line of Dante: “Dolce color d’oriental zaffiro.” The word oriental here has two meanings: the Oriental sapphire, which comes from the East, and also the gold of morning, the gold of that first morning in Purgatory.

What is the Orient? If we attempt to define it in a geographical way, we encounter something quiet strange: part of the Orient, North Africa, is in the West, or what for the Greeks and Romans was the West. Egypt is also the Orient, and the lands of Israel, Asia Monor, and Bactria, Persia, India — all of those countries that stretch further and further and have little in common with one another. Thus, for example, Tartary, China, Japan — all that is our Orient. Hearing the word Orient, I think we all think, first of all, of the Islamic Orient, and by extension the Orient of northern India.

Such is the primary meaning it has for us, and this is the product of The Thousand and One Nights. There is something we feel as the Orient, something I have not felt in Israel but have felt in Granada and in Córdoba. I have felt the presence of the East, and I don’t know if I can define it; perhaps it’s not worth it to define something we feel so instinctively. The connotations of that word we owe to The Thousand and One Nights. It is our first thought; only later do we think of Marco Polo or the legends of Prester John, of those rivers of sand with fishes of gold. First we think of Islam.

Let us look at the history of the book, and then at the translations. The origin of the book is obscure. We may think of the cathedrals, miscalled Gothic, that are the works of generations of men. But there is an essential difference: the artisans and craftsmen of the cathedrals knew what they were making. In contrast, The Thousand and One Nights appears in a mysterious way. It is the work of thousands of authors, and none of them knew that he was helping to construct this illustrous book, one of the most illustrious books in all literature (and one more appreciated in the West than in the East, so they tell me).

Now, a curious note that was transcribed by the Baron von Hammer-Purgstall, an Orientalist cited with admiration by both Lane and Burton, the two most famous English translators of The Thousand and One Nights. He speaks of certain men he calls confabulatores nocturni, men of the night who tell stories, men whose profession it is to tell stories during the night. He cites an ancient Persian text which states that the first person to hear such stories told, who gathered the men of the night to tell stories in order to ease his insomnia, was Alexander of Macedon.

Those stories must have been fables. I suspect that the enchantment of fables is not in their morals. What enchanted Aesop or the Hindu fabulists was to imagine animals that were like little men, with their comedies and tragedies. The idea of the moral proposition was added later. What was important was the fact that the wolf spoke with the sheep and the ox with the ass, or the lion with the nightingale.

We have Alexander of Macedon hearing the stories told by these anonymous men of the night, and this profession lasted for a long time. Lane, in his book Account of the Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians, says that as late as 1850 storytellers were common in Cairo. There were some fifty of them, and they often told stories from The Thousand and One Nights.

We have a series of tales. Those from India, which form the central core (according to Burton and to Cansinos-Asséns, author of an excellent Spanish version) pass on to Persia; in Persia they are modified, enriched, and Arabized. They finally reach Egypt at the end of the fifteenth century, and the first compilation is made. This one leads to another, apparently a Persian version: Hazar Afsana, the thousand tales.

Why were there first a thousand and later a thousand and one? I think there are two reasons. First, there was the superstition — and superstition is very important in this case — that even numbers are evil omens. They then sought an odd number and luckily added and one. If they had made it nine hundred and ninety-nine we would have felt that there was a night missing. This way we feel that we have been given something infinite, that we have received a bonus — another night.

We know that chronology and history exist, but they are primarily Western discoveries. There are no Persian histories of literature or Indian histories of philosophy, nor are there Chinese histories of Chinese liberature, because they are not interested in the succession of facts. They believe that literature and poetry are eternal processes. I think they are basically right. For example, the title, The Thousand and One Nights would be beautiful even if it were invented this morning. If it had been made today we would think what a lovely title, and it is lovely not only because it is beautiful (as beautiful as LugonesLos crepúsculos del jardín: The Twilights of the Garden) but because it makes you want to read the book.

One feels like getting lost in The Thousand and One Nights, one knows that entering that book one can forget one’s own poor human fate; one can enter a world, a world made up of archetypal figures but also of individuals.

In the title The Thousand and One Nights there is something very important: the suggestion of an infinite book. It practically is. The Arabs say that no one can read The Thousand and One Nights to the end. Not for reasons of boredom: one feels the book is infinite.

At home I have the seventeen volumes of Burton’s version. I know I’ll never read all of them, but I know that there the nights are waiting for me; that my life may be wretched but the seventeen volumes will be there; there will be that species of eternity, The Thousand and One Nights of the Orient.

How does one define the Orient (not the real Orient, which does not exist)? I would say that the notions of East and West are generalizations, but that no individual can feel himself to be Oriental. I suppose that a man feels himself to be Persian or Hindu or Malaysian, but not Oriental. In the same way, no one feels himself to be Latin American: we feel ourselves to be Argentines or Chileans. It doesn’t matter; the concept does not exist.

What is the Orient, then? It is above all a world of extremes in which people are very unhappy or very happy, very rich or very poor. A world of kings, of kings who do not have to explain what they do. Of kings who are, we might say, as irresponsible as gods.

There is, moreover, the notion of hidden treasures. Anybody may discover one. And the notion of magic, which is very important. What is magic? Magic is unique causality. It is the belief that besides the causal relations we know, there is another causal relation. That relationship may be due to accidents, to a ring, to a lamp. We rub a ring, a lamp, and a genie appears. That genie is a slave who is also omnipotent and who will fulfill our wishes. It can happen at any moment.

Let us recall the story of the fisherman and the genie. The fisherman has four children and is poor. Every morning he casts his net from the banks of a sea. Already the expression a sea is magical, placing us in a world of undefined geography. The fisherman doesn’t go down the the sea, he goes down to a sea and casts his net. One morning he casts and hauls it in three times: he hauls in a dead donkey, he hauls in broken pots — in short, useless things. He casts his net a fourth time — each time he recites a poem — and the net is very heavy. He hopes it will be full of fish, but what he hauls in is a jar of yellow copper, sealed with the seal of Suleiman (Solomon). He opens the jar, and a thick smoke emerges. He thinks of selling the jar to the hardware merchants, the smoke rises to the sky, condenses, and forms the figure of a genie.

What are these genies? They are related to a pre-Adamite creation — before Adam, inferior to men, but they can be gigantic. According to the Moslems, they inhabit all of space and are invisible and impalpable.

The genie says, “All praises to God and Solomon His Prophet.” The fisherman asks why he speaks of Solomon, who died so long ago; today His Prophet is Mohammed. He also asks him why he is closed up in the jar. The genie tells him that he is one of those who rebelled against Solomon, and that Solomon enclosed him in the jar, sealed it, and threw it to the bottom of the sea. Four hundred years passed, and the genie pledged that whoever liberated him would be given all the gold in the world. Nothing happened. He swore that whoever liberated him, he would teach the song of the birds. The centuries passed, and the promises multiplied. Finally he swore that he would kill whoever freed him. “Now I must fulfill my promise. Prepare to die, my savior!” That flash of rage makes the genie strangely human, and perhaps likable.

The fisherman is terrified. He pretends to disbelieve the story, and he says: “What you have told me cannot be true. How could you, whose head touches the sky and whose feet touch the earth, fit into that tiny jar?” The genie answers: “Man of little faith, you will see.” He shrinks, goes back into the jar, and the fisherman seals it up.

The story continues, and the protagonist becomes not a fisherman but a king, then the king of the Black Islands, and at the end everything comes together. It is typical of The Thousand and One Nights. We may think of those Chinese spheres in which there are other spheres, or of Russian dolls. We encounter something similar in Don Quixote but not taken to the extremes of The Thousand and One Nights. Moreover, all of this is inside a vast central tale which you all know: that of the sultan who has been deceived by his wife and who, in order never to be deceived again, resolves to marry every night and kill the woman the following morning. Until Scheherazade pledges to save the others and stays alive by telling stories that remain unfinished. They spend a thousand and one nights together, and in the end she produces a son.

Stories within stories create a strange effect, almost infinite, a sort of vertigo. This has been imitated by writers ever since. The “Alice” books of Lewis Carroll or his novel Sylvia and Bruno, where there are dreams that branch out and multiply.

The subject of dreams is a favorite of The Thousand and One Nights. For example, the story of the two dreamers. A man in Cairo dreams that a voice orders him to go to Isfahan in Persia, where a treasure awaits him. He undertakes the long and difficult voyage and finally reaches Isfahan. Exhausted, he stretches out in the patio of a mosque to rest. Without knowing it he is among thieves. They are all arrested, and the cadi asks him why he has come to the city. The Egyptian tells him. The cadi laughs until he shows the back of his teeth and says to him: “Foolish and gullible man, three times I have dreamed of a house in Cairo, behind which is a garden, and in the garden a sundial, and then a fountain and a fig tree, and beneath the fountain there is a treasure. I have never given the least credit to this lie. Never return to Isfahan. Take this money and go.” The man returns to Cairo. He has recognized his own house in the cadi’s dream. He digs beneath the fountain and finds the treasure.

In The Thousand and One Nights there are echoes of the West. We encounter the adventures of Ulysses, except that Ulysses is called Sinbad the Sailor. The adventures are at times identical: for example, the story of Polyphemus.

To erect the palace of The Thousand and One Nights it took generations of men, and those men are our benefactors, as we have inherited this inexhaustible book, this book capable of so much metamorphosis. I say so much metamorphosis because the first translation, that of Galland, is quite simple and is perhaps the most enchanting of them all, the least demanding on the reader. Without this first text, as Captain Burton said, the later versions could not have been written.

Galland publishes his first volume in 1704. It produces a sort of scandal, but at the same time it enchants the rational France of Louis XIV. When we think of the Romantic movement, we usually think of dates that are much later. But it might be said that the Romantic movement begins at that moment when someone, in Normandy or in Paris, reads The Thousand and One Nights. He leaves the world legislated by Boileau and enters the world of Romantic freedom.

The other events come later: the discovery of the picaresque novel by the Frenchman Le Sage; the Scots and English ballads published by Percy around 1750; and, around 1798, the Romantic movement beginning in England with Coleridge, who dreams of Kublai Khan, the protector of Marco Polo. We see how marvelous the world is and how interconnected things are.

Then come the other translations. The one by Lane is accompanied by an encyclopedia of the customs of the Moslems. The anthropological and obscene translation by Burton is written in a curious English partly derived from the fourteenth century, an English full of archaisms and neologisms, an English not devoid of beauty but which at times is difficult to read. Then the licensed (in both senses of the word) version of Doctor Mardrus, and a German version, literal but without literary charm, by Littmann. Now, happily, we have a Spanish version by my teacher Rafael Cansinos-Asséns. The book has been published in Mexico; it is perhaps the best of all the versions, and it is accompanied by notes.

The most famous tale of The Thousand and One Nights is not found in the original version. It is the story of Aladdin and the magic lamp. It appears in Galland’s version, and Burton searched in vain for an Arabic or Persian text. Some have suspected Galland forged the tale. I think the word forged is unjust and malign. Galland had as much right to invent a story as did those confabulatores nocturni. Why shouldn’t we suppose that after having translated so many tales, he wanted to invent one himself, and did?

The story does not end with Galland. In his autobiography De Quincey says that, for him, there was one story in The Thousand and One Nights that was incomparably superior to the others, and that was the story of Aladdin. He speaks of the magician of Magrab who comes to China because he knows that there is the one person capable of exhuming the marvelous lamp. Galland tells us that the magician was an astrologer, and that the stars told him he had to go to China to find the boy. De Quincey, who had a wonderfully inventive memory, records a completely different fact. According to him, the magician had put his ear to the ground and had heard the innumerable footsteps of men. And he had distinguished, from among the footsteps, those of the boy destined to discover the lamp. This, said De Quincey, brought him to the idea that the world is made of correspondences, is full of magic mirrors — that in small things is the cipher of the large. The fact of the magician putting his ear to the ground and deciphering the footsteps of Aladdin appears in none of these texts. It is an invention of the memory or the dreams of De Quincey.

The Thousand and One Nights has not died. The infinite time of the thousand and one nights continues its course. At the beginning of the eighteenth century the book was translated; at the beginning of the nineteenth (or end of the eighteenth) De Quincey remembered it another way. The Nights will have other translators, and each translator will create a different version of the book. We may almost speak of the many books titles The Thousand and One Nights: two in French, by Galland and Mardrus; three in English, by Burton, Lane, and Paine; three in German, by Henning, Littmann, and Weil; one in Spanish by Cansinos-Asséns. Each of these books is different, because The Thousand and One Nights keeps growing or recreating itself. Robert Louis Stevenson‘s admirable New Arabian Nights takes up the subject of the disguised prince who walks through the city accompanied by his vizier and who has curious adventures. But Stevenson invented his prince, Florizel of Bohemia, and his aide-de-camp, Colonel Geraldine, and he had them walk through London. Not a real London, but a London similar to Baghdad; not the Baghdad of reality, but the Baghdad of The Thousand and One Nights.

There is another author we must add: G. K. Chesterton, Stevenson’s heir. The fantastic London in which occur the adventures of Father Brown and of The Man Who Was Thursday would not exist if he hadn’t read Stevenson. And Stevenson would not have written his New Arabian Nights if he hadn’t read The Arabian Nights. The Thousand and One Nights is not something which has died. It is a book so vast that it is not necessary to have read it, for it is a part of our memory — and also, now, a part of tonight.

The Girl Who Lived in The Tree

“And the great elms o’erhead
Dark shadows wove on their aërial looms,
Shot through with golden thread.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Hawthorne, Stanza 2

 
 

“In crystal vapour everywhere
Blue isles of heaven laughed between
And far, in forest-deeps unseen,
The topmost elm-tree gather’d green
From draughts of balmy air”

Tennyson

Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere

 
 

The cloth-wrapped tree reminded a Christo art installation

 
 

Let’s analyze again from where Alexander McQueen drew inspiration for his 2008-2009 Autumn/Winter Collection.

I’ve got a 600-year-old elm tree in my garden and I made up this story of a girl who lives in it and comes out of the darkness to meet a prince and become a queen”, he claimed, was the seed of the narrative his collection would branch out from.

McQueen was an egghead, I mean, a true intellectual, especially when he was searching out information about a concept for any of his fashion collections and I’m certain, because of this, he was aware of the mythological and religious connections behind The Girl Who Lived in The Tree.

 
 

John William Waterhouse, Hamadryad

 
 

Ἁμαδρυάδες (Hamadryads) according to Greek mythology are mostly female beings that live in a tree, in fact they are bonded to a particular tree. Some believe that hamadryads are the actual tree, while normal dryads are simply the entities, or spirits, of the trees. If the tree died, the hamadryad associated with it died as well. For that reason, dryads and the gods punished any mortals who harmed trees.

The first reference in literature to elms occurs in the epic poem attributed to Homer, Iliad. When Eetion, father of Andromache, is killed by Achilles during the Trojan War, the Mountain Nymphs plant elms on his tomb. Also in the Iliad, when the River Scamander, indignant at the sight of so many corpses in his water, overflows and threatens to drown Achilles, the latter grasps a branch of a great elm in an attempt to save himself.

But specifically, Deipnosophistae of Athenaeus (The Banquet of the Learned or Philosophers at Dinner) an ancient Greek text written in the early 3rd century AD, lists eight Hamadryads, the daughters of Oxylus and Hamadryas. And Ptelea is the name given to the hamadryad bonded to the Elm, a hermaphroditic tree comprising the genus Ulmus in the plant family Ulmaceae.

 
 

Giovanni Segantini, Le Cattive Madri (The Evil Mothers), 1894

 
 

Arthur Rackham, Freia (a combination of Freyja and the goddess Iðunn—from Richard Wagner’s opera Der Ring des Nibelungen ), 1910.

 
 

Arthur Hughes. Back from Sea, 1862. The characters of this painting are resting under a Ulmus procera

A Particular Group of Writers

Homer

 
 

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra

 
 

Jonathan Swift

 
 

Herman Melville

 
 

Franz Kafka

 
 

Kurt Vonnegut

 
 

Joseph Conrad

 
 

Charles Dickens

 
 

William Faulkner

 
 

Leo Tolstoy

 
 

Alice Walker

 
 

William Butler Yeats

 
 

Jules Verne

 
 

Louisa May Alcott

 
 

Ann Rice

 
 

Marcel Proust

 
 

Edgar Allan Poe

 
 

summersfrost591a8f029af251061ea181ae372a2c90Robert Frost

 
 

Walt Whitman

 
 

Virginia Woolf

 
 

Illustrations by Mark Summers