Thursday

Oct. 15, 2009

Apology

by Jason Whitmarsh

That last love poem I gave you, I want to apologize for that. It was
crudely put and several of the metaphors leaned too heavily on sea
life. I love you so much more than that. The best part of the poem
was the beginning, and that had nothing to do with you, or me,
or how much either of us loves each other. It was just a line from
another, better poem. Most of the poem sounds defensive, like I've
been accused of not loving you, or you of not loving me. Not that
I think I don't love you, or you me. I don't. Still, one could read a
poem by someone else and it'd seem more authentic—you'd be more
likely to think that poem was dedicated to you, I mean, than to think
mine was. One could even argue, too, that by studiously avoiding
your name or any identifying traits, I was making this poem fit for
more than one person, like women in general, or a second wife, or
your very attractive sister.

"Apology" by Jason Whitmarsh, from Tomorrow's Living Room. © Utah State University Press. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, (books by this author) born in the Prussian village of Röcken (1844). He was a philosopher who loved literature, and he experimented with different literary styles to express his philosophy. Some of his books are long lists of aphorisms, while others are written almost like novels or poetry. His most famous book, Thus Spake Zarathustra (1883), describes a prophet who comes down from the mountains to teach people about the coming of a new kind of super-man, but the people he speaks to only ridicule and laugh at him.

Nietzsche spent most of his life suffering from debilitating headaches and deteriorating eyesight, and he eventually went crazy and spent his last years in an asylum. He's perhaps best known for claiming that "God is dead," but most people forget that he actually said, "God is dead … and we have killed him!" He thought that the absence of God from the world was a tragedy, but he felt that people had to accept that tragedy and move on. He wrote that God was like a star whose light we can see, even though the star died long ago.

It's the birthday of English novelist Sir P(elham) G(renville) Wodehouse, (books by this author) born in Guildford, England (1881). He moved to Greenwich Village in 1909 and began to publish the stories that made him famous in the Saturday Evening Post. From America, he wrote about an imaginary, cartoonish England, full of extremely polite but brain-dead aristocrats, and his work was wildly popular in the years leading up to the decline of the British Empire. He is best known for books such as My Man Jeeves (1919); Carry On, Jeeves (1927); Thank You, Jeeves (1934); and Right Ho, Jeeves (1934) — books about a servant named Jeeves who is constantly saving his employer, Bertie Wooster, from all kinds of absurd situations. Over the course of his life, he wrote almost a hundred books of fiction, wrote for 16 plays, and composed lyrics for 28 musicals.

It was on this day in 1764 that Edward Gibbon (books by this author) thought up the idea of writing The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. His six-volume work, published between the years 1776 and 1788, covered more than a thousand years of Roman history, from 180 A.D. to the fall of Constantinople.

Gibbon wrote in his autobiography: "It was at Rome, on the fifteenth of October, 1764, as I sat musing amidst the ruins of the Capitol, while the barefooted fryers were singing Vespers in the temple of Jupiter, that the idea of writing the decline and fall of the City first started to my mind. After Rome has kindled and satisfied the enthusiasm of the Classic pilgrim, his curiosity for all meaner objects insensibly subsides."

Rome had cast a spell on Gibbon. He wrote that he was not very "susceptible [to] enthusiasms" and never pretended to be enthusiastic when he didn't actually feel it. "But at the distance of twenty-five years I can neither forget nor express the strong emotions which agitated my mind as I first approached and entered the Eternal City. After a sleepless night, I trod with a lofty step the ruins of the Forum; each memorable spot where Romulus stood, or Tully spoke, or Caesar fell, was at once present to my eye; and several days of intoxication were lost or enjoyed before I could descend to a cool and minute investigation."

Gibbon became known as "the first modern historian." He tried to write objectively, and in departure from his predecessors, he relied heavily on primary source documents rather than on secondary sources such as official Church histories. He made extensive — and eccentric — use of footnotes.

Gibbon argued that the Roman Empire's decline and fall were a result of a couple of major factors: changing military practices and the spread of Christianity. Rome had begun outsourcing its military jobs, hiring paid mercenaries from around the world to defend the Empire, and Gibbon argued that this made them susceptible to the "barbarian invasions" to which Rome fell victim. Additionally, he argued that Christianity's emphasis on the heavenly afterlife reduced the incentive for Romans to sacrifice for the cause of their Empire and the accompanying earthly riches and glory.

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