Saturday, May 07, 2016
"Blog"trospective 18: The Anatomy of Melancholy
As promised, though I have "stopped 'blogging,'" I have returned to you just long enough to boast about finishing all 977 pages of THE ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY. That includes the first appendix, "The Conclusion of the Author to the Reader" (reworked by Burton for his introduction and left out of most subsequent editions), but not the second appendix, in which Burton's birthdate is deduced through astrological data. It only took me something like a year. I won't rehash my many excuses, no, I won't say how big and bulky the 1927 edition is and how I couldn't carry it on airplanes. I won't point out the good, long run I had of reading it before I was interrupted. But - before we get to the main body of this, the final "blog"trospective, I will tell you what I learned from THE ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY since the last time I saw you. 1. Compared to Blind Alfred Reed, Robert Burton is kind of progressive. He (Burton) gives us (as is his wont) several pages of quotations from ancient scholars enumerating what is supposedly wrong with women. But then he has to admit, "And that which I have said (to speak truth) no more concerns them than men, though women be more frequently named in this Tract; (to apologize once for all) I am neither partial against them, or therefore bitter... If any man take exception at my words, let him alter the name, read him for her, and 'tis all one in effect." 2. "Eating the egg of a night-owl causeth abstemiousness, according to Iarcha the Indian gymnosophist." Burton is speaking of sexual or romantic abstemiousness, though the idea that an owl's egg can cure alcoholism somehow made it to the United States, as reported previously on the "blog." Another of the "absurd remedies" for love mentioned by Burton is the wearing of "Characteristical Images," such as "the seal of a woman with disheveled hair." 3. "Gentle youths" are advised to "Let not the Doves outpass your murmurings... or oyster kissings," which would seem to imply that oysters are good kissers, as good at kissing as doves are at murmuring. I did very little research into the matter. We all know that oysters are supposed to be an aphrodisiac, so why shouldn't they be good kissers? I also recall that prostitutes were called "oysters" and "monkeys" in Burton's time, and though I doubt that's what is meant here, it does make me realize I took at least one of Burton's allusions to monkeys too literally. 4. After one victory, Caesar's soldiers sang a song that went, "Citizens, look to your wives, we bring you a bald adulterer." Gee, what a nice song. I learned of it in Burton's section on the sexual prowess of bald men (pictured). 5. Speaking of which, I learned the word "cornute," which, had I thought about it for a second, I would have known meant to put the horns on, or cuckold, but I didn't think at all, no, I just looked it up in my old dictionary. 6. Lots more owls in these final pages. At least half a dozen. In the passage urging young women not to marry old men, Burton tells how Sophocles, "a very old man, as cold as January, a bed-fellow of bones... doted yet upon Archippe a young Courtesan" and quotes an old poem: "Night-crows on tombs, owl sits on carcass dead,/ So lies a wench with Sophocles in bed." Ha ha, take that, Sophocles! 7. "As a dam of water stopped in one place breaks out into another, so doth superstition." This seems to anticipate Freud! Does it? I don't know. I think of Dr. Theresa's favorite phrase, "the return of the repressed." 8. He calls the goddess Venus "as common as a barber's chair." Was that a familiar insult at the time? Anyway, it's kind of snappy, if rude. 9. Burton says that people can be obsessive on one subject but otherwise fully functional: "they are like comets, round in all places but only where they blaze." A nice phrase! 10. Well, Burton has thought a lot about religious tolerance and I can't say he's for it. He does think burning people at the stake might be a little extreme, sometimes: "We have frequently such Prophets and dreamers amongst us, whom we persecute with fire... I think the most compendious cure for some of them at least, had been in Bedlam. But enough of this." 12. Yet at the same time he doesn't care for hellfire preachers, "nothing but gall and horror, and a mad noise, they make all their auditors desperate, many are wounded by this means, and they commonly that are most devout and precise." 13. "A Tuscan Sooth-sayer, as Paterculus tells the story, perceiving himself and Fulvius Flaccus his dear friend, now both carried to prison by Opimius, and in despair of pardon, seeing the young man weep, said, do as I do; and with that knockt out his brains against the door-cheek, as he was entering into Prison, and so desperately died." Well, that's a terrible story, sorry! But I can't help liking the phrase "knockt out his brains against the door-cheek." It's vivid! 14. Here's Burton's version of that Bible verse I like: "I am like a Pelican in the wilderness, an Owl because of thine indignation." Ha ha! No, I don't know why that's funny. 15. "... the more they search and read Scriptures, or divine Treatises, the more they puzzle themselves, as a bird in a net, the more they are intangled and precipitated into this preposterous gulf." I know how they feel! 16. I learned the word "Mormoluches," which seems to mean "hobgoblins." And now take my arm as we stroll through THE ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY as summarized previously on this "blog": against vainglory---aliens (two green children who fell from Heaven)---alkermes---Aquinas beats a talking brass man to pieces with a hammer (1927 footnote)---architectural talent of bees, the---Artemidorus the Grammarian loses his wits by the unexpected sight of a crocodile---bats and owls hover in melancholy darkness over a shady bower---Burton critical of, yet defiant about, his own work---company of young men and maids cursed to sing for a year without stopping---compares the profession of a physician unfavorably to that of a hangman---contains numerous owls---cucubuth---cultivating a taste for exquisite sauces is an impediment to happiness---Cupid and Death exchange arrows---delusion of live frogs in belly---dizzards---emperor who was bad at kissing, the---February a peak time for werewolves---fairies walk about in little coats---fairybabes of tombs and graves---fiery urine---glucupicron---invention of the ball---led (by a 1927 footnote to Burton) to Godwin's LIVES OF THE NECROMANCERS---man gets gas from a concoction meant to increase his libido, a---man with a fear of peeing cured by being told the town is on fire, a---mice sleeping under the snow, as fat as butter---parable of a mule and an ass---people cured of various ailments by falling on their heads---pickitivant---Pied Piper story presented as fact, the---possible roots of "willy-nilly"---trees fall in love. In closing I ask you to recall the previous seventeen "blog"trospectives: 1. Tom Franklin. 2. Phil Oppenheim. 3. Movies. 4. The Moon. 5. Sandwiches. 6. The United States. 7. The Beach Boys. 8. Arnold Stang. 9. Books With Owls In Them. 10. Gelatin. 11. Monkeys Riding Dogs. 12. Kent Osborne Eating Chicken. 13. What Happened When Megan Abbott Lived In Oxford, Mississippi. 14. Graveyards. 15. Feeding a Possum. 16. The Twentieth Century. 17. Stuff I Left Out of the Book I Wrote About Cigarette Lighters. If you "click" on them all, and then "click" on every "link" within them, and every "link" within every "link," you will have discovered my own anatomy of my own melancholy. "The world shall end like a Comedy, and we shall meet at last in Heaven, and live in bliss together; or else in conclusion, fade away into nothing." Okay, so long, see you on McNeil's birthday.