My reference to the Sword of Damocles, in a poem I posted a few days ago, has served to jog my poor over-loaded brain. I always think of the human brain as a vast library-like cavern, perhaps not unlike the wondrous university libraries, such as those at Oberlin College, and the Bierce Library at the University of Akron, which are two of the libraries where I did research as a doctoral student twenty years ago. Especially etched into my brain cells were the upper floor reaches of the great libraries which during the summer months when they were not as crowded, and one could spend hours without encountering any other scholars. There is my idea of Heaven…being alone in the stacks at a borrowed carrel, surrounded by rows and rows of shelves, laden with books.
Above and beyond the inherent treasure of information and knowledge of the ages is the simple fact of being one with the company of books…manuscripts, journals, atlases, writings in multiple languages. The hallowed halls of musty, dusty volumes are in themselves of unestimable value in the rivers and mountains and mines of the books that are the records of the human ages and dreams of the future.
OK, I admit it…there are easier ways to tap into the motherlodes of learning—namely: computers. Yeah, been there, done that too! I love computers. I adore the ease of research in a vast machine. Before I bought my first computer, I studied the computer magazines, and bothered people that I knew who were already “computer-literate.” There were not many. Even the major newspaper that I worked for back then, in the mid-1980s, had not yet made the transition to computerization. More than one Radio Shack salesperson thought I was strange…my criteria for actually buying a computer was that it have the capability of holding “every book and media from the New York Public Library” available for users. I had no idea that would really be possible within a very few years. It was called the “Information Highway” before it was known as “The Internet.”
Any way, as I was saying about the Sword of Damacles…when the allusion popped into my head as I toyed with writing a poem, after a several-week slump during which I was sure I would never write poetry again. Sure, I can always write miscellaneous posts about topics as varied as politics and attempts at humor.
Thinking about the Classics always appeals to nooks and crannies of my brain, in which are tucked away and filed in huge vessels of information, where all of the myriads of things that have been encountered and put away for “another day” when I had more time. Thus was my complicated thought-train set into locomotion, chugging off into a darkened passage where I keep forgotten and fascinating scraps under a make-believe heading — FOR SOME DAY.
So ah-ha! with my theoretical ticket to side-tracks of possible literary points of interest peaked at the prompt phrase: “Sword of Damocles…” which found its way into an impromptu poem unstopping the clogged…or cluttered scraps of esoteric longing to venture into the Classical collections of ancient tomes and leather-bound texts which may or may not have been…shall I say hidden? delayed? saved as best for last?… a related reference to another masterpiece springing forth from my foggy brain.
Yes—after a bit of ponderance it came to me: The Pit and the Pendulum. I vaguely recall the circumstances of Edgar Allen Poe’s grim and gruesome tale of madness and despair, of a poor prisoner sentenced to deal with the very pits of Hell. The images and illusions that came to mind are rather allegories, or tales of tales which I have read over my lifetime (since I learned to read) and have become part of my personal library of versions of famous literature.
Poe’s style had long fascinated, especially in the days of my somewhat dreamy-eyed and faux-sophisticated youth. The Raven, maybe Edgar Allen Poe’s best known work…at least among students such as my younger self…had captured my imagination. I so enjoyed the poem that I undertook the copying—in flowing cursive handwriting, accomplished with a fountain pen, with real ink—into one of the plain and homely brown notebooks that I so enjoyed. I have it to this day.
Had I actually read The Pit and the Pendulum, in it’s entirety, with due consideration and concentration…tripping and gnashing over Poe’s lightly punctuated and technically worded nineteenth century prose…I dare say I would not have really understood it. For one thing, although Poe states in his introduction to The Pit…that his torturers are members of the Spanish Inquisition….the not-so-Holy-Inquisition.
That dreaded institution was of course studied, or at least alluded to in high school History classes, but I…for whatever reason…did not really make an impression on me one way or another. I didn’t care—and did not GET IT then. I admit that at age nineteen I was much more of a romantic than a scholar. So several decades later I finally got around to my higher education, and in that capacity become intrigued with the discovery, development, destruction, and History of Latin America—which had a LOT to do with Spain, and Mexico, and the Holy Inquisition. In the New World the Inquisition methods were somewhat limited, compared with back in Spain and environs…much of the efforts of the institution were directed toward members of the clegy, for various crimes including heresy and seduction in the confessional.