Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Tears of Things

A fun suggestion from on Twitter about the line lacrimae rerum  in The Aeneid. It could be construed as tears-within-things or the capacity of things in general to be melancholic as opposed to (human) tears-for-things. I'm pasting a relevant part of the Wikipedia page below. What do you think?

The context of the passage is as follows: Aeneas sees on the temple mural depictions of key figures in the Trojan War – the war from which he had been driven to the alien shores of Carthage as a refugee: the sons of Atreus (Agamemnon and Menelaus), Priam, and Achilles, who was savage to both sides in the war. He then cries out:

Sunt hic etiam sua praemia laudi;
sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt.
Solve metus; feret haec aliquam tibi fama salutem.

Here, too, the praiseworthy has its rewards;
there are tears for things and mortal things touch the mind.
Release your fear; this fame will bring you some safety.
Virgil, Aeneid, 1.461 ff.

A translation by Robert Fagles renders the quote as: "The world is a world of tears, and the burdens of mortality touch the heart."[3]

Robert Fitzgerald, meanwhile, translates it as: "They weep here / For how the world goes, and our life that passes \ Touches their hearts."[4]

In his television series Civilisation, episode 1, Kenneth Clark translated this line as "These men know the pathos of life, and mortal things touch their hearts."[5]

The poet Seamus Heaney rendered the first three words, "There are tears at the heart of things."[6]

The line is notable for being taken and used out of context (e.g. on war memorials) as a sad sentiment about the 'world of tears' (as Fagles translates). But ironically, in its context it is an expression of hope and optimism: this is the point at which Aeneas realises that he need not fear for his safety, because he is among people who have compassion and an understanding of human sorrow.

1 comment:

John T. Maher said...

I am surprised no one commented on this excellent post. I remember giving a talk suggesting the possibility of something similar in Barad's Meeting the Universe and the Hypatia issue devoted to her. One scholar, perhaps Katherine Yusoff, wrote that quantum spookiness occurs when particles love each other. Makes a bit of sense, as does the frieze in the temple. My friend the classics scholar laughed out loud but I explained this in terms of myths with powerful reliquaries and objects with agency such as magic swords, etc. in mythology and she began to consider.

Maybe you are all onto something here.