Homer, Cervantes, Cahill, Patrick O'Brian & The Wine Dark SeaSunday, September 01, 2013
Some readers of this blog must know that Rosemary and I get the New York Times delivered to our door every day of the year. This has been the case for at least 15 years. From Monday to Saturday mornings we read the NY Times and the Vancouver Sun over breakfast in bed. Rosemary and I alternate with no particular pattern who fixes breakfast.
But Saturday night is different. The kids (our youngest daughter Hilary and her two daughters, Rebecca and Lauren and Bruce Stewart when he has Saturday off) come for Saturday dinner. After I take them home I know that I will find by the door the Sunday New York Times waiting. We read this Saturday night and try to leave some stuff to read over breakfast for the next day.
It was Saturday night that in the NY Times Sunday Magazine I read this in that terrible but still interesting section that is the One Page Magazine:
D’oh, That’s What Homer Meant! By Maud Newton
In the “Iliad,” Homer describes the sea as “wine dark” six times but never calls it blue. Caroline Alexander, writing for Lapham’s Quarterly, reviews and dismisses many theories for this – from the idea that he meant “sunset read” to the notion that the ancient Greeks’ wine turned blue when mixed with their alkaline water. In fact she says, Homer and his contemporaries were “less interested” in hue. “Homeric” terms that appear to describe the color of the sea have more to do with light.”
I promptly forgot the above. On Sunday, September 1 I went to the Vancouver Public Library with Lauren. I asked one of the librarians how to find talking books in Spanish. I asked her if I had to go to the Spanish section of books or to the section that held talking books. The librarian was interested in my question because she did not know the answer. “Give me an example of an author,” she told me. I said, “Jorge Luís Borges.” She found one and informed me it would be on the next floor in literature. Then we found a way of finding all the talking books in Spanish which are somewhere around 2500.
I went to the next floor and got Borges – This Craft of Verse (Borges in his own voice – The complete Norton Lectures delivered at Harvard University in Harvard 1967-1968). In the Spanish section of books I found Miguel de Cervantes – Don Quijote de La Mancha in a complete recording of the novel.
At home I put in the first Borges CD and to my amazement I found out that not only did Borges read in his own voice, but in his own voice in an exquisite (slightly accented) English. Since by 1967 Borges was blind these lectures (about five hours) are all extemporaneous and without the notes he could not read.
In the second lecture (first part) entitled Metaphor Borges talks about the difference between Homer writing (or dictating perhaps?) the expression “the wine dark sea” and all these many years later when we read it. Borges explained that Homer’s interpretation was not his as he wrote it. But when we read it, the expression somehow brings Homer from his death of centuries. His original metaphor of the sea and dark wine becomes a new metaphor. It is the metaphor of a metaphor of Homer in relation to our use of Homer’s metaphor.
That may sound complicated but believe me Borges says it with class, wit and humour.
I put on the first chapter of Don Quijote and I was rewarded by a perfect Castilian voice which was verbatim to my open hard copy on my lap. What a find and in our own VPL in what many say is a cultural backwater.
I am going to Buenos Aires on the 21st of September. I asked Nora Patrich’s (an Argentine painter friend of mine who now lives in Buenos Aires but lived for many years in Vancouver) new husband Roberto who works at the Biblioteca Nacional if they had either of the books I had found. The answer was no. I am now going to ask the VPL how I can lawfully copy those two books as a donation from the VPL to the Argentine National Library.
Tonight, September 2, I suffered insomnia. I was trying to remember where I had heard the expression “wine dark sea” in the last 24 hours. I went to the on line NY Times and found the Sunday Magazine piece. I got into bed but told Rosemary, “There is a Patrick O’Brian novel with that name and I also have a non-fiction book about the Greeks with that title.
And so I came down to the living room, found the two books and here I am writing about a happy coincidence involving Homer, Cervantes, Patrick O’Brian, Thomas Cahill and my NY Times Magazine.
The NY Times publishes on Labour Day but we did not get our copy this morning ( I write this in the early morning of September 3). The newspaper carrier obviously had a holiday. Rosemary and I look forward to two newspapers for tomorrow’s breakfast.
Amazingly those Jorge Luís Borges Harvard lectures are to be found here complete.