Wednesday, August 8, 2018

On the Metamorphoses, Transformation, and a Trip to Paestum

My soul is wrought to sing of forms transformed
to bodies new and strange! Immortal Gods
inspire my heart, for ye have changed yourselves
and all things you have changed! Oh lead my song
in smooth and measured strains, from olden days
when earth began to this completed time!

Ovid, Metamorphoses

Travel opens mysteries in the mind, reminders of old places, dreams, and nightmares, vivid recollections, texts we never quite understood, and moments of déjà vu.
On the roof of the Lemon House Sardinia, I spent most every night looking at the sunset, reading the Metamorphoses by Ovid, his homage to the transformation of bodies, worlds, and consciousness.
Reading, I, of course, thought of Marshall Berman and his homage to modernity, All That is Solid Melts into Air.  He wrote about cities changing, from solid to melting space, disappearing into the air, borrowing his best lines from Marx, who stole his best lines from Shakespeare, who stole them Ovid, writing about the mythology of transformation of spaces and consciousness.
While the US has a national psychosis unfolding every day from the mind of the president who wants nothing more than for everyone to think of him, we walked through the relics of Paestum, a Greek City, turned Roman, before being sacked, riddled by plague, becoming a romanitic ruin.  The subject of Ovid’s mythology  was the ways cities are driven by collective myths, as civilizations rise and empires, Rome then, ours now, crumble, for many of the same reasons.
But there was the rumble, the temples of Nepture and Hera and the pools, the agora, the center of the city life. 
In 1968, archaeologists stumbled upon a masterwork, the Tomb of the Diver, images from paintings from the theme of the symposium.  The Tomb of the Diver is an allegory of the transformation from this life to the next, the feeling we get in the water, of connection to the infinite.  As the diver descends, he makes his way from this life into the next. The work invites us into questions about the nature of living and immortality.
But maybe just liked diving, wonders Caroline. 
Age grasps at all of us.  As we walked, Mom asked that we slow down and let her sit in the shade. Years ago, mom walked us until we were exhausted in museums. But this time, she needed to sit, just as the little one out swam and hiked me this trip.
Mom sat looking at the temples, the art historian who had met her match, exhausted by the sun, the many majestic trips over a lifetime since her parents joined the diver over a half century ago.
The little one walked with Caroline and myself through the crumbling ruins and then into the archaeology museum, making connections between the work and Heracles’ trials, Jason’s Journey for the Golden Fleece, and the Tomb of the Terracotta Warriors, the sculptures of the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China.  Ever ready to relate all she knows, she’s growing up.
And our world is transformed anew.
We walk through work depicting the mysteries of the Dionysus Cult.

I’m thinking of my life and research on the god, the monsters and angels, demons and hopes which lurk in my sleep, churning through all of us, making up the sum of our days and lives, from this life to another. 

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