December 5th, 2004

Fishy Circumstances

Saturn and the tortoise

The following poem is somewhat misleading. Saturn is traditionally of melancholy temperament, namely cold and dry, and is associated with scholarly work and taciturnity.

The poem was, however, inspired by a comment on dissertations, turtles, and temperance which suffisaunce made, and so I did my best to tie all three together. This was most easily done by basing the scene on an image of the Phlegmatic Temperament (cold and wet) from the Hertel edition of Ripa's Iconologia which, of course, I had lying handily about. Symbolically, the fur-trimmed gown, nightcap, fireplace, and smoking pipe all belong to the phlegmatic temperament, and as such are shown in the image. Saturn might be old, but iconographically and medicinally, he's quite dry and wouldn't need smoke - it would execerbate his temperament.

The clock references have to do with the Renaissance conflation of Saturn with Time and the new attributes which Time acquired after Petrarch's Trionfi... but you don't need to know all that. (And if you do, read Panofsky's "Father Time" article.) It's just a poem.

Melancholy Saturn watches
o'er a patient turtle;
his fur-trimmed gown and nightcap
warm him, as does burning myrtle.

The piney scent of warming fire
bestirs the languid god,
to light his pipe and smoke a while -
the turtle finds this odd.

The tortoise, slow as proverbs, marches
off to write a tome.
Its mind afire, all god-inspired,
ideas all through it roam.

The slow speed of the turtle's work
necessitates that when
it writes, it temper speed of thought
with its laconic pen.

Saturn rewinds his slowing clock,
he moderates its chime,
and watches as the turtle writes
throughout its long lifetime.

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