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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.

The image is a detail from image #106 in the Dover reprint of the Hertel imagery.
Cesare Ripa. Baroque and Rococo Pictorial Imagery: The 1758-60 Hertel Edition of Ripa's Iconologia with 200 Engraved Illustrations. Edward A. Maser, ed. (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1971).


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 5th, 2004 07:43 am (UTC)
Re: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Sometimes I think it would be slightly easier to write my dissertation in rhyming couplets than in prose. I write poorly-edited rhyming couplets quite easily.

Don't hide your chapters! I would love to read them. Anyways, I know nothing about Lydgate. What should I know? More to the point, what would you like everyone to know about him? (And, of course, anything on temperance is always welcome to me.)
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 5th, 2004 08:29 am (UTC)
this is INSPIRING. what a turn of verse. And it so perfectly describes the pace of writing.
Dec. 5th, 2004 10:31 am (UTC)
I, for one, would like to stop the stereotyping of turtles as being slow. We're fast as greased lightning, we are. We just hide it well.

(writing at a snail's pace)

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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