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Storytelling Genius


Near the end of Fargo (1996), Steve Buscemi returns to the house by the lake. There, he divides the ransom money with his partner Peter Stormare. Stormare says one must pay for the privilege of driving away the burnt-umber Sierra, but Buscemi explodes in anger, conveying his recent efforts and resultant bloody wound. Buscemi demands that the Sierra be his to take, without any strings.


Item in the storytelling genius of the Coen brothers : in this moment, Buscemi is appealing for Justice.

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Orpheus sings the tale of the Cerastae


“But if by chance you ask island Cyprus (Aphrodite’s home,

its soil embedded with gold), if it’s proud of its rebellious

band of women, the Propoètides, Aphrodite’s home

would spurn them; and also those whose foreheads, once upon a time,

prickled with a pair of horns. This earned them the pejorative name

the Cerastae—slippery and duplicitous snakes of myth.

Once, they stood an altar before their front-gates sacred to Zeus,

god of hospitality. Any stranger oblivious

of the crime who saw this altar smeared in blood, naturally

thought it from sacrifices of calves and young sheep. But the blood

came from guests. Showing displeasure at the execrable act,

Aphrodite herself thought to desert her own fields and cities.

‘But these beloved places have done me no harm,’ she said. “Why

punish them? It’s preferable for me to pay out punishment

to this unholy house, punishment of death or exile.

Or is not the sternest penalty a mutation of their shape?’

While she wavered in opinion, she moved her eyes, and saw

the hooked horns on the foreheads. And she realised they

could keep them. She changed the shape of their bodies into large bulls.”




The end of the tale of the Cerastae



to be continued



Ovid, Metamorphoses, 10.220–242

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“Schizophrenics. . . . It’s almost as if they’re trying . . . to adapt to their schizophrenic image of themselves.” (Altered States, 18:00)


J. G Ballard : “elective psychopathology”. See, for example, interview 11-23-04 in Ballard, Conversations (RE/Search Publications, 2005).

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Orpheus on . . .


The obscene Propoètides, who denied the holiness

of Aphrodite, felt the shrug of the goddess’ shoulder,

the reason, some say, they were the first to prostitute themselves,

body and name. So, having lost their shame, and with hardened faces,

the step was small when they were turned to hard stones.



Ovid, Metamorphoses, 10.238–242

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Orpheus sings the story of Pygmalion


“Pygmalion, then, seeing these women pursuing lifetimes

of shame, and disgusted with the sight of their defects, many

of which coming naturally to them, rejected marriage,

and he lived without a partner in his bed. In the meantime,

his marvellous Art made him happy : he sculpted from ivory

a snow-white figure having beauty beyond living women.

And he fell in love with his work. So true to life was the face

of this lady, if modesty allowed you’d think she might move.

So does his Art hide his Art. He looks on admiringly;

the simulation stimulates love in Pygmalion’s heart.

Frequently he brings his hands to touch his work, to see if it

be ivory or body. And as of yet he hesitates

to call it ivory; and imagines touching her when he

settles his fingertips on the body, and fears his tight clutch

might leave bruises there. Often he imagines the two of them

speaking delightfully; and he brings gifts that girls find pleasing,

like sea-shells, smooth pebbles, little birds, and flowers of many

colours; and lilies, and portrait lockets, and tear-shaped amber

from the trees of Heliadum. He also dresses the body

in clothing, slips gems on its fingers, and fastens a necklace

around its neck; and puts pearls in its ears that hang like berries;

and slim golden bands crossed the breasts. Entirely beautiful

the statue looked to him, and no less so when nude. He laid it

on a bed, on blankets of Tyrian purple, and called her

his partner in marriage. And he leaned her back upon a soft

feather pillow, which he thought she would like, if she were alive.


Then, on the merry day of holiday to Aphrodite,

when all of Cyprus gathered to celebrate, and the heifers,

their spreading horns decorated in gold, were led in, only

to fall to earth, when the death-blow split their snowy necks

in the altar’s incense, then Pygmalion came, with a gift.

At the altar he timidly prayed : ‘Gods, you who let all things be,

I pray to have as wife’—and here the man did not say ‘ivory

lady’—but : ‘someone similar to my ivory lady.’


Golden Aphrodite understood (for the goddess was there

at her own festival), and, transmitting a favourable

omen, the altar’s flame three times blazed, reaching up into air.


On his return he went to the image of his love, and bent

over the couch to kiss her. She seemed warm. He kissed her again,

and his hand found her breast. At his touch the ivory softened,

and his fingers subsided into yielding ivory,

as the sun softens Hymettian wax to allow the thumbs

to mold it into many practical shapes. Pygmalion

stands astonished, happy to waver in doubt, yet fears he is wrong;

so the lover explores with his hands again and again. Yes!

It is a body! His fingertips feel the pulse in her veins.

Pygmalion then gushed with gratitude for Aphrodite;

then touched his lips to real lips finally. The lady felt his kiss,

and blushed; and with shy eyes she looked up into the light to see

both her lover and blue sky together. And so the goddess

who had made the match attended the wedding; and before

the crescent moon had joined its tips for a ninth time,

a daughter was born, Paphos, from whom comes the island’s name.”


Ovid, Metamorphoses, 10.243–297

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Steven Spielberg receiving the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award (1987) :


“Irving Thalberg worshiped writers and that's where it all begins. . . . I think it’s time to renew our romance with the written word.”

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In Fargo (1996), Jerry Lundegaard coerces his young and innocent son to lie, thereby compounding the number of Evils generated by Jerry’s whimsically terrible plan (43:06). This foundational moral and characterological moment—the corruption of the son by the father, the corruption of Innocence by Adult Reason—is recalled all the way back in the ancient Greek play Philoctetes by Sophocles, in which Odysseus endeavours to persuade the young and innocent (and reluctant) Neoptolemus to tell a lie in the course of army duty. Neoptolemus finally agrees : ἴτω: ποήσω, πᾶσαν αἰσχύνην ἀφείς. (“I’ll do it. All shame begone!”) (ll. 54–134)  

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The Pictureless Translator Presents :




Daphne was Apollo’s first love, the daughter of river-god

Peneus. It was no love at first sight, though, but the issue

of an irritated, naughty Cupid. While Apollo sun-god

was still exulting over his destruction of the serpent,

he saw the little go-between bending back his stringèd bow

and couldn’t help but say : “Why” (he said) “are you, silly baby,

handling such powerful weaponry? That heavy armament

would suit my shoulders well, for I challenge the untamèd beasts,

and I wound all enemies who challenge me. Just now I come

from overwhelming the Python; I left that pestiferous

thing covering acres of earth, its swollen belly bristling

with arrows. Be happy, little thing, to light the fires of love,

and leave my honours to me.” And the son of Aphrodite

replied : “Your arrows may stick everything, Apollo, but mine

shall stick you.” (And he added) “By just so much you lord over

all the animals, by just that much I shall lord over you.”


So saying, Cupid shot upward instantly on outspread wings

and in a moment transited to the top of Parnassus.

Hidden in its shade he removed two arrows from his quiver :

two, diverse in their effect : one made one flee, one made one love.

(The latter was tipped with glistening gold; the first, blunt with lead.)

The first he fixed in Peneus’ daughter, the nymph Daphne,

the other pierced Apollo to the marrow of his being.


Right then Apollo fired up with love. But nymphet Daphne

ran the other way, happy to occupy the forests alone

with the beasts, and stay unwed but to the goddess of the moon.

Many suitors sought her hand in marriage, but she waved off them all,

loathing to submit, preferring to wander the unfrequented

forests, free of any curiosity of Hymen, or Love,

or the mysteries of marriage. “Give your father a son-in-law!”

said her father often, and just as often : “Give me grandsons!”

But Daphne, loathing the wedding torch as if it were evil,

blushed red in the face, dropped a flattering arm round his shoulder,

and answered him modestly : “It’s you, father, I’ll love forever.

I enjoy my freedom; allow me to keep it. Her Father

allows Artemis this.” So the father allowed his daughter

her freedom. But your beauty would not allow this easily,

Daphne. Your adorableness disagreed with your desire!


So Apollo fell in love, and desired Daphne as wife;

and what the sungod hopes, he expects, not knowing he’s been tricked.

How easily are fields of corn removed from life by fire!

As a torch burns, so the heart of sungod Apollo burned inside,

and he lost himself in useless, unproductive hopes of love.

He admired her hair pouring unadorned on her shoulders

and asked himself : “And what if that hair was braided?”


Her eyes, he saw, had starlight sparkles in them; her lips, too, he

inspected; and neither sight eased his desire. He admired

her fingers, her hands, her wrists; all her arms, naked up to her

shoulders. And what he couldn’t see, he imagined lovelier.

But she flew faster than the wind from his sight, and faster still,

unwilling to be caught, when he began charming her smoothly

with words.


“Sweet Daphne, stop this running, please! No enemy follows you!

Nymph, stop! The lamb flees the wolf, the deer flees the lion, the dove

flees the eagle’s wings; surely everyone living flees their foes;

but Love draws me after you! How painful a feeling! Watch out

for yourself! See your legs aren’t scratched by thorns! See you don’t fall down!

I will be the cause of that pain. That area you’re rushing

into is roughening. Moderate your speed, I beg you!” (said

the god) “You flee from me much too fast! I’ll speak slower, too.

Moderate your speed. Would it not please you to know who I am?

I’m no mountainside wanderer, no unwashed shepherd watching

his flocks and herds. Bold girl, you have no idea who chases you!

The land of Delphi is mine. Also Claros. And Tenedos.

My father is Zeus. From me comes knowledge of all things that have been,

and will be. From me comes the harmony of musical strings.

My arrows are sure, but one sure arrow has struck me : for you.

(Before now I thought my heart invulnerable to such love.)

All medicines you use, I discovered; everywhere my name

is Healer, mine are all potent herbs rising up from the earth;

but all my herbs and all my medicines cannot cure my love!

Useless to their creator, though useful to everyone else,

are my Arts!”


Much more Apollo planned to say, but Daphne accelerated,

leaving his words imperfect. But even here she was charming

to see. As she ran the winds exposed her body; opposing

breezes set her clothing streaming around her, and her hair spread

out on the winds. But her fleeing only enhanced her beauty.

Yet it all had to end, for Apollo had no further time

to lure the young one with words. Love now made him accelerate.  


When on an open plain a dog spies a rabbit, he chases it,

and the rabbit seeks safety. When the dog feels as if it’s caught

the other, and touches its muzzle to its feet, the rabbit,

unsure if it’s caught, tears away from the bite and only just

escapes the closing jaws : so ran Apollo, so ran Daphne,

he, motivated by love, she, terror. So, motivated

by love, the god caught up with her, and menaced her from above;

she felt his breath on her hair, and on her neck. By now she had

used up all her strength. The labour of her flight had left her pale.

She saw her father’s river and prayed. “Father, help me! If your

waters can do it, metamorphose me! Destroy this beauty!”


She had barely finished her prayer when a heavy numbness

seized her arms and legs. A thin crust of bark covered her body.

Her hair turned to leaves; her arms two outspreading branches; her feet

rooted in the earth and fixed there. Her head was now a treetop.

What remained of nymphet Daphne was her outstanding beauty.


And even now Apollo remained in love. Resting his hand

on the tree, he felt, still trembling under the bark, her heart.

He entered into the branches as if among human limbs,

and pressed his lips to the trunk. And the tree shuddered at his kiss.


At that Apollo responded : “If you cannot be my bride, 

then, Daphne, you shall be my tree. So it shall be, for all time

to come, that all of me shall be allied with the laurel tree.

You’ll ornament the heads of our Roman leaders at the cry

of victory to the cheering processions along the Capitol.

You shall stand at our doors as symbol of faith. And the beauty

of the laurel shall always reminisce of your loveliness.”


The god was done. And the laurel nodded, as if in answer.



Ovid, Metamorphoses, 1.452–566.

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1. JSB was the first casualty of Covid censorship in the UK media.

2a. In March 2020, JSB sent emails to all of the UK newspapers, pointing out the moronic response by the UK publishing world, controlled by Bertelsmann (Germany), to the increasing Covid threat.

2b. Artellus Ltd.’s Twitter feed included a series of horrific jokes making light of Covid, a moral monstrosity which literary agent Leslie Gardner (Salman Rushdie's first book; A Clockwork Orange) refused to remove until I acted not with politeness but with strength (the newspaper emails).

2c. In early 2020, Italy was being destroyed by Covid—and check out Artellus’ relationship to Italy!

3. At this time, JSB’s first breakthrough, after 15 unpublished books and 30 years of working in silence, was about to be published. JSB, therefore, warned Artellus to stop with its silliness, because JSB believed the colossally offensive Twitter rubbish might hurt JSB’s book.

4. What happened? One review only. In the history of publishing in 21st-century London, how many books have been reviewed in only one major place? The “London” Review of Books was the sole place of review.

5a. Title of the review? “Ah, how miserable!

5b. My own words were used against me.

6. “Ah, how miserable!”? An author’s first book? A review written by a professor at the University of Pennsylvania? (Emily Wilson) A book review without a single positive word?

7. Since that time, JSB attempted suicide four times.

8. Justice will be served : legally.

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"If I Had You" : EWS


1. The concluding bars of the old tune "If I Had You" are heard when Dr. Bill enters the Sonata Café.

2. "If I Had You" was penned by a British & American collaboration. Sound familiar? American Kubrick living and making films in Britain?

3. The American collaborator's name was Ted Shapiro. Doesn't a "Mrs. Shapiro" leave a phone message for Dr. Bill? Ted Shapiro was born in New York City, whose parents were Russian immigrants. Sounds like a page from Kubrick's autobiography. . . .

EWS in a nutshell.

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Friendo  : a clever use of vowels in Ovid


In Metamorphoses 13.58–81, a furious Ajax is in the midst of his argument against Odysseus for the right to claim the arms of the fallen Achilles. In this paragraph, the intense anger of Ajax is in full rhetorical flower. His speech is powerful with strong consonantal endings—particularly the letter “m”, which appears as a line ending seven times in nineteen lines, and five times in quick succession at the sonic climax of the paragraph (73; 75–78).


Let us contemplate the five lines of the paragraph that end with a vowel. Of interest here is Ovid’s use of the suspended ending : a line ending that is not a strong, firm, concluding period, but rather a sort of a “left-hanging-in-mid-air vibe”—such as the heavy pause in No Country for Old Men after Anton says “Friendo.” (21:18).


If we study this, we may be in for a surprise at the end.


1. (l. 67)

N o n   h a e c   m i h i    c r i m i n a   f i n g i

“this (story) I am not fabricating—” 


f i n g i = (verb) “to make up”. Here the first line-ending vowel, appearing early in the paragraph, is pronounced as Strong. The sound is akin to a slap in the face, or the ring of a bell. Ajax's honour is at stake here. Using the word “f i n g i”, he is powerfully stressing his honesty.


2. (ll. 68–69)

s c i t   b e n e   T y d i d e s , q u i   n o m i n e  s a e p e  v o c a t u m / c o r r i p u i t  t r e p i d o q u e , f u g a m  e x p r o b r a v i t  a m i c o .

“Diomedes knows this well, for he kept calling his name and scolding his cowardly friend for fleeing.”


Speaking of No Country, “a m i c o” means “friend”. Textual and contextual evidence suggest this final “o” is meant to be a suspended ending (but let's keep moving quickly and leave the finer points for a different time). Ovid floats the word “friend” in the air as a powerful concept—because Ajax is stressing, in an acidic way, that Odysseus is no “friend” of his. Also, according to Ajax, no “friend” would abandon the Greek hero Nestor (which is what Ajax is arguing about here). Here, Ajax might say “a m i c o” the way another person scrunches up their face at foul-smelling cheese.


3. (l. 72)

l e g e m  s i b i  d i x e r a t  i p s e .

“He follows his own law.”


Since the pronoun “i p s e” refers to Odysseus, Ajax will pronounce the word “i p s e” with much acid and loathing in his voice. Indeed, the line stress is on “i p s e”. Ajax is arguing that Odysseus cares only for himself. So the “say” of “ip-say” hangs aloft, as Ajax allows the hateful theme to resonate.


4. (l. 74)

p a l l e n t e m q u e   m e t u   e t   m e t u e n t e m   m o r t e   f u t u r a ;

“pale with fear and terrified of death oncoming.”


Ovid uses the suspended ending here to add power to the subject of Ajax’s speech : the “a” of “f u t u r a” is an approximation of the open-mouth horror of oncoming death. Since Ajax argues he saved Odysseus’ life at this time, Ajax stresses “f u t u r a” to fulfil his own rhetorical agenda. Ajax will allow the sound of “f u t u r a” to hang in the air in order to present to his listeners the full weight of both the threat to Odysseus (according to Ajax, the humiliating threat), and the enemy onslaught that Ajax himself overcomes.


5. (ll. 78–80)

r e d d e   h o s t e m   v u l n u s q u e   t u u m   s o l i t u m q u e   t i m o r e m / p o s t   c l i p e u m q u e   l a t e   e t   m e c u m   c o n t e n d e   s u b   i l l o !

“(let us) bring the enemy back, your wound, and your customary cowardice, (let us) hide behind my shield, and then let you and I face off under it!”


Now Ovid, being Ovid, does something Colossally Clever. To convey that Ajax has spoken himself up into a frothing rage, the final vowel ending is—strong! After three suspended vowel endings in a row, while Ajax, scaling the degrees of anger, presents his case to the council, he now, speaking irrationally, ends this line with : “i l l o” = (pronoun) it/that. The stress of the line hits this final word decisively. Here, the open “o” is less a suspended ending then a threatening taunt. The line ends with an exclamation point. “I l l o” is a variation on Anton’s hostile “friendo”.


In this last example, Ovid has inverted his end-vowel technique of the paragraph, and in the process displays his genius : The gentle suspended vowels have given way to a Power Vowel. This technique conveys, first and foremost, the growing anger of the character of Ajax.





Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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Rhetorical Exhibition : Ajax vs. Odysseus


The leaders convened, while the others established a ring

around them. Rising up, with his seven-layered shield in hand,

was Ajax. Insensibly angry, he kept his frosty eyes

fixed on the shoreline, then on the fleet; then raised his arms to say :

“I plead my case under the eyes of Zeus and before my ships—

and the man I face is Odysseus! That man leapt away

from fiery Hector quickly, while I stood firm before him!

It was I who drove Hector away from our ships! But it’s all

too safer to fight with lies than with hands. But Ajax is slow

with words—just as he’s slow to fight. But I’m as strong on the front

line of war as he is strong in speech!


Greeks, we have no reason to remember my deeds done for you,

for you all saw them. But will Odysseus enlighten us

on any of his? What he says he did no one saw, under

cover of night!


                           I plead for a mighty prize, I acknowledge that;

but the honour of fighting for it has been taken away,

for it’s no pleasure to win something—however mighty—

that Odysseus had wanted. Anyway he’s already

won something worthy : when defeated, he can boast that he fought me.


“And if my virtue on the battlefield is doubted by any,

well then, my birth alone excels him in nobility! My

father was Telamon, an Argonaut, who with Heracles

tore down the walls of Troy, then sailed the Pagasaean ship

to Colchis. Telamon’s father was Aeacus, now dwelling

sombre by the sullen Styx, where Aeoliden Sisyphus

pushes his heavy stone. Zeus Highest avows my grandfather

Aeacus for his son. This makes Ajax third in line from Zeus!


But no Argive allow my lineage to improve my plea

unless I share it with the mighty Achilles. He was my

cousin—I seek only what is mine! Why are you, similar

to Sisyphus in your sneakiness and trickiness, trying

to attach the house of Aeacus to an unrelated name?


Perhaps because I came first to fight, with no funny business,

that the arms of fallen Achilles are denied me? But this

man faked madness, and arrived last! If his deception had worked,

he wouldn’t be here at all!—yet you still think him worthy of these?

Unfortunate for him that Palamedes, son of Nauplius,

was smarter than he is, and exposed his silly trickery

for what it was—a way to escape military service!

So now he shall be given the best because he wanted none?

And I, denied my cousin’s gifts because I came first to fight?


If only his madness was real, or not investigated

—then he wouldn’t have come to fight the city of Troy with us,

 this teacher of crime! Because of him our Achaean hero

Philoctetes rots away alone on the island Lemnos!

Remember? Sheltered in caves within the forests, his moaning

echoing between the rocks, his abandonment is a shame

to us all!—And to whom are all these moans directed but to him,

Odysseus, he who deserves such reproach! If gods exist,

you, Philoctetes, do not call out for help in vain! He who

came here to fight with us, one of the best of our warriors

—ah, gods!—how monstrously he’s been treated! This hero who wields

the bow once raised by massive Heracles, the bow that took down

many of our enemies;—He, one of our greatest heroes,

now broken in spirit, broken in body, weak with hunger,

has to clothe himself in feathers that fall from birds;—and he aims

at those birds the arrows that should be killing our enemy!

But he lives yet—because he’s far away from Odysseus!

What of unhappy Palamedes? Would he, too, have chosen

to stay behind, if he’d known the treachery awaiting him

from Odysseus, here on the Scamander plain? It was he,

Palamedes, who exposed the fake madness of this “hero”;

and in response—after waiting for the right moment to strike—

Odysseus accused Palamedes of treason, then all

of you found in his tent—how conveniently!—the stolen gold

that Odysseus put there! This man will get you exiled,

or he will get you dead! Either way, he’s weakening us all!

This is how the great Odysseus fights, and he must be feared!


Even if he outdoes ingenious Nestor in speech, this man

shall never persuade me that deserting Nestor in combat

was anything but a crime! When he implored Odysseus,

slow as he was from his horse’s wound, and weary with old age,

his fellow warrior ignored him. That this charge is not false,

Diomedes knows very well, for he kept shouting to him

with mockery for his fear, and for abandoning his mate!

But the gods smile upon the honour of Argive heroes!

And now look! He who offered no help is now in need of it!

He who left a fighter behind is now himself to be left!

Odysseus has taught us this rule that he, too, must follow!

During the fight he cried for his friends and it was I who came.

I saw him trembling, pale with fear, terrified of death.

I lowered my shield, gave him a cover, and saved his poor life—

not a big triumph? (If you continue to fight me on this,

let us return to that spot on the field! Bring back the enemy,

your wound, and your same old cowardice—let’s hide behind my shield

and face off under it, you and I!) But, after I saved his life,

after he looked unable to stand up because of his wound,

suddenly he scampered off quickly as if he had no wound!


Hector comes, bringing the gods with him into war. He didn’t

make you tremble alone, Odysseus, but all our fighters;

the man rouses terror in the strongest! But while Hector

gloried in the blood of his advance, I (the better man) tossed

a boulder from a spear-length away and put him on the ground!

And when he challenged us to hand-to-hand combat, who went forth

to meet him, but me? Argives, you put your hope in destiny,

drew lots, and it was my strength that answered your prayers! (If you

ask the outcome of our combat, no one here can say I lost.)

And then? The Trojans attacked our ships with iron and fire

and Zeus; and where did smooth-tongued Odysseus disappear to?

Everyone knows it was I who saved our thousand ships, our hope

of return! It was Ajax who put his breastplate toward the enemy!

I have earned these arms of Achilles! Let’s be serious here!

This armour will become all the more famous for my glory!

The arms want Ajax, not Ajax the arms!


Do the feats of Odysseus compare with these feats of mine?

Consider his Rhesus, his weakling Dolon, the son of Priam

Helenus whom he kidnapped, and the statue of Athena

he stole—the Palladium. None of this was done in daylight!

And all were done with Diomedes! If you would give the arms

to Odysseus for such puny service, at least divide them

and give the larger share to Diomedes! But why give them

to the Ithacan at all, who does everything in secret,

and always unarmed, using tricks to deceive the enemy!

One golden gleam from his helmet will reveal his hiding spot,

his tricks and traps and the sneaky man himself! And who believes

his head can even hold the heavy helmet of Achilles—

or will it sink under the weight? And who believes that man’s arm

has strength enough to lift the heavy spear of Pelian ash?

And the shield, carven with imagery of our world’s history,

is no item for his timid hand (his left one, made only

for thievery)! Why seek prizes that’ll weigh you down, weakling?

If our Argives give you these arms by mistake, the enemy

will strip them from you, not fear you! And how will you flee from them

(your greatest skill, you little coward), when all that massive weight

will slow you down—if you can even lift it! And everyone

look at your shield, so rarely raised in fight it looks good as new!

While mine, held up high against thousands of incoming spears,

is now damaged, and for the scrap heap! Ajax needs a new shield!


So now. Enough of worthless words! Let everyone watch us fight!

Put our hero’s arms in the middle of the enemy lines,

give the command to recover them, and who gets them, keeps them.”


The son of Telamon was done, and all the people answered

his final words with applause. And then Odysseus stood up . . .


to be continued


Ovid, Metamorphoses, 13.1–124.

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The son of Telamon was done, and all the people answered

his final words with applause. And then Odysseus stood up.

So, letting his gaze linger at his feet for a bit, he then

looked to his leaders. With great expectation they awaited

the coming of his words to break the silence. They looked forward

to his eloquence and grace—and his speech would not disappoint.


“If my prayers” (he began) “and yours, my Argives, had been heard,

the winner of this war would not be shrouded in doubt; and you,

Achilles, would still be master of your armour, and stand with us.

But since the obstinate Fates have taken him from me and you

—(and here the hero wiped what may have been a tear from his eye)—

who is best to receive the arms of Achilles than the man

through whom the army of the Greeks received mighty Achilles

in the first place? It was I who went to him and brought him here.

Why let Ajax’s dull thinking—and it is—be of any benefit to him?

Nor why should my eloquence—if it is—do me any harm,

which has always served me well, and you, too, our army’s leaders.

Let each man use his native powers to his best ability!


Regarding families and forebears, and deeds others have done,

these aren’t ours to call our own. But if Ajax persists in this

and puts himself in the lineage of our great father Zeus,

then I, too, can say the same : I, too, am third in line from Zeus.

My father is Laertes, his father is Arcesius,

and his father is Zeus. (And there are no convicted

exiles in my line—fratricidal Telamon is no relation.)

As for my mother’s side, add Hermes to my nobility.

Through both my parents the spirit of the gods have entered me!

But I would not take the arms before us by reason of birth

(nor because my father didn’t have his own brother murdered).

I would have you weigh my appeal on my own merits alone.

Ajax’s father and the father of Achilles were brothers,

sure, but why should that count in Ajax’s favour? Not our birth

but our deeds should be the appropriate judge of our rewards!

But if you would trace our lines of descent and next of kin, shouldn’t

Peleus, the father of Achilles, receive the armour?

Or Achilles’ son Neoptolemus? What place is there

for Ajax in all this? And Teucer is no less a cousin

to Achilles than Ajax! Do we hear Teucer complaining?

And if he did want them, our greatest sniper, would he get them?

So I say it is deeds alone that determine the merit

of this argument. And I’ve done more deeds than I can number.

Still and all, I will now attempt to recount them in order.


The sea-goddess Thetis, mother of Achilles, foreknowing

her son’s ruin at Troy, disguised him as a girl, and this trick

of feminine clothing fooled everyone—Ajax included.

But not me. I placed some armour (glories in the eyes of men)

in among the women’s things; and, though dressed as a daughter,

the curious Achilles took hold of the shield and the spear.

So it was then I said to him : ‘Ah, the son of the goddess!

Troy will fall, but only if you come with us and make it be!

Why hesitate to overturn Troy?’ Then I took hold of him;

and I brought here the hero whose bravery saved all of us.


So I say that all his many victories I can call my own!

So it was I who cured Telephon (who showed us the way here).

So it was I who conquered Thebes, and Lesbos, and Tenedos;

also Chryse and Cilla (sacred cities of Apollo);

and Scyrus, too. Regard these hands as those that shook the city

walls of Lyrnesus to dust. This is not the time to mention

every last deed of mine. But it was I who brought us the man

who destroyed ‘invincible’ Hector! For those arms with which I

uncovered Achilles and brought him here, I say I deserve these!

I gave arms to the living. Let the dead now return them to me.


When the betrayal of Menelaus dismayed all of us,

and our thousand ships joined together at Euboean Aulis,

though we waited day by day, no winds came to speed us along.

Then came a cruel oracle to commander Agamemnon,

instructing him to sacrifice his daughter, wholly innocent,

to unsympathetic Athena. The father refused this,

though leader of the thousand ships—because he was a father

first. So he felt a great anger at the gods. And it was I

who urged the father to admit his responsibility

to the public right. I had a difficult case to present,

because I was confronting an unenthusiastic judge.

But, as it happened, the right of the people, of his brother,

and his position as commander of the army, all moved him

to counterbalance love with blood, and his daughter was to be

given to the gods. I was sent forth with word to the mother

Clytemnestra, who was not to be persuaded, but only

deceived. (Without my ‘trickery’, we’d have no victory now.)

If the son of Telamon had been sent as ambassador

to the mother, we’d still be at Aulis waiting for winds to blow!


To recount everything I’ve done for the good of the army

during this long war would require a hearing just as long. 

After the initial engagements, the enemy hid behind

its city walls, and for a long while there was no occasion

for warfare on the open plain. It look ten long years to fight

to the end. During all this time, what was our Ajax doing,

he whose only intelligence is of war? What use were you

to all of us then? If you want to know what I was doing,

I was killing the enemy. With my ‘tricky’ mind I lay

in ambush. With my ‘tricky’ mind I ordered a defensive

trench dug round our camp. And (without any tricks) I encouraged

our warriors to bear the long wait for combat with patience.

I gave advice on nourishment and armament. I was sent

out on dangerous missions when strategy required it.


One night, deceived by Zeus in a dream, our leader ordered us

to lay down our weapons and flee in our ships. (Agamemnon,

let it be said, is wholly innocent in this; it was god

who tricked him.) So what did Ajax do? Did he refuse to yield

to the Trojans, and demand the destruction of the city?

Was he unable to hold himself back from open battle?

No. Nor did he stop the exodus of our men to their ships.

Did he raise up his spear to inspire the others to fight?

Is all that too much to ask of one who speaks so forcefully?

Am I wrong when I say Ajax fled with the rest of the men?

Indeed—I saw you, and when I saw you I was full of shame

for you. I saw Ajax with his back turned, readying his sails

disgracefully. Right away I cried out to you : ‘What is this

you do? What is this madness? Why is everyone retreating

when Troy is already in our hands? What are you bringing home

after ten years of war but disgrace?’ With these and other words

(my heartache had made me eloquent) I turned our army round

and brought them back to war. Our commander mustered the allies,

though his dream had left him fearful and suspicious. And what did

the daring Ajax say then, to help rouse the warriors? Nothing.

But Thersites had something to say! He dared to criticise

our kings in a way only he can—without fear of punishment!

(But happily for them I had the insubordinate punished.)

It was I who rose up and got our trembling men to lift

their spears against the enemy. I gave them back their virtue!

Since then, whatever Ajax has accomplished is thanks to me,

who brought him back from his panicked flight home!


There’s more. Of all the Argives, is there one who sings your praises?

Or claims you as a friend? Diomedes, however, has no

problem patrolling with me, approving me. He always stands

confident with Odysseus beside him. It is surely

something that out of the hundreds of thousands of Argives here,

the great Diomedes chooses as his friend—Odysseus!

And no casting of lots is required to motivate me.

Risking all the hazards of the night and of the enemy,

I dared to go out into the wide-open plain and struck down

Phrygian Dolon, who was out to cause trouble for us all.

But I kept him alive just long enough to spill everything

on his mind. I learned of the Trojans’ treacherous plans for us.

Now I knew all, but did I come back with this valuable news,

knowing I would be celebrated in camp for my success?

No, I did not. I went further forward, not yet satisfied,

even with knowing all. I went to the tents of Rhesus, king

of the Thracians, and killed him and every last one of them.

Only then did I slip away triumphant from the Trojan side,

riding a stolen chariot with all my prayers answered,

rejoicing in my victory all the way back to our ships.

And it turned out that Hector had promised Dolon the horses

of Achilles if he’d returned with information on us!

Now will Ajax be kinder, and yield to me my rightful arms?


Need I mention my devastation of Sarpedon’s Lycians?

With my bloody sword I slaughtered Coeranos and Alastor

and Chromius, Alcander and Halius and Noëmon,

Prytanis, Thoön, Chersidamas, Charopes, Ennomos,

all fated to be diced up by my blade. Many more, whose names

are already forgotten, fell under my hand by Troy’s walls.

Warriors, my wounds attest to my courage, honourable

for their position on my body. Don’t take my word for it—

look!” (and the man opened his garment) “My chest took a dangerous

blow for all of you! But in all the many years of fighting,

how many wounds has Ajax suffered? He’s lost no blood at all

for his fellows—and his body will prove bare of any wound!


So Ajax says he fought for us against the Trojans and Zeus.

I should say he did; you won’t hear me scorn his heroism.

But I’m not about to give to him the glory that belongs

to all of us. Rather let him recognise your courage, too.

What about Patroclus, who defended our ships from fire?

Ajax boasts that he took on Hector and his spear, ignoring

all the others who dared to do the same—our king, our leaders,

even me. It just so happened that chance brought out his pebble

from the helmet. And what eventuated from this face-off?

Hector got away without a single scratch on his body!


It’s a sad thought to think of the fallen Achilles, the best

of us all. But not tears, nor grief, nor any fear prevented me

from hacking my way to his body to bring it back to us.

These shoulders, yes, I say, these shoulders of mine brought Achilles

with all his armour back to our ships;—His armour which I now

claim as my own. Obviously my strength is fit to carry

the heavy armour of Achilles. And my humble heart is fit

to recognise the honour you would give me. Surely the mother

of Achilles, sea-goddess Thetis, so ambitious for her son,

would frown to see this heavenly prize, the very art of Heaven,

on the woundless body of so crude and ignorant a soldier.

What can Ajax know of the detailed carvings on the shield?

The sea, the lands, the starry infinite sky, the Pleiades,

the Hyades, the Bear who never dips a toe in Ocean,

the diversity of planets, and Orion with his shining sword.

So Ajax would have armour he has no understanding of?


And why is he reproaching me for coming late to the war?

Does he know he’s reproaching the great-hearted Achilles too?

If it’s criminal to play the fool, then Achilles and I

are both guilty. (I played insane, while he played a woman!)

If the duration of the delay is the worst of the guilt,

I was fighting much earlier than the mighty Achilles.

As my loving wife slowed my coming, so his loving mother

slowed his. But once we came here, we gave our all to the army.

Censure me if you like—I have no true defence to give you—

but know I share this ‘crime’ with the mighty Achilles himself!

Just remember that he was uncovered by Odysseus,

not Ajax. No, not Ajax’s genius—but Odysseus’!


And let no one be surprised by the abuse his coarse tongue pours

in my direction, for you too he deems worthy of disrespect.

Was it wrong of me to accuse Palamedes of a crime,

but honourable for you to have punished him? He had no

defence against his terrible crime, so patently proven :

you saw the stolen gold hidden in his tent—a bribe exposed.


As for Philoctetes living on Vulcanian Lemnos—

that’s not my doing. Defend your own decision on this point,

for you agreed to it. It’s true I counselled him to reject

this miserable war, and look for a place of peace and calm

to ease his painful foot. So he listened to me—and he lives.

Not only was my counsel well-meant, it was right. (Though being

well-meant is enough.) He lives—and all of us need him to live!

Have our prophets not given us their visions? Philoctetes

must live for Troy to be obliterated—but don’t order me

to go get him! Better for you to send Ajax, whose eloquence

will mollify the man gone mad with the agony of disease.

The shrewd arts of Ajax will bring Philoctetes back to us.

No. Sooner will Simois flow backwards, or Ida stand bare

of leaf! Sooner will Greece bring rescue to Troy before Ajax

returns with the man—if I refuse to offer my help in this.

Bold Philoctetes! Though you despise us all, and curse us all;

though you hope to make me as unhappy as you, and to drink

my blood, and await your chance for all this, and get your revenge!

Still, I am prepared to go to Lemnos and bring the man back.

And Fate will have it that I get his arrows into my hands

—just as I captured Helenus, just as I entered the shrine

of the enemy and stole the effigy of Athena.

And Ajax has the audacity to compare himself to me?

Everybody knows we cannot take Troy without that statue!

(So the Fates have determined.) So what is Ajax doing now?

Where are the enormous words from our enormous warrior?

What is he scared of? Meanwhile, Odysseus dares to go

past the enemy watchmen, entrusting his life to the darkness

of night, and risking a storm of enemy swords, to climb up

the high walls of Troy—and not just that, but to get to the top

of the city and its inmost temple, to steal the goddess,

and carry her off through the enemy! Without this tricky work,

Ajax’s magnificent shield wouldn’t mean much in his hand.

On that night it was I who gained the victory over Troy.

I vanquished Troy because I made it possible to vanquish Troy.


Enough already with your ostentatious looks and ramblings

over Diomedes! Yes, he’s been my partner in many

a victory. He has rightfully earned his share of laudation!

When you were holding up your magnificent shield in defence

of our ships, you were not alone in that. Many warriors

were there beside you—me included! If he knew then what he

knows now, that the brainy man gains victory just as surely

as the brawny man, that the prize is awarded to something

more than just a fighting right hand, Diomedes would now come

for these arms, as would the warlike Eurypylus, and Thoas;

nor would Idomeneus be absent from this rivalry,

nor his fellow warrior from island Crete, Meriones.

The great Menelaus, too, would vie for the prize.

All know that these powerful fighters, my equals on the field,

have followed my many counsels. Ajax, too, with his right arm

profits us greatly on the battlefield; but his intelligence—

not so much. Better for you, too, to follow my leadership.

You have power without wit, while I’m always thinking ahead.

You fight well, no question of that; but it is I who counsels

the king in when to fight. Your value is all in your body;

while my value includes mind. Just as he who steers the ship

excels all those who row it; and as the general excels

the soldier—by just that much am I superior to you.

As we age we come to learn the mind is stronger than the body

—or it should be. A man’s true power is in thinking rightly.


So then. Esteemed leaders of our army, grant me the armour!

For all of my diligence over the years as your faithful

defender, this glory should be my reward to have. And now

my work is done—I have taken the Palladium, casting

aside the meddling Fates; and by giving us the power

to destroy high Troy, I have destroyed it. Now, by our shared hopes,

by the walls of Troy doomed in time to fall, by the god whom I

snatched away from the enemy, by whatever is left to be

thought of and done with wisdom (if indeed something bold is yet

to be required of us)—I ask of you to remember me!

But if you won’t put the armour into my hands, put it in hers!”

—and he pointed to the effigy of goddess Athena.


The leaders were moved, and their judgment confirmed the influence

of eloquence. The man powerful in speech obtained the reward.


Ajax, then, he who had faced off against Hector so many times,

he who had faced so many times iron and fire and Zeus,

finally fell : by anger the unconquerable was conquered.

He tore his sword from its sheath and said : “This undeniably

is mine!—Or does Odysseus want this too? This that is mine

I now use against myself! The blade that so often dripped with blood

of Trojans will now drip with its master’s! No man has power

to stop Ajax—but Ajax!”


So he spoke, and plunged the deadly sword into his chest, which showed

no wound until now. No hand was strong enough to extricate

the deep-stuck blade : but his spurting blood pushed it out and away.

The bloody ground gave birth to a flower which rose from the grass,

a purple flower, which long ago had sprung from the spilled blood

of sad Hyacinthus. The leaves are inscribed with imprinting

applicable both to the boy and to the man : A I  A I :

the name of Ajax is mostly there, and the boy’s final cry.






Ovid, Metamorphoses, 13.125–398.

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David Lynch and the Ancient Genius


Two examples :


biverticus . . . Parnassi” (twin-peaked Parnassus) : Statius, Thebaid, 1.628–9. (This is but one allusion of many among the ancients to this geographical wonder.)


The Log Lady : “codex” : etymology : “classical Latin cōdex trunk of a tree, wooden tablet, book” (OED)

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For all interested thinkers : Recent True Story




MAN, 50s, standing at retail counter. CASHIER (male, 20s) punching up register.



What’s you shirt?



It’s a joke about the movie Alien, from 1979. Ever heard of it?



I don’t want any movies made before 2010.



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Colossal character moments in Scorsese


The Color of Money (1986), 1:46:59–1:47:15. Cinematographer : Michael Ballhaus.


Fast Eddie has won an important battle; and, as he retires for the night, he pauses as he walks, then steps out through the glass doors of the hotel and into the empty air; and, standing amid bare brick and concrete, and gazing off into a No Country void, he celebrates his victory, this usually so-reserved man, with a good old-fashioned fist-pump.


But why is this a colossal character moment on cinematography.com?


Scorsese and Ballhaus position the camera within the foyer of the hotel; then pan left with the Principal as he exits out through the glass doors. We the Spectator see Fast Eddie and his fistpump through the barrer of the glass doors; we remain inside. Fast Eddie is out and off on his own. The glass doors are fit in stern black frames, resembling, say, dark pillars of a funeral momument. That the camera is so distant from Fast Eddie accentuates, or rather let us just say encapsulates, the god’s lonely man of Fast Eddie Felson.

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The cinematic line of poetry




Like anything else, a film frame has, theoretically, an infinite number of meanings. (Screenwriter Robert Towne famously said : “A film actor communicates a tremendous amount of information before he or she even opens their mouths.”)


Words, in the hands of literary masters, can produce an efflux of simultaneous data in the manner of a film frame. (After some pages of the Iliad a reader feels as if frying on Acid.)




Magnanimum Aeaciden formidatamque Tonanti




Magnanimum Aeaciden / formidatamque Tonanti

Great-souled Achilles / fearsome Zeus-Thunderer


The above is the first line of Statius, The Achilleid.




What if I said these four words incorporate data colossal enough to require a paragraph to translate the one line?


Am I crazy? Yes, but . . .




First, the simplest definitions, from the Latin dictionary Lewis&Short :


Magnanimum : “great-souled, high-minded, magnanimous”

Aeaciden : Achilles, grandson of Aeacides

formidatamque : “to fear, dread anything”

Tonanti : “(to) thunder”




Here in the Achilleid is the one original use of “formidatamque” in the entirety of ancient literature.


Statius made this word up.




Think about it, Kind Readers : Why would an author make up a word when there were at least six in the Latin lexicon at the time that would have conveyed the simple definition of “fearsome”?


Why would Statius coin a word unless he wanted “special effects” to happen?


This line, Kind Reader, is equivalent to a CGI-establishing!




Statius is telling his ancient audience an even more ancient story. So let us here hear an echo of an ancient Greek word inside the Latin word :



Ἄτη (ah-tay) : disastrous Fate.




Etymology : Tonanti


linked to  

ancient Greek, τείνω : stretching, straining


in both Greek and Latin (τόνος and tonus) :

the sound, tone, of a musical instrument.


(Note, friends, the conceptual link : The straining stretch of the plucked string of the reverberating lyre in time.)




Etymology (Lewis&Short) : formidatamque


formido : “to fear, dread anything; to be afraid, terrified, frightened”

linked to

firmus : stability (i.e., a body-seizing fear).




Etymology : Magnanimum


animum : soul, heart, spirit (from ἄνεμος, “wind, breeze”)

magnus : great

magnus : of great age

magnus : of great value


11. And so


This first line is self-referential. Statius coins the word “formidatamque”, an elaborate word of many syllables, then follows immediately with a word linked to both τείνω “to stretch, extend” and τόνοςthe tone of a musical instrument”. The word Tonanti describes the word that precedes it, and in at least two ways :


formidatamque Tonanti

frightening Fate extending for all Time


formidatamque Tonanti

(this is a) formidable song (incoming and stretching long)


12. A Translation


Magnanimum Aeaciden formidatamque Tonanti


The breath of the Muse divine infuses my soul to sing long and deep of great-souled Achilles, and of frightening Fate Ineluctable. Fate led my soul to the grand theme of thunderous Achilles, and the Fate he faced (his formidable choice). From ancient times this story has echoed down to us, just as thunder stretches west to east; and our souls shall now reverberate Magnitudinously with this Colossal Theme.





Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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The Shining (1980) : The Interview


Now that your indefatigable author has identified Kubrick’s reflection in one of the panes of glass at (3:41)—a reflection that looks (geometrically) the mirror image of Jack’s face—let us now go further. There are three fittings in the window behind Ullman. Each fitting has eight square window-panes. Each window-pane recalls the dimensions of the photographs decorating the Overlook Hotel. Kubrick visible in one glass-pane is, geometrically- and existentially-speaking, an approximation of one of these photographs. In the ensuing scene with Ullman, Kubrick extends the association through the use of having one photograph only visible in the Jack shots. And now the window has a new resonance in the Ullman shots.

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Statius, The Achilleid


Outrunning the military of city Lacedaemon,

Prince Alexandros of Troy, with lovely Helen beside him,

had launched his ships onto river Eurotas, and was threading

toward the sea and safety. Nothing more beautiful had he seen

living or unliving than Helen, so he had won her heart,

the now-absconded queen of Lacedaemon. She put her hand

in his as he fled his crime—all according to his mother’s

prophecy, dreamed long ago while he had kicked in the womb.

She had seen herself birth a fire that set her city aflame.

(But what man doesn’t believe himself able to outwit Fate?)

And so Alexandros made for the sea, and his course for home.


Now Nereid Helle, swimming amid sparkles of sunlight,

unhappy to be in the sea but doomed for eternity

to haunt its waves—so that the Hellespontos itself received

its name from this once-mortal princess—took sight of the many

ships with an interest, then dove down deep into the under.


So soon it was sea-goddess Thetis who rose up through the dark.

(Ah, you parents, you whose predictions are too-often fulfilled!)

She took fright at the oarpaddles frothing in the transparent sea.

The seawaters boiled between the shores of the strait, through which

the Golden Fleece had once come. The fleet’s ferment had disarranged

its level surface and disrupted its many mistresses;

so Thetis, with all her many sisters, leapt out of the waves.


When they came into the air, first they shook off the salty spray

from their bodies. Then Thetis spoke : “This fleet seeks to attack me!

They sail toward slaughter, and would put my son in Hades’ place.

I understand these signs. What my father warned me is coming true.

Bellona, goddess of death, brings Priam a new daughter-in-law.”


From behind her closed eyes Thetis said : “I see a thousand keels

defiling the Ionian Sea, and the Aegean.

Greece united with Atreus won’t be satisfaction enough;

they’ll also want my son. Soon they’ll look across land and sea

to find Achilles—and he will voluntarily follow.


They’ll find him by Pelion Mountain, where Chiron once tutored

Jason, and Heracles, and Theseus—and now my Achilles.

Right now I see him in playbattles with the Centaurs as guides,

and he already regards himself as strong as his father,

silly thing. Ah, sadness! for a mother to feel such a fear

for her child! How maddening, that at the first, when the trees

of his homeland were felled and fitted together as seaships

that came our way, I and all my sisters failed to raise up the sea,

and break their sails, and sink these unholy criminals down

in a fathomless storm! It’s too late now! The crime has happened!”


So what, sea-goddess Thetis thought to herself, would she do now?


“I will go,” she said, “to Zeus—there is nothing else I can do—

and beg him the best way I can—and I’ll appeal to his love

for his own mother Rhea, and father—and ask for a storm.”


to be continued

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