Let’s be silly and truthful at the same time. I was overdosing on Roman satire yesterday evening, and marveled at the wonderfully asymmetrical pieces. They do not all consider one particular topic, but may move from one tableau to another rather quickly and with little warning other than a slight indentation provided by the editor. People who know me well know well that I am can be rather catty when I need to be, rely highly upon metaphor and am never shy to borrow a literary or historical reference now and then to make a point. I love a good pun, and I enjoy a good literary device as much as I do a good dirty martini or picking apart the contrary motion passages in a Bach Trio Sonata or playing the triplets in the pedal solo of the Bach C major Toccata. I have only the Lutheran Master from Thüringen to thank for my shapely and slender ankles, although I have only my electric fork (and King Cakes) to think for my shapeless, yet very healthy (soon to be middle-aged) gut. That said, I offer this little bit of satire, my martini having been duly dosed by a clever Roman with a lethal quantity of poetic rohypnol. Our topic is one of our tastiest favorites: scandalous clerics/clueless neo-traditionalists. Had these poor sots been such a rampant plague then as they are now, without a doubt, Ko-Ko would have included them on his “little list”, and most assuredly they “never would be missed.”
Downtown Alive (our weekly Friday downtown Lafayette block party) was a no-go for me since rain threatened, Dallas and Falcon Crest had been cancelled decades ago, my friends were all engaged with their partners, spouses, or significant others in various activities, and the theaters were dark (very dark), although I did read on a local billboard that Carmen was romping across some fictive rampart somewhere – but I just wasn’t in the mood to go hear the warble of a Francophone Spanish tart.
Carmen was dead, and my friends were in bed (but not with Carmen). So, hardly living up to the juicy, sensual rumors lisped in oratories about this boring, bow-tied, Southern bachelor hyper-nerd, I opted for a bit of literary fun. I popped the Gustav Holst Planets into one cradle of the CD changer and set the Gustav Mahler Resurrection Symphony into the next. I opened the flanks of the Thomasville Bogart bar, hauled out my mother’s art deco crystal shaker, a matching martini glass, olive juice, vermouth, olives, and the Grey Goose. Magic. Next, I went to my study and pulled my copy of Juvenal off the shelf: The Satires. My edition of Iunius Juvenalis is plain and ordinary. A contemporary edition in which the letter V is always written as a letter U, giving the author’s name the curious double-U spelling: Iuuenalis. When I was 19, I was unfortunately an honest student, and always spoke the truth, as I do now at the doting age of 38. The thought had crossed my mind to keep the book and claim tearfully that it was lost, but, alas, I did return it after inwardly digesting its text: that stunning turn-of-the-century edition of Juvenal that lives in the Classics section of the Mullins Library at the University of Arkansas. Reading from that splendid tome would have surely transformed this already glorious evening of raucous, rabid, vicarious throat-slitting into an orgiastic banquet for the fin-de-siecle fetishist. It’s an old Leipzig edition with decorative side engraving and a simple cover identification. Preface in Latin. It weighs much and boasts a sturdy binding. The volume is as intoxicating as my grey goose. The beauty of cover and binding conceals hilarious, bawdy, biting and utterly accurate descriptions of Roman life…correction: human life, that make my own satirical relation of tacky velveteen poinsettias seem as toothless as a papal motu proprio. They say of Klimt’s “The Kiss” that the persons depicted in loving embrace are, beneath the colorful coverings, completely naked -- just like a neo-traditionalist cleric donning his lacey, see-through piety. So, prayerbook in hand, I prepared for a foretaste of heaven: Jupiter, Bringer of Mirth and Juvenal, Satire No. 1. I don’t remember much about my first communion, but I do remember my first martini. It was heavenly – and I was allowed to enjoy it while kneeling if I so desired, and the chorus sang THAXTED. With head bowed, I gazed down at my olives and mused, “Oh, merciful Redeemer!”
Roman politics. What’s old is new again. What’s new is so very old. I read the texts last night like a medieval monk, hoping to find proto-Christian references. We all know about Virgil’s Eclogue, the so-called “Messianic”, in which the poet glorified Augustus as the “golden boy” who would come to redeem us. Through a monk’s eye, Virgil was really talking about Christ and not his imperial patron: Look, even a pagan Roman is speaking like a prophet! Ok. Fine. So where do Virgil’s colored lambs fit in? Maybe a proto-Christian prophecy of the lavender priests? We’ll give Maro his golden boy, but we’ll just ignore those colorful sheepies. Isn’t that what they still do? I digress. It’s so hard keeping to the garden path while sipping, listening to Gustavs, and being entertained by a catty Roman. Juvenal outlines all sorts of possible topics for satire. He speaks of it as the battle field where he’ll take up where Lucilius left off – Lucilius is pretty much fragmentary. No purple sheep, I guess. The poor dear. Maybe he bored the monks, or maybe he just didn’t make it to the monastery in time. Speaking of colorful sheepies, I laughed out loud and choked on the contents of my calix angelorum when I read line 22: cum tener uxorem ducat spado. I couldn’t help but think about Benedict’s recent visit and his comments to “handle things the right way”. I had hit pay dirt. Juvenal indeed had a couple “golden boys”. That ancient line could just as well have been written last week. “Teneres spadones?” Is that what they’re calling themselves these days?
By the time I had had nursed my chalice to below the olive line, I had started into Satire 10, almost ready for the organ entrance in the Mahler. I had played that part once. It took me weeks to reverse the mummification on my rear end from sitting so long on the bench. As the other musicians entered the stage door rolling their scores on wheeled dollies, I bounded in, tuxedoed, organ pumps in one mitt, single-page symphony score in the other, hair gelled and set to the max (stop laughing: it was the 80’s, and I had hair back then: if you have it, flaunt it!). I entered the stage during the break after the first couple movements, and sat vigil until the final page of the work, when I boomed out my chords and magnificent pedal parts on 32’ reeds. A great reward for waiting almost two hours to play 20 measures of fireworks. I read on in my Juvenal. “Golden boys” were everywhere. Too numerous to point out, each a giggly joy. Here is an ancient Roman who is telling me things (again) that I already have seen in my own lifetime, things that he so keenly had observed during his. As it turns out, the same jackasses were around then, that are around today. Consider this scene: a description of the a procession at the Roman Games (Ludi Romani). I’ll keep it in Latin because the passage can describe a neo-trad cleric down to the final eyelet of his corset and to the cuffs of his pretty white bobby-socks. Those of you who want the full, active, conscious participatory vernacular can reference your Penguin editions. Meanwhile, let’s make the neo-trads smirk in oblivious ignorance, pretending to understand, but really not knowing much more Latin than the words of institution, the sign of the cross, and the Ite Missast while thinking that a Penguin is just a funny bird that lives in Hawaii. Anyway, here goes (Satire 10, 36-42):
quid si vidisset praetorem curribus altis
extantem et medii sublimen pulvere circi
in tunica Iovis et pictae Sarrana ferentem
ex umeris aulaea togae magnaeque coronae
tantum orbem, quanto cervix non sufficit ulla?
quippe tenet sudans hanc publicus et, sibi consul
ne placeat, curru servus portatur eodem.
Feel free to chant the text to a psalm tone, but don’t blame me if that makes you feel like a whore in church. My favorite image here is the slave carrying the crown so his master’s head doesn’t explode from its weight. And the magnificent “tunica Iovis”, the tunic of Jupiter. I once saw a cleric donning a decadent cope with the Russian double eagle crest on the back. I don’t know whether he fancied himself an Ivan or a Catherine, but I have my suspicions, baa, baa, baa. As for us mortals who revel in the juicy irony of life around us, we carry no cash with us as we journey along the path, continuing like the travelers at the start of Satire 10 who whistle at the thieves: cantabit vacuus coram latrone viator.
The divine martini is out and the Mahler is done. The satires are read. The neo-trad clerics are raked over the coals as they should be one more time for good measure, burned to a crisp (confutatis maledictis, flammis acribus adiictis) huddling tenderly under their second-hand safron umbrellinos (replete with hand-sewn belly-dancer chingalings), descending the steps to dip in the sacred, yet polluted waters of the Ganges…or is it the Tiber…or maybe just a muddy bayou.
What a fun little exercise! Thanks to the Gustavs who provided the music, the French who supplied the martini bits, to Juvenal who provided the charcoal pit, coals, lighter fluid and matches, and to the neo-trads who provided the lamb chops. Damnation, would you look at the time! I suppose I had better book a sedan chair to Pontus. I hear it’s cold there….