Saturday, May 31, 2008

cecini pascua, rura, duces

Jag lever alltjämt i ettslags nostalgiskt rus över den magnifika Vergilius-konferensen, och har all anledning att tänka tillbaka på den just i dagarna då det i veckan det beställda bokpaketet innehållandes Robert Fagles Aeneid-översättning äntligen levererades. Den hade beställts inte så mycket för mitt maniska samlande av just olika Vergilius-översättningar, utan för att jag i diskussionen av mitt paper i Tromsö fick tips av en duktig litteraturvetare om att förordet innehöll ett praktiserande av just Sortes Vergilianae. (Denna översättning har hyllats och fick även en notis i Vanity Fair, tänk om svenska glassiga magasin kunde göra ett uppslag om Björkeson.)

Förordet är skrivet av den något legendariske Bernard Knox, vars CV natruligtvis är imponerande i sig, men vad som verkligen höjer honom ett extra snäpp är hans enormt demokratiska hållning och frivilliginsats i Spanska inbördeskriget (Läs Beevors bok! Saklig och skrämmande). För att citera från en föreläsning han hållit om detta, med titeln "Premature anti-Fascist", vari han förklarar hur han beslöt sig för att åka till Spanien:

When he asked me where I had learned it, I told him that I had fought in 1936 on the northwest sector of the Madrid front in the French Battalion of the XIth International Brigade. "Oh," he [professorn som intervjuar honm för antagning till doktorandstuier vid Yale] said, "You were a premature anti-Fascist."
I was taken aback by the expression. How, I wondered, could anyone be a premature anti- Fascist? Could there be anything such as a premature antidote to a poison? A premature antiseptic? A premature antitoxin? A premature anti-racist? If you were not premature, what sort of anti-Fascist were you supposed to be? A punctual anti-Fascist? A timely one? In fact, in the '30s, as the European situation moved inexorably toward war, the British and French governments (the French often under pressure from the British) passed up one timely opportunity after another to become anti-Fascist.
You couldn't call Chamberlain, Daladier and Laval 'timely anti-Fascists'. They declared war on Hitler in 1939 as he invaded Poland, a declaration that gave no help to the Poles, who were crushed between the armies of Hitler from one side and Stalin from the other. So what kind of anti-Fascists were they? My French maquisards had a phrase for the Frenchmen who, in 1944, as the Allied armies broke out of the Normandy pocket and raced across France in pursuit of the retreating Wehrmacht, finally tried to join the Resistance. Resistants de la dernière heure was their contemptuous name for them - 'last- minute anti-Fascists'.
I did not, of course, say any of this to the professor. I kept quiet and was admitted, and resumed the study of those ancient authors whom I had left untouched for ten years, ever since, a few months after graduating from Cambridge in 1936, I left for Spain. What I did not realize (something the professor knew perfectly well) was that 'Premature Anti-Fascist' was an FBI code-word for 'Communist'. It was the label affixed to the dossiers of those Americans who had fought in the Brigades when, after Pearl Harbor (and some of them before) they enlisted in the US Army. It was the signal to assign them to non-combat units or inactive fronts and to deny them the promotion they deserved. Not only did they deserve it; the Army needed them in responsible positions, for they were the only soldiers in it who had any experience of modern war, who had been bombed and strafed by modern German and Italian aircraft, who had faced German and Italian tanks, who had come under the fire of modern artillery, especially the Luftwaffe's 88mm antiaircraft gun, which the German crews had found murderously effective against ground troops because of its high muzzle velocity.

(The Abraham Lincoln Brigade som var den grupp av amerikanska frivilliga som deltog i kampen mot Franco, och i vars arkiv som denna föreläsning ingår, är just med ovanstående resonemang några av de absolut modigaste människor jag kan tänka mig, de riskerade inte bara sina liv, utan var sedan, om de händelsevis, genom sitt aktiva ställningstagande evigt stämplade som kommun ister i Mccarthyismens tidevarv. Eller kanske var det bättre förr, idag hade de väl hamat i Guantanamo.)

Knox väver naturligtvis in en och annan boklig reflexion, och anknyter förstås, till de klassiska källorna:

I left a few days later for Paris, with a group of a dozen or so volunteers that John had assembled. There were three Cambridge graduates and one from Oxford (a statistic I have always been proud of), as well as one from London University. There was a German refugee artist who had been living in London, two veterans of the British Army and one of the Navy, an actor, a proletarian novelist and two unemployed workmen. Before we left, I had gone with John to visit his father in Cambridge; he was the distinguished Greek scholar Francis MacDonald Cornford, author of brilliant books on Attic comedy, Thucydides and Greek philosophy, and Plato. He had served as an officer in the Great War and still had the pistol he had had to buy when he equipped himself for France. He gave it to John, and I had to smuggle it through French Customs at Dieppe, for John's passport showed entry and exit stamps from Port-Bou and his bags were likely to be given a thorough going-over.
Early in those days, we had our first casualties. One gunteam was sent ahead to an advanced position but was overrun during the night by the Moorish troops, as we learned from the one man who returned. One of the dead was Maclaurin, a Cambridge man like John and myself. Meanwhile, life in Filosofía y Letras was no rest-cure. We had smashed the huge wide windows in the American-style building (flying glass can do just as much damage as the bullets or shell-fragments that produce it) and the Madrid winter cold (which came as a surprise to Northerners like us who had been fed on tourist propaganda about sunny Spain) seeped into our bodies no matter how many blankets we wrapped around our waists. The snipers, meanwhile, made us crawl along the floor when we had to move, until one night we built, on the wide window-sills, a barricade high enough to enable us to walk upright without giving them a target. The barricades were made of books from the building's library; we took the thickest and tallest books we could find - one of them, I remember, was an encyclopedia of Hindu mythology and religion. We later discovered, after hearing bullets smack into the books, that the average penetration was to about page 350; since that discovery I am inclined to believe, as I did not before, those stories of soldiers whose lives had been saved by a Bible carried in their left-hand jacket pocket.
As our section was moving back, dragging the gun, I felt a shocking blow and a burning pain through my neck and right shoulder and fell to the ground on my back with blood spurting up like a fountain. John came back, with David, our Oxford man who had been a medical student. I heard him say; "I can't do anything about that" and John bent down and said, "God bless you, Bernard" and left. They had to go; they had to set up the gun and cover the withdrawal of our other crew. And they were sure that I was dying. So was I. As the blood continued to spout I could feel my consciousness slipping fast away.

I have since then read many accounts by people who, like me, were sure they were dying but survived. Many of them speak of a feeling of heavenly peace, others of visions of angels welcoming them to Heaven. I had no such feelings or visions; I was consumed with rage--furious, violent rage. Why me? I was just 21 and had barely begun living my life. Why should I have to die? It was unjust. And, as I felt my whole being sliding into nothingness, I cursed. I cursed God and the world and everyone in it as the darkness fell.

Many years later, when I returned to the study of the ancient classics, I found that my reaction was not abnormal. In Homer's Iliad, still the greatest of all war books, this is how young men die. Hector, for example, "went winging down to the House of Death/ wailing his fate, leaving his manhood far behind, his young and supple strength." And Virgil's Turnus goes the same road: vitaque cum gomitu fugit indignata sub umbras: 'his life with a groan fled angry to the shades below." "Indignata. Quia iuvenis erat," the great Virgilian commentator Servius explained. "Angry. Because he was young."

Som synes har vi här glidit ifrån allt det där med Sortes Vergilianae, ken detta är inte helt irrelevant för hans nyttjande av Sortes, då det nu visats med hans egna ord att han var en militärt erfaren man, samt att han hade för vana stt rota efter böcker i de byggnader som han barrikerdad sig. Knox personliga berättelse kommer precis i slutet av hans fylliga förord till Fagles översättning, och är som bruket ofta är en rexlexion över tiltstånd med hjälp av di maronska orden. Citeras härmed utan tillstånd ur Penguins utgåva från 2006:

I consulted the Virgilian lottery in April 1945. [...] In April we werw given a small role in the final move north that brought about the german surrender of Italy. The main push was to the left and right of us, where tanks and wheeled vehicles could move- on the coast to our left and on our right through the Futa Pass to Bologna. We were to attack german positions on the heights opposite us, take the town of Fanano, and than go on to Modena in the valley.
We killed or captured the German troops holding the heights without too many losses, liberated Fanano, and started north on the road to Modena. As we marched along I could not help thinking that the legions of Octavian and Mark Antony had marched anc countermarched in these regions in43 BC. Like them, we had no wheeled transport; like them, we had no communications (our walkie-talkies had a very short range); like them, we hoisted onto our shoulders when we forded the Reno River with the water upp to our waists.

Every now and then we met a german machine-gun crew holed up in a building that delayed our passage. Usually we too occupied a building to house our machine guns and keep the enemy under fire while we sent out a flanking party to dislodge tham. On one of these occasions we occupied a villaoff the road that had evidently been hit by one of our bombers; it had not much roof left and the inside was a shambles, but it would do. At one point in the sporadic exchanges of fire I handed the gun to a sergeant and retreated into the debris of the room to smoke a cigarette. As I looked at the tangled wreckage on the floor I noticed what looked like a book, and investigation with my foot revealed part of its spine, on which I saw, in gold capitals, the letters MARONIS. It was a text of Virgil, published by the Roman Academy, IUSSU BENEDICTI MUSSOLINI. [...]
And then I remembered the Sortes Virgilianae. I closed my eyes, opened the book at random and put my finger on the page. What I got was not so much a prophecy about my own future as a prophecy for Italy; it was from lines at the end of the first Georgic:

...a world in ruins...
For right and wrong change places; everywhere
So many wars, so many shapes of crime
Confront us; no due honor attends the plow.
The fields, bereft of tillers, are all unkemt...
...throughout the world
Impious War is raging.

quippe ubi fas uersum atque nefas: tot bella per orbem,
tam multae scelerum facies, non ullus aratro
dignus honos, squalent abductis arua colonis,
et curuae rigidum falces conflantur in ensem.
hinc mouet Euphrates, illinc Germania bellum;
uicinae ruptis inter se legibus urbes
arma ferunt; saeuit toto Mars impius orbe,]

"A world in ruins." It was an exact description of the Italy we were fighting in-its railroads and its ancient buildings shattered by Allied airctaft, its elegant bridges blown into the water by the retreating germans, and its fields sown not with seed by the farmers but with mines by teh German engineers.

The fighting stopped; it was time to move on. I tried to get the Virgil into my pack, but it was too big, and I threw it back to the cluttered floor. But I rememder thinking: If I get out of this alive, I'll go back to the classics, and Virgil especially." And I did. My first scholarly article, written when I was an assistant professor at Yale, was about the imagery of Book 2 of the Aeneid, entitled "The serpent and the flame".

Sentimentalt och väldigt Band of brothers, men ändock fantastiskt. Det är inte ointressant att jämföra med beskrivningen av nyttjandet av Sortes under första världskriget.

No comments: