Tag: Alexander Pope

The Homeric Argus of Alexander Pope

Sunday, 21 May, 2017 0 Comments

In Homer’s Odyssey, Argus is Odysseus’ dog. After ten years fighting in Troy, followed by ten more years struggling to get back to Ithaca, Odysseus finally arrives home only to hear that rivals have taken over his residence in hopes of marrying his wife Penelope. To secretly re-enter the house and spring a surprise attack on them, Odysseus disguises himself as a beggar. As he approaches the entrance, he finds the once-majestic Argus lying neglected and infested with lice. Unlike everyone else, Argus recognizes Odysseus at once and he has just enough strength to wag his tail. Unable to greet his beloved dog, as this would betray who he really is, Odysseus passes by (but not without shedding a tear) and enters the building. Thereupon, Argus dies.

Alexander Pope, who was born in London on this day in 1688, is the second-most frequently quoted writer in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations after Shakespeare: “A little Learning is a dang’rous Thing.” His tribute to Argus is a classic, in the Homeric sense. The image is of Prince, our very own, always-majestic, Argus.

Argus

When wise Ulysses, from his native coast
Long kept by wars, and long by tempests toss’d,
Arrived at last, poor, old, disguised, alone,
To all his friends, and ev’n his Queen unknown,
Changed as he was, with age, and toils, and cares,
Furrow’d his rev’rend face, and white his hairs,
In his own palace forc’d to ask his bread,
Scorn’d by those slaves his former bounty fed,
Forgot of all his own domestic crew,
The faithful Dog alone his rightful master knew!

Unfed, unhous’d, neglected, on the clay
Like an old servant now cashier’d, he lay;
Touch’d with resentment of ungrateful man,
And longing to behold his ancient lord again.
Him when he saw he rose, and crawl’d to meet,
(‘Twas all he could) and fawn’d and kiss’d his feet,
Seiz’d with dumb joy; then falling by his side,
Own’d his returning lord, look’d up, and died!

Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744)

Prince as Argus


Light Shining out of Darkness

Saturday, 31 December, 2016 0 Comments

Light in the darkness

Light Shining out of Darkness

God moves in a mysterious way,
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up his bright designs,
And works his sov’reign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

William Cowper (1731 – 1800)

Note: The cat was highly thought of the age of Cowper, especially by those artists who were judged to be a bit mad. Cowper, who had bouts of madness and depression, was the foremost poet of the generation between Alexander Pope and William Wordsworth and for several decades had probably the largest readership of any English poet. He espoused the cultivated beliefs of the time: a love of nature and thereby a love of animals. In The Retired Cat written in 1791, the plight of his cat that has become trapped in a dresser drawer offered an opportunity for a moral tale.


Drezner vs. Khanna: KO

Thursday, 12 May, 2016 0 Comments

 CONNECTOGRAPHY: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization “Parag Khanna may well be the most connected man alive,” writes Daniel Drezner in his New York Times review of CONNECTOGRAPHY: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization. That flattering description of the author is followed immediately by this sentence: “‘Connectography’ represents Khanna’s latest effort to arbitrage his personal networking skills into a theory of geopolitics.” With this kind of praise, we are in Alexander Pope territory, where a compliment is so subtle that it amounts to no compliment at all, or even entails condemnation. The tactic of damning with faint praise was articulated in Roman times by Favorinus, but the expression comes from Alexander Pope’s Epistle to Doctor Arbuthnot (1733): “Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer, and, without sneering, teach the rest to sneer.”

Daniel Drezner, a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, does not rely on indirect criticism, however, of Khanna’s new book. His critique is of the candid kind and some of his observations are scathing. Example:

What is particularly odd is that Khanna believes he is evincing a savvy worldview and yet offers a utopian vision of connectivity’s effect on people. He insists that the forces of connection will overwhelm the forces of division. In the book’s most blasé sentence, Khanna argues that “the virtues of tolerance and coexistence will come to the Middle East through a combination of ‘to each his own’ cartographic remapping and supply chain interdependence.” I would gently suggest that there will be a very long and very violent stretch between the current Middle East and Khanna’s placid vision — and that it’s the bumpy part that is salient right now.

Then, right at the end, Drezner closes in and lands a devastating KO: “I wish that Khanna were right about the power of connectivity. The world would be a better place. I fear, however, that he does not know what he is talking about.”

Tomorrow, here, we’ll have a seven-question interview with Parag Khanna.


Remembering breakfast with Christopher Hitchens

Friday, 16 December, 2011

On 17 June 2007, Rainy Day shared breakfast in Dublin with the late, great Christopher Hitchens. The occasion was a debate about religion that was promoted under the banner of “God Is Not Great?” between Hitchens and John Waters of the Irish Times. It was a gladiatorial contest so the metaphor we picked to set […]

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