November 29th, 2010

S.C. Hickman

Saturn and Melancholy: The Force of the Daimonic

"Gbeyn pushes the allegory even farther than Durer had done. He not only represents the nature of the melancholic symbolically but raises him to the stature of a semi·divine being, remote from all contact with the world of men, who yet carries his human sorrow with him into the spaces of the heavens."              
     - Saturn and Melancholy: Studies in the History of Natural Philosophy, Religion, and Art

A step-dame Night of mind about us clings,
Who broods beneath her hell-obscuring wings,
Worlds of confusion, where the soul defamed,
The body had been better never framed...
       - George Chapman, Shadow of the Night

Sometimes scholarship can lead one into a maze that resonates unto the farthest reaches of the mind's dark light. As I was reading Shadow of the Night by George Chapman I began a meditation on inspiration and the daimonic.:
 As Barbara L. Lakin in a superb work The Magus and the Poet: Bruno and Chapman's The Shadow of the Night says:

George Chapman's long allegorical poems puzzle, annoy, and frustrate most readers and have done so for nearly four hundred years. Our modern skeptical minds have little sympathy for, or patience with, the abstruse doctrines that fascinated Chapman."

Yet, for me, it is those very abstruse and arcane monstrosities of scholarly learning that awaken my imagination and bring forth visions that tilt the balance of my mind toward ideas and images that are both uncanny and full of that strangeness, or - dare I say it, weirdness, I love. As Dame Francis Yates once said in her book, The Occult Philosophy in the Elizabethan Age, speaking of those learned poets and scholars of The School of Night:

"That Saturn, the Saturn of the Renaissance, star of highest and deepest learning and of profoundly ascetic life, is the guiding star of this group gives the clue to their place in the history of thought. These Elizabethan noblemen and their learned friends are Saturnians, following the ‘revalued’ Saturn of the Renaissance in their devotion to deep scientific studies and lofty moral and religious aims.(p. 158)"

George Chapman has retained to this day the considerable reputation he achieved in his own lifetime. Playwright, poet, translator, he is still considered an exceptionally important figure in the English Renaissance. His plays, particularly, were adapted for the stage throughout the Restoration, and, though his reputation dipped during most of the eighteenth century, the nineteenth saw a marked revival of interest in Chapman's works, perhaps best summed up in John Keats's well-known sonnet "On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer" (1816).


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