Pliny the Elder & Melmoth

I have been revising a series of poem/letters called The Melmoth Letters. This project was inspired by Jim Brashear's intertextual loving and lashing of Charles Maturin's Melmoth the Wanderer, an 1820 Gothic novel, often considered to be the last of the Gothic novels. It is not taught very often, even in Gothic Fiction courses. It is a sprawling and inconsistent fabulous text. Jim's San Francisco State University MFA thesis is a book called go little book--one that needs to be published! One section of it is entitled "Three Gothic Novels." Part 1 of this series is entitled "The Proportion between Offenses," and contains letters interspersed with prose blocks. The letters are from Melmoth and addressed to Maturin. It is headed by an epigraph from Pliny:

Apparebat eidolon senex, macie et senie confectus.
A phantom appeared in the form of an old man, consumed by thinness and age" from Letters (VII. xxvii. 5)

When I ran into Rainbow Grocery yesterday as I was making my way past one of the coolers (headed, I confess, to the cheese counter where there are often tasty exquisite cheese samples--though not yesterday!)my eye fell upon this bottle of Russian River beer called Pliny the Elder. How could I not buy it?

The bottle explains itself:

Pliny the Elder, born in 23 A.D. was a Roman naturalist, scholar, historian, traveler, officer, and writer. Pliny and his contemporaries created the original botanical name for hops, Lupus Salictarius meaning wolf among scrubs. Hop vines, at that time, grew wild among willows,likened to wolves roaming wild in the forest. Pliny the Elder died in 79 A.D. while saving people during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. He was immortalized by his nephew, Pliny the Younger, who continued his uncle's legacy by documenting much of what his uncle experienced during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. This beer is an homage to the man who discovered hops and perished while being a humanitarian.

I can't wait to taste it.

But what might all of this have to do with Melmoth? Or Maturin (see this portrait of him stolen from Wikipedia...)?

Maturin's book opens with the death of an old miser who feels he's being robbed at every turn. So, there is a thematic connection to Pliny's old man emaciated by age. While doing a search in JSTOR, a really useful historical full text database of scholarly articles, I discovered an article in The Classical Review from 1916 that reviews William Melmoth's translation of Pliny, which had just been revised by a (Miss!)W.M.L. Hutchinson, for publication as part of The Loeb Classical Library. So, here is a connection between another Melmoth and Pliny. The review notes the excessive wordiness of Melmoth's translation, lamenting that the "present age sets up different standards of translation from the eighteenth century and dislikes to find little words and little phrases of an original swollen to mammothlike proportions..." (200)

How delicious! Jim's project and my own play with these swelling and mammothlike proportions. And it would seem that Brandon Brown's Catullus translations have their own deliciously swollen nature.

Here is a little taste of a section from Jim's "The Proportion between Offenses":

That mingled sensation of awe quitted him to attend a dying uncle on whom his hopes for independence chiefly rested. Nurse, domestic, and parent snapped themselves when he pleased. The means to conciliate was the orphan son of a younger brother, whose small property holds the very threads of existence in his hands-- it may prolong his infancy in the blue chamber of the dwelling. The uncle was rich, unmarried, and old.

The beauty of the country fell like blows, fast and heavy on his mind. He roused himself from dwelling on many painful thoughts and sat up in the mail. It was the county Wicklow through which he consulted his watch, as the future looked out on the malignant prospect. Then he thought that the strange reports, concerning the cause of the secluded life his uncle had led for so many years, receded into his own dependent state. Some borrowed from the past his uncle's caprice and moroseness.

Though he was striking against the piles of books, globes, old newspapers, wig blocks, tobacco pipes, and snuff canisters, not to mention certain hidden rat-traps and moldy books beneath the chairs, he was never permitted to approach them, when the mind is thus active in calling over invaders, and no wonder the conquest is soon completed (66).

How well it all swells. I'll let you know, Readers, how it swills.

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