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Reading Herodotus while naked

August 2, 2010

It is one of those sparkling days where I picture everyone I know at the beach, grouped together in chairs, chatting, snacking, and swimming. I am looking at this day from indoors. Soon it will be February. Perhaps I should rush outside. Or maybe do what Shelley used to do (As you can see I like him more and more). Here is his description of how he spent his days during one Italian summer:

“My custom is to undress and sit on the rocks, reading Herodotus, until the perspiration has subsided, and then to leap from the edge of the rock into this fountain – a practice in the hot weather exceedingly refreshing. This torrent is composed as it were, of a successon of pools and waterfalsl, up which I sometimes amuse myself by climbing when I bathe, and receiving the spray over all my body . . . .”

This is quite a picture: a nude Shelley clambering over rocks with a volume of ancient Greek history waiting for him on a boulder. Why did I never learn these things in school? I shouldn’t bother asking that question. I know why. When I went to school, we weren’t supposed to know ANYTHING about the lives of the authors we read. It was still the era of the New Critics who said that biography was a distraction from the texts. All that mattered were close readings. Anything else was pollution.
It has taken me a long time to get over this. When I wrote Mistress Bradstreet, I kept looking over my shoulder to see if any angry professors were there, ready to yell or I don’t know what — shake me?

Much better to know that Shelley read ancient Greek while nude and liked playing in waterfalls. Even though he could not swim.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Ruth permalink
    August 3, 2010 4:11 pm

    Oh caution be damned!

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