Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Odds Bodkins!

It's the Hump of the Week, not Blue Monday, and yet I have opened The Anatomy of Melancholy, by Robert Burton, to a random page (229), on the advice of those who say this is not a book to be read from start to finish but one to skip around in and take in small doses.

A bodkin, by the way, is "a small tool for piercing holes in leather," which you might have learned playing Balderdash. Or reading.  But I always have to look it up. Back to The Anatomy of Melancholy:

My eye first fell upon Subsection 7--Envy, Malice, causes of melancholy, and I skimmed a bit here, finding Burton quoting Felix Platurus noting, Envy so gnaws many men's hearts, that they become altogether melancholy.  Shortly thereafter the phrase the rotting of the bones arrested me, and the last sentence on that page begins, "It crucifies their souls, withers--" One hesitates to turn the page, eh?

So I didn't.  I looked higher on the page, and found the phrase, "Odds bodkins!" uttered in connection with "many base, impudent, brazen-faced rogues, that will be moved with nothing, take no infamy or disgrace to heart, laugh at all...."  Yes, the kind of person who would say, "God's body!" as an oath, instead of "Odds bodkins!" to temper it, make it less offensive, and so on.  (Hmm, even Shakespeare had to learn this, according to The Phrase Finder.) Or the kind of person who would indeed say the softened oath, and move on.  Burton dismisses them handily in Subsection 6--Shame and Disgrace.

And here, on page 228, I learn the shocking news that Aristotle died of shame. Wait, maybe I had heard that in the past, and dismissed it as unlikely, or a legend. Burton says that shame and disgrace cause some people to "melancholize in corners, and keep in holes." Note to self, and to groundhog: come out, come out! It's March, and spring will come later this month! The sun is shining, but there's no need to fear one's own shadow! Some comfort: "The most generous souls are most subject to it."

And that's when he drops the A-Bomb: "Aristotle, because he could not understand the motion of Euripus, for grief and shame drowned himself."

OK, Euripus is a strait with wild tidal currents (that anyone might drown in) and Wikipedia tells me that its motions were not fully described and understood till the 20th century, so Aristotle need not have felt so ashamed!  Wikipedia also tells me that Aristotle probably died of natural causes after leaving Athens to avoid angry feelings aimed at philosophers, especially those who had tutored Alexander the Great, who also had a beef with Aristotle later in life.  Oh, those ancient politicians hated intellectuals, too!

Anyhoo, legend and Wikipedia report that Aristotle fled saying, "I will not allow Athens to sin twice against philosophy," meaning he didn't want to suffer the same fate as Socrates, arrested for "corrupting the young" by sharing his ideas, but then why do some say that Aristotle also took poison (as Socrates did, in prison)?  Well, it's just as likely, then, that Aristotle did die of shame, or stress, or a mix of emotions.  Natural causes in a generous, sensitive, hard-working soul.

Odds bodkins! That can happen!

But I hoped to provide another option, for what to do with shame, and suffering, in my tiny (3 1/2 line) poem, "Red Nasturtium."


Kim said...

I'm pretty sure if you had turned the page the next words would have been "their manhood."

Kim said...

Verification word "oxyisms"!

Emily said...

I'm giggling at the first comment. My sense of humor is so immature.

Collagemama said...

These are lovely nasturtiums, and I wish I could nibble on a leaf. Instead I am verifying my few remaining wits by fact-checking sewing bodkins, those large-eyed blunt-tipped needles used for pulling elastic through a casing in home ec sewing class.

Bet Aristotle's mom never taught him to darn socks using a darning egg. But that's another story.