We started with Thucydides and Herodotus and Plutarch, all of whom have pride of place on my bookshelves. I've two translations for Thucydides, and, of course, the bigger and heavier one is also the most readable. I probably didn't have to drag the texts to class.... in fact, we never really discussed the facts at all...... but I like to look prepared so I filled my Belvedere-Tiburon Library book bag with the tomes last week, and shlepped into class severely weighted down. They made for a very efficient footrest.
In my next life all chairs in which I sit will automatically lower themselves 3" so that my feet reach the floor. I'm just sayin'......
The basic history was taken care of in last week's introductory lecture. Polis and deme and Sparta and the Persians and my head was spinning as the old fact and new trivia pelted my brain. I left the classroom with reader's lust; Clytemnestra and Orestes and Apollo were waiting for me.
Or so I thought.
I scoured the bookshelves in the library. I looked on the shelves in the Cuters' rooms. I opened old book bags, hidden away with notes of classes gone by. Aeschylus was no where to be found. I couldn't possibly have sold them to Bookman's in the Purge of '06, could I? With Big Cuter's admonition that "the Orestia should be on the shelf of every well-read person" ringing in my ears, I was abashed. I knew they existed. The Cuters and I had read them more than once, and the kids couldn't possibly have absconded with all of the copies extant. They were hidden, and I was on their trail.
There are boxes and boxes of books marked BOOKS in Big Cuter's closet. They contain the second and third copies of the serials he loves. I opened all the ones on the floor, under the woolen hanging clothes. Lots of Star Wars and George R. R. Martin but no ancient Greeks. Not a one.
Then, I looked up.
There, on the top shelf, above the lower shelves filled with his college memories, was a box labeled GREAT BOOKS. No good deed goes unpunished; I'd asked him to clear the floor of all the boxes which would fit up above and he'd done it. I should have realized that that particular box would have been better left on a lower resting place.
No one was home. I wanted the book and I wanted it now. With great trepidation, I took the step stool from the kitchen and placed it firmly beneath the shelf. I stood up tall. I balanced the box and slid it to the next shelf. Stepping down on the stool, one rung lower, I muscled the box to the top of the clothes cubbies and then, leaning out of the way, I let it fall.
The structural integrity of moving boxes cannot be denied. It made the trip unscathed, barely dented on the corner which hit the ground first. Nothing spilled out. I exhaled, moved the stool, and crouched over my treasures.
I found Aristophanes and Euripides and Sophocles... lots and lots of Sophocles. And there, amidst his friends, was Aeschylus. Two copies of Aeschylus, in fact. One, translated by Robert Fagles, was relatively unmarked. The other, translated by Richmond Lattimore, had my name in the front cover, along with the date: 1986. Little Cuter was an infant, her brother not much more, and I was pretending to be a Greek scholar along with my classmates in the University of Chicago's Great Books program.
The scribbles in my handwriting along the sides of the page helped with some of the more arcane references; on the frontispiece, below the title, I'd penned "wisdom comes from suffering." I made an inexplicable reference to "complements: young/old, heaven/earth, high/deep" under the list of characters. And then, turning to the first page of the first play in the trilogy, Agamemnon, I found this:
That's Daddooooo's handwriting, all spikes and random capitals and confidently crossed t's. As I started my journey into a family more angry than my own, there was my dad, popping up to say "Hello!"
It made me teary.
It wasn't long before I realized that what puzzled me had also puzzled him. I thanked him for telling me that the Alexander in line 60 was referring to Paris, for explaining the power of the chorus in relation to the oligarchy, for revealing that Loxias meant Apollo. But, mostly, I felt him sitting across the room, reading along with me.
He was a student til the very end of his life. He loved what he learned and he loved the act of learning it. He brought homemade silver jewelry to his teachers, and was forever calling to share an anecdote after his class. And he always returned the books he borrowed.
I wonder if he knew, back in the 1990's when he used my text in his class at Queens College, that decades later his random notes would bring him back to me. I hope so. I've really enjoyed the visit.