Thursday, February 7, 2013

Visitng With Daddooooo

The University of Arizona's Humanities Seminars has reunited me with one of my favorite professors and some of my favorite ancient Greeks this semester.  I'm ever so grateful that Mike Lippman decided to forgo the study of law in favor of swimming in the wine dark sea.  His syllabus included much of what I'd read before, and a few new additions to the mix.  It was turning out to be a wonderful mental adventure.

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.


  1. I'm with you on the dangling feet. Every time I go into a conference room here at work, I have to lower the seats. Otherwise, I cannot reach the floor. It's quite frustrating.

    Great books should be where they are easily accessible. ;) Sounds like you found exactly what you were looking for--and some treasures to boot. Don't you just love opening up a book and it brings back memories? Those are the best kind of books. I have books from college where I've scribbled notes and my step-mother gave me an old Bible the other day from my grandmother. It was really great seeing my Grandmother's handwriting in the front and little slips of paper in it. Not that I'm going to sit down and read the Bible, but it was really cool seeing parts of her in it.

    Glad you are lovin' the class. You have such an enthusiasm for learning--it's contagious. ;)

    Megan xxx

    1. Actually, Megan, reading the Bible (as literature) is something I did in Great Books in Chicago. It's a fascinating text, as text.

  2. Your writings are always a wonderful blend of 'heart' and 'truth' ~ which I both respect and enjoy. Thank you.

    This post in particular made me smile, reminding of my own father. Much the same sort of person with a lifelong love of sharing and learning (still doing so even now at an advanced age when most cease such experiences and growth).

    You also put words to the reason I think I've always loved the much maligned 'marked up and dog-ear-page' second hand books.

    They hold another layer of thought, of time, of experience don't they? I dare say I've learned something or been caused to think about a passage more (or differently) because of a handwritten note. Be it penned by a stranger or one known to me or one I love, it draws another corner of the universe into - or perhaps in-between - the printed text on the page.

    And turned down (or turned over?) pages are a treasure hunt, lol. I know it's thought by many to be a cruel thing to subject a book to, but to me it always seemed a sign of connection to the words/ideas on a page that I wanted to share with the book and it's previous owner(s).

    Rambling (sorry) lol
    But thank you for this post. I'd never really put to specific thought just why I'm always drawn to such books.
    But you're right, it's a visit with/from someone else who been on those pages before, reading as you now read. Interesting, time travel really as you take in these notes of others there on those pages. Notes waiting for you to arrive. And all the sweeter if the notes were left by someone connected to your heart......

    Warm regards


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