books, literature, research, Uncategorized, writing

The Cycle of Life in Books

When I began my master’s degree program in history I quickly discovered that the ancient history professor believed in books. He taught all the best classes–ancient history was my primary interest–and so I saw a lot of him. He would routinely assign twenty books per semester-long class. We would then discuss the ideas and approaches the writers took. He also said that you cannot really understand a civilization without two things: knowing their language, and reading their stories.Language wasn’t my strength. But books? Yes, I could get behind that.

We read Gilgamesh when we studied the ancient Mesopotamian hero, and parts of the Bible, and Greek poetry, and Roman plays. He told us the story of the Roman Triumph, when a victorious general, at the height of his glory and manliness, would ride a chariot through the streets of Rome with the crowd lining the streets in adoration. Occupying the chariot next to him was a slave, who held a gold crown above his head. He would also whisper in the general’s ear, “Remember, you are mortal.”

There is a time for life, and glory, and triumph. And there is a time for death. Medieval people knew this as well, surrounded by death as they were, from plagues and accidents and wars. They would often show a skull in art, a memento mori. A reminder of death.

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Young Man with a Skull, Frans Hals (1582/1583-1666), Wikipedia Commons Public Domain

A popular poem during this age was “Erthe upon Erthe”, written in Middle English. It was often inscribed on the front or back pages of books.

English translation:

Earth has been miraculously created out of earth
Earth has attained a high position on earth out of nothing
Earth has fixed all his thoughts
On trying to raise earth to heaven on earth

Earth wants to be an earthly king
But earth doesn’t have a clue how on earth to go about it
When earth breeds earth and brings his reward home
Earth and earth will have to bid each other a tragic farewell

Remember, o man, that you are ashes
And into ashes you will return

Earth conquers castles and towers on earth
Then says earth to the earth, “All of this belongs to us”
When earth has built up his defences on earth
That is when earth will really get his come-uppance from earth

Earth is piled up on earth like dirt on dirt
He who swans around the earth, glittering like gold
As though earth won’t really have to return to earth
Will soon find earth indeed becoming earth again, no matter how much he tries to fight it

I really wonder why earth loves earth
Or why earth should toil and work for earth’s sake
Because when earth is brought to the earth of his grave
Earth back in the earth will stink to high heaven

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Kaz/Pixabay

In Middle English:

Erthe out of erthe is wonderly wroghte
Erthe hase geten one erthe a dignite of noghte
Erthe upon erthe hase sett alle his thoghte
How that erthe upon erthe may be heghe broghte

Erthe upon erthe wolde be a kinge
Bot how erthe to erthe shall thinkes he no thinge
When erthe bredes erthe and his rentes home bringe
Thane shall erthe of erthe have full harde parting

Memento, homo, quad cinis es
Et in cenerem reverteris

Erthe upon erthe winnes castells and towrres
Thane sayse erthe unto erthe, “This es al ourres”
When erthe upon erthe has bigged up his barres
Thane shall erthe for erthe suffere sharpe scowrres

Erthe goes upon erthe as molde upon molde
He that gose upon erthe, gleterande as golde
Like erthe never more go to erthe sholde
And yitt shall erthe unto erthe ga rathere than he wolde

Whye erthe lurves erthe, wondere me thinke
Or why erthe for erthe sholde other swete or swinke
For when erthe upon erthe has broughte within brinke
Thane shall erthe of erthe have a foul stinke

You can see from this poem that memento mori was on the anonymous author’s mind. To dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return.

We no longer put such morbid thoughts in our book dedications, instead choosing to honor loved ones or mentors. Perhaps, though, we should remember, like that Roman general of old, that one day we, too, will be gone. I try to do so in order to keep from being lulled into the complacence that everyday life brings. It reminds me to work, to create, to write while I still can. Memento mori.

 

 

writing

Fantasy Adventure NECROPOLIS on Sale for One More Day …

Cover art for Necropolis by Xina Marie Uhl
eBook cover

Since 12/24 my fantasy novel Necropolis has been on a Kindle Countdown Deal, first at $.99 and now at $1.99 through midnight tomorrow night. So here’s your chance to snatch it up on Amazon USA and Amazon UK. I’m afraid I’ve been rather lax with promotion this time, what with the Christmas holiday and being out of town. On the plus side, though, I did get some ideas for blog posts while I was out of town, so that’s good, provided I find the time to actually construct said posts. Anyhow, just in case you’ve never heard of Necropolis, here’s the description:

When prison guard Conyr rescues a young priest from execution, he sets off a dangerous adventure that brings allies in a scheming politician, a mischievous urchin, and a beautiful tavern server. Together, the group must navigate a maze of power-hungry rivals, skilled assassins, and deadly sorcery.  For the young priest’s lost memory holds the key to more than his past, but the fate of two cities.

 “… intelligently written, exciting to read, and memory-haunting fantasy…” — Crescent Blues