So I’m reading “The Odyssey” at a pace best described as glacial. I’m on Book 5, where Odysseus has sex with a goddess but doesn’t really enjoy it.
Anyway, many of you will know that my degree is in Medieval studies. What I really studied was early music and literature. I read Chaucer and Song of Roland and Spencer and Milton and Shakespeare and Chretien de Troyes and pretty much whatever I could get my hands on. (OK, that’s not entirely true. I’ve had “Piers Plowman” sitting on my bookshelf since Jr. Year and I still can’t bring myself to read it.)
During this whole time I idly wondered how these brilliant writers of yore shared this vast and unified command of Greek mythology. Shakespeare, Donne, Milton … they all refer to the same pantheon and clearly expect their readers to be familiar as well. They didn’t have Bullfinches mythology. (Where did that come from anyway?) They didn’t have some Greek Bible laying out the theology. They had some Aristotle and his philosiphia… basically, I idly wondered for a long time about this but never bothered to think hard about it or, you know, look it up or ask someone.
I suspect you see where this is going.
I really should’ve known that.
What about you? What’s something that played an important role in an area where you are theoretically an expert, but you just never figured out some incredibly obvious connection? Have you ever had something like this crop up with you?
Much have I travell’d in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific — and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise —
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.