Title: Low Treason
Author: Leonard Tourney
Series: Matthew and Joan Stock – #2
Publisher: Quartet Books
Pages 1 – 101
While I enjoy Matthew and Joan Stock as characters and the mysteries themselves, I am less taken with Leonard Tourney’s prose. It’s a pseudo-Elizabethan style which is uneven at best.
I am often amused by things which happen only in the Big City. For instance, while Matthew is looking over a set of books about the accomplishments of England at a book stall, the bookseller sidles up to him and says, “Perhaps another choice,” and hands Matthew a book of “filthy pictures, sir. Deliciously vile and curiously drawn to corrupt a saint.” Oh my, seventeenth century pornography.
In the first 100 pages there is a burial of someone who’s not dead, blackmail, lies, furtive visits to darkened alleyways and houses of ill-repute.
On page 83, there’s a reference to Argus, the one-hundred eyed giant who stood guard for the Roman goddess Juno. (For more see Reading Ovid: Book One.) I wonder if Tourney’s intended audience would have understood this reference. It reads as a bit showy, to me. Certainly, it would have flown by me if I haven’t also been reading Ovid’s Metamorphoses and already knew about Argus.
As in the first book, The Players’ Boy is Dead, whodunit is made obvious early on. How to prove the guilt of whodunit is the name of the game.
Never fear, honest Matthew Stock and his wife, Joan, with her “glimmerings” are on the case to bring a well-heeled heel to justice.
To tell you my dreams are odd would be an understatement. They are weird, vivid, brightly Technicolor, and often, violent. The last week or so they’ve settled for just being odd.
Last night, I had a dream about a snake named Jesus. Jesus, as in the son of Mary. Not Jesus, the son of Maria. And somehow, I was working for the Director.
I got the impression I was working for a movie director, and my job hinged on catching a snake after it had done its bit on film. Actually, my job hinged on getting over my fear of snakes. Because being afraid of snakes was going to get me fired.
Jesus was an opalescent color, which scales turned gorgeous rainbow colors. It was to come out of a pile of food, and I was to catch it and put it in a bin for safe-keeping. Only, when the time came, I couldn’t find a bin and Jesus escaped me.
The next thing is all of a sudden snakes are coming out of the walls, and people I barely knew in a past long gone were walking the halls of the mall looking to kill snakes with pitchforks and long sticks.
I found myself stopping groups of people and telling them not to kill Jesus. Other snakes were fair game, but not Jesus.
Yup, it’s me. I have missed writing, not gonna lie. My routine is beginning to settle down and I’m still focusing on how to arrange work, chores, etc. so that I can have more energy to write.
I’ve been sleeping a lot. It’s been oppressively hot and the air quality has triggered allergy headaches, the likes I haven’t seen in twenty years. Be that as it may, 7Stillwell is never far from my mind.
My dear friend Don has been gone for a year now. I mention this not as a memorialization of his death but, more simply as a demarcation in time. A year ago, things were hard. And I didn’t know what to do to move it them into the tolerable state.
A year ago if someone had said I’d be working part-time at a place I love with people I really like, and vice versa, I probably would have skeptically said, “Can’t get here soon enough.”
I look back over the year and reflect on the events which threatened my sanity (not an over-statement), my physical well-being (broken wrist anyone?), and stand in awe-filled gratitude that things have come out so well.
I will not complain about the gaps still in my life. What I will do is be grateful for the gaps which have been closed. A steady paycheck, work I’m extremely good at with people I respect and like at an incredible institution. For the first time in two years, I had a budget to stretch so I could buy two pairs of shoes on sale.
Just the emotional lift has been awe-inspiring.
The only thing I regret right now is not being able to call Don and hear him say, “Cool,” when I tell him I work at the Computer History Museum.
When I write about books, I strive more for commentary than recap or review. In the case of Metamorphoses, I am not qualified to give a close or technical read. This is some heavy going and I could easily take several classes about Roman literature, Ovid and Metamorphoses itself, just to learn more about the time and context. Not to mention the fun of taking art history and literature classes devoted to the impact Ovid had on Western art and literature.
Metamorphoses has been studied since first published in 8CE, just a few years before Ovid died. The body of work devoted to this epic poem is prodigious.
It seems to me that reading it at least once is worthy of the effort, if only to be exposed to this grand writing, and learn the origin stories of things we already know in our contemporary lives. Black ball, Midas touch, hyacinth and Pygmalion come to mind.
I encourage anyone who has wondered if they should read it, to give it a go. My views on what people should or shouldn’t read are pretty clear; people should read what they want.
At the start of Metamorphoses, Ovid states his ambition; to tell the story of the founding of Rome from chaos to the present. That is a lot of ground to cover. When I first looked at the page count, 636, I thought it would just take a couple of weeks. Hah! Two months later.
Raeburn’s translation helped, as did the trick I finally figured out of reading to the punctuation instead of the meter. I am horrible with meters and they just make the poem choppy and ugly to me. But ignoring the meter and reading to the punctuation made things so much easier.
There’s so much going on in this work. It is grand and sweeping, and sometimes choppy and even more difficult. I would like to have a better grounding in the literature of the time so that I could understand the allusions and homages more easily. Romans loved their blood and guts and adventure tales.
In fact, Metamorphoses is rife with violence, gruesome in its detail and astonishing in the litany of names of characters involved in all the “stabbity-stab-stab.” Rape is another prevalent topic, as is punishment by the gods and goddesses.
This is not a nice, tidy look at the story of Rome, fiction or not. There were numerous times when I had to stop and remind myself that Metamorphoses was written for an audience who had certain expectations for a great story, and for whom violence was nothing to be squeamish about.
The attitudes towards women are difficult, but again, this was written in first century CE, when the very idea of women speaking up for themselves and showing agency was frowned upon at best, punishable at worst. Ancient Rome was a very stratified society, even wealthy women were held to be barely better than the slave class. So it is no surprise this found its way into the literature.
There are very few happy endings in Metamorphoses. Love goes unrequited, and is frequently punished with grim results. Happy love stories are reserved for those who are pious in their thoughts and actions. Even those end sadly, as the characters nearly always die.
The parts I most enjoyed were the personifications of emotions and dreams. Envy, Rumour and Sleep are all represented here, imagined with entertaining lines.
I enjoyed reading the details of how Ulysses’s men turned into pigs on Circe’s island, from the point of view of one of the men. And, although Polyphemus was a monster in all meanings of the word, it was fun to read how he tried to make himself into something Galatea could love. Jove as a golden shower getting Danae pregnant is another favorite bit.
There’s so much to enjoy, and revile, in Metamorphoses, it’s impossible to recount them in any way that makes sense. I could comb back through each book’s commentary and look for things to write about here. But I won’t.
What I will say is that reading Metamorphoses was a journey worth taking. One which I am just as happy to have completed, leaving me to move on to less complicated books in my stacks. One lasting effect I am sure of, nothing I see or read will ever be the same since reading it.
If you’re up for an adventure, and don’t mind working for your read, give Metamorphoses a try. I can’t guarantee what you’ll get from it, and you shouldn’t feel bad if you don’t get into it. There are far too many books to be read; don’t read the ones you can’t get into. As for me, I’m glad to have had the experience.
Apropos of absolutely nothing, I miss my platinum blonde streak.
Dinner with a friend who often asks very probing questions when trying to understand my thought processes. It’s something I really appreciate. This particular evening we fell to talking about data, ways to use it to the advantage of marketing efforts, etc.
As often happens, I will answer his questions with as much thoughtfulness as I can, and then realize I actually sound like I know what I’m talking about. How did I come to know this stuff, he queried. In all honesty, it’s observation and intuition of people. It just seems like common sense to me. And first hand experience as a season ticket holder at one point in time for the local NHL team and their efforts to keep me engaged as a fan.
My writing has not been a daily practice since I started work. It is not for lack of things to say or ways to say them. Nor is it even a lack of will. Simply, it is a lack of energy. I refuse to allow this to become habit and have been pondering ways I can adapt to the new schedule and keep my commitment to butt-in-chair every day.
Chuck Wendig, and his blog at terribleminds, keep me engaged with posts about writing. It no longer scares me to read this is hard work and that I will fall, repeatedly. And be rejected. And all those other things that go along with being a writer. I think there’s a longer post for 7Stillwell based on Chuck’s posts.
It probably also doesn’t hurt that I write because it makes me happy and that I don’t write to make others happy. Basically, it’s nice to have people read my writing and comment on it in a positive manner, but I really don’t give much of a shit if anyone reads it, or how they feel about it. I also know that the first deeply insulting, personal attack will make me want to go to my knees, which is also fine. I’m human, and approbation is what we crave.
Lastly, I watched a reality competition show called The Quest. It was a Survivor/Amazing Race kinda thing with the twist of having a fantasy story line. Twelve contestants went to a castle in Austria and bought into the story of saving EverRealm from Verlox the Dark. The setting was Elizabethan/Renaissance Faire sort of stuff.
The show itself was not much to get excited about. Which is probably why I kept wondering about what the actors had been told about interacting with the competitors. And what happened if they broke character or forgot their lines, or dropped their pseudo-British accents? How did they keep the competitors on task, and guide them to the next scene and stay in character? I would love to be hearing stories about this kind of behind the scenes stuff.
Every reader goes through this. We’re enjoying our book in a public space and someone walks up and starts a conversation because, clearly, we’re just waiting for them to talk to us. Usually these people are someone we don’t know.
Reading while traveling can be an exercise fraught with invasion of privacy. Some people don’t understand why I travel alone, and most really don’t recognize that I welcome the solitude.
I was a member of the local NHL team’s booster club, which was also on this trip, but I wasn’t traveling with them. We were on a cruise ship in Alaska, and I would often encounter someone I knew. When I’d traveled with them before, I would get comments about how sorry they were I was traveling alone. Sometimes people would try to “adopt” me so I wouldn’t be alone. It’s a completely foreign concept to them, this wanting to be alone.
One day I’d been sitting at a table in the pizza restaurant completely absorbed in Good Time Girls of the Alaska-Yukon Gold Rush by Lael Morgan. I hadn’t been paying much to my surroundings until this guy from the booster club saw me and sat down at my table while saying, “Oh you’re not doing anything. I’ll sit here.” Like he was the gift of companionship I’d been anxiously awaiting.
As an introvert, I don’t think well on my feet to begin with. I could have said something like, “I am doing something, I’m reading.” But no, I didn’t say a word. I was also one of those women afraid to say anything for fear I’d be viewed as rude. No one taught me that other people were often being rude to me and I could say something.
So, mouth agape, I looked up from my book. Mind you, it is obvious that I’m reading, the book is wide open on the table and my head is inches from it as I read the salacious tales of the women making their living the only way they knew how during the Yukon Gold Rush. It has always surprised me when people think reading constitutes “doing nothing.”
He didn’t ask if he could join me or what I was reading. He just sat down and launched into talking. After a few awkward minutes, my pizza was ready and he wandered off.
People, seriously. If you see someone reading, and you do not know them, do not interrupt them. Readers are perfectly happy being left to their reading. Do not just walk up and start talking because it’s rude. Really rude. If you do know them but they aren’t expecting you, ask before you sit down and start talking.
While most readers appear mild-mannered, some will resent the interruption and make you forget who your mama is. It might be tempting to believe they’re really just waiting for someone to talk to. Don’t give into the temptation that you are just the person to rescue them. Trust me, you’re probably not.
So here we are at the end of this epic poem, considered to be one of the most influential works in Western arts and literature. It’s easy to understand why, Ovid’s stories focus not only on change, he focuses on the humanness of his characters, even the gods. As much as I rail at men who won’t stay faithful to their spouses, and angry women who take it out on the victim, isn’t that what humans do? It isn’t easy to think about the flaws of us, but Ovid reflects us back to ourselves ultimately.
As an introduction to Croton and its famous citizen, Pythagoras, Ovid tells the story of the city’s founding. Myscelus is visited in his dreams by Hercules twice. Each time, Hercules exhorts Myscelus to leave his country and sail to the place where he would found Croton.
However, the laws in Myscelus’ country forbade anyone to leave. As he tried to sneak out, he is caught and put on trial. The vote is held by collecting white or black pebbles in an urn. If all the balls are black, he will be executed. Since Myscelus is breaking the law of his country, it’s a foregone conclusion that all the pebbles will be black.
He prays to Hercules basically saying, “It’s your fault I’m in this predicament, so help me out here.” When the urn is emptied, all the pebbles have turned white and Myscelus is released to leave the country.
Heard of the phrase “black balled?” The tradition of voting related in the story Myscelus is where that phrase comes from.
(Note: I was reminded of the Greek practice of ostracism which used pieces of pottery called ostracon to vote for the ostracism of a citizen from Athens. Although similar to being black balled, voters would write the name of the citizen they were voting to ostracize. The pot sherds were usually black, but it was the name that was counted, not the color of the pot sherd. For the time being, I stand by my presumption that “black balled” came from the story of Myscelus and Hercules. 31 August, 2015)
And so Croton is founded in Italy and Pythagoras, great philosopher and mathematician, becomes one of its citizens. Ovid uses Pythagoras as a mouthpiece to discuss how everything transforms, how humanity is connected to each other and everything else on the planet.
One of the more interesting themes here is that of reincarnation. Not in terms of whether it happens, it’s plainly stated that it does. But Pythagoras’ reasoning to be vegetarian and stop killing and eating animals is that we could very well be displacing the soul of a relative. In sum:
All of these nets and traps and snares and crafty devices – have done with them! Cease to deceive the birds with your treacherous limed twigs, duping the deer by stringing feathers on ropes to unnerve them, luring the fish with bait on the hidden hooks of your lines. If an animal harms you, destroy it; but do no more than destroy it. Cleave to a diet that sheds no blood and is kind to all creatures. (lines 473 ~ 468)
Next, in the “oh you think you have problems” department, Hippolytus determines to cheer up grieving widow Egeria by relating his own woes.
I have this image of a Roman warrior coming upon a crying woman in a grove of trees. She’s been crying so loud and so long that all the nymphs are telling her she needs to quiet down because Diana is being disturbed by all the ruckus. In all his well-meant platitudes, he awkwardly pats her on the shoulder and says, essentially, “Lady, you think you have it bad. Let me tell you about this one time …”
And off Hippolytus goes telling the story of how when he wouldn’t sleep with his stepmom, Phaedra, she accused him of rape to his father, Theseus. Of course, Theseus believes his wife over his son and curses him and exiles Hippolytus.
As Hippolytus is driving his chariot down the coast, a huge wave comes out of the ocean, turns into a gigantic bull and spooks the horses. Mayhem ensues, Hippolytus loses control of his horses and chariot which crashes and kills him.
My weary spirit at last gave out, and there wasn’t a part of my body which could have been known as mine. It was all one wound. Now can you, Egeria, dare you compare your misfortune with mine? (lines 528 – 530)
Then he goes on to say, “’cause let me tell ya, that was just the beginning.” Just like the one annoying co-worker we’ve all had who just wants to tell his story and get your sympathy, under the guise of “cheering you up.”
After he dies, Hippolytus goes to the underworld to bathe in healing waters which bring him back to life all in one piece again. And then, and then, he can’t even be Hippolytus anymore, he has to become Virbius because Pluto was angry about Hippolytus coming back to life.
Of course, this story does nothing to make Egeria feel better about losing her husband. She lays down at the foot of a mountain and continues crying until Diana was moved enough to turn Egeria into a cooling spring.
The Epilogue to this grand work proves that Ovid was both arrogant and prescient. He ends his masterpiece by stating that nothing will ever destroy his work and that his name shall never be forgotten.
Wherever the might of Rome extends in the lands she has conquered, the people shall read and recite my words. Throughout all ages, if poets have vision to prophesy truth, I shall live in my fame. (lines 877 – 879)
This past week was indeed full of awesome. It was yet another reminder of how my life should be and what I’m striving for.
Temping at the Computer History Museum is a wonderful thing. It reminds me of working in high-tech before the bubble in 2001. There’s no one setting me up for a fall, or as I told the person who trained me, “There’s no one looking at me like ‘What are YOU doing here and how is it going to hurt me?'” Everyone is very welcoming. And I’m back in cubicle land with 72″ purple walls. Thank goodness for no more open space offices, those really were the worst for me.
My schedule needs some adjusting. I’m still trying to figure out how everything fits in. My commitment to being creative every day remains, it’s just figuring out how to do that with two days in the middle of the week given to earning steady money. I don’t mind, it’s worth figuring out.
A friend sent a new, larger rice cooker. This one is 16-cups! Yes, that’s exciting to me too. Now I can make my meals ahead more easily knowing there’s enough rice already cooked.
Overall, a really good week. For which I am very grateful.