Thursday, August 12, 2010

Thalatta, thalatta!

Well. Here it is, halfway through August and I have yet to find my voice. I am wandering about lost in midsummer, unable to find anything compelling to speak of. My family is fine, I'm actually on vacation at the moment, but I have been unable to get a moment to myself to sit and think, and write.

And I can't really find anything to write about that doesn't drive me batshit crazy.

So I am going down to the Oregon Coast with my family for a little while, in hopes of enjoying some quiet time in a peaceful stretch of the coastline near Tillamook. Hopefully the sea will work its way with me, as it has in the past, and restore a portion of breadth to my vision, and some depth to my reflection.Thalassa by Louis MacNeice

Run out the boat, my broken comrades;
Let the old seaweed crack, the surge
Burgeon oblivious of the last
Embarkation of feckless men,
Let every adverse force converge--
Here we must needs embark again.

Run up the sail, my heartsick comrades;
Let each horizon tilt and lurch--
You know the worst: your wills are fickle,
Your values blurred, your hearts impure
And your past life a ruined church--
But let your poison be your cure.

Put out to sea, ignoble comrades,
Whose record shall be noble yet;
Butting through scarps of moving marble
The narwhal dares us to be free;
By a high star our course is set,
Our end is Life. Put out to sea.

For those of you fellow military historians reading here you probably recognize the cry of Xenophon's troops at reaching the Black Sea, having marched back across Asia Minor:
"On the fifth day they reached the mountain, the name of which was Theches. No sooner had the men in front ascended it and caught sight of the sea than a great cry arose, and Xenophon, in the rearguard, catching the sound of it, conjectured that another set of enemies must surely be attacking in front...(b)ut as the shout became louder and nearer, and those who from time to time came up, began racing at the top of their speed towards the shouters, and the shouting continually recommenced with yet greater volume as the numbers increased, Xenophon settled in his mind that something extraordinary must have happened, so he mounted his horse, and taking with him Lycius and the cavalry, he galloped to the rescue. Presently they could hear the soldiers shouting and passing on the joyful word, "The sea! the sea!" (Book IV, Chapter VII)
I note in passing that the actual words these soldiers cried have been debated ever since. Were they shouting "Thalassa!" ("θάλασσα!"), which is the classical Greek for the word "sea" or "ocean"? Many historians, and many publishers, have believed so and copied the passage as such. But the mercenaries escaping Cyrus' disaster were largely Attic, and in the dialect of Αττική the word for sea is "θάλαττα" - "Thalatta". The soldiers would probably have shouted their happy news in their local tongue, and as such have I quoted them at the head of this post.

But thalassa or thalatta, Alexandra Lianeri does well to remind us that
"Most significantly, the march itself did not end at the glorious point of encountering the sea, and the next day revealed a gloomy picture contrasting with the shining moment of the shout.

The Ten Thousand did return to Greece, but there they found themselves as much at a loss as at the start of their journey: the political confusion they encountered when they crossed the Bosphorus left them isolated and without support. An escape story that began as a eulogy of the Greek achievement subverts itself by exposing Greek weakness."
The sea doesn't always afford us a means of escape, and even when it does, we often come to land only to find that we have been pursued by our own failings and futility. We can change our skies, but not ourselves. In the ripe heat of late summer, is it too late to hope that I can find some change of heart in a change of scene?

"Sometimes, in my green retreat,
the weather makes a joke,
with early falling leaves
and snowy flowers.
It’s August;
nothing will change
until we tell it to."

Dorothea Grossman


mike said...

Enjoy the sea Chief.

The wife and I are also on vacation but heading east. Currently in Buffalo, Wyoming. Headed for Devils Tower National Monument tomorrow, maybe Rushmore the day after. Long term we hope to see the other sea at the Gulf of Maine and Fundy Bay. I can taste the quahogs and lobster rolls already.

Lisa said...

Absolutely beautiful homage to the sea. I hope it lends you restorative powers, and that you may sit silently in the mist, gazing out to an endless horizon ...


rangeragainstwar said...

We're going to see Rockford and Salem Maine today.
So we're covering both coasts.