Musings on Place, Travel, Books, Literature, Poetry, Literary Criticism, Collecting, Media, Life and the Arts

The Literary is Everywhere

Petroglyph Provincial Park

Talking the other day with Kelly Jessup who works here, I was struck once again by Literary Tourism’s broad and beautiful dimension; Kelly suggested that the petroglyphs near Peterborough, Ontario might be an appealing destination for the literary tourist. Of course she is right. Petrogryphs have been described as precursors to writing…here’s Wiki:

“There are many theories to explain their purpose, depending on their location, age, and the type of image. Some petroglyphs are thought to be astronomical markers, maps, and other forms of symbolic communication, including a form of “pre-writing“. Petroglyph maps may show trails, symbols communicating time and distances traveled, as well as the local terrain in the form of rivers, landforms and other geographic features…Some petroglyph images probably have deep cultural and religious significance for the societies that created them; in many cases this significance remains for their descendants. Many petroglyphs are thought to represent some kind of not-yet-fully understood symbolic or ritual language.”

When you consider that much of what is thought best about typography came from the study of cursive writing, going back to the very beginnings can be hugely informative and enlightening for those who love letters, and printing and books.

This Peterborough connection reminded of a trip I took to Ischia several years ago. At the time I wasn’t quite sure how this Italian island might fit into the literary tourist’s itinerary. I knew that Auden had spent many summers here, that was one thing, but what else? Well, (once again with Wiki) this:

” The so-called Cup of Nestor from Pithekoussai is a clay drinking cup (kotyle) that was found by Giorgio Buchner in 1954 at excavations in a grave in the ancient Greek site of Pithekoussai on the island of Ischia in Italy. Pithekoussai was one of the earliest Greek colonies in the West. The cup is dated to the Geometric Period (c.750-700 BC) and is believed to have been originally manufactured in Rhodes. It is now kept in the Villa Arbusto museum in the village of Lacco Ameno on the island of Ischia.

The cup bears a three-line inscription that was scratched on its side at a later time, and it was later used as a burial gift for a young boy. The inscription is now famous as being one of the oldest known examples of writing in the Greek alphabet, side by side with the so-called Dipylon inscription from Athens. Both inscriptions are dated to c.740-720 BC and have been linked to early writing in the island of Euboea.

The text of the inscription

The inscription is fragmented, as some shards of the cup are lost. It is written in the early Euboean form of the Western Greek alphabet, written from right to left in three separate lines. This is usually transcribed as:

Nestor’s cup I am, good to drink from.
Whoever drinks this cup empty, straightaway
the desire of beautiful-crowned Aphrodite will seize.

The inscription has often been seen as a reference to the Iliad. Barry B. Powell calls it “Europe’s first literary allusion.” Other scholars, however, deny that the inscription refers to the Iliad, arguing that descriptions of Nestor’s Cup existed in mythology and oral tradition independent of the Homeric poems.”

Either way, here, without knowing it, I’d come across something of great literary significance.

The literary is everywhere. You just have to dig a little bit for it.


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One Response to “The Literary is Everywhere”

  1. Literary Tourism in Peterborough & the Kawarthas Says:

    [...] Peterborough & the Kawarthas is to the cultural (and literary) tourist. Nigel recently posted this blog on his website focusing on the unique nature of Petroglyphs Provincial Park and the history of [...]

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