Monday, August 29, 2011

Rain-saturated, churning, chanting thunder

The education in Latin shared by English gentlemen was obviously an influence on their landscape gardening.  As Tim Richardson puts it in The Arcadian Friends, 'from the schoolroom to the garden, Virgil set the scene, Horace set the tone, Cicero inspired the political iconography, Pliny extolled the creature comforts, and Ovid directed the sensual fantasy narrative.' Beyond this basic pantheon it is interesting to consider any other writers who touched on landscape themes or inspired future landscape thinking.  One example, less well-known today, was Persius (Aulus Persius Flaccus) who lived in Rome and died young (his dates were 34-62).  His Sixth Satire was translated by Dryden in the 1690s.  In it, a land-owner rejoices in his life free from the concerns of business and state: 'here I enjoy my private Thoughts' and do not care if crops fail or neighbouring farmers have 'a larger Crop than mine.' However, the poem is not concerned with farming or landscape specifically, its general theme is 'an admirable common-place of Moral Philosophy; Of the true Use of Riches'.

The erudite Joseph Addison had read more widely than these Latin writers and in a piece for The Spectator in 1712 showed off his knowledge of Greek: 'my compositions on gardening are altogether after the Pindarick manner, and run into the beautiful wildness of nature, without affecting the nicer elegancies of art.'  According to Richardson, 'Pindar's verse mingles an admiration of the grandeur of raw nature with an ability to complement its changefulness and variety through elegant expression.'  This makes him sound like an interesting wilderness poet, although as with Persius there is no direct writing on landscape in his Odes.  Addison was probably thinking more about the way Pindar wrote. Horace, for example, compared Pindar's writing to a wild landscape: 'a river bursts its banks and rushes down a mountain with uncontrollable momentum, rain-saturated, churning, chanting thunder – there you have Pindar's style...'

Pindar (Roman copy after a Greek original of the 5th century BCE)

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