I didn’t know until just today that the word “scofflaw” was coined as part of a 1924 contest hosted by the Boston Herald to describe people who flagrantly ignored the Prohibition ban on drinking alcohol.

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Precious Moldering Pleasures

A precious—mouldering pleasure—’tis—
To meet an Antique Book—
In just the Dress his Century wore—
A privilege—I think—

His venerable Hand to take—
And warming in our own—
A passage back—or two—to make—
To Times when he—was young—

His quaint opinions—to inspect—
His thought to ascertain
On Themes concern our mutual mind—
The Literature of Man—

What interested Scholars—most—
What Competitions ran—
When Plato—was a Certainty—
And Sophocles—a Man—

When Sappho—was a living Girl—
And Beatrice wore
The Gown that Dante—deified—
Facts Centuries before

He traverses—familiar—
As One should come to Town—
And tell you all your Dreams—were true—
He lived—where Dreams were born—

His presence is Enchantment—
You beg him not to go—
Old Volumes shake their Vellum Heads
And tantalize—just so—

So Emily Dickinson, right as always. I thought of these lines as I snuck into duPont Library by the back door this afternoon. On the left-hand side were two very large boxes full of books to be discarded. The shelves need to cleared, we’ve been told, to make room for newer books. The old ones will what? be sold, given away, pulped? There they sit, awaiting their fate.

Against my better judgement, I begin to flip through them. Many don’t interest me–Principles of Behavior from the 60s, mid-century prayer books (though the inscription “For Sister Carlotta” gives me a twinge), economics manuals. But of course, there’s always something in a random collection of books you want to look through.

I will admit to leafing through the paperback with responses to Marshall McLuhan for a few minutes, especially Walter Ong’s essay and Susan Sontag’s, too. But it’s The Pictorial Hstory of England that really arrests me. With Several Hundred Woodcuts, reads the subtitle. Who could resist? Both volumes contain heartfelt handwritten inscriptions.

I thumb through the book. Good God, it’s just so charming. And it’s so old, and so out-of-date, and so musty, and so moldering. Should I stick it in my bag? Nobody will notice, or care. But will I ever look at it again? If I bring it home and put it on the shelf, am I not just consigning the question of what to do with this old book to my children some decades hence?

So off I go, leaving the Pictorial History to its destiny, and hate myself for it. All around me are the signs of an age that’s passing– old books being remaindered, older colleagues retiring, institutional memory passing into oblivion. Into the bin with all of you, over to the side by the library backdoor.

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The Abbo’s Alley Labyrinth

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There’s a fine piece in Smithsonian today about labyrinths, which put me in mind of Sewanee’s own version of the mystic maze (about which more below). As Jennifer Billock, the author of the Smithsonian piece, writes about the spiritual engagement with this unique classic structure:

Historically, walking a labyrinth is associated with religious and magical experiences. Their many ins and outs are often associated with mythical figures, and in the past they were walked as devotional activities, mini-pilgrimages or atonements for some sin. Nordic pagans coursed the paths as a way to overcome difficulty, reinforce protection and bring good fortune. These days, walkers choose labyrinths for a meditative experience of repetition and slight concentration contained in a small circular package. The journey is a personal one—everyone gets something different out of the winding walk.

She quotes David Gallagher, director of The Labyrinth Society, who says, “I can’t tell you what a specific individual should expect to experience. Ask anyone who’s interested in labyrinths and you’ll get different answers.” The Society’s elaborate webpage–it’s actually well-organized, so I’ll avoid comparing it to a maze–notes that May 6, 2016 was World Labyrinth Day, which, in all the hubbub about Sewanee’s graduation, I seem to have missed; I’ll try to catch it next year, I guess. I note too that the society maintains a labyrinth locator that does not contain the one in Abbo’s Alley (or the other one I know of in the area, at St. Mary’s*).

I’m quite fond of our local labyrinth, and have often incorporated it into lectures about Theseus and the Minotaur. You can see one of my sons, when he was very young, playing in it above. A few years ago, I wanted to know more about this labyrinth and wrote to the person who knows the most about the Alley, Louis Rice, to find out more. He responded,

Trink Beasley’s son, Battle, a priest in Nashville ,collected the bricks and also laid out the design.Several volunteers put the bricks down and the Alley crew cut the brush and cleared the trees from atop the stone out-cropping. This was all done about 2000/01. You will note the area below is named “Trinks Terrace” in her honor.


I wrote to Father Beasley, who is rector at St. Mark’s in Antioch, TN — there is in fact another labyrinth there , one which can be found in the Labyrinth Society’s locator. Battle’s gracious response to my inquiry:

So glad to hear someone uses and enjoys it. Actually it was my mother Trink Beasley who wanted a labyrinth in the alley and asked me to put it there. I became interested in labyrinths around 1995. The one here at st. mark’s I didn’t put in but can claim to be the inspiration for the previous rector who I introduced to labyrinths.i too find them wonderful places for reflection and prayer. Thanks so much for sharing with me. Peace battle

According to the St. Mark’s website, Battle leads a labyrinth walk on the second Saturday of every month.  I’ve copied his thoughtful reflections, which might be of use to you as you walk the mystic path in Abbo’s Alley.

There are three stages of the walk:

Purgation (Releasing) ~ A releasing, a letting go of the details of your life. This is the act of shedding thoughts and distractions. A time to open the heart and quiet the mind.

Illumination (Receiving) ~ When you reach the center, stay there as long as you like. It is a place of meditation and prayer. Receive what is there for you to receive.

Union (Returning) ~ As you leave, following the same path out of the center as you came in, you enter the third stage, which is joining God, your Higher Power, or the healing forces at work in the world. Each time you walk the labyrinth you become more empowered to find and do the work you feel your soul reaching for.

Guidelines for the walk: Quiet your mind and become aware of your breath. Allow yourself to find the pace your body wants to go. The path is two ways. Those going in will meet those coming out. You may “pass” people or let others step around you. Do what feels natural.

*Postscript. My understanding is that Battle Beasley made the St. Mary’s labyrinth, too! Also, my friend and former student (and former babysitter!), Emily Senefeld, tells me that there’s also a labyrinth in the Crump Pavilion at the Dubose Conference Center!

Posted in Classics, Family, Mythology, Sewanee, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Crazy Salad: new and old views

Helen being chosen found life flat and dull
And later had much trouble from a fool,
While that great Queen, that rose out of the spray,
Being fatherless could have her way
Yet chose a bandy-leggèd smith for man.
It’s certain that fine women eat
A crazy salad with their meat
Whereby the Horn of Plenty is undone.

The fourth stanza os Yeats’ “A Prayer for My Daughter” (1919) is one I share with my students when teaching myths of Aphrodite. The great Queen has numerous affairs (Anchises, Hermes, Adonis, and most notably, Ares), but she is married to Hephaestus, whose limp and personal ugliness make him a caricacture of a god. Yeats is not the only poet to address the topic (I’m fond of e.e. cummings’ “in heavenly relams of hellas dwelt,” with its final couplet, “my tragic tale concludes herewith: / soldier, beware of mrs smith”), and artists have long enjoyed the contrast of the unattractive old man together with his glamorous young wife: capping this tradition must be the scene from the Pythonesque movie The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen (1988), in which a crusty Vulcan played by Oliver Reed greets Uma Thurman, arriving as Venus on the half-shell:

At any rate, I’m thinking of this after reading an article in yesterday’s Washington Post about “assortative mating.” The piece is based on a study called “Leveling the PLaying Field” done last year about why couples generally are at the same level of physical attractiveness (although who adjudicates these aesthetic matters is unclear), those that are not –where one mate is decidedly “better-looking” than the other–could be explained by the way in which the couple has gotten together. According to the study abstract:

As predicted, couples revealed stronger evidence of assortative mating to the extent that they knew each other for a short time and were not friends before initiating a romantic relationship.

The research seems to show that shorter courtships are based on exterior matters, while longer ones see past the surface. I’m not sure Yeats sees it this way, and while I still would love to know what the hell he means by “crazy salad” (the title of Nora Ephron’s collection of essays about gender relations in the mid-70s), I don’t think the Olympian gods did either. The Greeks, of course, invented the concept of irony. And it is worth noting that couples that are made up of two very attractive people sometimes are lackig in other areas. To my mind, the ultimate American example is Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio, who were divorced after a few months.  Sure, sure, “None but the brave deserve the fair!” (as Dryden says), but our twentieth-century Venus seems to have been happier with Arthur Miller, the wordsmith.


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252 Years of Sewanee


April 28, 2016. Resolutions of appreciation for the retirements of Profs. Croom, Delcamp, Rupert, Landon, Perry, and Smith. “That,” says the Dean, gesturing, “is 252 years of Sewanee.” A stunned silence followed by sustained applause, and then handshakes and hugs. “Wow,” Robbe Delcamp tells me. “It went by so fast.”

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What hidden scorn you must have for yourself

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Marcus Vinicius: That beggar-faced philosopher shouldn’t be filling your luscious little head with nonsense.
Lygia: How could I expect you to understand?
MV: I wish you were a slave as I first thought! I would have offered a price for you, a king’s ransom for a king’s daughter!
L: And taken me to your estates in Sicily! With all the others?
MV: On a special ship.

L: What a way for a conqueror to win a woman, to buy her like an unresisting beast. What false security you must have in your heart and soul, in your manhood, Marcus Vinicius! What hidden scorn you must have for yourself.

From Quo Vadis (1951), with Deborah Kerr and Robert Taylor, which we discussed today in my Classics in Cinema class. A serious bit of sexual harrassment, but one of my students thought Lygia’s response was the greatest burns she had ever witnessed in any film ever.

Posted in Bible, Classics, Drama, Military, Nautical, Rome, Sewanee, Slavery, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

(Guest Post) For Ed


Photo by Don Cummings, circa 1984

FOR ED: Ed was my best friend in college. Though we hadn’t seen each other in a long time, living far apart, I always enjoyed our phone conversations over the years. Ed was thoughtful and philosophical and was honest about everything. When we met in college, we were a pair of misfits. Somehow, Tufts was fancy and somehow we were a bit more salt of the earth. Our clothes weren’t right, our shoes were the wrong color brown, our glasses were from a different era. But we found our place there within a large group of friends. We once had an Ed party, for no other reason than to celebrate Ed’s Edness. We made him a crown. When we asked him if he thought it was odd that we were throwing him a party in his honor he responded, “Of course not. This will be delightful.” Ed was fine with a joke and was fine if the joke was on him. He took scuba and walked around the dorm halls in fins and mask. He was always excited about new projects and he loved life—especially at the cellular level. He thought biology was so cool. Which it is, of course. As students often do, we talked into the late hours about relationships, friendships and of course, death. He used to say, “In one second, it’s just, BLAM, that’s it.” Ed was mystified by death, as was I. I am so bereft that it came to him so young. He was always there for me. My first two years at Tufts were a bit emotionally tumultuous, and Ed never flagged in being my friend. He endured driving between New York and Boston in my horrible Yellow AMC Hornet that overheated so much that the drive took 8 hours. Because his early years were lived in Argentina, he often had gaps in simple knowledge of American things. He thought turkeys were male chickens. Of course, he may have been joking. We sat together at graduation as Biology majors and best friends. He was family to me. I loved him and I hope, wherever he is, it is peaceful and humorous. Ed liked to have a good time. I will miss him forever. Sincerely, Don Cummings, Tufts ‘84

Dr. Eduardo “Ed” Otto Caveda, 54, passed away on Thursday, March 17, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas. Born on January 29, 1962 in Moulins France to Otto Caveda and Vivivana Phelps.

Dr. Eduardo Caveda spent his younger years in Buenos Aires, Argentina. At age six, he moved to New York where he remained until graduation from United Nations International School. Dr. Caveda received his Bachelor degree from Tufts University in Medford Massachusetts. He went on to receive his Medical Degree from Boston University.

Dr. Caveda joined the United States Army after graduation and completed his internship at Brooks Army Medical Center. After his internship he cared for troops for three years in Germany, then was stationed in Virginia to continue caring for troops until 1997.

Dr. Caveda established a private primary care practice in Orange Grove, Texas. He later opened a second practice in San Diego, Texas. Dr. Caveda relocated with his family to San Antonio, Texas in 2012. He was working for Wellmed Medical Group. Dr. Caveda was able to touch the lives of many. He cared deeply about his patients and their families.

Survivors include his wife Veronica Caveda; his daughter, Gianna Caveda; his three sons, Justin, Evan and Aaron Caveda; his stepson, Patrick (Mercedes) Ramirez; his granddaughter, Lilliana; his father, Otto Caveda; his mother, Viviana Phelps; his stepfather, Edmund Phelps; his sisters, Monica Pucci and Claudia Caveda; and his mother in law, Elva Pena.

On Friday, April 8, 2016 at 1:00pm a Memorial Service will be held at Sunset Funeral Home, 1701 Austin Hwy, San Antonio, Texas 78218. An inurnment will follow in Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery with full military honors.


Posted in Boston, Cemeteries & Funerals, Time | 4 Comments