Statues – Monuments #
Epic of Gilgamesh #
Quests for immortality recur from one of the oldest literary sources – The Epic of Gilgamesh.
Upon the death of his friend Enkidu. Gilgamesh sends up a great, torn-from-the-gut lament - a dirge - elegy:
“O my friend, wild ass on the run, donkey of the uplands, panther of the wild,” may the Forest of Cedar grieve for you, and the pure Euphrates”.
He calls for his craftsmen—
“Forgemaster! [Lapidary!] Coppersmith! Goldsmith!”—and orders Enkidu’s funerary monument: “Your eyebrows shall be of lapis lazuli, your chest of gold.”
Later, an old woman advises Gilgamesh to gain immortality through his children.
Epic heroes like Achilles sought immortality through Kleos; heroic deaths.
Juvenal insisted recorded history or song is more durable than stone. In his Rewards of Fame and Eloquence, writes:
“So much more intense is the thirst for fame than for virtue….
Of a few, by their desire for fame and a title, a name that might
Cling to the stones that guard their ashes, those stones the barren
Fig tree’s malicious strength is capable of shattering, since
Even their very sepulchres are granted a limited span by fate.
Juvenal’s tribute to Solon is limited to four words: “Eloquent Solon, the Just”.
John Donne and Shakespeare #
Donne claims “We’ll build in sonnets pretty rooms”.
From Shakespeare Sonnet 55:
“Not marble nor the gilded monuments/Of princes shall outlive this powerful rhyme….”
………. Robert Browning in The Bishop Orders his Tomb instructs his “nephews” to insure that his mausoleum is grander; with higher quality marble, more expensive stones than any other Bishop’s.
Percy Bysshe Shelley came across a ruined statue of an Egyptian ruler, creating an image of Ozymandian arrogance, together with its “sneer of cold command”, a hollow boastfulness:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.'
What do statues tell us about our past? Perpetrators of great historic wrongs are often socially constructed. The reflect the prevailing values of the times.
‘As long as there have been statues, there have been people who destroy statues’
One repays a teacher badly if one remains only a pupil. And why, then, should you not pluck at my laurels? You respect me; but how if one day your respect should tumble? Take care that a falling statue does not strike you dead! You had not yet sought yourselves when you found me. Thus do all believers — Now I bid you lose me and find yourselves; and only when you have all denied me will I return to you. (Nietzsche Quoted by Jung to Freud, 1912)
Kenneth Slessor #
While Slessor laments the fact that Joe Lynch has no grave with permanent “funeral-cakes of sweet and sculptured stone.” he has been immortalised in Five Bells. The fact that this poem lives on seventy years later illustrates what Auden said about Yeats; “the death of the poet was kept from his poems”.