Brother AACOOLDRE : From Pliny to Shakespeare

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    AACOOLDRE Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Jul 26, 2001
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    A Trifling Strand From Historian Pliny to Shakespeare

    This chapter presents two amazing discoveries, both which are related to the symbolic level in the Shakespearean literature. The first is that Pliny’s dedication to Titus his History of Nature contains sarcastic references to the satirical system that the Romans placed in the Gospels. The second is that the author of the dedication to Shakespeare in the 1623 folio, which presented the first collection of the plays, understood Pliny’s sarcasm and created the entire dedication to Shakespeare as an extension of Pliny’s Black humor.

    The first part of this analysis concerns translations of Latin that laymen will perhaps find difficult to understand and, as is always the case with translations, other specialists can contest. If the reader bears with this, however, he or she will be rewarded at the conclusion of this chapter with simple and clear evidence that Pliny and the author of the dedication to Shakespeare in the 1623 folio were operating from the same comic theme concerning Christianity.

    Pliny’s dedication to Titus begins with a strange paragraph, which was translated in 1601 by Philemon Holland as follows:

    …I purpose by this Epistle of mine to present and consecrate unto you, most sweet and gentle Prince [for this title accorded fittest unto you, seeing that the name of most mighty sort well with the age of that Emperor your father:] which haply might seem bold and presumption in me, but that I know how at other times you were wont to have some good opinion of my toies(mockeries) and fooleries. Where, by the way, you must give me leave to mollify a little the verses which I borrow of my countryman Catullus. (See also how I light upon a word used among soldiers, which you are acquainted with, since time we served both together in the camp)
    Pliny’s dedication is among a very small collection of extant writing wherin a member of Titus intellectual circle directly addressed him. I believe that Pliny references Christianity a number of times in his preface, the first occurring in the above paragraph in the portion marked in bold typeface. The sarcastic meaning of Pliny’s words is invisible in the English translation. To get the joke, it is first necessary to recognize that the Latin verse that Pliny “Borrowed” from Catullus poem Carmina verse 1.3 (Dedication to Cornelius), wherein he wrote: “For you used to deem my triflings of account”.

    Pliny, however, permuted the order of the words in Catullus’s original Latin, creating an awkward and ungrammatical sentence. In a footnote Holland wrote that Pliny’s version “indeed was but a hard composition and couching of the words.”I believe that this grammatical violation signals a PUZZLE or double entendre (two ways of viewing), and that Pliny intended for the reader to realize that the Latin word “putare”, translated above as “to deem”, has alternative meaning which is to trim, prune or lop. (This meaning is the root of the English word “Amputate”.). This is, in my opinion, the word that Pliny states that he “Lights upon” in order to “mollify a little” the meaning.
    Holland translated the phrase as “at other times you were wont to have some good opinion of my toies and fooleries”, producing an interpretation consistent with Catullus’s original poem, and ignoring Pliny’s grammatical Faux pas. Note that Holland’s word “Toies” means “mockeries”, which is not necessarily an exact implication of the Latin. However, flipping to the alternate interpretation of the double entendre, Pliny’s phrase might also be translated as For indeed you have been using my mockeries for pruning.

    In Caesar’s Messiah the word “prune” is shown to be a key word in the comic system that runs between the Gospels and War of the Jews. Titus “pruned” the Jewish Messiah (Lazarus) he captured on the Mount of olives and-using the language of the Gospels-“grafted in” a new Roman messianic lineage onto the “root and branch” of Judaism. Pliny helps the informed reader understand his sarcasm by noting that the word he “lights upon” was one that Titus was “Acquainted with, since time we served both together in the camp”. Thisis an important detail because the place where the Jewish Messiah was “pruned” was called “Thecoa” (place of Inquiring minds/Gospels was place of the Skull) which Josephus mentioned in War of the Jews was a “camp” where Titus was stationed.

    Pliny’s sarcasm in the rest of the dedication will be transparent to those familiar with the Gospels satire. He goes on to state that he hopes Titus enjoys this present work –which he presents as a religious document and consecrates to Titus-as much as he did his previous one, which he referred to above as his “mockery”. He then goes on to compare his “offering” to those of “Poor country peasants”.

    In which regard, exceeding care above all things would be had, that whatsoever is said or dedicated unto you, may beseem your persons, & be worth acceptation. And yet the gods reject not the humble prayers of poor country peasants, yea, and of many nations, who offer nothing but milk unto them: and such as have no incense, find grace and favor many times with the oblation of a plain cake made only of meal and salt; and never was any man blamed yet for his devotion to the gods, so he offered according to his ability, were the thing never so simple.

    “Plain cake made only of meal and salt” is of course, unleavened bread, a requirement for Jews at the Passover meal. While it is possible in this phase that Pliny is referring only to Judaism, this seems unlikely in view of his patron Titus’s conquest of the Jews, and his distaste for that religion. The satirical system in the Gospels (as revealed by Josephus) revolves around a black comic theme of cannibalism whereby the Romans satirically transformed the “Unleavened bread” served at the Passover meal into the flesh (manna) of their Messiah. Moreover, note that this reference to Jews supports the contention that Pliny was referring above to “camps” during Titus’s Judean campaign, as that was Titus most significant military campaign.

    If Pliny is operating in the context of the Gospels comedy, his statement about the offerings of “poor country peasants” (Jews) to gods (Titus and his father Vespasian) is certainly a witticism related upon its black comic theme. In other words, Pliny is building upon the Gospels satirical level whereby “poor country” Jews were fooled into symbolically eating the flesh of their Messiah as the Passover meal. Notice Pliny’s comment-“were the thing never so simple”. What could be complex about the offerings of the poor country peasants? Given the fact that Pliny is addressing the creator of Christianity, the most obvious answer is simply that Pliny was joking on the fact that the “New Judaism” fooled its followers into symbolic cannibalism.

    Another statement in the dedication comments on how easy it is to fool “poor countrymen” with religion. Pliny wrote: “Many things there that seem right and dear and be holden for precious, only because they are consecrated to some sacred things”If this statement is referring to the Gospels, it is brutally cynical, which is just what one would expect from one of the authors of the Gospels.

    While all of this suggests the possibility that Pliny is commenting upon Titus’s new religion, the next passage provides even greater support for the premise. The passage begins with Pliny expressing concern that critics in the future will criticize his writings. He then switches gears and focuses, not on the general critics of his work, but upon a single woman. In the Holland translation, the woman’s name is Mary:

    But this troubled me never a whit, for I am not ignorant that a silly woman, even a harlot and no better, durst encounter Theophrastus and write a book against him, notwithstanding he was a man of so incomparable eloquence that thereupon he came by his divine name Theophrastus: from whence arose this proverb and by-word, Mary then go choose a tree to hang thy self.
    In Caesar’s Messiah, the famous botanist Theophrastus was noted as the scientific predecessor of Pedanius Dioscorides, the physician and botanist who accompanied Titus to Judea. Pedanius is satirically described in War of the Jews as capturing the Jewish Messiah and then metaphorically “pruning” him and grafting a Roman messiah onto the Jewish “Root”. In his writings, Theophrastus used the same key Greek word-“Kolasai”-to describe the pruning of trees that Josephus used to describe Titus instruction as to what to do with the captured jewish Messiah, thereby beginning the comic, “Root”, branch and pruning”, theme found in the Gospels. Further, Josephus describes Mary’s son “Jesus” (in the Cannibal Mary parallel) as a “By-word/Myth) who will “complete the calamity of the Jews”. Therefore, Pliny’s creating the absurd phrase “Mary then go choose a tree to hang thy self” and then calling it a “By word” is a reference to the system of satire in the Gospel and War of the Jews. This phrase was not a proverb or “By-word”- it is not in any other extant Roman literature-and Pliny calling it such simply highlights the comic theme he is creating.
    If one reads any modern translation of Pliny’s dedication to Titus it will not contain the word “Mary” that is found in Holland’s. For example, the current Loeb edition of Pliny’s work the passage is translated: “Theophrastus, a mortal whose eminence as an orator won him the title of “the divine” actually had a book written against him by a woman-which was the origin of the proverb about choosing your tree to hang from”.

    This means that either someone removed the word Mary from the extant copies of Pliny which is doubtful considering that there are a number of such editions-or Holland simply decided to add “Mary” to the sentence.
    The following footnote given by Holland to his translation of the critical “Mary” sentence seemingly builds upon this connection to being “hung on a tree”. (Pliny actually used the word “thisera”, which specifically means “crucifixion”). The footnote speaks about women who “controls men’s writing”. Emilia’s sister’s husband’s last name was also Holland, which permits the conjecture that the translator, Philemon Holland, may have been an in-law. With all this information, it is hard not to speculate that Emilia Bassano had a hand in Holland’s translation, or that Holland was aware that ‘Shakespeare” was the man whose writing was controlled by a woman, or both.
    If women may be allowed to control men’s writings, we may be wearie of our lives and goe hang our selves well enough.

    Before showing how Pliny’s dedication is linked to the Shakespearean literature it is important to provide yet another passage from Pliny’s History of Nature that relates to the creation of Christianity. The sarcasm in this passage should be comprehensible to readers familiar with the system of comedy presented in Caesar’s Messiah.

    Pliny’s description below of the balsam plant relates to the “root” and branch” comedy within the Gospels. To see the linkage it only needs to be understood that the oil from the balsam plant was used by the Jews to anoint their Messiah. Therefore, it was natural for Pliny to have used the plant symbol of “Jesus” and thereby create a witticism depicting the Romans capturing this specific “root” from the Jews.

    But to all other odors that of balsamum is considered preferable, a plant that has been only bestowed by nature upon the land of Judea. In former times it was cultivated in two gardens only, both of which belonged to the Kings of that country: one of them was no more than twenty jugera in extent, and the other somewhat smaller. The emperors Vespasian’s and Titus had this shrub exhibited at Rome; indeed, it is worthy of signal remark, that since the time of pompeius agnus, we have been in the habit of carrying trees even in our triumphal processions. At the present day this tree pays us homage and tribute along with its native land, but it has been found to be altogether a different nature to that which our own as well as foreign writers had attributed to it:for, in fact, it bears a much stronger resemblance to the vine that to the myrtle. This recent acquisition by conquest has learned, like the vine, to be reproduced by mallet-shoots, and it covers declivities just like the vine, which supports its own weight without the aid of stays. When it puts forth branches it is pruned in a similar manner, and it thrives by being well raked at the roots, growing with remarkable rapidity, and bearing fruit at the end of three years. The leaf bears a very considerable resemblance to that of rue, and it is an evergreen. The Jews vented their rage upon this shrub just as they were in the habit of doing against their own lives and persons, while, on the other hand, the Romans protected it; indeed, combats have taken place before now in defense of a shrub (Pliny, Natural History, 12.54).

    Pliny’s choice to quote from a poem of “Catullus” is also notable. In Caesar’s Messiah”, Joe Atwill showed that the identity of the authors of the New Testament was revealed by the solution of a puzzle at the end of Josephus’s War of the Jews (7.11.437-453). In this puzzle, Jonathan (a Jewish rebel, a type of Jesus) accused Alexander and his wife Bernice of having “put him upon what he did”-that is, putting up Johnathan as their front man for the purpose of fomenting rebellion among the Jews in Cyrene. This accusation was presented to “Catullus”, the governor of the Libyan Pentapolis”, who acted upon it and had Bernice and Alexander put to death, along with three thousand other wealthy Jews.Jonathan and Catullus then accused Josephus and other Jews of Alexandria and Rome as well, at which point Vespasian stepped in to clear Josephus’s name. Catullus fell ill and “his very entrails were so corroded, that they fell out of his body, and in that condition he died”, which is the same unique fate that befell Judas Iscariot: “And falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out” (Acts 1:18).

    Of course, the historical Bernice and Alexander were never actually put to death for any crime whatsoever, nor could “Catullus” have died in the way the story claims, thus demonstrating that the entire passage must be treated as an enigma, rather than as literal history. In the enigma, Catullus is typologically (character based on another) linked to Judas, but the relation is a mirror image: whereas Judas falsely accused Jesus of being king of the jews, Catullus’s accusation seems to be the truth: by writing the Gospels, Bernice, Alexander, and Josephus did indeed “Put [Jesus} upon what he did”. Pliny’s choice to pay homage to “Catullus in his dedication to Titus was intended to link himself to the “Catullus” in the Josephus passage that identified the authors of the Gospels, as a record of his role in the creation of Christianity.

    Recognizing that Pliny was sarcastically commenting upon Christianity leads directly to the next discovery. The fact that the dedication in the 1623 Folio of the works of Shakespeare was based upon Pliny’s dedication to Titus is well known to scholars. What has not been understood heretofore is that the author of the 1623 folio dedication to Shakespeare understood that Pliny was playing off the Gospels satirical level, and linked his dedication to the same comic theme
    The author links his dedication to Pliny’s sarcasm concerning the Gospels in a number of ways. The first by the use of the word “Trifles”, which he repeats three times at the beginning of his statement, the same point that Pliny uses the word in his dedication, Though “triffle” is normally thought of today as something trivial or insignificant, its original meaning is actually “Mockery” as the word stemmed from “Truffe”, which means to mock or gibe. This may have also been Pliny’s meaning when he used the equivalent Latin word in reference to the gospels. The author of the Folio’s dedication is thereby repeating the wordplay concerning “mockery”that Pliny created using the key Latin word “putare” above. The author is reversing Pliny’s sarcasm, however. It is not the Jews who are being “mocked” but the Gentile believers in “Shakespeare”

    The Folio’s dedication also reveres Pliny’s sarcasm by paraphrasing two of his passages that wryly commented upon the Gospels:

    Country hands reach forth milk, cream, fruits, or what they have: and many Nations (we have heard) that had not gummes & incense, obtained their requests with a leavened Cake. It was no fault to approach their Gods, by what mean they could: And the most, though meanest, of things are made more precious, when they are dedicated to Temples.
    These statements are clearly reiterations of the two statements in Pliny’s dedication that are sarcastic comments upon Christianity

    …poor country peasants, yea, and of many nations, who offer nothing but milk unto them: and such as have no incense, find grace and favor many times with the oblation of plain cake made only of meal and salt; and never was any man blamed yet for his devotion to the gods, so he offered according to his ability…
    Many things there that seem right and dear and be made precious, only because they are consecrated to some sacred things.

    Notice, however, that the author of Shakespeare’s dedication- though clearly basing his text upon Pliny’s-has carefully changed a “plain cake made of meal and salt” to a “Leavened Cake”, thereby satirically indicating that Shakespeare was not Jewish but was Gentile “Bread”. The author of the dedication in Shakespeare’s folio ends his spoof of Pliny’s dedication to Titus by referring to Shakespeare’s literature as “these remains of your servants Shakespeare”, which clearly can be seen as relating to the “corpse” of Shakespeare. Further, by connecting Shakespeare’s “remains” to the Passover meal, the author repeats the extraordinary theme that runs throughout Emilia Bassano’s poem “Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum”-the creation of a ‘Literary Paschal Lamb or ‘Passover Lamb’. In this instance, however, it is not a Jew but the “perfect” Gentile Shakespeare who is the “supper”, and the author is not suggesting that he will be “eaten” by Jews but (as in Salve Deus) by Christians.