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Tennyson, Vesuvius & St. Telemachus

This photo of the 1944 eruption of
Vesuvius is courtesy of Herman Chanowitz.
Photo restoration by Tana A. Churan-Davis.)


If it weren't for Mt. Vesuvius (and other volcanoes, I suppose), I would not have found out how the gruesome gladiatorial games that the Romans enjoyed so much came to an end.

In researching the Geology of the Bay of Naples, I came across abundant material, of course, on the atmospheric effects of volcanic eruptions. Somewhere, I had read a verse by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, used (in the source I filched it from) to describe the eruption of Krakatoa in the late nineteenth century.

Accordingly, I wrote:  

And the great explosion of Krakatoa in Java in 1883 produced atmospheric effects on a global scale and
even more poetrythis time by Tennyson: 'Had the fierce ashes of some fiery Peak/ Been hurled so high they ranged round the World?/ For day by day through many a blood-red eve/ The wrathful sunset glared.'



                         Tennyson

TennysonI left it at that, just the way I had copied it. It sounded good and very Krakatoa-like. However, just the other day, a kind gentleman from Japan, Dr. M. Iguchi from Tokyo, wrote me and asked (1) if the use of word 'World' was correct, for he recalls reading the same verse with "globe'', and (2) if I would be so kind as to tell him if that was the entire poem or if it was an excerpt from a longer work, and, if so, which one? 

To work, to work. Indeed, I had misquoted the line. (But, of course, it is really the fault of the person I copied it from!) It is, in fact, 'globe'. The four brief lines come from a much longer poem (80 lines, in all) by Tennyson. The poem is entitled "St. Telemachus" and is from Tennyson's last published volume, The Death of Oenone, Akbar's Dream, and Other Poems, which appeared in 1892. 

Not only did I misquote the line, but I skipped one line and truncated another, such as to destroy the original context. The first 11 lines are:   


Had the fierce ashes of some fiery peak 
Been hurl'd so high they ranged about the globe? 
For day by day, thro' many a blood-red eve, 
In that four-hundredth summer after Christ, 
The wrathful sunset glared against a cross 
Rear'd on the tumbled ruins of an old fane 
No longer sacred to the Sun, and flamed 
On one huge slope beyond, where in his cave 
The man, whose pious hand had built the cross, 
A man who never changed a word with men, 
Fasted and pray'd, Telemachus the Saint.

St. Telemachus, also known as Alamachius was a monk who was called by an inner voice to go to Rome in about the year 400 a.d. He attended a gladiatorial combat and tried to stop the combatants from killing each other. He was stoned to death by the angry mob, but the emperor Honorius (who ruled from 395 to 423), a Christian, got the point and banned the games. Thus, St. Telemachus' place in Christian history is as the one responsible for ending the gladiator games. 

Thank you, Mt. Vesuvius. And, of course, Dr. Iguchi.

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