Thursday, March 09, 2006

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita

Those words comprise the first line of Dante's Inferno, and mean (in Allen Mandelbaum's translation) "When I had journeyed half of our life's way". Since Psalm 90:10 says that "the days of our years are threescore years and ten", this has always been interpreted as meaning that Dante was 35 years old (and that the poem took place, therefore, in the year 1300). 35: "half of our life's way" according to David and Dante, two reputable sources.

Today is my thirty-fifth birthday.

Now, even Psalm 90:10 acknowledges the possibility that they might "by reason of strength... be fourscore years". And, of course, the psalmist was writing before modern medicine. Yet even if one goes by Genesis 6:3 ("his days shall be an hundred and twenty years") -- as, for instance, Moses is said to have done; something which I certainly hope (kenina hara!) to achieve -- still one must admit that even so life "is soon cut off, and we fly away."

I suppose this is all just to say that I'm feeling a bit melancholy. Afraid that, like Dante,

mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
ché la diritta via era smarrita
("I found myself within a shadowed forest,
for I had lost the path that does not stray")

-- and feeling also that

Io non so ben ridir com' i' v'intrai,
tant' era pien di sonno a quel punto
che la verace via abbandonai.
("I cannot clearly say how I had entered
the wood; I was so full of sleep just at
the point where I abandoned the true path.")

Perhaps such feelings are par for the course on "major" birthdays -- defined, due to our counting system, as those divisible by five.

And of course, at the end of the day, I know what the answer to such feelings are -- the only answer that there can be: the answer found in another, older poet (well, older than Dante: not the Psalmist), the odes of Horace: "carpe diem" -- "seize the day".

What else is there?

You say it's your birthday
Well it's my birthday too, yeah...
-- Lennon/McCartney

On a cheerier note, very happy returns to my fellow birthday celebrants: P. Z. Myers, Hayden Bock, Jason Bock (who shares my precise birthday, i.e. not just March 9 but 1971 as well) -- and, heck, all the famous ones too.

1 comment:

Adam Spencer said...

A fine explanation of the phrase, thanks