Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Nicolas Poussin

"Et in Arcadia Ego" by Nicolas Poussin.

Even in Arcadia there am I ..

(The basics about this painting are the shepherds (in Arcadia, the bucolic paradise of Classical Greece), the tomb with a legend "Et in Arcadia Ego" and the skull (= Death) on the side of the monument.You can find more about it by googling "Poussin + Arcadia" or use this link: )

Youthful readers of my own DNA have protested that I'm becoming boring and unreadable and using the f-word on top of it all! Besides they could not get the "Et in Arcadia Ego" point.

For their benefit, and with my apologies for those familiar with that quote, I will add a few words. "Et in Arcadia Ego" is most famous for being the legend in the Poussin painting shown up there where you have the symbolical presence of the Death in a garden-of-Eden type of landscape.

There are two translations for that legend, the "quick one", formally erroneous, and another one most Latinists agree with. (Stoppard puts the 'ignoramus' Lady Croom using the "false" translation but our love couple - Septimus and Thomasina, the to-die-for gorgeous Emma Fielding in that first NT production - know better their Latin).

The "easy" version is "Here I am in Arcadia", and usually is used in the context of a nostalgic recollection of one's golden youth years (as such the first chapter/book of Waugh's "Brideshead Revisited" is christened). While the "serious" and correct translation has a totally different meaning when one remembers that the Death is present at the scene: "Even in Arcadia, there am I!" Here, you do understand then that it's not the idyllic perfection that it's been stressed but the somewhat less rose-tainted glass view that even in the near perfect beauty some darkness is lurking. As Giovanni Belloni, Poussin's first biographer, put it, in 1641: "... death occurs in the very midst of delight".

I was trying to be too clever by 3/4, I half-humbly confess, when I used "Et in Arcadia Ego" in the context of orgasmic "death" (la petite mort, as the French say) that erupts in an otherwise Arcadian perfect love-making landscape.

No comments: