Friday, June 25, 2021

The Pope's Celebrity Chef

An image from Scappi's cookbook of a rotisserie deviceAs we head into summer, we are beginning to dream about hot dogs, corn on the cob, and other seasonal favorites. Although we personally are satisfied with our own backyard cooking arrangements, this 16th-century cooking contraption might potentially breed serious grill envy among some outdoor barbecue enthusiasts.⁠

This mechanical marvel is one of many kitchen gadgets pictured in the 1596 edition of Bartolomeo Scappi's Opera dell'Arte del Cucinare. Scappi was the first true international celebrity chef, a la Julia Childs or Anthony Bourdain. He cooked for several popes and numerous bishops, but he truly rose to fame in 1570 when his cookbook with over a thousand Renaissance recipes was published to great acclaim. One of his pronouncements that was likely very well received by his local audience was that Parmesan is the greatest of all cheeses.

We recently acquired this volume for use in the classroom at the request of two of our Italian Department faculty members; we're so excited at the prospect of having students back on site, hopefully sooner rather than later!⁠ To take a look at some of the other great images in this book, come to Rauner and ask for Rare TX711 .S283 1596.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

"The Voice of Nature" and "Thanatopsis"

The Voice of Nature from an 1840 issue of the Dartmouth student newspaper
One of the most exciting aspects of our collections is the way that Dartmouth students engage with them to create new ideas within the context of the classroom. On Tuesdays this summer, we will publish posts that were originally written by students in Michael Chaney's Literary History survey course during the Winter 2021 term. Each student essay comparatively examines two poems, one from the Dartmouth student newspaper and the other by a canonical American or British author.

This post compares "The Voice of Nature," a poem printed in an 1840 issue of the Dartmouth student newspaper (The Dartmouth), with an excerpt from "Thanatopsis" written by William Cullen Bryant in 1817:

Both “The Voice of Nature” and William Cullen Bryant’s “Thanatopsis” present models for understanding the inescapability of death – that every man will enter “the great tomb of man” (Bryant) “in which man must be laid” (The Dartmouth). But the poems differ in their response to the inevitable – where “The Voice of Nature” responds to death with the hope of the resurrection: “man once renewed never – never shall fade,” “Thanatopsis” restates that man will always remain dead in “thine eternal resting-place,” “in their last sleep,” and “each shall take / His chamber in the silent halls of death.” By implication, “The Voice of Nature” invokes a more Judeo-Christian model of death’s impermanence and the promise of renewal, whereas “Thanatopsis” responds with a more stoic approach to death’s permanence: “So live… by an unfaltering trust” and “approach thy grave.”

The effectiveness of “The Voice of Nature” comes through the parallelism of seasonal change in nature with the Christian message: autumnal decay (man’s life as a sinner), winter’s death (man’s death), and spring’s rebirth (man’s renewal); for the sadness of autumn and winter mirror man’s death, if not for the promise of spring. The “sighs,” “the sad dirge” the questions of “where…? Where…? Where…?” and “the sad voice” answering “All gone” setup the “The Voice of Nature’s” “lesson”; for the sadness of winter indeed “points to the tomb” but that one day “the last spring must appear” and the seasons of life will be no more. On the other hand, the effectiveness of “Thanatopsis” comes through its application and subsequent pacification of autophobic fears of being forgotten: “what if… no friend take note of thy departure” and “The gay will laugh when thou art gone”; and to pacify those fears, the poem equalizes all mankind: “kings, The powerful of the earth - the wise, the good…All in one mighty sepulchre,” “matron and maid, the speechless babe, and the gray-headed man - Shall one by one be gathered to thy side.”

By effect, both “The Voice of Nature” and “Thanatopsis” build the emotional stake within the poem in order to respond to a more realized feeling: the build – “all that's lovely and beautiful dies” (The Dartmouth) and “So shalt thou rest… all that breath will share thy destiny” (Bryant); and the response – “man once renewed never – never shall fade” (The Dartmouth) and “So live” (Bryant). Even though “Thanatopsis” and “The Voice of Nature” were published within twenty-three years of each other and focus on similar themes, each presents a unique response to death’s authority and by their distinctions could illustrate fashionable divisions and conceptions of the afterlife in the early nineteenth-century.

Written by a member of the class of 2021

Excerpt from "Thanatopsis" by William Cullen Bryant

Yet not to thine eternal resting-place
Shalt thou retire alone, nor couldst thou wish   
Couch more magnificent. Thou shalt lie down   
With patriarchs of the infant world—with kings,   
The powerful of the earth—the wise, the good,   
Fair forms, and hoary seers of ages past,   
All in one mighty sepulchre.   The hills   
Rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun,—the vales   
Stretching in pensive quietness between;   
The venerable woods—rivers that move   
In majesty, and the complaining brooks   
That make the meadows green; and, poured round all,   
Old Ocean’s gray and melancholy waste,—   
Are but the solemn decorations all   
Of the great tomb of man. The golden sun,   
The planets, all the infinite host of heaven,   
Are shining on the sad abodes of death,   
Through the still lapse of ages. All that tread   
The globe are but a handful to the tribes   
That slumber in its bosom.—Take the wings   
Of morning, pierce the Barcan wilderness,   
Or lose thyself in the continuous woods   
Where rolls the Oregon, and hears no sound,   
Save his own dashings—yet the dead are there:   
And millions in those solitudes, since first   
The flight of years began, have laid them down   
In their last sleep—the dead reign there alone.
So shalt thou rest, and what if thou withdraw   
In silence from the living, and no friend   
Take note of thy departure? All that breathe   
Will share thy destiny. The gay will laugh
When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care   
Plod on, and each one as before will chase   
His favorite phantom; yet all these shall leave   
Their mirth and their employments, and shall come
And make their bed with thee. As the long train   
Of ages glide away, the sons of men,   
The youth in life’s green spring, and he who goes   
In the full strength of years, matron and maid,   
The speechless babe, and the gray-headed man—   
Shall one by one be gathered to thy side,   
By those, who in their turn shall follow them.  
So live, that when thy summons comes to join   
The innumerable caravan, which moves   
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take   
His chamber in the silent halls of death,   
Thou go not, like the quarry-slave at night,   
Scourged to his dungeon, but, sustained and soothed   
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,   
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch   
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.