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John Palcewski's Journal

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Forms of Madness
forioscribe


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Dear Jack: I know your affection and love is what drives your concern about my involvement with an unavailable woman, but it’s not as irrational as you may think. Look at it this way. I’m here, she’s there. So what’s the harm? I mean, if I were as “obsessed” as you suggest I never would have left America.

Here’s a question for you to ponder, my dear brother. What is the difference between love and obsession? Both are forms of madness, aren’t they? I think the whole thing depends on what one actually DOES with it. And as I say, I’m here. She’s there.

Yet nevertheless I’m realizing that my being alone on this island puts us into a kind of an intimate relationship that we didn’t have back in New York. Yes, it sounds peculiar. I’ll try to explain. It’s complicated, but bear with me.

It has to do with the history of this place, these people. I’m drawn to it because it surely is what has formed Vittoria. It’s fascinating, and strange in a most compelling way. At least to me.

Not too long ago the Professor asked me to take a few pictures for him at Villa Arbusta, one of two archeological museums in the nearby village of Lacco Ameno. He’s been corresponding with a scholar at the University of Chicago, whose area of interest is pre-Christian Greece. It would be nice, he said, if he could send his friend a picture of a Rhodian kotyle called The Nestor Cup, an artifact of 700 BC found in the excavation of the Lacco necropolis. As you might expect I was eager to do it.

At first glance the cup, in a glass case among other pottery, wasn’t remarkable at all. But then the Professor explained what keeps all the scholars busy. “Its great historical importance,” he said, “is that on it is scratched one of the earliest examples of writing that exactly mirrors speech.”
I didn’t see anything that looked like scratched letters. I bent closer. At just the right angle, yes. I could see them.
“It’s retrograde Greek,” he said. “The language of Homer. Some speculate that what drove the invention of alphabetic writing was a desire to preserve the oral epics of The Iliad and The Odyssey. Also, a written record would save the storytellers a hell of a lot of memorization.”
“So what do the words say?” I asked.
“I am the goodly cup of Nestor,” the professor recited. “Whosoever drinks of me, fair-crowned Aphrodite will immediately seize.”
“A love spell?”
“No, a sex spell.”
“I thought Aphrodite was the goddess of love.”
“In this instance the spell is understood be to be about sex. Think of aphrodisiac.”
“Yes, of course.”
“It was common for ancient Greeks to use magic spells to attract and keep lovers. There are plenty of allusions to the practice in early Greek literature, and also in recently discovered voodoo dolls, magical papyri, gemstones, and so on. Such spells were traditionally spoken over a cup, and my friend in Chicago suggests the writing was actually an experiment to see if a written incantation would work as well as one spoken.”

What does all this have to do with Vittoria? Well, Jack, you’re the one who brought up the word obsession. So how do you suppose I came by it? Give it some thought.

More on this later. Meanwhile, thanks for being such a good brother. I appreciate your concern for me. Please keep writing.


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