Prufrock is off this week and will return on August 8.

The Vatican Virgil has gone digital. Click to XXXIXv for the big drama with Dido.


Elsewhere at the intersection of tech and old books: Elon Musk recommends the out-of-print Twelve Against the Gods about a dozen Great Men who bent fate. Perhaps fans, now rustling up their own copies, should paste him in as the thirteenth.


In which a Bear of Very Little Brain returns home from the spa, neck aligned, clavicle repaired and bottom fluffed.


The man vs. the master.

"Is this a good world or a bad world? It is certainly a world contrary to present reality, and most writers about the Garden suggest that it may be the world as it might have been if Adam had been sensible enough to refuse the apple that Eve offered him in the Garden of Eden, fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Larry Silver, in the catalog to the Prado exhibition, is more pessimistic. He sees this unbridled indulgence in pleasure as a sure ticket to the Hell we see so vividly spelled out for us on the painting's right panel.

"On the other hand, this sophisticated, sexy vision of the world as it might have been is just the sort of content that would have amused the aristocratic patron who commissioned it. The Garden of Earthly Delights reflects some of the real social divisions in the borderline world inhabited by the man who was both Joen the painter and the famous master Jheronimus Bosch."


Arthur Brand is a real-life Indiana Jones, and he kind of looks like him too.

"The paintings, Salvador Dali's 1941 Surrealist work Adolescence and Polish Art Deco painter Tamara de Lempicka's La Musicienne (1929), which was featured in Madonna's 'Vogue' music video, had been thought destroyed forever.

"But, after nine months of careful negotiations with two separate criminal gangs in possession of the haul worth an estimated £6.5m, Brand secured their return. This is far from his biggest success, having last year duped a group with Nazi sympathies into revealing the whereabouts of two massive bronze horse sculptures commissioned by Adolf Hitler that history books stated were destroyed during the Second World War.

"The works, by sculptor Josef Thorak, had flanked the doorway of Hitler's Reichstag building and had been believed bombed for 70 years until Brand identified them."


The puzzling path of Zeus's foot.

"The foot is as beautiful as a foot can be, which it turns out is very beautiful. It is a left forefoot, strictly speaking, a piece of marble 21 cm across and 27 cm from its perfectly modelled toes to the strap of its sandal. 'The sculptor worked well à la grecque,' wrote its excavator, Paul Bernard, 'and I would go so far as to say, faced with the perfection of the work, that he could only have been Greek.' Yet it was found in the principal temple of Ai Khanum, a site beside the Oxus on the northern frontier of Afghanistan, and I am contemplating it in a display case in Tokyo."


Elizabeth Bishop's Brazil:

"In Brazil, Bishop fell in love with Lota de Macedo Soares, an architect from a prominent Brazilian family, and they moved in together. Thousands of miles from her birthplace, Bishop finally felt at home.

"'Brazil must have represented for Elizabeth a kind of clarifying mirror, in all of its strangeness, for the things that she needed to see freshly again,' poet James Merrill said of her expatriate years."


Essay of the Day: Don Giovanni librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte lived and lived, and lived.

"How many lives was Lorenzo Da Ponte able to live in the eighty-nine years that took place between his birth in a Jewish ghetto outside Venice in 1749 and his death in New York? The mere outline of dates and places is already somewhat astonishing: for someone to reach such longevity at a time when the median life expectancy was under forty years, and also to be able to travel so far in a world of difficult and unsafe paths, of archaic and closed societies in which the immense majority of people grew old and died either in the same place where they had been born or not very far from it, leading a life that was identical to that of their most remote ancestors. But Lorenzo Da Ponte escapes habitual categories as audaciously as he used to escape the cities and countries where life was starting to become difficult, which in one way or another would be almost all of them, or as he would abandon jobs and even identities, possible futures in which he would have undoubtedly liked to get settled. A scarcely exhaustive enumeration already provides somewhat of a frame: he was a seminarian; he was a gambler; he taught Hebrew, classical languages, Italian literature; he was a shopkeeper in Pennsylvania and a bartender in New Jersey; he was a librettist, editor, bookseller, opera impresario; he successively practiced Judaism, Catholicism, Anglicanism; he bowed down in the ante­cham­­bers of emperors, archbishops and princes and then scribbled clandestine pamphlets against them. Reading his memoirs is as agitated an experience as witnessing the exploits, ruses, escapes, jolts, strokes of daring or of shamelessness that take place in the three Mozart operas whose librettos he wrote[1], generally with utmost speed, and during a time of his life that turns out to be quite brief in comparison to the length and variety of his disorderly biographies. Historians often say that, as a memoirist, Da Ponte is not very trustworthy. Charles Rosen observes that he usually fails to remember precisely what we would most like to hear. But if the words in these memoirs are not too exact, their music immediately becomes familiar, and in it there is no room for deception: as we read pages more replete with adventures than the wildest serial, we have the feeling of recognizing some of Don Giovanni and Leporello's tricks and the conspiracies that baleful Bartolo and resentful Marcellina plot against Figaro and Susanna, and the games of masks and impersonations to which the couples of symmetrical lovers devote themselves in Così fan tutte no longer seem so implausible.

"Loves and symmetries: running away from Venice, where he has acquired the double reputation of freethinker and libertine, young Da Ponte crosses the border to the imperial land of Austria, and in the first inn where he stops there is already a young and passionate innkeeper who falls in love with him; some time later, escaping those excessively warm ties, he encounters a pretty widow and her two daughters, with whom he simultaneously falls in love, with equal ardor, which sinks him into a state of anguished sentimental confusion, and yet does not prevent him from favorably considering the sensual charms of the mother. Loves and masks: in Venice, a woman who covers her face with a mask signals to him from a gondola and then goes away, and it seems that he will not see her again. But soon after a messenger arrives at the café where Da Ponte remains waiting without much hope and guides him through alleys and dark canals to a palace where the young lady in the mask finally shows him her radiant beauty and tells him the secret story of her misadventures, which could be the plotline of one of those thick novels of captivity in crypts, forced marriages and lugubrious convents that were then being published in Europe.

"Occasionally, Da Ponte reminds us of Casanova: not for nothing were they friends, and his compatriot's memoirs likely served as a model for his own. Sometimes a whining note also surfaces, approximating a persecution complex, that delivers echoes of Rousseau's Confessions. But compared to Da Ponte's, Casanova's and Rousseau's lives, so fertile with misfortunes, travel, abrupt changes of luck, seem monotonous to us. Ultimately, Casanova and Rousseau each sketch a single identity for them­selves—that of libertine, that of philosopher—while Da Ponte impetuously and restlessly goes through so many consecutive identities that we are almost never able even provisionally to attach him to any of them."

Read the rest here.


Poem of the Day: "The Low Door"


Picture of the Day: The Sunflower Galaxy blooms.