Monday, December 10, 2018

Dec 10: Matthew Gavin Frank's Stranded on Stromboli, Reading about Morality: A Conversation

(retired Nebrodi Black Swine farmer, as he gathers wild fennel at the base of the ever-erupting volcano that is the isle of Stromboli):

It is the liver of the pig that is the…uh, uh… more holy, the, uh, most holy part.  The most holy part of the body of the pig.

(the enchanted talking pig of Plutarch’s Moralia):

So what do you want to ask?

(staring up at the volcano’s crater, feeling its rumble beneath my feet, watching its smoke overtake the sky):

Would a farmer then take greater care when excising the liver as opposed to other parts, other organs?

(Ancient Greek historian, Brown University, loosening his tie’s Windsor knot, scratching at the razor burn):

Part of the fun depends on the fact that Gryllus is either pure pig… or else effectively a human being in the shape of a pig: there is no middle ground. This polarized conception is not, I think, an accident, something Plutarch has invented for the occasion, but a feature of Greek thinking in general concerning animal metamorphoses… Those of you who are fans of horror movies will recognize at once the reference to the werewolf or “wolfman” played by Lon Chaney Jr. in the original 1941 film produced by Universal Studios: the movie was directed by George Waggner and had an all-star cast including Claude Rains, Ralph Bellamy, and Béla Lugosi (Chaney performed the same role in four sequels; a remake with a substantially altered plot was issued in 2010). The creature…is a hybrid.


I wanted to remind people that the lowest types of humanity may have within them the capacity for supreme self-sacrifice.


(sweeping green cursive, the ocean surging against it, no ferries here—no ferries scheduled to arrive for an undetermined number of days, as the winter weather is forecasted to be violent for at least a week, stranding me on this volcano, affording me the opportunity to become a regular at the island’s sole open restaurant, Da Giovanni, wherein I meet Calogero, who, daily, sits at the counter and slowly imbibes prosecco from sunup to sundown): 
I Mafiosi sono maiali—“The Mafia are pigs.”


(on YouTube video, “Mini Pig attacks PITBULL!!!!”): 
Hey, Pepper, man, are you gonna bite the camera too?  You gremlin…


Sure, yes, of course the pigs, uh, sometimes attack their farmers.  The biting.  Uh, the fingers come off…


But man in his pleasures is led astray by gluttony to everything edible; he tries and tastes everything as if he had not yet come to recognize what is suitable and proper for him.

(Hammer headline): 

Boss of Bosses— 1981 murder of Palermo mob boss signaled the beginning of a two-year killing spree known as “The Slaughter.”


Nevertheless the Sicilians put up with these things as necessary, although they were exasperated… Pyrrhus came into Sicily… and wheeling round in spite of his guards, he pushed his way through them— full of wrath, smeared with blood, and with a countenance terrible to look upon, and before the Barbarian could strike dealt him such a blow on his head with his sword that, what with the might of his arm and the excellent temper of his steel, it cleaved its way down through, so that at one instant the parts of the sundered body fell to either side. This checked the Barbarians from any further advance, for they were amazed and confounded at Pyrrhus, and thought him some superior being.


He also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night.


(in upper right margin next to the three-tomato and octopus pizza option): 
la mafia è Dio—“The mafia is God.”

(in Taste: A Literary History): 

Lamb’s extensive identification with Pig…creature[s] medically and symbolically coded as melancholy…[resides in] the stomach, the chief organ of mourning and the alimentary system a materially realized site of psychic “wanting” and “craving.” This translates into an anatomy of melancholy… Gastric juices produce acid tears and “delicate relief” for what Freud would call “the internal work which is consuming his ego.”


The pig… uh, I don’t think the pig is sad, no.


To dream of a dirty pig— you lack purity in relationships…  Well-known proverbs say, ‘The pig dreams of acorns…’ There is indeed no proverb that tells us that the pig… dreams of being slaughtered.


Please note that cases of dullness and stupidity in some animals are demonstrated by the cleverness and sharpness of others— as when you compare an ass and a sheep with a fox or a wolf or a bee. It is like comparing Polyphemus to you or that dunce Coroebus to your grandfather Autolycus. I scarcely believe that there is such a spread between one animal and another as there is between man and man in the matter of judgment and reasoning and memory.

(to Gryllus): 

But consider, Gryllus: is it not a fearful piece of violence to grant reason to creatures that have no inherent knowledge of God?


Among events of divine ordering there was… after Caesar's murder… the obscuration of the sun's rays. For during all that year its orb rose pale and without radiance… and the fruits, imperfect and half ripe, withered away and shriveled up on account of the coldness of the atmosphere… The phenomenon… appears to have been of a volcanic character.


My claim, then, is that a metamorphosis of the “wolfman” type was unknown in classical antiquity. Either a human being became an animal, pure and simple, the way Lycaeon is turned into a wolf in the first book of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, or else she or he fully retains a human identity, despite the physical transformation: Io is a case in point, again in Book 1 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, where she is even able to write by scratching her name in the ground, or again Lucius in Apuleius’ Golden Ass. Although I obviously cannot back up this assertion here with a full review of ancient examples, I have so far not found any instance in which a person, as the result of such a transmutation, ends up partaking of both human and animal consciousness.


Originally, tomb or sepulcher meant “flesh-eater,” a connotation that Pope evokes in An Essay on Man when he describes the human carnivore as “the butcher and the tomb” of the animals he consumes. Like the supposedly flesh-eating stones used for ancient Greek burial purposes, Plutarch’s carnivore was “sarcophagus,” derived from sarco (flesh) and phagos (eater).  Sarcophagus (tomb) and sarcophagous (carnivorous) are phonetically equivalent in English, and a single letter of difference is all that stands between the man-eating stone (of Plutarch’s tomb) and the human flesh-eater.


Some misunderstand this and imagine [also for instance] that the ancients used ox-hair for their [fishing] lines, alleging that keras means “hair” and for this reason keirasthai means “to have one's hair cut” and koura is a “haircut” and the keroplastes in Archilochus is one who is fond of trimming and beautifying the hair. But this is not so: they use horse-hair which they take from males, for mares by wetting the hair with their urine make it weak.


I have heard of this, yes, but, uh, no, no, in my experience the pig is not, uh, very clean.

EXODUS: 20:4

You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth.

EXODUS: 24:17

To the Israelites, the glory of the LORD looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.

(on YouTube video, “Was God a Volcano?”): 

[Moses] has a bunch of 'revelations from God' on the mountain. When he gets down, not only does this impress the hell out of the nomads, but he tells them that he spoke to 'God' in the fire and smoke. 

(infuriatingly handsome marine ecologist):

The total number of submarine volcanoes is estimated to be over 1 million, of which some 75,000 rise more than 1 km above the seabed.


I am not eloquent.

(from Sidewalks):

Prose is for those with a builder’s spirit.

(itinerant reverend of the 19th-century):

It is a land of idols! Idols, idols, everywhere!


So full of self-control was his body in every limb, and Reason, with all parts in perfect obedience and submission, ordered his eyes not to weep, his tongue not to utter a sound, his heart not to tremble or bark… Of such character were also most of his companions; for even when they were dragged about and dashed upon the ground by the Cyclops, they would not denounce Odysseus nor show that fire-sharpened instrument prepared against the monster's eye, but preferred to be eaten raw rather than to tell a single word of the secret— an example of self-control and loyalty which cannot be surpassed.

(to Gryllus): 

I have no need to lie; for though I love and cherish my native soil more, the other wins my approval and admiration.

(to Odysseus):  

Then this, we shall say, is the situation: the wisest of men thinks fit to commend and approve one thing while he loves and prefers another. Now I assume that your answer applies to the spiritual field also, for the situation is the same as with the land: that spiritual soil is better which produces a harvest of virtue as a spontaneous crop without toil.

 (to Gryllus): 

Go on.  Bless me, Gryllus… with your swinishness.

(to Odysseus): 

Yet you, you villain, are the man who by tricks and frauds have led astray men who knew only a straightforward, noble style of war and were unversed in deceit and lies; while on your freedom from scruple you confer the name of the virtue that is least compatible with such nefariousness. Wild beasts, however, you will observe, are guileless and artless in their struggles, whether against one another or against you…

(Mafia hitman): 

I stuck the drill in his chest and his legs, on the side of his head. I ripped his hair out.

(Sunday, 5 January 2003): 

Stromboli eruption unleashes tidal wave: Evacuated islanders told to stay away as more chunks of mountain look ready to fall.


After this, he began with the gods, which is the fairest of all beginnings, and showed the people that the recent disaster was due to the neglect and scorn with which their general had treated religious rites, and not to the cowardice of those who fought under him… [T]he dictator, in the presence of all the people, vowed to sacrifice to the gods an entire year's increase in goats, swine, sheep, and cattle, that is, all that Italy's mountains, plains, rivers, and meadows should breed in the coming spring… [T]he live flesh felt the flames, and the cattle, at the pain, shook and tossed their heads, and so covered one another with quantities of fire, then they kept no order in their going, but, in terror and anguish, went dashing down the mountains, their foreheads and tails ablaze, and setting fire also to much of the forest through which they fled.  It was, of course, a fearful spectacle…


It was a bad time. The pigs died.


(ringing the rainwater from my socks, having just returned from a hike across the volcano, to see the Sciara del Fuoco— the active rivers of lava that have been flowing down the northwestern side of the cone for the last 2,000 years): 

How long did you have to evacuate?  Where did you go?


Day and night for ever and ever… The lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are…

(beneath which lie the corpses of six amberjack in various stages of decay, the spines of two sea bream, and the disembodied beak of a Loligo vulgaris squid): 

La mafia è il diavolo—“The mafia is the devil.”


But after the libations and the customary prayers, the moon was eclipsed. [T]he divine powers indicated an eclipse of something that was now resplendent;  but nothing was more resplendent than the tyranny of Dionysius, and it was the radiance of this which they would extinguish as soon as they reached Sicily… and the bees were seen settling in swarms upon the swarms…

(rolling his eyes)

Evil has no being.


In many cases, when beasts are dying, their valour withdraws together with the fighting spirit to some point where it is concentrated in one member and resists the slayer with convulsive movements and fierce anger until, like a fire, it is completely extinguished and departs.

(2nd-century Roman doctor of Greek origin): 

All blood is difficult to concoct, especially when it is thick and full of black bile, like ox blood.  Hares’ blood has been highly regarded as being tastier, and it is customary for many people to cook it with the liver; but for some people with other entrails too. Some think the blood of young pigs is best, but others eat the blood of older pigs that have been castrated. They never attempt boars’ blood since it is both unpleasant and difficult to concoct… The similarity between the flesh of man and pig in taste and smell has been observed in cannibal cultures, or when certain people have eaten unawares human meat instead of the meat of a pig.


Inside the boats he does what must needs be done when men eat and drink, worms and maggots seethe up from the corruption and rottenness of the excrement, devouring his body, and eating their way into his vitals.

(15th-century guide to the medicinal uses of plants and animals): 

Beware the monstrous births of the pigs who lack snouts, who are conjoined with other pigs… pigs who have the ears of the lion, a wool covering like a sheep, talons in the place of hooves… the pig who is borne of the witches’ spells, and who leap and dance to mock vain women… Beware the pigfish and finned cows, livestock of the mermaids who birth monstrous human children from common green plants who live short lives and are eaten by their mothers when they die, and who taste of flesh of the pig.


The deformed and crooked Foetus ate haye and grasse, as Breade and Apples, with such other thinges as sheep and Swyne do feede on.


For my part I rather wonder both by what accident and in what state of soul or mind the first man who did so, touched his mouth to gore and brought his lips to the flesh of a dead creature, he who set forth tables of dead, stale bodies and ventured to call food and nourishment the parts that had a little before bellowed and cried, moved and lived. How could his eyes endure the slaughter when throats were slit and hides flayed and limbs torn from limb? How could his nose endure the stench? How was it that the pollution did not turn away his taste, which made contact with the sores of others and sucked juices and serums from mortal wounds?  Though this is an invention and a myth…


(wet, cold, and hungry, having returned alive from the streams of fire): 
Ha.  Maybe I should stop eating pig.


Well then, this would not be good for our business.

(Classics scholar, University of Kent at Canterbury, glasses slipping, eating applesauce from a plastic cup): 

But Plutarch’s whole value-system had little time for sophists [Ancient Greek teachers of rhetoric and philosophy who began the practice charging money for their services, thereby providing education only to the rich]. Neither, it has to be said, had that of the Platonist polymath and medical virtuoso Galen in the second century, though he clearly moved in elevated circles and mixed with sophists in his own right.

(amateur ancient historian who “like[s] ancient history for the same reason [he] like[s] Conan the Barbarian movies. It's entertaining”): 

The Eucharist or Holy Communion is clearly an act of symbolic cannibalism, so it's not too surprising that the Romans, acting on vague reports of Christian rituals, would have accused the new cult of practicing actual cannibalism.  The Romans would have associated the stories of how Christians ate the flesh and drank the blood of their god with sieges, barbaric eastern cults and legends from Greek mythology: the Thyestean Feast, for instance, in which Atreus killed Thyestes’ sons, cooked them and served them to their unknowing father… The truth is that the Eucharist is an act of theophagy—“feeding on a god”— with roots in very ancient, pre-Christian fertility ritual.


And now Aesop the tragedian: This Aesop, they tell us, was once acting in a theatre the part of Atreus planning to take vengeance on Thyestes, when one of the assistants suddenly ran across the scene, and the actor, losing control of himself in the intensity of his passion, smote him with his sceptre and laid him dead.

(overheard in my hypnogogic state in the middle of the night in a strange bed with too-crisp sheets, the earth rumbling and orangish, the whole of Stromboli vibrating with it, sulfur dioxide in the air; probably just an auditory hallucination, but still): 

Gli dei sono attori e noi siamo i loro oggetti di scena—“ The gods are actors and we are their props.”

(23 March 2012): 

Sadistic mafia bosses tortured and killed a treacherous gang member then turned him into a stew, police believe.  [They] beat him to death with a hammer, skinned and boned him with a sharp knife then put him through a meat grinder. They made a macabre face mask from his skin, cooked his flesh and ate him for lunch. Fellow gang member, nicknamed The Butcher, confessed to the crime.

(plagiarizing Greek mythology again): 

Therefore in your midst fathers will eat their children, and children will eat their fathers. I will inflict punishment on you and will scatter all your survivors to the winds.


In the first place his eating of flesh is caused by no lack of means or methods, for he can always in season harvest and garner and gather in such a succession of plants and grains as will all but tire him out with their abundance; but driven on by luxurious desires and satiety with merely essential nourishment, he pursues illicit food… and he does this in a much more cruel way than the most savage beasts of prey. Blood and gore and raw flesh are the proper diet of kite and wolf and snake; to man they are an appetizer.


Gryllus, you must once have been a very clever sophist.

(scratched into the iron as if with a chunk of fresh basalt, the ocean still surging; I’m eight days stranded on this volcano now…): 

Vaffanculo!—“Fuck you!”


By some divine good fortune, Plato came to Sicily… [H]e earnestly set to work and at last brought it to pass that the tyrant, in a leisure hours, should meet Plato and hear him discourse. At last [the tyrant] got exceedingly angry and asked the philosopher why he had come to Sicily. And when Plato said that he was come to seek a virtuous man, the tyrant answered and said: “Well, by the gods, it appears that you have not yet found such an one.” Plato, accordingly, as he tells us himself… would cure all Sicily of her distempers.


I sailed from home principally through a feeling of shame with regard to myself, lest I might some day appear to myself wholly and solely a mere man of words… What were the facts about this attachment? I must tell the truth. The time of my first visit to Sicily and my stay there was taken up with…incidents.

(on the 2003 eruption of Stromboli): 

Around 10 million cubic metres of volcanic rock and boiling lava slithered into the Mediterranean, producing a cloud of steam and ash, that wreathed the 3,000ft mountain, and a tidal wave that rocked ships in ports more than 100 miles away. The eruption sucked the sea from the beaches of the Eolian islands and then drove it back at them in a 20ft wave, wrecking houses and hurling small boats more than 50 yards inland.  Do not underestimate the risk.  Remember Krakatoa, [which swamped islands in the Indonesian archipelago under 60ft waves when it erupted in 1883. Some 36,000 people were drowned by tidal waves travelling at more than 600 miles an hour].


I don’t think I’m ever getting off this island.

(smiling, raising his flute of Prosecco): 

We hope they deliver enough food.


Dogs have occasionally eaten a man; and birds have tasted of human flesh.


Let him go back home with us.


Almost everyone knows nowadays that the portentous fancies or contrivances of stories concerning the Deities and the dead are accommodated to popular apprehensions—that the spectres and phantasms of burning rivers and horrid regions and terrible tortures expressed by frightful names are all mixed with fable and fiction, as poison with food; and that neither Homer nor Pindar nor Sophocles ever believed themselves when they wrote at this rate— The endless floods of shady darkness stream… There from th’ unfathomed gulf th’ infernal lake… There ghosts o’er the vast ocean waves did glide…


[V]olcanic ash clay is actually volcanic ash in a clay form with many beauty and health advantages.  Internal use of the clay is beneficial to hemorrhoids, anemia, diarrhea, stomach ulcers, mineral deficiency, dental health and overall health.  The clay also absorbs toxins and heavy metals, reduces body odor, helps oxidation, blood disinfection, and provoke bile secretion. The clay absorbs radiation, eliminates food poisoning, allergies, viral infections, stomach flu and parasites. It is used for detoxification and internal cleansing of the whole body.

(screaming, upon burning himself in the kitchen): 

Porco dio!—“God is a pig!”


Body of Christ…

(Sunday, 12 January 2003): 

The collapse of 10 million cubic metres of the Mediterranean island of Stromboli [caused] a ball of molten lava 300 yards in diameter [to] explode with devastating force, exposing the lava to a sudden rush of cold air and sea water.


But consider, Gryllus: it is not a fearful piece of violence to grant reason to creatures that have no inherent knowledge of God?


I marvel at those arguments.


Now, there is a little Persian bird which has no excrement, but is all full of fat inside; and the creature is thought to live upon air and dew.





(from Plot, breaking the silence):

Today I wake, tomorrow I wake, and still this assemblage, its assorted distortions, bewilders me.


We can only wait to see what will happen.

(twelve days stranded): 

Mafia = merda—“Mafia = shit.”


Furthermore, the water of the sea… was sweet and potable for a whole day, as all who tasted it could see. Again, pigs were littered for him which were perfect in their other parts, but had no ears. This the seers declared to be a sign of disobedience and rebellion, since, as they said, the citizens would no longer listen to the commands of the tyrant.

(to Gryllus): 

Go on. I should like to hear you.

(on YouTube video, “Mini Pig attacks PITBULL!!!!): 

We raise straight thugs around here… no matter the size.


Eat me.

(placing onto Da Giovanni’s bar a Parthenon magnet and a heart-shaped bar of Athenian soap, still in its paper wrapping): 

These are the souvenirs I tell you about. From 1970… (He begins to weep and I begin to weep, and the magnet and the soap go muddy and swim in our vision)… So beautiful.  The one time I leave Sicily.


His soul was speedily on fire…

(Sunday, 12 January 2003): 

Water piles up.


Well, I love it here.  Still, we have made…  And this is my home.

Matthew Gavin Frank is the author of the nonfiction books, The Mad Feast: An Ecstatic Tour Through America’s Food, Preparing the Ghost: An Essay Concerning the Giant Squid and Its First Photographer, Pot Farm, and Barolo; the poetry books, The Morrow Plots, Warranty in Zulu, and Sagittarius Agitprop, and 2 chapbooks. His forthcoming nonfiction book, A Brief Atmospheric Future, is due out in 2020 from W.W. Norton: Liveright. He teaches at Northern Michigan University, where he is the Nonfiction / Hybrids Editor of Passages North.  He intends to persevere through this winter via the occasional one-handed cartwheel in his mind. 

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