Co(s)mic death

The ultimate paradox for writers of tragedies is to die in an almost comical manner. Spring begins tonight, yet it’s already been a few weeks since we started orienting our antennae towards the sun. That’s what Aeschylus was doing – enjoying the seaside warmth outside his home in Gela, Sicily – on a sunny day in 456 B.C. when an eagle, mistaking the playwright’s head for a rock, dropped a tortoise (it’s not clear if it was a ‘tortoise’ or a ‘turtle’, though in any case it’ll always be a turtle if you’re reading this in America!) onto his head, so as to crack open its prey’s shell and eat it.

Spring is always associated with ‘something’ in the air: love, according to an old song, or pollen embroidering the sky. Whatever it is, it all comes sweeping down suddenly in the middle of March.

We instead hope that the season will “make haste slowly”, just like the tortoise/turtle (being at sea with a sail affixed to its shell, it probably was a turtle, also for UK readers) on Duke Cosimo de’ Medici’s emblem, thereby slowing up the arrival of the next. That’s why our own version is green, unripe and hard to crack open. In three months’ time here in Italy we’ll all be like tortoises holed up in our air-conditioned carapaces. On the other hand, keeping out of the scorching sun may have its advantages. Remember Aeschylus…