by Pearce Paul Creasman, University of Arizona

A short-lived king of ancient Egypt’s 18th Dynasty, Tutankhamun (transl. “the living image of Amun”; but born Tutankhaten, “the living image of the Aten”) is the most widely known pharaoh today.  Tutankhamun’s notoriety in the present is primarily due to the discovery of his largely intact tomb in the Valley of the Kings (Luxor, Egypt). In 1922, the English archaeologist Howard Carter’s team discovered the tomb, now known by its location and sequential find number: “KV62.”1 Lavishly appointed, the tomb contained extravagant trappings of the sorts that were likely buried with most kings of Egypt’s New Kingdom (ca. 1550–1080 BC; including the ruling families who composed the 18th, 19th and 20th Dynasties).2 Since virtually all other tombs in the Valley of the Kings had been serially robbed from antiquity to the present,3 that this tomb escaped most such activity makes it remarkable (it was slightly plundered in two brief events in the few years after the king was interred, but then rested safely until its discovery in 1922). Prior to the tomb’s discovery, Tutankhamun was a minor figure in the history of Egypt and even less important to the history of Egyptology.

Tutankhamun was the son (perhaps by a minor wife) of a prior pharaoh: Akhenaten. Akhenaten is best known for his erstwhile attempt to convert the integrated religious-social-political system of Egypt to a single deity (the Aten) above and in place of the traditional pantheon.4 Akhenaten ruled for nearly two decades from a new city (Akhetaten, a site called Amarna today, from which this period takes is name: the Amarna Period) and imposed his preferred system on the populace, but after his death the old ways returned.5 After exceedingly brief reigns of one or two other kings, one of whom perhaps began reformation of Akhenaten’s ways,6 Tutankhamun was placed on the throne of Egypt at about the age of nine. He ruled for some nine years, aided in the work by advisors and relatives. This time continued the transition back to the polytheistic ways and re-advancing the previously favored gods (i.e., Amun). While many works in this vein were conducted in Tutankhamun’s name, it is likely that the king himself played a minor role in the effort.

Even though his mummy is available for study, Tutankhamun’s death, around the age of 18 or 19, is shrouded in mystery. Numerous theories have been offered and rebuffed,7 but whatever the cause, his death seems to have come somewhat suddenly, to gauge from the hurried appearance of preparations of his interment.8 However sudden, Tutankhamun was rewarded for his participation in the rejuvenation of Egypt after its Amarna interlude with a proper kingly burial. It was the duty of the new king to ensure that his predecessor received such treatment, as death awaits all kings. Tutankhamun waited in the darkness of his tomb, unassumingly and overlooked historically, only to be brought to light by Howard Carter. The discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb and its treasures captivated the world and have continued to do so for nearly a century.

Of late, Tutankhamun and his tomb have returned to prominence. In a July 2015 publication, Nicholas Reeves (a renowned expert on the Amarna Period, and Tutankhamun specifically) proposed that more remains to be discovered in KV62. Based on numerous lines of evidence, Reeves posited that at least two additional chambers (or portions thereof) may remain undiscovered in this tomb in the Valley of the Kings.9 While the data employed and the theory that something else is to be discovered in KV62 are scientifically sound and well justified, Reeves advanced the case to suggest that that “something” would be, specifically, the burial of Nefertiti. Nefertiti was Akhenaten’s favored wife and step-mother to Tutankhamun. Furthermore, it now seems likely that Nefertiti ruled briefly as pharaoh herself, albeit under a different name.10 Nefertiti’s burial place has never been found but has long been hunted. However, the case for Nefertiti co-occupying a tomb in a hidden chamber(s) with Tutankhamun, while certainly possible, remains supported by largely circumstantial evidence rather than the scientific data that indicate the existence of something beyond the walls. Any number of other royals from the period are viable candidates for co-occupancy, and it is just as likely, based on the data in hand, that the something comprises one or more empty or incomplete chambers (which are common among the other tombs the Valley of the Kings).

The head of archaeology in Egypt at the time, Minister of Antiquities and Heritage Dr. Mamdouh El Damaty (accompanied by a special Investigation Committee to evaluate the theory), invited Reeves visit KV62 in September 2015 for an up-close empirical investigation and initial vetting of the theory. With the support of the Minister, in November 2015, an international team conducted a non-invasive and non-destructive remote sensing examination from the interior of KV62 to evidence if, indeed, additional chambers are present.  The results suggested that Reeves’ theory was correct.11 Two subsequent studies by other international teams came back divided on the result.12 At present, the work stands here. Announcements have been made that a special committee is evaluating all of the data collected and will advise the archaeological authorities in Egypt on any future work.13 Presently, the most likely course of future action appears to be additional scans from inside the tomb with different technologies. Ground-penetrating radar scans from outside the tomb (from the surface level) have not yet been conducted and would provide perhaps the most definitive statement on the theory short of accessing the spaces by drilling a hole and inserting an endoscopic camera or similar device. So Tutankhamun’s tomb may yet hold more wonders.  Only time—and technology—will tell.

References & Further Reading

Mark Howard Carter, The Tomb of Tut.ankh.Amen: Discovered by the Late Earl of Carnarvon and Howard Carter, 3 volumes (London: Cassell, 1923–1933).

2 Nicholas Reeves, The Complete Tutankhamun: The King, the Tomb, the Royal Treasure (London: Thames & Hudson, 1995).

3  C. N. Reeves, Valley of the Kings: The Decline of a Royal Necropolis (London: Kegan Paul International, 1990).

4 Nicholas Reeves, Akhenaten: Egypt’s False Prophet (London: Thames & Hudson, 2001).

5 Barry Kemp, The City of Akhenaten and Nefertiti: Amarna and Its People (Thames & Hudson, 2014).

6 James P. Allen, 1994. “Nefertiti and Smenkh-ka-re,” Göttinger Miszellen 141 (1994): 7–17; Nicholas Reeves, Akhenaten: Egypt’s False Prophet (London: Thames & Hudson, 2001).

7 For example: (multiple causes) Zahi Hawass et al., “Ancestry and Pathology in King Tutankhamun’s Family,” Journal of the American Medical Association 303.7 (17 February 2010): 638–647; (kick by a horse or donkey) W. Benson Harer, Jr., 2006. “An Explanation of King Tutankhamen’s Death,” Bulletin of the Egyptian Museum 3 (2006): 83–88.

8 See Reeves 1995.

9 Nicholas Reeves, The Burial of Nefertiti? (Tucson: Amarna Royal Tombs Project, 2015).

10 James P. Allen, 1994. “Nefertiti and Smenkh-ka-re,” Göttinger Miszellen 141 (1994): 7–17; Nicholas Reeves, Akhenaten: Egypt’s False Prophet (London: Thames & Hudson, 2001).

11 Mark Strauss, “Infrared Scans Show Possible Hidden Chamber in King Tut’s Tomb,” National Geographic Online (6 November 2015), .

Mark2 Peter Hessler, “In Egypt, Debate Rages over Scans of King Tut’s Tomb,” National Geographic Online (9 May 2016), .

Mark3 Publically stated by government authorities at the “Second Annual Tutankhamun Grand Egyptian Museum Conference in Cairo” on 8 May 2016, for which the author was in attendance; see also Hessler 2016.


by Richard Nilsen
The editor who hired me at The Arizona Republic, now almost 30 years ago, wore sandals to work at a time reporters were required to wear neckties — at least, the men were. He took a chance on me, though I had no genuine journalistic experience. He either saw something in me that even I didn’t see, or he was doing his best to subvert the cause of newspapers. Which way it turned out, I am not qualified to say, but I was the last street-hire in the history of the paper. Apres moi, le J-school degree.
Why I bring it up is that he looked at talent and intelligence according to a kind of ordinate-abscissa he concocted, in which the x-axis was a measure of intellectual depth, and the y-axis was width.
“Everyone tends to be either one or the other,” he said. “It is rare to be both wide and deep.” He paused a moment and decided that perhaps Pope John-Paul II might count as both, a playwright and a theologian; he spoke 12 languages.
In centuries past, it was no party trick to be both wide and deep. In a world pre-specialization, a botanist could count as a philosopher and might write poetry on the side. Johann Wolfgang Goethe wrote novels, poetry and was an experimental physicist. We remember Henry David Thoreau as a writer, but he made real scientific discoveries about plant succession. Even novelist Vladimir Nabokov discovered several new species of lepidoptera.
In the past, it was expected that an educated man would have a wide erudition, that he would know Latin and Greek, play a musical instrument, could draw with a clean line and perhaps discover the existence of oxygen, or the nature of lightning. Such expansive learning is nearly impossible now. There is too much to know about any field before you can make a significant contribution. Specialties require too much time, too many degrees.
In our own time, E.O. Wilson knows more about ants than any living human being, but he also knows a good deal about other aspects of science, and is a fluent and graceful writer of English prose.
But Wilson stands out for his polymath catholicism. In this day and age, to earn a Ph.D. is largely to find some subject so small, so narrow and restricted, that you can become the world’s leading authority on it. “The use of macron and breve in 11th-century Bergundian prosody,” or “The internal coherence of a 12th dimension in 11-dimensional quantum string theory.”
I don’t want to make this too exclusive. I hardly know a scientist who has no interests at all outside his field. He or she might play the bagpipe on the side, or collect postage stamps from Eastern Europe. Physicians  traditionally play classical music. But such hobbies are relief from a life buried in vocational minutiae. The fact remains, it is nearly impossible to make a significant contribution to human understanding without diving so deep into a specialty that you suffer the bends if you attempt to resurface.
What is the benefit of all this submergence? For whom does the specialist toil? Certainly for career advancement, but that is little boon for the rest of us. The fact is, all this tunnel vision, by an army of specialists, works to better the lot of humankind, whether through vaccines, or finding ways of purifying water in subsaharan Africa or even faster, more efficient travel from one side of the continent to the other. Even the scholar who collates Medieval texts gives us a general advance in human knowledge. Someone has to give us the best version of Hamlet to perform.
Rather like the ants in one of E.O. Wilson’s colonies, the individual working so diligently at such a tiny corner of existence turns out to be a grain of sand in a great strand of accumulated beach. Does it benefit the specialist? Perhaps it makes his or her life richer, but perhaps, too, it can bore to death a pile of grandchildren whose interests lie elsewhere. The ultimate benefit is in the accumulation of all the tiny bits from all the specialists everywhere.
That’s where width really enters the equation.
Someone has to put all the puzzle pieces together. And to do so requires the crossover strength of someone who may not grasp the finer details of molecular biology or the ballistic calculations behind a space probe, or the grammatical convolutions of rank and deference displayed in the Japanese language, but has just enough of the many parts to make wider sense of it all.
Width takes it all in from horizon to horizon. It may see only the surface, but it can make a useful map of those surfaces, find where they interrelate, how one advance can be applied to some unrelated field, suggest a possible consequence previously unintended, can discover that grand unified field vision that identifies an era as the “Age of Reason,” or the “Romantic Age,” or Victorian.
In some sense, I think of it as the eternal struggle in biological taxonomy between the so-called “lumpers,” and “splitters.” Lumpers find the similitudes, splitters the distinctions. So that, once a lion was classified as Felis leo — that is, a cat of the leonine kind. But splitters decided that there were two different kinds of cats, Felis and Panthera. The primary difference was that felid cats could purr and panthers could not, which means that cougars, although they are large, are considered “small cats” and were dubbed Felis concolor, and that lions were clearly in the latter group, and so the poor beast was renamed as Panthera leo. Not leaving well enough alone, the splitters then decided that perhaps the king of the beasts should have his very own genus, and renamed him Leo leo. (The rare or extinct Barbary lion subspecies was hence christened Leo leo leo, which sounds more like someone calling home a pet for dinner). Not everyone agreed; you still find cases of each being used, although most zoologists have backed off Leo leo and settled on Panthera leo. So much for Linnean naming conventions clearing up the ambiguities of popular names. The rest of us can just say, “lion.”
The point being that in the perpetual friction between depth and width, there is the same back-and-forth. At times it is the aggregators who are in the ascendency, at other times, it is the specialists. In reality, you cannot do without both. The specialist makes the bricks that the generalist can use to build his edifice.
At this point in time, it is the specialists who hold sway, and they have a tendency to regard their opposites as mere amateurs, which, of course, they are. It is hard to be an amateur, as Benjamin Franklin was, and make a difference in genetics or astrophysics. But a brilliant amateur can often spot the analogies, find the hidden concurrences and make the synaptic zap between some advance in neuro-biology and another in political theory and synthesize something new. It is the generalists who ultimately validate the specialists.
(I might make a plug here and point out that The Spirit of the Senses encourages such cross-discipline thinking and provides its members with access to some of the bricks being made by some state-of-the-art specialists.)
One might make the argument that it is in the arts that such cross-fertilization finds its best expression, that the subconscious of our cultural rationality is summed up and presented in the visual, verbal or kinetic arts. It is hard now not to find the reflection of Einstein’s relativity in James’ Joyce’s Ulysses or Picasso’s Cubism or Schoenberg’s serialism.
So, in this era of gene splicing and cyber programming, I would make a case for the liberal arts, for the generalist, the amateur, the synthesizer, the pattern finder, the wool-gatherer.
In other words, I would make the case for width in an age of narrow depth.

Richard Nilsen inspired many ideas and memories at the salons he presented through the years when he was an arts critic and movie, travel, and features writer at The Arizona Republic.   A few years ago, Richard and his wife moved to North Carolina.   We want to continue our connection with Richard and have asked him to be a regular contributor to the Spirit of the Senses Journal.   We asked Richard to write short essays that were inspired by the salons.




We are very proud to share with you that Spirit of the Senses is acknowledged in

the new October PHOENIX MAGAZINE “2016 Best of Valley” issue

for the contribution Spirit of the Senses makes to the Valley.

Spirit of the Senses was named:


“Harkening to the salons of 18th-century Paris, this coterie of curious minds

hosts around 120 intimate discussions a year in Valley homes,

plus bicoastal pilgrimages to cultural and academic meccas.”

This award follows a recent feature story about Spirit of the Senses in the September issue of Phoenix Magazine.



by Richard Nilsen

Between me and the rest of the earth, the rest of the solar system, the rest of the cosmos, is a thin membrane, infinitesimal by actual measurement, but infinite in its impassability. Outside this membrane you find all but one of the 7 billion people of the planet, all the dogs, cats, mosquitoes, all the edible plants, all the mountains, everything you come to experience in a lifetime; inside the membrane is you. It is the integument of selfhood. You can think of it as your skin, all organs and blood inside; all sidewalk and oak tree outside. But although its physical embodiment is your human hide, its psychological existence is something else. 

Neuroscientists are currently making all kinds of new discoveries about the origin of self — a sense of who you are, the nature of consciousness — and most of those involve the blasting of synapses in the brain. Consciousness may very well be an illusion created by flashing neurons. But we’ll let the scientists discuss what’s under the hood. I am more interested in the experience of consciousness, the feeling of self. Whether we exist merely as a pattern of nerves or not, the experience doesn’t RN-self2change. We live as if we were embodied souls, as the ghost in the machine. Knowing we are Pavlovian stimulus responders doesn’t alter the sense of being a sentient human individual. 

For each of us has this inexplainable sense that we are a pivot of consciousness, that we know ourselves not only at this moment, but know the same person we were in our past. There is a through-line, a narrative that can be told from birth to now, and that will continue until the story is over and the book is closed. We are not merely some sea urchin twitching to the alien touch of a passing lobster; there is more to it than stimulus and response. There is the “me.” And what is that? Again, I’m not looking for a clinical answer: That will come as we dissect more grey cells and discover the inevitable dreariness of it all. I mean, what is the “me” that we recognize and feel not only each morning as our feet hit the floor, but even at night in our dreams. It is, after all, “me” that is doing the dreaming.

RN-self3The most notable thing about the self is that although it is contained in a human body, it is more like Dr. Who’s Tardis — that is, it is bigger on the inside than on the outside. Inside, the mind is — in Andrew Marvell’s words, “that Ocean where each kind/Does straight its own resemblance find,” meaning that everything in the world is reproduced inside the mind, an interior reflection of the external world. Or, as Walt Whitman said, “I am large, I contain multitudes.” It is crowded inside the head. 

So, can something so immense really be contained in such a small bottle? The self is infinitely larger than the meat in which it is housed. And it is so insistent. Outside of a few psychological aberrations, the self is remarkably consistent. 

I remember as a young man talking to a friend who was having an “identity crisis,” and I had a difficult time understanding him. For I have always had a very secure and firm sense of who I was. I furrowed my brow: Who else could I be? How could I not know my identity? It’s right there with me constantly; I was born with it. I cannot escape it. I don’t doubt he was sincere; there are many recorded instances of people with such identity crises, but I cannot grasp quite what they are dealing with, because it seems identity is not something you choose, but comes with the packaging. 

In a comic way, we might recognize the “me” as the person driving the tank we move around in, looking out the eyehole, listening in on the headphone. We might imagine a homunculus inhabiting our skullcaps, pulling the levers and pressing the buttons, making the decisions whether to go right or left, whether to eat that old slice of salami — after all, it still looks OK. 

Yet, that misrepresents our sense of self. For it is more than a driver making choices. We feel ourselves in our confidence and in our timorousness, in our anger and in our sorrow. We feel the rest of our bodies are part of us, too. We feel the ache in our knee or the indigestion in our gut. That is part of our “self,” also. 

The problem is that we know very well that we are not simply our brains. We feel things in our gut, we bleed from our cut fingers, we poop daily and at moments, feel intense desire in other quarters. And it is clear that our conscious mind is only a small percentage of that self we seek. So much of what is us acts autonomically. We digest the salami, we pump blood without willing such. It is all part of us. 

Yet, the consciousness is what draws our attention. We feel that as humans, we are conscious in a way other animals are not. The sea urchin is in some sense conscious of the passing lobster, but unlike you or me, it is not aware that it is aware. We are. And what is that last gateway we have passed through that lets us know we are aware? That is the human consciousness. Now, it may turn out that porpoises or bonobos have something similar, but as yet, such has not been discovered. 

And more than that, we feel ourselves telescoped out into the world we inhabit. Consider something as mundane as parking your car. You cannot see the rear bumper, but you know — you feel — how far it projects out behind you, just as you know where your feet are even if you don’t look. If you are sitting at your desk writing and don’t like what is drawn out of your pen, you crumple the paper up and you can toss it into the wastepaper basket behind you without looking: You have a sense of your self in the room. 

I say the self is bounded by the skin, but that skin is a semi-permeable membrane. Some leaks out; some leaks in. 

The extent of self in space is vague and fluid; sometimes it stretches out, sometimes it retracts. It is as if you have a haze of selfness that acts as a nimbus around your physical being; it is what is tested when someone is uncomfortably close, invading your “personal space.” 

Then, there is the way you can actually leave your body and assume the thoughts and feelings of someone not yourself, as when you watch a film and weep uncontrollably when the character on the screen suffers some debilitating loss. The hero dies and we die with him — at least temporarily. We can protrude from our bodies like an amoebic pseudopod and take up residence in another, and can, like Bill Clinton, “feel your pain.” Empathy is the momentary disappearance of the wall of skin between one sentient being and another. All great art is based on this bit of ambiguity in the blueprint for human life. Indeed, whole religions are built on the perceived fictionality of human separation and individuality. At times of great stress and moment, we are most likely to recognize the commonality of human experience, the sense that we are “all one.”

This is, of course, at odds with that other and opposing truth of existence: that each of us is not one, but many. 

And there are the other selves you are surprised by, as when you need to haul out your sympathetic ear and instead the peevish you emerges, or when you need to fix the gutters and this lazy version of yourself makes excuses. The face we show to our boss is not the same one our underlings see. The ugly face that shows up in online comments is certainly darker than the one we smile at our mothers-in-law. 

Chilean poet Pablo Neruda wrote about this and says:

Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), Chilean writer, France, 1971. (Photo by Jean-Regis Rouston/Roger Viollet/Getty Images)

Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), Chilean writer, France, 1971. (Photo by Jean-Regis Rouston/Roger Viollet/Getty Images)

When I call for a hero, 

out comes my lazy old self; 

so I never know who I am, 

nor how many I am or will be

I’d love to be able to touch a bell

and summon the real me,

because if I really need myself,

I mustn’t disappear.

We think of our self — our ego — as singular, but in reality its edge is fuzzy and indistinct, like the haze above hot grease, like the moon seen through overcast. If you try to pin it down, you can’t know its direction; if you know its speed, you cannot localize it. Personality is a quantum substance, both wave and particle.

 Our young selves are not our old ones; our morning selves, before coffee, are not our afternoon selves, or our night selves, after a few glasses of pinot. Our selves with our spouse is not our office self. The face we wear for public speaking is not the one we allow out when we stub a toe. Neruda wrote:

“Of the many men who I am, who we are,

I can’t find a single one;

They disappear among my clothes,

They’ve left for another city.”

We finally aggregate all these selves, like marbles in a leather pouch, and call them our self. It is a term of art, so to speak, a legal fiction so that when we sign our names on the dotted line, we confidently assert to the world outside our skin that it ourself we sign, our singular, conscious self. But if we permit ourselves the truth, we know it is a lie. 


Richard Nilsen inspired many ideas and memories at the salons he presented through the years when he was an arts critic and movie, travel, and features writer at The Arizona Republic.   A few years ago, Richard and his wife moved to North Carolina.   We want to continue our connection with Richard and have asked him to be a regular contributor to the Spirit of the Senses Journal.   We asked Richard to write short essays that were inspired by the salons.



by Richard Nilsen
Make a list of the world’s great literature, those books that by common consent, “you should have read.”
On that list, you will most likely find such things as Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, Homer’s Iliad, Garcia Marquez’s Cien años de soledad, Kalidasa’s Shakuntala, Lady Murasaki’s Tales of Genji,and Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
RN - translation2
All these works have something in common: They weren’t written in English. To dive into them, unless you have learned to speak Russian, French, Latin, Japanese, you must get them in translation. In English, you get the gist of the story, but cannot get the fine points of the language. And how do you convey in English, in War and Peace, for instance, the shift from Russian to French? Do you do both in English? Then how do you demonstrate the difference? No problem for The World’s Most Interesting Man, since, according to the TV ad, “he can speak Russian — in French!
RN -translation3
This isn’t just a question of literature. The basic religious texts of most major beliefs come in translation. This is of dire importance when Christian fundamentalists base life-or-death questions on versions of their holy books that may distort or utterly change the intent of words in Hebrew and Greek. Perhaps this is the source of the apocryphal quote (attributed to many people, but most often Texas’ first female governor, Miriam Ferguson: “If English was good enough for Jesus Christ, it should be good enough for the children of Texas.”)
For such matters, the question of translation is, well, fundamental. This can be a problem when even scholars can argue over the meaning of now-obscure ancient Hebrew. Some words in any such translation are little more than guesses. What is it the burning bush tells Moses? “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” A solid and direct translation simply isn’t possible. In English, we most often use the King James version: “I am that I am,” which is a great line and great literature, and nearly Buddhist in its “thusness” (Tathātā), but the original is rather more muddy. It may mean “I will be with you,” or it may mean “He who causes things to be.” Translator Everett Fox says that the phrase is “deliberately vague” and that “the syntax is difficult.” He give us, “I will be-there howsoever I will be-there.”
More familiar to Christians is the opening of John: “In the beginning was the word.” There are at least two problems in translating this. First, “en arche” in Greek means something more equivocal. It can mean “When things began,” or simply, “a long time ago,” or “Once upon a time.” A good modern English version might be “When it all started…” The Greek doesn’t so much posit the Creation of Genesis, a moment of the Big Bang, but a sense that things have been like this for a long time.
RN -translation4
More important is the second part: “The word.” This has become a quasi-mystical tenet of some Christian sects, with preachers holding the Bible in their hands and assuming that “The Word,” is “The Word of God,” i.e., the very Bible they are preaching from. But in John’s Greek, “ho logos” doesn’t simply mean “word,” as a noun, verb or adjective, but rather means the larger idea of language and by extension it means “system” — a grammar and syntax. It is in this sense we use it in such words as “biology” and “geology.” We mean the systematic study of life or rocks. Language is a system of rules into which you can dump whatever words need to be said. The rules pre-exist the content. The writer of the Gospel most likely is saying that in the beginning was what was potential, like an unfilled application form, and God filled out the system of possible with his creation. And God, in fact he says, IS the system, or in other words, the laws of physics. So, how do we best translate “en arche hen ho logos?” And more, how can we translate it into something readable, and not go off on a treatise on ancient Greek world views?
Translators are always facing such issues, even when turning À la recherche du temps perdu into Remembrance of Things Past. Do they give us the literal meaning of the foreign words? Or do they give us some idiomatic English equivalent? Two schools exist. Many critics have noted that the newer, more literal translation of Proust is notably less poetic than the C.K. Scott Moncrieff version that has been the standard in English since 1922. The French title translates rather flatly into English as “On the search for lost time,” almost like the title of a graduate student’s dissertation. Moncrieff borrowed a line from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 30 and gave the title a resonance in English that the original lacks.
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought …
The problem isn’t usually the meaning of the words translated, but their weight and heft in the culture that spawned them. Certain words in English vibrate to their historical usage. We can hardly use such a word as “liberty” without thinking of Thomas Paine and Patrick Henry. The word has a flavor in English different from its synonym “freedom,” which has its own resonance. Liberty is personal and implies a lack of constraints; freedom is the removal of previously existing constraints. Most synonyms carry different baggage and a good writer must be aware of those connotations. Otherwise is to be tone deaf.
RN -translation5
There are words that poets use in German literature, or French that carry such cultural baggage and when we translate them into English that extra layer of meaning is lost. Should we attempt to substitute something in English that has the same kind of emotional wallop, or should we stick to the original wording. If we translate Holly Golightly into French, and have her window shopping, the French reader will assume she is looking for a glazier — i.e., shopping for windows. If the original had been French and we translated it “licking the glass,” we’d assume Holly was more than slightly daft.
(It should be noted that there are two classes of literature, and one can be successfully translated, since the quality of the book depends on what is being said. Hence, a good translation of the Iliad or The Count of Monte Cristocan work just fine in a new language, because the story is paramount. But that other class of writing, where the effect depends on how it is being said can defy the best translator. I have never found a good translation of Goethe, for instance. In English, his poetry often sounds commonplace. But I am assured by a native German speaker that Goethe’s poetry is the best from his country by being written in the most elegant of German language. Horace in Latin is similar; in English you wonder what the fuss is all about; in Latin, it is the height of sophistication and elegance.)
I want to give a small example of a translation problem. Consider the first four lines — the invocation — to Ovid’sMetamorphoses, which is surely the most influential of all classical books on European literature.
Ovid is fluent and clear in Latin; it is one of his hallmarks. But because Latin is an inflected language, the word order can be jiggered around for poetic effect without losing the meaning. In fact, he can — as many classical authors do — hold his most important word till the end of the sentence, like a punchline to a joke.
In Latin, the lines read:
In nova fert animus mutatas dicere formas
Corpora. Di, coeptis nam mutastis et illas
Adspriate meis primaque ab origine mundi
Ad mea perpetuum deducite tempora carmen.
If we attempt to give this in English, word for word, it is gibberish:
In new, bears my mind changed I speak of forms
into bodies. Gods, my enterprise (for you changed also them)
blow my our priority beginning of the world
unto my keeping going our times poem. 
If we rearrange the words into something that makes sense, it reads:
To start, my aim is to speak of forms changed
into bodies. May the gods inspire me (for it was you who did the changing)
to keep my song going unbroken from the beginning of the world
to my present time.
You get the sense, but is still lumpy, because there are things left understood in the original that a translator must add, and then, to make it run smooth, you may have to elaborate some idea that Ovid has left spare.
We can gloss a few of Ovid’s subtleties. For instance, he doesn’t say “change bodies into new forms,” but the opposite, “change forms into new bodies,” which is technically a hypallage, which means, the has metamorphosed the meaning. Clever bastard. “Adspirate meis” implies the wind blowing into the sails of ships, but also the inspiration that poets exhort at the beginning of an epic. “Deducite” means to draw like a chain, to pull it taut, implying (as he succeeds in doing) that all the tales in his poem will connect and stretch out over the length of the book. This is underlined by “perpetuum … carmen,” a continuous, unbroken poem. You might best translate the final line as “Chain together my unbroken song from the beginning of time to now.”
The first translation in English was by Arthur Golding in 1567. It is the version Shakespeare cribbed from. He has:
Of shapes transformde to bodies straunge, I propose to entreate,
Ye gods vouchsafe (for you are they ywrought this wondrous feate)
To further this mine enterprise. And from the world begunne,
Graunt that my verse may to my time, his course directly runne.
Did you catch the hint of Chaucer in those last few words — “the Ram in his half-course yronne”?
In 1632, George Sandys published his influential version:
Of bodies chang’d to other shapes I sing.
Assist, you Gods (from you these changes spring)
And, from the  Worlds first fabrick to these times,
Deduce my never-discontinued Rymes.
There is surely a hint of the opening of the Aeneid (“Of arms and the man I sing…”) It helps establish theMetamorphoses as an epic.
The next important translation was a group effort by a team of translators including John Dryden and Alexander Pope:
Of Bodies chang’d to various Forms I sing:
Ye Gods, from whom these Miracles did spring,
Inspire my Numbers with Coelestial heat;
Till I my long laborious Work compleat;
And add perpetual Tenour to my Rhimes,
Deduc’d from Nature’s Birth, to Caesar’s Times.
A more Victorian effort comes from Brookes More (1859-1942), published in 1922, rather late for the antimacassar style:
My soul is wrought to sing of forms transformed
To bodies new and strange! Immortal Gods
Inspire my heart, for ye have changed yourselves
And all things you have changed! Oh lead my song
In smooth and measured strains, from olden days
When earth began to this completed time!
RN -translation6
I have to stop here, because my keyboard has run out of exclamation points. And I’m sure this is more of Ovid’s first four line than you ever wanted, needed, hoped or feared to have suffered. Sorry for that. But I wanted to give some sense as to the difficulties in getting all of one language into the bottle of another. If you cannot read the original, you must accept getting a lesser version. Or at least a different version: Arachne has changed into a spider, Daphne into a tree. But for many works, that is better than none at all.

Richard Nilsen inspired many ideas and memories at the salons he presented through the years when he was an arts critic and movie, travel, and features writer at The Arizona Republic.   A few years ago, Richard and his wife moved to North Carolina.   We want to continue our connection with Richard and have asked him to be a regular contributor to the Spirit of the Senses Journal.   We asked Richard to write short essays that were inspired by the salons.


family and TV 1958

family and TV 1958

by Richard Nilsen
It is said we are in a golden age of television. Not so much because of what is available on broadcast TV, but what is available on cable and on live streaming video, such as Netflix and Hulu.
game of thrones 1

game of thrones 1

It’s hard to argue against this, what with so much out there to see, from Game of Thrones (at perhaps one extreme) and Book TV on C-Span (at the other end). For many, this new Golden Age was born with HBO’s series, The Sopranos. It certainly made a quantum leap in what was possible on the tube.
But, for an entire demographic segment, the term “Golden Age” is reserved for another time, another place. I grew up in the first Golden Age of Television, its earliest years just after the Second World War, making TV, just as much as myself, a baby boomer. There is little left of that first Golden Age that isn’t merely the buzzing of neurons in the memory of an aging generation. What survives beyond that are some gray, blurry kinescopes and whatever was shot on filmstock in those nascent years. Even that is hard to come by, outside a few remnants retrievable on You Tube.

What was special about the first decade of broadcast, despite the technical and budgetary limitations, w

Tim McCoy

Tim McCoy

as the sense that anything was possible. Since it hadn’t existed before, no one knew exactly what TV should be, and so, they threw everything up against the wall to see what would stick. And the current generation would be astonished at what became popular, like Bishop Fulton J. Sheen in his purple vestments talking to us in his calming but authoritative Catholic voice on Life is Worth Living, or artist Jon Gnagy giving lessons on How to Draw, or Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony from 1948 to 1952.

Their modern counterparts now find their home on obscure cable channels or PBS, but Bishop Sheen was on the Dumont Network and then ABC. Gnagy was originally on NBC. In its earliest years, television was willing to try anything. There were home travelogue movies on Bold Journey and I Search for Adventure (with Col. John D. Craig); there were African adventure series, Ramar of the Jungle and Jungle Jim; there were cop shows such as Highway Patrol and Racket Squad (it is surprising how many of these shows come in competing pairs); Captain Video and Captain Midnight; Mama and The Goldbergs; Ozzie and Harriet and George Burns and Gracie Allen.
The last of these was surprisingly ante-post-modern, as George Burns would watch his own TV show to discover what was happening in the episode he was in. More than breaking the fourth wall, it was breaking the fifth.
By the end of the 1950s, television had begun to feel like the familiar boob-tube we all know and love. The programs were becoming settled and familiar. There were Westerns, cops shows, talk shows, game shows — all the usual furniture of the air waves.
Mr. Wizard with experiment, circa 1950s.

Mr. Wizard with experiment, circa 1950s.

But when I was a wee bairn, it was all a bit wild and wooly. Because there wasn’t enough content available to fill all the time, television went blank in the middle of the night and didn’t light up again till well into the next morning. And because there was a shortage of content, a good deal of the detritus of Hollywood was repurposed for the tube, which means that I received a graduate-level exposure to the B-Westerns of the 1930s. I knew well such stars as Hoot Gibson, Tim McCoy, Bob Steele, Buck Jones and Johnny Mack Brown. I still know the difference between Fuzzy Knight and Fuzzy St. John.
Some of the old actors found new work on the small screen. Western sidekick Andy Devine first worked as sidekick to Guy Madison in the Wild Bill Hickock series of half-hour oaters, but more memorably, as the host of Andy’s Gang, a children’s show featuring a serial of Gunga, the East Indian Boy, and a retinue of animal and puppet regulars, including Froggy the Gremlin, a classic trickster, and a phrase that re-emerged during the drug-hazed hippie era: “Pluck your magic twanger, Froggy!”
It would be easy — and tempting — to recall all that rubble that has collected in the mystic chords of memory from a childhood ill-spent in front of a glowing cathode-ray tube, but what I really mean to say is that what enters the consciousness at that tender age remains a touchstone for the rest of our lives. If our everyday childhood was one of front stoops and schoolyards, of family supper and the pinch of a new pair of shoes, what we watched through the glass bubble was the big world, the larger world that we knew we would eventually grow up to inhabit, and it was a world more interesting, more important, more everything than the ordinary one we woke up to each day, and that gave us a sense of the world that colored the rest of our lives. The actual matter of television was indeed a “vast wasteland,” but that hardly mattered. It seemed like magic to a six-year-old watching Art Linkletter in the afternoon or Abbott and Costello before dinner.rnSusskind
I know, for a generation earlier than mine, the same transcendent glow attached to radio — “Only the Shadow knows” — and that same sense of magic is what Woody Allen’s movie Radio Days is all about. But for anyone born after the war, it was television.

I am reminded of this by my youngers, who apparently feel the same “Golden Age” glow about their TV shows. How can one wax nostalgic about Gilligan’s Island or The Brady Bunch? They were such godawful shows. Or Scooby-Doo? Not my circus, not my monkeys. They are a grey cloud of mediocrity, but nevertheless the glowing childhood of those who came after me. Surely that is what any Golden Age is. Somewhere there is a class of novice businessmen whose sense of the world’s magic glow was a result of an infusion of Teletubbies.

Tom Corbett, Space Cadet

Tom Corbett, Space Cadet

When we are children — and I mean from the first memories until maybe second grade — everything is new, and because of that, it is radiant. It glows from inside and is what we aspire to throughout our lives, even when we go through divorces, failures, traffic tickets or bad clams. There is something ignited in us at that early time that is somehow a pilot light that remains. When we talk about a Golden Age of television — whichever age it is for us — it is primarily that inner light that we call gold.

And so, it feels quite different when we talk about the current era as being the second Golden Age of television. TV, like us, has grown up, and the current crop of show

Ernie Kovacs and Edie Adams

Ernie Kovacs and Edie Adams

s that garner critical acclaim tend to be full of “adult” content, sex, drugs and vaulting ambition, violence and treachery. It speaks to us of a world very different, where orange is the new black, Kimmy Schmidt escapes from a doomsday cult, and the kingdom of Westeros is not so much dog-eat-dog, as dog-rapes-and-beheads-dog. It is a world very hard to explain to Mr. Peepers or Gale Storm.

The new Golden Age is infinitely more sophisticated and better written. It takes on the real issues of the world, albeit in metaphorical form, and gives us some real meat to chew on. I am not denigrating the new Golden Age. At its best, it is as real an art form as Greek tragedy.
But the earlier Golden Age, where “Uncle Fultie” left us rapt with homilies, and Morey Amsterdam played the cello and told jokes on morning TV, where Victory at Sea replayed the previous decade’s war with narrator Leonard Graves’ booming “voice of doom,” and Miss Frances taught us right from wrong on Ding Dong School, it has left a residue in my psyche — fuzzy as a kinescope — that has infected me with this damned unexpungeable sense that the world may be — despite House of Cards and Game of Thrones — somehow and inexplicably redeemable.
Dave Garroway signs off: "Peace."

Dave Garroway signs off: “Peace.”

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