Archive for September 13th, 2009

Sunday, September 13th, 2009 | Author:

Okay, so this is going to sound kind of weird, but hear me out. When I was reading Calamus, I couldn’t help but start comparing many of the concepts in here to those of ancient Greece. Even the name, Calamus, is associated with Greek mythology; it was the name of a man who was turned into a reed upon his male lover’s death. I was also reminded of  pederasty. For the most part, and in most cases, the affair was meant to be a sort of mentorship, with the older man leading the boy and teaching him. Whitman often took this role with the men he loved, acting as sort of an uncle or father. This is a role he often takes in his literature as the poet-prophet, but I think that in his reality, this concept of mentorship was brought to a whole other level, especially since he could name the face that he was teaching, and not just embrace an entire nation.

In “I Dream’d in a Dream,” Whitman remarks, “I saw a city invincible to the attacks of the whole of the rest of the earth/I dream’d that was the new city of Friends” (284). This puts me in mind of the Sacred Band of Thebes, a Greek army consisting only of lovers, who, up until their massacre, had never seen anything remotely like defeat. This kind of army is Whitman’s ideal (although I don’t think he had any resolve for them to pillage and fight and whatnot). Whitman wants a band of men who are joined—mind, body, and soul—without negative feelings between them. What would destroy and separate them, pettiness and anger, is in turn destroyed because of the immense love among them. This lack of negativity is reflective in anything they do (hence, it is “seen every hour” (284)), and spreads to others, who are in turn inspired.  This sentiment is even argued by a character in Plato’s “Symposium:”

And if there were only some way of contriving that a state or an army should be made up of lovers and their… it is scarcely an exaggeration to say that when fighting at each other’s side, although a mere handful, they would overcome the world.

Furthermore, ancient Greece reminds me of Whitman’s America. Greece was a nation of city-states, prone to fighting and going to war amongst each other. However, when they fought together for a common goal, they were frequently invincible. For the most part, America’s states ruled in a similar fashion, and had been brutally defeated by the fracture of the Civil War. There is so much more that I could talk about in relation to this—for example Plato’s idea of the concept of love, and how all souls are only half of a soul that was split in two.

Interestingly enough, in “The Base of all Metaphysics,” Whitman outright claims that he has studied this model of companionship. More still, he says that it’s the same as other models that he identifies with, such as Christ. At the end the poem, he amends again that all these philosophies of joining are within man and woman themselves. Again, we have this concept of divinity that we merely need to unlock. And here is Whitman, Adam, lover of man, the first, to lead us past our sins and bond with one another. Like us, he’s searching for that other half of a soul to be joined and be complete in our divinity.

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