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Friday, 4 March 2011

Messalina's Monkey


Capuchin Monkeys (Cebus capucinus, from Cebus apella group), sharing: photo by Frans de Waal, from K. Powell, Economy of the Mind, 2003; image by Ayacop, 2006

Ay me, alas, heigh ho, heigh ho!
Thus doth Messalina go
Up and down the house a-crying,
For her monkey lies a-dying.
Death, thou art too cruel
To bereave her of her jewel,
Or to make a seizure
Of her only treasure.
If her monkey die,
She will sit and cry,
Fie fie fie fie fie!

Untitled song (Messalina's Monkey): Anonymous, from Canzonets in Three Voyces: Henry Youll, 1608

File:Saimiri sciureus-1 Luc Viatour.jpg

Common Squirrel Monkey (Saimuri sciureus): photo by Luc Viatour, 2007

Monkey on a leash and cherry blossoms: Hiroshige Ando, between 1830 and 1858 (Irving H. Olds Collection, Library of Congress)

Young women walking a monkey under a plum tree: Eisen Ikeda, 1824 (Japanese Prints and Drawings Collection, Library of Congress)

Young Girl Holding a Monkey: Rosalba Carriera, 1762 (Musée du Louvre, Paris)

Two Chained Monkeys: Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1562 (Staatliche Museum, Berlin)


TC said...

It's funny (not) about monkeys having been made into the exotic pets of humans. From toy to lab test subject, a "natural" progression?

If, instead, in an alternate universe, humans had been made into the exotic pets of monkeys, at least maybe they'd have shared us with each other.

And for that matter...something tells me the whole concept of lab test subjects might well have bored them.

But still. Messalina seems to have loved her monkey dearly.

I imagine her singing this song to it.

When the night has come and the land is dark
Y la luna es la luz que brilla ante mí
Miedo no, no tendré, oh I won't, no me asustare
Just as long as you stand,
stand by me.

Ed Baker said...

try (on for size)

Octovio Paz's The Monkey Grammarian

the Arcade / Little Brown 1974 (trans. 1981) edition

one heck-of a prose poem!

TC said...

"A space made of air... I am surrounded by monkeys leaping back and forth..."

The Monkey Grammarian

Ed Baker said...


not to do a "monkeys" do do ...Nit Pick

I have the Arcade edition 1981

the forth one over top line... here (all the covers)
same interior via Lane's translation..

seems to me that (at one time and maybe they yet do
... very formal/ceremonial/"religious" ....stuff)
the Chinese traditionally ate monkey brains and drank monkey blood from monkey skull used as goblets...

TC said...


That makes me very happy not to have been a traditional Chinese, in my view monkey blood and monkey brains ought to be strictly the property of monkeys, as yours are yours, & c.

(I believe we may have exchanged views on the issue of animal consumption earlier, back around the time of one of those traditional American Fowl Eating Festivals.)

That passage where Paz enters the monkey-space is certainly exhilarating.

In fact were there a species in which one might wish at this moment to be enlisted... it's wonderful simply to imagine how it would be to turn time backwards, get up there in the trees (from which, after all, we are alleged to have once come down), and take the leap...

TC said...

Come to think of it, there's a Perry Farrell song called Pets that perhaps covers quite adequately this theme of what other, superior forms of life may ultimately have to do with us.

Children are innocent
A teenager's fucked up in the head
Adults are even more fucked up
And elderlies are like children
Will there be another race
To come along and take over for us?
Maybe Martians could do
Better than we've done
We'll make great pets!
My friend says we're like the dinosaurs
Only we are doing ourselves in
Much faster than they
Ever did
We'll make great pets!

Ed Baker said...

...&uve coarse there are those monkeys who sit at their typewriters all day and pound away at writing writing
& more writining everything ever written those Bonobos
who de Waal writes of in his
Our Inner Ape


if only they could spell ....

Anonymous said...

Tom: I think you and Ed have covered all the bases (a great many) here. The exotic pet issue can be a thorny one in terms of human psychology; you're so right in saying that Messalina seems to have loved her monkey dearly. But I've never seen the lab test subject question as anything but a personality litmus test, an amazing instant dividing line among people. I don't necessarily expect everyone to agree with me about everything, but I do expect people at least to acknowledge the complexity of an issue. With most people I know, including the supposedly intelligent people I went to school with and the professors who taught me, if you state any sort of anti-vivisectionist position, you're permanently struck from the list of the sane and worthy. At least I have my animals and some other good friends left. The lyrics here (all of them) are terrific.

Anonymous said...

One more thing: the pictures you've chosen to illustrate Messalina's Monkey are all treasures (like the monkey herself).

TC said...

Thanks, Curtis.

"...if you state any sort of anti-vivisectionist position, you're permanently struck from the list of the sane and worthy."

True dat (like they say).

And if being regarded as insane and unworthy by the two-legged "sapient" ones who own and run the planet is the cost of maintaining that position, bring it on.

At the allegedly enlightened U. of California, some twenty-five years ago, a grove of hundreds of exotic tree species, which had been planted at the turn of the 19th century and grown into a lovely shady little informal arboretum at one corner of the campus, was torn down so that a massive animal-test facility, with various levels of increasingly horrific subterranean labs beneath a huge ugly anonymous-looking structure of glass and concrete, could be built. The people of the town and many students protested, bravely and at length, but to no avail, as massive government and corporate research grant money (the life blood of the zombies of academia) was at stake.

So now, deep beneath ground hallowed and haunted by the memory of that sacred grove, monkeys are lying in wire cradles with their scalps peeled back and electrodes introduced into their brains. To be considered sane or worthy by anyone who would approve or condone that, could not possibly be the desideratum of a conscious, compassionate human being.