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Thursday 30 January 2014

Friedrich Hölderlin: Empedokles (Into the Volcano)


Volcano above the city.. Etna's New Southeast Crater showing intense Strombolian activity and lava flow emission on the early morning of 30 December 2013, seen from the roof of the INGV-Osservatorio Etneo building in Catania. The distance from the viewing spot to the crater is nearly 30 km.: photo by Bruno Behncke, 30 December 2013

You look for life, you look, and a divine fire wells up and gleams at you from the deeps of Earth, 
and in your quivering desire you cast yourself down into Etna's flames. 
So did the Queen's exuberance dissolve pearls in wine, and well she might! 
If only you, O poet, had not offered up your wealth to the seething chalice! 
But you are holy to me as the might of Earth that bore you away, bold victim! 
And, did not love hold me back, gladly I'd follow the hero down to the depth.
Das Leben suchst du, suchst, und es quillt und glänzt
.Ein göttlich Feuer tief aus der Erde dir,
..Und du in schauderndem Verlangen
...Wirfst dich hinab, in des Aetna Flammen.

So schmelzt' im Weine Perlen der Übermuth
.Der Königin; und mochte sie doch! hättst du
..Nur deinen Reichtum nicht, o Dichter
...Hin in den gährenden Kelch geopfert!

Doch heilig bist du mir, wie der Erde Macht,
.Die dich hinwegnahm, kühner Getödteter!
..Und folgen möcht' ich in die Tiefe,
...Hielte die Liebe mich nicht, dem Helden.

Friedrich Hölderlin (1770-1843), Empedokles (Empedocles), c. 1795, English prose version (relineated) by Michael Hamburger, 1961 

Etna's fireworks continue. The latest eruptive episode at Etna's New Southeast Crater, which started on the morning of 29 December 2013, is continuing vigorously on the evening of 30 December, though weather conditions have deteriorated and visibility is very limited. Occasionally, though, a partly veiled view of the activity is possible, like this one seen from my home in Tremestieri Etneo, on Etna's south flank, on the evening of 30 December 2013. Low jets of lava rising from two vents within the crater are visible at left, and the lava flow spilling from the crater into the large Valle del Bove depression on Etna's east flank extends diagonally across the center of the view. Above the lava flow, a dense plume of ash and vapor rises into the sky, eerily illuminated by the glow of the lava below: photo by Boris Behncke, 30 December 2013

Multiple glows at night. While we still don't know whether the new episode of eruptive activity at Etna's New Southeast Crater will eventually culminate in some stronger and more spectacular activity, on the evening of 23 January 2014 the volcano is providing a suggestive, mysterious show of fiery glows. Lava is flowing from a vent at the eastern base of the New Southeast Crater cone, accompanied by mild Strombolian activity at the crater itself -- seen at left in this photo taken from my home in Tremestieri Etneo. The glow in the center is the vent from which the lava is issuing, and the active lava front is seen at right: photo by Bruno Behncke, 23 January 20

Lava in the morning. Throughout the night, Etna's latest episode of Strombolian activity and lava flow emission (from the New Southeast Crater) has continued; much of the time, bad weather has prevented observations. At dawn on 24 January 2014, the clouds partially opened, revealing a suggestive view of the lava flow moving down the steep flank of the Valle del Bove, a deep valley in the eastern flank of Etna, where most of the earlier lava flows from the New Southeast Crater have descended, too. Taken from my home in Tremestieri Etneo, 20 km south of Etna's summit: photo by Bruno Behncke, 24 January 2014

Infernal mornings. Always an incredible experience, after all these years, to wake up at dawn, look out and see an erupting volcano before your bedroom (and kitchen) window. Etna, 25 January 2014 seen from my home in Tremestieri Etneo: photo by Bruno Behncke, 25 January 2014

A fire in the clouds. Etna's latest episode of Strombolian activity and lava emission continues unabated, with a slight increase in the ash content of the emissions from the New Southeast Crater seen this morning (25 January 2014). The explosive activity is rather mild, quite different from the previous episodes of activity at the New Southeast Crater in the past three years, many of which produced awesome lava fountains and huge columns of gas and loose volcanic rock material (so-called tephra or pyroclastic material). But this time the quantity of lava that is being emitted seems somewhat more significant -- only that relatively bad weather is hampering observations of the activity a lot of the time. This view was taken at dawn on 25 January 2014 from my home in the village of Tremestieri Etneo, 20 km south of Etna's summit. At left is the silent, old cone of the Southeast Crater, and the erupting new cone is in the center; weather clouds surround the "volcanic siblings" to the left and right: photo by Bruno Behncke, 25 January 2014

Ash in the sky... On the afternoon of 26 January 2014, the amount of ash emitted from Etna's erupting New Southeast Crater increased -- interestingly this happened shortly after the Greek island of Kephalonia was shaken by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake (which luckily does not seem to have caused any deaths). The earthquake was also felt in eastern Sicily. This view shows continued ash emission at sunset on 26 January seen from the village of Aci San Filippo, on the lower southeast flank of Etna. Soon after sunset, the active lava flow running down into the Valle del Bove on the upper southeast flank of the volcano since three days became plainly visible...: photo by Bruno Behncke, 26 January 2014

... and lava in the backyard. When darkness fell in Sicily on the evening of 26 January 2014, the beautiful lava flow running down Etna's upper southeast flank became fully visible. This view was taken from the town of Zafferana, on the southeast flank of the mountain, with a power pole rising in the foreground. The lava looks close, but in reality is some 8 km away from the power pole. This lava flow is now going on for more than three days, and mild Strombolian activitiy, at times accompanied by minor ash emission, is continuing at the New Southeast Crater: photo by Bruno Behncke, 26 January 2014

The fires are dying. The latest episode of eruptive activity at Etna's New Southeast Crater is showing signs of coming to an end soon, one week after it started. Over the past two days, the activity has been progressively, albeit slowly, diminishing, and on the morning of 29 January 2014, only very rare, weak Strombolian explosions were visible. No Strombolian activity was seen after nightfall on the same day. Likewise, lava emission has diminished considerably: at nightfall on 29 January, the active portion of the lava flow was only a few hundred meters long, as seen in this photograph taken about 16:45 GMT (=local time -1) from the town of Santa Venerina on the southeast flank of the volcano. So Etna's fireworks may soon be over for this time - and we'll be wondering what the volcano will do next and when. This latest eruptive episode has been a rather low-intensity event compared to the previous episodes, most of which were brief, violent paroxysms with high lava fountains and abundant production of ash and lapilli. The last two episodes in December 2013 already showed a tendency toward weaker but more long-lived activity; this tendency has continued with the latest episode: photo by Bruno Behncke, 29 January 2014


ACravan said...

I wonder if odd Google-Blogger is shunting comments off into a virtual Etna. I wanted to say a simple thank you for this, which gave me great pleasure and increased knowledge (in several areas) today. Curtis

manik sharma said...

Into the volcano..
And now coming out

I read this story only today,and then all about it over the internet.Shocking. I have personally experienced something like it. But not to such grave extent.

Great post,nonetheless

TC said...

Thanks for your interest in Planet Earth, Curtis and Manik.

Manik, that story about the former Florida School for Boys is ghastly indeed. Was prompted to think of Tuesday's charming threat by a NY Congressman (endearingly nicknamed "Mikey Suits"), faced with an inconvenient question, to "throw [the enquiring reporter] off the fucking balcony", and to "break [him] in half like a boy".

(Well, at least he didn't say, "break you in half like a boy and, now that the Florida School for Boys is unfortunately out of service, throw you into a volcano like Empedokles".)

I must admit to being repeatedly guilty of boyishly following the continuing belches and hiccups of Etna, being duly enthralled and scarified, and always left in awe.

Curtis, I don't think Google cares what goes on around here, as long as nobody rocks the Megayacht of their Total Imperial Hegemony.

Nor for that matter does anyone else as it seems -- if there are no *American poet names* (think: "gossip tags") in the title of the post.

Too bad American poetry is currently so much less interesting than Planet Earth.

Anyhow, there are ways of keeping up. For one, there is this handy bank of Etna webcams.

And for the longer view, there's always the Big Unblinking in the Sky.

Satellite view of twin volcanic plumes (one smoke, one ash), rising from Mt. Etna as the latest round of paroxysms begins, 26 October 2014

Hölderlin, odd bird that he was, seems also to have been not much concerned with gossip as we know it, and at the same time afflicted with a fatal preference for the mysteries of Earth, and the history of its thought, going all the way back to that pre-recorded period prior to the birth of Mark Zuckerberg.

As for me, given that during periods of paroxysm on Etna the steep conical slopes leading up to the crater are a cauldron of hot ash and boiling lava, it's a bit difficult to imagine Empedokles being able to clamber up close enough to reach the lip and hurl himself in, å la Sigourney Weaver after inadvertently conceiving an Alien.

So what DID happen?

Chet Baker, Donny Hathaway, Empedokles, all these question marks.

Jumped, fell, was broken in half like a boy and pushed off the lip of "the f-ing crater" -- or totally apocryphal story?

ACravan said...

"Jumped, fell, was broken in half like a boy and pushed off the lip of "the f-ing crater" -- or totally apocryphal story?" That's a lot of questions! My answer to the Empedokles mystery, which I thought about all day yesterday, actually, was (unsatisfyingly), "partially apocryphal story," i.e., "something" happened, but we'll never know exactly what, and so it's good to have the artists to try to help us imagine what it might have been. The story about the congressman was so very weird, but my entire take on modern US (at a minimum) civics goes back to my original feelings about student government types. People of all political stripes choose to sit in close proximity to the Treasury for basically the same reason, which Willie Sutton understood very well. We will understand and be able to fully clarify all of the above much sooner, however, than we will be able to resolve what goes on with Google stats, Facebook anything and Twitter. I knew things were approaching "over" when I first heard the phrase "thought leader" used without a hint of irony in a sentence by someone I knew I was required to listen to, speak to again, smiling and cooperating all the while. Curtis

TC said...


Yes, the fate of Empedokles will remain one of the Many Mysteries, as is probably fitting and certainly better than imagining the poor old pre-Socratic having a dip in the boiling lava. Very hard on the comlpexion they say.

The Congressman, though -- maybe it's strictly Unwishful Kyoto Effect Thinking, or maybe it's the fresh back injury, bad bus ride earlier & c -- but that story got into the cortical cement mixer along with the awful story of the Florida Boot Hill Camp for Boys (Manik's link) and rolled and rocked unpleasantly there, all though the night.

And as for the Congressman's grimly-clenched, belated de rigueur forced pseudo "apology", a supreme document of corridor-dashing Grace(lessness) under Pressure -- Fuhgeddaboudit!

Perhaps boys will be boys and boys will bust out of the weight room after a session of heavy lifting and break boys in half at boot camp or in boys school or even right up there on The Hill, when and as they please, but here's a question that should be easier than the Empedokles question: does Congressional membership provide impunity when a member of Congress ("former FBI agent and Marine with history of fiery behaviour") threatens grave physical harm to a licensed member of the press, right there on the hallowed premises?

I mean, do you suppose you or I or Manik or anybody not in Congress could walk away quite so easily from this little Staddon-Island-accented Waste Management type exchange?

Transcript via Time Warner cable News:

Staten Island Rep. Michael Grimm physically threatened NY1 political reporter Michael Scotto at the conclusion of an interview in the Capitol Rotunda following Tuesday night's State of the Union address.

Grimm's threats came at the end of a brief interview in which he discussed the president's speech, calling the address "divisive."

Scotto then tried to ask the congressman about the ongoing federal investigation into his 2010 campaign fundraising:

"And just finally before we let you go, we haven't had a chance to talk about some of the..." Scotto began before Grimm cut him off.

"I'm not speaking to you off-topic, this is only about the president," said Grimm, before walking off camera.

"So Congressman Michael Grimm does not want to talk about some of the allegations concerning his campaign finances," Scotto said before tossing back to the station. But as the camera continued to roll, Grimm walked back up to Scotto and began speaking to him in a low voice.

"What?" Scotto responded. "I just wanted to ask you..."

Grimm: "Let me be clear to you, you ever do that to me again I'll throw you off this f-----g balcony."

Scotto: "Why? I just wanted to ask you..."

[[cross talk]]

Grimm: "If you ever do that to me again..."

Scotto: "Why? Why? It’s a valid question."

[[cross talk]]

Grimm: "No, no, you're not man enough, you're not man enough. I'll break you in half. Like a boy.


TC said...

And then, while we're here, there's also this interesting little piece: Congressman Grimm and the Night Club: Evan Ratliff, The New Yorker, 28 April 2011.

But who knows... Grimm claims it's all a Fairy Tale.

"On Wednesday, the journalist Evan Ratliff recalled interviewing the Republican representative in 2011 in his Washington office for a New Yorker piece he was writing about the FBI. During the interview, Grimm called Ratliff a liar and accused him of being on a 'chop job'.

"The New Yorker piece that eventually emerged recounted an alleged incident in which Grimm, back in his undercover days, had got into a brawl at a Queens nightclub with the former husband of his date. In the course of the 1999 fracas, Grimm was reported to have said: 'I'll fuckin' make him disappear where nobody will find him,' before waving his FBI gun around the club.

"According to the article, Grimm later came back to the nightclub with FBI and NYPD reinforcements, forced all the white customers to quit the premises, lined everybody else up against the wall and declared: The FBI is in control.'

"Grimm denied the New Yorker's account. When asked by Ratliff whether he had threatened to kill anybody, he is reported to have replied: 'That's not my personality. I don't need to speak that way. A guy with a gun who knows how to use it doesn't need to say anything.'

"It is fair to say that Grimm is fond of guns. One of his first acts as a freshman congressman in 2011 was to propose to the Republican leadership that they legislate to allow representatives to carry concealed weapons on the floor of the House. Asked by his local Brooklyn paper to expand on the idea, Grimm waxed lyrical: 'If somebody pulls out a knife to attack you and you draw a gun, they’re likely going to drop it,' he said. 'But you have to be prepared to kill; it’s not for everyone.'”

(Guardian, 29 January 2014)

TC said...

What I should have said up above there but forgot was:

Hölderlin: Griechenland (Greece): Correspondences of Poetry and Madness

Hölderlin: "Reif sind..." (Ripe are the fruits)

ACravan said...

The Florida School for Boys story is horrible. I cannot for the life of me understand why the local prosecutor would not proceed on this and I think the journalist's comparison of this situation with the Penn State affair and the investigative and prosecutorial actions there is a good one.

As far as the Mikey Suits story goes, it will probably diminish me in some people's eyes for saying this, but compared to Washington's current depredations and wall-to-wall failures, I think of it as a kind of NYC/local color story and no more, a new and somewhat entertaining tale from the outer boroughs. Most policemen I've worked with professionally wouldn't act like that, but I have known some who are excitable when provoked and I guess it doesn't take a lot to provoke Rep. Grimm, who I expect can be successfully "primaried" at this point and replaced by a another Republican who will bring home the bacon and greater glory for Staten Island. And I will certainly credit Grimm the next time I threaten to break someone in half like a boy. (This sounds like something one of my grandfathers, or even my own father, might have said; it sounds like an expression handed down over centuries originating in a foreign tongue.) I mean, the congressman didn't hit the reporter and as useless and insincere as apologies often are, he did invite him to lunch. Anyway, you're probably onto this, but the New York City press has already covered what many consider the doubtful effectiveness in pursuing a member of the Scotto clan:

This is in no way intended to impugn the undoubted good character of Michael Scotto or imply anything untoward about him. I hasten to add that the Scotto who ran afoul of the law, Anthony Scotto, Michael's uncle, later lectured on labor relations at Harvard Business School, an astonishing post-On The Waterfront

By the way, in the distant past when I used to try cases, I would occasionally visit Staten Island courts. They were pretty wonderful. It was immediately made clear to visiting "off-island" attorneys that because of their "off-island" status, there was zero chance of prevailing. This was always explained in a super-polite and friendly way over coffee and there wasn't any point in considering or seeking recourse. An easy day at the office bracketed by two glorious ferry rides. The best.


TC said...

Hölderlin had several tries at composing a verse drama, The Death of Empedocles.

The minimalist filmmakers Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub had five tries at a film version, completed in 1987. Bits can be found on Youtube. In a sun-drenched, rocky Sicilian landscape a despairing Empedocles, desolated by the increasing threat to the Earth posed by politician-priests, converses with his disciples on free will, life and death, finally forsakes philosophy and suicides at Etna.

Still, I suspect from the evidence so far that the Hölderlin discussion just isn't going to light up our lava lamps, here. Pity, that.

There is a small building adjacent to one of Etna's historic craters that is called The Tower of the Philosopher. It's been covered in ash and lava more than once.

So much for philosophy.

Therefore let us get back to Darwin, if we may.

A Few Things To Know About Angry Staten Island Congressman Michael Grimm: Joe Coscarelli, New York Magazine, 29 January 2014.

In related news....Science now informs us that a Fifth of Neanderthals' Genetic Code Lives On In Modern Humans.

TC said...

Sorry Curtis, hadn't seen that till just now.

I would agree that many will view Cong. Grimm, grown man and putative boy-breaker, in much the same unfavourable light they view New York pols in general.

But you seem to be contending that conduct that is unacceptable elsewhere should be considered business as usual because it is going on in a part of a nation so accustomed to crude, boorish behaviour on the part of public officials that a veil of wink-wink permission falls like fairy dust over every sort of thing from routinely using public resources to target people you don't like (think Gov. Christie) to a Congressman who calls the President's speech "divisive", then one minute later proves to the world that any political party dumb enough to send him up as its representative is simply dead on its feet.

By the way, as to the suggestion that a Congressman's dark mutterings of threats of death while on the job are somehow all in fun, somehow well deserved due to the reporter's family background, and in any case of no consequence "compared to Washington's current depredations and wall-to-wall failures... a kind of NYC/local color story and no more", that's an awfully generous expansion of the meaning of local color.

Searching for the rich local color, I thought Mikey's order that everyone but blacks exit the building (i.e. the night club), leaving only the usual suspects, was really adorable. Bet his mom appreciated that one.

ACravan said...

Hello again. I wasn't suggesting that Rep. Grimm's conduct was in the slightest justified due to Michael Scotto's extended family history or for any other reason. I simply have a hard time magnifying its ultimate importance beyond the current tabloid and MSNBC impact. It certainly didn't rise to the level of Rep. Bob Etheridge's in-broad-daylight physical assault on the two student reporters in Washington, D.C. several years ago, Sen. Harry Reid's impugning of American summer tourists to Washington D.C. for their terrible body odor, or more recently NBC Political Director Mark Murray comparing Barack Obama's life and work travails with the Afghanistan war experiences of Staff Sgt. Cory Remsburg. I guess what I'm saying is that I get it, it all stinks, but what possibly stinks worst is elected representatives continually voting on legislation that they are willing to publicly admit they haven't even bothered to read. Curtis

Michael Peverett said...

Wonderful post, and the two other Hölderlin posts too.

TC said...

Thanks, Michael, always a pleasure to hear from you.

Perhaps you are the reader for whom Hölderlin has been waiting.