Monday, October 19, 2009

Day 15, continued: The sacredness of the stranger

Ishmael and I raised the Rockport harbormaster on VHF -- he answered promptly and crisply, and gave us nice clear directions to the town float.

Once we were there, it turned out that the train station -- where Ishamel needed to go -- was miles away from the harbor. But the harbormaster, Scott Story, piled us into his truck and dropped Ishmael at the train station and then took a detour to let me fill up a jerrican of gas.

Perhaps I am becoming tedious on the topic of how kind and helpful to each other boating folks are. I wonder whether it's not a survival, in the suspicious self-interested bourgeois modern world, of something quite ancient: the sacredness of the suppliant stranger, a matter in which the father of the gods himself is said to take a keen interest, as in the case of Baucis and Philemon, shown below:

As Ovid sets it up --

Iuppiter huc specie mortali cumque parente
venit Atlantiades positis caducifer alis.
Mille domos adiere locum requiemque petentes,
mille domos clausere serae. Tamen una recepit,
parva quidem, stipulis et canna tecta palustri;
sed pia Baucis anus parilique aetate Philemon
illa sunt annis iuncti iuvenalibus, illa
consenuere casa paupertatemque fatendo
effecere levem nec iniqua mente ferendo.
Nec refert, dominos illic famulosne requiras:
tota domus duo sunt, idem parentque iubentque.
Ergo ubi caelicolae parvos tetigere penates
submissoque humiles intrarunt vertice postes,
membra senex posito iussit relevare sedili,
quo superiniecit textum rude sedula Baucis.
Inque foco tepidum cinerem dimovit et ignes
suscitat hesternos foliisque et cortice sicco
nutrit et ad flammas anima producit anili.

Golding's Elizabethan version:

The mightie Jove and Mercurie his sonne in shape of men
Resorted thither on a tyme. A thousand houses when
For roome to lodge in they had sought, a thousand houses bard
Theyr doores against them. Nerethelesse one Cotage afterward
Receyved them, and that was but a pelting one in deede.
The roofe thereof was thatched all with straw and fennish reede.
Howbee't two honest auncient folke, (of whom she Baucis hight
And he Philemon) in that Cote theyr fayth in youth had plight:
And in that Cote had spent theyr age. And for they paciently
Did beare theyr simple povertie, they made it light thereby,
And shewed it no thing to bee repyned at at all.
It skilles not whether there for Hyndes or Maister you doo call,
For all the household were but two: and both of them obeyde,
And both commaunded. When the Gods at this same Cotage staid,
And ducking downe their heads, within the low made Wicket came,
Philemon bringing ech a stoole, bade rest upon the same
Their limmes: and busie Baucis brought them cuishons homely geere.
Which done, the embers on the harth she gan abrode to steere,
And laid the coales togither that were raakt up over night,
And with the brands and dried leaves did make them gather might,
And with the blowing of hir mouth did make them kindle bright.
Baucis and Philemon's hospitality was recognized and rewarded by the gods, and so I hope will Scott Story's be. He wasn't the first and wasn't to be the last who received this suppliant stranger hospitably -- in fact the most remarkable story in this line is yet to come -- but if my invocations can catch any divine ear, may all of them be at least as kindly treated by the gods as they treated me.

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