Early this morning I found a cardboard box full of books on the sidewalk near my office. “Free” in Sharpie. Lucan’s Civil War, translated by Susan H. Braund caught my eye.
In my office, I flipped through—an eye out for notes, bookmarks (I’ve found pressed flowers, foreign currency, family photos). I found, on page 61, a single note in pencil. It’s difficult to read. I think it reads, “put on muzzling, as it quoth of.” This note is beside the underlined phrase, “he unlocked his throat, but no voice” (book three, line 738). There are no other notes in the entire book.
[This reminds me: last night, while reading an article about the thylacine, I found a single word circled: “Booth.” I said, “This is so strange. In the whole magazine, just this one word is circled.” My eldest smiled and told me she circled it. I asked why and she said, “I thought it would be creepy.”]
Aside from the single note, I found two pages where the corner was folded: pages 21 & 44. I read page 21 (“Why war without enemy?” & “him I recognize, lying on the river sands, / an unsightly headless corpse”). I read page 44 (“and where Pomptine marshes are divided by a watery road, / where the lofty grove is”). And I read page 61 (Argus’ father, distraught at his son’s death, drives “a sword through his entrails” and dives “beneath the deep waters”—“he trusted his life to no single form of death”) And, on page 61, I read how Argus’ father’s wound becomes “the crystal geyser.”
The phrase “put on muzzling, as if quoth of” makes (a sort of) sense in context of an unlocked throat without a voice—the lack of voice is the muzzle, “put on” by Argus and by death. “As if quoth of”—as if Argus spoke? Or: is the muzzle itself what was spoken? Argus speaks by not speaking (instead he seeks his father’s embrace, only to be denied by his father’s desire to die ahead of his son).
But it’s the phrase “crystal geyser” that electrified me. As in, The Crystal Geyser! I haven’t thought about it since I received pages from a copy of the book (a book I’ve yet to identify as real).
Why would you describe a wound as a crystal geyser? A geyser, sure. But crystal? Was it a sunny day on the battlefield? Would sunlight cause a geyser of blood to resemble crystal? I was reminded—inevitably—of my former student [x], who died in 2012, supposedly of a motorcycle accident, and about the story another student told me, that [x]’s organs were found crystalized.
The Braund Civil War offered no explanation. No endnote. I looked at other translations—the phrase “crystal geyser” does not appear.
Another dead end. And why should it be otherwise?