Wednesday, October 8, 2008

J.M.G Le Clézio Awarded Nobel Prize for Literature

J.M.G Le Clézio has been awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize for literature. The Nobel committee describes him as an:

"author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a
humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization"

That's quite a statement.

It's unfortunate that Le Clézio's most revered work, "Desert", does not yet have an English translation. The Nobel folks say the work "contains magnificent images of a lost culture in the North African desert contrasted with a depiction of Europe seen through the eyes of unwanted immigrants." It's a shame, it sound like a magnificent book.

The awarding of the prize ($1.4 mil USD, not that it matters), and also the prizes awarded for science earlier this week got me thinking about laurels and laureates and our need to reward each other for a job well done.

Let's not rest on our...

(lôrl, lr-)
1. A Mediterranean evergreen tree (Laurus nobilis) having aromatic, simple leaves and small blackish berries. Also called bay5, bay laurel, sweet bay.
a. A wreath of laurel conferred as a mark of honor in ancient times upon poets, heroes, and victors in athletic contests. Often used in the plural.

The laurel tree itself, specifically the bay laurel, was not the first prize donned to winners of competition. Let's rely on Bulfinch for this one:

"...Python, an enormous serpent, crept forth, the terror of the people, and lurked in the caves of Mount Parnassus. Apollo slew him with his arrows—weapons which he had not before used against any but feeble animals, hares, wild goats, and such game.In commemoration of this illustrious conquest he instituted the Pythian games, in which the victor in feats of strength, swiftness of foot, or in the chariot race was crowned with a wreath of beech leaves; for the laurel was not yet adopted by Apollo as his own tree"

So, how did the laurel tree become Apollo god of light's official foliage? Cupid of course. A pissed off Cupid shoots Apollo with a golden tipped arrow, inflicting him with great love for Daphne, a wood nymph. She in turn is pierced by another, lead-tipped arrow, which inhibits her ability to love. Apollo would have none of this. After a long pursuit, Apollo finally catches up with the loveless wood nymph and just as he's about to ravish her, she calls upon her father, Peneus the river god, to "open the earth to enclose me, or change my form, which has brought me into this danger!" Poof! She's a laurel tree. Or at least mostly a laurel tree. Apollo can still feel her heart beat and:

“Since you cannot be my wife,” said he, “you shall assuredly be my tree. I will wear you for my crown; I will decorate with you my harp and my quiver; and when the great Roman conquerors lead up the triumphal pomp to the Capitol, you shall be woven into wreaths for their brows. And, as eternal youth is mine, you also shall be always green, and your leaf know no decay.”

Apollo's Pythian games, the precursor to the modern Olympics, would later adopt the laurel wreath as a symbol of achievement.

So, the modern symbol of honor all goes back to an ancient god trying to rape a wood nymph. Brilliant.

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