The Colosseum of Rome, built in Rome in A.D. 70-80. Unsplash photo by David Köhler.
By Eric Wagner
Special guest blogger
Exercise one asks the reader to “Compare Greece in the 4th Century BC, Rome in the First Century AD, Southern Europe at the beginning of the Renaissance, England c.1600-1900, New York c. 1900-1950, and California today.” I find it interesting that the first four categories parallel the structure of Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare. Asimov divides the poems and plays into four categories. He begins with works set in Greece, then in Rome, then in Italy and southern Europe, and then in England. Now the dates don’t exactly parallel those Wilson gives, but Shakespeare seems fascinated by those times and places teeming with new ideas: Classical Greece and Rome, Renaissance Italy and his own England. He also had a fascination with the deep background for the England he lived in. Ezra Pound’s Cantos also focus a great deal on the focal points of Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome, southern Europe in the late Middle Ages and the early Renaissance, and Early Modern England.
I love Robert Graves’s I, Claudius and Claudius the God and the BBC television series based on them. I have had the pleasure of showing the TV series to a number of high school classes, often after teaching Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra. I found it interesting to teach these works during the last three presidential administrations. I found it interesting to see the parallels between Ancient Rome and contemporary America.
Contemplating New York from 1900 to 1950 I think of Henry James’s visit to New York in 1904. He seemed deeply aware of the cultures of both London and New York at the time of this transition of world power and wealth. Louis Zukofsky found it significant that James visited New York in the year of Zukofsky’s birth. Zukofsky lived mostly in New York, and Pound had a huge influence on him. Zukofsky’s “A” seems to me a valuable work for examining the shifting strands of world culture and history during this period. Contemplating this period I also think of the evolution of jazz, from the music of Louis Armstrong to that of Duke Ellington to the new bebop of the 1940 developed by Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and others.
“California today” has at least three meanings: the California of 1983, the original publication date; the California of 1997, the revised second edition’s publication date, and the California of 2021. I first read Prometheus Rising in Arizona in 1985, and I looked towards California as sort of a promised land where Leary lived and Bob had lived (and would live again). I reread the book many times in Arizona and did most of the exercises there. I moved back to California in 1997. (My family had moved from San Jose to Tucson in 1978). It seems less of a promised land to me today, but it also seems as though we find the fastest growing economies today in Asia. In the future I suspect that a lot of future wealth will come from space as we have completed our circumnavigation of the globe over the past few thousand years.