Bough wow wow yippie yo yippie yay

 Receive my counsel. In the neighb’ring grove 

There stands a tree; the queen of Stygian Jove 

Claims it her own; thick woods and gloomy night 

Conceal the happy plant from human sight. 

One bough it bears; but (wondrous to behold!) 

The ductile rind and leaves of radiant gold: 

This from the vulgar branches must be torn, 

And to fair Proserpine the present borne, 

Ere leave be giv’n to tempt the nether skies. 

Virgil, Aeneid

Combining two longstanding interests of mine – in geobotanical prospecting and the mythopoetics of the Campi Flegraean volcanic province – I want to bioengineer a ‘golden bough’ as a passport for the underworld by hyperaccumulating gold into a Quercus ilex, the holm/holly oak from which the auric branch was yanked in Book VI of the Aeneid.

That won’t be easy to do – despite Q. ilex being a good bioaccumulator of lead and other base metals – given how insoluble gold is under normal conditions. So I’m researching experimental phytomining techniques (e.g., ) for enhancing gold’s bioavailability.

Wish me luck.


On a related note…

La Porte de l’Enfer

The gates of hell are open night and day; 

Smooth the descent, and easy is the way: 

But to return, and view the cheerful skies, 

In this the task and mighty labor lies. 

Virgil, Aeneid

If it wasn’t Joseph Brodsky who wrote, “Some doors are only good for one’s getting out,” then it was me, imitating him.

I had an opportunity to visit the Musée Rodin in Paris last weekend and re-familiarize myself with The Gates of Hell. One of the other five existing copies of this massive sculpture is installed in a garden on the edge of the university I attended as an undergraduate. I used to sleep on top of it occasionally. And listen to what ominously sounded like knocks coming from behind the doors (a function of temperature fluctuation in the metal, probably).

That’s me in the death’s head mask, almost thirty years ago; the other guy, as it turned out, was the actual monster. Anyhow, although I am 99.9999% grateful that people didn’t carry cameras with them everywhere back then like they do now, I do wish I had a photograph of the time his sister and mine unsoberly scrambled up the front of the Gates together, side by side.

My mind is a graveyard of past selves, haunted by memories – bad and good. And I do, fortunately, have a snapshot of the poetry reading now-novelist Nicole Krauss and I delivered at the Gates back in 1997. I wouldn’t suggest that anyone then a-bed should think themselves accursed they were not there, or hold their aesthetics cheap while any speaks who was, but, as the poet Brandon Downing later recalled in his 2006 Verse review of a chapbook I’d just published, it was a very special occasion.

Meanwhile, on the shores of Lake Avernus (another of my old stomping grounds), you can still pay visit to the so-called “Cave of the Sibyl”, through which the Cumaean oracle is supposed to have led Aeneas into the underworld. It’s actually one end of a military tunnel Agrippa commissioned Lucius Cocceius Auctus to build between Avernus and Lake Lucrino during the civil war. Even so, local tradition puts the entrance to Hades – specifically, access to the shore of Styx – down one of its flooded stone stairwells; and the chamber of an even more ancient – Cimmerian – Sibyl down another. Unfortunately, thousands of years of bradyseism and the nearby eruption of Monte Nuovo in 1538 have fucked the subterranean complex up beyond ancient recognition.

Given all the intertextual echoes, this should also be the gate that Virgil led Dante down through. As you can see below, it’s somewhat more modest than the Rodin. Our attempts to find “Lasciate ogni speranza, voi ch’entrate” inscribed on the rock above the portal were in vain, but I wouldn’t put it past a local to have sledgehammered it off and put it up over their waterbed.

Throwing out the bottom lip here in a Mr. Pitiful because despite what the Sibyl says about the gate of Dis always standing open, it’s actually padlocked these days. For this reason, I decided to name my bolt cutters “The Golden Bough”.

2 Responses to “Bough wow wow yippie yo yippie yay”

  1. HILOBROW Says:

    “Golden Bough” bolt cutters — now we are fucking TALKING. Love this post.

    A p(HILO)sophical blog Josh Glenn, ed.


  2. prudenceinhell Says:

    The Golden Bough!
    You are just the best kind of trouble.

    Can’t wait to see you.

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