Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Custos, quid de nocte ?


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They are calling me from Seir: 
"Watchman, what of the night?"
"Watchman, what of the night?"
The watchman said: "There will be day, and there will be night.
Just keep asking."
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Mostly these verses are translated as oracle, but in everyday language an oracle is a nameless Greek fortune-teller's advice and is therefore misleading.
The Latin translator chose onus, meaning burden.
It could also be a curse or a prophecy.

Maybe Isaiah is angry at people who ask for a prediction when they don't want to see the obvious.
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Great poetry has this in common with any simple joke: if the meaning has to be explained, then the charm is off.
Yet if the joke or the verse are any good, their meaning unfolds little by little, mostly.

Besides, this is a translation of a text that has been translated over and over for nearly 3000 years and so there are many versions.
The Larousse dictionary says that Isaiah was an advisor to the king and the country was at war.

However, in some translations, instead of Seir,  they mention Dumah or Edom http://biblehub.com/isaiah/21-11.htm.

Edom was sometimes used to mean powerful Rome, dangerous to Biblical Israel, and in Heine's great mattrass grave poetry I think it is used to mean Christianity, though subdued as an allusion and hushed by the next line.
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Here is the Latin version, for centuries the only text known, and few people had access to it, but it does sound truly Latin :
Ad me clamat ex Seir:
Custos, quid de nocte? Custos, quid de nocte?
Dixit custos: Venit mane et nox;
Si quæritis, quærite; convertimini, venite.
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The pictures are Isaiah by Marc Chagall.
Isaiah is best known for his prophecy is about God's Holy Mountain where all creatures will get along with each other.
Remember?
"The lion will graze with the lamb.... for there will be no pain anymore anywhere in my Holy Mountain".
This is a vision and a postulate. It is intended to give an orientation to events, not to define them.

Below is one of the three Isaiah tapestries designed by Chagall for the Israeli parliament. It is called Exodus:
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The best pictures are at http://www.all-art.org/art_20th_century/chagall2.html and explained by
J. Baal-Teshuva***.

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This is the Isaiah fresco by Michelangelo :













Michelangelo is certainly one of the greatest, but that doesn't mean we all have to appreciate his art.
Did Michelangelo see Isaiah as somewhat arrogant?

It is part of the ceiling of the Sistine. That blue cloth swirling around the prophet draws attention to the bikinis missing on the background figures. --
However, it was the photographer's priority to show them headless. He wanted to include the label and yet keep the square format.
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Now Luther's version.
Nobody after him could translate the Bible into German as vividly as he had done:
Jesaja 21 (1545)
"Dies ist die Last über Duma:
Man ruft zu mir aus Seir: 
Hüter, ist die Nacht schier hin?
Hüter ist die Nacht schier hin?
Der Hüter aber sprach: 
Wenn der Morgen schon kommt, so wird es doch Nacht sein. 
Wenn ihr schon fragt, so werdet ihr doch wieder kommen und wieder fragen."
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Baal-Teshuva is the editor of the 1995 Chagall retrospective still available at ABE books.
There, in his introduction, he quotes Chagall:

 "As you get older, you see through yourself, as if from outside, and paint your inner life as if you were painting a still life."