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Eagle In classical literature the eagle is the king of birds and the bird of the king of

gods. Homer calls it ‘‘dearest of birds’’ to Zeus (Iliad 24.311); Pindar calls it

‘‘king of birds’’ and ‘‘eagle of Zeus . . . leader (archos) of birds’’ (Olymp. 13.29, Pyth.

1.9--11); Aeschylus also calls it ‘‘king of birds’’ (Agamemnon 113); Euripides calls

it the ‘‘herald of Zeus’’ (Ion 159). Theocritus names the eagle ‘‘the aegis-bearer

of Zeus’’ (26.31); Virgil and Ovid call it ‘‘Joves armor-bearer’’ (Iovis armiger,

Aeneid 5.255, 9.563, Met. 15.386), the armor here referring to the lightning

bolt; Horace dubs the bird ‘‘minister of lightning’’ (ministrum fulminis, 4.4.1).

(Pliny in Natural History 10.4.15 says that the eagle is immune to


Homer also says that the eagle is the ‘‘most perfect’’ (teleiotaton) of birds

(Iliad 8.247, 24.315), by which he probably means most perfect for omens, Zeus

being the ‘‘perfecter’’ or ‘‘accomplisher’’ of events. Several omens involving

eagles are sent by Zeus in the Iliad (e.g., 12.200ff.) and the Odyssey (e.g., 2.146ff.)

and eagle omens are common in Greek and Latin literature thereafter.

According to Ovid, it is in the guise of his own eagle that Jupiter abducts

Ganymede (Met. 10.157ff.), whereas in Virgil (Aeneid 5.255) and Apuleius (Met.

6.15.2) Jupiter sends the eagle to do it.

The eagle, particularly the sea-eagle (haliaietos), by which the ancients may

have meant the osprey, was thought to be particularly keen-sighted. We still

say ‘‘eagle-eyed’’; Shakespeare has ‘‘eagle-sighted eye’’ (LLL 4.3.226). Pliny tells

how eagles can stare at the sun: they force their young to look at it and if

they flinch or weep they are expelled from the nest (Natural History 10.3.10).

Many Latin writers, such as Lucan in his Civil War 9.902ff., repeat this legend,

as does Thomson in ‘‘Spring’’ (1728 version) 702--09. The ‘‘royal egle,’’ according

to Chaucer, ‘‘with his sharpe lok perseth the sonne’’ (PF 330--31); Spenser

writes of the ‘‘Eagles eye, that can behold the Sunne’’ (FQ 1.10.47); Blake bids

us ask ‘‘the wingd eagle why he loves the sun’’ (Visions 3.12).

Psalm 103 contains the cryptic line, ‘‘so that thy youth is renewed like the

eagles’’ (5); combined with classical passages associating the eagle with the

sun, this line led to the legend in medieval bestiaries that eagles in old age fly

toward the sun to singe their wings and burn the film from their eyes and

then plunge into a fountain or sea. ‘‘As Eagle, fresh out of the ocean wave, /

Where he hath lefte his plumes all hory gray, / And deckt himselfe with

fethers youthly gay, / Like Eyas [young] hauke mounts up unto the skies’’

(Spenser, FQ 1.11.34). A famous passage of Miltons Areopagitica varies the

legend to make the sun and fountain one: ‘‘Methinks I see her [England] as an

eagle muing [moulting] her mighty youth, and kindling her undazzled eyes at

the full midday beam; purging and unscaling her long-abused sight at the

fountain itself of heavenly radiance.’’ Blake follows Milton: the eagle ‘‘lifts his

golden beak to the pure east; / Shaking the dust from his immortal pinions to

awake / The sun that sleeps too long’’ (Visions 2.26--28); so does Shelley: ‘‘the

eagle, who . . . could nourish in the suns domain / Her mighty youth with

morning’’ (Adonais 147--49).

One of Homers omens is the sight of a flying eagle carrying a struggling

serpent (Iliad 12.200ff.). In that struggle the snake wins, as it does in the

related simile in Aeschylus, Choephoroe 247ff. Virgil gives a different outcome

in his simile: ‘‘As when a golden eagle flapping skyward / Bears a snake as

prey -- her feet entwined / But holding fast with talons, while the victim, /

Wounded as it is, coils and uncoils / And lifts cold grisly scales and towers

up / With hissing maw; but all the same the eagle / Strikes the wrestler snake

with crooked beak / While beating with her wings the air of heaven’’ (Aeneid

11.751--56; trans. Fitzgerald). Ovid has a similar image twice in the Metamorphoses

(4.36ff., 714ff.), and Spenser has a ‘‘Gryfon’’ and a dragon struggling in

flight at FQ 1.5.8. The image is central to the symbolism of Shelleys Revolt of

Islam; see also his Alastor 227--32. Blake engraved a drawing of it on plate 15 of

The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. According to the Norse legend told in the Prose

Edda of Snorri, an eagle perched in the great tree of Yggdrasill defends it

against a great serpent lying among the roots.

The eagle is frequently contrasted with the dove. According to Horace,

‘‘fierce eagles do not hatch unwarlike doves’’ (4.4.31--32). ‘‘Our songs avail

against the weapons of Mars,’’ one of Virgils shepherds sings, ‘‘as much, they

say, as Chaonian doves when an eagle comes’’ (Eclogues 9.11--13). Their incompatibility

is so well established by Chaucers time that his Criseyde can say

that ‘‘everich egle [shal] ben the dowves feere [mate or companion]’’ before she

forgets Troilus (Troilus 3.1496). Shakespeares Coriolanus boasts ‘‘That like an

eagle in a dove-cote, I / Flutterd your Volscians in Corioles’’ (Cor 5.6.114--15).

(Frequently, however, it is the hawk that preys on the dove, as at Aeneid


Sometimes in Greek literature it is not clear if the eagle or the vulture is

meant. The bird associated with Prometheus torment is sometimes taken to

be a vulture, though of course it is Zeus who sends his ‘‘winged hound’’

(Aeschylus, Prometheus 1022).

In 104 bc Gaius Marius assigned the eagle to the legions as their special

badge, whereupon it became the emblem of the Roman Empire; they are

mentioned by Propertius (4.1.95). The Soothsayer in Shakespeares Cymbeline

reports a vision in which ‘‘I saw Joves bird, the Roman eagle,’’ sign of the

‘‘Roman host’’ (Cym 4.2.346--52). It has been adopted by many armies and

states since then, including the United States. When Dante ascends to the

sphere of Jupiter, he sees a vast eagle composed of shining souls and symbolic

of divine justice as well as the universal terrestrial empire (Paradiso cantos


The eagle also stands for John the Evangelist, based on the correspondence

of the four gospel-writers to the four ‘‘living creatures’’ of Ezekiel chapter 1,

one of which is an eagle; John is the most soaring and visionary of the four

evangelists. As D. H. Lawrence puts it in the opening of ‘‘St John,’’ ‘‘John, oh

John, / Thou honourable bird, / Sun-peering eagle. / Taking a birds-eye view /

Even of Calvary and Resurrection.’’

For the same reasons the eagle was adopted by Romantic poets as a symbol

of the poet himself, or of his imaginative powers. Shelleys soul ‘‘in the rapid

plumes of song / Clothed itself, sublime and strong; / As a young eagle soars

the morning clouds among’’ (‘‘Ode to Liberty’’ 6--8). Lamartine addresses

‘‘Enthusiasm, conquering eagle,’’ as ‘‘I tremble with a holy zeal’’

(‘‘LEnthousiasme’’); Hugo opens an ode by exclaiming, ‘‘The eagle, it is genius’’

(‘‘Ode 17’’). ‘‘No sooner does the divine word touch his keen hearing,’’ according

to Pushkin, ‘‘than the poets soul starts like an eagle that has been

roused’’ (‘‘The Poet,’’ trans. Obolensky).

Earth see Nature

East and west East is the direction or the quarter of the sky where the sun, moon, and stars

rise; west is where they set. Terms for these directions in other languages

often reflect these definitions. The Homeric word for ‘‘east,’’ eos, also means

‘‘dawn,’’ while ‘‘west,’’ zophos, means ‘‘gloom’’ or ‘‘dusk’’; Odysseus says Ithaca

lies ‘‘toward the zophos,’’ while the neighboring islands lie ‘‘toward the eos and

the sun’’ (Homer, Odyssey 9.26). A later Greek word for ‘‘east,’’ the noun anatole,

also means ‘‘rising’’; the verb anatello can mean ‘‘give birth to’’ or ‘‘bring to

light’’; ‘‘Anatolia’’ is still in use in English to refer to Asia Minor (Turkey), so

called because it lies to the east of Greece. Greek hesperos and Latin vesper

mean both ‘‘evening’’ and ‘‘west.’’ The Latin participle oriens means ‘‘rising

(sun)’’ and ‘‘east’’ (whence English ‘‘orient’’), while occidens means ‘‘falling’’ or

‘‘setting (sun)’’ and ‘‘west’’ (whence ‘‘occident’’). The ‘‘firmament,’’ says Chaucer,

‘‘hurlest al from est til occident’’ (Man of Law’s Tale 295--97); evoking the Latin

sense, Pope has ‘‘Aurora heavd her orient head’’ (Iliad 19.1). German

Morgenland (‘‘morning-land’’) means the ‘‘East’’ or ‘‘Orient,’’ while Abendland

(‘‘evening-land’’) means the ‘‘West’’ or ‘‘Occident.’’ In English, to ‘‘orient’’ or

‘‘orientate’’ oneself is, literally, to find the east. ‘‘North’’ is akin to words in

other European languages meaning ‘‘left,’’ which is where north is when one

is oriented.

If humans are seen as ephemeral beings, creatures of a day, then their life

follows the pattern of the sun. One infers from the sailing directions in the

Odyssey that to reach Hades, the realm of the dead, one sails westward, or

northwestward, following the path of the setting sun into the zophos; in Hades

there is no sun. Tennyson captures the metaphor nicely in his ‘‘Ulysses’’ -- ‘‘my

purpose holds / To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths / Of all the western

stars, until I die’’ (59--61) -- though the last clause is almost redundant. A

character in Theocritus asks, ‘‘Do you think my sun has set?’’ (1.102).

Shakespeare rather pedantically correlates ones age with the stages of the sun

by attributing age to the sun: at noon the sun resembles ‘‘strong youth in his

middle age’’ but later ‘‘Like feeble age he reeleth from the day’’ and sets

(Sonnets 7); in a greater sonnet he writes, ‘‘in me thou seest the twilight of

such day / As after sunset fadeth in the west, / Which by and by black night

doth take away’’ (73). Gray writes, ‘‘Thy sun is set, thy spring is gone’’ (‘‘Spring’’

49). Arnold brings out the mythical dimension in his phrase, ‘‘western shores,

death-place of the day’’ (‘‘Cromwell’’ 112).

What Thomson calls the ‘‘cheerful morn of life’’ (Winter 7) begins in the

east, in ‘‘Births orient portal,’’ as Shelley puts it (Hellas 202). Henry King

laments, ‘‘At night when I betake to rest, / Next morn I rise neere my West /

Of life, almost by eight houres saile, / Then when sleep breathd his drowsie

gale’’ (‘‘Exequy’’ 97--100). Wordsworths ‘‘Intimations’’ ode exploits the full

diurnal cycle: our soul is ‘‘our lifes Star’’ that ‘‘Hath had elsewhere its setting’’

(59--60), but we must travel ‘‘daily farther from the East’’ until we see our

natal light ‘‘fade into the light of common day’’ (71, 76); at the conclusion the

speaker still appreciates ‘‘The innocent brightness of a new-born Day’’ but

notes that ‘‘The clouds that gather round the setting sun / Do take a sober

colouring from an eye / That hath kept watch oer mans mortality’’ (197--201).

Byron, with his usual breezy deflation, speaks of the coming of coughs and

wrinkles before ‘‘the sun / Of life reach ten oclock’’ (Don Juan 10.60--61).

There is tradition with ancient roots of the ‘‘westering’’ of empire or the

spirit, as if they followed the celestial bodies. The orient is the origin -- ex

oriente lux, as the proverb has it -- but light and power have been passing

westward, from Asia, to Greece, to Rome, to France or England, to America.

Virgils Aeneid, a prime source of this myth, tells how Aeneas leads a remnant

of Troy, the city of Anatolia destroyed by the Greeks, past Greece to the destined

homeland of Italy or Hesperia, the Western Land. Medieval legends

made descendants of Aeneas into founders of other European states, such as

Brutus the eponymous founder of Britain. As stars stand for the glory of states

or their leaders (see Star), Queen Elizabeth was celebrated as ‘‘that bright

Occidental star’’ (Dedicatory Epistle to the King James Bible). Berkeleys line,

‘‘Westward the course of empire takes its way,’’ has often been quoted, especially

in America (‘‘Verses on the Prospect of Planting Arts and Learning in

America’’). Timothy Dwight believed in it: ‘‘All hail, thou western world! by

heaven designd / Thexample bright, to renovate mankind. / Soon shall thy

sons across the mainland roam; / And claim, on far Pacific shores, their home’’

(Greenfield Hill 2. 707--10).

In his long poem Liberty, Thomson traces libertys progress from Egypt,

Persia, and Phoenicia to Greece and Rome, then to the heavens (during the

dark ages), then back down to Italy, then through northern Europe to Britain;

Britons, ‘‘with star-directed prow,’’ will conquer the oceans (4.424). Collinss

‘‘Ode to Liberty’’ briefly rehearses a similar itinerary and ends, ‘‘Thou, Lady,

thou shalt rule the West!’’ (144). Gray notes the rather abrupt westering of

poetry from Greece, to Rome, and then to Albion (‘‘Progress of Poesy’’).

Herbert expounds the westering of the Church, from Egypt, to Greece, to

Rome, to Germany, and to England. ‘‘The course was westward, that the sunne

might light / As well our understanding as our sight’’ (17--18). But sin has

followed the same path, corrupting the Church, till ‘‘Religion stands on

tip-toe in our land, / Readie to passe to the American strand’’ (235--36).

See Dawn, Sun, West wind.

Elm The elm tree is mentioned in Homer (Iliad 21.350), though with no particular

significance, and it often appears in Latin, European, and English poetry as a

prominent, dignified, shady tree. Gray speaks of the ‘‘rugged elms’’ of the

country churchyard (Elegy 13).

The elms main symbolic meaning depends on its use as a support for vines:

Chaucer calls it ‘‘The piler [pillar] elm’’ (PF 177), and Spenser makes that more

explicit with ‘‘The vine-prop Elme’’ (FQ 1.1.8). Elm and vine together stand for

husband and wife. It has been the practice in Italy for millennia to train vines

up elms (see Virgil, Georgics 1.2, 2.221), and it seems to have been a common

expression in Latin to ‘‘marry’’ (maritare) the vine to a tree. Two wedding songs

by Catullus are the prime source for this image in poetry. Addressing the new

bride, he writes ‘‘just as the limber vine / Enfolds trees planted beside it, / He

will be enfolded in / Your embrace’’ (61.102--05). In the second song, the young

mens chorus sings to the maidens: ‘‘Just as the unwed vine (vidua . . . vitis) that

grows on naked ground / Can never raise herself, never produce ripe grapes,

. . . // But if she happens to be joined to a husband elm (ulmo . . . marito)’’ she will

be tended and fruitful, so a maiden must find a husband (62.49--58, trans. Lee).

(Ben Jonson included a translation of this passage in his masque Hymenaei


Horace (e.g., 2.15.4), Juvenal, Ovid, and other Latin poets used the same

metaphor, and it became commonplace in European poetry after the

Renaissance. Shakespeares Adriana says to the man she thinks is her husband,

‘‘Thou art an elm, my husband, I a vine’’ (CE 2.2.174). Shakespeare alters the

vine to ivy once, where Titania, winding Bottom in her arms, says, ‘‘the female

ivy so / Enrings the barky fingers of the elm’’ (MND 4.1.42--43). Garcilaso has a

disillusioned variant, where a spurned lover complains that his ivy is clinging

to another wall and his vine to another elm (‘‘Egloga primera’’ 136--37); and so

does Gongora: ‘‘That lovely vine / that you see embracing the elm / divides its

leaves discreetly / with the neighboring laurel’’ (‘‘Guarda corderos’’ 17--20).

Milton has Adam and Eve, before the Fall, doing their rural work: ‘‘they led

the Vine / To wed her Elm; she spousd about him twines / Her marriageable

arms, and with her brings / Her dowr thadopted Clusters, to adorn / His

barren leaves’’ (PL 5.216--20). As late as Tennyson we find the image: ‘‘we two /

Were always friends, none closer, elm and vine’’ (The Princess 2.315--16).

See Ivy, Oak.

Emmet see Ant

Evening see East and west

Evening star see Star

Eye The most prominent and expressive of facial features as well as the organs of

sight, eyes appear in literature more often than any other parts of the body.

Their appearances are most often literal or metanymical (e.g., ‘‘in their eyes’’

means ‘‘in their sight’’), especially in love poetry, where for centuries the

convention reigned that love enters through the eyes of the lover, very often

because (now metaphorically) the eyes of the beloved ‘‘darted’’ a killing or

inflaming glance. ‘‘Those eyes of yours have inveigled themselves through my

own eyes into the depths of my heart,’’ says a character in Apuleius, ‘‘and are

kindling in my marrow the keenest of flames’’ (Met 10.3, trans. Walsh).

Guillaume de Lorris describes the god of love as shooting him ‘‘through my

eye and into my heart’’ (Romance of the Rose 1692). Petrarch tells how ‘‘Love

found me altogether disarmed, / And the way open through my eyes to my

heart’’ (Rime 3). Sidneys Astrophil is full of praise for Stellas eyes -- Natures

chief work (7), where Cupid shines (12), which make infinite arrows for Cupid

beneath two bows (brows) (17), whose beams are joys (42), and so on. After

centuries of this image, all we know for truth, as Yeats has it in ‘‘Drinking

Song,’’ is that ‘‘Wine comes in at the mouth / And love comes in at the eye.’’

So susceptible are eyes that Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream can apply a

juice to them to make their owners fall in love with the next creature they


Eyes express thought and feeling. ‘‘Your eyes were not silent,’’ Ovid writes

(Amores 2.5.17); Medea has ‘‘crime in her eyes’’ (Tristia 2.526); ‘‘Her eyes flashed

lightning,’’ says Propertius (4.8.55). A warrior in Spenser casts his ‘‘eye flaming

with wrathfull fyre’’ (FQ 1.5.10). A sonnetizing character in Shakespeare nicely

names ‘‘the heavenly rhetoric of thine eyes’’ (LLL 4.3.55). Eyes not only flash

lightning but display all weathers, shining like the sun, clouding over, raining

tears. They express jealousy if they turn green -- Shakespeare has ‘‘green-eyed

jealousy’’ MV 3.2.110) (see other instances under Green) -- or if they turn

‘‘whally,’’ Spensers unusual word: Lecherys goat has ‘‘whally eies (the signe of

gelosy)’’ (FQ 1.4.24); looking askance, with ‘‘wanton eyes,’’ may have a similar

rhetoric (FQ 3.1.41). Disdain for death casts a ‘‘cold eye’’ in Yeatss ‘‘Under Ben


Plato writes of ‘‘the eye of the soul’’ (Republic 533d; cf. 527e), and Aristotle

uses that phrase to define ‘‘intelligence’’ (Nicomachean Ethics 1144a30). Ovid says

of Pythagoras that the ‘‘things that nature kept from mortal sight / His

inward eye explored’’ (Met. 15.63--64, trans. Melville). Hamlet and Horatio each

use the phrase ‘‘minds eye’’ (1.2.185, 1.1.115); ‘‘my souls imaginary sight /

Presents thy shadow to my sightless view’’ (Sonnets 27; cf. 113).

Blindness, then, sometimes bespeaks wisdom or inner sight. Homer is said

to have been blind, and blind Milton invokes him and others as precedents for

himself: ‘‘Blind Thamyris, and blind Maeonides [Homer], / And Tiresias and

Phineus prophets old’’ (PL 3.35--36). Oedipus, famous for his perspicacity, defies

the blind Tiresias, but when he learns the soothsayer was right, Oedipus

plucks out his eyes. Lear is spiritually blind, but it is Gloucester in the parallel

plot whose eyes are stamped out.

Eyes are central to Hoffmanns tale ‘‘The Sandman’’: a man said to be the

sandman, who puts sand in the eyes of a child to make it sleep, is really an

evil magician, who demands the eyes of the child; later he turns up as a

telescope salesman, and he has a hand in making a lifelike automaton whose

false eyes seem to speak.

The sun, the moon, and occasionally the stars are said to be, or to have,

eyes: see Sun, Moon. Dante calls the island of Delos the place where ‘‘the two

eyes of the sky’’ were born, i.e., Apollo and Artemis/Diana, the sun and the

moon (Purgatorio 20.132).