I needed no second invitation to sleep. Fully dressed, I fell on my paillasse with a weariness which I have never felt before or since. But I did not close my eyes: for all about me there rose a sea of most extraordinary sound. . . the hitherto empty and minute room became suddenly enormous: weird cries, oaths, laughter, pulling it sideways and backward, extending it to inconceivable depth and width, telescoping it to frightful nearness.Like my mother, I have problems with insomnia. My schedule fluctuates from day to day—I sleep 5 hours, 3 hours, 11 hours, during the morning, the evening, and the night. When I settle down to bed with my wife my mind hurtles with unconscionable celerity, permitting me no slumber. I try pills. I try drink. I try mental exercises. Nothing.
— e. e. cummings
When at last the dark envelops me, I too find myself in some sort of enormous room. They are all with me, every person I have known and know no longer, haunting me. I arrive at a party. I see old faces, still intimately familiar. We are friendly again, or perhaps they act as aggressors. At any rate, our business remains unfinished. Are they grown, or do I see them still as children? I long to drink from Lethe and forget forever. . . but it is impossible. I fear the guilt and the humiliation will be with me, in my dreams, until I die. I have the Freudian mind, unable to eradicate the spectres of its distant past. When I awake, my erstwhile acquaintances recede once more into history.
So it was in the Renaissance. I have in my hand Marcus Vattasso et Henricus Carusi, eds. Codices Vaticani Latini: 10301-10700 (Rome: Polyglottis Vaticanis, 1920). In this tome, hundreds of bound volumes are catalogued—tegumentum ex charta spissata, membrana obtecta—filled with fragments of classical and mediaeval texts. One book contains chapters and treatises by Aristotle, Gerardus Senensis, Nicolaus Damascenus, Marcus Aurelius and the Pseudo-Dionysius; another features Johannes Neapolitanus, Thomas de Virago, Hervacus Natalis Brito, St. Cyprian, St. Isidore, Jacobus Egidius, Raphael de Pornasius, and Guido de Terrena. These are both volumes from around 1450. Panofsky wrote of the humanist 'perspective' on the classical past—as Gombrich observed, he was thinking too much in metaphors. I don't feel any sense of perspective when I read the contents of these jumbled compendia. I feel confusion and loss, a mortal tangle of quires, awaiting oblivion, or else Erasmus and the Aldine Press.
The enormous room of the past became the Adagia, and other such works. When Plato and Plutarch began to be read again, after a thousand years of absence, their old faces were still miraculously familiar. Their features had been copied in late antiquity by the great pagan and Christian visages. So they were seen as grown men—under the veil of Macrobius, Augustine and Eriugena—and as children, fresh-faced and ready for the taking. When Europe awoke to the dry lights of the Age of Science, the classics again receded into history, although their ghosts lingered, and linger still.
When I have loved you once, I shall never stop loving. I am robbed, memorious, incapable of forgetting. The night reminds me. It is a wretched condition.