Marlowe’s Blog Part 4 – In which I contemplate the sweet felicity of otium ruris and an uneventful life
Since my frenzied flight from the château with Havane and my return to the quiet, ordered world of Les Hirondelles, I have had ample time to reflect upon my lot and conclude that my new life is in fact my redemption, for to have continued thus would have been to fling myself – and indeed my beloved mother – into the very jaws of death. Accordingly, chastised by experience, I have ceased chasing the cats and do not attempt to snaffle their food, and Master has been most attentive to my spiritual wellbeing and development.
True, yesterday Mistress found a pool of yellow liquid in the utility room, but am I to blame for the indiscretions of the little white pooch, Alec? When he heard about it, Master laughed and said “When it rains in Paris, there are poodles in the street!” To cut a long – and no doubt “shaggy dog” – story short, the calm day-to-day life here has been a great solace to me and, the more I ponder this, the more I realise that providence has indeed taken me under her wing, offering me a second chance in life.
At dawn, Master feeds me, Alec and the 11 cats. This he likens to the miracle of the loaves and fishes, for the 11 cats are fed from the contents of but one tin. Master then takes me out, either both on foot, or me accompanying him on his bicycle. Yesterday, this excursion was abruptly curtailed because ahead of us was a farmer spraying poison on his field and Master chose to double back rather than inhale this invisible contagion. Master seemed most put out by this, and indeed it defies belief that these humans should adulterate their own sustenance purely for pecuniary gain, as Master tried to explain to me. He assured me that my own dry food or “kibble” was of the highest quality, and that under no circumstances – even in direst poverty – would he feed me otherwise.
Following our morning walk, Master cycles on his own before engaging upon his own intellectual pursuits. In the interval before our afternoon walk, the day is also mine to do as I please, and most often this means study in Master’s library. I read in a serendipitous fashion, for life is too short to tackle every magnum opus that global civilisation has produced, but this approach has afforded agreeable surprises. The other day, for example, I came across the following quotation which made me prick up my ears: “It is better to lie on the naked ground and be at ease, than to have a golden coach and a rich table and be worried.”
Master informed me that he believed these were the words of a great philosopher known as Epicurus, or one of his followers, and that other fine classical minds had expatiated on the merits of a life of leisure devoted to the development of the mind and spirit, including Cicero, Catullus and Petrarch. When I mentioned that I would like to read these wise men in their original tongue, Master said he would teach me a little “dog Latin”, an expression which caused him some merriment, though I am at a loss to say why.
He apprised me of the key idea of “otium”, which in Latin signifies the artistically valuable use of leisure time, as opposed to “negotium”, the time-consuming business of the day-to-day world from which it is desirable to retire. In particular, “otium ruris” signifies “rural leisure”, namely the spiritual benefits of rustic country life, as lauded by Horace, Virgil and Seneca. This last seemed most appropriate to my own condition, and helped me comprehend that there was more to life than running around like a psychotic fiend, drawn on by nothing more than the olfactory track of some insignificant wildfowl that, despite my most exhaustive and exhausting efforts, I would never manage to catch even under the most propitious of circumstances.
When I shared these reflections with Master, he picked two more modern books from his bookshelf for me to read: Bertrand Russell’s In Praise of Idleness, and Petit traité de désinvolture by Denis Grozdanovitch, a philosopher whom Master warmly recommends and with whom he has had long personal discussions when they met over three days in Nice.
The “otium ruris”, then, is my natural element, and has been since my emergence into this strange and wondrous world. My knowledge of the town is limited. On one occasion, Master took me to a village fair and, when I mention this, he slaps his hand to his forehead and exclaims – to my shame – “Never again!”, recalling that I pulled on the lead to left and to right, almost dislocating his shoulder, for my senses were maddened by the omnium gatherum of odours, from sugar-coated peanuts to crepes, from barbecued meat to the inevitable micturated lampposts, not to mention the presence of other – more or less well-behaved – canines, which drove me to distraction. “Oh that way madness lies; let me shun that; No more of that.”
My recent reading of Plato has helped me view my inner turmoil in the cold light of day. In his dialogue Phaedrus, Plato describes the soul as a charioteer, and the chariot is drawn by two winged horses, a white one which represents rationality and the moral impulse, and a black one that represents irrational passions, appetites or concupiscence. The charioteer must stop the horses pulling in different ways, directing them instead along the path of enlightenment.
That indeed is the path I have chosen, and that indeed is my plight. How well I can steer my chariot only time will tell, though this chronicle will serve as my record of what – I daresay – will prove to be a prodigious and possibly forlorn endeavour…