Voyages from I to Thou.

Location: Skellig Michel, Ireland

Friday, February 04, 2005

The Siren's Tail

The ceiling began its upward curve from this band, making the arc of the vault conform to that of the doorway. The border was richly inventive and delightful, with excellent carving, being harmoniously filled with little semi-human sea-monster in an imitation of water and waves. There were women with curling fish-like tails seated on the their backs, some of them nude, embracing the monsters with mutual intertwinings. Some played the flute or fantastic instruments, while others were seated in strange chariots drawn by tireless dolphins. some were crowned with the cold flowers of water-lilies and clothed in the foliage of the same; others had many vases filled with fruits, and overflowing horns. Some were striking each other with bundles of sedges and flowers of wood-beard; others were girt with trivuli. The rest fought mounted on hippopotami and various other unfamiliar beasts protected with tortoise-shell. Here and there they were acting lasciviously, or playing various festive games. Their vivacious gestures and movements were carved and expressed to perfection, and the decoration ran all the way form one side to the other.

In this way I came to the end of the hallway, where the charming scenes ended, but beyond that there was such dense darkness that I did not dare to proceed. I was turning to go back when suddenly I heard a sound in the ruins like the breaking of bones and the cracking of branches. I stood stock still, my delightful recreation shattered, and then heard, closer to hand, a sound like the dragging of a great bull's carcase over the rough and ruin-strewn ground. As it grew ever louder and nearer to the doorway, I heard the deafening hiss of a giant serpent. I was stunned. Voiceless, and with my hair standing on end, I felt no reassurance in rushing for escape into that thick darkness.

--- Hypnerotomachia Poliphila,, transl. Joscelyn Godwin


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