Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Sage from Vesuvius?

I love obscure allusions, and I'm not too bad at identifying them, but Kathleen Parker today has me stumped.
But when [Barney] Frank is tossed into the ring with a Hitler-wielding instigator, he looks the sage from Vesuvius, and his opponents escapees from the asylum.
Vesuvius, of course, is one of the world's best-known volcanoes (livecam here). Like all volcanoes in the classical world, it's associated with hot springs and gaseous emanations that oracles sometimes sniffed to get high and give pronouncements. I simply don't recall a sage from Vesuvius, however, which implies wisdom more than oracularity.

So I googled "sage from Vesuvius." (Is there another place named Vesuvius? It's hard to imagine someone living in the volcano.) The most seemingly relevant thing I could come up with was this.
Thou hast had shelter under my roof, and warmth at my hearth; thou hast returned evil for good; thou hast smitten and slain the thing that loved me and was mine; now hear thy punishment. I curse thee! and thou art cursed! May thy love be blasted - may thy name be blackened - may the infernals mark thee - may thy heart wither and scorch - may thy last hour recall to thee the prophet voice of the sage from Vesuvius.
That's from The Last Days of Pompeii, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

Parker was writing about the oratorical inadequacy of those who revert rapidly to comparisons to Hitler, and Barney Frank's masterful response to one of his constituents who had a poster in that vein, available here. I don't quite see how the sage from Vesuvius fits that, if this is the quote she's using, but I guess it sounded good at the time.


Charles Cameron (hipbone) said...

I would have thought that might be Pliny the Elder, see for instance this account by his nephew.

Cheryl Rofer said...

Perhaps. He's associated with Vesuvius, but I don't see the connection with what Parker is saying. Or maybe she doesn't need a connection.

Anonymous said...

My guess is she meant the Sage of Mount Parnassus.
That was the site of the Oracle of Delphi, and the related Temple to Apollo. There were supposedly Seven (give or take a few dozen) Great Sages of Greece whose most pithy sayings were recorded on the temple there.