I went to see Patience (After Sebald) at the Ipswich Film Theatre last night. Highly enjoyable, it touched on some of Sebald’s themes and the slightly strange idea of rectracing the walk in a pilgrimage.
Inevitably, it makes you want to read the book again. Which I am.
The Rings of Saturn is dense with allusion, often on a timeless, cosmic scale, and this morning I found something I hadn’t picked up on before. In the very first sentence Sebald informs us that the walk takes place in the “dog days” of August.
I hadn’t realised that these dog days are related to the dog star, so the Suffolk setting recalls ancient Egypt and Greece:
Sirius is gradually moving closer to the Solar System, so it will slightly increase in brightness over the next 60,000 years. After that time its distance will begin to recede, but it will continue to be the brightest star in the Earth’s sky for the next 210,000 years…
Sirius is also known colloquially as the “Dog Star”, reflecting its prominence in its constellation, Canis Major (Greater Dog). The heliacal rising of Sirius marked the flooding of the Nile in Ancient Egypt and the “dog days” of summer for the ancient Greeks, while to the Polynesians it marked winter and was an important star for navigation around the Pacific Ocean.
Egyptians based their calendar on the heliacal rising of Sirius [the dog star], namely the day it becomes visible just before sunrise after moving far enough away from the glare of the Sun. This occurred just before the annual flooding of the Nile and the summer solstice, after a 70-day absence from the skies. The hieroglyph for Sothis features a star and a triangle. Sothis was identified with the great goddess Isis, who formed a part of a triad with her husband Osiris and their son Horus, while the 70-day period symbolised the passing of Isis and Osiris through the duat (Egyptian underworld). [Note Thomas Browne’s msuings on the funeral urns and their coins for the journey over the Styx.]
The ancient Greeks observed that the appearance of Sirius heralded the hot and dry summer, and feared that it caused plants to wilt, men to weaken, and women to become aroused. Due to its brightness, Sirius would have been noted to twinkle more in the unsettled weather conditions of early summer. Wikipedia
The Rings of Saturn is the ebb and flow between the present and the past, the here and the there; a beautiful meditation on entropy.
One more thing: Hearing Sebald’s slow, German baritone is a joy.
Can I have my treat now?