Monday, March 26, 2012

Roll over, Beethoven, and tell us again


Ludwig van Beethoven died on this day in 1827.

His last words are subject to debate. Here are some conjectures:

"Pity, pity...too late."

"Applaud, my friends, the comedy is finished." (Plaudite, amici, comedia finita est.; the formula traditionally used to end a performance of commedia dell'arte.)

"I shall hear in Heaven."

"I feel as if up to now I had written no more than a few notes."

(To his friend Johann Hummel, who was at his bedside): "Is it not true, Hummel, that I have some talent after all?"

"There, do you hear the bell? Don't you hear it ringing? The curtain must drop. Yes! My curtain is falling."

One biographer says he said nothing, simply shook his fists defiantly as a thunderstorm raged outside.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A flameout


"...When there was nobody to care or know, this gigantic effort on the part of an insignificant little moth, against a power of such magnitude, to retain what no one else valued or desired to keep, moved one strangely...


"The body relaxed, and instantly grew stiff. The struggle was over. The insignificant little creature now knew death. As I looked at the dead moth, this minute wayside triumph of so great a force over so mean an antagonist filled me with wonder...


"The moth having righted itself now lay most decently and uncomplainingly composed.


"O yes, he seemed to say, death is stronger than I am."

-- Virginia Woolf, "The Death of a Moth."

Sunday, March 18, 2012

He gave them the cold shoulder


We forgot to mention yesterday that it was the anniversary of the death of Captain Lawrence Oates, who perished March 17, 1912, while a member of Robert F. Scott's ill-fated expedition to the South Pole.

Scott and his party had reached the Pole on Jan. 18, only to find that a rival group led Roald Amundsen had reached it a month earlier. Heading back to base camp, the devastated men ran out of food and water.

Oates left the party and walked -- or crawled -- willingly to his death, some say in order that his comrades might have a better chance to live. Even so, Scott and every one of his men died. (For a dissenting view, go here)

Oates' last words were:

"I am just going outside and may be some time."

Friday, March 16, 2012

My Lai was their lie


The My Lai Massacre occurred on this day in 1968.

Led by Lieutenant William L. Calley, a platoon of American soldiers entered the village of My Lai 4 on a search-and-destroy mission on the morning of March 16. Instead of guerrilla fighters, they found unarmed villagers, most of them women, children and old men.

The soldiers had been advised before the attack by army command that all who were found in My Lai could be considered Vietcong or active Vietcong sympathizers, and told to destroy the village. Still, they acted with extraordinary brutality, raping and torturing villagers before killing them and dragging dozens of people, including young children and babies, into a ditch and executing them with automatic weapons.

The massacre reportedly ended when an Army helicopter pilot, Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson, landed his aircraft between the soldiers and the retreating villagers and threatened to open fire if they continued their attacks.

The events at My Lai were covered up by high-ranking army officers until the following March, when one soldier, Ron Ridenhour, heard of the incident secondhand and wrote about it in a letter to President Richard Nixon, the Pentagon, the State Department, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and various congressmen. The letter was largely ignored until later that year, when investigative journalist Seymour Hersh interviewed Calley and broke the story. Soon, My Lai was front-page news and an international scandal.

In March 1970, an official U.S. Army inquiry board charged 14 officers, including Calley and his company commander, Captain Ernest Medina, of crimes relating to My Lai. Of that number, only Calley was convicted. Found guilty of personally killing 22people, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Upon appeal, his sentence was reduced to 20 years, and eventually to 10. Seen by many as a scapegoat, Calley was paroled in 1974 after serving just one-third of his sentence.

"Neither the sun nor death can be looked upon steadily." -- La Rochefoucauld.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Preceded by "I et earlier"


Today is the Ides of March.

On this day in 44BC, Julius Caesar was assassinated on the steps of the Senate in Rome.

Caesar's last words are a matter of debate among scholars and historians. As Shakespeare has it, they were "Et tu, Brute?" ("You too, Brutus?"), followed by "Then fall, Caesar."

Shakespeare evidently read the Roman historian Suetonius, who wrote that Caesar's last words were the Greek phrase "καὶ σύ, τέκνον;" (roughly, "You too, my child?")

Plutarch said that Caesar said nothing, and pulled his toga over his head when he saw Brutus among the conspirators.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Family estate vs. family cemetery


What is a family estate?

A family estate serves the same purpose as the old family cemetery where a family of loved ones are buried, or entombed, together in a particular place. However, there are still some differences between a family estate and a family cemetery.

A family estate allows a family to have as many burial spaces or mausoleum crypts as desired so that generations of family members can be buried together. The main difference is that in a family cemetery, someone in the family must be responsible for the upkeep and maintenance of the cemetery. Often, over the years, these cemeteries may become neglected, even abandoned. We see these forlorn specimens all the time as we drive through the countryside.

A family estate, arranged through a funeral home, can be maintained forever without the assistance of the family. Also, the family can choose mausoleum entombment instead of burial.

(Courtesy of Harpeth Hills Memory Gardens and Funeral Home, 9090 Highway 100, Nashville, TN. 615-646-9292.)

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Then he screamed for more


Comedian Lou Costello, of Abbott and Costello fame, died on this day in 1959. He had just finished his first solo movie feature, The 30-Foot Bride of Candy Rock. His last words:

"That was the best ice-cream soda I ever tasted."

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Or fully spent before we half know


English author George Herbert died on this day in 1633. He was the author of the line "Living well is the best revenge."

He also wrote: "Life is half spent before we know what it is."