Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Reminded of Till Eulenspiegel

Like any child brought in Germany—and I was there from age nine to age fifteen—the prankster figure, Till Eulenspiegel, the hero of many funny tales and sayings was part of my upbringing. Much later in life I realized that the fool, prankster, or tricksters is an archetypal staple of mythology; all cultures have their own; mine just happened to be Till Eulenspiegel. Even a brief glance into the subject rapidly reveals that the prankster-fool is wise—but makes wisdom manifest through humor, so that it cannot be attacked. And here my roots go much deeper into the past. My original family descended from a court jester serving some ducal house in what is now Baden-Württemberg. He was able enough, evidently, because he obtained a title of nobility; and we still have the family coat of arms that some herald designed for him in Anno Long Ago, more precisely somewhere around 1470 AD. Back in those misty years our name was Dorner; Darnay was a magyarization, thus the cautious tactic of a German family living in a Hungary that had achieved its independence from the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. I come thus from a long line of wise fools, and can therefore claim the likes of Eulenspiegel, Hermes, Loki, Puck, and many others as spiritual kin. Wondrous coincidences mark such lives. I chose the name LaMarotte for another website focused on matters economic—because the French, la marotte, means a fad, hobby, and idée fixe. It was daughter Michelle, who lives in Paris, who pointed out to me that the word originally meant the “the fool’s scepter.” The name Eulenspiegel, if translated literally into English, means Owl’s Mirror. Owls are wise, of course, and hold up a mirror to the world so that the rest of us, seeing our own foolishness, will laugh and get wise.

I was reminded of Till Eulenspiegel today because I remembered one of the stories. Eulenspiegel is traveling with one of his companions. When they have to climb steep hills, Eulenspiegel is always very cheery, very bright, full of jokes and songs; but when the going gets easy, down-hill, he turns gloomy and humorless, barely talks, and answers questions briefly, gruffly. His companion finally wants to know why. “Why?” Eulenspiegel answers, “I’ll tell you why. When I am huffing up the hill, I keep thinking how nice it’s going to be going down the hill again. But when I’m striding out and the going’s easy, I start thinking about the next big climb up the next big hill.”

So why did I think of this story today? Because, after 3:30 this afternoon, leaving the clinic where I’d just undergone yet another procedure—and it was over at last—I got all cheerful, funny, light, humorous, and optimistic. But what about the last forty days? After all I’d learned that I would have to undergo this procedure on May 13—and obliquely reported on the gloomy possibility that day in this blog (“Time Horizons”). All through those forty days my temperament was dark. And now that it’s over, I am laughing? But suddenly cousin Eulenspiegel appeared to me, holding up a mirror, and I just realized that I’d missed my chance to be a wise fool—and instead I’d acted like any ordinary chump.

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