Forest and Architecture

May 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

In descriptions of the primeval forest, architectural terms are often used to describe these natural surroundings. According to Simon Schama, this is because there isn’t any way to describe the primeval forest in terms of its own. So, one turns to vocabulary pertaining to human culture. The forest could be described as a large room holding many pillars. Or, tall trees with bending trunks and bending branches, could be said to form entrance portals and vaulted ceilings. The architecture of the primeval forest is often an architecture in ruins… broken, knocked down columns, remnants of torn down buildings, wall fragments… splintered, shattered, decaying, overgrown.

As one travels further into the woods, the language used to describe the surroundings becomes more aggressive, more militaristic, Schama notes. Tree roots and tree stumps are fortifications and there are palisades formed by thorny shrubbery. Through the dense silence and darkness at the heart of the forest, the hammering of woodpeckers can be heard, like gunshots echoing between the trees.


Reading Now: The Golden Bough

April 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

The Golden Bough by James Frazer has found its way to me from the library, and I have finally started reading it. A little late though, since I have to return it in three weeks. With so little time to finish 800 pages written in small print, perhaps I’ll have a look at these chapters first:

  • The Worship of Trees. Section 1. Tree-spirits.
  • The Worship of Trees. Section 2. Beneficent Powers of Tree-Spirits.
  • Relics of Tree Worship in Modern Europe.
  • The Worship of the Oak.


November 20, 2010 § Leave a comment

Utopia – Arcadia – Forest

I’ve now read “In the Realm of the Lithuanian Bison”, the first chapter of Landscape and Memory. So far, I feel I have come across some interesting ideas presented by Schama. One of them is the idea of the wilderness of the deepest parts of the forest as a sort of “primitive paradise”.

Schama first connects the primeval forest with the idea of Arcadia on page 67, when he says that the writings of the Greek traveller and geographer Pausianias, describes the historical province Arcadia (from which the utopian Arcadia has derived its name) as an unruly wilderness, teeming with wild boars, and the people who lived in the forests there were more animal-like than they were human. The “heart” of the forest, the primeval wilderness untouched by human civilization, is like a primitive forestial paradise, where Nature rules alone.

Later on, as Schama writes about Adam Mieckiewicz epic poem Pan Tadeusz , he reconnects to this idea and elaborates on it (p. 81). The protagonist Tadeusz travels by horse through the forest and as he arrives at the deepest, darkest part of the forest, it is a place of death and decay; sick and deformed trees with branches covered in moss and trunks attacked by fungi. Behind a thick fog lies a “primitive paradise”, or as Schama describes it, a zoological Utopia. An “Ark” containing archetypical animals who send out their offspring from their secret inner city, but they themselves remain there.

Behind Them the Wood Was Full of Black Bitches, Ravenous and Running Like Greyhounds

November 6, 2010 § 2 Comments

“We were still attentive to the trunk, believing that it might wish to say more to us, when we were surprised by an uproar, as one who perceives the wild boar and the chase coming toward his stand and hears the Feasts and the branches crashing. And behold two on the left hand, naked and scratched, flying so violently that they broke all the limbs of the wood. The one in front was shouting, “Now, help, help, Death!” and the other, who seemed to himself too slow, “Lano, thy legs were not so nimble at the jousts of the Toppo:” and when perhaps his breath was failing, of himself and of a bush he made a group. Behind them the wood was full of black bitches, ravenous and running like greyhounds that have been unleashed. On him that had squatted they set their teeth and tore him to pieces, bit by bit, then carried off his woeful limbs.”

Canto XIII, Inferno

Famous Trees

October 27, 2010 § 2 Comments


Pliny tells of a grove in Tusculum; formed of beeches and consecrated to the goddess Diana. This grove contained an outstanding tree that excited the affection of the the distinguished orator Passenius Crispus, famous for marrying Agrippina and becoming Nero’s step-father. Crispus was so passionately attached to this beech tree that not only would he lie down beneath it, but he would also kiss and embrace it, as well as pour wine over it so that its roots would be moistened with wine.

Another tree near this grove, a holm-oak, were just as famous – for its trunk were no less than 34 feet in circumference, and sending out what looked like ten other trees of remarkable size, forming a wood of itself. No other holm-oak has ever been known to attain this size.

The Plane-tree

September 8, 2010 § 2 Comments


Pliny writes about a famous plane-tree in Lycia which incidentally was situated in close proximity to a fountain “of the most refreshing coolness”. This tree had a cavity in its interior of eighty-one feet in width. The huge branches, in themselves equal to ordinary trees in size, threw long shadows across the fields. Inside the grotto-like interior of this tree, there was a circle of seats of stone, overgrown with moss. A prominent consul and legatus of the province once held a banquet there, with eighteen persons present at the table. Sheltered inside the splendid foliage of the tree, they enjoyed themselves more than they would have, if they had been in a room full of marble with a multitude of paintings.

In the territory of Veleternum, there was another plane-tree, that presented floor after floor like several stories of a house, with the help of benches laid from branch to branch. The Emperor Caligula was so taken by the sight of this tree that he held a banquet inside that tree, naming this dining-room his “nest”. Fifteen guests plus attendants could fit inside the room of this tree.

The Meadow

September 3, 2010 § Leave a comment

Meadow Bachelard has pointed out that the meadow, being nourished by the waters of a river, is in itself a subject of sadness, and that, in the true meadow of the soul, only asphodels grow. The winds find no melodious trees in the meadow – only the silent waves of uniform grass. Bachelard also mentions Empedocles’ description of ‘the meadow of ill fortune’.”

(Juan Eduardo Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols)

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