Those who love books are said to share the belief that life is an imperfect vision of reality and only art, like a pair of reading glasses, can correct it. For those who need glasses of this type, Glasgow University library might be a good place to hang out. Its special collections department has recently acquired a series of mysterious old books, including the missing link in one of its collections, the 1564 edition of the Délie, the chef d’oeuvre by the French Renaissance poet Maurice Scève (c1500-c1564).
Scève’s Délie could be described as the best ever collection of poetry that nobody understands. The arcane verses are peppered with text/image riddles known as emblems that tease the reader seeking final meaning: a maiden stroking a unicorn, the Tower of Babel, the ivy-covered wall, the rising dead, a moth to the candle, among many others. The ultimate message? Perhaps that love conquers all, in this case that of the eponymous character, who is possibly meant to represent the beauty that is art.
Nowadays it is Instagram and Facebook that satiate our taste for short messages that play on a picture. In the same way that the likes of Scève’s unicorn helped previous generations grasp the bigger questions, such as the passing of beauty or the inevitability of death, Instagram postings will often be musings on the nature of the lives we lead. It seems that there is something eternal at work, something beyond profits and price tags. Then, now and always, decipher these messages and we can solve life’s imperfect vision of reality.
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