In the Garden
Books take up space, and libraries, being confined by walls, must occasionally weed the shelves of injudicious pamphlets and books unborrowed through the centuries. That this should astonish or dismay comes as something of a surprise. That, however, is not my theme.
I would like to return to the metaphor of libraries as gardens. It is apt, for they are confined spaces and can be crowded with tangled growth or marked by unnatural bareness. A library can provide the mind with nourishment, pleasure, yet prove a source of tedium and dismay. The scarcely confined leaves must be cared for and tended, kept free of mold and pests, all to achieve their purpose: to be perused, consumed, devoured, enjoyed.1
If it were not for books, I would not know what ‘paradise’ meant. An odd word, perhaps, with which to be unfamiliar. I had thought paradise meant some vale of pleasure, a painless respite, an ideal spot, peopled with diverse colors, soothing sounds, and beauties beyond compare. The word ‘paradise’ however, entered the western world through Xenophon, a writer best known for his simplicity, which was not always admirable. He had the misfortune to be writing at the same time as Thucydides, whose density and critical acumen he was unable to equal, and Plato, whose wit and dash and fervor were something altogether foreign to the somewhat earnest Xenophon. Yet such comparisons are not the point.
For I meant to write of paradise. As cleverer people than I doubtless knew, the word paradise comes from the Avestan word pairidaêza, ‘a walled garden,’ which Xenophon transliterated into Greek as paradeisos.2 He was referring, of course, to the famed gardens of Cyrus the Great, which were orderly, carefully tended (apparently by the Great King himself), and utterly delightful (or so the notion seemed to Xenophon, who, one should observe, was not alive at the time). So one must tend to one’s gardens, where ever and whatever they may be.3
- And/or swallowed, chewed, and digested, if one cares to follow Sir Francis Bacon.
- Xen.Oec.iv.13. Curious readers are referred S. B. Pomeroy’s edition (with commentary) of Xenophon’s Oeconomicus (Oxford: 1994): p. 247, which cites R. G. Kent, Old Persian: Grammar, Texts, Lexicon, 2nd ed. (New Haven: 1950): p. 195 (which last I have not read).
- I have no willpower—mention gardens and I tend to think of Voltaire’s Candide, which that final sentence rather blatantly (and unsatisfyingly) echoes.