I love fall–it’s a beautiful season of great weather and grand blue skies overhead, and when we have a particularly good color season, it looks as if the world all around us has blazed into gentle flames that burn bright without doing any harm. And if you happen to be a redhead, fall was practically invented to flatter you–rusty leaves, soft golden light, fields turning greeny-goldy, and the departure of all those unflattering whites and pastels of summer. Perfect!
I’ll be the first to admit, though, that fall also makes me melancholy. No matter how long and hot the summer was, its end makes me feel a sadness and a yearning for something I can’t really define. Fall makes me aware of the passing of time, maybe, like I’ve lost something I’ll never get back, and I’ll have to go on without it. Sigh…
The Greeks identified melancholia as sadness–one of the four humors that cause us to do the things we do–and associated it with “black bile” (the part of the body & substance that caused the problem). The Romans knew it as lugere (to mourn) which gives us lugubrious (a particularly unattractive word); and moroseness, from the Latin morosus. There’s also wistfulness from old English wist, and my favorite: saturnine (relating, I suppose, to the influence of the planet Saturn).
Is it possible a beringed planet somewhere away out yonder in our solar system is making me feel a bit blue? Or is my black bile (whatever that is–sounds awful!) the blue-bringing culprit?
I think it’s simpler than that–I think it’s the perception of stepping out of a Beach Boys song like Fun, Fun, Fun and into a Boz Scaggs song like What’s New? Upbeat vs. minor key. The beach and the amusement park vs. the hills and the local fair.
Or, as The Grinch Who Stole Christmas might have said, had he been moved to verbalize my situation: “Whatever the reason–her heart or her shoes–this time of year always gives her the blues!”
* Melancholia I: The bat-like creature flying through a night sky declares the subject of this famous engraving depicting Melancolia I. That dark temperament is personified by a female figure seated in the foreground. The winged infant beside her is a ‘genius’ (in the ancient sense, meaning an accompanying spirit).
Melancholy has wings and from her belt hang keys and a money bag, symbolizing power and wealth. She is surrounded by measuring instruments. Above her head is a panel of ‘magic’ numbers (they add up to 34 in all directions). At her feet are the tools that can fashion the material world. Yet she does nothing: lost in thought, she turns away from the light.
Renaissance philosophers had suggested a new interpretation for melancholy, as the temperament of genius (in the modern sense). Melancholy was possessed by artists, in whom ‘Imagination’ predominates; ‘Reason’ dominates scholars; while the final stage of ‘Spirit’ was the preserve of theologians. If this interpretation is correct, Dürer has presented us with a portrait of his own temperament as an artist.