At the conclusion of his Icones, a series of tributes to the Reformers and their forerunners, Theodore Beza attaches a series of 44 emblemata, pictures with captions in verse to explain their meaning. The opening image/poem combination in the series is quite nice.
The image, an empty circle, at first glance appears odd. What could it possibly mean? As often in Beza (see in this regard the discussions of Catherine Randall Coats), the ambiguity of the image is intentional: for Beza, the image cannot be understood without the word, and so he often uses pictures that cannot be interpreted on their own precisely to point up the necessity and supremacy of the word.
“If you seek a beginning in a circle
you will find the beginning here where the end will be.
So, if you revere Christ with true love,
the hour which will end life for you will begin it.” 1
“In my end is my beginning,” etc.–but Beza is much more concise than Eliot! The first emblem programmatically looks to the end–not just the end of the cycle of poems, however, but to the end of life itself, which serves, paradoxically on the surface, as the beginning of life–the beginning of the life to come. A much better construal of the “circle of life” that the one familiar from The Lion King, I’d say.
E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.
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