In the hospitality of war
we left them their dead
as a gift to remember
These words by the 7th Century Greek Greek poet Archilochus appear as part of two pieces by Cy Twombly in The Cy Twombly Gallery in Houston. The thoughts of the poet from Paros appear within an enormous painting (15 feet high by 53 feet wide) identified as "Untitled, Say Goodbye Catullus, to the Shores of Asia Minor" from 1994, a great monumental work that fills one entire space of the gallery. A visual tour de force of whites and neutrals with splashes of color and subtle marks of ink and charcoal phrases and mixed ideas, the painting dominates. Yet I could not forget the smudged scrawl, the quiet, devastating words.
I found the phrase again, this time the focus of a sculptural Twombly piece (Epitaph, 1978). Archilochus' words written across the top of a heavily painted, whitewashed wooden box overflowing with painted, plastered ivy. Again, all white. The bits of textural adornment symbolic: echoes of an almost nihilistic use of non-color layered upon excessive dense texture. A memorial about memorials.
As our country considers its moral calling in Libya, balancing principles with human rights and loss of life, these ancient words take on a particularly significant meaning. "In the hospitality of war we left them their dead as a gift to remember us by." We are in conflict in many places in this second decade of a new century. Would Archilochus have written these words across our times as well as his own?