An I-figure 21st century
Mountain peasants, ancestors 17th century
S: A maternal ancestor 18th century
A: Friend of male ancestor 19th century
Pa: Father 20th century
O: A male ancestor 19th century
Ma: Mother 20th century
A film team 21st century
Hanseatic ancestors 16th century
Gladiator I 5th century
Gladiator II 4th century
From the Greek amphitheatron, where amphi means
‘round, surround’ and theatron means
‘something to look at’
I enter the amphi through the west gate.
With me I have some hand-forged cow-bells from Setesdal and Hallingdal.
Normally they are on display in closed showcases in The Historical Museum. If
one removes anything from there, an alarm goes off, but this has apparently
not been a problem.
The rusty and unassuming cow-bells from Vinje and Gol are physically in the
showcase, but also here in the amphi at the same time. How that can be
done I am not sure, but despite this I intend to celebrate the 21st century
by projecting them up in a laser model, hovering some way above the arena.
I keep them there to inspect them before I start to move them.
The sound astonishingly enough is formidable, it calls in those who once
lived. Female and male ancestors fill the tribunes, stay sitting there and are
amazed at what they see and hear. Some shake their heads, not unexpectedly –
what sort of a hullabaloo is this? Gradually though scattered cries are heard:
’Don’t stop, let them go on ringing, keep them going, let them ring like
the bells in Chartres or Siena. It’s the same sound, the same intention.’
I am surprised at the request, surprised that they now are familiar with French
and Italian cathedrals, for when they lived, they were simple mountain peasants.
No they’re sitting in their plain wadmal clothes, nodding encouragingly. They have
calloused hands and dirt under their nails, but have also become outstanding
from all their post-life experiences.
I let the cow-bells ring for a while, an accompaniment to the majority, who
gradually begin to move away while commenting on the day’s performance.
I let the ringing go on for a while for the minority, some stunted female
ancestors from eight generations back. They remain seated, listening to the sound of the
bells while calling home the cows a little.
Soon it starts to glow around them, as if they had eaten some of the
yellow churned butter, as if they had swallowed a gleaming piece of
the afternoon sun over the mountain pasture.
After many years in the land of the dead they are suddenly here,
in the amphi, a small group of my ancestors.
They are sleeping in various positions, spread around the tribunes.
Their lairs for the night are uncomfortable, I see,
and they have come a long way to get here.
But even though they are sleeping, are mumbling and ruminating and
twisting and turning in their dreams,
they are close to me, I who am wandering around in the arena.
A is snoring loudly. He has staggered back from ‘The Evening Star’
the pub in the eastern part of town, where he’s sung shanties and emptied
his tankard the whole evening.
S is sleeping in her vestal virgin costume, fully dressed, half on guard.
Pa is dreaming fitfully, twisting and turning on the hard bench, wrestling with
the existential enigmas, mathematical theories, as yet unsolved equations.
O is talking in his sleep, mumbling the names of the Plough’s seven stars:
Alkaid, Mizar, Alioth, Megrez, Dubhe, Merak, Phad.
I gaze up at the starry sky. Precisely. It’s the Plough, Charles’ Wagon in Norwegian.
Instead of walking in a circle, doubting and exhausted from lack of sleep, I pace
the pattern formed by the stars, thereby drawing a replica of
the asterism in the sand. The curved shaft first, and then the cart itself,
a means of transport for the dead.
When I’ve finished, I wake them up, tell them the watch is over, that they can leave.
Before I exit via the east gate, I can see them, yawning and half-dressed, are
beginning to move away from the tribunes and down towards the arena,
down towards the wagon I have got ready for them.
And I return to the Armamentarium, the arsenal.
It has been emptied of lances and swords,
but there is a bed there where I can sleep.
Ma, suddenly and unlabouredly, has got past the pit that separates the arena from
the tribunes. Now we’re standing together again.
She is assumed to have acquired exceptional knowledge after many years in the land
of the dead and this now provides a unique occasion to gain insight into it.
This is believed to be of general interest apart from private, so the meeting is
therefore to be documented, by me, and a film team is on the spot.
Camera and microphone are in position.
It would be fitting to start with a quotation from the Bhagavad-Gita or
Ballad of the Dream, but I remain standing spellbound in front of Ma.
Despite everything she is my own mother, missed, erect, dark-haired,
and incomprehensibly back from the land of the dead.
I pull myself together, begin the questioning, strangely stiffly and formally:
I: ‘This is a unique opportunity, so I’ll come straight to the point: The question
has to do with the greatest challenge we face: What are we to use our lives for?’
Ma: Silent, but moving her hands in the same way as when she used to warm
my ears and put on my knitted cap on the cold winter days of my sixth year of life.
I: ‘How can we prepare ourselves? What can we expect on the other
side of life?’
Ma: Silent, but lights up, as if she had just swallowed a piece of
I: ‘Have you met Lucretius? Did he say anything more about the nature of things?’
Ma: Silent, but out of her blue eyes salt gushes forth. Is it sodium and
water? It makes me think of the beginning of life in the sea.
I: ‘We now know that the ice is melting and the sea rising, people are being
persecuted or are starving.’
(Here I must control myself and not get too emotional, the camera’s running.)
What’s going to happen? Will we have to leave the planet?’
Ma: Silent, but slowly assumed a reversed yoga position,
Salamba sarvangasana, a perfect shoulder stand.
The production team seems surprised, but even so are getting impatient.
A couple of them gesticulate to me to speed things up, change
my approach, try to extract some sort of answer.
But I keep to the same tack, and Ma won’t be influenced either. Quickly she takes
me by the hand, waves to the tribunes, which are apparently empty, but there
our common ancestors, which only Ma and I can see, have gathered together.
We conclude abruptly, ignore the head of recording, who has become loud-mouthed,
and Ma leads me towards the exit.
We go out through the victors’ gate, Porta Triumphalis.
We pass stooping through the low shaft that leads to the back rooms, she first, me after.
Don’t turn round, I whisper, don’t turn round and look at me. I don’t want to lose you
to the underworld.
But she loves me so much, and turns round.
All the tricks of the martial arts at one go
Abducted, first from the single cell to the multicell, then from childhood to fully
developed tissue, and now fetched out into amphi from the dark waiting
room into hypogeum.
I resist, but am driven forwards, like the animal I am,
an average specimen of Homo sapiens: fleshy, bony, blood-filled,
led on to arena, where gravity once more starts to play havoc
with my body mass.
My breath circulates through nose and lungs via the solar plexus and out once more
into the already threatened upper air, so I begin to punch aimlessly into the air,
an uppercut at Gladiator I, a right hook at Gladiator II,
a high leg kick towards the dubious future.
It’s now a question of using all the tricks of the martial arts at one go,
but to no avail.
I get more and more out of breath, start to stagger, but am led forward and cannot
The mountain peasants are sitting on the tribunes.
Their hens have brazenly waddled onto the rows of seats reserved for rich plebians.
My grandfather from Hamar’s shaggy dog is enthroned in the emperor’s box.
Some Hanseatic ancestors shout encouragingly to me in Low German.
All this makes the fight easier, but the moon – high above the amphi – sneers
finally stabs me with its sharp, silver-shimmering lance.