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The Disambiguation of Ptolemy

March 12, 2015
Octavian and Ptolemy AKA the Two-headed, Eight-legged Sofa Beast

Octavian and Ptolemy
AKA the Two-headed, Eight-legged Sofa Beast

There’s a place, the hallowed name of which I am not worthy to utter, where the word “Disambiguation” appears as numerous as the grains on the seashore. When I needed it most, however, it was nowhere to be found.

I was looking to disambiguate Ptolemy. And without the assistance I was looking for I shall have to do it myself.

So, to be totally clear: this is Ptolemy:

Ptolemy the true philosopher, deep in thought

Ptolemy the true philosopher, deep in thought

Since he came off rather badly in a fight with a felinified demon a couple of days ago, he has been feeling rather sorry for himself. He thought that the Stray Cat Strutting around the garden recently was a friendly face. But as The Ocean put it: Ptolemy was Wrong.

The Ocean is a German collective which has been making mysterious and wonderful music since the beginning of the century (how odd it feels to type that phrase). They are worth your – and my – further investigation and perhaps I will report further on that in due course. You never know.

Various other things present themselves as possibilities for No 1 spot among the Ptolemies of the world, of which I would like to offer two. I’m going to ignore the thinker/writer/scientist/astrologer, and the many discoveries and inventions named in his honour: he’s had more than enough good PR, though I’m sure he was a thoroughly good egg.

this is just any old Ptolemy. Photo from Wikipedia

this is just any old Ptolemy. Photo from Wikipedia

Instead, I first give you: Tolomeo – Handel’s opera about an Egyptian ruler and his mother*, Cleopatra. Confusingly, it isn’t that Cleoptra, and it isn’t that Ptolemy. Never mind that now, just enjoy the (hopefully) familiar Non lo diro col labbro, a simple and poignant aria which I find instantly transporting.

And secondly: well, it turns out there is no secondly. I’m stuck. I was hoping to be able to find a picture of The Ptolemy, an adapted reed organ created by the American composer Harry Partch, and then to link neatly to this – Ulysses at the Edge. But I couldn’t find one. So again, just listen. The precise crafting and performance of this short piece is fascinating, and the music is infused with subdued drama. I really like it – Ptolemy or no Ptolemy.

But to make up for my failure, here’s Octavian’s aria Wie Du warst! Wie Du bist! from Richard Strauss’s Der Rozenkavalier.

And in case you’re wondering, Octavian is, disambiguously, the real Ptolemy’s brother.

* Notice how I didn’t say “mummy”


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