by David P. Stern (1982)

    Palimpsest is the word
    On my tongue and my mind
    When on waveswept expanses
    Of seashore I find
    Angular outlines
    Traced in the sand
    Where castles and citadels
    Once used to stand.
    Now erased by the tides
    They resemble, indeed,
    Those ancient craters
    That mark Ganymede
    Which sagged to the surface
    Completely depressed
    Until just their outline remained:

    My mind's own parchment
    Like the sands of the shore
    Is erased and reused
    It is pristine no more.
    Elisha ben Avuyah, it's written,
    Once said
    He who studies God's law
    While still a young lad
    Has a mind like fresh parchment
    At its cleanest and best
    But in old age the mind
    Is a mere


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Note: The ancient Greeks and Romans had no paper: their books were hand-written on parchment--specially treated animal skin, forming thin hard sheets. Parchment was expensive, and therefore when a book was no longer of great interest, the letters on its parchment were sometimes carefully scraped away with a knife and the pages re-used. Such a clean-scraped parchment--usable, but no longer as good as new--was known as a palimpsest. The quote from Elisha be Avuyah, listed among ancient Jewish sages though himself an apostate, is in the Mishnah, Sayings of the Fathers, VI, v. 25.

    Our Moon is covered with walled craters, marking impacts of early meteorites. The icy satellites of Jupiter suffered similar bombardment, but their craters are just surface markings, because ice is soft and icy walls sag with time to the surface. They therefore became known as "palimpsest craters."

Author and Curator:   Dr. David P. Stern
     Mail to Dr.Stern:   david("at" symbol) .

Last updated 15 May 2002