Friday, August 31, 2007

tattoos -- give me your advice

A Coptic Christian in Ethiopia.

"Do not lacerate your bodies for the dead, and do not tattoo yourselves. I am the LORD."
-Leviticus 19:28

Imperatrix pulcherrima Africae occidentalis and I are giving each other tattoos as wedding presents. Yes, I know about the prohibition in Leviticus, but hey, I also trim the hair of my beard, which is forbidden by the previous verse. Most commentaries on these commandments identify them as forbidding actions involved in specific Canaanite mourning practices. In the end, I think for Christians they go the way of the dietary restrictions also found in Leviticus. Since allergy keeps me from enjoying the permission to eat shrimp, getting a tattoo will have to be my consolation prize.

We decided that we would engrave on our rings messages to each other from the Song of Songs, in Latin. My ring will have "dilectus meus mihi et ego illi" -- "My lover belongs to me and I to him" [Songs 2:15]. Her small ring has only enough room for "tota pulchra es" -- "You are all-beautiful" [Songs 4:7]. We thought then we would each have a tattoo of a longer version of our message.

This is where I need your advice, oh loyal sententites. Where shall I get it? In what form? How many words? I'm thinking of either the upper arm or the shoulder. I'm more inclined to the former, because I want to be able to see it. If I put it on my arm, should it be a band or more like a paragraph? Should there be a frame?

Finally, how much should I put? I like this verse and the two following. Should I put all of it? Excerpts? Let me give you all three verses in Latin, then the Douay-Rheims translation (from the Latin), then the New American version:

[tota pulchra es] amica mea et macula non est in te//

veni de Libano sponsa veni de Libano veni coronaberis de capite Amana de vertice Sanir et Hermon de cubilibus leonum de montibus pardorum//

vulnerasti cor meum soror mea sponsa vulnerasti cor meum in uno oculorum tuorum et in uno crine colli tui

[Thou art all fair,] O my love, and there is not a spot in thee.//

Come from Libanus, my spouse, come from Libanus, come: thou shalt be crowned from the top of Amana, from the top of Sanir and Hermon, from the dens of the lions, from the mountains of the leopards.//

Thou hast wounded my heart, my sister, my spouse, thou hast wounded my heart with one of thy eyes, and with one hair of thy neck. [D-R]

[You are all-beautiful,] my beloved,
and there is no blemish in you.//

Come from Lebanon, my bride,
come from Lebanon, come!
Descend from the top of Amana,
from the top of Senir and Hermon,
From the haunts of lions,
from the leopards' mountains.//

You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride;
you have ravished my heart with one glance of your eyes,

with one bead of your necklace. [NAB]

Let me hear what you think.


Anna said...

Are you planning to do it in Latin? I would skip the middle part with the places listed, and stick to the first and third parts, at most. I liked the NAB translation better than the D-R, mostly because "ravished" sounds better than "wounded". If you want others to be able to read it, I would think a paragraph form would be easier than a band that goes all the way around.

I wonder a lot about the OT thing. Is there a way to tell when the Lord is commanding something specific to the Jews of the time (dietary restrictions, "don't trim the sides of your head") and when he's giving a universal principle ("don't sacrifice your child to Moloch"), other than common sense or whatever you happen to decide you already believe or what some church authority tells you?

Garpu the Fork said...

Is there any way you can combine words into a design? That way you could possibly add more words in less real estate, as it were.

I'm fascinated by tattoos, but I don't know where I'd get one. Plus academics in music are a conservative bunch, so if it would show, that would raise eyebrows.

jackjoe said...

Of course, Liam, you must read "Until I Find You" by John Irving. About classical organist and tatoos and a lot more, with the main characters named Jack and Alice. Jack and Alice Haynes

crystal said...

I kind of like the new revised standard version's translation. I'd leave out the middle part too, perhaps, if space is a problem.

You are altogether beautiful, my love;
there is no flaw in you ...
You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride,
you have ravished my heart with a glance of your eyes,
with one jewel of your necklace.

Looking at some pics on the google image page, I think maybe the "going down the arm" quotation looked a little better than the "wrapping around the arm" version, but then it would be harder to cover up.

If you get stuck, you might try this Jesuit decision-making formula :-)

Liam said...

Anna -- Yes, in Latin. I think skipping the middle part might be a good idea. As far as knowing what parts of the OT Testament to follow, I guess the question is to see what prohibitions make sense with what the gospels say, and which seem unnecessary. As Jesus said, the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.

Garpu -- I might have a bit of design, but I want the text to be clear and readable.

All academics can be conservative, but I see more and more grad students with tattoos, so it might be accepted in the future. In any case, no one will see the tattoo when I'm dressed up.

Liam said...

Jack and Alice -- I have to confess I'm not a huge fan of John Irving. He seems a bit narcissistic. Everything I've read by him seems to be about a novelist trying to write a novel about a novelist. I will keep my eye out for that one, though.

Liam said...

Crystal -- thanks for the page on discernment. It could be useful for more than just this!

Jeff said...

Hi Ho Liam,

I think you know how I feel about tattoos. For me personally, I would still feel uncomfortable about it. For me, it feels totemistic and even somewhat idolatrous. I want to go to meet my maker unmarked, but you know what, I think your idea for a tattoo is one of the coolest ones I've ever heard. I say go for it.

I'm thinking, keep it to the wording that you have on the rings, and put it on the inside of the forearm.

Just my two bits worth... Cheers.

Dani said...

Y'know this is what Posh Spice and Beckham have tatooed on themselves right? Please consider how this choice will put you one degree closer to being a BFF of TomKat, and the implications therefrom. Plus, tatoos get saggy when you are old, and in the folds the message may take on a whole new meaning. Please also consider any future need for skin grafts if you were in a terrible accident. Feel okay with latin stretched across your face? Tatoos also put you at higher risk for Hep C. I know, Pam Anderson has it, and so who would not want it, but it isn't as sexy as it sounds. Finally, the removal laser hurts. Just having a sun spot removed was like having hot electrified molten lava poured in my face.

crystal said...

If you're not sure how it will look, you can use a pen for a temp preview - I'm always drawing on myself, writing on myself (the only way I made it through college exams :-) It's my grandfather's fault. He taught me how to draw a hula dancer on the side of my index finger and make her dance.

Liam said...

Jeff -- I do know how you feel, and I appreciate the two bits.

Dani -- Pamela Anderson! Yet another reason to get a tattoo! I think also it would be great to have an excuse to have Latin stretched out over my face -- "You know, it's a skin graft."

Crystal -- unfortunately I'm not much of an artist.

cowboyangel said...

Hey, I thought I was going to be your tattoo buddy! I guess we just never got drunk enough. Though that's hard to believe.

Personally, I think you should go with the symbols on Led Zeppelin IV. But that's probably been done before. Like 1,000,000 times - so not very original.

Of the choices offered, I'd go with the last one - from the NAB. And I like garpu's suggestion to combine words and design. Maybe a Guinness pint with the words going up and down the glass.

Go with the upper right part of the back - towards the shoulder blade. Not too big.

And not to cause problems, but wouldn't the inscription on your ring fit better with the bride? It seems to me that you would be reminding yourself that you are "his" lover.

Liam said...

Don't worry, batman, I will get a tattoo with you one of these days. If, however, you get a Led Zeppelin tattoo, I will shoot you.

The way the ring inscription works is: the rings are a gift to each other. Therefore, the message in Romell's ring is my message to her ("you are all-beautiful"). With her message in my ring, she is reminding me that I am her lover.

jackjoe said...

yes, liam, i saw your comment. i am virtually out of my mind with sadness and anger; anger not at you but at the smug superiority of the other blogger as i call him. through me, jack ask some specific questions and got only a smart alec reply and a total dismisal of jack's questions. that was the last thing he saw on the blogs. jack was within a week or two of becomming a catholic, but i think he would not have gone through it. the church's utter obsession with sex is just too much, and in jack's opinion and mine is without basis.
but i will try to express our views on a new blog or someplace if i can find one.
your sympathy is more than appreciated. your patience with the three young men jack sent your way almost erases my anger at the church. each boy loves his parents and i hope you will not be upset to know they consider you almost a second father, especially now that jack cannot help. sorry to write in anger. alice

Liam said...

I'm sorry you came across such negative people on the web. They don't really speak for all Catholics -- they just think they. My prayers are with you and Jack.

Garpu the Fork said...

Ooooh. I'd definitely go with Led Zeppelin. ;)

cowboyangel said...

Yes, Garpu!

Well, Liam, it looks like it's 2 to 1 in favor of the Led Zeppelin tattoo. Better get that baby inked up and ready to carve into your chest before the wedding. You could follow that up with a giant RAMBLE ON, with a picture of John Bonham pounding the drums - just cover your entire back. Imagine what a hit you'd be at the beach!

Liam said...

Okay, William. We'll go down to the East Village, I'll get that Zep tattoo you described, and you can do some kind of "Lizard King" motif. Then we can go get drunk and shoot ourselves.

Maybe it would be better if we just got the tattoos from "Dude, Where's my Car?".

crystal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marcus Aurelius said...

Just my humble opinion on an old post, (1) I don't feel like my body is mine to draw on like a canvas, it's on loan from God, though I do take liberties like cutting it's hair and fingernails and such, that's for reasonable care and maintenance, not logo-etizing it like an object. (2) There is no single symbol or verse I wouldn't tire of in 10 years. (3) Tatoos get all nasty looking after 10 years anyway (see point 2).

Liam said...


Thanks for your thoughts. I certainly understand them, even if I don't agree completely. You're right about the body belonging to God, and the question then would be to draw the line as to what is acceptable modification (in your case, a haircut -- though a Sikh may disagree with you) and what is mutilation. I tend to feel that the deep cultural history of tattooing indicates that many people over time have seen the possibility of reverently marking their bodies. The tattoo I got, and the ones I might get are religious -- not just because I think it's cool, but because that's the only way I personally approach the question with devotion.

As far as getting bored with something in ten years, well, of course I'm sure a lot of people regret their tattoos. I'm glad I waited till my 40s to decide on what I want. I think at this point in my life I know what things will last for me. Anyone who lets their teenager get a tattoo is crazy.