Epitome… aww, can’t I have apotheosis instead?
Epitome calls to mind the legal office I used to work in, and spending afternoon after afternoon attempting to gather big bundles of dusty deeds and documents into something called an Epitome of Title.
Epitome, which most people think of as being the perfect example of a person, quality or whatever, also actually means:
summary, abstract, synopsis, précis, résumé, outline, digest, recapitulation, summation, compendium…
An Epitome of Title, that big bundle of sepia documents of various ages, some typed, many hand-written in some cramped legal hand is an abstract of all the documents there are, or can be found, on a particular subject – a careful selection, in other words, proving somebody’s right or title to something.
I have to admit, I found the process tedious and stressful. My chief memory is of dusty sunlight streaming in through street-level windows in my boss’s office, and the shadowy backs of loiterers in the street who had chosen to perch their bottoms on the wide window-ledge and watch the world go by for a few minutes, unaware that they could be seen from within. I did like the handwriting though. And I liked the smell and feel of that old, expensive paper, the waxiness, the sepia-ness, the undisturbed-ness. The past rose from it in motes of dust and fell from it in centuries old spider-corpses.
But apotheosis, now there’s a word. It tends to get used as a synonym for epitome, but it isn’t, not really. In its everyday, non-legal sense the Epitome is the perfect example of something, but the Apotheosis of something is more rarefied, more wonderful still. Technically apotheosis means:
the elevation or exaltation of a person to the rank of a god
whereas, epitome means:
the features of a whole class.
Epitome is one of something, apotheosis is the absolute something.
And the reason I have apotheosis stuck in my head is the last line of a poem by Peter Porter. [Sorry, Daisy… my friend Daisy groans whenever I start banging on about poems – she prefers my childhood memories. Sorry, Daisy – but you might like the legal stuff since we worked together for many in that anonymous, building – the one with the spiders and the shadows of shoppers perched on the windowsills behind thick, frosted glass.]
It is a poem called Made In Heaven, and is about a young woman who marries for money and then realises she has the rest of her life to regret it:
The apotheosis of the young wife and mediocre dancer.
It obviously meant something to me, that line – a message that year after year I was failing to heed!
(Daisy and I sometimes feel very, very old – but not, as you might be tempted to assume from the knickerbockers, starched collars, caps and horse-drawn carts, quite that old.)