Thursday, October 11, 2012

spent with heat, and dissolved

In Hillgarth's book I see a letter from Bishop Daniel of Winchester to Bishop Boniface the missionary, one man telling the other how he should use logic to argue the pagans out of their paganism. "When they have been forced to admit that their gods had a beginning, since they were begotten by others, they should be asked whether the world had a beginning or was always in existence ..." (Translated by C.H. Talbot.) Time will pass and vindicate his cunning; time will make it necessary; the present will have become the only conclusion of the action. For centuries there were monks trying to establish that Aristotle and Virgil were really Christians, as they should be. They were Christians, at heart, somehow, Christians. This is recorded by Haskins. Earlier, earlier, Greek philosophers of the first few centuries AD decided that Plato had been a kind of Moses. "What is Plato but Moses speaking Attic Greek?" asked Numenius of Apamea. Jeremy Taylor in 1651 quotes Pindar and St James together; he praises first Lucien in his Rules and Exercises of Holy Dying and then "God's mercy or God's anger," all of these sources in his essay agreeing with him and supplying him with sayings. They are a united group, Homer, St James, God, and Jeremy Taylor, a Church of England bishop, dead of fever in 1667 with a portrait in Cambridge, the eyes of this portrait looking back over the shoulder, and the hands disembodied against the black cloth of his cape like Egon Schiele flippers.

There was once an Ephesian woman, he says in Dying, who was so miserable after her husband's expiration that she "descended with the corpse into the vault, and there, being attended with her maiden, resolved to weep to death, or die with famine, or a distempered sorrow: from which resolution nor his, not her friends, nor the reverence of the principal citizens, who used the entreaties of their charity and their power, could persuade her." But passion had wrung her out and her feelings were "willing to be gathered into order at the arrest of any new object, being weary of the first, of which, like leeches, they had sucked their fill, till they fell down and burst," so that a soldier came down to see how she was, wound up "married" (writes Taylor) to the mourner on her husband's grave.

For so the wild foragers of Lybia, being spent with heat, and dissolved by the too fond kisses of the sun, do melt with their common fires, and die with faintness, and descend with motions slow and unable to the little brooks that descent from heaven in the wilderness; and when they drink they return into the vigour of a new life, and contract strange marriages; and the lioness is courted by a panther, and she listens to his love, and conceives a monster that all men call unnatural, and the daughter of an equivocal passion and of a sudden refreshment.

The Catholic character M. Paul Emmanuel in Brontë's Vilette accuses the Protestant narrator of paganism but loves her anyway.

Contradictions are reasonable as long as they're kept inside the brain, but bring them out and try to state them logically in public and the soft coexistence of gods or ideas is cut apart; the private God is willing to relax while you burn your magical turf or "immolate a victim for the purpose of a sacrifice, or to consult the quivering entrails" (Theodosian Code (392), translated by Clyde Pharr) but when someone unsympathetic draws hard lines then no, the relaxation vanishes, there's no relaxation, they can't coexist publicly though in your head why not -- in public don't ask don't tell -- and yet what a surprise, I bet you, for many people, to have this pointed out, the private universe cut and prism'd, and themselves forced to choose, a logical toughness is proposed, ancient tourist, if you really believed you were unworthy would you have put those names there? No but the word meant something else when I said it.

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