Saturday, December 03, 2011

The Nativity in Paintings I

Geertgen tot Sint Jans - Nativity, at Night - WGA08514

This is one of the most famous Nativity paintings, called Nativity at Night. It is a fairly small oil painting on oak panel that was made in the late 15th century by Geertgen van Haarlem; it was probably for private devotional use. It is actually an adaptation of an earlier painting by Hugo van der Goes which no longer survives; from descriptions and other versions (the most famous of which is Michael Sittow's early 16th-century version) we know that Geertgen's version shrinks and simplifies the original, and also reverses the orientation. The effect of the simplification, however, is quite striking, and I think makes for much of the attraction of the painting: it is all light and darkness.

All major Nativity scenes in painting are mediated versions of the original stories, much as all Christmas pageant plays are mediated versions of the originals. In this case the mediation is by way of St. Birgitta of Sweden's vision of the Nativity, which still exercises its influence. It is to Birgitta that we owe the image of the Virgin kneeling before the manger; on the basis of the striking description she gives of this in her Revelations, this became a popular scene in paintings, and thus a common part of Nativity scenes in any medium. And the brilliant light radiating from the Christ Child, which makes this painting so striking, is a Bridgettine detail, as well.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Music on My Mind

The Magnetic Fields, "The Death of Ferdinand de Saussure"

As I Went I Sang with Them

After Rain
by Archibald Lampman

For three whole days across the sky,
In sullen packs that loomed and broke,
With flying fringes dim as smoke,
The columns of the rain went by;
At every hour the wind awoke;
The darkness passed upon the plain;
The great drops rattled at the pane.

Now piped the wind, or far aloof
Fell to a sough remote and dull;
And all night long with rush and lull
The rain kept drumming on the roof:
I heard till ear and sense were full
The clash or silence of the leaves,
The gurgle in the creaking eaves.

But when the fourth day came–at noon,
The darkness and the rain were by;
The sunward roofs were steaming dry;
And all the world was flecked and strewn
With shadows from a fleecy sky.
The haymakers were forth and gone,
And every rillet laughed and shone.

Then, too, on me that loved so well
The world, despairing in her blight,
Uplifted with her least delight,
On me, as on the earth, there fell
New happiness of mirth and might;
I strode the valleys pied and still;
I climbed upon the breezy hill.

I watched the gray hawk wheel and drop,
Sole shadow on the shining world;
I saw the mountains clothed and curled,
With forest ruffling to the top;
I saw the river's length unfurled,
Pale silver down the fruited plain,
Grown great and stately with the rain.

Through miles of shadow and soft heat,
Where field and fallow, fence and tree,
Were all one world of greenery,
I heard the robin ringing sweet,
The sparrow piping silverly,
The thrushes at the forest's hem
And as I went I sang with them.

Aegidius Draft VII

Capitulum Primum: Wherein we meet the Wolf of Wolves
Capitulum Secundum: Wherein we learn something of Wolves
Capitulum Tertium: Wherein a plan is made
Capitulum Quartum: Wherein a war begins
Capitulum Quintum
Capitulum Sextum
Capitulum Septimum
Capitulum Octavum
Capitulum Nonum
Capitulum Decimum

So 9 and 10 are new here. I had hoped to have more, and to have had it sooner, but things kept coming up. Decimum is a not much of a chapter, and would probably vanish in revision, but writing-wise it's a pause before the final cascade of events as Aegidius starts reeling things in.

In many ways I think the storyline that will be coming, and which now is clear in all but some details, has a kind of Medea-like feel to it, quite by accident. Certainly Euripides is in one sense merely telling the story of a deus ex machina -- it just happens that the god from the machine was Medea herself all along, and anyone who thinks that deus ex machina is necessarily a lapse of art should study that tragedy closely to be corrected -- and there's some of that here. But the crucial difference is that Medea had the untamed and burning fire of the sun in her, while Aegidius has in him the coldly ruthless madness of the moon. And also, I think, that the end result here can't quite end up a tragedy, because I am not a pagan Greek.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Taylor on the Good of Organisms

We can think of the good of an individual nonhuman organism as consisting in the full development of its biological powers. Its good is realized to the extent that it is strong and healthy. It possesses whatever capacities it needs for successfully coping with its environment and so preserving its existence throughout the various stages of the normal life cycle of its species. The good of a population or community of such individuals consists in the population or community maintaining itself from generation to generation as a coherent system of genetically and ecologically related organisms whose average good is at an optimum level for the given environment....

The idea of a being having a good of its own, as I understand it, does not entail that the being must have interests or take an interest in what affects its life for better or for worse. We can act in a being’s interest or contrary to its interest without its being interested in what we are doing to it in the sense of wanting or not wanting us to do it. It may, indeed, be wholly unaware that favorable and unfavorable events are taking place in its life. I take it that trees, for example, have no knowledge or desires or feelings. Yet it is undoubtedly the case that trees can be harmed or benefited by our actions. We can crush their roots by running a bulldozer too close to them. We can see to it that they get adequate nourishment and moisture by fertilizing and watering the soil around them. Thus we can help or hinder them in the realization of their good. It is the good of trees themselves that is thereby affected.

Paul W. Taylor, The Ethics of Respect for Nature (PDF)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Not Frankly and in Fellowship

The Song against Grocers
by G. K. Chesterton

God made the wicked Grocer
For a mystery and a sign,
That men might shun the awful shops
And go to inns to dine;
Where the bacon’s on the rafter
And the wine is in the wood,
And God that made good laughter
Has seen that they are good.

The evil-hearted Grocer
Would call his mother “Ma’am,”
And bow at her and bob at her,
Her aged soul to damn,
And rub his horrid hands and ask
What article was next
Should be her proper text.

His props are not his children,
But pert lads underpaid,
Who call out “Cash!” and bang about
To work his wicked trade;
He keeps a lady in a cage
Most cruelly all day,
And makes her count and calls her “Miss”
Until she fades away.

The righteous minds of innkeepers
Induce them now and then
To crack a bottle with a friend
Or treat unmoneyed men,
But who hath seen the Grocer
Treat housemaids to his teas
Or crack a bottle of fish sauce
Or stand a man a cheese?

He sells us sands of Araby
As sugar for cash down;
He sweeps his shop and sells the dust
The purest salt in town,
He crams with cans of poisoned meat
Poor subjects of the King,
And when they die by thousands
Why, he laughs like anything.

The wicked Grocer groces
In spirits and in wine,
Not frankly and in fellowship
As men in inns do dine;
But packed with soap and sardines
And carried off by grooms,
For to be snatched by Duchesses
And drunk in dressing-rooms.

The hell-instructed Grocer
Has a temple made of tin,
And the ruin of good innkeepers
Is loudly urged therein;
But now the sands are running out
From sugar of a sort,
The Grocer trembles; for his time,
Just like his weight, is short.

But so far there seems no bite in the prophecy; grocers you can find easily, but innkeepers, to the extent they exist at all, are more and more like grocers. Someone could write a poem called "The Vaunt of the Grocers" on the subject.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Five Thousandth Post

This is, according to Blogger, my five thousandth post here. Also according to Blogger, here are the most visited posts, with #1 being the most visited:

1. Rule of Law vs. Rule by Law (August 2005)

2. Jesuit Jokes (June 2011)

3. Best Known Philosophical Sentences (July 2004)

4. Water is Not H2O (October 2011)

5. Immanuel Kant's Guide to a Good Dinner Party (July 2010)

The blogs that have sent me the most traffic since Blogger began keeping track in June 2009 are:

Philosophy, et cetera
Edward Feser
Catholic and Enjoying It!
Just Thomism
Evolving Thoughts

Far and the way the countries that send me the most traffic are:


Aegidius Draft V

I'll slowly be putting up rough draft chapters at While I'll be writing every day, I'll only be posting as chapters are finished.

Capitulum Primum: Wherein we meet the Wolf of Wolves
Capitulum Secundum: Wherein we learn something of Wolves
Capitulum Tertium: Wherein a plan is made
Capitulum Quartum: Wherein a war begins
Capitulum Quintum
Capitulum Sextum
Capitulum Septimum

Two more chapters today. This brings us to something over 13500 words; mostly talking, talking, talking. An artifact of trying to throw it hurriedly together in bits and pieces in times I have free; since I think in fragmentary dialogues, that's what's going to get put down if I'm in a hurry. There should be one more chapter up by December 1, and then we'll assess where things are at. I've pretty much given up on subtitles to chapters, because with all the discussion the subtitles would pretty much have to be variations on "Wherein people talk some more".

In 6 and 7 we more or less get an answer to Cat's question about what Giles was really at with "anonymous renegade" swipe at Eric, i.e., it wasn't really directed at Eric but at another person at the table; and we finally move a step closer to discovering who killed Joanne. Giles also lets slip a tiny bit more of his unpleasant side.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Links for Noting

* Visual Midrash: Jewish and Jewish-influenced painting, mosaic, and sculpture throughout the ages. There was a time not long ago when people regularly claimed that the Jewish religion had no art, especially two thousand years ago; but archeological finds have increasingly discovered that synagogues were sometimes elaborately decorated. Perhaps the most famous such find was the Dura-Europos synagogue.

* Frank Weathers discusses George Santayana's almost-Catholicism.

* Caroline Farrow on the difficulties of being a Catholic woman online.

* An interesting post on translation at "NewAPPS".

* Juan Gomez discusses eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher George Turnbull.

* Roentgen semiotics.

* Ben Lockerd discusses the influence of Christopher Dawson on T. S. Eliot.

* Margarita Mooney on Women's Dignity in the Workplace

* John Farrell reviews Eamon Duffy's Ten Popes Who Shook the World.


* Cosma Shalizi mocks bad economic reasoning.