Saturday, December 09, 2017

Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking-Glass


Opening Passages: From Alice:

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice ‘without pictures or conversations?’

So she was considering in her own mind (as well as she could, for the hot day made her feel very sleepy and stupid), whether the pleasure of making a daisy-chain would be worth the trouble of getting up and picking the daisies, when suddenly a White Rabbit with pink eyes ran close by her.

From Looking-Glass:

One thing was certain, that the white kitten had had nothing to do with it:--it was the black kitten's fault entirely. For the white kitten had been having its face washed by the old cat for the last quarter of an hour (and bearing it pretty well, considering); so you see that it couldn't have had any hand in the mischief.

Summary: Both of Carroll's most famous works are attempts to capture, in a basic sort of fairy-tale narrative, the imagination of children. This is particularly obvious with Through the Looking-Glass, which, while it gets its structure from the chess game, gets its content from nursery rhymes, but it is true throughout. This is perhaps the simplest way to capture the new thing that Carroll was attempting: a fairy tale, but elaborated as much as possible from the perspective of a child of seven and a half years (as we discover Alice is in Through the Looking-Glass). This is a shift, since fairy tales typically had not been, indeed still aren't, constructed in an attempt to mimic a child's own imagination. The result is inevitably episodic; the overarching plots, to get to the garden party and to get queened, are minimal, and one thing comes after another in quick succession, and without much rhyme and reason. Carroll himself recognized this as a potential issue in his essay, Alice on the Stage, and attributes to his tendency simply to be struck by ideas and develop them on their own, but it fits with the child's-perspective approach.

In this sense, 'nonsense' is a misleading name for the genre; it is really concerned with fragmentary sense. It's not that the White Rabbit is nonsense; it's that the White Rabbit is sense on its own, and that is all. As Carroll notes in the same essay:

And the White Rabbit, what of him? Was he framed on the `Alice’ lines, or meant as a contrast? As a contrast, distinctly. For her `youth’, `audacity’, `vigour’, and `swift directness of purpose’, read `elderly’, `timid’, `feeble’, and `nervously shilly-shallying’, and you will get something of what I meant him to be. I think the White Rabbit should wear spectacles. I am sure his voice should quaver, and his knees quiver, and his whole air suggest a total inability to say `Bo’ to a goose!

The White Rabbit is not an allegory, but a fragment capable of serving as allegory for the oddness, from a child's perspective, of the adult tendency to rush around and 'nervously shilly-shally'. The nonsense is that of the adult world insofar as its sense cannot be fully grasped by a child. Thus the baffling conversations, which are like the conversations children sometimes have to get through with adults in which they don't understand half of the assumptions being made; hence the arbitrariness of the examination for being queen, or the endless tumble of apparently incomprehensible punishments. If you see the world of adult sense with a child's partial perspective and imagination, that is the sort of 'nonsense' that we get in the Alice books. In both books this is mediated by the fact that it is supposed to be a dream; this, however, I think mostly serves to help the adult reader get a foothold in a child's world, where the difference between dream and waking is not so sharp because the latter does not always seem as obviously more coherent than the former.

But all this is, perhaps, a bit too serious; it's not an allegory for children among adults, although it uses something of that as a basis. It's a lot of silliness, of course, just for the sake of it. There is, of course, a great deal of humor throughout. I found the tendency of the Looking-Glass folk to recite poetry to Alice whether she wanted to hear or not rather funnier than I remembered.

Favorite Passages: From Alice:

The Cat only grinned when it saw Alice. It looked good-natured, she thought: still it had very long claws and a great many teeth, so she felt that it ought to be treated with respect.

‘Cheshire Puss,’ she began, rather timidly, as she did not at all know whether it would like the name: however, it only grinned a little wider. ‘Come, it’s pleased so far,’ thought Alice, and she went on. ‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.

‘I don’t much care where—’ said Alice.

‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

‘—so long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.

‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’

Alice felt that this could not be denied, so she tried another question.

From Looking-Glass:

'I know what you're thinking about,' said Tweedledum: 'but it isn't so, nohow.'

'Contrariwise,' continued Tweedledee, 'if it was so, it might be; and if it were so, it would be; but as it isn't, it ain't. That's logic.'

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Two New Poem Drafts

A Devil Rogue Yet Debonair

She saw him in the lunar light
on moonlit night of storm and dark;
the moon was horned and icy-bright
and painted shadows black and stark.
The wind was whipping through his hair,
a devil rogue yet debonair.

On nights of waning moon he went,
where lonely bent the wilder roads;
they say he howled from yearning pent;
they say his eyes with fury glowed.
A melancholy air he bore,
and sorrow like a mantle wore.

She loved him as a woman can;
a fire ran from eye to eye,
and all the charm of mortal man
like lightning from the tempest sky
upon her forest-heart then burned,
and, for a while, her love he earned.

But madness like contagious blight
of deadening spite through thought did spread;
his blood in fever raged at night
and ceaseless through the country led,
a second rot to turn love bad.
The first: that she a husband had.

As love grew stronger, she grew less,
as in each breath his passion grew,
an aching yearning to possess,
the power sought by love untrue.
For love seeks ways it may endure,
and impure love seeks ways impure.

He bade her swear to be his own
as shone the moon with wicked horn,
a vow to be like granite stone,
as if the wedded bond were torn.
She did; his words like heaven were,
for sweetness she her hell incurred.

such bonds are self-inflicted curse;
such thirsts can never steady last.
They soon will move from worse to worse
and worst of all as worse is passed.
You know it well, despite all lie:
a faithless love will faithless die.

She grew to hope, but he to tire;
the liar cast her off to roam.
She longed for death with heart's desire.
Her corpse is now beneath the loam.
Her husband wept in sable dressed;
his prayers alone her gravestone blessed.

And he, more driven night by night
as light of moon grew cold and fierce,
in madness born of moonlit sight
her shade he saw; his heart was pierced,
and madness from from its core,
and through his blood in fury poured.

Upon the rocks he cast his frame --
but blamed not he his own cruel deed.
And round his body demons flamed,
for sin to hell is as the seed.
A path through judgment ever goes,
and curse to loss like river flows.

She saw him in the lunar light,
on moonlit night of storm and dark.
The moon was horned and icy-bright
and painted shadows black and stark.
The wind was whipping through his hair,
a devil rogue and debonair.

Dionysian Cantillation

From the Father of lights a light goes out,
all-informing, undivided,
without confusion diversifying,
ever same and never changing.
Illuminated, the mind is exalted,
rising up to understanding,
where knower and known are one,
as spirits live in splendid choir.
But human thought is matter-mixed,
never rising on its own.
Through ministry of spirits bright,
a golden strand in heaven fixed,
the soul may put aside its chains,
seek the truth and find the truth,
and be restored to beauty.
Thrice by thrice does providence
enact through spirits endless things:
its first work, love, undying burns;
illumination springs from love;
righteous purity proceeds from both;
sublime in triple splendor,
these shape the world in threefold way,
by authority, by order, and by strength,
which are exercised in threefold way,
by presidence, by method, and by service due.
Thus ever spirit flows from light,
a light beyond what sight can see,
first in gift and first in splendor,
shining through each spiritual rank
like rays of sun through crystal pure.
Each order heralds those above it,
each manifesting from beginning to end,
each receiving from the light,
each instructing those below it.
Through hierarchies flows down endless light
to human hearts, by spirits taught
as eye is taught by burning lamp.
Rising, human reason travels
up that ladder raised to heaven,
growing ever more integral,
shining bright step by step,
until it is so bright with shining
it is life from light and without end.


Feast of the Immaculate Conception

By your Yes, O maiden, you made Truths true.
The prophets had spoken great things to come;
through your faith those prophecies were fulfilled.
They were the words of God, who does not lie,
and by the Son you bore they were made true.

So great a thing it is to bear the Lord!
And yet your faith is greater than that deed!
As you were made our Mother on His cross,
for our defense, O Mary, intercede!

By your Yes, O maiden, you gave us light,
for Light was born from your unsullied sky.
In His light, the light of God we will see
for from you comes a Priest forevermore,
the Lamb upon the Throne, who is our Light.

So great a thing it is to bear the Lord!
And yet your faith is greater than that deed!
As you were made our Mother on His cross,
for our defense, O Mary, intercede!

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Honey from the Swarm

Today is the feast of St. Aurelius Ambrosius, better known in English as St. Ambrose of Milan, Doctor of the Church. He was in any many ways the most Roman of the Church Fathers. He was born in Gallia Belgica (modern day Belgium/Luxembourg/Netherlands) to a Roman family involved in the government there; he studied at Rome, and eventually was made governor of Aemilia-Liguria, whose capital, Mediolanum or Milan, was at the time the second most important city in the Empire in honors, and in practical importance probably the first. Milan had been rent by the controversy over Arianism, and its Arian bishop, Auxentius, had been one of the major Arian polemicists; after Auxentius's death, Ambrose went to the church to keep order, because the election of the bishop was likely to cause a serious uproar regardless of who was chosen. When he tried to give a speech encouraging people to be peaceful about the election, however, the crowd starting chanting "Ambrose, bishop!" While Ambrose was Christian, he was (like a lot of Romans at the time) merely a catechumen; he had never been baptized. Ambrose fled to a friend's house, but the Emperor Gratian had heard about the people's choice and sent a letter formally congratulating them on the excellent choice -- at which point Ambrose basically had very little choice. He was baptized, confirmed, ordained, and consecrated bishop of the second most important see in the West, all in the same week. And Ambrose, Roman to the core when it came to duty and honor, took it seriously; he started devoted himself to the study of theology, gave away most of his wealth, and began living ascetically. It actually turned out quite well; his top-notch Roman education, devoted to making him an excellent contributor to Roman government, had trained him for administration and public speaking and made him fluent in Greek, an increasingly rare thing in the West. This would be important in the fights to come, as he had showdown after showdown with increasingly powerful Arian patrons, including, eventually, Imperial ones.

From his work De officiis ministrorum (Book II, Chapter II), which adapts, fairly radically, the Ciceronian approach to ethics to Christian ethics:

The philosophers have made a happy life to depend, either (as Hieronymus) on freedom from pain, or (as Herillus) on knowledge. For Herillus, hearing knowledge very highly praised by Aristotle and Theophrastus, made it alone to be the chief good, when they really praised it as a good thing, not as the only good; others, as Epicurus, have called pleasure such; others, as Callipho, and after him Diodorus, understood it in such a way as to make a virtuous life go in union, the one with pleasure, the other with freedom from pain, since a happy life could not exist without it. Zeno, the Stoic, thought the highest and only good existed in a virtuous life. But Aristotle and Theophrastus and the other Peripatetics maintained that a happy life consisted in virtue, that is, in a virtuous life, but that its happiness was made complete by the advantages of the body and other external good things.

But the sacred Scriptures say that eternal life rests on a knowledge of divine things and on the fruit of good works. The Gospel bears witness to both these statements. For the Lord Jesus spoke thus of knowledge: “This is eternal life, to know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ Whom Thou hast sent.” About works He gives this answer: “Every one that hath forsaken house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for My Name’s sake, shall receive an hundred-fold, and shall inherit everlasting life.”


Faith, then, has [the promise of] eternal life, for it is a good foundation. Good works, too, have the same, for an upright man is tested by his words and acts. For if a man is always busy talking and yet is slow to act, he shows by his acts how worthless his knowledge is: besides it is much worse to know what one ought to do, and yet not to do what one has learnt should be done. On the other hand, to be active in good works and unfaithful at heart is as idle as though one wanted to raise a beautiful and lofty dome upon a bad foundation. The higher one builds, the greater is the fall; for without the protection of faith good works cannot stand. A treacherous anchorage in a harbour perforates a ship, and a sandy bottom quickly gives way and cannot bear the weight of the building placed upon it. There then will be found the fulness of reward, where the virtues are perfect, and where there is a reasonable agreement between words and acts.

One of Ambrose's hagiographical symbols is a beehive (he is also patron saint of practically anything bee-related). According to the story, when Ambrose was a baby, he was suddenly surrounded by a swarm of bees. After he was rescued, he turned out to be completely unharmed, indeed, unaffected in any way, except for a drop of nectar or honey on his cheek. His family is said to have regarded it as an omen that he would be an eloquent orator. It's a good emblem for Ambrose's life during the Arian swarm.

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Star and Soup

Star of the Evening
by James M. Sayle

Beautiful star in heav’n so bright,
Softly falls thy silv’ry light,
As thou movest from earth afar,
Star of the evening, beautiful star.

Beautiful star,
Beautiful star,
Star of the evening, beautiful star.

In Fancy’s eye thou seem’st to say,
Follow me, come from earth away.
Upward thy spirit’s pinions try,
To realms of love beyond the sky.

Beautiful star,
Beautiful star,
Star of the evening, beautiful star.

Shine on, oh star of love divine,
And may our soul’s affection twine
Around thee as thou movest afar,
Star of the twilight, beautiful star.

Turtle Soup
by Lewis Carroll

Beautiful Soup, so rich and green,
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop?
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!

Beau–ootiful Soo–oop!
Beau–ootiful Soo–oop
Soo–oop of the e–e–evening,
Beautiful, beautiful Soup!

Beautiful Soup! Who cares for fish,
Game or any other dish?
Who would not give all else
for two pennyworth only of Beautiful Soup?
Pennyworth only of beautiful Soup?

Beau–ootiful Soo–oop!
Beau–ootiful Soo–oop!
Soo–oop of the e–e–evening,
Beautiful, beauti–FUL SOUP!

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Meet Nicholas Steno (Re-Post)

Today is the feast of Bl. Nicholas Steno, so I re-post this with minor revision.

Depending on whether you date according to the Julian or the Gregorian calendar, Niels Stensen was born in Copenhagen January 1 (Julian) or January 11 (Gregorian) 1638. (The Gregorian calendar only began to be used in Denmark itself after 1700.) He was a second child of the goldsmith Sten Pedersen; his mother's name was Anne. He would become one of the great overachievers of the early modern period. While other people were often working on the same subjects, and there are several instances of 'firsts' typically attributed to him where it's possible to argue, depending on how you define terms, that he was really co-discoverer or independent discoverer, it is nonetheless extraordinary how often his name comes up as a candidate for a 'first'; whatever else may be said about his discoveries, Steno was at the forefront of a wide number of fields.

In 1656 he matriculated under the name Nicolaus Stenonis at Copenhagen University, and it is under variants of this name that he is most widely known. While he was attending University, Denmark and Sweden became involved in a war, and King Karl X Gustav of Sweden invaded. Because of winter ice in 1658, Karl Gustav was able to cross over to Zealand, the island on which Copenhagen was located. King Frederik III of Denmark had to cede territory to stop the advance. Karl Gustav invaded again in 1659 in an attempt to take all of Denmark; Copenhagen repelled the main attack, but remained under a landside siege until 1660. We know that Steno spent some time in a student company manning the ramparts, but not much more; most of what has survived of Steno's life is found in a text called the Chaos-manuscript (discovered in 1946 in the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale of Florence, Italy, by Father Gustav Scherz): 92 folio pages of closely written observations, experiments, reflections, and excerpts.

In 1659 Steno seems to have sailed to Amsterdam, perhaps with an extended stop in Rostock, where he attended lectures by Gerard Blaes (Blasius), the City Physician. He was given leave at the time to do his own dissections, and entered the first major controversy of his life. During dissection of a sheep's head, he discovered the parotid excretory duct, and showed it to Blaes, who was inclined to dismiss it as either an artifact of dissection or a freak of nature. While it had been discovered before, this was not known at the time. Several days later he found the parotid excretory duct in a dog's head, and showed it to Blaes. After defending his thesis (on hot springs), he left Amsterdam for Leiden. At the University of Leiden, he showed his discovery to to several professors, one of whom (Van Horne) began demonstrating it in his anatomical lectures as the ductus Stenonianus (Stensen's duct, which is its name still). At about the same time, however, Blasius was demonstrating it in his lectures as his own discovery and by 1631 had published it, also as his own discovery. Niels found himself attacked as a plagiarizer by Blaes and his supporters. The dispute, quite fierce, lasted for some time, and did not entirely die out until it became more generally known just how brilliant an anatomist Steno actually was. Spurred on by the dispute, Steno plunged into his investigation of glands and ducts, and discovered (among many others) the lateral nasal gland, which is still called Steno's gland. Steno published his work, which was very well received. At this point he wanted to give anatomy a rest, but for various reasons soon returned to it. One of those reasons was the posthumous publication in 1662 of Descartes's Treatise on Man. Niels began to study the major subjects of that work: the heart, the muscles, and the brain. In 1662 he discovered sino-atrial and atrio-ventricular dissociation. He proved that the heart was entirely a muscle (which had been affirmed, without full explanation, by Harvey, but was not the common view at that time); he also discovered, pace Harvey, that the muscle was arranged spirally rather than circularly.

While in Leiden he made a number of acquaintances, which he would later call a very freethinking group, including Swammerdam, de Graat, and Spinoza, but he didn't stay long; in early 1664, he returned to Copenhagen. There he published De musculis et glandulis observationum specimen, one of the major early modern works in the history of cardiology. At this time he was 26.

In autumn of 1664, Steno left Copenhagen for Paris, and at some point in winter of 1665 he delivered a lecture on the brain (published in 1669 as Discours sur l'anatomie du cerveau). In the lecture he criticized Descartes's view of the brain, and, in particular, the appeal to animal spirits. After traveling in the south of France, Stensen arrived in Tuscany. In 1667 he published his major work on muscles, the Elementorum myologiae specimen, one of the distinctive features of which is that in it Steno develops a theory of muscle contractions that did not appeal to animal spirits. His alternative theory was attacked again and again, so that it was no longer held by anyone by the end of the 18th century. Work on the subject since 1980 has shown that parts of his argument actually did have some merit, and, on this point at least, myology has now caught up to where Steno was at age 29 in 1669.

The Elementorum myologiae specimen is also significant in that appended to it were two works describing shark dissections. One of these works, called Canis carchariae dissectum caput, noted the resemblance between shark's teeth and certain fossils; Steno agreed with those who had suggested that the latter were somehow versions of the former, and began to develop an argument that this was possible. The second treatise, the Historia dissecti piscis ex canum genere, showed that the 'testes mulierum' of the non-oviparous dogfish were sufficiently ovary-like to be considered ovaries. This is commonplace now, but at the time it was unclear whether the females of many species had ovaries. After the publication of this work, Steno continued his study of female reproductive organs, and is sometimes credited with being the first discoverer of the mammalian ovarian follicle.

In November 1667, Steno became Catholic. He was confirmed December 8, and on the same day he received a letter from Frederik III ordering him to return to Copenhagen; he replied with a letter asking if the order still stood given that he was no longer Lutheran. In the meantime, he studied geological formations, publishing a preliminary report on them in 1669: the De solido intra solidum naturaliter contento dissertationis prodromus (also here in Latin). In it he gives the first systematic classification by common origin for solids within solids, and in so doing laid down the principles of reconstruction of geological history. The Prodromus is a founding text of paleontology and dynamic geology; it is also, with the work of Erasmus Bartholin on Iceland spar, one of the founding works of crystallography. One of its many important contributions was the recognition that the faces of quartz crystals are related to each other by a constant angle, which is perhaps the fundamental insight of crystallography. Here and there it is referred to as "Steno's rule".

From late 1668 to early 1670, Steno traveled through Europe confirming his geological theories and giving anatomical demonstrations. At one such demonstration (at Innsbruck in June) he dissected the head of a hydrocephalic calf, showing that the deformity was caused by a disease, and thus providing a strong argument against the view that it was caused by maternal fantasies, a view that still had some broad acceptance even up to the early nineteenth century. When he returned to Florence in 1670, he was made court geologist by the Grand Duke, Cosimo III. Steno became more involved in theological discussions, and on the publication of Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-Politicus in 1670, he wrote a letter to his old acquaintance urging him to become Catholic.

In April 1675 he was ordained a priest in Florence and became tutor and moral preceptor to the Crown Prince. In 1677 he was appointed by Innocent IX apostolic vicar of the northern missions and was consecrated the titular bishop of Titiopolis. Steno went to Hanover at the invitationof Duke Johann Friedrich of Brunswick-Lüneburg. When Johann Friedrich died, Steno became auxiliary bishop to Prince Bishop Ferdinand von Fürstenberg of Münster. Catholicism there seems to have been rather lax; Steno spent much of his time there advocating pastoral reform against strong opposition, and eventually left in protest. He began to live an ascetic life of poverty at Hamburg, during which he began, but never completed, an essay reviewing confirmed knowledge of the nervous system.

Steno died November 25 (Julian, 5 December Gregorian), 1686. He was 48. His last words are said to have been Jesus sis mihi Jesus et misericordiam tuam, Domine, in aeternum cantabo. Cosimo III had Steno's body brought back to Florence, where it can be found in the Church of San Lorenzo:

On 23 October 1988, John Paul II beatified him. His feast, officially celebrated in certain areas of Europe, is celebrated (as they often are) on the day of his death, December 5.


A number of the details from above are from:

Troels Kardel. Steno: Life - Science - Philosophy. Acta Historica Scientarum Naturalium et Medicinalium, vol 42. Munksgaard (Copenhagen) 1994.

Hans Kermit. Niels Stensen: The Scientist who was Beatified. Michael Drake, tr. Gracewing (Leominster, Herefordshire) 2003.

'Embedded Questions' and Knowledge-Wh

A lot of current work in the logic of questions is concerned with what are known as 'embedded questions' in knowledge-wh propositions. For instance,

John knows who went to the store

is said to have the embedded question, "who went to the store". Likewise, you could have "John knows where the store is", "John knows what is at the store", "John knows whether there is a store down the street", and so forth. These kinds of claims are often known as knowledge-wh propositions. The object, e.g., "who went to the store" is sometimes known as the wh-complement.

The fundamental problem with all of this is that the wh-complement in knowledge-wh propositions is not a question at all. The "who went to the store" in "John knows who went to the store" is not a question; it does not mean "Who went to the store?" but is just a description for the person or persons of whom it can be said that they went to the store. The claim is not that John knows the question "Who went to the store?" John knows who it is that went to the store.

Contrast this with cases involving a real embedded question:

John wondered who the man was.

John wondered, "Who was that man?"

These give us genuine interrogative expressions (the first indirectly, the second directly). The examples noted above do not, and therefore have nothing whatsoever to do with questions and how they work.

The usual way of handling this is to treat the wh-complement as a question, but one indicating the set of answers to the question; but as questions are not their answers, or any set of them, this is simply worthless.

To be sure, there is a pattern linking the wh-complements with verbally similar questions, and this is, in fact, something found in a number of very different languages, albeit with considerable variation. But the link is made to seem stronger than it in fact is, simply by the facts that (1) English neglects the subjunctive and similar moods; and (2) picking and choosing examples given that English allows so many different ways to say the same thing, and does not require you always to say things like, "John knows who it is that went to the store" or "John knows where the place is located".

No doubt there are fields in the philosophy of language where these 'embedded questions' are of some use; but the name should not fool a philosopher into thinking that one of these fields is the study of questions.

Fat Minds

Then we should be careful to provide this wholesome food in proper amount. Mental gluttony, or over-reading, is a dangerous propensity, tending to weakness of digestive power, and in some cases to loss of appetite: we know that bread is a good and wholesome food, but who would like to try the experiment of eating two or three loaves at a sitting?

I have heard a physician telling his patient—whose complaint was merely gluttony and want of exercise—that ‘the earliest symptom of hyper-nutrition is a deposition of adipose tissue,’ and no doubt the fine long words greatly consoled the poor man under his increasing load of fat.

I wonder if there is such a thing in nature as a FAT MIND? I really think I have met with one or two: minds which could not keep up with the slowest trot in conversation; could not jump over a logical fence, to save their lives; always got stuck fast in a narrow argument; and, in short, were fit for nothing but to waddle helplessly through the world.

Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), "Feeding the Mind". (This is a fairly nice essay, originally a public talk, in which, as the title suggests, is developed the analogy between eating well and learning well.)

Monday, December 04, 2017


The feast of St. John Damascene, Doctor of the Church, is today. His name at birth was probably (although not certainly) Yanah ibn Mansur ibn Sarjun, and he was a Christian in Muslim-occupied Syria in the eighth century. His family worked for the civil service under the Umayyad caliph, as they had under the Byzantine emperor before the conquest, and so, in turn, John did too, until he left for the monastery. His most famous work in the West is the Exposition of the Orthodox Faith. From Book I, Chapter V:

The Deity is perfect, and without blemish in goodness, and wisdom, and power, without beginning, without end, everlasting, uncircumscribed, and in short, perfect in all things. Should we say, then, that there are many Gods, we must recognise difference among the many. For if there is no difference among them, they are one rather than many. But if there is difference among them, what becomes of the perfectness? For that which comes short of perfection, whether it be in goodness, or power, or wisdom, or time, or place, could not be God. But it is this very identity in all respects that shews that the Deity is one and not many.

Again, if there are many Gods, how can one maintain that God is uncircumscribed? For where the one would be, the other could not be.

Further, how could the world be governed by many and saved from dissolution and destruction, while strife is seen to rage between the rulers? For difference introduces strife. And if any one should say that each rules over a part, what of that which established this order and gave to each his particular realm? For this would the rather be God. Therefore, God is one, perfect, uncircumscribed, maker of the universe, and its preserver and governor, exceeding and preceding all perfection.

Moreover, it is a natural necessity that duality should originate in unity.

Father William

The Old Man's Comforts and How He Gained Them
by Robert Southey

"You are old, father William," the young man cried,
"The few locks which are left you are grey;
You are hale, father William, a hearty old man;
Now tell me the reason, I pray."

"In the days of my youth," father William replied,
"I remember'd that youth would fly fast,
And abus'd not my health and my vigour at first,
That I never might need them at last."

"You are old, father William," the young man cried,
"And pleasures with youth pass away.
And yet you lament not the days that are gone;
Now tell me the reason, I pray."

"In the days of my youth," father William replied,
"I remember'd that youth could not last;
I thought of the future, whatever I did,
That I never might grieve for the past."

"You are old, father William," the young man cried,
"And life must be hast'ning away;
You are cheerful and love to converse upon death;
Now tell me the reason, I pray."

"I am cheerful, young man," father William replied,
"Let the cause thy attention engage;
In the days of my youth I remember'd my God!
And He hath not forgotten my age."

You Are Old, Father William
by Lewis Carroll

"You are old, Father William," the young man said,
"And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head—
Do you think, at your age, it is right?"

"In my youth," Father William replied to his son,
"I feared it might injure the brain;
But now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again."

"You are old," said the youth, "As I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door—
Pray, what is the reason of that?"

"In my youth," said the sage, as he shook his grey locks,
"I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment—one shilling a box—
Allow me to sell you a couple?"

"You are old," said the youth, "And your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak—
Pray, how did you manage to do it?"

"In my youth," said his father, "I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw,
Has lasted the rest of my life."

"You are old," said the youth, "one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose—
What made you so awfully clever?"

"I have answered three questions, and that is enough,"
Said his father; "don't give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I'll kick you down stairs!"

Sunday, December 03, 2017

The Type of the Divine Word

An interesting passage in Philo, discussing Genesis 9:6 (Questions and Answers on Genesis, II.62):

Why is it that he speaks as if of some other god, saying that he made man after the image of God, and not that he made him after his own image? Very appropriately and without any falsehood was this oracular sentence uttered by God, for no mortal thing could have been formed on the similitude of the supreme Father of the universe, but only after the pattern of the second deity, who is the Word of the supreme Being; since it is fitting that the rational soul of man should bear it the type of the divine Word; since in his first Word God is superior to the most rational possible nature. But he who is superior to the Word holds his rank in a better and most singular pre-eminence, and how could the creature possibly exhibit a likeness of him in himself? Nevertheless he also wished to intimate this fact, that God does rightly and correctly require vengeance, in order to the defence of virtuous and consistent men, because such bear in themselves a familiar acquaintance with his Word, of which the human mind is the similitude and form.