Saturday, May 21, 2016

Dashed Off X

This gets me toward the end of September 2014 in my notes. I have at least four more little fat notebooks to go to catch up.

Living reason involves both memorial and anticipation.

nonengagement; marginal engagement (containment); proxy engagement; limited engagement; major engagement; coalition campaign

tradition as integrating, sanctifying radicating, and evangelizing

antiquity: apostolicity; consensus of antinquity; (tending to) consensus with antiquity

refractions of ideas through practices

the uncanny as a font of inquiry

reciprocal action as a sign of composition

intentio, stability, coherence, and proportion in material substances

Torah as watering paradise (Sirach 24:23ff)

"One who admits his fault will be kept from failure." (Sirach 20:3)

projected sculptures & fictional characters
fictional characters to be acted (false identities, covers, cons, plays)
historical characters that, known only indirectly, may not be real

Reasonableness does not suffice for avoiding conflict.

Diamond: in one's power; Box; beyond one's power to avoid

We have a mastery of other things in the measure we have mastery of ourselves.

faith as making us instruments of divine teaching authority

timing/time as the matter of cinema (Tarkovsky)

All historical disciplines, including those of natural history, begin with direct attestation of some present evidence and work out from there by affinity and parsimony.

agents: proper authority
agents-means: public declaration
means-end: (1) feasibility (2) proportionality
end-highest end: (1) last resort (2) just cause
agents-means-end-highest end: right intention

last resort ; feasibility :: just cause : proportionality

(1) Caretaker for what is common: proper authority
(2) for common good: just cause
(3) ordering of reason: feasibility, necessity (last resort), proportionality, right intention
(4) promulgation: public declaration

That is not charity which does not boldly fight injustice and error; charity uses higher means to further good and impede bad, and thus does so more than even justice, albeit in new ways.

(1) distinction between sense and intellect -> antecedent possibility of angels
(2) existence of God -> antecedent possibility of angels
(3) perfection of cosmos -> antecedent possibility of angels
(1) + (2) + (3) -> antecedent probability of angels

Cant 4:7-8 Immaculate conception (note v. 12) + assumption + coronation (note v. 14 re intercession?)

Immaculate Conception as a sort of assumption of soul completed in Assumption of body and soul

Mary as the ephod of priesthood

Mary as Tabernacle (the Word tabernacled among us)

Virginity as understood by the Fathers is not a mere physical condition but a spiritual one; thus the perpetual virginity of Mary is more than a claim about sexual status.

consentient council of doctors (Vincent of Lerins)

immortality as a postulate of philosophical inquiry (cp Rep 611e-612a)

sages -> nobles -> merchants -> mobs/gangs -> warlords

All probabilities presuppose a prior division of a universe of discourse.

Trust creates social resilience.

The key question for any society is: What makes this society one? What does the real work of integration?

unexpected coherences as motives of credibility

approaches to personal identity // approaches to change

Relying on immigrants for one's work is not structurally different from relying on mercenaries for one's army.

Human beings are present to each other by signs; in some cases we can make ourselves the signs by which we are present to others -- but also in some cases this can be more difficult than it sounds.

The ordinary presence of God is not primarily by sign; rather, He is present in such a way that that to which He is present is a sign of Him.

"A prophet mediates between the angels and the people." Aquinas

Theological insight can be welcomed but cannot be forced.

Statesmanship must be guided by reason, but by a reason that takes sympathy into account.

Solomon's Temple is loftier than the temples of natural reason.

The Jews more than any other people have understood the powerful truth that nations are signs, and that nations must form themselves as signs of things that are not base.

the canonical Spirit,
exceeding all measure,
measuring all

Chance sometimes proves the wisest strategist.

philotimia, philomatheia, and philanthropia as propaedeutics to philosophia

Xenophon & the importance of making virtue visible

"Questioning is a kind of teaching." Xenophon

utilitarianism as reducing human beings to their productive value as a source of profit (that the human beings may share in the profit is not relevant -- actual sharing of profit only enters as producing)

the nonrational creation as a trust

the improvement of moral thought by metaphor and exhortation

the parable of the Good Samaritan and the sacraments of initiation (inn, oil, wine)

almsdeeds as sabbath rest

the wonderful, the uncanny, the fantastic

"Sameness consists of at least three elements: for there to be sameness a thing must needs be the same as another according to a particular condition." Marsilio Ficino

The reason for trusting rules is so that we can trust people more, not less.

the Passion as sacramental premotion

Tobit 12:15 // Rv 8:2-4

oil as a symbol of Mary (cf Gregory Thaumaturgos)

the natural respect of a man for his tools

No one but God is an expert on God.

reflections of angelic choir in the prayer of the Church

boredom-quit and frustration-quit in argument/inquiry

the importance of "unexpected flashes of instruction" through "fortuitous collision of happy incidents, or an involuntary concurrence of ideas" (Johnson Rambler 154)

Wealth does not spoil character, but it can accelerate the spoiling of it.

Protagoras' 3 stages of learning justice
(1) language
(2) poetry, music, athletics
(3) law

aphorism as an approach to multiplicity of proof

philosophical inquiry as a model of ethical life, ethical life as a model of philosophical inquiry

new indicators & ongoing indicators for presumptive reasoning

Matrimony reflects ordination in ordination's aspect of being the sacrament of tradition; it does so by being itself the sacrament of genealogy, which is a sign of tradition.

Trinitarian procession as giving the structure of sacred Tradition

natural marriage as our way of reaching toward eternity (permanence, fecundity, union)

"The heretics cling to one point -- that the sacrament is figurative -- and to that extent they are not heretics." Pascal

pleasure and pain as good qua remedial
pleasure as a coming-to-be

arguments against usury
(1) from protection of the poor
(2) from justice of exchange
(3) from sterility of usury

Live-and-let-live requires a presupposition of harmlessness.

three-eyed Plato is a swan

Reductionism usually consists entirely of a network of metaphors.

"mind belongs to that kind which is cause of everything" Philebus 30e

immediate vs memory-mediated pleasures

People are more likely to get angry at being accused of lacking knowledge than they are when accused of lacking pleasure.

Justice requires calling the noblest things by the noblest names.

Outrage may be a legitimate motivation, but even so it is not a plan.

patience as the marrow of piety (Catherine of Siena)

The possibility of supererogation follows from any position that allows a distinction between the first principles of practical reason and the principles of obligation.

Ecclesiastes as a book of repentance (Wesley)

consciousness as partial conscience

Bragging is not about inducing believes in others -- people brag to people they know will not believe them, and peopl brag in cases where the point is simply to make themselves feel better.

Each of the Ten Commandments indicates a way in which human beings violate divine prerogatives or act as gods over others.

Arguments from divine hiddenness boil down to the claim that if God's existence is not self-evident to us, God does not exist.

In coming to know God from creation, we come to see creation in a new light.

sacred languages as memory systems for the Church

"Unless we have a moral principle about such delicate matters as marriage and murder, the whole world will become a welter of exceptions with no rules. There will be so many hard cases that everything will go soft." Chesterton

wine "intended to be a medicine and to produce reverence in the soul and health and strength in the body' (Laws672d)

Lack of evidence only becomes significant in itself through complicated counterfactual reasoning.

"the way to heaven is like heaven itself" Sigrid Undset

True love of God and neighbor requires the prayer of faith.

Grace is the beginning of faith.

religious festivals as periods for restoration of character (Laws 653b)

'Induction approximates truth because of uniformity of nature' vs 'Induction approximates truth by ruling out causes of falsehood' (Peirce is esp. good on this)

"the poetic tribe, with the aid of Graces and Muses, often grasps the truth of history" (Laws 682a)

A very significant number of bad skeptical inferences consist of conflating immediate and particular grounds of particular inferences with remote and general grounds of knowledge in general.

Most arguments over burden of proof are signs of intellectual laziness; they involve arguing over who is supposed to do the work.

Desert is a social concept.

"the moderate man is God's friend, being like him" (Laws 716d)

"mankind is by nature a companion of eternity" (Laws 721c)

"Truth heads the list of all things good, for gods and men alike." (Laws 736)

Theos is the first word of Plato's Laws.

All human authority is implicit in human nature, which is given by God, and by human work it is specified and furthered.

modesty & treating oneself as a person

the preludial system of legislation is especially appropriate to natural law theory

constancy and coherence as intimations of the real

the First Way and the intrinsic conditions of empirical experience

St. Catherine of Siena and moral miracles of conversion
the episode of the moldy flour in St. Catherine's life as an emblem of salvation

personal identity // transworld identity // material constitution

vagueness states // possible states or temporal states
(i.e., vagueness as an unusual diamond modality)

a church as a memory palace

matrimony as the sacrament of hospitality

the fate-level and the free-will-level of a narrative

The water of natural marriage becomes the wine of sacramental matrimony.

Love enlivens virtue.

the primary thesis of Plato's Laws: Law is a sort of divine order because it expresses reason, which is the divine in us because it has kinship with the gods.

"What we call a bad civilization is a civilization not good enough for us." Chesterton

Labeling oneself a skeptic remarkably often leads into the intellectual laziness of not bothering to earn the label with serious thought.

"It is when the work has passed from mind to mind that it becomes a work of art." Chesterton

All states not explicitly recognizing institutions beyond their control tend toward the totalitarian.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Linkable Links

* How to caramelize sugar without melting it

* Anglo-Saxon theology of Pentecost at "A Clerk of Oxford"

* D. G. D. Davidson discusses white tie and tuxedos by looking at the formalwear of Tuxedo Mask in the Sailor Moon manga and anime.

* Peter Kwasniewski on tradition and modernity.

* Friedrich Hayek on his second cousin, Ludwig Wittgenstein.

* Postcards from Rome, circa 1890. They were made using the Photochrom lithographic process, making them among the earliest color postcards.

* Mapping the Martyrs looks at some of the places associated with early Christian martyrs.

* David Clayton discusses the Ghent Altarpiece.

* The beatification cause of Shahbaz Bhatti has been opened in Pakistan.

* Norman P. Ho, A Confucian Theory of Property (PDF)

* Rachel Cohon discusses Hume's account of promissory obligation.

* Which Shakespeare play should I see? An illustrated flowchart.

* Some apocryphal psalms in Syriac.

* It has been noted that there has been some sloppiness in recent papal documents with regard to use of quotations and references -- someone will be cited as saying something and when one goes to the original, one finds that someone was fooled by a misleading translation no one bothered to check, or important qualifications have been dropped. Some of the oddities of the use of Thomas Aquinas in the recent Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia.

* Hildegard von Bingen's Explanation of the Athanasian Creed, as translated by Nathaniel Campbell.

* Thony Christie on Boole, Shannon, and the Electronic Computer

* All the French Tintin comics.

* Robbie Duschinsky, Tabula Rasa and Human Nature discusses the history of the concept of tabula rasa.

* The Eucharist in space. Actually, there's been at least one other case of the Catholic Eucharist being taken up. And, of course, famously, one of the very first things ever done on the moon was Presbyterian communion.

* Elliott Sober on simplicity and scientific theory.

* The Syriac Catholic Patriarch has some sharp words for how Western politicians have handled the Syria crisis.

* William Whewell, John William Lubbock, and the development of peer review.

* The nuns who helped chart the stars of the sky.

* Larry Hurtado discusses the ways in which the book of Revelation differs significantly from other apocalyptic texts.

* Apparently, new evidence of the Union of Uzhhorod, which some skeptics had doubted even occurred formally, has been discovered.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Reading of Earth, or of Life

We are justified in saying that philosophy partakes of the nature of art, provided that we are serious about art. The addition made to reality by a great artist is not wilful or disconnected;--it is an unfolding, or a cultivated growth from what was there. Shakespeare says, 'See what life can be; for a Cordelia, for Autolycus, and for Macbeth'. Pheidias says both, 'See what marble can do', and also 'This is what Dew-maidens would be if they existed'; bringing out something which is inchoate in a twilight amongst Greek hills. Holbein shows us a society and a history, and depths of experience sounded or evaded, through a few lines on a canvas. More simply, though on the smaller scale, we see the interpretative office in the secondary arts. The performance of a drama, the playing of an orchestral composition, the reading aloud of a poem, will add to existent reality an evanescent series of movements and of sounds, and through these will unfold what was given. Poets perhaps have bestowed a name which philosophy need not repudiate, when they have called it a reading of earth, or of life.

[Helen Wodehouse, "Language and Moral Philosophy," Mind, Vol. 47, No. 186 (Apr., 1938), p. 213.]

Helen Marion Wodehouse (1880-1964) is a philosopher who deserves a somewhat greater remembrance than she has. Her book, The Logic of Will, for instance, is an interesting exploration of the analogy between the cognitive and the conative, or, in other words, between speculative thought and practical action.

"Language and Moral Philosophy" itself is a very nicely worked-out argument that all language is both emotive and representational (or, as she prefers to put it, emotive and presentative); that is to say, that we cannot separate out 'emotive' uses of language and factual/scientific/assertive uses of language because all use of language is emotive -- it seeks to move, even if only to move people to pay attention to something -- and that it always fulfills its emotive function by presenting the world in a certain way, either directly asserting or suggesting assertions: "Every intentional communication is both presentative and emotive; and if a rule is given, an assertion is made" (p. 209).

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

A Quick Trip to Italy, Miscellanea IV

Florence: Uffizi Gallery

As I noted, I avoided taking many pictures in the Uffizi, despite the fact that they allow flashless photography, but I did grab a few very quick ones to prove I'd been. Here is the most famous painting in the Uffizi, taken from the doorway because of the crowd:

I never realized that Botticelli's The Birth of Venus was so popular, but there was a constant mass of people crowding straight for it.

Here is a picture of the tower of the Palazzo Vecchio, from the cafe balcony:

Hyacinthe Rigaud's portrait of Bossuet:

And Charles-Alphonse Dufresnoy's Death of Socrates:

Rome: Trevi Fountain

The plaque above the Fontana di Trevi:

And some more of the fountain itself:

Rome: Forum

On the way to Trajan's Forum, I snapped this picture of the front of the Basilica of the Twelve Apostles:

It's a very old church, going back to the sixth century, although, of course, it was heavily restored and developed beginning in the fifteenth century. Bessarion is buried there; I hadn't known that offhand, but it makes me glad I at least snapped a picture of the front, as I very much like Bessarion.

Here's the edge of the entire Forum area:

And another picture of the gaudy monstrosity:

Manalive, something about that monument irritates me. The front side is completely uninviting and dull. From the back side the winged statues at the top look like giant black bats feeding on a white glob of corpse. No one's life has been made better by it. It's like a supervillain's notion of monumental architecture.

to be continued

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

A Great and Zealous Eagerness

On seeing certain wealthy foreigners in Rome carrying puppies and young monkeys about in their bosoms and fondling them, Caesar asked, we are told, if the women in their country did not bear children, thus in right princely fashion rebuking those who squander on animals that proneness to love and loving affection which is ours by nature, and which is due only to our fellow-men. Since, then, our souls are by nature possessed of great fondness for learning and fondness for seeing, it is surely reasonable to chide those who abuse this fondness on objects all unworthy either of their eyes or ears, to the neglect of those which are good and serviceable. Our outward sense, since it apprehends the objects which encounter it by virtue of their mere impact upon it, must needs, perhaps, regard everything that presents itself, be it useful or useless; but in the exercise of his mind every man, if he pleases, has the natural power to turn himself away in every case, and to change, without the least difficulty, to that object upon which he himself determines. It is meet, therefore, that he pursue what is best, to the end that he may not merely regard it, but also be edified by regarding it. A colour is suited to the eye if its freshness, and its pleasantness as well, stimulates and nourishes the vision; and so our intellectual vision must be applied to such objects as, by their very charm, invite it onward to its own proper good.

Such objects are to be found in virtuous deeds; these implant in those who search them out a great and zealous eagerness which leads to imitation.

Plutarch, Life of Pericles

And Mar Not the Essence Divine

The School Teacher
by James Breckenridge

Toil, Teacher, toil,
How great is the work to be done!
Toil, Teacher, toil,
Thy labour is only begun.

Toil, Teacher, toil,
The twig is entrusted to thee;
Try, teacher, try,
To make it a beautiful tree.

Toil, teacher, toil,
The charge of young spirits is thine;
"Watch, teacher, watch,
And mar not the essence divine.

Toil, teacher, toil,.
We wish you a hearty God speed;
"Work, teacher, work,
For that is the way to succeed.

Toil, teacher, toil,
Thine is a noble employ;
Strive, teacher, strive,
To make it thy glory and joy.

Toil, teacher, toil,
Let thy soul and thy purpose be strong;
Bear, teacher, bear,
With slander, injustice, and wrong,

Toil, teacher, toil,
Mid clouds by the hurricane riven;
Bold, teacher, bold,
Fear only thy Master in heaven.

Toil, teacher, toil,
Though tempted, tormented, and cross'd ]
Stand, teacher, stand,
Like a patriot firm at thy post.

Toil, teacher, toil,
Encourage the generous youth;
Guide, teacher, guide,
The soul that is grasping for truth.

Toil, teacher, toil,
Let the soul of a hero be thine;
Have, only, have,
A lofty, a noble design.

Toil, teacher, toil,
A power thou possessest for good;
On, teacher, on,
And wield it aright for thy God!

Monday, May 16, 2016

Dashed Off IX

the relation between normativity and future passive constructions (gerundives)

the great ocean of intelligible beauty

exhibition of true good as a philosophical activity
- exhibition of true good itself and exhibition of true good in a field or discipline

virtue & the unwavering heart

mission as an expression of heart

the verbum of friendship

seeking out the li or principle of a text

Kant's transcendental ideas as actually intentions of internal sense

tradition & giving birth to that with which one is already pregnant
- the eros of tradition & giving birth in beauty

Every skill, craft, art, considers tendencies to ends: medicine, those of the body; music, those of patterns of sound; and so forth.

Loss, sorrow, etc., make things beautiful by putting them into stark relief.

marriage as a preservation of the past

romance as like divination

fiction as the loosely anchored version of what we strictly anchor in rigorous inquiry
fiction - speculation - determination

the heart as theological sign and corporeal signifier
the holy thymos of Christ

prayer as interpreter of intention
the Lord's Prayer as Messianic intention

argumentative prudence

using little disasters to undo great disasters (demolitions, surgery, etc.)

Standards are structures of means as determined by ends.

A requirement for choice is a qualified restriction on futures.

Our ideas of space, time, etc., are ideas of restriction or limitation of something.

Convergences of arguments are more than unitary arguments but less than systems of arguments
terms - convergences of terms (lists, term relevances) - propositions - convergences of propositions - arguments - convergences of arguments - systems of arguments - convergences of systems - movements - convergences of movements - schools - convergences of schools - civilizational schemes

Nothing is capable of friendship except to the extent it is angel-like.

Fully understanding consecrated virginity requires understanding how angels can be role models.

angels & subsidiarity

the practice of free crafts and cultivation of nonservile skills

"wine refreshes the heart and both allays worry like a sedative and feeds the flame of good cheer like oil" Xenophon

mereotopology as the connecting point between logic and mathematics

capability control and motivational selection in constitutional design

identity & individuation conditions for philosophical questions

quasi-implicational dependencies among impossibilities

Taking oneself too seriously is a quick way to spoil good taste.

In the experience of Christian charity, we experience the Holy Trinity.

Plato's argument for women's education is based on the idea of education being directed to common good -- which is one for all and must be taught to all.

cryptography as causal reasoning concerning the disparities in (potential) capability between those whom one wants to break the security and those whom one doesn't

precedent-based reasoning in engineering

testing philosophical positions in terms of capacity to identify the as-yet undiscovered, to solve difficulties swiftly, to handle many problems at once, to interlock with other philosophical positions, to overpower contrary positions

categorical syllogistic : mereological syllogistic :: x : mereotopological deduction

To become an expert one must uncover the little known.

Comparison of essences shows the need for actual being; comparison of actual beings shows the need for causes.

Anti-natalism is a form of tutiorism.

The structure of the sacrament of matrimony is that of human nature lifted up by grace.

material causes as instrument-constituting causes

The principles of classification are at root mereological.

buddha-lands as Kantian postulates in Buddhism (conditions of rational hope in escape from the cycle of suffering)

Perpetual Virginity as a symbol of Immaculate Conception

one purpose of wealth as being to offset the difficulties of aging

Common good is intrinsically and necessarily subsidiary in its structure.

consecrated virgins as signs of divine wisdom itself (Pr, Wis, etc. as the books of consecrated virginity)

People defend scientism almost entirely by poetic expressions.

To consider: The coming to be of a particle (an actual localizable measure) presupposes the actuality of a field (an actual measurable through space)?

(1) Tutiorism is false
(2) Persons themselves are intrinsic goods
(3) The lives of all persons are rich with goods
(4) To have and raise children is a natural human good
(5) Interests may matter morally even if not to the organism whose interest it is
(6) The human race itself is a good
(7) Moral intuitions of a certain kind are reasonably reliable if certain conditions are met, so that being counterintuitive in this way is a reason to disbelieve an ethical theory
(8) Benefits and harms do not exhaust goods and evils
(9) The Beatific vision is possible and infinite good
(10) Human society itself is a good
(11) Moral life creates new good and makes local bads contextual goods

Error, an evil for the pursuit of truth, is transformed into a contextual good by the pursuit of truth.
error // natural evil

Only understood as design does an experiment contribute to scientific inquiry.

It is necessary to the role experiment plays in scientific inquiry that in it the same effect be wholly attributable to both principal and instrumental causes, allowing, of course, for a certain element of chance.

the paradox of poetry: the excellence of good poets exceeds the capacity of poetry to describe

Those who complain that metaphysics has no practical utility still go about using causal reasoning for practical purposes and assume things about practical ends.

the Assumption sa Second Eve undoing the exile from the Garden

Epistemology is not what entitles one to believe; it is merely investigation of such entitlements.

Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, and good taste in religious experiences

the gift of wisdom as God's good taste

music & poetry as athletics of the soul

"the best things are less liable to alteration or change" Republic 380e

Efficiency is only as valuable as the problems it solves less the problems it creates.

Christ as the principal agent of catechesis

Spirit in Providence // Spirit in Magisterium

the labels with which we vest ourselves in communication

Newman's illative sense as part of an account of motives of credibility.

Classification requires a middle way between Heraclitus and Parmenides.

scientism as a collage of minimal deterrence strategies

retorsion-testing of arguments
intrinsic vs conditional retorsion (this is in fact just the kind of necessity/impossibility involved)

intellectual responsibility as an anticipation of the infinite horizon of being (Lonergan)

Is 22;23 and papal infallibility

To seek humiliation and not reconciliation is a sign of corruption.

tracks or clues left behind in language by virtues

"a soul that is always reaching out to grasp everything both divine and human as a whole" Republic 6.486

"all great things are prone to fall" 497d

"nothing incomplete is the measure of anything" 504c

"Every soul pursues the good and does whatever it does for its sake." 505e

the analogy between habitus and vestment (the former being internal/intrinsic and the latter external/extrinsic - but they are similar enough that they can often be discussed in the same terms)

the songs of ascent as marking out 15 degrees of virtue (Durandus)

vestment as a term of being acted upon
position (arrangement) as a term of acting upon
disposition as an ordering to

analogies regimented by other analogies

An accessibility relation is what you have to add to a modal operator to make it work like a different modal operator.

relics & narrative lines uniting the liturgical commonwealth

categorical vs transcendental parthood

alienating qualifications and modal shifts

act | potency
substance | quantity
quality | relatedness
action | passion
position | vestment
when | where

moral sense theory and causal sense theory (esp interesting to think about in the case of Hume -- i.e., what would a moral account // to his causal account and a causal account // to his moral count be like?)

Spinoza's weakness is his view of actual and potential

the value of destructible good as the basis for a refutation of tutiorism

kinds of argument in a tradition
(1) reconstructive: original intent
(2) lectoral: present reading
(3) structural: implicit principle in practice
(4) precedentive: previously formulated explicit principle
(5) pragmatic:constraints of practice

Persuasion is accomplished thread by thread.

To describe a term qua productive is to describe it in light of something other than itself.

Extrinsic denomination presupposes intrinsic denomination.

A principal agent and an instrumental cause differ in that the instrumental cause introduces the similitude of another into the effect; the principal agent introduces its own. Cp Sent 4d19q1a2q1

The character of the acting is proportioned to the agent.

Civil authority proceeds from god in a sense analogous to the way that what is natural proceeds from God.

divine being as beyond modality (premodal)

Divine action pre-exists all things by which we name it.

The water, the oil, the matter of any sacrament are, as sacramental, not the minister's but belong to the one in whose name they are administered.
The sacrament administered by the priest does not come from the faith of the priest.

Acts 5:34 and the Holy Spirit as God

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Fortnightly Book, May 15

In most languages there is a narrow circle of books that tend to be called great novels in that language, and a few candidates, sometimes one, that repeatedly are regarded as the greatest among those great novels -- as, for instance, Pride and Prejudice repeatedly comes up as an obvious candidate, perhaps the obvious candidate, if you ask, "What is the greatest novel ever written in the English language?" Tastes will vary, favorites will be picked for individual lists, but some books are more than favorites and not merely objects of good taste but definers of it. And if you ask almost anybody which novel is the greatest of all novels ever written in the Italian language, you will find one book mentioned over and over again: Alessandro Manzoni's I Promessi Sposi. For the Fortnightly Book, I will be reading the English translation in the Everyman Library, The Betrothed.

Manzoni (1785-1873) was born to a literary family in Milan. Because of his mother, something of a freethinker (she divorced his father, took up with another man, and ran in freethinking circles in England and France), he grew up in a largely anti-Catholic atmosphere and became a poet. He married a Calvinist girl, Henriette Blondel, in 1808, a very happy marriage. But Henriette in 1810 became Catholic, and this led Alessandro to re-examine his life entirely. The result was that he became Catholic, as well; he took it quite seriously, and lived a life full of penitential practices. His literary work became more experimental and innovative.

In the 1820s he conceived the idea that would eventually developed into The Betrothed and began to shape both the story and the language of it. You must remember that Italy was not yet unified; it was a large number of smaller states. Even today, Italians from northern Italy and Italians from southern Italy speak dialects sufficiently different as to make understanding a bit difficult, but the problem has always been there, and has historically been even more severe. When poets and writers like Dante or Petrarch wrote in Italian they were, to some degree, building their Italian out of a wide variety of conflicting materials. And this too was Manzoni's task. The work was originally written in his Milanese dialectic, but he would in later drafts Tuscanize it in order to build on the strengths of that dialect. He is widely regarded as having succeeded very well, and the result would itself contribute to the shaping of the Italian language as the book became a standard for other Italian works to emulate.

The Betrothed was published in 1827. It is a historical novel, with its events taking place during a time of turmoil and unrest in the 1600s. Renzo and Lucia are a young couple in northern Italy who plan to marry in November of 1628. The trouble and tumult of the society around them, however, will intervene to prevent it. And a great and terrible robber baron in the area, known only as The Unnamed, decides to seize Lucia . There will be famine. There will be war. There will be plague. But some loves do not die and are never conquered.

Sophocles, The Theban Plays of Sophocles


Opening Passages: From Antigone:

Dear sister, Ismene, what evils that come
from Oedipus our father has Zeus not sent
to burden our lives? There is nothing, no shame, no pain,
no sorrow, no disgrace that you and I
have not endured. And now comes the general's new
proclamation. What have you heard? Or do you
take no notice of how our enemies move
against our friends.

From Oedipus Tyrannos:

My children, the latest to spring from Cadmus' stock,
why do you sit before my house with your votive
garlands? The whole city is filled with wailing,
lamentations, and prayers to Apollo. Incense
fills the air. I have not sent to inquire
but have come myself to hear from you directly,
I, Oedipus, whom all call famous.

From Oedipus at Colonus:

Antigone, child of a blind man, where are we?
What place is this? What city of men have we come to?
Who now shall welcome wandering Oedipus
who brings but scanty gifts? Expecting little,
I get even less, but that, for me, is enough,
for suffering and time that have been my companions
have instructed me in contentment. Nobility, too,
teaches me patience.

Summary: In Antigone, we find the aftermath of a terrible civil war, literally brother against brother as the sons of Oedipus fought for the throne of Thebes until they both died before its walls, leaving their uncle Creon fully in charge of the city. It is, I think, essential to the play that one understand that this puts Creon in a terrible and difficult position. But Creon is a ruler with a peculiar characteristic: he always, and in every way, puts the good of Thebes above any other good. For the good of Thebes, one brother must be recognized as hero, the other as traitor, and for the good of Thebes, the traitor must be punished by the full brunt of the law. Not for the Greeks was the notion that human capacity to punish ended at death; you may punish someone after they are dead by denying them proper funeral rites, thus refusing them even in death the regard of the city. Eteocles will be buried as a hero; Polyneices is to rot in the field as a traitor.

But Creon is meddling with something greater than he understands, and this begins to take shape in Antigone, who defies his orders and buries her brother. It is an act of piety to her brother and to the gods of the dead. It is also an act of treason. Again Creon finds himself put into an impossible situation by the House of Laius, and again he responds to the problem as he must, putting the affair of the state above all personal good. A ruler cannot show favoritism,but must uphold the law. He condemns his niece to death. It is worth, I think, taking a moment to appreciate how extraordinary this. Age after age, nepotism has been one of the great sources of evils in government; for a ruler to be so free of nepotism as Creon is a truly extraordinary thing.

Creon's son, Haemon, however, who was to be married to Antigone, argues that the people have a much greater sympathy with Antigone than Creon knows. The people of Thebes do not see what Antigone has done as a crime. The very idea baffles Creon to the point of frustration. Of course it was a crime; she broke the law and honored a traitor to the city. Moreover, it is he, not the people, who has the responsibility for the city. In the midst of his argument, Haemon threatens that if Antigone dies, she will not die alone. This infuriates Creon; it seems to him as if the whole city is going mad.

Creon has Antigone walled up in a cave as a living tomb, with a ritual minimum of food and water to prevent the city from any guilt of direct murder. Antigone enters, bewailing her virginity and stubbornly insisting against both the Chorus and Creon that she was in the right.

Then the blind seer Tiresias, Creon's most trusted advisor, comes to him with a warning: the sacrifices to the gods have been tainted by the sentence against Polyneices -- his rotting corpse is literally desecrating the sacred rites of the city, so that the gods no longer regard its prayers. He must relent in his penalty against Polyneices. For Creon, this is simply the last straw; here is yet one more person who has gone mad and is advocating respect and honor for those who have betrayed the city. They have a massive falling out, and Tiresias leaves, prophesying that Creon will be made to pay by the gods. Again, Creon is in a difficult situation: to relent is politically impossible, but he himself can see the danger if it turns out that Tiresias is right. But at the advice of the Chorus, he yields to what he finally sees as necessity, and goes to release Antigone and to put the body of Polyneices into the cave as a proper tomb. But of course, it is too late. Antigone is dead; Haemon is dead; Creon's wife, Eurydice, dies when she hears her son has died.

You might perhaps notice that I have told the story entirely as a story about Creon. Antigone is such a striking figure, and so sympathetic to us Christians, who really and truly believe that there is a knowable law greater and more fundamental than any human law, and who regard desecration of the dead as an immense sacrilege compared to which political treason is insignificant, that it is she who comes to the front of the story, despite being in only parts of it. Indeed, even for the Greeks she was sympathetic enough to be the most memorable part of the work. But the structure of the story makes Creon, not Antigone, the real tragic hero. Antigone's certainty far exceeds anything that pagan Greeks could possibly have granted her; the good of the city is one of the sacred pillars of life itself for them, and Antigone's lack of respect for it was problematic; to punish the enemies of the city was the charge of the ruler and there is no doubt or question that this is what Creon was doing; it is impossible to imagine that there weren't many Greeks who would have had the attitude we find explicitly expressed in the story by Ismene and by the Chorus, that there is something admirable about what Antigone was trying to do, but that what she was trying to do was beyond the power of mortals. It is Creon who finds himself in tragedy because he insists on doing what he clearly can see is right.

Creon and Antigone share their fatal flaw, and it is certainty in their own rightness. Part of the difficulty is that they are, indeed, right. Antigone is right that the punishment against Polyneices is a desecration and an insult to the gods of the dead. Creon is right that traitors must not be honored. But, as they are opposed, the rightness of each guarantees the wrongness of the other. Antigone owes an obligation of respect and deference to the ruler of the city, one she at no point acknowledges, and that the authority of the gods is not her authority; and Creon is failing to acknowledge that he, too, must defer to a higher authority.

The Greeks never saw the stories of their tragic plays except against a background of a larger tale. Each tragedy is one particular outgrowth of some more terrible curse that lies in the background, one afflicting entire houses, entire cities, and, in the case of the Trojan War, all of Greek civilization. The larger curse against which Antigone's tale would have been seen is that of the House of Laius, rooted in the tale of Oedipus. With this root Oedipus Tyrannos, since Aristotle often considered the most perfect of all Greek tragedies, is concerned.

Thebes is blighted in some mysterious way, which has led Oedipus to send Creon to the Oracle at Delphi. Oedipus is living high; he has become king of Thebes because of his cleverness in overcoming the terrorizing Sphinx shortly after the previous king, Laius, had been murdered. To have attained the heights by one's wits is a very splendid thing. But, of course, all things move forward in a doom that has already been laid down and therefore is not at all avoidable, as, piece by piece, the truth of Oedipus's history falls into place. The layering of this is quite masterful, as the certainties of everyone involved are stripped away.

In Oedipus at Colonus, which in some ways is my favorite of the three, we see the countervailing power of eunoia, or benevolence. Oedipus, who has gouged out his eyes, is wandering with his daughters Antigone and Ismene to guide and aid him. He comes to Colonus and stumbles into a sacred grove dedicated to the Furies. This distresses the local townsmen greatly, but he convinces them that he means no ill, and with their guidance undergoes the ritual to remove the piacular guilt of trespassing on a sacred place. I've always liked the balance of this, since it shows the beginning of a new turn in a nice, clean way. Oedipus has spent much of his adult life stumbling into sacred places, violating the strictures protecting the sacredness of fatherhood, of motherhood, and now of the gods; but the ritual means for removing the unintended guilt of violating the bounds of the grove shift the terms of the curse. They do not end it -- as we see merely by looking at Antigone by his side -- and his house will still suffer the consequences of it. But for Oedipus himself, it is the one thing that truly begins to make things go right, or, as right as they can go after all that has already happened, at least.

Through his noble willingness to uphold the honor of Colonus before the gods, he is put in good stead with Theseus, king of Athens, who is the protector of Colonus. It will turn out to be a crucial thing. For the god Apollo is not done intervening in the life of Oedipus through the instrumentality of his Oracle. The Oracle has informed Thebes that Oedipus is crucial to the safety of Thebes, and thus Oedipus, at whom all had looked in horror, is now courted by both his son Polyneices and his brother-in-law Creon.

Creon comes first. Oedipus cannot dwell in the land of Thebes, but if there is one constant in the portrayal of Creon in Sophocles, it is that he will do anything, absolutely anything, for the good of the city. Thus he intends to set Oedipus up under practical house arrest just outside of Thebes's legal jurisdiction, so that the exile of Oedipus will remain but Thebes still may enjoy the protection the gods have said now comes with Oedipus. Oedipus refuses vehemently, noting that Creon did absolutely nothing in support of him, and only wants Oedipus now to protect Thebes from Athens -- but the Athenians have treated Oedipus better than the Thebans did, even knowing his terrible history. Creon attempts to get what he wants by force; he has already seized Ismene, and seizes Antigone as well. Theseus, however, pursues and returns them.

When he does, he notes that a suppliant has come asking for Oedipus, and it turns out to be Polyneices. He has been thrown out of Thebes by Eteocles, and has come for Oedipus's help in reclaiming the city, claiming kinship both of blood and of fate. Oedipus refuses this plea, too, noting that it was Antigone and Ismene who have sacrificed everything for him, while Polyneices was one of those who threw Oedipus out from Thebes. Antigone urges Polyneices not to attack the city, and Oedipus prophesies that the two brothers will kill each other.

A terrible thunderstorm arises, and Oedipus takes this as an omen that his death is near, and he finishes life with sacrifices to the gods. Before he dies, however, Oedipus has Theseus promise to keep his tomb secret, so that the protection promised by the gods may belong to Athens and never be stolen from it. And Antigone, learning of this, asks for help in returning to Thebes, hoping to stop Polyneices from his attack on the city....

Slavitt's translation is very easy to read. The simplicity is capable of achieving the dignified. Here for instance, is Slavitt with Antigone's famous speech:

Yes, for it was not Zeus who made that law,
nor Justice who dwells with the gods below and rules
in the world of men and women. Your edict was clear
and strong, but not enough to suspend the unwritten,
unfailing laws of the gods who live forever
and whose rule, revealed to us so long ago,
is not for here and now but, like the gods,

This is about as dignified as Slavitt gets, and it has a certain amount of force. And it contrasts favorably with Paul Roche's version of the same:

Naturally! Since Zeus never promulgated such a law,
Nor will you find that Justice,
Mistress of the world below,
publishes such laws to humankind.
I never thought your mortal edicts had such force
they nullified the laws of heaven,
which unwritten, not proclaimed,
can boast a currency that everlastingly is valid,
an origin beyond the birth of man.

But in all the concision it is easy to lose track of the fact that this is a ritual -- admittedly, it is a ritual that admitted of considerable flexibility, but all tragedies were ritual components in larger religious and political events. Slavitt's breaking up of the Chorus may make it easier to treat the plays as drama, but it materially harms their ability to be ritual representations of the things of gods and heroes. This is especially notable at the ends of the plays, which all kind of peter out instead of coming to their stately choral conclusions.

Favorite Passage:

OEDIPUS: Daughters, you hear the words of the helpful stranger?

ISMENE: We have listened, Father, what shall we do?

OEDIPUS: I cannot go, myself. I have not the strength
and I cannot see. One of you must go
to perform the rite for the three of us as he
prescribed. Even one, who is sincere, may speak
for a larger number. One of you, go. The other
must stay with me to help me and be my guide.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.

Maronite Year XLVII

Sunday of Pentecost
Acts 2:1-21; John 14:15-20

The Lord pours his Spirit out on all,
sons and daughters prophesy for Him,
elders dream true dreams, youths have visions.
On those who serve, both men and women,
the holy Virgin, the apostles,
He pours out His Spirit with glory.
Who calls on His great name will be saved,
salvation comes to Jerusalem,
for the Lord has spoken in His love.

Holy God, You give us true life;
Holy Mighty, You confirm our hearts;
Holy Immortal, You send us forth.
Upon the cross You saved us, O Christ;
today you send us the Consoler,
that we may announce your name to all.

At the time You ascended on high,
You raised Your hands and poured out blessings,
telling Your apostles they must wait.
Gathered together as the one Church,
they heard a noise; the Spirit filled them.
the simple spoke Your truth in all tongues.
With words of flame they spoke Your good news,
going into all the world to save souls,
bringing wonders and casting their nets.

They feared no rulers, dreaded no death,
in all places proclaiming the faith,
that God through love was made manifest.
Their zeal made them seem drunk, as with wine,
but their glory was in their Spirit,
their intoxication, love of You.

Confirm us, Lord, in Your holy faith,
adorn us with Your Holy Spirit;
we beg You for Your spiritual gifts.
Bind us to the apostolic Church,
whose pillar is the bishop of Rome,
which is tended by priests and deacons.
Defend Your Church against vainglory,
sanctify her shepherds with Your grace,
and purify her children from death.

You have clothed us in baptismal clothes;
make Your light shine in all hearts through us,
we who receive You at the altar.
Grant us to receive the Life-giver,
the consoling Spirit whom You send,
the Spirit who unites us to You.

Tongues of flame were on the apostles;
ardent love grant to us Your servants,
the love that speaks in every tongue.
Kindle in us apostolic zeal
that we may carry Your love to all
until all glorify Your Father.
Your love, O Lord, is consuming fire,
and You, O Lord, are consuming love;
through our love, Lord, set the world aflame.

To those who love Christ, He sends His truth,
the truth-giving Spirit as a friend,
through overshadowing bringing light.
The apostles witnessed to their Lord;
they came out announcing to the world:
'The Son has risen in His glory.'

The Spirit of life speaks through prophets;
He witnesses through the apostles;
Lord, may we be made splendid in Him.
And we beg You, O Holy Spirit,
Spirit of might, of knowledge, of fear,
that You be our love and our wisdom.
Spirit of wisdom and compassion,
give life to the Church of our Lord Christ,
and truth to the tongues of her people.