Saturday, November 27, 2021

Abyss & Sea 17


The next day was all preparation, and then the morning after there was a great procession out from the Porphyry Mountain to the Oracle of the Sun, much larger than the procession when Disan had last visited. Disan was somewhere in the middle of the procession. As one of the Two, Disan was second-to-last in the line of the kings (which included the queens of the Sendans and the Khaljans, no distinction being made between anointed kings and queens for the purposes of a Great Council), but not every one of the kingdoms was represented by a king. Tavra was represented by Princess Elea and Ezrym by Prince Adven, both of whom were standing in place of their fathers, and Dalre was represented by the Princess Regent Serica, who was standing in for her grandson, an infant. They followed behind the kings. All of them, kings and princes alike, had entourages, so the procession took some time. It was exhilarating to be part of it all, and there was splendor just in the manifoldness of the people, a brilliant flowering of the human race: golden-eyed Talans, Tavrans of light skin and blue or green eyes, dark-skinned Ezrymans and Shalans, ruddy Therans, red-eyed and violet-eyed albino Khaljans, olive-skinned Andrans and Dalreans, tall Soreans with epicanthic folds, short and stocky Sendans, light-green-skinned Zaidens, Marans with heterochromatic eyes, and endless variations of each.

The kings and princes went into the Oracle of the Sun, where the Orikhalh Tablets gleamed on the walls, and they renewed their vows before the Tablets before Illimitable Heaven and the Powers of the world. They then processed back to the Porphyry Mountain, and gathered in the Hall of the Khalkythra Throne. Normally the Khalkythra Throne itself, fitted together from the glowing bones of the khalkythra, was alone and central, but now there was a great dais of twelve thrones, with the Khalkythra Throne slightly to the left. Each other throne had apparently been made especially for the occasion, because he had never seen them before; each was different and crafted to suggest something of the geography, flora, or fauna for which each kingdom was noted; the Sorean throne, at the end on the rightward side of the Khalkythra Throne, was of course made to suggest the sea with silver and emerald and sapphire and foamy settings of pearl.  The kings and princes gathered before the doors and their entourages on each side in the room, leaving an aisle down the middle. Then the High King nodded toward a group of men who stood together in a corner, and at his signal, they began to chant in sonorous unison:

Ai tarien Antaran a taran Tal!

They continued the chant as he walked up the aisle to the Khalkythra Throne. His entourage poured after him, each bearing bolts of the finest mulberry silk, which they placed before each of the other thrones. When they had done so and returned to their places, Antaran sat, with a small smile on his face. The chanting stopped when he sat, and there was a pause of about three beats, and then they began:

Ai tarien Zalan a taran Andar!

And Zalan, king of Andra, walked up to his throne, followed by his entourage, who placed rods of gold before each throne. When his entourage had re-taken their places, he sat, and the chant stopped, to begin again for the next king. So it went through all the kings of the Ten, and finally they came to the Two, the Soreans and the Khaljans, who came to the Great Realm later than the other kingdoms. The chorus began to chant:

Ai tarien Disan a taran Sor!

And he walked up. He made an impressive figure; his dress, of ceremonial orikhalh armor and silk of iridescent Sorean black, with a crown of gold and silver and pearls, would make anyone seem a king, and Disan, a tall and handsome man,  already looked the part before any such adornment. The Sorean delegation brought their gifts up to the thrones by twos, their gifts consisting of two parts, one a small casket of pearls, which no doubt seemed unimpressive in comparison to some of the splendid gifts that had been given before, and the other being a bulkier package carefully wrapped in canvas. Carefully following Disan's instructions, after the pearls were placed, they unwrapped the canvas packages -- all the time, the chant continuing, Ai tarien Disan a taran Sor! -- to reveal bear skins, complete with carefully preserved heads and claws. There was quite a stir at this. There are no bears in the Great Realm, although it is said there once were, and the animal holds a fascination throughout the kingdoms. Antaran was positively beaming, and there was a stir of murmur throughout the hall, and Disan sat back with a certain amount of satisfaction at having made an impression.

He was, however, completely upstaged by Xyly of Khalja, the last to process up as anointed queen, whose entourage bore shields, each embossed with some symbol of the kingdom to which it belonged, a raven for the Soreans. The shields, however, were of orikhalh itself, and no less than three were laid below each throne, making it a gift whose price would have exceeded all of the other gifts on the dais put together. When Xyly took her place across the dais from Disan and the chant for her ended, Antaran spoke.

"We are not yet complete. Three kingdoms have not yet received their seats. Who comes to speak for Tavra?"

The Princess Elea went up to the dais. "I, Elea, daughter of Canthan of Tavra, come to speak for Tavra. My letters of commission have been given to the High King."

And the High King replied, "Your letters have been received and confirmed. Do any of the seated kings deny Elea, daughter of Canthan, the right to speak in the place of the king?"

None, of course, did, and Antaran continued, "Then take your seat, and know that you speak in the place of Canthan the king, your words as his words."

Then the chorus began to chant:

Ai tarien Canthan a taran Tavar!

And the delegation of Tavra brought their gifts as Elea took her seat. The same process was repeated for Prince Adven and Princess Regent Serica. When all the thrones were filled. Antaran rose.

"Twelve are the kingdoms, and twelve are we, by presence or by voice. Therefore I, Antaran, son of Emberan, son of Ardaran, High King by right line from Atalan my first-father, who first formed the Great Council of Ten Kings, hereby declare and proclaim the opening of the Great Council of the Ten Kings and Two."

Then the chorus began to chant:

Ai tarien atar Antaran a taran Atal!

Antaran, soaking every moment up, let them chant this a few more times, then raised his hand. In the silence that followed, he said, "We will now proceed to the Hearing of the Cases."

Once, long ago, the cases had been real legal disputes debated and decided by the kings; now it was more purely symbolic. They still were genuinely legal disputes, selected for some reason or other, but they had already been decided beforehand and the decisions were merely formally proclaimed. After a long series of such cases, they dissolved for lunch, which was held in one of the Porphyry Mountain's spacious interior gardens. Deep in the heart of the mountain, they nonetheless seemed very much as if they were outside; there was even a gentle breeze blowing through.

The royals were beginning to clump in various groups for conversation. When Disan entered, Antaran broke away from where he was standing with Elea and Serica and came over, grinning broadly. "That was splendid, my friend," he said, clapping a hand on Disan's shoulder, somewhat awkwardly given how much taller the Sorean was. 

"Not as impressive as Xyly's," said Disan.

Antaran dismissed this airily with his hand. "Money is flashy," he said, "but we both know that what matters is the showmanship and style. And it was perfect! Absolutely perfect!"

Disan was a little surprised at the vehemence of the approval. "It seemed a simple enough gift; I mostly chose it because it was something different."

"Oh, it was different, and more than that," said Antaran, rubbing his hands with a kind of glee. "It was a symbol, a reminder, of the vast horizons beyond our shores. Perfect! I wish I had thought of something similar." He looked up at the ceiling -- although, as it was an indoor garden in the style of the Great Realm, the ceiling looked like sky -- and moved his hands a bit as if running through a tally. Then he pointed at Disan. "I am unavoidably busy all the rest of the day. But tomorrow night -- tomorrow night we are going to sit down for a discussion. We have things to talk about." He moved his hands around. "Big things!" he said, quietly but excitedly.

Then the High King ambled back to his conversation with Elea and Serica, and Disan shortly thereafter found himself in a complicated discussion of potential trading projects with the Sendan queen and the Shalan king over a light lunch of mushrooms and marsh heron.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Dashed Off XXVI

 "...when Inference is clearest, Assent may be least forcible, and, when Assent is most intense, Inference may be least distinct..." Newman

What we imagine is a representative, not an exact, image.

Cartesian arguments depend on saying the mind is finite, but what they generally show is that the mind's attention is finite.

"Unless numeration is to issue in nonsense, it must be conducted on conditions." Newman
"We are what we are, and we use, not trust, our faculties."

contranatural, preternatural, and supernatural activations of obediential potency

counterartificial, preterartificial, and superartificial ways of using functional tools

The Malebranchean position is that our minds cannot represent the infinite, but the infinite can be represented to our minds.

"Being contains all things, but all beings, both created and possible, in all their multiplicity, cannot fill the vast extension of being." Malebranche
"The impression the infinite makes on the mind is finite."

Bureaucracy is a child of agriculture and organized military.

conscientiousness and accuracy of language

The three moral failings Xenophanes saw Homer and Hesiod attribute to the gods (B11 & B12) are theft, adultery, and deceit.

Elections are not built on faith but on legal process.

A hypothesis is an assumption for a family of stories that arise by combining it with other assumptions. Evidence applies directly to these stories rather than the hypothesis.

If one person had only the sense of touch, and another only the sense of hearing, but were connected so as to communicate, they could still agree on 'something is here' and (allowing for translation of modality) 'something exists over there'.

Evil is intrinsically an exception.

Luke in Acts 4:32 could hardly fail to recognize that these are descriptions of friendship.

Acts 4:25 and scriptural inspiration (cp Acts 15:28 and ecclesial inspiration)

Means of freedom have to be discovered and they have to be designed and maintained.

Maximus Confessor, Ambiguum 10, takes when 'when' and 'where' to be very fundamental categories. (This is the core of his argument that matter cannot be eternal.)

Providence in things is the divine-ward tendency of their being and action.

The sequences of frequentism are not necessarily temporal; this is often missed by critics.

We are temples and are always turning ourselves into dens of thieves.

probabilities as possibility sequence proportions

to eat, drink, and be merry in the love of wisdom

"Sometimes the value of a thing is not what you get with it but what you pay for it." Nietzsche

All specific potential is with respect to some kind of mover.

elements or components of argumentative interaction: motivation, logical structure, counterfactual variation, history, accessibility, personal view

the consensus gentium argument for the authority of conscience

the hyperpersonality of God

In the life of charity, we live the doctrine of the Trinity.

Christian doctrine must be accepted not point by point but as a whole.

baptism the sacrament of God's delight in His people

detachment: loving things in accordance with divine intention

shadow-casting as partial light-blocking

Fanny Price on sublimity (ch. 11)

'thoughtless and selfish from prosperity and bad example'

Every theory in physics has a physical/observational interpretation, connecting it to experiment, and an inter-theoretical interpretation relating to the whole field of physics, which makes metaphysical assumptions about what kind of things are genuinely possible.

Every actual change implicates all of its possibilities, as part of its being the kind of change it is.

"I am, because we are; and since we are, therefore I am." Mbiti

It is important to grasp that 'victim' is not the opposite of 'villain' and 'hero' is not a synonym of 'saint'. The principles of classification are quite different.

It is astounding how much power people give to those who will say, "I will hurt those who have hurt you."

"It is opinion that loses and wins battles." Maistre

Rarely experiencing sublime things stunts the mind, makes it petty.

Excessive focus on activism can poison politics by overmphasizing opposition and support, to the exclusion of other important things.

Even God cannot make a more perfect mother than a Mother of God.

liberative vs preservative redemption

Christ as entitative, redemptive, and intercessory mediator

the redundantia of Mary's fullness of grace upon the Church

grace in the personal, the moral, and the juridical orders
Mother of God (personal), Mediatrix/Mother of Mercy (moral), Queen of Heaven (juridical)

real vs affective presence

Mary, Queen of Lovers of Wisdom

the rosary as a school of contemplation (Garrigou-Lagrange)
the rosary as a form of preaching

affective participation in the Virgin's humility and faith as a presentiment and preparation of mystical participation in the same

There are many 'greatest saints', each in his or her particular order.

Mary : intrinsic, physical, immediate cooperation with the Word in Incarnation :: Joseph : extrinsic, moral, mediate cooperation with the Word in Incarnation :: the Baptist : extrinsic, moral, dispositive cooperation with the Word in Incarnation

Blasphemy generally requires hypocrisy. One may innocently say something like a blasphemous claim out of ignorance; one may blaspheme out of sheer malice to another; but generally it requires a prior disposition of tipping the hat to what one is inclined to mock or disparage.

"Our whole nature leads us to ascribe all moral perfection to God, and to deny all imperfection of him. And this will for ever be a practical proof of his moral character, to such as will consider what a practical proof is; because it is the voice of God speaking in us." Butler
"there is in every case a probability, that all things will continue as we experience they are, in all respects, except those in which we have some reason to think they will be altered." 

For Hume's 'custom', read 'presumption' or 'presuming'.

Rising above and not being conquered by suffering is always a greater good than the suffering is evil.

water and word and destiny

Decisions are often made from nothing but people growing tired of indecision.

dating as a form of jointly improvised theatre
-- this is more general than modern dating (cp. Mansfield Park)

territorial possession among animals
(1) occupation
(2) succession from prior generation
-- occupation by immediate presence, occupation by sign (scent, visual display, call)

Mr Rushworth's improvements // building of theatrical set

comprobatur arguments: Supposing X, Y, which has some support, would also be more established; therefore there is reason to accept X.

The rule of thumb for good acting is, "Show only to suggest," or (more crudely and inaccurately), "Don't show, suggest."

the tendency of politics to kitsch

Many things we call beliefs are in fact only conclusions.

loyalty of blood, loyalty of idea, loyalty of spirit

When people talk about norms, they often just mean aesthetics.

"It is absurd to break up the whole structure of our knowledge, which is the glory of the human intellect, because the intellect is not infallible in its conclusions." Newman

"What is repugnant to every human being is to be reckoned always a member of a class and not as an individual person." Dorothy Sayers

All knowledge leads to new wondering, for it is human to wonder.

Mrs Norris in MP is obsessed with means, to the extent of failing to give proper regard to ends.

two possibilities
(1) time is more fundamental than change; then either
-- -- -- (a) absolute time
-- -- -- (b) change is relative to clock used
(2) change is more fundamental than time; then either
-- -- -- (a) universal change (primum mobile)
-- -- -- (b) time is relative to clock used

the poetics of the Church as a story

religion and co-religion

the instrumental panoply of the human race

Progressivism works by attempting to put its opponents in zugzwang.

time as the mapping of change to a number line

error as a moral notion

A set is just a logical object with discrete membership structure. (This contrasts with certain notions of class, etc., which can have more indefinite membership structure.) The definiteness of sets is due to their being equatable if they have the same members.

People explain in-group violence by material conditions and out-group violence by ideology.

nonpreventive vs productive possibility

Modern cities do not do well in creating room for nice poor neighborhoods.

the pragmatic PSR (think James on concretely possible chicken)

If possibilities are classifiable, there is a principle of sufficient reason.

Whatever is potential is due to some actual; such an actual is either actualized potential or purely actual in itself; there is no infinite regress of actualized potential; therefore there is a first actual, which is purely actual in itself.

Human aspiration, in its nature, reflects the nature of spiritual inspiration; thus they are difficult at times to distinguish.

The inappropriate in liturgy one must oppose; the mediocre in liturgy, on the other hand, one must learn to accept, even when supporting what would improve it.

NB that Sir Thomas's comments on residency of clergy (ch XXV) are examples of irony, because analogous considerations apply to fathers, as a standard Sir Thomas does not meet.

NB in Mansfield Park (ch XXXIV), the art of reading aloud // moral education

Empiricism has difficulty with the distinction between that and what.

specific grounds of pardon
(1) peculiarities of crime
(2) reform & rehabilitation
(3) adequacy of punishment received
(4) higher obligations that must be served, requiring pardon in order to serve them
(5) common good and public trust better served by pardon than by punishment

Even in trying to be a better person for Fanny, Henry Crawford treats morality as an external compliance.

the seven yogas

baptism: Ruggiero/Roger
confirmation: Bradamante
orders: Turpin
penance: Rinaldo/Renault
unction: Astolfo/Astolphe
eucharist: Orlando/Roland
matrimony: Oliviero/Oliver

Justice is evidential.

A great deal of the quality of a TV series seems to lie in the successful navigation of conflicts between narrative progression and episodic integrity.

Accuracy of timepiece is a coherence notion. (Centrality in the intermeasurability of clocks.)

HoP: doxography, speculative extrapolation, historiography, speculative reconstruction, popularization, comparative interpretation

All civil rights are in fact procedural, being operationalizations by civil society of substantive natural rights.

Artistic improvement requires a sort of artistic repentance.

To go from Spirit in Man to Spirit in Universe is not to go far enough.

philosophy in the aesthetic mode, in the analytical mode, and in the historical mode

genuine protest vs pseudo-protest carnival

'to depict not the thing but the effect it produces' Mallarme

the Graces now bathe by the edge of the sea

"My anger is the effervescence of my pity." Bloy

The Muse works like a wind flowing through you.

polarity as directional difference

Eucharist as "the tender shoot of final participation" (Barfield)

"The Light of Valinor (derived from light before any fall) is the light of art undivorced from reason...." Tolkien (Letters 48n)

writhe, wraith, wreath, wrath

'an obscure sense of possible sublimity'

aggregative vs esemplastic imagination

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Truth Breaks the Breaking Wheel

 Today is the feast of Queen St. Catherine of Alexandria, Virgin and Great Martyr, who as a sort of personification of Christian Alexandria is the patron saint of philosophers. Her list of recognized patronage is in fact immense, and a good example of how saint-patronage works.

Her basic story has three elements: her legend involves her defending the Christian faith in argument against the best pagan philosophers of Alexandria, she is a Virgin Martyr, and they first attempted to kill her by breaking on the wheel but instead the wheel broke. These make her respectively the patron saint of philosophers, a patron saint of maidens, and the patron saint of anyone who makes a living off a wheel.

Patroness of Philosophers. St. Catherine was one of the most popular saints of the Middle Ages, both East and West, and her association with philosophers made her particularly favorite patron of intellectuals of all types. Her name was often associated with monasteries that had a particular reputation for study, and in the West, St. Catherine's Day was a major celebration in the universities. Because of this, she became patron saint not just of philosophers but theologians, orators, jurists, students (especially but not exclusively female students), archivists, librarians, lawyers, preachers, as well as the University of Paris and a number of other colleges and universities.

In addition, her association with study often results in her represented with writing implements in iconography, and thus as a further derivation, she becomes patroness of those who earn their living by writing: secretaries, scribes, stenographers, clerks.

Patroness of Maidens. As a popular saint who died as a virgin martyr, she is often invoked for girls and unmarried women, especially (but not exclusively) those involved in studies. This was probably her second most popular patronage, but it has had particular durability; there are a number of countries that still celebrate St. Catherine's Day as a special day for young unmarried women. A further derivation makes her patron saint of spinsters (perhaps strengthened by the occasional association of spinsters with the spinning wheel).

Patroness of the Wheel. Breaking on the wheel is a horrible torture; it's basically beating someone to death with hammers. The reason it's done on a wheel is that if you stretch someone out on a flat surface and try to beat them to death with hammers, it's actually much harder than it sounds. To be really effective, you need to splinter bones, but it's hard to splinter bones that are supported by a flat surface. So ancient torturers came up with the expedient of stretching someone over a wagon wheel -- a strong surface that distributes the force of the hammer, but which has lots of holes, so that wherever the hammer hits over a gap, the bones snap. The fact that the human race ever learned this is a tribute both to our extraordinary ingenuity in learning and our depravity. According to the legend, they tried to break her on the wheel, but the wheel shattered instead -- which, I think, when you consider how breaking on the wheel works, is an obvious miracle. So she was actually beheaded, but her status as the Wheelbreaker looms large in the imagination, and the broken wheel is a very recognizable sign of St. Catherine in iconography, so she became the patron of everyone who works with a wheel: potter, spinner, wheelwright, miller, milliner, knife sharpener.

The custom of having patron saints historically grows out of the custom of having titular saints for churches. Churches were originally built in locations associated with martyrs or other saints, to such an extent that when churches had to be built elsewhere, they were also given titular saints, which is why Catholics and Orthodox and some Protestants name their churches (and other religious buildings, like monasteries) as they do. This then meant, however, that people in an area around a church, particularly a very important one, would tend to share, as a community, devotion to that saint, recognizing the saint both in liturgy and in popular piety. Thus titular saints of churches became patron saints of towns and cities and regions. Patronage of professions grew out of this, but as far as I can tell it is unclear whether professional patronage originally did so directly from territorial patronage as an extension of participation of guilds in popular regional celebrations, or if it did so from popular patronage. 

Saints, of course, are depicted in icons; in order to facilitate recognition, they are given identifiers, usually known as iconographical attributes, like St. Catherine's Wheel. Icons are used in prayer, and it's not surprising, given how human imagination works, that people tended to pray to or celebrate the feasts of saints whose attributes were somehow associated in their minds with what they were praying about or celebrating. Common legends about the saints would have a similar effect on the imagination in prayer, as would sharing a name or even an approximate name with a saint. We are connected to some of our forebears only by legend, and to some of them only by having their name; but both legend and enduring name are forms of memory as much as history is, and both thus play an essential role in commemoration and praying with the saints. Traditional popular saint-patronage thus marks out what people have prayed about on a large scale for a long time. One can well imagine a potter long ago going into a church, worried about something to do with his profession, and gravitating immediately to the saint with the wheel, or medieval guilds of wheelwrights, needing a way to participate in their community as part of their functioning as guilds, obviously celebrating the saint that would allow them to do something with wheels in their celebration. This is, of course, what basically happened in the universities: philosophy was the heart of the medieval university, so obviously people celebrated a saint so clearly associated with philosophical argument. One can also imagine a reverse process, in which people are already celebrating a saint's feast for some other reason, and the way in which they do this is affected by attributes, legends, and the like.

Saints who are extremely popular, like St. Catherine historically, thus tend to collect a lot of patronage, a mark of their role in the prayer and piety of the Church through time; they have titular patronages, territorial patronages, professional patronages, and popular patronages, all.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Abyss & Sea 16


As the vernal equinox grew nearer, preparations for Disan's attendance at the Great Council grew more intensive, and finally the time came to leave.

"What will you be doing as I'm gone?" Disan said. "It would seem a little early to do another Queen's Circuit."

"Oh, you have left me enough to do this time," said Baia. "I will be spending part of the time in Mir Salal to see the improvements on the repair-yards."

"I had forgotten about that. Well, at least you will have an opportunity to see your father."

"Yes," said Baia. "And I am hoping that the trip does good for Asaia."

"Is she ill?"

"I do not know. She went home and when she came back it is almost as if she were a different person. She hardly laughs, hardly smiles, hardly talks. When I ask her what is wrong, she puts it off." Baia sighed. "Of course, we are all under greater stress these days. Perhaps she just needs some time to relax."

"Well," said Disan, "I wish you both luck. And I wish I were not off yet again."

"That does seem to be your lot, always rushing away," she replied. She regretted saying it immediately, because while she had meant it as commiseration rather than criticism, she could tell that it stung. She put her hand on her shoulder and reached up to kiss him. "Do not dally. I will be missing you here."

Disan went through the formalities to transfer his Residence in the Court at Neyat Sor to the Small Court of the flagship of the Sorean delegation to the Great Council. This, being a more formal visit than his previous one, involved nine ships of the highest quality. A little under five days after setting sail from Soromir, the nine ships turned into the Great Canal and followed it up, reaching Talamir, gleaming in the vestment of its seven walls, in a little over four days because the traffic on the Great Canal was somewhat heavier than usual. After docking, they journeyed to the land-gate and the Oracle of the Sun, whose orikhalh dome blazed in the light, and thence to the Porphyry Mountain, rising in splendor, the greatest of all human palaces that have ever been or that ever shall be. Although Disan had been her only a few years before, it overwhelmed the sight, as if it were some new and unforeseen marvel; then it had primarily brought to mind the memories of his childhood, but now it stood as sublime as if it were made by divine hands. The people that built this were our forefathers, thought Disan, and they were a great and glorious people.

The Mountain was extremely busy and a very harried High Porter made arrangements for Disan's men as swiftly as he could. The entourages of twelve rulers made a significant impact even on such a city-sized place; the High Porter apologized for not accommodating the Soreans within the Khalkythra Palace. "We have had to open up several additional palaces within the Mountain. You will be cared for, along with the Sendan delegation in the Dracontine Palace."

"If I recall correctly, that it is northward and downward from the Khalkythra," said Disan.

"You recall correctly, Your Highness. But I will assign a special steward to guide you; we have done some significant restoration and rebuilding of some parts of the Dracontine, so it may not look exactly as you remember it."

The Dracontine Palace, at least as it had been restored, was much more ornate and even gaudy than the Khalkythra Palace, with lush colors painted everywhere and bright tapestries on every wall. Disan felt that they had perhaps given the painters too free a hand, finding some of it garish, but the tapestries were interesting. Many of the popular commonplaces of legend were there, done in finest modern style: Balan and Beran disputing over the Stone of Night, Castalan's defeat of the khalkythra, Ardalan's twenty-third impossible task, Maia of the Pearls outsmarting the dragon. One that Disan particularly liked depicted Emdalan on his flying wooden horse, bringing the gifts of rose and bee, lotus and silkworm. There were others, too, depicting legends Disan did not recognize, of a great navy setting sail and conquering lands. After a few minutes looking at them, he suddenly knew why he did not recognize these legends; they were not legends of the past but promises, a glimpse of Antaran's vision of the future. These legends-to-be fit well with the tales of the great heroes of the realm, but they left Disan somewhat uneasy.

The rooms of Disan and his guards were off a hall with a beautifully ornate fountain of marble depicting a High King, Disan did not know which one, on the Khalkythra Throne; in his upraised hands he held an orb of solid gold, the sun, and in his lap was a silver orb, the moon. His crown was a crown of stars. His robes seemed quite ordinary, although they were beautifully carved, but when they let the lights die down for sleep, they glowed in the dark like luminescent moss.

Disan set himself to sleep, but before he did so, he looked behind all the tapestries in his room to make sure there were no secret passages. Finding only solid walls, he laid himself down and slept.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

People of Chronos

 One of the somewhat chilling things one learns if one ever looks into the matter is that the human race is an infanticidal species; we kill our young quite regularly. Infanticide is almost universal, and some people estimate that in most cultures anywhere from ten to forty percent of otherwise surviving infants are deliberately killed. One hears, of course, of Carthage -- both the Jews and the Romans attest to the Carthaginian practice of sacrificing children to some sort of deity (Moloch in the Bible, Baal according to most of the Romans). Most cultures considered ritual sacrifice of children to be barbaric, but that's not the same as frowning at infanticide itself. The Greeks and Romans (and many other cultures) practiced exposure of infants, a practice that keeps coming up if you read their myths. We know from Aristotle that in some places there were restrictions on this, but they seem to have been relatively slight. But the evidence for widespread killing of newborn infants is quite extensive, and it is almost a constant across cultures.

Almost. All of the major monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism) have attempted to stamp out the practice, and have usually had some success, although in all cases the progress was slow and the degree of success varied from culture to culture. Nonetheless, there is an argument that monotheism has saved more infants than anything else in history; part of the reason is that all the major monotheistic religions are big institution-builders and therefore they didn't just oppose infanticide but built institutions that partly reduced the temptation. Nonetheless monotheistic religion, while perhaps the most successful, is not the only thing that historically has opposed infanticide.  The Qin and Han dynasties tried to make it illegal in China -- for population reasons, I think -- but they seem to have had considerable difficulty enforcing the laws. The religion of the ancient Egyptians also opposed infanticide, and in fact the ancient Greeks were often surprised at the sheer commitment of the Egyptians in saving infants from exposure -- people of Egyptian culture would save infants from hillsides and trash heaps and raise them as their own (although sometimes as household slaves). How the Egyptians managed to get so many of their own people on the same page is a bit of a mystery; the Egyptian view of children is not otherwise noticeably different from that of their neighbors. The Egyptians are almost unique. While we have much less certainty about them, the Etruscans are also said by some to have opposed infanticide, although we don't know for sure. Both of these seem to be religiously driven, but there seem also to have been cases of philosophical opposition to the practice; both Musonius Rufus and Epictetus are firmly opposed to it, although this doesn't seem to have been universal among Stoics. This might not be significant as a social matter, but on the other hand, if there was Stoic opposition, this might be one of the reasons for the fact that the late Roman Empire sees a slow rise in legal restrictions of the practice. But it's hard to say.

And, of course, this is all out-and-out infanticide. When one includes abortion, the practice of killing children is even more extensive. The monotheistic religions tend again to be major barriers, although Christianity stands out as having a history of much stronger and less qualified prohibitions against the practice than is usually the case; unequivocal opposition to abortion is found in some of the earliest Christian writings on morals that we have, like the Didache.

Beyond all this, you have individuals here and there who come to similar oppositions on philosophical grounds, but not much more. Left to themselves, human beings drift quickly toward abortion and, more slowly, but nonetheless definitely, toward infanticide. Only religion and reason usually ever stand in the way, and both have varying degrees of success in doing so, when they even do so.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Abyss & Sea 15


Not long after Adven's visit, Sosan, their chamberlain died in his sleep. He had served long, having begun his tenure of office as a young man early in the reign of Rezan, Disan's father.  Disan and Baia attended his funerary rites in his home village. After they were done, Baia returned to Neyat Sor before Disan, who wished to consult with a famous goldsmith in another village nearby. 

Having consulted with the goldsmith and ordered a set of gifts, Disan and his guard began their ride home. One stretch of the road went through a very thick wood, the trees on each side rising like a many-layered wall. Before a bend in the way, they suddenly heard a great deal of shouting; Disan spurred his horse immediately and his guard followed after. The shouting came from two old men, just past the bend in the road, who were in the process of being set upon by a gang of four young men, who were beating and kicking them. They had been intent enough on this action that they were caught off guard by the group of armed men suddenly riding in upon them, and soon rounded up.

According to the old men, they had been traveling to see a friend, down this road that they had traveled many times before, when the four youths had ambushed from the wood, demanding all their gold and silver. As both men traveled very lightly, they did not have enough to satisfy the young men, who had responded by beating them and, when they fell to the ground, kicking them. Disan sent them on their way with a bodyguard.

Disan, dismounting, surveyed the four young men, who seemed in all respects like any other Sorean youths. "What do you have to say for yourselves?" he demanded, but they said nothing.

He drew himself up to his full height, and being tall even by Sorean standards, the king made an imposing impression, since they all quailed before him. "Speak!" he said sharply, "What do you have to say for yourselves? Why were you doing this? Do you have no respect for your elders?"

"What do I care about some old men?" said one sulkily. "They are useless."

There are times in which a part of us winds up very tightly, for whatever reason, and sometimes in the course of a conversation that tightly wound bit will snap like overstrained wire. Disan experienced exactly this at this moment. No doubt some of the winding was from the general stress of kingship, and some from the particular responsibilities he bore; it may be thought that his recurring nightmares perhaps contributed as well. Disan, too, had been raised from his earliest age in the Sorean tradition of respect and friendship toward one's elders. Regardless of the reason, at that moment the wire snapped. What he felt was not rage, exactly; it was not blinding or blind. There was not heated anger to it. It was not hot at all. It was as if a piercing icy cold, a burning cold, began flooding up inside him and at that moment he drew his sword and hit the young man in the face with the flat of the orikhalh blade, forcefully enough to knock the youth sprawling, and surely forcefully enough to bruise. It was the first time in his life that Disan had struck anyone with a weapon outside of battle or weapons practice, and he did not regret it. He slowly and deliberately re-sheathed the sword.

"Those who will not honor their elders," he said coldly, "have chosen to walk the way of the beasts. So that is what they shall do. Tie them by their chests and hands to walk behind us; we will take them to Neyat Sor, where they can spend some time in a dungeon contemplating how useful it is to be civilized people who care about old men."

And so it was. The young men were made to trot along behind, and sometimes were dragged behind, the horses, who went at an ambling gait slightly faster than the comfortable walking speed of a human being, for the hour it took to reach Neyat Sor, and when the party arrived, the young men were summarily thrown into the little-used dungeons, to be tried at some point later in the week.

His explanation to Baia was very short, but later, as they drank a lotus tea in the time between first and second sleep, they talked about it at some length.

Finally, Disan said, "It is what we are told from our very earliest childhood. Civilized life consists simply in this: that kings act like kings, putting the good of their people above their own; that ministers act like ministers, loyal in all things; that parents act like parents, raising their children in right ways; that children act like children, honoring their elders without fail. And everywhere around us, what do we see? Kings do not act like kings; they leave behind the ways of their people. Ministers do not act like ministers; every court is filled with spies. Parents do not act like parents, because their children run wild like beasts. Children do not honor their elders but beat them on the highways. The Orikhalh Tablets are ignored. The pacts and the covenants are not honored. The things no one does are done."

"Yes," said Baia. "Sometimes I feel powerless; it seems to come from all sides. It is as if something has gone wrong in the very fabric of things, and I do not know how to repair it."

"Yes," said Disan. But neither knew what more to say, and after a sigh and a lapse into silence, they turned their discussion to preparations for the upcoming Great Council, and then went to sleep.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Three Poem Drafts

Between grading and some kind of weird sickness or allergy that left me with massive sinus headaches, the past week has been a bit rough, although things are improving greatly, so I should be back on schedule with Abyss & Sea this next week. In the meantime, here are a few poem drafts. It is perhaps worth noting that the real Laodicea was originally called Diospolis, the City of God, and was eventually renamed Laodicea, the Righteousness of the People; which is perhaps in part what is in view in the letter to the church at Laodicea in the book of Revelation.

A Church in Laodicea

I went to a church in the city,
a blocking of piles of blocks;
it grew like a shrub to the heavens,
a knobbing of rock upon rock.
The angles were angled with caution
and everything laid out with thought,
for they had the very best parking,
all painted in rows on the lot.
Like a theater thrown up by a college,
an island above waves of cars,
it squatted on asphalted landscape
with the charm of a jail lacking bars.
But the windows! They shone in bright colors
like neons of oranges and reds
and depicted the very parishioners
for which, they say, Christ suffered and bled.
To look at them, you'd never know it,
as the windows depicted their sins,
but given a shine like the holy
in light that burst out from within,
as their hands, not in prayer, all pointed
to their faces with gesture of 'me',
and in all their splendor and glory
not a sign of a cross could I see.
The bishops were especially vivid
as they stabbed at the sheep with their knives
and blathered in endless committee
and to Christ gave some words, not their lives.
And within there was piled the givings
of gifts that were worth not one cent,
tokens embossed, "I am righteous,"
stamped from packaging soiled and spent.
The guitars were all lazily strumming
as they sang of how just they must be,
trying to convince God they were devoted
with something like a desperate plea.
And before they got to their offering,
they joined in a grand kiss of peace
with the joy of their ancestor Judas
and kissed their foes not the least.
Then as the priest spoke in dull mumbles
the altar became the High Throne
and the Lamb poured Himself out from heaven,
Christ on the Cross all alone.
And His enemies came to partake Him,
the God who for them had died,
to those who said, "The Blood," and, "The Body,"
"Amen," they all said, and thus lied,
for they knew not the glorious offering,
only symbols like bread and like wine,
and they sought not the Lamb on the altar
but of their own justice a sign.
As it was on the pathway of sorrow,
so it was on that hill of the skull,
no Temple, but another Golgotha,
and a sky veiled in vestments grown dull.
But the Lamb was there on the altar
though the people had lost faith and love;
the Christ into hell was descending
in the midst of the flame-golden Dove.

The Bethlehem-Star

See the Bethlehem-star arise
between the dawn and the night:
a glory walks which had not walked
since sudden loss of light.

Your little wire fences failed
to barricade His way;
no border guard can bid Him halt,
no power say Him nay.

The work of Babel is undone;
no language bars like wall
the Eden-place of charity
where throng the nations all.



I made a goddess of flowers;
a rose was at her heart,
fresh with clear spring breezes
and dripping with the dew,
wreathed with anemones and asters,
lilies and springing violets,
as clever as a daisy,
an orchid at her lips;

I made a maiden of flowers,
a meadow of perfection,
of oak and broom and meadowsweet,
of firewheels and touch-me-nots,
and chrysanthemum-kindness;

I made a lady of flowers,
of petals like a snowstorm,
a splendor of flashing color,
and the wind blew her beauty away.