Saturday, February 18, 2023

Three Poem Drafts

Three different attempts on the same theme and general pattern.

 Bright the Light

Bright the light that shines with grace
on manger-sleeping infant's face,
which every darkness drives away
that faith may live in light of day.

O Babe, the Father's image clear,
victorious over death and fear,
grant us that by your body's pain
we might have strength divine as gain.

The Father's very Son you are,
in union no divisions mar;
as man, you fell to deepest deep,
as man, the throne of God you keep,

for you were born to Virgin fair
to take on human grief and care
and thus what you by nature hold
you merit, too, by venture bold.

No human blood or flesh alone
could save the masses lost that moan
but only Word of God who came
to take our nature and our name.

O come, redeem our pagan ways,
great Virgin's Son, and let your rays
of light reflect through sky and earth
salvation manifest in birth.

The Son of God from Father's Throne

The Son of God from Father's throne
took on himself our flesh and bone,
went down with us to shades that die,
and raised us up to throne on high.

The wonder of your birth we praise;
songs to Virgin pure we raise;
we sing of one who bore our sin
that grace with God our race might win.

We were redeemed by body torn;
by Spirit's might that flesh was born
in Virgin's flesh devout and pure;
the Word made flesh became our cure.

O holy Savior, come to free
the nations as they bend the knee
and sing, proclaiming well the worth
of God who saved by infant's birth.

The Evening We Shall Never Fear

The evening we shall never fear,
for faith in light is dwelling here,
and banished is the dark of night
by glory 'round the manger bright.

Eternal life the babe will give
and make the mortal ever live;
he bears our flesh to save our line
yet with the Father is divine.

He sits on high by God's right hand
who, slain by our profane demand,
went down dark paths as men must go
that we our God might truly know.

He did not shirk or turn away
but, God and man, knelt down to pray,
a king who came to find the lost
and save our souls at deathly cost.

As God within the temple dwells,
his presence clear as sounding bells,
a temple made of flesh and blood
is maiden-born and nailed to wood.

But this, the fruit of heaven's grace
beyond all means of human race
was done by Holy Spirit's might
to bring to darkness endless light.

Your birth, O Lord, we hymn with love,
and praise you with our God above,
who, born of Virgin, save from grief
and bring a yearning world relief.

Friday, February 17, 2023

Dashed Off VI

the possibility of any kind of external world as requiring the actuality of some kind of external world

euergetic vs philanthropic modes of beneficence

friendship, oaths, kinship, treaties as ways communities are threaded together

money as facilitating donation

As Christ ransomed us, Christians should ransom the good things of the world, freeing them for divine works.

Irenaeus, Adv Haer 5.1.1, on the Incarnation as pedagogical

Welfare pathologies in society often have analogies to addictions in individuals.

Ransom theories of atonement seem to have developed to oppose Marcionite and Gnostic theories of atonement being a a straightforward purchase.

all of the physical and spiritual almsdeeds as imitations of Christ

the fishhook Job 40-41; Ps 104:26; Is 27:1

Never confuse a delicate stomach with righteousness.

all that we sense as figuratively our body

Conciliarism is necessarily a very legalistic approach to ecclesiology.

"The Credit Theory is this: that a sale and purchase is the exchange of a commodity for credit." Innes

Money does not derive value from a single thing.

'Money is a matter of functions four: a medium, a measure, a standard, and a store.' -- try to find the origin of this mnemonic

There is no crucial experiment for character.

The quasi-material cause of indulgences is the participatory act by which the covering of merits may be imputed to a particular person.

Sometimes a little love makes the soul shine.

A society cannot satisfy human beings unless it has both hierarchy and equality.

Anything analytic philosophers analogize to a game can be, and sometimes is better, analogized to intellectual or spiritual disciplines, practices, exercises, or rites.

"Totalitarianism strives not toward despotic rule over men, but toward a system in which men are superfluous." Arendt

the conditions for human rights as a way of life

We have the rights that go with our obligations, and no others.

As love imitates God, there are idol-loves that are to genuine love as idols are to God.

Iconoclasm cannot be understood without distinguishing it from idoloclasm.

the quasi-diagrammatic character of religious icons

Columna est Christus (cp 1 Tim 3:15 Vulg)

The Sign of the Cross is an iconic sign of the Cross of Christ, and both are indexical signs of Christ Himself; and this entire sign-system is a symbolic sign of the Church with Christ as its Head.

that love than which no greater can be thought

Ezekiel 9:4 and the Cross

the needy as the porters of the Kingdom (Gregory of Nyssa)

Oil painting, because of its shine, is more of a working with light than many other visual arts.

Style is the manner in which art hides art.

Life is not merely a matter of fighting for right, but also of choosing one's battles wisely.

the Ninth Amendment & the reserve power of the people

Connotations are always within a context.

Lived experience is only known by triplex via or by living it.

All art is in a sense metanarrative.

Religion sets a limit to kitsch.

"The woman who purposely destroys her unborn child is guilty of murder. With us there is no nice enquiry as to its being formed or unformed." Basil, Letter 188
"Women also who administer drugs to cause abortion, as well as those who take poisons to destroy unborn children, are murderers."

mysticism as "the preparation for the experience of God" (Bernard McGinn)

The sacramental mysteries are the heart of mysticism.

Pirkei Avot 5:17: "Every dispute that is for the sake of Heaven, will in the end endure. But one that is not for the sake of Heaven, will not endure. Which is the controversy that is for the sake of Heaven? Such was the controversy of Hillel and Shimmei. And which is the controversy that is not for the sake of Heavean? Such was the controversy of Korah and all his congregation."

the Korachite generation

character: persons
plot: processions
theme: unity of nature
dialogue, music, spectacle: energies

A remarkable amount of politics and diplomacy is done without much of a plan; the man who has a plan and access to a table on which to put it already has a power.

The one who knows the mind of the Lord and has been His counselor would have to be a Wonderful Counselor.

There is no activity in the entire universe of human action for which human ingenuity cannot find a bad motive for doing it.

zeroth law & thermal equilibrium as an equivalence relation

Scales are defined according to a range of uses.

one's mythological country -- obviously a lot of variation but e.g., the Americas for indigenous of the Americas, Europe for Europeans, often Europe for Americans of European backgrounds, Celtic lands for certain periods of French courts

the right to have friendly response to long-term friendly behavior

Allegories have a dreamlike character because dreams have semi-allegorical aspects.

Baruch 3:3 & divine immutability (cp. Basil, On the Holy Spirit)

For Christians, other religions stand as distinct witnesses to divine truths, sometimes directly, sometimes quasi in figura, sometimes by analogy, and sometimes by approximation; they do this sometimes by reason, sometimes by preserved tradition from prophets or sages, sometimes by happy guess, and sometimes by providential convergence.

The Federal Register lists 432 agencies of the U. S. government.

Christ's life as intercession for forgiveness of our sins
-- the sacrifice of the Cross as simultaneously intercession, satisfaction, and absolution

declaratory vs constitutive coronations
-- despite what seems a common view, the latter are relatively rare

Peter Damian on the brevity of most papal tenures

1st Law of Thermodynamics: For measures of energy, loss and gain are transfer across a boundary.

caloric theory is equivalent to a principle of the conservation of heat

Survival depends on good and bad, not vice versa.

intensive | extensive | multiplied to get configurational work
pressure | volume | mechanical work
surface tension | area | surface energy
chemical potential | particles | chemical work
temperature | entropy | heat energy

Limited quantity of material with the end of wide distribution requires a method of circulation.

Every society has to posit something as having a kind of veda-permanency, which then serves as a stable framework.

"For those whose power is identical, the energy is wholly identical." Basil

person and product-of-person as disjunctive transcendental

mourning as something felt vs mourning as something done
(see, for example, the practice, common in the ancient world, of professional mourners)

the method of formulating philosophical problems allegorically or quasi-allegorically

Unity is in general more explanatory than plurality; the latter is only ever more explanatory for incidental reasons.

Existence is not a property but something that properties require.

Denial of the number zero is not affirmation of existence (1) because existence is not quantitative and (2) because assigning numbers presupposes rather than grounds existence.

An insistence on the Church being relevant will inevitably concoct syncretisms, some of which may be tolerated or accepted with caution and some of which are harmful to the Church.

We use 'reason' to indicate something in one of three general categories:
(1) cause
(2) anchor of general principle
(3) relevance link.
Each of these three works in very different ways.

piety as a source of authority (this is very clear in Chinese dynasties, but it is also found in Persian, Egyptian, Hellenistic, and Roman royal/imperial cults, among others)

parenthood as a sort of natural sacrament of Order, a natural ordination

"Men highly organized and trained to fight according to the book and in obedience to orders are most quickly demoralized by unorthodox and enterprising tactics." Josephus

A poll is just an anecdote about a group.

The main things that affect church-going are accessibility and social incentive.

Stable federalism requires either strong, longstanding customs or a written constitution.

There is more for human sympathy to work with when family meets family than when individual meets individual.

"In his deeds he was like a lion, like a young lion roaring for prey." 1 Macc 3:4
"No attacker was left in the land; the kings in those days were crushed." 1 Macc 14:13
"none who hope in heaven shall fail in strength" 1 Macc 2:61

Hume's account of causal reasoning is most plausible for systems that are very fast or very complex.

the importance of the 'iconic battle' to strategic thinking

One reason for the importance of water for life is that the thermal expansion properties and density profile of water allow for an unusually stable environment across very different conditions.

The Roman imperial cult was largely driven by local officials trying to 'suck up' to higher Roman powers.

profanum = beyond the fane (temple precinct)
gnosis and the sacral aspect of the person
sacrality and the capacity for initiation into gnosis required for anodos (rite of passage)

In the 1917 Code of Canon Law, an altar was encouraged to have a "tomb containing a relic" within it.

The most serious forms of gullibility are all deliberately self-imposed.

values as manners of perceived goodness

A lot of ethics has to concern itself with what reasonable and unreasonable people share.

Steiner on the "spiders of enormous wisdom" standing between mineral and plant as automotive beings created by human intellect

analogy as the structure of sympathy

sensible qualities as expressions of material things into sensory organs

Free choices breed the possibility of further free choices.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Divine Simplicity

 I've often criticized what analytic philosophers of religion have said about the classical doctrine of divine simplicity, mainly because analytic philosophers of religion have said many stupid things about it, but I don't think I've really laid out the basics of the doctrine here. Since, in the perpetual cycles of argument, arguing against divine simplicity seems to be coming back into fashion, it might be a good idea to do so. The doctrine is actually not all that difficult; it is, one might even say, if you will not hate me for the pun, relatively simple.

I. Triplex Via

It's useful, although not strictly necessary to start with a question: How do we know anything about God at all? Since we don't have first-personal knowledge of God, we know God through His effects. When we know something through its effects, the inference that constitutes that knowledge has certain features.

First, we obviously are identifying it in a specific way, namely, as cause of those effects.

Second, we obviously are identifying it as something distinct from those effects.

Third, we obviously are not committing ourselves to saying that its being a cause of those effects completely exhausts everything about it; instead, in causal inference we are saying that the cause is at least able to cause those effects. While we can sometimes eventually come to the conclusion that there is nothing more to something than its being a cause of certain effects, this is usually very difficult to establish, and is not a feature of the original inference by which we identified it.

The inference having these three features does not change in the case of God. For instance, if the effect we start with is Sacred Scripture, we are concluding to God as its original source, as distinct from Scripture itself, and as being at least adequate to cause that effect. If the effect we start with is the cosmos, we are concluding to God as its original source, as distinct from the cosmos, and as being at least adequate to be the source of the cosmos.

This is the foundation of what is historically known as the triplex via. Our knowledge of God, insofar as it is tied to effects (which certainly covers most of our knowledge of God, at least), necessarily has these features, which are historically usually called causation, remotion, and eminence, although sometimes precise terms vary. Triplex via is often mischaracterized; it's important to grasp that these are not successive, they don't have any particular order, and they can't actually be isolated from each other. They are just features that always go with causal inferences about God.

As Saadia Gaon famously noted, when we look at the world and the things in it and ask if we find evidence that they are effects, we do: they change, they are composite, they are limited in duration, etc. From this we infer that they have a source, and although there can be complications with issues like infinite regresses, an ultimate source (causation); this ultimate source, to be an ultimate source of the changing, composite, limited, etc. effects, must be unchanging, noncomposite, unlimited, etc. (remotion), but God, as ultimate source, is supereminent and therefore the divine nature is not exhausted by this discovery.

The doctrine of divine simplicity is just the doctrine that God cannot be composite because He is not an effect. To be composite is to be composed of parts; being composed of parts implies being composed by a composer; God is not composed by any composer; therefore God is not composite. Or, to put it in yet other terms, composition is a mark of being created; God is not created; therefore God is not marked by composition. That's it. That's the entire doctrine. Some people want rhetorically to make out that the doctrine is a bugbear of incomprehensibility, but in fact you can go anywhere in the world and find people, of all kinds of educational backgrounds and all kinds of religious backgrounds, who will helpfully explain to you that God is not made up of anything because God is not made at all. This is an entirely correct and entirely adequate presentation of the doctrine of simplicity; nothing more technical is required.

II. Composition and Noncomposition

The doctrine of simplicity doesn't require anything very technical. There are reasons, however, why you might want to be more technical. It makes intuitive sense to say that, since God was not composed by anything, He doesn't have components; everything we know that has components is composed by some cause or set of causes. But you might have questions about what 'component' covers. There will obviously be lots of obvious things, but there might be some cases where you aren't sure, and therefore need a more precise account of what makes something a component. The second reason you might need to get more technical is that there's inevitably that guy who will say, "But I think God can be composed of parts without being composed out of parts. God is composed of components without anything that composes God." And you'd need something more specific to say to that guy. You need a specific account of composition.

It is here where we start getting some technical disputes. For instance, the occasional dispute between Palamists and Thomists over divine simplicity is a very specific case of a more general dispute about whether Platonism or Aristotelianism provides the best account of composition. Nonetheless even so there are commonalities among disputants. The most general account of composition is that it requires something that is both actual and passively potential; the relation of part to whole is a particular case of the relation of potential to actual. Thus a common line of argument, particularly popular among Thomists, who have a very deeply elaborated account of potentiality and actuality, is to argue for divine simplicity by arguing that God must be purely actual because there is nothing with respect to which he could be passively potential. This is complicated a bit by the fact that we use 'potential' to describe two things, only one of which, passive potential, is relevant here, and by the specific details of the causal inference for God's existence that you are using (for Thomists, that would usually be the First Way or the Second Way). But on the basis of an account of composition in terms of potentiality and actuality, Thomists will argue that the potential of part to whole can only be ultimately actualized by something actual that is distinct from itself; from which it directly follows that if God has parts, something else puts God's parts together and keeps God's parts together. If this argument is granted, it is impossible for God to have components and not be composed by something else. This is only one possible line of argument, but it gives the idea.

Notice that I have said nothing at all about distinction or identity. This is because the doctrine of simplicity was not historically formulated in term of distinction and identity. It was discovered very long ago that trying to make sense of composition entirely in terms of sameness and difference ran into serious difficulties; this was one of the motivations, in fact, for trying to account for composition in terms of potentiality and actuality. The reversion to sameness and difference, or identity and distinction, is a relatively recent one, although it has some anticipations in the Cartesian account of divine simplicity. It is sometimes said, for instance, that the doctrine of simplicity is the position that all of God's attributes are identical with each other. This is not how the doctrine was historically formulated. If God is noncomposite, it follows that God's attributes are not distinguished as component parts composing God; but it's another question entirely whether there might be other distinctions between them. 

People will sometimes refer to the Augustinian "Everything in God is God", but Augustine at the time was arguing against a particular variant of Arianism, and so his point is actually that there is no such thing as being partially God; if the Second Person has one divine attribute, He has them all. Augustine's analogy is illuminating, since he appeals to the unity of virtues thesis. That is, in a virtuous character, having the fullness of any virtue requires having all of the virtues; to have justice in a complete form, you need to have fortitude, to have fortitude in a complete form, you need to have prudence, and so forth. Thus virtuous character is a simple multiplicity and a multiple simplicity. The difference is that you don't need every virtue to have some virtue in some way; whereas to have any divine attribute in any way, you have to have all the divine attributes fully. If you are God in a way, you are God; the divine attributes are not divisible. There is no way to be partly God, so if the Son is equal to the Father in any divine attribute, He is equal to the Father in every divine attribute. This is certainly a claim about divine simplicity; it can indeed be put in terms of sameness and difference; but the reason is that Augustine is arguing something very specific here.

III. The Doctrine of Incorporeality as Training for the Doctrine of Simplicity

While it's not the only kind of composition, the most obvious kind of composition is corporeal or physical composition. Saying that God is incorporeal, and thus has no physical parts, is already to attribute at least a relative simplicity to God; you are saying that, since God has no bodily components at all, God is noncomposite at least thus far. In fact, historically, incorporeality has been the hard step. Augustine, for instance, who was no intellectual slouch, struggled to get past the idea that God had physical parts, and one of the reasons why Platonism was so important to the early history of Christianity is that it actually provided arguments that something could exist and be incorporeal. Thinking of incorporeal existences like pure spirits is not particularly natural to human beings, who often think with their sensation-based imaginations; and the inability to imagine something existing without having any physical parts is always the first and most basic stumblingblock people have when it comes to the doctrine of divine simplicity. Therefore, while it won't deal with every issue, it's always a good idea to take any claim made about divine simplicity and see how it would affect the doctrine of divine incorporeality.

In Christianity, the doctrine of divine incorporeality is closely associated with the claim that God is spirit (John 4:24). Since incorporeality is a relative simplicity, the arguments made for simplicity all apply here. For instance, it has been argued that being corporeal is a mark of an effect, so that the cause of all bodies cannot be corporeal; likewise, it has been argued that all bodies are potential, and therefore God, being purely actual, cannot be corporeal. Likewise, it has been argued that corporeality is associated with defect, which God cannot have. And so forth.

Once one grants that God is not corporeal, however, it follows that God also cannot be anything that would be sufficiently analogous to being corporeal, in the sense that very similar reasons would apply. Thus if God is not corporeal, it is very likely, just considering that on its own, that there are other kinds of composition that are not physical composition but are sufficiently like it that reasons for saying God has no physical composition apply to them, as well. That is, if God is relatively simple in the sense of not physically composite, God is likely relatively simple in other ways. For instance, human beings are psychologically composite; this is different from our physical composition, but it is clear that at least a lot of our psychological composition is due to our physical composition. For instance, we have separate sensory parts whose information needs to be integrated. If God has no physical composition, then it is clear he can have no psychological composition that depends on physical composition in this way. Thus, despite incorporeality being a narrower and more limited attribute than simplicity in the full and proper sense, recognizing God as incorporeal is already moving away from taking God to be composite, and quite forcefully.

When we start with incorporeality and move along even just by analogy, then, we have at least a reasonable argument for divine simplicity as the natural limit of this line of thought. And we can use the basic arguments for simplicity at each step. Thus Aquinas argues for God having no physical composition, having no hylomorphic composition, having no composition of nature and subject, having no composition of essence and existence; and by the time that we hit the last one, we're at such a basic level that we can simply take God to be simple and have no composition at all. Perhaps someone wants to get off this train before then; if so, (1) they need a principled reason to hold that arguments analogous to those that apply for incorporeality can't hold against the kind of composition they want to admit; and (2) if you're on the train at any point, you already hold qualified divine simplicity, so we're no longer arguing over whether God is simple but over the limitations of that claim.

IV. Issues with Common Objections

Ah, the objections. There is no way to go through them all. But it is worth pointing out a few things that objectors often forget.

(a) Simplicity is attributed to God by triplex via, which means that it does not set limits to what else may be said of God, as long as it does not introduce composition into God. 

(b) Since things are attributed to God relative to His effects, and only relative to His effects, anything attributed to God, in the way it is attributed to God, has to be done so through some causal pathway, which will constrain the senses in which you can take the attribute.

(c) While simplicity removes any distinction that is a distinction between components, it tells us nothing at all about any other kind of distinction.

Thus the only objection against divine simplicity that is even worth paying attention to is one that starts with an effect and argues that God must be composite to have that effect, using an explicit account of composition that makes clear why we must think of this as composition rather than either as a higher unity or a noncompositional distinction.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

The Shimmery Ladders of My Soul

 Forbidden Magic
by Robert E. Howard 

There came to me a Man one summer night,
When all the world lay silent in the stars,
And moonlight crossed my room with ghostly bars.
He whispered hints of weird, unhallowed sight;
I followed – then in waves of spectral light
Mounted the shimmery ladders of my soul
Where moon-pale spiders, huge as dragons, stole –
Great forms like moths, with wings of wispy white. 

 Around the world the sighing of the loon
Shook misty lakes beneath the false-dawn’s gleams;
Rose tinted shone the sky-line’s minaret;
I rose in fear, and then with blood and sweat
Beat out the iron fabrics of my dreams,
And shaped of them a web to snare the moon.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Links of Note

 * Donald L. M. Baxter, Instantiation as partial identity (PDF)

* Thomas Szanto, Collective Emotions, Normativity, and Empathy: A Steinian Account (scroll down)

* Robert Di Ceglie, Divine Hiddenness and the Concept of God (PDF)

* Stefan Blancke, Science as a moral system

* Enno Fischer, Actual causation and the challenge of purpose

* Oliver Traldi, Busting the myth of left and right, reviews Lewis & Lewis, The Myth of Left and Right

* Bret Devereaux on Rings of Power, at "A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry":
Why Rings of Power's Middle Earth Feels Flat
Nitpicks of Power, Part I: Exploding Forges
Nitpicks of Power, Part II: Falling Towers
Nitpicks of Power, Part III: That Numenorean Charge

* Carlo Lancellotti, Sexual Colonization

* TheOFloinn on poetry: O Tempo! O Morae!

* Roy Cook, Frege's Logic, at the SEP

* The Sojourner Truth Project on the two main written versions of Sojourner Truth's most famous speech

* Clare Marie Moriarty, Berkeley's Gland Tour into Speculative Fiction, Part I: Homer, Descartes, and Pope

* Vicent Lloyd, A Black Professor Trapped in Anti-Racist Hell

* Jon Haidt, The Teen Mental Illness Epidemic Began Around 2012

* The Complete Review reviews George Schuyler's Black Empire. The book is an interesting one; it's a deliberately pulpy potboiler, and Schuyler's intention in writing seems to have been a half-sarcastic response to other stories of a similar type, but Dr. Belsidus ends up being a fascinating character.

* Kevin Vallier, Defining social trust is a first step toward nurturing it

* James Berquist, Uncommon Confusion: The New Natural Law Theory's Confusion of Predication and Causality Destroys the Natural Order, at "The Josias"

Monday, February 13, 2023

Logres XIV

 continuing Book II

Chapter 13

It was the morning of Candlemas day and King Arthur and his men were viewing matters outside of the castle of Bedegraine when they came to a brook, beside which stood a carl with a bow in his hand and arrows in his girdle. He was dressed in a russet cloak and black sheepskin and had great boots of leather. In the brook were wild geese and ducks, sporting gently in the waters as their kind often do. With one arrow the man shot a goose through the neck and with another immediately afterward shot a mallard as it took flight; both were excellent shooting. Then King Arthur asked the man if he would sell the birds he had taken.

"Yes," said the carl, "and gladly."

"And what do you ask in return?" King Arthur said in reply. 

But the man gave no answer for a moment. Then he said, "Kings are stingy folk and not apt to reward good service. I give you these birds freely, but will you dare to give me a gift in return?"

"What gift do you wish?" asked the king.

"A great measure of treasure," said the man.

"Surely these birds are not worth a great measure of treasure, however one measures it," the king replied.

"You are mistaken," the carl said in return, "because if you give me a great measure of treasure, you will be wealthier for it, and these birds are surely worth becoming richer."

And King Arthur began to be somewhat angry with him. "How can I become richer by giving you much treasure for few birds?"

"It is easy enough, if you pay with a treasure you only have in buying the birds. Will you promise to buy them, in return for a third of such a treasure?"

"I promise to buy them, if you promise I will be wealthier by doing so," said the king.

"So do I promise," said the carl, "and my promises are more sure than the promises of kings. Beneath this very field a large treasure is buried, put there for safekeeping in the days of King Cole by a chieftain long since dead. For the birds, give me a third, and you will be richer for the rest."

The king looked at him narrowly. "How do you know that there is a treasure buried beneath this field?"

The carl said, "A wild man named Merlin told me it was so, and he it was who told me I should be here to meet you at this time." Then the man turned to Sir Ulfius, who was standing by, saying, "Sir Steward, take these birds and cook them in a supper for your pauper lord who is so reluctant to become wealthy."

At this, Sir Ulfius burst out laughing, and Sir Brastias next to him began to smile. And when King Arthur asked him why he laughed so hard, Sir Ulfius only laughed harder.

Then the carl turned to Sir Kay, saying, "Sir Seneschal, perhaps you should take these birds and pluck them for supper, as no one else will, for surely your king must eat if he is not to waste away." And at this Sir Brastias also began to laugh. When the king asked him why he was laughing, he replied that he would tell the king, if the carl would give his consent.

At this, the carl began to laugh himself, and he said to Sir Ulfius, "Tell him so that he will finally take these birds and the treasure."

And Sir Ulfius said to King Arthur, "Sir, this man who speaks to you is Merlin."

Then King Arthur blessed himself in abashed wonder, for when he looked again at the carl, incredulous of Sir Ulfius's claim, he saw that it was indeed Merlin. Then all who were there had great merriment. 

The treasure was dug up and taken to Castle Bedegraine, where they feasted, including in the feast Merlin's birds. But Merlin sent part of his third to Blaise and, needing no money for himself, the rest distributed to the poor.

Chapter 14

In those days, many chieftains and nobles were pledging faith to King Arthur, and among them came a count named Savin, who arrived to pay his respects and swear his allegiance with his daughter Lysianor. She was surpassingly fair. King Arthur loved her swiftly, and she him, and they had much ado, and he begat a child on her. This child she named Amhar, and when he was old enough, he served as squire and guard to King Arthur's chambers. He became a good knight of the Round Table, and he was noble, and handsome, and skilled in spear and sword. His deed of greatest renown was the slaying of a giant, named Logrin, who had destroyed a hundred valiant knights before him. But in the battle, Sir Amhar was greatly wounded, and was never wholly right in the head again. He went about doing good for some time in various disguises and under various names, such as Sir Loholt, Sir Borre Stronghearted, and Sir Smervie, and when he took such names he seemed to forget that he was Sir Amhar for a while. He grew more and more unstable until one day he attacked King Arthur and Sir Kay with the violent force of a madman, and in protecting Sir Kay, King Arthur slew Sir Amhar, although he had tried to avoid it. Sir Amhar was buried in Ariconium, in Ergyng, in a place that the locals called Licat Amir, where the spring and head of the Gamber River is found. It was said in later days that when men would measure the cairn, it never had the same measurement twice.

But none of this was yet to come to pass. And Merlin a few days after Lysianor and King Arthur had sported said to King Arthur, "Desire is like the Baying Beast for the commotion it causes. For a king to have children out of wedlock is dangerous to a kingdom, and any bastard child you beget will be dangerous to you. Temperance is your wisest course." But King Arthur was a young man and gave this little heed.

One of the kings who paid homage to King Arthur, although through an envoy, was Leodegrance of Cameliard. This King Leodegrance when younger had been a friend of King Uther and a knight of Uther's Round Table. In retaliation for his alliance with Arthur, he was invaded by King Rience of North Wales. Then Merlin said to King Arthur, King Ban, and King Bors, "This man is an ally worth having, and your position among the kingdoms depends on aiding those allied with you."

King Arthur said, "You have no need to encourage me to this; I intended to give him aid as soon as I heard of this." Then the three kings rode forth with twenty thousand men. The forty days were at that time drawing toward their end and the paschal season was approaching, so that they came to the palace of King Leodegrance on the eve of Easter. As the kings entered the presence of King Leodegrance with their immediate guard, King Ban saluted him, saying, "We would not have presumed to enter your realm, good sir, except that we wished to serve you in the defense of your realm, on one condition alone, that you do not yet ask us our names."

King Leodegrance in turn welcomed them all, for he did have the numbers of men to fight the invading forces of King Rience; for King Ban and King Bors were clearly men capable of war, and all of the men that King Leodegrance saw with them were strong bachelors richly arrayed. Afterward, Merlin led them to the lands of a vavasor, named Sir Blaires, who with his wife Dame Lionell ran a thriving estate; both were noble and fair and were good to God and to the world, much given to hospitality. There they prepared as King Leodegrance summoned has friends and followers to meet at Toraise by the feast of the Ascension to begin a major offensive campaign against King Rience. The main host of King Leodegrance was led by Sir Hervi, or Herveus, known as the Rivell, and Sir Cleodalis, the steward of King Leodegrance; Sir Hervi the Rivell had been a renowned knight of the Old Round Table of King Uther, and was now of considerable age, not having been young even in Uther's day, although still hale and clear of mind. But King Rience struck swiftly, and, having spies in the court of King Leodegrance, by a cunning trap seized King Leodegrance himself before the forces had fully assembled. Then he struck at the remaining army led by Sir Hervi and Sir Cleodalis with the fullness of his forces before they could otherwise respond. The army of King Leodegrance was hard-pressed, but as they fought, the host of the three kings, led by Merlin, came to the battlefield.

For a while the battle equalized and the upper hand went back and forth between the two armies; but after there had been much fighting, Merlin cried out in a great voice to the three kings to follow him. This shout they all heard clearly, but no one else on the battlefield could. Then the three kings withdrew with their immediate guard, leaving Sir Kay and Sir Ulfius in charge of their troops who remained, and followed after Merlin at full gallop. Soon they came to a deep valley and overtook the men who had seized King Leodegrance. 

Then Merlin cried, "Upon them in defense of the king, and let not a single one escape to bring reinforcements!" Then like a thunderstorm the knights drove into the midst of them, lance clashing on shield and armor, and they killed and slew all the foe, rescuing King Leodegrance, despite being outnumbered many to one. King Leodegrance marveled at these strange allies who, though so few, could destroy a host so much larger, and he thanked God for the help that had been sent him. Merlin and Sir Brastias unbound him, and aided him into his armor, and brought him a strong, swift steed.

Then Merlin cried out again, "Gentle knights, why do you tarry? There is yet a battle to be won!" And again he sped away, and they all followed, returning to the battle. There Merlin unfurled the dragon banner of Aurelius and Uther. It shone like gold and gems in the bright sunlight, and great flames of fire came out of the dragon's mouth, so that all who saw were astonished, and the light of it was seen even in sunlight from miles away. And King Ban unsheathed his famous sword Coreuseus, delivering stroke left and right, and it seemed as if the sword were enchanted, because nothing could stand in its way. Not far from him, King Bors did much the same and slew Sir Sarmedon, King Rience's standardbearer. The greatest of all the feats on the field were done by King Arthur, wielding the Sword from the Stone, shining with brilliant light, with Sir Kay at his side, smiting off hands and heads and arms and thighs, casting down knights and horses and men. But many were the knights in the guard of the three kings who achieved things out of the ordinary. So Leodegrance was saved and the army of King Rience was scattered.

King Leodegrance held a great feast in thanks for the three kings, and was thankful to an even greater degree in learning their names. At that feast, the three kings were given the highest hospitality, and instead of a servant serving their cups, they were served by King Leodegrance's own daughter. Her name was Guinevere. She was lively and beautiful, and King Arthur did not fail to notice her; nor did she fail to listen with great interest to the tales told of his valor.

Afterward, wealthy with the spoils of their battles, King Ban and King Bors returned to their own country. King Arthur wished to go with them, but King Bors said to him, "Nay, not at this time, for you still have much to do in these lands. We have received great treasures by your gift and grace, and we return to our lands better equipped to withstand the malice of King Claudas. If we have need of you, we will send for your aid, and if you have need of us, send for us and we will not tarry."

Merlin said to them, "It will not be necessary for you to come again to this island for purposes of war, for these eleven kings shall be dealt a great blow by two valiant brothers. But you will have great need within a year or two, and King Arthur will come to aid you and avenge you, as you have done to him."

Then they returned to their own lands across the channel. The eleven kings were greatly taxed in the north by the coming of the Saxons, who did not come in a single wave but in many. Nonetheless they did not cease to scheme their vengeance for the battle at Bedegraine.

Chapter 15

After the departure of King Ban and King Bors, Merlin went to visit Blaise. King Arthur rode to Caerleon, and there to his surprise was met by an envoy from King Lot of Lothian, which was led by King Lot's queen, Morgause. She came purportedly to consider possible options for peace, but in reality she had been sent to spy, a task for which she was well suited, for she was a woman of great beauty and charm. With her came her four sons, Gawain, Gaheris, Agravain, and Gareth, and many other knights and ladies. She and the king talked long, and he conceived a passion for her, encouraged by her, and he slept with her. She stayed a month, and then returned to Lothian, but she was by then pregnant with a child, who, when born, she named Mordred. Queen Morgause was in fact King Arthur's half-sister, being the daughter of Duke Gorlois and Igraine; but neither of them knew this at the time.

The queen had scarcely left when King Arthur had a dream that chilled him to his inmost core. In the dream, the land was overrun by great serpents and fierce griffins who slew and burned the people of the land. He fought them and slew them, although he was wounded sorely before he had succeeded. When he woke, he was heavy with the burden of the dream, so he called for his horse to go hunting, in the hope of lightening his mind. No sooner had King Arthur and his knights entered the horse than he saw a great hart, which leaped swiftly away. He gave pursuit so intensely and speedily and at such length that his horse lost its breath and fell down dead and a yeoman had to fetch the king another horse. Then King Arthur sat beside a fountain brooding, for he deemed the event a bad omen. As he sat, he heard a great noise like a pack of thirty hounds on the quest, but he saw no hounds. Instead, he saw the strangest creature he had ever seen coming to drink from the fountain. It was pure white, with a head like a snake, and a body like that of a leopard, and haunches like a lion, and feet like that of a hind. All of the noise like the pack of thirty hounds came from a rumbling in its belly, but the noise ceased while it was drinking and only continued again when it stopped. Then it left, moving swiftly through the trees, but not in a straight line. King Arthur marveled at this, but soon afterward a knight came through the undergrowth on foot.

Seeing Arthur, the knight said, "Good knight, pensive and sleepy, have you seen a strange beast pass this way?"

"I have," said King Arthur. "It is not two miles hence. Why do you seek this beast?"

"Sir," said the knight, "I have followed it long, for the past twelvemonth, so that my horse died in the pursuit."

At that moment, the yeoman returned with King Arthur's fresh horse, and the knight begged the king to have it.

"Sir," said King Arthur, "let me have this quest and follow it for twelvemonth."

"Your desire is in vain," said the knight, "for none but I or my kin shall catch it." And at this the knight mounted King Arthur's horse and said, "I will take this."

"You may take my horse by force," said the king, "but I would test whether you or I were better in the saddle."

"Well," said the knight, "I will be near here if you ever have the mind and means to do it." And he went his way.

King Arthur commanded his men to bring him a new horse, and as he waited he was deep in thought. Soon a youth, fourteen years of age, came by and saluted him, asking why he was so thoughtful.

"I have good reason to be thoughtful," said King Arthur, "for I have seen the strangest sight that one can imagine."

"I know this well," said the youth, "for I know the Baying Beast."

"And what can you know of the Baying Beast?" the king asked the boy with some surprise.

"All things that are to be known about it," said the boy. "The mother of the beast was a princess who conceived an unnatural desire for her brother. The devil then took his form, and she satisfied her lust with him, but he treated her in such a fashion that she accused him of rape to her father. In a rage, their father had the brother torn apart by a pack of thirty hounds, but before his death he prophesied that she would bear a strange and abominable beast with a voice like a pack of dogs. Such is the end of all disordered love. So you see that I know the Baying Beast, and I also know you, and all your thoughts, but you are fool, for thinking will make no amends."

"You know nothing about me," said King Arthur.

"I know that you are the son of King Uther Pendragon," said the youth, "who begot you on the Duchess Igraine."

"This is false," said King Arthur, "and in any case, how could a boy such as you know these things?"

"I know these things better than anyone," said the youth, "for people like you are blind to what is clear and see only in a fog."

Then King Arthur was angry with the child, but the child passed on. Soon there came by an old man, of about eighty years of age.

"Why are you so sorrowful?" asked the old man of the king.

"I have many things for which to be sad," said the king. "But most recently, because a boy told me terrible things he should not be able to know."

"And yet the boy was right," said the old man, "and he would have told you many more things if you had had the patience of a king and endured his telling of it. But you do have reason to sorrow, for God is displeased with you and you have lain with your sister; a child will be born of her come May Day, and there is in him the destiny to destroy you and all the knights of your kingdom."

"What are you," asked the king, "that you tell me these things?"

"I am Merlin," said the old man, and he was no longer an old man but Merlin as the king had known him, "and I was Merlin when I walked by a little while ago as a boy."

"You are a man of marvels," said King Arthur, "but the greatest marvel is your prophecy of my destruction."

"It is not so great a thing to predict that men will die," replied Merlin. "But it is indeed God's will that you be punished in body for the transgression of sacred bounds. But you may yet have honor in these things. I will be denied such, and have first a living death and then at the end be slain in a terrible way by the Antichrist."

As they were talking, the new horse arrived. King Arthur mounted the horse and rode back to Caerleon, where he found Merlin already there. The king summoned both Sir Ector and Sir Ulfius and asked if it was true that he was the son of King Uther Pendragon, and they told him all they knew. 

Then the king said to Merlin, "I wish to speak with my mother, and if she says the same, I will believe it."

"If that is what is required," said Merlin.

The queen was sent for in great haste, and she came, bringing her daughter with her. Her daughter's name was Morgan, who was later called the Fay, and she was a beautiful young woman with cleverness and savvy beyond the normal lot. The king welcomed them both in the fairest way.

To Clouds and Winds and Ghosts that Shun the Sun

by Robert E. Howard

I remember
The dark woods, masking slopes of sombre hills;
The grey clouds' leaden everlasting arch;
The dusky streams that flowed without a sound,
And the lone winds that whispered down the passes.

 Vista upon vista marching, hills on hills,
Slope beyond slope, each dark with sullen trees,
Our gaunt land lay. So when a man climbed up
A rugged peak and gazed, his shaded eye
Saw but the endless vista--hill on hill,
Slope beyond slope, each hooded like its brothers. 

 It was a gloomy land that seemed to hold
All winds and clouds and dreams that shun the sun,
With bare boughs rattling in the lonesome winds,
And the dark woodlands brooding over all,
Not even lightened by the rare dim sun
Which made squat shadows out of men; they called it
Cimmeria, land of Darkness and deep Night. 

 It was so long ago and far away
I have forgotten the very name men called me.
The axe and flint-tipped spear are like a dream,
And hunts and wars are like shadows. I recall
Only the stillness of that sombre land;
The clouds that piled forever on the hills,
The dimness of the everlasting woods.
Cimmeria, land of Darkness and the Night. 

 Oh, soul of mine, born out of shadowed hills,
 To clouds and winds and ghosts that shun the sun,
 How many deaths shall serve to break at last
 This heritage which wraps me in the grey
 Apparel of ghosts? I search my heart and find
 Cimmeria, land of Darkness and the Night.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Fortnightly Book, February 12

 Robert E. Howard was born in Peaster, Texas in 1906. He was fascinated by poetry and stories from an early age, and, because of an extraordinary memory, often could recite what he had read after only one or two readings. Eventually he started submitting his own creations to magazines; he did not have much luck for a while, in part because he had to discover on his own what would sell. He slowly began to hit his stride when he found that he could occasionally something to Weird Tales. He then had a few instances of unusually good success with an experimental form of story, one about a man from Atlantis named Kull and another about a Puritan swashbuckler named Solomon Kane, and with these the genre of sword-and-sorcery was born. And in 1932, he began to have a new set of ideas for where to take this line; Cimmeria, the land populated by descendants of Atlantis, and a new hero, Conan the Cimmerian, was born. From the very first published story in which he appeared, Conan became a hit with readers, always in demand, and in the next few years Howard sold a fair number of stories about him. This success gave Howard some room to write more widely; despite its popularity and lasting appeal, in his own lifetime Howard actually made more money with westerns. But despite being a prolific writer, Howard had not long left. As his mother approached death due to tuberculosis in 1936, Howard, already subject to long bouts of depression, walked out to his car one June day, pulled a gun out of the glove compartment, and shot himself in the head.

The next fortnightly book is a book that I picked up some years ago at Half Price Books and it has mostly just gathered dust in a box until, wondering what next to read, I happened to see it. It is simply titled Conan the Barbarian and consists of nine short stories plus Howard's essay, "The Hyborian Age", about the world of Conan. The short stories were all published in Weird Tales and are as follows (with their first publication date in parentheses):

"Shadows in the Moonlight" (April 1934)
"Queen of the Black Coast" (May 1934)
"The Devil in Iron" (August 1934)
"The People of the Black Circle" (September-November 1934)
"A Witch Shall Be Born" (December 1934)
"Jewels of Gwahlur" (March 1935)
"Beyond the Black River" (May-June 1935)
"Shadows in Zamboula" (November 1935)
"Red Nails" (July-September-October 1936)

This is about half of the total number of Conan stories that were published by Weird Tales, so it covers a fair amount.

The realm of Atlantis has fallen and been forgotten. The various Hyborian nations have conquered almost all of the northwest of the world. But nations rise and nations fall. The mighty Hyrkanians press in from the East; the South resists Hyborian rule and expansion; and from the North the descendants of the snow apes the Hyborians had once driven north have begun to press southward with ever more irresistible force. It is an age of tumult and destruction, of chaos and ferment. Conan, once a warrior of some renown, wanders throughout the world in search of adventure. He will surely find it....