Saturday, November 04, 2023

Gems Cannot Sparkle in the Midnight Gloom

 Sonnet XXII
by Anna Seward

You, whose dull spirits feel not the fine glow
 Enthusiasm breathes, no more of light
 Perceive ye in rapt Poesy, tho' bright
 In Fancy's richest colouring, than can flow
From jewel'd treasures in the central night
 Of their deep caves.—You have no Sun to show
 Their inborn radiance pure.—Go, Snarlers, go;
 Nor your defects of feeling, and of sight,
To charge upon the Poet thus presume,
 Ye lightless minds, whate'er of title proud,
 Scholar, or Sage, or Critic, ye assume,
Arraigning his high claims with censure loud,
 Or sickly scorn; yours, yours is all the cloud,
 Gems cannot sparkle in the midnight Gloom.

Fire Serpent and Water Mountain II


Finally the day came. At about noon the mirror in the hallway spoke.

"We apologize, but business that needed to be finished before our departure took longer than expected. We will be arriving in exactly four hours, and thank you again for the invitation."

After that, everything in the Hall was a flurry as everyone prepared for the visiting gods finally to arrive. Almost everything had already been done but, as often happens, the looming of a deadline threw everyone into chaos. Now that there was an exact time of arrival, everyone went over everything again to make sure that things were perfect. Uncle Llew went from room to room, issuing directions for any modifications he deemed fit. Finally he and Tera stood in the welcoming hall. All the lights were lit, there were new tapestries on the wall showing his heraldic name, Fire Serpent, in red and gold, and there were beautiful bushes in planters along the walls, blooming with red and yellow flowers. 

Llew looked around. "It lacks something." He said and did nothing else, at least outwardly, but Tera sensed the possibilities of the room shifting, the improbable becoming certain, and all of a sudden the lights were brighter, the colors on the tapestries were more vivid, and, more marvelously, the bushes all were taller and even more full of flowers. It was work of a kind only the gods can do, done beautifully and elegantly, as all of Uncle Llew's shiftings were, and also very subtle, because there were aspects of what he did with the possibilities that Tera could not quite see or feel. In her mind, she filed away a note to ask him more about it.

The guests arrived exactly four hours after their message. Standing slightly behind Uncle Llew, she had a good view of all three of them. In all her life, she had only met two gods before, if she did not count herself, her mother and her uncle, both of whom (unlike herself, she often felt) looked like gods. They were not quite beautiful, by the Davir standards of beauty with which she had grown up, but they were striking to see: golden-blond hair that smoothly waved here and there, dark blue eyes that always seemed to be looking past everything they saw, golden-honey-tanned skin, slimness of build, facial features that were delicate in a way that suggested a certain hauteur. You could imagine them as members of some strange ethereal race looking haughtily down on the lesser beings around them. In Uncle Llew, all this was accentuated now by his formal robes, which were blazing red with golden trim, his emblem-name blazoned on his chest. Tera had always assumed that this was just what gods were supposed to look like. But the guests looked nothing like that at all; they looked quite bland and ordinary in comparison. They were not striking at all. There was an older man, slightly stout, with brown hair. The woman had magnificent black hair that reached nearly all the way down her back but in all other respects was quite the ordinary matron. The young man standing slightly behind them, obviously their son, fared a little better, since unlike either of his parents he was handsome, at least in the awkward way teenaged boys often are, like a man still under construction. However, he looked fully as uncomfortable in his formal robes as she felt, and so also not much like a god.

All of this makes it sound as if Tera's primary impression of them was derived from their physical appearance, but this is not right. She took it all in at a glance, and it contributed to the overall impression, but what primarily disappointed her was that they looked, as she would have described it, 'flat and slow'. What had always been most striking about her mother was that she seemed more real than anything else around her, as if she were the only fully rounded object in a world drawn on paper. The possibilities of the world seemed to whirl swiftly around and in and through her in a way that made her stand out; Uncle Llew had the same flurry of possibilities, and perhaps to an even greater degree than her mother. But the three guests were flat in comparison. They were more rounded than the servants, who were flatter and slower; but the possibilities moving in and through and around them moved in slow, lazy swings.

But she filed all of this away, too, because formal introductions were being done. The gods have several names: a given name, a date-name that indicates the date of their birth, and an emblem-name that they get once they are Enrolled. For instance, Tera's mother's name was Arianrhod Seven-Klevy Metal Sun; her uncle's name was Llew Seven-Klevy Fire Serpent. Her own date-name was Three-Tery; she was not yet Enrolled, so she had no emblem-name yet. Except when distinguishing people with the name, the date-name was rarely used and the emblem-name used mostly for heraldic purposes, but they were all used in formal introductions. It was a very foreign way of naming things to Tera, not at all like the naming customs of Davir, and she still thought the formal names of the gods strange. The older man's full name was Manawydan Thirteen-Suly Wood Cougar; the woman's name was Rhiannon Fifteen-Mury Wood River; their son's name was Rhys Nine-Suly Wind Eagle. 

Rhiannon beamed at her when Uncle Llew introduced her. "Your mother and I grew up together," she said, "and you look so very much like her."

They all withdrew to the receiving room for conversation and light refreshments. The conversation was nothing to which she could contribute. It consisted entirely of comments about people and places in The City of the Gods, none of which she knew. It was for the most part quite dull. (That this was not purely a failing on her part was visible in Rhys's face, which also showed signs of boredom.) Nonetheless there was something more happening in the conversation than she could quite follow. Every so often there would be a sudden moment of awkwardness. For example, early on in the discussion, Uncle Llew remarked that he had asked the Embiadwe clan to make sure that the family estate of Brickanbreck would be fit and furnished for their visit.

"Yes," said Rhiannon brightly. "We regularly see them working on it and bringing in new furnishings."

"You  must live quite close, then," said Uncle Llew somewhat puzzled.

"Yes, we live by the lake down and around the way, at Abernant."

Uncle Llew, who had been raising a cracker topped with something to his mouth, paused. "That used to be a Muriaki estate."

This was where the first awkward moment occurred. Rhiannon and Manawydan looked at each other, then, Manawydan said, as if measuring his words very carefully, "Yes, that is different. It has been Wenovar for nearly a thousand years. A number of families moved off Wenovar Mountain, and some estates were traded around because of it. Since my father belonged to the Muriaki, we received Abernant. Not in the clan, but still in the family, so to speak."

Uncle Llew stared at and through his cracker a moment. Then, recollecting himself, he said, "My father was also Muriaki; I spent many a boyhood day at Abernant, swimming in the lake. There was a large rock not far from the shore a bit the north that had excellent fishing in those days." At this comment the awkwardness passed.

"Yes," said Manawydan, "it still does. I fish there regularly."

Then all the conversation for the next twenty minutes was fishing spots and the various mountain lakes in The City of the Gods. Tera garnered nothing from this, beyond the fact that The City of the Gods must be simply immense, since it seemed to include an entire mountain range. But similar awkward moments arose several more times, often at places in the conversation that seemed entirely random to Tera.

The guests went to their rooms to prepare for dinner, and then they had dinner and the conversation was very much like it had been before, except now it was interspersed with comments about the food. Tera couldn't contribute to this much, either. The food was good, but far inferior to Uncle Llew's cooking, and it seemed to her that it would be rude to the servants, who were after all trying their best, to say this. It was not their fault that they could not cook like a god.

After dinner, Uncle Llew said charmingly to Manawydan and Rhiannon, "I fear we are boring the younger ones with our reminiscences. I suggest that we continue over dessert wines and rum in the parlor, and Tera can give Rhys a tour of the gardens." They both agreed. Tera found something rather suspicious about the alacrity with which Rhiannon agreed, although she could not quite place why, nor say quite what it was of which she was suspicious, but it did not matter one way or another, since neither Tera nor Rhys could in politeness refuse.

It was a  nice late afternoon, and Uncle Llew had earlier brought the garden to a peak of picturesque loveliness; every flower was as beautiful as it possibly could be, every stone was improbably striking.  Because she felt it would be rude to walk in silence, she made a few comments about the garden and asked a few questions about Rhys's interests. One of these questions must have been the right one to ask, because he became voluble in discussing metalworking. Tera knew far less than he did about the subject; her background as a goddess-princess had of course involved no training at all in metalworking, and while Uncle Llew had tried valiantly to teach her how to shift the possibilities of metals, the lessons had taken their place near the top of the list of lessons she liked least. For the most part, she made noncommittal comments in response to his metallurgical enthusiasm and imagined that he probably thought her somewhat stupid. At least once, though, she knew she had said something right. He had been talking about some difficult project on which he was working and mentioned that it used nickel. She had responded that she hated nickel because it was like working with rock-hard butter, and she could actually see his estimation of her rising considerably. She did not know why.

They came to a graceful bridge over a babbling brook, where they stopped and quietly looked down at the water for a while. Then a somewhat curious looking came over Rhys's face and he turned to her with a smile. Tera might almost have called it sly and mischievous, almost as if he were deliberately deciding to do something he had been explicitly told not to do.

"Tell me," he said, "because I have to know. What is it like living with The Terror of the Gods?"

She stared at him. Then she said, "Do you mean Uncle Llew? What could possibly be terrifying about him? Why would they call him that?"

Rhys looked at her a moment, apparently disappointed in the answer. Then he turned and looked back down at the water. "I do not know the details, myself. No one seems to like to speak about it. They call him the Terror, and the Destroyer, and the Monster, and some other things. I get the sense that there was some great dispute, about a thousand years ago, and it went badly for everyone. I have heard," Rhys said confidentially, "that your uncle set Wenovar Mountain in The City of the Gods on fire." He shook. "But again, nobody seems to want to talk about it."

"I know nothing at all about it," said Tera. "Uncle Llew seems to me to be very un-terrifying."

They were silent some moments, then Rhys asked her some questions about her own interests, and they walked back to the house, talking about various trivial things.

Rhiannon and Manawydan and Rhys spent the night in the guest rooms, and were seen off in the early morning, Rhiannon insisting that Llew and Tera visit them at some point. 

"That seems to have gone well," said Uncle Llew afterward, "at least as far as I could tell. How about you?"

She agreed, but told him about Rhys's comments at the bridge.

"Hmm," said Uncle Llew, "I suppose that is not surprising." But he would answer no more questions and went down below to his workshop.

to be continued

Friday, November 03, 2023

Fire Serpent and Water Mountain I

 This is the first installment of a story I've been thinking through this summer.

Chapter One: Fire Serpent Hall Provides Hospitality to Visiting Gods

The Hall of the Fire Serpent was unusually busy. For most of the past five years, only Tera Three-Tery and her Uncle Llew had actually lived at the Hall. A few others had come and gone with some regularity, but none of them even stayed overnight. For nearly a thousand years before Tera had come to live there, only Uncle Llew had lived there. He was known throughout the realm of Mizur as an unusually reclusive god. Gods who looked after other realms were known for having busy palaces with elaborate dinners and bright galas and never-ending entertainments, but not Llew Seven-Klevy Fire Serpent, who would venture forth every so often on matters of business and then return to the Hall, seen on a regular basis only by the very few who brought supplies or were hired to prevent mischief in the woods below. Truth to be told, the people of Mizur liked this feature of their god. A Mizuran proverb had it that a god who meddles rarely is the most helpful of the gods. 

Tera herself was not particularly pleased with the sudden appearance of people. It meant that she constantly had to field timid questions from servants about whether she approved of their placement of the tapestries or the rugs or the flowers. Uncle Llew never had to answer such questions; he would walk into the room, and suddenly everyone would be busy with the chore that they had just decided was not quite finished. When he left, they would come to Tera with their questions. She had grown used to the relative quiet and seclusion of Fire Serpent Hall, which gave her plenty of time to go on walks or read a book in the library or explore the sprawling building, or converse with Uncle Llew over a meal that he usually cooked himself. She had been raised and trained as a goddess-princess in the realm of Davir, with throngs of servants around her, so the new situation was also uncomfortably like being a little girl again. 

She called on her training and patiently answered all questions, trying as best she could to put the servants at ease so that they would not scurry around like mice afraid of the cat. All of these new servants had been borrowed from various noble families and wealthy merchant houses throughout Mizur. They were supposed to be all volunteers, but given that the noble families and merchant houses certainly wanted to curry favor with Uncle Llew, Tera doubted whether the volunteering was always entirely voluntary. She did not want to make life harder for them than it might already be.

It had all begun at breakfast shortly after her seventeenth birthday, when Uncle Llew had suddenly said, "I was thinking that at the end of the summer we should visit The City."

"Mizan Vir, you mean?" she replied.

"No, not any Vilim city," said Uncle Llew. 'Vilim' was the word used by the gods for a non-god. "The City."

He meant The City of the Gods; for some reason, Uncle Llew rarely used the term 'god', and when he did it was with an undertone of sarcasm or contempt, the explanation for which Tera had never been able to coax out of him. He would more often use the gods' name for their kind, Davnan, or just avoid it entirely.

"I would love that," she said. "Is there any particular reason why?"

Uncle Llew looked thoughtful for a moment, frowning in the direction of an empty corner of the breakfast room, snapping his fingers absentmindedly as he sometimes did when deep in thought, then said, "When you turn nineteen, we will have to visit anyway, for your Enrollment on the Manifest," he said, "but it would be better for that not to be your first time in The City."

He was silent a long moment, then he said, "As far as lore and skill are concerned, all the things that go with being Davnan, I have tried to catch you up, and you have done well. But there is one great gap in your education, which is how to navigate the treacheries of Davnan society. Davnan life is all about the clan; you will need to meet other members of the Embiadwei clan and get to know them. And to be wholly honest, your mother and I did not leave The City on good terms with the others, and I have been thinking of what you might have to endure because of our decisions. You will need allies."

"I would love to meet others in our clan," said Tera. It was true; her heart was thrilling and her imagination fired by the thought.

Uncle Llew looked at her drily. "You think you would love to meet our kin," he said. "They are all treacherous, I warn you. Half of Davnan politics is the fine art of stabbing people in the back while you embrace them. Constant vigilance is the only defense."

"You rarely talk about The City of the Gods," she said. "Do you miss it?"

He stared off into the empty corner again. "I suppose in an abstract way I'm curious to see the family estate again; but no, I do not miss it. The City and I parted for good a long time ago. And the people I especially do not look forward to seeing again." His eyes turned back to her and smiled. "But again, those are the results of my decisions, not yours. You should have the opportunity to see what you can get out of clan and City."

The conversation on that day had turned to the less interesting topic of her studies for the week, but a few weeks later, this time at lunch, Uncle Llew said, "We are going to have guests at the end of Sery." That put the time just five weeks away.

Tera was immensely surprised, since they had never had guests before, and said so.

"Well," said Uncle Llew, "since we are going to The City, it would be good to get a practice run, so to speak. So I've arranged for a brief visit." He wagged his finger at her. "You'll have to be on your best behavior. If you don't like them, or they don't like you, at least we tried, but the best possible result would be to make a good impression."

"Are they Embiadwei?"

"No," said Uncle Llew slowly, as if he were measuring his words. "We will meet plenty of Embiadwei when we reach The City. The Embiadwei are not a concern; they are unreliable, but they will support and protect you in their own way, because you are clan. But you will need allies from other clans, or, at least, members of other clans who have an incentive not to destroy you. Manawydan and Rhiannon are both Wenovar. The Wenovar -- let us say that the Wenovar have more than a few grudges against me." He did not seem concerned by this. "Most of them hate me with a passionate hatred, in fact, and again, I am sorry that you will have to deal with that. But we will have to start taking steps to mitigate that. And treacherous Wenovar they may be, but at least a thousand years ago, Manawydan and Rhiannon were among the most reasonable people in the clan. That they accepted the invitation is also a good sign. They will be coming with their son, whom I've never met, but is about your age."

All of Uncle Llew's insinuations about the dark agendas of the clans filled Tera with some trepidation. "Uncle Llew, do we really need to do this?"

"Yes," he said firmly. "I am currently making arrangements to get us a full staff; anything less might be taken as an insult. And we obviously cannot have the staff just show up, so we will need to have them a couple of weeks before so that everything runs smoothly on the day."

Thus Tera found herself constantly interrupted, fielding questions from shy servants who then fled away like deer from the hunter. She also was uneasy in the stomach as the day drew near, constantly wondering what these gods would be like, from this strange Wenovar clan that hated the good-natured Uncle Llew. The worst of it was that she couldn't complain about any of it to Uncle Llew, as she normally would, because now there were always servants around, at breakfast, lunch, tea, and dinner, and all the times in between.

to be continued

Thursday, November 02, 2023

The Treachery, at Last, Too Late, Is Plain

by Helen Hunt Jackson

This is the treacherous month when autumn days
With summer's voice come bearing summer's gifts.
Beguiled, the pale down-trodden aster lifts
Her head and blooms again. The soft, warm haze
Makes moist once more the sere and dusty ways,
And, creeping through where dead leaves lie in drifts,
The violet returns. Snow noiseless sifts
Ere night, an icy shroud, which morning's rays
Will idly shine upon and slowly melt,
Too late to bid the violet live again.
The treachery, at last, too late, is plain;
Bare are the places where the sweet flowers dwelt.
What joy sufficient hath November felt?
What profit from the violet's day of pain?

Wednesday, November 01, 2023

All Saints

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. [1 Jn 3:2-3 NIV]


Gaius Sollius Modestius Sidonius Apollinaris, Hesychius I, Alcimus Ecdicius Avitus, Apollinaris

Sidonius Apollinaris was born around the 430s in Lugdunum, modern-day Lyon, to a very aristocratic Roman family in Gaul. He married Papianilla, the daughter of the Western emperor, Eparchius Avitus, and was eventually named prefect of the city of Rome by a later emperor, Procopius Anthemius, who later also made him Patrician and Senator. He was appointed bishop of Averna (modern-day Clermont) in 469, apparently against his will, but he was an impressive bishop, and it is said that he could both say the entire Mass from memory without having to consult a sacramentary and improvise a homily on the spot. In the 470s, Clermont was attacked by the Arian Visigoths, and Sidonius and his brother-in-law Ecdicus  organized the defense of the city. They were able to hold out for quite a while, but were eventually conquered, and Sidonius was captured and thrown in prison. He seems to have impressed the Visigothic king, Euric, though, because he was eventually allowed to return to his see. We don't know much about his death, although we know it was sometime before 490. He left behind an extensive body of poems and letters.

We know very little about Hesychius I of Vienne, although some sources suggest that he had been a senator before later becoming bishop of Vienne. He was certainly related to Sidonius, although we don't know the exact connection. He had married a woman, Audentia, who seems to have been of good family, and they had two sons, Avitus and Apollinaris, and a daughter, Fuscina. Hesychius was succeeded as bishop of Vienne by his son Avitus. Avitus was very active in Church affairs, and also with negotiating and occasionally converting Arians from the Germanic nations. Avitus left behind a body of letters, and also a long Latin poem, the Poematum de Mosaicae historicae gestae, which is often considered to be one of Milton's influences in the writing of Paradise Lost. St. Avitus's younger brother, Apollinaris, was made bishop of Valence in 486, and seems to have become immensely popular among the people, whom he actively served until his death in about 520.

The whole family seems primarily notable for the competence and care with which they approached their episcopal duties. St. Sidonius Apollinaris is commemorated on August 21; St. Hesychius I of Vienne is commeorated on March 15 in many local calendars; St. Avitus of Vienne is commemorated on February 5; and St. Apollinaris of Valence is commemorated on October 5.

Juvenal of Jerusalem

The city of Jerusalem had been destroyed by Rome in AD 70, and spent a considerable time in ruins until the Emperor Hadrian built a new city in the same general location, which he called Aelia Capitolina. Juvenal became bishop of Aelia Capitolina in the 420s, and set about to restore his see, now merely a suffragan of the greater city of Caesarea, to its former status as the patriarchate of Jerusalem. Indeed, he was almost obsessive about it. A somewhat ruthless power-player, he negotiated and finagled and pleaded and wheedled to try to restore Jerusalem's status as a patriarchate. He regularly violated canon law and standard norms of behavior, occasionally treating himself as already a patriarch with no obligations to Caesarea. The two most powerful figures in the Church of the day were St. Leo I of Rome and St. Cyril of Alexandria; he annoyed them incessantly, and they continually had to push him off. According to Leo, at one point he tried to forge documents in support of his claims, and Cyril seems to have regarded him an irritation that unfortunately had to be endured in the struggle against Nestorius. Nonetheless, he was a very active ally of both, and perhaps their major supporter at the Council of Ephesus, although his support was always mixed in with an attempt to argue that one of the sins of the Nestorians was not properly recognizing the importance of the See of Jerusalem. When the Robber Council of Ephesus was called by Dioscorus of Alexandria, he was active in that, as well, as supporting the miaphysite compromise with the Monophysites, but when the Council of Chalcedon was called in response to it, he switched sides and became a major supporter of Chalcedon. He finally managed to leverage this into formal recognition of Jerusalem as at least an honorary patriarchate. It didn't do him a lot of immediate good, since the Monophysites dominated the area, and they were not pleased with his side-switching. He was chased out and only eventually restored by the Imperial troops. But once that was done, he had a few years of peace before his death in 458, during which he was active in his support of Chalcedon. A cunning ecclesiastical politician, although not on the level of St. Leo and certainly not on the level of St. Cyril, much of his career consists of him doing rather dubious things. But there's a peculiarity about him; he does not seem at any point to have been doing these things for self-aggrandizing reasons. His behavior is entirely consistent with the interpretation that he honestly believed that Jerusalem was being denied its appropriate rights, and he was willing to endure any number of humiliations in order to insist on it. And despite his odd priorities, he played an active, and apparently sincere, role in the success of both the Council of Ephesus and the Council of Chalcedon. His feast is on July 2.

Wilfrid of Northumbria

Wilfrith, or Wilfrid, was born somewhere around 633 in Northumbria; he's generally thought to have come from a noble family, although we do not know for sure. He went into religious life, his education apparently sponsored by Queen Eanflaed, and eventually met St. Benedict Biscop, whom he accompanied on a pilgrimage to Rome, although he spent time in Lyon while the rest of the pilgrimage went on. After completing the last leg of the pilgrimage later on his own, he returned to Lyon. The pilgrimage and the time in Lyon would have an important historical effect, because in the course he learned Roman and Frankish liturgical customs, which he would bring back to Britain on his return. When he did return, he was put in charge of organizing a monastery by King Ahlfrith of Deira, who was a sort of subordinate king of the greater Northumbrian kingdom. The monks were largely Irish, and there was a subsequent power struggle over whether Celtic or Roman customs, including over the dating of Easter, would win out; Wilfrid won, and the abbot and a number of other monks, including St. Cuthbert, were expelled. Wilfrid at the time was not a priest; it's unclear from historical sources (which are inconsistent on this point) whether he was even a monk himself, rather than just a layman authorized by the king to organize the monastery. However, he did become a priest not long after the dispute. The Easter dispute was getting very heated, so King Oswiu of Northumbria called a meeting, the Synod of Whitby, to clarify the matter. Wilfrid, because of his background, was chosen as part of the team who were to argue for the Roman customs. He was immensely successful in this task; the Synod of Whitby voted in favor of the Roman party. Because of this success, Wilfrid was made a bishop, although we don't know exactly which diocese was his seat (another point at which the sources are very inconsistent). Not having any bishops of the Roman party available and refusing to be consecrated as a bishop by an Anglo-Saxon bishop, Wilfrid went to Paris to be consecrated by St. Agilbert, whom he had met and interpreted for at the Synod of Whitby. He took such a long time doing this, however, that when he came back, he found the diocese had been given instead to a less picky bishop. Because of this, he ended up as the abbot of a monastery in Ripon for a while, until the situation changed and Wilfrid was finally given a diocese -- probably York. He was extremely effective in that role, reorganizing the churches in Northumbria and founding monasteries. He was often criticized, however, for dressing and living like a king and going around with an armed retinue. Changing political winds led to Wilfrid being exiled; the dispute is occasionally somewhat murky, but part of the issue seems to have been whether York or Canterbury would be the primary see of Britain, and, if the latter, whether York would have full authority over the north of England. St. Wilfrid pushed the authority claims for York, but he was opposed by a number of people who did not like the way he did things, including St. Hilda of Whitby, who had extensive political connections, and he was also opposed by a very effective new  Archbishop of Canterbury, St. Theodore of Tarsus. After being expelled, Wilfrid went to Rome to appeal to the pope, an unusual thing at the time. Pope St. Agatho held a synod to discuss the matter, and (mostly) backed St. Wilfrid in the dispute. When he returned to Northumbria with the papal decree, however, the king responded to it by first imprisoning and then exiling him again. He therefore spent time preaching to pagan populations in Sussex with the help of St. Earconwald (also known as Erkenwald), the bishop of London. Some stories hold that in this period he was reconciled with St. Theodore, and it is true that Theodore eventually interceded on Wilfrid's behalf and got him restored. Another dispute, this time over whether his monastery at Ripon should be split off of his diocese, led to his expulsion again, during which he spent time in Mercia. Wilfrid appealed to the pope again, this time Pope John VI, where he discovered that the papal court now spoke Greek (John VI was from Ephesus), and Wilfrid's rhetorical skills were rather blunted by translation. The pope referred the matter back to a council in Britain; Wilfrid, however, was warned by the king of Northumbria never to enter the kingdom. He was only allowed in again in 706, in the reign of King Osred. He died somewhere around 710. He left a large network of monasteries and at his death, left them a very large amount of money, thus securely establishing the monastic system. Ironically, his endless contentious disputes probably made it easier for him to be canonized; practically everyone in England knew who he was, and his exiles (combined with his undeniable practical competence) had led to him enriching the spiritual life of many of the kingdoms of the land.. His feast day is October 12, although in local calendars the older date of April 24 is often used.

Peter of Athos

We know relatively little that is certain about St. Peter of Athos. He certainly lived in the ninth century. According to tradition, he was a soldier who was captured by a Muslim army in Syria; he prayed to St. Nicholas and St. Simeon the Righteous for aid in escape, promising that if he was successful, he would become an ascetic. When he did escape, he went to Rome to learn how to be a monk. Tradition says that he received the approval of the Pope -- we don't know which one, although Gregory IV is a reasonable guess if the tradition is accurate -- and received the monastic habit from him personally. Following a vision of the Holy Virgin, he journeyed to Mount Athos, in modern day Greece, and there remained a hermit until his death several decades later. He was the first hermit to live at Mount Athos, and it is said that it is partly through his reputation for sanctity that other hermits and monks eventually began making their way to the monastic isle. St. Peter is commemorated on June 12.

Mildburh, Mildrith, and Mildgytha

Mildburh, Mildrith, and Mildgytha were three daughters of King Merewalh of Magonsaete, a kingdom in the greater Kingdom of Mercia, in the seventh century. A neighboring prince is said to have tried to take Mildburh (or Milburga) as wife, and, when she was reluctant, to force her into the marriage; she fled to the monastery of Wenlock, in modern-day Much Wenlock; she was eventually made abbess by St. Theodore of Canterbury. In that capacity, she did many works for the surrounding Shropshire country, playing a significant in its Christianization, and developed a reputation for healing. In legends she is often closely associated with birds; this may be due to devotion to her replacing earlier pagan customs. 

Her younger sister, Mildrith, became the abbess of Minister-in-Thanet, a monastery closely associated with the family, and probably founded under the patronage of their mother, Queen Domne Eafa (also known as Domneva).  Her grave became a popular local pilgrimage site. She is the sister for whom we have the most direct historical information, much of it consisting in fragments and minor records concerned with the everyday concerns of the abbey; even given the fragmentary nature of what we have, however, the record still clearly shows that she was an active player in the region, corresponding and interacting regularly with kings.

The youngest sister, Mildgytha, is less well known than her sisters, in part because she seems to have died quite young. She spent at least part of life at a convent in Northumbria, with which region she is most closely associated, and her tomb became an active pilgrimage site, apparently not long after her death.

In hagiographies, the sisters are often associated with the theological virtues: St. Mildburh with faith, St. Mildrith with hope, and St. Mildgytha with charity. St. Mildburh's feast is February 23; St. Mildrith's feast is July 13; and St. Mildgytha's feast is January 17.

Jean-Gabriel Perboyre

Born to a farming family in Montgesty in France, Jean-Gabriel first became interested in the religious life when he helped his Louis settle into the Vincentian abbey he had joined. He joined the Congregation of the Mission, also known as the Lazarists, and particularly wanted to participate in overseas missions. However, his often poor health kept him in France until, after Louis died on a journey to China, he volunteered to take Louis's place. After studying Chinese in Macau, he joined the Henan Mission, where, after a period of illness from which he had to recover, he participated in the missionary work, preaching and teaching and helping the poor, for several years until he was transferred in 1838 to the mission in the Hubei province. In 1839, the magistrates of Hubei province began implementing an active policy of persecution for Christians; the priests were hidden by the local population, but a catechist after being tortured gave away the location of Fr. Jean-Gabriel and he was arrested. As the magistrates wanted to make an example of him, he was subject to multiple trials before multiple courts, then tortured and put to death on September 11, 1840. He was beatified by Leo XIII in 1889 and canonized by St. John Paul II in 1996; his feast day is September 11.

Margaret of Città di Castello

In 1287, Margaret della Metola was born in Perugia. She was born with dwarfism, so that she was never taller than about four feet; she was also blind and had a deformation of her spine that would prevent her from walking easily the rest of her life. Her parents, mortified at their daughter's appearance, hid her from the world, locking her away in a room. The room, however, adjoined the chapel, so that she was able to attend Mass and receive the sacraments, and the priest taught her the catechism. In 1303, her parents took her to a Franciscan shrine in Castello, hoping for a miracle; when no miracle occurred, her parents abandoned her there. Local poor families helped to support her and in return she opened a small catechetical school. She got along very well with the Dominicans, and so eventually joined the Third Order of St. Dominic. She died on April 12, 1320. She was beatified by Paul V in 1609 and canonized by Francis I in 2021. Her feast day is April 13.

Germanus I of Constantinople

Germanus was born in the 630s, apparently to a patrician family in Constantinople. He was sent to a monastery for his education, and eventually became Bishop of Cyzicus. For all of his early life, the Empire was roiled by controversies connected with the heresy of Monothelitism. When Anastasius II became Emperor in 713, he began to roll back the Monothelite-supporting decisions of his predecessor, Philippikos Bardanes; this included removing the Patriarch of Constantinople, John VI, who was a Monothelite. Germanus was elected in his place, and soon reaffirmed the orthodox position of the Third Council of Constantinople against the Monothelites, but a new controversy was beginning to ramp up: that over the heresy of Iconoclasm. Leo III the Isaurian became Emperor in 717 and after a very effective period of consolidation of power began imposing Iconoclasm on the Empire throughout the 720s and beyond. Germanus seems to have been deposed at some point over this and retired to his family residence, where he died in 740. His feast day is May 12.

Hemma von Gurk

We know very little about Hemma's early life, but she married a Carinthian nobleman, William II of Friesach, with whom she had two sons. However, both her husband and her sons were murdered, probably as an act of revenge due to aristocratic politics. Their deaths led to Hemma receiving extraodinarily wealthy inheritances, which she began to spend on the poor in the region around her home in Gurk, Carinthia. She also established several churches and monasteries, including Gurk Abbey, where she eventually resided. She died there in 1045. She was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1938 and her feast is June 27.


2022 All Saints Post
Gildas the Wise, Clelia Barbieri, Marguerite Bourgeoys, Charles Eugene de Foucauld de Pontbriand, Lazaros the Iconographer, Arialdo and Erembaldo, Devashayam Pillai, Gerard Majella, David Uribe-Velasco, Inácio de Azevedo and the Martyrs of Tazacorte, Angelus of Jerusalem, Laura of St. Catherine of Siena, Jean-Baptiste de la Salle, Damien of Molokai

2021 All Saints Post
Niklaus von Flue, Contardo of Este, Peter of Verona, Virginia Centurione Bracelli, Fulrad, Ivan of Rila, Austregisilus, Sulpitius the Pious, Desiderius, Amandus, Remaclus, Theodard, Lambert, The Martyrs of Shanxi, Tôma Khuông, Maria Teresa Goretti, Lidwina of Schiedam, Oliver Plunkett, Mariam Baouardy, Marinus, Nunzio Sulprizio

2020 All Saints Post
André de Soveral, Domingos Carvalho, and the Martyrs of Cunhau, Henry of Uppsala and Eric IX the Holy, Adelaide of Burgundy, Junípero Serra y Ferrer, Maria Restituta Kafka, Venantius Fortunatus, Radegund, Junian of Maire, and Gregory of Tours, Magdalene of Nagasaki, Jeanne-Antide Thouret, Louis IX, Peter Nolasco, Tarasios of Constantinople, Albert Chmielowski

2019 All Saints Post, Part III
Mariam Thresia Chiramel Mankidiyan, Gregory II and Gregory III, Katarina Ulfsdotter, Marko Stjepan Krizin, István Pongrácz, Melchior Grodziecki, Amandus and Bavo of Ghent, Zhang Huailu, Colette of Corbie, Alphonsus Rodriguez, Marie-Margeuerite d'Youville, Anthony of the Caves, Teresa of Calcutta

2019 All Saints Post, Part II
Bartolomeu dos Mártires, Manuel Moralez, Apollonius the Apologist, Henry II the Exuberant and Cunigunde of Luxembourg, Ramon Nonat, Francis Xavier Cabrini, Juliana of Liège, Aelia Pulcheria, John Henry Newman, Anna Schäffer, Ivo of Chartres, Paul I of Constantinople

2019 All Saints Post, Part I
Matteo Correa Magallanes, Nicholas Owen, Knud IV and Knud Lavard, Mariana de Jesús de Paredes, Joseph Vaz, Zdislava Berka, Caterina Fieschi Adorno, Pietro I Orseolo, Ðaminh Hà Trọng Mậu, Jeanne-Françoise Frémiot de Chantal, Stephen Min Kŭk-ka, Rabanus Maurus Magnentius

2018 All Saints Post
Gianna Beretta Molla, Margaret of Scotland, Yu Tae-chol Peter, Justa and Rufina of Seville, Giuseppe Moscati, Kazimierz Jagiellończyk, Marie-Alphonsine Danil Ghaţţas, Salomone Leclerq, Arnulf of Metz, Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez, Frumentius of Tyre, Jeanne Jugan, Joseph Zhang Dapeng, Maroun and Abraham of Harran, Magnus Erlendsson, Callixtus I, Hippolytus, Urban I, Pontian, Anterus, Fabian, Jean de Brébeuf

2017 All Saints Post
John Ogilvie, Leo IV, Andrew Stratelates and the 2593 Martyrs, Theodore the Studite, The Martyrs of Gorkum, Margaret Ward and John Roche, Mesrop Mashtots, José María Robles Hurtado, Genevieve of Paris, Pedro Calungsod, Isaac of Nineveh, George Preca, Denis Ssebuggwawo Wasswa, Anthony of Padua

2016 All Saints Post
Theodore of Tarsus, Nilus the Younger, Anne Line, Mark Ji Tianxiang, Maria Elisabetta Hesselbad, Sergius of Radonezh, Anna Pak Agi, Jeanne de Valois, Vigilius of Trent, Claudian, Magorian, Sisinnius, Martyrius, Alexander, Euphrasia Eluvathingal, José Sanchez del Rio, Andrew Kaggwa, Roberto Bellarmino

2015 All Saints Post
Margaret Clitherow, Kaleb Elasbaan of Axum, Louis Martin and Marie-Azélie Guérin Martin, Gertrude of Nivelles, Pius V, Clare and Agnes of Assisi, Kuriakose Elias Chavara, Scholastica, Vinh Sơn Phạm Hiếu Liêm, Thorlak Thorhallson, John Damascene

2014 All Saints Post
Marie Guyart, Alphonsa Muttathupadathu, John Neumann, Hildegard von Bingen, Pedro de San José Betancurt, Benedict the Moor

2013 All Saints Post
María Guadalupe García Zavala, Antonio Primaldi, Nimatullah Kassab Al-Hardini, Gabriel-Taurin Dufresse and Augustine Zhao Rong, Josephine Margaret Bakhita, John Chrysostom

2012 All Saints Post
Jadwiga of Poland, Kateri Tekakwitha, André Bessette, Rafqa Pietra Choboq Ar-Rayès, Alberto Hurtado Cruchaga

2011 All Saints Post
Bonifacia Rodríguez de Castro, Celestine V, Olga of Kiev, Cyril of Jerusalem, Joseph Mukasa and Charles Lwanga

2010 All Saints Post
Moses the Black of Ethiopia, Micae Hồ Đình Hy, Katherine Mary Drexel, Robert Southwell, Lojze Grozde, Andrew Kim Tae Gon

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

The Enormous Ghosts of Bygone Worlds Arise

by Clark Ashton Smith

My heart is made a necromancer's glass,
Where homeless forms and exile phantoms teem,
Where faces of forgotten sorrows gleam
And dead despairs archaic peer and pass:
Grey longings of some weary heart that was
Possess me, and the multiple, supreme,
Unwildered hope and star-emblazoned dream
Of questing armies. . . Ancient queen and lass,
Risen vampire-like from out the wormy mould,
Deep in the magic mirror of my heart
Behold their perished beauty, and depart.
And now, from black aphelions far and cold,
Swimming in deathly light on charnel skies,
The enormous ghosts of bygone worlds arise.

Monday, October 30, 2023

Links of Note

* Brian Kemple, On the Meanings of 'Object', 'Objective', and 'Objectivity', at the Lyceum Institute 

* Michael Walschots, Incentives of the Mind: Kant and Baumgarten on the Impelling Causes of Desire (PDF)

* Hazem Zohny, Twenty-five years of the 'Oregon model of assisted suicide'

* Emma Emrich, Aquinas and Buridan on the Substance of the Soul and Its Powers: On the Intermediary Nature of Properties (PDF)

* Nadya Williams, Democracies Need Shared Literature, at "Front Porch Republic"

* Michael Veldman, Mathematizing Metaphysics: The Case of the Least Action Principle (PDF)

* David Polansky, Do nations have navels, or what does it mean to belong?, at "Strange Frequencies"

* George E. Panichas, The structure of basic human rights (PDF)

* You can find out your birthday in the Aztec calendar. Since it was common in Mesoamerica for your birthday also to be your name, you can therefore find out your Aztec name. Mine is Seven Snake, or as it is sometimes given, Seven Serpent. Looking at the Florentine Codex online, you can also sometimes find how the Aztecs would read the day as an omen -- Seven Serpent was considered a day of extraordinary good fortune, since days in the seventh place are good luck and Seven Serpent in particular is associated with abundant harvest in "merits, gifts, and good deserts".

* Levi Durham, The Role of Hospice and Palliative Medicine in the Ars Moriendi (PDF)

* Terry Mattingly, The journey of Dorothy Sayers -- from classical education to murder mysteries and back, at "Get Religion"

* Robert Junqueira, What can anyone say so far on the Peirce-CJC relation? (PDF)

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Fortnightly Book, October 29

 I recently got a copy of Thomas Williams's translation of Augustine's Confessions, which has been widely recommended, so this is the next fortnightly book.

Aurelius Augustinus was born in 354 in Thagaste in Numidia (modern day Souk Ahras in Algeria) to Patricius and Monnica. Both parents were likely Numidian Berbers (Monnica's name strongly confirms this) but the family name of Aurelius indicates that the family had been freedmen who received Roman citizenship under the Edict of Caracalla (212), so Augustine was raised as a Roman. One of the things on which his parents agreed was the importance of his education, and with further help from local citizens, he had the best that North Africa could offer. He was a fairly wild youth, but when studying Carthage, he read Cicero's dialogue, Hortensius, and it set him on the path of philosophy. But that, of course, is only the beginning of the journey. 

The Confessions were written between 397 and 400, a bit over halfway through Augustine's life, and of course is widely recognized as one of the great works of Western civilization.

Anna Sewell, Black Beauty


Opening Passage:

The first place that I can well remember was a large pleasant meadow with a pond of clear water in it. Some shady trees leaned over it, and rushes and water-lilies grew at the deep end. Over the hedge on one side we looked into a plowed field, and on the other we looked over a gate at our master's house, which stood by the roadside; at the top of the meadow was a grove of fir trees, and at the bottom a running brook overhung by a steep bank. 

While I was young I lived upon my mother's milk, as I could not eat grass. In the daytime I ran by her side, and at night I lay down close by her. When it was hot we used to stand by the pond in the shade of the trees, and when it was cold we had a nice warm shed near the grove.

Summary: A mare named Duchess has a colt, whom she teaches to be well-mannered and gentle; the colt grows to be quite a handsome horse, very suitable for carriage-work, and therefore he receives the name 'Black Beauty'. Things go very well for a while, as Black Beauty is kept in a good situation, spending time with his friends in the stable, pulling the family carriage, and making friends with the other horses, most notably the goodhearted but somewhat snappish Ginger and the pampered pony Merrylegs. They are given good care by the coachman, John Manly. But the life of a horse is uncertain, and when the mistress of the house takes ill and needs a different climate, Black Beauty finds himself in other hands. The new situation is not terrible, but the master and mistress are less careful and considerate of their horses, and the grooms are far inferior to John Manly. A nasty incident with a drunken groom leads to a severe fall in which  Black Beauty's knees are severely damaged; Black Beauty heals, but the knees make him no longer eligible for the higher-quality work of drawing carriage and carrying ladies. The result is that Black Beauty eventually ends up as a cab horse. The horse's relative luck holds good, as he ends up with a cabbie named Jerry who, poor and working class though he may be, goes out of his way to treat his new horse (whom he calls 'Jack') well, even refusing to take commissions or engage in profitable practices that could endanger him. The life of a cab horse is difficult, but, as Black Beauty notes, horses who are well treated don't mind work. But the life of a cabbie is also difficult, and having to be out in bad weather so often leads to Jerry growing increasingly sick. Black Beauty's fall continues, as his next situation is one in which he is overworked; he inevitably starts breaking down, although again his relative luck holds -- the owner of the cab company decides that he can get more money out of Black Beauty by nursing him enough to health to sell. He is bought by an old man, Mr. Thoroughgood, who specializes in rejuvenating mistreated horses, and through Mr. Thoroughgood's work ends up at last in a good place. Not all horses do, of course; at every stage things could have gone far worse than they did.

The story works not merely because the autobiographical voice is well done but even more because horses are animals who share in our own lives -- and in the nineteenth century, of course, to an even greater degree than in our own. One of the major problems the horses face in Black Beauty is that they live during the rise of the machine age, with the result that people often treat horses as inefficient machines rather than living creatures cooperating with them for mutual benefit. The horse is expected to be constant in a way that a living animal cannot be, and instead of easing up when things are getting difficult, people just whip the horse harder. Eventually, of course, horses treated that way will break, in one way or another; but precisely what the age of steam engines has done is to lead people to demand of the horse like a machine until it breaks like a machine. A further, and perhaps related, problem is that the people who ultimately spend on horses do not actually have much contact with them. This is a constant problem (indeed, still one today), but one of the differences between a genuinely good owner and a bad owner with good intentions is that a genuinely good owner knows enough about horses to make sure that the grooms are taking proper care of them and to avoid demanding what the horses cannot give. A similar, and less easily soluble, problem arises for cabhorses; the people who are paying cabbies never consider what the horses might need.

Another way in which the story works well is by building on the fact that, since horses are engaged in cooperative endeavors with human beings, the ills of the former are often symptoms of the ills of the latter. Horses being overworked is a sign that cabbies are being overworked; horses being treated ill in stables are a sign that something has gone wrong with the life of the groom. Sewell, of course, was not idly writing a story about a horse; she is addressing precisely the people who worked most closely with horses and showing ways in which the misfortune of horses is a side effect of the misfortune they, too, often receive.

The consistent them throughout is that everything lies in good or bad judgment. Drinking comes up as a problem several times precisely because it distorts judgment. Other sources of bad judgment are ignorance, inexperience, and shortsighted pursuit of money. The contributors to good judgment in the story are kindness and sympathy (most of all), moderation in action, and actual practice of religion, all of which, I think, are taken to work because they counter narrowness of focus and the blindness it causes. And because horses are cooperatively integrated into human life, the treatment of horses reflects the character of human lives; treating horses kindly is not separate from treating human beings kindly, and the quality of the lives of horses is not separate from the quality of lives of the human beings who own and use them. But, as with Joe Green, who as a young stableboy nearly kills Black Beauty through inexperience, later becomes a good and kind groom, the thing about judgment is that you can always improve it, if only you take enough time to think about how things are for everyone else -- including, at times, the horse.

Favorite Passage: One that jumped out at me was a brief exchange between two cabbies, Larry and Grant, the latter of whom has the nickname of 'Governor Gray':

“Well,” said Larry, “what is a fellow to do if his horse won't go without it?” 

“You never take the trouble to see if he will go without it; your whip is always going as if you had the St. Vitus' dance in your arm, and if it does not wear you out it wears your horse out; you know you are always changing your horses; and why? Because you never give them any peace or encouragement.”

“Well, I have not had good luck,” said Larry, “that's where it is.” 

“And you never will,” said the governor. “Good Luck is rather particular who she rides with, and mostly prefers those who have got common sense and a good heart; at least that is my experience.” 

Governor Gray turned round again to his newspaper, and the other men went to their cabs.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.