…on; well, PLINY!

This is not a commentary on the veracity of others’ religious beliefs; rather, an excavation of ancient documents which addresses a specific “hypothesis.”

Whilst Gethyn and I enjoyed old clips of “The Atheist Experience,” a caller — in the heat of debate — upholding his religious beliefs, offered: “if Christianity is not true, why were there were no Roman letters asking about this crazy false Christianity?”

I turned to Geth: “…erm, well, PLINY!”

Christianity was an emerging religion and Suetonius imputed their punishment to Nero (Graves, 1997, pp. 215,374). On Christianity — as a traditionalist inclined toward the prevailing religion, approximately 60 years later — Pliny wrote to Trajan (X 96) about the rise of Christianity and specifically referenced questions he had regarding hearings, punishments and demographics, etc. Pliny ascribed a unambiguous set of crimes to the recent religion and stipulated a chronicle of protocols on Christians under Roman law (execution, acquittal upon renunciation of their religion, etc.). He ultimately sought instruction from Trajan, based upon the augmenting quantity of indictments of people of varying age, rank and gender. Pliny referred to Christianity as “superstition” and an “infection.“ Trajan‘s response (X 97) delinated his policy on Christianity: that Christians should not be sought; only be chastised if brought forward. Trajan’s posture on Christianity was to rigorously follow the letter of the law; however, suggested magnanimity. The fact that Christians refused to worship Trajan was intolerable to Pliny. Those who renounced were pardoned and those who did not were executed (Bennet, 2001, pp. 23-24).

To wit:

X 96 PLINY TO THE EMPEROR TRAJAN

It is my practice, my lord, to refer to you all matters concerning which I am in doubt. For who can better give guidance to my hesitation or inform my ignorance? I have never participated in trials of Christians. I therefore do not know what offenses it is the practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent. And I have been not a little hesitant as to whether there should be any distinction on account of age or no difference between the very young and the more mature; whether pardon is to be granted for repentance, or, if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to have ceased to be one; whether the name itself, even without offenses, or only the offenses associated with the name are to be punished.

Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.

Soon accusations spread, as usually happens, because of the proceedings going on, and several incidents occurred. An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ — none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do — these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.

They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food — but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.

I therefore postponed the investigation and hastened to consult you. For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it. It is certainly quite clear that the temples, which had been almost deserted, have begun to be frequented, that the established religious rites, long neglected, are being resumed, and that from everywhere sacrificial animals are coming, for which until now very few purchasers could be found. Hence it is easy to imagine what a multitude of people can be reformed if an opportunity for repentance is afforded.

X 97 TRAJAN TO PLINY

You observed proper procedure, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those who had been denounced to you as Christians. For it is not possible to lay down any general rule to serve as a kind of fixed standard. They are not to be sought out; if they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it — that is, by worshiping our gods — even though he was under suspicion in the past, shall obtain pardon through repentance. But anonymously posted accusations ought to have no place in any prosecution. For this is both a dangerous kind of precedent and out of keeping with the spirit of our age.

So, there!

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…on cats what ain’t cats part deux

This is dedicated to Professor Ceiling Cat Emeritus (not fully retired), AKA Jerry Coyne, as I accepted his challenge to advance his theory — which is his! — that medieval artists were quite simply incapable of drawing cats.

Introduction

In the middle of last year, inspirited by PCC, I published this article, which appertains to the question; and thence ensued two further, much more curtailed, articles: here and here.

Both PCC and Google offered depictions of medieval cats which were unutterably peculiar.  One friend hypothesised that artists hadn’t grasped how to…grasp (!) implements such as paintbrushes or palate knives; another – similarly to me – that it is an unattainable endeavour to persuade a cat to remain immobile; however, I had ultimately posited that these people just didn’t like cats!

Upon further investigation, PCC’s theory is buttressed by excavation into the subject.

Medieval drawing (not drawing; however, perhaps less painful!) tools and techniques

An article published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art posits that medieval drawing invoked myriad styles, including Classical (not here!) and emphasised “pictures of real and imaginary, familiar and exotic animals.” These cats, without doubt, satisfy two of the criteria: imaginary and exotic. The Metropolitan Museum abounds in analyses of medieval drawings, and further asserts that, as integral components of the creative process, said drawings were steps toward the finished products. Well. That most assuredly explains a lot! Or does it?

“This penis for that fish? No deal!”

Is this a loofa which I see before me?

Apparently someone beat me to the “snail augmentation”

Painting and drawing apparatus was not unlike contemporary tools; therefore, the use of tempura on a variety of surfaces, including gold leaf and wood, serves not to absolve medieval artists of these detestations. Or does it? Behold this work employing the same media: erm…is that Nero?

Madonna and…Nero

Immobile cats…et al

I reiterate that I know from experience it is an unattainable endeavour to persuade a cat to stand motionless. This is the reason I have so few decent photographs of Theo. I challenge anyone to discern any of Theo’s features in this blurry vastness. Aside from his beautiful EYES, of course, Jerry!

I address other animals in medieval art. Check out these dogs! One of these guys appears to be playing the lute with a machete. Can it be equitably hopeless to convince a dog to sit still?

“Is the board-licker moving up a grade?”

Playing the lute or the baddie in a horror flick?

Consider also humans in medieval art. Madonna and Nero stand not alone. Contemplate this behemoth dog towering over a diminutive human; does he not look terrified?  I would be!  Representation of human features ostensibly confounded some artists as well.

“I’m frightened, Auntie Em, I’m frightened!”

This portrait of a woman and cat presents a semblance of promise. The characterisation of human anatomy also is certainly not worthy of Raphael; the cat palpably came out on top here.

Candle light versus electricity versus daylight

I flirted with the lack of electricity as a rationale; that the insufficient light generated by a candle could account for the numberless deficiencies; however, this position was short-lived thanks to Raphael, who was unphased by drawing by natural or candlelight. Be this as it may, if one is not Raphael, why not just work during the day?

Medieval understanding of perspective…or lack thereof

This is noticeably removed, as evidenced in “Dog Towering Over Man.”  Now this.  Who is likely to win this battle: the inhabitants of the castle or the humans and horses laying siege to it, who dwarf it? Perhaps not; their enormity will decidedly impede any circumstance of entrance. However, more on topic, behold the horses. They look more like horses than cats look like cats; however, the horse flying over the castle looks about the size of a cat. Am I alone in my bewilderment?

My conclusion

As previously, I have ultimately contemplated the unavoidable determination that these people just didn’t like cats. Or horses. Or dogs. Or children.

Now, here’s THEO!

…carpe diem et quare

I was perusing Spiritual Laws today and appreciating a number of commentaries that are presently relevant.  Gethyn submitted, “you need to finish that article for Jerry Coyne;” to which I countered, “I don’t feel like it today.”

Ironically, directly, our dialogue diverged from the topical and matured into the embodiment of Emerson’s treatise on so-called passive and active people.

“…Be, and not seem!”

In substituting being for seeming, we aver, “we are!” In substituting being for seeming, we abandon passivity and appropriate a proactive posture.  In substituting being for seeming, we own both our days and our actions.

“We call the poet inactive, because he is not a president, a merchant, or a porter. We adore an institution, and do not see that it is founded on a thought which we have. But real action is in silent moments. The epochs of our life are not in the visible facts of our choice of a calling, our marriage, our acquisition of an office, and the like, but in a silent thought by the way-side as we walk;…”

“I see action to be good, when the need is, and sitting still to be also good.”

In fluctuating contexts, sitting, which on the surface, has the appearance a passive venture, earns its place among zealous deeds.   Sitting with one’s thoughts is virtuous, as it breathes life into one’s actions.  Emerson identifies thought as the progenitor of every action.  

And THOUGHT MUST PRECEDE ACTION.

You’re next, love!

“Why need I go gadding into the scenes and philosophy of Greek and Italian history before I have justified myself to my benefactors? How dare I read Washington’s campaigns when I have not answered the letters of my own correspondents?“

In a characterisation that amused me, Emerson portrayed such passivity as “peeping.”  It struck  me, that in lieu of  “answering the letters of my own correspondents” — completing my article about poorly drawn cats — I was reading Emerson, in a defiant act of contempt for my own actions and deeds.  Emerson himself,  continues: the “peeper’s” time is just as noteworthy as he whom he admires; and thus, in concluding my work, other idlers may deem me best, as I do Emerson or Cicero.

To wit: Miss Ironfist, it’s time to heed Geth and Emerson and write that cat article!

WE LOVE

Once, passion excluded all else
What is time’s arrow?
With season, now reason
Blessed reason.
We pursue virtue and worth.

Each scene of the play
Reaches one,
Enriches life’s society
The spontaneous and deep reach us
Astonish us.

We know not whence
It shepherds us
We surrender
We are. We love.
We LOVE.

(For Gethyn. Inspired by Emerson)

A flipped blue iceberg

From Jerry Coyne’s “Why Evolution is True.”

Why Evolution Is True

After years of following leads and contacting travel/expedition companies, it looks as if I’ll be lecturing next year on some cruises to Antarctica and the Falkland Islands, which has always been a great dream of mine. It will be great fun lecturing on cruises again (I’ve done it four times), as the audiences are always much more receptive and interested than are the students in a regular college course. And I can’t wait to see the scenery and, especially, the wildlife. And maybe a blue iceberg!

Until I read this article from MyModernMet, and followed the links, I had no idea that icebergs could actually be blue. (They can also be green.) After all, they’re made of water, and water is clear and ice cubes are clear. But this doesn’t appear to be the case with ‘bergs. As the “Met” link reports:

While on an expedition in Antarctica, interface designer…

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…on autumnal dreaming

This elucidation is dedicated to my friend Bob, whose sagacity, brilliancy and erudition have augmented the astonishment of this week’s commentary…

“Autumn is a second spring, when every leaf is a flower.” ~ Camus

To distinguish events in this singular capacity is an exceptional gift, for one is wont to negatively regard autumn as the decease of summer and in equal measure, to repudiate dreams as solely the uncontrolled musings of the mind in its dormancy. Do not this!

I adore autumn and I had never read these fine words of Camus before Bob enlightened me thus; nor am I now anticipated to disremember them. We marvel at autumn’s palate annually; however, are inclined to consent to this resplendence’s passage as unnoticed; it is merely “the end of summer.” This is regrettable.

The wonder of autumn as a magnificent reverberation and renaissance of an event. Likewise our consciousness and experiences.

To wit:

“He may see what he maketh. Our dreams are the sequel of our waking knowledge. The visions of the night bear some proportion to the visions of the day.”

~ Emerson, Spiritual Laws

Of art, Emerson observed, “In eloquence, The great triumphs of the art are, when the Orator is lifted above himself; when consciously he makes himself the mere tongue of the occasion and the hour, and says what cannot but be said.” The words and verse which emanate from the Orator or Poet are not orchestrated by him; rather, these manifestations of the Eternal Mind find him.

Emerson distinguished what he called abandonment: self-surrender; a condition in which the Artist releases himself to be unconditionally shepherded by his art. In this circumstance, a thought or idea is the original art, and the physical piece becomes a reproduction of it.

Correspondingly — and like autumn! — dreams are the progressions of our days.

When the mind surrenders itself to this striking rejuvenation, it becomes inconceivable to dismiss events as the products of either dormancy or the axial tilt (mae’n ddrwg gen i fi, Geth!).

Go there!!

Autumn on Wimbledon Common