Glen Magnuson, Jr.
- A good day begins with the NYTimes, NPR, Arts & Letters Daily, Sacred Space & good coffee; it ends with a Grand Marnier. A brilliant day would be spent in London, New York or San Francisco -- although Sydney would be right up there. Unwinding in Carmel or Antibbes. Daytime spent in library (the Morgan, LOC or Widener) or museum (the Frick, the Louvre, British) with a healthy walk (around Lake Annecey); evening -- theatre (West End), or music (Carnegie Hall). A nice last meal: Perhaps the French Laundry or Fredy Giardet or Quennelles de Brochet from Taillevent, Cassoulet from Cafe des Artistes, Peking Duck from le Tsé-Fung, Lobster Savannah from Locke-Ober, Sacher Torte from Demel and Café Brulot from Antoine. Sazerac as an apéritif, Le Môntrachet in the beginning, Stag's Leap Cabernet in the middle, Veuve Cliqûot to conclude. Desert Island: Imac, Ipod, (I know, generator and dish necessary) Johnnie Walker Blue Label, wife & Adler's Great Books.
The Saints' Lives and the Mission of the Francises
The Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, which Adam Kirsch has called “the best introduction the general reader has ever had to the ‘mother’ of Western Christian civilization,” presents both classics of the medieval canon and lesser-known works in their original languages alongside new English translations. Launched in 2010 and numbering now three dozen volumes, the series spans genres as diverse as biography, travelogues, scientific treatises, and epic and lyric poetry. As rising Harvard junior Jude Russo explains below, this spring’s additions to the series include a volume that’s about as timely as a medieval publication could be.
“Nam quid respectu Francisci Iulius aut quid
gessit Alexander memorabile? Iulius hostem
uicit, Alexander mundum, Franciscus utrumque,
nec solum uicit mundum Franciscus et hostem,
set sese, bello uincens et uictus eodem.”“For in comparison with Francis, what did Caesar or Alexander do that was worthy of memory? Caesar conquered the foe and Alexander the world, but Francis both. Nor did Francis conquer only the world and the foe, but also himself, conqueror and conquered in the selfsame battle.”(Henry of Avranches, Life of Francis, 11-15, Trans. David Townsend, DOML 30)
A recent addition to the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library (DOML), the Saints’ Livesof Henry of Avranches, begins with a life of Francis of Assisi. Written just a few years after Francis’s death, the biography elevates the saint to the company of the great conquerors of the classical world, and even beyond their company, as the saint subdued in himself the concupiscent passions that so famously consumed the ancient rulers. In fourteen books dedicated to Pope Gregory IX, Henry describes these struggles of the saint against the world, the foe, and himself.
The timing of this volume’s release is especially propitious in view of the renewed interest in Francis of Assisi, which is due to another Francis: the current Pope. In his recent Apostolic Exhortation,Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), the Pope states, “The culture of prosperity deadens us; we are thrilled if the market offers us something new to purchase. In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.”
He echoes the words that Henry puts in the mouth of the saint: “Shall I stand outside and cheat honest men, as I am accustomed, now a buyer of wealth and now a seller: a buyer denigrating everything, and a seller praising everything? The shrewdness of the merchants is trickery and falsehood. It produces profit by another’s loss, barely spares a friend, barely even a brother.” Economic disparity, then as now, was a particularly divisive and urgent issue; Henry shows how Francis embraced poverty, inspired by a spiritual devotion that could not be reconciled with the contemporary state of the Church. The revival of the medieval text in an accessible and affordable edition encourages us to consider the rich legacy of Henry’s Francis as the current pope forges a legacy of his own.
For contemporary readers, St. Francis is the most recognizable figure in theSaints’ Lives, but the volume also contains hagiographies of two saints of the seventh century, St. Oswald and St. Birinus, that equal or exceed the Life of St. Francis in liveliness. St. Oswald was ruler of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria, who waged a number of successful wars against the Celtic peoples of Britain before falling in battle to his fellow Anglo-Saxon, Penda of Mercia. Like many kings of the time, Penda did not look kindly on the defeated Oswald. As Henry recounts:
“Cuius et abscisum caput abscisosque lacertos
et tribus infixos palis pendere cruentus
Penda iubet, per quod reliquis exempla relinquat
terroris manifesta sui regemque beatum
esse probet miserum.”“The bloodthirsty Penda commanded that his severed head and arms should be hung affixed to three stakes, in order to leave for the survivors clear examples of his terror, and to prove that the blessed king was a wretch.”(Henry of Avranches, Life of Oswald, 665-669, Trans. David Townsend, DOML 30)
Henry continues to describe the sanctification of these gruesome relics. Whatever further adventures Penda may have had are left unmentioned.
St. Birinus did not come to so violent an end as St. Oswald, most likely because he was a bishop and not a Germanic warrior-king. His activities were fairly standard for a missionary bishop of the time—preaching, destroying pagan sanctuaries, performing miracles—but Henry recounts at length an episode with which many readers will be able to sympathize, in which he forgot to bring certain vital liturgical materials—including the Eucharist—with him on his voyage from the Continent to Britain.
“O quotiens nocuit mala festinatio, qua sic
precipitatur opus ut non deliberet actor!
magna feret nocumenta more qui parva recusat:
sanctus in exemplo Birinus, qui celebratis
rite mynisteriis ad nauem dum properaret
curas postposuit reliquas pallamque reliquit
quam discessuro donarat Honorius ille,
in qua corpus habens Christi conueuit amictum
circumferre sinu, sine quo non uinceret Hostem.”“How often does ill haste prove harmful, when a task is so hastened forward that the one who performs it fails in his consideration! One who refuses the small disadvantages of a delay will incur great ones. Take Saint Birinus as an example, who, having duly performed his services, in hastening to the ship neglected his remaining concerns and abandoned the pall which Honorius had given him as he was about to depart—even though he was wont to carry about in his bosom, wrapped in it, the body of Christ, without which he might not conquer the Foe.”(Henry of Avranches, Life of Birinus, 282-290, Trans. David Townsend, DOML 30)
Needless to say, all ends well, but not before St. Birinus has some harrowing experiences.
Henry of Avranches was perhaps the most famous Latin poet of the mid-thirteenth century, gaining as patrons Pope Gregory IX, St. Louis of France, and Henry III of England. As is the case with so many authors of the period, his biography is mostly lost. Nevertheless, it is known that Henry III salaried him for twenty years as a “versificator.” His translator here is David Townsend of the University of Toronto, an editor of medieval Latin texts with a particular interest in issues of medieval gender and sexuality.
The Life of Francis fits naturally in the ethos of the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library as a whole. Committed to increasing the availability of medieval and Byzantine texts to the common reader the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library seeks to remove the economic and intellectual barriers between the public and our shared cultural patrimony. In this endeavor, it is not too bold to say that DOML has had a share in the mission of the Francises, and will continue to have a share for years to come.
Finding Our Place in the Cosmos: From Galileo to Sagan and Beyond | Library of Congress
Finding Our Place in the Cosmos: From Galileo to Sagan and BeyondHide Featured Items
It was on this day in 1837 that Ralph Waldo Emerson (books by this author) delivered a speech titled "The American Scholar"to the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Harvard University.
The speech was the first time he explained his transcendentalist philosophy in front of a large public audience. He said that scholars had become too obsessed with ideas of the past, that they were bookworms rather than thinkers. He told the audience to break from the past, to pay attention to the present, and to create their own new, unique ideas.
He said: "Life is our dictionary ... This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it ... Give me insight into to-day, and you may have the antique and future worlds."
The speech was published that same year. It made Emerson famous, and it brought the ideas of transcendentalism to young men like Henry David Thoreau. Oliver Wendell Holmes later praised Emerson's "The American Scholar" as the "intellectual Declaration of Independence."
François Hollande, the president of France since 2012, coulda been a contender. He was elected on a promise to turn away from the austerity policies that killed Europe’s brief, inadequate economic recovery. Since the intellectual justification for these policies was weak and would soon collapse, he could have led a bloc of nations demanding a change of course. But it was not to be. Once in office, Mr. Hollande promptly folded, giving in completely to demands for even more austerity.
Let it not be said, however, that he is entirely spineless. Earlier this week, he took decisive action, but not, alas, on economic policy, although the disastrous consequences of European austerity grow more obvious with each passing month, and even Mario Draghi, the president of the European Central Bank, is calling for a change of course. No, all Mr. Hollande’s force was focused on purging members of his government daring to question his subservience to Berlin and Brussels.
It’s a remarkable spectacle. To fully appreciate it, however, you need to understand two things. First, Europe, as a whole, is in deep trouble. Second, however, within that overall pattern of disaster, France’s performance is much better than you would guess from news reports. France isn’t Greece; it isn’t even Italy. But it is letting itself be bullied as if it were a basket case.
On Europe: Like the United States, the euro area — the 18 countries that use the euro as a common currency — started to recover from the 2008 financial crisis midway through 2009. But after a debt crisis erupted in 2010, some European nations were forced, as a condition for loans, to make harsh spending cuts and raise taxes on working families. Meanwhile, Germany and other creditor countries did nothing to offset the downward pressure, and the European Central Bank, unlike the Federal Reserve or the Bank of England, didn’t take extraordinary measures to boost private spending. As a result, the European recovery stalled in 2011, and has never really resumed.
At this point, Europe is doing worse than it did at a comparable stage of the Great Depression. And even more bad news may lie ahead, as Europe shows every sign of sliding into a Japanese-style deflationary trap.
How does France fit into this picture? News reports consistently portray the French economy as a dysfunctional mess, crippled by high taxes and government regulation. So it comes as something of a shock when you look at the actual numbers, which don’t match that story at all. France hasn’t done well since 2008 — in particular, it has lagged Germany — but its overall G.D.P. growth has been much better than the European average, beating not only the troubled economies of southern Europe but creditor nations like the Netherlands. French job performance isn’t too bad. In fact, prime-aged adults are a lot more likely to be employed in France than in the United States.
Nor does France’s situation seem particularly fragile. It doesn’t have a large trade deficit, and it can borrow at historically low interest rates.
Why, then, does France get such bad press? It’s hard to escape the suspicion that it’s political: France has a big government and a generous welfare state, which free-market ideology says should lead to economic disaster. So disaster is what gets reported, even if it’s not what the numbers say.
And Mr. Hollande, even though he leads France’s Socialist Party, appears to believe this ideologically motivated bad-mouthing. Worse, he has fallen into a vicious circle in which austerity policies cause growth to stall, and this stalled growth is taken as evidence that France needs even more austerity.
It’s a very sad story, and not just for France.
Most immediately, Europe’s economy is in dire straits. Mr. Draghi, I believe, understands how bad things are. But there’s only so much the central bank can do, and, in any case, he has limited room for maneuvering unless elected leaders are willing to challenge hard-money, balanced-budget orthodoxy. Meanwhile, Germany is incorrigible. Its official response to the shake-up in France was a declaration that “there is no contradiction between consolidation and growth” — hey, never mind the experience of the past four years, we still believe that austerity is expansionary.
So Europe desperately needs the leader of a major economy — one that is not in terrible shape — to stand up and say that austerity is killing the Continent’s economic prospects. Mr. Hollande could and should have been that leader, but he isn’t.
And if the European economy continues to stagnate or worse, what will become of the European project — the long-term effort to secure peace and democracy through shared prosperity? In failing France, Mr. Hollande is also failing Europe as a whole — and nobody knows how bad it might get.
Gautier Deblonde’s portrait of the artist as a studio - FT.com
An utterly magnificent essay and photographs.
An utterly magnificent essay and photographs.
The Parthenon represents, for many, a golden age in human achievement: the 5th-century b.c. Greek flowering of democracy, sciences, and the arts. But what if its chief ornament, the Parthenon frieze, turned out to be not an embodiment of reason and proportion—of stillness at the heart of motion, quiet piety, and enlightened civic responsibility—but (or, rather, also) something darker, more primitive: a representation of the critical moment in an ancient story of a king at war, a human sacrifice, and a goddess’s demand for virgin blood?
WHAT IS THE PARTHENON TELLING US?
That’s the argument at the heart of The Parthenon Engima. The plot involves not only ritual murder and burial, but fragments of a lost play of Euripides found on mummy wrappings. Even the title suggests a Dan Brown thriller.
Joan Breton Connelly’s theory is not so much far-fetched as it is heretical. Art history and classical civilization courses tend to teach us that the frieze represents the “Panathenaic procession.” The Great Panathenaia occurred, like the Olympics, every four years; it was a festival of athletic games and poetry and music competitions, culminating in a procession to the temple of Athena, goddess of weaving, war, and wisdom. Her statue was then presented with a new peplos, a robe woven by the women of Athens.
Thus, the frieze, with its horses and horsemen, youths and elders, men and women, and animals being led to sacrifice, represents Periclean Athens and a cross-section of 5th-century Athenians. The central panel on the eastern frieze, which depicts three women of assorted heights and a man and a child handling a bundle of cloth, is read as the culmination of the festival. The tallest woman is seen to be Athena’s priestess.
Interestingly, this theory is not as old as you might think. It was proposed, tentatively, only in the late 1700s by the Englishmen James Stuart (an artist) and Nicholas Revett (an amateur architect) after an expedition to Athens for the Society of Dilettanti. We have no ancient accounts whatsoever of what the frieze represents. For much of the common era, during which the temple was repurposed as a Christian church and then a mosque, observers have been uncertain what they were looking at.
The Stuart-Revett proposal has, over time, calcified into received wisdom, even though this would be a singular and unheard-of case of Greek temple art depicting a present-day moment rather than a mythological or legendary event. Indeed, the rest of the sculptures on the Parthenon, the pediments and metopes, depict myths from Athens’s founding and prehistory, from the contest between Athena and Poseidon for the city’s patronage to the battle of the Lapiths against the Centaurs. A. W. Lawrence, brother of T. E. and chairman of classical archaeology at Cambridge, wrote in 1951 that if the frieze did depict a contemporary event, “this must have verged on profanation.”
Many of the elements we might expect to see in a typical Panathenaic procession are conspicuously missing. Why so many horses but no hoplites, the backbone of the 5th-century Athenian Army? What’s with the anachronistic chariots, a relic of Bronze Age warfare? Where is the wheeled ship-cart that transported the peplos, which was rigged to it like a sail? Why is a man handling the peplos in the climactic panel? (The peplos was woven by female hands for a virgin goddess.)
In 1991, Connelly was working on a book about Greek priestesses and reading up on myths of early Athens. She was electrified by the strange tale of Erechtheus, an early king of Athens. (There is a temple to him known as the Erechtheon on the Acropolis. It’s the one with the caryatids.) At the same time, Connelly realized that whole new passages of Euripides’ lost play on the subject had, in recent decades, come to light from Hellenistic mummy wrappings.
The myth is basically this: King Erechtheus sprang directly from the Attic earth. He had a wife, Praxithea, and three daughters. (The Athenian royal houses ran to daughters.) When Eumolpus, king of nearby Eleusis, threatened a siege of the city, King Erechtheus got an unpleasant oracle from Delphi: He must sacrifice one of his daughters to Athena to save the city. The queen, rather than cringing in horror at the idea, embraced it as patriotic duty. (Praxithea, whose name means “she who acts for the goddess,” delivers a rousing speech in the Euripides play.) Meanwhile, the three girls have vowed that if one dies, they all will—so the two who are not chosen insist either on being sacrificed as well or on killing themselves, possibly by jumping from the Acropolis. Athena then declares that the heroic girls are to be buried in a single tomb and that there should be a sanctuary and sacred rites established in their honor. Erechtheus, who dies in the battle, will have a tomb on the Acropolis and a sacred precinct. Athena makes Queen Praxithea her priestess, and Praxithea will be in charge of a single altar to serve both shrines.
Suddenly, upon looking at the “enigmatic peplos incident” of the eastern frieze, Connelly felt that she understood it for the first time: This was a family unit—mother, father, and three daughters of different ages—the family of Erechtheus. The cloth that the father and the youngest child (who must, Connelly decides, be a girl; the gender of the semi-nude child in the frieze is a subject of debate) are handling is not the peplos but a sacrificial robe.
Furthermore, Connelly makes a valuable argument about the purpose of the temple as a visual memento of the invisible past—the trauma of the Persian invasion, for instance—and the centrality of the Erechtheus myth to Athens’s sense of itself, the willingness in a democracy to give one life for the good of the many, and for even the city’s leadership to make the supreme sacrifice.
Connolly is also good on the Parthenon itself and the landscape that it both dominates and is integral to. To possess the Sacred Rock is to hold Athens, and all of Greece, under your sway. (This symbolism played out under German occupation in 1941, when two young Greeks, Apostolos Santas and Manolis Glezos, climbed the rock and tore down the Nazi flag, becoming national heroes.) The temple and its decoration are entirely of local Pentelic marble, prized for its pure whiteness and golden glow in sunlight. Like King Erechtheus, the building is autochthonous, sprung from the Attic earth.
Restorers of the Parthenon remark how, as the light moves over the structure, it seems almost to be breathing. The many small refinements of its architecture mean that the temple’s seemingly straight lines are all optical illusions: The side walls and peristyle lean slightly inward; the columns taper upwards and bow out at the middle (an adjustment called entasis); the corner columns are thicker than the central ones to give a sense of solidity; and so on. The chief Acropolis re-stor-ation architect, Manolis Korres, has discovered that the granules of marble in separate blocks of the temple have actually fused into one another. The separate pieces are, over time, becoming a single entity, masonry morphing back into mountain.
It is consistent with the conventions of Greek temple art for a frieze to depict a foundational myth of the city and her cults. To me, Connelly’s theory is attractive and plausible, and is backed by a considerable breadth and depth of scholarship—archaeological, visual, and textual. Not everyone will be persuaded, and the absolute certainty of the author will be off-putting to some; but her ideas cannot be dismissed out of hand. At the very least, her explanation, though beset by the disadvantage of novelty, is no less problematic than the Panathenaic procession.
As Samuel Butler put it when espousing his own contrarian classical theory, “Men of science, so far as I have observed them, are apt in their fear of jumping to a conclusion to forget that there is such a thing as jumping away from one.”
A. E. Stallings, poet and translator, is the author, most recently, of Olives: Poems.