If anyone is wondering what to do with their time right now, Casablanca is on TCM. I highly, highly recommend watching this movie. Perhaps a more in-depth analysis or explanation will follow, but, in the meantime, watch it and fall in love with it on your own first.
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question. . . 10
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”
Let us go and make our visit.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening
Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,
Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,
Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap, 20
And seeing that it was a soft October night
Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.
And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate; 30
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions
And for a hundred visions and revisions
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair— 40
[They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”]
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
[They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”]
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
For I have known them all already, known them all;
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons, 50
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?
And I have known the eyes already, known them all—
The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,
And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,
When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,
Then how should I begin
To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways? 60
And how should I presume?
And I have known the arms already, known them all—
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?
. . . . .
Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets 70
And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes
Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? . . .
I should have been a pair of ragged claws
Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.
. . . . .
And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!
Smoothed by long fingers,
Asleep . . . tired . . . or it malingers,
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.
Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis? 80
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet–and here’s no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.
And would it have been worth it, after all,
After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,
Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,
Would it have been worth while, 90
To have bitten off the matter with a smile,
To have squeezed the universe into a ball
To roll it toward some overwhelming question,
To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,
Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”
If one, settling a pillow by her head,
Should say, “That is not what I meant at all.
That is not it, at all.”
And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while, 100
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—
And this, and so much more?—
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.” 110
. . . . .
No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;
Am an attendant lord, one that will do
To swell a progress, start a scene or two
Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,
Deferential, glad to be of use,
Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
Almost, at times, the Fool.
I grow old . . . I grow old . . . 120
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.
Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.
I do not think they will sing to me.
I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown 130
Till human voices wake us, and we drown.
Translation of Dante’s quote: “If I thought my reply were to one who could ever return to the world, this flame would shake no more; but since, if what I hear is true, none ever did return alive from this depth, I answer you without fear of infamy.”
— Dante, Inferno
I wanted to share this poem on my blog because I love it so much. There is just something about this piece by Eliot that really struck me when reading it in my British Literature course in undergrad. I love it so much I actually have artwork in my bedroom inspired by it. Maybe I’ll write more about my specific thoughts and opinions on this poem in a later blog? Grad school is keeping me busy, but as always, my goal to be more active in this blog lives on.
“The words of a dead man / Are modified in the guts of the living.” – W.H. Auden
This particular line of Auden’s poetry can be found in his poem “In Memory of W.B. Yeats.” These lines are so important to me because they are so short but still manage to be so powerful, which is, I suppose, the beauty of poetry. Just think about it. The written word itself does nothing; it is physically incapable of performing any task. However, the lives of individuals and the course of world history are influenced and changed through the power of the written word. The words themselves take no action, but they inspire action; they make no changes, but they inspire change; they posses no power apart from the power that the reader grants them.
The words of dead men live on and change the lives of people living generations later. Sometimes the words even take on a life and a meaning apart from what the author originally intended. This is the beauty, and sometimes the danger, of the written word. It can be used for good or bad, to encourage good deeds or justify bad ones, to foster virtue or vice. The responsibility of good decision-making lies with the reader. Every time we read a poem or book or play that touches our hearts, we don’t just absorb that information. We retain it. We modify it. We are changed by it. Auden goes so far as to say that readers modify these words in our guts. To me, that is a very vivid depiction of the degree of internalization that occurs when I read a work that inspires me. It alters me from my core. Sometimes a work shakes me. Sometimes it leads me to form new opinions or enforces my existing ones. Sometimes it just provides me with a new perspective on an issue. Sometimes it inspires change.
Men die, but their words and ideas live on in the guts, the minds, the hearts, and the souls of their readers. These words and ideas exist in a state of preservation and evolution, a sort of oxymoron. It’s a beautiful thing. I encourage you to not only witness it, but also participate in it. Be a modifier and an innovator.
Here is my British Literature paper for your viewing pleasure. If you care. Which you probably don’t. And that’s more than ok.
The Role of Christianity, Heroism, and Fate in Beowulf and Paradise Lost
The epic poem Beowulf, authored by an anonymous person, survives as the oldest epic in the Anglo-Saxon tradition and serves as an important influence for later literature. Beowulf, the epic hero, possesses the traits required of all heroes in the epic tradition: courage, wisdom, strength, honor, honesty, good oration, and strong leadership. Beowulf also falls victim to the same enemy of other tragic heroes – fate, or wyrd in the Anglo-Saxon language. By contrast, John Milton’s epic tragedy Paradise Lost presents a different view of heroism and epic. Milton’s tragic hero, be he Satan or Adam, does not possess all the typical qualities of an epic hero, nor does he share the typical downfall of an epic hero. Instead, Milton’s heroes fail in their execution of their own free will, not as a result of fate. As a result, the Christianity in both Beowulf and Paradise Lost appear to differ greatly from one another in their conceptualization of God and man, fate and free will, and true heroism. How and why do they differ, and can these differences be reconciled within the framework of orthodox Christianity?
Beowulf, the hero of the poem Beowulf, possesses many qualities typical of the traditional epic hero. The Geatish Beowulf leads his warriors to King Hrothgar’s realm of the Danes in order to save the land from the monstrous Grendel. In this instance, Beowulf demonstrates his heroism by traveling to a foreign land in order to defeat a monster attacking a foreign people. He illustrates his courage and willingness to do battle by volunteering for a conflict not his own. Because Beowulf’s men choose to follow him into battle in this foreign land, his heroic trait of good leadership is also exemplified. Furthermore, Beowulf already has a reputation as a fearsome warrior, which is necessary for an epic hero. He demonstrates this supremacy in his three confrontations against Grendel, Grendel’s mother, and the dragon. Beowulf characterizes his skills thusly:
I have suffered extremes
and avenged the Geats (their enemies brought it
upon themselves; I devastated them) (422-424).
Beowulf also exemplifies his heroic qualities in his sense of fair play and honor. Because Grendel uses no weapons in combat, Beowulf chooses not to use any either, thus establishing an equal playing field in a hand-to-hand combat situation. In his recitation of his swimming episode with Breca, Beowulf proves to Unferth and the other Danes that he is a physically strong man capable of swimming in heavy armor for multiple days and nights while slaying the sea creatures attempting to kill him (530-581). This incident also epitomizes Beowulf’s skill as a strong orator – another important epic quality. Beowulf is also a devout man who worships the Christian God. Before his confrontation with Grendel, Beowulf declares:
[U]narmed [Grendel] shall face me
if face me he dares. And may the Divine Lord
in His wisdom grant the glory of victory
to whichever side He sees fit (684-687).
Beowulf shares the aforementioned epic qualities with epic ancient Greek and Roman heroes such as Odysseus and Aeneas. Greek and Roman heroes worshipped a pantheon of pagan gods; Beowulf, in contrast, is monotheistic and worships the Christian God. Notably, however, Beowulf retains influences from such pagan thought, exemplified by the emphasis on the epic hero, who is characterized largely by pride or confidence. This notion contrasts with the Christian ideals of humility and servitude. Pagan influences also remain evident in the emphasis placed on the importance of heroic deeds in order to avoid punishment in the afterlife and the lack of a clear conceptualization of a heaven or place of reward for the honorable to go after death. In fact, Beowulf himself is not guaranteed a place in a “heaven” (if it exists):
Famous for his deeds
a warrior may be, but it remains a mystery
where his life will end, when he may no longer
dwell in the mead-hall among his own.
So it was with Beowulf, when he faced the cruelty
and cunning of the mound-guard. He himself was ignorant
of how his departure from the world would happen (3062-3068).
On the contrary, a hell or place of punishment does exist, and it claims Grendel’s “heathen soul” (851). Taken all together, these factors imply the author or transcriber of Beowulf possessed a rudimentary knowledge of Christianity, most likely of the Old Testament alone. In addition, the pagan influences in Beowulf suggest that some pagan ideology may have been maintained and colored the author’s understanding and interpretation of Christianity.
Similarly to other epic heroes, Beowulf’s life is strongly influenced and controlled by fate, which is referenced numerous times throughout the epic. In fact, in traditional pagan epics, the events that color the lives of the heroes or lead to their downfalls are often portrayed as controlled or manipulated by the gods or the Fates. In essence, the true tragedy in these epics results from the epic hero’s lack of control over an event in his life or his ultimate demise. Following in this tradition, the conceptualization of death and fate in Beowulf is remarkably complex. Early in the epic, Beowulf, while recounting his swimming episode to Unferth, states, “Often, for undaunted courage, / fate spares the man it has not already marked” (572-573). This sentiment is echoed later in the poem when the scop claims that the grace of God may spare a man unmarked by fate (2291-2293). However, the scop also states:
But death is not easily
escaped from by anyone:
all of us with souls, earth-dwellers
and children of men, must make our way
to a destination already ordained
where the body, after the banqueting,
sleeps on its deathbed (1001-1007).
Though Beowulf, through his own courage and the grace of God, managed to escape death in his earlier conflicts against Grendel and Grendel’s mother, he cannot escape his fate when he faces the dragon. According to William Cooke in his article, “Beowulf, like all heroes, had had to meet an unforeseen fate” (210).
By this point in the epic, Beowulf’s fate lies outside of his control and choosing. In his article, Andrew Galloway writes, “[The Old English formula for dying]’s linguistic conservatism supports and even epitomizes the view that heroic choices are few and often fatal …death is precisely what a hero does not choose, although he may choose honor, which may entail dying” (198). In other words, a hero’s ability to determine his own fate is limited insofar as he remains a hero dedicated to honor, glory, and bravery. Theoretically, Beowulf could avoid his fated death if he chose not to battle the dragon; however, in so choosing, Beowulf would also lose his heroic status. This paradox results in the epic and somewhat tragic conflict between fate and free will and virtue and vice in Beowulf.
As a result, Beowulf presents a complex view of fate and God’s sovereignty. Some passages in the epic suggest that the two oppose one another, while others imply that God controls fate. This conflict most likely results from the merging of the older pagan influences of the Anglo-Saxon culture with the newer Christian religion. As aforementioned, evidence in Beowulf suggests that the author was familiar with the Old Testament of the Bible, which emphasizes God’s sovereignty and control over humanity and earthly matters. Furthermore, many pagan religions emphasize the concept of fate. In conclusion, the author of Beowulf appears to approach his understanding of the Christian God and His sovereignty through his understanding of certain pagan concepts like fate and heroism.
John Milton, the author of the epic tragedy Paradise Lost, views the interaction of fate and free will differently than the author of Beowulf, which is indicative of the culture in which Milton lived and worked. As an English Christian, paganism affected Milton’s theology far less than the Christianity represented in Beowulf. Contrary to Beowulf’s emphasis upon fate, Milton emphasizes the importance of free will, which impacts the portrayal of the epic hero, particularly concerning his control over his own choices and downfall. By these means, Milton attempts to “justify the ways of God to men” in Paradise Lost (26).
Many debate whether Milton intended Satan or Adam to be the hero of Paradise Lost. Either character, however, differs from the traditional pagan conceptualization of an epic hero. Satan, though a charismatic leader and excellent orator, possesses no virtuous and traditionally heroic qualities like courage, honesty, strength, or wisdom. Arguably, Satan does possess strength, but it manifests in “the unconquerable will” or stubbornness (Milton 104). He chooses to harden his heart against God, rebel, and remain in a state of unrepentant rebellion. Satan declares:
Yet not for those,
Nor what the potent victor in his rage
Can else inflict, do I repent or change (Milton 94-96).
In fact, these very acts demonstrate a deficit of wisdom on Satan’s part. As Adam instructs Eve later in the narrative:
Against his will he can receive no harm.
But God left the free will, for what obeys
Reason, is free, and reason he made right (Milton 350-352).
In Milton’s opinion, God created everything, including mankind’s capacity for reason and knowledge; therefore, obedience to God is the truest expression of reason. In his article, Anthony Low writes, “Freedom (we think) we easily understand; obedience is harder to accept. Moreover, what Milton advocates is not forced but ‘willing obedience’” (351). Unfortunately, the demons could not willingly obey God. According to the demon Mammon:
This must be our task
In Heav’n, this our delight; how wearisome
Eternity so spent in worship paid
To whom we hate (Milton 244-249).
Satan and the demons, however, share the fatal flaw of pride with many traditional epic heroes. It is Satan’s pride that brings about his rebellion against God and his refusal to repent, preferring “Hard liberty before the easy yoke” (Milton 256). This pride and the actions resulting from it branch directly from Satan’s own freedom to choose; he is not destined by God or by fate to fall into sin.
Adam as the tragic hero may also be examined in a similar light; Milton presents him in a manner more in keeping with a traditional epic hero. As the first man and a sinless man, Adam is superior to all human beings who follow him. Milton describes them as, “Two of far nobler shape erect and tall / Godlike erect” (288-289). As such, he possesses all the virtuous qualities of mankind with none of the vices. Adam’s fall, like Satan’s, comes about through no fault of God’s. God did not create Adam with a sinful nature, nor did He predestine Adam to rebel and fall into sin. On the contrary, Adam’s downfall was precipitated entirely by his own free will, his own choice to sin in order not to be separated from Eve. When Eve presents the forbidden fruit to Adam after she partakes of it, Adam replies:
So forcible within my heart I feel
The bond of nature draw me to my own,
My own in thee, for what thou art is mine;
Our state cannot be severed, we are one,
One flesh; to lose thee were to lose myself (Milton 955-959).
Because Adam did not trust in God’s provision for a new wife and was blinded by love for Eve, he chose to join Eve in sin and rebellion despite knowing the consequences.
Even Milton’s portrayal of Adam as the epic hero differs significantly from the ideal of a hero presented in Beowulf and other pagan epics. Traditional heroic qualities associated with warfare are not emphasized in Paradise Lost, particularly for Adam who never engages in physical battle. Unlike Beowulf, Adam is not presented as a brave warrior or even exceptionally physically strong. Furthermore, the typical heroic quality of pride is largely lacking in Adam. By contrast, in Paradise Lost, the Christian virtue of humility is more widely praised. This shift to respecting humility indicates the pervasiveness of Christianity in the culture and the move away from pagan ideology.
Paradise Lost also differs from Beowulf in its presentation of God. Though God is sovereign, He does not strictly control the fate of mankind; rather, He allows them to have free will. With this free will, Satan and the other demons begin to view God as a tyrant, though they acknowledge God will “of his kingdom lose no part / by our revolt” (Milton 325-326). In order to retaliate against God, the demons decide to corrupt God’s new creations: humanity (Milton 362-370). When Satan tempts Adam and Eve into using their free will unwisely, he assumes he has won a great victory. On the contrary, God in His sovereignty already has a plan in place for the salvation of humanity. As a result, God’s omniscience and omnipotence do not rely on His ability to control humanity’s decisions; instead, they rely on God’s foreknowledge of these actions and decisions.
Therefore, the Christianity in Paradise Lost is influenced by the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the theories of past and contemporary theologians. As a result, Milton’s Christian theology is more fully formed than the Christianity in Beowulf. Milton presents a clear conceptualization of Heaven and Hell, separated from one another and from Earth (1035-1055). Milton also adds a unique caveat to the location of Hell; Satan discovers “myself am Hell” as a consequence of his rebellion against God (75). As in Beowulf, God is described as omniscient. In his article, Benjamin Myers writes, “The grace of salvation is not an afterthought, but a gift of God which precedes even the need for salvation” (66). However, unlike in Beowulf, God does not control the actions of mankind in order to achieve some fated outcome. “According to Paradise Lost, human freedom operates independently of the divine will to so great an extent that the divine knowledge of the future cannot even be described as ‘immutable.’ God’s knowledge is subject to and influenced by the free actions of those creatures to whom he has granted freedom,” declares Myers (79). Furthermore, the Christianity in Milton’s work provides humanity with some base moral guidelines as well as the promise of salvation. In conclusion, Milton’s Paradise Lost provides a more complete, holistic Christianity than the Christianity in Beowulf.
Because Beowulf and Paradise Lost both contain Christian themes but present largely different views of Christianity, can the two works be reconciled within the realm of orthodox Christianity? Is the Christianity in Beowulf too “paganized” to be compatible with true Christianity? Though Beowulf is highly paganized, it can still be somewhat compatible with Milton’s depiction of Christianity when viewed in a certain manner. In essence, Beowulf’s Christianity does not contradict the Christianity in Paradise Lost; the Christianity in Beowulf merely presents an incomplete picture of Christianity.
As aforementioned, the theology in Beowulf presents an interesting amalgamation of pagan and Christian ideology. The reader, as a result, must learn to separate the influences from one another in order to achieve the clearest understanding of the work. Pagan influences are very clear in the depiction of the epic hero and strong warrior archetypes. However, there is also some basis in the Christian Old Testament to support the respect for those who are strong, bold warriors and leaders. Though the Jewish King David was the youngest of his brothers, God chose him to be a powerful warrior and strong king – qualities that were also respected in the pagan Anglo-Saxon society. Furthermore, pagan religions also emphasize the deities’ power over men and women. Individuals are subject to the will of the gods and fate. While this is certainly not a modern Christian idea, there is some evidence to support this type of thinking in the Old Testament, and the author of Beowulf may have seen this as an example of compatibility between the old paganism and the new Christianity. In the Old Testament, the Jewish tribes were for some time under a theocracy, a direct rule by God. As a result, it may have seemed to the author of Beowulf that God was directly controlling the lives of his people because of His direct action in their lives – an understandable conclusion from someone with a background in pagan ideology. In conclusion, when the reader can assess the influences of paganism and Old Testament Christianity in Beowulf, he or she is more able to view the Christianity presented in a more compatible way with the Christianity presented in Milton’s Paradise Lost.
While Beowulf presents a comparably incomplete view of Christianity, Milton’s Paradise Lost is characterized by a more complete understanding of Christian ideology. Christianity presents a type of hero different from the typical pagan hero and more in keeping with the example of the Christian New Testament’s Jesus Christ. Christ did not participate in physical conflict, was a humble servant, and was executed willingly despite his total innocence in life. These new qualities become the dominant characteristics of the heroic archetype in the Christian world. In addition, Christians viewed God as sovereign and powerful, but they also accepted the concept of humanity’s free will. Reading the Old Testament through this lens revealed that humanity always has the choice to obey or disobey God, even in the Old Testament theocracy. Admittedly, different Christian denominations varied on the emphasis they placed upon free will (then and now), but Milton was a staunch advocate of the importance of free will in Christianity. Milton believed humanity’s free will exempted God from blame for the existence of sin and evil – the idea around which he created Paradise Lost.
Taken together, Beowulf and Paradise Lost provide a fuller understanding of Christianity. By examining the development of Christianity from Beowulf to Paradise Lost, one sees the growth in size and cultural importance the religion experiences, as well as its effect on the cultures in which it exists. Christianity did not develop in a vacuum, and in some cases, was influenced by the pagan ideologies of recent converts. Beowulf serves as a wonderful example of this cultural transition from paganism to Christianity. Within this framework, the Christianity of Beowulf and Paradise Lost can be reconciled as orthodox Christianity despite their differences in epic heroism, the relationship between God and man, and fate and free will.
Cooke, William. “Who Cursed Whom, and When? The Cursing of the Hoard and Beowulf’s
Fate.” Medium Aevum 76.2 (2007): 207-21. Academic OneFile. Web. 18 Oct. 2012.
Galloway, Andrew. “Beowulf and the Varieties of Choice.” PMLA 105.2 Mar. (1990): 197-208. Web.
18 Oct. 2012.
Greenblatt, Stephen, et al, eds. Vol. A. Beowulf. 8th ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company,
2006. 31-97. Print.
Greenblatt, Stephen, et al, eds. Vol. A. Paradise Lost. 8th ed. New York: W.W. Norton &
Company, 2006. 726-852. Print.
Low, Anthony. “’Umpire Conscience’: Freedom, Obedience, and the Cartesian Flight from
Calvin in Paradise Lost.” The U. of North Carolina P. (1999): 348-65.
Academic OneFile. Web. 18 Oct. 2012.
Myers, Benjamin. “Predestination and Freedom in Milton’s Paradise Lost.” Scottish Journal of
Theology 59.1 (2006): 64-80. Academic OneFile. Web. 18 Oct. 2012.
In other words, the time has come, my little friends, to discuss feminist issues. I promise this blog will be relatively brief and mostly painless. While I do consider myself a feminist, I certainly don’t consider myself a liberal one. I think the feminist movement can and does go too far in some areas, but those areas aren’t the focus of this blog. Instead, this blog is going to focus on a quote from Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own,” an essay about women and fiction/literature.
Woolf (1882-1941) obviously lived in a time when women’s rights were just beginning to be discussed in a larger arena. True, other women wrote about women’s issues earlier than Virginia Woolf and even before groups of women began campaigning for civil liberties, specifically the right to vote and be educated equally. I’m thinking of certain authors like Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman specifically to discuss these issues. Woolf, however, was living in an age where women held more liberties than ever before, but Woolf was still able to see the lack in true equality.
In a fascinating passage, she researches what the lives of women were like in the Elizabethan Era, or even earlier. Very little is written about the actual lives of actual women during that time, particularly about the lives of working class women. What was written about them proved that they were nothing more than property of men. It was not frowned upon for men to beat their wives or daughters. It was common for women to be forced into marriages with men they didn’t love. Most women were not educated or allowed opportunities to travel or even to really leave the home. The Elizabethan Era, however, was full of plays and sonnets dedicated to the idea of romance and ideal women. With what does this leave the modern reader? It leaves one with the disparity between the woman presented in the fiction and the woman who really lived. To paraphrase Woolf, women cover the pages of poems and plays from that time period but are almost entirely absent from history books. They are put on pedestals in these works of romance, while they are ignored or seen as inferior in real life.
How could women let themselves be treated this way? Woolf wonders why her ancestors didn’t earn money and fund scholarships for future women in the universities. Woolf discovers two reasons why not: women could not work, and, if they did, their earnings belonged to their husband. This created an environment of dependence and subordination for women. It is for this reason that Woolf states women require money and a room of their own in order to write fiction, or (I would argue) to do anything.
My mother, who was and is a working mom, has always raised me to be independent. She has always encouraged me to learn to take care of myself, whether it’s paying my own bills or changing my own tire or living on my own. Without knowing it, my mother has the mindset of Virginia Woolf, and she imparted that same mind set on me. Every woman needs her own money and her own space if she wants to be sane and successful. End of story. My parents (married for almost 29 years) both work, have their own bank accounts in addition to a joint account, and give each other space in their own home. And it works for them.
A thought struck me the last time I watched a sitcom. The traditional American sitcom portrays a two-parent household in which the father works and the mother is a homemaker. There are certain inevitable jokes that always arise around that situation. The first? That the woman doesn’t have a “real job” or that she does nothing all day. I will be the first to say that being a stay-at-home mom would be an exceedingly difficult job. I could never do it, but I would also never want to do it. However, it is insulting for the women who choose to do it to be looked down upon, especially by their own husbands. The second joke? That the family’s money is “his money” because the husband earned it, to which the wife always responds in the negative. In my opinion, a married couple should share some funds, but the husband is completely correct. It is HIS money because HE worked for it, which places the wife in a position of dependence and subordination. She has less power in financial decisions because she is not directly involved in wage-earning. Watching instances like this (even in a “humorous” setting on tv) only serves to reinforce my decision to never be a stay-at-home mom.
And here’s why. The woman who is a stay-at-home is giving something up. She gives up the part of herself that would be discovered and fulfilled by engaging in a career. She gives up her autonomy, her independence, her ability to be the equal of her husband. A woman who is financially dependent on her husband has, by the rules of logic, less freedom than he does. She cannot spend his money without permission or explanation. She does not have an equal vote in financial decisions. A woman’s ability to actually own property in her own name, to keep wages in her own name, is relatively new. In my opinion, that right should be appreciated. I never want to ask my husband for money so that I can go out and get a haircut or a sandwich or buy my kids clothes. I want the freedom to do these things for myself. If I don’t have that freedom, the relationship suffers for it. Thanks to the women who have come before me, I have the ability to go to university, to develop my intelligence and knowledge, to excel in academia and the workforce. I don’t want to waste any of those opportunities. When I become my best self, I have more to offer in a relationship and to the world at large.
In the words of Virginia Woolf, “I need not hate any man; he cannot hurt me. I need not flatter any man; he has nothing to give me.” There! In those few words, Virginia Woolf captures the essence of this dilemma! Only a woman who is financially independent can truly love her husband as a free woman. She is with him, not because she needs him, but because she wants him. And if she doesn’t want him, she needn’t be with him. When women cease to be reliant on men, there is no longer any need for “man-hating feminists.” Why hate something that has no control over you? As trite as it sounds, money is power. However, a woman does not need to be rich in order to have power. The simple state of financial independence is powerful enough to free her from the control of men, no matter how loving those men may be. Until a woman is free NOT to love a man, she won’t really be able to truly love a man.
The other half of Woolf’s requirements is that a woman needs a room of her own. In other words, she needs space. For Woolf, that meant space to write, to create. Ultimately and universally, it means that women need space to think, to grow, to be themselves. A woman can’t spend her whole life serving her husband, her children, or her boss. She needs space to breathe. Even if she is the boss, taking time for herself is important and essential. A woman can’t simply be the “looking-glass” for a man. She needs to be her own person, not just the image of the man in her life. What better place for her to discover herself than in a moment of solitude or the time spent not in a relationship? One must be daring enough to risk those moments of loneliness in order to truly know and learn to be content with one’s self.
The ability for a woman to be free to be alone is relatively new. Cherish it, ladies. You have choices that aren’t marriage or a convent. Don’t waste them and don’t take them for granted. No matter what path you choose in life, don’t do it without serious consideration of all your options and all your freedoms. And don’t define yourself only by your relationships. Don’t be a looking-glass. Be your own person, first and foremost. Appreciate all the freedoms that you have and don’t be afraid to ask or demand more freedom in order to achieve true equality.
Here is the final paper that I wrote for my philosophy class. I thought that I may as well post it here so that I could truly wrap up the course in my blog. This will be the second to last thing you will ever have to read about my summer classes, I promise! haha
The Tale of Two Cities: The Influence of Augustine and Machiavelli on Modern Christianity
The idea of a separation between the visible and invisible, material and spiritual, is a concept humanity has developed and revised throughout the centuries. From the religious beliefs recorded in the Old Testament to the ancient philosophers, mankind displays an intense interest in what – if anything – exists in the spiritual and immaterial realm. Augustine, a Christian theologian of the early church and influenced heavily by Platonist thought, provides the Christian perspective on the issue. In Augustine’s The City of God, he differentiates the city of God from the city of man and explicates the differences between the two. Augustine’s description of the material and immaterial realms and their interaction is a unique one – a direct result of his Christian beliefs. Conversely, Niccolo Machiavelli, a Renaissance-era Italian philosopher, views the two realms in a completely different way from the majority of his philosophical predecessors. The contrast between Augustine’s philosophy on the two realms and that of Machiavelli is fascinatingly vast and stems from the presence or absence of a Christian religious foundation.
For Augustine, the separation between the earthly city and the city of God is by definition a religious separation. The truest and most complete form of all the virtues exists only in the city of God; the earthly city is a mere shadow of the city to come. The Supreme God is, in Aristotelian terms, the end toward which Christians journey. “For He is the fountain of our happiness, He the end of all our desires… we tend towards Him by love, that we may rest in Him, and find our blessedness by attaining that end,” writes Augustine about the Triune God (City of God, X.3).
Furthermore, Augustine perceives virtue to be the true, original nature of mankind; corrupt human nature results from the Fall, which came through no fault of God’s. Augustine adamantly protects God’s goodness and divinity with his doctrine of evil. For Augustine, “evil has no positive nature; but the loss of good has received the name evil” (City of God, XI.9). Not only is evil a loss, absence, and perversion of the good, it is not a creation of God, but a result of man’s misuse of free will. Augustine describes the devil himself as “good by God’s creation, wicked by his own will” (City of God, XI.17). As a result, men should strive toward virtue in order to glorify God and in order to avoid evil. Virtue is not, however, for Augustine the ultimate path to a higher reality like it is for Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. In fact, Augustine writes, “Salvation, such as it shall be in the world to come, shall itself be our final happiness. And this happiness these philosophers refuse to believe in… and attempt to fabricate for themselves a happiness in this life, based upon a virtue which is as deceitful as it is proud” (City of God, XIX.4). Though the virtuous life is a significant aspect of the life of a citizen of the city of God, Augustine recognizes the complete and utter inability for mankind to save itself (even through virtue) and realizes the absolute need for the salvation Christ provides.
In addition, Augustine also emphasizes the importance of the city of God in the lives of Christians. Though Christians essentially have temporary “dual-citizenship” in the earthly city and the city of God, the Christian’s first loyalty should always be to the city of God, in Augustine’s opinion. For the time being, the heavenly city is intertwined with the earthly city where it “calls citizens out of all nations” (City of God, XIX.17). Christians, unlike the pagans, do not look to the earthly city for satisfaction and happiness; instead, they look ahead to the heavenly city for this fulfillment. According to Augustine, “And this is the characteristic of the earthly city, that it worships God or gods who may aid it in reigning victoriously and peacefully on earth not through love of doing good, but through lust of rule. The good use the world that they may enjoy God: the wicked, on the contrary, that they may enjoy the world would fain use of God” (City of God, XV.7). The Christian in the earthly city should not be concerned with power or pleasure in the present world; he or she should only hope for the future full realization of the heavenly city. This humility and hope for the things unseen are marks of the Christian pilgrimage through the city of man to the city of God.
Machiavelli, however, holds several views about the earthly city, the heavenly city, and virtue that differ from Augustine’s opinions. In fact, Machiavelli’s philosophy deviates rather substantially from the majority of his philosophical predecessors. First of all, Machiavelli sees no real distinction between the earthly realm and the heavenly realm. Truthfully, he seems not to completely believe in a God or an immaterial realm, which greatly shapes his view of the earthly city. In his opinion, only half of men’s lives are accounted for by fortune, while the rest is left up to man himself to determine (The Prince, XXV). Therefore, Machiavelli dedicates the entirety of The Prince to discussing the most advantageous ways and means to gain and keep power in earthly cities and kingdoms. Unlike Augustine, Machiavelli does not caution his readers to consider heavenly rewards or punishments first and foremost.
As a result of the de-emphasis on heavenly reward and right living in his philosophy, Machiavelli presents a rather cynical and maniacal view of the virtues. For Machiavelli, human nature is not naturally virtuous. On the contrary, he holds humanity in particularly low regard. He writes, “And truly it is a very natural and ordinary thing to desire to acquire” (The Prince, III). The Prince, therefore, contains an extraordinary amount of precautions about the rebellious and untrustworthy nature of one’s subjects, advisors, and the leaders of other nations. In addition, Machiavelli provides advice to current and future leaders for how to handle these problems, and cruelty, in Machiavelli’s opinion, is not necessarily to be avoided. Cruelties “well-used” are those used to defend the ruler’s position and power and are as short-lived as possible (The Prince, VIII). According to Machiavelli, cruelties should be performed “all at a stroke… so that, being tasted less, they offend less” (The Prince, VIII). Virtue, therefore, is something to be used to one’s advantage. Machiavelli’s best estimation of virtue is a type of forethought that minimizes harm when the tides of fortune turn against a ruler. He provides an example in which he represents fortune as a flooding river – the virtuous man is the one who built dikes and dams beforehand in order to divert as much negative influence as possible. In this way, virtue can be thought of as the quality allowing a ruler to avoid bad fortune as thoroughly as possible.
Needless to say, Machiavelli does not hold the virtues in high regard because he does not believe that one can gain and maintain power through strict adherence to the virtues. Therefore, it is important for a ruler “to learn to be able not to be good” (The Prince, XV). In other words, the prince should be adept at maintaining the façade of virtuosity without being constrained by the reality of the virtues. “A spirit disposed to change,” as Machiavelli describes in chapter XVIII of The Prince. In Machiavelli’s opinion, virtue is useful insofar as it ingratiates a ruler to his citizens, and the appearance of virtue is useful in order to adapt to the changes of fortune and avoid the worst vices for a ruler. Due to his controversial views of virtue, one will not be surprised that Machiavelli does not hold religion in high regard either. Like virtue and vice, religion is simply another pawn for a ruler to use to his advantage as far as possible. According to Machiavelli, “A prudent lord, therefore, cannot observe faith, nor should he, when such observance turns against him, and the causes that made him promise have been eliminated” (The Prince, XVIII). Machiavelli uses “faith” here to describe faith in men or in God. In other words, Machiavelli is the man Augustine describes when he writes that some men demonstrate disordered love and use God in order to enjoy the earth instead of using the earth to enjoy God.
Augustine in The City of God and Machiavelli in The Prince present two very different philosophies for living life, interacting with others, and the future of the human soul. The philosophies are largely, if not absolutely, incompatible. In recent centuries, Machiavelli’s philosophy has become the predominant one, with many people respecting The Prince and behaving in Machiavellian ways. Though Machiavelli’s theories are not entirely unique to him, he popularized the type of “the end justifies the means” thinking that dominates modern American society and politics. Augustine’s work, on the other hand, has become less popular – even amongst the Christian community. Many modern Christians ignore or are ignorant of Augustine’s social theory for the Christian community and become too politically active or extreme, while others completely despair of the current societal atmosphere altogether. In light of this, how should modern Christians apply Augustine’s philosophy to their lives in a predominantly Machiavellian world?
As aforementioned, one common error of the Christian life about which Augustine warns his readers is becoming too comfortable in the earthly city and settling down there instead of continuing on the pilgrimage. Clearly, this does not apply only to modern Christians because Augustine wrote The City of God approximately eight hundred years ago. Modern American Christians, however, have a uniquely political factor involved. With the presidential elections looming, Americans begin to vigorously divide along the polarizing line of liberal versus conservative. During these times, voters hear more about “the Christian right wing” than any other time. In fact, different Christian denominations unify more during election season in order to thoroughly denounce the liberal agenda and lament the ungodliness of any candidate and his or her platform as the downfall of America. They seem convinced that America needs a majority of Christian leaders in order for the country to be successful, and these Christians are determined to vote in the most Christian candidates possible into any position.
Augustine, however, would not support this line of thought or type of Christian behavior. When Rome fell, it was a Christian empire, and Augustine wrote The City of God in order to defend Christianity from those who blamed it for the fall of Rome. Augustine did not write The City of God in order to extol the virtues of a Christian nation; he wrote it in order to encourage Christians to continue looking ahead to the city of God and not to give too much thought to the city of man. For Augustine, the earthly city is important only insofar as men and women are called out of it to be citizens of the city of God, which is currently intertwined with the earthly city. In his opinion, Christians can be good citizens of their earthly cities mainly because they remove themselves from the political arena and focus on the superior, eternal city to come. Augustine essentially advocates political indifference, apart from those laws inhibiting proper Christian worship. In other words, modern Christians should practice a higher degree of political apathy instead of expending so much energy attempting to fix the earthly city. Augustine sees no real need for Christians to be overly involved in the earthly city, and Machiavelli does not believe they can be truly successful within the political arena, anyway. Machiavelli is convinced that in order to really succeed in earthly politics, Christians could not adhere to the Christian morals, virtues, and lifestyle. In conclusion, Christians must heed Augustine’s warning not to attempt to use God in order to enjoy the earth and earthly things.
On the other hand, Augustine does not believe Christians should so easily and completely despair of the earthly city. Augustine strongly believes that Christians should obey the commandments Jesus emphasized: love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself. For Augustine, this is true piety (City of God, X.3). As a result, Christians are expected to help their fellow man. Augustine writes, “To be innocent, we must not only do harm to no man, but also restrain him from sin or punish his sin, so that either the man himself who is punished may profit by his experience, or others be warned by his example” (City of God, XIX.16). Clearly, Augustine does not advocate the complete indifference and separation from the world that some Christians strive toward. Though Christians are not called to perfect the material world, they are called to care for and witness to people all over the globe. For Augustine, these actions are one part of the Christian pilgrimage through the earthly city towards the heavenly city. Machiavelli, however, has no concept of looking beyond the current world towards anything spiritual or eternal. In The Prince, he shows that his interest is completely devoted to the earthly city, and it is completely against his philosophy to despair of the earthly city and to look ahead to something better. Instead, according to Machiavelli, one who is discontented with the rule of a city should try to take power for himself and change his own fortune and situation.
In order for Christians to achieve the balance between the two cities, knowledge and appreciation of Augustine’s philosophy are required. The City of God remains relevant in the lives of Christians in every era, including modernity. Augustine provides suggestions for the proper way Christians are to interact with the earthly city and the city of God. First and foremost, they are to recognize that they are merely pilgrims in the earthly city on the way to the city of God. Next, Christians must separate themselves from the desire to become comfortable in the earthly city or to attempt to make it a more pleasurable place for them to be. In doing so, the purpose of the earthly city would be lost, for it is meant to be only a shadow of the perfect city to come. However, a Christian must never ignore his or her neighbor and be ever at the ready to love others in a Christ-like manner. By doing so, the Christian is behaving appropriately in the earthly city while looking ahead to the city of God, where all hope is placed.
Augustine. Political Writings, trans. Michael W. Tkacz and Douglas Kries (Indianapolis, IN:Hackett, 1994). ISBN 0-87220-210-0.
Machiavelli, Niccolo. The Prince, trans. Harvey C. Mansfield (Chicago: University of ChicagoPress, 1998. ISBN 0226500446.
After our adventurous day yesterday, Katherine and Lydia gathered in my room to watch the Greece versus Germany football (soccer) match. Sadly, Greece lost to Germany quite badly. After getting up and loading onto the bus, we began our drive to Olympia. Along the way, we stopped at several different sites in different cities. Our first stop was at an ancient castle in Pylos that had been inhabited by the Venetians and then the Ottomans. It was huge! It was right on the Mediterranean Sea and had some beautiful views. From there, drove to Nestor’s Palace (which hasn’t been definitively proven to be Nestor’s palace). Not much remains of the palace, but the foundations and some basic elements. However, archeologists found many tablets and objects inside which provided a lot of information on the palace life and the culture of the time. It is called the palace of Nestor because it clearly belonged to a powerful leader and he was the most powerful ruler known in the area. While there, Dr. Henry read some lines from The Odyssey to really help us get a better feel for the area. Another stop along the way for us was the miniature Eiffel Tower. After a bit more of a drive, we arrived in Olympia just in time to get some work done before dinner and prepare for our day tomorrow.
*insert pics here
Throughout the duration of the course, I have read several different works by several different authors, all with different perspectives on life, virtue, and happiness. Chronologically, we traced the development of justice from Aeschylus to Machiavelli.
In Aeschylus’ The Oresteia, the need for objective justice is exemplified through the family drama surrounding Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. Agamemnon’s house, the house of Atreus, has been cursed by the gods because of the actions of several sinful ancestors. There is a definite element of punishing the son for the father’s sin. This in and of itself seems particularly unjust. For generations, Agamemnon’s ancestors have been punished because of the actions of their predecessors. Is this really just, however? Why should someone who has not committed the crime be punished for it? That was only one element of justice with which the Greeks struggled; the other was the idea of retributive justice. In the Greek culture during that time period, justice was “eye for an eye,” which led to a culture of violence. When someone wronged you, you were allowed – and even expected – to pay them back in kind. As a result, true justice was never attained because everyone was trying to get even for injuries done to him or her. Clytemnestra murdered Agamemnon to avenge their daughter Iphigenia, whom he had sacrificed. Orestes murdered his own mother in order to avenge his father. As a result of his actions, the Furies drove Orestes mad as punishment. In order to end the cycle of violence, Athena called a trial on the Areopagus for Orestes. In this trial, he was acquitted for the murder of his mother, the Furies were renamed the Eumenides, and a precedent for trial by jury was set. Furthermore, Aeschylus shows that justice needs to objective, is too important to be determined by one person alone, requires some degree of divine intervention, and answers to a higher power or good of some kind.
In The Trial of Socrates and The Republic, Plato furthers some of the ideas established by Aeschylus. Plato, as Socrates, is particularly concerned with the idea of justice and its proper execution. Contrary to what many of his contemporary Greeks believe, Socrates believes that being just is much more virtuous and advantageous than being unjust. Like Aeschylus, Plato supports the ideas that justice should be objective. Unlike Aeschylus, however, Plato believes that justice itself is the highest good. In The Republic, Socrates says that people should practice justice because it is the third kind of good – a combination of being good on its own and bringing good things to those who practice it. Socrates states that it is better to be punished in body for being just because the soul remains clean than for the soul to be tainted by living unjustly even if it goes unpunished. For Socrates, justice is when everyone does his own share in proper cooperation and coordination with others. He uses the three-part soul as an example of how justice functions internally and externally in a city. When each part of the soul (appetitive, spirited, rational) functions properly but is in subjugation to the appropriate part(s), that is justice. Likewise, justice exists in the city and society. Plato made the move away from retributive and generational justice, but he almost takes it to the extreme. He holds justice in such high esteem that he views it as the supreme good, and he does not really believe that it is subject to any sort of higher good or power.
By the time of Aristotle, however, the view of justice has changed again. In his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle relegates justice back to a virtue and elevates happiness to the supreme human end and good. For Aristotle, justice is also objective. Like Socrates and Plato before him, Aristotle does believe that justice is a necessary virtue – especially for the one who desires to habituate him- or herself in all the virtues in order to achieve happiness. He also view justice as a good unto itself and as something that can bring good to the one who practices it. Like Aeschylus, Aristotle does think that justice is subordinate to another superior good, but for Aristotle this good is happiness, not the gods. For Aristotle, all the virtues are important in life. Therefore, justice is a virtue, but it is only one of many.
Augustine, a Christian theologian, also writes about justice and the ideal city. His ideal city, however, is quite different from the one Plato imagines. Augustine’s City of God is spiritual, eternal, currently intermingled with the City of Man, and perfect. Though Augustine deeply respects the pagan philosopher Plato, he does not agree with him on all counts. For Augustine, like Aristotle, justice is an important virtue, but it is one of many important virtues. Though Christians should attempt to be virtuous in all aspects of life, Augustine does not think (contrary to the philosophers who came before) that Christians should spend too much time trying to create the perfect earthly society. Because our loyalty is to God and our hope lies ahead, we should be more focused on the City of God since we are merely pilgrims in the City of Man. Furthermore, Augustine clearly believes that justice is subject to the true God. He is the highest Justice, and, apart from Him, there is no real justice. Due to the fallen state of creation, true justice cannot exist in this world, but we can strive for the purest form of justice possible.
The previous authors all followed a similar line of logic and thought, building off each other and developing new ideas within a related framework. Machiavelli, however, diverges almost entirely from the ideas of his philosophical predecessors and redefines justice to fit his own agenda. Unlike all the philosophers who came before him, Machiavelli does not emphasize or encourage the development of virtue. In fact, he discourages it! For Machiavelli, a ruler should have the appearance of virtue so long as it is beneficial, but he must be able to shed the appearance (or the actual virtue) when it becomes necessary to do so. As a virtue, justice is included in this. For Machiavelli, justice is essentially whatever the man in charge says it is. It is not objective, virtuous, or the supreme good. Justice does, however, answer to a superior power – the ruler. Machiavelli’s philosophy does not allow much room for a god to operate and aims at successfully constraining fortune so that a man may be as successful in life as possible. Like Glaucon and Thrasymachus, Machiavelli does not view justice as a good in and of itself. It is only a good insofar as it can bring good things to him.
Reading and studying each of these authors has inspired me to evaluate my own opinions about justice and virtue. These authors certainly have the power to influence the way I live my life and my practices and habits. The importance of self-evaluation in these matters is necessary in order for one to live a truly examined, productive life.
Blog post for June 22, 2012 –
We left the serene seaside village of Tolo this morning in order to travel across the Peloponnese to Pylos. It’s a decent drive, so we made a few stops along the way. We stopped in Argos to see the ancient theater there. It was quite well preserved and would be able to hold several thousand people. It was carved into the mountain, so it was a Greek theater, but Roman baths were built next door to it and some of the remains still stood. We also stopped in Nathtali to see the town and the evidence of its diverse history. The Venetians took it over and built some fortresses there, so many of the buildings (and the town in general) have a real Venetian feel to them. It looks so much like Italy in a way. The Ottomans came in next, however, and they also took over the Venetian fortresses and altered them some. The town has seen a lot of change over time and has incorporated it into the city. We got some very good gelato here, but I spilled it on my shirt L Katherine was kind enough to clean me off using spot-remover, but it was Tide… I haven’t had an allergic reaction yet, so here’s hoping that it stays away! We also stopped at this adorable little Orthodox church. It was very eclectic, but it was controversial. The current bishop of the area does not approve of it, so he does not hold services there. As a result, only weddings and baptisms take place there and another bishop or priest has to be brought in to perform them. It would be such a great place to get married, so I can see why it’s so popular. Once we got to Pylos, we divided up into our rooms – I got a single this time! It will be nice not to have to share a bathroom, but I’m so used to being with my roomies that I might get lonely lol. We quickly changed and headed to the beach – the Mediterranean Sea to be exact. It is absolutely gorgeous! The water is completely transparent and not too cold. This is also the sandiest beach we’ve seen in the entire time we’ve been overseas. I love the Mediterranean! Apparently, this area is one of the top 5 beaches on the Mediterranean, but our group was basically alone on the beach. It’s either early in the season or a very well-kept secret! There’s nothing like having an entire, perfect beach all to yourself! Unfortunately, we’re only here for one night, so we have to make the most of it!
[the pics that were meant to be here somehow got messed up and posted in the one below this, so look at those! haha]
Augustine’s City of God discusses the relationship between the City of God (the spiritual, eternal city) and the City of Man (the earthly, temporal city). Christians have dual-citizenship between the two. They live in the City of Man but are only journeying through it in order to arrive in the City of God. Augustine addresses the tension that Christians feel between the two cities and analyzes whether or not Christians can also be good citizens in the City of Man. Some argued that Christians cannot be good citizens and that they were to blame for the fall of Rome. Augustine defends Christianity against these claims, but his conclusions are as relevant today as they were then.
Augustine believes that Christians can, in fact, be good citizens. As long as their government does not prevent them from worshipping the one true God, then Christians have no reason to be bad citizens. The present world is not the focus of the Christian; the world to come is the reality they work toward. This does not mean that Christians can completely disregard the present world, though. Augustine makes clear that until the time of judgment the two cities are tangled together. He describes the City of God as “sojourning” on earth, calling “citizens out of all nations, and gathers together a society of pilgrims of all languages, not scrupling about diversities in the manners, laws, and institutions whereby earthly peace is secured and maintained.” It may seem unbelievable, but Augustine genuinely valued and wanted to preserve diversities between Christians as long as they do not interfere with proper worship of God. Augustine reminds his readers that God calls people of every race, ethnicity, language, location, gender, and social strata to become citizens in His city. As a result, we should be hesitant to judge because some who appear to be in the City of God are really not and vice versa.
Because the two cities are currently intertwined, it can pose difficulties for Christians. The first loyalty, of course, should always be to God. Augustine describes, and we talked in class about, two errors Christians can make when dealing with the City of Man. The first is to presume that we can be truly happy here. Like Aristotle, Augustine believes that true happiness cannot come in this lifetime; it must be in the life to come. Aristotle believes that virtues must be habituated throughout a lifetime in order to achieve happiness. Augustine believes, however, that true happiness can only come from God in the eternal world in which suffering will be completely removed. On earth, bad things happen to everyone, even Christians. As a result, Augustine believes that these things mar happiness and encourage us to look forward to the happiness in the next life. If this temporal happiness was the highest good and type of happiness, then we should be in a very sad state indeed. How encouraging it is to know that there is an even deeper happiness awaiting us in the next life! This first error of Christians is the error of complacency – we get comfortable where we are and decide to move in instead of continuing the search. The second error is the error of despair – Christians become so discouraged and disillusioned with the world around them that they just want to avoid it or end it all. This results in withdrawing from the world, becoming apathetic to the things happening around you, and may even lead to a desire to die. In Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian is very affected when he is captured by the Giant Despair and he considers taking his own life. Hopeful, however, encourages him not to commit murder of any human, even himself. According to Hopeful, succumbing to despair and taking one’s own life is not just a physical death but also a spiritual one. This second error is equivalent to giving up on one’s journey entirely.
In our class discussion, we touched on the ramifications these views can have on current politics. Christians who commit the first error may be so enamored with the current world that they are completely focused on fixing it. They believe that if Christians were in charge, everything could be sorted out and the problems largely solved. They are not naïve; they know, of course, this would take time. However, they become so focused on the present life and its issues that they forget to be focused on God and the life to come. The point is not to spend one’s time making the earth a heaven, but to use the earth and creation in a godly way so as to complete one’s journey to the City of God. Christians who commit the second error, however, are so disillusioned that they do not participate at all in government or take a stand in current issues. This is not right either. Christians must be involved in the earthly world insofar as they can obey God, encourage others to obey God, and speak out against injustices. On their journey to the City of God, Christians cannot forget their fellow man; they should be trying to encourage others to join the journey.
I confess that, politically speaking, I commit the second error. I am so disillusioned by politics and corruption that I become discouraged when I think about the current situation. I do not see how I, or anyone else, can fix such a broken system. But I am not God, thankfully. Only He knows the true purpose for the situation. Augustine warns Christians against dismissing things immediately simply because they don’t seem useful. American politics don’t seem useful to me, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t. Though I want to see many injustices remedied, I don’t always know how to help. Though my goal should not be to make the current world a heaven, I should try to improve it for humankind and pray that it inspires them to seek God.
The place to draw the line can be difficult. How does one live the Christian life without committing either of the two errors? Though Augustine, like Aristotle, gives practical advice instead of merely theoretical conjectures, he does not trace out exactly how each Christian should live. In fact, he provides a few options so that each Christians may choose his own. Perhaps, because we are all pilgrims on the journey, each individual’s journey differs from everyone else’s. As a result, there is no one right answer; there are several, but the key is the godly execution of the strategy.
In Zorba the Greek, the author presents the reader with the character of Zorba – an older, Greek gentleman who loves living life the way he wants. As a character, Zorba is very easy to dislike. Perhaps less conservative or moral readers, or at least more open-minded ones, would find him easier to understand and/or respect. I, however, do not think this is so. He is a character with, thus far in the novel, very few redeeming qualities. His desire to live life according to his own rules leads him to live a life of sin and dishonor. He does not practice self-control or habituate himself toward virtue. Nor does he, in an Aristotelian fashion, behave the way befitting a truly good, virtuous friend. Furthermore, he is disrespectful towards women. He has a very low opinion of them, and this is evidenced several times throughout the book. He uses them as sex objects to fulfill his needs and desires but does not see them as real people. Zorba also makes unflattering generalizations and degrading remarks about women throughout the book. He also does not grow much as a character. Zorba is largely static; he does not learn from his mistakes and use his knowledge to improve himself. Instead, he continues on in the same destructive cycle, while learning nothing about actions and consequences or right and wrong. If Zorba could “see the light” and mature as a character, he would be more likeable. However, this is practically impossible for him because he is so set in his ways and unwilling to change his practices.
This morning, we woke up in Tolo and started our day fairly early! First, we headed off to Epidavros. It is famous for its large theater and the exceptional acoustics there. Mrs. Dr. Henry, Katherine, Emma, and I stood in the acoustic sweet-spot and sang “That Good Ole Baylor Line” complete with a sic em. We really are flinging our green and gold afar! 🙂 There was an ancient Asclepion on the site also. This is a place where people in ancient Greece would come for healing after conventional methods were not successful. People would come, pay the fee, and sleep in or around the Asclepion. If they had a dream in which Asclepius or one of his sons or daughters appeared and instructed them in how to be healed, they would follow the instructions (no matter how crazy) and be healed. The ancient medical instruments looked simultaneously impressive for the time and terrifying. Asclepius was associated with the snake and the doctor’s staff, which is why the symbol for medicine today is often the serpent wrapped around the staff. There was also a temple to Artemis, a stadium, and a mystery building in Epidavros. The mystery building is shaped like the Jefferson Monument, but it was labyrinthian inside and contained a basement. No one is certain what it was used for, but most archeologists believe it was used for the practice of some element of mysticism.
After spending time in Epidavros, we drove to Mycenae – home of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra. It was a truly impressive sight! On the way, we saw the oldest bridge in Europe. It was very small, but I’m impressed it’s still standing. In Mycenae, there are several beehive tombs – underground tombs shaped like beehives on the inside. The best preserved one is considered to be Agamemnon’s and was used as a burial place for the royals. The castle is built on a hill inside a fortress. Due to the layout of the city, only certain buildings like the palace and some of the homes of city officials were actually inside the city walls. Everyone else lived outside the walls, but they could come into the fortress for safety during times of siege. In order to be successful during a siege, the Mycenaeans dug for a water source within the city walls. Our group went down the tunnel today until we reached the very end – despite the fact that it was dark and no one had flashlights. We used iPhones and camera flashes to navigate down the stairs. Apparently, there was an incredibly large spider on one side of the tunnel I didn’t see it the first time I walked by, but once I was made aware of it, I was sure to run past it on the way out. It was a somewhat hazardous venture, but also very cool. It was really amazing to be standing in the very location Aeschylus describes in “Agamemnon.” When you see the city walls (which were much larger when they were operational), you can imagine the watchman standing guard and seeing all the signal fires being lit in the surrounding mountains, similar to the scene in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Also, we walked past the remains of the palace. This is where Aeschylus tells us that Clytemnestra and Aegisthus murdered Agamemnon. The work really comes to life once you’ve been in the place where it all (supposedly) happened.
The rest of our day was a free day, so we had a late lunch and grabbed some ice cream. The double chocolate Magnum bars that were so good in Turkey are called double chocolate Magic bars over here. Still taste just as good! Then we went swimming and tried to get some homework done. For anyone who is wondering why I’m not posting pictures on facebook or replying to messages/comments, it’s because my computer will NOT connect to facebook – no matter what I do. I think it’s something to do with my computer or my server or something, so if I can’t get it sorted out here, I’ll do it when I get home. I hope I get it up and running though, because I have about a million pictures to post! After dinner, all six of us came to my room, pushed the beds together, and snuggled while watching Hercules! 🙂 It’s so appropriate to watch it now while we’re in Greece. We were trying to catch all the connections to mythology we’ve discussed on this trip and the places that we’ve been in Greece. Tomorrow we leave Tolo. I can’t believe I’ll be home in less than a week! Where did the time go?!?
According to Augustine, evil is not an entity of its own, rather it is an absence of the good.Throughout the centuries, Christians and non-Christians alike have attempted to solve the “problem of evil.” What is it? How did it come to be? Why does it exist at all? These are all very important questions. In fact, some people state that the reason they don’t believe in God or worship Him is because there is too much evil in the world. Either God doesn’t exist or He isn’t a very good God. Augustine, however, views the problem very differently and much more piously.
By Augustine’s logic, everyone and everything (the devil included) is “good by God’s creation, wicked by his own will.” This addresses the problem of the origin of evil in one way: God did NOT create evil. As a purely good Being, this would be impossible and heretical. Instead, God created humanity and angels with free will, which they could exercise for good or ill. God only created the potential for evil, insofar as He created free choice. Because Augustine defines evil as the absence of good, nothing can be completely evil in origin or existence. Pseudo-Dionysus makes similar arguments in some of his works. Because God exists and creates, existence in and of itself is good; therefore, even evil things have a measure of good in them or they would not even exist. Pseudo-Dionysus also conceptualizes evil as an absence, a negation. To be truly evil would be not to exist. Augustine sees evil as a perversion of the good, and this perversion results from a free choice. This choice also explains for Augustine why evil persists in the world. God does not make evil things happen, nor is He powerless to stop them. God is constrained by His own promise to allow men to have free will. As a result of free will, men sin and commit evil that affects the world. Augustine provides an example that I think backs up this claim. He states that a thing which is good may be loved rightly or wrongly. The way that one loves it does not change the good of the object, but it does change the outcome. Humans still have a responsibility to choose correctly and to practice self-control. When one is able to love in a good way, then this perpetuates good. However, when one loves sinfully, this perpetuates evil in the world because it is a perversion of the good and an absence of the good.
In Zorba the Greek, age is portrayed very negatively. Zorba is a man in his sixties who still tries to live like a young man. In fact, he writes to the narrator and tells him that he is not scared of dying, only growing old. Zorba is aware of his age and is terrified of it so he overcompensates. Instead of appreciating the wisdom that comes with age, Zorba does not learn from the past but repeatedly makes the same mistakes. His life is a continuous cycle of the same activities and beliefs; he never matures and moves past the familiar phases. Zorba views old age as disgraceful, not honorable. Dame Hortense is another older character who is treated harshly. She is portrayed as an older woman who still attempts to look and act young, though she is fooling no one. In fact, she is a bit of a joke to the townsfolk and even to the narrator and Zorba. The author appears to judge her harshly for trying to hold on to her long-past youthfulness. However, Zorba, thus far in the book, has received less criticism for the same attempts. Perhaps this reveals an interesting dichotomy between the genders. Society, in general, tends to view older women who try to stay youthful as desperate, pathetic, or comical. Men who try to stay youthful, however, are in some ways treated more gently; “midlife crises” are almost expected. In fact, men who date much younger women are more socially accepted than women who date much younger men. Even in modern society which is obsessed with eternal youthfulness, there are still some limits to which society attempts to hold people accountable. In my opinion, it’s strange that Zorba and Dame Hortense are so terrified of growing old when they live in a society more respectful of elders than current American society. They refuse to take advantage of the knowledge they have (or should have) gleaned throughout their lives and continue to live the appetitive life instead of the rational one. For Aristotle, happiness is an endeavor that takes an entire lifetime of hard work and habituation in order to achieve. For Zorba and Dame Hortense, they see happiness as fleeting and are stuck in an endless cycle trying to become and stay happy. They fail to realize that they must work for it throughout life, education is never-ending, and the virtues must be strenuously worked on every day.
We left Athens this morning and headed off across Greece for other adventures. We first stopped at Eleusis, which is the site of the Demeter mystery cult of ancient Greece. This cult was one of the oldest mystical cults within Greek mythology. It is concerned with the mysteries of life and death, specifically what happens after life. When Demeter’s daughter Persephone was abducted by Hades, Demeter mourned unceasingly and all the crops died. Basically, she went on strike until her daughter was returned to her. Unfortunately, Persephone ate a bit of a pomegranate while in the underworld, so she could only return to her mother for 3 (or 6) months out of each year. This is why we experience the seasons that we do. The cult was based around this myth, and it was a more individual, emotional experience of religion than the normal practice of Greek religion was.
After Eleusis, we traveled to Corinth. First we stopped in modern Corinth to look at the canal that was dug. Before the canal in ancient days, people were too scared to navigate the waters from one side of Greece all the way to the other because it was so treacherous. As a result, they would dock on one side of Corinth, pull the boat out of the water, unload it, remove the heaviest pieces, place it on tracks, and pull it to the other side of the isthmus where they would reload it and put it back into the water. You can imagine how difficult that would be! It was good business for Corinth, though, which became a successful, sinful city. The canal is very deep and very beautiful… so we decided to go bungee jumping off the bridge! It was such a fun experience! J They strap you up in the gear, walk you to the edge of the platform, and you jump off and plummet more than 70 meters before the cord rebounds you back up again. Nathan, Emily, and I were the only ones who did it, but it was so worth it! It was not nearly as painful for my back and neck as I expected, so thank God for that. I can’t even describe it. I was nervous right until I jumped, and then it was just pure adrenaline. Due to surrounding circumstances and jokes during the trip, I shouted, “The unexamined life is not worth living!” It’s a quote from Plato as Socrates, so I’m hoping for extra credit in class haha.
After the most exciting bit of the day, we went to ancient Corinth to see the ruins. Paul spent a year and a half in Corinth and was successful in converting a large number to Christianity. The largest basilica in Greece was built in Corinth as a result of Paul’s influence. There is a church there today called St. Paul’s with the love chapter of Corinthians on a monument outside. We also drove up to AcroCorinth, which is the ancient settlement of Corinth on a huge mountain. It has also been used throughout the ages as castles and battlements by different people and is practically impregnable. Not very much of it is left standing today, but it is a very impressive site. Now we are at the hotel in Tollo where we will be for the next two nights. It is beautiful here!
Augustine discusses the relationship between science and the Christian religion in Political Writings. For some Christians of the time, their education (especially involving nonreligious texts) was lacking. Augustine acknowledges this and its effect on the suspicion with which Christians considered the philosophers. There is reason to doubt – the Bible has warned believers not to be deceived by those who philosophize according to the elements of the world (Colossians 2:8). Being knowledgeable about the world and the things it contains is important; if one can educate one’s self in these matters, it should be done. However, earthly knowledge is not the be all, end all. In fact, Augustine would argue that spiritual knowledge for a Christian is far more important because believers are only traveling through the earthly world, but they are eternal citizens of the spiritual world. Therefore, the issues of the earthly world should not be ignored, but should be used to draw one closer to God and to better understand Him. Christians are also told in the Bible that God manifests the knowledge of himself through philosophers (Romans 1:19). As a result, Christians must be wise and attentive listeners and critical thinkers. Wisdom and falsehood can be gleaned from secular philosophers, so it is important that Christians learn to identify which is which. Secular knowledge should not be discarded automatically by believers because this knowledge succeeds in bringing one closer to God and seeing His power manifest on earth. In Augustine’s own words, God uses visible miracles “that He may thereby awaken the soul which is immersed in things visible to worship Himself, the Invisible.” The two need not be mutually exclusive: the understanding of one can amplify the understanding of the other.
However, knowledge is a powerful tool and must be used rightly. Many who seek knowledge do not use it as a means by which to seek God. Instead, they view earthly knowledge as the highest form of wisdom and earthly things as the ultimate end of knowledge. Augustine warns Christians about men and women who think this way. “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into the likeness of the image of corruptible man, and of birds, and of four-footed beasts, and creeping things” (Romans 1:23). Augustine applies this Scripture to the Greeks, Egyptians, and Romans, but especially to the Romans about whom he wrote The City of God. The Romans – wise philosophers, militarists, doctors, artists – in all their wisdom chose to worship lesser gods. Instead of worshipping a God who surpassed science and their own humanity, they chose to craft gods into things like themselves: corruptible, fallible, and changeable. The Egyptians went so far as to worship animals! Augustine believes this to be the low point in human knowledge. God is being ignored in the midst of His own creation and replaced by far inferior ideas.
Sadly, things have not changed much in society today. Many people still seek earthly knowledge while refusing to seek the superior spiritual knowledge. A large number of those who consider themselves wise set themselves up in the position of god. As a result of their knowledge, they do not worship the true God, but congratulate themselves on their wisdom. Even Christians must be wary not to commit this fallacy. In modern society, liberal arts educations are becoming far more common. While this is an extremely beneficial opportunity, Christians must be careful not to stop worshipping God in order to start worshipping a lesser creature. Christians today, especially Christian students, must be exceptional listeners and critical thinkers in order to absorb the knowledge they are given and properly apply it to their spiritual lives.
In Zorba the Greek, the narrator believes that he already has a somewhat sufficient amount of earthly knowledge. He is, after all, a scholar. What he wants now is an exciting life. His friend Zorba attempts to show him a good time and to introduce him to the ways of the world. For the narrator, however, certain problems are difficult to ignore. His spiritual knowledge (and perhaps dormant spirituality) prevents him from completely diving into the life Zorba encourages. Zorba lives as if there is no after-life, this world is all that matters. The narrator cannot quite come to terms with that reality. He appears to have a special affinity for Buddha and Buddhism, and he often studies or contemplates Buddha. The narrator is, so far, unable to completely put aside the possibility of a spiritual knowledge in order to live the way he pleases. Augustine would still, of course, say that worshipping Buddha is worshipping a lesser god than the true God, but I think he would appreciate the narrator’s attempts to continue holding onto something. The narrator is currently in the midst of his trial: he must take his knowledge and apply it rightly and in so doing worship God, or he must take his knowledge and apply it wrongly and in so doing create a lesser god.