You Mad!

Oct. 27th, 2010 05:13 pm
frarjohn: (Default)
Finishing up "The Praise of Folly," I have to say that I've read better satires (Swift's "A Modest Proposal" comes to my mind). Now, one or two of you might be saying "But Robert! don't you love everything from this time? How could you dislike something so illustrious from the period? It's Erasmus, for crying out loud!" Well, to you I say THIS: I have two major problems with the work, and I think both have a common ancestor.

First, there are times, mostly in the second half or so of the piece, where Erasmus (as Folly) will get so wrapped up in attacking something that he (Erasmus) disapproves of, that as I was reading it, I was wondering if he had forgotten why he was talking about it in the first place, and kept going just because he was so mad at the topic. I'm thinking primarily of the entire section from pg. 57 onwards, when Folly first begins speaking on theological matters.
Compare the tone of voice near the beginning: "One thing is for sure, without a dash of folly there'd be no fun in it at all. If there's nothing to raise a laugh, in the form of real or simulated foolishness, the revellers will send out to hire a 'comedian' or call for some ridiculous buffoon who by cracking a few jokes and tickling a few funnybones will lift the company out of their morose and dumpish silence."(p. 20)
to her diatribe against professed religious:
"What can be funnier than their habit of doing everything by the book, as if following mathematical rules that it would be a sin to break? ... The greater number of them insist so vehemently on their own ceremonies and petty traditions that they think a single heaven will hardly be adequate reward for such outstanding merit - never imagining that Christ, despising all these observances, will judge by his own standard, which is that of charity."(pp. 62-63)
Where in the beginning Folly is playful, laughingly pointing out our foibles, once she gets into the religious sphere she gets mean, and fast. Which makes sense, because Erasmus was a putative reformer, who did not like monks. As quoted in the Roper essay in the Norton edition, “Monachatus non est pietas” - Monkery is not piety.(p. 274)

Secondly – and this is an issue I have with another satirist, Voltaire – is the fact that Erasmus will sometimes just make stuff up, that I'm pretty sure don't correspond to reality. The first that struck me was the assertion Erasmus makes, speaking for Christ, that he “[spoke] openly and using no intricate parables”.(p. 63) Now correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't the parables one of the defining features of Jesus' ministry in the Gospels? And that even the disciples were confused as to the meaning of them at some points? There was another near the end, but it relies on how people in the Middle Ages interpreted the Mass, so I won't go into it here. But if you're interested, I can find you the article on JSTOR!

What connects these I think is Erasmus' ardor. On these religious topics he's so invested that the referential and playful style of the first half seems to go out the window, replaced with Erasmus wagging his finger at the people he didn't like. And it's that disconnect between the two that I found disappointing.
frarjohn: Berserk Eva 01 (01)
Running around the internet as I have, I've run across evidence for the actual existence of Hellenic/Roman neo-pagans. As in, worshipers of Zeus/Jupiter, and the rest of those Olympian assholes.

Hard to believe, I know, but here are a few links:
http://www.cs.utk.edu/~mclennan/OM/
http://www.hellenion.org/index.html

I'm sure if I wanted to actually spend time, I could find more, but you get the idea. Now, you read the "About" section of the Hellenion site, and you'll get some wonderful liberal platitudes such as respect for people without discrimination (forgetting the fact that the Greeks were inveterate discriminators), and a nice, simple moral code based off the aphorisms of Delphi.

Let's take a look at some REAL pagans.

In 363 AD, Julian the Apostate, last pagan Emperor of Rome, and devout devotee to the old rites, went on campaign against the Persians, where he was killed. Here's Theodoret (Ecclesiastical History, Bk. III, ch. 21) with what he did before getting there:

"Julian had left Edessa on his left because it was adorned with the grace of true religion, and while in his vain folly he was journeying through Carræ, he came to the temple honoured by the impious and after going through certain rites with his companions in defilement, he locked and sealed the doors, and stationed sentinels with orders to see that none came in till his return. When news came of his death, and the reign of iniquity was succeeded by one of piety, the shrine was opened, and within was found a proof of the late emperor’s manliness, wisdom, and piety. For there was seen a woman hung up on high by the hairs of her head, and with her hands outstretched. The villain had cut open her belly, and so I suppose learnt from her liver his victory over the Persians.

This was the abomination discovered at Carræ." (emphasis mine)

This was the ancient rite of extispicy, or the reading of the future in entrails. Usually done with animals, sometimes it was performed on women & children of various ages, as this sick episode proves.

I wonder how many "neo-pagans" would practice such magic?

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Robert

December 2010

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