Monday, June 20, 2011

Boethius Contemplates the Larger Issues

I have been back to reading a bit of The Consolation of Philosophy and I was interested by how much Boethius and his 'Philosphy' discuss Greeks and Romans. I should not be terribly surprised that Socrates and Plato get mention as many of the early church fathers loved reading classics while at the same time wondering if it was suitable to a Christian. Also, thanks to Augustine, much of Plato's thought made its way into Christian dogma and thus Plato ends up in Purgatory as one of Dante's righteous pagans.
I was struck by his statement in Consolation I.IV, lines 105-106, "'Si quidem deus,' inquit, 'est, unde mala? bona vero unde, si non est?'" "If God exists from where comes evil? But where does good come from, if he does not exist?"
Boethius was not himself asking the question, he was merely stating that it was no wonder one of Philosophy's disciples would ask the question. The footnotes to this line (by S.J. Tester from the Loeb edition) state that "the authorship of this dilemma is unknown. Editors have generally referred to Epicurus fr. 374 ex Lactantius De ira dei 13, 21; but that is a different problem (either God can prevent evil and will not, or will, but cannot), and this one is surely not Epicurean. Its origins can be found in Plato( cf. Republic, 379 and Schol. in Remp. 379a ......)It is probably from some Neo-Platonist commentator, possibly Ammonius."
If these philosophers are speaking of Zeus as God, I do not understand why they are surprised that he does not prevent evil. Too busy boinking princesses?
Lactantius was an early Christian and was tutor to Constantine's son. According to this site, he is partly responsible for the medieval 'flat earth' theory. The writer is correct, Pliny the Elder stated the world is a globe. The writer also states that Lactantius was declared a heretic posthumously. (Who wasn't at some point?) His book was written as an attack on Epicurian philosophy. The early Church is certainly more interesting than the later one. It was like the Wild West out there. Stabbings, burnings, poisonings. And then, there was the gruesome manner of Boethius' execution. Of course, Boethius was not above taking a poke at what he thought of as heresies, like Arianism, so he was courting death one might say.
I have not finished the book yet and Boethius did not answer the question why there is evil in this world in that chapter . We shall see if he figures anything out at all by the end but I think I know why there is evil in this world.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Who Invented the Middle Ages?

I thought that it was the Victorians who invented the Middle Ages. They invented much of the romance that surrounds our impressions of this period. I was wrong. It was the Italians in the 15th and 16th centuries.
A quick check of the Oxford English Dictionary reveals that the earliest mention of the term 'Middle Ages' or 'Middle Age' as it was in this text was in 1570's J. Foxe Actes & Monumentes (rev. ed.) I.III 204/1 "The primitive tyme of the church....the middle age, and ..these our latter dayes of the church"
William Camden, who wrote the great Britannia, used the term in 1605 writing, "I will onely giue you a taste of some midle age, which was so ouercast with darke clouds, or rather thicke fogges of ignorance."
H. Wotton wrote in 1624 "after the reuiuing and repolishing of good Literature, (which the combustions and tumults of the middle Age had vnciuillized)"
Edward Gibbon also used the term, "During the middle ages, (from the ninth to the twelfth century) whilst Christianity was advancing with a slow progress into the North." 1776
Henry Hallam considered the Middle Ages to run from the invasion of France by Clovis in 490 A.D. to the invasion of Naples by Charles VIII in 1494.
I consider it to start with the fall of Rome in 410 A.D. and end with the fall of Constantinople in 1453. It seems neater that way. Begins with the fall of the western half of the Roman empire and ends with the fall of the eastern half.
The OED goes on to say that the term comes from the Latin media aetas, medium aevum, medium tempus and was especially used in Basle. ( at the university I assume) 1469 in Rome was the first use of media tempestas but they didn't list who the author/ authors were. Perhaps it evolved from Petrach since the concept of the "Dark Ages" is credited to him as well. Historians in the Middle Ages went with the 'Six Ages of the World' of Augustine and considered themselves in the last age before the Apocalypse. People have been predicting the Rapture forever.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Il Faut Cultiver Notre Jardin

That line from Voltaire has been running through my head, partly because I am in my garden tending it and partly because I am tending it as I am avoiding anything that looks like school work and it is impossible to shut off my brain.
Candide said, " I also know that we must cultivate our garden."
Pangloss said, "You are right because, when man was sent from the garden of Eden, he was sent, ut operaretur eum, so that he would work; which proves that man is not born to rest."
Martin said, "Let us work without thinking, it is the only way to make life endurable." (if only I could)
Optimism. Voltaire was making fun of it but, (really) Cunegonde was very ugly but made excellent pastry and what is wrong with that? I must be an optimist too. If Candide had not undergone all those misfortunes, he would not have been sitting with Pangloss discussing philosophy and eating jam and pistachios.
I thought Voltaire was talking about Medieval optimism since A.T Hatto wrote that the people of the Middle Ages were essentially optimists and viewed the crucifixion as a triumph not a tragedy. Voltaire was writing Candide in response to Liebniz but maybe Liebniz's philosophy came out of the Middle Ages.
Writers come in and out of fashion. I have not seen Voltaire on a course list in a really long time. Does anybody read his books anymore? I am off to my garden again; as the last line of Candide is "Cela est bien dit, repondit Candide, mais il faut cultiver notre jardin."

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Royal Botanical Gardens

I have been busy this last week, weeding and mulching my garden so I thought I would add this post about the Medieval Garden at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington, Ontario which I visited last summer. At left is a photo. It is rather small and is not meant to represent how a medieval garden was laid out by ordinary people; it shows the types of plants that people grew and the purposes for some of them.

I have some of this growing in my garden. It is good for basilisk attacks too.

This photo is a close but not so close view of the bed. I love summer. It is far too short here. The Royal Botanical Gardens at Burlington are lovely. I recommend a visit. And they have tea houses throughout so you can sit, have tea or beer and enjoy the view.