For thousands of years—perhaps for as long as the human race has existed—men have loved to tell tales of heroism. But man’s beliefs change concerning good and evil, honor and shame, piety and impiety; and as his ideas about the universe and his place in it shift, so do the stories he tells. So in The Iliad, Homer tells of a world filled with “The mere endless up and down, the constant aimless alternations of glory and misery, which make up the terrible phenomenon called a Heroic Age.” (Lewis 29-30.) But Virgil, seeing the rise of Augustus and the order of the young Empire, can write a poem in which the world moves from disorder to order, and his hero is filled with more purpose than Achilles could ever have known. Beowulf, however, is in another Heroic Age. From its beginning, Heorot stands “awaiting / a barbarous burning.” (Beowulf lines 82-3), and on Beowulf’s death his lordless people expect slaughter and slavery. But though Beowulf’s time has less earthly security than Virgil’s, something has changed: Christianity has come. Beowulf can be freer than Achilles, freer even than Aeneas; for Beowulf is an essentially Christian hero, with his actions informed by many circumstances around him, but acting with total free will.Continue reading
Good Exists Because Evil Can
What shall I do? Why shall I do it? These are questions which human beings have been asking for thousands of years, and many have believed that some choices are right and others wrong. In the early twentieth century, however, the biologist Jacques Loeb argued against right and wrong as motivators for our actions:
If our existence is based on the play of blind forces and only a matter of chance; if we ourselves are only chemical mechanisms, how can there be an ethics for us? The answer is that our instincts are the root of our ethics and that the instincts are just as hereditary as is the form of our body. We eat, drink and reproduce not because mankind has reached an agreement that this is desirable, but because, machine-like, we are compelled to do so. The mother loves and cares for her children not because metaphysics had the idea that this was desirable, but because the instinct of taking care of the young is inherited. We struggle for justice and truth since we are instinctively compelled to see our fellow beings happy.Jacques Loeb, quoted on page 11 of Life Itself, by Boyce Rensberger
6 Reasons to Memorize Poetry
I love memorizing poetry, from Shakespeare to Luci Shaw, from Donne to Chesterton, and so I thought I’d share a post with some of reasons for I love poetry—and, of course, plenty of excerpts from what I’ve memorized!
In a time when we casually associate memorizing things with drudgery, I want to point out first of all that memorizing and reciting worthy poetry can be a joy. I know that memorizing is a tough skill to learn; I used to be very bad at it. It was years before I really appreciated Psalm 23, one of my early memorywork pieces. But my mom persevered and made me keep on working on memorizing, and now I’m memorizing on my own, choosing poetry and working on it. Memorizing and reciting poetry is probably my best consciously-developed habit, and mostly I do it for joy. I just love the words, love reading them and memorizing them and reciting them. It’s truly a wonderful thing to have some of the great heights of the English language kept always with you, almost made a part of you, like having mighty genii ready at your call. It is beautiful and joyful to memorize these words combined by skill and the gift of God into forms that can choke up your throat and make your heart go differently and your eyes feel odd when you recite them.
Death, be not proud, though some have called theeJohn Donne, “Holy Sonnet X”
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so…
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
Skiing and Freedom Only When Bound
Photo credit: Grandma Dianne
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,John Donne, Holy Sonnet XIV
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
Today at least, these lines of Donne’s are profoundly countercultural. Our idea of freedom is to be ourselves; and quite rightly. But our idea of being ourselves is to eat, drink, play, live, and love however we want, no matter what anyone else or any of their rules tell us to do. We are to follow our hearts, which, too often, turns out to mean whatever impulse we are under at the moment. We are, in short, free to enslave ourselves however we want. But while wrong freedom means bondage, the right bondage means freedom.Continue reading
An Uncommon Dozen: Commonplace Quotes from October-March 2018-19
Well, it’s been entirely too long since I posted commonplace quotes! And it appears that I have read entirely too many good books since then: I have collected one hundred and twenty-eight quotes since that post. So, let’s see what if I can pick a favorite dozen… which is like to be a hard task, considering that I picked those hundred and twenty-two as just so many gems of writing, the best things I encountered while reading. First, though, I’d like to share what my physical commonplace book looks like. October’s quotes, as it happens, are not copied into it—I am a hundred and forty-one quotes behind in it—but I’ve been having fun with writing in it, which makes catching up more enjoyable. Instead of page after page of none-too-elegant printing, it now looks more like this:
While the hand-lettering here is very imperfect, I enjoyed doing it. Maybe someday I’ll be good enough that I can write directly with a pen without making mistakes… but on to more recently captured quotes!
As we did last time, let’s start with a little common sense:
“This above all: to thine own self be true.” That’s William Shakespeare, right? Correct. And also, of course, radical relativism. But what I failed to recognize (even as I and my classmates were embracing this relativistic phrase as our personal motto) was that Shakespeare never said that. He wrote it, yes, but Polonius said it. And Polonius is a blithering idiot.Professor Joseph Pearce in a WCC commencement speech for the class of 2018
Concerning Jugurtha, King of Numidia
During the Second Punic War, there was an African king called Masinissa. This king aided the Romans, and when Scipio Africanus had subdued Carthage he allowed Masinissa to add a large part of Africa to his kingdom, Numidia. Masinissa grew old and died, and his son, Micipsa, became king. Micipsa had two sons, Hiempsal and Adherbal, and a nephew, Jugurtha. Though Jugurtha was older than the princes, he was reared with them. Growing into manhood, Sallust writes, he was endowed “with physical strength, a handsome person, but above all with a vigorous intellect.” Racing with his fellows, “although he surpassed them all in renown, he nevertheless won the love of all.” In hunting, “he distinguished himself greatly, but spoke little of his own exploits.” Seeing how much the people loved Jugurtha, the king grew to fear for his own sons. As Numidia now needed to aid Rome with wars in Spain, Micipsa decided to send Jugurtha as the leader of the Numidian force. In Spain, Jugurtha would probably “fall a victim either to a desire to display his valor or to the ruthless foe.”Continue reading
An Uncommon Dozen: Commonplace Quotes from August-September 2018
As a CM student, I keep a commonplace book—a practice which was once common to most well-educated people. This is a place where I can copy down and keep near me especially beautiful or important or thought-provoking or amusing quotes from what I read. While I’m backlogged on copying these into my physical commonplace book, I’ve encountered some lovely thoughts recently, and I thought I’d share some of them with you.
To start, some common sense from George MacDonald. The Princess and the Goblin is the second book I have read aloud. Hannah, Justin, and I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe together, then Irene and Curdie’s first adventures. We’re onto The Princess and Curdie now.
“That’s all nonsense,” said Curdie. “I don’t know what you mean.”George MacDonald, The Princess and the Goblin
“Then if you don’t know what I mean, what right have you to call it nonsense?” asked the princess, a little offended.