Sunday, October 12, 2014

I've decided to immerse myself in the 12th century

And what better day to start than Columbus Day, day of rejoicing in exploration, discovery, and Western triumph?

My idea was to do some research for a little project investigating why today's hijab for Muslim women looks so much like the habit of a nun of ages past (and some contemporary ones, still -- I especially like the "Pink Nuns," the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters), and so to start off I consulted my own bookshelves and found The Divine Order: Western Culture in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance by Henry Bamford Parkes (Knopf, 1969). Another public library withdrawal. In its introduction, I found this:
The twelfth century, which marked the apex of medieval creativity, was the century of the chansons de geste and of the poems of the troubadours. These displayed no understanding or appreciation of the Christian ethic, warfare being glorified, but in their emphasis on the necessity of self-control they had a profoundly civilizing effect. They were thus important influences in the movement forward from barbarism. But the twelfth century was also the age of Abelard, who began the process of rationalizing Christian dogma, and of St. Bernard, who gave it new life by transforming it into deeply felt personal experience....

This fusion of traditions was unique in history, and has given to Western civilization its unrivaled spiritual richness and complexity. ...No other civilization has been endowed with such a rich supply of memories ....
Well, you can't read that and then not immerse yourself in the twelfth century, right? I mean --- I say -- dash it all, as Bertie Wooster might put it. A little more brief research into the matter might bring you to a Wikipedia page in which you find the names not only of St. Bernard of Clairvaux and Peter Abelard (who suffered hideously for his romance with the beautiful Heloise) but also Hildegarde of Bingen -- I actually owned a reprint of her Scivias once, and gave it away thinking "I am never going to read this" -- and all kinds of other names, too. Eleanor of Aquitaine, St. Francis of Assisi, Frederick Barbarossa, Anna Comnena, Maimonides. To me, this is adventure: plunging into the rich supply of your culture's memories. You can keep your deep sea night dives off Hawaii's Big Island, although I am sure that experience is so strange and the sights so ethereal that it adds to the general richness, too.

I will let you know how I get on. Meanwhile, because I did not entirely neglect Hildegarde even then, here is something of hers to introduce us to the era of our immersion. Also, later you can have a glass of wine.
I am that supreme and fiery force that sends forth all living sparks. Death hath no part in me, yet I bestow death, wherefore I am girt about with wisdom as with wings. I am that living and fiery essence of the divine substance that glows in the beauty of the fields, and in the shining water, and in the burning sun and the moon and stars, and in the force of the invisible wind, the breath of all living things. I breathe in the green grass and in the flowers, and in the living waters .... All these live and do not die because I am in them .... I am the source of the thundered word by which all creatures were made, I permeate all things that they may not die. I am life. 

It may seem a tad anticlimactic, but after all wine is a part of life, too. Dona Paula Los Cardos malbec, very good. Retail, under $10.

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