Welcome one and all to the sixty fourth volume of the Areopagus. No poetry and no announcements to lead us in this week; let the Areopagus commence cleanly and smoothly! Seven short lessons... and off we go.
I - Classical Music
Nine Tunes for Archbishop Parker's Psalter
Thomas Tallis (1567)
Performed by the Tallis Scholars Canterbury Cathedral by Childe Hassam (1889)
Thomas Tallis (1505-1585), the leading composer during the reign of the Tudors, was responsible for introducing the burgeoning music of Renaissance Europe to Britain. His influence is immense and therefore hard to quantify. Suffice to say that alongside his star pupil William Byrd, who would go on to exceed him in eminence, Tallis can be considered one of the definitive musicians of post-Reformation England.
Now, these nine short tunes you hear are all musical settings of verses from the Book of Psalms. But, you may have noticed, the words are in English! Throughout the Middle Ages the Bible was printed and read exclusively in Latin, the language of clergy and of scholars. There had been many reformers who thought it should be translated into the language of ordinary people (i.e. the vernacular languages, whether English, French, Dutch, or German etc.), but it wasn't until the invention of the printing press and the subsequent Protestant Reformation that such translations were officially allowed.
Against this rather exciting backdrop there emerged a trend of translating the Psalms into English and then versiyfing them — i.e. turning them into poetry — after which they would be set to music and sung in church. These collections were known as "metrical psalters" — psalter being the name for any standalone edition of the Book of Psalms, and metrical referring to their use of poetic metre. Tallis wrote these nine tunes for Matthew Parker, Archbishop of Canterbury, who translated the psalms himself and then commissioned a metrical psalter for them. The first eight of Tallis' tunes are for psalms 1, 68, 2, 95, 42, 5, 52, and 67 respectively. The final tune, however, is a musical setting of the Veni Creator Spiritus, a popular ninth century hymn.
Two notes by way of conclusion. First: the eagle-eared among you may have noticed something familiar about the third of Tallis' nine tunes. This is because it was the basis for Ralph Vaughan William's majestic Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, written in 1910. Second: at the beginning of his psalter Archbishop Parker wrote a rather charming preface entitled "To the Reader" with instructions for how to use the music and verses within. It begins with the startlingly honest admission that he may have made mistakes, and invites the reader to correct him:
And if ye spie as much ye may, Where strayed amisse I have: To mend where I went went out of way With art more sad and grave.
Followed by a moving invocation to tune our instruments and prepare our voices so that our hearts may sing in kind:
But princepall thing your lute to tune, that hart may sing in corde: Your voyce and string: so fine to prune, to love and serve the Lorde.
II - Historical Figure
There is very little I can tell you about the life of Titus Lucretius Caro — there is very little anybody can tell you about him. All we know for certain is that he lived in Rome during the 1st century BC, that he was devoted to the ideas of an Ancient Greek philosopher called Epicurus, and that his artistic patron was called Gaius Memmius.
Now, Lucretius was a committed Epicurean and he wanted to spread the word. So he wrote what must go down as one of the strangest epic poems of all time: De Rerum Natura, usually translated as On the Nature of Things. This is not a story of heroes and villains or of gods and wars; it is an extended analysis of our universe and how it works according to the philosophy of Epicurus.
Epicureanism has a bad reputation; the word epicurean in English is synonymous with hedonism. This is largely because of writers like Cicero, who preferred Stoicism and dismissed the philosophy of Epicurus as pleasure-seeking, self-indulgent, godless nonsense. That seems a little unfair, for as Lucretius explains, Epicureanism is about recognising the material nature of the world and reconciling ourselves to our animal nature; all we need to survive is basic sustenance and all we need to be happy is freedom from suffering. This state of psychological peace was called ataraxia, and Lucretius explains that luxury and carnal indulgence will not help us find it. They are physical pleasures, and therefore brief and fragile, whereas true mental pleasure is long-lasting and invulnerable; he describes it as a citadel.
Dante, in keeping with the standard Christian view of his time, condemned Epicureans to the sixth circle of hell in his Divine Comedy. Why? Because they believed the soul was interminably linked to the material body and therefore died with it. No resurrection and no afterlife.
It is evident the spirit has a day When it is born, and has an hour when it must pass away.
That flies in the face of just about every religion; you can see why Epicureans were treated with caution. But, Lucretius concludes, this means we shouldn't be afraid of death — there won't be any eternal suffering in the underworld. Lucretius says, rather:
Death is absolutely nothing we need fear, And he who is not cannot be wretched or forlorn. What can it matter to the man that he was even born Once Deathless Death despoils him and his mortal life is shorn?
Lucretius was convinced that the gods had nothing to do with the material world; here we find one of the earliest examples of serious atheism. He even dismisses religion as harmful superstition:
More often, on the contrary, it is Religion breeds Wickedness and that has given rise to wrongful deeds, As when the leaders of the Greeks, those peerless peers, defiled The Virgin’s altar with the blood of Agamemnon’s child, Iphigenia. …so potent was Religion in persuading to do wrong.
That being said, Lucretius understood why people started believing in the gods:
The mind staggers with doubt when we’re faced with the utter dearth Of answers to our questions: did this world once have a birth?
Moreover, whose mind does not cringe with superstitious fright, And whose flesh does not creep with awe, when the burnt earth shakes Struck by hair-raising bolts of lightning, and the vast sky quakes With rumbling thunder?
Then when the whole earth moves beneath our feet, and cities tumble To the ground, hit hard, or cities badly shaken, threaten to crumble, Is it surprising mortal men are suddenly made humble, And are ready to believe in the awesome might and wondrous force Of gods, the powers at the rudder of the universe?
For since men do not know What causes lie behind events, they are left to explain These as the dominion of the gods, submitting to their reign. Because they cannot see causes of things, then they opine That things are done by means of powers mighty and divine.
But, he says — and this is crucial to Epicureanism — we ought to study the world rationally:
This dread, these shadows of the mind, must thus be swept away Not by the rays of the sun nor by the brilliant beams of day, But by observing Nature and her laws.
Lucretius is aware that his philosophy is controversial, and that it will be shocking to most people. But, and this is among the most striking things about De Rerum Natura, he seems to take great pleasure in writing about it, and sincerely hopes to convince us of something beautiful and exciting. There is an unusual joy to his poetry:
My mind abuzz, I blaze New trails across their mountain haunts, among untrodden ways. I thrill to come upon untasted springs and slake my thirst. I joy to pluck strange flowers for a glorious wreath, the first Whose brow the Muses every crowned with blossoms from this spot. Why? Because I teach great truths, and set out to unknot The mind from the tight strictures of religion.
His basic argument is that nothing can come from nothing — when animals die they do not simply "disappear", otherwise the universe would run out of materials.
Nature does not render anything to naught, But she instead reduces everything that she has wrought Back to its elemental particles again.
And now we reach the most striking Epicurean belief: that everything in the universe is made up of particles called atoms. That's right — long before they were ever "discovered", these ancient philosophers realised that such a theory was the only logical explanation for the nature of the universe. Lucretius explains how everything is made up of these tiny, indivisible, unobservable atoms which take different forms and can join together to create different elements:
For certainly the elements of things do not collect And order their formations by their cunning intellect, Nor are their motions something they agree on or propose; But being myriad and many-mingled, plagued by blows And buffeted throughout the universe for all time past, By trying every motion and combination, they at last Fell into the present form in which the universe appears.
When one creature dies and another is born, when the mountains are eroded and the rivers dry up, this is part of a grand cycle in some fixed, logical cosmic order. And so, like Epicurus, he was a strict materialist who believed in cause-and-effect. He wasn't always correct about how natural phenomenaoccurred, but we can admire his efforts to find what we would call a scientific explanation for them rather than merely attributing lightning to the wrath of the gods:
First, the reason that the thunder shakes the azure sky Is that the scudding clouds crash into one another high Up in the aether when the winds are warring.
Lightning also flashes when the clouds, colliding, knock Out a number of seeds of fire, as when you strike a rock On flint, or flint on iron, for in that case too, light leaps out And sends the glittering sparks of fire scattering about.
He even speculates about aliens!
If the same Force and the same Nature abide everywhere To throw together atoms just as they’re united here, You must confess that there are other worlds with other races Of people and others kinds of animals in other places.
And seems to create a sort of proto-theory about evolution:
[Each thing] Is governed by the laws of Nature, since each species stays True to type, so true each different kind of bird displays Down through the generations the marks belonging to its name, Each also must contain material that stays the same.
All of this leads him to the radical conclusion — normal to us, but revolutionary then — that nothing in the universe can maintain its form forever. Just like a flaming torch, Lucretius says the sun and stars are burning up their fuel and must eventually fade:
We must conclude the sun, the moon, the stars above, therefore, Also keep welling up with shining, and shedding it anew, As flash after flash is lost forever. Thus you should not construe That heavenly bodies are immune from ruin and decay.
Lucretius had a wonderful eye for detail, and this is part of what makes On the Nature of Things such a compelling and enjoyable poem. He always uses examples from daily life — many of which are still familiar to us — to make his points about the existence of atoms:
Year after circling year, The ring upon a finger thins from inside out with wear. The steady drip of water causes stone to hollow and yield. ...the cobbles of the street We see are polished smooth now from throngs of passing feet.
The influence of Lucretius' peculiar poem was immense: there would have been neither a Virgil nor Horace without him. But, that being said, On the Nature of Things was very nearly lost to time. It was only when the great Renaissance manuscript-hunter Poggio Bracciolini rediscovered the sole surviving copy in a German monastery that it re-entered European culture. Some have argued that the materialist, highly scientific mindset for which De Rerum Natura proselytised was an important influence on the Scientific Revolution and Enlightenment. Perhaps. Suffice to say that the likes of Niccolò Machiavelli, Molière, Francis Bacon, Michel de Montaigne, Edmund Spenser, Ben Jonson, and Thomas Jefferson were all familiar with Lucretius' great work.
Was Lucretius right? Well, as far as modern science goes, his theories can be considered a fair estimate of what microscopes and telescopes have since discovered — and the mindset he defended a central tenet of the scientific method. Whether or not the Epicurean principles he drew from these theories and presented in De Rerum Natura are a viable mode of living is not for me to say. What I can say, however, is that Epicureanism has been unfairly maligned by centuries of derision. Stoicism might be the world's most popular ancient philosophy right now but, if you're curious, Epicureanism might also be worth exploring.
What I want to emphasise above all, however, is that Lucretius' delightful poem flows from his close and careful observation of the things happening around him. He reminds us, more than anything, to truly look at the world:
And there is nothing that exists so great or marvellous That over time mankind does not admire it less and less. Behold the pure blue of the heavens, and all that they possess, The roving stars, the moon, the sun’s light; brilliant and sublime – Imagine if these were shown to men now for the first time, Suddenly and with no warning. What could be declared More wondrous than these miracles no one before had dared Believe could even exist? Nothing. Nothing could be quite As remarkable as this, so wonderful would be the sight. Now, however, people hardly bother to life their eyes To the glittering heavens, they are so accustomed to the skies.
We end with an excerpt from Lord Tennyson's 1869 poem about Lucretius. It captures rather well, I think, how it must have felt for Lucretius to suddenly perceive that the universe truly was made of atoms:
Perchance We do but recollect the dreams that come Just ere the waking. Terrible: for it seem'd A void was made in Nature, all her bonds Crack'd; and I saw the flaring atom-streams And torrents of her myriad universe, Ruining along the illimitable inane, Fly on to clash together again, and make Another and another frame of things For ever.
All quotes are taken from A.E. Stalling's 2007 translation of De Rerum Natura
III - Painting
Gerardo Dottori (1926)
Where do you suppose this painting is held? You may be surprised to learn that it is in the Vatican City, only a few minutes' walk from the Sistine Chapel. We have a tendency to associate modern art (by which I mean everything from the Impressionists onwards) with anti-traditionalism. Were not Picasso and Dalí and their ilk all taboo-busting, morally outrageous, anti-establishment rebels? Perhaps, but plenty of these modern artists were also devout Christians, and the Catholic Church has been more willing than we might expect to embrace their modernist take on religious art.
Gerardo Dottori himself was a Futurist. Futurism was an Italian artistic movement of the early 20th century which sat somewhere between Cubism, Art Deco, and Expressionism. Its paintings are defined by a combination of sharply geometric shapes with sleek, chrome-like surfaces, all in vivid and unnatural colours, and by an atmosphere of quasi-mechanical movement and industrial vigour. Their inspiration came from the revolutionary technologies and the general pace and chaos of modern life. Perhaps you can sense a machine-like quality in Dottori's painting? Notice too that Christ seems to be illuminated by a spotlight. And Mary is rather reminiscent of the famous robot from Fritz Lang's 1927 film Metropolis.
So, what do we make of Dottori's Futurist Crucifixion? Is it appropriate? We have been conditioned by three centuries of Post-Renaissance art to believe that religious paintings must be in some sense both "realistic" and "idealised", and therefore beautiful. Consider these depictions of the Crucifixion by two superstar painters of the 17th century, Guido Reni (left) and Peter Paul Rubens (right).
Dottori's Futurism, though inspired by the thrilling possibilities of the modern world, actually harks back to the art of the Middle Ages. Consider this 11th century mosaic from the monastery of Hosios Loukas in Greece, a stellar example of Byzantine religious art:
Would you say this is realistic? You can certainly tell what is going on, but this a far cry from the graceful lines and masterful composition of Reni or Rubens — and much closer to Dottori's highly stylised, altogether stranger, far graver vision of the Crucifixion. John Ruskin argued that the problem with overly realistic and idealised paintings of religious figures is that people inevitably end up admiring the skill of the artist rather than thinking about the scene they are depicting. We will think of them as beautiful rather than truthful:
No picture of Leonardo’s or Raphael’s, no statue of Michael Angelo’s, has ever been worshipped, except by accident... they instantly divert the mind from their subject to their art, so that admiration takes the place of devotion... by far the greater number of the most celebrated statues and pictures are never regarded with any other feelings than those of admiration of human beauty, or reverence for human skill.
Whether Ruskin was right you may decide for yourselves. But it certainly seems to be the case that Futurism, despite its name, has more in common the art of the Middle Ages than that of the Renaissance. Perhaps Dottori's Crucifixion does belong in the Vatican after all.
IV - Architecture
Jilong Castle Country Club
Fantasy of a Fantasy
This may look like a European castle, but it's actually a hotel in Guizhou Province, China, and it's barely more than a decade old. You may have noticed that Jilong Castle Country Club (which is powered by its own hydroelectric power station on Wanfeng Lake!) bears more than a passing resemblance to the famous Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany. Well, that was its inspiration, and hence some people have called it "fake".
But the funny thing about any accusations of inauthenticity is that Neuschwanstein is itself "fake". For, as I have written before in the Areopagus, Neuschwanstein was built in the 19th century by the mad but brilliant King Ludwig II of Bavaria. He adored the Medievalist operas of Richard Wagner and, inspired by his thoroughly romantic depictions of knights and maidens, had the fantastical, Neo-Medieval Neuschwanstein built in his honour — installed with flushing toilets and telephone lines, of course. Though Jilong Castle isn't a precise copy of Neuschwanstein, some of the design features, its overall form, and the romanticised Medievalism behind it are much the same. No doubt Ludwig, with his taste for the dramatic, would have also found it to his liking.
But Jilong Castle is not unique. All over China there are similar recreations of European architecture. Some are direct copies of existing buildings and others simply take inspiration from them. There is a version of Venice in Dalian, a housing estate modelled on Paris in Hangzhou (with its own Eiffel Tower), and a British-inspired project in Shanghai called Thames Town.
Then there are Huawei's R&D offices: one huge model European town, drawing together an eclectic mix of the best styles from all around the continent:
Not all these projects have been successful — some of the housing estates are ghost towns — and it's also important to distinguish between different levels of "imitation". Stone and mortar are one thing; plastic and cardboard another. But Jilong Castle and these other projects are really about the broader question of whether it is wrong or inauthentic to copy famous buildings and imitate architecture from around the world.
Well, nobody is under the illusion that the version of Venice in China was actually built by Venetians during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. It isn't about pretending to be the real thing so much as getting the sense of a place you might never be able to actually visit. Because some things are real: the physical appearance of a building or city and how it makes a person feel. If somebody finds a street or building beautiful... is that inauthentic? Just because it's a "copy" doesn't mean it can't have aesthetic value in its own right. And, after all, this isn't unique to China. All Neoclassical Architecture is directly imitative of the architecture of Ancient Greece and Rome. And 19th century European architecture was all about imitating buildings and styles from the past: Neo-Gothic, Neo-Baroque, Neo-Romanesque, Neo-Byzantine, Neo-Moorish... the list goes on. I have written before about the Temple Works Flax Mill in Leeds, England, which was directly inspired by the Temple of Horus at Edfu in Egypt. Why does that deserve to be called "Historical Revivalism", while something like Jilong Castle is simply labelled as fake?
Critics during the 19th century called this sort of architecture inauthentic — and now people treasure it. As I wrote last week when discussing Vajdahunyad Castle in Budapest, it requires humility to acknowledge that something is beautiful and to simply recreate it for other people to enjoy. Ego can drive the desire to be original instead of accepting that somebody else has already made something good enough to be preserved and shared more widely. Take the Austrian village Hallstatt, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with thousands visiting every day and photos of it going viral all the time. People evidently love it, so why shouldn't the people of Huizhou have their own version? Is it inauthentic to give people architecture they want?
There are counter-arguments, of course, and I don't mean to say that any of this is a foregone conclusion; perhaps in the modern world we are too attached to the idea that we should simply have everything we want. But I think this is, at the very least, a point of view worth exploring. The value of any imitation will always depend on the context: some are cheap knockoffs and others can be kitsch or rather vulgar. But in principle, and when done properly, is there really anything wrong with "fake" buildings like Jilong Castle? It can be surprising to learn that over 80% of the world's population has never been on an aeroplane. Very easy for those with the means to travel to say that such architecture is "inauthentic", for they can go and see the real thing in Bavaria, Austria, or London. For everybody else, however, this sort of imitative architecture might be the only opportunity they will ever have to experience the urban design of Paris or Venice for themselves. If people can't travel, why shouldn't architecture do the travelling instead?
V - Rhetoric
Don't be afraid to catch fish
I have said before that everything in the Areopagus ought to be interesting, useful, and beautiful. So forgive me for casting off the latter two and focussing squarely on the first, but there is a wonderful word I simply must share. Have you ever listened to a song and then repeated its lyrics to somebody, only to be told that you are saying completely the wrong words? This peculiar phenomenon has a name: mondegreen. It was coined in a 1954 article for Harper's by Sylvia Wright:
When I was a child, my mother used to read aloud to me from Percy's Reliques, and one of my favorite poems began, as I remember:
Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
Oh, where hae ye been?
They hae slain the Earl o' Moray,
And Lady Mondegreen.
What "And Lady Mondegreen" should have been, from Thomas Percy's collection of poetry was: and laid him on the green. No doubt this phenomenon is familiar to all you. The question of why we hear mondegreens is rather fascinating, involving everything from confirmation bias (when there is ambiguity we are more likely to hear what we expect to hear) to cognitive overload, such they tend to be incredibly personal.
Wright goes on to argue, if not a little drolly, that mondegreens are inevitably better than whatever the actual words should have been. I am inclined to agree, if only because I recall mishearing the song Feels by Calvin Harris, Pharrell Williams, and Katy Perry when it used to play on the radio a few years ago. For weeks I heard the chorus line "don't be afraid to catch feels" as "don't be afraid to catch fish", which I thought was a stroke of surrealist genius. It was only when I told a friend about this that they corrected me — and left me bitterly disappointed!
The mondegreen is related to but different from a malapropism, which is where somebody mistakenly uses a word that sounds similar to the word they intended to use. When the former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott referred to the "suppository of all wisdom" he meant, of course, repository. This, too, is a phenomenon with which I am sure you are familiar. If you can recall hearing any mondegreens then do email them to me, and I shall gladly share them in next week's Areopagus.
VI - Writing
A Sword of Lightning
What is the most famous poem of the Romantic Era? Ozymandias, written by Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1818, surely takes that title:
I met a traveller from an antique land, Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand, Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown, And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, Tell that its sculptor well those passions read Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed; And on the pedestal, these words appear: My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains. Round the decay Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
This poem was inspired by the recent discovery in Egypt of a colossal statue of Pharaoh Ramesses II, who was called Ozymandias in Greek. But here's the thing: Shelley had never seen the statue. News of its discovery had broken and it was being shipped from Egypt to London as he wrote, but Shelley had gone into his Italian exile, never to return, by the time it arrived at the British Museum. This is interesting, at the very least, because the snarling face described by Shelley is rather different from the doughy, somewhat bemused expression of the real statue of Ramesses:
Do not think I am trying to find fault with Shelley. Rather, this is a wonderful example of the power of imagination and — dare I say it — poetic license. Shelley needed know no more than that the crumbling statue of an ancient and once-mighty king had been discovered beneath the sands of Egypt, and the vision of fallen grandeur, of the churn of the wheel of fortune, fired his pen to action. It may be the case that, had Shelley actually seen the statue, Ozymandias would not have been written as it was. Perhaps this is a problem with the Internet Age, then: that we have images ever at our fingertips and so our imaginations are left to languish.
But consider this, from Shelley's glorious Defence of Poetry, an essay in which he argues for poetry as a pillar of human civilisation, knowledge, love, and beauty. He distinguishes very clearly between reason and imagination:
According to one mode of regarding those two classes of mental action, which are called reason and imagination, the former may be considered as mind contemplating the relations borne by one thought to another, however produced, and the latter, as mind acting upon those thoughts so as to color them with its own light, and composing from them, as from elements, other thoughts, each containing within itself the principle of its own integrity.
Perhaps seeing the real statue would not have impeded Shelley's poem, for he clearly knew when to set reason aside. This, I think, is vitally important for any writer — especially in the world as it exists today. We mustn't be afraid, like Shelley, to let our imagination take control. And he goes on:
Poetry, in a general sense, may be defined to be “the expression of the imagination”
This being the case, Shelley explains the importance of imagination in improving the world, and therefore of poetry also:
The great secret of morals is love; or a going out of our nature, and an identification of ourselves with the beautiful which exists in thought, action, or person, not our own. A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasure of his species must become his own. The great instrument of moral good is the imagination; and poetry administers to the effect by acting upon the cause.
Poetry is not merely entertaining — it is the very force which draws humankind together! And so, should anybody ever tell you that you ought not write poetry, and that you should focus on something more serious or useful, Shelley shall be your friend in arguing otherwise. And here, to conclude, is one final, sublime line from his Defence:
Poetry is a sword of lightning, ever unsheathed, which consumes the scabbard that would contain it.
VII - The Seventh Plinth
Last week I asked you:
What is something you are proud of about your home country? It could be a person, building, work of art, place, moment in history, or anything else.
And your responses were so heartfelt, nuanced, and enlightening that I could not but share them as fully as possible. The Seventh Plinth is yours, my Dear Readers...
My home country is Nigeria, and I'm proud of, amongst many things, our work ethic. I know we get a lot of bad press, but amidst the bright spots, and in almost every country in the world where you have Nigerian professionals and / or entrepreneurs, our work ethic stands out. Grateful for, and proud of that.
I was born in a country that shares a rich and tumultuous history with Hungary, one that is still unfolding today, perhaps because it's still home to a large community of Hungarians. I'm talking about Romania.
What's something that I'm proud of from my country? That's not an easy question, but if I have the chance to share something dear to me from my birthplace, it would be Constantin Brâncuși, the sculptor. (Enough people have heard of Dracula, Steaua, Nadia Comăneci, or Gheorghe Hagi.) You could say I'm on a mission: to make people talk less about Dracula (please, for the love of God) and get them talking about - or at least acknowledging - the aforementioned incredible artist. He was schooled as an artist both in his home country and later, in Paris, where he worked in various workshops, as he distilled his unique approach to sculpture. There's much that can be said (and has been said) about his technique and philosophy, but his work speaks for itself. One must only take the time to sit with it.
I've had the chance to see in person one of his most famous works - "The Endless Column" - which can be found in Târgu Jiu, Romania. The sculpture is delicate and grandiose at the same time, like many of his creations. Its strength lies in its simplicity. It demands that you submit to its will, but it also invites you to mull over the nature of time and the unity of existence.
One of the truly 'missing' personages in European history is the almost completely unknown Péter Pàzmàny. Nothing is written about him in English, little in German, only some in Hungarian. Yet he is the equal, in terms of historical relevance for East Central Europe, of, for example, Richelieu. Perhaps more important than that for Hungary, for he was a refiner and promoter of the language. He had the misfortune of falling into that chasm of Hungarians who supported the Austrian crown, of being involved in the German-speaking lands, but being 'Austrian' (or, really, a Habsburg subject) of being a great linguist, but of Hungarian, of being a great religious figure, during a horrible religious war. *the* great missing biography of Early Modern Europe is his.
I am proud of "Sewards Folly.” U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward signed a treaty with Russia for the purchase of Alaska for $7 million in 1867. Despite the bargain price of roughly two cents an acre, the Alaskan purchase was ridiculed in Congress and in the press as “Seward’s Folly,” “Seward’s icebox,” and President Andrew Johnson's “polar bear garden.” The treaty enlarged the United States by 586,000 square miles, an area more than twice the size of Texas. That label has stuck, never mind that Seward was economically vindicated decades ago by the fish canneries, discovery of gold and oil, not to mention the throngs of tourists that visit the state each year.
I'm from Argentina, and I am proud of an argentinian musician called Andrés Chazarreta. I remembered him when I readed about Béla Bartók recently in the newsletter of Cultural Tutor.Andrés Chazarreta was born in 1876 in Santiago del Estero. Santiago del Estero is a province of my country where, in Andrés Chazarreta's time, the majority of the population speaks quíchua (an evolved version of the Peruvian quechua) and the majority of the population lived in the countryside and was poor. The people of Santiago del Estero had their own folcloric musical styles, like the Zamba, the Vidala, the Bailecito, the Huayra Muyoj, the Chacarera, etc. The most characteristic music of Santiago is the Chacarera.But at the end of XIX century and the beginning of the XX century, in Argentina, the Europeanized elites of Buenos Aires who ruled the country through electoral fraud despised the folk music of the People and only listened to European music. Because of that, there were no recordings of the folk music, and the folk music was not listened to in the theatres and was not played by the professional musicians.However, Andrés Chazarreta became interested in the popular music of his province and went to explore Santiago to learn about the songs and write them on sheet music. Then, he formed an orchestra and played these songs in theatres across the country. Generally, in the theaters of the upper class of Buenos Aires the ladies left horrified before the performance ended. Andrés Chazarreta also recorded those songs, and, although they were not well received by critics in the newspapers, it was very useful so that future argentine folclorists could be inspired, and so that this music was not lost.Some of the best songs that Andrés Chazarreta rescued for posterity are: Criollita Santiagueña (zamba), Chacarera del Violín (chacarera) and La 7 de Abril (zamba). I wanted to write this long response because I know that there are many readers of the Cultural Tutor in the world who are interested in culture, and I want to spread Argentine culture, which is very little known in the world.
I would have to say that (being English) Queen Elizabeths I and II are women I find most remarkable. In ages when men were monarchs and women were not, they were both extraordinary examples of understanding exactly and precisely how to maintain the dignity and majesty of their roles throughout long and challenging periods of history.
The first are the unique chalk streams of Southern England. They run clear and fresh from underground chalk aquifers and springs and flow across flinty gravel beds. It’s these that make the landscape so lovely and provide a perfect habitat for trout, heron, newts and other wildlife. I’m proud of all those who are working to preserve them.
The second is largely unknown to many. It’s the Sussex Pond Pudding. After a hard day of physical labour or a twenty mile walk, this utterly delicious pudding made from a light suet and filled with lemons encased in butter and sugar, is a comforting and sustaining joy. The filling makes an intensely aromatic sauce which spills onto the plate like a pond. The entire lemon is eaten as the skin is softened and caramelised.
Being the holder of UK and German passports, resident in Munich (twinned with Edinburgh, which fits with Bavaria thinking of itself, still, as different from the rest of Germany) and having grown up in England with an English father and a Welsh/Irish mother, I'm immediately in difficulty to identify what is my "home country". I'm not sure, any more, even if I once was.
I have no difficulty to identify my "home ground" though, and have no hesitation in voicing my pride in being a citizen of Europe, even as I contemplate with abhorrence the horrors which over the centuries Europeans have visited on other parts of the world. What's to be proud of then? I would say that Europeans today instinctively understand something that people in other parts of the world have more difficulty with, namely that there is more than one solution to every problem, that the "other lot" might even have a better solution than the one I favour, and that going to war with each other over differences of opinion is not the answer.
We are increasingly threatened by enemies of "the common good" that want to turn every issue into a damaging "Us versus Them" binary struggle, as a way to extinguish democracy. In the USA, to take just one example, civil war looms. Europe can provide an example to the rest of the world how to preserve representative democratic forms of government and the precious Rule of Law. If that isn't something to be proud of, I don't know what it.
For an Italian native there surely are countless things to be proud of about Italy (living side by side the numerous to be ashamed of), many of which are renowned and highly esteemed worldwide. I am therefore inclined to mention something perhaps less known outside the most devoted food enthusiast's circles: the wonders of Italian traditional regional cuisine.Regional delicacies are among the highest expressions of local culture, especially in a country with such a tumultuos and fragmented history.I dare say that a committed traveller could spend years roaming the Italian peninsula and still fall short of enjoying every scrumptious hidden treasure each of its diverse 20 regions has to offer. The numberless pastas, cured meats, fish, vegetables, wines, pastries, cakes and spirits, all form a culinary kaleidoscope, through which the essence of Italy's authentic culture can be peered at.You have most likely tasted some delicious local specialties during your recent trip to Verona, accompanied by some impressive local wine, so I am quite confident you are familiar with the experience.
The thing I am most proud of for my country (Aotearoa/New Zealand) is that women got the vote here so early: 1893. It was not without a lot of hard work, but it was done mostly by getting up petitions, including a final enormous one that dismissed forever claims that women weren't interested. We did not have to resort to any kind of violence as happened elsewhere. There was also a certain amount of luck too because the prime minister of the day seems to have hoped the bill would fail, but there was some confusion in the voting and it squeaked through anyway. I suspect history is all too often this way.It feeds into a certain egalitarian spirit I like to think we enjoy here. By 1893 the native men were already enfranchised so in 1893 Maori women also got to vote along with their paler sisters.Not that our race relations are unblemished and we still struggle with this. Nor are we quite the egalitarian paradise we might be. But we were also early with state provided housing and health care (1930s) which I feel follows from that egalitarian spirit.
As someone unwillingly separated from their home country at the tiny age of eleven, this question made me let out a big sigh. I have a very complicated relationship with Turkey- sometimes I feel ashamed of being Turkish, sometimes I am glad of it, sometimes I want to get rid of that label somehow and sometimes I feel I should be more connected to it.
Turkish people are, usually, extremely proud of being Turkish, of their history, of past achievements and such. It was Atatürk who said "Ne mutlu Türküm diyene!" (How happy is the one who says I am a Turk!), which is now the motto of the Turkish Republic, and a quote you will often see under his own pictures in hospitals, schools, and any other public building in the country. It is a symbol of national pride, yet as much as it does its job well, I don't think I ever understood the essence of it. I never cared for the glory of the Ottoman Empire, or of Atatürk himself, although I find the history impressive, interesting and worth studying, I never shared the pride of my fellow Turks. Perhaps this is because I am just not as connected to my nationality, or because I grew up in the West with different ideologies, I don't know.
Putting all that aside, there is one thing of Turkey that I feel very connected to, which is the music- especially music from the 60's to the early 2000's. Although I don't play any instruments nor sing, music has always been a very important part of my life, as I am a firm believer that it is a way of communication superior to speaking. Whether if it helps me understand myself, or others, or the world around me- or just makes me feel understood, I have always seen it as a blessing. Turkish music, in contrast to most other things relating to Turkey, has held an incredibly heavy place in my heart. Along with the poetry of my country, it is just so different, so much more honest, so much more open, so much more graceful and soft, yet so much more powerful.
My all time favourite Turkish musical act is a band called Ezginin Günlüğü ("Melody's Diary") which was formed in 1982 and has been active ever since. There is just something so familiar, so homely in their music. Be it their traditional instruments and singing style, or warm yet melancholic melodies, or lyrics which always highlight the beauty of my mother tongue so unbelievably well, I don't think there is anything else in the world that feels more "Turkish".
Although I have first discovered them long after I left Turkey, their music makes me feel extremely nostalgic. I find myself back in the modest streets of my beautiful Istanbul. I can hear the seagulls crying and the willow trees rustling, I can feel the sun shining and the wind breezing on my face. I can see the passers-by and the street cats, I can feel the harmony, the sincerity, the honesty, all blending with the feeling of coming home. It is just a daydream, but it is so real. It is just a normal day in Istanbul and I am just there.
It's been seven years since I left, and in truth I have never been able to go back. I am very thankful for Ezginin Günlüğü, because they make me feel at home when no other thing can. I am proud of how well they can portray the feeling of just being in Turkey in the most truthful way possible. More so, they (and some other Turkish musical acts) make me feel proud of being Turkish and speaking Turkish as I am so glad that I have this experience and these beautiful feelings.
My favourite song of theirs is called Martı ("Seagull") which I will link here. Of course a translation cannot do a text its full justice as it always takes some of the magic away, but I will still share with you the English translation of the lyrics, so you can hopefully get feel of what they are like:
"The night and the morning are same for me, oh darling, Because my eyes are always blind. Being a bird without wings is hard, oh darling, Or a river that doesn't reach the sea.
See me, see me, see, come be my eyes, see me, Wrap me, wrap me, wrap, be my sky. Fly me, fly me, fly, be a young bird, fly me, surpass me, surpass me, surpass, be my wing.
Let that sea sleep under my wings, Come, let's wander on the clouds' pavements. It'll be as if we never lived at the end, I'll go on my way and the sun on its own.
I tagged along behind, oh darling, It was a ship that I fell in love with. [There was] a white rose on its sail, oh darling, And words of longing on its steam."
My name is Begaya and I was born and raised in Kyrgyzstan, for the first 19 years of my life. The one cultural thing that I am proud of is Manas Epic - it is the longest orally transmitted epos. It is a very large text that was transferred from generation to generation - orally. I am unsure when the first official records began, but I know that there are different versions of it - due to nature of how it has been transmitted over the generations. Being a "Manaschi" was a huge career move back in the day: that is what kids would learn to do from a young age, and it would be something to the likes of a traveling musician/artist. As a kid growing up in Kyrgyzstan, I never even could understand the exact words - most manaschi have their own cadence, tune/tone, and timbre that they recite. If I can compare it to anything in modern culture - I'd say it's like a rap song that could go on for hours and you'd think its a freestyle, but apparently it aint.
Pride is a very loaded word for me. Perhaps, it’s due to my Christian upbringing giving me the idea that pride is a deadly sin. In any case, I’ve seen national pride be both a good, uniting force, but equally a bad, divisive force.
I strongly believe that every nation should have a deep respect and love for their countrymen and countrywomen who have built the pillars on which their society is built, as well as have a strong appreciation for buildings, works of art, and historical watershed moments.
I just take issue with the word ‘pride’ because I don’t think that one culture or nation is objectively better than another, even if context may make it seem a nation or its people are superior to others subjectively.
But as far as something I am “proud” of in America, the only thing I’m deeply grateful about is that the United States has the oldest living constitution in the world — although, San Marino’s constitution is technically older dating back to 1600, but not all of it is legally codified. For all of the shortcomings that representative democracy has experienced in the US, I’m not sure there is a more flexible and long-lasting form of government that exists in the world today.
Question of the Week
And for this week's question to test your critical thinking, inspired by a part of De Rerum Natura, we have a classic problem:
Does free will exist?
And that's all
Enough words for now. Perhaps we ought, like Lucretius, to go outside and look at the skies above as if we have never seen them before. For the world is filled with wonders — if only we choose to see them. Birds soaring, clouds scudding, rain falling. Lift up a penny, drop it, and watch it fall — gravity in action! The light of the sun, the sparkling of the stars, the glow of the moon — a whole universe unfolding before us! Wherever you are in the world I hope these final days of September bring with them abundant blessings and myriad delights. Adieu, and until Friday next.