Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Fisherman and the Syren

The Fisherman & the Syren, Frederic Leighton, 1858

The Fisherman

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The water rushed, the water rose
A fisherman by the sea
Observed his line in deep repose,
Cool to his heart was he.
And as he sits and listens well,
The billow breaks and parts,
And from the waters' churning swell
A dripping woman darts.

She sang to him, she spoke to him:
"Why lure my kind away
With human wit and cunningly
To the deadly blaze of day?
If you could know how blithe and free
The fishes thrive below,
You would descend, with us to be,
And prosperous to grow.

"Do not the sun and moon take on
Refreshment in the sea?
Do not their faces billow-drawn
Loom twice as splendidly?
This sky-like depth, it calls you not,
This dank transfigured blue?
Your mirrored form enthralls you not
To seek the endless dew?"

The water rushed, the water rose
And wet his naked feet;
His heart with yearning swells and grows,
As when two lovers meet.
She spoke to him, she sang to him,
His fate became quite plain:
Half drawn by her he glided in
And was not seen again.

1779, translation by Edwin Zeydel, 1955      
(thanks to James Egan)

Saturday, October 28, 2017

From Mystery to Myth, from Myth to Truth

The Fall & Expulsion of Adam & Eve
Sistine Chapel ceiling, Michelangelo 
"Unfortunately, myth today has come to have negative connotations which are the complete opposite of its meaning in a religious context. A myth is often spoken of as being the equivalent of superstition and illusion, a fabrication, even a form of propaganda. We refer to the Nazi myth of Aryan supremacy or the male chauvinist myth of masculine superiority or the medical myth of laetrile. Myths are falsehoods which need to be dispelled, and the dispeller is usually understood to be scientific and historic truth. If religion is associated with myth, it is the mission of the scientific and historical method to rid the world of its fantasies and fallacies.
"In a religious context, however, myths are storied vehicles of supreme truth, the most basic and important truths of all. By them people regulate and interpret their lives and find worth and purpose in their existence. Myths put one in touch with sacred realities, the fundamental sources of being, power, and truth. They are seen not only as being the opposite of error, but also as being clearly distinguishable from stories told for entertainment and from the workaday, domestic, practical language of a people. They provide answers to the mysteries of being and becoming, mysteries which, as mysteries, are hidden, yet mysteries that are revealed through story and ritual. Myths deal not only with truth but with ultimate truth."
~from M. Conrad Hyers, THE MEANING OF CREATION: Genesis and Modern Science

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Bacchae
"We think, lazily, that what we want in our myths is something transparent and simple. But what we want in our great myths is the opposite: things that we can't so easily swallow, and at the same time, can't spit out."
~Stephen Greenblatt, author of The Rise & Fall of Adam & Eve 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Moral Compass

St. Michael and the Dragon by Raphael
"It is the thesis of this book that the heroic narrative is not simply our way of telling ourselves comforting fairy tales about the ultimate triumph of Good over Evil, but an implanted moral compass that guides even the least religious among us."

~ Michael Walsh, Devil’s Pleasure Palace

Friday, October 6, 2017

Believe It or Not

Niels Bohr (1885-1962)
"A friend was visiting in the home of Nobel Prize winner Niels Bohr, the famous physicist.

As they were talking, the friend kept glancing at a horseshoe hanging over the door. Finally, unable to contain his curiosity any longer, he demanded:

“Niels, it can’t possibly be that you, a brilliant scientist, believe that foolish horseshoe superstition!”

'Of course not,' replied Bohr. 'But I understand it’s lucky whether you believe in it or not.'”
(via Lloyd Joseph)