The dancing step, the telling gesture, memory in movement; we can imagine the joy, the ritual, the sacrifice to God in our days cave-safe, firelit some 40,000 years before this day, creatures as now we are yet without advantage, without these past millennia of humane tradition, the gift of thought, the accumulation of wisdom that sustains ourselves through foible, error, and sometimes, ill intent. There is wisdom in tradition more than anyone can know. Each word we speak contains the seeds of ideas which we upon the tips of the leaves can know neither backwards into the time before roots, nor from where we are in the air, leave-shivered, backwards to the seed, to the deep place of the invisible pattern which forms all. We know ourselves but in reflection, both the nature of the soul which we cannot see but in the character of our acts and the favors we are given, and of the body which leaves impressions in the flesh of earth and in our flesh, each person carrying through life all the good that came of parents, and parents before. The step, the telling gesture, memory in movement, the ritual sacrifice in art leaves an impression in the flesh of earth, lends tradition by which we understand who, what we are in pleasure.
Does the dancer survive the dance, the melodic pattern, the Harmony of the Spheres, the universal music identified by Pythagoras. Do we step but in the rhythm of the heart, the violent explosion of muscle in energy, the desire, the hunger for sex: are we creatures of the body or are we of the universe in harmony with the spheres, with all that is. The dancer will step, will tell meaning in gesture, will move in memory of the body, of tradition, and those who see remember in their bodies times before, and all who see feel joy in recollection, pleasure in shred experience. You might say, “The dancer is the dance.” but this is not so; a thing, act or being, is what it is; a dancer a dancer, a dance a dance, so yes, “The dancer survives the dance, but not the art.” the art survives the artist by impression in the flesh of earth. No, time is without substance, time is not a thing movie-like which might be played and replayed; if God, we might experience time always present, yet we are not God, nor even are we gods, nor are we creatures who survive ourselves, but in our children, and the memory of ourselves that we impress into the flesh of earth.
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In a cave, in what is today, Argentina, there is an impression of hands, of many different hands, female hands and male hands* that appear to dance upon the wall, each silhouetted as in a waltz, all moving in the line of dance: some 12,000 years ago, each hand was impressed upon the stone, balanced, ordered, silhouetted by warm, dark paint; we see the hands, we know them to be our own, we each feel in our body the touch of our hand on stone, and we recall those others alike us whose hands with us touch the stone, whose hands touch ours in the dance of hands upon the wall.
Looking close, you will notice the forethought: some hands by paint of red or black oxide merely silhouetted on the cream limestone; other hands later laid upon the warm paint, silhouetted in white; you will notice that most every hand is a left hand and we might assume that the-most-of-us silhouetted are right-handed (the hand that splattered the paint) and this a fact of our body which moves the hand to the center, points us in dance toward the right, mostly, with but some little variation which punctuates, which lends surprise and delight.
There are, in other caves, other paintings. In Chauvet Cave there are most eloquent paintings of creatures who share with us the earth, horses cattle mammoth, leopards lions bears, all by the hundreds; there are scenes, and portraits, and there is delight in the pleasure of drawing, delight by the impression of the eye on the flesh of the brain, the seeing of visual music, balance, harmony, delight in the universal pattern, aesthetically, as of all creatures we alone fully feel, know, and understand. O, the French, even then, aesthetes. Why! … Boucher, even Ingress would be in sympathy if not in compeer with this early master, and masters. You know, professors, pot-bellied or round-glasses-lean and their great mobs of students believe, but do not know, that these pictures are shamanic rituals, perhaps religious, ceremonial—and so they would, being not artists who joy in skill, that easy craft in hand, the beauty of mind—being as they are scientists, dry, progressives in the line of prepossession, links in the chain of footnotes, careful in the precedent of text, error and opinion.
Several other cave pictures you might profit by knowing: the elegant, sometimes Vouge-like, 12,000 year-old Bradshaw pictures of Western Australia; Egypt’s Cave of Beasts, peopled by some 5,000 creatures, pictured more than 7,000 years ago; Somaliland’s Lass Geel caves featuring 20,000 year-old pictures from which those who name themselves “modern” should take a lesson; and we could go on. These pictures which yet survive impressed into the flesh of earth, and others that we today shall never know, remember us when we remember them.
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Stone is hard, lightfast, able to survive water, wind, the slight-burning as pictures seldom do. Yet, all pictures, figured stones, et cetera that we created before and during the recent Ice Age have been, for the most part, washed away; what, with water levels some 8,000 years ago some 360 feet lower than now they are; what, with our inclination to settle near water; what, with the certainty that most of that which was us, our material condition, is forever gone, never to be recovered. In this, we can only pity the archeologist who never shall reconstruct by artifact the history of Man. Yet, of what we have, there is much to learn of what we in ourselves, are.
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There is a little Barbie Doll, small, round, voluptuous, a right proper little work-of-art, a statuette named, “Venus of Willendorf”. This Willendorf Venus is of limestone, tiny, some four-and-a-half inches tall, broadly carved (as a limestone statuette in that scale needs be), and she, yes, I call her, “she”, because she is not a “he” (all things of the universe are either male or female, by character, by spirit, by pattern, hōs epi to polu, “for the most part”); she is lugubrious, vegetable-like, swelling, growing into that ripeness which, when full, falls, lays, waits for time to do as it will. This Venus has many surviving sisters, most exhibiting this overripe, lugubrious aspect, though few old Venuses are so aesthetically appealing. Unlike her sisters, Willendorf does not sag, she swells, Greek-like, exhibiting in her nakedness, volume, that life energy which shows itself convex in character. Here, the Willendorf artist demonstrates understanding, studied or innate, of reality internal, obvious, yet in principal universal and invisible. Greek sculptors of the first Classical Age knew the geometries, the nature of organic life, the universal truths of which the human form is a part. The sculptor of the Willendorf Venus is most Greek-like in beauty, and is for this most honored, most loved of all those many ancient Venuses known to us.
Textbooks will tell you…no, not so much the textbooks, the sociologists, the anthropologists, the psychologists, the feminists, the art historists, that this palm-sized Willendorf Venus is a fetish, a woman not a goddess (the fetishists and literalists do not agree), a fertility symbol, a woman-made self-portrait (because men would never view women qua Willendorf; in contrary evidence, see Richard Weaver, “Standing Woman”); yes, scientist say a great many things they do not know, yet, with an excessive religious fervor, believe. What do we know of these ancient Venuses: that only a few survive, that each was likely inspired by local traditions, local precedents, that each was created for causes we might never know, except for the cause known to every human child when holding in hand a lump of clay, the desire to lend meaning to nothingness, god-like to form clay into a little Adam, a little Eve, a little unicorn as each by personal habit is inclined. We might expect that, some 30,000 years from now, if feminist sociologists are not obsolete (as likely they will be), the fem-socios will propose that Barbie Dolls were once a fetish universally employed in fertility rites.
Two other statuettes worthy of note, because each points a lesson, the “bison licking its flank”, and the Vogelherd “wild horse” (and other Vogelherd figurines). The herd of Vogelherd figurines, though small (three to four inches), are fully articulated, surface decorated, sophisticated in design by that fine art of elimination that reveals essential form. If we did not know better, we might assume these figurines to be purchased from a tourist-trap gift-shop, where, in Vogelherd, I am certain that accurate replicas can be found. Point is, the artist[s] who crafted these fine, bone statuettes understood the personality of form, the shape in character that means the thing, especially in the horsey, horse, a swelling, lively composition of the double curve convex and the double reverse curve, an elegance of weighty movement in static mammoth bone.
The bison licking its flank is sweet—notice the smile, the happy eye, the flippity horn, the smiling beard. Here, a friendliness to nature, to our fellow mortal creatures, a humanity that allows to others, happiness, playfulness, grace. Ask yourself, did Picasso and his tribe produce any object so lovely, abstract, humane…here, excepting, of course, John Flanagan (the stylistic glyptic, not the classive), a fellow rather more ancient than archaic, so, not of the anarchic, progressive tribe.
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I suspect, though cannot prove, that while some few of us gathered in caves, some many more of us gathered in villages, in towns, and, I suspect, in cities; after-all, as Aristotle rightly observed, man is by nature a social animal fitted to life in a city, in a home suitable to the creature he is. Parenthetically, “Man”, “he”, not the masculine pronoun…get over it. Right. Bees, swans, cattle too are social animals, gathering, in their kind, as each is inclined by nature. Man’s nature is cities. Yes, the city is created by the nature of man, beautiful, good, true, commodious to our bodies, et cetera. Of what are cities built: of what is at hand, trees, earth, stone. I, who am in some part, wood-raised, know what comes of wood homes, wooded…rot, seeded trees growing through a roof, collapse, a sinking back to earth, and this in but a generation, and a thousand times a generation, 20,000 years…the house became food for a tree’s root more than 19,000 years ago, never mind that each year the earth grows inches to feet, and that what would have been surfaced is now but a layer of mud and some few stacked stones; that, and all the sea-sided rest, washed by the ever changing oceans, away. So, what is left?
There are some few high cities, many if not most, citadels, raised upon hills above the plains, far from the reach of waves. Athens, of course, is one, continuously inhabited for some 6,000 years, yet we shall not dilate on Athens, nor even on Argos, that other great Greek city inhabited continually these 7,000 years. No, we shall look back past Greece, before Egypt; we might like to stop at Jericho, yet here there is little cause for pause except for mention of the song which tells truth:
Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho,
Joshua fought the battle of Jericho
and the walls came a-tumbling down.
Once upon a time, circa 8000 B.C., Jericho sported walls 12 feet high, six feet wide, and more than this, a 28 foot high stone tower, the world’s tallest structure (we assume), until the Pyramid of Djoser. Yes, the walls came a-tumbling down leaving us with but some few stacked stones upon which we might build any thesis, true, or no; so, in truth, for evidence, best to visit Göbekli Tepe.
Göbekli Tepe, in Turkish, “Potbelly Hill”, stretches some 1,000 feet upon a plateau that is itself 2,500 feet above the sea. The dating machines, the radio-carbon dates, are mostly consistent in estimates from 7370 B.C to 9130 B.C., and this over many layers, each layer giving up some fact, some curiosity, some beauty and much speculation—seems that every archaeologist is throwing a theory in the hat—you know, the typical stuff. Our concern is not speculation, the uses of things; our consideration is what we are, the fact of our being.
Perhaps you know that upon Jenkin’s Hill there grew up our national temples, the Library of Congress (addressing the humane solution of knowledge), The Supreme Court (addressing the humane solution of justice), The United States Capitol Building (addressing the humane solution of governance) all of which now reside on what we have named, Capitol Hill. Our Capitol Hill is alike the Palatine Hill, alike the Acropolis Hill where yet resides, we might assume, the Maiden in her, “Temple of the Maiden”, the Parthenon; always we elevate that which in us is divine, alike a statue on the pedestal. Yes, here I must pause to point the obvious: today’s statues, of Jefferson or Lincoln or Jerry, stand with us upon concrete or blacktop, eye-level where we might think them some neighborly thing made by thumbs, something doughy and pudgy and common, a pudginess which tells ourselves of ourselves, an increasingly soulless, honor-less, stupid citizenry. You know this to be true. The soul of man in honor is best formed high upon the pedestal, a place best suited to what is best in us.
Right. Well. Göbekli Tepe is a temple. Most every civilization begins in honor of the divine, as does most every hamlet, village, and town begin with its cross or steeple, or other form. Of other forms, the stupa, the minaret, the torii, the brutality, the imposing concrete, that progressive government imposition layered upon the quaint town or wedged uncomfortably into a city’s civic art. Yes, those among us who worship government receive a government temple; if good government, a classive temple, beautiful, commodious, kind; if aggressively progressive government, something ugly and mean; this is a truth so obvious that the fact is seldom mentioned, yet known in truth, ipso facto, by all.
Now, Göbekli Tepe is beautiful, though barren, and quiet, and without the polychromy that once it sported, without the rich draperies, the richer objects, the song, the ceremony, the friendliness common to city dwellers alike ourselves, human, intelligent, divine…yes, truly, despite Swift’s cleverness, horses are not by nature fitted to cities, nor are other farm animals so suited, à la Orwell…lions, tigers, or bears; we, the divinely intelligent, create cities suitable to the life of god in us, commodious to the necessity of flesh, to our many geometries, static and active.
You might notice that Göbekli Tepe has something in common with arid Arizona and other dry places; its carvings are dry in a clean sort of way; it is a place of shade, a place friendly to our fellow mortal creatures; it has 200 pictured pillars that rise to 20 feet, a height sufficient to lift the eye and mind; it participates in the geometries of our body, triangle and circle in hierarchies; it is a narrative that any might read, and read as the thing itself, without the layering of story known to the builders. Yes, I know, as do you: every ancient alien enthusiast pins his tail on this Tepe donkey, as does every feminist reconquista pin her tail next to the tails of archeologists and anthropologists and we all know that the many hairy tails obscure the thing itself. Let us look.
Notice that each temple, each home, is room scaled, about twice as wide as tall; that there is space for gathering, as would be common at most house parties; I like to think that the long halls would have been scene painted, as is found in many churches, temples, and well appointed homes; some floors were terrazzo, and I expect that pattern rugs would have been in use; the anthropomorphic carving, likely richly polychromed, would have been eye-level, television-level, altar-level, where the pictured scene is most serviceable; here, notice that each scene is to be confronted, predator-like…we are not deer with eyes head-sided in watch and fear, we observe straight-on in boldness; the sound of voice would have resonated full, low, et cetera; we would have felt the divine in us echoed in eye, in ear, in touch, in harmony with all the universe that is, a universe that knows itself through us. Remember, the citizens of Göbekli Tepe felt what we feel; we are no better than were they; we are the same people.
* * *
The dancer did not survive the dance; all that remains is that which we impress in earth, and the traditions that are impressed into the flesh of our minds. Some other time we might discuss the progressive corruptions of beauty, the silly whims of those who in foolishness think themselves fashionable, yet now is not the time to reprimand the lesser angels of our nature. The fashionable, progressively silly whims of frivolous academics are not loved by any except other silly progressives—and as we notice, silly progressives seldom love one another, tearing their fellows at each opportunity—and as we know, that which is not loved will die, all that is ugly will in time rot, and fade away, no matter that some label speaks in passing of permanence. This has been a long essay: how not, spanning some 40,000 years, sharing with you some few highlights of picturary, statuary, and civility in the way of man. Of man, I hope you are coming to see that we are flesh-eating monkeys who can know Greek and love God, that the universe knows itself by the mind of man, that we exist in the small through the large into the whole, that we and our Father are one…in my opinion.
Note*: Hold, if you will, your hand away, up before your eye; if female, likely you will notice your index finger longer than your ring finger; if male, likely the finger of the ring is longer than the finger which points the index; and then, in both males and females the index and ring fingers might be equal in length (curiously, statistically, the length of fingers tells much of proclivities and patterns in the single life, and in the universal harmonies): these, but “rules of thumb”; your fingers in length might punctuate the norm.
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Upcoming editions of Que Sumus will include
….Next. A consideration of, “Colloquies: A Review of Civilization in Little Songs”…translatio studii, translatio imperii
….Then. The Canon (September into November)
……..A. In general, thoughts on canon formation, the current canon battle, et cetera
……..B. Statuary and pictures…likely beginning with Polykleitos
……..C. Architecture…likely to begin in the wooden temple prototype
……..D. Literature…as always, with Homer, though some bit on language, generally
….And then. Occasional Poetry (November and December)
……..A. Occasions of our lives
……..B. The craft of verse
……..C. The art of poetry
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Touching upon the subject of pictuary, statuary, civility, The Classical Architecture and Monuments of Washington, D.C.
This from the book’s description: Classical design formed our nation’s capital. The soaring Washington Monument, the columns of the Lincoln Memorial and the spectacular dome of the Capitol Building speak to the founders’ comprehensive vision of our federal city. Learn about the L’Enfant and McMillan plans for Washington, D.C., and how those designs are reflected in two hundred years of monuments, museums and representative government. View the statues of our Founding Fathers with the eye of a sculptor and gain insight into the criticism and controversies of modern additions to Washington’s monumental structure. Author Michael Curtis guides this tour of the heart of the District of Columbia.