Canon I: Literature; “Mnemosyne”, Memory Reguarded

Many years ago, beneath nine, lovely, star-snowed nights, Mnemosyne [ne-mos-ie-ne] enjoyed the favor of Zeus-shepherd, each night bearing forth from love a Muse, as Hesiod in Theogony relates.

Before the Muse History (Clio), before Love Poetry (Erato), before Song (Euterpe) and all the rest, there was Memory (Mnemosyne), god borne, corporeal, beautiful. We muse in Memory: from Memory, all that we are.

What, among all which we have thought, done, said, deserves remembering?  Why? 

Mnemosyne: Lamp of Memory (detail), circa 1876 to 1881; Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828 – 1882)

Perhaps you remember that in remembering yourself you found your way home. 

Theseus remembered his way home when deep in night, deeply turned in Labyrinth’s twisting caverns.  Remember: the dim treasure room, the dented gold cups thick in dust, the rusty old iron swords, the green-grown bronze javelin-tip; see here in shadow Labrys herself double-axed and spirit yet; and here, Goddess on Earth, Ariadne, flushed, disheveled, freshly loved by the hero Theseus.  Remember?  Ariadne, rose-nippled daughter of Minos king, overlord, keeper of Theseus, slave, god-born and foreign to this place.  You recall the story, our history…no need to go on, except to say that each jewel along-the-golden-thread was precious memory by which Theseus, butcher of the whore-begotten beast-man, Minotaurus, by a slow hand-to-hand touching along-the-thread found his way from dark to light, from light to home.

Theseus and Ariadne’s arrival on Delos…the Crane Dance beginning, circa 570 B.C.; Kleitias (painter), Ergotimos (potter)

Ah.  Right.  I nearly forgot The Dance of the Cranes, memory in footfall, the pattern of the labyrinth metered to many long crane legs knee-knotted, light wing lifting in hop-and-step  (tee-TUM-tee tee-TUM-tee tee-TUM-tee), danced on homeward journey by young king Theseus and fellow Athenian manumites around the altar of long-tipped horns, relic of whore-begotten Minotaurus.  Plutarch, in “Lives”, remembered the dance, the geranos, performed on the lava-black sand of hill-slung Delos each year for some one thousand years after king Theseus first in memory danced the Cranes (Plutarch’s day, circa 100 Anno Domini; Theseus’ day, circa 900 years Before Christ).  Alike the Cranes (the geranos), alike Theseus, we, paired in-line-of-dance move common in memory; in memory we each become the vessel that holds, that carries the arts generation-into-generation.

Yet, we do not always remember; sometimes we forget; forgetting, there is death.  Theseus forgot to lift the white sail above his swift, thirty-oared ship…when, from lookout on the high cliff of Sounion Head, Aegeus, king, father of Theseus saw a black sail billowing, and, thinking his son dead in the Labryrinth of Minos’ Crete, threw himself into the wind, down into the sea.  When Theseus forgot his father, his father died; yet, even in death we remember Aegeus for the sea into which he passed, becoming coral and a name: the Aegean Sea.

Sounion Head: where Aegeus threw himself into the sea.

< That, alike a dance, was history in poetry, the art of memory. 

Without poetry, history, dance, the arts, we are nothing but a something not worthy of remembering.

Ketef Hinnom Scroll, Israel, 7th Century B.C.; silver; the oldest surviving Biblical script; the inscription begins, “May Yahweh bless you and keep you”

Often, I have opportunity to remember pot-bellied professors, some whose heads are as-big-as their bellies; some grown fat-in-head by the diet of young, worshipful students; some grown airy-fat by the diet of blubbery ideas; others grown in fat honestly, bodied lazy by strict exercise of mind—those honest pot-bellies grow rarely, these days.  More common, the progressive pedagogues, the professional politicians who practice propaganda upon many a podium, school to college to university…yes, I see we nod our heads in rhythm…you too have known several of these common pedagogues, professors of Political Coercion: have you?  Yes, well, God love them, half-so-well as they love themselves.  And then, do you remember the many names of these many P-Ps (Professional Propagandists)…no…thought not…why…because these propagandists do not remember into us the virtues of beauty, goodness, truth; instead, the propogandists call-to-action, politically, liberated of memory.  Here, now, let us remember. 

The Bible remembers us, becomes us, as we become persons of The Bible.  Have you noticed…here, do this: place your open, flatted palm upon your nose tip, right there; notice, you cannot see your hand for your face; move your hand away that you might recognize your hand for what it is.  Just so, we shall notice The Bible for what it is when we move it away from the shelf, drawer, or pew, where by distance we might recognize The Bible for what was, what it is and shall be.

The Bible is a collection of stories, true or apocryphal, or both—who in truth can say—about our family, persons of our type through whom we learn the lessons of God, of life.  How best to say: The Bible is a miscellany, God begotten—if, in truth, the All is God-begotten—a collection of our odds and our ends…from our beginning in Genesis until our rapture in Revelation there is page-after-page of readers’ digest that you might find in any middling magazine: personal biography, telling parable, touching song, sweeping history, sincere sermon, and insistent letters, letters to the editor, to the reader, to anyone who will listen—we all want to be heard, to be understood: alike this epistle to you, The Bible is a telling of one mind to another, sympathetically.  This, The Bible: We of the West speaking of ourselves, one into another, sympathetically to each, to all who will listen.

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There is that, the thing itself; and there is this, the thing it has become: The Bible is the first Canon of our Literature, a collection of stories closely edited, minutely studied, widely shared, interpreted into and beyond reason.  In brief, in truth: We have become The Bible, and from The Bible, the acts which cause the objects which surround you.  Yes, the forms and character of Things are moved by the Unseen-Hand that Writes Life upon the Mind

Christ Enthroned…holding The Bible; The Book of Kells, containing the four Gospels of the New Testament and miscellaneous commentary; created in Britain or Ireland, circa 800 A.D.

From the God in the self, god-like the artist creates statues, pictures, buildings, ideas, dances by which the ephemeral mind of the artist comes into us, into each of us who read these words, each who live in our buildings, each who know themselves by our statues.  You see, perhaps you understand: we are living in The Bible; then too, we are living in the Iliad, the Odyssey, The Oresteia, the Aeneid, the Metamorphosis, the Divine Comedy, the Canterbury Tales, the Tragedy of Hamlet; in Praise of Folly, in Don Quixote, in Pride and Prejudice, In Memoriam we grow from the Aegean seed, from Homer, from me to you to yours we grow by plan, or, as Progressives insist, by accident in experiment.  Either way, point is: We are bilaterally symmetrical in mind; Hebrew and Greek, wedded through time, ringed in rhyme; now, intimately intertwined.  

The Western Canon (in truth, there is not an Eastern Canon; there is but one peculiar book of Islam; of the rest of the world’s peoples, there are but collected snatches by we of the West…not judging, just in truth saying) assumes The Bible, includes The Bible in our Literature.  Why? Well, it is a good, Good Book composed in our early days by that Eastern, Western people, the Hebrews. The New Testament is, for the most part, a Greek story, composed in Greek for Greek speakers of the Hellenized Roman Empire.  As just-now mentioned, as here for effect reiterating: The older stories of The Bible are Hebrew in character, in treatment; the newer stories of The Bible are Greek in tradition, in style, hos epi to polu, “for the most part”, and this is why The Bible is included in our Canon of Literature…well, that, and because the New Testament and most all Christian writing is Neo-Platonist, or Aristotelian.

A young man playing upon the kithera (detail), circa 490 B.C.; attributed to the Berlin Painter; The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Perhaps you remember “Paideia”, that Athenian practice of rearing, of preparing youth for concurrence in the polis.  If not, in brief: Paideia is the practice of instruction, of assumption into youth, single or in political-body, of intellectual, ethical, and physical refinement: this, in much the way that Phidias might create a statue by blocking it out, by refining forms, then polishing to perfection; by Paideia, a youth, a kalos kagathos, is brought into the chorus of Athenians, full of voice, strong in beauty and in harmony.  Paideia is yet the model of education, for the most part; the practice of creating citizens, ladies and gentleman who can, who might build a nation.  “Ladies and Gentelman”, sounds odd, doesn’t it, though only because in the West we educate less-and-less; we more-and-more propagate from the Progressive play-book, we propagandize to political-action in hope of scientific-perfection, more-and-more each day…and look what we have made.  If under 60, look at yourself.

Ha!  Change the world?  Gosh.  Look at what the spoiled children have changed, what in ignorance, in violence now they make.

A judge of the singing contest (verso of the young man singing), circa 490 B.C.; attributed to the Berlin Painter, The Metropolitain Museum of Art

The Kaloi Kagathoi sang together in the chorus of Aeschylean tragedy, Aristophanic comedy; together they moved in phalanx to conquer the world—as-far-as their feet could carry them; together they defined each craft, each technical science, each speculative proposition, each art of body and mind, all those subjects which have become the university curricula, all those practices which have become professions, et cetera, and all of that which defines, the “human”, the humane.  They, the first generations of Kaloi Kagathoi, created the Canon by choosing the best of the best in all things, and this by test in competition…here, think, “Olympic Games”, athletic contest (once including rhetoric, arts, etc.), think agon, “struggle” man-to-man, idea-to-idea.  Have you noticed: Progressives eliminate contest by censorship, by twitter-mobs, by rioting boobs, by Political Coercion.

We, the Classives, welcome competition, debate, contest, battle by the Marquis of Queensbury Rules…we created the Red Cross because we are Christian gentlemen and ladies as-much-as we are Hebrew and Greek.  Our Canon, The Western Canon, is a catholic miscellany of stories, of biography, of parable, of poems, songs, history, sermons and letters, each genre of the humane, Classive tradition.  Alike the creation of the Kalos Kagathos (the phrase meaning, “beautiful and good”), the slow and steady creation of our Western Canon has been a humane contest between and among the beautiful and the good in the art of ideas, in the practice of letters, in the making and in the keeping of books.  

By the Canon, we have become what has come into The Canon.  Just now, alike waves of ants summiting a sand hill for picnic droppings, Progressives attack the droppings from the Canon’s feast.  Progressives, by sex, race, class, envy and meanness intend to edit, to amend the Canon, not in beauty, not for truth, but by political action for political outcome.  The Progressives intend that all-we-all become some thing other than we are, a thing alike themselves, small, envious, equal.  We shall not.

Man Reading (altered), 1916; J. C. Leyendecker (1874 – 1951)

Many hungry readers, many peculiar critics, many ambitious writers have tinkered with The Canon, enumerating and explaining: I shall not, now.  My purpose here is to discover with you that thing, that bodied soul which we are.  The Canon, as-much-as any single influence—other than our nature by the God—has fashioned us, “humane”.  Yes, I have my favorite stories, poems, songs, letters, speculations; who does not.  I expect that my favorite authors are favored by you for similar causes, favored, because to you (in particular), to me (in particular), these authors are friendly, talkative…as much me to them, as they to you, as you to me.  That is how friends are, talkative, as you know well, as well you know by The Canon.

Next time, a consideration of our bodies, of statuary, of Polykleitos’ Kanon; after that, a brief consideration of Canon in structures.  

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