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Great Chains of Being, also lettuce
SSar's Beast
I finished C. S. Lewis's The Discarded Image this weekend. I'd had it on my shelves for a couple of years - Robert Easting, my medieval literature professor, offered it to me when he was cleaning out his office for retirement - and marked it to actually read as a companion to Till We Have Faces.

The Discarded Image is 'based on a course of lectures given more than once at Oxford', and discusses the model of the universe held by a variety of medieval scholars and philosophers; Lewis's examples are centred on England in the 12th to 15th centuries. It is both polished and charming. I really enjoyed it.

The Middle Ages were the age, Lewis reminds us, of 'auctoritee'; of knowledge derived from books. Since I was never a Classics student, I was fascinated by his selections of various classic writings known in the middle ages and their influence on thought. And in particular, this blew my mind:
The daemons are 'between' us and the gods not only locally and materially but qualitatively as well. Like the impassible gods, they are immortal; like mortal men, they are passible (xiii). Some of them, before they became daemons, lived in terrestrial bodies; were in fact men. That is why Pompey saw semidei Manes, demigod-ghosts, in the airy region. But this is not true of all daemons. Some, such as Sleep and Love, were never human. From this class an individual daemon (or genius, the standard Latin translation of daemon) is allotted to each human being as his 'witness and guardian' through live (xvi). It would detain us too long here to trace the steps whereby a man's genius, from being an invisible, personal, and external attendant, became his true self, and then his cast of mind, and finally (among the Romantics) his literary or artistic gifts. To understand this process fully would be to grasp that great movement of internalization, and that consequent aggrandisement of man and dessication of the outer universe, in which the psychological history of the West has so largely consisted.

I have not read Plato, nor Apuleius's works drawing on Plato, which are what Lewis is discussing here; suddenly Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials universe becomes so much richer. (I read parts of Paradise Lost, but clearly they didn't make a strong enough impression.) I guess I thought the literary concept of demon was always closer to either a fallen angel, or a wicked fairy (and see below). I didn't realise what heritage Pullman was drawing on.

At the same time that this book is full of bright new things to me because of my classical ignorance, it's rewarding to me because I have read Chaucer, whom Lewis draws on often, and the quotations sprinkled through cause alternate thoughts of fond remembrance and thoughts of 'huh, I never thought of that...'

Other parts which I quote because they are charming:
These facts are in themselves curiosities of mediocre interest. They become valuable only in so far as they enable us to enter more fully into the consciousness of our ancestors by realising how such a universe must have affected those who believed in it. The recipe for such realisation is not the study of books. You must go out on a starry night and walk about for half an hour trying to see the sky in terms of the old cosmology...

"I can hardly hope that I shall persuade the reader to yet a third experimental walk by starlight. But perhaps..."

And illuminating to me:
A great deal of medieval geography is, none the less, merely romantic. Mandeville is an extreme example; but soberer authors are also concerned to fix the site of Paradise. The tradition which places it in the remote East seems to go back to a Jewish romance about Alexander, written before 500, and Latinised in the twelfth century as the Iter ad Paradisum. This may underlie the mappemounde, and Gower (vii, 570), and also Mandeville who puts it beyond Prester John's country, beyond Taprobane (Ceylon), beyond the Dark Country (xxxiii). A later view puts it in Abyssinia; as Richard Eden says 'in the East side of Afrike beneath the red sea dwelleth the great and mighty Emperour and Christian King Prester John...'

-The Emperor Over the Sea! Of course!

And dry:
In Thomas the Rymer the Fairy wears green silk and a velvet mantle, and her horse's mane jingles with fifty-nine silver bells. Bercilak's costly clothes and equipment are described with almost fulsome detail in Gawain (151-220). The Fairy in Sir Launfal has dressed her waiting women in 'Inde sandel', green velvet embroidered with gold, and coronets each containing more than sixty precious stones (232-9). Her pavilion is of Saracenic work, the knobs on the tent-poles are of crystal, and the whole is surmounted by a golden eagle so enriched with enamel and carbuncles that neither Alexander nor Arthur had anything so precious (266-76).

In all this one may suspect a certain vulgarity of imagination—as if to be a High Fairy were much the same as being a millionaire.

And again illuminating:
It is still so for Bernardus, who divides the air into two regions, locating the good daemons in the upper and more tranquil part, the bad in the lower and more turbulent. But as the Middle Ages went on the view gained ground that all daemons alike were bad; were in fact fallen angels or 'demons'. Alanus is taking this view when in Anticlaudian (iv, v) he speaks of the 'airish citizens' to whom the air is a prison; Chaucer remembered the passage. Aquinas clearly equates daemons with devils. The Pauline passage in Ephesians (ii. 2) about 'the prince of the powers of the air' probably had much to do with this, and also with the popular association between witchcraft and foul weather. Hence Milton's Satan in Paradise Regained calls the air 'our old conquest' (i, 46).

-The Queen of Air and Darkness! (Another lightbulb moment.)

Next on my reading list - after I've finished some exchange fics - are Thomas King's The Truth About Stories, and William Manchester's The Glory and the Dream. The latter is a 1,300-page narrative of a period of American history which I love for its - worldbuilding, I guess - little details, and fine prose, although I've not yet been able to read past the era of FDR before it's due back at the library. See: 1,300 pages.

ETA: and also Jan Potocki's The Manuscript Discovered in Saragossa, because I'm pretty sure anord gave me the loan of it over a year ago. Bad SSar.

I love the vege market. Here is what I bought for $21 at the market this week:

-about 3kg of potatoes
-6 medium-size tomatoes
-1 small but healthy celery
-a large bunch of a Chinese vegetable that looks a bit like gai lan but has frillier leaves, I don't know, it tastes nice
-5 large carrots
-3 small courgettes
-1 lettuce
-1 bunch parsley
-1 bunch coriander/cilantro
-1.5kg of Braeburn apples
-About 300g of mushrooms
-1kg of garlic
-5 onions (I think?)
-a slightly dented cauliflower

Also in culinary achievements: the daikon soup I made last week while I was sick (fingers crossed on the was) was far more delicious than it had any right to be, given that its ingredients included 'handfuls of spices from the ones spilled at the back of the drawer, because otherwise I have no lemongrass' and pineapple juice.

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Ooh, I have The Discarded Image and have read about half of it. Having neither a classics nor a medieval background, I found it kind of hard going in spots, just because what he described was so very alien, but then he'd talk about the spheres, which I had heard of, or mention something that tied back into something with which I was vaguely familiar, and that was rewarding.

I'd still like to finish it one of these days.

Heh! I had to make myself read it in short bursts. I'm trying to regain a lost reading-hard-things-is-FUN mentality, and I kept thinking things like "just get to page 100" when I'd stopped actually understanding what I was reading. I have also littered the book with cheap post-it-notes.

I recommend it, but I guess it'd probably be most fun to come back to if you had a goal or a thing to tie it in to, which Till We Have Faces was for me, here.

Oh, and that bit about the spheres! Describing Mercury, here was another favourite quote:
"It is difficult to see the unity in all these characteristics. 'Skilled eagerness' or 'bright alacrity' is the best I can do. But it is better just to take some real mercury in a saucer and play with it for a few minutes. That is what 'Mercurial' means." (p.108) ♥

I am a classicist who broke up with C.S. Lewis after someone tried to get me to read Mere Christianity and I threw it at the wall. Then picked it up and threw it again for good measure. But your quotes above have made me curious!

Well... I never tried Mere Christianity. Or The Great Divorce. Or several of his more pulpit-oriented writings.

But, although, in one or two parts, The Discarded Image did tend into rapt adoration of the Christian God, those segued nicely from the medieval adoration of the Christian God, and I personally didn't find that bothersome. I think it is generally accessible. (And charming!) If you are a classicist, I see only a multiplicity of ways this might appeal.

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