Please allow me to introduce to you, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, by James Frazer (1st ed. 1890; 2nd ed. 1913). (📙 The Golden Bough.)
William Blake’s The Ancient of Days
Christ Pantocrator mosaic @ Hagia Sophia
Mephisto in front of God and the three archangels, drawn by August von Kreling in Goethe’s Faust.
Michelangelo’s God @ the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican
You know, when we English Lit. students dream of being writers, we somehow think we’ve something to add to the canon, in some ways, we all have, but the more I dig, the more I scan Project Gutenberg (e t c .),* the more I realise that countless thousands who’ve lived (read, thought, written) and died before I was pushed out into this world, have probably (no ‘definitely’) thought what I think (far more deeply), have set out to articulate what I abstractedly and dreamily plan to one day articulate (& they’ve actually done so in concrete codex form). I feel I’m in the dead calm at the very centre of a tropical vortex –((( it’s wondered off course, North, for I reside in The Pearl; a multi-story complex built beside an artificial lagoon on a peninsula that juts out into the tepid seawater of the Arabian Gulf. Languid in largesse the panoramic view is beset by an unrelenting, near blinding, shimmer — the sun bleaches and becalms vigour. Maritime scenes are confused by midday mirages, mercury in colour — oil money stymies gainful endevour. )))– for I’ve scedules and to-do-lists, ambitions and passions, but I’m laying here listless. And while all is swirling tumultuously around me I’m strapped down by paralysis, I want to write, I want to let it bleed, I so dearly want “writing to be my therapy” as we’d say to each other it would be. We’d say such things in abstract ways mulling over a potential future parting of ways that neither you or I, back then, could seriously contemplate as a possible eventuality. // The whirlpool’s walls tower up indeterminately, they seem to be leaning in, this could be an optical illusion, but more likely it is nature’s way via the force of gravity; you sea, once I had it all; now I’ve nothing at all. \\ They’d say things like “he’s a man of letters” — I’ve read it said — and I’ll update that to be s/he, but yes, in the days before swiping right and switching swiftly between screens, writers on their typewriters (or with paper and gravity aloof pencils), would certainly have been better readers and thus better writers. I was born less than half a dozen years before the millennium, iPads were out before I was into my teenage years. I can’t compare the past to now from knowledge of both, but I’m confident that reading (in say the Victorian/Edwardian way/day) is increasingly a rarity today. On my bloody fucking university campus most key text books are only supplied to us as eBooks (I ain’t even lying . . . I will walk and I will talk).
The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion
The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion
The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion
Here’s an extract — the Preface to a follow-on work The Aftermath (1936) the language, I think, is sublime:
When I first put pen to paper to write The Golden Rough I had no conception of the magnitude of the voyage on which I was embarking ; I thought only to explain a single rule of an ancient Italian priesthood. But insensibly I was led on, step by step, into surveying, as from some specular height, some Pisgah of the mind, a great part of the human race ; I was beguiled, as by some subtle enchanter, into inditing what I cannot but regard as a dark, a tragic chronicle of human error and folly, of fruitless endeavour, wasted time, and blighted hopes. At the best the chronicle may serve as a warning, as a sort of Ariadne’s thread, to help the forlorn wayfarer to shun some of the snares and pitfalls into which his fellows have fallen before him in the labyrinth of life. Such as it is, with all its shortcomings, I now submit The Golden Bough in its completed form to the judgment of my contemporaries, and perhaps of posterity.
Here is another one:
The advance of knowledge is an infinite progression towards a goal that for ever recedes. We need not murmur at the endless pursuit:
Fatti non foste a viver come bruti
Ma per seguir virtute e conoscenza.**
Great things will come of that pursuit, though we may not enjoy them. Brighter stars will rise on some voyager of the future—some great Ulysses of the realms of thought—than shine on us. The dreams of magic may one day be the waking realities of science. But a dark shadow lies athwart the far end of this fair prospect. For however vast the increase of knowledge and of power which the future may have in store for man, he can scarcely hope to stay the sweep of those great forces which seem to be making silently but relentlessly for the destruction of all this starry universe in which our earth swims as a speck or mote. In the ages to come man may be able to predict, perhaps even to control, the wayward courses of the winds and clouds, but hardly will his puny hands have strength to speed afresh our slackening planet in its orbit or rekindle the dying fire of the sun. Yet the philosopher who trembles at the idea of such distant catastrophes may console himself by reflecting that these gloomy apprehensions, like the earth and the sun themselves, are only parts of that unsubstantial world which thought has conjured up out of the void, and that the phantoms which the subtle enchantress has evoked to-day she may ban to-morrow. They too, like so much that to common eyes seems solid, may melt into air, into thin air.
* Project Gutenberg is the world’s oldest digital library. It places books into the public domain — most are older works that are thus out of copyright. This altruistic endevour began with the efforts of American writer Michael S. Hart in 1971. See for example: 📙 The Golden Bough. A similar project is called The Internet Archive. It provides free access to researchers and the general public. It’s mission is none other than to provide universal access to all knowledge thus far accumulated by human kind. See for example: 📙 Aftermath, a Supplement to the Golden Bough
“Garden of Earthly Delights” is the contemporary title given to Hieronymus Bosch’s mesmerising work. It was painted in around 1499 and is currently on show at the Museo del Prado in Spain.
Before digging and delving a little deeper, lets enjoy each panel in turn (click each of the three below to greatly expand the image); together, the three parts of a triptych are intended to tell a story which is read from left to right:
As so little is known about Bosch, opinions and interpretations of his work have ranged from, “an admonition of worldly fleshy indulgence,” through, “a dire warning on the perils of life’s temptations,” to, “an evocation of ultimate sexual joy!” Look again at the myriad of things going on in the central panel; there is a surfeit of symbolism. Contemporary scholars are divided as to whether the triptych’s central panel is a moral warning (good 😇) or a panorama of paradise lost (bad 😈). But come on YOLO (( Jae: WOLO )) bad is good ain’t it. We say wicked to mean good and sick to mean wow. I, for one would rather wallow in the last days of Rome, than be a prudish restrained human, living not for today but the mythical afterlife.
“Hidden meanings in The Garden of Earthly Delights”
by Fiona Macdonald (9 August, 2016) BBC
“Facts You Need to Know About the Delightfully Weird ‘Garden of Earthly Delights’”
by Jessica Stewart (6 July 6, 2019) MyModernMet
“Decoding Bosch’s Wild, Whimsical “Garden of Earthly Delights”
by Alexxa Gotthardt (18 October, 2019) Artsy.net
Tri– Etymology: From Latin tri- (“three”) and Ancient Greek τρι- (tri-, “three”).
A triptych is a work of art that is divided into three sections, or three carved panels that are hinged together and can be folded shut or displayed open. It is therefore a type of polyptych, the term for all multi-panel works.
A group of three related novels, plays or films etc.
A vehicle similar to a bicycle, but having three wheels, two at the back and one at the front.
Triangulation  (in surveying) the tracing and measurement of a series or network of triangles in order to determine the distances and relative positions of points spread over an area, especially by measuring the length of one side of each triangle and deducing its angles and the length of the other two sides by observation from this baseline. — “The triangulation of Great Britain.”  The formation of or division into triangles.  (In American politics) the action or process of positioning oneself in such a way as to appeal to or appease both left-wing and right-wing standpoints.
Triplicate Adjective: Existing in three copies or examples. Noun: A thing which is part of a set of three copies or corresponding parts. Verb: To make three copies of something; to multiply by three.
A three-legged stand for supporting a camera or other apparatus.
The branch of mathematics dealing with the relations of the sides and angles of triangles and with the relevant functions of any angles.
Tripartite  Shared by three parties. — “a tripartite coalition government.”  Consisting of three parts — “a tripartite classification.”
Tricolour Adjective: Something that has three colours. Noun: A flag with three bands or blocks of different colours, especially the French national flag with equal upright bands of blue, white, and red.
With reference to the trio of trilogies introduced above:
* AESCHYLUS [1 of 3]
Aeschylus (524–456 BC) was an ancient Greek tragedian and is today described as the father of tragedy.
It’s all Greek to me
An English idiom — which may be construed as rude by some — meaning that something is difficult to understand. The metaphor makes reference to Greek as an archetypal foreign form of communication both written and spoken. The idiom is typically used with respect to something of a foreign nature. We may choose to use it to refer to texts containing too much jargon etc. The idiom/metaphor’s roots may well be a direct translation of a similar phrase in Latin: “Graecum est; non legitur” (“it is Greek, [therefore] it cannot be read”) a phrase increasingly used by monk scribes in the Middle Ages, as knowledge of the Greek alphabet and language was dwindling among those who were copying manuscripts in monastic libraries. Recorded usage of the metaphor in English traces back to the early modern period. It appears in 1599 in Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar.
[Informal • British]
Language that is impossible to understand. — “The instructions were written in double Dutch.”
Unintelligible or meaningless speech or writing. — “Our Doctor for English Literature often talks a load of gibberish.”
Language that is meaningless or is made unintelligible by excessive use of technical terms. — “His essay on Plato was pure gobbledygook.”
Language or ritual causing or intended to cause confusion or bewilderment. — “A maze of legal mumbo jumbo.”
** ALIGHIERI DANTE [2 of 3]
Dante Alighieri was born in 1265 in the Italian city of Florence. “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here,” is the famous phrase written above the gate of Hell in the 14th c. poem by Dante; the poem is called the “Divine Comedy” and Hell is known as “Dante’s Inferno.”
*** CHINUA ACHEBE [3 of 3]
Achebe is said to be the father of African literature in English. In spare and lucid prose, he writes of the universal tale of personal and moral struggle in a(n ever) changing world. In his most notable and accomplished work, Things Fall Apart, the individual tragedy of Okonkwo, ‘strong man’ and tribal elder in the Nigeria of the 1890s is intertwined with the transformation of traditional Igbo society under the impact of Christianity and colonialism. In No Longer at Ease, Okonkwo’s grandson, Obi, educated in England, returns to a civil-service job in colonial Lagos, only to clash with the ruling elite to which he now believes he belongs. Arrow of God is set in the 1920s and explores the conflict from the two points of view – often, but not always, opposing – of Ezuelu, an Igbo priest, and Captain Winterbottom, a British district officer.
… is it a hedonistic trait?
… is it a doctrine for the atheist?
Well, according to Wikipedia et al., as a concept, a theoretical construct, an analytical framework, humanism primarily concerns itself with humankind. Concerns include: human needs, human desires, and human experiences.
Jim Al-Khalili — a British academic who describes himself as a humanist — makes some great documentaries and, thanks to Spark, some of these are on the free side of paywalls 🙂 :
Philosophers today often mark the beginning of humanism with the writings of Dante (1265–1321), nonetheless, it was Petrarch and his musings that more accurately formed the foundations. Petrarch (1304–1374) was an Italian poet who applied the ideas and values of ancient Greece and Rome to questions about Christian doctrines and ethics which were all the rage during his own time. Petrarch was among the first to work to unearth long-forgotten ancient Greek and Roman manuscripts. Unlike Dante, he abandoned any concern with religious theology in favour of ancient Roman poetry and philosophy. He also focused upon Rome as the site of a classical civilization, not as the center of Christianity. Finally, Petrarch argued that our highest goals should not be the imitation of Christ, but rather the principles of virtue and truth as described by the ancients.
Dante Alighieri by Sandro Botticelli, 1495
Following in Petrarch’s footsteps — so to speak — was Erasmus (1466–1536), a.k.a. Erasmus of Rotterdam. Erasmus was a Dutch philosopher and humanist who is widely considered to have been one of the greatest scholars of the northern Renaissance. Amongst humanists he enjoyed the sobriquet “Prince of the Humanists.” Importantly, he prepared new Latin and Greek editions of the Bible’s New Testament, which raised questions that would be influential in relation to the later reformations that took place in Europe. He also wrote On Free Will and — something I like the sound of — In Praise of Folly.
Humanism can also be seen as a contemporary philosophical stance that emphasises the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers scientific evidence-based critical thinking in preference to blind, sheep-like acceptance of dogma and superstition.
Adam Miller’s paintings explore the intersection between mythology, ecology and humanism.
p.s. -ism is a suffix you’ll see in many English words which — as I’ve said before, like most good things — originates from Greece. In Ancient Greek there’s this suffix: ισμός; it came to us via the Latin suffix: -ismus, and the French one: -isme. In a nutshell, words ending with -ism will often mean: “taking side with someone or something.” -ism words are often used to describe philosophies, artistic and political movements and, behaviour (think: psychology).
— An economic and political system in which a country’s trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state. Characteristics central to capitalism include private property, capital accumulation, wage labor, voluntary exchange, a price system and competitive markets.
— A philosophical, social, political, and economic ideology and movement whose ultimate goal is the establishment of a communist society, which is a socioeconomic order structured upon the ideas of common ownership of the means of production and the absence of social classes, money, and the state.