Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Liverpool, how far to Glasgow?

Actually, for all practical purposes, Liverpool is about halfway between London and Glasgow. But the question occurred to me incidentally.
I had listened to something both flashier and noisier than I usually watch on TV. It was the White House performance honoring Paul McCartney, with lots of guest stars. I love the Beatles, and it makes me sad today that only two are left. It makes me feel really old that our First Family is too young to remember the Beatles when the latter were young.
Anyhow, not for the first time did I wonder why I like them so much. I first saw it clearly when the White Album was issued. The Beatles wrap up a whole complex of genuinely popular music, from music hall (or American vaudeville), to Salvation Army bands and protestant hymns, to the American pop of the 50s that they themselves liked, and more. And gradually it dawned on me, the distinctive thing: Liverpool is not London. Wasn't it closer to Scotland? Actually, no it isn't. But Liverpudlian is not Londinian, either. In fact the young Beatles re-awakened in me one of the greatest pleasures of my childhood: my grandfather's collection of Harry Lauder. When we were little he'd lead us dancing around the dining room table to Wee doch an doris or I love a lassie. Musically, there is no great difference between Keep right on to the end of the road and Hey, Jude. Of course, the few people (and I think that Americans of Scotch-Irish extraction may be fonder of him than either Scottish or English people are today) who know his songs probably only know I love a lassie and Roamin' in the gloamin'. There are dozens and dozens more. Not that the Beatles' songs, even Paul McCartney's, are really like Lauder, but the pleasure they arouse in someone with a Harry Lauder childhood is the same. And that genuine music hall link (so much merrier than With her head tucked underneath her arm, which tries too hard) goes far to explain why I never liked the Rolling Stones or almost any others as I did the Beatles.
So that is why, this evening, I sat through 90 minutes, 60 minutes of which was arrangements that I did not like at all, for the pleasure of hearing Paul himself sing Eleanor Rigby and Yesterday.
The reason it needs explaining is that I was already "over thirty" (as the hippie children said derisively) when their greatest songs came out, and they kept rewarding me with things like a French horn solo or For the benefit of Mr. Kite..., or—but I no longer have the albums handy.
Just a note in passing.
Today it's a quarter century since I followed popular music at all.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Athens 1999-2004 (continued)-Monasteraki etc.

From the mosque (Ceramics Museum) and the Library of Hadrian and all the rest, everything was carefully excavated. This was no time or place for just barging through. That is why a selection of finds is exhibited at all the major stations. It's not just P.R., it's very instructive. Building the Metro revealed the water distribution system of Athens, beginning in the Peisistratid period.

When you Google, or otherwise search for "monasteraki", you will find nothing like what you see here. Of course, much of what they photograph is at the foot of Pandrosos or Metropoleos or one of the other streets that come into Monasteraki, but increasingly the show takes over the Plateia. The last time I was there, in Summer 2000, the whole area was constructively torn up so as to complete the Metro station where the two new lines join the old line, formerly simply the Piraeus railway station. But Hadrian's library and some other antiquities were properly studied in the process.

I have emphasized the transalpine 19th century character of Athena Street. So we need to do a thumbnail-level history.
In the plan, from John Travlos's Poleodomiki Exelixis ton Athenon (Urban Development of Athens), 1960, his doctoral dissertation, we see the neighborhoods of Athens on the eve of the War of Independence. The familiar European city plan is nowhere in evidence. Pazari, in the center, is the Greek for bazaar.

When the familiar mosque (though it was the tiny monastic church of the Pantanassa that gave the plateia its name) was built in 1759, it was this small, traditional town of ethnic neighborhoods that it was built in. All of the Athens that looks quite old nowadays, especially after earthquake damage in 1999 (not to mention earlier ones, and unrest through a century and a half), replaced an unplanned town governed by property rights and pre-existing paths. The newest buildings were Turkish, a medresa, some mosques, some ruling-class houses.
The 1759 mosque, 'Kato Sintrivani', with the Piraeus railway station at far right and, just as today, the Acropolis in the background

By the time that it occurred to me to photograph the Monasteraki mosque, on a cold February afternoon in 1960, the plateia was well established, but the tourist trade was largely confined to the tributary narrow streets. There were even shops that made nothing but turned wooden eggs, having learned that ladies would buy and collect them, just as men would buy plastic "worry beads" (not ill named; a very good alternative to fingernail biting). One street, Pandrosos, had many fake painted vases and even a few genuine ones (which had to be registered and taken to an office over by the Byzantine Museum to obtain an exit permit). But one could also buy miniature tsarouchia, properly made, for one's infant nephews. Still, Monasteraki looked very much as it did in photos taken before one's own birth.
The von Klenze proposal of 1834, in which, for the first time we see Athena Street running due NS crossed by Hermes Street due EW.

It was with the Bavarian king, Otto, in 1833, that modern Athens, Athens as we know it was born. Already in von Klenze's 1834 proposed plan we see the streets that still today are our compass. And compass is well mentioned, since strict compasss points may be part of the explanation for the Kapnikarea church and the Panaghia Gorgoepêkoös (Little Metropolis) churches being in the middle of the streets. If we look at the Kaupert Atlas (1875) plan, we see pretty much all of walkable Athens surviving today. We even can find the Grande Bretagne Hotel if we know where to look.
By the 1875 edition of Kaupert's atlas, the published street plan is even clearer; the Etoile charaacter of Omonia is plain, and the Panathenaic stadium, though not yet fully restored for the first modern Olympic Games, as well as Stadium, Panepistemiou, and Academy Streets, tying the Syntagma zone to that of Omonia, are present.

Probably the opening of a MacDonalds on the west side of Monasteraki (I wasn't there when it opened) also contributed to its becoming a mecca for Youth, the Youth who do not hang out at Kolonaki, peppering their small talk with bits of French for all the world like the Chinese tennis-playing court in Das Land des Lächelns by Franz Lehar. Well, in Sakellaridhis Greece had already had her operettas, just as the USA and Argentina and Spain (and doubtless everyone else) had had. But the Youth that crowd Monasteraki today (or yesterday?) are cosmopolitan in a quite different sense.

The aforementioned MacDonald's is on the upper floor of a building opposite the mosque, a previously unremarkable commercial site. This photo and the next were taken from its windows. Shooting through glass is not ideal, but gaining height can be critical, and the excavation crane makes a good repoussoir.
As for the little monastic church, and its somewhat later bell tower, I could almost swear that I never saw it before the semi-permanent stalls alongside the Kato Sintrivani mosque were demolished to dig for the Metro. In any case, we can see it in some old prints and it is there today.
Finally, leaving the other views to the Picasa album made for this post, and the close views of the Kapnikarea Church to the album on Byzantine Greece, here, two blocks east of Monasteraki in a view characteristic both of an early afternoon on a Sunday and of central Athens only ten months after the 1999 earthquake, is my favorite photograph of Hermes Street, with the Kapnikarea right across it.

All of the above images can be zoomed by clicking on them

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Central Athens at a Critical Time: 1999-204

July, 2000. Athena Street, looking south towards Monasteraki.
These images have nothing to do with the playful recollection of Matisse in the last post, though it was taken from inside this hotel. You can see those windows on the exterior of the hotel's own website.
It may seem that I went to Athens to do everything but art and archaeology, but in fact I spent all day in relevant museums and libraries. I have chosen to write this blog about the rest.
In the summer of 2000, Athens had done wonders in cleaning up after the earthquake ten months before and had opened the larger part of the Metro that has been so effective in reducing bus and private auto traffic. The old plateia Monasteraki, where three metro lines would cross and share a station, was on schedule for the Olympic Games of 2004. It was nearly unrecognizable in 2000 to those who had known it a generation earlier, being deep and complex in an archaeological zone of great density. Greece did not just ignore remains of any period, from Neolithic through Turkokrateia. And of course everything had to be earthquake-proof; it was like running the Bay Area Rapid Transit train from San Francisco under the Bay to the East Bay counties. It was not the first time that I had stayed at the Hotel Cecil, one of those valuable secrets that the English shared with Americans who could appreciate it. When I would be in Athens for only a winter holiday season or a summer, the Cecil was perfect. I suspect that the feature advertised as a roof garden is still, as it was then, a place to hang laundry to dry high above any soil from traffic. Also, it afforded the best view of the Acropolis that I know.
These photos are to share what surely will have changed, with Athena Street being made pedestrian and its south end at Monasteraki repaired and restored. What will they have done, saying that it is to be a Green Zone? This is reportorial photography. I only wish I'd already been working digitally, so that I could shoot prodigally. As it is, I'll ask a friend or two in Greece, who do their shopping by choice in Athena Street, to post their photographs, if they have any. There's a whole streetful of herb shops, for example.
Saturday morning 8 July 2000, just around the corner from the entrance to the Hotel Cecil. The man is shopping for knives (machairia) or suchlike tools (ergaleia).
One thing you notice, at street level, at eye level everything looks different from those web sites. Also, however (and who hasn't seen this in hotels everywhere), the view out of rear windows is different. Not that Greek construction before rebar and concrete was bad, but the second floor of the building next to the Cecil, which I photographed from my room window, would not, I think, ever be reoccupied, though in 2000 the shop on the street was perfectly functional. The worst damage from the 1999 earthquake had been, as in Istambul, to residential structures built half a century later, with rebars (but also with poor concrete?).
From my upper floor window of the Cecil, the upper floor of the next building north, 10 months after the earthquake, is abandoned, though the ground floor still had shops. This is 19c or early 20c construction.
Though such rear-window pictures are informative as well as picturesque, my love of Athena Street is for its commercial system of small, specialized craftsmen and merchants selling products that all but the very richest Greeks in common use in their homes. If only, knowing what to look for, I had been a real working photographer and had given the work a higher priority.
A nice display of bulk manufactured plastic sprinklers, blacksmith forged mattock blades, small-mill turned handles, etc.
Imagine what the owner of a suburban Mall in the USA would say to a daily exhibit of rakes and mattocks and (from some plastics factory) sprinkers on the sidewalk in front of the shop. But everyone knows where to go to get such garden tools and the whole range of choices is set out for your inspection.
George Triantophyllos (that means Rose). On site manufacture is becoming very rare. I think it says that they've been there since 1947. Yes, I know, it's pronounced Triandófilos, but it's easier to read as in Greek.
A little more mysterious is the Triandaphyllou shop just around the corner. It sells knicknacks with beads, but not plastic koumbologia and not big blue glass eyes such as purely touristic shops sell. Behind the transom (or mezzanine) window are huge spools of colored cord that may have been there for a very long time. I have never succeeded in relating them to the things suspended at the door jambs. The copper bells are pure touristic wares. Perhaps, however, what they sell at the doorway is not closely related to some small manufacture carried out for wholesale to others. It doesn't matter: I like the spools of colored cord behind that mezzanine (I suppose, thinking of the shops in the Mercati Traiani in Rome) window.
Athens 2000. Newly restored Demotikê Agorá Athenôn, looking up Athena Street towards Monasteraki. After the earthquake, they fixed it, and also, seeing its architectural distinction, put it on the Registry. This is on a Sunday morning. The separately photographed Xeroi Karpoi store is on the corner, at the right.
A block up Athena Street towards Homonoia is the Public Market, restored after the 1999 earthquake and put on the registry of significant buildings. Unfortunately it is not at its best without being open and frequented. On the corner, however, is one of the best xeroi karpoi shops in Athens. I hope it is still there.
Athens 2000. Xeroi Karpoi store on corner by the Demotike Agora Athenon on Athena Street. Xeroi karpoi are all sorts of dry produce, grains and nuts and dried fruits. The shops are fragrant. Near sunset the lamps are lit. I'm awfully afraid that making the street 'green' might also make is pseudo-sanitary, which is bad for nuts and things, especially Aegina pistachios (phystikia--in Greek, peanuts are called arab pistachios).
And opposite the Public Market are the fish and seafood stalls as well as merchants with cages of chicks and bunnies and sometimes kittens and puppies, as well as bags of kibble to feed them. I promised an octopus embracing an ouzo bottle, and here it is.
I promised a picture of ouzo-loving chtapodhia, and here it is. The fish and other seafood, as well as living bunnies and gamecocks and easter chicks in season, are on the opposite side of the street from the Public Market. Demotic Greek does not like to say oktopodhes, so it does just what German would do: make it neuter gender. The third declension and the dative case were among the first casualties of modernizing in speech (well, and -mi verbs, certainly)

There are more market pictures in the Picasa album, all captioned, and I'll devote another post to the Plateia Monasterakiou, to Homonoia, to Hermes Street (for what little I have; I didn't anticipate that an earthquake would alter Hermes Street so radically).

Monday, July 19, 2010

Cross-referenced images

From a room in Athens, Hotel Cecil

The reason I have so few photos to go with this one is that I didn't have the sense to take it for its own sake. It owes every virtue that it may have to French post-impressionist paintings, mostly those of Matisse, my favorite, done on the Côte d'Azur. It was taken in black and white because that was the film in my camera at the time. I have other pictures of Athena Street, which I should gather into an album. The Central Market is there and (at least until a decade ago) dozens of small shops of every imaginable kind. I was looking for my picture of the fishmonger's humor in wrapping two arms of a big octopus around an ouzo bottle. I'll post that and some others in a separate post.
This photo would have looked even more French in color, with the shutters being green, the tiles dull red, the stucco buff tan, the plant light yellow green, the metal of course black to prevent rust. But I like it as it is.
Modern Sparta, at least early modern Sparta, also has lots of French influence, but I think the Hotel Cecil simply has Mediterranean tall windows with shallow balconies and shutters.
I do miss going to Athens almost every year. It is the only place I love more than California.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Brief Moments in Time

Brushy Bayou at Tallulah, Louisiana (1989)
Every time that I stop to think of History, human history, and that part of it that I most value, it is not the likelihood (even if it were knowable) of other intelligence in other solar systems that fascinates me so much as the peculiarity of certain human traditions commonly regarded as age-old. Certainly picture making and the likelihood of simple musical instruments in the last ice age seem very old indeed, say as much as 50,000 years ago, and I do not doubt that language came with them. The astonishing phenomenon of bonobos acquiring human languages far beyond the set of symbols deliberately taught them, simply by living with homo sapiens primates, and seeming to relate to the latter in terms of personality, whether one approves of the experiments or not, must show deeper and older likenesses among these apes and ourselves than we have typically considered.
Yet wonderful as these considerations are, and all the rest of natural sciences, they are not what makes me gasp, at least inwardly. It is not even what, manifestly, I share with most of my species today, that provokes awe. I am as easily touched as anybody by a National Geographic Special showing small forest people (i.e., Congolese pygmies—it was an old film that I'm recalling) welcoming a new infant into the family and making sure that the toddler that had been the Baby is made confident of his new rôle and his continued importance. Wisdom and tenderness. Former students of mine with advanced degrees, however, do know and care how to raise children with wisdom and tenderness. Generally, it is the warm-blooded thing to do. The simplest song and dance, with the simplest wind and percussion instruments, likewise is universal, shared with the latest popular music, music that resonates with what almost everyone feels, expresses loves and hates, whether generated on a computer or a harmonica. A picture representing growing children or leaping animals or corn as high as an elephant's eye strikes a chord, provided it is capable of evoking its original. All these manifestations demand skill, but no amount of skill alone will make them what a few of us live and die for.
What is not universally shared is a reverence and awe before, and unfailing joy in, art for art's sake and, concomitantly, the need and drive to use every skill one can muster to realize a vision. In other words, the artist and the dilettante share a peculiar gift, one that must be cultivated, even if it entails real sacrifice, but cannot be given, much less induced, or taught: the skills, the techniques, can be taught.
To pursue that line of thought wants more than a blog post, but what I have in mind is what distinguishes a great dancer or a great choreographer (cf. Frederick Wiseman's film, La Danse and the significance of a dancer's being musical, as Brigitte Lefèvre is recorded saying of one the the Paris Opera's best). Why own several sets of Beethoven quartets or three dozen of Schubert's Winterreise? Here I want to consider it only historically.
What I am considering historically as the subject of this post is not simply Classical art (visual, dramatic, literary, or any other). Nor is it the superiority of one kind or another of expression. It is an art, in whatever form, that responds to the closest attention and repeated scrutiny, that one comes to understand more fully only as one comes to understand oneself and one's civilization as both grow older. I mean, much of Shakespeare and of Greek drama can be appreciated in early adolescence, but ultimately, when all the tragedy and comedy have been grown into, when the meter and other formal traits have been understood, there remains the irreducible work itself. Sophocles' Electra can even be converted by Hoffmansthal and Richard Strauss, then performed in film shot in an abandoned industrial setting and, given the performance, take nothing away from Sophocles. Schubert's music for Rosamunde, on the other hand, is not diminished by the work that occasioned it. All of the settings of Goethe's Wanderers Nachtlied (certainly inspired by the great poem) also stand on their own, not quite destroyed by some voice that just sings them through. All of these are valued primarily as art for art's sake.
Not only have a few persons, when they could, preserved art that is not dependent on any message or creed but rather is valued in its own right, they have also written about it and in its own terms. On the whole, by creating fame and canons, they have fostered preservation, even when as critics they were unsubtle. Yet it is not fame that makes or breaks art for art's sake.
We have the impression, from reading History of Music books, that music as its own raison d'être began much later than literature and the visual arts. That is, though dancing music and tavern songs and church music can be wonderful, they serve entertainment and worship. But what about the lyrical? Weren't Greek lyrics written to be sung? Were they also valued for awesome performances? We don't really know. The criticism that is preserved is largely Hellenistic and later, by which time great singing and lyre playing contemporary with those lyric poets were long forgotten.
On the other hand, the counterpoint and harmony (which make the well tempered what it is),** that are fundamental to the music we treasure most, together with the forms that they enabled, such as sonata form, emerged in the 18th century. And it cannot have been that the works demanded new listening, or even new performing, really. Rather, perhaps, new demands were put on composition and performance and, even in dance, court balleti became ballets, remarkable more for the composition of choreography and for the dancers' ability rather to dance the music than to do gymnastics in time to it. One hesitates to revert to Marxist history of the arts! Increasingly, however, there were urban audiences and wealthy salons supporting, and sometimes appreciating, breathtakingly fine performers of small works of towering importance as well as increasingly profound and memorable operas and (when Lent demanded) oratorios just as great.
Once again, our own lifetimes with recorded performances and wonderfully illustrated books, are the frosting on the cake, so to speak. At the same time, though, more and more groups of our own western civilization dismiss exactly that demanding, rewarding art that is its own reward that I have taken for granted. The epithet 'elitist' sometimes expresses hatred. Even as, teaching the history of art, I was forced to realize eventually that not only photographs but paintings and sculptures, not only documentaries but films that surpass the documentary form only to be more truthful, not less, mean to most people only their "message", be it political, social, sentimental, or religious. In the 1950s we deplored a Soviet use of art that we thought meretricious; in the 1930s most of our parents deplored the destruction of modern art that Hitler's advisers thought entartete, degenerate. Both sneered at "formalism" (any -ism is indeed likely to be only a secondary exploitation).
If everything I care for belongs to only one brief moment in time, I am happy to have lived in it. But how brief it has been in a modern homo sapiens of some 50,000 years.
I have omitted China and Japan from this post, because I know their cultural history just well enough to realize what I don't know. China is rather awe-inspiring, however, as having almost no "middle ages".
The photograph at the head of this post, though only one of my own and on Tri-X 35mm film, is simply an image good for nothing but looking at.
** In borrowing the term 'well tempered' from Bach's Well Tempered Clavier, I only meant to emphasize what J. S. Bach had done that proved to be fundamental to the future of European music. Of course, the circle of fifths strictly considered and all the questions concerning absolute pitch or concert pitch in different times and places (not to mention in different scholarly circles) did not of itself predetermine anything in music when published in 1679. It was what composers did creatively with scientific work that mattered (and wouldn't we love to hear what Chinese musicians did with the 32 bells tuned to 1/4 intervals: the tuning is astonishing, but it is not to be confused with what it was wanted for).

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Lessons from one's library (continuing the last)

From William Wallace, s.v. Descartes, EB XI (ex IX)

The famous 1910 Eleventh Britannica may be used exhaustively by Wikipedia, but not nearly so exhaustively as the 9th was used by the 11th. And the articles taken over from the 9th are typically more exhaustive than any 20th-century ones. In the quarto edition of the 11th, Descartes covers pp. 71-90, and, considering that each page equals at least four pages of a large octavo, that's enough for a small Penguin. William Wallace was the Oxford Hegelian of the 19th century, and his article on Descartes is exemplary, if not sprightly.
"The mind is not for the sake of knowledge, but knowledge for the sake of the mind". It caught my fancy. Ever since addressing Virginia Woolf's lapse of memory in Night and Day, I have been worrying, as if it were my cat's toy mouse, the position of 17th-century ideas relative to those subsequent to the Industrial Revolution. How ought I to take what they write? After all, the Freshman Philosophy course, with Plato, Locke, and Mill was not much.
Now, the author of the Hydriotaphia blog, who really knows Sir Thomas Browne, has read a great deal that I only know how to spell. For example, I knew "Museum Kircherianum" without having read any of Athanasius Kircher. So, when his blog gave me a page on Kircher, the least I could do, as with Paracelsus, was to bone up on them with all the efficiency that once I devoted to pending written examinations. It is rather remarkable that at 76 I still can do that. Even when the Gulf of Mexico delivers nasty weather day after day, I have (literally) a house full of books. But I found that my random philosophy holdings, including a fair amount of Voltaire, for example, and some selections of Pascal, included nothing of Descartes. That is why, until I can drop by Barnes & Noble and get their re-print (for reading whole books of philosophy on screen, at least till I get me an iPad, is unpleasant, and printing out the .pdf just aggravates the storage problem), I was glad that I have my real 21-volume 11th edition Britannica. Usually, faute de mieux, I can find some of most things in Huntington Cairns' The Limits of Art (also reprinted by BN, and a most desirable browsable tome), but Descartes is not a philosopher treasured for his prose. Thomas Browne is in it, the Urne Buriall, which I didn't remember having there, because I have the nice 1958 CUP tricentenary edition instead. Browne is there as poetry. Argue about that, as you like, there is nothing in Descartes (in my limited snippets) like What Song the Syrens sang, or what name Achilles assumed when he hid himself among women... It leaps off the middle of the page.
My Hydriotaphia friend sent me a paragraph about Browne by E. J. Merten, too:

The eclecticism so characteristic of Browne... Browne does not cry from the house tops, as did Francis Bacon, the liberating power of experience in opposition to the sterilizing influence of reason. Nor does he guarantee as did Descartes the intuitive truth of reason as opposed to the falsity of the senses. Unlike either, he follows both sense experience and a priori, reason in his quest for truth. He uses what comes to him from tradition and from contemporary Science, often perhaps without too precise a formulation.
Above and beyond either Merten on Browne or Wallace on Descartes, I suddenly thought and put forth here for others to consider that whatever the gulf between Kircher and Descartes, indeed in philosophy between all the Platonics and all the Aristotelians, what we have essentially in Browne is his happy union of the empirical (simply stated, interest in all sorts of things, but considered seriously, not as items in curio cabinet) and the literary. Browne does not care to specify what the sirens' song was like, or to prove what mode it was composed in—so as to supply from Plato the symbolism of that mode, for instance. Instead, it is truly as a poet that he amasses hypothetical questions to make us realize what the discovery of these urns made him think: "to subsist in bones, to be but Pyramidally extant, is a fallacy in duration."
Browne's is the true duration.

This has been written right off the top of my head, and I may need to fix something here and there.
I don't think Browne is just one of those happy Anglicans, either.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

When Eckhel died: another entr'acte essay

I meant to get this posted in June. Now, seeing that I cannot simplify and clarify it very much without turning it into a classroom lecture (always inadequate) or a prospectus for a seminar, I shall post it with minor revisions, only providing a brief explanation for its genesis.

Not counting Facebook, I belong to a List for Classics topics,and a Discussion Group for Numismatics; these and one of the Blogs that I follow, Hydriotaphia, have entailed my dabbling again, in different ways, in some early modern authors (not the author of the Urne Buriall alone) and becoming aware once again of their intellectual world, that is to say the Authors that they all knew. Scanning all the Books in Print that the best read minds of the 16th through 18th centuries owned would be a relatively easy task for Google, but the authors held in common included some that only a few specialists read today. From Numismatics, I take one of the greatest of them, read today by numismatists, who also is one of the latest, since, in the course of the nineteenth century, the bases of scholarship (philological, natural scientific, and technical), gave shape to a new intellectual world. The public dissemination of it all by bulk publishing and transportation (even steamships and railroads) is only capped by the technology that makes blogs, inter alia, possible.

Joseph Eckhel (1737-1798) was so fine and trenchant a scholar that it is more than pardonable to read his opinions as if they were relatively recent (for they are not the last scholarly works, especially by Jesuits, to be published in Latin). Occasionally, however, we are drawn up short when other ancient languages and histories are concerned. When he cites Servius as an authority on Isis, for example, we are forced to remember that when Eckhel died in 1798, not only was the Rosetta stone only about to be discovered, in 1799, but it would be a generation before the Napoleonic expeditions were published or the hieroglyphic text deciphered satisfactorily by Champollion and company. Wallis/Wallace Budge, whose Book of the Dead you could buy in a Dover reprint, out of copyright, and now get by downloading, did not exist. Nimrud and Nineveh and Babylon, even, had yet to see the modern light of day. Even for Persian names, known in their Greek form, their written form in cuneiform was only beginning to be puzzled out. The secret rites of the Paris Illuminati, the Sophisians, based on a melange of Late Antique texts, which my former colleague Darius Spieth has done so much to clarify (see similarly had to rely on Greco-Roman texts for their supposedly Egyptian content. It is no wonder that their synthesis is oddly mystical. No wonder that it so strongly recalls the Masonic content of Schikaneder's libretto for Die Zauberflöte. It is very hard for us to keep in mind all the ramifications of a highly learned world whose knowledge of its own past was veritably a renascence, facilitated by advances in printing, of much that many in the Middle Ages had forgotten or neglected. Almost everything new, in natural science or in philology or in medicine, awaited new scientific tools. For example, from the Bible they knew that Abraham came from Ur of the Chaldees, but they had no idea of the ethnic anachronism and, of course, the Sumerians, and everything about them, such as the epic of Gilgamesh, were wholly unknown. The Bible did speak of Erech but not of Uruk. Though La Bruyère knew, I'm sure, that Theophrastos had lived in the 4th century BCE (he died in 287), and surely acknowledged that his Charactères of 1688, which made contemporaries who felt that they figured in it so angry, was simply a translation of Theophrastos's Characters (which no less a scholar than Jebb also rejoiced in translating), both he and his 17th century readers could take it personally, in so far as human social psychology has not fundamentally changed very much. No modern schools of psychology had been invented yet. Similarly, Aristotle, Hippokrates, Galen all could be taken as authorities. It was not yet ridiculous to suppose that you get gold by transmutation, though it must be admitted that the zeal to obtain the lovely and precious from the rough and common elements must always have had an element of fantasy to it: I think Theophrastos would have thought so. For that matter, if we can take Lucretius as speaking for them in this respect, probably also would Demokritos and Epikouros. We find it marvelous (or we ought to) when Lucretius thinks of the smallest things imaginable, atoms, as he gazes at motes floating in slanting rays of sunlight. Bits of dust may be gross compared with atoms, let alone sub-atomic particles, but we think grossly if we forget the almost non-existent technology at the disposal of ancient thinkers. Though we probably are right in thinking that simple lenses of natural quartz were known very early, anything like a real microscope, such as could see that Lucretian motes aren't atoms, dates only from the end of the 17th century. The early modern thinkers of the 17th and 18th centuries still thought seriously within the parameters of Greco-Roman thought; they asked many of the same questions and still asked them in similar terms.
The reason that I think these considerations important is that a recent documentary on television almost mocked Newton for his interest in alchemy. Until I reflected, I too found myself shocked that Sir Thomas Browne read Paracelsus seriously (after all, unlike Giambattista della Porta, who made a point of saying that his Natural Secrets was originally a compilation made at age 15, Sir Thomas was writing in his maturity). Mea culpa, I was misled by Victorian and early 20th century emphasis exclusively on the hermetic and alchemical writing of Paracelsus. But, like the young G. della Porta, Newton would have known Paracelsus as a balanced whole, and so did Sir Thomas Browne. It was only when Renaissance medicine had become as inadequate as Galen's that a tangential modern movement treated him as partially and irrelevantly as the middle ages had treated as much as they knew of Aristotle. Paracelsus himself, if you allow him to be just himself and not a "who was Shakespeare?" sort of case, like the others, was proud to compare his work to Theophrastus. La Bruyère would have understood. Worse than not reading Paracelsus as all, persons craving the weird today read only a distorted fraction of Paracelsus, whereas he might aptly be treated in perspective, with respect, in the history of medicine.
I only mean to emphasize that everything needs to be read in its context, in this instance that of the best educated men in the early modern era, before microbiology, neuroscience as we know it, Hubble telescopy, scientific archaeology, digital photography, and so much more, gave rise to a different class of "the best educated men". Always, of course, including the female homines, anthropoi, Menschen, though many fewer of them had equal library access. Otherwise, failing to keep this in mind, we shall seriously misunderstand.