The Mysteries

For over a millennium the Mysteries were celebrated at Eleusis, about 18 km northwest of Athens. The main buildings in the temple precinct were built in the 5th Century BCE, but earlier buildings were present in the 6th Century, and evidence of cult-activity at the site goes back to the Mycenaean period before 1100 BCE (Mylonas, 1961, Chapter II). The Mysteries continued through the Hellenistic and Roman ages until their demise in the 4th Century CE when Christianity became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire.

What happened during the Mysteries is unknown. Those who were initiated into the Mysteries were instructed not to reveal their secrets. All we know is that they provided their initiates with a vision of the divine and a way to cope with death.



The Mysteries at Eleusis were based upon Demeter and Persephone (also known as Kore, the maiden). The earliest recorded version of their story is in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter from the 7th Century BCE (Lawton, 1898, pp. 154-179). Persephone was the daughter of Demeter and Zeus. She was carried off by Hades to rule with him as Queen of the Underworld. While in the realm of the dead, Persephone sometimes assumed the name of Thea, and the Underworld later became known by the name of its king. Bernini’s 1622 sculpture of the Rape of Persephone is the most famous representation of the myth.





On the left is shown a 5th-Century BCE votive tablet found in Southern Italy. The King and Queen of the Underworld sit together: Persephone holds a hen and a spray of wheat stems, and Hades displays a libation dish and a fully leaved tree-branch. Despite the fact that they rule over the dead, they are concerned with life.

Back on Earth, Demeter was grief-stricken. She wandered far and wide in search of her daughter. Ultimately she arrived at Eleusis and accepted the hospitality of its king, Celeus, and his family.

Demeter was the God of fruitfulness, and in her grief the Earth had become infertile:

                                      The Earth did not send up any seed.
Demeter, she with the beautiful garlands in her hair, kept the seeds covered underground.
Many a curved plough was dragged along the fields by many an ox—all in vain.
Many a bright grain of wheat fell into the earth—all for naught.
(Homeric Hymn to Demeter, Nagy 1914 translation, ll 306-309)

Zeus decided that this barrenness should not persist. After much negotiation with Demeter and with Hades, he arranged that Persephone could return periodically to her mother:

Zeus assented that her daughter, every time the season came round,
would spend a third portion of the year in the realms of dark mist underneath,
and the other two thirds in the company of her mother and the other immortals. (ll 464-465)

Thus the land returned to cyclic fruitfulness. The thankful Demeter taught Triptolemus, Celeus’ son, all the secrets of agriculture. One interpretation of the Eleusinian relief at the National Archeological Museum in Athens shows Demeter (on the left) presenting wheat stems (no longer visible) to the young Triptolemus. Persephone lays her hand upon his head in blessing.

In celebration of the return of Persephone, Demeter also proposed that the Mysteries be conducted annually at Eleusis. These rites occurred each autumn just before the wheat was planted. The climate of Greece is such that nothing grows in the summer, ploughing and seeding occur in the fall, and the grain is harvested in spring (Cartwright, 2016).


After a large procession from Athens to Eleusis, a group of several hundred people were initiated each year into the Mysteries. Much more is known about the procession than the actual rites which occurred within the sanctuary, though these are far more important. The rites at Eleusis lasted for two days. What happened during this time is not known since the initiates (mystai or telestai) were sworn to secrecy. We can only speculate based on scattered references and representations from the time. The following narrative combines elements from Mylonas (1961, pp 224-285) Kerenyi (1967, pp 67-102), Clinton (1992, 1993) and Bremmer (2014). A reconstruction of the temple buildings is illustrated below:

The first day was spent in fasting and purification. Outside of the main gate was a well which provided water for cleansing the body. The illustration on the Roman Lovatelli Urn (from 1st Century BCE) shows an attendant holding a winnowing fan (lyknon) over the head of a veiled initiate. A winnowing fan is used to separate the chaff from the wheat. It therefore symbolizes both harvesting and purification. In this particular representation, the initiate is Heracles (as seen from the lion skin of the Nemean Lion on which he sits).

At the end of the day the initiates were given a special non-alcoholic drink called kykeon. This was likely made from grain, honey, and herbs. Wasson et al. (1978) have suggested that it may have contained hallucinogens (also called “entheogens” – drugs that promote the experience of the divine), although it is doubtful that the dose could have been adjusted properly for such a large number of people.

As the night came on, the initiates were ushered by Iacchus into the Sanctuary through the main gate (Propylaia) and then through the narrower lesser gate. In the area now called the Ploutonion they could look into cave in the hillside. Clinton suggests that here they might have seen a representation of Demeter in her grief, seated upon the agelastos petra (mirthless rock).

Then the initiates spent the night in inner regions of the sanctuary. There was likely music and prayers. Perhaps the initiates wandered around, trying to help Demeter find Persephone. There was much confusion due to the darkness, the veils, the fasting, and the kykeon.

Later that night the initiates entered the central Telesterion. Again this was likely dark.  After a while a large gong was sounded and the central platform Anaktorion became suddenly lit up with blazing torches. The initiates then saw Persephone brought back from the Underworld by the herald Euboulos to be re-united with Demeter.

Following this, and perhaps only to those in their second year of initiation, various sacred objects were revealed by the special attendant known as the hierophant (from hieros, sacred and phainein, show). Most experts think that these may have been representations of the wheat and the harvest. Others (e.g. Kerenyi) have suggested that Persephone was shown giving birth to a son.

The dawn brought the second day, which was enjoyed in feasting and music.


Ninnion Tablet

The only definite contemporary representation of the Eleusinian Mysteries is the Ninnion Tablet found at the Eleusis, dated to the 4th Century BCE and now in the National Archaeological Museum of Athens (Mylonas, 1961, pp 213-221; Clinton, 1992, pp 73-75). The tablet has been interpreted in several ways. The writing suggests that the initiate’s name was Niinnion, but most now accept that that the double-i is a mistake.

The lower and upper sections of the tablet can be interpreted as showing two stages of the Mysteries. In the lower half Iacchus, holding torches, ushers the female initiate (one assumes this is Ninnion) and her bearded male companion toward the Goddess Demeter on the right. Ninnion is bearing a vessel on her head, the contents of which will likely be used as a libation to sanctify the Telesterion. Her right hand is raised in greeting and in wonder. Demeter is seated beside an open seat for her lost daughter.

The upper half of the tablet shows the second stage of the rites. The bearded man, a young boy and Ninnion are now approaching another vison. On the right Persephone holding two torches becomes reunited with her mother. Demeter’s pale complexion in the lower representation has become suffused in the upper with the red of happiness.

Most consider the Mysteries to involve two stages: myesis and epopteia. These may related to the two different visions seen during the rites at Eleusis. Others have interpreted the stages differently. Myesis was one of the words used to denote the mysteries. It may have derived from a simpler word meaning “to close.” This itself may have alluded to the secrecy of the proceedings, the closed eyes of the initiates before the revelations or the mental closure that happened after the revelations. In the last sense, it was similar to another word for the mysteries – teletai, which came from the root telos (goal) and meant something accomplished or finished. The second stage was epopteia, which meant “revelation” or “vision,” deriving from ops, eye. Though many agree that there were two stages to the Mysteries, exactly how they occurred remains unknown. Some have suggested that the myesis may have involved “lesser mysteries” that occurred in Athens prior to the initiates going to Eleusis for the “greater mysteries.” The two stages may also have required attendance at the Eleusinian Mysteries on two successive years.

Regina Vasorum

The story of Demeter and Kore was intertwined with several other Greek myths. The Hermitage museum has a beautifully crafted hydria (water carrier) adorned around its shoulder with relief representations of the various divinities associated with Eleusis. This Regina Vasorum (Queen of the Vases) was found in Southern Italy and dates to the 4th Century BCE. The following illustration shows the hydria and that section of the decoration representing the reunited Demeter and Kore.

The following diagram identifies the various divinities. Both Heracles and Dionysus, though heroes of their own myths, also participated in the Mysteries and became initiates. Athena is present since the Mysteries were conducted under the auspices of the city of Athens. Triptolemus is there to represent Eleusis, and perhaps also to be a symbol of normal human beings. Demeter and Kore are portrayed twice – apart and then reunited.

Other Mysteries

The Eleusinian Mysteries were but one of many different mystery-cults in the Ancient World (Burkert, 1987; Bowden, 2010; Bremmer, 2014). Each of the cults provided initiation ceremonies. Each was based on its own set of myths.

The cult of Dionysus/Bacchus centered on the life and actions of the God of Wine. Celebrations of this cult – bacchanalia – involved intoxication with wine and frenzied dancing. Most of the celebrants were female; in their ecstasy these were called maenads. The Orphic rites derived from the story of Orpheus who tried to reclaim his wife from Hades. The myths and cults of Orpheus and Dionysus were closely related. Some stories tell of the death of Orpheus from being torn apart by maenads celebrating the rites of Dionysus.

The cult of Isis came from Egypt but was widely celebrated in the Roman Empire. Isis was a Goddess of fertility similar in nature to Demeter. Her life was a search for the dismembered body of her brother/husband Osiris. The rites of Magna Mater (“great mother”, also called Cybele) originated in Anatolia (where the Romans believed they might have originated – as the descendants of Aeneas). Priestesses in her cult, called Sibyls, provided advice and prophecy in early Rome. In later Roman times, the Persian God Mithra was widely celebrated in secret temples.

The foundational myths of the different mysteries have many similarities. Many involve a journey to Hades and/or the return of someone from the Underworld. Dionysus journeyed to Hades to rescue his mother Semele, who had died when her lover Zeus revealed himself in all his glory. Orpheus sought to rescue his wife from the Underworld.  Osiris was finally brought back to life and became the god of regeneration on the earth and the judge of all who enter the Underworld. The world has known many cults that revolve around the death and resurrection of a God (Frazer, 1923)

Some of the mysteries (particularly those related to Dionysus, and Orpheus) may have provided the initiates with small gold tablets (Bowden 2010, Chapter 7). These were buried along with the deceased in various areas of Greece. The tablets were inscribed with what are apparently instructions about what to do when the initiate dies. The most important instruction was to drink the water from the Pool of Memory (Mnemosyne) rather than from the River of Forgetting (Lethe). Several tablets indicate that Mnemosyne is to the right near a white cypress tree. Once refreshed, the newly dead could “go on the great Sacred Way along which the other famed mystai and bakkhoi make their way” (Bowden, 2010, p 149). The following is a 4th-Century BCE tablet (approximately 2 by 4 inches) from Thessaly (now in the J. P. Getty Museum in California)

The cryptic inscription requests a drink from the Spring of Memory and identifies the bearer according to some prescribed format likely learned from the Mysteries:

I am parched with thirst and am dying; but grant me to drink
from the ever-flowing spring. On the right is a white cypress.
‘Who are you? Where are you from?’ I am a son of Earth and starry sky.
But my race is heavenly.

The Mysteries were thus one way that the Ancients came to grips with the idea of death. Burkert describes the mysteries as “a form of personal religion, depending on a private decision, and aiming at some form of salvation through closeness to the divine.” (1987, p 12). He quotes Cicero who said that those who underwent the initiations at Eleusis learned “how to live in joy, and how to die with better hopes.”(Laws, II, 36).

Literary Allusions to the Mysteries

Two striking allusions to the Mysteries occur in the ancient literature. The first from Plato’s Phaedrus highlights the revelations that came from participating in the Mysteries. For Plato supreme understanding came from recognizing the eternal forms upon which transient individual things were based. In Phaedrus Socrates likens the mind of man to a charioteer which has to control two winged horses, one striving toward the good and one falling away toward evil.  If the mind can control the horses and get the chariot to rise up it might reach the outside of heaven and behold

justice, and temperance, and knowledge absolute, not in the form of generation or of relation, which men call existence, but knowledge absolute in existence absolute (Jowett translation, Section 247)

Before it assumed mortal form the soul understood truth and beauty for which it now has only a faint memory. Sometimes through love or through philosophy this knowledge can be regained. Socrates likens the understanding of the absolute to what happens when one is initiated into the Mysteries:

For there is no light of justice or temperance or any of the higher ideas which are precious to souls in the earthly copies of them: they are seen through a glass dimly; and there are few who, going to the images, behold in them the realities, and these only with difficulty. There was a time when with the rest of the happy band they saw beauty shining in brightness,—we philosophers following in the train of Zeus, others in company with other gods; and then we beheld the beatific vision and were initiated into a mystery which may be truly called most blessed, celebrated by us in our state of innocence, before we had any experience of evils to come, when we were admitted to the sight of apparitions innocent and simple and calm and happy, which we beheld shining in pure light, pure ourselves and not yet enshrined in that living tomb which we carry about, now that we are imprisoned in the body, like an oyster in his shell. (Section 250).*

The second allusion to the Mysteries is by Plutarch, who in his essay On the Soul likens the experience of the soul at death to what happens during the initiation into the Mysteries:

Thus we say that the soul that has passed thither is dead, having regard to its complete change and conversion. In this world it is without knowledge, except when it is already at the point of death; but when that time comes, it has an experience like that of men who are undergoing initiation into great mysteries; and so the verbs teleutan (die) and teleisthai (be initiated), and the actions they denote, have a similarity. In the beginning there is straying and wandering, the weariness of running this way and that, and nervous journeys through darkness that reach no goal, and then immediately before the consummation every possible terror, shivering and trembling and sweating and amazement. But after this a marvellous light meets the wanderer, and open country and meadow lands welcome him; and in that place there are voices and dancing and the solemn majesty of sacred music and holy visions. And amidst these, he walks at large in new freedom, now perfect and fully initiated, celebrating the sacred rites, a garland upon his head, and converses with pure and holy men; he surveys the uninitiated, unpurified mob here on earth, the mob of living men who, herded together in mirk and deep mire, trample one another down and in their fear of death cling to their ills, since they disbelieve in the blessings of the other world. For the soul’s entanglement with the body and confinement in it are against nature, as you may discern from this. (Plutarch from the fragment On the Soul, Sandbach translation, 1969, pp 317-319).

These two mentions of the Mysteries in the ancient literature bring out the two main aspects of the rites: the attainment of understanding through a vision of the divine, and the provision of some way of coping with death.

Relations to Christianity

In the 4th Century CE during the reign of the Emperor Constantine, Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire, taking over from the various mystery cults. How much Christianity assimilated from these earlier belief systems is difficult to assess.

Christianity differed significantly from the Mysteries. A primary difference was the lack of secrecy. Christianity was based on set doctrines that were promulgated by the faithful and delineated in scriptural texts. The teachings of the Mysteries were far less dogmatic and heresy was unknown. In addition, Christianity was communal. Believers did not just attend the mysteries once or twice in their lives – they worshipped together weekly and acted on their beliefs daily. A third main difference was the lack of any clear moral teaching in the Mysteries.


The early Church Fathers such as Clement of Alexander (2nd Century CE, icon on the right) both decried the Mysteries as superstition and promoted Christian beliefs as the greatest of the mysteries:

O truly sacred mysteries! O stainless light! My way is lighted with torches, and I survey the heavens and God; I become holy while I am initiated. The Lord is the hierophant, and seals while illuminating him who is initiated, and presents to the Father him who believes, to be kept safe for ever. Such are the reveries of my mysteries. (Protrepticus Chapter 12).

Clement proposed that Christianity was the “mystery of the Word (logos),” the divine truth that was manifest in the story of Christ’s death and resurrection. Clement was using logos in its meaning as “truth.” However, Christianity also differed from the Mysteries in virtue of the other meaning of logos as “word.” Christianity followed scripture; the Mysteries were based on secrets.

The sacraments of Christianity (Baptism, Eucharist, etc.) are often referred to as the Mysteries of Faith. These transcendent rites cannot be understood by reason. The Catholic existentialist philosopher Maritain (1962, First Lecture) differentiated two modes of human thinking. One uses reason to solve problems. The other uses intuition to understand mysteries. Knowledge involves both.

The main story underlying the Christian mysteries is that of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. The climax of the story comes with Christ’s statement on the cross as he nears death: tetelestai – “It is finished” (John 19:30). The word is similar to those used in the Mysteries.

The Mysteries dealt with coming face to face with divinity and coping with death.  Christianity was more certain of its ability to provide salvation:

Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? (I Corinthians 15 51-55)

What happens to consciousness after death is the great mystery of human life. In the Ancient World this question was addressed by the various Mysteries. As Christianity became the dominant religion in the Roman Empire, the story of Christ provided the most widely believed answer. “I have met the gods and am prepared for death” changed to “I believe in Christ and have been granted salvation.”


Human experience is not random. Because of memory we recognize when events repeat and discover the laws whereby they recur. Most importantly we find a self or soul at the point where events become experience.

Every morning when we awaken we quickly reassemble this soul and the world in which it lives. Surely we tell ourselves that death will be no different. Just as the world proceeds from winter into spring, the soul will return to life.

We tell stories of what will happen then, when the body dies and the soul survives. The stories are intricate and beautiful. They provide us with hope for ourselves and comfort for those we leave behind.

Yet we all die. Though the stories and the stones of Eleusis survive, the initiates all vanished long ago. There is no golden ticket to heaven. We are born. We tell stories. Some are true and some fanciful. In the end it is finished, and we are buried in the earth beneath the starry sky.


* The words “through a glass dimly” immediately recall “through a glass darkly” in I Corinthians 13:11 (“For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”) The idea is similar to that expressed in Phaedrus, and Paul was undoubtedly aware of Plato’s work. However, it is not a direct quotation – though the translations are similar, the original Greek words are different.


Bowden, H. (2010). Mystery cults of the ancient world. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Bremmer, J. N. (2014). Initiation into the mysteries of the ancient world. Berlin: De Gruyter. Available at

Burkert, W. (1987). Ancient mystery cults. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Cartwright, M. (2016). Food and agriculture in Ancient Greece. Ancient History Encyclopedia

Clement of Alexandria (2nd Century CE, translated by W. Watson, 1885). Protrepticus Exhortation to the Heathens.  Available at New Advent

Clinton, K. (1992). Myth and cult: The iconography of the Eleusinian mysteries. Stockholm: Svenska Institutet i Athen.

Clinton, K. (1993). The sanctuary of Demeter and Kore at Eleusis. In Marinatos, N., & Hägg, R. Greek sanctuaries: New approaches. (pp. 88-98). London: Routledge.

Frazer, J. G. (1923). The Golden Bough: A study in magic and religion. Abridged ed. London: Macmillan. Available at

Kerényi, K. (translated Ralph Manheim, 1967). Eleusis: Archetypal image of mother and daughter. New York: Bollingen Foundation (Pantheon Books).

Lawton, W. C. (1898). The successors of Homer. New York: Macmillan. Available at

Maritain, J. (1939, reprinted 1962). A preface to metaphysics: Seven lectures on being. New York: New American Library.

Mylonas, G. E. (1961). Eleusis and the Eleusinian mysteries. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press. Available at

Plato (4th Century BCE, translated B. Jowett, 1892). The dialogues of Plato translated into English with analyses and introductions. Volume I. 3rd Edition. London: MacMillan. Available at

Plutarch (1st Century CE, translated by F. H. Sandbach, 1969). Moralia. Volume XV Fragments. London: Heinemann. Available at

Wasson, R. G., Hofmann, A., & Ruck, C. A. P. (1978). The road to Eleusis: Unveiling the secret of the mysteries. New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich.

Aspects of Etruria


The Etruscans thrived from about 900 to 100 BCE. Although archaeology has revealed much about their life, even more remains unknown. After the Etruscans were assimilated by the Romans, their written history was lost. Although the Emperor Claudius wrote a 20-volume history of the Etruscans, not a page of this has survived.

Popular ideas that the Etruscans originated in Greece, Turkey or Phoenicia have given way to the idea that they were indigenous to the area where they lived – Etruria. This is the land north of the Tiber River, south of the Po River and west of the Apennine Mountains, comprising the present day Italian regions of Lazio, Tuscany and Umbria.

The Etruscan language was not written down until about 700 BCE when a modified Greek alphabet was used. What little we know, mainly from epitaphs on tombs and inscriptions on pottery, indicates a language that is not Indo-European in origin.

Without a history and with little language, our understanding of the Etruscans remains as fragmentary as the pottery in their graves. We piece together what we can.


In his prologue to The Garden of the Finzi-Continis (1962), Giorgio Bassani describes a visit to the Etruscan tombs at the Banditaccia Necropolis near Cerveteri (illustrated above). A young girl, Giannina, asks her father why it is that old tombs are not as sad as new ones. Her father suggests that

‘People who have just died are closer to us, and so we are fonder of them. The Etruscans, after all, have been dead for a long time’ — again he was telling a fairy tale — ‘so long it’s as if they had never lived, as if they had always been dead.’

Giannina thinks about this for a while and then replies

‘But now, if you say that,’ she ventured softly, ‘you remind me that the Etruscans were also alive once, and so I’m fond of them, like everyone else.’

Etruscans often evoke these tender feelings. This post, which follows a visit to Etruria last month in a tour led by Nigel Spivey, considers some aspects of Etruscan culture which have intrigued me. Like Giannina, I have become fond of them.

Eternal Banquets

Most of what we know about the Etruscans come from their tombs. Their cities were destroyed and rebuilt by later civilizations, but the cemeteries remained largely untouched. Some tombs, especially those in the Monterozzi Necropolis near Tarquinia, have striking wall paintings. The Tomb of the Leopards from the 5th Century BCE (illustration below derived from Wikipedia) depicts a banquet (Tathje, 2013). Whether this represents the funeral celebration for the deceased or the eternal feasting to be expected in the afterlife is not known. Perhaps both.


D. H. Lawrence described this painting in Etruscan Places:

The end wall has a splendid banqueting scene. The feasters recline upon a checked or tartan couch-cover, on the banqueting couch, and in the open air, for they have little trees behind them. The six feasters are bold and full of life like the dancers, but they are strong, they keep their life so beautifully and richly inside themselves, they are not loose, they don’t lose themselves even in their wild moments. They lie in pairs, man and woman, reclining equally on the couch, curiously friendly. The two end women are called hetaerae, courtesans; chiefly because they have yellow hair, which seems to have been a favourite feature in a woman of pleasure. The men are dark and ruddy, and naked to the waist. The women, sketched in on the creamy rock, are fair, and wear thin gowns, with rich mantles round their hips. They have a certain free bold look, and perhaps really are courtesans.

The man at the end is holding up, between thumb and forefinger, an egg, showing it to the yellow-haired woman who reclines next to him, she who is putting out her left hand as if to touch his breast. He, in his right hand, holds a large wine-dish, for the revel.

The next couple, man and fair-haired woman, are looking round and making the salute with the right hand curved over, in the usual Etruscan gesture. It seems as if they too are saluting the mysterious egg held up by the man at the end; who is, no doubt, the man who has died, and whose feast is being celebrated. But in front of the second couple a naked slave with a chaplet on his head is brandishing an empty wine-jug, as if to say he is fetching more wine. Another slave farther down is holding out a curious thing like a little axe, or fan. The last two feasters are rather damaged. One of them is holding up a garland to the other, but not putting it over his head as they still put a garland over your head, in India, to honour you.

Above the banqueters, in the gable angle, the two great spotted male leopards hang out their tongues and face each other heraldically, lifting a paw, on either side of a little tree. They are the leopards or panthers of the underworld Bacchus, guarding the exits and the entrances of the passion of life. (Lawrence, 1933/1950, pp 65-66)

Lawrence enthusiastically conveys the feelings of the banquet. However, he did not get everything right. The tomb was constructed later than he thought and the women were likely not courtesans. Although the symposia of the Greeks involved only wine and were limited to males (and occasional courtesans), the feasts portrayed in Etruscan paintings included food and allowed both male and female participants. The relations between the sexes may have been more equal in Etruscan society than in other ancient cultures. Probably the most famous piece of Etruscan art is the Sarcophagus of the Spouses (6th century BCE) from Cerveteri, now displayed in the Villa Giulia in Rome. A married couple partakes of the eternal banquet. The man was probably holding in his right hand an egg as a symbol of regeneration. The woman may have held a small jar of oil to pour onto the outstretched hand of her husband. Their archaic smiles suggest an enviable serenity in the face of death:

sposi-876xg-bThe banquet portrayed in tomb paintings and sarcophagi is a recurring theme in Etruscan art. The illustration below shows a fragment of a terra cotta frieze from the eaves of a temple. Three reclining Etruscans enjoy the music of the aulos on the left and the lyre on the right. Beneath the couch, the family pet scrounges for scraps of food:


The painters and sculptors were either Greek immigrants to Etruria or Etruscans whom they had trained. The artists may have left Greece and came west because of war and tyranny in their homeland. In the middle of the 1st millennium BCE, large Greek colonies were founded in Sicily and Southern Italy. Although the Greeks did not colonize Etruria, they had extensive commercial and artistic interactions with the Etruscans.

In the first millennium BCE commercial shipping in the Mediterranean was very active: Phoenicians from both the Levant and Carthage, Greeks from both Greece and Sicily, and Etruscans all traded with each other (Bruni, 2013; Haynes, 2000, pp 62-64; Smith, 2014, chapter 5). Much of the trade involved luxury goods – wine, painted pottery, jewellery.


The central painting from the Tomb of the Augurs (6th century BCE) in Tarquinia shows a closed doorway (see below). This symbol, common in Etruscan funerary art and architecture, likely represents the portal between the realms of the living and the dead.


The symbol recurs in the ruined tombs in the tufa cliffs of the Castel d’Asso necropolis near Viterbo (see below). The tombs were designed on three levels (as diagramed on the right). The top allowed for sacrifices and libations to the gods. The middle level provided a place for the funerary celebrations, and the tombs containing the sarcophagi were below.


The ruins of the Castel d’Asso necropolis evoke the melancholy and mystery that the Victorians found fascinating in the Etrucans. Below is an etching (from British Museum) by Samuel Ainsley prepared for the 1848 book by George Dennis, Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria. Today the site remains little changed.



We are not sure what the two men standing on either side of the door in the Tomb of the Augurs are doing. Perhaps they are bidding farewell to the deceased who has gone beyond the door into the afterlife. Another interpretation, one that gives its name to the tomb, is that they are augurs foretelling the future through the flight of birds – auspicy. Indeed, a bird is seen on the left of the door.



Etruscans also divined the future by examining the entrails of animals sacrificed to the gods – haruspicy (de Grummond, 2013). Etruscan graves have yielded fascinating models of the livers of sheep in bronze and in terra cotta (illustration on right). The bronze version (the Piacenza Liver) is extensively annotated to help guide the divination. The gall bladder droops down in the center; the caudate lobe is raised in the upper right, and the middle upper raised portion is likely the quadrate lobe.


Even during Roman times, Etruscans were renowned for their ability to foresee the future. The seer who warned Julius Caesar to beware the Ides of March was an Etruscan named Spurinna.


Within the tombs, the Etruscan dead were usually placed within sarcophagi. Some of these were sculpted in terra cotta. The earlier sarcophagi – such as the Sarcophagus of the Spouses – have idealized features. Later versions of these sarcophagi present striking portraits of the deceased (Brendel & Serra, 1995, pp 387-400; Carpino. 2013). Greek sculpture tended toward the ideal, but later Etruscan sculpture was far more individual. The following illustrations show a sarcophagus from the 3rd or 2nd century BCE from Tuscania, and several portrait heads.


The tombs of the Etruscans were full of grave goods. These represented prestige objects or keimelia – “things which are to be treasured when plundered or presented, but not cashed in” (Spivey, 1997, p 43). Pottery was abundant. Although some of the pottery was made by Etruscans in imitation of the Greek forms, much of the pottery in the tombs came from Greece. The Etruscans traded with the Greeks for these beautiful objects. Athenian painted pottery was particularly popular, and many striking examples of these vessels were preserved in Etruscan graves. Indeed, most of the Athenian pottery in the British museum was actually found in Etruria rather than Greece.

Nevertheless, one type of pottery found in the graves – bucchero – was specifically Etruscan (Perkins, 2007; de Puma, 2013a). So much so that its presence elsewhere in the Mediterranean indicated trade with Etruria. The name bucchero is of uncertain origin. Some have linked it with a type of black clay from South America named bucaro in Spanish. Most of the Etruscan pottery was discovered in the tombs during the 18th century, a time when pottery from the New World was being imported to Europe, and the Spanish term may have become generalized to denote any balck pottery. Perhaps, a more reasonable suggestion is that the word might come from the Latin poculum for drinking cup.

Bucchero pottery is black or dark grey. Not just on the surface but throughout. The color was caused by decreasing the air supply to the kilns in which the pottery was baked. Due to the lack of oxygen, the iron in the clay became black ferrous oxide rather than red ferric oxide. The surface of bucchero can be burnished to an almost metallic sheen. Depending on the light the black surface sometimes has a faint tinge of brown or blue. Some have suggested that bucchero was made in imitation of more expensive bronze or silver vessels. Yet bucchero is beautiful in its own right.

The earliest bucchero made in the 7th and 6th centuries in the southern parts of Etruria. This thin-walled bucchero sottile was often engraved with simple geometric patterns such as spirals or fans. Later bucchero pesante with much thicker walls was manufactured in the 6th to 5th centuries BCE and was more common in northern Etruria. This type of bucchero was adorned with relief decoration. The following two wine pitchers (oenochoai) illustrate the differences. The decoration on the right pitcher shows a typical Etruscan image of flying horses.


One of the most characteristic styles of bucchero is the kantharos. The design of this particular type of wine vessel (below left) may have actually originated in Etruria. The high handles make the kantharos far easier to hold and drink from than the typical flat Greek kylix, which may have been more frequently used for libations rather than for drinking. The Etruscans also made elegant chalices (from Latin calyx) which are similar to our modern wine goblets. The illustration below shows a kantharos and a calyx from ancient Etruria.


Bronze mirrors were also common in the grave goods of Etruscan tombs from the 5th to 4th centuries BCE (de Puma, 2013bc). The backs of the mirrors were occasionally decorated with relief carvings, but more often they were engraved with drawings. These typically depicted persons from Greek mythology. In the illustrated mirrors below, the top two are very similar  ̶  two nude men in the company of two women, one dressed and one not. This image occurs very frequently, and may have come from one particular workshop. Exactly who is represented varies. Sometimes the characters are actually labelled – as Achilles and Chryseis (Cressida) together with Helen and Paris (de Puma, 2013c, p 176). On other versions of this mirror, similar characters may be Castor and Pollux with Athena and Aphrodite (de Puma, 2013c, p 185).


These mirrors indicate a people highly conscious of themselves, aware of what it means to be beautiful and fascinated by stories. The polished side no longer reflects Etruscan faces but the drawings on the back preserve the contents of their imagination.


D. H. Lawrence found in the Etruscans a vitality and honesty that he considered lacking in the modern world (Spivey, 1995, pp 192-194). He ignored the facts that Etruscan society existed on the backs of slaves, and that only the aristocrats were able to enjoy the good life. Lawrence saw what he wanted to see. We all do.

Nevertheless, it seems clear that the Etruscans enjoyed life immensely. Wine, music, beautiful things and good company were central to their lives. Most impressive was their intense self-consciousness. Their portraits and mirrors tell of people who sought to understand themselves. Their sense of self was deep enough to convince them that they would persist after death. We may not have the same beliefs. But we must admire this confidence.



Bassani, G. (1962, translated by W. Weaver, 1977). The garden of the Finzi-Continis. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Brendel, O., & Serra, R. F. R. (1995). Etruscan art. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Bruni, S. (2013). Seafaring: shipbuilding, harbors, the issue of piracy.  In J. M. Turfa (Ed.) The Etruscan World. (pp 759-777). New York: Routledge.

Carpino, A. A. (2013). Portraiture. In J. M. Turfa (Ed.) The Etruscan World.  (pp 1007-1016). New York: Routledge.

de Grummond, N. T. (2013).  Haruspicy and augury: Sources and procedures. In J. M. Turfa (Ed.) The Etruscan World.  (pp 539-556). New York: Routledge.

Dennis, G. (1848/1878). Cities and cemeteries of Etruria. 2nd Edition. Volume I and Volume II. London: John Murray.

de Puma, R. D. (2013a).The meanings of bucchero. In J. M. Turfa (Ed.) The Etruscan World. (pp 974-992). New York: Routledge.

de Puma, R. D. (2013b). Mirrors in art and society. In J. M. Turfa (Ed.) The Etruscan World. (pp 1041-1067). New York: Routledge.

de Puma, R. D. (2013c). Etruscan art in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Haynes, S. (2005). Etruscan civilization: A cultural history. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum.

Lawrence, D. H. (1933/1950). Etruscan places. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin.

Perkins, P. (2007). Etruscan Bucchero in the British Museum. British Museum Research Publication 165.

Smith, C. (2014). The Etruscans: a very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Spivey, N. J. (1997). Etruscan art. New York: Thames and Hudson.

Tathje, A. (2013). The banquet through Etruscan history.  In J. M. Turfa (Ed.) The Etruscan World. (pp 823-830). New York: Routledge.

Baskets of Glass

Dale Chihuly, the American sculptor in glass, has long been interested in the native arts of the Pacific Northwest. Early in his career he became fascinated by their basketry (Lobb & Wolfe, 1990; Porter, 1990). Native Americans were adept at making basketware in all shapes and sizes for cooking, carrying, storing, clothing, drinking, protecting and preserving. Each basket has a form that derives from its function, and an ornamentation that transcends its ordinary usage. In his book on Indian Basketry, James (1901, pp 121-2) quotes from William Holmes:

[W]hile their shape still accords with their functional office, they exhibit attributes of form generally recognized as pleasing to the mind, which are expressed by the terms grace, elegance, symmetry, and the like. Such attributes are not separable from functional attributes, but originate and exist conjointly with them.

The following illustration from James’ book (p. 119) shows a collection of Native American baskets:james baskets001 xb

Chihuly was born in Tacoma, Washington, in 1941. After studying sculpture and glassblowing, he returning to Washington State to set up the Pilchuk Glass School in 1971. Chihuly knew the collection of baskets in the Washington State History Museum in his home town of Tacoma. He soon decided to make baskets of glass:

I looked at baskets and thought I would try to make them in glass. I wanted mine to be misshapen and wrinkled like some of the older baskets I had seen in storage there. (Chihuly, 2011, p 44).

I was struck by the grace of their slumped, sagging forms. I wanted to capture this grace in glass. The breakthrough for me was recognizing that heat was the tool to be used with gravity to make these forms (from Chihuly webpage)

With these glass baskets Chihuly began looking at the forms of things. At about the same time, he was creating glass cylinders with superimposed patterns based on Navaho blankets. He was trying to understand the forms and patterns of particular objects by representing them in another medium. The baskets of glass themselves later evolved into sea-forms. Other forms followed: macchia (spots), Persians, ikebana, floats, fiori, rotoli (coils), chandeliers. His work has been shown all over the world, in parks, museums, shopping-centers and casinos (Chihuly & Kuspit, 1998, 2014, Chihuly et al, 2016).

The exhibition of Chihuly work currently at the Royal Ontario Museum concludes with a final display based on the Northwest Room at Chihuly’s Boathouse Studio in Seattle. On one wall are photogravure portraits of Native Americans by Edward S. Curtis (1868-1952).On another wall are examples from Chihuly’s collection of blankets woven with Native American patterns from Pendleton Mills in Portland, Oregon (founded in 1863). The focus of the room is a display of Chihuly’s baskets of glass together with historical Native American baskets that he has collected:

chihuly full b


The two glass basket in the following illustration show the way in which Chihuly traced patterns by melting shards of colored glass onto the basic forms. They are similar to the Navaho cylinders, but the solid cylinders have evolved into hollow baskets.

chihuly 1 b


There are clear contrasts between the woven baskets and their glass representations. Flexibility becomes rigidity. The baskets absorb the light and enjoy their shadows. The glass forms interact more dramatically with the light, reflecting it from their surface and letting it into their inner structure:

chihuly 2 b


An impressive pairing displays the brilliance of the glass against the gravity of the woven basket. The princess and her grandmother:

chihuly 3 b


Characteristic of Chihuly’s baskets are that they can contain other versions of themselves. Children embraced by their mother. This illustration shows only one:

chihuly 4 b
The more recent series of Fire Orange Baskets (2016) shows baskets within baskets. The furnace has stripped the baskets of earthly material and leaving only their translucent forms. The reflections change continually like flames in fire:

chihuly 5 b

Those images that yet
Fresh images beget.

W. B.  Yeats Byzantium, 1930

Yeats was fascinated by how art persists beyond the life of the artist. Art has access to some world of eternal forms that is beyond the transience of human life. His two Byzantine poems (Jeffares, 1946) consider how art persists in the images or forms that it creates.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

W. B. Yeats, Sailing to Byzantium, 1926

Plato thought of art in almost the opposite way (Pappas, 2015). He considered individual objects as transient instantiations of some ideal form. He worried that artistic representations of an object were deceptive since they were twice-removed from the ideal.

Perhaps Chihuly’s baskets, like Yeats’ poems, are creative attempts to represent the forms directly. The medium of glass accentuates the idea of seeing through the object to its true form. But Chihuly’s translucent baskets may not last as long as Yeats hammered gold. Man-made versions of the ideal can be as transient and fragile as glass.



Chihuly, D., McDonnell, M., & Adams, H. (2016). Chihuly on fire. Seattle, WA: Chihuly Workshop.

Chihuly, D., & Hushka, R. (2011). Dale Chihuly: A celebration. New York: Abrams.

Chihuly, D., & Kuspit, D. B. (1998). Chihuly. Volume 1. 1968-1996. New York: Abrams.

Chihuly, D., & Kuspit, D. B. (2014). Chihuly. Volume  2. 1997-2014. New York: Abrams.

James, G. W. (1901/1972). Indian basketry. New York: Dover Publications.

Jeffares, A. N. (1946). The Byzantine poems of W. B. Yeats. Review of English Studies, 22, 44-52.

Lobb, A., & Wolfe, A. (1990). Indian baskets of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. Portland, OR: Graphic Arts Center.

Pappas, N. (2015). Plato’s aesthetics. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Porter, F. W. (1990). The art of Native American basketry: A living legacy. New York: Greenwood Press.


Divine Geometry


The Counter-Reformation, initiated by the Council of Trent (1545-1563) in response to the Protestant Reformation, promoted art as a way for believers to become emotionally involved in the Church. While Protestants were whitewashing church walls and destroying sculptures, Catholics produced the masterpieces of Baroque Art. For the Protestant, nothing should come between man and God; for the Catholic, the majesty of art could bring man to the mystery of God.

borromini engraving xxx

Francesco Borromini (1599-1667) was born as Francesco Castelli in Ticino in the lake district of Northern Italy, which at that time was actually part of Switzerland (Connors, 1999). The son of a stone-mason, he studied in Milan and may have been taught there by the great geometer Muzio Oddi. The young man finished his apprenticeship and came to Rome in 1619 to work for Carlo Maderno, the Chief Architect of Saint Peter’s Basilica and a fellow Ticinese. In Rome Francesco assumed the name of “Borromini” after San Carlo Borromeo (1538-84), Archbishop of Milan, leading force in the Counter-Reformation, and perhaps a distant relative of his mother.


In Rome, Borromini met a young sculptor from Naples, Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680). Bernini was the most talented and productive of the Baroque sculptors. With his intense creativity and charming personality, he soon became the favorite of the Roman popes. In 1624, Bernini was commissioned to construct the baldacchino over the high altar at Saint Peter’s, and after the death of Carlo Maderno in 1629, he was appointed Chief Architect of Saint Peter’s.

For a brief time, Borromini acted as Bernini’s assistant. They did not get along (Morrissey , 2005). They were of opposite temperaments: Bernini was charming and enthusiastic, Borromini was obstinate and melancholic. Borromini felt exploited, and thought that Bernini was not sufficiently grounded in the science of architecture to warrant his position. He severely criticized Bernini’s proposals for the façade and bell-towers of Saint Peter’s. The criticisms were correct and the plans were revised, but Bernini never forgave him.

Bernini is the acknowledged genius of the Baroque Age (Hibbard, 1965; Beny & Gunn 1981; Wittkower, 1997; Hopkins, 2002). Recently, however, Borromini has become more widely studied (Blunt, 1970; Morrissey, 2005; Conors, 2007). His architecture is characterized by a marvelous sense of the effects of light on curving surfaces. In his geometry one may sense the divine. The Naxos String Quartet No 7 (Davies, 2007) attempts to express in music the emotional effects of his buildings. The movie La Sapienza (Green, 2015) focuses on the visual splendor of his architecture. This posting concerns two small churches in Rome.

San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane

Borromini’s first independent commission (1638-41) was to construct a small church, fittingly dedicated to San Carlo Borromeo. This Trinitarian church was located on a small space at the southern corner of an intersection with four fountains. Borromini’s design was based on an oval, geometrically constructed using two adjacent equilateral triangles, symbolic of the trinity. The long circular curves of the oval (red) were drawn using centers (red dots) at each end of the triangles’ adjacent sides. The short curves (blue) were drawn using centers (blue dots) located at each triangle’s centroid. The following figure shows the construction of the oval and the ground plan of the church.

san carlo geometry

The façade is shown in the following figure, together with a cutaway perspective drawing. One of the innovations of Baroque Architecture was the use of curves in the façade (discussed in Blunt, 1979, p. 76). Because of funding difficulties, the façade of San Carlo was not finally finished until 1665, but Borromini’s early sketches clearly define its subtle curves.

carlino 2

The oval dome of the church ascends to a cupola that contains the symbol of the trinity – a dove within a triangle within a flaming circle. Light enters the dome through lateral windows and through the cupola. A high resolution version of the following figure can be obtained in Wikipedia:

carlo dome

The coffered decoration of the dome is an intricate geometric mesh of octagons hexagons, and crosses. The design is based on the mosaic ceiling of the north ambulatory in the Mausoleum of Santa Costanza just outside the walls of Rome (see figure on the right). This was built in the 4th Century to house the remains Constantia, the daughter of Emperor Constantine I. Borromini not only adapted the design to a dome but also adapted it to give the dome an illusion of greater height.

san costanza mosaic

Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza

In 1641-1660, Borromini designed and built a church for the University of Rome dedicated to Sant’Ivo, the patron saint of jurists. This was commissioned by Urban VIII (formerly Cardinal Barberini), under whose papacy Galileo had been sentenced to house arrest in 1633. Connors (2007) has suggested that the geometrical purity of its design may have provided a way for the papacy to heal its breech with science. Galileo died in 1642 soon after the church was begun. Urban VIII died in 1644, and the funding for the church fell away. It was only completed in 1660. The breech was difficult to heal.

The church is located at one end of the arcaded courtyard of the Palazzo della Sapienza, built by Giacomo della Porta (1533-1602). The following figure shows the floor plan of the palazzo and the church, together with a photograph from Adrian Fletcher’s Paradox Place.

sapienza plan and photo

Borromini based his church on two equilateral triangles overlapped to form a Star of David. This was also known as the Star of Solomon and thus was a symbol of wisdom. By locating circles at the apices of the triangles or at the midpoints of their sides two basic outlines could be obtained:

sapienza geometry

These two different outlines are evident in the dome and in the floor plan:

santivo dome and floorx

santivo spiral


On top of the dome, Borromini placed a lantern, and upon that he built a striking spiral staircase that leads to a flaming emblem (Connors, 1996). What this virtuosic construction means has been subject to great debate: Tower of Babel, Lighthouse of Alexandria, beehive (for the Barberini bees) or papal tiara? In essence, the spiral likely indicates the ascent toward wisdom. In the past it was one of the great climbs for the adventurous tourist in Rome.



Geometry did not bring Borromini serenity. Plagued by funding difficulties, paranoid that others might be stealing his ideas, lonely and embittered, Borromini entered old age. In 1667, he committed suicide. He wounded himself with his sword and died a day later, after having written down his own account of his death:

Last night the idea came to me of making my will and writing it out with my own hand, and I began to write it about an hour after supper and I went on writing with a pencil till about three in the morning. Messer Francesco Massari my young servant … who sleeps in the room next door to look after me and had already gone to bed, seeing that I was still writing and had not put out the light, called to me, ‘Signor Cavaliere, you ought to put out the light and go to sleep because it is late and the doctor wants you to sleep.’ I replied that I should have to light the lamp again when I woke up and he answered: ‘Put it out because I’ll light it again when you wake up’; and so I stopped writing, put away the paper on which I had written a little and the pencil with which I was writing, put out the light and went to sleep. About five or six I woke up and called to Francesco and told him to light the lamp, and he answered: ‘Signor, no’. And hearing this reply I suddenly became impatient and began to wonder how I could do myself some bodily harm, as Francesco had refused to give me a light; and I remained in that state till about half past eight, when I remembered that I had a sword in the room at the head of the bed, hanging among the consecrated candles, and, my impatience at not having a light growing greater, in despair I took the sword and pulling it out of the scabbard leant the hilt on the bed and put the point to my side and then fell on it with such force that it ran into my body, from one side to the other, and in falling on the sword I fell on to the floor with the sword run through my body and because of my wound I began to scream, and so Francesco ran in and opened the window, through which light was coming, and found me lying on the floor, and he with others whom he had called pulled the sword out of my side and put me on the bed; and this is how I came to be wounded.(Blunt, 1971, pp. 208-209.)

The violent passions of the dark gave way to an amazingly cool rationality during the light. At his request, Borromini was buried in the tomb of Carlo Maderno in San Giovanni in Laterano. The will enjoined his heir and nephew Bernardo to marry the granddaughter of his mentor Maderno.

The 17th Century was a time of great changes in how we conceived of the universe and its creator. The heavenly spheres were no longer. The planets moved around the sun and not around the earth. Geometry became a guiding principle for understanding the universe. The circular orbits of Copernicus ceded to the ellipses of Kepler. Kepler used the geometry of perfect solids to explain the different radii of the planetary orbits (Hatch, 2002). And in 1687 all was explained by Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation. Science was explaining the universe with geometry. God was perhaps a mathematician. Baroque art, and Borromini in particular, sought for God in the geometrical interplay of curve and light.



Beny, R., & Gunn, P. (1981). The churches of Rome. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Blunt, A. (1979). Borromini. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press (Belknap).

Connors, J. (1996). Borromini’s S. Ivo alla Sapienza: the spiral. The Burlington Magazine, 138, 668-82.

Connors, J. (1999). Francesco Borromini. La vita (1599–1667). In R. Bösel, C. L. Frommel. (eds.) Borromini e l’universo barocco. (pp. 7–21) Milan, Electa.

Connors, J. (2007). The cultural moment at the beginning of work on S. Ivo alla Sapienza. In L. Mochi Onori, S. Schütze & F. Solinas (Eds.) I Barberini e la cultura europea del Seicento. (pp. 581-86). Rome: De Luca.

Green, E. (2015) La Sapienza (DVD). New York, NY: Kino Lorber.

Hatch, J. G. (2002). The science behind Francesco Borromini’s divine geometry. In K. Williams and J. F. Rodrigues (Eds). Nexus IV: Architecture and Mathematics. (pp. 127-139). Fucecchio (Florence): Kim Williams Books.

Hibbard, H. (1965/1990). Bernini. London: Penguin.

Hopkins, A. (2002). Italian architecture: From Michelangelo to Borromini. London: Thames & Hudson.

Davies, P. M., & Maggini Quartet. (2007). Naxos quartets nos. 7 and 8. (Sound recording). Hong Kong: Naxos Records.

Morrissey, J. P. (2005). The genius in the design: Bernini, Borromini, and the rivalry that transformed Rome. New York: W. Morrow.

Wittkower, R., (1997, photographs by Guidolotti, P.). Bernini: The sculptor of the Roman Baroque. London: Phaidon Press.



Loss of Paradise

The ancients did not believe in progress (Bury, 1932; Pollard, 1968; Meek Lange, 2011). They had two main ideas of how the world changes over time. One was that an initial state of peace and plenty – the Garden of Eden of Genesis, the Golden Age of Hesiod, or the Arcadia of Virgil – had degenerated over time to our present world of strife and suffering.

The decline from our golden beginnings to the present age of iron might have been simply caused by the passage of time, but more often than not it was attributed to human foolishness. The Jews told the story of original sin and the Greeks recounted the myth of Pandora’s box.

Lucas Cranach (1530) portrayed the Golden Age as a time when we could dance without fear of the lion and eat of the tree of knowledge without concern for the consequences. The word “paradise” means an area enclosed by a wall. Suffering and death remained outside the wall.

cranach golden age xb

Our forefathers’ second concept was that nothing ever really changes. The world may go through cycles of improvement and deterioration, but in the end everything stays about the same. The world is not perfect and never will be. The Jewish preacher Ecclesiastes (3rd Century BCE, 1:9, KJV) claimed that all is vanity:

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.

The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (180 CE, Meditations X:I, Staniforth translation) proposed that the soul

… can encompass the whole universe at will, both its own structure and the void surrounding it, and can reach out into eternity, embracing and comprehending the great cyclic renewals of creation, and thereby perceiving that future generations will have nothing new to witness, even as our forefathers beheld nothing more than we of today.

These two ideas of history were often combined. Our original paradise cannot be regained. The beings that began in Eden now find themselves condemned forever to brief lives characterized more by suffering than by happiness, and leading inexorably to death.

Eastern religions adopted a similar view. They conceived of human life as a continual reincarnation into a world of suffering. The only escape was from the ongoing cycle of death and rebirth (samsara) was to remove oneself from the changing world (maya) by abdicating all desire and dedicating oneself to wisdom and charity.

City of God

Into the gloom that pervaded much of our ancient wisdom came the idea of salvation. Belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ would allow the believer to escape to Heaven at the end of life. Failure to believe, however, would lead to Hell. In the 5th Century CE, Saint Augustine proposed that human beings can choose either to belong to the City of God or to remain in the Earthly City, the one founded by Cain (City of God, XV:1). People of the City of God progress “from earthly to heavenly things, and from the invisible to the invisible” (X:14).

bernini augustine xb

The illustration at the right shows a terra cotta maquette from the Hermitage, a model for Bernini’s 1650 statue of Augustine in St Peter’s Cathedral. Bernini’s sculpture was meant to seen from many different perspectives. So perhaps we are not amiss in interpreting Augustine’s work in ways not intended by the saint.

The idea of Christian salvation, like the benefits of many other religions, is basically mean-spirited and divisive. An elect will go to heaven; all others will not. Membership in the elite is not awarded on the basis of achievement but gifted by the grace of God. Indeed, Augustine believed that since God is omniscient, membership in the elect is pre-ordained.

Great Chain of Being

Augustine’s thinking was embedded in the notion of a Great Chain of Being (Lovejoy, 1936) that he derived from Greek philosophers, most notably from the Neoplatonist Plotinus. God created the world. Within this world everything was arranged hierarchically from inanimate matter at the bottom through plants, animals, man, and angels, to God at the top. This concept was extensively worked out in medieval Scholasticism, but persisted long after, as evidenced by Alexander Pope’s lines in his Essay on Man (1734, Epistle I:VIII):

Vast chain of being, which from God began,
Natures ethereal, human, angel, man,
Beast, bird, fish, insect! what no eye can see,
No glass can reach! from infinite to thee,
From thee to nothing!

The hierarchy also characterized human society with the anointed King placed at the top, the lords and clergy below and the peasants at the very bottom. Society was not supposed to change: one knew one’s place, and did not move between the levels.


All this began to change with the emergence in the Europe of the 16th and 17th centuries of a new way of thinking that questioned the authority of the past. The very idea that we may not have understood the world correctly in the past implied that we might understand it better in the future.

This way of thinking led to the Enlightenment of the 18th Century. The new sciences had shown that we could understand more and more about the workings of the world, derive laws to predict what might happen, and harness energy to change the world which controlled us. Lives were becoming better.

turgot xb

The Enlightenment gave birth to our modern idea of progress. In 1750 Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot, Baron de l’Aulne (1727-1781) published an essay entitled A Philosophical Review of the Successive Advances of the Human Mind. He agreed with the ancients that

All things perish, and all things spring up again; and in these successive acts of generation through which plants and animals reproduce themselves time does no more than restore continually the counterpart of what it has caused to disappear.

This sounds much like Marcus Aurelius. However, Turgot also noted that human beings were different from the rest of the world, since they can accumulate and communicate knowledge:

The succession of mankind, on the other hand, affords from age to age an ever-changing spectacle. Reason, the passions, and liberty ceaselessly give rise to new events …. The arbitrary signs of speech and writing, by providing men with the means of securing the possession of their ideas and communicating them to others, have made of all the individual stores of knowledge a common treasure-house which one generation transmits to another, an inheritance which is always being enlarged by the discoveries of each age.

This allows the idea of progress, whereby

… the whole human race, through alternate periods of rest and unrest, of weal and woe, goes on advancing, although at a slow pace, towards greater perfection (all quotations from Turgot, 1750, p. 41).

Turgot became most famous for his work on economics, his Reflections on the Formation and Distribution of Wealth being one of the foundational works of economic liberalism. Nevertheless, it is to him in particular and to the Enlightenment in general that we must trace the origin of our idea of progress (Younkins, 2006; Meek Lange, 2011). The statue of Turgot by Pierre Travaux (1853) illustrated above was appropriately photographed in the bright sunlight. Turgot was one of the giants of the Enlightenment.

Science advanced rapidly the 18th and 19th Centuries and by the beginning of the 20th Century it appeared that everything was within our reach. The study of thermodynamics had led to steam engines and automobiles, the study of electricity had given us artificial lighting and telephones, and the study of medicine had resulted in anesthetics and vaccines.

Society had become more humane. To some extent a belief in progress replaced our earlier belief in salvation.

Humanism is not science, but religion – the post-Christian faith that humans can make a world better than any in which they have so far lived … Christians understood history as a story of sin and redemption. Humanism is the transformation of this Christian doctrine of salvation into a project of universal human emancipation. The idea of progress is a secular version of the Christin belief in providence. (Gray, 2003. xiii)

No one was more enthusiastic in their belief in Progress than the people of the United States. They considered it their manifest destiny to replace the simple life of the Native Americans with the railways and industry of European civilization. The 1853 painting of Progress by Asher Brown Durand of the Hudson Valley School portrayed the changing American landscape. On the left are the Native Americans and on the right the New Americans. The unspoiled wilderness gives way to the glorious future. Both are suffused in sunshine: nostalgia for paradise is balanced by hope of heaven.

durand progress xb

March of Progress

The Theory of Evolution inverted the Great Chain of Being. God did not create the world and all that is within it. Rather, the world evolved from inanimate to animate and from simple to complex. Man descended from earlier humanoid species, that themselves had descended from monkeys. The universe developed from bottom up rather than from top down.

Religion generally rejected this world view. However some religious philosophers tried to combine evolution with divine purpose. Man was perhaps evolving toward a perfect being, an Omega Point where everything would be understood, time would cease, and God and man become one. (Teilhard de Chardin, 1959).

The evolution of man was often portrayed as a March of Progress. The most famous of these illustrations was by Rudolph Zaillinger for the Time-Life book on Early Man (Howell, 1965):

march of progress xb

The idea of the March of Progress was conceived in much the same way as the Great Chain of Being, although the sequence was temporal rather than heirarchic. Yet it remained a chain, and we often engage in a futile search for missing links.

Zaillinger’s picture suggests a linear sequence, with each humanoid species evolving into the next. This is completely wrong. Evolution has multiple branches, with most of the branches ending with extinction. Evolutionary progress is better illustrated by a bush than by a ladder (Gould, 1989). Furthermore, the evolution of man appears to have depended much more on chance contingencies than on an inevitable path. This does not make progress directionless, but does underline its precariousness.

Brave New World

As the Enlightenment progressed, the Common Man began refused to stay subservient. The Divine Right of Kings no longer held; revolutions occurred; democracy began to flourish. In the 20th Century governments began to grant Universal Suffrage.

However, we may have become too confident. Butterfield (1931) pointed out the human tendency to conceive of past history as necessarily progressing to the perfection of the present. Our present happiness simply confirms that our past policies were correct. The Great War shook this simple faith. Where could one place such terrible carnage in any concept of progress?

The tendency to see the present as the best of all possible worlds persists. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Francis Fukuyama announced the End of History (1989). Fascism had been defeated; communism had failed; democracy had triumphed:

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.

All that was then needed was to export democracy to the rest of the world. Today we live with the violent results of this idea. The world and human society are far more complex than they appear. Progress may be both desirable and possible, but it will require more foresight than we have shown so far.

Angelus Novus

Not everyone subscribed to the idea that progress is beneficial. The first half of the 20th Century undermined everyone’s faith. The rise of fascism in Europe, the war that it unleashed, the horror of the Holocaust, and the use of nuclear weapons were strong lines of evidence that history was descending into evil rather than progressing toward good.

klee new angel xb

Walter Benjamin gave terrifying poetic voice to this possibility by evoking a 1920 painting of Paul Klee:

A Klee painting named “Angelus Novus” shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress. (Benjamin 1941, 257–8)

Benjamin’s warnings were disregarded in the years of peace and prosperity that followed World War II. In recent years, however, the idea that progress can be evil has been reconsidered:

To believe in progress is to believe that, by using the new powers given us by growing scientific knowledge, humans can free themselves from the limits that frame the lives of other animals. This is the hope of nearly everybody nowadays, but it is groundless. For though human knowledge will very likely continue to grow and with it human power, the human animal will stay the same: a highly inventive species that is also one of the most predatory and destructive. (Gray, 2003, p. 4)

If anything about the present century is certain, it is that the power conferred on ‘humanity’ by new technologies will be used to commit atrocious crimes against it. (Gray, 2003, p. 14)

It is not hard to find historical examples of progress leading to problems (Wright, 2006). For example, the invention of flint arrows facilitated hunting but may have also led to the extinction of the very game that early man was pursuing. In addition, arrows provided yet another way for human beings to murder each other. Wright considers this early weaponry an example of a “progress trap” something that initially improves our lives but ultimately makes them worse.

Many of the problems brought on by progress are linked to human failings, particularly to selfishness. Wright considers the discovery of agriculture in this light:

The invention of agriculture is itself a runaway train, leading to vastly expanded populations but seldom solving the food problem because of two inevitable (or nearly inevitable) consequences. The first is biological: the population grows until it hits the bounds of the food supply. The second is social: all civilizations become hierarchical; the upward concentration of wealth ensure that there will never be enough to go around. (Wright, 2006, p. 108).

Modern democracies base their economies on capitalism. As well as being inherently unfair, capitalism cannot survive without continually increasing consumption. This has led to our current ills of pollution and climate-change:

Capitalism lures us on like the mechanical hare before the greyhounds, insisting that the economy is infinite and sharing therefore irrelevant. Just enough greyhounds catch a real hare now and then to keep the others running till they drop. In the past it was only the poor who lost this game; now it is the planet. (Wright, 2006, p. 124).


Though we must properly consider the problems that we face, we must not lose sight of the fact that we are getting better even if the pace is slow and variable. Despite the tremendous loss of life in the two world wars of the 20th Century, we are less murderous now than in the past (Pinker, 2011, 2015). Though governments are far from perfect, the people of the present world have more rights now than in the days of kings. And even if science can lead to such terrible things as nuclear war, it has also provided us with the benefits of modern agriculture, transportation, communication and medicine.

We are right to be careful. Yet we should not do away with progress and retreat to the past. The paradise that we think we remember is not real. The future dystopias we imagine are warnings not necessary predictions.

Temple of Longing

To balance Benjamin’s vision of the angel we might conclude with another of Paul Klee’s paintings, Mural from the Temple of Longing (1922). The colors of the painting come from the desert. The surface is weathered as if by wind and sand. The shapes likely represent a mountain village in North Africa. Klee had been irrevocably changed by a brief sojourn in Tunis in the summer of 1914, and themes from that visit recur in many of his paintings. The blues of the picture suggest twilight, and the circular and semicircular shapes in the upper part of the picture may hint at a moon both full and waxing.

klee longing xb

The various vertical constructions terminate in arrows which move away from us, upward and deeper into the space of the picture. Arrows occur many times in Klee’s paintings and mean many things: the passage of time, the movement of things, and the force of desire. Here they may represent thoughts or questions:

The father of the arrow is the thought: how do I expand my reach? Over this river? This lake? That mountain? (Klee, 1925, p. 54)

A faith in progress is necessary. We should not simply accept our present state. We should long for a better world. However, we should always question how we should change the present to the future. And we should proceed with caution.


Benjamin, W., (1940, translated by H. Zohn, 1969). Theses on the philosophy of history. In

Illuminations. (pp. 253–264). New York: Schocken.

Bury, J. B. (1932). The idea of progress: An inquiry into its origin and growth. New York: Macmillan. Available at Internet Archive

Butterfield, H. (1931). The Whig interpretation of history. London: G. Bell and Sons.

Fukuyama, F. (1989). The End of History? The National Interest, Summer: 3–18.

Gould, S. J. (1989). Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History, New York: W.W. Norton.

Gray, J. (2003). Straw dogs: Thoughts on humans and other animals. London: Granta.

Howell, F. C. (1965). Early Man, New York: TIME-LIFE Books, (pp. 41–45).

Klee, P. (1925, translated Moholy-Nagy, S., 1953). Pedagogical sketchbook. London: Faber. (p. 54)

Lovejoy, A. O. (1936). The great chain of being: A study of the history of an idea. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Meek Lange, M. (2011). Progress. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Pinker, S. (2011). The better angels of our nature: Why violence has declined. New York: Viking.

Pinker, S. (September 11, 2015). Now for the good news: things really are getting better. The Guardian.

Pollard, S. (1968, reprinted 1971). The idea of progress: History and society. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, UK: Penguin Books.

Teilhard de Chardin, P. (translated by Wall, B., 1959). The phenomenon of man. London: Collins

Turgot, A.-R.-J., (1750, translated by Meek, R. L., 1973). A philosophical review of the successive advances of the human mind. In Turgot on progress, sociology and economics. Cambridge, UK: University Press. Much of this is available on Google Books

Wright, R. (2006). An illustrated short history of progress. Toronto: House of Anansi Press.

Younkins, E. W. (2006). Turgot on progress and political economy. Le Québécois Libre. 186. Available on webpage


Person and Memory

Although psychology has become an established science, it still has deep connections to philosophy. This is particularly true when we consider the concept of person that is at the foundation of all psychology. A person exists (and persists) through the processes of consciousness and memory. The following photograph (by Marie-Lan Nguyen) shows a Roman statue of Clio, the muse of history, from the Museo Pio Clementino of the Vatican. Clio records what is happening and recalls what has happened. History ensures that the past persists. The past helps us to understand the present.


Clio, Museo Pio Clementino

The statue derives from the 2nd century CE. Its head and body were originally from different statues. Our knowledge of the person comes from both psychology and philosophy. This posting looks at memory and person from these two viewpoints. The photograph has been modified to provide more space on the statue’s right. There is much we do not know.

From soul to person

The philosophers of the Enlightenment doubted the existence of the soul. Thoughts and sensations were all that could be directly experienced. These required a subject to experience them. In his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke (1689) proposed the terms “self” and “person” for this subject. A person is

a thinking intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself, as itself, the same thinking thing in different times and places; which it does only by that consciousness which is inseparable from thinking, and, as it seems to me, essential to it; it being impossible for anyone to perceive, without perceiving that he does perceive. (Book II, Chapter 27)

As well as consciousness, the idea of person required a memory of one’s past thoughts and actions. Consciousness of both past and present could then support the identity of the person over time. Without memory, each moment of experience would require a different subject:

For since consciousness always accompanies thinking, and it is that which makes everyone to be what he calls self, and thereby distinguishes himself from all other thinking things; in this, alone, consists personal identity, i. e. the sameness of a rational being; and as far as this consciousness can be extended backwards, to any past action or thought, so far reaches the identity of that person; it is the same self now, it was then; and it is by the same self with this present one, that now reflects on it, that that action was done. (Book II, Chapter 27)

Locke considered memory as a simple storehouse of perceptions that could be revived at a later time

this laying up of our ideas in the repository of the memory signifies no more but this, that the mind has a power in many cases to revive perceptions which it has once had, with this additional perception annexed to them, that it has had them before. (Book II, Chapter 10).

In this way, Locke considered the human mind as essentially passive: a clean slate (tabula rasa) upon which the world writes through the process of sensation, and an untended warehouse of slowly fading messages from the past.

Personhood clearly requires both consciousness and memory but the relationships are not simple (Behan, 1979). Am I a person when I am unconscious? Am I the same person as the two-year old child who grew up to be me, but whose experiences I can no longer remember? Personal identity must depend on physical as well as psychological continuity (Parfit, 1984; Olsen, 2010). In modern science we might also consider genetic continuity: over time our cells may change but our genes remain the same.

The self as described by the philosophers of the Enlightenment had a definitely moral aspect. Locke proposed that conscious memory must take responsibility for a person’s past actions. The self

extends itself beyond present existence to what is past, only by consciousness,—whereby it becomes concerned and accountable; owns and imputes to itself past actions, just upon the same ground and for the same reason as it does the present. (Book II, Chapter 27).

Whereas the soul had existed in relation to God, the person was much more closely related to society. The Enlightenment was far more concerned with the rights and duties than with sin and salvation. Our modern concept of the person continues this idea of individual responsibility:

A person is a being with a certain moral status, or a bearer of rights … a being who has a sense of self, has a notion of the future and the past, can hold values, make choices; in short can adopt life-plans … a being with his own point of view on things … a being who can be addressed, and who can reply … a ‘respondent.’. (Taylor, 1985, p. 97)

Active Attention

In his Essay on Human Understanding, written in reply to Locke’s essay, Condillac (1746, reviewed by Kaitaro, 2007) pointed out that perception and memory are not simply passive responses to incoming sensation. Attention selects which or our sensations are perceived and remembered, and finds relations among these sensations. Furthermore, attention is purposeful, acitng according to our needs.

The association of several ideas can only be caused by the attention which we have given them when they occurred together: as well, things only attract our attention because of their relation to our temperament, passions and state of mind, or, in a word, our need. (Condillac, 1746, Part I, Section II, Chapter 3)

One of the ideas that the human mind creates is that of the self. Condillac proposed that this comes about through a process that compares present perceptions with memories of past perceptions:

When objects attract our attention, the perceptions that they cause are associated with a feeling of self … Consciousness not only is aware of our perceptions but also, if these repeat, informs us that we have already experienced them, and tells us how, despite their variety and succession, they relate to … a being that is always the same. … Without what I call reminiscence, each moment of our life would appear as the first in our existence, and our consciousness would never extend beyond our first perception. (Condillac, 1746, Part I, Section II, Chapter 1)

However, although Condillac considered consciousness as an active process, he came to think that this activity itself could be derived from sensation. In his later book, Treatise on Sensations (Condillac, 1754, discussed in Falkenstein, 2010), he attempted to see how all of our thinking could come from sensation, using the concept of a statue that is sequentially stimulated in each modality. Though he disagreed with Locke about the passivity of the mind, he still decided that active mental processes could be derived from experience. Sensation teaches us to think. Nothing is innate.

However, as pointed out by Donald (2001), Condillac’s statue cannot develop in this way unless it has from the beginning the ability to be conscious of the various sensations that it experiences. Furthermore, the statue would have to be endowed with some curiosity or there would be no motive for it to make any associations between the different sensations that it experiences.

Nevertheless, by the end of the book Condillac’s statue has developed attention, perceptions, associations, memory and desire. Condillac appears to be stating that this statue is equivalent to a human being. Yet, although it has some idea of its own body, the statue does not have any clear understanding of itself. The statue’s final soliloquy includes the haunting comment:

I see myself, I touch myself, in a word, I sense myself, but I do not know what I am. (Condillac, 1754, Part IV, Chapter 8)

This absence of any self-understanding may be related to the statue’s lack of any social experience. Condillac provided it with sensations of itself and of objects, but not of other perssons. The human concept of the self develops at the same time as the concept that there are other persoons in the world each with its own consciousness and will (Wellman, 2011).

Cognitive Psychology

Competing claims that human mental processes were passive or active played themselves out again in the 20th Century. Behaviorists proposed that all our actions derive from the stimuli that we receive. At mid-century, however, a cognitive revolution occurred: psychologists decided that human perception is an intensely active process, and that memory is far more complicated than a simple repository of experience.

Human memory is presently conceived as having short and long durations. Short-term memories include sensory stores which serve to register modality-specific incoming information, and working memory which selects information from these stores, and transforms it into action according to current needs and goals. Working memory has access to learned procedures and concepts that are maintained in long term memory, and uses various subsidiary stores, such as the phonological loop and the visuo-spatial scratchpad, to hold information while it operates.

The diagram below shows the general structure of human information processing, with the different human memories shown in separate boxes. Current cognitive psychology considers these memories as residing in neuronal networks that are far more widespread and overlapping than the diagram suggests. Attention is the process that selects what information is transferred into and out of working memory.

cognitive psychology color 2015

Long-term memory is what is usually considered as “memory” in everyday speech. Cognitive psychology divides this into explicit and implicit, depending upon whether the recalled information is accessible to consciousness. This distinction is also described as declarative vs. procedural. The memory of how to ride a bike is implicit/procedural; the memory of the capital city of France is explicit/declarative.

Endel Tulving (1972, 1983, 2002) proposed that explicit memory is further divided into two types: semantic and episodic. Semantic memory is the memory for facts. Such facts are recalled without any relation to our experience when we initially learned them. Episodic memories are recalled together with aspects of what we experienced when they were initially stored into memory, i. e., they are recalled as part of an episode in our life. The archtypical episodic memory is that of one’s first kiss, a memory that usually cannot be recalled without re-experiencing many attendant sensations and emotions. The following table (modified and abridged from Tulving, 1983, p. 35) gives some of the distinctions between the two types of memory:

Feature                            Episodic                       Semantic
Source                              sensation                       comprehension
Units                                  events, episodes           facts, ideas
Organization                      temporal                        conceptual
Reference                          self                                universe
Veridicality                         personal belief               social acceptance
Registration                       experiential                    symbolic
Access                               deliberate                      automatic
Retrieval queries                when? where?               what?
Recalled information          personal past                 facts
Reported experience         remember                      know

Episodic memories are associated with a special type of consciousness that Tulving and his colleagues have called “autonoetic” (Wheeler et al., 1997). This allows us to re-experience events from the past without our becoming confused with our present experience. Remembering something is similar to the original experience but is clearly not the same. Autonoetic consciousness provides us with the ability for “mental time travel.” Moreover, as well as letting us remember our past, it allows us to experience what might happen to us in the future.

One experimental technique for evaluating episodic memory involves having subjects recall previously learned associations. They are then asked whether they “remember” these items (on the basis that they also recall what happened when the association was studied), or simply “know” the association (reviewed by Tulving, 2002). Remembered information has the “flavor” of the original experience, whereas known information is simply factual. However, although most subjects can make the remember/know distinction, its meaning is not clear. The “remember” judgment may possibly indicate a larger amount of information or its greater vividness rather than (or in addition to) a different type of recollection.

Imaging studies have shown that recalling episodic memories activates different brain regions than recalling semantic memories. Recalling episodic memories involves the right frontal region of the brain, whereas recalling semantic memories is more left frontal (Tulving et al., 1994; Cabeza et al., 1997). Furthermore, a patient with difficulty in recalling episodic memories showed a focal lesion in the right frontal region (Levine et al., 1998).

Recent imaging studies have implicated that the recall of episodic information involves complex interactions between several different regions of the brain, most particularly the hippocampi, the anterior prefrontal cortex and the left parietal cortex (Vilberg & Rugg, 2009; Rugg and Vilberg, 2013).

Tulving considered episodic memory to be a special development in human beings. Animals

have minds, they are conscious of their world, and they rely as much on learning and memory in acquiring the skills needed for survival as we do … but they do not seem to have the same kind of ability humans do to travel back in time in their own minds (Tulving 2002).

However, human semantic memory, organized in large part through language, is also quite distinct from the memory that animals have for facts. Since it carries with it human culture, art, science, and history, our semantic memories are every bit as special as our memories of personal experience.

Everything that we learn occurs initially part of a subjective experience. How experience becomes memory is not clear. Semantic memories may derive from episodic memories after they have been separated from their personal associations through processes such as inference, abstraction, generalization or consolidation. However, it is also possible that the initial experience is stored simultaneously in the two types of memory.

Autobiographical Memory

Autobiographical memory is composed of both semantic and episodic elements (Conway & Pleydell-Pearce, 2000; Renoult et al., 2012). I can recall the names of my family members, the important dates of my life (birth, graduation, marriage), and the sequence of places where I have lived or worked in much the same way that I recall the capitals of countries. Yet I can also recall my actual experiences during my wedding or my first day at work. The story of my life can thus be viewed at different levels: in semantic outline or episodic detail.

Episodic memories are generally organized around the idea of a person that persists from one episode to the next (Picton, 2012). As well as linking together what has happened to us into a personal history, our autobiographical memory also contains explanations for why we did what we did. Thus we come to know how we tend to respond in certain situations, what needs and desires govern our actions, and what goals we might be aiming for. Thus we develop a sense of self:

When it comes to our identities, narrative is not only about self, but is rather in some profound way a constituent part of self (Eakin, 2008, p. 2).

This psychological concept of the person shows some similarities to the existentialist view of the man as not being endowed with a soul but as having to create one out of nothing:

Freedom is precisely the nothingness which is made to be at the heart of man and which forces human reality to make itself instead of to be. As we have seen, for human reality, to be is to choose oneself; nothing comes to it from the outside or from within which it can receive or accept. Without any help whatsoever, it is entirely abandoned to the intolerable necessity of making itself be. (Sartre, 1943/1995, p. 485, translation Barnes)

We can be quite creative in how we put together our personal story:

we are all virtuoso novelists, who find ourselves engaged in all sorts of behavior, more or less unified, but sometimes disunified, and we always put the best ‘faces’ on it we can. We try to make all of our material cohere into a single good story. And that story is our autobiography. The chief fictional character at the center of that autobiography is one’s self. (Dennett, 1992).

Unfortunately, we are sometimes unreliable narrators. When we are happy we can see our lives as the successful outcome of our intelligence, charm and drive. When we are depressed we may misperceive what has happened and exaggerate our personal failures. A good friend or a psychotherapist can help us by listening to our story, pointing out its inconsistencies, and suggesting different interpretations. They help us to be honest with ourselves (Coetzee & Kurtz, 2015). If our version of our life history is more fiction than fact, we can have great difficulty handling the present or coping with the future.

The concept of a personal narrative is often associated with morality. Should we not be responsible for the story of our life in some manner? “Accountable” was the word used by Locke in his discussion of the person. Charles Taylor remarks

[I]n order to make minimal sense of our lives, in order to have an identity, we need an orientation to the good, which means some sense of qualitative discrimination, of the incomparably higher. Now we see that this sense of the good has to be woven into my understanding of my life as an unfolding story. (Taylor, 1989, p. 47)

Alasdair MacIntyre (1984) has also considered personal identity and its relation to ethics:

In what does the unity of an individual life consist? The answer is that its unity is the unity of a narrative embodied in a single life. To ask ‘What is the good for me?’ is to ask how best I might live out that unity and bring it to completion. (MacIntyre, 1984, p. 218)

He goes on to describe the personal narrative in terms of a “quest” for the good. We seek to go from the as yet unfulfilled present person to a future person as he could be if he were to realize his essential nature (MacIntyre, 1984, p. 52).

Memory Style

Recent studies have indicated that some subjects have autobiographical memories that are more highly developed than normal subjects (Leport et al., 2012). These patients can recall much more about what occurred during their lives than normal subjects. When prompted by specific dates they can often recall exactly what they were doing and what was happening in the world. These subjects organized their autobiography using a strict chronological ordering.

Other subjects have a much less developed autobiographical memory than normal (Palombo et al., 2015). These subjects experience much less episodic detail when they recall their past particularly from childhood and adolescence. For the more recent past, the subjects appear to compensate, perhaps by using semantic memory to encode what others would maintain as episodic details. During remember/know recognition-testing, the subjects reported remember judgments must less frequently than control subjects. It is as though they have some deficit in either making or recalling episodic memories. However, it is difficult to evaluate this by asking them about their experience. This would be like asking a color-blind patient to describe his experience of red. On physiological testing, the subjects showed reduced activation in the brain regions normally associated with episodic recall.

These two groups of subjects may represent the limits of normal variability in memory styles. In this regard it is interesting to note some recent contributions from philosophy. Galen Strawson (2004, 2012) has proposed that there are two kinds of self-experience: diachronic and episodic. A diachronic (from the Greed dia through and chronos time) person considers himself or herself as an entity that has persisted from past to present and that will continue into the future. Most diachronic persons consider their past in terms of a personal narrative. An episodic (from the Greek epi in addition and eisodos entrance) person is one who has little or no sense of a past or future identity, and little concern with his or her life story. The memory of the personal past is discontinuous and divorced from the present self. Strawson considers himself as episodic:

I have a past, like any human being, and I know perfectly well that I have a past. I have a respectable amount of factual knowledge about it, and I also remember some of my past experiences ‘from the inside’, as philosophers say. And yet I have absolutely no sense of my life as a narrative with form, or indeed as a narrative without form. Absolutely none. Nor do I have any great or special interest in my past. Nor do I have a great deal of concern for my future. (Strawson, 2004, p. 433)

Strawson’s use of “episodic” is different (indeed almost the opposite) from Tulving’s. Strawson uses it to describe a person who considers the past (and future) as having little relation to the present, whereas Tulving uses it to describe the experiential quality of remembering. The term “episodic” has been used with even other meanings: Donald (2001, pp. 200-202) uses it to describe the temporal organization of experience into meaningful events.

Strawson proposes that episodic persons are not that uncommon. Since such persons would generally not write autobiographies, the historical record may be biased towards the diachronic. Strawson nevertheless quotes others who share his episodic nature. Goronwy Rees (1961) entitled his autobiography A Bundle of Sensations. The title makes allusion to David Hume, who was himself sceptical about the possibility of any person or perceiving subject. He considered each of us to be

nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement. Our eyes cannot turn in their sockets without varying our perceptions. Our thought is still more variable than our sight; and all our other senses and faculties contribute to this change; nor is there any single power of the soul, which remains unalterably the same, perhaps for one moment. (Hume, 1738, Book I Part IV Section VI)

Strawson’s main point, however, is to criticize the idea that a personal narrative is essential to moral development. Indeed because of the way that it is continually revised, a deeply experienced personal narrative may hinder more than help:

the Narrative tendency to look for story or narrative coherence in one’s life is, in general, a gross hindrance to self-understanding: to a just, general, practically real sense, implicit or explicit, of one’s nature. It’s well known that telling and retelling one’s past leads to changes, smoothings, enhancements, shifts away from the facts … The implication is plain: the more you recall, retell, narrate yourself, the further you risk moving away from accurate self-understanding, from the truth of your being. (Strawson, 2004, p. 447).

Eakin (2008) has argued against Strawson’s dissociation of personal identity from any narrative evaluation of one’s past and future. It may all depend on the way in which the memory of the past is organized. Not all stories are told from beginning to end. As Christman (2004) has pointed out the events in a narrative may be linked according to causal connections (from the beginning), teleological directions (toward the end) or thematic relations (interacting foci).

What the condition of narrativity amounts to, then, is the more basic requirement that the person must be able to look upon the factors and events of her life with a certain interpretive reflection, whether or not those factors and events have any particular narrative unity in a traditional sense. Christman (2004).

Person and Memory

A person is an entity with a unique point of view that can be exercised in both space and time. From this particular perspective a person can perceive the present world, remember the past and speculate about the future.

Persons differ on how they view the relation between themselves and the world. Some live mainly for the present and have little relationship to their past. Indeed they may even feel that their past self was a different person from their present self. They may have difficulty recalling the experience of a past episodes in their lives even though they know that they occurred. Others pay particular attention to what has happened to them and how they might approach the future. They are intensely interested in how their life develops over time.

Whether such differences are the result of the normal variability of human memory systems or the result of a deficiency in some neural process or processes remains an open question. We need to find out how episodic memories are generated in the brain and how they differ from semantic memories. How differences in memory style relate to differences in personality also needs investigation. For example, are diachronics more likely to be introverted than extraverted?


The posting concludes with a photograph of the statue of Omphale in the Schönbrunn Garden in Vienna. The photograph was taken by Manfred Werner using a flash, during a summer night-time concert of the Vienna Philharmonic.

For three years Hercules was Omphale’s slave and lover. At times they exchanged their clothing. In the statue Omphale wears Hercules lion-skin and carries his club. The photograph is formally very similar to the photograph of Clio at the beginning of this post. Yet for me they differ in much the same way as semantic and episodic memory. Clio is abstract and put together after the fact. Omphale is an experience.


Omphale, Sommernachtskonzert Schönbrunn 2012

Omphale, Sommernachtskonzert Schönbrunn 2012


Behan, D. (1979). Locke on persons and personal identity. Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 9, 53–75.

Christman, J. (2004). Narrative unity as a condition of personhood. Metaphilosophy, 35, 695–713.

Coetzee, J. M., & Kurtz, A. (2015). The good story: Exchanges on truth, fiction and psychotherapy. London: Harvill Secker.

Condillac, E. B. de (1746). Essai sur l’origine des connoissances humaines. Available at Université de Québec à Chicoutimi.

La liaison de plusieurs idées ne peut avoir d’autre cause que l’attention que nous leur avons donnée, quand elles se sont présentées ensemble: ainsi les choses n’attirant notre attention que par le rapport qu’elles ont à notre tempérament, à nos passions, à notre état, ou, pour tout dire en un mot, à nos besoins.

Lorsque les objets attirent notre attention, les perceptions qu’ils occasionnent en nous, se lient avec le sentiment de notre être et avec tout ce qui peut y avoir quelque rapport. De là il arrive que non seulement la conscience nous donne connaissance de nos perceptions, mais encore, si elles se répètent, elle nous avertit souvent que nous les avons déjà eues, et nous les fait connaître comme étant à nous, ou comme affectant,  malgré leur variété et leur succession, un être qui est constamment le même nous. La conscience, considérée par rapport à ces nouveaux effets, est une nouvelle opération qui nous sert à chaque instant et qui est le fondement de l’expérience. Sans elle chaque moment de la vie nous parait le premier de notre existence, et notre connaissance ne s’étendrait jamais au-delà d’une première perception: je la nommerai réminiscence.

Condillac, E. B. de (1754). Traité des sensations. Available at Université de Québec à Chicoutimi.

[J]e me vois, je me touche, en un mot, je me sens, mais je ne sais ce que je suis.

Dennett, D. C. (1992). The self as a center of narrative gravity. In: F. Kessel, P. Cole & D. Johnson (eds.) Self and consciousness: Multiple perspectives. (pp 102-115) Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum

Donald, M. (2001). A mind so rare: The evolution of human consciousness. New York: Norton.

Eakin, P. J. (2008). Living autobiographically. How we create identity in narrative. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Falkenstein, L. (2010) Étienne Bonnot de CondillacStanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Hume, D. (1738). Treatise of Human Nature. London: John Noon. Available at Project Gutenberg.

Kaitaro, T. (2007). Memory, imagination and language in eighteenth-century French sensualism. Cortex, 43, 651-657.

LePort, A. K., Mattfeld, A. T., Dickinson-Anson, H., Fallon, J. H., Stark, C. E., Kruggel, F., & McGaugh, J. L. (2012). Behavioral and neuroanatomical investigation of Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM). Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 98, 78–92.

Levine, B., Black, S. E., Cabeza, R., Sinden, M., McIntosh, A. R., Toth, J. P. Stuss, D. T. & Tulving, E.  (1998). Episodic memory and the self in a case of isolated retrograde amnesia. Brain, 121, 1951–1973.

Locke, J. (1689/1694). An essay concerning human understanding. 2nd Ed. London: Thomas Basset. Available at Project Gutenberg.

MacIntyre, A. C. (1981/2007). After virtue: A study in moral theory. 3rd Ed. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.

Olsen, E. T. (2010). Personal identity. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Palombo, D. J., Alain, C., Söderlund, H., Khuu, W., & Levine, B. (2015). Severely deficient autobiographical memory (SDAM) in healthy adults: A new mnemonic syndrome. Neuropsychologia, 72, 105–118

Parfit, D. (19840. Reasons and Persons. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Parfit, D. (19840. Reasons and Persons. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Picton, T. W. (2012). The necessary narrative. In B. Levine and F. I. M. Craik (Eds.) Mind and the frontal lobes. Cognition, Behavior and Brain Imaging. (pp. 264-278). New York: Oxford University Press.

Rees, G. (1961). A bundle of sensations: Sketches in autobiography. New York: Macmillan

Renoult, L., Davidson, P.S., Palombo, D.J., Moscovitch, M., & Levine,B. (2012). Personal semantics: at the crossroads of semantic and episodic memory. Trends in Cognitive Science, 16, 550–558.

Rugg, M.D. & Vilberg, K.L. (2013). Brain networks underlying episodic memory retrieval. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 23, 255-260.

Sartre, J.-P. (1943, corrigée avec index par A. Elkaim-Sartre, 1995). L’être et le néant: Essai d’ontologie phénoménologique. Paris: Librarie Gallimard (Editions Tel). English translation by H. Barnes is reprinted by Washington Square Press (1956/1984).

La liberté, c’est précisément le néant qui est été au Coeur de l’homme et qui contraint la réalité humaine à se faire, au lieu d’être. Nous l’avons vu, pour la la réalité humaine, être c’est se choisir: rien ne lui vient du dehors, ni du dedans non plus, qu’elle puisse recevoir ou accepter. Elle est entièrement abandonee, sans aucune aide d’aucune sorte, à l’insoutenable nécessité de se faire être jusque dans le moindre detail.

Strawson, G. (2004). Against narrativity. Ratio, 17, 428–451.

Strawson, G. (2012). “We live beyond any tale that we happen to enact.” Harvard Review of Philosophy, 18, 73-90.

Taylor, C. (1985). Philosophical Papers. Volume 1. Human agency and language. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press. (Chapter 4. The concept of a person. pp. 97-114).

Taylor, C. (1989). Sources of the self: The making of the modern identity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Tulving, E. (1972). Episodic and semantic memory. In E. Tulving & W. Donaldson, (Eds.) Organization of Memory. (pp. 381–403). New York: Academic Press.

Tulving, E. (1983). Elements of episodic memory. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Tulving, E. (2002). Episodic memory: from mind to brain. Annual Review of Psychology, 53, 1–25.

Vilberg, K.L., & Rugg, M.D. (2009). Functional significance of retrieval-related activity in lateral parietal cortex: Evidence from fMRI and ERPs. Human Brain Mapping, 30, 1490-501.

Wellman, H. M. (2011) Developing a theory of mind. In U. Goswami (Ed.), Handbook of Childhood Cognitive Development, 2nd Ed. (pp. 258-284). Chichester, UK: Wiley Blackwell.

Wheeler, M. A., Stuss, D. T., & Tulving, E. (1997). Toward a theory of episodic memory: the frontal lobes and autonoetic consciousness. Psychological Bulletin, 121, 331–354.

Camille Claudel

cesar camille xb


The photograph is striking. A young woman stares defiantly at the camera. One feels her passion and her sensuality. Her unkempt hair is tied back from her eyes. She is in working clothes but for the camera she has wrapped a scarf around her neck and fixed it with a pin. The photographer went by the name of César, but nothing else is known about him. The photograph was taken in 1883 or 1884. The Rodin Museum in Paris has an albumen print. The photograph was published in 1913 in the Parisian journal L’Art Décoratif (Claudel, 1913b).





The subject was Camille Claudel (1864-1943). Her younger brother remembered her:

this superb young woman, in the full brilliance of her beauty and genius … a splendid forehead surmounting magnificent eyes of that rare deep blue so rarely seen except in novels, a nose that reflected her heritage in Champagne, a prominent mouth more proud than sensual, a mighty tuft of chestnut hair, a true chestnut that the English call auburn, falling to her hips. An impressive air of courage, frankness, superiority, gaiety. (Paul Claudel, introduction to the 1951 exhibit of Camille’s sculpture, quoted in Claudel, 2008, p. 359).

At the time of the photograph, Camille was twenty. For two years, she had been learning to sculpt, sharing a studio with the English student Jessie Lipscombe, and studying with the sculptor Alfred Boucher, one of the few art teachers in Paris willing to tutor women. When Boucher left Paris for a year in Florence in 1882, he recommended his student to Auguste Rodin (1840-1917). Camille Claudel became Rodin’s student, his model, his lover, his muse and his colleague.

Ten years later Camille left Rodin, and set herself up in her own studio. Rodin tried to send commissions her way, and for several years she was able to work productively. After successful exhibitions in the Galerie Eugène Blot in 1905 and 1908, however, Camille became withdrawn and unable to work. She became convinced that Rodin and his “gang” were trying to steal her ideas. She destroyed many of her maquettes. She boarded up her studio and lived in dirt and squalor, coming out only at night. In 1913, her family had her forcibly committed to an insane asylum near Paris. With the onset of the war, Camille was transferred to the Montdevergues asylum in Provence. There she remained until her death in 1943 at the age of 79.


The affair between Rodin and Camille was well known to their colleagues. However, it was hidden from society, and little documentation survives to describe their passion. Novelists (Delbée, 1982/1992; Webb, 2015), musicians (Heggie & Scheer, 2012) and actors (Anne Delbée, 1982; Isabelle Adjani in Nuytten, 1988/2011; Juliette Binoche in Dumont, 2013) have imagined what it was like to be Camille, but we remain unsure.

Camille’s position in the affair was by far the more precarious. Rodin already had a mistress – Rose Beuret, a former model. She tolerated Rodin’s affairs but maintained the right of primacy. Rose was indeed considered by many to be Rodin’s wife, although they were not formally married until 1917 (just before both Rodin and she were to die).

Camille came from a conservative Catholic family. Her desire to be an artist ran counter to her family’s wishes. When they learned of her affair with Rodin, they were completely scandalized. Only her father continued to support her both emotionally and financially. Camille spent much effort trying to persuade Rodin to give up Rose, but to no avail. However, she did get Rodin to agree briefly to a “contract” in 1886, wherein he promised that

I will have for a student only Mademoiselle Camille Claudel and I will protect her alone though all the means I have at my disposal through my friends who will be hers especially through my influential friends (Ayre-Clause, 2002, p.71).

The social position of an unmarried woman artist was extremely difficult. Rodin could do as he pleased. Having affairs with beautiful women was one of his pleasures. Camille had no freedom. Even my treatment of the couple shades easily into such differences – I refer to her by her first name and him by his last. (Part of this is to avoid confusion with Camille’s brother Paul, but part is probably because I have picked up the viewpoint of fin-de-siècle France. This issue is discussed by Wilson, 2012.)

Rodin’s passion for his muse was intense. Camille’s biographer Odile Ayre-Clause (2002, p. 60) quoted a recently recovered letter from Rodin to Camille. This appears to have followed one of their quarrels:

Have pity, cruel girl, I can’t go on, I can’t spend another day without seeing you. Otherwise the atrocious madness. It is over, I don’t work anymore, malevolent goddess, and yet I love furiously. My Camille be assured that I feel love for no other woman, and that my soul belongs to you. … Ah! Divine beauty, flower who speaks and loves, intelligent flower, my darling. My dear one, I am on my knees facing your beautiful body which I embrace.

Their physical passion was allied to creative cooperation. Similar themes occur in the work of both artists. Perhaps the most striking parallel is found between Camille’s Sakuntala and Rodin’s Eternal Idol. Camille’s sculpture is based on an Indian legend about a king who married the maiden Sakuntala, but then was cursed and lost the memory of both his wife and his son. Ultimately the curse was lifted, and the sculpture depicts the moment of their reconciliation.

sakuntala idol x

Rodin’s sculpture has no clear derivation. Rainer-Maria Rilke, who served as Rodin’s secretary from 1902-1906, described its effect:

A girl kneels, her beautiful body is softly bent backward, her right arm is stretched behind her. Her hand has gropingly found her foot. In these three lines which shut her in from the outer world her life lies enclosed with its secret. The stone beneath her lifts her up as she kneels there. And suddenly, in the attitude into which the young girl has fallen from idleness, or reverie, or solitude, one recognizes an ancient, sacred symbol, a posture like that into which the goddess of distant, cruel cults had sunk. The head of this woman bends somewhat forward; with an expression of indulgence, majesty and forbearance, she looks down as from the height of a still night upon the man who sinks his face into her bosom as though into many blossoms. He, too, kneels, but deeper, deep in the stone. His hands lie behind him like worthless and empty things. His right hand is open; one sees into it. From this group radiates a mysterious greatness. One does not dare to give it one meaning, it has thousands. Thoughts glide over it like shadows, new meanings arise like riddles and unfold into clear significance. Something of the mood of a Purgatorio lives within this work. A heaven is near that has not yet been reached, a hell is near that has not yet been forgotten. [Ein Himmel ist nah, aber er ist noch nicht erreicht; eine Hölle ist nah, aber sie ist noch nicht vergessen.] Here, too, all splendour flashes from the contact of the two bodies and from the contact of the woman with herself. (Rilke, 1907/1919, pp 42-43).

At the time that she was ending the affair with Rodin, Camille was working on a sculptural ensemble called the L’Age mûr (Maturity). It depicts a man being led away from a pleading young woman by an old woman. The figure of the young woman was also reproduced by itself as L’Implorante (Supplicant). The ensemble can be interpreted as fate leading man away from youth toward death. However, it is impossible not to see the Rose Beuret, Rodin and Camille in the figures.

agemur b


lavalse b


After her break with Rodin, Claudel worked as an independent artist. She had very little money to support large bronze castings and her major sales involved small pieces for tabletop. Camille became adept at creating sculptures for personal rather than public enjoyment. Two pieces are worth noting. The first is The Waltz, several copies of which were cast in bronze. One graced the piano of Claude Debussy. Its fascination lies in the way it combines both movement and stillness.




This sculpture is evoked in the song cycle Camille Claudel: Into the Fire (Heggie & Scheer, 2012), recorded by Joyce DiDonato and the Alexander Quartet. The following is a brief excerpt:

Is it in the spirit?
Is it in the flesh?
Where do I abide?
Oh, console my eyes with beauty.
Allow me to forget
That every dance of love
Is mingled with regret.

pensee profonde b


Another piece – Deep Thought – shows a young woman kneeling before a fireplace. The piece combines both bronze and onyx in a marvelous mix of texture. It is difficult to say why this resonates so deeply. Perhaps it suggests the dreams of what might be or what might have been.



Paul Claudel described his sister’s achievement in terms of its “inner thought:”

Just as a man sitting in the countryside employs, to accompany his meditation, a tree or a rock on which to anchor his eye, so a work by Camille Claudel in the middle of a room is, by its mere form, like those curious stones that the Chinese collect: a kind of monument of inner thought, the tuft of a theme accessible to any and every dream. While a book, for example, must be taken from the shelves of our library, or a piece of music must be performed, the worked metal or stone here releases its own incantation, and our chamber is imbued with it. (Claudel , 1913b, translated by Richard Howard in Paris, 1988).


For a sculptor, large compositions were essential to recognition and success. The sales of the small pieces did not bring in very much money, and Camille’s stipend from her father was not large. She lapsed into poverty, depression and paranoia. She attributed her lack of success to Rodin, whom she accused of stealing her work and making money by re-casting her sculptures and selling them to “his pals, the chic artists” (letter to Paul Claudel, 1910, quoted in Paris, 1984/1988, p 132). By 1913, Camille’s condition was dire. Dr. Michaux, the physician who certified that she should be committed to an asylum, said that she had sealed up the windows of her studio, had sold everything except for an armchair and a bed, never washed, never went out except by night, and often went without food (Wilson, 2012).

Camille’s father died on March 2, 1913. As soon as this last support was gone, the Claudel family quickly moved to have Camille committed. On March 10 Camille was forcibly interned in an asylum near Paris. Her diagnosis was paranoid psychosis. Some of her supporters voiced objections, but these came to naught. When the war began Camille was transferred to the Montdevergues asylum in the south of France, where she remained until she died in 1943.

At the asylum, Camille continued to have paranoid thoughts about Rodin. After Rodin died in 1917, Camille transferred her suspicions to his followers (and to various Protestant and Jewish cliques). She insisted on preparing her own food, since she was afraid that her enemies were trying to poison her. Nevertheless, much of the time Camille was quite rational. She was never aggressive or violent. Her doctors continuously recommended that she be taken back to live with the family, or at least transferred to a hospital near the family, where she could be visited more easily. The family refused any such suggestions. For fear of scandal, they insisted that Camille not be allowed to send or receive mail from anyone other than her brother and mother. Paranoia sets up positive feedback loops: when patients perceive that people are acting against them, they actually often are.

Paranoid thinking is common. Delusions of persecution occur more frequently than delusions of grandeur. About 10-15% of people harbors thoughts that they are persecuted (Freeman, 2007). Most of these do not require treatment. Modern cognitive psychology considers persecutory delusions to be largely caused by a willingness to “jump to conclusions” when entertaining theories about the origin of stress (Freeman & Garrety, 2014). Additional factors are social isolation, which decreases the chance of anyone providing meaningful feedback, and a lack of sleep, which leads to dream-like rather than rational thought.

Paranoia is a continuum. Although many people with mild delusions can function normally, more ingrained delusions can lead to problems adjusting to society. In the past, mild forms of paranoia were considered paranoid personality disorder, and more severe forms paranoid psychosis, although these specific diagnostic categories are no longer recognized. The psychiatrists Lhermitte and Allilaire (1984) reviewed the psychiatric history of Camille Claudel and came to a diagnosis of paranoid psychosis.

In 1929, Camille’s old friend and colleague, Jessie Lipscomb, who had returned to England and married, found out where Camille was hospitalized. She and her husband then visited her in Montdevergues. Jessie insisted after their reunion that Camille had shown no signs of madness. Jessie’s, husband, William Elborne, took two photographs. One shows Camille alone, seated with her arms folded. The other shows Camille and Jessie seated together. As noted by Ayre Clause (2002, p.231):

With her arms folded around herself, Camille does not seem to see Jessie’s hand softly reaching out to her. The long years of isolation have taken their toll; Camille looks empty and withdrawn.

elborne photos

Social isolation is probably the worst approach to treating paranoia. Somehow, the patients must be induced to interact with others. They must learn to consider themselves as others see them. Clearly this must be commenced gently with a therapist whom the patient trusts. The treatment must try to decrease the ingrained suspicion of others, and to help the patient to use more rational modes of thought.

None of this was available in Montdevergues. Most of the inmates were far more psychotic than Camille. She lived in a veritable hell. She wrote in 1934 to Eugène Blot, the owner of the gallery where she had exhibited her work:

Je suis tombée dans le gouffre. Je vis dans un monde si curieux, si étrange. Du rêve que fut ma vie, ceci est le cauchemar.  I have fallen into the abyss. I live in a world so curious, so strange. Of the dream that was my life, this is the nightmare. (quoted by Morel, 2009).


The position of Claudel family toward Camille is difficult to understand (Lhermitte & Allilaire, 1984; Schmoll gen. Eisenwerth, 1994, pp 109-114; Ayre-Clausse, 2002, pp 237-253). Camille’s mother was so scandalized by her daughter’s behavior and so constrained by her rigid religion that she never once visited her in hospital. Louise also could not bring herself to have anything to do with her wayward sister. Some of this rejection reflected the way mental disorders were considered at the time (Lhermitte & Allilaire, 1984): mad relatives were hidden away from society and ignored.

Paul Claudel (1868-1955) was Camille’s younger brother. In 1886, at the age of 18, he experienced a mystical revelation while listening to the Magnificat in Notre Dame, and thenceforth was a devoted Catholic. He became a renowned poet (e.g., Claudel, 1913a) and playwright (e.g., Claudel, 1960). His poetry is impressive: he used a new form of blank verse with the length of the line related to the time it takes to speak the line before taking a breath. His poetry has the sound of litany and incantation. At times, however, the writing becomes tedious, so closely is it related to his religious beliefs. Paul became a professional diplomat, representing France in the United States, China, Brazil, Denmark and Tokyo. Despite his devoutness, he carried on a long adulterous affair with a married woman, until she finally broke of their relationship.

Paul was Camille’s favorite sibling. One of her first major sculptures was a bust of Paul as a young Roman. Paul promoted his sister’s career, writing articles in magazines glorifying her sculptures (e.g., Claudel, 1913b).

Despite their closeness as children and despite his enthusiasm for her art, Paul had little to do with Camille after she was admitted to Montdevergues. He visited her only a few times, and refused all of her requests to be released or transferred closer to the family. Some of this may have been related to his diplomatic appointments, but he did not visit even when he retired and he settled down in France in 1936. This lack of compassion is strange in a man so religious. Sometimes the mystic forgets himself in his visions and forgets to care for others.

paulclaudel b


In a photograph taken in 1951, the elderly Paul Claudel holds onto a bust Camille made of him when he was young. The photograph is imbued with regret. Yet it is not clear whether it is for himself or his sister.





We should not leave Camille without seeing her as she was in her time of passion and creation. One of the most insightful impressions of Camille is a plaster cast by Rodin, a portrait of Camille, aptly entitled The Farewell. Both the hands and the face are exquisitely moulded. The sculpture is ambiguous. Are the hands reaching up to stop the tears, to shut out the world, or to gather something in?

rodin adieu


Ayral-Clause, O. (2002). Camille Claudel: A life. New York: Harry N. Abrams.

Claudel, C. (2008). Camille Claudel: 1864-1943. Paris: Musée Rodin (Gallimard).

Claudel, P. (1913a). Cinq grandes odes: Suivies d’un processionnal pour saluer le siècle nouveau. Paris: Gallimard.

Claudel, P. (1913b). Camille Claudel: statuaire. L’Art Décoratif. Revue de l’art ancient et de la vie artistique moderne. 30 (July, 1913), 5-50.

Claudel, P. (translated by W. Fowlie, 1960). Two dramas: Break of noon (Partage de midi) The tidings brought to Mary (L’annonce faite à Marie). Chicago: H. Regnery.

Delbée, A. (1982, translated by Cosman, C., 1992). Camille Claudel: Une femme. San Francisco: Mercury House. Delbée also acted in the play Une Femme from which this novel derives.

Dumont. B. (2013). Camille Claudel 1915 (videorecording) Montréal: TVA Films.

Freeman, D. (2007). Suspicious minds: the psychology of persecutory delusions. Clinical Psychology Review, 27, 425–457,

Freeman, D., & Garety, P. (2014). Advances in understanding and treating persecutory delusions: a review. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 49, 1179–1189.

Heggie, J., & Scheer, G. (2012) Camille Claudel: Into the fire. Music for mezzo-soprano and string quartet. San Francisco: Bent Pen Music. Performed by Joyce DiDonato and the Alexander Quartet on the CD: Here/after: Songs of lost voices. Baarn, Netherlands: Pentatone Classics.

Lhermitte, F., & Allilaire, X. (1984). Camille Claudel: Malade mentale. In Paris, R.-M: Camille Claudel: 1864-1943. (pp. 155-208). Paris: Gallimard. (This article is not included in the English translation of the book.)

Morel, J.-P. (2009).Camille Claudel: Une mise au tombeau. Bruxelles: Impressions nouvelles.

Nuytten, B. (1988/2001). Camille Claudel. (videorecording). Santa Monica, CA: MGM Home Entertainment.

Paris, R.-M. (1984, translated by Tuck, L.E., 1988). Camille: The life of Camille Claudel, Rodin’s muse and mistress. New York: Seaver Books.

Rilke, R. M. (1907, translated by J. Lemont & H. Taussig, 1919). Auguste Rodin. New York: Sunrise Turn.

Schmoll gen. Eisenwerth, J. A. (1994, translated by J. Ormrod). Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel. Munich: Prestel-Verlag.

Webb, H. (2015). Rodin’s lover. New York: Plume.

Wilson, S. (2010). Camille Claudel: ‘Du rêve que fut ma vie, ceci est le cauchemar’ In S. Wilson (Ed.): Voices from the Asylum: Four French Women Writers, 1850-1920. (pp. 184-221). New York: Oxford.


Charlie Hebdo

mahomet charlie hebdo b

The French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo is left-wing and strongly anti-religious. In 2006, it reprinted the controversial Muhammad cartoons from Denmark’s Jyllends Posten. The cover of that issue of Charlie Hebdo (left) had shown the prophet “overwhelmed by fundamentalists” bewailing that “it is hard to be loved by jerks.” The magazine was unsuccessfully sued by several Islamic organizations for hate crimes. Since then, and despite the firebombing of its offices in 2011, the magazine has continued its irreverence.

On January 7, 2015, three masked gunmen killed twelve people at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, including the editor-in-chief Stéphane Charbonnier (Charb) and the senior cartoonist Jean Cabut (Cabu). The shooting was clearly in retaliation for the magazine’s blasphemy. The gunmen were heard to shout Allahu Akbar (“God is great”) and “Vous allez payer, car vous avez insulté le Prophète” – “You will pay for you have insulted the Prophet.” (Selow, 2015).


Blasphemy is a display of contempt for beliefs that others hold sacred. Blasphemy is typically directed against God, but it can also include the people who proclaim God’s will, their institutions, or their treasured objects. Blasphemy is usually verbal – the word comes from the Greek blasphemein meaning to “speak evil.” However, any act of desecration can be considered blasphemous.

Blasphemy is an intrinsic part of the Abrahamic religions. The third of the Ten Commandments prohibits blasphemy: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain” (Exodus 20:7). In the New Testament, Jesus stated that “he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation” (Mark 3:29). The Qur’an does not have a similar injunction, but states that one should not associate with those that profane the name of Allah: “The most beautiful names belong to God; so call on him by them; but shun such men as use profanity in His names; for what they do, they will soon be requited.” (Qur’an 7:180, Abdullah Yusuf Ali translation).

Another way to take the name of God in vain is to assume to speak for Him or Her. Jesus was himself accused of blasphemy “because that thou being a man makest thyself God” (John 10:23), and this was one of the main reasons for his indictment before the Sanhedrin (Mark 14:61-64).

Blasphemy as Crime

Blasphemy is a crime in many countries. Although most commonly used in Islamic countries, laws against blasphemy persist in Europe.

Chevalier_de_la_Barre_Statue_In_Montmartre xbIn 1766, the 20 year old François-Jean Lefebvre, the Chevalier de la Barre was beheaded in Abbeville, a small town in Northern France. His crimes were not paying due respect to a procession of the Corpus Christi, singing impious songs and vandalizing a crucifix (Chassaigne, 1920). After the execution the body was burnt on a pyre along with a copy of Voltaire’s Philosophical Dictionary, which had been found in his rooms. The illustration on the right shows a memorial statue in Montmartre. In most of France, the law against blasphemy was abolished in 1791. However, the law persists in Moselle and Alsace as a holdover from the German Criminal Code.

In 1697 in Edinburgh, Thomas Aikenhead, a 20-year old student, was executed by hanging for blasphemy. He had called the Old Testament “Ezra’s fables, by a profane allusione to Esop’s fables” and had claimed that Christ had “learned magick in Egypt” so that he could conjure his supposed miracles (Graham, 2008, p 103). Blasphemy is still a crime in Scotland and Northern Ireland although no one has been prosecuted since the 19th century. The offence of blasphemy was abolished in England and Wales in 2008.

Nevertheless, even though not prosecuted as criminal, Western society does not find it acceptable to deface the Bible. In an exhibit at the Glasgow Museum of Modern Art in 2009, visitors were invited to write comments on a bible (Sherwood, 2012). Many did so. Some comments were scatological, others pointed out the injustice of many biblical stories such as the prophet Elisha causing young boys to be killed for calling him ‘baldy’ (2 Kings 2 23-25), and others added personal comments such as “Holy figures hide behind their religion … Once you have been raped by a priest, maybe you understand.” There was such a public furore that the defaced bible had to be placed in a glass case to prevent further comments.

Offence and Tolerance

Freedom of speech has become a treasured right in the Western world. It is enshrined as Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.

With freedom of expression comes the freedom to give offence. Things held as sacred by some may be lampooned or insulted by others.

However, freedom of expression has often been subject to limitation. The plaintiff who makes fun of the judge will be charged with contempt of court. Pornography has its limits though these are now most often defined in terms of exploitation and incitement to violence rather than offense to common decency. Hate speech used to incite violence is prohibited in many countries However, such prohibitions should not be used to prevent the criticism of belief systems. There should be a distinction between the belief and the individual:

The right to freedom of expression implies that it should be possible to scrutinise, openly debate, and criticise, even harshly and unreasonably, belief systems, opinions, and institutions, as long as this does not amount to advocating hatred against an individual. (Callamard, 2005).

The legal suits against Charlie Hebdo in 2006 were made on the basis that publication of the offensive cartoons were an incitement to racist hatred. Blasphemy in the modern legal world has in some sense therefore mutated into hate speech. The judicial ruling was that the cartoons were against terrorism and fundamentalism rather than against Muslim people.

The liberal position on the problem that that free speech can lead to offence is that the offended are themselves free to criticize the offence: the remedy for harmful speech is more speech. However, freedom to respond may be less available to the poor or to minorities than to those in power (Nielsen, 2012). Society must therefore expend additional effort to counter inequalities.

The appropriate answer to hate speech is not just more speech – but also policies and actions to tackle the causes of inequality in all its forms and colours (Callamard, 2006).

However, sometimes “talking back” just calls attention to the offence – how should a woman respond to a racist or sexual slur? It does not seem reasonable that everyone be obliged to fight back when offended. That would just lead to a society with everyone offending everyone else. As Ross Douthat points out, although the right to blaspheme or otherwise give offense is essential to a free society, the freedom of that society is not proportional to the quantity of blasphemy it produces.

Blasphemy: A Proposal

The original religious injunctions against blasphemy were more concerned with the use of God’s name rather than its abuse. One interpretation of the third commandment was that we should not use the name of God to justify things that are not true, such as swearing by God that something made of stone is made of gold (Rashi commentary on Exodus 20).

An even wider interpretation is that we should not use the name of God to justify actions that are against God’s will. Killing another person is against God’s law. The Charlie Hebdo killers who called upon the name of God as a justification for their acts thus committed blasphemy. They were an offence to God.

strydom stephen xb

From Twitter @stephen_strydom (January 8th, 2015)

Unfortunately, the original commandment against murder is necessarily limited. A person might kill someone in self-defense or to save another innocent person. The Qur’an injunction against killing allows such exceptions: “Nor take life – which God has made sacred – except for just cause.” (Qur’an 17:33). Unfortunately, terrorists apply their own interpretation of just cause.

However, another meaning of blasphemy is to assume that one is God. To take upon oneself the administration of justice (to assume the mantle of God) is to become a false prophet. Such is itself blasphemy.

To call upon the name of God to justify murder is complete blasphemy.




Callamard, A. (2005) Striking the balance. (Callamard was the director of the human-rights organization ARTICLE 19 from 2004-2013)

Callamard, A. (2006). Freedom of speech and offence: Why blasphemy laws are not the appropriate response.

Chassaigne, M. (1920) Le procès du Chevalier de la Barre. Paris: Librairie Victor Lecoffre (J. Gabalda). Available on the Internet Archive

Graham, M. F. (2008). The blasphemies of Thomas Aikenhead: Boundaries of belief on the eve of the enlightenment. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Nielsen, L. B. (2012). Power in public: Reactions, responses, and resistance to offensive public speech.   In Maitra, I., & McGowan, M. K. (Eds.) Speech and harm: Controversies over free speech. (pp. 148- Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Seelow, S. (2015) Attentat à «Charlie Hebdo» : «Vous allez payer car vous avez insulté le Prophète » Le Monde January 9, 2015.

Sherwood, Y. (2012). Biblical blaspheming: Trials of the sacred for a secular age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Winter Light

The coming of the winter twilight clarifies the mind. With the snow the light becomes more intense, the dark more evident, and the remaining colors more obvious. The heightened contrast forces us to think.

church olana 003xb

The 1871 painting Winter Twilight from Olana is by Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900). He was a successful member of the Hudson River School, and at the time of the painting lived on the Olana estate overlooking the river. This small painting (10 by 13 inches) is a vivid representation of winter.

This posting considers the light of winter through four different poems.

Emily Dickinson

An 1861 poem by Emily Dickinson describes the “heavenly hurt” experienced in the winter light. She lived in Amherst, Massachusetts, not that far from the location of Church’s painting.

There’s a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –
We can find no scar,
But internal difference,
Where the Meanings, are –

None may teach it – Any –
‘Tis the Seal Despair –
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air –

When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath –
When it goes, ‘tis like the Distance
On the look of Death –

Like the “heft” of hymns, the winter light forces us to think of “meanings,” even those most painful. “Heft” is an old English word for “weight,” that has also come to mean “importance.” The word is etymologically related (cf. “heave”) to “haft,” the handle of a tool or weapon such as a knife. Winter light can cut right through us.

Dickinson’s approach to life and religion was significantly affected by American Transcendentalism (Barnstone, 2006; Farr, 1992). One of the tenets of this movement (Goodman, 2011; also American Transcendentalism webpage) was that the contemplation of nature provides us with all we need to know and teaches us how to live our lives. In his 1836 essay Nature, Emerson states

the noblest ministry of nature is to stand as the apparition of God. It is the great organ through which the universal spirit speaks to the individual, and strives to lead back the individual to it. (p. 77).

Dickinson followed this precept but sometimes found despair rather than enlightenment. As winter brings the year to end, it inevitably elicits thoughts about death. Dickinson describes this in terms of silence. The landscape “listens” and the shadows “hold their breath” but nothing can be heard. The ending of the poem focuses on death. The “distance on the look of Death” is cold and abstract. Death is so far from life that it cannot be understood.

The mystery of death dominated the mind of Dickinson. About half of her poems are related in some way to the death of loved ones, to the nature of death, or to what may happen after death (Nesturuk, 1997).

However, to get only one level of meaning from a Dickinson poem it simply to miss the other levels. The very word “slant” immediately brings to mind another poem Tell all the truth but tell it slant. The final stanza of the poem on winter light gives a sense of reconciliation more than despair. Death will not be understood, but that just makes it distant. What it will mean we will only come to know when it comes (and when it goes).

The technique of this poem is striking (Vendler, 2010, pp 128-129). The rhythm is never regular, and the reader should not lapse into simple periodicity. The opening line is best read as beginning with an anapest: “There’s a certain Slant of Light.” This type of beginning recurs intermittently during the rest of the poem, especially in the last stanza: “When it comes…” and “When it goes …” The anapests provide a feeling of expectancy or involvement. The rhymes are just as intriguing as the rhythm. Vendler remarks on how the inevitable paired rhyme of “breath” and “death” at the end of the poem is balanced by the gentle slant-rhyme of “listens” and “distance.” Inevitable is not necessarily harsh.


Thomas Hardy

In face of despair we bolster ourselves with beliefs. The Christian religion centers on the idea of salvation. Death then becomes as much the beginning of a new life as the ending of the old. The celebration of Christmas occurs in the middle of winter. Winter will occur but we should not mind since the savior has been born. Spring is coming and the festival of Easter will describe the actual process of our resurrection.

Such beliefs can keep us warm in winter when thoughts of death are near. Thomas Hardy’s poem The Oxen published on Christmas Eve, 1915, considered the state of belief when the world found itself in a devastating war.

The word “oxen” nowadays often refers to castrated bulls used as draught animals. However, it can also simply mean “cattle,” and this fits more easily with Hardy’s description of them as “meek” and “mild.” Two other words in the poem come from old English. “Barton” is a farm outbuilding, and “coomb” a small valley.

A Dorset folk belief was that the animals that had been present at the manger when Christ was born kneel in remembrance of his birth on Christmas Eve. The presence of these animals at the original birth is not documented in the scripture, but soon became part of the accumulated legends of the nativity (Cartlidge and Elliott, 2001, pp 18-19; Wager, 1939). A possible justification of the belief (for the animals at the original birth though not for the reverential kneeling on Christmas Eve) might be found in prophetic lines like Isaiah 1:3 “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master’s crib.” Yet this would require an additional belief in the possibility of prophecy.

nativity xb

The above illustration shows the nativity with ox, ass and manger on a 4th-Century sarcophagus in the Sant’Ambrogio Basilica in Milan (Source: Wikipedia Commons). Very soon after Rome turned to Christianity, the animals came for Christmas. One English version of the hymn In dulci jubilo by John Mason Neale (Good Christian Men Rejoice) contains the lines

Jesus Christ was born to-day:
Ox and ass before Him bow,
And He is in the manger now.

The fair “fancy” that the oxen kneel at midnight every Christmas Eve does not follow any logic. How would one know if the oxen were kneeling in reverence or simply resting? Yet the story is magical. We are entranced by the idea that the natural universe attends to human history and marks the birth of a child in a manger many years ago. Shakespeare mentions in Hamlet (I:1:160) a similar folk belief that during the Christmas period “the bird of dawning singeth all night long.”

In his poem, Hardy remembers back to his childhood:

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.
‘Now they are all on their knees,’
An elder said as we sat in a flock
By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where
They dwelt in their strawy pen;
Nor did it occur to one of us there
To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave
In these years! Yet, I feel,
If someone said on Christmas Eve,
‘Come; see the oxen kneel

‘In the lonely barton by yonder coomb
Our childhood used to know,’
I should go with him in the gloom,
Hoping it might be so.

Hardy no longer believes the story. Yet he regrets the comfort that came with the idea that God was in his heaven and peace was on the earth. When he wrote the poem the world was at war. In the trenches the idea of peace on earth was being torn to shreds by shrapnel.

Hardy was uneasy in his lack of faith (Perkins. 1959). Though he had written a poem on God’s Funeral (1910), he always felt that perhaps he was missing something. This is most poignantly rendered in his poem celebrating the century’s turning The Darkling Thrush (1900). Hardy’s description of the bleak winter scene is interrupted by the joyful song of a thrush:

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

The Oxen continues his uneasy isolation. Hardy both wishes for the comfort of the old beliefs and realizes only too clearly that they are in part responsible for the present. Beliefs in God and Country now support a war that reason says should not have been entered into.

Hardy’s poem was published in The Times on December 24, 1915. Allingham (retrieved 2014) points out the irony that the poem occurred on the same page as a smug editorial claiming that the English and their allies were the true Christians, and that the Germans had shamelessly departed from the true faith.


Wallace Stevens

Wallace Stevens’ 1921 poem The Snow Man draws other thoughts from winter. The poem begins with a bravura description of the winter landscape: the “juniper branches shagged with ice,” the “distant glitter of the January sun.”

The poem then contrasts the reality that we perceive to the meaning that we attribute to it. The syntax is as torturous as the understanding is difficult. It is so easy to think of misery when we see the frost and hear the wind. Yet if we develop a “mind of winter” like that of the snow man, we can experience what really exists.

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

The last two lines describe the true experience that lies beyond our preconceived notions. If we become empty of ourselves, we no longer see things that are not there. We come face-to-face with the truth, realizing that it is as empty as the perceiving self. There are three nothings: the nothing of the emptied self, the “nothing that is not there,” and “the nothing that is.”

This has some similarity to Dickinson’s experience after the heavenly hurt passes and she is left with the “distance on the look of death.” However, Stevens found in winter not despair but understanding.

The poem has been interpreted in different ways, depending mainly on how the critic considers the “nothing that is.” For some, such as Bloom (1977) and Pack (2003), the nothing that concludes the poem is but the first stage on the path to imagination. One must remove the old ways of looking and then create a better way. Contemplation can lead to detachment but must then proceed to imagination.

However, other critics, such as Bevis (1988, 2003), Qian (2001) and Hahm (2003) propose that the nothing that concludes the poem may be an end in itself. Stevens’ conclusion hearkens back to Buddhist and other Eastern philosophies, wherein the goal is to lose oneself in the universal self and thereby reach enlightenment. The wording of the poem’s last two lines brings to mind the koan riddles of Zen, verbal tricks to help the meditator reach true understanding.

The poem’s vision is austere. Not one that the western mind can easily grasp. The goal is to lose one’s self. Not to gain comfort, not to make oneself better, not to determine how things work. Yet by losing ourselves we might be released from suffering, learn what is right, and gain true understanding.

sengai buji xb

The illustration shows some calligraphy of Sengai Gibon (1750-1837), a monk from the Zen monastery Shofukuji in Fukuoka, Japan. The characters represent bu and ji in Japanese or and shì in Chinese (Mandarin). Sengai presents the traditional characters 無事 quite freely. On the left is his signature and seal. The meaning of buji is difficult to pin down. The first character negates and can be translated as “no, not, nothing” depending on the context. The second character means “matter, affair, activity.” Combined the two characters mean “nothing doing.” Buji is the goal of meditation, equivalent to samadhi in Sanskrit. As such it also means “serenity.” The state attained when one has the mind of winter.

Though he had only slight exposure to Eastern religions, Emerson (1936) described a similar state:

Standing on the bare ground, my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball. I am nothing. I see all. The currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God. (p. 13).


Myra Schneider

The final poem in this winter sequence is actually the beginning of a longer poem Caedmon by Myra Schneider (1988). Caedmon lived in northern England in the 7th century. He is known for one surviving poem, Caedmon’s Hymn, in praise of the Creator of heaven and earth. This lovely example of alliterative verse is the oldest recorded English poem. The webpage of A. Z. Foreman presents the hymn in Old English together with a recitation and a modern English translation.

Schneider’s poem also uses alliteration though not in as formalized a fashion as in Old English. The beginning of her poem about Caedmon describes the middle of winter:

That night frost stretched
the fields into stiff white sheets;
from post, strut and roof glinting
ice-fingers pointed to the ground.
But within walls, reed-woven,
mud-baked, we warded off
the wind-beast’s bellow and bite.
Herded in the wool of our own warmth,
near red-gold flames that licked
logs, then leapt to find the hole
to heaven, we defeated winter’s pikes.
That festive night we filled
our bodies’ troughs with roasted meats,
with mead that honeys the senses, muzzes
the mind. As ever I kept quiet,
stoked myself with the comfort rising
from the rush-strewn floor, the goodwill
steaming through talk and laughter.

This poems vividly depicts the human response to winter’s cold. We come together round the fire. We drink the mead that “honeys the senses” and “muzzes the mind.” The word “muzz” meaning “confuse” derives from an old English word for bog (cf. “moss”). Too much thinking should cede occasionally to simple conviviality. In winter, human beings gain comfort from human company, whatever their beliefs. Goodwill is the best response to adversity.

The rest of Schneider’s  poem describes the story of Caedmon’s vision, as originally told in Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of England (731) which was written about fifty years after the death of the poet. Caedmon was a simple cowherd unable to put words together with any meaning or music. He therefore leaves the winter feast when the harp is passed around and everyone asked to sing.

caedmon xxb

That night, while Caedmon is sleeping with the cows, an angel wakes him and asks him to sing. Caedmon is told to “delve for the hoard of words in himself” and sing in praise of the creator. And so he does. Caedmon’s song becomes famous, and he joins the monastery in Whitby as a lay brother. He writes many other hymns though only the first one survives. The illustration shows the depiction of Caedmon’s story on a commemorative cross outside St. Mary’s Church in Whitby (derives from a photograph in Wikimedia Commons).

Caedmon’s was a different vision from Dickinson’s experience of death. It had something akin to the beliefs that Hardy held when he was young and longed for when he was old. In some ways it is the opposite of Steven’s experience of the nothing that is everything. It shows a commitment to poetry rather than a detachment from the world.


Frederic Edwin Church

The posting concludes as it began with a small painting by Frederic Church from 1871. Like the first it represents the winter landscape viewed from his home in Olana. The light is brighter, the land is simpler. It is an invitation to behold.

church olana 001xb

I wish you all a Happy New Year! May your winter bring enlightenment.



Allingham, P. V. (retrieved 2014). Image, Allusion, Voice, Dialect, and Irony in Thomas Hardy’s “The Oxen” and the Poem’s Original Publication Context. Victorian Web.

Barnstone, A. (2006). Changing rapture: Emily Dickinson’s poetic development. Hanover: University Press of New England.

Bede, St. (731 CE, translated Sellar, A. M., 1907). Ecclesiastical history of England. London: George Bell (Chapter 24, pp. 212-215). Available from Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Bevis, W. W. (1988). Mind of winter: Wallace Stevens, meditation, and literature. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Bevis, W. W. (2001). Stevens, Buddhism, and the Meditative Mind. Wallace Stevens Journal, 25, 148-163.

Bloom, H. (1977). Wallace Stevens: The poems of our climate. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Cartlidge, D. R., & Elliott, J. K. (2001). Art and the Christian Apocrypha. London: Routledge.

Emerson, R. W. (1836). Nature. Boston: James Munroe and Company. Available at Internet Archive.

Farr, J. (1992). The passion of Emily Dickinson. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Furuta Shokin (1985, translated by Reiko Tsukimura, 2000). Sengai: Master Zen painter. Tokyo: Kodansha International.

Goodman, R. (2011). Transcendentalism. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Hahm, M. A. (2003). A lot of talk about nothing: Wallace Stevens and Eastern thought.  (Master’s Thesis). University of Montana. Ann Arbor, MI: ProQuest.

Nesteruk, P. (1997). The many deaths of Emily Dickinson. Emily Dickinson Journal, 6, 25-43.

Pack, R. (2003). Place and nothingness in the poetry of Wallace Stevens. Wallace Stevens Journal, 27, 97-115

Perkins, D. (1959). Hardy and the poetry of isolation, English Literary History, 26, 253-270.

Qian, Zhaoming. (2001). Late Stevens, nothingness, and the Orient. Wallace Stevens Journal, 25, 164-172.

Schneider, M. (1988). Insisting on yellow: new and selected poems. London: Enitharmon.

Trebilcock, E. D., & Balint, V. A. (2009). Glories of the Hudson: Frederic Edwin Church’s views from Olana. Hudson, NY: Olana Partnership.

Vendler, H. (2011). Dickinson: selected poems and commentaries Cambridge, MA: Harvard University (Belknap Press).

Wager, C. E. (1939). Ox and ass before Him bow. Expository Times, 51, 153-155.

Destroy the Old!

destroy the oldChina’s Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (无产阶级文化大革命 pinyin: Wúchǎnjiējí Wénhuà Dàgémìng) was one of the most terrifying periods in modern Chinese history. The revolution turned upon itself in a fury of denunciation and violence. The goal was to root out those who opposed the revolution. The result was a rampage of destruction. Everything old was to be done away with to make way for the new. Those associated with the old culture were punished or executed. The poster on the right (from Wikipedia) shows the Red Guard in action against symbols of religion, capitalism and culture. The slogan reads “Destroy the old world! Establish the new!” (打破旧世界 dǎ pò jiù shì jiè 创立新世界 chuàng lì xīn shì jiè ). The Cultural Revolution began in 1966, and did not really end until the death of Mao Zedong in 1976. Much of the old was destroyed; nothing new was created.

Beginnings of the Cultural Revolution

In 1965 China was under great political stress. Attempts to increase the country’s industrial output – the Great Leap Forward (1958-1961) – had brought agricultural disaster and widespread famine. Russia had decided for coexistence with capitalism rather than confrontation. In 1961 Mao had denounced Khrushchev’s politics as revisionism, thus initiating the Sino-Soviet Split and the withdrawal of all Russian scientific and technical support from China.

Many of those in power in China began to wonder openly about the political direction of the country. Peng Dehuai, one of the generals from the Long March and the Marshal of the People’s Army in the Korean War, had dared to criticize Mao’s policies and had been removed from office in 1959. In the early 1960s President Liu Shaoqi and Secretary Deng Xiaoping had begun to question Mao’s radical socialism and to raise the possibility of using individual incentives to enhance agricultural production. In 1962, Deng quoted an old saying “It doesn’t matter whether it is a white cat or a black cat, a cat that catches mice is a good cat.” (The proverbial cats were actually black and yellow: Stewart, 2001, p. 64)

As in any society, there were corrupt as well as honest politicians. Many members of the party had used their power for personal rather than social gain. Many regions of the country had become the fiefdoms of the party bosses. Mao knew this was wrong. The pure soul of the revolution should not be adulterated with bourgeois incentives.

In January 1964 the book Quotations of Chairman Mao ( 毛主席语录 pinyin Máo zhǔ xí yǔ lù word by word: Mao head place/seat words recorded) was published. This was the famous “Little Red Book.” One billion copies were printed over the next decade. Revolutionary orthodoxy was put into words that everyone could understand. Amid the overwhelming dullness of socialist rhetoric come occasional flashes of acuity (and warning):

A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery; it cannot be so refined, so leisurely and gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. A revolution is an insurrection, an act of violence by which one class overthrows another. (Mao Zedong, from a 1927speech, quoted in 1966, p 11-12).

maobadgeMao badges were manufactured. The cult of personality needed to be enhanced, especially after the revisionist Khrushchev had denounced the cult of Stalin. The badge on the right includes a quotation from Mao’s 1962 poem Winter Clouds: “The plum blossoms are delighted by the snow (花欢喜漫天雪 huā huan xǐ màn tiān xuě)” The next line of the poem is “and do not care about the freezing flies.” (Barnstone, 1972, p 109). Counter-revolutionary insects were soon to face their winter.

The stage was thus set for the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Indeed, many of the events had a theatrical character (Heberer, 2009). The revolution may have begun with the play, Hai Rui Dismissed from Office, written by the historian Wu Han in 1959 and first performed in 1961. This told the true story of how an honest offical had been imprisoned in 1566 by a corrupt Ming emperor. Wu Han was deputy to Peng Zhen, the mayor of Beijing and a major supporter of Deng Xiaoping. In November, 1965, a review of the play, written at Mao’s instigation, accused the author of covertly criticizing Mao for dismissing Peng Dehuai. Art must not question the revolution (or its leader).

Revolution and reason are not easy companions. Hai Rui should have been a revolutionary hero. Yet cunning and devious counter-revolutionaries must have used his story to question the leadership of Mao and derail the great revolution. Wu Han was jailed in 1966 and died in prison in 1969, possibly by suicide. Peng Zhen was deposed, but survived. The party in Beijing was in disarray. Mao could now increase his power.

The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution was formally launched in the May 16 Notification:

Those representatives of the bourgeoisie who have sneaked into the Party, the government, the army, and various spheres of culture are a bunch of counter-revolutionary revisionists. Once conditions are ripe, they will seize political power and turn the dictatorship of the proletariat into a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Some of them we have already seen through; others we have not. Some are still trusted by us and are being trained as our successors, persons like Khruschev for example, who are still nestling beside us. Party committees at all levels must pay full attention to this matter. (MacFarquhar and Schoenhals, 2006, p. 47).

Nie_Yuanzi_poster xOn May 25, Nie Yanzie, a professor in the philosophy department at Beijing University, together with some junior colleagues, wrote the first big character posters (大字报 pinyin dà zì bào) and affixed them to the walls of the university canteen (photograph at the left from Wikipedia). The text of the posters combined revolutionary rhetoric with denunciations of those in authority, in this particular instance members of the university’s party committee. Other posters were soon displayed in Tsinghua University (another university in Beijing). These were signed by a group of students calling themselves the Red Guard (红卫兵 pinyin Hóng Wèibīng character-by-character red protect soldier). Red became the symbol of the revolution and black the badge of the reactionaries. Big character posters became the revolution’s only literature.

In July, 1966, the Great Helmsman (大舵手pinyin dà duò shǒu) went swimming in the Yangtze River. A choppy side-stoke kept him afloat – no mean feat for a 72-year old overweight chronic smoker (though his fat tissue may have increased his buoyancy). The leader was ready for battle. His followers were ecstatic – everyone wanted to swim in the river of the revolution.

Mao gave a speech on August 6 supporting the big-character posters in the universities earlier that summer. Mao’s metaphorically wrote his own poster, asking the people to “bombard the headquarters” with suggestions and denunciations. The poster illustrated below commemorates the speech (source). The characters in the first line read “Bombard the Headquarters” (pinyin pào dă sī lìng bū; character-by-character: artillery strike commanding officer department). The second line reads “My first big-character poster” (wŏ de yī dà zì bào; me of one large character communication) and the third line is “Mao Zedong.” The characters on the flag mean “Revolution leads to truth” (or “To rebel is justified”): zào făn yŏu lĭ (make opposite is truth), and on the rolled up poster is dà zì bào. Both are written from right to left.


16 articles xOn August 8, Mao’s guidelines for the revolution were produced in a paper called The Sixteen Points. Although restrained, these contained the seeds of the violence that was to follow:

Trust the masses, rely on them and respect their initiative. Cast out fear. Don’t be afraid of disturbances. Chairman Mao has often told us that revolution cannot be so very refined, so gentle, so temperate, kind, courteous, restrained and magnanimous. (Point 4)

The poster on the right shows the Red Guard encouraging the masses to follow the Sixteen Points: Study the 16 Points (xué xí shí liù tiáo). Know (shú xī) the 16 Points. Use (shǐ yòng) the 16 Points.

The Course of the Revolution

On August 18, Mao endorsed the Red Guard movement at a huge rally in Tiananmen Square. He wore the red armband that was to become the badge of the student movement. The Red Guards were encouraged to “Destroy the Four Olds and Cultivate the Four News” (破四旧立四新; pinyin: Pò Sìjiù Lì Sìxīn). The terror was unleashed.

The history of the next two years is full of violence and cruelty. Books were burned and temples were desecrated (Dahpon David Ho, 2006). The photograph below shows the burning of Buddhist statues (from MacFarquhar & Schoenhals, 2006). A video shows more destruction of religious symbols. The Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai intervened to preserve some of the great cultural buildings such as the Imperial Palace in Beijing and the Potala Palace in Lhasa Tibet. In 1967 the Red Guards were formally enjoined not to sabotage state property. The idea was promoted that cultural relics were part of the nation’s glorious revolutionary traditions. Nevertheless, much had been destroyed before the Red Guards became quiescent.

burning buddha x

peng humiliatedArtists, intellectuals, and administrators were brought before Red Guard tribunals to confess their counter-revolutionary activities. Many were harassed and publically humiliated, many were tortured, many were summarily executed. The photograph on the left shows Peng Dehuai wearing a placard telling of his sins against the revolution. (Also shown in the video). Prolonged and brutal torture did not evoke any confession, but Peng’s imprisonment continued until his death in 1974. In the provinces, the death toll ran into the thousands (Yang Su, 2006).

By 1967 the country was a shambles. Life was cheap. Fear was everywhere. Torture and death were rampant. The economy was at a standstill – people were more engaged in tearing down than building up. The universities were no longer teaching. Different factions of the Red Guards were fighting with each other to see who could be the most radical revolutionaries. The following is a description of Red Guard activity:

Then I saw the accused woman. She was perhaps in her forties, kneeling in the middle of the room, partly naked. The room was lit by a bare fifteen-watt bulb. In its shadows, the kneeling figure on the floor looked grotesque. Her hair was in a mess, and part of it seemed to be matted with blood. Her eyes were bulging out in desperation as she shrieked: ‘Red Guard Masters! I do not have a portrait of Chiang Kai-shek! I swear I do not!’ She was banging her head on the floor so hard there were loud thuds and blood oozed from her forehead. The flesh on her back was covered with cuts and bloodstains. When she lifted her bottom in a kowtow, murky patches were visible and the smell of excrement filled the air. I was so frightened that I quickly averted my eyes. Then I saw her tormentor, a seventeen-year-old boy named Chian, whom up to now I had rather liked. He was lounging in a chair with a leather belt in his hand, playing with its brass buckle. ‘Tell the truth, or I’ll hit you again,’ he said languidly. . . I murmured, trying to control the quaking in my voice, ‘Didn’t Chairman Mao teach us to use verbal struggle [wendou] rather than violent struggle [wudou]? Maybe we shouldn’t…?’ My feeble protest was echoed by several voices in the room. But Chian cast us a disgusted sideways glance and said emphatically: ‘Draw a line between yourselves and the class enemy’. Chairman Mao says, ‘Mercy to the enemy is cruelty to the people!’ If you are afraid of blood, don’t be a Red Guard!’ His face was twisted into ugliness by fanaticism. The rest of us fell silent. Although it was impossible to feel anything but revulsion at what he was doing, we could not argue with him. We had been taught to be ruthless to class enemies. Failure to do so would make us class enemies ourselves . . . Outside the door, I saw the woman informer . . . As I glanced at her face, it dawned on me that there was no portrait of Chiang Kai-shek. She had denounced the poor woman out of vindictiveness. The Red Guards were being used to settle old scores.

The country was in chaos. Yet Mao was in supreme control. He had rid the country of his main adversaries. The poster below exhorted the reader to “smash completely the Liu Deng counter-revolutionary line.” Similar posters are illustrated in Landsberger & van der Heijden (2009). Deng Xiaoping was exiled to work in a tractor factory. Liu Shaoqi was deposed, imprisoned and tortured, ultimately dying in 1969.

completely smash the capitalist roaders x

To quell the furies that he had unleashed, Mao called upon the army. Under threat, the Red Guards were disbanded and sent to the countryside to do manual labor with the peasants. The killings decreased but the fear persisted. The greatest excesses of the Cultural Revolution were largely over by the end of 1968, but the revolution continued until Mao’s death in 1976. Administrators and members of the Communist Party were denounced and exiled. The country became ungoverned.

Deng Xiaoping survived and returned to power a few years after Mao’s death. Mao’s wife and colleagues – the Gang of Four – were overthrown in 1976 and ultimately sentenced to life in prison in 1981. The Chinese Communist Party then adopted a resolution on the history of the People’s Republic of China that repudiated the Cultural Revolution as a catastrophe “responsible for the most severe setback and the heaviest losses suffered by the’ Party, the state and the people since the founding of the People’s Republic.” The resolution attributed responsibility to Mao Zedong who had “confused right and wrong and the people with the enemy.”

Violence and Youth

The terrible violence that occurred during the Cultural Revolution was largely mediated through the Red Guards. These were mainly university students. High-school students were also involved, but their actions were often more imitation than instigation. Why did these young and intelligent people turn to such cruelty?

Young people can be very passionate about ideas. Yet they lack experience. They have not learned that emotions can be mistaken. They have not seen how everything contains both good and evil. They have not understood that the right path is often not the first one.

Young people rebel against authority. Rebellion is one way to independence. Power comes to those who resist the power of others. The young had long been subservient to parents and to teachers. Some of the excesses of the Cultural Revolution may have been equivalent to exaggerated role-reversals. The Red Guards punished their victims with beatings and with dunce-caps as though they were naughty children.

Young people need a cause. They have to join together with their fellows to fight for what is right. The struggle can be against Fascism for the volunteers who went to Spain in the 30s, against the counter-revolutionaries in the Red Guards in China in the 60s, or against Western Imperialism for the Jihadists who are now in the Middle East. There is often little telling if the fight is right or wrong.


Why did this great disaster happen? The precipitating context was the impoverished state of the country. The revolution had not achieved its goals. Poverty and hunger had not been eradicated. Class structure had not been abolished. A different elite now held power: corrupt party members had replaced the capitalist exploiters. Easier to believe that the revolution had been betrayed than to consider that the revolution had been mistaken. A return to the basic principles could perhaps save the ideals of communism.

Into this state of despair came the cunning and the drive of Chairman Mao. Rather than accept any responsibility, he shifted the blame to others. He tapped the energy of the people and pulled all the strings needed to do away with all those who disagreed with him.

Mao was old and paranoid. He could not brook criticism and could not change his ways. He attempted to destroy all those who thought differently from himself. The fate of despots is to have no friends. The most amazing thing about Premier Zhou Enlai is how he was able to attenuate some of Mao’s excesses and yet survive. At the end, however, Mao even tried to erase Zhou from history, banning any public mourning after his death in 1976.

Mao had immense charisma. The leader of the Long March knew how to make people follow him. And the Chinese people were used to obedience. Mao came to be considered in much the same way as the Emperors that had ruled China for centuries. Like these emperors Mao wrote poems and practised calligraphy. The following is the beginning of his poem Liupan (Six Path) Mountain written toward the end of the Long March. The poem reads from top to bottom and from right to left in characters and in Mao’s own calligraphy:

mao calligraphy x

Dazzling sky to the far cirrus clouds
I gaze at wild geese vanishing into the south
(Barnstone translation)

The poem and the calligraphy are in the style of the old masters. In art, Mao was far from revolutionary.

Mao consciously identified himself with the Emperor Qin Shihuang (260–210 BCE). Qin is famous for unifying China, beginning the Great Wall, and constructing a huge tomb for himself filled with terracotta warriors. However, he had also executed the intellectuals by burying them alive and had burned their books. Mao is quoted as saying

What does Qin Shihuang amount to? He buried only four hundred and sixty scholars alive; we have buried forty-six thousand scholars alive. Haven’t we killed counter-revolutionary intellectuals? (quoted by Hawks, 2010, p.87)

The Chinese artist and poet Li Shu, one of the victims of the Cultural Revolution, remarked about China’s first Emperor (and indirectly about Mao):

Who truly understands the sadness of Qin Shihuang? … He tried to do the right thing but it just turned out wrong. (quoted by Hawks, 2010, p. 90)


A comprehensive review of this time is MacFarquhar & Schoenhals, 2006; briefer considerations are Heberer, 2009, Kraus, 2012, and Wikipedia.

Dahpon David Ho (2006). To protect and preserve: resisting the “Destroy the four olds” campaign, 1966-1967. In Esherick, J. W., Paul G. Pickowicz, P. G., & Walder. A. G. (Eds). The Chinese cultural revolution as history (pp. 64-95). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press

Domes, J. (1985). Peng Te-huai: The man and the image. London: Hurst & Co.

Hawks, S D. (2010). Summoning Confucius: Inside Shi Lu’s Imagination. In Richard King (Ed.), Art in turmoil. The Chinese Cultural Revolution, 1966-76. (pp. 58-90).  Vancouver: University of British Columbia.

Heberer, T. (2009). The ‘‘Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution’’: China’s modern trauma. Journal of Modern Chinese History. 3, 165–181

Jung Chang (1991). Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China. London: Simon and Shuster.

Kraus, R. C. (2012). The Cultural Revolution: a very short introduction. New York: Oxford University Press.

Landsberger, S. R., & van der Heijden, M. (2009). Chinese posters: the IISH-Landsberger collections. Munich: Prestel. See also the webpage.

MacFarquhar, R., & Schoenhals, M. (2006). Mao’s last revolution. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Mao Zedong, (1964/1966). Quotations from Mao-Tse-tung. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press.

Mao Zedong (translated by Willis Barnstone and Ko Ching-po, 1972). The poems of Mao Tse-tung. New York: Harper & Row (reprinted 2008 by University of California Press).

Stewart, W. (2001). Deng Xiaoping: Leader in a changing China. Minneapolis: Lerner

Yang Su (2006). Mass killings in the Cultural Revolution: a study of three provinces. In Esherick, J. W., Paul G. Pickowicz, P. G., & Walder. A. G. (Eds). The Chinese cultural revolution as history (pp. 96-123). Stanford, CA: Stanford U