Michelangelo: The Late Pietàs

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Toward the end of his life, Michelangelo (1475-1564) attempted to sculpt a marble representation of the Pietà – the moment when Christ’s lifeless body is taken from the cross and held by his mother. In this endeavour he was returning to the subject of the sculpture that first brought him fame – the Rome Pietà of 1499. The ageing sculptor was unable to complete his task. One of his efforts – the Florentine Pietà of – he broke into pieces in 1555. A second attempt – the Rondanini Pietà – was still unfinished when he died in 1564.  Both sculptures have an intense emotional power.

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Short Day with Sound

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As I stated in my pre-Christmas post about On this Short Day of Frost and Sun, I have made a copy of the file with embedded sounds. For each of the poems, there is a recitation, often by the author of the poem. While inserting the soundfiles, I also corrected a few typographical errors in the original pdf.

The resultant pdf file is very large – 588 KB.  Because of its size it is only available on my google drive:

On this Short Day of Frost and Sun Text and Sound version 1.0 

I have not been able to download the file on my phone, and I think that it would too complicated to operate on a phone or a simple tablet. It should be downloaded onto a computer. Your browser may complain that the file is too large to check for viruses, but that you can “download anyway.” There are no viruses in the file.

Once you have downloaded the file to your computer, it should be opened using  Adobe Acrobat Reader (free to download.) If  the file is opened in other pdf-reading programs, the file will either be rejected as too large, or the sound files won’t work. For example, Google may automatically try to read the file using its Google-Doc programs but this will not work.

In order to listen to the embedded sound files, you must set up the Adobe Reader to play multimedia files. To do this follow these steps:

Edit > Preferences (bottom) > Multimedia & 3D (in menu)> tick box for Enable Playing of Multimedia & 3D content (topmost box).  

Like its soundless cousin, the file is best viewed using a full-screen two-page viewing mode. To set this up in Adobe follow these steps:

View > Page Display > Two Page View  

This is a screen-shot of what it looks like when it works.

On this Short Day

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One of my most pleasant pastimes is reading poetry. For several years now, I have been putting together a collection of poems that I have enjoyed at various times in my life, and I have added some comments about each of them.

I realize that most people do not read poetry. However, on the off-chance that you might like it, the anthology is available in pdf format by clicking on the link below. Once the file is opened you can save it to your own device.

On this short day of frost and sun Text 1.1

Although the pdf can be read by any pdf reader, it is probably best looked at two-pages at a time (like a book) using Adobe Acrobat Reader DC (free) and a relatively large screen. To do this, follow the instructions given at the beginning of the book. Adobe also allows you to search for particular poems by title or by author.

As noted in the preface, I also have sound-files containing recitations of all the poems, many by the authors, themselves. Early in the new year I shall find some way of embedding these in a larger “text and sound” pdf.

Condemned to be Free

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When Paris was liberated in August, 1944, everything was possible. A new world needed to be created to protect their  regained freedom. The philosophy that epitomized this desire for freedom was “existentialism.” The term, originally used in a derogatory sense to characterize those who followed the philosophical concept of the primacy of “being,” was grudgingly accepted by Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir as a description of their thinking. Existentialism fitted easily with the idea of the absurd proposed by Albert Camus. These concepts became the main focus of both art and philosophy in the decade that followed the end of World War II.

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The Axial Age

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In his 1949 book Vom Ursprung und Ziel des Geschichte (translated in 1953 as The Origin and Goal of History), Karl Jaspers proposed that the millennium before the time of Christ (or more specifically 800-200 BCE) could be considered an Achsenzeit or “Axial Age.” During this period, in five isolated regions of the world (China, India, Persia, Israel/Palestine, and Greece), human society and thought changed radically and irreversibly. A world that had until then been understood in terms of legends (mythos) was now examined in the light of reason (logos). During this time, “hitherto unconsciously accepted ideas, customs and conditions were subjected to examination, questioned and liquidated.” A multiplicity of gods and demons ceded their power to one universal god or life force. Sages, prophets and philosophers proposed rules for how we should behave. Though the axial age passed long ago, we still return to these teachings for moral guidance.

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The Rise of Ravenna

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The Disintegration of the Roman Empire

Constantine the Great (reign 306-337) re-unified the Roman Empire and promoted Christianity as the imperial religion. For several decades after Constantine, the Empire remained stable. However, after the death of Theodosius I (reigned 379-395), the Empire fractured into Eastern and Western regions, each ruled by one of his sons.

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The Changing English Language

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The purpose of a language is to communicate with our fellows. All languages must change to fit the times. New words become necessary. Old words take on new meanings. The way in which words are put together evolves. The rules we learnt as children do not last forever.

In the preface to his seven-volume A Modern English Grammar on Historical Principles (1909-1949), the great Danish linguist Otto Jespersen remarked

It has been my endeavour in this work to represent English Grammar not as a set of stiff dogmatic precepts, according to which some things are correct and others absolutely wrong, but as something living and developing under continual fluctuations and undulations, something that is founded on the past and prepares the way for the future, something that is not always consistent or perfect, but progressing and perfectible – in one word, human.

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Intimations of Mortality

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We have been here before. The coronavirus pandemic has many precedents. Over the centuries various plagues have swept over our world. Many millions of people have died before their time. From 1347 to 1351 the Black Death killed about 30 million people in Medieval Europe: over a third of the population. From 1918 to 1920 the Great Influenza killed about 50 million people: about 2.5% of the world’s population. Each of these pandemics was as deadly as World War I (about 20 million) or World War II (about 70 million). Pandemics are more worrisome than wars: we cannot sue for peace with a virus. Most of us survived even the worst of past infections. Our systems of immunity will likely once again become victorious in this present pandemic. But just like after a war, we shall be severely chastened. How close we will have come to death will change the way we think. Everything will be seen through the mirror of our own mortality and the transience of our species. The nearness of an ending will distort our thinking. We shall have strange dreams and frightening visions.

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Story of Job

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Everyone knows the story of Job. A righteous man is tested by God. All that Job owns is taken away, all his children are killed, and he is struck down by disease. Job’s friends advise him to seek God’s forgiveness since he must have somehow offended Him. However, Job insists on his own righteousness. He does not repent. He demands an explanation for why he is being unjustly punished. An angry God appears unto Job in a whirlwind. He proclaims His workings to be far beyond the understanding of Job. He talks of Behemoth and Leviathan. He castigates Job’s friends. He grants Job happiness and prosperity. He neither explains nor justifies what happened.

Everyone knows the story of Job. No one fully understands its meaning.

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Antisemitism

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Hatred is directed anger. Though we can claim metaphorically to hate unconscious objects or abstractions, hatred is typically directed at another person or persons. Hatred is evoked by suffering that we perceive they caused. Since it leads to actions against these persons, hatred can also be described as “ill will.”

Emotions can overwhelm reason. Passion is not logical. We often hate without any justification. Hatred must then be maintained by fictions that describe the evil nature of those we hate.

Antisemitism is the most enduring and most unjustified of human hatreds. The ill will suffered by the Jewish people has lasted for thousands of years, and has led to countless crimes, the most terrible of which was the Holocaust wherein 6 million Jews were put to death by the Nazi Government of Germany (Bauer, 2001; Marrus, 1987). ;

Antisemitism has been inspired by many fictions. This posting considers the unfortunate power of some of the stories that paved the way to the Holocaust.

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