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Ch 4c: pp 52-53

For the Medieval Dinosaur in all of us.

Ch 4c: pp 52-53

Postby Stanley Anderson » 03 Jul 2007, 17:51

(Four paragraphs beginning with "By translating so much..." and ending with "...initiated into the mysteries.")

Lewis mentions that Chalcidius was responsible for transmitting what was known of Plato in the Middle Ages, and that the parts he did transmit in their incompleteness, gave a different view of Plato to the Medieval mind than the more complete canon available that later periods had (and that we currently have). It conjures up a rather humourous image of a medieval Professor (or should that be “Abbot”:-) Kirk exclaiming (in a Chalcidian-influenced incomplete knowledge of Plato) to his peasant wards or young novitiates, “It’s all in Plato – what DO they teach them in these monasteries these days!”:-)

Although I can make a guess at his meaning, I wish Lewis had said more and gone into greater detail (though perhaps he thought it outside the scope of the book) when he wrote, “…Chalcidius unconsciously supplied a corrective for the contemptus mundi inherent in neo-Platonism and early Christianity alike. It was later to prove fruitful.” I would like to have heard what those fruits were specifically.

In the next paragraph Lewis begins talking about the effect the principle of interpretation that Chalcidius used had on the Middle Ages. Lewis tells us, “In hard places, [Chalcidius] holds, we must always attribute to Plato whatever sense appears ‘worthiest the wisdom of so great an authority’; which inevitably means that all the dominant ideas of the commentator’s own age will be read into him.” I can’t help but think that this is exactly the lament of people who have noted that Christians of nearly all denominations seem to “claim” Lewis for their own, attributing views to him because they are the dominant ideas of their own peculiar theologies.

I love the unexpected conclusion in the next paragraph that Lewis makes (or rather, his silence at the obvious implication) about Plato’s declaration that “the souls of wicked men may be reincarnated as women, and if that doesn’t cure them, finally as beasts.” He says that Chalcidius tells us not to take that literally. Lewis writes, “He only means that, by indulging your passions, you will, in this present life, become more and more like an animal.”

Period.

I can almost see the wry smile on Lewis’ face as he wrote that line, refusing to comment further on the intermediary place of women in that illustration of the progression from evil men to animals. Advocates of Lewis-as-misogynist, take it away – this should give you a field day!:-)

The last paragraph of the section under consideration in this post, is about the gods – ie the “animated stars” -- contrasted with the “popular pantheon” who “our [ie Chalcidius’] ancestors” were the descendents of – ie, they were children of gods. I’m thinking that Lewis portrayed a sort of mixture of these two – animated stars with children of the popular pantheon of gods – in the section of Voyage of the Dawn Treader on Ramandu’s Island where Ramandu is a star and his daughter is to marry Caspian so that Caspian's descendents do in fact become “children of the gods (or in this case, of the animated stars).

--Stanley
…on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a fair green country under a swift sunrise.
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Postby liriodendron » 09 Jul 2007, 04:28

It is facinating that something so simple as what books someone chose to do a commentary on should have such a deep effect on an era.


I also would love to hear more from Lewis about the "corrective for the contemptus mundi inherent in neo-Platonism and early Christianity alike". I assume that 'contemputs mundi' means contempt for man's body and physical nature in general. That is certainly not the case anymore, but when and how did this work by Chalcidius help cause the change?

Another instance of Lewis tantalizing me was the paragraph in the section on Apuleius where Lewis mentions the progression of "genuis" from a daemon to a man's artistic gift. He said that to understand the process would be to understand "that great movement of internalization.... in which the psychological history of the West has so largely consisted." it felt almost mean for him to have given this hint and not expanded on it.




I can almost see the wry smile on Lewis’ face as he wrote that line, refusing to comment further on the intermediary place of women in that illustration of the progression from evil men to animals.

:rolleyes: Perhaps he thought it was too obvious to need a comment. Anyway the point was how they (and we) "cover butt" for our honored authors when they write things that are dramaticly out of line. Well, I guess the real point was how we change the meaning to suit our present world view. But still, I don't get the feeling that Lewis is agreeing even a little with Plato here.
....you are not trying to stir up trouble, are you?....


I wonder what conception Chalcidius and the medieval man had of "animated stars'? Somehow I doubt they visualized them like Ramandu. Plato apparently didn't believe the "popular pantheon" even existed; although Chalcidius must have. He seems to have that huge respect for ancient authors that Lewis mentioned in the introduction as a characteristic of the middle ages.
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Re: -

Postby Stanley Anderson » 09 Jul 2007, 18:26

liriodendron wrote:....you are not trying to stir up trouble, are you?....


Well, maybe just the littlest bit -- we could use more input into these threads, don't you know:-). But really, I've always suggested that Lewis' women characters were not as blank or poorly drawn as some people have made them out to be. And Lewis as misogynist has always rubbed me the wrong way when it has been suggested from time to time in the forums over the years. So yes, I agree with you that Lewis was not at all agreeing with Plato, but I do think he probably thought it curiously funny.

(Suddenly, I'm imagining the Professor telling Susan and Peter instead that of course Lucy must be lying about Narnia -- that as a girl, she is after all naturally in that state between evil men and animals. "It's all in Plato," he says -- "What DO they teach them in these schools!":-)

--Stanley
…on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a fair green country under a swift sunrise.
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Stanley Anderson
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Posts: 3251
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