Virtue as an Intensive Quantity in Aristotle

In much of my recent research, I have criticized modern philosophy for being un-philosophical, at least if, by the term “philosophy,” we mean the practice in which the Ancient Greeks engaged [See my Wisdom’s Odyssey from Philosophy to Transcendental Sophistry, Cartesian Nightmare: An Introduction to Transcendental Sophistry, and Masquerade of the Dream Walkers: Prophetic Theology from the Cartesians to Hegel]. At least two features essentially characterize ancient philosophy: (1) realism and (2) the problem of the one and the many. Much of my recent work has involved contrasting the essentially realist stance of the Ancient Greeks to the subjective idealist stance of modern thinkers. In this paper, I turn to a second mark of Ancient philosophy: the problem of the one and the many.

Many contemporary philosophers treat the problem of the one and the many as an isolated issue within Ancient Greek philosophy, as a puzzle that confounded early Greek physicists. In so doing, they display a severe misunderstanding of philosophy as the Ancient Greeks practiced it. This paper’s purpose is twofold: (1) to examine the way, in the Golden Age of Ancient Greek philosophy, Aristotle practiced philosophy in terms of relating a one to a many, and (2) to use this examination to throw light on Aristotle’s understanding of virtue.

While some contemporary thinkers might find my thesis shocking, glaring examples of the predominance of the notions of unity and multiplicity in the Ancient Greek mind fill the works of Plato and Aristotle. Consider, for example, how, in Plato’s Crito, Socrates disdains Criton’s suggestion that he consider what the “many” might think about whether or not he should leave prison. Socrates says his concern is not, and never has been, about the opinions of the many, but “of the wise, …of the one qualified person” (47B). Again, in the Meno, Socrates criticizes Menon for constantly giving him “many different” virtues in response to Socrates’ continued request that Menon tell him the “one” virtue that is in every act of virtue that makes a virtue a virtue [Meno, 72B-C, 74A-B, 79A-C]. In the Republic, Socrates criticizes Thrasymachos’ notion of power precisely because the supposedly powerful person that Thrasymachos describes lacks unity of mind, and is, in Socrates’ estimation, therefore, weak [Republic, Bk. I, 35IA-352B].

According to Socrates, single-mindedness makes an individual and a city strong [Bk. 2, 374B-D]. Hence, the healthy city for which he searches as the archetype in which to find justice is, as he says, one in which one man has one work because, he states, “it is impossible for one man to do the work of many arts well” [Republic, Bk. 4, 42lE-422E]. Socrates also tells us in the Republic that the healthy city, the only one of which we can “properly use the name,” is one city, not many. He adds, we must apply “a greater predication …to the others. For they are each one of them many cities, not a city” [Republic, 42lE-422E]. Finally, in the Gorgias, Socrates chastises Callicles, the sophistic politician, for loving the Athenian demos more than he loves the one universal human love to possess unity of soul. He states: “I think it better my good friend that my lyre should be discordant and out of tune, and any chorus I might train, and that the majority of mankind should disagree with and oppose me, rather than that I, who am but one man, should be out of tune with and contradict myself” [48lD-482C].

The case with Aristotle is the same. Aristotle considers philosophy to be identical with science. For him science consists of certain knowledge demonstrated through causes [Posterior Analytics, Bk. l, I, 7Ib8-30]. Science, or philosophy, studies a multitude of beings, a many, a genus, and seeks to demonstrate essential properties of the genus by reasoning according to necessary principles universal, or one, to the genus. For him causes are principles, and principles are starting points of being, becoming, or knowing [Bk. l, 41, 87a3I-bI7; Metaphysics, Bk. 5, I, IOI2b34.1013a23]. Aristotle, in turn, considers points to be ones, unities, or indivisibles. A point is a one or indivisible with position, principally spatial position or position in a continuum. A principle is, then, in some way, a one [Metaphysics, Bk. 3,4, IOOlbl-I002blO, Bk. 5,6, IOI6b18-32].

Aristotle further maintains that being and unity are convertible notions. In reality being and unity are identical. They differ only conceptually. We derive our concept of unity by adding to the concept of being the notion of indivisibility, just as we derive our notion of number from division of unity, of a continuum [Metaphysics, Bk. 4, 1,I003b22-34, Bk. 10, I, 1052aI5-1053b8, and 1053b23-24].

This Ancient Greek philosophical tendency to convert the notions of being and unity is crucial for understanding the nature of the Ancient Greek conception of philosophy and virtue. To recognize how crucial it is, we need only consider the extent to which Aristotle devoted attention to the notion of unity in his Metaphysics. Next to examining the notion of being, he devotes much of the latter part of his treatise to the notion of unity and its properties [Metaphysics, Bk. 10].

The crucial importance of the notions of unity and plurality in Aristotle’s philosophy also appears in his criticism of Plato’s notion of Forms and mathematical beings as “ones outside the many” that St. Thomas Aquinas says Plato used to protect the relation of demonstration to “eternal things.” In his Commentary on the Posterior Analytics of Aristotle, Aquinas maintains that Aristotle understood demonstration to require that a one exist “in many and about many.” For Aristotle and Aquinas demonstration requires a middle term, a one that is the same in many, or a universal unequivocally predicable of a many. If no one something exists the same in a multitude, no universal exists unequivocally predicable of many beings. This makes demonstration, and philosophy, impossible [Commentary on the Posterior Analytics of Aristotle, Bk. I, I. 19; Posterior Analytics, Bk. I, II, 77a5-9].

Aristotle’s division of the speculative sciences further supports my claim that we cannot understand his philosophy or Ancient Greek philosophy unless we understand all Ancient Greek philosophy as an extended reflection on the problem of the one and the many. Aristotle’s division of speculative philosophy is threefold: physics, mathematics, and metaphysics. Why? Aristotle was no Christian. He had no special affinity to a trinity. Why not seven speculative sciences, like the classical seven liberal arts? Or twelve? Or one hundred?

The answer lies in the fact that, for Aristotle, we take demonstrative principles from their subject, to which necessary, or per se, principles essentially belong. Aristotle maintains that science requires per se. predication. Per se principles consist of the principles of proximate substance and its essential accidents, accidents that have their cause in a proximate subject and necessarily and always inhere in the subject [Posterior Analytics, Bk. I, II, 75aI8-37. See Commentary on the Posterior Analytics of Aristotle, Bk. 1, I. 14].

Because science, or philosophy, studies the many different ways many things relate to one proximate subject, it studies the way many things, more or less, share in the unity of a primary subject. Every science, not just metaphysics, chiefly and analogously studies the principles and causes of substances to understand the properties of the many species of which we predicate a genus [Metaphysics, Bk. 12, I, I069aI8-1069b32, Posterior Analytics, Bk. 2, 2, 90bI4-16]. Aristotle, in fact, tells us that ”there are as many parts of philosophy as there are kinds of substance” [Metaphysics, Bk. 4, 2, I004a2-3]. As Aquinas notes, “demonstration is concerned with things which are per se in something” [Commentary on the Posterior Analytics of Aristotle, Bk. 2, I. 2].

For Aristotle, science chiefly studies the principles and causes of its proximate substance and its per se accidents, not just any substance and any accidents [Posterior Analytics, Bk. 2, 2, 90bI4-16]. Through these principles we come to know the proper accidents, or properties, of all the species that belong to the genus. For this reason, Aristotle maintains that no science investigates accidents as such. Take, for example, the art of home building. A completed house can have an infinite number of accidents related to it. It can be pleasant to some people, painful to others, helpful to some, harmful to others, and so on. The builder’s art bears only on those accidents that are essential properties of a house, such as its intrinsic shape and size [Metaphysics, Bk. 6, I, I026bl-25]. Hence, for Aristotle, the definition of a per se accident, like odd or even, mentions in its definition its specific subject, for example, number, which is essentially odd or even, while a non-per se accident, like the color white, makes no mention of an animal because animals are not essentially color specific [Posterior Analytics, Bk. 1,6, 75aI8-37].

Aristotle conceives the speculative sciences to be three in number precisely because only substance and its two intrinsic accidents, quantity and quality, can operate as per se principles. Quantity and quality actually inhere in substance and remain with a substance for the duration of its existence. All other accidents relate to substance through their relation to a substance’s quantity or quality. Hence, in some way, both these intrinsic accidents account for different ways in which a substance can be actually and intrinsically one, the different ways we can know substance to be per se, and, apart from substance, can know the different proximate subjects of science.

For Aristotle, then, in some way, the whole of philosophy and every science involves coming to know how a multiplicity is essentially one. As Aquinas notes, every science studies many things referred to one primary thing, a substance, with which it is chiefly concerned. It considers this thing analogously, that is, according to the same formal aspect and, also, according to different relationships, ‘just,” as he says, “it is clear that one science, medicine, considers all health-giving things” [Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 4, I. 1, n. 544. See Annand A. Maurer (ed.), Commentary on the de Trinitate of Boethius, Questions V and VI. St. Thomas Aquinas: The Division and Methods of the Sciences, q. 6, a. 3, c., footnote 15].

Aristotle maintains as many species of being exist as species of unity exist, and that one science, metaphysics, has the job to study these species of unity, namely, ”the same and the similar and the other concepts of this sort” [Metaphysics, Bk. 4, 3, I003b36-37, Bk. 10, I, 1053b23-I04aI9]. Just as being is analogously predicable of all genera, since being and unity are convertible notions, Aristotle considers unity to be analogously predicable of all the different genera. Hence, he states that we may refer almost all contraries to unity as to their starting point [Metaphysics, Bk. 4, 3, I003b36-37, Bk. 10, I, 1053b23-I04aI9]. Aquinas explains Aristotle’s position in this way:

since being and unity signify the same thing …there must be as many species of being as there are species of unity, and they must correspond to each other. For just as the parts of being are substance, quantity, quality, and so on, in a similar way the parts of unity are sameness, equality and likeness. For things are the same when they are one in substance, equal when they are one in quantity, and like when they are one in quality. And the other parts of unity could be taken from the other parts of being, if they were given names. And just as it is the office of one science [first] philosophy to consider all the parts of being, in a similar way it is the office of this same science to consider all the parts of unity, i.e., sameness, likeness, and so forth [Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 4, I. 2, n. 56 I].

No science considers just any parts of being, however. Nor does it consider them in just any way. It considers a genus, an order of species. And it considers the genus relative to contrary opposites that compose it and to a first proximate substance to which, in different, relatively close and distant, ways, analogous ways, the members of the genus relate. Each science chiefly studies this substance.

Aristotle maintains that a genus is a kind of whole, one which, for philosophy, or science, primarily refers to the immediate, proximate, first, or proper subject of different per se accidents, or unities, within the genus [Metaphysics, Bk. 5,24, I023a26-32, and 26, I024a29-1024b4]. Aquinas explains that this sense of genus is different from the sense of genus as signifying the essence of a species. He says:

This sense of genus is not the one that signifies the essence of a species, as animal is the genus of man, but the one that is the proper subject in the species of different accidents. For surface is the subject of all plane figures. And it bears some likeness to a genus, because the proper subject is given in the definition of an accident just as a genus is given in the definition of its species. Hence the proper subject of an accident is predicated like a genus [Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 5, I. 22, n. 1121].

Surface is the immediate subject of all colors and plane figures. As such, it is the referential source of intelligibility of all surface bodies. All such figures are subjectified in substance by being proximately subjectified, and quantitatively unified, in a surface. Hence, when geometricians predicate surface of different plane (surface) figures they predicate surface analogously. In so doing, analogously they resemble logicians. When both geometricians and logicians predicate a genus, they include the genus in the species’ definition. Hence, geometricians also predicate in a way analogous to the way logicians predicate the genus that signifies the essence of a species. In both cases the definition of the species refers to its subject genus, its substance, for its intelligibility. But the substance of the geometrician is a surface body, not the essential definition of the logician.

Aristotle further maintains that one proximate subject cannot be reducible to another. Those things are generically diverse “whose proximate substratum is different, and which are not analyzed the one into the other nor both into the same thing (e. g., form and matter are different in genus)” [Metaphysics, Bk. 5,28, 1024bIO-I3]. Aquinas explains Aristotle’s meaning by referring the notion of proximate subject to subjectifying, or common, matters. Thus, he states: “[A] solid is in a sense reducible to surfaces, and therefore solid figures and plane figures do not belong to diverse genera, … but celestial bodies and lower bodies are diverse in genus inasmuch as they do not have a common matter” [Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 5, I. 22, n. 1125]. He adds, “In another sense those things are said to be diverse in genus which are predicated ‘according to a different figure of the category of being,’ i.e., of the predication of being [Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 5, I. 22, n. 1126]. He immediately notes, however, that the natural scientist and metaphysician consider a genus as the first subject of accidents, not as what is said of different categories of being, which is the way a logician considers generic diversity:

Now it is clear, from what has been said, that some things are contained under one category and are in one genus in this second sense, although they are diverse in genus in the first sense. Examples of these are the celestial bodies, and colors and flavors. The first way in which things are diverse in genus is considered rather by the natural scientist and also by the philosopher [that is, the metaphysician], because it is more real. But the second way in which things are diverse in a genus is considered by the logician, because it is conceptual [Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 5, I. 22, n. 1127. Bracketed material is my addition].

Within a different context, Armand A. Maurer explains Aquinas’s distinction between the way logicians conceive of a genus and the way natural philosophers and metaphysicians do:

From the point of view of the logician, material and immaterial things can be brought under the same genus (for example, substance), because he considers them only as concepts in the mind. From the point of view of the natural philosopher or metaphysician they do not come under the same genus because these philosophers consider the natures of things as they actually exist in reality, and in actual existence the substance of material things is not the same as that of immaterial things. Hence from a logical point of view, the genus of substance is predicated univocally of all substances; but from the point of view of the natural philosopher and the . metaphysician it is predicated analogically [Commentary on the de Trinitate ofBoethius, Questions Vand VI. St. Thomas Aquinas: The Division and Methods of the Sciences, q.6, a. 3, C., footnote 15].

Inasmuch as philosophy studies real being, or substance, as the proximate cause of per se accidents within a multiplicity of beings, or a genus, Aristotle maintains that every science studies opposites and first principles. That every science studies opposites is evident. Medicine, for example, studies disease and health. Grammar studies disagreement and agreement. Politics studies war and peace. Every science studies opposites because every science studies a multiplicity of differences according to a principle of unity.

Every science concerns itself with opposition, negation, completeness, and privation precisely because it studies substances through a principle: unity, and because opposition, negation, completeness, and privation are essentially connected to the concept of unity, or of being one. What is one is undivided, is not possessed of, is deprived of, division, and is the opposite of division or plurality. As Aquinas notes, we derive the concept of unity from the notion “of order or lack of division’ [Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 4, I. 2, n. 553]: The concept of unity entails, depends on, negation and privation, both of which are species of opposition. What is one is undivided, deprived of, and opposed to, division, or plurality. Our concept of “unity,” he tells us, includes an implied privation, “a negation in a subject,” like blindness in a human being [Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 4, I. 3, no. 564-566].

Some people might disagree with Aristotle and Aquinas, and maintain that we derive our awareness of plurality from a positive concept of unity. Aristotle himself claims that the one is the principle by which we know number [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 9, 10, 1052bI9-22]. Still, Aristotle replies to such an objection that the starting point of all of our knowledge, even our knowledge of notions like unity, cause, and principle, is our senses [Aristotle, Physics, Bk. I, I, 184aI7-2 I]. Our first perception is of composite things, a many, confusedly grasped as a one. Hence, we derive our concepts, definitions, and first awarenesses of first principles by negations of the way we sensibly perceive them as composite beings. Unity is the most primary privation, consisting of negation in a subject. Plurality stems from unity, and causes diversity, difference, and contrariety. Hence, we know first principles negatively in reference to the way we perceive their contraries [Aristotle, Physics, Bk. I, I, 184aI7-2 I. See also Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 4, I. 2, n. 553].

Indeed, Aristotle maintains that “all things are contraries or composed of contraries, and unity and plurality are the starting points of all contraries” [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 4, 2, 1005a3-5]. The reason for this is that contraries are differences, extreme differences that exist within a genus that relate as most complete and most deprived possession of a form. As such, contrariety is a kind of plurality, because difference is a pluralization of unity, and an opposition between possession and privation. Contrariety thus consists in the greatest distance of difference between extremes of species within a genus. The crucial points to note are that contraries are differences, that what is different is what is not the same, or not one, is multiple, and that differences involve opposition between possession and privation [Aristotle, Metaphysics, I004b27-1 005a13b, Bk. 10,3, 1055a32-39. See also Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 4, I. 4, no. 582-587].

For Aristotle, then, all otherness derives from pluralizing, unequalizing, unity. Unity, or what is undivided, in tum, is the ground of all sameness, equality, and similarity. Indeed, Aristotle thinks that sameness, equality, and similarity are analogous extensions and the proper accidents of unity. As such, they are the ground of all plurality, which, in tum, is the ground of all difference. For Aristotle, difference is plurality of unity, and the opposite of unity. The analogous extensions and properties of unity, however, are unities. To be the same, equal, or similar, therefore, is, analogously, to be one [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 4, I, I004a34-1 005a18. See also Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 4, I. 4, no. 582-587].

This means that to be different, unequal, or dissimilar is to be many, to be a plurality of unity. But the one and the many are opposed, are, indeed, together with being and privated being, the ground of all opposition and contrariety and are the primary contraries into we reduce all other contraries [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 10,3, 1055a33-1055b39. See also Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. Bk. 10, I. 6, n. 2058].

This being so, the principles of sameness, equality, and similarity and their opposites and contraries (difference, inequality, and dissimilarity) are the ground of all per se accidents and of the relative first principles of all the sciences. This must be so because they are the most fundamental oppositions between unity and plurality, the opposition which grounds all other oppositions and into which all others are reduced. And science studies the principles of opposition within a genus [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 10,3, I054a20-1 055b39. See also Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 10, I. 4, no. I998-2022, 2035].

A main reason, then, that Aristotle divides the speculative sciences into three classes is because he maintains that three pairs of specifically distinct kinds of unity, plurality, and opposition exist (sameness/difference, equality/inequality, and similarity/dissimilarity) that serve as the ground of per se accidents and of principles of contrariety for understanding the proximate subjects of science, these proximate subjects being constituted by distinctive kinds of common matter.

Aristotle tells us that two of these common matters are sensible. The third is “immovable and imperceptible” [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 12, I, I069a30-I069b3]. The two classes of sensible substance consist of perishable substances like animals and plants, and imperishable substances, like the movers of the celestial bodies, which physics investigates. The third class consists of objects with intelligible matter, that is, the objects of mathematics, and separate substances, that is, beings that can, do, or can be considered to exist apart from any and all matter [Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 12, I. 2, nn. 2425-2426]. Hence, Aquinas maintains that “as many parts of philosophy” exist “as there are parts of substance, of which being and unity are predicated and of which it is the principle intention or aim of this science to treat” [Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 4, I. 2, n. 563].

What makes these common matters proper subjects of science is more than the fact that they are common to a multiplicity: they comprise the matter of a proximate subject containing a specific principle of unity that grounds the per se differences and principles of opposition and contrariety within the limits of a proximate-subject genus.

Hence, as Aquinas says, “geometry speculates about a triangle being a figure having ‘two right angles,’ i.e., having its three angles equal to two right angles; but it does not speculate about anything else, such as wood or something of the sort because these things pertain to a triangle accidentally.” The reason geometry speculates about its subject genus in this way, through the principle of equality, and does not speculate about other sorts of likenesses or differences is because, as Aquinas adds, “science studies those things which are beings in a real sense, …and each thing is a being insofar as it is one” [Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 6, I. 2, n. 1176]. That is, the proximate subject of geometry, its common matter, is not material substance, but quantified material substance, is not body, but surface body. This body makes a substantial body to be a geometrical body. And equality is the quantitative principle of unity by which we grasp all the samenesses and differences that relate to a body as a continuum body, such as having three angles quantitatively the same as two right angles. In short, due to the relation they have to different common matters, sameness, equality, and similarity are the formal objects through which we conceive all the different sciences.

To put all this in another way, an assumption about proximate material substance underlies Aristotle’s notion of philosophy, and an assumption about unity underlies his philosophy of proximate substance. Beings that belong to the same genus share a common matter and a common unit measure through which we know them to be one [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 10, 4, I055a4-1 055a32. Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 10, I. 5, no. 2024-2026]. Indeed, Aristotle holds that, like the properties of sameness, equality. and similarity, ”to be a measure” is a property of unity [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 5, 6, 1016b4-32. Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 5, I. 8, n. 432].

Aristotle maintains, further, that unity is the measure of all things [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 10, I, I052bI5-19]. Aquinas comments that the reason Aristotle makes this claim is because unity terminates division. That which is undivided brings division to an end, is that beyond which no further division exists [Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 10, I. 2, n. 195 I]. Aristotle explains that we know those principles that constitute each thing’s substance by dividing or resolving a whole into its component parts, whether these parts are quantitative or specific (like matter, form, or elements of compounds). He says: “Thus, then, the one is the measure of all things, because we come to know the elements in the substance by dividing the things either in respect of quantity or in respect of kind” [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 10, I, 1053a24-27].

Analogously, we can call knowledge and perception “measures” of things. Aristotle maintains that we can speak this way because we know something by knowledge and perception. “[A]s a matter of fact,” he claims, “they are measured rather than measure other things.” And he immediately adds that thinkers like Protagoras “say nothing… while they appear to say something remarkable, when they say “‘man is the measure of all things” [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 10, I, I053a32-I053b3].

According to Aristotle, a measure is the means by which we know a thing’s quantity. That is, a measure is a unit, number, or limit [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 10, I, I052b20-27]. He adds that we first derive the notion of measure from the genus of quantity. From this we analogously transfer this notion to other genera. Hence, in a way, unity and quantity are the means by which we even know substance, knowledge, and quality. Hence, he states:

Evidently, then, unity in the strictest sense, if we define it according to the meaning of the word, is a measure, and most properly of quantity, and secondly of quality. And some things will be one if they are indivisible in quantity, and others if they are indivisible in quality; and so that which is one is indivisible, either absolutely or qua one [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 10, I, I053b4-9].

Aquinas comments that we find indivisibility in things in different, not the same, ways. Some things, like the natural unit which is the principle of number, or the natural length which is the principle of measured length, are definite and totally indivisible. Other things, like an artificial and arbitrary measure, “are not altogether indivisible but only to the senses, according to the authority of those who instituted such a measure wished to consider something as a measure” [Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 10, I. 2, n. 1953].

For Aristotle a natural body has per se unifying principles that differentiate it from a quantified body, and a quantified body has per se differentiating principles, per se formal objects, that differentiate it from a qualified body. Each of these bodies differs from the other according to a distinctive kind of unity that grounds distinctive kinds of contrariety and opposition based upon a distinctive kind of common matter.

The unity of a natural body is one composed of opposites, of matter and form that constitute a natural body as a material nature and as a substantial nature in the genus of substance. This body is not the same as a quantum body, the body which is in the genus of quantity, or as a qualified body. The natural body acts as the subject of the quantum body just as the quantum body acts as the subject of the qualified body.

Three properties of unity allow us to conceive of a natural body in this way: sameness, equality, and likeness (or similarity). These properties, in tum, give us a threefold division of speculative philosophy, based upon unity’s properties. Hence, Aquinas says that we distinguish the parts of philosophy “in reference to the parts of being and unity.” He maintains that, according to Aristotle, “there are as many parts of philosophy as there are parts of substance, of which being and unity chiefly are predicated, and of which it is the principle intention or aim of this science [that is, metaphysics] to treat.” According to Aquinas, “the parts of being are substance, quantity, quality, and so on.” In a similar way, he adds:

The parts of unity are sameness, equality and likeness. For things are the same when they are one in substance, equal when they are one in quantity, and like when they are one in quality. And the other parts of unity could be taken from the other parts of being, if they were given names.

That is, we divide philosophy according to the order of proximate natural subjects and the property of unity that constitute the necessary and sufficient condition for a proximate subject’s ability to be.

For example, Aristotle thinks that a substantial body emanates in three magnitudinal directions from its matter as a natural body. These dimensions are extensions, divisions, and arrangements of the natural body within terminal parts in different directions in place. They divide the natural body into parts that have a positional relation to each other and to bodies around them because position is contained within the notion of quantity [Aquinas, Commentary on the de Trinitate of Boethius, Questions V and Vi. St. Thomas Aquinas: The Division and Methods of the Sciences, q. 5, a. 3]. These emanations quantify a natural body as a magnitudinal, extended, quantum, or continuum body. “This extension occurs both intrinsically to a body inasmuch as it places limits upon it within terminal parts internal to its substantial matter and externally inasmuch as it places limits upon the substantial body in the way it relates to its surrounding place.” [Redpath, “Prescript,” in Crowley, Aristotelian-Thomistic Philosophy of Measure and the International System of Units (SI), p. xiii].

When a material substance extends in one direction it becomes a magnitudinal body terminated by a point, that is, a linear body reaching from one point to another point. When the substance extends in two directions, that is from one point to another and one line to another, the substantial body becomes a surface, or wide, body stretching from one line to another. When the substantial body stretches from one surface to another surface, it becomes a solid, or deep, body and has depth. In this way, a quantum bodily substance has three natural intrinsic unit measures and termini (a point, line, and surface) that constitute it as a quantum subject, a substance with a quantum, the extended spatial unity of which we call a quantum “equal.”

As Aquinas notes, three kinds of magnitude exist:

if magnitude is divisible into continuous part in one dimension only, it will be length; if into two, width; and if into three, depth. Again, when plurality or multitude is limited, it is called number. And a limited length is called a line; a limited width, surface; and a limited depth, body. For if multitude were unlimited, number would not exist, because what is unlimited cannot be numbered. Similarly, if length were unlimited, a line would not exist, because a line is a measurable length (and this is why it is stated in the definition of a line that its extremities are two points). The same things hold true of surface and of body [Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 5, I. IS, n. 978].

Aristotle maintains that we derive our notion of measure from sensation, primarily from our sense awareness of number which arises from cutting a continuum. By cutting a continuum body, we divide it into a plurality of units. The unit that terminates the division is the limit of the division, an indivisible. Hence, it formally constitutes the division as a one and a number, an ordered plurality. A number is a limited plurality, a one, and a measure. Indeed, it is a measure precisely because it is a one, and therefore; is an indivisible and a limit. Hence Aristotle says, ”the one is the measure of all things” [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 10, I, 1052b32-1053a23].

Since a measure is a one, just as unity is an analogous notion with accidental properties, which include being a measure, so, too, are continuous and discrete quantity. Aristotle contends that the common properties of continuous quantity are large, or big, and small. Of number, they are much, many, and large and little, few, small, and less. Of magnitude, they are, of length, or of a long body, long and short. Of a surface, or wide body, they are narrow and wide. Of a solid, or deep, body, they are high or deep, and low or shallow. Of quality, heavy and light, hot and cold. All these are relative unit measures, ways by which we comprehend an extended or qualified substance to be limited and one, and hence knowable [Bk. 5,12, 1020aI8-1020bI2. Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 5,1. I5, n. 981, and 1.16, n. 998].

Of all the accidents, Aquinas maintains that “quantity is the closest to substance” [Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 5, I. I5, n. 982]. Hence, of all the accidents, it is most per se. Quantity is a per se accident of a material body because it inheres in and emanates from the body’s natural matter. A quantum body can thus be the proper subject of philosophical speculation for the geometrician as a proximate subject of accidents proper to a point, line, and surface.

All the above points being true, someone might wonder what all this has to do with Aristotle’s notion of virtue? Its connection is simple. In a similar fashion to the way in which dimensive quantity causes a material body to emanate extensively through its matter to natural intrinsic unit measures and limits, Aristotle thinks that a body emanates intensively through its form to natural intensive magnitudinal unit measures and limits of ability, positionally related to each other. In this way, form constitutes a natural body as a qualified body, or a body with qualities, with limited and ordered abilities to act with more or less perfection, the proximate subject about which the Ancient physicist, metaphysician, and ethician can speculate, depending upon whether the matter in question is corruptible or incorruptible, or human possessed of the faculty of free choice.

Aquinas, following Aristotle, maintains that we can understand the term “perfect” in several senses. In one sense, a thing is internally perfect when it “lacks no part of the dimensive quantity which it is naturally determined to have.” In a second sense, we can understand the term internally to refer to ”the fact that a thing lacks no part of the quantity of power which it is naturally determined to have.” In still another sense, we can use the term teleologically to refer to external perfection, as, for example, when we say that ”those things are said to be perfect ‘which have attained their end, but only if the end is ‘worth seeking’ or good” [Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, L.18, nn. 1038-1039. See Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 5,16, 10212bI2-1022a3].

Aquinas explains that we can say a thing is perfect in relation to this or that particular ability because:

[E]ach thing is perfect when no part of the natural magnitude which belongs to it according to the form of its proper ability is missing. Moreover, just as each natural being has a definite measure of natural magnitude in continuous quantity, as is stated in Book II of The Soul, so too each thing has a definite amount of its own natural ability. For example, a horse has by nature a definite dimensive quantity, within certain limits; for there is both a maximum quantity and minimum quantity beyond which no horse can go in size. And in a similar way the quantity of active power in a horse which is not in fact surpassed in any horse; and similarly there is some minimum which never fails to be attained [Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 5, I. 18, n. 1037].

Hence, we can analogously transpose all the concepts of measure that we derive from our awareness of being as dimensively quantified and one to measure and comprehend quality and other accidents as well, such as place and time [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 10, I, 1020315-33. Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 5, I. I5, n. 984]. For example, we can speak of a color’s magnitude because of the intensity of its brightness, the magnitude of a sin because of the greatness of its offense to God, the quantity of perfection of an animal’s ability to see, hear, or run, or the extent of perfection of a person’s happiness, or one animal being higher or lower in its genus or species.

To grasp Aristotle’s view of philosophy more completely and to grasp how it more specifically applies to virtue and ethics, we need to recognize a basic distinction he makes metaphysically between two types of quantity. Many philosophers are familiar with Aristotle’s distinction between continuous and discrete quantity, continuous quantity being the proper subject of the geometrician and discrete quantity being the proper subject of the arithmetician. Metaphysically, he makes a more basic distinction between dimensive (molis) quantity and virtual (virtutis) quantity.

Continuous and discrete quantity are species of dimensive, or bulk, quantity. They result in a substantial body from the emanation of a natural substance’s matter to become a body divisible in one, two, or three magnitudinal limits or directions: length, width, or depth. Virtual quantity is a species of quantity that emanates from a natural substance’s form, not its matter. It emanates intensively, not extensively. And the accidental form “quality,” not dimensive “quantity,” produces it. Aquinas describes the distinction between these two forms of quantity as follows: “Quantity is twofold. One is called bulk (molis) quantity or dimensive (dimensiva) quantity, which is the only kind of quantity in bodily things…. The other is virtual (virtutis) quantity, which occurs according to the perfection of some nature or form.” He adds that this sort of quantity is also called “spiritual greatness just as heat is called great because of its intensity and perfection [St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, q. 1, a. 42, ad 1. See also, Iallae, q. 52, a. I, c. For a more extensive treatment of the notion of virtual quantity in Aristotle and Aquinas, see Crowley, Aristotelian-Thomistic Philosophy of Measure and the International System of Units (SI), pp. 25-47, 249-260].

For Aristotle, in other words, forms and qualities have their own kind of quantity and magnitudinal limit, one that consists in the greater or less intrinsic perfection, completeness, or quantity of form, not in the extension of matter throughout parts within a spatial continuum. This quantum property of form enables the existence within a subject and a genus of the opposition between privation and possession that grounds all contrariety. Privation requires the disposition to have a form and the absence, in a definite subject at a definite time, of the form to which one is disposed [Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 5, I. 14 nn. 962-965]. The basis of contrariety is the opposition between privation and possession [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 10, 14 1055a33-1055bI8]. Hence, quality, or intensive quantity, as the foundation of all opposition and contrariety is, in a way, the ground of all science.

Furthermore, for Aristotle, virtues are qualities and qualities are of basically two kinds: (1) essential difference and (2) differences, or alterations, of bodies capable of motion, like hot and cold, heavy and light, black and white. This second sense refers to the way we generally use the term “quality” “of virtue and vice, and, in general, of evil and good [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 5, 14 I020a33-1020b25. Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 5, I. 16, nn. 987-999]. Aristotle considers quality in this sense to be an accident related to motion, an intensive quantitative modification of something moved inasmuch as it is moved. Hence, regarding virtue and vice, he says:

Virtue and vice fall among these modifications; for they indicate differentiae of the movement or activity, according to which the things in motion act or are acted upon well or badly; for that which can be moved or act in one way is good and that which can do so in another (the contrary) way is vicious. Good and evil indicate quality especially in living things, and among these especially in those which have purpose [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 5, 14 1020bI8-25].

Aquinas comments upon Aristotle’s reference to virtues and vices enabling us to move well or badly that the terms “well” and “badly” chiefly relate to living things and “especially” to those possessed of “choice. ” The reason Aquinas gives for this is that living things particularly act for an end and “rational beings, in whom alone choice exists know both the end and the proportion of the means to the end” [Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 5, I. 16, n. 998].

Part of Aquinas’s point in the above passage is that quality modifies a motion or action in the sense that it places it within bounds and, in a way, gives it order and proportion, especially in connection to acting for an end. This point is crucial to understand in connection to the study of ethics as a science because, as a science, ethics must study a genus in relation to opposition between contrary members of a species, an opposition, like all oppositions, grounded in possession, privation, and limits.

Recall that Aristotle thinks that science studies one thing chiefly, a primary thing to which it analogously relates other things according to different relationships, that is, unequal relationships of possession and privation. Hence, the medical scientist chiefly studies health and its contrary opposite, disease, plus other things differently related, by greater and less distance, to health and disease, like diet, exercise, operating procedures, medical instruments, and so on. Analogous study of anything involves relating things using a common concept, or meaning, predicated according to greater and less distance to a common term, or numerically one nature, that is, according to more and less, excess and defect (all of which, in some way, are not equal, and, hence not one) to some one definite thing. No science, then, can proceed without considering the proportionate and unequal relationship of possession and privation that a multiplicity has to a chief proximate subject, to the maximum in a species, to a one to which other things are related as numerically one end [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 4, 1, I003b 11-19. Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 5, I. 1, nn. 534- 544].

One reason this last claim is true is that Aristotle tells us substance is part of the subject of every science, not just of metaphysics. He also tells us that quantity is that by which we know substance, that a measure is that by which we know a thing’s quantity, that we first find unity as a measure in the discrete quantity, which is number, and that, from this category, we transfer the notion of a measure to other categories, like quality, time, place, and so on [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 10, I, 1052b 19-1053b8. Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 10, I. 2, no. 1937-1960].

In the case of quality, Aristotle maintains that we first perceive the notion of measure by comparing one thing to another and by noticing that one thing exceeds another in a specific quality, by noticing larger and smaller or more and less, which are inequalities and, as such, pluralities of unity. For example, we notice that one thing exceeds another in weight or heat [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 10, I, 1052b 19-1053b8. Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 10, I. 2, no. 1937-1960]. For Aristotle, however, equality and inequality are first and foremost divisions of numeral proportions [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 5, 14, I020b26-1 021 al 4. Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 10, I. 2, n. 1008]. Inequality is of two kinds: larger and smaller (or excessive and defective) and more and less. As inequalities, we cannot understand excessive and defective, larger and smaller, and more and less apart from reference to equality. Equality, however, is the measure of inequality, the means by which we know inequality [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 5, 14, I020b26-1 021 al 4. Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 10, I. 2, n. 1008].

Furthermore, in the case of quality, Aquinas maintains that we are incapable of directly comparing any two qualities. Quality as quality only directly relates to the subject in which exists. Its being is a referential being to its subject. We can only relate it to another quality (I) by referring one quality to the other as an active or passive potency of the other, as being a principle or source of acting or being acted upon (like heating and being heated) or (2) by referring one quality to another through reference to quantity or something related quantity, as, for example, when we say that one thing is hotter than another because its quality of heat is more intense [Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 10, I. 2, n. 1008].

Aristotle’s teaching on contraries throws light on how we can compare two qualities quantitatively. For Aristotle contrariety is. a kind of opposition, one of the four kinds of opposition: (1) contradiction, (2) contrariety, (3) privation, and (4) relation [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 10,4, 10555a33-1055b3]. Contraries are forms, extreme differences, or specific extremes or limits, within the same genus between which a mean, middle, or intermediary can exist. This mean or middle relates to both extremes as a one, intermediate, or midpoint between possession and privation. It is neither extreme, relates to both, and is opposed to both by an opposition of privative negation, not of contrariety, just as, for example, the midpoint between the extremely hot and extremely cold is neither hot nor cold but can become both or a morally neutral person is neither morally good nor bad but can become both [Aristotle, Metaphysics, Bk. 10,4, 1056a10-30].

Furthermore, passage from one extreme to another involves an order of change, a necessary passage through the midpoint, which stands in a condition of equality in relation to both extremes, just as passage from the great to the small and the fast to the slow must be through what is equidistant from both. Hence, because the equal stands as a mean or midpoint between extremes of possession and deprivation of a form within a genus, we can use the equal as a measure for knowing both extremes [Aquinas, Commentary on the Metaphysics of Aristotle, Bk. 10, I. 7, nn. 2059-2074. For extensive analysis of the way contemporary physical scientists use the equal as a measure, see Crowley, Aristotelian-Thomistic Philosophy of Measure and the International System of Units (SI)].

In relationship to the equal, which is a one, two opposites exist, comprising the unequal (in this case, excess and defect of some form). Analogously speaking, these inequalities are multiplicities or pluralities. This means that we can measure qualitative differences, or difference of intensity in possession of a quality, by comparing excessive and deprived possession to possession of equal intensity. We can compare one quality to another by relating both the qualities we wish to compare to a third quality that stands midway between them in intensity, much like we can compare the heaviness of two different bodies through use of a balance scale that compares their weight relative to a state of equilibrium. This qualitative state becomes the measure of the other two and the principle by which we know them.

In the case of Aristotle’s teaching about virtue and ethics we can easily see how Aristotle applies his teaching about the one and the many. Like all sciences ethics studies a genus of being grounded on a specific kind of matter: moral matter. Moral matter is qualified matter, matter modified by active and passive potencies. Specifically, it consists of opposing habits of human choice. Ethics studies a many, the many possible opposing acts open to human choice, to try to comprehend the qualitative potentialities and properties that constitute human choice, to comprehend the powers of the soul as motive principles that can act well or badly. This science seeks to understand what is human choice to comprehend choice as the principle and cause of the many free acts that human beings perform and to enable the person of moral experience to act better. To engage in this study the ethician must examine a multiplicity of human acts because we can only comprehend power and potentiality in relation to actuality.

According to Aristotle, all science seeks to understand its subject matter in terms of its principles and causes. He also says that the first, or maximum, in any genus is the cause and measure of all that is in the genus. This means that every genus contains a species that has a form existing in its most complete state. In this species we find the form most glaringly present, present in its maximum of intensive quantity. Hence, all science seeks to find this species of its genus to use our understanding of its powers and properties as a means for knowing the powers and properties of its more deprived members.

In the case of moral science, the maximum in the genus, the starting point of moral reasoning, lies in the habits of the prudent person and in reason’s general certainty that a greatest intensive quantity of qualified act exists for beings that possess the human form. The prudent person is the rule or measure of all moral science. As the contrary opposite of the imprudent person, the prudent person is the maximum in the genus of moral choice that we have to use to comprehend goodness about human action. As the privative opposite of the extremes of moral excess within the same genus, the prudent person is the intermediate, the equal, in the same genus, who acts Iike a balance scale to compare and contrast moral viciousness [Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, in The Basic Works of Aristotle, Bk. 2,5, II06b36-1 10731, Bk. 3, 4, 1113a31-33. See, also, Joseph Owens, “The Grounds of Ethical Universality in Aristotle,” in Aristotle: The Collected Papers of Joseph Owens, pp. 148-164, and Richard P. Geraghty, The Object of Moral Philosophy According to St. Thomas Aquinas, pp. 56-61]. In this person we find (I) the quality of active human powers exercised with their maximum of intensive quantity, or completeness of form, human goodness, and (2) the balance, or equal state, between extremes of too much and too little intensive quantity of chosen action. For Aristotle, in short, moral science starts from the evidently accepted principle that all human beings by nature have a greatest or maximum human desire: to live well and a multiplicity of contrary and opposing habits of actions that moral science studies to find the principles for living well, the maximum of which we find achieved in the actions and habits of the prudent person.

“Virtue,” Aristotle tells us, “is a state of character concerned with choice, lying in a mean, i.e. the mean relative to us, this being determined by a rational principle, and by that principle by which the man of practical wisdom would determine it.” As a mean between two vices, virtue is an intermediate, equal, or right state, or state of intermediary intensive quantity, standing between, and opposed by an opposition of privative negation, not of contrariety, to two contrary vicious opposites of excess and defect of right measure in action and being acted upon [Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Bk. 2, 6, 1107al-8].

Hence, the courageous person is the intermediate between the reckless person and the timid. And a person who seeks to hit the mean between contrary vices must proceed toward the mean, toward the right measure, which is a specific intensive quantity of action that equals the best state of exercising our faculty of choice in the here and now [Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Bk. 2,8, 11109al-36]. Habituation of the good person determines the right answer in moral choice, the answer equal to the situation and an agent’s natural and habituated powers, precisely because this person has experience of virtue, of the equal in matters open to inequality, or plurality, of action [Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Bk. 1,2, 1095al-12, Bk. 1,8, 1099a13-24, Bk. 2, 6, 1106b36-1107a2].

This is not to say that moral science only studies the behavior of the prudent person. As Aquinas notes, Aristotle holds that every science chiefly studies one subject present, with different degrees of intensive quantity, in a multiplicity of different, opposite, and contrary beings. Secondarily and analogously it studies a multiplicity of other things that relate in varying degrees to this one subject. In the case of moral science, the one subject is human action as we find this extremely opposed in virtue and vice. But Aristotle thinks that the moral philosopher must also take into account and evaluate moral education and culture:

Paideia, meaning education and culture, is what equips the individual to make the right choice in each case and to grasp the ethical principles in a way that will allow them to function as premises from which conclusions may be drawn in the manner of an authentic science. Hence the importance of correct habituation from earliest childhood on [Owens, “The Grounds of Ethical Universality in Aristotle,” pp. 156-157].

In so doing, however, the ethician can never lose sight of the fact that (1) the chief object of moral science is a proper subject whose per se principles this science seeks to grasp, and (2) we can grasp no per se principle without reference to the notion of unity and intensive quantity.

In a similar fashion, without an understanding of the notion of intensive quantity, none of us can adequately grasp Aristotle’s notion of virtue and of philosophy, or the notion of virtue held by Socrates or Plato for that matter. If we modern thinkers wish abandon our tendency to confound philosophy with logic or with one or another brand of sophistry, if we wish to return to the practice of doing philosophy that the Ancient Greeks passed on to posterity, a practice we have largely, if not entirely, lost, we, too, will have to return to the Ancient Greek habit of thinking about the beings around us in terms of the problem of the one and the many and recover a better understanding of the role intensive quantity plays in comprehending the nature of this most perplexing puzzle.


Peter Redpath was Professor of Philosophy at St. John’s University. He is the author/editor of 17 philosophical books and dozens of articles and book reviews. He has given over 200 invited guest lectures nationally and internationally, and headed many prestigious organizations. He is the only non-Polish scholar to hold the Laudatio Achievement Award for attainment of intellectual and organizational wisdom, from the Department of Philosophy, Culture, and Art at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin, in Poland. More information is found at his website. [Portions of this essay were originally published in the International Journal of World Peace, Vol, 18. No. 1 (March 2001).


Featured: “Seven Virtues and Seven Liberal Arts,” by Francesco Pesellino; painted ca. 1450.

Iter et adventures baronis Trump et canis mirandus Bulger—I

Praefatio

The following stories hail from the pen of Ingersoll Lockwood (1841—1918), an American barrister of the late 19th Century. These travels and adventures were published right in the middle of a remarkable period of English letters. For a generation before the 1889 release of Lockwood’s first Trump installment, and continuing from strength to strength for another generation afterwards, these stories were part of the burgeoning collections of children’s and fantasy fiction which was received with such interest at the time.

But time and fame are fickle, and poor Baron Trump was soon forgotten, despite all his marvelous journeys. It was not until there was a real Barron Trump living lately in the White House that Lockwood’s stories were rediscovered. (Fickle, it turns out, is not always a bad thing!)

And while the coincidences between the fleshly Barron Trump and his inky double gave rise to all sorts of jabber about time traveling orange tycoons (perhaps playing 5D chess in transit), we have an even better time travel for you: journey with little Baron Trump in Latin! No matter how old it is, literature is always a living thing. It is a delight to welcome back into the imagination not only young Mr. Trump and Bulger, but also to contribute to the growing corpus of new and republished Latin literature.

John Coleman

CAPUT I.

Brevis relatio cuiusdam parvi baronum maiorum celeberrimi, qui “Eques Inermem (literally, armless)” vocatur. Mira eius fortitudo et fortitudo. Quam secutus est Cordis Leonis ad Orientem. Res egregie gestae in campo sub Ioppe moenibus. Eius matrimonium in praesentia Saladini et Cordis Leonis.

Venio ex una ex vetustissimis et honestissimis Germaniae septentrionalibus familiis, virtute et amore periculi clarus.

Unus antecessorum meorum, cum viginti intrasset, uno mane audiverat in mensa patris sui, magnum regem Angliae Cœur de Lion exercitum contra infideles ducturum esse.

“Miserere parens,” adulescens e sede evigilans, oculi ardentes, genae ardentes, “Adiungam Peregrinus et auxilium in hostium sanctae religionis interitum?” “Heu miser puer!” respondit pater, miserata iuventutis intuitu, qui per novum quendam naturae lusum sine armis natus, « non es destinatus ad gravissimas pugnas, quales exspectant patruelem nostrum Cœur de Leonem. Omnia ensem gerendi ratio detinet, lancea cubile.

“Oportet homicidium deponere corpus tuum inermum ante cimeterium miserorum Moslemi elevatum! Fili carissime, ab animo talia cogita, et te ad poemata et philosophiam converte, novo generi nomen tuum eruditione addes. “Immo vero clemens parens, exaudi me!” diserto iuvenem ocello hortatus est: “Vera, arma mihi natura negavit, at illa non fuit tam crudelis quam credi posset, in ima membro vires gigas ad recompensationem dedit.

Non meministi quo tandem mense aprum uno ictu e planta venantis percussi? “Faciam,” subridens truci sene baro, “sed—” “Ignosce pater egregius iuveni interruptio venit, “Ibo in pugnam duplicem armatum, cuivis enim strepitori figam ensem et vae Mussulmano, qui me in acie audet occurrere.

“Ite ergo, fili mi!” Clamavit senex baro, ut lachrymae pictae manant genae, “Ite, iunge patruelem nostrum Cœur de Lion, et si tu inermis resistas incredulorum furorem, adjicietur alia gloria BUCINUM nomine; et in hac avita sede pendebit effigiem equitis inermi, cui mirantibus ocellis in aevum recumbent amatores fortium factorum.

Gaudium proavi mei nullum modum cognovi.

Vix moratus, ut ad iter opus faciendum appararet, cum nonnullis fidelibus stipatoribus, ab castelli navale plausibus evectus inter millia pulchrarum virginum, quae ex vicina civitate convenerant, ad Deum inermem equitem properat.

Non nisi egregium illud sub Ioppe moenibus dimicatum est, quod antecessor meus occasionem praebendae fortitudinis, eximiae virtutis, et impetus impetus inexsuperabilis.

Non unus, non quinque, non decem miles gregarius ausi sunt armati equitis.

Totae turmae expavescebant ante hunc arcanum ultorem iniuriarum Christianae, qui sine manibus Moslemi milites perculit, ut granum ante flatum cadit.

Iterum atque iterum, Saladinus florem suorum misit inermem equitem, cuius iam vires ac virtus nomen suum terrori militi superstitioso fecerat. Parum terribilem fatum illum exspectantem animadvertens,

Mahometanorum belligerem sublato cimeterium antecessorem meum rueret, cum uno ense armato ictu arma equitis inermis equi ferire pectus, deinde infideles proterere. morte provolutus humi.

Iam meridies erat.

In edito loco Saladinus, aestum pugnae spectans, ingentis exercitus florem stragem anxius oculis horrendam vidit.

Iam nomen, ordo, et natio iuvenum antecessoris mei Moslemi ducis innotuerunt.

“La, il la! Mahomed ul Becullah!” clamavit barbam gerens. Beatus vir qui potest vocare Christianum militem suum filium. Quot prophetae infantes hodie occiderunt?

“Sexcentesimo quinquagesimo nono!” responsum datum.

“Sexcenti et quinquaginta novem” Saladinus resonavit, “et meridies est!” Cum nox accessisset, numerus ad mille et septem auctus fuerat.

Audito diro diei opere “Inermem equitis” Saladini magnum cor fudit, et tamen admirationem tantae sollertiae et fortitudinis retinere non potuit.

“Ite!” Clamavit magnanimus infidelis dux, “Ite, e familia formosae Kohilat ancillae meae, eam orbibus nigredinis nigris, florem gratiae ac florem reginae venustatis. Duc eam ad eques inermem, Saladino cum regia salutatione; virtus facit fratrem meum, Giaour, licet sit! Discedite!”

Cum speciosus Kohilât in conspectum adulescentis antecessoris mei ductus est, eique denuntiatum est Saladinum ei munera misisse, “Eques impotens,” salutationis regiae in signum reverentiae tam iuvenis. Et tamen tantae fortitudinis prima Christianae iuventutis cogitatio indignationem suam ab eius praesentia iactaret.

In illo autem momento, Kohilât oculos suos magnos et splendidos elevavit eosque plenos in facie adulescentis defixit.

Plus erat quam cor hominis stare posset.

Mota comitate ut de tentorio suo processit ad eam partem cum honore, et dixit:

“Kohilat, aliena te fata ad me misit. Magnus Saladinus nuntius mihi impertit scientiam bonitatis tuae, amabilitatis tuae, et mentis doctae, quae in suo thesauro jucundissimas imagines et utiles scientias continet. Docet me stas in directa propagine ab illa inclyta reginae terrae tuae Scheherezada, quae per mille et una noctes cogitationum Soldani Indiarum ita teneri ludibrio praeclari phantasiae tenuit. avertite eum a gravi ultionis consilio. Putasne, Kohilat, te posse oblivisci falsi dei tui et solum verum amare?”

“Ita, domine,” murmuravit mitis Kohilat, “Si ita est dominus meus.”

Risus increbruit formosam faciem juvenis antecessoris mei. Magis repugnare cupiebat in convertendo pulchram infidelem ad veram fidem, sed quamvis speciosam faciem diu et cuilibet subtilitatis signo scrutaretur, non tamen vidit.

Bene, Kohilat, dixit, et nunc responde mihi, et ex corde tuo loquere. Vis fieri uxor mea secundum ritus Ecclesiae Christianae et leges patriae meae?

Iterum pulcher Kohilât respondit:

“Ita, domine mi; si sic placet.”

Sequenti die induciae indictae sunt, et coram duobus magnis ducibus exercitus, Cœur de Lion et Saladino, ambo gloriosissimo comitatu circumventi, juvenis antecessor meus et princeps Kohilat in virum et uxorem conjuncti sunt. a regii confessoris “eques inerme,” supra circumfusam multitudinem eminens in lorica sua fulgenti loricae instar columnae argenti politae. Cum obviam prodiret lusca sponsa, anulo inter labra connubio obtentus, ingens ab utroque exercitu clamor ortus est.

Saladinus barbam permulsit. Cœur de Lion fecit signum crucis. Brevi semihora duces in castra redierant, bellumque atrociter exitio reparaverat.

Huic praeclari antecessoris mei, equitis inermi, cum Mahometani ancilla, possessionem meam prope Orientales phantasiae tribuo.

CAPUT II.

Senior baro incertus de loco certo nativitatis meae. Causae cur postea dabuntur. Parentes mei hoc tempore in Africam iter fecerunt. Senior Baronis mirabilis ascensus Montium Lunae. Miracula fugae nebulonis impenetrabilis. Ut efficitur. In terra Sut. Omnia quae ibi contigerunt. Qualiter canororum rex Snutores parentes meos in magno honore ad palatium suum deduxerunt, et quomodo ab eo habiti sunt.

Dum in mea potestate est, ut curiositati legentium indulgeam, in qua parte mundi sit, in qua tenebras primum vidi, nocte enim natus sum, tamen, quantum ad naturam statim in qua eram natus, nam dolor, possum plura facere quam verba patris mei hac de re interrogati repetere.

“Fili mi, si essem in lecto meo, tantum dicere possem te aut in medio genitum esse in magno lacu, aut in insula, aut in paeninsula, aut in summo monte altissimo, sicut saepe saepius. Explicavit tibi.“

Sufficiat ergo, lector benevole, in praesentia tibi certiorem facere, quod tempore nativitatis meae in Africa parentes mei proficiscerentur; Pater meus unum de mirabilibus gestis in monte ascensu, scilicet ascensu celsissimi Lunæ Montium, feliciter perfecit; duces eius cum maxime periculoso loco in ascensu deseruissent; sed sine illis profugisse, et post aliquot dies terribilem inopiam et famem et sitim adsumere; proprium aeris aliquantum altitudinis emensum, quod os faucesque musculi resoluti sunt. Infelix viator vel fame vel siti perit, ipso praesente fructu dulci et aqua frigida et limpida.

Ita materna, quae cum eo usque in montis partem instructa et certissima pedis steterat, iter facere perrexerunt, ut putabant, in vallem, de qua primogenita habebant, iter facere profectus.

Impetrabilis iam nebula eos claudit, et mox inermes et inermes vagantes se reperit.

Mane diei tertiae caligo etiam in crassitudine creverat, circum eas quasi pallium claudens, lucem diei fere praecluserat.

Palpando pater meus cum duobus iumentis quae sibi in ascensu partibus facilioribus ministraverant conveniebat. Quiete et incuriosi dulces et teneros frutices carpebant, quae in latere montis nascebantur.

Subito cogitatus ad patrem venit. Natum est ex ea desperatione quae hominem longum putat et durum antequam moriatur.

Sic enim cogitabat: Si haec animalia, si quando appetitus exigunt, saturitatem suam edant, ubinam sint, maximeque ubi se circumventum reperiant tam excellentibus pascuis, et, praeter ea, satis levantur ab omni labore. Sentiant tamen famem stimuli, vel potius dentem famis in visceribus suis, et cogitationes eorum statim revertantur ad domos, dominos, pabulos, et non perdent tempus profectionis ad villam ubi pertinent. Ad desperationis vigorem, pater raptim os suum osculum prensabat, ut nec pasci nec bibere posset, et eventus experimenti sui expectabat, anhelitus, propter lacrimas et gemitus miserae matris, cuius vis erat. Perculit ipsae animae refluxum ieiunium.

Post paucas horas animalia ad pedes stabant et valde laborabant, et in alia hora adeo invaluerat fames, ut cibos insanas molirentur, ut facile pater ex insidiosa linea, quam diligenter curaverat, cognosceret capitibus suis apponere.

Post horam quartam longum silentium fuit, per quod quidnam sequerentur, deliberare videbantur.

Quinta hora venit.

Mater infirma et lassa in ulnis patris quieverat. Subito constringebatur acies. Pater meus sensim dormientem excitavit, pauca susurrans solatii verba.

Iterum lineae contractae sunt.

Parentes mei iam pedibus erant in profundis inpenetrabilis nebulae prospiciens, quae eos circumvolvit et inter se etiam invisibiles fecit.

Hist! Bestiae iterum moventur! Subito impetu, quasi tandem rem aliquam, quae per aliquot horas mentes eorum solverant, bestiae, vehementibus narium stimulis, obnixi e vestigio, per virgulta coniciebant, et parentes obversabantur.

Constat plane inter conclusiones ingenio vel instinctu perductas, non enim semel distrahuntur aut subsistunt, nisi a patre cohibitus. Sicque cari parentes mei servati sunt! Totis eo die ac parte proximi premebantur.

Nebula tandem elevata est, et patuit illico patri meo quod, quamvis animalia ad habitacula humana ea regerent, tamen terra in cacumine montis iter profecturus non erat. Semita nunc tam perspicua facta est ut pater meus a duobus animalibus capistras tumultuosos removit eosque famem suam expleret, quod cum summa voluptate ageret, permisit. Mater adeo fessa fuit ut inertem procumberet. Reficiensque eam haustu fontis aquae et suco agrestis uvae, praeparato propere cubile mollia fronde, in quo tam longo fessumque cornipetu se iactare gaudebant.

Mox in altum et jucundissimum somnum inciderunt. Quamdiu in lecto frondoso iacebant, somno reficiendo involuti, nesciebant.

Longa certe hora fuit; nam cum evigilarent, stomachus fames rodebat. Libet statim colligere fructus, nisi auribus insolitis crepitibus repente salutares fuissent. Oculos terebant et se mutuo circumspiciebant, reputantes se ludibrium jucundi asini somnii.

Sed non; erant vigilantes et in plena possessione sensuum. Iterum audiuntur insoliti soni et hoc tempore propiores et clariores.

Oritur et lapsus, tumor et dein intermissio.

Soni sunt hinnuli et snappy sicut et in eis musica singularis est.

Propius propiusque veniunt. Maiore ac maiore crescunt. “Ferae?” susurrabant matrem meam medium inquirendo.

“Immo!” de ore patris mei cadit. “Non nisi homines ita ferae sint ut bestiarum nomen mereatur.”

“Hark iterum!” murmuravit mater mea.

Soni iam nullus error erat; nam, ut concentus plurium vocum, argutae et fistulae, altae et murmurantes, molles et canorae, asperae et gutturales, omnia tamen inconditam et agrestem quandam harmoniam, uno modo magnoque miscentes. Nunc demissa ac vix audita, nunc erumpente atrox ac velut ingruente vigore, cantores, ululatores, quidnamque essent, in vallem infra nos ferocem ac semianimem inordinate prosilire.

Homines erant habitu barbato, facies et fustibus pictis leviter per humeros tortis. Sive intermissa sive progressa, adhuc suum cantum incultum et arcanum, vertices, hiulcas et snappy pro toto orbe servaverunt sicut mille homines, qui ex mille capsulis emunctas modo hauserant.

“Serva me, vir!” exclamavit vultu pallida mater. “Ab his feris liberis silvae plectemur diris cruciatibus.” Risus tam mitis, et tamen tam placidus, ut lenitatem patris mei diffundi non possit.

“Numquam timete!” “scio,” inquit, “Quos quaesivi! Quod viator fortius et audacius quam me multis negatum est, sodali Trump familiae miro modo donatum est. Cum omnem Monarcham in Europam redimus, omnis erudita societas, numisma in pectore meo ligare festinabit, nam, cara uxor, vir tuus primus albus est in terram ingrediendi— “

“Ille—?” reboabat mater mea procumbens et apprehendens brachium viri sui.

“Melodious Sneezers!”

“Melodious Sneezers?” identidem mater aperitur ocello, et in omni sedet ludibrio pluma.

“Melo—“

Ipsa nihil sed porro. Infinito gaudio patris mei vehementissime sternutatio cecidit. In tam celeri successione fluit sternutatio, ut perquam minutivi machinam sub praeceps sonaret.

Tandem idoneum visum est transisse. Melo—, sed frustra; secundam syllabam attingere non poterat.

Et nunc ille vicissim, pater profectus est, lentus primo, sed ocius et ociusiens.

Mirum dictu sternutamentum mox cepit vias agrestium permixtasque penitus capere, invito conatu arcendo tempus coercere.

“Cogite ergo, cara uxor,” exclamat pater anhelans cum decuit, “Hos homines alienigenas in herbam inferiorem extensos esse “Snutores canoros”; eos non modo innoxios, sed modestos, mansuetosque ac placidos esse. Ne timeas eos! Fustibus suis solum ad ludum.” “Sed quid?” caute matrem meam rogat ne alius idoneus accipiat eam.

Responsum est, “Intelligo te.” “Audi. Scito, quod in hac valle et in majoribus infra, semper aerem myriadibus impletum super myriadibus insectorum infinitae magnitudinis; Solus microscopio validissimus probationem praebere potest ad conspectum eorum exsistentiae suae. Hic enim titillari sensus quos tu et ego innumeros aetatibus isti pacifici barbari subiectae sunt.

Rursum miserae parens meus cecidit sternutatio regularis et canorae clausulae, sursum et deorsum, altae et argutae, nunc celeriter et ocius, nunc tardus et tardius usque ad silentium.

“Sicut expertus sum,” inquit pater, “dum sternutationis tam facilem quam respirationem reddidit, ususque eventus, quos vitari non posse mox cernebant, non segniter deponere solitae naturae liberi erant. loquela et littera loqui per sternutatio “

“Sternumentum est apud eos tot intonationes, tot inflexiones, ut omnes necessarios sensus sensusque exprimendi difficultatem habeant, saltem necessaria in simplici vita, sicut postea videbis.”

Volebat miseranda mater hic transitum exprimere, Mirari non audebat os suum. “Age, coniux charissime, pater hilariter clamavit.

“Confortamini! Descendamus in hanc pulchram vallem, nam adhuc tantum in terminis “terrae canorum Sutinorum” in molli et canora lingua Lâ-aah-chew-lâ vocati sumus.

Pronunciatio huius verbi iterum parentes miseros in perfecta turbine sternumenta proiecit; sed nihil perterriti obviam ierunt, qui prima facie prostratus in uultu, per aliquot momenta sternutationis stridore humilem demissa, naribus in gramen detrusit.

Paulatim tamen pater adfirmans se haudquaquam pacatum fuisse.

Unde canororum snuetrorum tripudium singularissimum ac gratiosissimum gaudium peragebant, pedes eorum pertinuo tempore cum sternutationis choro servabant.

Chorus, ut postea pater didicit, immensam gratiam suis spiritibus albis exprimere, quod vivos non edisset.

Iter domum iam ingressus est, pater meus ambulans in manu cum rege Chew-chew-lô, et mater mea comitante nomine uxorum vel plurium, domus regiae deliciarum nomine Chew-lâ-â-. â-â- et quisque successivus, prout minus editum locum occupabat in affectibus regis nomine breviore, donec tandem Chew-lâ paulo melius quam ancilla serviens significabat.

Pater meus invenit villas Melodiorum Sutinorum ob frequentiam et vim inundationum a retis fluminum, quae penitus in terra eorum inclusa erant, domibus vel habitationibus in arboribus vel in altis acervis constructis constabat.

Ipse et mater in una commodissima domorum regiarum habitae, tot servi ac servi ad curam rerum suarum deputati, ut parum aut nullus locus movendi esset.

Pater magno cum dolore magno cum dolore aliquot centenis emisit, ut matri meae satis sine holloaing colloqui posset, ac deinde ad regem Chew-chew-lô mandavit ut tam ipse quam mater saltem hebdomade opus esset. Perfectae quietis et requies ad sanitatem et fortitudinem recuperandam post horribiles cruciatus suos in Lunae Montosis.

Plures casus venire…

My Friend Paul Veyne

Paul Veyne (1930-2022) passed away on September 29. Honorary professor at the Collège de France, he was one of our most knowledgeable scholars of ancient Rome. A tribute.


“Dear colleague, I have read your letter. You are right, the state of Latin is getting worse and worse.” Ten years ago, when I was entering the first year of my studies, I received, by way of reply, this letter from Paul Veyne, so touching, so personal and so pleasant. Imagine the effect it had on a young greenhorn lad who was destined for literature. Imagine today my emotions at the announcement of the death of this professor, and myself, still as green as ever, now a Latin teacher.

“Am I going to follow in the footsteps of my elders? Yes, but I allow myself to choose my own path,” recalled Seneca in a letter to Lucilius. Veyne shared very different ideas from mine. Some would perhaps regard them bitterly. Veyne was a man of the left; rather relativistic, it is true; neither patriotic nor anti-patriotic; a Communist in his youth; a Gaullist in 1969; then a liberal and progressive. He had very early broken with Catholic practice, which he judged to be ancient folklore, and remained suffused with the memory of the war, the collaboration, and the anti-Semitism that he pinned on the old France of his parents. Paul Veyne did not accept any absolutes. “Nihil amirari“: everything passes away: human rights, ideas, Christianity, the Roman Empire and the American Empire. Everything passes away, yes, but everything makes sense in the course of history where nothing is lost, nothing is created but everything is transformed.

For all that Paul Veyne was an atypical gentleman, who has written a classic on the history of Rome. While I was talking to him with admiration about his work, he raised his arms heavenward, cursing his fate: “What I have written is particularly bad, confused and really only slog-work. I have no work. What I have written will be replaced in fifty years by others and will be unusable.” When you read his books from a long and general view, you realize with interest that they oscillate between a clear lesson and a light and exquisite exposé—unlike at times his unreadable peers, whose books are heavy as elephants, tangled in jargon, twisted like Lacan’s language.

There are so many Marmorean figures of Latin letters in France and yet Veyne easily stands out among them. Men such as Pierre Boyancé, Pierre Grimal or Jérôme Carcopino who was a minister under Vichy and the writer of a life of Julius Caesar which is still a milestone. All this has the odor of good black ink in school notebooks. The tireless music of rosa, rosae always sends us back to the same bed of roses. Grimal touched ancient Rome with white gloves. As for Paul Veyne, he was part of the serious avant-garde.

Belles-lettres shook precisely when historians, at the beginning of the 1950s, coming from the Annales school, wanted to take a complex look at history. They no longer sought to produce books that went date-by-date, event-by-event, and by conventional biographies. They found refuge under the aegis of Fernand Braudel who, in The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, expounded his ideas: the layering of temporalities, the longue durée, or even material civilization as prisms through which the historian observes the world and goes far beyond traditional history by opening up to sciences such as geography, economics, ethnology, sociology, or archaeology.

Paul Veyne had his sight on all Latin literature, from Appius Claudius Caecus to Boethius, including also the inscriptions and epitaphs of Romanity, for which he combed the manuals and syllogi of the great libraries. Such certainly was the master’s background and backroom work for half a century. This was also the influence of the archivism of ideas that the obscure and marginal Michel Foucauld defended as intangible proof of the real and the concrete. But before going over to Harald Fuchs, Veyne attended sociology classes at the Collège de France taught by Raymond Aron and applied the theories of the humanities and economics, oriented towards liberalism, from Simmel to Schumpeter, to Roman society, at a time when the class struggle was foolishly plastered onto history by the passive Trostko-Maoist bourgeoisie.

Veyne had a talent for unfolding phenomena, trying methodically, with a strong lucidity close to skepticism, to understand appearances, types, behaviors in Roman society. This rigorous observation went hand-in-hand with a keen sense of historical narrative. In Comment on écrit l’histoire (How We Write History), Veyne did not consider his discipline as a raw and crude science but as “a true novel.” A novel exposes reality, takes refuge in Danton’s phrase in The Red and the Black, “the truth, the bitter truth,” and, at the same time, hits you in the gut, touches you, makes you sensitive, agitates you, fascinates you. In his writing, so many such comparisons and analogies have been carried out with seriousness and accuracy while denoting much originality.

Veyne did not try to tell us that the Romans were superior to us, exotic or grandiose. He did not sigh with ecstasy at the mere name of Rome. He demythologized and even demystified the Romans, placing them in the spotlight. He stopped admiring them, and instead wanted to understand them. Roman society was its own organism, had its own special functioning, its principles, its totems and its taboos. The role of the historian is to deconstruct the strata of society. At the term “deconstruct,” one might gladly take out his magnum 44, ready to do some serious damage. But it is best to put it away, and out this term to use in the same way that Lévi-Strauss did— by understanding that it is not a question of deconstructing our own society but to undertake a disassembling of an ancient society, to disentangle what is complexus-entangled—in order to understand its mechanics; to detach the cogs of the machine, and to observe (as one would take out an organ from a body) the specific purpose of this ancient society.

In Bread and Circuses (1976), Veyne brought out the little-known and crucial role of the euergetes in that complex mechanism present in Roman society. The euergetes was the notable par excellence who, in his city, financed the games, the theater, the baths, with a view to social cohesion—a symbol of Romanity in the face of the barbarians: “imagine a city where the big bourgeois in the corner finances the cinema, the theater, the casino and offers you an aperitif as a bonus, and well, that’s how Roman cities functioned.” One must read the articles in L’empire gréco-romain (The Greco-Roman Empire) [2005] to understand the full complexity of the ancients in relation to their tastes, religion, the idea of faith, entertainment, economics and social class differences. Veyne enlightened us on the status of the gladiator, on the intellectual preoccupations of an intelligent pagan like Plutarch, the splendor of Palmyra, the morality of the couple in the second century even before the advent of Christianity, the existence of a middle class in Rome, between the great families and the plebs sordida. The chapter on Trimalchio in Roman Society (1991) is a true painting of the parvenu, embodied by the degenerate nouveau riche of Petronius’ The Satyricon, who rises by cunning, gets rich by speculating on land, and shows off his flashy wealth.

Veyne was interested in literature. We owe him some splendid pages full of pragmatism on Seneca. We owe him the L’Elégie érotique romaine (Roman Erotic Elegy) [1983], a book in which he explains that ancient poets, such as Tibullus, Catullus, Propertius, are not romantics before the term was invented, or even beatniks, but poets who only seek to play with the codes and conventions of their society, formulating love stories invented from scratch. In the last years of his life, a translation of Virgil’s Aeneid crowned a remarkable work in which one can savor the Swan of Mantua as one would listen to Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony. A freshness of air, a gracefulness, a precious accuracy that buries the unhealthy translation of Jacques Perret of the Belles-lettres.

It will certainly become necessary to write a beautiful book on the life of Paul Veyne. Of all the men I have known, Veyne was the gentlest, the most generous. Not a word against any other. Treat others as equals and call the woman you love with “vouvoie.” Veyne was concerned with the little people until the end of his old age. A local celebrity in Bédoin, at the foot of Mont Ventoux, not far from the friendly monks of Le Barroux, he was among his own people. He was not imperious in any way, always very polite, replying with, “Thank you, master” to anyone who called him by the same title. He did not play the role of the wise old man, scowling and lecturing, and never quick to play the role of the intellectual for women readers on holidays. He always shirked merits and honors without ever refusing them. There was a great humility to the man.

What impressions do I have of him? I see him offering his housekeeper champagne to congratulate her on an ethereal dessert. I still see him offering a glass of whisky to his dog, Clover; making the sign of the cross while talking about General Leclerc; driving a two-wheeler at night while reciting Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” in the original. I still admire him telling me, at eighty-seven years old, the “Voyage to Cythera” at the dinner table, the living room caught in the sunset like a beetle in amber, with a glass of red wine resting on his cheek: “What is this sad and black island? It is Cythera, we are told, a country famous in songs, a banal Eldorado for all old bachelors. Look at it. It is a miserable land after all…” I always imagine him in his office, a great clutter, manuscripts on the floor; on the shelves, broken-backed books, volumes of poems, and a parade of trinkets that ranged from a postcard of Santa Maria Maggiore to a plastic woman’s leg that lay in front of Augustine and Cyprian of Carthage, a Mongolian knife and a photograph of his late son.

Veyne was a friend of Michel Piccoli, whom he met during a conference in Tunis. The actor knocked on the door of his room, the professor opened: “Mr. Veyne, excuse me. You know, I did not study. I am a little ashamed to appear next to you.” And Veyne replied: “You know, you create; through your performance, you participate in works. I do not create anything. I am unable to. I try to understand what guys more or less like you have done in a distant era. I have no merit.”

The master of Bédoin was a lover. When he received the Femina prize for his memoirs, I congratulated him, saying. “I imagine that you don’t care.” And he replied, “Of course I don’t care, but it pleases my wife, and if it pleases her, then it pleases me too.” That was pure Veyne. There was in this small, cramped, hunchbacked man, a sensual temperament. “Since you write love poems,” he wrote to me, “we can be on familiar terms.” He loved women, he who was ugly as a louse, because of a facial deformity. He loved the arts, the poetry of René Char who sometimes succumbed to an ecstasy on the telephone and sometimes to a tantrum; the paintings of Pignon-Ernst and Paul Jenkins, his contemporaries. He loved Italy, Stendhal and Da Ponte’s Don Giovanni, which he could recite by heart, and all the art of which Italy is capable—Giotto in Assisi, the Basilica of San Zeno in Verona, the Parmigianino Madonna of the Long Neck, Piero della Francesca and his Flagellation, Jupiter and Io by Correggio, the Seven Works of Mercy by Caravaggio in Naples.

Paul Veyne was not like other academics, who are often full of vinegar and proud. He was not prim and proper. He had this crazy side that made him eccentric and unpredictable, always ready to play a prank, a dare, a joke. At the University of Aix, he used to hang out on the tenth floor of the building during breaks, to prepare for his passion—mountaineering. He knew the summits of Europe, felt the vertigo of the crevasse, the shortness of breath of the altitude, the illusion of the snow and the perfume of the ice. He knew also the summits of his institution, the Collège de France, plus all the honors that the Americans, the English, the Italians and even the Turks gave him.

And how Veyne suffered in a stoic silence at seeing the people die around him—his son, who committed suicide, his son-in-law who died of AIDS. His marriages were long agonies, recounted in his memoirs—the abortion by his first wife; the hysteria of a Hellenist, daughter of a specialist in Plutarch; a notable village woman, suffering from dementia and depression, the love of his life; and a last marriage, three years ago, cut short because of the cancer of his wife. Beneath the appearance of a grandfather with a singing accent, kind and gentle, there must have been torments, storms and regrets that in ten years of friendship I was never able to pierce. Perhaps a liver sickened by the libertarian intoxication of post-1968.

My old and faithful friend is now on the other side. One morning, at breakfast, with coffee and foie gras, we talked about eternity. Veyne did not believe in God and was sorry not to believe in Him. He wanted to, but could not. For a long time, he had thought of suicide, as a practical exercise in getting all in a tizzy. But he would end up an old man. Eternity, the passage between the world of the living and a filled nothingness, inhabited or not, titillated his mind. It took courage, then, to cross the great cold without hope, with his eyes on death. May the Lord welcome him into His wide-open arms. Last Thursday, he joined Virgil, Seneca and Damien, his son. He will not be bored.


Nicolas Kinosky is at the Centres des Analyses des Rhétoriques Religieuses de l’Antiquité and teaches Latin. This articles appears through the very kind courtesy La Nef.

Reality and the Notion of the Just War

Any conflicts that have been fought between nations and states have always raised the basic question—on whose side is justice? In some cases, such as Nazi Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union, it is quite obvious that justice was on the side of the USSR, although there are still revisionists and falsifiers who try to find fault with the actions of the Soviet Union. But there have been controversial moments in history, where a succession of historical events has made the positions of opposing sides less clear. As well, an important topic has always been—can offensive hostilities be a just war? Or, does it refer only to defensive actions? For example, according to UN documents, only defensive warfare is just, although there are a number of reservations, from peacekeeping forces to special resolutions that essentially give carte blanche to wage war. Such an example is UN Security Council Resolution 1973 of March 17, 2011 on Libya. The document regulated the creation of a no-fly zone, but effectively freed NATO’s hands for strikes on Libyan territory and support for terrorists. In general, the UN has long lost credibility as the organization of last resort in international law, and precedents for this were laid by Western countries (NATO’s aggression against Yugoslavia in 1999 and the occupation of Iraq by US forces in 2003).

In this context, a special military operation in Ukraine is especially relevant, especially because Western politicians constantly try to accuse Russia not only of “aggression” and “global hybrid warfare,” but also often consider the denazification of Ukraine as a prologue to further wars in Europe. Although if one follows US and EU case law, there should be no questions about Russia at all, neither on Crimea, nor on the special military operation launched on February 24, 2022.

Of course, notions of justice may be different in the West and in other parts of the world, just as the values under which the EU now presents a policy of imposing same-sex marriage and similar perversions. Nevertheless, for the subject of justice there is a certain criterion that has universal properties: that of Roman law. The same Hugo Grotius, when he derived the concept of just war, relied primarily on Roman law. But before him, the same views were expressed by Augustine, who appealed to a Christian worldview. However, if the question of just war is considered in a longer historical retrospective, we encounter an older Roman custom, a prototype of ius ad bellum and ius in bello, namely, the fetial law, ius fetiale, which regulated the conduct of wars. According to Cicero, the ius fetiale was a set of religious and legal norms characteristic of the Roman community which regulated relations between Romans and foreigners whom the ancient Quirites (citizens of Rome) regarded as enemies (hostes).

The feudalists were members of a college of twenty patricians charged with applying the ius fetiale, which was the cornerstone of international relations of the period—they were in charge of declaring war, making peace and treaties, as well as of asserting claims and settling such claims. They acted as parliamentarians, going to the other side to demand satisfaction if a treaty had been violated. If they refused, they had the power to declare war. In such a case, the pater patratus (father declared, i.e., head of the college of fetians) would go to the border of the violator’s land and in the presence of witnesses would throw a blood-stained spear on that land, uttering a formula for declaring war. Over time, this practice was transformed. The function of ambassadors was taken over by legates appointed by the Senate. During the Imperial period the role of pater patratus began to be performed by the emperors themselves. According to Pierangelo Catalano the norms and principles of the ius fetiale had legal force also in relation to peoples with whom Rome had no treaty. It was thus a universal practice.

Although the United States tries to position itself as heir to the Roman tradition, both on the aesthetic level (expressed, for example, in the architecture of the Capitol or the symbol of the eagle) and on the legal level (from the format of the Senate to the imitation of imperial traditions), it is clear that in the latter issue we see rather a simulacrum, an imitation of ancient foundations without proper justification with obvious manipulation to the benefit of certain groups. Obviously, without the neoconservatives in power under George W. Bush, there would have been no invasion of Iraq, just as there would have been no invasion of Panama in 1989, had it not been for the political crisis associated with the elections (Washington has since deftly used and even provoked such crises, which have been called “color revolutions”). Earlier, the provocation in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964 led to the Vietnam War, which the U.S. lost with shame. And the aggression against Iraq in 2003 was based on false justifications. Although the political rhetoric of U.S. leaders was clearly tinged with God’s choice, at least recall Bush’s words that, supposedly, God told him to strike Iraq. The current statements of the U.S. leadership are based more on human rights and deterrence strategy to protect national interests (where Russia, China, DPRK, and Iran are named as adversaries), although the need to preserve the imperial grandeur of the United States and the unconditional right of Washington to determine which actions are acceptable and which are not are implied.

However, Russia has more right to consider itself the heir to the Roman tradition. Regular appeals to Ukraine by the Russian leadership to stop violence against the inhabitants of the Donbass bear the spirit of ius fetiale quite well. And the signing of agreements with the DNR and LNR on February 23, 2022, legitimized the use of military force against Ukraine, just as in ancient Rome assistance was provided to allies against offenders. Although diplomatic relations were severed between Ukraine and Russia on the eve of the special military operation, we know that ius fetiale also applies to parties with whom there were no treaties. Thus, a number of speeches made by Russian President Vladimir Putin in the days before the start of the operation became a metaphorical spear dipped in blood, which pater patratus threw into the territory of Ukraine. As we can see, they were treated without due attention both in Ukraine and in the West, just as the warnings in December 2021 that NATO expansion would be responded to appropriately (Moscow’s proposals to the United States to negotiate the creation of a new European security architecture were ignored). Incidentally, the Moscow-Third Rome formula thus acquires an additional dimension. After all, the ius fetiale is quite applicable to other hostes, which we have now defined as unfriendly countries.


Leonid Savin, is Editor-in-Chief of the Geopolitika.ru Analytical Center, General Director of the Cultural and Territorial Spaces Monitoring and Forecasting Foundation and Head of the International Eurasia Movement Administration. This article appears through the kind courtesy of Geopolitika.


Featured: Folio 188 of the Roman Vergil, ca. 5th century AD.

Georges Dumézil: Discovery of the Indo-European Mind

Georges Dumézil was born on March 4, 1898. Associated with the Class of Letters (of the Royal Academy of Science, Letters and Fine Arts of Belgium) since May 5, 1958, where he presented two very learned papers, one on July 3, 1961, the other on January 11, 1965. The Academy also published one of his studies.

In his brief eulogy to Georges Dumézil on November 3, 1986, announcing the death of the French scholar, André Molitor, at the time vice-director of the Class, described the deceased in the following way: “He was in France, and one can say in the world, one of the leading figures in the humanities today… His work led him to search for, and then to progressively decipher, what we may call a ‘key to understanding’ the Indo-European societies of old, which is expressed both in their structures and in their great fundamental myths.” Please allow me to elaborate somewhat on these very accurate and very compact sentences.

If we disregard his activity—however important—as a linguist (especially in the field of Caucasian languages and Quechua), Georges Dumézil was essentially a specialist in Indo-European studies, and we can compare his work mutatis mutandis with that of the pioneers of comparative grammar. These great scholars of the nineteenth century, we remember, had succeeded not only in demonstrating the indisputable kinship of what were called “Indo-European languages” but also in finding certain characteristics of the mother language, this hypothetical language from which all the others had come by transformation and which was called “Indo-European.”

If we want to schematize – with all that schematization has of outrageousness – we will say that Georges Dumézil prolonged, by widening it, the work of comparative grammar. He set out to discover, no longer the language as the great linguists of the last century had done, but the thought, the mental universe of the Indo-Europeans. To do this, he studied and compared the culture of the various ancient peoples descended from the Indo-Europeans, and in particular the privileged manifestations of these cultures, namely the religions, the mythologies and the literatures. This research concerned Nordic societies as well as ancient Rome, the Indo-Iranian world as well as the Caucasus; it was carried out on texts as different (to take a few examples) as the Vedic hymns, the Mahabarata, the Iranian Avesta, the Scandinavian Eddas, the Irish mythological cycle, the Ossetian Nartean epic, or the account of Titus Livius on royal Rome. And the scholar—this deserves to be emphasized—always worked first hand on the texts he used; in other words, he knew (that is, read and deciphered) a good thirty languages.

His method was the comparative method. But where his unfortunate predecessors (for there had already been unsuccessful attempts in the 19th century in the field of comparative mythology) compared proper names, isolated details, relatively minimal facts that only a superficial examination would allow one to believe to be similar, Dumézil attacked, in order to compare them, facts that were homologous in depth, that is to say, different perhaps at first sight, but between which, once these differences had been criticized and analyzed, identical patterns appeared.

For Dumézil was a structuralist. In his work, the comparisons always concerned structured sets of the same meaning, never isolated details. He showed, for example, that it is the same myth, or in any case the same story, Indo-European, that is found at work in four different societies: in Rome (the war and the alliance between the Romans and the Sabines, which, in its origins, founded founded Roman society); in Scandinavia (the fight and the fusion between the Aesir gods and the Vanes gods which, in the Scandinavian mythology, founded the first divine society); in Ireland (the war that led to the fusion of the Túatha Dé Danann and the Fomore during the second battle of Mag Tured, and which, in the Irish mythological cycle, opens the history of Ireland); in India (the conflict, then the close association, of the superior gods and the Nāsatya in Vedic mythology). Four stories, profoundly different in their external presentation, and yet homologous in that they have the same meaning and that they are articulated around the same fundamental notions. In reality, they are illustrations, variously updated, of the same original scheme which showed how our distant ancestors represented (we are in the domain of imaginary representation) the definitive constitution of a viable society.

Thus, by means of the comparison of structured sets, significant as sets, and borrowed from civilizations that are all Indo-European, certainly, but sometimes very distant in time and space, Dumézil sought to find, to bring to light, certain aspects of the Indo-European mentality or imaginary, aspects that had—should we say?—completely escaped his predecessors.

Thus, the Indo-Europeans had not only transmitted their language to their descendants; they had also transmitted ideas to them—at times a particular framework of analysis, let us say a certain vision of the world (the famous “ideology of the three functions”), sometimes specific conceptions (on the night and diurnal light, on the conduct of the warrior, on marriage), even at times narrative or epic patterns, “fragments of literature” in some way. This is indeed the fundamental contribution of Dumézil—to have shown that, in the Indo-European societies of old, the Indo-European heritage was not limited to language, that it also included ideas, representations, narrative schemes; and that it was possible to find them.

There is no question here of entering further into the maze for details of Dumézil’s work—the fruit of more than sixty years of patient and fruitful work, it includes several hundred articles and some sixty books, from Le crime des Lemniennes and Le festin d’immortalité, both published in 1924, to Entretiens avec Didier Éribon, published in 1987, that is to say, one year after his death.

An immense work that took place on the fringes of the French university proper, like that of Claude Lévi-Strauss—a similarity that Pierre Bourdieu underlines in his Homo academicus. Marginal is a characteristic of Dumézil’s career. Let us recall some of the major milestones.

He was demobilized in 1918—he was twenty years old at the time—and remained a high school teacher for only six months, living on various means before taking up a series of posts abroad, which enabled him to learn languages and to become acquainted with different cultures.

First, he was a French lecturer at the University of Warsaw. He did not enjoy it, but, as Claude Lévi-Strauss noted, it was a “good opportunity for him to learn Polish and Russian.” Then Turkey, where in 1925, Georges Dumézil was giving a course in the history of religions at the University of Istanbul. “Mustapha Kemal,” observed the same Lévi-Strauss, “had been told that in France, this kind of teaching had served the struggle against clericalism, and he wanted to try the remedy on his Muslim compatriots. Thanks to him and to [Dumézil], the Faculty of Letters of Istanbul was, for five years, the only one in the world where any degree included a compulsory examination in the history of religions.”

It was during this stay that Dumézil discovered the Caucasians of Turkey and the USSR, in particular the Ossetians, the last descendants of the Scythians, whose language and culture he would save.

He left Turkey in 1931 for Sweden, as a lecturer in French at the University of Upsala. For two years, he resumed his “Indo-European project through Swedish, Old Scandinavian and the folklore of Northern Europe.”

Finally, he returned to France, but remained still outside the “canonical” university: first to the École Pratique des Hautes Études from 1933l then in 1948 to the Collège de France, where he taught for 20 years until his retirement in 1968, as the holder of what would eventually be called the “Chair of Indo-European Civilization.”

His work was only slowly recognized, encountering, perhaps even more in France than abroad, the opposition, the hostility even, of certain solidly established figures. It was the Scandinavian scholars (Swedish, Danish, Norwegian) who first accepted his work with warmth, shortly after 1945. The dissemination of his work remained for a long time limited to a narrow circle of specialists, not always benevolent, and sometimes a little outdated. Dumézil had to fight bitterly, even polemically (we will talk about this later), to get his ideas across. But gradually his influence widened. As early as 1968, Pierre Nora regularly included his books in the prestigious “Bibliothèque des sciences humaines,” thus putting his work before the eyes of the general educated public. “What readership I do have,” said Dumézil, “I owe to Gallimard and to this collection.” But Gallimard was not the only one; Payot and Flammarion also published his works in collections for the “educated general public.”

Official honors followed: the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres, then the Académie Française, where he was received in 1979, along with that other outsider who was also his friend, Claude Lévi-Strauss. International recognition also came to him, in the form of numerous invitations for courses or conferences. In the United States, we can mention the University of Chicago, where his friend Mircea Eliade invited him, the University of California in Los Angeles, the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton; in Belgium, the University of Brussels and the University of Liège.

After scientific recognition, came the supreme recognition of our time—that which comes from the media. In 1984, Pierre Dumayet met Dumézil for more than an hour for the program “D’Homme à Homme,” which he presented on TF1. But this was only the beginning. 1986 became the “Dumézil year.” Every self-respecting weekly wanted an interview with the scholar (Magazine littéraire, April 1986; Le Point, June 1986, Le Vif-L’express, September 1986). But the apotheosis was the special broadcast of Apostrophes that Bernard Pivot devoted to Dumézil, on July 18, 1986, a few months before his death. But Dumézil was not beguiled by this media hype: “Half a century ago, who would have thought of asking Meillet, Sylvain Lévi, for a public presentation of their discoveries on a music-hall stage? With television, we are there, and well beyond.”

In any case, Bernard Pivot went to interview him at his home, at 82 rue Notre-Dame-des-Champs in Paris, an apartment that was, it was said, a “cathedral of books.” The meeting was memorable, and our colleague André Molitor evoked it in this very room, on November 3, 1986: “Those of us who recently saw on television this 88-year-old man explain his work, with simplicity, were struck and conquered by his strong personality.”

And it is true: the image that the scientist gave was endearing; his simplicity, his reserve, his authority, his conviction, the clarity of his presentation, the art with which he was able to convey a particularly difficult subject, all this was impressive and demanded admiration. In fact, practically until his death, he preserved a lucidity and a vigor of spirit.

And then there were those precious interviews with Didier Éribon, which also date from the last months of his life (between February and July 1986). Dumézil, for the very first time, discovered himself in public with simplicity and lucidity, evoking less perhaps his work than his life and his personal path, speaking very freely about his teachers, his friends, his literary and philosophical tastes, his political temptations of youth, life, religion, death.

He died a few months later, on October 11, 1986, at 88 years of age, after having left behind him an immense, innovative, disturbing work, a work also which one is easily characterized as fluid, because it does not present anything fixed; and it is also what sometimes made its access difficult. In fact, as the creator of a new discipline in the field of Indo-European studies, Dumézil had to develop his own method, and when one innovates, trial and error are inevitable. His approach and his thinking were progressively clarified and corrected from one study to the next; and the critics, who eagerly to followed his work, were often behind this evolution. The fact, moreover, that he himself disavowed what he had written up to 1938 on the grounds of a methodological flaw, dismayed some who preferred to “wait and see.”

I will not say anything here about the political recuperations that some people, in particular in the French New Right, have tried to make of Dumézil’s theories, recuperations that have nothing to do with scientific research, and which have at times contributed to the visceral and passionate rejection of his theses.

In any case, this grandiose work is that of a discreet and modest scholar, even if his polemic was bitter, formidable, and full of a ferocious spirit. He had to fight constantly, almost until the end, to have his ideas recognized: “I spent my time,” he said, “polemicizing, but only because I was attacked. One can count on the fingers of one hand the offensives that I myself have initiated against someone, without him having first opened hostilities.” Dumézil felt that he had nothing to impose on anyone; that he had no right to do so. “I am not,” he said, “a master of thought.” This was true in the scientific field, where he systematically refused to have disciples, to direct works; it was also true in political matters. He admitted to a brief “political temptation” for Action Française at the end of the First World War, but the figure of the committed intellectual, so common in the French tradition, was absolutely foreign to him: “I even feel,” he confided to his interlocutor, “a kind of repulsion for people who hold this role.”

It is because deep down, this enthusiast, author of a work as fascinating as it is impressive, this polemicist who fought ceaselessly to have the importance of his discoveries recognized, this master who unquestionably transformed the field of Indo-European studies, was a skeptic. Someone once compared him to a rationalist of the Enlightenment: “You flatter me,” he replied. “I would have liked to be a man of the eighteenth century, but with the feeling that these great minds did not have, for the ephemeral, for the inaccessible.” He became a Freemason in a workshop of the Grand Lodge shortly after his return from Sweden (in 1933), and declared more than 50 years later: “I am still a Freemason; initiation is like baptism, irreversible. But I am in sleep, as they say.” He was agnostic: “Of this self, what will remain after my death, does not worry me. Most probably, nothing will remain of it.”

But perhaps the best example of his “detachment” is his attitude towards his work and the fate it would have after his death. He provides for us an extraordinary lesson.

In fact, when Jean Mistler presented him with his academician’s sword in 1979, Dumézil gave an address, in which he emphasized the relative and provisional character of his work: “I know, because it is a law without exception. I know that this work, in fifty, perhaps in twenty, in ten years, will only be of historical interest; that it will be, by putting things at their worst, ruined, by putting things at their best—which is my hope—pruned, re-trimmed, transformed.” He took up the same idea seven years later in his Entretiens avec Didier Éribon: “Believe me, I have a very strong feeling of the incomplete, relative character of my results. I seem to be modest, but it’s true; I think so deeply. The results of our teachers were also relative and provisional—but where would we be without them?”

And Entretiens avec Didier Éribon ends in the following way.

Éribon: “One day, you told me: if I am wrong, my life has no meaning.”

Dumézil: “My scientific life, yes. But even that is not true: even if I am wrong; it will have had a function; it will have amused me. In any case, today it is too late to do it again. I can no longer escape it. Supposing I am totally wrong, my Indo-Europeans will be like Riemann’s and Lobachevsky’s geometries: constructions outside the real. This is already not so bad. It will mean changing me from one shelf to another in the libraries: I will pass into the ‘novels’ section.”

He was sincere in his expression—full of his usual humor—of the provisional and imperfect character of his work. And yet, his influence, in all sectors of Indo-European studies, is considerable today, and we can say, paraphrasing slightly the words of André Molitor, that his work, long disputed, still sometimes discussed, has now acquired the right to be cited.

And I will leave it to Claude Lévi-Strauss to conclude by welcoming Georges Dumézil under the dome of the Quai Conti: “In your person, Sir, we salute a master of more than encyclopedic knowledge, whose genius was able to establish, between fields that were apparently very distant from one another, and that had until then remained the jealously guarded preserve of specialists, connections that upset everything we thought we knew about the distant past, and which also opened up entirely new perspectives on what you call ‘the dynamics of the human mind.'”


Jacques Poucet is a Belgian philologist, who specializes in ancient Rome. He is Professor Emeritus of the Université catholique de Louvain. [This article was [The original version was published in the Bulletin de la Classe des Lettres et des Sciences Morales et Politiques (6e série, t. 3, 1992) of the Royal Academy of Science, Letters and Fine Arts of Belgium].


Featured image: Georges Dumezil at his office, August 29, 1984.

A Case For Teaching The Humanities

“I am Roman because Rome, from the time of the consul Marius and the divine Julius to Theodosius, drafted the first form of my France. I am Roman, because Rome, the Rome of priests and popes, has given eternal solidarity of sentiment, of morals, of language, of worship, to the political work of Roman generals, administrators and judges. By this treasure, which it received from Athens and transmitted that deposit to our Paris, Rome means without question the civilization of humanity. I am Roman, I am human: two identical propositions.” These words from the pen of Charles Maurras in Barbares et Romains (Barbarians and Romans) form a vibrant praise not only of Rome, the sweet anaphora, but also of civilization, conveying tradition and transmission and not oblivion and renunciation; perpetuation and not the clean slate; community and not individuality; permanence and not rupture.

For a few days now, the Minister of National Education has seemed inclined to see the teaching of Latin and Greek return to middle and high schools. The Latinist that I am and who used to unveil to students the mysteries of rosa, rosae can only be pleased. However, I am not fooled by these dupes. This kind of announcement is certainly enough to make a whole section of the conservative university and academic intelligentsia of the center-right feel good about the woke and progressive drifts already well underway, with inclusive language, the satanic and non-gendered pronoun “iel” and the convoluted discussions about male domination in language.

We shouldn’t imagine that the Macronian renaissance is about to be launched, as other renaissances were in the course of our history. Minister Blanquer is a liberal-conservative, certainly, but does not have the courage to be conservative. Is he the most cynical of the bunch? That is quite possible—he has already sabotaged the BA degree, reduced to a pittance, and is in favor of the digital school and even of the digital kindergarten.

If I were naive, I would believe that this sudden impulse is inspired by the spirit of Lucien Jerphagnon, whose death, ten years ago, we are commemorating and whose birth we are celebrating a hundred years later. Father Jerph was one of those sparkling, light spirits that contrast with the dullness and pomposity of academics. He was inhabited by joy, the kind of joy that delights youth, lifts the heart, sharpens the soul, and makes it rise above all misfortunes, torments, and distresses. The true joy of knowledge. Lucien Jerphagnon was neither of the Left, nor of the Right, nor a Marxist, nor an intellectual at the forefront of research. He was freelance and classical; close to Paul Veyne by originality, Désiré Nisard by taste, Jean Bayet by academic outlook.

His was a strange life: he dressed like a monk and was ordained a priest; then, a passionate lover, turned into a happy husband and ended up as a patriarch. He was in turn a theologian, historian of ideas, translator and philosopher; of high class, of good style, careful to be versatile if he could not manage the modern complexity of reality. Plotinus was his tender companion, with whom one shares a cigarette and a glass of cognac. In love with Augustine, he knew how to render the full measure of this author. A gifted young scholar, who became a professor in Milan in his thirties when others were at the Collège de France in their twilight. Jerpha revived Madauros, a university town in northern Algeria, that supreme and delicate refinement of Romanization, where Augustine, the orator Maximus, Apuleius and Martianus Capella lived. His biography of Julian the Apostate seeks to understand how a philosopher-emperor thought he could return to paganism and make Christianity a footnote in history. An unresolved death by the side of Mosul clinched it—Christianity would triumph.

Jerphagnon was a philosopher of time and banality. Influenced by Vladimir Jankélévitch, he was concerned with understanding the everyday, the alltäglichkeit, as Heidegger politely said, pretext to all the astonishments, typical of the wise. He was a serious discoverer of forgotten authors such as Marcus Varro or Favorinus of Arles; a historian of ideas of high caliber who made us understand, in les Divins Césars (The Divine Caesars), why the emperors of the 2nd century thought they were the sun and who envisaged Rome as the center of a cosmos—all the while writing with amusement and enjoyment a formidable history of Rome.

The young Lucien at the high school in Bordeaux was bored during a mathematics class. On his knees, he flipped through a book containing a few photos of the ruins of Timgad, the Palmyra of Algeria: “That’s where I want to live and die,” the young lad said to himself. From heaven came down a voice: “Jerphagnon, you will make up two hours!” Then his teacher stuck a future specialist in the Greco-Roman world. “I could never get used to the fact that Rome was dead,” confessed the wise old man to José Saramago, “because I loved it since my 6th grade. I lived my life there, faithful to this love of Roman civilization.” What a beautiful profession of faith!

If Lucien Jerphagnon is to be made an exemplum, let’s not forget that in matters of education, the Left is chopping our legs and causing us many problems. And this is not the end of the story! I hold as proof Vincent Peillon who writes in la Révolution française n’est pas terminée (The French Revolution is not Finished) that it is necessary to reinvent the revolution of the spirit, with the aim of destroying at all costs the Catholic religion and to invent a republican religion. This requires the total conversion of the elites and the young to the sciences and the disappearance of Latin and Greek, languages of the old regime, of Catholicism, of bourgeois domination.

Such is the pinnacle of the freemasons: radical leftists yesterday, social-democrats today; old-fashioned, stuck in the Third Republic, detached from reality and perfectly barbaric, since they claim, shamelessly, not to transmit any more, to cut themselves off from tradition and civilization. They swear only by individualities in the perspective of human rights. Now they promise inclusiveness, flattering the youth, corrupting it with vague ideas about freedom and equality.

In an interview given on TV in 1958, Pagnol felt the problem looming: specialization, the end of the humanities and the science of the technocrat. Specialization, by reducing the fields, reduces the possibilities of linking the fields. To have a rational mind is precisely to see relationships. But if the objects no longer exist, the relationships can no longer be made. It can only result in an impoverishment of thought. National education goes even further, since it has given up training literate people, to preparing only future employees for the labor market. The best will be slug-brain specialists, dumbed down like tabletops, the least good will be cashiers at Franprix, salesmen at Prisunic.

The professors stuff the heads of young people with new ideas, smelling of Pierre Bourdieu, ready-made and passed off as revealed truths, so they themselves can continue to dine at the faculty club during silly seminars on anti-racism in literature, and history colloquiums on North African minorities in the gay Paris of the 1920s. The education of yesteryear has degenerated into a total moron-factory based on the ideological teaching of soft sciences. We are far from the gentleman, far from the humanist, far from the cosmopolitan scholar.

Getting beyond her gavel, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem completed the work, explaining that Latin classes would be for the children of the rich and privileged, that elective classes had to be abolished, and that antiquity had to be made accessible to all by diluting Latin in French courses, thus putting ancient language courses to death in a gentle way; a bit like euthanasia.

Between this caricatured, barbaric Left, in the very sense in which Maurras took it, some have retained the opinion of Raymond Aron in this matter, like Paul Veyne, our dear friend, whose opinion that Latin and Greek should be abolished in secondary school and that a national establishment should be created to train solid scientists and researchers, I do not quite understand. This is a mistake. To dedicate Latin to research is to render it autistic; to leave it in the hands of the colloquium-makers who titillate the coffee-brewers and the editors of scientific articles in obscure journals is to render it mute, invisible, extinct.

It doesn’t matter if people are interested in Aristophanes’ scholia, or in the placement of an accent on a word in a twelfth-century manuscript in the Vatican library. One does not ask young people to read the Pharsalus in the original, even yours truly would not be able to do so. But to have a good head, made robust by the training in, and knowledge of, Greek tragedy, the functioning of the Athenian city, the Peloponnesian war told by Thucydides, the epic of Alexander the Great, Latin and Greek rhetoric, the work of Cicero, Caesar and Augustus, the personality of Seneca, elegiac poetry, Virgil, the bloody and mannered histories of Tacitus, the orientalism of the emperors, 312 and our world that has become Christian. It is grand to arrive, by love of the rei latinae, to the character of Des Esseintes in À Rebours by Huysmans who, in chapter III, gives us the menu of his likes and dislikes of all literature, criticizing the Chickpea (Cicero), judging the verses of a phony and vain poet, and preferring in the “fin de siècle” Roman authors the rot and the carrion, and at times the supreme refinement of precious stones and topazes.

I do not believe in progressivism and personal development, nor even in the scientific and academic elitism left to the Giscards of thought. I firmly believe in the tradition of inheriting and transmitting, of passing on the work of Hellenic-Christian civilization, from generation to generation. This is achieved through solid and serious learning of civilization, through language and grammar, literature, philosophy and history. It is necessary to go through the pain of declensions and conjugations; to make the effort, as in Pétanque, to have access to the texts, to their style; to reflect on the words and their concepts in order to understand the civilization. Nothing is more precious than to know the feeling of the language, to understand the spirit of an era.

This apparent need for Latin and Greek can take three forms: as a declaration in an electoral context; resistance and head-on opposition to progressivism; or a reconciliation with Wokism. The problem is not so much what Minister Blanquer says or thinks, but what the left-wing ideological machine, the Éducation Nationale, is capable of producing. The teacher conforms to the Houellebecquian image of the tired West. The teachers are mostly mediocre, cowardly and subscribe, under contract, to all the sickness of the modern world: deconstruction, diversity, immigration, inclusion, in the public as well as in the private. If this impulse for antiquity gets mixed up, dare I say it, with this kind of progressive thinking, it would do equally bad things for the mental health of our young people. I can already imagine the titles of the courses: “Migratory Crisis in Roman Gaul;” “the Roman Baths: A Space of Hybridization for Minorities;” “Conspiracy and Fake News: The Catiline Conspiracy;” “Being a Slave and Gay in Ephesus;” “Transidentity in Rome.” What a wonderful antiquity!

What we need are professors who are like Hussars in full cavalry at Jena—scholars like Bernard Lugan, like Marc Fumaroli; focused minds concerned with civilization—like Valéry, Thibaudet; intransigent polemicists—like Bloy or Julien Benda. The rest will follow. I began with Maurras, I end with Charles Péguy and Notre Jeunesse (Our Youth): ” What this entry was for me, in sixth grade, at Easter— the astonishment, the newness before rosa, rosae, the opening of an entire world, completely different, an altogether new world. That is what needs to be said, but that would get me tangled up in fondness. The grammarian who just the one time, the first, opens the Latin grammar on rosa, rosae will never know on which flowerbed he is opening the child’s soul.”


Nicolas Kinosky is at the Centres des Analyses des Rhétoriques Religieuses de l’Antiquité. This articles appears through the very kind courtesy La Nef.


Featured image: “Etruscan Vase Painters,” by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, painted in 1871.

The Five “Gods of Noah” In The Qur’an

We often hear about alleged polytheism in Arabia during pre-islamic times, the so-called ǧāhilīya, which was seemingly filled with mušrik practicing various forms of širk in honour of various deities. Naturally, this Arabic root does not refer to a plurality of deities, but rather to “partnering” or associating others with Allah who is unique (tawḥīd)—it is a polemic reference to the Christian notion of the Trinity, in which Jesus Christ and the Holy Ghost also participate equally (šarika) in the Godhead.

The question is to what extent polytheism still persisted in the Greco-Roman Middle East of Late Antiquity, which, as was the case with the Roman Empire in general, seems largely to have been permeated by monotheistic traditions before the seventh century. The Qur’an would seem to support this notion—it is (un)surprisingly vague in this regard. In the alleged Satanic Verses (53,19-20), “Have you thought of al-Lāt and al-‹ Uzza and Manāt, the third, the other?” we find a vague reference to three pan-Semitic goddesses, who were venerated by many peoples in many places at many times. The only other concrete reference is 71, 23: “And they say: Forsake not your gods, nor forsake Wadd, nor Suwa’, nor Yaghuth and Ya’uq and Nasr,” the gods of those condemned to perish in the Deluge (cf. Gen 7,24-8,14).

The mention of these five deities of antediluvian times, and allegedly worshipped by Arab tribes until the arrival of Islam, understandably caused some unpleasant difficulties for later Islamic exegetes, not to mention the modern reader—how can the knowledge or the cult of them have survived that global eradication? According to Ibn al-Kalbī’s Book of Idols (Kitāb al-Aṣnām), a compendium of legends and not an historical source, they are said to have washed up on the beach of Jeddah (the nearest port city from Mecca) after the Flood, where they gradually silted up until the fortune teller Amr ibn Luhai was told their location by his demon Abu Ṯumāna.

Be this as it may, we must remember that the Quranic account is based on (see above) the biblical one, which in turn, probably during the Captivity, was derived from Mesopotamian myths (e.g., the Atraḫasis epic, and the reworking of this narrative in the Twelve Tablet version of the Gilgamesh Epic): in the Mesopotamian version, the myth serves to explain why humans die, and does not function, as in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition, as a divine punishment for otherwise unspecified sins. In Mesopotamia (lit. “Land between rivers”), inundations were rather commonplace, in contrast to Israel or more to the point, the arid Hijaz (and we note here in passing, that the Greek flood story around Deucalion also has a Semitic background [cf. Lucian, De dea Syria 13], cf. Iapetós of the “Catalogue of Women,” attributed to Hesiod, probably has something to do with the son of Noah, Japheth, Gen 10,2 ).

In any case, these Quranic deities are unknown in Sumerian, Babylonian and Assyrian literatures. Their mention here remains Delphic, as has been noted in the past, e.g.: “Why Muhammad lists five deities as Noahite in Sur. 71,22ff. cannot be explained” (Fr. Buhl, Das Leben Muhammeds, reprint Hildesheim 1955, 74). “Admittedly, they must have been rather insignificant local deities at that time and in Mecca only known by name, if Muhammed can put them into the pre-Flood times” (J. Wellhausen, Reste arabischen Heidentums, reprint Berlin 1961, 13).

The first god mentioned in this Quranic verse, Wadd, i.e., “beloved” in the non-sexual sense (wdd – therefore probably more of an epithet than a divine given name) is known from numerous inscriptions as the chief god of the Minaeans, a Yemeni kingdom which especially during the last centuries before Christ dominated trade along the incense route, eventually being subjugated by the Sabaeans after the campaign of Aelius Gallus in 25/24 BC. At first sight, we are dealing with an authentic old-Arabian god, which could indeed have been worshipped in the Hijaz. However, epigraphic finds are by no means limited to Ma‛īn, but is, as is to be expected with such a trading empire, spread further beyond the actual homeland. So, for example, a bilingual Greco-Minaean inscription on a marble altar was found on the Greek island of Delos, dated to after 166 BC, which mentions this deity in both languages:

Minaean (RÉS 3570)

1) Ḥnʾ w-Zydʾl ḏy Ḫḏb Ḥnʾ and Zydʾl, the two of the tribe Ḫḏb,
2) nṣb mḏbḥ Wdm w-ʾlʾlt built this altar to the Wdm and the gods
3) Mʿn b-Dlṯ of Maʿīn on Delos.

Greek (ID 2320)

Ὄδδου [Belonging to] Oaddos/Wadd
θεοῦ the god
Μιναίων of the Minaeans
Ὀάδδῳ [Dedicated to} Oaddos/Wadd.

This find alone makes it clear that the cult of this god, or rather this divine epithet, although certainly originating in Yemen (which is not a synonym with Hijaz, but an entirely different culture), had travelled far beyond, accompanying his worshippers on their mercantile journeys. We thus have a deity that on the one hand was not originally at home in the Hijaz, but could have been brought there sometime by Minaean traders; on the other, however, as with the three goddesses mentioned above, he attracted some following in a geographically vast region.

As for the second deity, Suwāʿ our only sources are contradictory reports from later Islamic traditions, some of which mention him, others which do not (e.g. Wāqidī mentions the destruction of his idol in Mecca, but this is not mentioned in the Prophet’s hagiography by Ibn Isḥāq)—”these stories of the destruction of the idols on behalf of Mohammad become more and more complete as the tradition moves further away from its origin, and the narratives are contradictory” (Wellhausen, op. cit. 19). Apart from such historically worthless information and some possible attestations as a theophoric element in early Islamic onomastics, we know literally nothing at all about this god. Did he even exist? I rather have the impression that there is a polemical intention behind this name, cf. Syriac šū/ōʿā (šwʿ >arab. swʿ) “stone, rock,” i.e., “petrified,” in the sense of a stone idol (Arab. waṯan, a loan-word from Sabaean, where the word has the meaning “boundary stone, stele”), which later was misunderstood not as a generic term for an idol, but rather as the name of a specific idol.

As for the third of the three here, Jaġūṯ, we again find colourful discrepant and paradoxical stories in the Islamic tradition. But as Jaġūṯ in Arabic means “he who helps—the helper” (possibly related to Jeush in Gen 36,14), this term is rather an epithet that could be applied to any (benevolent) god. Even if the Islamic tradition(s) actually contain(s) authentic materials here and there, it would be impossible to determine whether one and the same deity was meant in all cases.

The fourth God supposedly revered by Noah’s contemporaries according to the Qur’an, Jaʿūq remains shrouded in even more mystery than his already mentioned partners. There is no independent evidence for this god, and even his name does not seem to be Arabic. Wellhausen, who noted (op. cit. 23) “we are dealing with a South Arabian name,” thought of the closely related Ethiopian verb jǝʿuq (basic meaning “to observe, to be careful, to preserve; to manifest (reveal)”), although this root seems to be not of Semitic but rather of Cushitic origin, i.e., an African loan word in the Ethiosemitic languages.

Our findings up till now are somewhat meagre, even antediluvian with regard to what we actually know. It is thus of some relief that about the fifth god, Nasr, we actually have some data. In modern Arabic this word means “vulture” (perhaps originally denoting a totem animal). In the Talmudic treatise Avoda sara 11b, in a discourse on idolatry, we find the assertion:

אמר רב חנן בר רב חסדא אמר רב ואמרי לה א”ר חנן בר רבא אמר רב חמשה בתי עבודת כוכבים קבועין הן אלו הן בית בל בבבל בית נבו בכורסי תרעתא שבמפג צריפא שבאשקלון נשרא שבערביא

“Rav Ḥanan bar Rav Ḥisda says that Rav says, and some say that it was Rav Ḥanan bar Rava who says that Rav says: There are five established temples of idol worship, and they are: The temple of Bel in Babylonia; the temple of Nebo in the city of Khursei; the temple of Tirata, which is located in the city of Mapag; Tzerifa, which is located in Ashkelon; and Nashra, which is located in Arabia.”

This passage in turn is reminiscent of one found in the famous Doctrina of the Apostle Addai (Phillips edition, p.23f.):

ܿܡܢܘ ܗܢܐ ܢ ܼܒܘ ܦܬܟܪܐ ܥܒܝܕܐ ܕܣܓܕܝܢ ܐܢܬܘܢ ܠܗ܃ ܘܒܝܠ ܕܡܝܩܪܝܢ ܐܢܬܘܢ ܠܗ܂ ܗܐ ܓܝܪ ܐܝܬ ܒܟܘܢ ܕܣܓܕܝܢ ܠܒܪܬ

ܢܝܟܠ ܐܝܟ ܚܪ̈ܢܝܐ ܫ ̈ܒܒܝܟܘܢ܂ ܘܠ ܼܬܪܥܬ ܼܐ ܐܝܟ ܡ ̈ܒܓܝܐ܂ ܘܠܢܫܪܐ ܐܝܟ ܥܪ̈ܒܝܐ܂ ܘܠܫܡܫܐ ܘܠܣܗܪ ܼܐ ܐܝܟ ܫܪܟܐ ܕܚܪ̈ܢܐ ܼ

ܕܐܟܘܬܟܘܢ܂ܠܐܬܫܬܒܘܢܒܙܠܝ̈ܩܐܕܢܗܝܪ̈ܿܐ܂ܘܒܟܘܟܒܬܐܕܨܡܚܐ܂ܠܝܛܗܘܓܝܪܩܕܡܐܠܗܿܐ܂ܟܘܠܿܡܢܕܣܿܓܕ ܼ

ܠܒܪ̈ܝܬܐ܂ ܐܦܢ ܓܝܪ ܐܝܬ ܒܗܝܢ ܒܒܪ̈ܝܬܐ ܕܐܝܟ ܪܘܪ̈ܒܢ ܡܢ ܚܒܪ̈ܬܗܝܢ܂ ܐܠܐ ܟܢ ̈ܘܬܐ ̈ܐܢܝܢ ܕܚܒܪ̈ܬܗܝܢ ܐܝܟ ܕܐ ܿܡܪܬ ܼ

ܠܟܘܢ܂ܟܐܒܐܗܘܓܝܪܡܪܝܪܐܗܢܐܕܠܝܬܠܗܐܣܝܘܬ ܿܐ܂

“Meanwhile, I saw this city teeming with paganism, which is against God. Who is this Nabû, [but] an idol [made by men] whom you worship, and Bêl whom you worship? Behold, there are among you people those who worship Bath Nikkal such as the people of Harran, your neighbours, and Taratha [as venerated by] the people of Mabug, and Nashara by the Arabs, or as are the Sun and the Moon worshipped by the rest of Harran, as you do too. Do not be deceived by rays of light and by the bright star, for all creatures will be cursed by God.”

Nabû was a well-known Mesopotamian god of the first millennium BC (the son and quasi successor of Marduk, whose name means “the announcer, the called one”—cf. Nebuchadnezzar, Nabī “prophet”); Bêl is the Mesopotamian, and later Aramaic realisation of Baal, whose cult was well-known, i.a. at Palmyra; Bath Nikkal (“the daughter of N.”)—Nikkal is a goddess known in the Western Semitic world and among the Hurrians (derived < Sumerian NIN.GAL “great mistress”); the Sun and Moon, resp. Shamash and Sîn were naturally also worshipped in Mesopotamia as deities. Taratha is apparently another designation of the well-known goddess, Atargatis or the Dea Syria, who was worshipped at Ashkelon (cf. Diodorus Siculus, Library, II.iv.2, where, among other things, it is described how and why she took the form of a fish—cf. the fish symbolism in Christianity: ΙΧΘΥΣ). Of particular significance is the fact that Nashara is also regarded here as a god of the Arabs. This god is particularly well known among the Mandaeans in southern Mesopotamia and in Iran (e.g., the Mandaean Great Book of John, §73), and also attested by Jacob of Serug (451-521), who reports that the Persians were tempted by the devil to create an “eagle” (Nashara) as an idol. A similar account can be found in the Armenian History by Movses Khorenatsi (where the gods are called Naboc’us, Belus, Bathnicalus and Tharatha).

In all of these cases, including Qur’an 71,23 (supra), we are dealing with a formulaic warning against apostasy, that is to say against a falling away from the true faith in the one true (Jewish, Christian, Mandaean or Islamic understanding of) God. In all cases, his (exclusive) worship is contrasted in a list of five heavenly idols which were seemingly self-explanatory at the time. The Talmudic passage would seem to have used the same, or very close to that of the Doctrina Addai, although somethings seem to have been lost in transmission:

Mapag (מפג) is not a deity but, as in Syriac, the place

Mabug (ܡܒܘܓ “the spring” or Hieropolis, because it was the cult centre of the Dea Syria; today Manbij);

Tirata (תרעתא) as already mentioned is Atargatis resp. the Dea Syria and not a place(-name)—a well-known site (see above) of her cult was Askelon. The gods mentioned here are חמשה בתי עבודת כוכבים בתי עבודת כוכבים “the five temples of star worship.” that is, celestial bodies: Nabû= Mercury, Bêl=Jupiter, Nikkal= a moon goddess, Taratha=Venus, and Nashara is the name of a star (see P. De Lagarde, Geoponicon in sermonem syriacum, 5:17 1860 ,Versorum quae supersunt, Leipzig,  ܥܕܡܐ ܠܕܢܚܗ ܕܢܫܪܐ ܕܐܝܬܘܗܝ ܡܢ ܢܐܘܡܝܢܝܐ ܕܟܢܘܢ ܐܚܪܝ “until the rise of the Naschara, which is the beginning of the month of January;” The seven wandering [planets]…

ܕܐܝܬܝܗܘܢ ܫܡܫܐ ܘܣܗܪܐ ܘܟܐܽܘܢ ܘܒܝܠ ܘܢܪܝܓ ܘܒܠܬܝ ܘܵܢܒܘ

…are Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Moon, Venus and Mercury”—C. Kayser, The Book of Truth, or, The Cause of All Causes, Leipzig, 1889, 55:5).

The mention of Arabia, in connexion with Nashara, cannot be taken as confirmatory evidence in support of the assertion made by Islamic tradition that Nashara had been a deity in and around Mecca. Perhaps this was so—but we simply do not know. The Arabs who venerate “a bird” as god can here only be the Arabs of Mesopotamia—the Talmud as well as the Doctrina Addai do not concern themselves with the Hijaz

This area, roughly identical to the so-called Ǧazīrat al-‛Arab, comprises the lowlands of the Chabur, Euphrates and Tigris in northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and northwestern Iraq. It was also referred to as “Arabia” in ancient times. Here we find e.g., a Ἀραβάρχης (“Arab-archēs—Arab princes”) in Dura-Europos (cf. C. B. Welles et al., The Excavations at Dura-Europos. Final Report V, Part I [New Haven, 1959], 115 No. 20, 5); in Sumatar Harabesi, present-day Turkey, five inscriptions are documented which were found at the old cemetery and bear the Syrian equivalent of this term:- šulṭānā d-ʿarab “Governor of Arab(ia)” (cf. H. J. W. Drijvers & J. F. Healey, The Old Syriac Inscriptions of Edessa and Osrhoene [Leyden, 1999], p. 104f. et passim); in Hatra, a mlk’ dy ʿrb(y) “King of Arabia” is documented (see B. Aggoula, Inventaire des inscriptions hatréenes [Paris, 1991], 92 No. 193, 2; 135f. See also Pliny’s Natural History, V.xxi.86: “Arabia supra dicta habet oppida Edessam, quæ quondam Antiochia dicebatur, Callirhœm, a fonte nominatam, Carrhas, Crassi clade nobile. Iungitur præfectura Mesopotamiæ, ab Assyriis originem trahens, in qua Anthemusia et Nicephorium oppida. … 87] ita fertur [scil. Euphrates] usque Suram locum, in quo conversus ad orientem relinquit Syriæ Palmyrenas solitudines, quæ usque ad Petram urbem et regionem Arabiæ Felicis appellatæ pertinent. This is also the “Arabia” that Paul must have visited (Gal 1:17). It is noteworthy that Fredegar (Chronicon lxvi) locates the Hagarenes even more to the north: “Agareni, qui et Sarraceni, sicut Orosii [Boh. Eorosii] liber testatur, gens circumcisa a latere montis Caucasi, super mare Caspium, terram….” This location can explain the Mandaean and Iranian evidence (see above) of Nashara.

This area, in the north of Mesopotamia, is where historical-critical research locates the crucible of Islam. It is here that the linguistic (the forerunners of Quranic Arabic as well as the heavy Syro-Aramaic impact on the Quranic theological vocabulary) as well as other theological and cultural threads come together, where the Christians in the Sassanid Empire, after the conquest of Heraclius, were suddenly confronted with Christological formulations (Chalcedon) foreign to them, after over two and a half centuries of separation, since the death of Julian Apostata. Here, the only unambiguously identifiable deity of Sura 71,23, scil. Nasr, seems to be certainly at home. Locating his cult to the South, in Arabia deserta, in the empty Hijaz—whose historical and cultural vacantness would only later become the ideal(ised) theological projection surface—has no historical support—and in addition, one would not only have to invent Christianity in the Hijaz, but also Manichaeism!

Sura 71/Sūrat Nūḥ deals with tergiversation, abandoning God/Allah: Noah has warned his contemporaries at God’s behest—”My Lord, I have called my people by night and day (to faith). But my call only caused them to run away more and more: and whenever I called them that Thou mightest forgive them, they put their fingers in their ears, and wrapped themselves in their garments, and persisted (in their state), and became overly arrogant. Then I called on them in public. Then I preached to them in public, and I spoke to them in secret, and I said: ‘Seek forgiveness from your Lord: for He is Oft-Forgiving: He will send down rain for you in abundance; and He will strengthen you with good things and with children, and He will give you gardens, and He will make rivers flow for you…’” (71,4-12). Furthermore, in verses 14-15 Noah asks, “Have you not seen how Allah created seven heavens stacked one on top of the other and set the moon as a light in them?”—i.e., the sky with all its contents, including the sun and moon, bear witness to the existence of God; they themselves are not gods. But Noah finds no hearing; the people remain on their chosen path and say, “do not leave your gods; do not leave Wadd, nor Suwāʿ, nor Jaġūṯ, Jaʿūq and Nasr.”

Contextually speaking, this interpretation of the latter passage fits in the theme of the Sura as a whole, and is quite similar to the admonition found inter alia in in the Doctrina Addai. Taken in this light, we have here a not unfamiliar pious topos, which here the Koranic authors put in Noah’s mouth because it was apparently felt to be somehow appropriate. The theonyms, however, as is also the case in the Talmudic example, where they were conflated with toponyms, have become garbled, yet a further indication that polytheism had long since ceased being an historical reality.

It is in this understanding, however, that this Quranic verse becomes understandable, seeing that, as was just noted, the creation of the heavens, moon, sun etc.—i.e., they are not to be understood as gods, is mentioned just several verses previously. The inexplicable gods mentioned in verse 23 may be just local epithets of the (divinised) celestial bodies, Nsr, the “eagle,” at the same time an astronym, would seem to favour such a proposal. In a Minaean dedicatory inscription (RÉS 2999 from Barāqish in the southern Jawf), the builders self-identify themselves as ʾdm Wdm S2hrn “servants (cf. Arabic ʾādam) of Wdd, the moon.” In this light, it is clear that Wdd could be understood as a(n epithet of) lunar deity. Perhaps then one might be partial to interpreting Suwāʿ as an Arabic realisation of Aramaic shrʾ “moon?” Jaġūṯ, as already been mentioned, is etymologically transparent, “the helper,” a term that might be appropriate for the moon (as attribute) or possibly the sun god?

Be that as it may, however one may choose to etymologise the five “Gods of Noah” in the Qur’an, they are most certainly designations for the (divinised) Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn. As we have sown in the preceding the Classical planets, designated variously, were a common theme in Jewish and Christian polemics against the true faith in the one God. The Qur’anic renditions, as the Talmudic, have been somewhat garbled by later copyists. It is clear that we are dealing here with a topos known in the Syro-Mesopotamian region of Late Antiquity. This is by no means antediluvian and also has nothing to do with the Hijaz, nor originally even with Islam.


Professor Dr. Robert M. Kerr studied Classics and Semitics largely in Vancouver, Tübingen and Leyden. He is currently director of the Inârah Institute, for research on Early Islamic History and the Qur’an in Saarbrücken (Germany).


Featured image: The Almaqah Panel, which bears a Sabaean inscription, mentioning the god Wadd. Likely Ma’rib, Yemen, ca. 700 BC.