Roman History Poll Answers and Reflections

Leave a comment
Portrait of Edward Gibbon (1737-94) ca.1779 by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-92)

Portrait of Edward Gibbon (1737-94) ca.1779 by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-92), the villain of this story!

Thank you to all who participated in my Roman History Poll!

In this Post, I’ll give the answers, but more importantly, hopefully unmask a kind of “conspiracy” among certain historians to hide the truth from us all since the 1776-1789 publication of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by the otherwise great historian Edward Gibbon. (It is interesting that the massive work began to be published at the start of the American Revolution, and ended with the French Revolution.)

Gibbon reversed about 1456 years of everyone knowing that the Roman Empire headquartered in Constantinople was really and truly The Roman Empire with no qualifications. And he was followed almost unquestioned in this deliberate ignorance down to our own day. The fact that our educational system and popular media continue to foster this ignorance makes me think of Pink Floyd’s 1979 Rock Opera, The Wall. Indeed “We don’t need no education” if our educational system lies to us.

Throughout this post, I’ll comment on specifics, but first I want to explore why Gibbon deliberately falsified this point, and began using the name “Byzantine Empire,” which was not used in antiquity or the Middle Ages, and why it has been so easy to perpetuate it for the last 238 years and counting.

“Byzantine Empire” and “East Roman Empire” were never used until well after 1453. The Empire centered in Constantinople was simply known by friend and foe alike as “The Roman Empire,” or “The Empire of the Romans,” Βασιλεία Ῥωμαίων, Basileia Rhōmaiōn; Latin: Imperium Romanum),[1] or Romania (Ῥωμανία),  Its citizens were known as Romans. When the Ottoman Turks finally captured Constantinople, they proclaimed “we have conquered Rome (Rûm)” (الرُّومُ ar-Rūm.

First Reason: Modern Arrogance

The Oseirion, an Egyptian Initiatic site. Photo by Steve F-E-Cameron/Wikimedia.

The Oseirion, an Egyptian Initiatic site. Photo by Steve F-E-Cameron/Wikimedia.

One of the reasons I propose for Gibbon’s mistake is our modern arrogance as a society. We think we are better than our ancestors, more intelligent than ancient, late antique and medieval societies. The popular vision of antiquity is similar to the humorous vision of the world of Monty Python’s Holy Grail. So of course, even though everyone during the lifetime of The Roman Empire knew it was The Roman Empire, they were ancient, or worse, mediaeval people, and we are smarter than them. So let’s make up a new term for reality as we see it.

Here’s another example: For about the same period from Gibbon’s time to the present, Academic Egyptologists have painted a picture of Pharaonic Egypt as a society that was all concerned about the things of this world, and were devoid of mysticism, spirituality, and initiatic practices. Once again, everyone until the 18th century knew that Egypt was the Font of Wisdom for the West, and the Ancient Greeks openly admitted “everything we know, we learned from Egypt.” They were deeply mystical, and practiced Esoteric Initiations.

Once again, striving to make Egyptology a “science,” this view held by everyone for thousands of years had to be put aside. We knew better than the peoples of the past.

Happily, in Egyptology, this view is breaking down. I recommend this review of three excellent books which show the falsehood of this assumption, as well as these other articles from the Rosicrucian Digest. Groups such as the Rosicrucian Order, AMORC have been instrumental in keeping a clear vision of Egyptian realities alive. Dr. Jeremy Naydler has an excellent excursus in his work Shamanic Wisdom of the Pyramid Texts on the history of this academic delusion, and those who tried to keep the flame of truth burning. As the Rosicrucian Digest puts it: “For an excellent discussion of ancient and Renaissance attitudes toward Egypt, see Naydler, Shamanic Wisdom, 20-23, and accompanying bibliographical notes on 348-352.”

In my own historical training, it was emphasized that we should take former societies seriously, and not dismiss what they said as “pre-modern” ignorance. We do not always know better. Scholars like Peter Brown, Eugene Ludwig, OFM Cap. et al. encourage us to try to put on the ancient or medieval, etc. mind-set in order to understand previous societies and cultures. As I learned also in classes, any work of history says more about the person writing it, and about the period it is being written in, rather than the period it is studying.” We can overcome this bias, but it is not easy.

So the first reason Gibbon made this mistake is that he is guilty, as we all are at one time or another, of modern arrogance. Happily, many of the historical cable channels are now showing just how advanced ancient societies were in programs such as Ancient Impossible, Ancient Discoveries, etc. Look them up on YouTube or online. They are eye-opening. There is also a robust literature on world-wide ancient tech. Philosophically and Intellectually, cities like Constantinople and Alexandria could hardly be rivaled today.

Second Reason: Christianity “destroys” the Empire

Theotokos and Christ Mosaic in Hagia Sophia, photo by Myrabella/Wikimedia

Theotokos and Christ Mosaic in Hagia Sophia, photo by Myrabella/Wikimedia

But there is a more sinister motive. Gibbon and his colleagues wanted to demonstrate that once “noble paganism” was replaced by “otherworldly” Christianity, the “oomph” went out of the Roman Empire. This makes sense if it only took 163 years after Constantine tolerated Christianity for this new spirituality to rot Rome away. But if, along with everyone in the ancient and mediaeval world, you know that the Empire lasted for 1,140 years, the argument is clearly untenable. So he “defined” his way out of the dilemma: When the City of Old Rome fell in 476 to the Western Barbarians, the Roman Empire ended. Its “successor state,” the Byzantine Empire continued. Poppycock!

J.B. Bury writes:

It has often been alleged that Christianity in its political effects was a disintegrating force and tended to weaken the power of Rome to resist her enemies. It is difficult to see that it had any such tendency, so long as the Church itself was united. Theological heresies were indeed to prove a disintegrating force in the East in the seventh century, when differences in doctrine which had alienated the Christians in Egypt and Syria from the government of Constantinople facilitated the conquests of the Saracens. But after the defeat of Arianism, there was no such vital or deep-reaching division in the West, and the effect of Christianity was to unite, not to sever, to check, rather than to emphasise, national or sectional feeling. In the political calculations of Constantine it was probably this ideal of unity, as a counterpoise to the centrifugal tendencies which had been clearly revealed in the third century, that was the great recommendation of the religion which he raised to power. Nor is there the least reason to suppose that Christian teaching had the practical effect of making men less loyal to the Empire or less ready to defend it. The Christians were as pugnacious as the pagans. Some might read Augustine’s City of God with edification, but probably very few interpreted its theory with such strict practical logic as to be indifferent to the safety of the Empire. Hardly the author himself, though this has been disputed. — J.B. Bury, History of the Later Roman Empire, from Arcadius to Irene (London and New York: Macmillan and Co., 1889), 319–320.

Old Rome, in Italy, hadn’t been the capital of the Empire since (St.) Emperor Constantine transferred the capital to his eponymous city of Constantinople/New Rome beginning in 324. And The Romans won Old Rome back in 536 under (St.) Emperor Justinian.

Portrait of Julian II on a bronze coin from Antiochië, 360-363. Photo courtesy of Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. (CNG)

Portrait of Julian II on a bronze coin from Antiochië, 360-363. Photo © Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. (CNG)

Now I am a fan of “noble paganism” and admire the attempt of Emperor Julian II (called by Christians, “The Apostate”) to restore the old ways. But truth is truth. Christianity did not make the Empire fall.

Gibbon himself signals his distaste for the “later Empire: “But it is not my intention to expatiate with the same minuteness on the whole series of the Byzantine history.” — Preface to the 1782 edition.

Nevertheless Gibbon is still admired:  “Gibbon and Lebeau were genuine historians — and Gibbon a very great one — and their works, in spite of factual inadequacy, rank high for their presentation of their material.” — Georgije Ostrogorski History of the Byzantine State (1986).

“…in spite of factual inaccuracy”!  What good is history that is well written but factually inaccurate? We have Hollywood for that!

 

This sounds like, “The picture is very beautiful, of course it has been photoshopped and is inaccurate!”  You may recall the infamous 1982 National Geographic cover that falsified the Giza Pyramids to fit on the vertical cover:

nationalgeographic11

 

That’s what Gibbon and his followers have done. Altered reality to fit.

Why has this error endured? Western Eurocentrism.

Roman Empire showing the Line of Diocletian

Roman Empire showing the Line of Diocletian

So Gibbon erred. Why does his narrative still endure in our educational system and in public perception? Note that even Wikipedia perpetuates this error!

It has to do with the fact that our society intellectually is not Eurocentric. It is Western Eurocentric. Until more recent educational reforms, the history of the rest of the world outside Western Europe was only dealt with in relationship to Western Europe. History and Literature in school used to begin with Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, and then to Classical Greece and Rome. When Italy is taken over by the various “barbarian” tribes, Old Rome falls in 476, and Roman Catholic Christianity ascends to power in the West, Eastern Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean begin to fade from view.

From that point on History and Literature pretty much become the history of Britain and Ireland, France, the Italian states, the German States, Spain and Portugal, and to a certain extent, Scandinavia, as well as the rest of Western Europe. That is, of course when one of the outlanders invades Western Europe (Moorish Spain), or Western Europe invades other places (the Crusades), and then beginning with 1492, Western Europe essentially invades and occupies the whole planet. Their only real rival was the Russian Empire, which once more enters western consciousness. The line Emperor Diocletian drew around 284 becomes the battle line between Western and Eastern Europe, and continued that way through the 20th century. Note that Serbia is on one side of the line, and Croatia is on the other.

In the same way, for most westerners, Christianity is divided into Catholics and Protestants. Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and the Church of the East were usually an afterthought. The tragic events in the Middle East and Eastern Europe have raised their visibility somewhat today.

I am not arguing for some “politically correct” curriculum. Western Europe has had an enormous impact, for good and for ill, on our Planet and we ignore its history and literature at our peril. But it is time for us to understand global history as one interactive story. And realizing the fact that the Roman Empire lasted until 1453 is a good beginning.

The Poll Results and Comments

The poll demonstrated that most of us payed attention in school, but were fed the wrong information. I have a very intelligent group of Faceboook friends. Unfortunately we are in the situation of one of my heroes, the late, lamented Molly Ivins:

If you grew up white before the civil rights movement anywhere in the South, all grown-ups lied. They’d tell you stuff like, “Don’t drink out of the colored fountain, dear, it’s dirty.” In the white part of town, the white fountain was always covered with chewing gum and the marks of grubby kids’ paws, and the colored fountain was always clean. Children can be horribly logical.

The hermeneutic of suspicion, our old friend “Cui Bono” (Whom does it benefit), comes into play here. Once we see that they lied about one thing, we have to ask, “What else have they been lying about?”

pie-chart

 

 

As we have seen, The Roman Empire fell on Tuesday May 29, 1453. The City of Old Rome, no longer the capital, fell in 476, and then was regained, and fell again. The red herring of 1850 probably caught the 2% off guard, as the German “Holy Roman Empire” was dissolved in 1806. Of course, it was, as Voltaire quipped:

Ce corps qui s’appelait et qui s’appelle encore le saint empire romain n’était en aucune manière ni saint, ni romain, ni empire.
This agglomeration which was called and which still calls itself the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.

pie-chart-2

If we add 753+1453 (Year 0 does not exist) this equals 2,206 years. Not as good as Pharaonic Egypt’s 3,300 years, but not bad! And many nations in the world are, or consider themselves Heirs of Rome. If you see an Eagle, the Fasces, or Roman Architecture around, the Roman Empire is lingering. As the Russians said “The First Rome fell to the Barbarians, the Second Rome fell to the Turks. Moscow is the Third Rome, and a Fourth there will never be.” But I’ll consider the Russian Empire a “successor state.”

pie-chart-3

As we have seen, Gibbon was wrong, and the answer is 1,140 years. His point that Christianity doomed the Empire is just plain false.

pie-chart-4

St. Constantinos_XI_Palaiologos

St. Constantinos_XI_Palaiologos

We won on this one! (St.) Constantine XI Dragaš Palaiologos was the last Roman Emperor, and was killed on May 29, 1453 defending The City.

Nero certainly did everything he could to destroy the Empire (along with the other “bad Emperors” Caligula and Elagabalus (Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus), but it got better!

And poor Romulus Augustulus was a usurper reigning over the Western half of the Roman Empire from 31 October 475 until 4 September 476. His nickname means Romulus Little-Augustus, “ulus” being a diminutive in Latin and is not particularly complementary. He was falsely immortalized in the really rather silly 2007 “ancient action flick” The Last Legion, where he is connected to the Arthurian Legend. While Medieval stories about Arthur, Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory in 1485, following Geoffrey of Monmouth’s The History of the Kings of Britain (Historia Regum Britanniae) (ca. 1136), assert that either or both Arthur and Merlin are connected with the Imperial line, there is no evidence that it was through Romulus Augustulus, as there is no trace of his going to Britain. Of course, Gibbon called him “The Last Western Roman Emperor.” We’ve seen where that comes from.

pie-chart-5This is an interesting one. The Roman Empire formally begins in 27 BCE when the Senate votes Octavian, Julius Caesar’s adoptive son First Citizen and Imperator (Emperor). He is known to history as Augustus, and was not a very nice man. He is the cause of Cleopatra’s death, he had Ptolemy XV Philopator Philometor Caesar [Πτολεμαῖος ΙΕʹ Φιλοπάτωρ Φιλομήτωρ Καῖσαρ, Ptolemaios IEʹ Philopatōr Philomētōr Kaisar; Ptolemaeus XV Philopator Philomētor Caesar (Caesarion)], the son of Cleopatra and Julius Caesar and thus his half-brother murdered, and other bad deeds.

His All Holiness, Bartholemew I, Patriarch of Constantinople and New Rome.

His All Holiness, Bartholomew I, Patriarch of Constantinople and New Rome, celebrating Pascha in Constantinople, 2009.

(St.) Constantine (and Licinius) legalized Christianity with the Edict of Milan in 313 CE. (St.) Theodosius I declared Nicaean Christianity the official and sole religion of the Empire on 27 February 380 with the Edict of Thessalonica, also known as Cunctos populos. One can have differing opinions on these actions (as I might), but it is history.

Therefore, 27+380 = only 407 years of official Pre-Christian Roman religion as the Official religion of the Roman Empire.

If we cheat and fudge our stats, and lump the Roman Kingdom/Roman Republic (traditionally founded in 753 BCE) with the Roman Empire until 380 CE, we get 753+380 = 1,133 years. Or 753+313 =

From 380 to 1453 is 1,073 years. From 313 to 1453 is 1,140 years.

1. The exact answer to the Poll Question (about The Roman Empire) is that it was Officially “Pagan” for 407 years, and Officially Orthodox Christian for 1,073 years.

2. If we stretch, and use our cheat figure, and change the question to “Roman Civilization” (which was not the question), depending if you use 313 or 380 as the change to Christianity:

  • “Pagan”: 1,133 years (380) or 1,066 (313)
  • “Orthodox Christian”: either 1,073 (380) or 1,140 (313).

So the official answer is clear (1), but the other possibility (2) is pretty much a dead heat. Sorry, I didn’t mean to make this a trick question.

And, Isis Worship and Mithraism were ancient Mystery schools/religions, part of the rich mix of the Pre-Christian and early Christian periods. Never the official religion, but very popular!

 

pie-chart-6

 

Using our dates again, Rome was capital of the Empire from 27 BCE -324 CE = 351 years. Constantinople was the capital of the Empire from 324 CE to 1453 = 1,129 years. So the answer to “What was the capital of the Roman Empire longest is clearly Constantinople (Κωνσταντινούπολις Konstantinoúpolis or Κωνσταντινούπολη Konstantinoúpoli; Latin: Constantinopolis.)

If we fudge again, and change the question to “What was the capital of Roman civilization longest?”:

  • Rome: 753 BCE-324 CE: 1,077 years
  • Constantinople: 1,129 years.
Restored section of the Theodosian Walls at the Selymbria Gate. The Outer Wall and the wall of the moat are visible, with a tower of the Inner Wall in the background. Photo © Bigdaddy1204/Wikimedia

Restored section of the Theodosian Walls at the Selymbria Gate. The Outer Wall and the wall of the moat are visible, with a tower of the Inner Wall in the background. Photo © Bigdaddy1204/Wikimedia

Either way this time, it’s Constantinople. Even during the perfidious Crusader Latin dynasty (1204-1259), Constantinople was still really the capital. There were also “resistance” Emperors in Trebizond, Thessalonica, and Nicaea, real Romans, governments in exile. Michael VIII Palaeologus retook the Capital in 1259.

Diocletian declared Milan the “Western Capital” in 286 CE, and Nicomedia his “Eastern Capital” where he lived. As far as I can tell, this did not disrupt Old Rome’s status exactly as the Center of whole Empire. In 402 the Western Emperor’s residence was moved to Ravenna when the Visigoths besieged Milan. It was later the Imperial exarchate, through which the Roman Emperors in Constantinople ruled their Western lands, after the Tetrarchy (τετραρχία) of Diocletian had fallen into disuse.

pie-chart-7As we have seen above, the right answers are “The Roman Empire,” “The Empire of the Romans,” and “Romania.” As far as I know, the term “Byzantine Empire” was unknown until long after 1453, and I have never seen “The Greek Christian Empire” anywhere. It was the red herring.

pie-chart-8

The answer, as 40% said, was Mehmed II, the Ottoman Turk Sultan, who conquered Constantinople, and thus, the Roman Empire on Tuesday May 29, 1453. He proclaimed “we have conquered Rome (Rûm)” (الرُّومُ ar-Rūm. In Arabic today, Eastern Orthodox Christians are called Rûm Ortodox and Greek (Byzantine) Catholics are called Rûm Katolik. Roman Catholics are called afranj (Franks) or Lateen. Technically speaking, the true “Roman Catholics” are the Greek Orthodox. Strange, isn’t it!

Constantine XI at the Walls of Constantinople

Constantine XI at the Walls of Constantinople

Flavius Odoacer was a Romanized member of the Scirii, an East German tribe. He seized Old Rome in 476 and deposed the usurper Romulus Augustulus as we saw above.

Attila was the leader of the Hunnic Empire, one of the Roman Empire’s greatest enemies in the 5th Century. He raided in the Balkans and as far as Thermopylae, but was unable to take Constantinople. He was finally bought off with a bribe of 2100 lbs of gold annually to leave Roman lands.

Genghis Khan (1162-1227) was the Great Khan (Emperor of the Mongols). At its height of the Mongol Empire it was the largest before the modern European Empires, and stretched from Vietnam to Central Europe. In the 1200s, the Chaldean Christian Church (Church of the East, of the East Syriac Tradition) was very influential, and had ⅕ of the world’s Christians, with missions throughout the Mongol Empire. Many Mongol Generals were Chaldean Christian, or were married to Chaldean Christians. Genghis himself almost converted. The Mongols got close to the Roman Empire’s territory, but never actually invaded.

It is curious that the majority of respondents held that the Empire fell in 476,  but the majority knew that Constantine XI was the last Emperor, and the plurality knew that Mehmed II conquered the Roman Empire. The false 476 date has been so deeply ingrained in us by the educational system and popular culture that it’s hard to shake even when we know other facts which clearly contradict it. That’s called cognitive dissonance.

pie-chart-9

The Church of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) as it would have looked at the height of

The Church of Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) as it would have looked at the height of the Roman Empire

Again, in line with what we have just seen, the clear majority knew the right answer, the great Church of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, which flatly contradicts a Fall of the Empire in 476!

It is interesting to note that the chief Church of the Empire was named for the feminine manifestation of God, Holy Wisdom Ἁγία Σοφία, Haya Sophia; Latin: Sancta Sophia or Sancta Sapientia.

The first Church was built in 360, and was known as “The Great Church.” It was rebuilt twice after that. It’s official name is Ναός τῆς Ἁγίας τοῦ Θεοῦ Σοφίας, “Shrine of the Holy Wisdom of God.” Hagia Sophia and the nearby Church of Hagia Eirene Ἁγία Εἰρήνη Holy Peace, served as the chief Churches of the Empire. Constantine built a third Temple, Hagia Dynamis Ἁγία Δύναμις Holy Power. All three refer to aspects of God.

 

Façade of St. John Lateran, photo by Jastrow/Wikimedia Commons.

Façade of St. John Lateran, photo by Jastrow/Wikimedia Commons.

The Cathedral Church of the Diocese of Old Rome, and thus the actual ecclesiastical seat of the Bishop of Rome (The Pope of Rome) is St. John Lateran, a magnificent Archbasilica. It was originally the Lateran Palace, which Constantine gave to the Bishop of Rome as his residence. In 324 it was converted into the Cathedral of Rome. The actual patrons of the Church are Christ the Savior, St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist. It is the oldest Church in the West.

St. Mary Major (Maria Maggiore) is the largest Marian shrine in Rome. It is one of the five pilgrimage Basilicas, together with St. John Lateran, St. Peter’s, St. Paul’s Outside the Walls, and St. Lawrence Outside the Walls. During a Papal Holy Year, if one walks through the Holy Doors of each of these, and prays, the Roman Church teaches that one receives a plenary indulgence. I did this in 1972, and was actually at St. Lawrence’s on his feast, Aug 10.

 

St. Peter’s is clearly a magnificent and special Church in the Roman Catholic Church. while it is not the “Mother Church” (which is St. John Lateran), it is informally the Pope of Rome’s principal Church.

Westminster Abbey was the red herring. It is the Anglican Church used for coronations of the English and British Monarchs since 1066 and William the Conqueror (Guillaume le Bâtard), and has the status of a Royal Peculiar, that is, a Church not subject to the Diocese it is in, but administered by the Sovereign herself. Queen Elizabeth II is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

pie-chart-10This was a toss-up, and it is good that Everybody seemed to have known some of these terms. I was impressed that 15% had heard of Romania as a name for the Roman Empire!

One Final Question

Here’s a bonus question not on the Poll: Are there any living heirs to the Roman throne?

St. Aloysius Gonzaga, S.J.

St. Aloysius Gonzaga, S.J.

Naturally, from a statistical standpoint, there must be descendants of all of the Roman Dynasties. In particular, however, there are Italian families with the name Comneno, who may be the descendants of the Komnenos or Comnenus (Κομνηνός, plural Κομνηνοί) Dynasty, and a French family, the Paléologues, who may be the descendants of the Palaiologos (Παλαιολόγος, plural Palaiologoi, Παλαιολόγοι) Dynasty.

The Palaioloi clearly survive in another branch: “A branch of the Palaiologos became the feudal lords of Montferrat, Italy. This inheritance was eventually incorporated by marriage to the Gonzaga family, rulers of the Duchy of Mantua, who are descendants of the Palaiologoi of Montferrat.” (Wikipedia)

One of their descendants was St. Aloysius Gonzaga, S.J., one of the three Jesuit “Boy Saints” (together with St. John Berchmans, S.J., and St. Stanislaus Kostka, S.J. All died young in the Society of Jesus. Gonzaga University in Spokane WA is a Jesuit University under his patronage.

So, if we ever regain Constantinople….! 🙂

 

 

A Remedy for Misinformation

The Flag of The Roman Empire

The Flag of The Roman Empire

The best remedy for dispelling the misinformation we have been taught since Gibbon on this subject is good information. There are many fine works on later Roman history. My favorite is a free Website, “ROME AND ROMANIA, 27 BC-1453 AD” by Dr. Kelly L. Ross.

Good studies available in Libraries or at Amazon include the histories by John Julius NorwichAlexander A. VasilievWarren TreadgoldGeorge Ostrogorsky, J.B. Bury with Charles Diehl and Norman Baynes, and Timothy E. Gregory.

For a lighter style and introduction to the subject, try  Lost to the West: The Forgotten Byzantine Empire That Rescued Western Civilization by Lars Brownworth and Sailing from Byzantium: How a Lost Empire Shaped the World by Colin Wells. Note that in most of these studies, except for the website from Dr. Ross, the writers capitulate to the use of the term Byzantine, even though they are clear about the continuity of the Empire. Take that with a grain of salt.

Why is this so important?

You may wonder, “Well, OK, I see, but why are you focusing on this?”

spinFirst, it is one of my areas of study, but beyond that, it goes to the heart of one of the major problems in our society today.

If we do not know our own history as a planet with as much accuracy as possible, we are at the mercy of spin doctors and information sources all of whom have their own agendas:

Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained … infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. — George Santayana, The Life of Reason (1905-1906).

So I urge myself and everyone to question everything we have been taught. Let’s evaluate everything for ourselves, and look behind what we are told in the classroom and especially in the media. Deliver us “from lies of tongue and pen, from all the easy speeches that comfort cruel men:”

O God of earth and altar,
bow down and hear our cry,
our earthly rulers falter,
our people drift and die;
the walls of gold entomb us,
the swords of scorn divide,
take not thy thunder from us,
but take away our pride.

From all that terror teaches,
from lies of tongue and pen,
from all the easy speeches
that comfort cruel men,
from sale and profanation
of honor, and the sword,
from sleep and from damnation,
deliver us, good Lord!

Tie in a living tether
the prince and priest and thrall,
bind all our lives together,
smite us and save us all;
in ire and exultation
aflame with faith, and free,
lift up a living nation,
a single sword to thee.

— by G.K. Chesterton,  written in 1906,  and as relevant today as it was then!

Listen to it here:

Merlin reciting poetry

Merlin reciting poetry

We live in a world that is drifting. For all of its flaws, the Christian Roman Empire is a symbol of stability. C.S. Lewis uses this in a dialogue of Ransom (who is the new Pendragon) with Merlin in the final volume of his Space Trilogy:

“Then we must go higher. We must go to him whose office is to put down tyrants and give life to dying kingdoms. We must call on the Emperor.”

“There is no Emperor.”

“No Emperor…” began Merlin, and then his voice died away. He sat still for some minutes wrestling with a world which he had never envisaged.”

— C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, p 290

This work and its mythos is interconnected with the Legendarium (Secondary World) of J.R.R. Tolkien and the Arthurian Poetry of he mystic author Charles Williams, both fellow Inklings.

I do not for a moment propose a return to governance as it was in the Roman Empire. I think we are done with monarchs, except the Constitutional kind. It is the image, the symbol of Eternal Rome that resonates.

By the way, the Christian Emperors and society of the Roman Empire were as ruthless as their “Pagan” predecessors. There is enough intrigue, sex, violence, heroism, betrayal, war, and drama in the 1,100 years of the Christian period of the Roman Empire to keep Hollywood and HBO, Showtime and the other Cable channels busy for decades. Let’s get going on that!

Sailing to Byzantium

I could not end this post without including one of my favorite lyric poems, Sailing to Byzantium (1928) by William Butler Yeats. It symbolizes for me the eternal image of the Roman Empire that I speak of above.

image06

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
– Those dying generations – at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

The Transfiguration of Christ: Part of an iconostasis in Constantinople style. Middle of the 12th century. Saint Catherine's Monastery, Sinai (Egypt) / K. Weitzmann: "Die Ikone"

The Transfiguration of Christ: Part of an iconostasis in Constantinople style. Middle of the 12th century. Saint Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai (Egypt) / K. Weitzmann: “Die Ikone”

O sages standing in God’s holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

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

 

 

Thank you once again to all who participated!

— Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s