Stoics (and Epicureans) in the Brick Testament

Acts 17:18: “Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him [St Paul]. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.”

I’m going to guess that the Stoic philosopher is the one with the beard. (The Stoics liked their beards.)

Full story over here.


Thanks to the people, mostly called Chris, who’ve been contributing to the thread below. We haven’t had nearly enough discussion of the Church Fathers on this blog over the last few years — most blogs, in fact, are deficient in this respect — and that’s something I’d like to encourage.

So, if we look at the tradition of Protestant fundamentalism that took shape in C20th America, then, sure, it doesn’t look much like what we find in the Catholic church. But what if we’re trying — for whatever reason, and it might be a stupid thing to want to do — to develop a workable concept of fundamentalism that can travel across different religious traditions – Christian, Jewish, Islamic, possibly Hindu?

And then the thought that strikes me is that what we associate with fundamentalism isn’t narrow textual literalism per se, partly because — and I really don’t know much about this — while Islamic fundamentalists are keen on their verses from the Qu’ran I’m not sure that they are textual literalists in the manner of Christian Protestant fundies. Here’s a bit of Sayyid Qutb, who people tell me is pretty important in contemporary Islamic fundamentalism(s). It’s taken pretty much at random, but glancing through it, this doesn’t strike me as overly concerned with narrow readings, resisting interpretation, and so on, and I don’t think that American Protestant fundamentalists talk about verses from the Bible in quite this way.

So I wonder whether we’re best off thinking about fundamentalism(s) in terms of a particular kind of claim to religious authority, which often (not always) involves a re-reading of foundational texts, and that this is what makes the idea of Catholic fundamentalism somewhat paradoxical, because Catholicism just is a claim about authority: what it is to be a Catholic (at least as far as the Church is concerned) is to accept the magisterium and so there just isn’t the space within Catholicism to come out and tell the bishops that you’ve got a more authoritative reading of scripture (or whatever) than they have.

And moving away from the idea of textual literalism may also help to think about the idea of Hindu fundamentalisms. I’m inclined to sympathise with the idea that we’re basically talking about “a bunch of political crazies” here (see Chris Y in the comments), and the malleability and whole invented-traditionness of modern Hinduism must be relevant. But it may be that political craziness and the claims to dogmatic authority are more important to a workable concept of fundamentalism than anything else.

(Andrew Vincent from Sheffield was giving a talk in Oxford yesterday about thinking about fundamentalism, and that got me onto thinking about the Catholics. After all, if the Pope’s got the key to heaven, he’s probably got the key to the concept of fundamentalism, too.)

A question for Stoa-readers

Insofar as you can give content to the idea of religious fundamentalism, do you think there are or can be Roman Catholic fundamentalists or not? If you think there are, who are they, or who might they be? If you think there aren’t, or that there can’t be, is this because you think fundamentalists are textual literalists, and Catholicism isn’t especially bothered about the Bible, or for a different reason? Sort of relatedly, do you think there are Hindu fundamentalists or not? If you do, what is it about them that makes them fundamentalists? Answers in comments, please. Please don’t be inhibited by any lack of specialist knowledge about any of these subjects.

More on Hair, But This Time on Biblical, Seventeenth-Century Hair

Jasper Milvain buys the Saturday edition of the Guardian, and has very kindly forwarded to me a discussion of hair that appeared there yesterday, and which was curiously suppressed from the online edition. John Mullan was reviewing Alastair Fowler’s new edition of John Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Here’s Mullan:

“So if the longer notes at first appear digressive, they return you to the poem convinced that the editorial digression showed you the very by-ways of Milton’s imagination. Take the long paragraph of Fowler’s small print excited by Milton’s first description of Adam and Eve’s hairstyles — of Adam’s “hyacinthine locks” and Eve’s “wanton ringlets”. We start with Saint Paul’s strictures on when women should cover their hair, then wander through a mini-essay on the significance of hair in epic poetry, a parenthesis on Milton’s own hairstyle and hair-colouring, suggestive examples of the depiction of women’s hair in 17th-century painting and some speculation about Milton’s “special sexual interest in hair”. You might think this is like listening to an engagingly eccentric professor, free-associating, in the library of his mind, yet soon the clinching references to the ways the poem fixes on Eve’s “golden tresses” convince you otherwise. Her “dishevelled” hair signifies what is both lovely and vulnerable about here, and the poet is as fascinated as the devil who gazes at her from his hiding place.”

Here’s what Fowler wrote in the 1971 edition of his book (I think I’ve got a later edition at home, so I’ll post any of Fowler’s subsequent thoughts on hair before too long):

“iv.301-8. The hair-length proper for each sex follows directly from the statement of their hierarchic relation; for, according to St Paul, ‘a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man: for her hair is given her for a covering’ (1 Cor. xi 7, 15; cp. the A. V. marginal glass on 10, which explains the covering is a ‘sign that she is under the power of her husband’). hyacinthine locks] When Athene ‘shed grace about his head and shoulders’, Odysseus’ hair flower ‘like the hyacinth flower’ (Homer, Od. vi 231). If a colour were implied, it might be either blue, the colour of the hyacinth flower or gem (i.e., the sapphire; cp. l. 237n), or just possibly tawny (the hyacinth of heraldry, near to the colour of M.’s own hair), or black (Eustathius’ gloss on the Homeric passage) or very dark brown (Suidas’ gloss); in fact, almost any colour at all. But it is just as likely that a shape is meant (the idealized treatment accorded to hair in antique sculpture?), or an allusion to the beautiful youth Hyacinthus, beloved of Apollo but doomed to die. The elaborateness of the present passage lends some support to the theory that M. had a special sexual interest in hair. (In this connection cp. 496f, Lycidas 69, 175.)”

And here’s John Milton, Paradise Lost, iv.300-311:

“His fair large front and eye sublime declared
Absolute rule; and hyacinthine locks
Round from his parted forelock manly hung
Clustering, but not beneath his shoulders broad:
She as a veil down to her slender waist
Her unadorned golden tresses wore
Dishevelled, but in wanton ringlets waved
As the vine curls her tendrils, which implied
Subjection, but required with gentle sway,
And by her yielded, by him best received,
Yielded with coy submission, modest pride,
And sweet reluctant amorous delay.”

Involuntary Episcopacy

The Stroppyblog has prominently displayed on its front page Rebcca West‘s famous remark that “I myself have never been able to find out what feminism is; I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” I’ve been reading her short biography of Augustine today, and I rather liked this [from p.101]:

“Involuntary episcopacy is one of the few perils which man has been able to eradicate since the time of Augustine, and it is hard for us to realise that it was then a hovering terror, almost as the press-gang once was in England.”

I think there should probably be more Rebecca West-themed blogging, but that may not be a widely shared opinion.

Camels and Wheels

I read through Martin Amis’s long piece in yesterday’s Observer, and was struck by one thing in particular: he writes in the third part that

The tradition of intellectual autarky was so robust that Islam remained indifferent even to readily available and obviously useful innovations, including, incredibly, the wheel. The wheel, as we know, makes things easier to roll; Bernard Lewis, in What Went Wrong?, sagely notes that it also makes things easier to steal.

It’s a while since I flipped through a book called The Camel and the Wheel by Richard Bulliet that deals with the fascinating story of the disappearance of wheeled transport from the post-Roman Middle East, but I don’t remember the story there having much to do with the “intellectual autarky” of the Islamic world, and a glance at this article, in which Bulliet summarises his argument, suggests that my memory’s working along the right lines.

So is anyone seriously making the case against Bulliet that Muslim “intellectual autarky” (rather than the good old-fashioned historical materialist reasons of geography, political economy and camels) was a major cause of the collapse in the use of the wheel (whose decline, in any case, predated the rise of Islam), or is this just becoming something people like Bernard Lewis and Martin Amis can say in order to make the Islamic world sound more unreasonable than it in fact was?