ever widening…

So, I learned a new word yesterday: kathenotheism.

It describes belief in a sequence deities and a succession of supremacy. Veneration of a series of deities, each in turn, might be painted as the theological equivalent of respect for the office of the presidency rather than of any given office holder. Both the term and concept are new to me and I’m fascinated.

Given my long-standing curiosity about non-Christian faiths and Greek mythology in particular, it seems odd that this did not cross my radar much sooner. Kathenotheism should have come up during an examination of the Smarta Tradition of Hinduism if not of Orphism.

In Astral, the novel-in-progress, there is a faction that might have developed a faith separate and distinct from other groups in their society. Now I will probably have this one-by-one Supreme Being notion be part of their religion.

My introduction to kathenotheism came during research into what’s called “conreligion” by some. This is the practice, related to conworlding, of constructing a fictional religion – usually for a roleplaying game setting or work of fiction. Apart from the gods themselves, ritual practices, and creation myths another aspect of this effort can be making a determination as to whether society is regressive, progressive, or cyclical.

In more than a few religions the Earth was created perfect and has been losing ground ever since. This was part of the Aztec view and is found in some movements within Hinduism. In both the current Age is held to be the worst of four or five. In Vedic belief the next Age with be newly Golden. Hesiod, in his “Works and Days”, wrote of something similar but says little to nothing about starting again.

In politics there is a theory some espouse that our nation was at its best at some time in the past. The phrase “Greatest Generation” can be seen as the equivalent of a high-water mark. The myth of the Golden Age is the primary underpinning of cries of “taking the country back”. Though common today it is hardly a new perspective.

I’m more optimistic; I learned at least some of my humanism and idealism from Gene Roddenberry, after all. I am a bit skeptical about whether we’ll achieve the kind of utopia he imagined but I do agree with Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

In his response to the Montgomery bus boycott, Dr. King was making a reference to Theodore Parker from almost a century earlier: “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”

If the path of history is not progressive we can still want it to be. Write and work to help guide it in that direction. Any and every virtue can be used in place of “justice” in the quotes above. If entropy is a strong factor in societal development we have to wonder why any civilization achieves any greatness at all – let along begins in the first place.

Historically and globally, we humans have been worried about ‘how it will all end’. Changing that to a concern with an endpoint would, I think, be preferable. We’re also a species rather obsessed with our own free will and intellect. Ages come and go, kath’ héna (καθ’ ἕνα). Going with the flow while circling a metaphorical drain belies those aspects of which we are so proud.

For that faction in Astral I may be trying to combine both progressive and regressive trends with a cyclical pattern. I’ve taken a line like the one traced in a seismogram or encephalogram (etc.) and twisted it along a spiral.

Cyclical-Divine

If there is any truth to the cyclical nature of Ages and if effort to build and maintain virtue (including justice), peace, and harmony can make this Age better than we find it – maybe the next Age can be even better. I don’t think it matters if we ever have proof.

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“Your mission, should you choose to accept it…”

Hello,

Criminal Element has run my third post. Fans of Mission: Impossible, including the original series, should visit.

Note: This week’s regular blog entry may be delayed by preparations for the forecast storm. Your other mission – if within the region – is to stay safe and warm and well-provisioned. This post will not self-destruct.

Except it isn’t like that…

 

A month ago I wrote about a selection of Seven Wonders of Fictional Worlds and concluded with the fantasy of time travel to visit the traditional Wonders of classical antiquity. One of them, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, is seen in the background of this imagined hall of the Great Library in that same city.

Library

In 1980 Carl Sagan’s Cosmos: A Personal Voyage reinforced a story I’d learned in school. About 20% of both the first and last episodes of that documentary miniseries recount the importance and grandeur and then the tragic loss of the Great Library of Alexandria. The account makes it seem like a seven-century run that came to an end on one disastrous day. The last librarian, Hypatia, was murdered by a mob of zealots and the scrolls were burned.

Historians and scholars, along with both fans and authors of science fiction, hold onto the fantasy of time travel to before that terrible day. What books would you save if you had the chance? Dr. Sagan is not immune here:

“If I could travel back into time, this is the place I would visit. The Library of Alexandria, at its height, two thousand years ago.”

The story of the apparently sudden disaster portrays the mob as ignorant acting in defense of its ignorance. The loss to knowledge remains incalculable and is, probably rightfully, regarded as a one or two thousand-year setback to nearly all fields of study. Dr. Sagan provided a sense of perspective on this loss:

“We do know that of the 123 plays of Sophocles in the Library, only seven survived. One of those seven is Oedipus Rex. Similar numbers apply to the works of Aeschylus and Euripides. It is a little as if the only surviving works of a man named William Shakespeare were Coriolanus and A Winter’s Tale, but we had heard that he had written certain other plays, unknown to us but apparently prized in his time, works entitled Hamlet, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet.”

There are nine missing books of the poetry of Sappho and none of the works of Pythagoras survive. A full inventory of what was lost is also lost!

In the 2009 film, Agora, Hypatia is the hero and acts out our fantasy of salvage.

Hypatia

Hypatia was not merely the last librarian. In an age when women were still widely regarded as little more than property she was among the world’s leading mathematicians and astronomers. Further, she was a philosopher and teacher.

The mob that killed her and destroyed the Library is painted as acting out of fear but it seems more likely they were motivated by anger. In addition to the roles mentioned above, Hypatia was also not afraid to express political views. She is believed to have been a supported of Orestes, the governor of Alexandria; this made her an opponent of Cyril, that city’s bishop and successor to Theophilus.

But it didn’t happen quite that way.

As presented, the tale of the final moments of Hypatia and the Library is often a summary of at least four events and a compression of almost 400 years. The impression that there was just one very bad day at the Library is a false one. Julius Caesar did damage in 48 ʙᴄ and more may have happened toward the end of the reign of Aurelian (c. 275 ᴀᴅ).

There were at least two other libraries in Alexandria and – in summary – they may all have been conflated into one. One of these other libraries was part of the Serapeum Temple, which was ordered destroyed by the Bishop of Alexandria – Theophilus – in 391 ᴀᴅ.

This means Hypatia was more likely the victim of an assassination rather than a martyr of scholarship and/or science. The manner of death was particularly brutal to be sure but it cannot have been part of the attacks by Caesar or Aurelian; she wouldn’t have been born yet. She doesn’t seem to have come to prominence in Alexandria until nine years after the destruction of the Serapeum and its own library. The murder took place fifteen years later still.

“The books were distributed to the public baths of Alexandria, where they were used to feed the stoves which kept the baths so comfortably warm. Ibn al-Kifti writes that ‘the number of baths was well known, but I have forgotten it’ (we have Eutychius‘ word that there were in fact four thousand). ‘They say,’ continues Ibn al-Kifti, ‘that it took six months to burn all that mass of material.’”

Luciano Canfora, The Vanished Library (University of California Press; 1st edition (Aug. 29, 1990))

The Library of Alexandria is said to have held between Eutychius’ estimate and one million scrolls. Many of these were the result of the “books of the ships” policy. All ships entering the harbor of Alexandria were inspected. Any books found aboard were seized and a copy was made. The originals are said to have been kept for the library, the original owner of the books got the copies.

In addition to the time travel fantasy: What answers and inspirations would you save of you could? – we should also ask: Were the scrolls and books in the library during its destructions the last copies in existence? What’s easier – inventing time travel or holding out hope while in diligent search for missing copies?

Note: The title of this post is a quote from Nova: Season 8, Episode 12. “It’s About Time” (Dec. 30, 1980).

You are invited to rampantly speculate and muse in answer to these questions via comment on this post. Given that this blog is [Thankfully] visited by people from 78 nations and counting, the perspectives are sure to be fascinating.


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At the end of the tunnel…

I couldn’t be more pleased to alert you to Criminal Element publishing my second submission with them. And, in a week that took both David Bowie and Alan Rickman, I needed some happy news. Before visiting the post there you can probably guess the topic from the image below.

Essential

Note: There will be a regular post here later today. Please consider this a special announcement.


Astronomical proportion…

The work of other artists often fascinates me. I can appreciate a technique or admire a style but the sources of inspiration are what captures my attention ultimately. Since 1979 I would have to say my favorite contemporary artist has been Wayne Douglas Barlowe. Most of his inspiration seems to come from works of literature and science fiction/fantasy. There is, however, a deeper level of inspiration. It is this aspect that prompts the selection of specific details. In this Mr. Barlowe’s process is unmatched, in my opinion. His choices all lend to the realism of his creations. The allure of the work of William Roger Dean (my second favorite non-comic book artists during my high school years) comes mostly by selection of color but his work presents the fantastical without Barlowe’s diligence at the plausible.

Even before the release of Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials I was (as you might guess from prior posts here) obsessed with Star Trek. Anyone familiar with the franchise knows there is any number of details on which one’s thoughts may dwell. One in particular – for me – was the selection by the production team (presumably William Ware Theiss) of the now famous arrowhead as the emblem of the USS Enterprise (and later all of Starfleet). I’m not the only fan to wonder what symbolic meaning the design would have held for the characters. Some have speculated that it was meant as a reference to the red chevron in the NASA logo.

2008-09-16_IMG_2008-09-16_1221551891664_nasa

— which itself is said to represent the two lines from Alpheratz to Almach and to Adhil, respectively. All three of these stars are in the constellation Andromeda. Homage to one nation’s space program seems unlikely for an organization that represents more than one world (i.e., the United Federation of Planets).

The UFP is said to have been formed by people from Earth in association with:

RACE: STAR: EARTH TERM:
NATIVE:
α Centauri Toliman Human colony
Vulcan ο² Eridani Keid T’Khasi (Minshara)
Andorian α Canis Minoris Procyon Andor (Fesoan)
Tellarite 61 Cygni The Flying Star Tellar Prime

I can’t say when I began to wonder where one had to be within deep space to see the homeworlds of the non-human co-founders as the points of the Starfleet arrowhead. At a guess, I’d say this inspiration came in the mid-1980’s – before the premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

About June of 2009, however, I got my first CAD (computer-aided design) software and began plotting stars to teach myself how to use it. After a while I had almost 3,000 stars mapped and could rotate the entire field to solve this puzzle. No, I won’t say where one has to be to achieve this view.

arrowhead for blog

In on-going work with The Nerdy Duo and with Leanna Renee Hieber, a new star field is in development to get the science right in our projects together (whether Star Trek or not). As obsessed with the details and choices of other artists as I may be, I’m not content with my own work unless I can provide a “tour” of some details I wish to highlight. They say “the devil is in the details” but perhaps it’s more accurate to say the bedevilment is contained therein.


On the plurality of worldviews…

The presentation of a heptad of must-see sights in all the world is at least 2,500 years old. Only a few of the actual lists survive; some are known only by reference made in other works. There is generally agreement on six of the seven wonders. The Colossus of Rhodes could not have included by Herodotus. The supposedly harbour-spanning statue was not built until 150 years after his death.

All of the sets of Seven Wonders of the World do agree on one other thing. Each suggested stop for itineraries was offered with the pragmatism of actually paying a visit. Islands in the sky (Aeolia) and divine palaces (Mt. Olympus) never made the cut.

If allowing for the inclusion of imaginary places, no one’s list can be expected to match another. My birthday was this week so I’m treating myself to my choice of the seven. Your results may vary.

Dream

  • The Dreaming

Starting in January of 1989 author Neil Gaiman, and a pageant of talented artists beginning with Sam Kieth, gave us a continuing (re)introduction to the realm of Morpheus. The Dreaming contains everything dreamt or that might be. One location within that is of particular note is Lucien’s Library. Like the features of the domain surrounding it, the books shelved here do not exist in the real world. They are yet to be written (presumably including my own works-in-progress); once completed they vanish from the Dreaming.

The original comic series ran for 75 issues. Roughly a year later, Derek Pearcy adapted the French game Magna Veritas. Steve Jackson Games published it under the name In Nomine. One supplement for this game offered dreamlands as the province of the Archangel Blandine.

  • Arda, The Realm, etc.

Even before the film adaptations of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by Peter Jackson, artists were inspired to explore the legendarium of Middle-earth. The resulting work is just as inspiring, particularly when the subject is any place called home by the Elves. More than just an extended stay – living in Lothlórien or Imladris (better known as Rivendell) would be ideal.

  • The Wizarding World

If Hogwarts existed in reality, I doubt I’d enroll. (I’m probably more of a mutant than a mage.) However, I would certainly appreciate a tour the campus. Moving stairwells. Animated oil paintings. Interactive ghosts. The School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is a fascinating place. If venturing into the wider, though hidden, world of J. K. Rowling it would be fun to window shop Diagon Alley and maybe meet a dragon.

  • The Discworld

Landfall would not be necessary for the most stunning vista here. A few orbits and scads of photos would suffice. Terry Pratchett stated that the inspiration of Great A’Tuin was a summary of a myth he read at about the age of nine. The description of a flat land on the backs of elephants, themselves on the back of a giant turtle, he claimed was part of a book on astronomy.

The turtle in question is doubtless Akūpāra, the Unbounded, from Hindu literature. Similar beliefs appear in the lore of Native American nations, such as the Iroquois and Lenape.

  • The Etherium

When I was asked for a review of Treasure Planet (2002), I said it was the Disney film for which I’d waited my whole life. The novel on which it is based was, of course, an assignment but I enjoyed reading it. Tall ships and astronomy are mostly unrelated, life-long fascinations. How could a combination be bad?

This very concept was explored in Swords of the Swashbucklers (Marvel Comics, Oct. 1984; Epic Comics, Mar. 1985-Mar. 1987) and the Spelljammer campaign setting for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (TSR, Nov. 1989-Aug. 1993). There is also a scene in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), in which some of the characters escape from captivity by climbing the crescent moon. All the while, constellations swim like living creatures in the background.

Which brings us to Montressor Spaceport in the Etherium (i.e., outer space). Watching a crescent moon turn from this…

The Moon

to the view below was one of the most exciting elements of the film for me.

Montressor

  • The United Federation of Planets

Within the territory patrolled by Starfleet, one might wish to vacation on the so-called “Shore Leave planet” or on the “pleasure planet” of Risa. It would be interesting to witness two stars merging into one (as in “Ship in a Bottle”) or an actual Dyson sphere (“Relics”).

Alternatively, this could be where I’d snark about J. J. Abrams as a custodian of the Star Trek universe and the destruction of Spock’s homeworld but I’ll simply gesture in that direction – going straight on to planetfall.

t'khasi

Vulcan is a place about which I’ve some strong opinions. If fact-finding could happen on a fictional planet, this would be a dream come true.

Tardis

  • The TARDIS

The Doctor’s description of where the TARDIS can go is a perfect summary.

All of time and space; everywhere and anywhere; every star that ever was. Where do you want to start?

Where?

A tour of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World ending with the Hanging Gardens of Babylon gift shop.