“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Thursday, August 04, 2005

it's too gashly...

LI is going to be gone for a month. We might drop by the site and leave a few bits of wisdom, or whatever it is we produce here. But mostly we are going to try to forget the art of writing, the art of reading, the war, the Bush, etc., etc.

We have been thinking of partings ... and especially the parting of Peregrinus, the cynic. He built a pyre in Elia, mounted it, and lit it, thus ascending to the heights of Mount Olympia on wings of fire.

Lucian of Samothrace, a satirist, left a lively account of the scene, and of Peregrinus’ life as a philosophical scoundrel. The English translation omits certain nice, dirty bits you can find (bien sur) in the French translation, like the Cynics habit of masturbating in public. That’s nicely omitted here. Lucien’s account is cast into the form of a letter to a friend:

“ I imagine you’ll laugh yourself to death imaging that old senile piker – I can just hear you saying “what a farce! and really, what misplaced vanity!” and a thousand other similar abjurations. Well, as distant as I am from hearing your indignation, I was that close – at the very foot of the pyre – that I emptied my little sack and said everything I thought of the comedy, right in the heart of a crowd of spectators scandalized by my reaction, all of them open mouthed with admiration before the vaudeville turn of that old idiot.”

Needless to say, LI wants to depart this life in the same way, although we doubt we’ll attract a crowd of spectators. Still, Peregrinus never really died – he was reborn as the Dauphin in Huckleberry Finn, Milo Minderbinder in Catch 22, and any number of academics and new age mystics and think tank foreign policy analysts and every guest on every current affairs talk show. But we like to think that we embody a purer form of his purely scandalous fraudulence than any of these.

Lucian’s satire would no doubt have been thrown on the flames by some mad monk long ago, except that it contains precious info about the early Christians. Peregrinus spent his life looking for just that intersection of gullibility and metaphysics that so many have made a good living exploiting. He started out in life along classical lines: the seduced girl with a little number in the belly, the flight out the window leaving behind his clothes, the hush money paid by his folks. Well, of course, one good turn deserves another, so Peregrinus helped his poor old dad enter into the afterlife through a strategically placed pillow (the old guy was suffering, and there was the inheritance to think about). Peregrinus was surprised to discover that his native village was filled with hidden anti-euthanasia freaks, so the best part of discretion blew him to other lands – notably Palestine, where he became a Christian among Christians.

He quickly found some followers, disciples, proclaimed himself their prophet, their theasiarch, their head of the synagogue – in brief, he granted himself all the powers, proposed to analyze their holy books, cut them up to his hearts content and added whatever texts struck his fancy. So much so that the Christians began to regard him as their pontiff. He ended up elevating himself to the level of the one these Palestinians adored, who suffered being put on the cross, guilty, according to his peers, of inventing new mysteries for humanity.”

Well, the old rogue, no doubt after penning some of Jesus’ more dubious sentences, got thrown into jail. Luckily, the governor of Syria had a fatal penchant for philosophy, which was Peregrinus’ clef de champs. Going back to his home town, he found that there was some harsh memories of his merciful treatment of the Parent. In the end, he was rather forced to spend the inheritance among the poor just to keep from being lynched. So it was time to go elsewhere, which is how he passed into Egypt, stage left, and became a cynic:

“He enterprised a third pilgrimage, this time to Egypt, where he met Agathobulus who instructed him in the métier, which he exercized up to the day of his death. His skull shaved, his face smeared with mud, he masturbated in public without the least embarrassment, something the Cynics consider completely natural. He whipped himself – or had himself whipped – with a ruler, and executed a thousand silly pranks in the same vein.”

A regular guy, in other words, that any ancient Mediterranean ville would pass by without a glance. But it was the big send off that Lucian wrote about, and that made Peregrinus’ name. Having found followers – the more absurd the doctrine, the more ardent the follower – he built a nice pyre to burn himself up in Elia.

Everybody’s a critic: Lucian has a lot of fault to find with the theater of Peregrinus’ last hours, although he admits he was three sheets to the wind, and a heckler to boot. But give Peregrinus some credit – he invited, seemingly, a funeral orator who laughed himself silly about the whole thing and told the crowd that Peregrinus was a faker, a hoodlum, a cocksman, and a joke.

How can I not identify? As I write this with my right hand, with my left I’m raising a glass of Montepulciano to the old reprobate’s ashes.

"It's a dead man. Yes, indeedy; naked, too. He's ben shot in de back. I reck'n he's ben dead two er three days. Come in, Huck, but doan' look at his face -- it's too gashly."


winn said...

Take care and come back rested. Some of us will miss your writing, even if it's for the salacious information from antiquity.

roger said...

Winn, thanks! I'll ponder ways to spread more archaeological smut on my sabbatical. Incidentally, there was some English tutor in the 19th century -- what was the guy's name? -- who perfected a way of getting the dimmer sons of the aristocracy into Oxbridge. Back then, you needed to pass exams in Latin, so he would teach using Latin erotica. Apparently, it worked -- his little charges soon learned to translate like Latinists.