Kipling and . . . Dante?

The textbook I use to teach history has a picture of Dante in the section about the Renaissance. This year (September 14 to be exact) is the 700th anniversary of his demise. He is most famous for a series of three epic poems detailing a soul’s journey through Hell and Purgatory into Paradise, and then back to the world.

The third chapter (Canto) of The Inferno describes souls and angels who are tormented, but are not in either Hell or Heaven, because the angels would not choose between G-d and Satan, and the people were neither good nor evil. They can’t go up because they lack virtue, but they will be lorded-over by the truly damned in Hell, which isn’t just (and would reward some of the damned, so that’s not acceptable, either.)

For some reason, this year I was skimming over bits of the Inferno to use in a lesson about education and the Renaissance, and thought of someone who was neither good enough for heaven or bad enough for the infernal realm.

Now Tomlinson gave up the ghost in his house in Berkeley Square,
And a Spirit came to his bedside and gripped him by the hair —
A Spirit gripped him by the hair and carried him far away,
Till he heard as the roar of a rain-fed ford the roar of the Milky Way:
Till he heard the roar of the Milky Way die down and drone and cease,
And they came to the Gate within the Wall where Peter holds the keys.
“Stand up, stand up now, Tomlinson, and answer loud and high
The good that ye did for the sake of men or ever ye came to die —
The good that ye did for the sake of men in little earth so lone!”
And the naked soul of Tomlinson grew white as a rain-washed bone.

“Tomlinson” by Rudyard Kipling.

The poem is much longer than the excerpt above, but Tomlinson, the newly dead, can’t get into heaven or you-know-where because he never did anything. Now, [spoiler] since Old Scratch is a lawyer at heart, he finds “the roots of sin” in the unhappy Tomlinson and sends him back to go, you know, actually commit a sin and earn his place among the damned.

Both Dante and Kipling are riffing off of Revelation 3: 14-22, the letter to the church in Laodicea. Because the Laodiceans were neither hot nor cold, they are rejected. “Go do something!” Preferably good, of course, but anything is better than nothing. Dante finds himself in trouble at the beginning of the Inferno because he is guilty of acedia (sloth). He knows what is good, what he ought to do, and . . . can’t be bothered. He’s spiritually lazy. He doesn’t do any good (” . . . those things which we have done and those which we have left undone,” as one confession puts it.) That’s Tomlinson’s sin as well. Acedia, “sloth,” not doing what should be done. In Tomlinson’s case, he hadn’t bothered to do anything but read about other people’s activities. Dante . . . spent a wee bit too much time on politics, but he claims sloth/acedia.

I’m sure that Kipling had read Dante. Everyone did, in those days. I know Kipling knew the Biblical reference. And he probably had met more than one Tomlinson, people who lived only in books, and never thought for themselves. “This I thought that another man thought of a Karl in Norway,” Tomlinson claims. But he, himself, never did.

Be either hot or cold, a saint or a sinner, choose G-d or Satan. But don’t just sit there!

Yom Kippur

Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, begins at sundown today. For people of the Jewish faith, it is a day of very solemn contemplation and prayer, for fasting and sorrow. It is a day to consider one’s failures, and to bewail them, acknowledging where one went wrong, and how one failed to do his or her duty to the Most High and to his fellow men. It was the day of the scapegoat, the animal that bore the sins of the people into the wilderness. It is still for apology to G-d and remembering errors.

“Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa,” to mix liturgical languages.

There is also a sense of being close to the presence of the Most High through worship and prayer. Yom Kippur truly is the holiest of the High Holy Days.

To my Jewish readers, may you have an easy fast, and may you find that your name was inscribed in the Book of Life.

Image from:

Green Beer Day

OK, not really. For some this is a day to honor one’s Irish ancestry and heritage, and to eat corned beef and cabbage and potatoes, drink good beer (Guinness, Harp, et al), listen to Irish music, and honor the efforts of an early Christian missionary who is associated with Ireland although he is a Briton. If you are a politician in Boston or New York City, you’d better be seen at an Irish event, or your absence Will Be Noted.

Yes, this is an Orthodox icon of an Irish saint from Britain. Next question?

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Tree of Life

It’s an image found in many cultures – a tree with religious, ahem, roots, a symbol or a character in legend and faith. Trees are impressive wherever one finds them, and it is easy to see why certain individual trees, or trees in odd places, or certain types of tree, inspired veneration. Eventually, trees became elements of imagery in animist and later religions.

OK, maybe not these trees.

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Epiphany and Christmas

Because I think we could do with a bit of musical humor to wrap up the Feast of Christmas (Western calendar) and celebrate Christmas (Eastern calendar).

Alas, they left out the verse most often associated with the bass.

“Myrrh is mine/Its bitter perfume/Breathes a life of gathering gloom. Sorrowing, Sighting, Bleeding, Dying/ Sealed in a stone cold tomb.”

No One Was Surprised . . .

when a soft hum/chant arose from the choir loft during the reading of the Advent-candle text. Isaiah 9: 6-7. “For unto us a Child is born, and unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders, and he shall be called . . .”

I know that lat least two of you are singing along. 🙂 So were we, mostly without realizing it. The organist gave us a Stern Look, then rolled his eyes, because he was doing it too.

I never, ever did the runs that cleanly. *SIGH*

Have a very, very, blessed and Merry Christmas to those who observe western Christmas, and a peaceful and happy day to all my readers!

That’s an Interesting Translation

This time of year, many Protestant churches that customarily incline toward more modern translations (and interpretations) of the Bible go back to the Authorized Version (King James) or Revised Standard Version for the gospel and Old Testament readings, because of the language. The slightly archaic words seem to fit what a lot of people think of as Christmas. While newer translations can be more easily understandable, the beauty of language can get lost. Continue reading

Book Review: Revelations

Pagels, Elaine. Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation. (NY: Penguin, 2013). Kindle e-book.

This is a relatively short book about a book chapter, namely the “Revelation of John” or “The Apocalypse of John” in the Bible. It’s not an analysis per se, but more of a history of this type of work, and how the material got to be included in the canon. If you are interested in interpretations of Revelation, or a cultural history, I recommend her very detailed annotated notes and bibliography. Continue reading

Where I Get it From, Part ??

We did not get to put the Halloween dragon out in the yard this year, for a number of reasons (wind, snow, and construction being the main ones.) MomRed was disappointed.

MomRed: [As we drive past the craft palace] I bet Hobby Lobby sells wreathes we could put around the dragon’s neck to make it Christmassy.

DadRed: [noncommittal sound] You’d need to put up a sign explaining it.

TXRed: Do a footnote, citing the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, The Golden Legend, and the Papyrus Fragment 243 (Alpha) from the Nag Hamadi Scrolls.

MomRed [laughing] I like that!


Chapter 18 has Jesus and the Dragons. (A lot of things from Advent and Christmas that make people go “Huh?” come from Pseudo-Matthew

And for a seriously off-beat look at Apocryphal and apocryphal stories: