Skip to content

At Home.


View from Slide Mountain September



This probably says a bit too much too quickly for those who don’t speak this language, but the following set of paragraphs impressed me as deeply true:

In his book, Myths, Gods, Heroes, and Saviors, Leonard Baillas writes, “The supreme achievement of the self is to find an insight that connects together the events, dreams, and relationships that make up our existence.” [1] If there’s no storyline, no integrating images that define who you are or that give your life meaning or direction, you just won’t be happy. It was probably Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell who most developed this idea for our generation of Western rationalists, who had thought that myth meant “not true”–when in fact the older meaning of myth is precisely “always true”!

Jung goes so far as to say that transformation only happens in the presence of story, myth, and image, not mere mental concepts. A great story pulls you inside of a universal story, and it lodges in the unconscious where it is not “subject to the brutalities of your intellect or will,” as Thomas Merton might say. From that hidden place you are “healed.” For Christians, the map of Jesus’ life is the map of Everyman and Everywoman: divine conception, ordinary life, betrayal, abandonment, rejection, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. In the end, it all comes full circle, and we return where we started, but now transformed. Jung saw this basic pattern repeated in every human life, and he called it the Christ Archetype, “an almost perfect map” of the whole journey of human transformation. Jung’s notion of an Archetype or Ruling Image can help us understand a “Corporate Personality” or the “Universal Stand In” that Jesus was meant to be.

I am convinced that Jesus constantly called himself “The Human One” to make this point. Ephesians recognizes this when it speaks of Jesus as the One Single New Humanity (2:15, 4:13), and Paul calls the Christ the “New Adam” or “Adam II” (1 Corinthians 15:22, 45-49). As Walter Wink demonstrated, we did history a disservice by usually translating Jesus’ self-appellation as “Son of Man,” which lost the corporate or inclusive message. [2] And who did not get included? Us, history, humanity as a whole. We ended up with an anemic and individualistic message about how “I” could go to heaven, which is well-disguised narcissism. We missed the social, cosmic, and revolutionary message of God’s infinite love and mercy.

Jesus ended up being an exclusive Savior for us to worship instead of an inclusive Savior with whom we are joined at the hip. This created a disconnect and disinterest for both the heart and the soul. No wonder so many find the Christian message so utterly uncompelling–it became a cheap story line about later rewards for a very, very few and eternal punishment for the overwhelming many in all of human history. Surely it did not foster any love or trust of God, in fact, quite the opposite.

Whether you know it or not, whether or not you are consciously Christian, if you live in Europe or North or South America, you’ve picked up the good storyline (i.e., the Christ map) at least on some minimal level. I often call it “The Virus of the Gospel.” You might not really believe it, surrender to it, or allow it, but if you would, you would be a much happier person because it holds deep and unconscious integrating power for you and for society as a whole. All the suffering of creation, and your own too, now has cosmic significance (Romans 8:18-34). A Great Story Line connects your little life to the One Great Life, and even better, it forgives and even uses even the wounded and seemingly “unworthy” parts (1 Corinthians 12:22). What a message! Nothing else can do that. Like good art, a Cosmic Myth like the Gospel gives you a sense of belonging, meaning, and most especially, personal participation in it.

We are finding it is almost impossible to heal isolated individuals inside of an unhealthy and unhealed culture and inside of a Christianity that is largely about exclusion and superiority. The individual remains inside of an incoherent and unsafe universe and soon falls back into anger, fear, and narcissism. I sadly say this after 46 years of giving retreats, conferences, and initiation rites all over the world. Only those who went on to develop a contemplative mind had the skills to finally grow and profit from the message that they heard. For the others, it was just another consumer experience for their spiritual résumé. [3]

From Richard Rohr’s daily meditations.

The Latin Speakers of West Virginia.


I have some trepidation about putting this piece up online, because I have worked hard on it, over a period of years, and Rusticatio has in that time become a large part of my life, and I’ve wanted to do it some justice in print.  Sitting on it for years meant that I could just add section after section, as new people came to Rusticatio and I heard so many of the discussions about what happens there and why it’s important.  The result was something quite long – but I felt that each part of it really did say something.  When the editor at Eidolon accepted it but said she’d like it shorter, I wrestled with it for few days but then simply offered to withdraw it – I didn’t want it cut.  I could always just put it up here anyway.  But she said she’d bend the rules for it because she thought it was a good piece.  Anyway, here it is – the Latin Speakers of West Virginia.

Cato and South Africa.


I was speaking with one of the Classicists at our Latin-immersion workshop. “Cape Latin,” as it is called – the Latin texts relating to the Cape of Good Hope since the founding of the colony there – has been one of his topics, but he has looked more widely into the history of the Classics in South Africa. He said he had spent some time looking at dissertations in South African Classics departments, and including the 1930s and 40s, when the country was going through its Fascist period (whatever one might want to call it; you can see the artistic elements of this period in American post offices from the 30s, though we might call it a “nationalist Art Deco”). He reports that there was a fair amount of enthusiasm for Roman agricultural works at the time: people were writing dissertations on Vergil, Cato, and Varro. Vergil in particular plays a role in the history of South African Classics, though I don’t quite have the details – someone translated the Georgics into Afrikaans or some such thing. But the comments on Cato I thought particularly interesting: he said they loved Cato, and found him a perfect model.

The Classics really are a mirror, I thought. I just recently penned a piece about how disappointing I found Cato – he was more of a slavedriver than a farmer, I thought. Here they were, apparently lauding him as a model.  To be a slavedriver, and to force others do your work for you in the name of civilization and progress – or at least your own advancement – was not, to the South Africans of that time, an objection.

Academics still speak of things as being “influential,” but I think that word has very little use. In almost all instances, what I see is people going back into texts and taking what they want from them. Most people in the external world find only a mirror where they themselves appear.  Classicists go back into the Classics, and depending on who they are, they exalt Caesar or Cicero or Scipio or Ovid or Cato or Brutus or Plato or Diogenes or Heraclitus as the model, and the reason to read the Classics.  It is mostly disguised self-promotion and self-justification.  The past is always a tool for the motives of the present.

Can You Belong On A Different Continent? Or Is That Just Colonialism Talking?


If you will indulge me, let me share with you a long excerpt from Karen (Isak) Dinesen, the beginning of her superb memoir Out of Africa. It is long and descriptive, but instructive, and I will have some things to say about it:

I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills. The Equator runs across these highlands, a hundred miles to the North, and the farm lay at an altitude of over six thousand feet. In the day-time you felt that you had got high up, near to the sun, but the early mornings and evenings were limpid and restful, and the nights were cold.

The geographical position, and the height of the land combined to create a landscape that had not its like in all the world. There was no fat on it and no luxuriance anywhere; it was Africa distilled up through six thousand feet, like the strong and refined essence of a continent. The colours were dry and burnt, like the colours in pottery. The trees had a light delicate foliage, the structure of which was different from that of the trees in Europe; it did not grow in bows or cupolas, but in horizontal layers, and the formation gave to the tall solitary trees a likeness to the palms, or a heroic and romantic air like fullrigged ships with their sails clewed up, and to the edge of a wood a strange appearance as if the whole wood were faintly vibrating. Upon the grass of the great plains the crooked bare old thorn-trees were scattered, and the grass was spiced like thyme and bog-myrtle; in some places the scent was so strong, that it smarted in the nostrils. All the flowers that you found on the plains, or upon the creepers and liana in the native forest, were diminutive like flowers of the downs,– only just in the beginning of the long rains a number of big, massive heavy-scented lilies sprang out on the plains. The views were immensely wide. Everything that you saw made for greatness and freedom, and unequalled nobility.

The chief feature of the landscape, and of your life in it, was the air. Looking back on a sojourn in the African highlands, you are struck by your feeling of having lived for a time up in the air. The sky was rarely more than pale blue or violet, with a profusion of mighty, weightless, ever-changing clouds towering up and sailing on it, but it has a blue vigour in it, and at a short distance it painted the ranges of the hills and the woods a fresh deep blue. In the middle of the day the air was alive over the land, like a flame burning; it scintillated, waved and shone like running water, mirrored and doubled all objects, and created great Fata Morgana. Up in this high air you breathed easily, drawing in a vital assurance and lightness of heart. In the highlands you woke up in the morning and thought: Here I am, where I ought to be. (3-4)

Steaming up from this passage, and indeed from throughout Dinesen’s superb book, is the refined essence of colonialism, and if it were not such a natural part of our cultural equipment, it might be shocking: this adulterous delirium for distant lands, this sensuous delight for what is not one’s own. Dinesen was a Dane, and the British colonial project in Kenya helped make her the owner of that farm in Africa, six thousand acres of farm, and made all its inhabitants, who were living on their ancestral land, mere “squatters” – for by British law no “native” could own property. The book is so shot through with sensitive observation and sensible generosity that there is no reason to disbelieve her self-portrait as a kindly mistress to her squatters, though they suffered the instability inherent in all despotisms: when her crops failed and she lost the farm to her creditors, which wrenching, slow death is the story of the book, the new property owner cleared the old villages and drove the “squatters” from their traditional homes.

Here I am, where I ought to be. How could equatorial Africa be where a Dane from the grey North Sea “ought to be”? What claim can a white woman lording it over the natives on her stolen six thousand acres of Africa make to words like “ought” anyway?

And yet – I do not deny that Dinesen probably had that feeling, and I find that I too can wake up in Africa with the same feeling in my heart. I don’t know precisely how this feeling comes to reside in us: perhaps it is our childhood education, where the first animals we learn are the lion, the elephant, the hippo, the zebra, the giraffe, so they are more familiar and intimate to us than the animals we actually grow up beside. Perhaps the paleontological knowledge that Africa is the mother of all humanity makes us more willing to believe we all belong here. Perhaps Westerners find themselves at home wherever they have power – wherever their dollar furnishes their table with good food, and buys the service of less powerful others. These are all the obvious and more rational explanations. But maybe there is something odder and more mystical – that Africa has some other, deeper, appeal. And there is the high probability that our nationalities do not exhaust the possible lives within us. A Belgian, confined to the possibilities of Belgium, would never see a mountain, and a Malawian never see the ocean, and neither would ever see a desert. But mountain and ocean and desert could play into their lives, and have meaning, and they could respond to such places, if given the opportunity.

This breaking out of the limitations of nationalism comes in various forms with various names. When it is somewhat permanent, it is called immigration or expatriation or colonialism, depending on the power dynamics involved; but in any of those instances, it is at least possible that a person could, by leaving home, go to the place where they really belong – that they could wake up and say, finally, Here I am, where I ought to be.

Love has the power to make us at home, almost anyplace on the globe; but law and culture and money and history and the distaste of the foreigner which is typical for human beings, limit us. Dinesen’s book is a reflection of that limitation, and African history in the past decades has shown many examples of it, where the Postcolonization – if I may call it that – has mostly rid the continent of Karen Dinesens. The more striking example of this is Zimbabwe, where the political powers in the country more or less decided that Africa was most emphatically not where white people ought to be (Robert Mugabe, still the dictator there as well as current head of the African Union, still says as much today). South Africa has already seen several waves of emigration of whites and Indians in the past two decades, and probably will continue to see more.

Race is frustrating because it is so terribly simple: it takes all people and throws them into only four or five categories. And yet it is very difficult to escape. When you are with people of a different race, and they know nothing else about you, that is generally all you are: a person of that race. And with that comes all the history, and all the problems, and you cannot escape it. When you are all alone, you can say, Here I am, where I ought to be. Nature does not contradict such a statement, if it is felt. But as soon as you enter into human society, there are other people, who have opinions as to where you belong, and they have ways of making their opinions felt.

South African All-In-One.


South African liquor stores have come up with an important innovation: the Three-Pack, an All-Inclusive combo: a pack of Peter Stuyvesant cigarettes, two liters of Coca-cola, and a bottle of Richelieu brandy.  All you need for an evening of fun.  Minus the cigarettes I think I could have a pretty good time this way myself.  But as with all things here there is a racial twinge to it all: whites complain – both in person and obliquely, through print media – that the country, though a superb wine producer, has almost no domestic wine market.  Wine is considered an upscale taste, even though it is cheap and locally abundant.  The country prefers beer, though it has difficulty sourcing hops.  We have seen the label “House of Mandela” sold in the U.S. as both a cheap and certified-fair-trade wine, but it is not to be found here in South Africa.

The Real Othello – Writing About Male Enhancement.


We had a reading from Leo Africanus, a Moor and polymath who was supposedly the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Othello. He wrote of his journeys through Africa in Latin, taking note of certain plants, one of which is called Surnag:

… Est quoque et hoc radicis genus in Athlantis Occidentalibus locis proveniens, cui vires inesse aiunt earum regionum incolae, membrum virile tum confortandi tum qui ea in electuario utatur, coitum augendi. Affirmant quoque si casu radici immeiere quenquam contingat, subito membrum erigi. Non praetermissurus sum hoc loco quae communi sententia omnis Athlantis incolae afferunt, plurimas puellas ex earum numero quae animalia per eos montes pascunt, virginitatem alia occasione non amisisse, quam quod urinam supra hanc radicem emisissent: quibus ego ioco respondebam, me probare quidquid de eius radicis occulta virtute eventus comprobasset. Aiebant quoque inveniri nonnullas, quae adeo infectae essent, ut non modo virginitatis florem amittere facerent, sed corpus universum quoque turgere.

There is also a type of root coming from the western parts of the Atlas Mountains, which has the virtue, so say the inhabitants of these regions, of strengthening the penis and lengthening the coitus, of any man who takes it in an electuary. They also affirm that if any man should happen to urinate on the root, he will immediately get an erection. I should also mention here what all the inhabitants of the Atlas Mountains universally claim, that many of their young women who shepherd flocks in the mountains have lost their virginity merely by having urinated on this root: to which I replied, as a joke, that I approved of anything Fate had decreed to come to pass through the hidden power of this root. They said also that some could be found who had been so affected that it not only made them lose their virginity but makes their entire body swell up.

This may seem like mere ancient superstition, but we discussed, in connection with it, the poaching industry in Africa, which is mostly based on similar beliefs about the aphrodisiac virtues of such things as rhinoceros horns.  Nihil novum sub sole.

Evan Gardner’s Language Hunting.


Had the pleasure of watching Nancy Llewellyn begin learning Afrikaans over lunch.  She uses a method pioneered by Evan Gardner known as “language hunting.”  She asks, in English, how to say “what is that?” in the target language.  Once she had it, she then used the phrase over and over again to learn the words she wanted to learn.  So she pointed to a fork on the table at lunch and asked, “Wat is det?”  “Dat is a verk [furk],” came the response, and then she had another word.  Soon she learned how to ask “War is de verk?” putting it on the table.  “De verk is ob de taffel.”  (You must forgive my spelling of Afrikaans, as we were learning the language without seeing it written.)  Then she would put it under the table: “Nu war is de verk?”  “De verk is onder de taffel.”  You can thus create all kinds of setups in order to isolate certain concepts and formulations – singular and plural, hot and cold, under and over, inside and outside, etc.  She was learning Afrikaans entirely at her own pace, in a way that was entirely memorable, and the pedagogical method was in the student, not the teacher.  Talk about teaching students how to learn – Gardner’s method really is that.

Highlights of South African Cuisine Part I.


Went to a restaurant which served French Toast – “filled with crispy bacon, garlic fried mushrooms, cheddar and mozzarella cheeses, and whipped cream.”  It came with french fries too.  Wishing your palate a healthy good morning!

Latin and Race.


The immersion program is begun, and it is worth noting that there are no black participants. For a Classicist this is nothing unusual – indeed, for anyone involved in the high levels of almost any academic discipline, this is not unusual. In the United States, where blacks comprise about ten percent of the population, it is a bit less noticeable. In general I hardly think that equal distribution of any of these pursuits is necessary – they are our chosen pursuits, not necessary in themselves, and people should do the things they want; and cultural background does make a large difference: it is fine if scholars of American jazz tend to be Americans, and with a lean towards black Americans, rather than Indonesians or Russians. But still – in a country which is ninety percent black, it is striking. And I suppose a little disappointing.

Michael Lambert, a Classicist teaching in Pietermaritzburg, writes of the racial aspects of the Classics in his book The Classics and South African Identities:

In July 2007 the Classical Association of South Africa celebrated its golden jubilee at its twenty-seventh biennial conference, held at the University of Cape Town. The theme was “Aspects of Empire” and, of the eighty-nine delegates, sixty-one were South Africans or foreign classicists working at South African universities; the rest were from the United Kingdom, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Greece, the USA, Canada, and Australia. Of the South Africans, fewer than half were Afrikaans-speaking; there were no black South Africans present and no delegates from other countries in Africa. Before 1994 and the first democratic elections in South Africa, CASA’s biennial conferences were markedly different in some respects. There were almost no foreign delegates, as many countries (certainly all of the above) actively supported academic and cultural boycotts of apartheid South Africa… In one respect, however, the face of the CASA conference in 2007 and of those held before 1994 was depressingly similar: the virtual absence of black South African delegates, with the exception of an occasional South African classicist of mixed race, from the so-called ‘coloured’ community, who may or may not have identified himself as black (21-2).

In other words, Classics belongs to the European diaspora; and this is no surprise, as they are, after all, the European Classics. As I have said, I don’t inherently object to this, though Lambert himself might note how odd these constructions of identity are. None of my ancestors ever spoke Greek or Latin, and any of them would have been willingly enslaved by people who did; why should Latin be more my possession than a black South African’s? And even if my ancestors were Romans, that is nothing in itself either; I am not my ancestors. My grandfather was a car mechanic, but that does not mean that I have any aptitude or desire for fixing engines.

“European” may be merely a way-station on the way to creating a larger identity: just as identities coming from certain towns and regions yielded to national identities, perhaps someday all literature and culture will be human literature, and we will truly feel that it all belongs to us. If we ever met an extraterrestrial race, we would suddenly all become humans, and all our distinctions small; but presuming that does not occur anytime soon, we will be divided, and the visible differences, like race, will be particularly hard to overcome. This creates that feeling of “I don’t belong here” which people of different races feel when in a cultural context “belonging” to another race: blacks in a white church, or whites in a black church, or whatever it might be. Some people overcome those feelings, and perhaps a select few do not feel them at all, but in general it is still with us, and puts racial barriers around certain activities. And in this way South Africa feels very much like the United States: blacks and whites live here, but mostly living separate lives. I saw this vividly in a funeral in New Orleans, at which every mourner was black. This is true everywhere in America. We live side by side, but separately: when we die, people of other races do not even mourn it.

Latin Beyond Classicism.


June 29th.

We began the Latin immersion today. We read an account of Tungubutum (Timbuktu) written in Latin in 1595 by Adriaan Van Roomen.

Tungubutum; situm ad magnum lacum piscibus abundantem, aqua tamen lacus est amara et venenata. Civitas magnae negotiationis, ad quam non tantum fit concursus Fessanorum et Maroccorum, sed etiam Cariensium. Huc magna defertur copia auri, argenti, pannorum, serici, coralli etc. Princeps huius loci magna utitur pompa et authoritate, ditissimus totius Ghineae, tum quod varia sub se habeat regna, tum quod in magna earum parte colligatur auri quantitas, denique quod vasallos suos valde premat. Hinc et equorum soleas facit aureas, canesque ornat aureis catenis. Delectatur valde scientiis, ideoque eo confluunt viri docti plurimi ex Barbaria lingua Arabica instructi, quibus Rex ingentia confert munera.

Tungubutum: situated on a great lake teeming with fish, though the water of the lake is bitter and poisonous. A commercial center, to which repair not only the caravans of Fez and Morocco but of Cairo. Hither is brought a large supply of gold, silver, stuffs, silk, coral, etc. The prince of the place, the richest man in Guinea [=West Africa], is attended with great ceremony and endowed with much authority: both because he has beneath his sway several kingdoms, and because a large portion of the region is gold-bearing, and finally because of his exacting, oppressive rule of his vassals. The shoes of his horses are of gold, and his dogs wear golden chains. He takes great pleasure in learning, and so learned men of Barbary, conversant in the Arabic tongue, flock to Tungubutum, where the king shows them great favor.

I am always convinced that Latin would live if only we could break the grip of Classicism. It might be that only a few university students in Africa want to study ancient Greece and Rome: but surely there must be students in Africa who want to study the history of Timbuktu, or who want to work with elephants. If we read these kinds of texts, they would find Latin equally useful for these life-paths as well.  Latin is larger than the Mediterranean basin, and didn’t vanish from the earth in 180 A.D. when Marcus Aurelius died.