Issue 4 (2014)
A Noble Risk: Plato’s Eschatological Myths as a Defense for His Political Philosophy
Ryan Kunkle, The University of Iowa
This paper examines the correlation between Plato’s political philosophy and his spiritual teachings. In describing the ideal state ruled by philosopher “guardians,” in contrast to lesser governmental constitutions, Plato demonstrates a moral hierarchy of souls, each soul corresponding to a type of state constitution, by emphasizing the philosopher as superior to the Spartan-like timocrat, the greedy oligarch, the Athenian-like democrat, and finally the wretched tyrant. Plato maps this political hierarchy onto his spiritual beliefs through his eschatological myths in the Gorgias, the Phaedo, the Republic, and the Phaedrus, dialogues written throughout the early and mid-fourth century B.C.E., in which he anticipates an ultimate reward for the philosopher and eternal punishment for the tyrant in the afterlife. For souls in between, Plato outlines a mixture of temporary reward and punishment followed by reincarnation into different types of humans and animals, based as well upon a hierarchy of character. In this way, Plato projects his political philosophy, which contrasts an ideal philosopher-ruled aristocracy with tyranny and intermediate constitutions, onto a posthumous system of reward and retribution favoring those who, like himself, practice philosophy. Due to this correlation, Plato’s eschatological myths complement and justify his political teachings.
The Agonies of the Creator: Ekphrasis and Authorial Anxiety in Virgil’s Aeneid
Luke Oldfield, University of Victoria
In Virgil’s Aeneid, while there is no discussion of literary texts in Aeneas’s world, there are many mentions to works of art that tell a story. By reading these ekphrases and the ways that characters respond to the works of visual narrative art they describe as allegories for how audiences receive and interpret literary works, it is possible to examine Virgil’s opinions on literature. This paper will examine these ekphrases to argue that the depictions of art in the Aeneid and particularly the issues of how different characters misinterpret, fail to understand, or ignore the art altogether allow Virgil to describe the anxieties he had as an author about the potential problems he might face in publishing a written narrative.
Sword, Cross, and Plow vs. Pickaxe and Coin: A Comparison of the Medieval German Settlement of Prussia and Transylvania
George R. Stevens, Clemson University
The German medieval settlement of Eastern Europe known as the Ostsiedlung was carried out by Germans and the Teutonic Order in both Hungary and Transylvania, but with vastly different results. Of the regions settled during the Ostsiedlung, Transylvania offered colonists some of the strongest incentives to settle there; in addition to an agreeable climate and fertile soil, those who settled in Transylvania also stood to enjoy generous expansions of legal and economic freedoms far beyond the rights they held in their homelands. Yet the Ostsiedlung in Transylvania was arguably a failure compared to the success of the movement in Prussia. Much of this contrast can be explained by comparing the settlement process in each region, conducted largely by peaceful means in Transylvania but by the sword and cross in Prussia. Conquest and conversion supported by secular and ecclesiastical authorities allowed Germans to dominate Prussia and cement the primacy of German language and culture there. By contrast, peaceful settlement left Transylvania’s large indigenous populations intact and independent. This cultural plurality, along with the long journey required to reach Transylvania and inconsistent support for settlement there, ensured German settlers in Transylvania never became more than a minority population.
The Culturally Inscribed Canvas: Bodily Agency in Late Antique and Medieval Depictions of Female Saints
Caitlin Ferrell, Southwestern University
The aim of this paper is to explore the relationship between the Christian tradition and understandings of the female body as expressed through textual records and art depicting two prominent female Christian saints. The foundation of this study is based upon the rejection of the fallacious dichotomy of mind-overmatter in order to gain the perspective of the body as a receptor of cultural and religious knowledge and practice in developing an accurate understanding of the female body as an informed agent. This paper begins with The Acts of Paul and Thecla, a record of the life of Saint Thecla of Iconium in the first century C.E. Through this close investigation, Thecla’s intensely bodily experience of her religious path is revealed dramatically. The next text addressed is the Rule of Saint Clare, exhibiting the physically taxing and rigorous nature of the religious practice of Saint Clare of Assisi during the thirteenth century C.E. Through a close analysis of these two prominent saints through texts and figural depictions, it becomes clear that both the female body and the Christian tradition represent mediums through which culturally inscribed conceptualizations of femininity and the physical enactment of one’s religious devotion become manifest.
Thomas Aquinas and the Grammarians
Bruce McCuskey, Washington & Lee University
When Etienne Tempier issued his Condemnation of 1277, among those he denounced as heretics was the man who is now arguably considered the Catholic Church’s greatest theologian and philosopher, St. Thomas Aquinas. Yet perhaps even more surprising than how the Condemnation portrays Thomas as a subversive heretic is how it condemns him for teaching the same heresies as two of his most prominent philosophical opponents, Siger of Brabant and Boethius of Dacia. As Thomas had argued against these men for years about these very subjects, that he would be condemned alongside them for supporting the same heresies seems nonsensical. However, if one examines the intellectual roots of the philosophical schools embroiled in the Aristotelian controversies of the thirteenth century, an explanation emerges. By contrasting the differing educational backgrounds of those involved in the Aristotelian controversies of the thirteenth century, the conflicting starting points of Aquinas and his critics can be elucidated. An investigation into Aquinas’s style and the manner in which he used philosophical source material can further distinguish him from his contemporaries. His radically different, innovative, and ultimately syncretic philosophical method thereby becomes the cause of his inclusion in the Condemnation of 1277.
Being and Becoming: Origins and Interpretations of Folio 3v in the Book of Durrow
Claire Dillon, Northwestern University
As the oldest extant insular illuminated manuscript, the Book of Durrow is a significant codex that embodies the cultural blending that occurred as Christianity adapted to the cultures of Britain and Ireland. Much of the knowledge regarding this manuscript, created in Ireland around the second half of the seventh century, has been lost to history. Folio 3v is particularly enigmatic, as it has been dislocated and decontextualized throughout the centuries. However, this isolation liberates folio 3v from its nebulous history and places it in an ongoing dialogue with a multiplicity of interpretations. This multiplicity is perhaps the appeal of insular illumination, as this ornamentation bridged the visual cultures of Christians and potential converts. Folio 3v features a spiral motif, which is unique to this page and is key to understanding it. “Being and becoming” refers to both the spiral’s static form and the sense of movement that this form evokes, representing the contrast between its Christian origins and its openness to interpretation. By representing the intersections of pagan and Christian spirituality, the spiral recalls notions of transcendence, universality, and intermediation, which likely resonated with medieval viewers of diverse religions, just as they now speak to contemporary viewers across centuries.