Arête Ponders Florence
- Paul Tillich by Wilhelm and Marion Pauck
- Athenian Odyssey by William M. Taylor
- The End of Faith by Sam Harris
- The Battle for God by Karen Armstrong
Study and Discussion Assignments with Comments from WMT (2007)
Arête students were asked to memorize a verse from Dante. The following individual focus areas were given in preparation for seminar discussion:
Jane was expected to tell of Bottocelli, with emphasis on the reds, yellows and purples of Renaissance art. She was expected to guide the group to this artist’s appreciation of life.
Jane began the presentations on the Renaissance in Florence. While the relationship to the classical world was mentioned, I do not think that the flow of scholars and manuscripts from Constantinople, Egypt, etc., has connected up with them yet. Perhaps it will happen when we remember Istanbul and Agios Sophia from the passageways of Florence?
This Drake junior informed us that the individual (e.g., man) became the prime focus in the Renaissance, and along with him, education. Jane introduced Botticelli as one of the most popular artists of the Renaissance, how he was helped by the powerful Medici family. Yet he died in poverty, feeling like art had moved on and left him behind.
I told of the importance of a Botticelli painting to Paul Tillich, how "the combination of color, texture, expression, and balance communicated the absolute for him". Absolute? The next seminar will join Nietzsche on his alpine trail and Tillich is invited.
Jenny was assigned the powerful Medici family. She was to look closely at how families of money have deeply influenced and controlled other cities or countries throughout history.
Jenny spoke of the Medici family’s power over the city of Florence. How wealth contributed to art, and to goodness or corruption. Lorenzo and his Plato Academy tell of the emphasis on education and the classics. Power and money in American politics offered numerous examples. Jenny mentioned the Bush family, the Kennedy clan. A newspaper article this week told of how testing of Medici corpses suggest that a few family members died by arsenic.
The controversial "Jewish lobby" was discussed and how it has been ranked as "number two" in the United States for influential power over the presidents and congress by "Fortune Magazine", as well as "number two" by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago. I noted that "one needs to be careful to NOT lump Jews together with Jews".
Jenny brought up how we can be intimidated by charges of "anti-Semitism" if we even discuss those organizations that seek to shape American foreign policy in favor of Israel. She did not see how the "Jewish lobby" could be viewed as the Medici family. This connects up with my reaction that "one needs to be careful to NOT lump Jews together with Jews". Or Moslems. Rather, be specific, or one can easily slip into a racist view. Jenny told how the Medici family did protect Jewish bankers in Florence and how the Renaissance was enhanced by their skills. I asked where they think this all leads? One of the students immediately mentioned that Hitler and the gas chambers were ahead on the Arete 2007 itinerary. Earlier on the adventure, in Cairo and Istanbul, the American foreign policy and Iraq and the Palestinians, will be addressed. We will also look at the enormous sway that the Bible has on American attitudes.
Sheehan was expected to read some verses from "paradise" and to examine how Beatrice takes us to lasting beauty and God.
After each of the students gave evidence that they had memorized a verse from Dante and his "Divine Comedy", Sheehan told of Dante’s love for Beatrice and how she can lift us into Paradise. That is, if we are not all kept in hell or stranded in limbo. We discussed what kind of "inferno" we might construct for our world. A book I received for Christmas titled, The End of Faith by Sam Harris, would offer fundamentalists to the deeper levels of hell. Be they Moslem or Christian or Jewish fundamentalists. The best a tolerant "moderate" could hope for from Harris would be "limbo". He condemns being tolerant, sees a bleak future unless "believers" are challenged by thinking moderates. The Stanford philosophy graduate views most wars as being justified by those who take a religious book Literally. His message is, challenge the holy books. Karen Armstrong, in The Battle for God, asks that we try to understand the fundamentalists. She urges us to investigate what they fear so that we can head off extremism and dire consequences. The latter is a very popular author in Marin this day. She has the fundamentalists oriented by mythos, those of rational minds clinging to Logos. Did not Freud warn us that "our god logos", meaning reason, "is not perhaps a very powerful one, he may only fulfill a small part of what his forerunners have promised". ** The Arete seminar on December 28th did not contrast the Armstrong views with Harris. She was mentioned at the prior seminar, however. I am suspicious of Harris projecting his own "shadow". Oh, no, tell me that I haven't turned to Jung. We will look at Jung and the "collective unconscious" when we focus on Switzerland at the next seminar.
Nick prepared to share a photograph of David, and one of Moses, both by Michelangelo. He was to lead a talk about what the artist might have been expressing through their faces and posture.
David or Moses?
A surprise vote result followed Sheehan's adventure led by Virgil into the Inferno. Nick told of Michelangelo and how a Medici, "the magnificent" Lorenzo, helped the worlds most famous painter and sculptor. Nick passed around pictures of what the artist sculpted in Florence (David), and later, Rome (Moses). What was Michelangelo trying to say through their facial expressions, the stance or position? Are they looking to Israel? Then came the vote. As some other Arête groups have done. Even a tie one year. Which one was the more engaging statue for the 2007 aspirants? The 2007 trip-mates voted six to one for Moses.
(Think of the Kingdom of David in 1000 B.C., and then the boundaries of the West Bank in Israel/Palestine this day. The location of the settlements and the enormous problems ahead. Is the Kingdom of David about the same? Never underestimate mythos, or holy books).
Stefan was to focus on the military Machiavelli. He was asked to think about it in the context of the current situation with the U.S. military. Max was to zero in on the political side of Machiavelli.
The use of power in the interest of the state, and the survival of “The Prince”, was all important to Machiavelli according to Max. The leader needs to avoid being hated, but quite willing to be feared. We talked about how Machiavelli looked back with enormous pride to the Republic of ancient Rome. Stefan spoke of "The Art of War" by Machiavelli and applied it to his current Drake basketball moments. Like, a win cancels out a toxic memory, is the greatest cure and inspiration; how training, the basic fundamentals of war that Machiavelli writes about, could be applied to the need for basketball skills. How the preparation produces the result. We discussed how Machiavelli compromised his views when he wrote "The Prince" to gain favor with the Medici family. That his rich thought and brilliance is seen in other works. The nation-state formed in the Machiavelli vision became the Hegel model of the state as the soul, that salvation is realized within the nation/state. And thus follows aggression from absolute power. The relevant loss of power as seen in the current president of the U. S. was not discussed, but it will be. Will he end up being "feared", or "hated?"
Kristine focused on Galileo - the personal life as well as the scientific.
Kristine closed the seminar on the Renaissance with the plight of Galileo, silenced by a church that did not admit that he was right about the earth orbiting the sun until four centuries later. He wasn't around for the big day. Kristine was quick to point out "born agains", their unscientific belief behavior, parallel the Galileo scene at this time in America. How human suffering is increased by belief in "holy books".
I told of Bruno who was burned alive by the church in our Campo di Fiori in Rome, how he would not compromise truth as he reasoned it. A 100 yards or so toward the Tiber from where Arete always has a dinner when in Rome, and the statue of Bruno, is where Caesar was stabbed to death. That Bruno was a greater man than Caesar because of his values and courage. Like Hus in Prague who awaits us. Arete 2007 will visit Hus and Paul Wilkinson (Arete '83, 2001 in Prague in July).