Romantic, sublime… ironic?

Ah, back to one of my favorite hobbyhorses – Man & Nature!  Over at the civilized roundtable hosted by Man_of_Roma, there was a little exchange about irony and nature, apropos of religion.  Personally, I see little irony in the relationship of man and nature (if we can just sort out what that relationship is…) other than the fact that we humans are so smart, yet so blind at the same time.  We insist on thinking that the universe somehow cares about us, or is, at least, cognizant of us.  That something is out there that …um…well, thinks about us.

I don’t think so at all. Voltaire, such a clever fellow, was shocked, yes shocked, that God, if he exists, could destroy such a fair city as Lisbon with all its innocent inhabitants. (Is that ironic.  I mean, didn’t he read any history?)  Rousseau was more phlegmatic in his response, and he’s considered the blustering romantic.  (Another irony?  Note, they are all cultural ironies.)  I’ve posted about their exchange of ideas on the Lisbon tsunami/earthquake here.

Here in my town, we had a little bit of Nature’s irony last night.  A ripping storm moved through with terrific winds, knocking down 150 trees in in Teaneck alone.  (Amazing – our power didn’t go out for once!) I’ve posted pictures from this morning below.

Two people were killed last night by a falling tree or power lines.  They were out walking.  Why?  Could they have been members of the sizable orthodox Jewish community in town?  They have to walk to and from temple on Saturday.  Killed performing their duty to God?  Is that ironic?  Would a pagan have acted thus, or would they have stayed put in their home, and made some small burnt offerings?  I guess if you’re orthodox, this is a little bit of a theodicy problem – how could God permit this to happen to people carrying out his will?  (Who knows – maybe it will turn out they were atheists out boozing – I haven’t heard for sure.)

Ah yes, the trees!  Trees are so good!  Protect trees, be green.  No, trees kill!  Trees are the instrument of evil Nature!  Or is it the weather, the storms?  Whom, what do we blame?

We plant hundreds of trees in town to keep up property values, make streets look nice, lower temperatures, preserve that smalltown American look, but we crowd the trees into little spaces so their roots can’t develop well.  Another irony here?  The unintended effect – death, disruption, property damage – from a beneficial action, planting trees.  Shall we cut down all the trees?  Then we would be safe!  Or, as Jean Jacques observed, if we did not insist on living in such close proximity to one another, falling trees would hardly be such a problem.

Please don’t think I’m heartless and cruel – I sympathize with those residents who have to deal with the fear and aftermath of a storm that blows huge trees into their houses, and of course, I’m not happy to see people killed to prove a point.  But, I could go on, it entertains me so . . .the ideas that is…

6 Responses to Romantic, sublime… ironic?

  1. Man of Roma says:

    I think one has to be careful with words, they are just labels, not the ‘thing’, and must be useful, or communication goes down the drain.

    Two people were killed last night by a falling tree or power lines…Killed performing their duty to God? Is that ironic? etc. etc.

    I mean – and of course we agree – referring to irony in so various cases makes the term lame a bit (less effective). Now the pagans …

    Would a pagan have acted thus, or would they have stayed put in their home, and made some small burnt offerings?

    I understand the God of the Jews dislikes idols and all the various different images of gods or God – I read it so often in the Bible – but this distinction pagan / non pagan, although historical, disturbes me a bit and it is derived from the propaganda of the new Roman Christian emperors who embraced the new religion together with town folks but then realised the pagus – in Latin ‘the country’ or countryside – continued to stick to the old gods, so Pagan became like an insult.

    Pagans, non pagans, they are all believers, all religious people, I don’t see any big difference.

  2. lichanos says:

    No, seriously, I was just wondering about pagan practice vs. Judaeo-Christian practice. Would a pagan have said, “I must go to the temple even though I might get killed in the storm?” Judaism is filled with rules and laws, also Islam, Christianity too, I guess, but less so today it seems.

    I’m wondering, how flexible was paganism day-to-day in ancient Rome? Were there pagan fundamentalists then who insisted on some stricter, more demanding regimen of observance? I’m sure some lamented the passing of the “old ways,” blah blah blah, but was it important?

    Yeah, sure, “pagan” became an insult. And the Church became expert at “co-opting” paganism to get and keep converts (some were converted by force, so they needed a reason to stay!) The cults of the saints being the most prominent, I’m sure you know.

  3. Man of Roma says:

    Let me rant before I go to bed.

    I’m wondering, how flexible was paganism day-to-day in ancient Rome?

    Were there pagan fundamentalists then who insisted on some stricter …

    No easy answer. Not very flexible. Rites, regulations, prayers were more complicated than, say, Christianity, and yes, strict in the sense that if any error occurred one had to start all over again.

    I must go to the temple even though I might get killed in the storm?

    Yes, but fanaticism is not the right word at least for the original Roman religion. When it expanded, all happened: if you revealed secrets in mysteries, you were killed!

    In fact saying Roman religion is like saying today ‘Asian religion’. The Empire was huge, all creeds were present, fundamentalist, tolerant, and all changed in time.

    The original Roman animism. No, not flexible. It was a pandemonism: a demon in every act, thing, place. I might say a stupidity, but the juristic people par excellence, the Romans, learned rules possibly from the complexity of their animism.

    This animism never faded, and we still have survivals today and was the only religion until the Etruscan dynasty of kings (500 BC?).

    From that period on, from the Tusci (Etruria, already Hellenized a bit) and from the South (the Greeks) temples and statues arrived, but all sort of stuff arrived. At the time of Hannibal phrigian Cybele, the great mother, had a shrine on the Palatine hill, then other cults from the East and Egypt arrived, then there were the deified emperors (also eastern influenced). Caesar was deified and they thought these semigods or gods became stars (or, as I said in my blog) went back to the stars where they came from.

    Even just animism was VERY complicated. Since no (rites to) Juno Lucina, no good birth, no (rites to) Vagitanus, no first cry of the baby, no (rites to) Cunina, no peace in the cradle, no (rites to) Cuba, no peace in the bed for the boy, no (rites to) Fabulinus no first words,…I skip some Sentia, no deep feelings, no Catius, no wits…I can go on for days for all ages of mand and woman, all parts of the house, of the city, up up to the Patheon of medium and big gods like Juno, Juppiter, who also were very specialized with cult titles.

    Fortuna, for ex., not so big as Juno but big, was Fortuna Virginalis (fortune of the virgins), Fortuna Privata (fortune of the private individual), Fortuna Publica (fortune of the people), Fortuna Huiusce Diei (fortune of the present day or luck right now), Fortuna Primigenia (fortune of the first-born: huge temple in Praeneste), Fortuna Bona (or good fortune), Fortuna Mala (bad luck), Fortuna Belli (fortune of war), Fortuna Muliebris (fortune of the married women), Fortuna Virilis (luck of women with men) etc.

    The Greeks in Southern Italy were no different at least for medium & big deities. Aphrodite has many cult titles: one, in Syracuse (Sicily) was ‘Callipygian’, Aphrodite with beautiful buttocks … I wonder what kind of rituals ….. Ok, enough. Time to hit the sack 😉

  4. troutsky says:

    The Lord works in mysterious ways. And as Foucault reminds us “everything is dangerous”. Expect worse wind events as the atmosphere warms.

    • lichanos says:

      Whaaaa? “Everything is dangerous?” You’re joking, right? Not about him saying it – I can easily accept that – but about you believing it.

      BTW, although this storm was bad, it isn’t beyond the bounds of normal. People here are complaining about the “terrible” winter we just had. Oh, heavens! It SNOWED! And it was cold! Not that unusual for north Jersey.

  5. Man of Roma says:


    A question for you, T. Have you ever read any Gramsci? Not at all because he was Italian, but because he was the author my mentor adviced me to read (in 1972) instead of Karl Marx.

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