Monday, 17 December 2012

A Literary Pagan

In Poul Anderson's The Golden Horn (New York, 1980), Harald's friend, Nicephorus Skleros, is what I call a literary Pagan. He quotes the Classics the way another Christian would quote the Bible:

" '...a country dweller who seldom left his Homer and Plutarch for the city.' " (p. 122);

he says that Harald smote the infidel " '...as if Achilles had come back from Elysium...' " and quotes Homeric lines (pp. 122-123);

serves in a military campaign to see " '...where the Athenian expedition ended and where Archimedes wrought...' " and to understand war so that he might better understand the poets and historians (p. 123);

says that the Varangians are like the Achaeans returned and Harald a new Odysseus;

regrets that " '...the life of Hellas has run out in memories, old books and dusty dreams...' " (p. 124);

promises to read Aristotle to Harald, " '...clear cool reasoning...' " (p. 124);

values Hellenic thought, not mysticism;

admires an image of " 'Aphrodite risen new-born from the sea...' " (p. 132);

describes the Norse Harald as " '...heir to the throne of Hyperborea.' " (p. 133);

swears " 'By Zeus...' " and " '...by Apollo...' " (pp. 134, 139);

shows Harald the Bellerophon statue of Perseus and his winged horse;

listens to Aeschylus' Agamemnon read by his daughter.

The Hebrew scriptures were "Moses and the prophets." The Greeks likewise recognized "Homer and the poets" as divinely inspired authorities on theology and morality. Nicephorus lives imaginatively in Greek literature, not in Christian scripture.

(A Neil Gaiman character, asked what he thinks about a hereafter, quotes Kipling: "They will come back..." If poets are authorities in such matters, then I am with Shakespeare: "Our little lives are rounded with a sleep.")

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