• Gail Wilson Kenna

“Too esoteric,” my husband declared after reading my last blog.

Did he mean three C’s? Cryptic, complex, complicated? Perhaps he meant ‘esoteric” as Delphic, meaning enigmatic.

I would disagree, of course! I thought my words on “mono” were timely, especially given that the FBI’s raid on DT’s castle happened after I wrote the blog. Simply stated, Deposed King Donald may not keep documents that belong to the U.S. Government and its National Archives.

I think it’s a safe bet that our ex-president, who lost the election, has never heard of Julian the Apostate. I knew the name but little else about this historical figure until I read Elizabeth Finch, a new fact-fiction novel by Julian Barnes. I am going to ‘borrow” words from pages 95 & 96 to give an idea of narrator Neil’s voice in the novel’s middle section. This is where Neil writes a long essay based on notes inherited from his beloved teacher, Elizabeth Finch, about Julian the Apostate, who died in AD 363 in the Persian desert.

“(From his supporters down the centuries, Julian was that seductive thing: a Lost Leader. What if he had ruled for another thirty years, marginalizing Christianity year by year, and gently, then forcibly, recementing the polytheism of Greece and Rome? And what if the policy was pursued by his successors down the centuries? What then? Perhaps no need for a Renaissance, since the old Graeco-Roman ways would be intact, and the great scholarly libraries undestroyed. Perhaps no need for an Enlightenment because much of it would already have happened. The age-long moral and social distortions imposed by a vastly powerful state religion would have been avoided. By the time the Age of Reason came around, we would already have been living in it for fourteen centuries. And those surviving Christian priests with their peculiar, eccentric but harmless beliefs…would rub shoulders on equal terms with pagans and druids and spoon-benders and tree-worshippers and Jews and Muslims and so on and so on, all under the benign and tolerant protection of whatever European Hellenism developed into. Imagine the last fifteen centuries without religious wars, perhaps without religious or even racial intolerance. Imagine science unhindered by religion. Delete all those missionaries, forcing belief on indigenous people while accompanying soldiers stole their gold. Imagine the intellectual victory of what most Hellenists believed—that if there was any joy to be had in life, it was in this brief sublunary passage of ours, not in some absurd Disneyfied heaven after we are dead.” Neil the narrator goes on to say:

“Of course, such alternative history is just as much a fantasy as the Christian heaven. As Elizabeth Finch would have been the first to point out, we have to deal with the crooked timber of humanity. Unreason and greed and self-interest: can they be bred out of humanity?....I wish I had been able to discuss all this with Elizabeth Finch….How much I still miss her.)”

Barnes has written a paean, an accolade, a tribute to a teacher. If I’m to believe reviewers, he is in spirit honoring Anita Brookner, a British writer and good friend, who died in 2016.

Please take a moment… and recall a teacher or instructor who has had a powerful influence on your life. Next week I will write about Dr. Robert Coles, whose influence on me began in the 1970s and continues today.

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