Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton

As I mentioned in a comment on the American Chesterton Society Blog, I've been rather slowly plodding my way through The Everlasting Man. As a matter of fact, I've finished three other Chesterton books since I first started this one, but I'm finally making some real progress.

It's an interesting book and I really like it, but I find that I lose the thread of thought more easily with this one than with Heretics or Orthodoxy, for example. So I was excited to hear on the ACS Blog that an Annoted Edition is in the works (though I certainly hope it doesn't take me THAT long to finish my first read-through!). I'm beginning to suspect that by the time I finish my first read through, I'll have actually read the book about three times. :)

In any case, there are a few parts so far that I found interesting and/or funny that I want to take note of here...

There is unfortunately one fallacy here into which it is very easy for men to fall, even those who are most intelligent and perhaps especially those who are most imaginative. It is the fallacy of supposing that because an idea is greater in the sense of larger, therefore it is greater in the sense of more fundamental and fixed and certain (page 69 in the Dodd & Mead edition, 1949)

I would have to quote a lot here to show what he's explaining here. He gives a lot of examples from history, but I found the concept really interesting and I want to go back and take another peek at it later.

Real research is more and more exalting the ancient civilisation ofEurope and especially of what we may still vaguely call the Greeks. It must be understood in the sense that there were Greeks before the Greeks, as in so many of their mythologies there were gods before the gods. The island of Crete was the centre of civilisation now called Minoan, after the Minoas who lingered in ancient legend and whose labyrinth was actually discovered by modern archeology. This elaborate European society, with its harbours and its drainage and its domestic machinery, seems to have gone down before some invasion of its northern neighbours, who made or inherited the Hellas we know in history. But that earlier period did not pass till it had given to the world gifts so great that the world has ever since been striving in vain to repay them, if only by plagiarism. (page 78)

I especially loved the last sentence.


I have to admit that I had to read this following quote twice before I got the joke (I missed something the first time through). As a matter of fact, it gets better every time I read it. :)

I was once escorted over the Roman foundations of an ancient British city by a professor, who said something that seems to me a satire on a good many other professors. Possibly the professor saw the joke, though he maintained an iron gravity, and may or may not have realised that it was a joke against a great deal of what is called comparative religion. I pointed out a sculpture of the head of the sun with the usual halo of rays, but with the difference that the face in the disc, instead of being boyish like Apollo, was bearded like Neptune or Jupiter. 'Yes,' he said with a certain delicate exactitude, 'that is supposed to represent the local god Sul. The best authorities identify Sul with Minerva; but this has been held to show that the identification is not complete.'

That is what we call a powerful understatement. The modern world is madder than any satires on it; long ago Mr. Belloc made his burlesque don say that a bust of Ariadne had been proved by modern research to be a Silenus. But that is not better than the real appearance of Minerva as the Bearded Woman of Mr. Barnum. Only both of them are very like many identifications by 'the best authorities' on comparitive religion; and when Catholic creeds are identified with various wild myths, I do not laugh or curse or misbehave myself; I confine myself decorously to saying that the identification is not complete. (page 82-83)

The funny thing about getting "bogged down" in this book is that it doesn't really feel like a negative thing to have to plod through slowly. There are so many wonderful nuggets like this last one that I want to read and re-read and dwell on and turn back to...

No comments: