Meet Ceridwen

Art, blogging, books, ceramics, craft, Life, literature, medieval literature, poets

IMG_5744

 

I have named my medieval lady – meet Ceridwen – isn’t she absolutely heavenly?  She was helped into the world by the marvellous ceramacist Midori Takaki , whose work I have adored since first finding it.  I had told Midori how much I loved her work, and she was the most kindhearted seller -offering to save me the particular item I wanted until I was ready.  I didn’t do that at the time as we were pennypinching and I couldn’t justify an art purchase.

Quite a long time later I mentioned to my husband how much these works meant to me – how I longed to own one.  He knows it is not often that I see something I want to own, mainly I am happy to just be in the world alongside what I have.  So being the romantic he is, he immediately asked me to choose the one I liked for Valentine. I did.

Midori is a busy lady, so I waited a while before the mask arrived. And I wasn’t disappointed.  Now I never anticipate. It is something of a strange attribution and connected to memory or lack of it. I cannot see things that are in the past of the future, only the present. So in the same way I hadn’t named my sons prior to their birth, neither had I given Medieval Lady a name.  I had to come up with something that meant something to me, and that suited her.

After some reflection, and some of Keat’s ‘negative capability’ I remembered a poem that goes back to the myths of Celtic Britain which I had fallen in love with moons ago.

I am Taliesin. I sing perfect metre

I am Taliesin. I sing perfect metre,
Which will last to the end of the world.
My patron is Elphin…

I know why there is an echo in a hollow;
Why silver gleams; why breath is black; why liver is bloody;
Why a cow has horns; why a woman is affectionate;
Why milk is white; why holly is green;
Why a kid is bearded; why the cow-parsnip is hollow;
Why brine is salt; why ale is bitter;
Why the linnet is green and berries red;
Why a cuckoo complains; why it sings;
I know where the cuckoos of summer are in winter.
I know what beasts there are at the bottom of the sea;
How many spears in battle; how may drops in a shower;
Why a river drowned Pharaoh’s people;
Why fishes have scales.
Why a white swan has black feet…

I have been a blue salmon,
I have been a dog, a stag, a roebuck on the mountain,
A stock, a spade, an axe in the hand,
A stallion, a bull, a buck,
I was reaped and placed in an oven;
I fell to the ground when I was being roasted
And a hen swallowed me.
For nine nights was I in her crop.
I have been dead, I have been alive.
I am Taliesin.

 

I wanted my lady to be Taliesin , the bard in the Tales of Taliesin but I couldn’t cross the gender gap. Taliesin is a man. So it made sense to me that if she couldn’t be the bard, then she would mother the bard. She would be responsible for bringing into the world this legendary bard whose tales would ring through history. She would give birth to Awen  – the Welsh, Cornish and Breton word for  the inspirational muse of creative artists in general.

It is not all pretty though – Ceridwen in the stories of Celtic myth had given birth to a son, Morfan  who was deformed, hideous to look at. In order to somehow compensate for this misfortune Ceridwen went to work to make a potion which would give her son wisdom and poetic inspiration. This was no simple task – it was to take a year  and a day to brew in her magical cauldron, and she had helpers – a blind man and a young boy Gwion. Gwion’s task was to stir the concoction, and as luck would have it three drops of the mixture spilt onto his thumb, which he instinctively sucked.  Now only the first three drops of the mixture would have the transformative powers, the rest would be fatally poisonous. So Gwion did waht any young man would do faced with a powerful woman fatally disappointed. He ran. As Ceridwen gave chase , he used the powers of  the brew to turn himself into a hare, and was then pursued by Ceridwen transformed into a greyhound. He became a fish and jumped into a river. She transformed into an otter. He turned into a bird; she became a hawk. Finally, once he became a single greain of corn Cerdwen ate him as a hen. Even this did not destroy him because of the power  ofthe potion – Ceridwen became pregnant, and knew the child was Gwion, deciding to kill him when she gave birth.  Of course she could not do it – he was so beautiful, but she did set him into the sea in a leather-skin bag.  Fortunately for the child a passing prince rescued him on a Welsh shore, and this infant became Taliesin.

Some tale – the celtic tales are full of magic and imagination- powerfully romantic and date as far back as the 6th century. It is from the 12th century that the stories of the Mabinogion appear , and these were translated into English in 1849  when Lady Charlotte Guest’s version was produced. The tale draw upon the myths and history of Celtic Britain, with four branches of a storyline mainly set within Wales and the otherworld. They have a dreamlike atmosphere, preserving the primitive, imaginative world of Celtic myth.  A link to The Harvard Classics Volume 32 will fill you in further on the importance of this body of work on European literature that followed. Link to Harvard Classics page 146 Volume 32

For those interested in researching the work of Midori Takaki , her website is wonderful.-website of artist Midori Takaki

Advice from an old hand, father to son.

blogging, books, history, Life, Parenting, United Kingdom

introblog

Here’s a thing, I have stumbled across some paternal advice from the chief minister to Elizabeth 1 to his eldest son, which rings its good sense across five centuries right into my own life, since my sons are of that ‘coming-of-age’ time in their lives, and my three stepsons. Five boys between 18 and 23 between us, and I can say without turning a hair that I couldn’t be more proud of them.  Nevertheless, some of these lessons ring true, and how do you start those difficult conversations?  The answer is clear – let Lord Burleigh do the hard work, he’s wise and pithy and says most of the things I want to say.  Besides, this is what Queen Elizabeth said about the man

“This judgment I have of you, that you will not be corrupted with any manner of gifts, and that you will be faithful to the state.”

This is my modern day version of his sagely advice – I am producing one of my handcrafted books with both the original versions and the transcription, but you can read them here!!! Pass it on!

Choose your wife carefully , because your future depends on it and it is an occasion in your life, as in the strategies of war, that you cannot make any mistake. If you come from a decent background then choose from near home and take your time. If you come from a dodgy background go further away to choose and do it quickly. Ask around about her character and what her parents were like when they were younger. Don’t choose a poor wife no matter how sweet, because a man needs money to live, but don’t choose a vulgar or ugly woman just for money, as no one will respect you and you won’t respect her. Don’t choose a dwarf of a fool, because you will raise pygmies with one and a fool will disgrace you; you won’t tolerate her prattling and you will find nothing more irritating than a foolish woman.

About your household, be moderate entertaining, be generous rather than mean but don’t get carried away beyond the means of the estate. I don’t know anyone who grew poor by being careful, but some people have bad habits. Banish swinish drunkards, I have never heard anyone praise a drunk except for holding his drink, which is not a recommendation for a gentleman. Don’t spend all your income – save between a quarter or a third. Only spend a third of your expenditure on the house as the other two thirds will be easily spent on other living costs. If you fail to do this you will be continually in debt, dreading every disaster which threatens to bankrupt.

2. Educate your children and maintain a discipline but without being authortarian. Praise them openly and reprehend them privately. Spend on them what you can, because if you leave all your wealth till they inherit , they will be grateful to your death, and not to you. I am convinced that many parents make poor decisions because of either being too proud, or too stern, rather than being vicious. Arrange your daughters partners before they make their own choice. And don’t let your sons go off gallivanting in foreign lands, because they won’t learn anything valuable. And don’t send them into the army because I don’t think war is a good trade for a gentleman, and anyway we are going to have a time of peace so they won’t be needed.

3 .Don’t live in the country without keeping your own crops and animals. It’s expensive to buy in , and its better to understand how to live on what is in season. Don’t employ relatives or friends as they want a lot for not doing much. Avoid those who are in love because they don’t think straight, and employ too few rather than too many. Give them good terms and conditions and you can expect their service.

4. Welcome you relatives and friends to your home. Be generous and kind with them, they will repay your kindness with loyalty and defend you; but get rid of insincere acquaintances who will stab you in the back if times are hard.

5 .Be careful who you help out financially. It can lead to your own demise. Don’t borrow from friends or neighbours, only from strangers, and be careful to keep our promises of repayment.

6 . Don’t take a poor man to court – it’s not worth the trouble. Don’t get involved in any law suit unless you are confident you are in the right, and then be sure to get the best advice. Win a couple and less suits will follow.

7. Make sure you make a friend of someone of importance, but don’t worry him about petty things. Keep him close by complimenting him with small gifts, and if you can bestow a decent present, give something they will see every day. These are ambitious times and you don’t want to live in obscurity.

8.  Be humble with your superiors and generous, and remain respectful and familiar with your equals. Be compassionate with those who are not in as fortunate a position as yourself. The first prepares you for advancement, the second shows you to be well bred, and the third gains respect. Don’t be scornful of popularity nor affected by celebrity.

9. Don’ t trust anyone with your life, your house or your money.

10 Don’t bad mouth and don’t be too satirical. One will make you unpopular and the other will provoke quarrels and bitterness amongst your friends. I have seen many keen to make a joke, and lose a friend rather than the jest.

Anecdotes of distinguished persons, chiefly of the present and tAnecdotes of distinguished persons, chiefly of the present and tAnecdotes of distinguished persons, chiefly of the present and t

Excerpts from  ‘Anecdotes of distinguished persons, chiefly of … v.1. Seward, William, 1747-1799.’

http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc2.ark:/13960/t82j6cp3c;view=2up;seq=367

Before Picasso

Art, blogging, history

bison digital CHAUVET PAINTING DIG

 

These are my digital paintings inspired by the 30000 year old drawings at Chauvet, discovered only last century and now under wraps to maintain them.  Other paintings at Lascaux were disfigured by fungi once the caves were opened.

Noone can be sure about the  motivation behind the painter(s). We don”t know if they were capturing images of the animals they saw, or using them as representations of something important to their culture. They may have been honouring life force or strength, we just do not know.  What we can say is that they are remarkable examples of very early humans choosing to show parts of their experience, and this is interesting. We don’t get representations of humans, Although there are human parts shown, hands, genitals, but not people. Interesting. And no birds, no fishes, no trees, no clouds, no grass. Is there something ‘sacred’ in showing what could be described as ‘upper mammals’ – lions, bisons, rhinos. Worth consideration. These are amazing forerunners of how human beings turn towards the creation of art as expression. The top image is clearly a bison and the second image shows lions.. Remember how far back in time we are looking – 30000 years – we are still piecing together what humans were about at that time. these images could demonstrate a human impulse to create art as symbolic representations , or show a mind that was intent on creating  a record for future generations. Amazing , read all about it here http://www.bradshawfoundation.com/chauvet/chauvet_cave_paintings.php

Mind over matter.

Art, blogging, literature

tom thumb

 

I am researching folk tales at the moment, and finding the history of  story telling fascinating.  These images are taken from magic lantern slides from the 19th century and are so utterly delightful and beguiling.  The story this one tells is Tom Thumb, and was itself retold by Charles Perrault in 1697, which at the time was published under his son’s name, as he was far too erudite a thinker , belonging to the Academie Francaise. I wonder what he would think about his long lasting legacy being those Tales from Mother Goose?   The tale itself is interesting, recalling different narratives within it.  Tom Thumb is the scrawniest of a bunch of boys born to a faggot farmer and his wife,  and the boys are abandoned by their parents who are too poor to keep them.  Tom keeps his brother safe from wolves in the forest, and leads them back to their home where the parents have had a change of fortune  and are delighted to see their children.  Soon poverty strikes again, and once more the parents turn the children out into the depths of the forest. It is the scrawny yet implacable Tom that keeps the brothers safe until they reach  a house in a clearing. Again there are hints here of Hansel and Gretel, but the occupant is no witch, but an ogre who plans to fatten tehm up overnight and eat them for breakfast.  Once again inscrutable Tom outwits the ogre and tricks him into killing his own daughters having mistaken them for the sleeping boys.  The brothers escape the ogre, who on discovering the trickery puts on his seven league boots  and hotfoots after them .  After some time the ogre has to rest, and after taking off his boots, settles into a deep sleep. Tom , hearing his snores, steals his boots which have magical qualities so they now fit the diminutive lad, and proceeds to the ogre’s wife. He convinces her that the ogre has been held captive and she must hand over the ogre’s wealth in order that he can pay a ransom.  This she does, and Tom returns in triumph.  Clearly the moral is not to underestimate the runt in the litter. Perhaps Perrault was telling the tale to the adults, as a warning not to neglect their children. Perhaps the tale should be retold today.

Perrault was retelling these stories himself, but the test of time has proved how successfully he did that, with wit and humour that continues to entertain today.  Just as the magic lantern slides.

Magic lantern images are here:  http://www.laternamagica.fr/page.php?id=1

Kepler and the cosmos

Art, books, earth, history, illustration, Science

Keplers Space mission focuses on a narrow spectrum of the universe, searching for exoplanets.
Cluster of Stars in Kepler's SightI have just finished producing another project, and it has been so stimulating finding out about how modern space missions have a history that goes back to the discoveries in the 1600’s by one very determined Johannes Kepler.

If you spin back into the times that he was alive in, imagine the determination he needed to pursue an intellectual curiosity in how the universe REALLY worked.  By observation and very clever calculation he came up with theorems that threatened the  dogma instructed by the Church, and ultimately the states of the time.  This was a time of upheaval and power clashes between European leaders, a time when the idea of liberal thought was centuries away. Not only was he under the intellectual pressure from determining how he could present his ideas to contemporaries, but under real threat of exclusion or worse.

Pursuing his aim to explain the movement of the stars, Kepler discovered what we now refer to as Kepler’s Laws, on which Newton was to build upon and explain how gravity works.  It is with Kepler’s explanation that man came to understand Earth’s position in the universe, leading to the growth of modern scientific thought.  Before his time, men looked to the heaven’s and believed in astrological explanations for life and death, catastrophe and fate.  Astrologers were keepers of portentous knowledge used by kings and leaders in decision making. The new scientific discoveries would blow apart the rationales behind that sort of thinking. Kepler himself could not have known the trajectory of exploration which his studies triggered.  Although he had dreamed of a man standing on the moon and looking at the earth, he would never know of todays space mission named after him , which is discovering exoplanets in habitable space.

His thinking nevertheless did not preclude the mystery and incomprehsibility of Life, he referred to God as being ‘in the numbers’, understanding geometry and God to be the same force.  The scientific thinkers such as Einstein, Carl Sagan and Neil de Grasse Tyson retain a humility and open minded approach to the marvel of the Universe. Their awe is directed to the manisfestation that is the  Universe, and it with the examination by such beacons that mankind can pursue hope toward the future.

Carl Sagan described Kepler as “the first astrophysicist and the last scientific astrologer.”, while Kepler himself said

” the ways by which men arrive at knowledge of the celestial things are hardly less wonderful than the nature of these things themselves”concordance cover Anne Corr

Concordance  Anne Corr Researching Johannes Kepler and listening to my son’s interest in space mission provoked me to explore my thoughts about scientific enquiry alongside the wisdom of other thinkers throughout history.  As I learn more, I see patterns in thought, how we expand our own horizons by entering the realms of thinkers from different cultures, different times.  I named my project ‘Concordance’  to reference the harmonies Kepler perceived in the geometric principles , and the understanding of artists, scientists and philosophers that human kind benefits from discovering harmonies between science and nature, between disparate cultures, and between the body and the mind.

Work in progress, with William Morris

Art, books, culture, literature, philosophy

willima morris birmingham mmuseumHow gorgeous is this?  William Morris led the Art and Crafts movement during the 1860’s in Britain. His politics led him to be the leading representative of libertarian Socialism for a time, but his abiding love was for the arts and literature.  Friends with the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, he married Jane Burden, who became the Jane Morris with whom Dante Gabriel Rossetti was besotted with, and with whom she had a long lasting affair during her marriage to William.

William Morris’s love for decoration led to the wonderful fabric designs that continue to be used world wide, rich with the imagery from nature and the brilliance of his use of colour.

What may be lesser known about the man was his deep interest in medievalism, and his gothic interest in fantasy led him to write ‘A Tale of the House of the Wolfings and All the Kindreds of the Mark ‘.  This tale may have been the precursor of the modern fantasy genre so popular today.  The story influenced the great J.R.R. Tolkein who referenced it as an important  influence on his work of art ‘The Lord of the Rings’.

William Morris

 

The following illustrations are by Edward Burne Jones for William Morris’s unfinished book of ‘The Earthly Paradise’. Morris carved most of the wood blocks himself, and these were rediscovered in the 1960’s.

Charon's Fee. edward Burne Jones illustration of William MOrris Cupid and Pysche From The Strory of Cupid and Psyche  by William Morrisillustrated by Edward Burne JOnes, Psyche throwing herself into the river From The Strory of Cupid and Psyche  by William Morrisillustrated by Edward Burne JOnes, Psychein the garden From The Strory of Cupid and Psyche  by William Morrisillustrated by Edward Burne JOnes,This artist, writer, thinker reaches out from his time to my own, and inspires my own interests in medieval illumination and typographic interest alongside political aspirations of a shared human vision to incorporate the individual in a collective experience of beauty and wonder.

 

 

Only the biggest question requires your attention.

illustration, Life, LOVE, philosophy, Thoughts

YeatsEinsteins reply to a schoolgirl who asked in class about the power of prayer.

Dear Phyllis,

I will attempt to reply to your question as simply as I can. Here is my answer:

Scientists believe that every occurrence, including the affairs of human beings, is due to the laws of nature. Therefore a scientist cannot be inclined to believe that the course of events can be influenced by prayer, that is, by a supernaturally manifested wish.

However, we must concede that our actual knowledge of these forces is imperfect, so that in the end the belief in the existence of a final, ultimate spirit rests on a kind of faith. Such belief remains widespread even with the current achievements in science.

But also, everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that some spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe, one that is vastly superior to that of man. In this way the pursuit of science leads to a religious feeling of a special sort, which is surely quite different from the religiosity of someone more naive.

With cordial greetings,

your A. Einstein

Sometimes Einstein is misrepresented about his view on religion, in fact he was unequivocal in his view,  while retaining a healthy respect in mystery and the limit of human knowledge.  As a leading scientist and a vastly respected thinker, his view about religion is important to me.  I know very little , and I refer to thinkers such as he to guide my own position.  After having read recently Andrew Marrs ‘History of the World’, I am further convinced of the worldliness of all the major religions.  There is much about human attempts to influence history and how religion was used as a tool by leaders and thinkers.  Some of those thinkers I can believe were genuine in their beliefs,  but misguided, others plainly were manipulators.

Einstein wrote this to Eric Gutkind from Princeton in January 1954, translated from German by Joan Stambaugh.

“The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this. These subtilised interpretations are highly manifold according to their nature and have almost nothing to do with the original text. For me the Jewish religion like all other religions is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people. As far as my experience goes, they are also no better than other human groups, although they are protected from the worst cancers by a lack of power. Otherwise I cannot see anything ‘chosen’ about them.

In general I find it painful that you claim a privileged position and try to defend it by two walls of pride, an external one as a man and an internal one as a Jew. As a man you claim, so to speak, a dispensation from causality otherwise accepted, as a Jew the privilege of monotheism. But a limited causality is no longer a causality at all, as our wonderful Spinoza recognized with all incision, probably as the first one. And the animistic interpretations of the religions of nature are in principle not annulled by monopolization. With such walls we can only attain a certain self-deception, but our moral efforts are not furthered by them. On the contrary.

Now that I have quite openly stated our differences in intellectual convictions it is still clear to me that we are quite close to each other in essential things, i.e; in our evaluations of human behavior. What separates us are only intellectual ‘props’ and ‘rationalization’ in Freud’s language. Therefore I think that we would understand each other quite well if we talked about concrete things.

With friendly thanks and best wishes,

Yours, A. Einstein

I think that clears up the question for me.  I still experience a deep connection between living beings, I still want to believe in the idea of a collective responsibility and a collective understanding that we all can tap into. I believe in the powers of love, and faith and hope.  I just don’t believe they are attached to a Divine being, separate from the cosmos.  I think our responsibility lies in this world, to one another, to other living beings and to the planet.  What about you?

 

 

 

Wise men and clever apes. Read all about it.

books, culture, earth, government, history, Life

History of the world Andrew Marr

“Writing a history of the world is a ridiculous thing to do.”

opening sentence of Andrew Marr's introduction.

This is worth sticking my neck out for –  read this book to improve your life.  Whoa!!!! That is a big statement, but seriously though, if you thought you had a grasp of how the world ended up here in the 21st century, you are probably missing something.   This is so readable that I think it should be proscribed reading for every youngster worldwide.  It provokes wonder and curiosity in every chapter.  If you are the person reading this who has always hated history, you won’t anymore.  History is not just about dead people.  It informs our present in ways we don’t understand until we learn why we do, think the things we do and think.  There is another reason to read this book – it is about human achievement, and it offers reason to hope that the challenges ahead of our species and planet can be met by using the lessons from history and the increase in know how.  What we cannot neglect are the lessons written therein, how power is used and abused, how communication is used and how ‘ civilization works’.  Drawing upon the stories of yesterdays , can we avoid a dystopian recurrence of another Dark Age?  Probably.

‘the better we understand how rulers lose touch with reality, or why revolutions produce dictators more often than they produce happiness, or why some parts of the world are richer than others, the easier it is to understand our own times.’

I watched the t.v series, which admittedly had it’s flaws, but overall was also fascinating, and led me to the book.  Now you can have it all, and for the price of a cup of coffee!!  We are living in amazing times and if you do one thing this month to improve your life, order this book. I’m not on commission.  Honest.  If you don’t like reading or don’t like being told what to do by a middle-aged , curious , British female you could as an alternative go the the links.  Or as well. Just saying.

http://www.open.edu/openlearn/whats-on/tv/andrew-marrs-history-the-world-all-the-episodes

http://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/objects/0eHcrXb8RuqIEVYKkExljg   

 

 

 

 

 

A tale of a tailor’s son and Louis XIV’s precious globes.

Art, culture, history, Science

 

 

 

 

boatsThis is a story of how a son of a tailor made the King of France a very proud man indeed.  Louis XIV was already enjoying the glory attached to ruling France in a time of massive growth and enrichment.  What better present to further please your monarch than a stunning pair of globes reflecting the mastery over the earthly and heavenly spheres.  At least, that is what Cardinal d’Estrees had thought on witnessing the globes that the Duke of Parma had.

 

The Duke had commissioned  a set of terrestrial and celestial globes and so impressed with the  results, he made the man in charge of the commission his theologian.  That’s where the son of a tailor enters, as he was the man in question, one Vincenzo Coronelli, born in 1650 , the fifth child of a tailor.  He was accepted as a young man into the Conventual Franciscans, studying theology and excelling in  astronomy and Euclid.  While he was working as a geographer, the commission came in from the Duke, and the rest as they say, is history.  So the Duke of Parma’s marvellous globes now had to be surpassed in their wow factor, since the Cardinal was currying favour with the King, and no-one wants to let a king look anything less than, well, the best.

 

And they were; technically astounding, the terrestrial globe and the celestial globe weighed in at about 2.3 tons each, measuring 3.87 diameter, so quite a handful.  Coronelli put a hatch in the back which allowed thirty men to be in the globe at any one time.

 

Coronelli went on to have success in his academic career as well as building a successful company supplying globes throughout Europe, and died at the age of 68.  Quite a stretch for the son of a common tailor. The application of hard work married to a strong intellect will always astound , and I am continually in awe of how far men can go.  He did however fall out with the pope over some overspending issues. Oh well, can’t be all plain sailing.

 

We are left with the lovely globes, which are on display at the Bibliotheque nationale de France. The globes are not only a remarkable achievement from a scientific viewpoint, at the time, but also as an artistic interpretion of the world, and of the stars.  In fact, even then the scientists would have been biting their tongue at the level of scientific understanding, but as a work of art they are gorgeous objects. I have chosen some images taken from them and available from the online exhibition at the National Library of France.

 

 

terrestial globe terrestial globe 2 terrestial globe 3 celestial globe celestial globe3 celestial globe 2 celestial globe 4

What do I know?

blogging, books, culture, history, Life, literature

montaigne essays

William Hazlitt remarked on the subject of Montaigne that he was the ‘first to have the courage to say as an author what he thought as a man.’

Who was he and why should you care?  Because he was one of the first freethinkers and influenced not only policy making in his lifetime, but showed subsequent thinkers and writers a way of  being in the world.  His motto was ‘ What do I know?’ – a fashionable phrase at the moment, but then a radical statement that open mindedness can only lead to new knowledge, new perceptions. Remember to think about Montaigne in the context of his history, and you will be amazed by his humanism, and his acuity.  I think I am in love, And this is a man who did not mind sharing his shortcomings, one of which was a small penis. Though I suppose everything is relative.

This was his secret – he wrote as though in dialogue with his soul mate, as though he was sitting across from him sipping a glass of wine and warming his feet on the fire.  He was intimate. He shared.  And what  a lot he had to share,  a life of fascinating experiences, I can only show you by giving a very potted biography.

His father belonged to the  nouveau riche in France, and Montaigne was born 1533 into a century of discovery, intrigue, political upheaval, and scientific exploration. The world was changing. As a father, he wanted Montaigne to grow up  into inheriting an estate requiring the skills of an astute manager, thus he sent his son to be weaned by a wet nurse, and he subsequently spent his formative years within a very ordinary family. Montaigne was to understand first hand the needs and preoccupations of the common man. From that early upbringing he was then brought back into the Montaigne household where he had a German tutor who was to converse with Montaigne only in Latin, along with the rest of the household. Latin was a requisite for French aristocracy, and if Montaigne was going to lift the family’s status it was imperative that he could converse in it as his first language. It meant Montaigne could read all the classical scholars without translation. At the age of 6 he was sent to a prestigious establishment for his education by the best tutors, some of the leading humanists of the day. Montaigne went on to study law at the University of Toulouse.

His young adulthood was spent amongst policy makers, and it was around 1559 that he met the man who was to become so important to him, a relationship as powerful as one we would view as romantic love. In the context of the time, men turned to other men for the companionship of intellectual and spiritual sharing; these two shared a common understanding that formed the foundation of a fulfilling, satisfying friendship. Etienne de La Boétie, the friend, was to die early aged 3,2 about 4 years after meeting Montaigne. He had written a radical piece about how tyrannical rulers should be stripped of power. Montaigne wanted to include it within his own essays, but realised his work would be censored if he did so, and included some of his poetry only.

He retired from public duties relatively early in life, aged about 38, and decided to study and record his thoughts from the comfort of his tower.  He liked his own company, and although married, he and his wife had separate living quarters.  He had travelled fairly extensively, had met the pope, and was friendly with Henry of Navarre, accepted at courts both Catholic and Protestant.  These were very troubled times politically , requiring tact and diplomacy when abroad.  France was in uproar, and atrocities were being committed in the name of religion.

When he retired to write, he drew upon his extensive knowledge of the classical authors, particularly enjoying Plutarch. Seneca and Lucretius.  He favoured a stoic distancing from the melee of upheaval, and passed on his understanding that man has no absolute’s, but is reliant on his identity with a cultural context.  He was asking the question ‘ How should man live’, and he brought to this search a stoicism and a sympathetic imagination.  Contrary to popular belief he postulated that   ”The laws of conscience, which we pretend to be derived from nature, proceed from custom; ‘  and ‘in short, to my way of thinking, there is nothing that custom will not or cannot do’.

He wrote about himself and about the human condition. He wrote from an anthropological viewpoint before the word itself was considered.  He influenced the thinkers and policy makers of the time, consorted with kings, yet radically wrote in a manner that was to inform with honesty about his life, and his times.  He didn’t view himself as a philosopher foremost, but he formed the philosophies of life fro subsequent thinkers.  A writer of perceptive observation and witty, poetic style,  his legacy can inform modern statesmen and policy makers.

I have posted previously on Montaigne, and the extremely good book that Sarah Bakewell wrote

.https://amonikabyanyuvva.wordpress.com/2011/06/21/how-to-live-montaigne-style/

Thanks to Melvyn Bragg and Radio 4 for a great programme this morning , Listen if you can!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01s0qmj