Thursday, March 09, 2006

(158) Love and Charity examinations

At 11.40 a.m. on February 10th 1999, I was rereading the incidents involving my original reading of Canto 26 of Dante’s Paradise and chapter five of Arthur C. Clarke’s book Chronicles of the Strange and Mysterious, these, of course, having occurred in 1988.

They are recorded here in the Part Two: The Narrative, Epilogues and Appendices
I was prompted to do this because a few days earlier I had begun reading Peter Benchley’s novel Beast (my wife and child habitually called me "Beast", and my uncompromising style of play in the 1986 London GLC Grandmaster tournament led to my being dubbed "The Beast" in the bulletin).

I noted that one of the main characters is Dr Liam St John.
St John had left Bermuda and returned several years later styling himself "Dr", although nobody knew in which subject he had obtained his doctorate.

Using this mysterious qualification he had managed to persuade the Bermudian Government that he should be appointed to a newly created position called Minister of Cultural Heritage. This gave him the right to inspect and claim any items fishermen acquired through salvage, where previously the finders themselves would have kept the stuff.

Accordingly, he is not much liked by the fishing community.

He is killed when the small submarine that he sends down to deal with the giant squid that is terrorising Bermuda is itself attacked by the creature.
(Sean Ingham and I had rejected the idea of using a small sub to look for a giant octopus for just this reason.)

Well, in Canto 26 of Paradise the temporarily blinded Dante is being examined in Love by St John, having been quizzed in the previous two Cantos on Faith and Hope by Saints Peter and James respectively.

He explains that love of God, from Whom all goodness emanates, is the supreme expression of love. This realisation has "dredged me from the sea of wrongful love…"

Thus he passes the exam, and his sight is restored.

As I flicked through pages to the BBC rang wanting to speak to my wife about possibly appearing on their current affairs programme Newsnight
that evening to debate the nature of sex and love with Professor Stephen Pinker, author of the neo-Darwinian defence of consciousness, How The Mind Works.

I had read this book about six months before, and in early February 1999, noticed its appearance as a paperback.

My wife was asked by a researcher how she responded to a few statements of Professor Pinker’s, and then they said that they would be ringing back later in the afternoon to confirm whether or not she would be needed.
Some hours later they called to thank her, but said that Marina Warner would be on in her stead.

At the end of the afternoon my wife got a call from Fiona Clark of the Royal Literary Fund, who had visited her on January 25th. The RLF assesses the merits of authors who approach it. Fiona had not been expecting a decision so swiftly, but was delighted to hear that she had been awarded a grant.

The same afternoon I called three chess publishers to tell them that we had set up a web site where we would be reviewing books.
I asked them to send me gratis review copies of their latest titles, and two of them said they would whilst the third passed the decision on to somebody else in his firm.

That evening I rang a young man from Hitchin who had viewed my flat in Luton on February 7th. He had retained some doubts but said that he would let me have a definite answer on February 10th.
He now said he was concerned about the security of his vehicles and for that reason regretted that he could not take up the tenancy.
He worked in Information Technology for Inchcape, a company acting as agents for shipping companies.

His name was Gaven Love.
(This was his, now obselete, profile at LinkedIn -

At the end of Newsnight there was the scheduled debate, lasting at most four minutes.
This followed a short introductory piece where the presenter, Jeremy Paxman, pointed out that whatever Darwinism says about man’s origins and development, all of the basic units in society are held together by love.

Professor Pinker was challenged by Ms Warner "How do you explain Dante’s love of Beatrice?"
He responded "I don’t have to explain Dante’s love of Beatrice."

In the early evening I completed my reading of the three hundred and fifty page novel Beast.

On page 339 I noted the reaction of Marcus Sharp, a member of the crew of the Privateer, when the giant squid surfaces as it attempts to sink the boat and kill the crew.
This is the first time that it has shown itself to man in his native environment. Sharp is armed with an automatic rifle, but he is paralyed through his amazement:

"Shoot it, Marcus!" Darling shouted. "Shoot!" But Sharp stood agape, mesmerised, the rifle useless in his hands.

Soon after the squid is despatched (at the surface) by a sperm whale.

In The Search for The Giant Squid, Richard Ellis suggests that this is the same whale that earlier in the story had its calf taken by the squid.

It was the rare word ‘agape’ that caught my attention. I was uncertain when the last time was that I had come across it.
It made me think of the Ancient Greek word agape, pronounced "a-ga-pee", which I half-remembered as being some sort of devotion.

During the Newsnight discussion Paxman interjected a comment about the higher form of love, agape, which he pronounced "a-ga-pay".

Collins English Dictionary defines "Agape" thus:
adj. (postpositive)
1. (esp. of the mouth) wide open.
2. very surprised, expectant, or eager, esp. as indicated by a wide open mouth.

And then:
n. Christianity.
1. Christian love, esp. as contrasted with erotic love; charity.
2. a communal meal in the early Church taken in commemoration of the Last Supper; love feast. (Greek agape, love.)

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