Bring Me The Red Pages

Art, Books, Culture
This and other pics of Codex Rossanensis courtesy of calabriaonline.com

This and other pics of Codex Rossanensis courtesy of calabriaonline.com

One of the cable channels is showing the whole run of The Mary Tyler Moore Show in order, and so we're dipping in from time to time. I'm glad to report that it holds up quite well, as sitcoms go. At a certain juncture in tonight's episode, Murray ripped the breast pocket off Ted Baxter's jacket, and I turned to my wife and said, "Watch. Later he pulls off all three." Sho nuff, it came to pass as I had said.

Now, normally I wouldn't spoil in that way, but we had been discussing just how strange memory is, and this incident presented a good example. I haven't seen that episode since it first ran in 1972. It was not deeply meaningful to me then. There was no particular reason that this detail should have lodged itself in my cortex. But there it was. Something about the visual of Eventual Captain Stubing's sartorial assault was odd enough to stick with me involuntarily, for no particular reason, all these years… alongside who knows how much other pop-cultural clutter and high-minded ephemera.

Brains are strange. Minds are mysterious. Strangely hangs the Loop that wears the Moebius strip. But here's the lesson of the moment: not only is a picture worth a thousand words, but it's also an agent of Mnemosyne. And Mnemosyne likes codices. (And polkas, waltzes, and schottisches.)

I was thinking about Lady Mnemosyne on the way home from Chipotle with the kid this evening, when suddenly the passenger in the next car up jettisoned a cigarette butt. I mumbled to the kid (now home from college for the summer) that if we had been at a stoplight, I might've been tempted to get out, retrieve the butt, fling it into her open window, and explain with a Wodehousian demeanor that it appeared as if she had dropped something. He mumbled back that he'd set it on fire first, which didn't make much sense and seemed a tad violent but nicely captured the spirit of repugnance I was trying to convey and inculcate.

Litter is a pet peeve of mine, and littering from cars is the one and only thing that ever tips me toward road rage. "Haven't these people seen the cartoon owl?" I screech. "Didn't they see the tear on that fake Indian guy?" I lament. "How can they do this?!"  The Humane Society, or someone, wants you to know that Kant thinks our treatment of animals is the measure of humanity, and maybe it is, but for my money there's no clearer sign of character than whether or not one treats the landscape– however suburbanized and inviting it may seem– as his personal ashtray.

Manage your freakin' trash, loser.

Anyhow, a picture may be worth this and be an agent of that, but in the Roman Empire most writing was done in the scroll format on papyrus, and that's an inhospitable environment for pictures. We roll up scrolls. Papyrus crumbles over time. Anything painted on such a document would fade, flake, or fail, and fast. (Of course, China mastered the painted scroll, but that's another story involving a different set of technologies and media. Maybe we'll talk about it someday.)

Happily, scrolls in Rome gave way in time to books in the codex format. This is roughly the same format as a hardback book today, with sheets folded into quires, stitched along one side, cut into pages, and then stacked, stitched some more, and finally bound. The main difference is that pages in a Roman codex — and in codices for more than a thousand years afterward– were made of skin. (It puts the vellum in the volume….)

The codex was known as early as the first century AD, but really took off in the AD 300s, when the format definitively superseded scrolls. And here's the thing about a codex: since a parchment page is strong and flat and stabilized by stitching and binding and such, it's actually quite a good place to paint pictures. So the first picture books appear sometime during the 400s or 500s AD. A tome in Rome gives pics a planar home.

Painted books– especially those with silver or goldleaf– are called "illuminated" manuscripts. The earliest illuminated codex we know is a fragmentary volume of Vergil's Georgics and Aeneid from the early 400s. Another illustrated Vergil and an illuminated Iliad also survive from the 400s, so bringing these epic tales to life by way of pictures must've been a thing then, at least among those who could afford such luxuries and could read.

Also probably from the 400s, though possibly earlier, is the Cotton Genesis, the earliest biblical manuscript that features pictures. It was badly damaged in a fire in the 18th century, but the charred scraps still make obvious its former glory. The oldest non-barbecued biblical manuscript with pictures is the Vienna Genesis, made in Syria in the AD 500s.

So as soon as it was possible and seemed desirable to illustrate books, the ones receiving this treatment were the obvious choices: the epic poets and Genesis. But not all the choices in early illustrated books were obvious. Some are surprising.

Surprising choices abound in one of the most wonderful of the early illuminated books, the codex purpureus Rossanensis– the Red Book of Rossano. This tome, a cousin of the Vienna Genesis, contains Matthew and most of Mark, and it is possibly the oldest illustrated Christian book. (Other candidates include the Rabbula Gospels from AD 586, also Syrian, and the Garima Gospels from AD600?, Ethiopian.) The Rossano manuscript was one of a pair; the other, now missing, probably contained Luke and John. It seems the book was created in the AD 500s in Syria but somehow made its way to Rossano, a town in that part of Italy where plantar fasciitis is likely to set in if they don't watch their ways. It was discovered there and documented by astonished scholars in 1879.

What's so special about the Red Book? Well, as the illustration at the top of this post shows, its foot-high vellum pages were all dyed reddish purple and then inscribed with a lovely Greek uncial, the first few lines of each Gospel in gold and the remainder of the double-column text in silver. (I'd like to think that the Dead Gods' Book looked half as cool as this in the moments before it crumbled into dust.) As for the pictures, the illustrator (working in a medium and era that mandated originality) shows a design sense that is intricate, imaginative, and fascinating.

02.Rossano_009Cleverly constructed circles form the compositional basis for most of the illustrations. For example, the book presents a ring of discs surrounding the declaration "hupothesis kanonon tes ton euangeliston sumphonias." The text refers to a canon table, a system that Eusebius had developed for dividing the gospels into chapters and verses and harmonizing them. The circle of circled circles includes depictions of the four gospel writers in cardinal positions, united by interlacing borders but differentiated by the colorful and strangely patterned cogs that separate them.

Later, in a full-page depiction of Jesus and Barabbas before Pontius Pilate, the illuminator relies again on circularity to delimit the edges of the crowd in the upper register and to organize the guardians and their prisoners in the lower:

03.Rossano_014

The dignified, elegant stance of Jesus offers a contrast to the bent form of his bound counterpart. Circularity is again the dominant motif in a depiction of the Last Supper:

06.Rossano_005

Here the twelve disciples, reclining per Middle Eastern custom, surround a semi-circular table. Jesus stands out by virtue of his circular halo and colorful garments. Most of the twelve wear team colors. The head of one is misaligned as he sops into the circular bowl in the center. The artist emphasizes not the bread and the wine but the breaking of the fellowship as betrayal seeps in.

Circularity unifies the illustrations throughout the book, but not in a rigid way. In fact, the general layout of most pages– including this one– follows a different pattern:

05.Rossano_005

On most of the illustrated pages, the New Testament text continues in the upper region, above the corresponding illustrations, and four textual columns in the lower half of the page provide quotations from the Old Testament that bear some typological or prophetic relationship to the scenes above. Atop these textual columns, pertinent kings or prophets high-five each other and offer one another brogratulations for their proleptic Messianic chops.

Now, imagine that you're one of the first book illustrators ever, and that you've been commissioned to provide pics for the first illustrated gospel ever, and you have to come up with some subjects because there is no tradition to guide you. A theological advisor is available for consultation. What do you depict?

Broadly speaking, there are two kinds of narrative content in the gospels: diegetic scenes from the story of the life and ministry of Jesus and hypodiegetic scenes from the parabolic stories-within-a-story that Jesus tells. There are many possible things one might choose from either category. Here's what the illustrator chose:

The four evangelists encircling the Eusebian declaration (extra-diegetic)
The Raising of Lazarus (diegetic)
The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (diegetic)
Jesus purging the Temple (diegetic)
The Parable of the Ten Virgins (hypodiegetic)
The Last Supper and the Washing of the Feet (diegetic)
The Communion of the Disciples with the Bread and Wine (diegetic)
Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (diegetic)
Jesus Healing the Man Born Blind (diegetic)
The Parable of the Good Samaritan (hypodiegetic)
Jesus before Pilate and the Suicide of Judas (diegetic)
The Choice between Jesus and Barrabas (diegetic)
Wisdom personified inspiring the evangelist Mark (extra-diegetic)

So the artist dips only twice into the parables; the scenes he selected must have been very important indeed in that culture. One he culls from the many available is the Good Samaritan, a tale so popular right down to this day that it's not surprising at all to find it here. The other is the Parable of the Ten Virgins. What?

Here's how it goes:

Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept.

But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise answered, saying, ‘Since there will not be enough for us and for you, go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.’ And while they were going to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast, and the door was shut.

Afterward the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he answered, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour. (ESV, Matthew 25:1-13)

This is a puzzling parable for several reasons, but let's not delve too deeply into those waters. The thing to note here is that the teachings of this passage– whatever they were deemed to be in the AD 500s– must've been central to the theological thinking of the book's intended audience. Here's the page:

07.Rossano_004

Just as before, we have the textual continuation along the top, the New Testament illustration, and then four columns of attestation capped by little Macarena saints from days of oy. Zooming in, we can make out the particulars of the parable:

08.Rossano_004

Not a lot of circles here; everything is solemn columns. To the left, five variegated virgins (blue, gold, red, gold, black), fresh back from the corner store, wish to be let in and knock on the door in order to say so. Facing them on the other side of the threshold, Jesus waves bye-bye-bye at 'em and says, in so many words, "Do I know you?" Meanwhile, the other five virgins, dressed identically in pure white robes with racing stripes and holding aloft their lighted lamps, proceed along the four rivers of living water that show the way to paradise. Beside the waters near the feet of Jesus, a little tree stands firmly planted. Behind and beyond the processing virgins, fruit-bearing trees mark the way toward blessing and cupcakes.

This is a story of rejection, and the artist captures that fact dramatically. The wise virgins have already received the team jersey and are on their way to Eden regained; their poses match as they lean toward the goal. In contrast, the foolish virgins are diversified not only by color but by pose, by focus, by gesture, and by activity. They were incoherent in their preparation for the arrival of the bridegroom, and they remain incoherent as they undertake too little, too late, to remedy the situation. Between the foolish virgins and the bridegroom, Jesus, a freestanding door stands ajar, allowing Jesus and foolish virgin alpha to converse. The door, gold with a white frame, matches the robes of the wise virgins; their costumes indicate their belonging to the place they have entered. That place has plants and trees and waters and bees and cupcakes. In contrast, the place where the foolish virgins stand offers nothing. Jesus gestures through the portal, but he's not offering a blessing; he's indicating that he gave at the office, that he already has enough magazines, and that his HOA now forbids soliciting.

Why didn't the wise virgins share their oil? Why didn't Jesus accept the foolish virgins once they had scrambled after last-minute supplies? How does the apparent message of this parable stand in harmony with Christian precepts having to do with generosity, forgiveness, and amity?

Good questions, and I won't dwell on them. I'll just say this: if they could've shared, then perhaps the wise virgins would have done; but some things cannot be shared. The oil for their lamps is a metaphor; for what is it a metaphor? Oil that illuminates. If the Messiah is, by definition, the anointed one, and if oil in that context is a metaphor for the Holy Spirit, and if having enough oil when the moment of need arrives is the name of the game, then perhaps each virgin's oil is her spiritual development, maturation, and discipline. These are vital to Christian life, but they cannot be shared at the whim or will of a mere mortal. "Go get your own" is the only loving thing to say when it comes to such things.

As my Sifu, had I one, might say: at the moment of crisis, you will do what you have trained to do. And if you find, when the crisis strikes, that you've gone and left yourself untrained, tant pis.

That explanation has the merit of making the wise virgins and J seem less… harsh. If something like that is the spiritual lesson of this parable, then we can see why it might have seemed quite important indeed to early Christians. And so it did, and it continued to seem important right down to the modern era. Here, for example, we have some sculptures from the entrance to a Gothic cathedral in Strasbourg over five hundred years later:

09.Gothic_Strasbourg_WiseVirgins

 

See how dignified they are, and how well dressed, and how responsible? And see how approving and yet stern Jesus seems as he considers them? A worshiper entering the cathedral would walk past them and might ponder their example. Or ponder the example of contrasting figures on the other side. These from the same era, from the Gothic cathedral in Erfurt, offer guidance by counterexample:

10.Gothic_Erfurt_FoolishV

They're distorted and twisted and toothachy and migrainy from too much partying and not nearly enough lamp-trimmin'. They're like those seat-ghosts seen in the mirrors at the end of the Haunted Mansion ride. Which one is a match for you?

14.Francken_HieronymusII_1616_virgins

Roll forward another four hundred years or so, and we find the artist Hieronymus Francken the Younger, in 1616, painting a didactic image of the Parable of the Virgins in contemporary garb, and with modern preoccupations. The wise virgins sit in a pious huddle while the foolish virgins play the lute and virginals and 52 pickup and partake of wine and comedy and tragedy and art. Given a couple more centuries to party, they'd be reading Balzac. Up in the heavenlies, top center, wise and foolish virgins in a more abstract style try (half unsuccessfully) to enter the temple of Solomon in the New Jerusalem. The wise are orderly; the foolish chaotic.

18.Blake_William_VirginsNot long after 1800, Blake distills the parable into the formal contrasts we've been discussing: the wise are albescent, orderly, harmonious, and telic; the foolish are colorful, scattered, disparate, and confused. Cloud angel is blowin' horn leftward, and only those prepared for that final storm will weather it.

15.Schadow_color

Around 1822, the painter Friedrich Wilhelm von Schadow offers an academic version that retains many of the conventions first explored in the Rossano Gospels: order/chaos, centrality of Jesus, harmonious or discordant gestures, etc.

Among the modern versions, I think the most intriguing is the pair done in the 1880s or '90s in gouache over pencil on heavy paper by James Tissot:

The wise virgins:

19.Tissot_James_1880s_Wise_VirginsThe foolish virgins:

20.Tissot_James_1880s_Foolish_Virgins

The wise virgins are somnolent nonentities, ready and steady. The foolish virgins, on the other hand, are oblivious and giddy. Look at their smiles, their flirtations, their wild ambling poses as they lunge headlong like toddlers who fall unhaltingly (with style!) toward their destination. They seem so happy, so clueless, so in-the-moment. Bless their hearts. They've ended up ill-prepared and damned unlucky for it. But they've had such fun! How can you not love 'em.

08.Rossano_004

When the time comes to jettison that cigarette butt, will you throw it out the window? (For that matter, when the time comes to light that cigarette, will you instead refrain in favor of health and wellness?) Will you be carefree and oblivious to consequence? This much is sure: you'll do what you've trained to do.

Memory is a rum thing, yes? Weird stuff sticks, and needful stuff fades or fails to thrive. But there are ways to govern the churn, to stimulate persistence, to lock down the goods. Intelligible text helps. Memorable audiovisual gimmicks go far. ("Twas brillig, and the slithy toves….") Pictures, perhaps better than prose or poetry, can help lock down in memory the salient details. Not just consuming by reading or hearing or seeing but also producing by teaching goes farther. And, of course, not only learning of or teaching but actually practicing goes farthest of all.

That's the value of reruns. That's the value of ritual.

Last 5 posts by David

47 Comments

47 Comments

  1. Marsupial  •  Jun 20, 2013 @1:53 am

    Goddamn that was good — and I only come here for the legal commentary!!

    Also, Ted Baxter (Ted Knight) was not Cpt. Stubing; that was Gavin Macleod (Murray on MTM).

  2. David  •  Jun 20, 2013 @2:23 am

    Thank you.

    I'm afraid you may have misread. I said that Gavin MacLeod commits a sartorial assault by ripping the pockets off Ted Baxter's blazer.

  3. Brett Middleton  •  Jun 20, 2013 @3:21 am

    Wow. It takes quite a mind to blend biblical parables, art history, printing history, Mary Tyler Moore, litterbugs, and 50-year-old PSAs into one fascinating discourse. Then title it with a Myst reference to boot. My hat is off to you! But chances are probably slim these days that random butt-chucking bozos are familiar with Woodsy Owl and Iron-Eyes Cody.

  4. Lucy  •  Jun 20, 2013 @4:16 am

    Thank you. This made my coffee taste better as I sipped and read.

  5. wumpus  •  Jun 20, 2013 @5:19 am

    My odd memory of the Mary Tyler Moore show involves Ted Baxter's wife commenting on her (and hubby's) apparel being tuxes as "a gay wedding cake". My mom noted (this must have been slightly before 1980, I don't think they broadcast reruns much after that) that this seemed a bit progressive/edgy in 1972.

  6. ngvrnd  •  Jun 20, 2013 @5:21 am

    I've been in the car when Clark did that trick with the tossed cigarette butt. "An ordinary person spends his life avoiding tense situations…"

  7. phunctor  •  Jun 20, 2013 @5:24 am

    Godel and Escher looped Bach strangely.

  8. phunctor  •  Jun 20, 2013 @5:34 am

    Now, given that a cigarette butt on the side of the road does not measurably impact anyone's QOL, what is happening here? Would you have the same reaction to a rolled up foil wrapper for a stick of gum? If not, why not?

    I have an actual point. We need to be conscious of our conditioning so we can be suspicious of its guidance. The smokers were just the warm-up swing. Does your ire flow solely from the principle of shared responsibility for maintaining the commons, or is there an extra element of piling on the Goldsteined smokers?

  9. LW  •  Jun 20, 2013 @6:09 am

    @phunctor: "a cigarette butt on the side of the road does not measurably impact anyone's QOL"

    I have seen far too many roadside fires and burned-over roadsides to regard a cigarette butt carelessly tossed out the window as equivalent to a foil wrapper.

  10. Jim Salter  •  Jun 20, 2013 @6:48 am

    " a cigarette butt on the side of the road does not measurably impact anyone's QOL"

    The hell you say. This is the (improper) justification for ALL litter and dumping – "but it's just one [x]! And the outdoors is so big!". Yeah, THAT'S just one, but after you and a few / few hundred /few thousand OTHER people do the same, everything is one giant shithole. And YES, cigarette butts add up, and pretty quickly, because they don't decompose worth a damn.

    Not sure if you're took young to remember the 70s and 80s or just want to defend your own littering, but butts used to be EVERYWHERE and it was disgusting.

  11. KRM  •  Jun 20, 2013 @6:56 am

    Nice work! I'm measurably smarter than I was before I arrived.
    +1

  12. Clark  •  Jun 20, 2013 @7:15 am

    if we had been at a stoplight, I might've been tempted to get out, retrieve the butt, fling it into her open window, and explain with a Wodehousian demeanor that it appeared as if she had dropped something.

    I was once on a sidewalk when someone in a convertible reached over the passenger door and dropped a Dunkin Donuts iced coffee cup full of ice and coffee residue into the gutter. The car then proceeded five feet before stopping at a red light. I walked over, picked up the plastic cup, squeezed it so as to dislodge the lid, and underarmed it into the back seat of the convertible just as the light turned green.

    It's been a decade or more but I still treasure that memory.

  13. Ken White  •  Jun 20, 2013 @7:17 am

    Masterful.

  14. Clark  •  Jun 20, 2013 @7:17 am

    @phunctor :

    Now, given that a cigarette butt on the side of the road does not measurably impact anyone's QOL, what is happening here? Would you have the same reaction to a rolled up foil wrapper for a stick of gum?

    While standing at a bus stop once a woman unwrapped a stick of gum and discarded the foil. I picked it up and handed it to her and said "Excuse me, mam. You dropped something."

    She looked sour, but took it from me.

    A minute later she dropped it again. As I knew she would. So I pointed, raised my voice and said "Excuse me, mam. You've dropped something. Again."

    After a moment the shame became too much and she bent over and picked it up.

    Another memory I treasure.

  15. Clark  •  Jun 20, 2013 @7:18 am

    …and with that, I'm all out of stories about littering.

  16. Clark  •  Jun 20, 2013 @7:20 am

    @ngvrnd:

    I've been in the car when Clark did that trick with the tossed cigarette butt. "An ordinary person spends his life avoiding tense situations…"

    Ah. It appears that there are more stories about me and littering…just not ones that I remembered.

    As ngvrnd and Ken can attest I am not known for my lack of confrontationalism.

  17. perlhaqr  •  Jun 20, 2013 @7:33 am

    given that a cigarette butt on the side of the road does not measurably impact anyone's QOL

    My ass.

  18. Careless  •  Jun 20, 2013 @7:48 am

    if I ever snap "Falling Down" style, I'll probably wind up going after at least one littering smoker. Such assholes.

  19. Jon  •  Jun 20, 2013 @8:35 am

    Wow. Just, wow. About halfway through, I thought to myself how far this had wandered since the opening — and then it all came around again (like a circle — I see what you did there)… And so many quotable lines in the middle, too ("little Macarena saints from days of oy").

  20. Dirkmaster  •  Jun 20, 2013 @8:38 am

    I have to admit, I haven't received such a lecture as David's here since Gospels 301 back at Asbury in the late 70's. But it's GEB's strange loop back to littering delights my more modern soul.

    And those who disdain the environment are like those who mistreat animals. Defective souls.

  21. Jonathan Gladstone  •  Jun 20, 2013 @8:42 am

    Wow. Just wow. Nice circle you made!

  22. BNT  •  Jun 20, 2013 @9:31 am

    This one's going on my "read again" list. Which didn't exist, nor did it need to, until this moment.

  23. Mercury  •  Jun 20, 2013 @9:33 am

    Take that art history major scoffers!

    Although I am quite concerned about many serious environmental issues I view pretty much all things “green” with grave suspicion and think the EPA and related such government agencies are falling down drunk with power and completely out of control.

    That said, littering has always pissed me off too and I’m constantly picking up carelessly discarded waste around the publicly owned environmentally sensitive area that abuts my (privately owned) and much better maintained (even on a traffic-adjusted basis) environmentally sensitive area. I’ve never lit anything on fire but I have been known to take the odd three point shot with a McDonald’s bag at a litter bug’s BMW sunroof from time to time. And yes the crying Indian made a big impression on me as well. Oh, and I’ve never seen an environmental police officer so much as pick up a gum wrapper, ever. When it comes to cigarette buts I usually tell litterers that if they're going to smoke and litter at least have the courtesy to smoke (biodegradable) unfiltered like the tough guys (they're usually male) of yore they think they resemble. For all the money the government has extorted from cigarette companies in the name of the public good you'd think they would have mandated biodegradable filters by now.

    Human memory is a powerful thing and quite obviously an evolved, key survival tool. It’s a shame that rote memory learning is rather out of fashion these days because even people of below average intelligence are capable of memorizing huge swaths of material verbatim. In the pre-literate era, your ability to remember that 1000 line poem about what to do when you’re lost in the forest after dark might very well be the difference between life and death. Surely even today you’re better off if you don’t have to Google or app your way through every trial in life.

    For those of us who believe that the aggregate quantity of human religious impulse is fairly constant and that environmentalism has, for better or worse, more or less filled the void left by waning Judeo/Christianity, it will be interesting to see the further evolution of didactic iconography in this regard.

    But if more efforts were focused on things like littering (what has replaced the crying Indian?) and less on carbon footprints the world would probably be a better place.

  24. Connie  •  Jun 20, 2013 @9:35 am

    This would be a beautiful sermon in any church. I want a reproduction of the Red Book though. That thing is amazingly pretty.

  25. princessartemis  •  Jun 20, 2013 @10:06 am

    Now, given that a cigarette butt on the side of the road does not measurably impact anyone's QOL, what is happening here?

    Come to Southern California after fire season and say that. Not only is the world not your, or anyone else's, ashtray, using it as such is stupidly dangerous.

    David, your posts are always a delight! Thank you for making the world a better place.

  26. David  •  Jun 20, 2013 @10:40 am

    @Connie, you're in luck! One of the 750 limited edition facsimiles is available for sale at the discounted price of 4800 Euro! That's about 6336 USD and represents a savings of €1000 off the original price! :D

  27. Mercury  •  Jun 20, 2013 @10:59 am

    Also, one wonders what the poor groomsmen thought of the guest with the open-toed footwear who turned away five nubile virgins from this late night reception. “Savior” probably wasn’t the consensus assessment.

  28. SassQueen  •  Jun 20, 2013 @11:54 am

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belles_Heures_of_Jean_de_France,_Duc_de_Berry

    I don't know much about art history, but I found this fascinating. Saw it for the first time at The Cloisters in NYC (part of the Met), then again last year in Paris at the Louvre (where it was briefly last spring before heading back to be rebound). The detail is astounding.

    Thanks for this, David.

  29. TerryTowels  •  Jun 20, 2013 @4:14 pm

    Heh. Memory is a funny thing. Grew up in SoCal, am a life-long environmentalist, hate litterers.

    During my first trip to Europe, (40 years ago–thus memory) I remember watching a local in France toss a lit cig out the window of the train. I was SHOCKED, thinking doesn't he know he can start a fire? The memory is vivid- smells, sounds, quality of light.

    We are what we know, I guess.

  30. TerryTowels  •  Jun 20, 2013 @4:16 pm

    By the way, really like the essay.

    I am now stuck with the story of the 10 virgins in my brain like an ear worm. What is the meaning of the parable? Why was it so important to those early christians? What is it like today? and more, I'm sure, yet to come.

  31. Connie  •  Jun 20, 2013 @4:22 pm

    Growing up in the Orthodox Church, we would hear this parable somewhat often; they call the Church itself the 'Bride of Christ' and refer to him as the Bridegroom.

    I always interpreted it as 'Always have faith, for you don't know when Jesus is coming back and should live your life like any moment you will be judged.' But not in a harsh way of judgement. Only those who are prepared to 'receive the bridegroom' will be admitted to the party aka Heaven. It's not a 'You were bad, get the heck out' but more of a 'Well done, thou trusty servant' kind of thing. "You can join the party."

  32. jdgalt  •  Jun 20, 2013 @5:24 pm

    If God turns out to be picky, then none of my friends will be in Heaven either.

    There are things worth getting upset about. Litter as tiny as a cigarette butt isn't one of them.

  33. David  •  Jun 20, 2013 @5:48 pm

    @jdgalt, According to Wickard and Raich (even filtered on a fillip through Morrison!), we're allowed to aggregate all those butts.

  34. dw  •  Jun 21, 2013 @10:05 am

    The Humane Society, or someone, wants you to know that Kant thinks our treatment of animals is the measure of humanity

    Gandhi, not Kant. But close enough.

  35. David  •  Jun 21, 2013 @10:34 am

    "We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals." Immanuel Kant, "Duties Towards Animals and other Spirits" from Lectures on Ethics, trans. Louis Infield, NY: Harper, 1963, excerpted in Andrew Linzey and Paul A. B. Clarke, Animal Rights, A Historical Anthology, NY: Columbia UP, 1994 as "9. Duties to Animals are Indirect".

  36. dw  •  Jun 21, 2013 @11:29 am

    @David

    I stand corrected. My apologies (and thanks — great quotation!).

  37. David  •  Jun 21, 2013 @11:40 am

    @dw, No biggie.

    For the curious, that's Matthew 15:2b-8a up top:

    [15:2b] ου γαρ νίπτονται τας χείρας αυτών όταν άρτον εσθίωσιν [15:3] ο δε αποκριθείς είπεν αυτοίς διατί και υμείς παραβαίνετε την εντολήν του θεού διά την παράδοσιν υμών [15:4] ο γαρ θεός ενετείλατο λέγων τίμα τον πατέρα και την μητέρα και ο κακολογών πατέρα η μητέρα θανάτω τελευτάτω [15:5] υμείς δε λέγετε ος αν είπη τω πατρί η τη μητρί δώρον ο εάν εξ εμού ωφεληθής [15:6] και ου μη τιμήση τον πατέρα αυτούη την μητέρα αυτού και ηκυρώσατε την εντολήν του θεού διά την παράδοσιν υμών [15:7] υποκριταί καλώς προεφήτευσε περί υμών Ησαϊας λέγων [15:8a] εγγίζει μοι ο λαός ούτος τω στόματι αυτ–

  38. Yo-Yo  •  Jun 21, 2013 @6:49 pm

    Well done, brother of another mother. I feel the need for a cigarette after reading that. Although it hasn't come up in a while, this post would be extremely helpful in a 'flag burning' debate. The parable and interpretation would also play nice in a salvation by faith vs deeds.

    On memory, I read as a kid the books my sisters would leave when they came home from college. 'Dune' and 'Watership Down' are still applicable parables 25 years later.

  39. David Stapleton  •  Jun 22, 2013 @6:41 am

    Just to be a bigger medieval art geek, there is one possibly older biblical manuscript, The Quedlinburg Itala fragment. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quedlinburg_Itala_fragment. It just survives as fragments found in book bindings done in the early 17th century.

    One cool thing about it, is that because of the damaged nature of some the illustrations, we can see the notes left for the artist on what to paint in the the spaces left blank. We can also tell that the artist didn't always follow the instructions.

    Damn artists.

  40. David  •  Jun 22, 2013 @8:08 am

    @David Stapleton, Thanks for mentioning Quedlinburg Itala (ca. early AD 400s).

    Codex Cottonensis (ca. AD 300s-400s) is an older illustrated biblical MS than Rossanensis. So is the Vienna Genesis (ca. early AD 500s), perhaps.

    The relevant ternary distinction is the one I drew among "earliest illuminated codex", "earliest biblical manuscript that features pictures", and "oldest illustrated Christian book". The Quedlinburg fragments come from a candidate for that second group: oldest biblical MS with pics. It includes material from Kings and Samuel. In this respect, it's akin to Cotton and Vienna.

    The Rossano Gospels (ca. AD 500s) manuscript offers what are (as far as we know or think we know) the oldest book illustrations that are distinctively Christian in content; they show scenes from the New Testament.

    Now, it's possible that Quedlinburg was made by or for Christians, but that's unclear. As the Wikipedia article to which you link points out

    The other very early illustrated biblical manuscripts that have survived are similar densely illustrated texts of specific books from the Old Testament… which, with some specific details of the illustrations, leads scholars to postulate an earlier tradition of Jewish luxury manuscripts, perhaps in scroll format, in the Hellenized Jewish world…

    So maybe this one is "Christian" in the sense that it was made by or for Christians; or maybe it was made by or for Jews. But this much is clear: even if it's the earliest book with bible pictures, it's not the earliest book with overtly Christian (i.e., NT) bible pictures.

    It's exciting to speculate about what else may lie hidden among the bindings, or in the pages of palimpsests! As the recent exhibition of the Archimedes Codex makes clear, major finds are still possible.

  41. babaganusz  •  Jun 22, 2013 @8:21 am

    (after copious genuflectory praise)

    David -

    ever play/run Ars Magica?

  42. David  •  Jun 22, 2013 @8:37 am

    @babaganusz, Nope. Sounds like fun.

  43. markm  •  Jun 24, 2013 @7:06 pm

    A single cigarette butt can be a fire hazard in arid regions. Even in a fireproof setting, they can be quite a destroyer of QOL in the aggregate. I'm remembering Clinch Park Beach in Traverse City, MI when I was a child. By volume, there were more cigarette butts than sand. And that's in a small town with many beaches.

  44. Rich Rostrom  •  Jul 1, 2013 @9:59 am

    phunctor @ Jun 20, 2013 @5:34 am:

    Now, given that a cigarette butt on the side of the road does not measurably impact anyone's QOL….

    There's never just one.

    If I didn't continually pick up the butts that smokers discard around my building, the QOL would be substantially impacted.

    David: way cool essay. When the codex format was invented, Rome was already in serious decline (sacked in 415). Imagine what beauties might have been created had it been adopted 100 years earlier.

  45. David  •  Jul 2, 2013 @7:50 pm

    @Rich Well, the codex format was invented somewhat earlier, before ca. the AD 80s or so. Via a source cited in the Wikipedia article, we learn that Martial mentions the codex format around that time.

    So folks in the 100s, 200s, 300s had their opportunity to paint in books.

    If they did it, we don't know about it. One imagines something in a Pompeiian style (simply because that would be cool), but in truth there's no telling how it might've looked. Book illustration apparently wasn't in vogue, so the best we can do is to triangulate imaginatively from mural paintings and those later scraps of Vergil.

  46. Darryl S  •  Jul 3, 2013 @7:53 am

    That was a most enjoyable read: a collection of diverse topics, all of which I'm interested in, and all tied together to teach me some things I didn't know and give me a new perspective on some things I thought I knew.

    Thanks.

  47. Cato the Younger  •  Jul 14, 2013 @10:54 pm

    Personally, I would give anything to return to those halcyon days when cigarette butts littered the roadways. Not because I was entirely unoffended by the sight of all those cigarette butts, but because I'm nostalgic for a time when our nation's fiscal and monetary overlords hadn't quite jiggered the joysticks to ultimate ruination. Roadside cigarette butts are a decent contrary indicator, though that's probably just a coincidence.

    I'm also nostalgic for a time when the good people that I have known were good to one another. The Internet has really taken that away in some sense. It's just snark after snark, regardless of whether the topic is Gerard Depardieu on a key-lime Vespa or the freaking Book of Kells. Too much of the goodness has been sucked out of interpersonal communication. Somebody cue Howard Beale.