A 1636 portrait of Galileo.
I have been trying to work on some of the exercises for Chapter 7.
The first exercise asks us to compare Greece in the Fourth Century BCE, Rome in the First Century CE, Southern Europe at the beginning of the Renaissance, England 1600-1900, New York 1900-1950 and California today.
All of those could be described as times when the arts flourished, when much of the literature we still read was produced and when wealth was accumulated.
The Fourth Century B.C. was the time of Plato (about 428 BC to about 347 BC), Aristotle (384-322 BC) and (my favorite) Epicurus (341-270 BC). It was the century that Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire, greatly extending the geographical area reached by Greek culture and the Greek language.
I guess one way of comparing the various periods is to note that each time and place included people who extended what was allowed to be thought. New York during the period cited by RAW was a center of modernism and modern California was a home to heretics such as Timothy Leary and RAW. By and large, the periods/places cited by RAW were periods of free thought, or as RAW puts it in the exercises, "relatively Open Societies." They have been times and places when religion did not have total sway on society.
Epicurus in his time was quite a radical figure. His school included women and slaves as students, not just men. He taught that the gods were not to be feared, that nature ultimately consisted of atoms and the void and that there was no afterlife. Epicurus taught at his private home and garden and said it was best to "live in obscurity," i.e. not get much notice from the powers that be.
RAW's third exercise suggests "reading the denunciations of Galileo by the orthodox of his time." I ran out of time to do research at the library by the time this blog post had to be written, but the Wikipedia article about Galileo has quite a bit of information about Galileo's troubles with the Catholic Church, and it links to related articles that give more detail, such as Galileo's Letter to Benedetto Castelli defending Galileo's opinion that the planets revolve around the sun and arguing that the church should not be allowed to decide scientific matters; Wikipedia says,
"Likewise, Galileo accepted that the Bible was infallible in matters of doctrine, but he agreed with Cardinal Baronius's observation that it was "intended to teach us how to go to heaven, not how the heavens go." He also pointed out that both St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas had taught that scripture had not been written to teach a system of astronomy, citing St. Augustine's comment that "One does not read in the Gospel that the Lord said: I will send you the Paraclete who will teach you about the course of the sun and moon. For He willed to make them Christians, not mathematicians."
In another exercise, RAW asks us to "Read the denunciations of Beethoven, of Picasso, or Joyce by those who knew in advance what music, painting and novels should be."
One of my favorite Beethoven anecdotes concerns his "Razumovsky" quartets, middle period quartets which to my ear do not sound terrible radical, but which did move the art of the string quartet forward. An Italian violinist named Felix Radicati asked Beethoven if the pieces could really be considered music, and Beethoven replied, “Oh, they are not for you, but for a later age!”
Robert Anton Wilson was not a best selling author during his lifetime, but he has retained a loyal following years after his death. Should we think that perhaps his writings will come into vogue at a later age? And was he fortunate because he managed for the most part of "live in obscurity?"