(Église Saint Roch, near the Tuileries, on a recent afternoon)
“…this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire… What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world…” Hamlet (Act II, scene 2, p. 13)
Woke up Wednesday morning, realizing Brussels explosions were not a bad dream and I still didn’t have news of friends there. From the kitchen, I heard my husband’s voice saying, “3rd century BC, Rome wins the Punic Wars…” Right, he’s helping our son study for a history test. I hear the word “Carthage”…My semi-conscious brain forms pictures of Hannibal crossing the Alps with elephants to invade what is now Italy. My God, elephants in the Alps! Then I jolt awake. Carthage! That’s in North Africa, but where? My thoughts start spinning back to an article I read after the Paris attacks, “What Isis Really Wants..”* Wasn’t there something about “destroying the Army of Rome in Dabiq (Syria), to bring on the Apocalypse?” At the time, I dismissed it as fanatical delirium. Run to the computer: Carthage, present day Tunisia… Didn’t the Roman army raze the city and plough salt into the land so no crops would ever grow there? When I was my son’s age, that sounded so cruel, my mind couldn’t fathom it… “Roman Army”… Is this some kind of indelible ancestral memory North Africans still carry 2300 years later? Are these the roots of the conflict with Daesh today? If so the struggle for economic and military power predates Islam and Christianity… Centuries later religion became the rallying cry for both sides: Charles Martel at Poitiers, The Crusades, The Janissaries, the Moguls…More recently, the war in Yugoslavia began with an anit-Muslim speech by Slobodan Milosevic on the exact date of the 600th anniversary of Serbia’s conquest by Ottoman Turks. If all of this is buried so deeply in our collective unconscious but still activates revenge strategies, how long will it go on? How will we ever get beyond it?
The complete quote from Hamlet is much darker than what I selected above:
“I have of late—but wherefore I know not—lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises, and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory; this most excellent canopy, the air—look you, this brave o’erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire—why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapors. What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals. And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man delights not me.”
And yet… there are signs of hope, people protecting themselves, but responding to barbarity with love. All three Abrahamic religions teach us that forgiveness opens the way to grace. Some say grace can break the chains of karma (call it the weight of history if you prefer). Tomorrow is Easter for Christians. Renewal. Can we believe in noble reason, infinite faculties, expressiveness, angelic actions, divine understanding, for the beauty of the earth, this goodly frame, under this brave firmament?
I hope so.
Much more to say about this week….xxxx Aliss
*Article in the Atlantic: