Editorial: Volume 8.1

Ramify exists, in part, to “involve all members of the greater academic community in the ongoing dialogue of the Western tradition.”1 The editors do not set out to organize each issue around a single theme, but given the nature of the conversation it is inevitable that patterns of continuity will emerge among the pieces selected for publication in each volume. In this volume, the thread which has revealed itself is a perennial point of departure in that conversation: the relationship between the whole and the human. It is human to reflect on how we participate in the cosmos, and on how our own capacity for reflection can reveal to us what is outside our direct experience. In our philosophy, and our friendships, and our poetry, and our music, and our prayers, we seek to understand our place in the order of all things.

In the opening essay of this volume, the keynote lecture she read at the 4th annual Braniff Conference on the Liberal Arts, Eva Brann reflects on the power and nature of the imagination, a faculty which she says “preempts divinity by making worlds galore and outdoes the devil by snatching truth from teeth of deceit.” In the first half of her essay, she urges her audience to begin our studies by imagining, by reflecting upon both internal and external experience. In the second half, she develops an ontology of images from Plato’s Sophist, connecting them along the way to poetic art and the work of memory. Brann suggests that Otherness is necessary to explain the way that images both are something and are not the thing they represent.

Otherness means diversity, which in turn presents a quandary for civic order. Human beings are varied in many ways, one of which is their development in virtue. Some are good, others only seem to be good. Aristotle says that complete friendship exists only between good people, and the members of a political community must be friends. But no political community on earth is peopled exclusively by good men. How, then, can a community come together? How can we be friends, how can we form communities, how can we find ways to relate to each other in our difference? This is the problem that Josh Skinner addresses in his essay on Montesquieu and Aristotle. Skinner takes Montesquieu’s observation that commerce softens mores, discouraging both banditry and self-abnegation, and he looks for continuity with Aristotle’s understanding of political things. He demonstrates, in the end, that commercial activity provides the ground for friendships of utility between citizens, friendships which enable a political community to unite in the pursuit of justice.

The two poetry translations which form the center of this volume are particularly appropriate to an issue which opens with a discussion of the imagination. The three poems by Baudelaire, translated by Jake Crabbs, are deeply evocative, offering readers a chance to experience the richness of imagination both in the act of translation and in the poetry itself. The first poem is addressed to the poet’s spirit, soaring above and piercing the dome of the workaday world. The second is about the bold, dark, potent beloved of the poet, a woman who in her strangeness and beauty stands in contrast to the wan women of popular imagination; she is other to both the speaker and to her rivals. The third and final poem recalls the Song of Songs, invoking all the imaginative senses together in its verdant and luxurious imagery of discovery and love.

Fr. Stephen Gregg brings us his lovely rendition of Horace’s Ode 3.21 in honor of the revered Classics professor Karl Maurer. The ode is playful and slippery. It is addressed, ostensibly, to a jug of wine (or, more precisely, to the wine inside the jug). However, the invocation is not really about wine but about something much greater that the wine represents: the warmth, the ease, the fellowship, the grace which brings men ad hilaritatem. Commerce may, as in Montesquieu, be useful for creating the possibility of a community—but a common cup can also elevate men and unite them in a body (politic or otherwise).

It is an easy step to move from poetry to music, a subject which Brann nonetheless deliberately leaves aside in her lecture. Kimberly Heil is here to fill in the gaps for us, both in this volume and in Boethian scholarship. In her essay, she offers us a brief insight into the power of music as it was understood in Pythagorean philosophy by directing our attention to Boethius's The Consolation of Philosophy. In the Consolation, Lady Philosophy uses music to soothe and heal the soul of her student; the harmony of music is able to engender harmony between the parts of the soul. Music, in the Pythagorean understanding, is a kind of medicine to be administered by a skilled practitioner of healing arts.

Rhetoric, Scott Crider tells us, was regarded by Augustine as another form of medicine, but one wherein the Christian orator finds himself addressed with the old jingle medice, sana te. The political problem which Skinner addressed in his essay may be characterized as an excess of diversity—men who are unequal in their virtue must find common ground on which to stand. The rhetorical problem for Augustine is an excess of unity—when the orator suffers from the same corruption as his audience, how can his rhetoric be any good to them? The illness which he seeks to treat is the illness wherewith he is himself afflicted: corruption of the will. The answer, as Crider uncovers it, is the addition of an element to rhetoric which was not recognized in the ancient accounts: prayer. In prayer, the speaker looks to a power outside himself for the effectiveness of his teaching.

The volume begins grandly in the realm of the Platonic forms before descending to the realm of politics and commerce and turning to the intimate world of personal relationships. Having descended, we are faced with the question of how we might again attain to the transcendent. In this conversation, our turn begins with the earthy pleasure of wine, which leads us to the healing power of music and thence to worship and the necessity of prayer. And so we discover that we have ended not too far from where we began. As T.S. Eliot once said,

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.2

The articles published here are not the first exploration of the questions they raise, and they will not be the last. But we have, hopefully, offered a contribution to the dialogue which makes possible a little more knowledge of the point from which we departed.

For the Editors,
Melissa Dow
Editor In Chief
Feast of St. Lucia
December 13, 2019

1 Bylaws, I “Mission Statement”
2 T. S. Eliot, The Four Quartets, “Little Gidding” 239–242.

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