Leopards break into the temple and drink the sacrificial chalices dry;
this occurs repeatedly again and again: finally it can be reckoned upon
beforehand and becomes a part of the ceremony.

And pearls are like poets' tales; disease turned into loveliness.

This essay, based upon a Zen koan-like poem fragment by Franz Kafa and a short story by Isak Dinesen, will discourse upon religion, philosophy, literature and criticism. It is dedicated to Alexandra Johnson.

I. Religion

When I first wrote this essay the first American war was raging over Iraq. It is, perhaps, tabooed discourse, to bring the present to bear upon the past, and oneself into objective scholarship. But I can not blot from my mind an English school room, a war-deafened schoolchild in it, for the first time allowed to sit in the front row, instead of the back of the room, just before the 11 plus examination, studying images of the lapis lazuli and gold artifacts, learning of Hamurabi's and later Moses' law codes, of cuneiform becoming Hebrew script through Abraham's journeying from Ur of the Chaldees to the Promised Land of Canaan, then of the Israelites' further pilgrimages and exiles to Egypt and back to Babylon, those countries of the birth of western writing and learning being Iraq, Israel and Egypt. Writing came to Europe from Asia and Africa.

Once the stories became written they assumed a sanctity not unlike that of the dead. Shakespeare's tomb declares: 'Jesus Christ, forbeare, to dig the dust that lies enclosed here'. Plato in the Phaedrus, and Dante in the Inferno (VIII.127) spoke of the deadness of what is written against the livingness of what is spoken - and yet how what has been written, scritta morta, can transcend time and space, being paradoxically both dead and immortal. There is a way to make the dead speak, Odyssey XI terrifyingly tells us, that of having them drink blood.

There seem to be cycles in religions between authority and rebellion, between stasis and movement, between the past and the present, between death and life. The moment between the Egyptian worship of a theriomorphic idol, a Golden Calf, in the Wilderness, with Aaron's Dionysian encouragement, and that of Moses' Apollonian Ten Commandments upon stone is a movement that becomes a stillness. But it was also a return from the accretions and syncretism wrought by the Israelites' presence as slaves in Egypt, where statues of gods in animal forms, sphinxes, bulls and others, were worshipped, to a remembrance of the Chaldean written law codes. These returns to the simplicities of past forms from the complexities of present ones constantly recur in religion. That they can recur is due to the eternity of writing and its stor[i]ed memory.

A similar return and revolution was from the 'Thou shalt nots' to the 'Love of God and of neighbour' sealed in blood, of the Jewish 'heresy', Christianity. The succeeding 'heresy', Islam, likewise sought to return to the Book, calling these three religious entities, of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the Peoples of the Book. The Greco-Roman world had required blood sacrifices at the base of phallic pillars upon which stood statues of gods or emperors. For Christianity there was Leopard-like contamination from the Greco-Roman world, allowing it to violate the second Commandment against graven images, a Commandment but half-observed in the Middle Ages when statues stood in niches as part of the architectural structuring, then completely defied in the Renaissance with such works as Michelangelo's free-standing uncircumcised liberationist David. Yet again there was a return to the severity of the written word from the Leopard-like contamination of pagan images with the Reformation which swept away icons of the Madonna and Child, returning to Judaism copied in Islam. Paradoxically, the Madonna and Child's iconographical archeology had embraced the life-restoring Isis, Osiris and Horus figures from Egypt. Our Eucharist of bread and wine was first given to nomadic Israelite Abraham by agricultural Palestinian Melchisadek. Our religions are so much 'borrowed gold from the Egyptians', from the Chaldeans and the Hebrews and the Canaanites, our literature so much borrowed gold from the Greeks and the Romans.

One of the more extraordinary movements, prior to the Renaissance, had been the shift from Romanesque to Gothic, the 'sweet new style' of the twelfth through fifteenth centuries. Erwin Panofsky shows us how in painting an iconology was used which presented scenes from the Hebraic and Hellenic worlds in Romanesque, scenes from Christianity in Gothic, as 'Oldness' and as 'Newness'. Yet this represents an illogical arabesque in Christian propaganda. For the Gothic style, here presented as the super-Christian style, was really the Crusaders' response, coming from their chunky massive Romanesque to the delicacy of the Islamic world and its superior architecture, which they co-opted and about which they lied. It is borrowed gold from Egypt and Baghdad; but where the borrowing has gone unacknowledged it becomes instead thieving plagiary.

The shift in the paradigm of the 'sweet new style' transformed not just architecture but also script, the roundness of Romanesque lettering becoming spiky, angular and fussy, Bibles coming to parody Torahs and Korans. It became the fashion to continue to use Romanesque lettering for pagan texts, Gothic for Christian ones. Then the Renaissance in turn, in its revival of the dead past, chose the Romanesque forms for its manuscripts and printed books, which we now read, using those forms again for Christian as well as Classical texts, returning to the simplicity of the past - and the dead writing - rather than the complexity of their living present.

Mary Douglas, the anthropologist, has spoken of the dialectic between purity and danger in culture, and she argues for the danger option over that of purity, even to the extent of advocating the uses of nuclear power. I would argue, instead, for an awareness in our archeologies of cultures of these pendulum swings and of their inherent contradictions, how we can come to value the beauty of the pearl of great price forming around the irritating foreign body, and how we can come to appreciate the Isis and Athena ancestry in images of the Madonna and Child and structures such as the Parthenon and Chartres. If we truthfully acknowledge our sources and if we truthfully say we lie, our borrowing and our fictions enrich us at the same time that they honour, instead of impoverish, our lives; if we do not do so we lie and we steal criminally, sacrificing our integrity and our wisdom. I make this argument because the return to past severity is exclusive, rather than inclusive, and because it discriminates by race and by gender. On the other hand, I make this argument concerning syncretic accretions because I find that frequently the plagiary of another culture is based upon a lie that cannot be considered beautiful and which carries with it despair, destruction and death.

Concurrent with Gothic form and style had been the founding of the medieval universities of the Latin West. They came from Arabic and Jewish models where a greater knowledge of Greek texts, particularly of Aristotle prevailed. This learning of the Arabic world was next co-opted by the Christian as its Leopards in the Temple, Thomas Aquinas baptizing Aristotle in his Summa contra Gentiles and Sunna Theologiae. That, in itself, is admirable. But what is not admirable was that this mode of learning taken from the concurrent Arabic and Jewish worlds as well as the dead world of the Greek past was next used by the Inquisition against Muslims, Jews, Cathars, Wycliffites and women, especially women who could read, all whom it saw as 'danger' rather than as 'purity'. Prior to the Universities in the West, Christianity had been the religion of liberation, of 'women and slaves', women equally in their convents studying theology as did men in their monasteries. But in adopting the Greco-Arabic misogynist model of the University, at Paris, at Oxford, for the official teaching of theology
by the Church, women came to be rigorously excluded from lecture halls. Aristotle's misogyny, morphed through Aquinas, against the 'other', who is paradoxically the self, undid Christ's inclusive Gospel. To have done this was an act of treason, Julien Benda's 'trahison des clercs', and bad faith, Sartre's 'mauvaise foi', of lying, especially to oneself. In this instance the denied strategy has been one of entrapment, of setting a thief to catch a thief, of polluting the Temple by enticing into its inner sanctum and poisoning the beautiful Leopard.

The Nazi Holocaust was an even more twisted continuation of that lie. It sought to stamp out the race which brought it literacy and burned books written in Gothic fraktura and Roman/Romanesque type in its struggle to deny its historical truth, killing both books and flesh and blood people who conveyed the culture of books and the Book.

II. Philosophy

Long ago, I came to see that education, wisdom, the 'love of knowledge' that is 'philosophy', is the un-learning of childhood ignorance, prejudices, that hatred I was taught as a war-tide child from newspapers of the enemy Germans through cartoons of violence. And who were my teachers? There was Sir Richard Southern, then R.W. Southern from Oxford, Visiting Professor at Berkeley, who taught us women to undo our hatred and contempt for ourselves, giving us women and Jews to study, Heloise, Christina of Markyate, Petrus Alfonsi. There was Etienne Gilson, similarly Visiting Professor at Berkeley, teaching Aquinas, teaching us to love Aquinas. At Princeton there was the lecture by I.F. Stone on the 'Trial of Socrates', teaching us from having taught himself Greek in his seventies, that Plato and Socrates hated the word 'freedom', 'eleutheria' (
), and were instead Sparta lovers, monarchists, oligarchs, not democrats not republicans. Later, my colleague at Boulder, Aaron Seyvetz, loaned me Karl Popper to read, with its argument, likewise, that Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Hegel, Marx, were against the 'Open Society' and for an elite, they were proto-Fascists, proto-Nazis. It was at Boulder I heard Michel Foucault lecture on 'parrhesia', (παρρησία, παρρησιάζομαι), the obligation to speak the truth for the public good at personal risk, coupling Socrates' negation of that principle with Shakespeare's espousal of it in King Lear. I had already lectured in Attica State Prison on Dante using Foucault's Discipline and Punish. Stone and Foucault taught to audiences in denial that Socrates' condemnation was for his treason to Athens, to her freedom and to her democracy. At Princeton the Classicists had hissed at I.F. Stone. At Boulder I studied Plato's Symposium in Greek under the very beautiful Haroula Evgen, deconstructing the text, women coming into its midst, flute girls dragged in by Alcibiades, Diotima worshipped by Socrates.

I learned as I was leaving each place where I studied and where I taught, Sussex, San Jose, Berkeley, Quincy, Princeton, Boulder, to take with me a language or two:
in England, French and Latin; at San Jose, Spanish; Berkeley requiring French and Latin and one other, which I chose to be Italian, for the doctorate; Quincy, where as professor I started to study Greek under Father Hermengild Dressler O.F.M.; then, Princeton, where I took intensive Russian in order to be on the Quaker Delegation to Wait upon the Heads of State; and Boulder, where I took the Seminar in Classics on Plato's Symposium, as well as Portuguese; Hebrew and New Testament Greek I taught myself in my convent back home again in Sussex, studying between the hours of four in the morning until six when I rang the Angelus to waken the older Sisters. I never managed German. Perhaps because an eminent German Jewish professor of hearing disorders, Dr. Moses, pontificated at me at Stanford when I was a V2 bomb-deafened undergraduate student at San Jose,  'You vil navair learn ze foraign languages'. I was condemned by him, by my deafness, to live in the shadows of Plato's Cave. Sometimes, I thought I stole languages, like stealing the keys of one's prison cell. I know, once, I stole my family's war-time sweet ration to give it to the German soldiers, prisoners-of-war, mending our road, because I was so shocked at realizing they were fellow human beings, like ourselves, not the terrifying horned and tailed monsters the newspaper cartoons had them be. I was like Huck Finn freeing Jim the slave. Feeling tremendous guilt for this law-breaking. But, really, in freeing others, we truly free ourselves. We should not step furtively out of the cave, alone, from its distorting shadows, but instead openly lead all with us into the sunlight. Including the Leopards.

III. Literature

Religion tends to be based on sacred texts, endowed with presumed self-evident truth, while literature is seen as a fiction, as a lie. Homer (Odyssey XIX.359-69) and Vergil (
Aeneid VI.893-900) related their works to dreams which use portals of ivory rather than gates of horn. Religious Scriptures are canonical and correct. Even where they are texts which are clearly allegorical rather than factual, being prophetic dream visions, speaking in a censored way against political and religious oppression as in Ezechiel and the Apocalypse. Even where vast energies have to be expended by an Origen or a Bernard to enclose within the sacred the profane of the Song of Solomon - the pearl formed about the grain of sand. All these texts can be contained within the realm of purity and truth. They enter through gates of horn.

Literature, however, carries about itself a whiff of danger. Novels are published with disclaimers, 'Any resemblance to living person is to be assumed a coincidence and is not the author's intent', even where this is clearly a lie and the novel a roman à clé. These are the 'Secular Scriptures'. They may become canonical texts versus an apocrypha in turn, but in a shadow world to that of Sacred Scripture. They are what Maria Corti speaks of  as the 'Anti-Model', playing off the 'Model', and what Mikhail Bakhtin has shown to be of 'Two Worlds', in the Middle Ages, one official and in Latin, the other of the rebellious folk who parody it in the vernacular languages of their everyday secular lives, turning it inside out and upside down. Clifford Geertz has observed this to be the function of the Cock Fight in Balinese culture, to present that culture back to itself in mirror-reversals, in opposite turns of the screws, releasing unbearable tensions. The paradoxes of the Greek Pythagoreans, of Buddhist koans and of Hassidic rabbinical tales behave similarly. Such parody medieval texts, having it both ways, could be 'romances', written in Romance and then Germanic languages, but not Latin. Much of what literature does is in the realm of Johan Huizinga's Harvest of the Middle Ages (mistranslated as 'Waning') and Plato's Laws' worlds of play, while the domain of religion, like war, is more typically of seriousness.

But sometimes the world of poetry and that of religion become palimpsested. This is the case with the earliest extant poem in English sculpted in runes in Scotland on the Ruthwell Cross, the 'Dream of the Rood'. It, in fact, plays off two religions, the old Germanic one with such gods as Oğinn and the new imposed Judeao-Christian one. Runes came to the pagan Germanic cultures by way of the Phoenicians. One finds them throughout Europe, for instance, upon Etruscan inscriptions at Fiesole, and as far away as the Ultima Thule that is Iceland. They are related to the Hebrew and Greek alpha/beta, the Greek being adopted likewise from Semitic forms, the word 'alphabet' not being Greek at all, but reflecting aleph and beth. The task of learning the magic, the technology of writing, is usually seen as a sacred task, acquired by great sacrifice. In the Germanic culture
Oğinn hangs himself upon the tree Yggdrasil for nine days and nights to learn the runes of life, a Promethean act. The Icelandic/Finnish Havamal gives these lines. They are embedded upon the Ruthwell Cross, now said of Jesus instead of Oğinn, but nevertheless palimspsesting the two gods one upon the other, metamorphosing the one into the other, a conversion. In this text the strategy has been to pinion the Leopard upon the Gallows.

In the Song of Roland Charlemagne dreams of Leopards and Lions, prophesying disaster, and is associated with the Temple he built at Aachen/Aix-la-Chapelle in imitation of that at Jerusalem. This poem, said to have been sung at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and whose earliest and best text is written after 1130 in Anglo-Norman and which is still in England, is formed in a Norman matrix of illegitimacy and bastardy, pirating for itself sanctity and legality. Charlemagne was crowned on Christmas Day, 800. At that time the ancestors of the Normans were still pagan Vikings and not yet on French soil. A quarter of a millenium later they appropriated the tale originally chronicled by Einhard of a Breton Count Hrolandus ambushed by Christian Basques or Gascons on Charlemagne's departure from Spain, to which he had gone in aid of one Muslim ruler against another. In this horn version we learn that the Franks could not avenge the death of Hrolandus because the guerilla enemy had disappeared again into the mountains of the Pyrenees. Today, the epic comes to us through a scrim of French orthodox nationalism, having been required reading of all French schoolchildren between the wars.

But it was upstart Normans who turned that brief paragraph of horn in Latin in Eginhard into an ivory epic, a vast panorama of propaganda against Islam, palimpsesting that chanson de geste against the Bible's final book, the Apocalypse, and its juxtaposition of idolatrous Babylon with its beasts, such as Leopards, and godly Jerusalem, with its paschal Lamb. In the telling Roland becomes as if Christ, Charlemagne as if God, and an Oliver, along with the ivory Olifant, and ivory chesspieces, is fabricated. Now ivory in Greek, as Homer and Vergil knew, means to lie, to deceive. It is as if the propaganda of the poem contains within its coding the message that it is a beautiful - or horrendous - lie. We even know of a gift sent to Charlemagne from Haroun al Raschid of an elephant - Abu'l-Abbas - from whose tusks were made ivory chess pieces and perhaps a horn. Yet this Norman tale, which will proliferate throughout Europe and is told to this day in once-Norman Sicily, was constructed to create war fervour against Islam in Spain, in Sicily, in Jerusalem and in Egypt, against the Baghdad of Haroun al Raschid and of Saladin. That is because its function and its strategy is to support the Reconquista and the Crusades, to win back first Spain and then Jerusalem from Islam and for Christendon. The poem, as it were, arabesques history, twisting its truths into lies, justifying Christian bloodshed of Muslims. And worse. When the Chanson first is heard in Europe it is being used to equate us, Anglo-Saxons in England, with them, the Muslims of Baghdad, by the Normans to justify our Conquest and their Crusade. The Leopards are heraldically rampant.

Next we have the mouvance of the Tristan and Isolde romance. Whether it is told in Britain, in Germany, in Iceland, in Italy, it plays games with the sacred, inverting and arabesquing the pilgrimage to God into that of to the lady. Living as a chaste hermit in the wilderness becomes that of a ménage à deux. Christian injunctions to either charity or marriage become a pagan celebration of adultery. Its outrageousness - its outrage - is that it makes of the model of religion, based upon charity, a counter or anti-model that celebrates its opposite, self-centred, selfish, sexual lust, cupidity. Yet the name of its hero, 'Tristan', warns us as much as does the Olifant, that this poem is not to be trusted to be truthful or to bring salvation. Tristan's name is his fate, that of sorrow and despair. Paradoxically, we learn that medieval marriage bedspreads could be embroidered with the scene of Tristan's tryst with Isolde in the walled garden, Mark peering from the tree and being reflected in the stream, its iconography being like God the Father conjoined with the Serpent, and Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden at the Fall of Man. Here the Leopard is in the garden, in the bedroom, in the hermitage in the forest and amongst the lepers.

Next we meet the Leopard in the Wilderness between the Delectable Mountain and the entrance to Hell, impeding Dante upon his pilgrimage to the temple of his vow and pushing him back to where the sun falls silent, into the realm of the scritta morta, of the realm of lies. Where Virgil is guide. Not yet Beatrice.

Or there is literary transvestism: where Mary Anne Evans becomes George Eliot; Charlotte, Anne and Emily Bronte become Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell; Aurore Dudevant becomes George Sand; while men become heroines: where Daniel Defoe becomes 'Moll Flanders'; Gustave Flaubert, 'Madame Bovary, c'est moi'; Lev Tolstoy, 'Anna Karenina'; James Joyce, 'Molly Bloom'. Amongst critics this also happens, men carving out for themselves territorial imperatives over women, among their subjects, Julian of Norwich and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
'Noli mi tangere' they declare, 'for Caesar's I am'. Here the Leopard changes its spots, cross-dresses, changes its gender.

And in the case of anti-slavery novels, Fanny Trollope's Jonathan Jefferson Whitlaw, Richard Hildreth's The Slave, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom's Cabin, Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, we meet the Leopard in chains. Fanny also writes Michael Armstrong, Factory Boy, showing in the illustration by her colleague Auguste Hervieu, starving children working in English factories diving into pig swill to find nourishment, a scene she and Hervieu actually had witnessed. While the alternate title to Jonathan Jefferson Whitlaw is Lynch Law, again a book illustrated by Hervieu. She and he witnessed slavery first-hand together in Natchez. They were the earlier version of Susan Sontag's work on the photography of atrocities.

While women through time have not woven with chains of iron but threads of flax: in the Odyssey (
XIX.560-565) and the Oresteia the recognition scenes coming about often through recognizing embroidery; the widow recognizing the drowned corpse in Riders to the Sea from its Arran knitting designs, her own work, designs that are in in Sweden, in Norway, on Iceland, as well as in Ireland, travelling like runes, but on the distaff side. Then we come to the agape of Isak Dinesen's Babette's Feast. Where Leopards are in the Temple sharing the Melchisadek Eucharist of bread and wine with all.

IV. Criticism

Religious texts may not be taught as such in state universities, being tabooed discourse; only literature can be sanctioned. Yet literature, playing off religious scriptures, requires that knowledge for its own decoding. Here the strategy is to study the Leopard and its spots when it is shot full of tranquillizing drugs and has been carefully taken a good safe distance from the Temple. It is not so interesting when removed from its surroundings of danger and sanctity. Its meanings become flabby, sanitized, deodorized, censored, shallow, incomplete and untruthful. It needs to be studied in situ. The first universities were in temples, synagogues, mosques and cathedrals.

Harold Bloom in Kaballah and Criticism came very close to the perception of Literature as related to Religion, the task of the critic in literature being as the task of the exegete to the sacred text. Northrup Frye has spoken of literature as 'Secular Scriptures'. What Roland Barthes has said about fashion, that it is the desire to shock by ugliness, to introduce the polluting Leopard, next incorporated into the Temple of haute couture, is true as well of fashions in religion, in philosophy, in literature, in criticism, Mikhail Bakhtin and his circle have spoken of the need for 'making it strange', as the means for giving art power and meaning. Norman Mailer has written on graffiti as art. I have seen in Belgium, painted on a barn side, graffiti in letters of gold upon purple, as in imperial Gospels. One knows oneself the danger and yet the delight of making one's students wake and think by saying what would shock them. Parrhesia
(παρρησία),. Eleutheria (ελευθερία). Leopards in the Temple.


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