‘Could a rule be given from without, poetry would cease to be poetry, and sink into a mechanical art. It would be μóρφωσις, not ποίησις. The rules of the IMAGINATION are themselves the very powers of growth and production. The words to which they are reducible, present only the outlines and external appearance of the fruit. A deceptive counterfeit of the superficial form and colours may be elaborated; but the marble peach feels cold and heavy, and children only put it to their mouths.’ [Coleridge, Biographia ch. 18]

‘ποίησις’ (poiēsis) means ‘a making, a creation, a production’ and is used of poetry in Aristotle and Plato. ‘μóρφωσις’ (morphōsis) in essence means the same thing: ‘a shaping, a bringing into shape.’ But Coleridge has in mind the New Testament use of the word as ‘semblance’ or ‘outward appearance’, which the KJV translates as ‘form’: ‘An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form [μóρφωσις] of knowledge and of the truth in the law’ [Romans 2:20]; ‘Having a form [μóρφωσις] of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away’ [2 Timothy 3:5]. I trust that's clear.

There is much more on Coleridge at my other, Coleridgean blog.

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Synod of Nicaea: Constantine Burns Arius's Books



This beauty is an illustration from a northern Italian compendium of canon law, early 9th-century AD. It shows Constantine presiding over the Council of Nicaea—the lettering makes Ns look a little like Hs, but you can see the writing at the top there: SINODUS NICENI—and under the throne (helpfully labelled ‘CONSTANTINUS’) are a great many stooping monks stuffing Arius's books onto a fire: heretici arriani damnati. The Latin damno means I find fault, I reject, as well as referring to punishment, guilt and condemnation, so you'd probably translate this ‘Arius's heretical writings are rejected’ rather than ‘... are damned’.

I like the way this image's perspectivelessness makes it look as though the monks are lighting a fire underneath Constantine, like a swarm of diminutive Guy Fawkeses. Also: what kind of gesture is the emperor making with his right hand? Of course we're all aware of the pictoral convention in religious art by which the gesture of the hand communicates the holiness of the sitter, the fingers picking out the letters of Christ's name:


But Constantine isn't doing anything so precise with his hand. It looks, rather, as if he's just waving at us. Hiya!

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[In case you were wondering, the positioning of the fingers on that hand is the same gesture priests would perform during the liturgy to invoke Christ's name, as explained by this chart]


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