Tuesday 30 September 2014

On Pelagius

W. H. Auden wrote a marvellously sardonic poem (published in 1965) called 'On the Circuit, which begins thus:

Among pelagian travelers,
Lost on their lewd conceited way
To Massachusetts, Michigan,
Miami or L.A.,

An airborne instrument I sit,
Predestined nightly to fulfill
Unfathomable will,

By whose election justified,
I bring my gospel of the Muse
To fundamentalists, to nuns,
to Gentiles and to Jews,

And daily, seven days a week,
Before a local sense has jelled,
From talking-site to talking-site
Am jet-or-prop-propelled.

It's a droll account of how it is to be whisked from one venue to another on a treadmill of well-paid personal appearances. Hear the poet read it here.

'Pelagian'? From Pelagius (c. 390-418 AD) was an ascetic and heretic. He may have been British (as St Augustine claimed)  but Jerome ridiculed him as a "Scot" ("habet enim progeniem Scoticae gentis de Britannorum vicinia"), who being "stuffed with Scottish porridge" (Scotorum pultibus proegravatus) suffered from a poor memory. 

But the 'Scots' at that time were really the Irish, leaving is none the wiser. 

He was tall and portly ("grandis et corpulent us" according to Jerome), highly educated, spoke and wrote Latin as well as Greek fluent and was an adept theologian. St. Augustine, no less, admiringly called him a "saintly man" ('vid sanctus'). He was at the heart of what we now call the Pelagian heresy . . . but I can see you're glancing at your watch.

© The Estate of W. H. Auden

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