“—for simultaneously, like giants plunged into the years, they touch epochs that are immensely far apart, separated by the slow accretion of many, many days—in the dimension of Time.”—Marcel Proust, Remembrance Of Things Past
Don’t even know if the quote is apt, but it’s a good launching point for a post on two men who are actually one, separated by a thousand culture/civilization years.
First is the Roman General and soon to be Gladiator, Maximus, the product and flower of a thousand years of culture, six hundred or so of them citified.
We don’t know the second’s name, he too the product of thousands of years of culture, none culminating in a City though. “Uncivilized,” or “barbaric” we’d say from our privileged perch atop our modern Western European civilization.
But that is just our myopia speaking. The two are one… and what’s more, they are us.
Ah, but now I’m into something so deep I cringe at the thought of trying to convey it. So deep it bores to the root of our beings and the schism that plagues our souls leaving us divided from ourselves and unable to see a way out of the labyrinth we’ve accreted around, like termites encased in a tower of our own devising.
What the hell am I talking about? Help me Will Durant.
“I wish to see and feel these elements not in their theoretical and scholastic isolation, but in their living interplay as the simultaneous movements of one great cultural organism, with a hundred organs and a hundred million cells, but with one body and one soul.”—Will Durant, preface to The Life Of Greece
That’s it, cultural organisms… one body and one soul. Maximus and our proto-German as cells in two different cultural organisms, one having flowered fully into civilization, past its youth, fully matured and expressed, indeed approaching decline and senility, the other still in its larval stage.
One with a thousand or more years of history behind it, the other with two thousand years of history before. One largely spent, exhausted, the other brimming over with the energy of what will be.
The Romans win this battle, but will ultimately lose the war and collapse beneath the weight of pullulating Germania.
Now here’s the thing: the Germans, the Anglo-Saxons, the Franks and a dozen others will have their day, pulverize the dying Roman world and grow to a rich maturity, in fact create pretty much all we know today. They will expand their reach across the globe, their arts and sciences, their modes of politics, economics and life.
But, and this is crucial to comprehending the dilemma we find ourselves in, Mr. Proto-German’s spirituality, his nascent experience of Life and expression of all that he feels and senses within will be stepped on, suppressed, burned out of him, by another spirituality and experience of life…. that of Maximus and his dying cultural organism. And there will come a time in the future of Mr. Proto-German when he manages to finally cast off the heavy burden of what is essentially a foreign, unnatural spirituality and experience of life–but he will no longer know where to look for his own native one.
He will be lost.
“God is in all things as being, as activity, as power.”—Meister Eckhart
“Eckhart, of course, was excommunicated: by the bull of Pope John XXII, March 27, 1329; after which his writings passed, as it were, into the underground….”— Joseph Campbell, Occidental Mythology