The Tower of Babel:
According to the story, a united human race in the generations following the Great Flood, speaking a single language and migrating westward, comes to the land of Shinar (שִׁנְעָר). There they agree to build a city and a tower tall enough to reach heaven. God, observing their city and tower, confounds their speech so that they can no longer understand each other, and scatters them around the world.
– Genesis 11:1-9
3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
8 So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel[c]—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
Rabbinic literature offers many different accounts of other causes for building the Tower of Babel, and of the intentions of its builders. According to one midrash the builders of the Tower, called “the generation of secession” in the Jewish sources, said: “God has no right to choose the upper world for Himself, and to leave the lower world to us; therefore we will build us a tower, with an idol on the top holding a sword, so that it may appear as if it intended to war with God” (Gen. R. xxxviii. 7; Tan., ed. Buber, Noah, xxvii. et seq.).
The building of the Tower was meant to bid defiance not only to God, but also to Abraham, who exhorted the builders to reverence. The passage mentions that the builders spoke sharp words against God, saying that once every 1,656 years, heaven tottered so that the water poured down upon the earth, therefore they would support it by columns that there might not be another deluge (Gen. R. l.c.; Tan. l.c.; similarly Josephus, “Ant.” i. 4, § 2).
Some among that generation even wanted to war against God in heaven (Talmud Sanhedrin 109a). They were encouraged in this undertaking by the notion that arrows that they shot into the sky fell back dripping with blood, so that the people really believed that they could wage war against the inhabitants of the heavens (Sefer ha-Yashar, Chapter 9:12–36). According to Josephus and Midrash Pirke R. El. xxiv., it was mainly Nimrod who persuaded his contemporaries to build the Tower, while other rabbinical sources assert, on the contrary, that Nimrod separated from the builders.
According to another midrashic account, one third of the Tower builders were punished by being transformed into semi-demonic creatures and banished into three parallel dimensions, inhabited now by their descendants.
Although not mentioned by name, the Quran has a story with similarities to the biblical story of the Tower of Babel, although set in the Egypt of Moses: Pharaoh asks Haman to build him a stone (or clay) tower so that he can mount up to heaven and confront the God of Moses.
Another story in Sura 2:102 mentions the name of Babil, but tells of when the two angels Harut and Marut taught magic to some people in Babylon and warned them that magic is a sin and that their teaching them magic is a test of faith. A tale about Babil appears more fully in the writings of Yaqut (i, 448 f.) and the Lisān al-ʿArab (xiii. 72), but without the tower: mankind were swept together by winds into the plain that was afterward called “Babil”, where they were assigned their separate languages by God, and were then scattered again in the same way. In the History of the Prophets and Kings by the 9th-century Muslim theologian al-Tabari, a fuller version is given: Nimrod has the tower built in Babil, God destroys it, and the language of mankind, formerly Syriac, is then confused into 72 languages. Another Muslim historian of the 13th century, Abu al-Fida relates the same story, adding that the patriarch Eber (an ancestor of Abraham) was allowed to keep the original tongue, Hebrew in this case, because he would not partake in the building.
Although variations similar to the biblical narrative of the Tower of Babel exist within Islamic tradition, the central theme of God separating humankind on the basis of language is alien to Islam according to the author Yahiya Emerick. In Islamic belief, he argues, God created nations to know each other and not to be separated.
- Confusion of tongues
The confusion of tongues (confusio linguarum) is the origin myth for the fragmentation of human languages described in Genesis 11:1-9, as a result of the construction of the Tower of Babel. Prior to this event, humanity was stated to speak a single language. The preceding Genesis 10:5 states that the decedents of Japheth, Gomer, and Javan dispersed “with their own tongues,” creating an apparent contradiction. Scholars have been debating or explaining this apparent contradiction for centuries.
During the Middle Ages, the Hebrew language was widely considered the language used by God to address Adam in Paradise, and by Adam as lawgiver (the Adamic language) by various Jewish, Christian, and Muslim scholastics.
Dante Alighieri addresses the topic in his De vulgari eloquentia (1302-1305). He argues that the Adamic language is of divine origin and therefore unchangeable. He also notes that according to Genesis, the first speech act is due to Eve, addressing the serpent, and not to Adam.
In his Divine Comedy (c. 1308-1320), however, Dante changes his view to another that treats the Adamic language as the product of Adam. This had the consequence that it could no longer be regarded as immutable, and hence Hebrew could not be regarded as identical with the language of Paradise. Dante concludes (Paradiso XXVI) that Hebrew is a derivative of the language of Adam. In particular, the chief Hebrew name for God in scholastic tradition, El, must be derived of a different Adamic name for God, which Dante gives as I.
Before the acceptance of the Indo-European language family, these languages were considered to be “Japhetite” by some authors (e.g., Rasmus Rask in 1815; see Indo-European studies). Beginning in Renaissance Europe, priority over Hebrew was claimed for the alleged Japhetic languages, which were supposedly never corrupted because their speakers had not participated in the construction of the Tower of Babel. Among the candidates for a living descendant of the Adamic language were: Gaelic (see Auraicept na n-Éces); Tuscan (Giovanni Battista Gelli, 1542, Piero Francesco Giambullari, 1564); Dutch (Goropius Becanus, 1569, Abraham Mylius, 1612); Swedish (Olaus Rudbeck, 1675); German (Georg Philipp Harsdörffer, 1641, Schottel, 1641). The Swedish physician Andreas Kempe wrote a satirical tract in 1688, where he made fun of the contest between the European nationalists to claim their native tongue as the Adamic language. Caricaturing the attempts by the Swede Olaus Rudbeck to pronounce Swedish the original language of mankind, Kempe wrote a scathing parody where Adam spoke Danish, God spoke Swedish, and the serpent French.
The primacy of Hebrew was still defended by some authors until the emergence of modern linguistics in the second half of the 18th century, e.g. by Pierre Besnier (1648–1705) in A philosophicall essay for the reunion of the languages, or, the art of knowing all by the mastery of one (1675) and by Gottfried Hensel (1687–1767) in his Synopsis Universae Philologiae (1741).
- The Tower of Babel by Breughel
The Tower of Babel was the subject of three paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. The first, a miniature painted on ivory, was painted while Bruegel was in Rome and is now lost. The two surviving paintings, often distinguished by the prefix “Great” and “Little”, are in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna and the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam respectively. Both are oil paintings on wood panels.
The (Great) Tower of Babel
The (Little) Tower of Babel
The Rotterdam painting is about half the size of the Vienna one. In broad terms they have exactly the same composition, but at a detailed level everything is different, whether in the architecture of the tower or in the sky and the landscape around the tower. The Vienna version has a group in the foreground, with the main figure presumably Nimrod, who was believed to have ordered the construction of the tower,[although the Bible does not actually say this. In Vienna the tower rises at the edge of a large city, but the Rotterdam tower is in open countryside.
The paintings depict the construction of the Tower of Babel, which, according to the Book of Genesis in the Bible, was built by a unified, monolingual humanity as a mark of their achievement and to prevent them from scattering: “Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.‘” (Genesis 11:4).
The Viennese “Big” Tower, is almost twice as large as the Rotterdam “Little” Tower and is characterized by a more traditional treatment of the subject. Based on Genesis 11: 1-9, in which the Lord confounds the people who began to build “a tower whose top may reach unto Heaven”, it includes – as the other version does not – the scene of King Nimrod and his retinue appearing before the genuflecting crowd of workmen. This event is not mentioned in the Bible but was suggested in Flavius Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews. It was important to Bruegel as underlining the sin of the King’s pride and overbearing which the picture is supposed to highlight.
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- Like Saul, in The Suicide of Saul (1562, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna), Nimrod too is punished for his pride.
In the “suicide of Saul’ Bruegel closely follows the Old Testament story in the thirty-first chapter of the First Book of Samuel ( 1-5).
In the foreground, pouring through a gully formed by a steep slope on the right and a rocky precipice on the left , are multitudes of armor-clad Philistines and fleeing Israelite troops : they are individually discernible but are fused into a prickly mass of lances, like the lines of force in a magnetic field.
Moving back toward the middle ground, the spears recede into a small plateau on which a horrible slaughter has taken place. On a rocky ledge to the left, Saul and his armor-bearer have impaled themselves on their swords as four of the uncircumcised wend their way around the rocks to ‘abuse’ them. Finally, we move off to an idyllic landscape incongruously conveying peace and tranquility, as in the Icarus painting .
This is another instance of the throwing away of the title. This particular biblical episode was an uncommon one in painting although its allegorical significance lies in the theme of the punishment of man’s pride which alienates him from his God. Important too is the fact that the soldiers are all dressed in the costume of Bruegel’s time . Bruegel had first-hand observations of war, having witnessed some of the Spanish atrocities in Flanders.
In effect the diminished significance of Saul’ s prideful suicide is owing to its apposition with the equally fatuous altruistic suicide of the mass of soldiers. Bruegel has demystified his subject – the pride of man – and has also demystified the grandeur of war , for here, the human one and the many are the same: equal and unimportant.
In a sense Bruegel has abstracted his subject for he has created types (men as species). He never painted portraits and his sketches, finely wrought as they are in the best mas ter’s style, are really intricate costume studies – ‘dictionaries of detail ‘ as they have been called. Modern art students have som etimes said that Bruegel’ s use of local color could be instructive in itself without reference to the subject.
This painting retains the quality of a landscape and again emphasizes scale. While man is not depicted as living harmoniously with nature as he is, for example, in Bruegel’s landscape drawings and engravings and his paintings of the seasons, there is conveyed a sense of man’s incompleteness for not doing so and consequently, for the mechanicality of his behavior.
There is an organicity in Bruegel’s landscapes which has moved at least one scholar to impute a ‘sort of cosmic or at least terrestrial animism ‘ to them. The landscape is no mere prop . If Bruegel makes any moral judgment in his work here, it must rest upon the extent to which his characters harmonize with nature or be bent to its purposes.
As G .I. Gurdjieff put it, man’s passivity becomes a means for nature’s ‘involutionary and evolutionary construction’ wherein he is a slave to events.
- Both men, Saul and Nimrod were given similar treatment by Dante
Building the Tower of Babel was, for Dante, an example of pride., Canto 12.
Purgatory in the poem of Dante Divine Comedy is depicted as a mountain in the Southern Hemisphere, consisting of a bottom section (Ante-Purgatory), seven levels of suffering and spiritual growth (associated with the seven deadly sins), and finally the Earthly Paradise at the top. Allegorically, the Purgatorio represents the penitent Christian life In describing the climb Dante discusses the nature of sin, examples of vice and virtue, as well as moral issues in politics and in the Church. The poem outlines a theory that all sins arise from love – either perverted love directed towards others’ harm, or deficient love, or the disordered or excessive love of good things.
The gate of Purgatory, Peter’s Gate, is guarded by an angel bearing a naked sword, his countenance too bright for Dante’s sight to sustain. In reply to the angel’s challenge, Virgil declares that a lady from heaven brought them there and directed them to the gate. On Virgil’s advice, Dante mounts the steps and pleads humbly for admission by the angel, who uses the point of his sword to draw the letter “P” (signifying peccatum, sin) seven times on Dante’s forehead, bidding him “take heed that thou wash / These wounds, when thou shalt be within.”
With the passage of each terrace and the corresponding purgation of his soul that the pilgrim receives, one of the “P”s will be erased by the angel granting passage to the next terrace. The angel at Peter’s Gate uses two keys, silver (remorse) and gold (reconciliation) to open the gate – both are necessary for redemption and salvation. As the poets are about to enter, they are warned not to look back.
I saw, to one side of the path, one who
had been created nobler than all other
beings, falling lightning—like from Heaven…
Now, sons of Eve, persist in arrogance,
in haughty stance, do not let your eyes bend,
lest you be forced to see your evil path!…
He led us to a cleft within the rock,
and then he struck my forehead with his wing;
that done, he promised me safe journeying.
Seven terraces of Purgatory
After passing through the gate of Purgatory proper, Virgil guides the pilgrim Dante through the mountain’s seven terraces. These correspond to the seven deadly sins or “seven roots of sinfulness”] Pride, Envy, Wrath, Sloth, Avarice (and Prodigality), Gluttony, and Lust. The classification of sin here is more psychological than that of the Inferno, being based on motives, rather than actions. It is also drawn primarily from Christian theology, rather than from classical sources The core of the classification is based on love: the first three terraces of Purgatory relate to perverted love directed towards actual harm of others, the fourth terrace relates to deficient love (i.e. sloth or acedia), and the last three terraces relate to excessive or disordered love of good things. Each terrace purges a particular sin in an appropriate manner. Those in Purgatory can leave their circle voluntarily, but may only do so when they have corrected the flaw within themselves that led to committing that sin.
- Essentially Dante devises in Purgatorio 10 a way of describing moving images in words: he is describing moving pictures/movies/film, though the medium does not yet exist. The same miraculous medium is used for the 13 examples of punished pride that are described in Purgatorio 12. While the carved examples of the virtue of humility are on the wall of the terrace, the examples of the vice of pride are on its pavement, like pavement tombs the pilgrim has seen on earth, but more lifelike due to the “artificio” (artifice [Purg. 12.23]) of their maker.
A spectacular acrostic displays the 13 examples of pride almost “visually”; see the attached chart for a list of all the examples. Note the interweaving of biblical and classical examples and how the exempla of pride reflect the three types of pride dramatized by the encounters with the three souls of Purgatorio 11. The examples are arranged in the following pattern: four sets of terzine begin with the word “Vedea”; four sets of terzine begin with the word “O”; four sets of terzine begin with the word ‘Mostrava”. Thus twelve examples of pride spell out VOM or UOM, “man” in Italian, signifying that pride is man’s besetting sin.
The thirteenth terzina offers the final example, which sums up all the others by referring to a city rather than to a person and by replicating in one terzina all three of the letters that spell the acrostic:
Vedeva Troia in cenere e in caverne; o Ilión, come te basso e vile mostrava il segno che lì si discerne! (Purg. 12.61-63)
I saw Troy turned to caverns and to ashes; O Ilium, your effigy in stone— it showed you there so squalid, so cast down!
The characters featured as examples of pride would repay lengthy discussion. Here we find Nembrot, he who built the tower of Babel and who spoke gibberish to Dante and Virgilio in Inferno 31:
Vedea Nembròt a piè del gran lavoro quasi smarrito, e riguardar le genti che ’n Sennaàr con lui superbi fuoro. (Purg. 12.34-36)
I saw bewildered Nimrod at the foot of his great labor; watching him were those of Shinar who had shared his arrogance.
Most important to my reading of the terrace of pride is the mythological figure of Arachne, marked by the Ulyssean adjective “folle”:
O folle Aragne, sì vedea io te già mezza ragna, trista in su li stracci de l’opera che mal per te si fé. (Purg. 12.43-45)
O mad Arachne, I saw you already half spider, wretched on the ragged remnants of work that you had wrought to your own hurt!
Arachne was famous for her weavings that were so lifelike that they seemed alive. The passage describing her work in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, discussed in Chapter 6 of The Undivine Comedy, nourished Dante in his conceptualizing of representational arrogance as the cornerstone of his terrace of pride (see the Introduction to Purgatorio 11). Again, as in Purgatorio 10’s depiction of the “visibile parlare” of the sculpted virtues, in Purgatorio 12 the point is hammered home that this art is not just “life-like”, it is “life” itself:
Morti li morti e i vivi parean vivi: non vide mei di me chi vide il vero, quant’io calcai, fin che chinato givi. (Purg. 12.67-69)
The dead seemed dead and the alive, alive: I saw, head bent, treading those effigies, as well as those who’d seen those scenes directly.
At the end of the canto we encounter another of the ritual components of the purgatorial experience, repeated on each terrace: Dante meets the angel and a “P” is removed from his brow, signifying his successful participation in the purgation of one “peccatum” or vice/sin. He climbs toward the next terrace, and as he climbs he hears a shortened form of the first Beatitude: “Beati pauperes spiritu” (Matthew 5:3). The eight Beatitudes are from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3-10) and will be featured on the purgatorial terraces. In full, this Beatitude, featured on the terrace of pride to celebrate the soul’s new acquisition of a pride-less “poverty of spirit”, is: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
- Educating Desire: Conversion and Ascent in Dante’s Purgatorio
by Paul A. Camacho
Paul A. Camacho in his paper asks our attention “Why the Purgatorio? As ﬁrst-time readers discover with surprise in the closing cantos of Dante’s Inferno, Hell is deﬁned primarily by stasis. Where there is motion in Hell, it is only the tormented self-circling of a will that cannot love anything beyond itself. Hell is the place that Dante scholar Peter Hawkins has memorably described as “repetition-compulsion, an endless replay of the sinner’s ‘song of myself.’” It is certainly true, as Dante saw, that conversion requires an underworld itinerary: we can no overcome the drive to get what we mistakenly think will bring us happiness through intellectual understanding or sheerwill-power alone. But to journey throug hHell as Dante would have us do,one must experience one’s sin and failure without getting trapped in it; and this means one must face all the darkness in oneself without becoming entombed by fear, despair, or gawking fascination. This is a heavy task for anyone, let alone for the average undergraduate. By contrast, Purgatory is, in Hawkins’ words, “dynamic, dedicated to change and transformation.It concerns the rebirth of a self free a tlast to be interested in other souls and other things .” It is fruitful to dwell in Purgatorio with students because it is in Purgatory that we now reside. I mean this: in Hell there is no time, there is only inﬁnite stasis; in Paradise there is no time, but rather the dynamic over-abundance of eternity; only in Purgatory is there time,because only here is there the possibility of change and growth. If we read the Commedia to learn how to love better here and now, in this world, it is the Purgatorio that will provide the blueprint.”
In Cantos 17 and 18 of the Purgatorio, Dante’s Virgil lays out a theory of sin, freedom, and moral motivation based on a philosophical anthropology of loving-desire. As the commentary tradition has long recognized, because Dante placed Virgil’s discourse on love at the heart of the Commedia, the poet invites his readers to use love as a hermeneutic key to the text as a whole. When we contextualize Virgil’s discourse within the broader intention of the poem—to move its readers from disordered love to an ordered love of ultimate things—then we ﬁnd in these central cantos not just a key to the structure and movement of the poem ,but also a key to understanding Dante’s pedagogical aim. With his Commedia, Dante invites us to perform the interior transformation which the poem dramatizes in verse and symbol. He does so by awakening in his readers not only a desire for the beauty of his poetic creation, but also a desire for the beauty of the love described therein. In this way, the poem presents a pedagogy of love, in which the reader participates in the very experience of desire and delight enacted in the text. In this article, I oﬀer an analysis of Virgil’s discourse on love in the Purgatorio, arguing for an explicit and necessary connection between loving-desire and true education. I demonstrate that what informs Dante’s pedagogy of love is the notion of love as ascent, a notion we ﬁnd articulated especially in the Christian Platonism of Augustine. Finally, I conclude by oﬀering a number of ﬁgures, passages, and themes from across the Commedia that provide fruitful material for teachers engaged in the task of educating desire. Read more here
- The Ascent of Humanity:
Charles Eisenstein explores the history and potential future of civilization, tracing the converging crises of our age to the illusion of the separate self. In this limited hardcover edition of Eisenstein’s landmark book, he argues that our disconnection from one another and the natural world has mislaid the foundations of science, religion, money, technology, economics, medicine, and education as we know them. It has fired our near-pathological pursuit of technological Utopias even as we push ourselves and our planet to the brink of collapse.
Fortunately, an Age of Reunion is emerging out of the birth pangs of an earth in crisis. Our journey of separation hasn’t been a terrible mistake but an evolutionary process and an adventure in self-discovery. Even in our darkest hour, Eisenstein sees the possibility of a more beautiful world–not through the extension of millennia-old methods of management and control but by fundamentally reimagining ourselves and our systems. We must shift away from our Babelian efforts to build ever-higher towers to heaven and instead turn out attention to creating a new kind of civilization–one designed for beauty rather than height. Breathtaking in its scope and intelligence, The Ascent of Humanity is a landmark book showing what it truly means to be human. Read here online
Note: Al GHAZALI ON JIHAD AL-NAFS [FIGHTING THE EGO] )
Meaning of nafs: It has two meanings.
First, it means the powers of anger and sexual appetite in a human being… and this is the usage mostly found among the people of tasawwuf [sufis], who take “nafs” as the comprehensive word for all the evil attributes of a person. That is why they say: one must certainly do battle with the ego and break it (la budda min mujahadat al-nafs wa kasriha), as is referred to in the hadith: A`da `aduwwuka nafsuka al-lati bayna janibayk [Your worst enemy is your nafs which lies between your flanks. Al-`Iraqi says it is in Bayhaqi on the authority of Ibn `Abbas and its chain of transmission contains Muhammad ibn Abd al-Rahman ibn Ghazwan, one of the forgers].
The second meaning of nafs is the soul, the human being in reality, his self and his person. However, it is described differently according to its different states. If it assumes calmness under command and has removed from itself the disturbance caused by the onslaught of passion, it is called “the satisfied soul” (al-nafs al-mutma’inna)… In its first meaning the nafs does not envisage its return to God because it has kept itself far from Him: such a nafs is from the party of shaytan. However, when it does not achieve calmness, yet sets itself against the love of passions and objects to it, it is called “the self-accusing soul” (al-nafs al-lawwama), because it rebukes its owner for his neglect in the worship of his master… If it gives up all protest and surrenders itself in total obedience to the call of passions and shaytan, it is named “the soul that enjoins evil” (al-nafs al-ammara bi al-su’)… which could be taken to refer to the ego in its first meaning.
From the beginning of our entrance into the school of Sufism, we have been taught about the seven levels of being. These seven levels are like grades in any educational system which one must pass through in order to graduate. In our system, however, evaluations are made by a Higher Authority than the teacher.
Passing and failing grades are made known through real dreams, through the interpretation of which the teacher gives new responsibilities and duties to the seeker. But what is most important is that the seeker himself should be able to realize his own states so that he can live up to the next level to which he aspires. Obviously, first it is necessary that he be conscious, aware of his character and actions, and be sincere in looking at himself. But it is also necessary to thoroughly know the characteristics of each level, especially the level in which he is presumed to be, and the next level, in which he hopes to be. Read The Seven Levels of Being
- The Futility of Human Ambitions and Efforts
The detailed illustration of the frenzied efforts of the engineers, masons and labourers suggests a second moral – the pointlessness of human endeavour, a theme also touched on Nimrod’s doomed building was used to illustrate this meaning in Sebastian Brant’s Ship of Fools.
- To See Yourself within It: Bruegel’s Festival of Fools – Read here
Bruegel returned to this theme in several different works: in Hunters in the Snow (1565,) for instance, he conveys the idea that man is a powerless entity, of no consequence, who is at the mercy of the natural seasons and rhythms of the year.
While Bruegel took enormous pleasure in rendering every detail with an almost scientific exactness, he was also intensely curious about the subject of movement. The Rotterdam Tower of Babel, for instance, seems to be experiencing some form of unsteady rotation. Bruegel’s fascination with movement led him to explore the falling figure, a pictorial concept which finds its ultimate expression in The Parable of the Blind (1568).
For Breughel was his time looked like The parable of the blind: The Blind Leading the Blind .
How are we looking to our times? Looks it like The parable of the blind?
In ancient Greece the blind were depicted as having received gifts from the gods, and blind singers were held in high regard. In mediaeval Europe, the blind were depicted as the subjects of miracles, such as Bartimaeus in the healing the blind near Jericho in Mark 10:46–52.[e] Following the Reformation, painted depictions of saints and miracles fell out of favour in Protestant areas. In Catholic thought, charitable works of mercy, such as giving alms to the blind and poor, were good works which, together with faith, helped the salvation of the doer. However, the Protestant doctrine of sola fide rejected the efficacy of works in achieving salvation, prescribing that it depended on faith alone (and the complication of God’s predestined will for each individual). The status of charity for the poor and infirm diminished, and beggars saw their circumstances deteriorate. In popular literature of the time, the blind were depicted as rogues or targets of pranks. The parable of the blind leading the blind also appears as one of the illustrated proverbs in Bruegel’s Netherlandish Proverbs (1559).[f]
- Detailed Realism
The Tower of Babel features a host of meticulous details, relating to the construction of the building – enhanced, no doubt, by Bruegel’s intricate knowledge of building techniques, acquired during his execution of several paintings illustrating the digging of the Antwerp-Brussels canal. To the right is a huge crane, very similar to the one placed conspiciously above the harbour in the
The ant-like labourers are busy loading it with huge stone slabs which they have received from below and will pass onto the the higher ramp where others are prepared to receive them. One workman climbs a ladder toward that section, which is being transformed from rock into structured architecture by a host of other people. On the left, part of the facade is already being completed in part; a woman enters one of the gates, a ladder sticks out of one of the upper windows, farther up another large crowd of labourers works on the roof – and so on ad infinitum.
Whatever the reasonableness of these individual actions may be – and this point has not yet been fully investigated – one immediately senses the grotesque inadequacy of means as well as the folly of the entire enterprise. However industrious these ‘ants’ may be, they are up against hopeless odds which are brilliantly demonstrated. Within the same level completion of the last detail stands against bare beginnings, with intermediary stages in between, thus intimating a frantic race against inexorable time, while the upper part is still invaded by clouds.
Pieter Bruegel’s Tower of Babel , originally displayed in the suburban villa of Antwerp entrepreneur Niclaes Jonghelinck as an image that fostered learned dinner conversation (convivium) about the well-being of the city. Looking at various sources, the author analyzes how the theme of the painting, a story of miscommunication and disorder, resonated with the challenges faced by the metropolis. Antwerp’s rapid growth resulted in the creation of a society characterized by extraordinary pluralism but with weakened social bonds. Convivium was one of the strategies developed to overcome differences among the citizens and avoid dystrophy of the community. Read more Here
- Saint George and the dragon. Cult, culture and foundation of the city.
Following the insights of René Girard, which describes the violent origins of human culture, I propose to analyze through the traditional image of St. George, the foundation of the “enclosed city”, model of the Mediterranean city during the Middle Ages, with particular reference sacrificial origins of living space.
The term “enclosed city” refers, specifically, the priority establishment of the Mediterranean city in the sacral area Christian. We recall, among other things, that the cult, the culture of the people who grow and the civilization of who builds the city limits are linked from the common reference to the cult, and not just etymologically.
Worship, cult and culture are, in fact, even the mythical-ritual moments of a single human being on earth, in its anthropological, historical and institutional and political-symbolic.
The continuity between the ancient world, medieval and modern can be analyzed and understood through the cults, the stories and legends of the patron saints and the rituals related to the different moments of the organization of the medieval city space, and their persistence politico-religious in the modern city.
- The city
In Judeo-Christian tradition, the city is considered as a negative reality.
After his crime, Cain is presented as the ultimate wanderer who tries to mend its ties with the earth and the human community cut off from his violent act. ( See R. Girard, La Violence et le sacré, Paris, Grasset, 1972. On Cain and Abel, see also M. S. Barberi, Adamo ed Eva avevano due figli, in D. Mazzù (editor), Politiche di Caino. Il paradigma conflittuale del potere, Transeuropa, Ancona-Massa, 2006, and id. Misteryum e ministerium. Figure della sovranità, Giappichelli, Torino, 2002. On violence and Bible, see Giuseppe Fornari, L’albero della colpa e della salvezza. La rivelazione biblica della violenza in D. Mazzù (editor), Politiche di Caino. Il paradigma conflittuale del potere, cit. p. 159 ss. See also Enzo Bianchi, Adamo, dove sei?, Qiqajon, Bose, 1990. Couriously, the legend of ROme foudation tells about two brothers, Romulus and Remo. The history is so well known, but the collective memory of a violent city’s foundation bring back to a sort of geological stratification, where ritual, tale and myth are postponed continually. See the insights of Michel Serres, on: Roma, il libro delle fondazioni, Hopefulmonster, Firenze, 1991.)
Instead of being considered the place where humans reside, the city is presented as an artificial product, made by men to protect themselves, following a transgression that has destroyed the organic bonds of community. This view becomes explicit in the second quotation of a biblical city.
This view becomes explicit in the second quotation of a biblical city. Figures of the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11, 1-9) and the city of Sodom (Genesis 18-19) we have a situation similar to the story of the garden of Eden, in which human beings aspire to build their fate entirely, hence moving away from the precepts of the Lord. Later, another city made its appearance.
This is Jerusalem, the city of God, based not on human wisdom but on the divine promise. But even here, in the practice of injustice, the holy city can become a prostitute, just like in the cities of pagans, Babylon the Great. (See Isaia, 2, 2-4. The book of Revelation, by St. John, will take back the image of Babylon as a satanic model of the city. and Surate 2 Al Baqrah, the Cow)
In the New Testament, the disciples recognize Jesus as a righteous king. But Jesus himself dies thrown out of the city (Heb. 13, 12-14), and confirm with his death shocking not belong to the Kingdom of this world.
Christians staying since then as “strangers and pilgrims” in the city of man. (See. 1 Pt 2,11). S. Augustinus will be to clarify, through the doctrine of two cities, the relationship between membership in human community and sequela Christi: the Civitas Dei and the Civitas homini, opposite, but not conflicting, in hoc saecula.
This image of the two cities is crystallized in Rome: the Eternal City will be an expression of a conflict, that between the new Babylon – home of disorder, chaos, the Antichrist – and the new Jerusalem, the Universal Church, the heaven, the patria beata. Read more here
- The Allegory of Good and Bad Government
The Allegory of Good and Bad Government is a series of three fresco panels painted by Ambrogio Lorenzetti between February 1338 and May 1339. The paintings are located in Siena’s Palazzo Pubblico—specifically in the Sala dei Nove (“Salon of Nine”), the council hall of the Republic of Siena’s nine executive magistrates, elected officials who performed executive functions (and judicial ones in secular matters). The paintings have been construed as being “designed to remind the Nine [magistrates] of just how much was at stake as they made their decisions”
The “Allegory of Good and Bad Government” is a series of fresco paintings executed by Ambrogio Lorenzetti which are located in the Salon of Nine (or Council Room) in the Town Hall (Palazzo Pubblico) of the city of Siena. This famous cycle of pre-Renaissance painting is made up of six different scenes: Allegory of Good Government; Allegory of Bad Government; Effects of Bad Government in the City; Effects of Good Government in the City; Effects of Bad Government in the Country; and Effects of Good Government in the Country. Commissioned by the Council of Nine (the city council) and designed as a sort of political warning, aimed at members of the Council (drawn from Siena’s ruling families), to reduce corruption and misrule, these mural paintings offer a pictorial contrast between the peace and prosperity of honest rule, versus the decay and ruin caused by tyranny. Read more here
- The Slaves of the 21th century