In the early 13th century, the Italian town of Gubbio was terrorized by a wolf. Not only had it killed livestock, but it started devouring humans as well! Anybody who went out beyond the city walls alone was not likely to make it back alive.
St. Francis felt much pity for the townspeople, and he was known to have a special connection to animals, so he decided to go find the wolf. Against the advice of nearly everyone, Francis made the sign of the cross and went forth from the city.
I’ve been thinking about one of Faramir’s lines from The Two Towers.
He tells Frodo, “I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.”
There’s a lot to unpack here. At first blush, this sentiment seems beautiful and utterly reasonable. A real warrior doesn’t love fighting more than he loves what he fights for. It also makes perfect sense coming from Faramir, whose brother loved glory a bit too much.
Something about it, however, doesn’t sit right.
A man must first love the things that he fights for. But Faramir says that he only loves those things.
To deny that there’s something beautiful in the glory of the warrior about whom they tell stories is strangely clinical.
Wise people have long understood that commercialism undermines masculine virtues.
In Herodotus’ History, Croesus gives Cyrus some absolutely savage advice on how to put down rebellions within his empire in advance:
This makes me think of the 13 virtues that Ben Franklin aspired to. They are the virtues of the shopkeeper, the virtues that will help a man make a lot of money in commerce. None of the virtues on here are bad, but his list is woefully incomplete.
What about honor? Strength? Courage? Faith? Generosity? Loyalty?
Cleanliness and tranquility are good and fine things--but the man who aspires to these rather than the aristocratic or martial or chivalric virtues is someone easier to rule.
The Oriflamme was the sacred banner of the King of France, carried into battle by a chosen champion. So long as it was raised, the French warriors were to take no prisoners.
The legends tell different accounts of its origins. It is mentioned in the Song of Roland, carried by Geoffry d’Anjou as Charlemagne’s forces marched to avenge the slaughter of the rear guard and Count Roland.
Some say that the color the oriflamme came from banner being dipped in the blood of St. Denis. In some the emphasis is on the lance itself, rather than the banner.
As the Merovingian dynasty lost its way in the middle of the 8th century, Pepin the Short (father to Charlemagne) decided it was time for a change: he wanted to overthrow Childeric III. But before doing so, he sought papal approval.
So he sent an incredibly succinct message to Pope Zacharias: “Is it wise to have kings who have no power or control?” The Pope answered that it was not wise. Thus authorized, Pepin sent Childeric off to a monastery and assumed the throne himself.
My favorite detail about this event is the Pope’s choice of an official for Pepin’s coronation. It was St. Boniface, the man who cut down the sacred oak of Thor and converted the Germans!
Bad posture suggests to the world that a man is tired, timid, demoralized, overly comfortable on the couch, insufficiently eager to make a mark on the world, or just not concerned about developing personal dignity.
That may sound harsh. The good news is that good posture can be attained and carries the exact opposite effects.
Good posture suggests that a man is a force to be reckoned with.
I sympathize with those who want better posture but have difficulty. Modern life (desk jobs, smartphones, etc) constantly draws our shoulders and head forward, whether we like it or not.
The man who would stand up straight must overcome these.
The most challenging idea in Bronze Age Mindset is BAP's notion of "owned spaces." When men faced something wild, open, dangerous, and winnable out there, they were alive. But once civilization triumphed, we became citizens of an "open-air zoo."
Safety and comfort and the lack of possibilities undo us. They rob us of our highest faculties. People used to post that meme with a manly man juxtaposed against a pajama boy, asking "What happened to men?"
I doubt they're prepared for the honest answer to that question.
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance shares BAP's concerns, though more subtly. Before the lawyer Jimmy Stewart arrived, bringing his legal books with him, Shinbone was a dangerous frontier town where bandits and cowboys vied for the soul of the place.
In the past week I’ve listened to both Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and The Song of Roland on audiobook.
I now understand better why the ancients & medievals were so much manlier than us. To hear heroic epic told with a hearty voice activates something deep inside you.
Reading books silently is good and fine, of course, but it's a solitary exercise and can lend itself to cold anti-social nerdery--whereas a skilled oral performance hits you on another level, from the bard's voice to your heart, and draws you into a shared experience.
Audiobooks are certainly not the same as listening to Homer or a troubadour recite around a fire, but they can be a reminder, a technological shadow of the oral tradition we've lost.
Sir Gawain's famous shield that he takes to his meeting with the Green Knight--"that shone all red, with the pentangle portrayed in purest gold."
"Each line is linked and locked with the next for ever and ever."
The "endless knot" of the pentangle captures the "five fives":
- five senses faultless
- five fingers never failing
- five wounds of Christ on the Cross
- five joys of the Virgin
- five knightly virtues of Gawain
As for Gawain's five knightly virtues, they are: "beneficence boundless and brotherly love and pure mind and manners, that none may impeach, and compassion most precious."