Today, April 23rd, is William Shakespeare’s birthday (as best we can determine from the less-than-perfect records of the 16th Century, he was born this day in 1564). It’s also the day Shakespeare died, 52 years later in 1616.
My “Today In Literature” email (you should check it out: http://www.todayinliterature.com/AboutTinL.asp) told me that today is also the day Miguel de Cervantes died — ya know, the author of Don Quixote. (If you object that Pierre Menard is the actual author of Don Quixote, then you’re both kidding and know the Borges story, “Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote“).
Michelangelo died in 1564, the same year that Shakespeare was born (transmigration of souls, anyone?). And today’s last factoid, Galileo (also born in 1564) died in 1642, the year Isaac Newton was born.
If you’ve never read Borges lovely story, “Pierre Menard, Author of Don Quixote,” it’s worth an hour of your time. The trick of the story is that Pierre Menard, who lives in the 20th Century, decides to so steep himself in Cervantes’ time, 16th Century Spain,
and Cervantes’ language, 16th Century Spanish, that he would be capable of writing Don Quixote. And then finds himself actually writing Don Quixote. (Yes, the story’s a bit fanciful.) So, in that sense, Pierre Menard is the actual author of Don Quixote. The story insists that he’s not plagiarizing — he’s not copying Don Quixote; he’s writing it.
I forgot to mention to my group yesterday, April 15, that it was Leonardo da Vinci’s birthday. He was born in 1452, so he’d be 552 years old if he hadn’t been ripped untimely from the earth. (Kidding — Leonardo lived to the ripe old age 0f 67, and accomplished a good deal, didn’t he?)
If he had just painted Mona Lisa, he’d have a place in art history (though I also put up a picture of my personal Leonardo fave, Madonna of the Rocks. The Last Supper‘s pretty good, too). And then, in his spare time invented the helicopter and submarine, cast some monster cannons for the endless wars of his time, and on and on — he was an unstoppable creator and thinker.
And sadly, served as a hinge for Dan Brown’s miserable book, The da Vinvi Code. Among the million other things (in fact, just about everything) Brown got wrong, we don’t refer to Leonarda as da Vinci. Vinci is where Leonardo was from — it’s a town in Italy, and the “da Vinci” formula is a way to distinguish the famous painter from any other Leonardo. Duh.
I once went to church with a guy named Pete. Good guy, maybe a little outta touch with art, literature, history, and culture. He’s in his 50’s, been away from school awhile, doesn’t have a college degree. One day, at coffee hour after church (and this was soon after The da Vinci Code hit the bookstores and airwaves), Pete says to me, “Did you know Jesus was married?”
Oh, my. The Jesus was married meme has been around for, like, 2,000 years, at varying levels of virulence. It maybe started during Jesus’s lifetime, but nothing about his marriage is mentioned in the Gospels, which could mean that he wasn’t or that it wasn’t considered important by the Gospel writers. (Or it was a ginormous cover-up, which is Brown’s take one it — a cover-up by evil Church schemers who have always operated sub rosa in the Church. Not that Jesus’s putative marriage needed to be covered up for any particular spiritual or religious reason.) Recently, there’s the 1982 book, Holy Blood, Holy Grail by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, and Henry Lincoln. It’s an unofficial follow-up to three BBC documentaries. In it, the authors hypothesize that Jesus married Mary Magdelene, had children, and that these children or their descendants emigrated to what is now southern France.
A huge bestseller, Holy Blood, Holy Grail was roundly trashed by historians and scholars from related fields. But nothing stops the steamroller that is Dan Brown.
So, happy belated birthday, Leonardo. I apologize on behalf of the 20th Century. And the 21st. As Ripley asked in Aliens, as you, Leonardo, could ask, “Have IQ’s dropped drastically while I’ve been gone”?
This upcoming Sunday is Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, of course. I’ve been doing my best to have a holy and productive Lent, trying to follow some tips from Nadia Bolz-Weber and The House for All Sinners and Saints (http://www.houseforall.org/). Didn’t do them all (couldn’t do a WHOLE DAY of Internet fasting), or didn’t do them all in order. But I did, I guess 26 of the 28 suggestions that have come along so far.
Looking forward to Palm Sunday — I’m the Altar Server then at St. Michael’s, a job I like a lot and get a lot out of. Then during the following Holy Week, I’ll go to services during the week on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, Friday noon for Stations of the Cross. (I’m actually serving on Thursday, aka Maundy Thursday, and on Friday for Stations.
About Maundy Thursday — it gets its name from the Latin word mandatum. The Scripture for Thursday during Holy Week Jesus at dinner with his disciples, washing their feet and then after dinner saying the Words of Institution that create the Eucharist Sacrament (“This is my body, this is my blood” — insanely provocative words considering that he and the disciples were practicing Jews in the 1st Century and had a profound horror about blood and corpses).
And then he gives the disciples a new commandment (mandatum): “Love one another, as I have loved you.” Not insanely provocative, but definitely a challenge for the disciples, then and now.
At our church, we’ll have foot washing. Nicely humbling to wash someone else’s feet (it might be someone I barely know, perhaps an elderly woman or man). Nicely humbling to have my own feet washed — again by someone I don’t really know, or maybe Rich, my pastor.