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From: James Jordan <jbjordan4@home.com>
Subject: Re: (urth) Barton, Barrington, and Pandora's Plato
Date: Mon, 20 Aug 2001 11:40:39 

At 01:52 PM 8/20/2001 +0100, Nigel wrote:

>I was also delighted to see that when (chapter 7, "How War Came to Barton",
>p56 in the NEL paperback edition) Aladdin Blue explains the myth of Pandora
>to Holly at the book sale, he offers an explicitly Platonic interpretation:
>     "In the first place," Blue lectured, "it's a commentary on Platonism -
>the idea that each real thing is an imperfect attempt to duplicate an ideal
>one. Epimetheus had made mankind like the gods, so the gods made Pandora
>like a goddess. The Greeks were saying that real people are carricatures of
>ideal people - their gods."
>Now, this is gold dust to me, because I've been asserting for some time that
>the rationale behind Wolfe's use of symbolism is essentially Platonic,
>particularly in The Book of the New Sun. I even pestered people (sorry,
>Potto) with questions about where they thought Wolfe got his Platonism
>from - primary or secondary sources? Here, at least, is a direct reference
>to a philosopher whose ideas (or do I mean "Ideas"?) are, I believe, central
>to Wolfe's work.

         Well, considering Wolfe's study of ancient Greece for his 
"Soldier" series, it's not surprising that we get references to Plato and 
Epithemeus, and others, in his other works. But how central, I'm not sure. 
Wolfe read his Aquinas as part of his conversion to Roman Catholicism, and 
indicated to me that Thomism is basically his outlook. That points more to 
Aristotle than to Plato. Not that he can't have both, but how "central" is 
the question.

>An interesting comment on the significance of myth in general occurs on the
>next page (p57), where Aladdin Blue explains the difference between history
>and myth:
>     "But the real difference is that the events that make up history are
>over and done with, while myth continues, circling our earth forever, like
>the chariot of Helios."
>I suspect that Wolfe would probably categorise Biblical events as myths in
>this sense (which is no comment on their historicity or otherwise), and
>that's one reason why their patterns keep re-occuring in his novels, even
>when those novels are set in the distant future.

         In theology this is called "typology," that basic patterns recur 
in the course of linear history, which is really a spiral. Of course, here 
it becomes just a matter of terminology: what do we mean by "myth"?
         In Genesis 1, and following throughout the Bible, God creates 
"heaven" as an archetype of "earth." The earth begins formless and empty, 
and moves toward the heavenly model progressively through typological 
spirals. That is, earth is gradually "ouranified" toward an eschaton. This 
is formally similar to Platonism and Aristotelianism (Plato: archetypes 
above; Aristotle: archetypes embedded in the world). For that reason, 
Christians have often used platonic/aristotelian terminology, but invested 
it with more Biblical meanings.
         For this reason, I'd challenge the idea that the Book of the New 
Sun is essentially Platonic in its construct. Plato's archetypes are mere 
ideas, because an ideal chair, line, circle, person, cannot really "exist." 
Biblical archetypes (i.e., the angelic realm) actually exist; just as a 
father is an archetype for a son, a mother for a daughter, etc. Yesod and 
Briah exist much more like the Biblical heaven and earth than like Platonic 
forms and the world. Moreover, I don't think Yesod is more "real" than 
Briah, on some "scale of being." It is just a higher plane in a created 
         Wolfe often uses "pagan" myths in his stories, as in Pandora. It 
is interesting to me that detective fiction is usually regarded as a rather 
uniquely "Christian" form of literature, in that human beings are 
responsible (guilty) for what they do (contrast, say, Oedipus, fated by the 
gods), and in that history can be at least partially decyphered (i.e., the 
detective can figure it out; as opposed to random chaos of events). For 
Wolfe to put such mythic elements into a "Christian" literary frame is 
pretty much what he always does.
         I think you are onto good stuff in how Wolfe uses myth in Pandora. 
I hope this provides a bit more grist for your own mill.


*More Wolfe info & archive of this list at http://www.urth.net/urth/

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