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A fresh look at Greek Philosophy from The Apes of Eden by Jon P. Gunn
Excerpt from The Classicist
Chapter 6 in the Book of Antiquities, The Apes of Eden by Jon P. Gunn
All Metaphysics and Theology
arose in Classical Antiquity.
Despite their later imitators’ claim
it was the Greeks from whom these concepts came–
specifically from Aristotle: the
most famous Founder of Philosophy.
All philosophic systems later wrought
were footnotes, nothing more, to Grecian Thought.”
“I think,” the ape remarked, “that kind of lore
might be the very thing we’re looking for.
I used to have a Book I tried to bring
from home, explaining just that sort of thing.
I’d have it still–except some pranksters’ tricks
did damage to it that I couldn’t fix.
If you could summarize a theme or two
from Grecian Thought, I’d be obliged to you.”
“I wouldn’t mind a bit,” the centaur said,
“and in your Quest you’ll come out far ahead
if you confine your search for wisdom to
the course of study I define for you.
The philosophic field has come to be
a blend of nonsense with absurdity.
Aspiring students have to pick and choose
with utmost care, lest they their minds confuse
with sterile theorizings which engage
all thinkers since the classic Golden Age.
Originators in Philosophy
gave way to those whose object seemed to be
investigating those who, earlier,
reviewed the works of some philosopher
who had composed a critical review
of someone who had written something new
about the valid science, deep and vast,
originating in the classic past.
With critics criticizing critics, you
can see no useful work was left to do.
Post-classical philosophy is all
a trap in which unwary students fall
to waste their lives and intellects–unless
they’re wisely warned, and level heads possess.”
“Our goal is Valid Knowledge,” said the Sage,
“and not in Speculation to engage.
If all the valid thinking has been done
by Greeks, that’s good enough for anyone.”
He found a seat upon a root of oak,
and listened closely, as the centaur spoke.
“The Greeks were first to place the emphasis
on Observation and Analysis,”
the centaur started in. “By this they laid
the grounds for all the progress later made.
The Greeks were also first successfully
to search for Generalized Validity.
They learned to reach beyond details of fact
and seek conclusions general and abstract.
They gave us Mathematics, as a base
for all the Sciences the biped race
in later ages managed to devise–
for which the ‘Moderns’ deemed themselves so wise.
They gave us Logical Analysis,
on which we place all present emphasis.
Among their many contributions, they
presented, in a systematic way,
their treatments of some basic questions: those
which in still-older times and cultures rose.
“The first of these they chose to emphasize
was ‘That From Which’ existent things arise:
the branch of science called Ontology–
the Basic Nature of Reality.
“In making lists, the classic custom’s been
with Thales of Miletus to begin.
He made his mark as an astronomer,
geometrician and philosopher.
Without appealing to Tradition, he
proposed that Ultimate Reality
was Water. This he logically inferred
because this basic element occurred
in ample quantities; and, as we know,
without it, not a blade of grass could grow.
The later answers to this question ranged
from ‘Elements,’ which though themselves unchanged
produced in varied combinations those
materials from which Existence rose–
on up through concepts of ‘the Infinite,’
so called because one cannot say that it
is one thing or another. It alone
can any substance be, from air to stone,
according to its relative degree
of rarefaction or condensity.
It was Anaximander who devised
the concept that ‘the Infinite’ comprised
the Substance of the Universe. The mind
rejects the notion that some special kind
of matter typifies them all. He found
it should be unrestricted, have no bound.
By saying matter has no ‘normal’ state
he managed early to anticipate
the view of ‘modern’ chemists, who agree
that ‘everything consists of Energy,’
which we’re familiar in every form
except its typifying, standard’ norm.’
“But Anaximenes believed that Air
was typical of Substance. Though quite rare
while in its natural state, it also could
be densified to water, fire or wood;
and if compacted into solid blocks
is just as indigestible as rocks.
“He also managed to anticipate
the ‘modern’ theory that a silicate,
subjected to extremes of heat, will then
split into silicon and oxygen.
And oxygen, as surely you’re aware
is the most vital element of air!
“The most ingenious metaphysic was
the observation, by Pythagoras,
that Number must the Basic Substance be,
since every Thing has size and quantity,
and, whether it is moving or at rest,
abides by laws numerically expressed.
Pythagoras was foremost to insist
the Soul and Body separately exist,
and that one’s Soul, at death, will transmigrate
to start life over, in Some Other State.
“The controversy over Permanence
and Change was also much in evidence.
The Eleatic, Zeno, strove to prove
that even speeding arrows cannot move:
At each successive instant, arrows were
at rest, therefore no motion could occur,
just as no ‘separation’ we define
between adjacent points along a line.
An object cannot change position. First
one-half the distance has to be transversed.
Before that midpoint, it must first attain
one quarter of the distance–but in vain,
for eighth, sixteenth, and thirty-second parts
must first be reached. So motion never starts–
it wastes its time at points along a line
which is divided ‘infinitely fine.’
“The difficulties in resolving these
conundrums soon engendered tendencies
toward Gnostic Relativity–the view
that nothing’s ever absolutely true.
The Truth as such can never be removed
from what some clever Sophist claims he’s proved,
so nothing’s known except to that extent
that we’re convinced of it, by Argument.
“But Socrates turned up in time to give
the Sophists’ view that ‘Truth is Relative’
a well-deserved critique. The Sophists feel
that nothing much, if anything, is Real.
One aspect of the Knowledge Problem lay
(as Socrates insisted) in the way
the Sophists use the ambiguities
of words to ‘prove’ whatever ‘truths’ they please.
He thought this pointed up the urgent need
for Rules of Rhetoric that all could heed
–some formalized criteria, by which
contestants in debate could make their pitch
and yet not leave unbiased judges with
the vague impression they had proved a myth.
“A precept often stressed by Socrates
(and hardly anybody disagrees)
is Reason’s Duty to examine things,
exempting nothing from our questionings.
‘The unexamined life,’ he always said,
‘need not be lived; one might as well be dead.’
He also stipulated: ‘Questioning
must be constructive–not the sort of thing
that undermines an honest point of view
without replacing it with something new.’
“Since Reasoning Ability is viewed
as Humankind’s Distinctive Aptitude,
and since it is incumbent on a man
to make himself as human as he can,
Morality–so Socrates opined–
is using and developing the Mind.
“This train of logic leads us to suspect
that Virtue’s locus is the Intellect.
The essence of one’s Virtue therefore lies
between the ears and just behind the eyes.
To that extent that human being lack
Sound Judgment, are their moral standards slack.
The disadvantages of evil were
the damage done to one’s own character.
No normal person voluntarily
elects to do himself an injury–
the problem is, we don’t all realize
exactly where our best self-interest lies.
We therefore many evil choices make
despite self-interest, simply by mistake!
If malefactors only knew this fact
they’d have the sense to think before they act.
“No axiologist since Socrates
has solved the Values Issue with such ease;
yet ‘moderns’ now refuse to recognize
that evil deeds from Ignorance arise.
Dismissing Socrates as ‘out of date,’
they fudge, and theorize, and obfuscate,
too stubborn to admit the issue’s solved
and Error is the only thing involved.
“In Socrates and in his followers
we meet those eminent philosophers
of long-enduring, well-deserved repute
whose basic contributions constitute
the main traditions in the history
of Western science and philosophy.
In Plato’s The Republic he relates
the salient features of Ideal States,
where measures will be taken to insure
for every citizen a lineage pure,
and equal opportunity for all
to find a social niche, then rise or fall
according to one’s own abilities–
one’s aptitudes and fallibilities.
Prospective statesmen who perform the best
on Euclid’s books (by some objective test)
advance, because this talent we equate
with that required to run Affairs of State.
By this selective process, judges find
and elevate the Philosophic Mind.
The truly qualified will never stop
advancing till they make it to the Top:
that is, the Council of the Truly Wise
who would the central government comprise.
Those few who understand the True and Good
receive the posts an Archimedes should,
and higher concepts learn of Deity
in place of popular mythology.
“In Plato’s scheme, an indolent buffoon
needs more endowments than a silver spoon.
If necessary, to eliminate
all nepotistic tendencies, the State
will overrule the Family, taking charge
of offspring, who’ll be raised as ‘kids at large,’
eliminating, to a great extent,
the Last Resort of the Incompetent–
a doting father who, besides a Name,
supplies the bribes to pave his way to fame.
Is it not strange to note, since Plato died,
not once has his ingenious plan been tried!
“Few intellects by later ages hatched
have Aristotle’s Analytics matched
for thoroughly-objective and exact
analysis of scientific fact.
His books were much consulted, first by peers
and then Scholastics, for two thousand years.
“In brief, as any Sophomore can see,
the Golden Age of Greek Philosophy
had kicked all questions thoroughly around
and every possible Solution found.
No new addition to these crowded shelves
can add to what the Greeks devised themselves.
“And so,” the centaur summarized, “you see
that in the study of Philosophy,
the careful student must avoid the snares
of everything since Aristotle. There’s
a Labyrinth awaiting, like the Pit,
and nothing gained by getting lost in it,
for those who venture past the Golden Age
of Grecian Thought, by even half a page. . .
“And now, if you’ll excuse me, I believe
since Dusk approaches, both of us should leave.
If we delay, we’re apt to meet with more
‘fair game’–like that atrocious minotaur.
My life’s not charmed, and I’m afraid I might
be still less fortunate, unarmed, by night.”
The centaur heaved the Carcass to his back,
and turned to face along the forest track.
With one last word of thanks for all the good
the Sage had done, he set off through the wood.
The Sage sat thinking, making mental note
of headings for a book he later wrote,
until he, also, apprehensive grew
at pending dusk, and prudently withdrew.
Apes of Eden – Antiquities – Preview
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iCrew Digital Productions is proud to announce that it is publishing The Apes of Eden by Jon P. Gunn in October. The Adobe Acrobat file below contains Book 1 of The Apes of Eden Saga. The Journey Begins will contain the first three. It is a different type of read from what you are used to. If you don’t catch on to it, that’s not a problem. If you do, let me know. I am thinking and hoping that this book is special. I have had the manuscript for nearly thirty years.
Let me know what you think and pass it on if you know someone interested.
Literate Louie email@example.com
The Scribe of the Tribe
Antiquities – The Fall
The Tribe emerged from Eden, and progressed
the way we found our noses pointed: west.
As long as we remained within clear view
of Eden’s borders, novelties were few.
The landscape looked familiar. The terrain
was much like Eden’s vegetated plain,
though less luxuriant. The shrubs and trees
were less diverse in their varieties.
Though food was not abundant, it was still
sufficient. Day by day we found our fill.
We prowled around a while, a month or so,
then asked our Sage which way we ought to go.
Of that he wasn’t certain. When he sought
suggestions from the magic Scroll he’d brought,
he found that tribal wags, with peerless wit,
had rolled Repugnant Matter up in it.
We’d known he had a flair for words. Now he
displayed a talent for profanity.
With grinning innocence, we heard the Sage
describe our natures, in a mighty rage.
He ruled the book a total loss, and just
discarded it in anger and disgust.
Since all he knew had come from it alone,
he found himself completely on his own.
He pondered, scratched his head, and looked depressed.
Perhaps, he thought, our Goal lay somewhere west;
because, you see, one fact was clear at least:
we’d just retrace our tracks by heading east.
The Tribe set forth, with aspirations high.
We made brave pledges: We’d succeed or die.
Progressing west, we saw the landscape change
to rolling hills, and then a mountain range.
Behind us in the distance, Eden’s wall
had disappeared, concealed by forests tall
–or so the ancient chroniclers aver.
(A statement by the Gateman, earlier,
suggests an alternate hypothesis;
so which is less unlikely–that or this?)
Unwelcome facts emerged, before too long:
Outside our home, the world’s constructed wrong.
The trees and berry bushes sprouted thorns,
and wildlife made good use of claws and horns.
These things perplexed us. Inside Eden’s wall
we’d had no natural enemies at all.
The wolves and tigers there ate grass, like deer,
but predators had coarser tastes, out here:
they hunted apes.
Quick rivals grabbed the shoots
we most preferred. We had to chew on roots
or anything we found. We raised the question
whether roughage might upset digestion–
whether we were best advised to go
back home. A lot of us decided so;
and then when frost appeared, one chilly day,
these malcontents rebelled, and trooped away.
Presumably the fainthearts fled back east,
on Eden’s bounty once again to feast
–to sell their souls for Luxury, and spurn
the tribal glory we would someday earn.
Our leader called the Tribe in council, then
(or what was left of it). He spoke again
of Pithecanic Destiny and such.
Our current woes, he said, were nothing much.
“Too long in useless indolence we dwelled!
Our lives have Purpose now! If we’re compelled
to do without without our favorite nuts and grapes,
we’ll take such things in stride! Are we not Apes?”
And all the Tribe in answer bravely roared,
“We’ll be an indefatigable horde,
who’ll march forever, if we must, in quest
of Values of the noblest and the best!”
The Tribe thrust deeper into wilderness.
The bounty of the land grew less and less.
Each day we barely found enough, and then
sheer lack of forage drove us on again.
We weren’t impelled by lack of food alone;
our curiosity to see the world had grown.
Astonished by the landscape’s sheer extent,
we wanted, now, to see how far it went.
We learned to cope with Predators in ways
unknown before. We found that Teamwork pays.
An ape who went to forage on his own,
could not contend with hungry of wolves alone;
but if we stuck together, five or six
of us could fight them off, by swinging sticks.
We forged ahead, to search the rocky holes
of some great Canyon, for our formless goals,
till real scarcities had changed our mood.
Thereafter, all our searching was for food.
The hardships of our Quest were hard to know
ahead of time. We next encountered Snow.
Our teeth began to chatter–then our bones.
Our feet and fingers grew as numb as stones.
As life’s necessities concerned us more
we gave less thought to what we’d come here foe
—whatever that was.
Many drifted back
in hopes repatriation rules were slack.
It’s doubtful that they got to Eden, though.
The archives say they would have had to go
past restless Glaciers which had blocked our way
back east. We evidently had to stay.
We tried to reach the canyons further end,
but first we had the winter months to spend:
The Avalanches, crashing from on high
impressed us as a chilly way to die.
With both the exits choked with snow and ice,
we tried to scale the ridges, once or twice.
Our mountain climbers started through the snow.
An icy canyon wind began to blow.
Acclimatized, throughout recorded time
to Eden’s kindly, undemanding clime,
they weren’t conditioned to that sort of thing.
We found their frozen corpses in the spring.
We spent that winter in the canyon’s end,
and hoped spring thaws our confines would extend.
Since all of us were hungry as a shark,
we crunched on seeds, and gnawed on strips of bark
and other things we never would have known
were food for any race, much less our own.
We’ve always been a fast-adapting breed,
especially in times of pressing need.
Since herbivores must bear the famine’s brunt,
we modified our tastes, and learned to hunt,
and changed our diet readily enough–
although our first techniques were rude and rough.
We hounded game till it was out of breath,
then inhumanely cudgeled it to death.
We seldom caught enough. An “‘om.ni.vore”
is “one who eats all foods” –then looks for more.
The tripe and gristle, giblets, fat and brain
were chewed on for the protein they contain.
Nor did we give up hunting in the spring;
we went on eating nearly everything.
The only difference was, when famine ceased,
our appetites accordingly increased.
Necessity had taught us first the way
–and then the attitudes–of beasts of prey.
We weren’t unique. Voracious beasts would lurk,
all fur and fangs, in snowbound woodland murk;
and often some enormous, hairy shape
could with a single bite behead an ape
clear to his waist. Mere sticks did not suffice,
rebounding from a skull as hard as ice.
We met some predatory breeds of Men
who stalked in frozen gully, glade and glen
and seemed to think they had a better right
to use these hunting grounds. We had to fight
not only for the privilege to compete
for food, but lest we, too, be killed for meat.
These humans weren’t the Basic Species. There
were shaggy Bigfoots, who could crush a bear
with grim embrace; and crossbow-shooting Gnomes
whose whiskers brushed their boots, who made their homes
in excavated mountain caves. One more
part-human species was the Minotaur:
the stupidest of human breeds, but quite
impractical to hunt. In hulk and height
they were a match for Bigfoots. Basically
they had the figures of humanity,
except that to their shoulders was attached
a longhorn cattle head, which hardly matched.
Despite their bovine teeth, they didn’t eat
the pasturage, but lived on fresh-killed meat.
One scribe’s description, which survives till now,
says minotaurs had tails, just like a cow.
Since competition was ferocious, we
were forced to use our ingenuity;
and new inventions started to appear:
the Axe, the Tomahawk, the stone-tipped Spear.
With better tools, we dealt more deadly blows.
We blared on sheep horns, to out-roar our foes.
Inventors may take credit, if they please,
but no invention brought us lives of ease.
When better weapons made the sport too tame,
we found excuse to tackle bigger game.
By promptly rising to emergencies
was Ape emancipated from the trees.
He then, with no external change of shape,
evolved from Happy Dunce to
with spring-steel sinews, tiger-throttling paws,
and fangs to match his famine-toughened jaws;
with twice the courage of a bear, and wile
surpassing that of snake and crocodile;
with eyes as keen in darkness as in light,
and ears that plucked a whisper from the night:
a match for any predator alive–
a winner in the Struggle to Survive!
Our lives were full of hunger, strife and grime,
and Eden buried in the trash of time.
Excerpt – Prologue and Invocation
My present goal is briefly to describe
the mighty deeds of Eden’s famous Tribe
from high antiquity to modern times
in lucid, readable Heroic Rhymes
that nearly any member of our band
with brains between his ears, can understand.
Permit me, first, a word on scribal Style:
Traditions have been fixed for quite a while;
and I shall follow them, however it
displeases readers lacking taste and wit.
I write as Eden’s classic authors wrote.
Wherever possible, I try to quote
their golden iambs. Thus should every scribe
of Eden keep the records of the Tribe.
All tastes are not alike, I realize.
I nonetheless decline to compromise!
What compromise is possible? One type
of reader savors Art, the other, tripe.
There is no tepid “Middle Way” to go.
Like death, or pregnancy, it’s Yes or No–
You’ll either be enraptured by the terse,
majestic cadence of Heroic Verse
or else it drives you screaming up the wall.
There seems to be no neutral ground at all.
I don’t expect my work to go to waste.
We have, among us, apes of cultured taste:
the Literate Elite. I write for those.
Let lowbrows read some Scribbler’s dreary prose.
This book will fill some long-felt needs. For one,
our present tribal Archives weigh a ton.
The custom of inscribing all our lore
on chiseled slabs of stone, as heretofore,
has meant that history has put on weight
beyond my competence to estimate–
much less to carry. Nor have volunteers
come forth to share this load I’ve borne for years
through prairies, mountains, deserts, swamps and sloughs
as Eden’s Tribe it’s holy Quest pursues.
A sedentary race of stay-at-homes
is justified in storing weighty tomes,
but apes who have our quest-pursuing bent
with lighter reading ought to be content.
The land through which we travel now is rife
with deadly hazards to one’s health and life:
explosive gas from smoking fumeroles,
and dragons darting out of clefts and holes,
and winged snakes, concealed in clouds of gray
volcano smoke, to pounce upon their prey.
It’s difficult for someone to compete
unless he’s quick and agile on his feet,
and not encumbered by a heavy sack
of Literary Treasures on his back.
And if the harsh, relentless truth be told,
I’m past my prime of life: I’m getting old.
A lighter load would be a boon to me.
I’m not as nimble as I used to be.
Besides, too many “documents” we keep
are uninformative–a cumbrous heap
of sherds and fragments which cannot be read;
or commentaries, made by scribes long dead,
on writings which were subsequently lost
among the swamps and deserts we have crossed;
or whopping tales the ancient used to weave,
which now not even gaffers can believe
or myths our Senior Tribesmen have themselves
devised–of goblins, pixies, spooks and elves–
which scribes with little talent of their own
as chroniclers, immortalized in stone.
We have some archives which exist in three
or four editions, none of which agree.
Least valuable of all our books are those
in cryptic tongues no living tribesman knows.
Be sensible: Do antiquaries need
archaic texts which none of us can read?
There’s too much trash the Tribe of Eden owns
of which in vain we ask: What Mean These Stones?
The monsters we contend with, day by day,
have proven helpful, in a passive way.
The fuming pits abounding in this land
provide the chemicals with which I’ve tanned
the dragon-leather which, if bleached, makes quite
a choice material on which to write.
One modest credit more: I’m first to think
of using dragons’ soot-black blood for ink.
If all goes well, I shall present the whole
of Eden’s history on one small scroll,
in style and portability improved,
with errors and obscurities removed–
a text which may an inspiration be
to apes, throughout our future destiny,
instead of merely stirring up dissent
by giving quibblers grounds for argument.
In place of many clashing texts, I give
you one, coherent and definitive!
No “food for thought” is lost. I promise that.
I save the meat, although I trim the fat.
For this first time in many days, the view
is relatively peaceful–with a few
small winged serpents soaring in the night;
but not a single Dragon is in sight.
I’ll seize this priceless opportunity
to finish editing my History
before another troupe of monsters choose
to interrupt me. Let’s get started, Muse!
Scribe of the Tribe
Book I – Chapter 1 – Genesis
According to the legends of our race
the Tribe originated in a place
called Eden. It lies “east,” but east of where
is now no longer known. It’s said that there
our first progenitors came down from trees
where they had ripened in the sun and breeze.
A second legend contradicts the first,
and says we fell from Heaven, roundly cursed
by worried gods who recognized that we
were latent threats to their supremacy,
and wisely chose to banish us to Hell
before they had a Great Revolt to quell.
We outmaneuvered them, and landed here
on Earth. Just how we did it isn’t clear;
the legend’s Happy Ending seems to be
a missing page in tribal history.
The “War in Heaven” is a common theme
in ancient lore–so common, it would seem,
that writers who refer to it suppose
it is a story everybody knows,
which needn’t be repeated. Since they fail
to give the Plot, or even much detail,
it’s hard to build a narrative around
the mere allusions, which are all I’ve found.
The War occurred; of that there’s little doubt,
since apes cannot be brusquely ordered out.
Apparently the Tribe was put to flight,
but surely not without a brutal fight.
A third, still stranger, theory says we came
from human beings. That one’s rather lame!
No ape with half his wits about him can
believe we Higher Apes evolved from Man–
the lowest of the primates, mere cartoons,
the moral peers of mandrills or baboons!
And yet this superstition still persists
among small cliques of crypo-atheists,
who flaunt their right to “freedom of belief”
with grudging toleration by our Chief.
Some ancient scribes, rejecting “theory,” say
we’ve always been as we exist today;
we neither dropped from Heaven nor arose
“by evolution” from our racial foes.
That open-ended past I can’t conceive,
nor do I know which theories to believe.
I only know that Eden, lush and fair,
exists, and we originated there.
How else can one explain how “Eden” came
to be our own distinctive tribal name?
From most surviving records, it appears
we stayed in Eden twenty million years–
but some say twenty billion. Others give
a shorter span. I can’t be positive
when scribal records handed down to me
are mistransmitted so creatively.
We lived a tranquil and idyllic life
unmarred by hardships, danger, toil and strife.
In Eden every fruit this planet knew,
and every flower, in profusion grew.
The lotus blossoms, amaranths* and palms
enriched the zephers with their fragrant balms,
and rainbow-colored lovebirds trilled among
the vines, where grapes the size of melons hung.
The very weeds were elegantly decked
with breeds of flowers one would least expect.
We gorged on fruits, fresh-ripened every day
for our convenience, in profuse array.
Among the shady fronds we took our ease,
or chased each other up and down the trees,
or polished up our acrobatic stunts
on boughs that bore a dozen fruits at once,
dislodging pears on one another’s head
and seeing mangoes ripen in their stead–
or any crop that met the moment’s needs.
We pelted passersby with rinds and seeds.
We made up games, then freely changed the rules.
We grinned at our reflections in the pools.
Uncounted generations came and went
before we tired of ease and merriment.
In autumn of our twenty millionth year
some Mental Ferment started to appear.
A wise old ape, with fur of iron-gray,
would circulate among us, day by day,
persuading us that Eden could not be
unless created by a Deity.
He thought a cosmos ruled by natural laws
in order to exist, must have a Cause.
He had a scroll that no one else could read,
*At last I’ve found a rhyme for “amaranth,”
but have no place to use it: “coelacanth,”
a mythologic fish with “hollow spine”
(from which the name derives) who swam the brine
of fabled, purely-legendary seas
existing only in mythologies.
I’m trying to preserve this sort of gem;
some future poet may have need of them.
Perhaps my reader’s not aware that “aardvark”
rhymes, at least trochically, with “card shark.”
Also, as a last resort, an “orange”
rhymes the first two syllables of “porring-
er.” (Mishyphenations can and do
beget such monsters by the cageful.) –Lou
which he unrolled when there arose the need
to prove some point about the proper way
to plan a universe. My archives say
there’d been no antecedent for his view
of Cosmic Verities–the false and true
which we, his philosophic heirs, agree
are fundamental to theology.
His views are never questioned, any more,
but no one had suggested them before,
and very few among us thought they could
concern ourselves. The few who understood
his far-fetched lore of Cosmic Deity
decried its lack of practicality.
Our tribal common knowledge was that Earth
was just a mote among the stars–not worth
a second’s notice by a Being who
has vastly more important things to do.
Within a universe so grandly wrought,
this world was but a cosmic afterthought.
That Sage of old worked hard to set us straight,
and, point by point, out-talked us in debate.
He made us grudgingly begin to doubt
we really had the cosmos figured out.
He showed, with excerpts quoted from his book
the errors in our thinking. We mistook
Existence for Necessity.
exists,” he said, “but try to understand
it wouldn’t have to. Likely it would not
if sun or moon were only half as hot.
Were any of a hundred factors changed,
the world might be completely rearranged.
Suppose the moon and stars were just as bright
as sunshine is–we couldn’t sleep at night.
But what compels the Lesser Lights to glow
so modestly? Does anybody know?
Suppose the sun came up before the dawn,
or set when twilight was already gone–
what Power holds in such precise array
these alternations of the night and day?
Has not some knowing, caring Intellect
arranged the world for us, in this respect?
Suppose (instead of horizonal) land
were vertical : where could a person stand?
And, if it were inverted , we would fly
to our destruction down into the sky!
Could living creatures on their own devise
this deft arrangement of the lands and skies?
Suppose the rainfall here were slightly more.
Our lake would gradually encroach the shore
(its equilibrium upset) until
its water inundates the highet hill!
If coconuts fell up, instead of down,
we wouldn’t find them lying on the ground;
we’d have to climb the palm trees. Why do grapes
and berries grow within the reach of apes
instead of (for example) underground,
where they’d have sprouted by the time they’re found?
Our favorite roots don’t grow in rock, but soil,
extractable with negligible toil.
This all occurred by Chance, the Skeptics say;
but how can chance make things a certain way ?
By chance alone, the sky might not be blue;
it might be brown. Would that appeal to you?
We apes are brown. What color might we be
by chance? Blue apes would be a sight to see!
Consider trees: Were trees one foot in height,
how could we build our nests up high at night?
Or fingernails: exactly where they ought
to grow. Without them, how could fleas be caught?
There’s no place on us where a flea can go
that can’t be scratched with finger or with toe;
so even we were planned, in each detail,
to be ourselves, from brain to fingernail.
This couldn’t all be chance. Please understand
this world did not ‘just happen’–it was planned !
This proves–” (He paused to puzzle through his scroll)
“–that all these things are under God’s control!”
He was the greatest thinker of the age.
Adducing arguments like these, the Sage,
since Order in the Universe persists,
convinced us a Divinity exists.
He pressed his thesis further, saying we
should go in quest of Cosmic Deity–
he’d met someone, he said, who’d thought it odd
that we, the Higher Apes, had not found God.
The Sage’s name is more than I can guess
from documents surviving now. This mess
of tribal books is scratched on potsherds, stones,
or scalpulae and other broad, flat bones,
or shells, or slabs of rock, or sunbaked clay;
and some do not support what others say.
You’d think, when some great leader rose to fame,
that someone would at least record his name;
but, sorting archives, page by stony page,
the only thing I’ve seen him called is “Sage.”
In all the lands our roving Tribe has crossed,
that’s not the only history we’ve lost.
To say that careless scribes have brought disgrace
on our profession, understates the case.
Though certain scribes were chroniclers indeed,
one doubts that others even learned to read.
My predecessor was incompetent.
Possessing little Jounalistic Bent,
as he “kept records,” that unlettered hack
just “kept” them, unassorted, in a sack–
so that his long-neglected task devolved
on me, with all these problems unresolved.
Because it’s evidently up to me
to straighten out our tribal history,
I’ll make what sense I can of broken sherds
–and split infinitives, and misspelled words–
and trust my patient reader not to judge
a scribe too harshly, when he has to fudge.
But I digress. Our Leader from his perch
harangued us, swinging from a bough of birch
above the heads of our assembled band,
and gestured with his feet, and one free hand:
“With manifest Activity of Mind,
what mysteries we’d solve, what secrets find,
if we’d exploit our capabilities
instead of lolling idly in the trees.
As long as we’re content to loiter here
and shrink from Exploration, in our fear
of High Adventure waiting in the large
uncharted world beyond this garden’s marge
–if mere uncertainty leaves us agape
with fear–do we deserve the title, Ape?
Have we no higher destiny than this:
to bask in mindless idleness and bliss?
Who wants to be considered such a clod
he has to hedge when asked: Have you found God?
Let’s find the Deity!” our prophet cried,
and swung excitedly from side to side.
“Let’s forge a destiny that’s really worth
the efforts of the wisest race on Earth!”
His theme, reiterated doggedly,
elicited some widespread apathy.
The bulk of us preferred our slothful beds
among the fronds. We quailed, and wagged our heads.
Those apes who understood the Sage at all
made weak excuses: Why this rousing call
to go intrude on someone else’s haunt
while having everything we’ll ever want ?”
No aspect of his theme was weaker than
its lack of object, or specific plan.
He told us we should be out searching, but
could only obfuscate when asked:
“For what ?”