Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tip your Pint to Patricius as Trickster

If you are interested in the role of apocalyptic in Jewish, Christian, Greek, and Roman thought around the turn of a couple of millennia ago, Salem's the place to be! The conference has attracted scholars from all over, and they'll be in town from today to the 20th.

Why does eschatology matter? Because we are perennially end-of-the-worlders! The latest cause of the End is Global Warming. CT writes this as a complete believer in climate change - we're not sure about hop harvest, but grape harvest is earlier and earlier, and wines are riper and riper. The evidence is in your drink.

Apocalyptic matters in other ways too - but we're not going to swerve there at the moment.

Instead, with a tip of the pint to the scholars and to St. Patrick, here's something from Peter Brown, one of the greats in the field of late antiquity:
We are fortunate, in the works of Patricus (later known as St. Patrick), to possess a set of remarkable documents....Patricus' story of his life suddenly takes us to a frontier region at the furthest end of the Roman world. Sometime in the 440s, Irish raiders fell on an unknown city of Britain. A well-to-do 16-year-old, Patricus, the son of a deacon, from a family of town councillors, was among the captives....In his exile, he turned to an ascetic brand of Christianity to which he had given no thought when he was a young man from a clerical family in Britain....

Patricus' Letter to Coroticus and his subsequent Confession are so well known...that we forget what remarkable documents they were. They are the first pieces of extensive Latin prose to be written from beyond the frontiers of the Roman world.
Brown goes on to discuss gift exchange and notes
To get something for nothing was the ultimate feat of the trickster. Hardly surprising, the legends which recounted Patrick's first imagined progress through Ireland came to form a cycle which merged the pagan annual festival of the Lughnasa. For at the Lughnasa, Lugh, the archtypal trickster god of Celtic mythology, had, like Patrick, tricked out of grim winter, in return for mere words, the solid riches of the next year's harvest. To present a missionary as a trickster-god, rather than a triumphant exorcist and destroyer of temples, was an unusual way of remembering the coming of Christianity to a northern land.

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