This fall Robin Lane Fox delivered a splendid series of Jerome lectures inviting us to contemplate the radical differences between classical and Christian attitudes towards the natural world. Moving with ease through a thousand years of literature in each of his four lectures, Lane Fox showed us how reading and viewing the literatures and artistic production revealed a profound redirection in human understanding. In the beginning there was horizontal world of natural phenomena inhabited by divinities operating in local contexts. Christians, by way of contrast, introduced a fundamentally hierarchical, vertical view of the world which derived from the act of the creator God. In the second lecture, Lane Fox took us into the vegetal world, which, for pagans, was often evocative of sensual delight, that could be brought indoors through painted landscapes, often with mythological additions. For Christians, heaven held a paradisiacal garden of chastity, a place for the encounter with god in an ordered environment. On earth, Christians would often sought to cut themselves off from natural delights, in extreme cases even removing themselves off to the desert where they could prepare their souls for an encounter with god and the rejection of evil temptations. The third lecture was concerned with the animal world, the differing relations between humans and animals, who in Christian terms are servants rather than companions. No Christian would follow the example of Alexander in constructing a memorials for Bucephalus, his horse or Peritas his dog. The fourth lecture brought us quite literally to the end of time, especially with Christian visions of natural signs indicating the arrival of the world’s demise. While pagans would look to signs in the natural world for guidance, they had no single doctrine of the world’s end—they could sense divine displeasure through bad weather, lightening strikes or volcanic eruptions, but this was radically different from the Christian notion of a fixed end of time, and in this we returned once more to the significant differences between horizontal and perpendicular understandings of the natural world.
- "Cosmos and Landscape in Pagan and Christian Views of Creation" - October 17th, 2018
- "Flowers and the Vegetal World" - October 19th, 2018
- "The Hierarchy of Animals" - October 22nd, 2018
- "Signs and Catastrophes" - October 24th, 2018