WickedEye's Quotient

4/10/2009 at 17:31

Abyssus abyssum invocat

I am not a particular fan of innocence.

Make no mistake: I value clarity of conscience, compassion, kindness.

But the traditional idea of innocence—simplicity, inexperience, naiveté—leaves me cold.

Perhaps it’s because of the fact that I love fairytales, and I know that the ‘fairytale’ idea of innocence so often purveyed has nothing to do with the true, the original fairy tales. Honor was valued, yes, and virtue, but they did not have to do with lack of experience; they were active principles. Cendrillon devised her own dresses and a way to get to the ball. Gretel murdered the witch and saved her brother with a cunning trick.

In the black forests of the Brothers Grimm, the innocent were food—mere fodder and inspiration for the great deeds of more knowing heroes.

My love for myth and mythology has something to do with it too. My favorite hero—the Greeks’ favorite hero—was not Herakles, the strongman, or Theseus, the cold and valorous prince. It was Odysseus, the clever and cunning, wily and deceitful, lusty and devious king. The man who thought the Trojan War was a fool’s errand, but won it for the Greeks. The man who from exile and repeated defeats schemed his way back to his kingdom.

The epitome of knowledge, Odysseus, his journey a long sharpening of wisdom that shaped him as surely as it strengthened him.

Knowledge is power. The Greek word επστσθα, epistesthai, from which we derive epistemology, “the theory of knowledge”: it is to “know how to do, understand”. It is, literally, “to stand over”: epi, “above”, and histasthai, “to stand”.

To know is to stand above. The subsequent inversion of the term in English, “understand”, is one of those piquant etymological ironies. But it too has its—inflections.

This train of thought pulled in because I stumbled across the titular phrase in a story, translated in the same work as “hell calls to hell” or “error calls to error”.

Ah, no.

Abyssus abyssum invocat: Deep calls to deep.

The phrase is from Psalm 41:8 in the Vulgate (the Latin Bible): “Abyssus abyssum invocat in voce cataractarum tuarum; omnes gurgites tui et fluctus tui super me transierunt…” Deep calls to deep in the voice of your torrents, and the swells of your waves have washed over me. It is an entreaty from beside the rivers of Mt. Hermon, in the far northern reaches of the Israelites’ kingdom.

The cresting rush of knowledge does have a way of knocking one under. But unlike water, humans can swim in knowledge as surely as in its lack. And one can, in submersion, become a breathing part of the deeps.

Knowledge calls to knowledge, river to river, ocean to ocean.

Depth to depth. Abyssus abyssum invocat.

Post a Comment

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs2.5 License.