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Posts Tagged ‘sin’

Conscience for Boys and Girls

September 9, 2014 | by


William Holman Hunt, The Awakening Conscience, 1853

Scrolling through Retronaut, you might run across a 1927 pamphlet called “Examination of Conscience for Boys and Girls,” which the site resurfaced last year. It’s a Catholic publication by a Jesuit brother named A.J. Wilwerding, distributed by something called “The Queen’s Work” in Saint Louis. The first few pages are pretty straightforward—the author defines different kinds of sins and helpfully distinguishes them by typeface: venial, venial (at risk of becoming Mortal), and MORTAL. Did the child DENY he was a Catholic? Did he curse? Did he misbehave in church? And then you reach the fourth page:


And maybe you cry, and you think that these are not bad rules to live by. Not just for kids. Certainly not just for Catholics. And that it’s not easy; as Morrissey said, it takes guts.

Of course, then you keep reading: Read More »

Recapping Dante: Canto 20, or True Dantective

March 10, 2014 | by

This winter, we’re recapping the Inferno. Read along! This week: Virgil and Dante go True Detective.


Giovanni Stradano, Canto XX, 1587.

Dante: I’ve never seen anything like it. The moment we entered the domain of the diviners, I knew right away something was very wrong. Some sick bastard went to town on them. Their bodies were contorted, their heads were twisted back 180 degrees so their tears fell down their asses. It’s the sort of thing nobody should see once. You spend the rest of your career trying to avoid anything like it again. I was almost ruined after that. But Virgil, he was fascinated.

* * *

Virgil: A man in hell surprises even himself. You go down there waiting to get hit with a rush of pity, but it never arrives. No. The first thing that hits you is the great irony of divination. You wonder, are these sinners being punished for lying—for creating the illusion that somehow they were graced with the power of premonition? Or maybe they’re down there because they saw something and decided to reveal whatever improbable truth nobody was supposed to know about until it actually happened? If that’s the case, then they already know what’s going to happen to them. You see, an ordinary sinner holds out in ignorance, thinking that something might change ten, one hundred years down the line. But the diviners know that they can’t leave hell. Is that why they’re weeping? Wouldn’t you weep if suddenly you felt the silence of God and knew He wasn’t going to return?

* * *

Dante: I can’t remember whom we spoke to first. There were a few Thebans, but none of them had anything useful to say. One old man, Amphiaraus, kept giving us some line about how he was sucked down into the earth and dragged to hell when he tried to delay his own death.  We figured out pretty quickly that these Thebans were all part of the same cult of seers, led by a blind man named Tiresias.

* * *

Virgil: Tiresias was a distraction, you see. That wasn’t the real story. You hear a big name like Tiresias, and you assume it’s going to tie back to him, but then we found a woman named Manto. Read More »


The Gourmand

April 4, 2011 | by

Images by Charlotta Westergren.

Charlotta Westergren, Victory, 2010, oil on linen, 58 in. x 58 in.

The story repeated most often in the gastronomical canon is Plutarch’s anecdote about the Roman patrician Lucullus. Asked if he might want a simple dinner on a night with no guests, the great gastronome orders up a feast, telling his steward that he is entertaining the most important guest of all: “Tonight Lucullus dines with Lucullus.”

What always gets left out in the retelling is that Plutarch’s compliment to Lucullus’s table is a backhanded one. “The daily repasts of Lucullus,” writes Plutarch, “were such as the newly rich affect … With his arrays of all sorts of meats and daintily prepared dishes, he made himself the envy of the vulgar.” The misgivings about the gourmet are as old as Roman times: what if the endless expenditure on luxury signals not sophistication, but just plain gluttony?

What elevates the gourmand above your everyday glutton? Both rave about the same three-star Michelin experience, the first because it was rapturous and the second because he wants to make sure you know he had it. Maybe for an old-fashioned stoic there’s no difference, but nowadays things are laxer, and we don’t call the honest gourmet a sinner.

But can you always tell the one from the other? I’m not sure if it’s polite to ask these days, now that cooking is right up there with art and music and literature, but let’s just put it out there anyway.

The questions come to mind now thanks to Modernist Cuisine, the epic six-volume cookbook published by Nathan Myhrvold, a man of grandiose talents (physicist! paleontologist! billionaire!) and appetites. But I’ve been thinking about this for a while, since reading, at my girlfriend Charlotta’s prodding, Brillat-Savarin’s Physiology of Taste, the great nineteenth-century work of culinary science to which Modernist Cuisine gets compared.

Read More »