Saturday, June 9, 2012
Having elsewhere in this journal dealt with years 1510, 1892, 1964 and the epoch spanning 1 million b.c through 7 p.m., I feel it is time to devote some attention to the year zero. Researches of this period are necessarily inconclusive. There were few witnesses and no way of knowing how reliable they were. I do not say this out of disrespect; zero had no history before it and people were new, ignorant and untrained as observers. Records are sketchy where they are not entirely speculative, but generally concur that humanity was in a state of gullibility and confusion.
This is excusable.
Everything was new and strange, including public record. The sober historian is not provided enough material to construct an analysis out of. Over this essay is a 15th century fresco by Masaccio. It shows the first two people ever at the conclusion of their prelapsarian idyl. They are being run out into the weeds. They are naked. An angel hectors them with a sword. I like to imagine the hand of God, behind the angel, coming down with a rolled-up newspaper the size of Oklahoma --but that is just goofing off, unlike efforts of greater historic fidelity like the woodcut print below.
This scene, by Julius Schnorr Von Carolsfeld, is basically unchanged in composition from Masccio's, which lends credibility to its historical accuracy. There are a few embellishments: sword's on fire; weeds are better-defined, pricklier; everybody's clothed. True, it looks like Adam, Eve and angel all got dressed in a hurry, but the geologist may interpret this as a sign the planet was cooling. I know I do.
I also know both scenes portray a man and woman whose personalities have been thrown into disorder. Sudden knowledge of good and evil, right and wrong, has run to spontaneous generation of conscience. Conscience is subordinate to nobody. This was an early concept; had to be to meet the press deadline for Genesis. It is what you feel when authorities at work, in government, any great glob of idiots anywhere order you to do something you don't feel comfortable with. You say no and hightail it before that rolled-up newspaper comes down.