Little Wonders

Did you know: Before Helen was taken from Sparta to Troy–even before she was married to king Menelaus–while she was still a girl, she was abducted by Theseus?

Theseus gave her to his mother to take care of her, until she would be old enough for him to marry.

But Helen’s brothers Castor and Pollux rescued her from Theseus’ mother Aethra. (You can learn a lot of ancient mythology from beautiful old plates.)

Helen married the king of Sparta. But then she was taken away to Troy by Paris. (Paris was the cousin of Aeneas, the ancient father of the Roman race.)

It was a trial being the most beautiful woman in the world…

Puer natus est nobis!

The “Missal” is the book the priest uses to say the prayers of the Holy Mass. The Cornaro Missal has a beautiful illumination on the page next to the Christmas Mass prayers.

The Records of Aeneas and St. Paul

…I promise I won’t bore you with any more palavering about ancient epic poetry for a while after this little essay… But this struck me as interesting: Both Aeneas and St. Paul left for Europe for the first time from the western coast of Turkey, and both of them wound up in Rome.

I am not about to consider the question of whether or not Aeneas was a real person. What I think is interesting is this:

The memorial of Aeneas’ sea-voyage to the west, across the Mediterranean to Italy, is one of the most beautiful artistic works of all time. It is a perfectly organized whole. It is an absolute literary masterpiece. It paints the picture of the ideal Roman warrior. Vergil set out to capture the spirit of ancient Rome in flawless dactylic hexameter, and he succeeded.

Map of Aeneas' journey
Map of Aeneas' journey
On the other hand, the memorial of St. Paul’s sea-voyages, which eventually brought him to the west and to Italy, is a scattershot literary patchwork. The Acts of the Apostles tells us a fair amount about what happened. But the Acts of the Apostles is NOT a literary masterpiece. And the book does not focus exclusively on St. Paul, nor does it include the climax of the Apostle’s earthly life, his martyrdom outside Rome.

St. Paul's Apostolic journeys
St. Paul's Apostolic journeys
We also have St. Paul’s letters to fill out the picture of his grand life. But these letters obviously were not written to be memorials of the Apostle’s heroism. They are at times poetic, but in no way are they literary masterpieces. They were never meant to be. They were written to deal with particular pastoral problems. St. Paul did not think of his “legacy” while writing them; he thought only of the salvation of the souls to whom he was writing.

So Aeneas (fictional or real) has the literary equivalent of a Michelangelo or Da Vinci portrait to keep his memory alive. St. Paul has the literary equivalent of an office-building blueprint that has been torn into a thousand pieces, and about 500 of them have been found and taped back together; the other 500 are lost forever.

God’s ways are not our ways.