October 9, 2018
“When the gods created Gilgamesh,” the ancient text says, “they gave him a perfect body. Shamash the glorious sun [god] endowed him with beauty, Adad the god of the storm endowed him with courage, the great gods made his beauty perfect, surpassing all others, terrifying like a great wild bull. Two thirds they made him god and one third man.”
Every year freshmen at Wyoming Catholic College struggle to find their bearings in the midst of The Epic of Gilgamesh. The epic was composed in Babylon in the mid- to late-second millennium BC. It was something of a founding myth for the Babylonian kings and the parallels between Gilgamesh and the Bible and Gilgamesh and Homer are, to say the least, intriguing.
Professor Kyle Washut has just finished teaching The Epic of Gilgamesh and is anxiously awaiting student papers reflecting on the tale. Prof. Washut is our guest this week on The After Dinner Scholar.
September 25, 2018
The train passengers watched as one cowboy after another tried to rope an uncooperative horse. “Then for the first time I noticed a man who sat on the high gate of the corral, looking on. For he now climbed down with the undulations of a tiger, smooth and easy, as if his muscles flowed beneath his skin. The others had all visibly whirled the rope, some of them even shoulder high. I did not see his arm lift or move. He appeared to hold the rope down low, by his leg. But like a sudden snake I saw the noose go out its length and fall true; and the thing was done. As the captured pony walked in with a sweet, church-door expression, our train moved slowly on to the station, and a passenger remarked, ‘That man knows his business.’” Thus begins Owen Wister’s 1902 novel The Virginian.
Being Wyoming Catholic College, we used Wister’s tale about Wyoming in the 1870s as the subject of a recent all-school seminar. Our entire school community read the book and met in groups for discussion followed by dinner, roping, oil-barrel bull rides, black powder rifles, and Western dancing.
Prof. Kyle Washut, a Wyoming native, has long loved the book and is our guest on this edition of The After Dinner Scholar.
September 4, 2018
I see nothing quite conclusive in the art of temporal government,
But violence, duplicity and frequent malversation.
King rules or barons rule:
The strong man strongly and the weak man by caprice.
They have but one law, to seize the power and keep it.
And the steadfast can manipulate the greed and lust of others.
The feeble is devoured by his own.
Those words are from T. S. Eliot’s play “Murder in the Cathedral,” the story of tSt. Thomas Becket's martyrdom. Becket was King Henry II pal who he appointed Chancellor and then Archbishop of Canterbury. As Chancellor, Becket was Henry’s man to do the king’s will. But when he became Archbishop, something changed. He realized that he now needed to be God’s man, a decision that—given the outcomes—enraged Henry.
Prof. Kyle Washut discussed Eliot, Thomas, and what he called “Perfected Courage” at the 2018 Wyoming School of Catholic Thought. Prof. Washut is our guest this week on The After Dinner Scholar.
August 21, 2018
His dad was king of England… or at least sort of. That being the case, how does a usurper’s son create legitimacy?
After the death of Henry IV of England, Prince Hal as everyone has been calling him, has a plan to establish himself on the throne as Henry V despite his shaky claim to the crown. His success depends on careful planning, courageous battling, and--to his surprise--divine Providence.
At the Wyoming School of Catholic Thought in June, Dr. Glenn Arbery, president of Wyoming Catholic College explained how Shakespeare told the tale of Prince Hal in the play "Henry V."
Here are Dr. Arbery’s remarks in their entirety.
August 21, 2018
On October 25 here at Wyoming Catholic College, it is tradition for someone to stand on a cafeteria table at lunch and ask in a loud voice, “What’s he that wishes so? My cousin Westmoreland?”
October 25 is St. Crispin’s Day and those two questions begin the St. Crispin’s Day speech given by King Henry in Act IV, Scene iii of Shakespeare’s play “Henry V.”
Henry of England, having invaded France is faced with a decisive battle in which he is badly outnumbered. In discussing the situation, the Duke of Westmoreland wishes for more troops. Henry’s response takes him by surprise: I’d just as soon there were fewer.
Dr. Glenn Arbery explains how this play and the speech teach us about courage on this edition of The After Dinner Scholar.
August 14, 2018
Hercules, that greatest of all Greek heroes, possessed a mighty and magical bow that bequeathed to a man named Philoctetes.
Sailing from Greece to invade Troy and bring back Helen, Philoctetes received a wound on his foot that became foul and festering. So foul and festering that people couldn’t stand being near him and so the decision was made to maroon him alone on a deserted island with his bow.
But the Trojan War went badly for the Greeks and they knew that they could not win without Philoctetes’ bow. The question was how to get it back from Philoctetes who, after ten years on his island, was bitterly angry at Odysseus and the other Greek leaders who had left him.
At the Wyoming School of Catholic Thought, Dr. Virginia Arbery discussed the story of Philoctetes in modern Irish author Seamus Heaney’s play “The Cure at Troy.”
Here are her remarks.
July 24, 2018
In court, on trial for his life, Socrates begins his defense saying, “I do not know, men of Athens, how my accusers affected you; as for me, I was almost carried away in spite of myself, so persuasively did they speak. And yet, hardly anything of what they said is true.”
This summer, we’ve been featuring interviews and lectures from The Wyoming School of Catholic Thought with its theme “The Paradox of Courage.”
This week, Dr. Virginia Arbery considers Socrates Apology, which in no way apologizes for anything. His apologia is his defense in the court of Athens that will, in fact, condemn him to death for not believing in the gods and for corrupting the youth of Athens. Is Socrates courageous before the court? Or would Aristotle, for example, consider him simply rash, bring about an avoidable death penalty?
Here is Dr. Arbery’s lecture in its entirety to help you decide.
July 17, 2018
Kyle Washut was part of the work crew at that first Wyoming School of Catholic Thought. He spent his days listening in as he set tables, washed dishes, and scrubbed. At the end, he did the final clean up while Fr. Schall and the other faculty chatted over a steak dinner.
At this year’s Wyoming School, Professor Kyle Washut did not set table. As a presenter, one of his topics was courage in Plato’s Laches and in Aristotle’s Nichomacean Ethics. And it turns out that the question Plato and Aristotle addressed in the fourth century BC is critical even—or perhaps critical especially today: How do we form men out of boys? What kind of cultivation is required?
Professor Washut is our guest this week on The After Dinner Scholar.
July 3, 2018
“Antigone,” written by the Athenian poet Sophocles in the fifth century BC poses a dilemma: What do we do when the government says one thing, but God—or in this case the gods—say otherwise?
In the play Antigone’s two brothers, Eteocles and Polyneices, chose opposite sides in the civil war in Thebes. In battle the two brothers kill each other just as the side Eteocles chose wins the war. The victorious new ruler, Creon, decrees that Eteocles will be honored as a great hero and buried with all dignity and holy rites.
As for Polyneices’ body, Creon says, “it has been proclaimed to the city that no one honor with a tomb or lament with cries, but let him lie unburied, his body devoured by birds and by dogs and mangled for the seeing.” Disobedience will be punished by death.
But the gods decree the dead should be buried. “That one I shall give rites,” says Antigone, “It is noble for me to die doing this.”
Dr. Virginia Arbery taught a class on Antigone and her courage at The Wyoming School of Catholic Thought. Here are her comments.
June 26, 2018
“Ah me, son of valiant Peleus;” said the messager to Achilles in book 18 of The Iliad, “you must hear from me the ghastly message of a thing I wish never had happened. Patroklos has fallen, and now they are fighting over his body which is naked. Hektor of the shining helm has taken his armor.”
As we began discussing courage at this year’s Wyoming School of Catholic Thought, we turned our attention to Achilleus, the paragon of courage. In book 18 of The Iliad, Achilles, who has refused to help the nearly-defeated Greeks, mourns the loss of his friend Paroklos and resolves to rejoin the battle. And he does that knowing that his death in battle is absolutely certainty once he avenges Patroklos death by killing Hecktor.
Dr. Glenn Arbery, president of Wyoming Catholic College, explains how Achilles’ decision and the shield and armor that are then designed for him, give us a picture of courage that becomes the baseline for all other depictions of this virtue.