In my usual geeky fashion I am reading The Portable Medieval Reader, edited by James Bruce Ross and Mary Martin McLaughlin. It is a collection of essays written by a wide variety of people who lived between the 11th and 15th centuries. I’m reading it to get a feel for how people spoke and wrote back then, but of course the most marvelous aspect is getting a glimpse of how they thought. This book is full of interesting tidbits, and yesterday I struck gold. In an essay titled Questions of Nature written by Adelard of Bath in the early 12th century, there is a list of questions to be considered regarding the causes of ‘things’, things ranging from cow’s stomachs to lightning and thunder to why men get bald in front (some of the big questions never change).
This is what popped my corn, though. Questions number 73-75:
- Whether the stars fall, as they seem to fall.
- Whether the stars are animated.
- What food the stars eat, if they are animals.
I was born in the wrong era. Don’t get me wrong. I love science and greatly appreciate the wonders, fascinations and let’s face it, conveniences that it brings us. Personal favorites include hot water and Netflix. I’m a big a fan of Science, but wondering what the stars might eat if they were animals kept me busy for the rest of day and into the night. The conundrum even inspired me to dream. The Adelard in my dream said, “stars eat the same stuff music does, naturally”. Trust me, it made sense at the time.
Living with so much mystery, while frightening, frustrating, and down right life-shortening at times, must have done incredible things for the fertility of the mind. How did the medieval mind see the universe, I mean really? I suspect the Dark Ages were not as dark as we think, being lit from within by a boundless inner fire of imagination.
When I was a kid, and went camping with my dad, we’d get way out into the wilds where the visible stars multiply by the thousands. I liked to imagine each star was a campfire like ours and I pretended that people up there were looking down at us, wondering what we might be. I never thought to wonder what the stars ate- my story telling already being curbed by that accursed requirement called “believability” – and of course I knew that the stars were suns, and ate hydrogen or some such impressive thing, but I preferred to hold in my mind the image of stars as sentient, or at least, indicators of sentient life.
I still fall prey to the all too human compulsion to find myself reflected in the face of everything, for if Buddhism and quantum physics have taught me anything at all, it is that our separateness is an illusion, and that all is one. That’s why I persist in wondering if agates miss the ocean once they’re washed ashore, or if the squirrels nesting in their branches irritate trees. Are the stars lonely?
Or perhaps the stars are animals, who feast on light (you are what you eat) and the little parasites have sucked all the light out of the ether, leaving us in the darkness so that we might make up poems about what we cannot see. Though I must admit, even after seeing (thank you, Curiosity) it’s all still pretty neat.
“Whoever does not know or neglects reason should deservedly be considered blind.” ~Adelard of Bath