Leviathan Paraphrased – Part 1, Chapter 2


Nobody doubts this truth: when something is at rest, unless something else stirs it, it will be at rest forever. The opposite of this – that something in motion will stay that way unless something else stops it – is true for the same reason, namely, that nothing can change itself. However this opposite isn’t so easily agreed to. People judge all things, even other people, by themselves. They find themselves undergoing pain and exhaustion after motion, and so they think that everything else grows weary of motion. But do they try to see if there is another motion that explains this “desire of rest” that they find in themselves? For this very reason, the schools say that heavy bodies fall down because they have an appetite to rest, and that they wish to conserve their nature in their proper place – as if inanimate objects could have an appetite or know what’s best for their conservation!

When something is in motion, it moves (unless something else hinders it) eternally. Anything that does hinder it doesn’t do so in an instant. It takes time; it slows by degrees until it finally stops completely. Think of the water. Once the wind ceases, the waves keep rolling for a long time after. The same is true of motion within the internal parts of a person, in sight or in dreams and so forth. If the object we see is removed, or we shut our eyes, we still have an image of the thing seen, though this image is more obscure than actual sight. This is what the Latins call Imagination. That term applies to the image made during sight and, imperfectly, the impression made by other senses as well. The Greeks call it fancy, emphasizing appearance, and is a better term to use of all the senses.

Imagination, then, is nothing but deteriorating sense, and is found in people and many other living creatures, both when we sleep and wake.

This deterioration of sense in people who are awake is more like an obscuring of sense rather than a decay of motion, like the sun obscures starlight. The stars still shine in day and night! But our eyes, ears, and other organs are struck by so many different blows from external objects that only the strongest is sensible. So when the light of the sun is dominant, we aren’t affected by the action of the stars. And if an object is removed from our eyes, even though its impression might remain with us, there are other objects present affecting our organs of sense, and they obscure the imagination of the past as surely as a person’s voice in the noise of the day. Because of this, we know that the longer it is after the sight or sense of any object, the weaker the imagination of the object becomes. A person’s body is constantly changing within, and its internal motions serve to destroy the parts which sense moved. The distance of either time or place has the same exact effect on us. When we look at something at a distance, it seems dim, and its parts are not distinct – if someone speaks from a distance, the voice is weak. In the same way, the distance of time erodes our imagination of the past. We lose streets in the cities we used to walk; we lose the details of actions in which we were participants. Should we want to express the actual thing in our decaying sense, we speak of imagination, but to emphasize the decay, we say Memory – the sense is fading, old, and past. Imagination and memory, then, are one thing, meaning different things because of different considerations.

Accumulated memory is called Experience.

I stress this: imagination is only of things formerly perceived by sense. We do this either all at once, or by parts at several times. Simple imagination is imagination of the whole object, as it was presented to our senses before – this is “all-at-once” imagination. The second way is compounded, such as having seen a person at one time, and a horse at another, our minds compose something called a centaur. A person may compound his own self-image with the image of another person’s actions, such as when a man imagines himself a Hercules or a Napoleon (something that happens often to those who read romantic literature). This is a compound imagination, a fiction of the mind.

Another kind of imagination is when something makes a very strong impression through our senses. When we look at the sun, an image of the sun remains before our eyes a long time after; when someone spends hours upon hours concentrating on geometrical figures, they can lie awake and have the images of lines and angles float in their eyes. This type of fancy doesn’t have a particular name – it’s not something that people have ever talked about much.

The imaginations of sleeping people we call dreams. These, like all other imaginations, have been either totally or by parts in our senses. When we are asleep, the brain and nerves, the necessary organs of sense, are numbed with sleep. They cannot be easily moved by the actions of external objects. Therefore any imagination, and therefore any dream, must consist solely of the agitation of the internal parts of a person’s body. It’s this internal disturbance which keeps the brain and nerves in motion, and the imaginations thus stirred up make it appear that we are awake. There is nothing to relieve us of this impression – the brain is numbed to the external world. No external impression can obscure these internal impressions, and so a dream, in the silence of sense, is clearer than our waking thoughts.

For this reason it is extremely difficult (some think it impossible) to distinguish between Sense and Dreaming precisely. This is how I prefer to do so: in dreams, I don’t usually think of the same people, places, objects, and actions as I do when awake. I also don’t recognize a long or consistent train of thought during dreams. When awake, I can easily recognize the absurdity of dreams, but I never dream of the absurdity of my waking thoughts. When I’m awake, I know that I’m not dreaming, but when I dream, I think I’m awake.

Dreams are caused by the disturbance of internal parts of the body, so difference disturbances cause different dreams. Lying in the cold will breed dreams of fear, which raises the image of some fearful object. The brain moves the internal parts, and the parts the brain. When we’re awake, anger causes parts of our body to heat up; when we’re asleep, if those same parts are overheated, it causes anger, and raises the image of an enemy in the brain. Natural kindness when awake causes desire, and desire heats other parts of the body – so too much heat in those areas while asleep will raise desire, and cause an imagination of a received kindness. So to sum up, dreams are the reverse of waking imagination – the motion begins at one end while we are awake and at the other when we dream.

The most difficult time to distinguish between our dreams and waking thoughts is when we accidentally do not recognize that we have fallen asleep. This happens easily to someone troubled with fearful thought or a muddied conscience, and who then goes to sleep without going through the habits of bedtime – as one who sleeps in a chair. Someone who has taken the time to industriously lay down to sleep and then experiences an exorbitant fancy can hardly consider it anything but a dream. Think of Marcus Brutus (someone who owed his life and station to Caesar, who was his favorite, and yet who murdered him). At Philippi, the night before he went into battle against Augustus Caesar, he saw a fearful apparition. Some historians call this event a vision, but under the given circumstances it could have been a short dream. As he sat in his tent, pensive and disturbed by the horror of his rash act, it wasn’t hard for him, sleeping in the cold, to dream of what most frightened him. And as the dream caused him to wake by degrees, so the apparition slowly vanished – and having no certainty of his falling asleep, he had no reason to think it a dream, and so it became a “vision”. This isn’t an uncommon thing. Even people who are completely awake, if they are craven or superstitious, thinking of fearful tales, and alone in the dark, even they are subject to similar fancies, and think they see spirits and dead men’s ghosts walking in churchyards. This is either their fancy only, or else the trickery of people who would make use of such superstitious fear to go disguised in the night to places at which they wouldn’t want others to know that they frequent.

This ignorance of how to interpret dreams and other strong fancies from vision and sense gave birth to the greater part of religions of the Gentiles in times past. They worshipped satyrs, fauns, nymphs, and the like; and even today, people give credence to things like fairies, ghosts, goblins, and the power of witches. Considering witches, I don’t think their witchcraft has any real power, but they are justly punished for their false belief that they can do such mischief, which is accompanied by their intent to do so if they could. This makes their trade more a new religion than a craft or a science. Fairies and walking ghosts have been either taught or not refuted in order to ensure the continued use of exorcism, crosses, holy water, and other such inventions of spiritual people. Without a doubt, God can make unnatural apparitions, but to think that God does this so often that we need to fear these things more than the natural disasters that God can also avert or release is to stray away from Christian thought. Evil people use this known power of God to say anything that serves their purpose, even though they know the untruth of what they speak. Wise people would do good to believe them no further than reason makes their statements credible. If all these superstitious fears of spirits were taken away, along with fortune-telling from dreams, false prophecies, and all the other ways that the unscrupulous employ to abuse the general populace, people would be much more suited than they are for civil obedience.

This task ought to be the work of the schools, but they actually nourish such thoughts. They don’t understand imagination and how the sense work, and so what they receive, they teach. They say imagination rises of itself, and has no cause. Others say they rise from the will, and good thoughts are breathed (inspired) into a person by God, and evil thoughts by the Devil. Some say the senses receive the “species” of things and then deliver them to the sense, and the sense gives them to the fancy, and the fancy to the memory, and the memory to the judgment, just as people pass things back and forth, and thus with many words they keep anything from being understood.

The imagination that is raised in a person (or any creature that possesses the ability to imagine) by words or other invented signs, is what we usually call Understanding. This is seen in both people and animals. A dog can learn to understand the call of its master, and so will many animals. A person’s understanding is unique through the range of thinking by the sequencing and framing of the names of things into positive and negative statements, and also other forms of speech. I shall talk of this kind of understanding right now.


Leviathan Paraphrased – Part 1, Chapter 1



In our discussion of a person’s thoughts, I will first talk about them separately, and then how they link and depend upon each other.

Separately, each individual thought is a representation of some quality or aspect of a body outside of ourselves. A general term for any body outside of ourselves is an object, and objects work on our eyes and ears and other parts of our bodies. The different ways an object has to work upon our senses produces the differences of appearances in the world.

The origin of all thought is what we call consciousness or sense (because every single concept in a person’s mind has been put there via the organs of sense). All thoughts are derived from sense.

In this discussion, it’s not necessary to examine where sense comes from, and I’ve written a lot about it elsewhere. But I will share a summary of that past writing to be complete.

The cause of sense is that external object, which presses against each of our sense organs in appropriate ways. Objects press immediately against our organs of touch and taste. They use a medium to press against our other organs (sight, sound, and smell). From there, all impressions use the mediation of nerves to continue into the brain and heart. That pressure causes a counter-pressure, a resistance – the heart pushes back against this pressure. It’s this counter-pressure that seems to be some matter outside the body. This “seeming”, or fancy, is what we call Sense – in the eye, sense looks like light or color; in the ear, like sound; to the nose, sense is an odor; to the tongue and palate, a savor; and to the rest of the body, sense is heat, cold, hardness, softness, and other qualities or aspects that the body recognizes in sensation.

Now all these sensible qualities that appear separate to us are just different motions in the body that causes the sensation. Even inside us, the pressures produced inside us are just different kinds of motions as well (motion produces nothing but motion). But the way they appear to us is what we call fancy, and fancy is the same whether sleeping or awake. If you press your eye, you will think you see a strange light, and when you press your ear, you fancy that you hear a whirring sound. The bodies we see or hear are producing a fancy within us exactly the same way, by pressing against our various organs of sense in ways appropriate to them.

LensIf those colors and sounds were inside the bodies that cause them, they couldn’t be severed from them – as for example, when by using a lenses you can see the thing in one place and an appearance of the thing in another. Sometimes at the proper distance it seems impossible to think anything else but that the real object is exactly the same as the fancy we have received from it – but the object is always one thing, and the image or fancy is another. Conciousness, then, in every case is nothing else but the original fancy caused by the pressure, that is, the motion of external things upon our eyes, ears, and other organs.

Philosophy schools in all the universities of Christendom say differently, because they rely on certain passages found in Aristotle’s writings. To explain vision, they say that the “visible” thing sends out on all sides a visible “species”, or in plain English, a visible show or apparition, or a being seen. Receiving this thing in our eyes is called seeing. The same is said about hearing – a audible “species”, an audible being seen, is sent out which is received in the ear, that is called hearing. If you can believe it, they even explain understanding the same way – the thing understood sends out an “intelligible” species, an intelligible being seen, that goes into our understanding, and makes us understand.

I’m not telling you this to make anyone swear off universities. I have to speak of them later, when I talk of their proper place in the Commonwealth. As we go along, I want you to see the various things that must be fixed in them – one being, their habitual use of unintelligible speech.

Thursday Photo Challenge: GROUND

Tree on Cliff, originally uploaded by JoeWorldTraveler.

You make do with all the ground you have.

Taken in Juneau, Alaska.

Thursday Photo Challenge: PASSAGE

Crystal Harmony Enters San Francisco, originally uploaded by JoeWorldTraveler.

This is the last time the Crystal Harmony sailed into San Francisco. It was beautiful. I had no way of stopping the camera from shaking – no tripod, and the ship itself was throbbing. Still, this is one of my favorite pictures ever.

Donald Roller Wilson


Roller believes that people have angels working throught them – I believe that people have imperatives; a primary one being the one we cannot escape dealing with – the one with which we have to interact. For me then, Roller is an angel with imperatives, and an angel with whom I love to interact.

So says Carrie Fisher.

Roller has an incredible site. His paintings are portraits of various animals caught in their finery – monkeys, dogs, and cats preparing for various family functions. The Virgin Mary floats in and out of these pictures in her various disguises – a floating olive, a ham, a smoldering cigarette butt. And everything happens in the various locales of Brenda's Nut Farm. I know you go there. Roller has seen you.

Here's one of Roller's titles:





The picture is of a perfectly respectful orangutan in a gorgeous red dress with white collars. Cookie holds a bouquet of various flowers, and her headpiece is composed of a magnificent arrangement of flowers and fruits. At Cookie's side, what appears to be a strawberry floats along, although only Cookie knows for sure what Naughty Betty had named it before setting it free. Roller gives you several chances to observe details of the portrait – the grape bunch with golden highlights, the mottled hands grasping the dewy bouquet, Cookie's exquisite eyes so close to popping.

Indulge yourself with some spectacular art.

A Paraphrase of Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan: Introduction

Recently Billmon alluded to someone putting Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan into colloquial English. Having updated Hume's On Miracles, I thought I would give it a shot. However, Hobbes' prose resists everyday English – imagine that. I'll try to make it as easy as possible while still getting the points (as I see them) across.

As I get a chapter done, I'll post it here. Feel free to correct me in comments if I've misunderstood what's happening in the book. Once I get the entire work finished, I'll make it a PDF and post a link in the sidebar for downloading, just as I've done with the Hume paraphrase.


Nature is God’s Art. With it, He made and governs the world. We humans use our own art to imitate it, making machines like artificial animals to do our work. Even the most rational and incredible work of Nature, the human, is mimicked by the body politic – the Commonwealth, the State, a Leviathan made by humanity. In all its parts it can be seen like an artificial human, built for the protection and defense of its weak makers. Its sovereignty, that which gives life and motion to the body, is like the human’s soul; the various offices of government make up joints; societal reward and punishment (attached to the soul, by which every joint and member are moved to do their duty) are the nerves; the strength of the body politic is found in the common wealth of the various members; the safety of the people is its occupation; councilors become its memory, giving it educated advice on the proper course to take; justice and law its reason and will; peace is its health, sedition its sickness, and civil war its death. Even the mutual decisions and will that brought the State into being can be compared to the Almighty’s “Let there be humanity.”

I want to discuss the nature of the Leviathan in four ways:

  • First we should examine its contents, and also who made it – both things being one thing, humans.
  • Then we will look at the Leviathan as a whole: how and by what agreements it is made, the natural power and just limitations of its sovereign, how it is preserved, and how it is dissolved.
  • We shall then explore the meaning of a Christian Commonwealth.
  • And finally, we shall determine what exactly the Kingdom of Darkness is.

Now many have recently said that wisdom is attained not by reading books but by reading people. It’s sad to see that some people do nothing but think they have read people correctly and go behind their backs to run them down based on their assumed knowledge. They’d do well to consider another less-known phrase: Read yourself. This phrase, too, has been abused. Some use it as condemnation for an unjust official, and others as grounds for thinking themselves better than others.

No, the many individual members of humanity are very similar in their passions and thinking. Suppose one person looks within and learns what and why she or he is thinking, opining, reasoning, hoping, fearing, etc. in the majority of situations. That person then has a window into the thoughts and passions of other people in those same situations. I say “passions” to be precise – desires, fears, hopes. No one has a window into the object of passions – what is being desired or feared in a particular situation. This varies by the different circumstances of each individual person. The particular objects of a person’s desire are so easily kept from our knowledge, through deceit, lying, counterfeit, and bad teachings, that only the Searcher of Hearts can find them. Sometimes we learn a person’s designs from a person’s actions, but if we do this without comparing those designs with our own, and thinking about the circumstances that could alter those designs, we are trying to decipher a code without the key, and risk being deceived further.

Should an ordinary person learn to read others, it only helps with that person’s acquaintances. But the rulers of humanity must look within themselves to understand all of humanity, a far more difficult task. But read my book here, as I attempt to set down my own understanding of this task, and when I am done, see if you find it within your own heart just as I have said. There’s no other way to make my point.

Thursday Photo Challenge: FAMILY

Moai at Rapa Nui

Serenity At Rapa Nui, originally uploaded by JoeWorldTraveler.

The moai of Rapa Nui remind us of the accumulated wisdom of those passed over. As we return their steady gaze, we look out over the beckoning seas. Can we abandon the island of our fathers and mothers?

The Ugly American

Reuters today tells us of a guide to overcome the stereotype of the ugly American. It's distributed by Business for Diplomatic Action, a non-profit founded to help overcome a single contributing factor of increasing anti-Americanism: our "collective personality" abroad.

We are seen as loud, arrogant and completely self-absorbed," said Reinhard, chairman emeritus of the advertising agency DDB Worldwide. "People see in us the ultimate arrogance — assuming that everybody wants to be like us."

This is a worthy project, yet a look at some of the principles shows an obstacle. Talk slower and lower: fast talking is seen as aggressive and threatening. Listen at least as much as you talk; talk about America and your life, but ask about their country and their lives. Dress more conservatively. These are the stuff of common courtesy. It seems that we can overcome the stigma of the ugly American by not being ugly Americans.

It's not that easy to do. The savvy business people among us have used their hardcore personalities to get to where they are. Business is business, and why should they change for anyone? Better others should change for them. That involves no loss of personal pride; that keeps the other folks on the defensive, which is how you advance your goals. Acting in a polite, respectful manner puts us in the defensive. We set ourselves up as chumps and easy marks.

Ever since I visited the pyramids of Giza, I've thought that any aspiring sales company would do well to take their sales force there. The hawkers and moneygrubing on display is a tribute to the mechanics of the deal. Speak low, ask about their families, and you will pay through the nose.

It didn't help that I had a hangover. The magnificent thrill of actually being in this spot had almost balanced out the difficulties of the trip. We'd driven an hour and a half from Alexandria to Cairo. The bus was barely airconditioned, and the sun through the windows had put half of us down for the count. But now we were here. These buildings had been constructed over three thousand years ago. It was a sight many on Earth never see but in photographs, and we were here.

We drove up the hill to the gate. There stood the Great Pyramid. We waited while the tickets were purchased and then wound our way past the pyramids to a parking lot back behind them. This, we were told, was the best place for a panoramic view of the spectacle.

As we got off, we saw many things. The pyramids, backed by the city of Cairo. A huge amphitheater, built for the opera Aida, waiting for the season to reopen. A long row of vendors, running along the back end of the lot. And as we disembarked, the vendors swarmed to us as we tried desperately to escape.

"Hello! Welcome to Egypt!" "Welcome to the Pyramids, my friend, what is your name?" "Hello!" "Excuse me, sir, hello? Hello?"

One man focused completely on me. I found this to be a pattern in many places. I'm in my thirties, I dress nicely, and I have a nice digital camera on my arm. To the sharks of this world, this evidently means wealthy more than not. For myself, it means I've spent all my money on clothes and cameras. It's not an easy place to be in.

"Hello, sir? Hello, welcome to Egypt, hello? My name is Mohammed. (Every person in a Middle East country that ever attached themselves to me was named Mohammed) Hello? I wish to show you the site, welcome to Egypt!"

I can see the pyramids fine. I don't have any money.

"No money! No money! Please, hello!"

He was late forties, white turban, tan colored robe. He had his security badge prominently displayed. I kept walking towards the line of tourists taking pictures. He followed doggedly.

"Hello? My name is Mohammed. What is your name?"

Mine is Joseph, I say. He gets it – Joseph in Egypt. "That is a good name, a very good name. It is one of the prophets!"

I stop to get my camera ready. He remains by my side, though I do my best to ignore him completely. He offers me his hand. I react – I don't want to buy anything, I say.

He is wounded. His hand is empty. He turns it over to show me so. "You will not shake my hand?"

And there it is. The fisherman sets the hook. You are the rude ugly American I've heard so much about. A lifetime of snatching a dollar or two from this pack of ingrates who flock here day after day, it has weathered this man but he still possesses the ability to express his wounded pride. I look at him across the cultural gap, knowing exactly what he is doing. He has no real concern for this transaction. For whatever reason, I appear to be an easy mark, flush with cash, and he's not letting me close him. He is going to close me.

I shake his hand. It's rough, but the hand doesn't grip mine tightly. Every chance to display weakness, that's his strong point.

I surprise him then. "Ma'salaami." I turn and move closer to an unobstructed view. I hear him say "Ma'salaami" as well, but he's turning over his next approach in his mind. It's not usual for the tourist to have any kind of Arabic. He follows me. I suppose he considered that learning any part of his native language means I want to talk – i.e., I'm still the weaker party.

He makes a pest of himself. He asks to take a picture of me. I refuse; I have friends that will do it for free. He's frustrated. "No money! I am proud of my heritage! I show you the site." He wants me to take his picture. He moves down, blocking what view I have. "Please! No money! No money! You take my picture."

Finally I relent. The picture is taken. On the instant, he moves up, thumb moving across his fingers in the universal sign. And I am undone. "Please," he says, "please, a gift for my family."

The heat is splitting me open, the moment of being with the pyramids alone is rapidly escaping, and the never disguised sales tactic reminds me of past jobs. I lay into the man. "I told you I have no money, you said no money, and now you are ASKING FOR MONEY!" I hit Review and began to erase the picture. "You see, I'm erasing the picture. It's deleted. It's gone. I owe you nothing." And I cut through the crowd again, the ugly American, what can you say, they're all like that.

I move to another place. I get my pictures. I sit staring out at those massive structures. For a few minutes I am there.

Another vendor approaches me. This one is in his late teens. He smiles. "Welcome to Egypt! My name is Mohammed. Will you shake my hand?"

I look at him calmly. "I've already shaken the hand."

He gets it. He moves on. He'll learn.

Boltraffico’s Reluctant Donor

Giovanni Antonio Boltraffico – you’ve probably never heard of him. From what I can find, he was a minor portrait painter in the Italian Renaissance who studied under da Vinci for eight years. He lived in Milan almost his entire life – twice he flirted with other cities. There are some Boltrafficos in local Milanese politics of the time, so I’m assuming he was connected there.

However, he has a painting in the Louvre. It’s called Virgin with Child and Sts John the Baptist and Sebastian and two donors. A clunky name for an intriguing canvas. It was the most artistic Boltraffico ever got, and what a crazy little story it tells…

The digital file I’ve linked to doesn’t do the canvas justice. For one, the expressions are priceless, especially the baby Jesus. He looks out at the viewer with what I interpret as the most sublime version of “Whatever” I’ve ever seen in a painting. John’s expression, too, is much more put-upon and arrogant when you’re standing before it.

Understand this: when I went to the Louvre, I wandered down the right side of the long hall that houses most of the Italian collection, the side that contains the entrance to the Mona Lisa’s gallery. Boltraffico’s painting is hung on the left. So before I got there, I found another painting – Guido Reni’s Abduction of Helen. It captures the two lovers as they leave together for Troy. It’s an incredible puzzle that you could follow right through.

Helen is caught stepping off the threshold of her home. A servant carries a little dog (symbol of marital fidelity) that is looking back forlornly at the door they’ve left. Another servant carries a box, supposedly of jewelry, but reminiscent of Pandora’s box to me. In the foreground another cute little dog is staring at a crouching monkey held by a romantically clad black servant boy. The servant boy is also stepping off the threshold, and the monkey is primed to attack the puzzled little dog. It reminded me more of a large iguana or lizard in its shape, and when you learn that a monkey is the symbol of naked desire and treachery, it’s apparent why. The poor little foreground dog has no chance in the painting at all – Paris’s foot, stepping on the road behind the dog, can also be seen as about to step on the dog itself.

In the corner of the Paris/Helen painting, Cupid points to the scene with a cherubic sense of knowing pride: “That’s all mine!” His foot rests on a fallen chunk of masonry, and so will Troy be once the event we are witnessing plays through to the end. It’s a crisply executed cartoon of sexual politics.

Cupid should have made an appearance in Boltraffico’s work as well, for it’s unmistakably coded with a story of gay love. As it is, we must only see the weeping wounds of Sebastian as evidence of Cupid’s arrows. St. Sebastian has long been recognized as a gay icon whether his portrayers knew this or not. After a detailed study of the painting, I’m going to say that Boltraffico knew full well what he was doing.

The first thing that caught my eye was St. Sebastian’s package. Here is another place where the digital copy doesn’t do the painting justice. Let me assure you: we have a banana hammock going on. It startled me on first viewing. Sebastian’s male bits are usually de-emphasized. He’s the patron saint of power bottoms after all. Yet Sebastian is nearly nude; the resulting emphasis of his small patch of clothing in the painting is unmistakable. I wondered how Boltraffico got away with it. And then I moved on to the wounds. The arrows are missing, and Sebastian is not gazing up, but down. It’s a unusual depiction of the saint all together.

However, John the Baptist is in all his usual trappings. He’s clad in his rugged clothes, he’s got a cross, he’s pointing at the Christ Child…but he’s not. Follow the line of the Baptist’s finger – it moves first through the cross trimming on top of the Virgin’s head and then straight on to Sebastian’s groin. This is not a mistake on Boltraffico’s part. Now the Baptist’s expression becomes totally obvious – another gorgeous straight man who has to put up with the desires of a gay man in love with him. The Baptist’s cross also intersects a sight line – if the Baptist and Sebastian looked at each other, the wooden cross would come between them.

But they are not looking at each other. The Baptist turns his bemusement to us, while Sebastian is gazing down, again through the cross detail of the Virgin’s head covering, at the Christ Child. His serene gaze is one of beatific contemplation, and only the tears of his wounds (almost clear like the fluid that came from Christ’s side) give a hint of his eternal sadness. It is as if the pain of the Baptist’s rejection has been mitigated by Sebastian’s suffering and devotion to the Christ Child. Mitigated, I say, not removed – the wounds weep still.

Which brings us to the anonymous donors. They also split the frame, one on the Baptist side, the other on Sebastian’s. Both kneel in prayer. The donor on the left, the Baptist’s donor, holds his hands forward from him. His expression is hauntingly beautiful, one of the best of the piece. It’s in shadow, and yet the beseeching eyes are remarkable. They look, not at the Virgin or the Child, but at Sebastian’s donor, who does not return his gaze. Stubbornly, he looks down at the Child, his hands clutched flat against his chest as if armoring his heart against another blow. What wound did he receive long ago from the beautiful man on the left? Does the Baptist’s donor seek forgiveness for an youthful insult? And having retreated to the symbology of the church to assuage his pain and guilt, does Sebastian’s donor now find himself unable to forgive, fearful of another blow to the heart?

The Baptist and his donor are very different in demeanor, much more so than Sebastian and his. The Baptist is almost contemptuous, looking at us, while his donor is gentle and insistent, looking at his counterpart. Both Sebastian and his donor look to the Child, Sebastian with utter serenity, the donor with a measure of pouting. Sebastian and the Baptist become idealized expression of the inner state of these men, what both men ultimately long to be internally. Sebastian’s donor is looking for that blissful ignorance of everything but Salvation Born. The Baptist’s donor is much more conflicted. On the surface, he’s benevolent and gentle, but his aggressive gaze and prayer posture allows the Baptist’s attitude to filter through the deceitful kindness.

The standoff between these two will continue. The frustration of the Baptist will go unrelieved. And in the midst of it all, Mary and Jesus regard us. Mary meekly sits there, almost embarrassed to be seen in this setting. The Christ Child doesn’t take in his admirers, but impishly points to the evidence of his own power to confound men, the reluctant donor.

What Will This Site Be About?

I'll make it up as I go along.

We are all wheels within wheels. What's your inner engine about?