Monday, May 26, 2008

Fighting in the Captain's Tower

What is a Renaissance Man? He is a soldier in the morning, a statesman in the afternoon, and a poet in the evening. What private time he has is given over to astronomy, and mastering the lute. He wears hose, of course, rather than trousers, and has a gift for constructing perfect, crystalline demonstrations of his considerable wit in everyday speech. His discourse, on just about any subject, sparkles with effortless erudition (though philosophy is his pet topic).

What does a Renaissance Man do? He reads, he invents, he woos, he intervenes in secret crises and in doing so secures the future prosperity of the nation. He tours his estates and wins the admiration and loyalty of his tenants. He plays tennis deftly with either hand (his second serve is an unplayable chimera of spin and bounce). He imports the finest oils and unguents from the Far East to maintain his appearance. He suspects that his hairline has begun a recession which no Oriental potion will halt. He encourages his older servants to cheek him, in a pretense of humility.

He is not real, and that perhaps, is his hamartia, that sense that everything, yea, even his very self is an illusion. His memories seem unreliable, his foundations unstable. Sometimes he wakes before the birds have begun to chatter in the eaves of his well-appointed seat and finds that the down of his pillow has been matted down by sweat, or tears, or both.

Philosophy, art, accomplishment, none of these things can save him, of course. These things instead broaden his understanding of the futility of human endeavour. He is hollowed out by that which ought to make him, anyone, whole. Even if he is not a myth he cannot exist.

"How handsome he was!" they will say. "He had so much to live for." That's how it seemed.