My first semester as a full-time student is drawing to a swift close. I’m not sure I’ve ever done something so challenging and personally gratifying. Yesterday I was working in the kitchen, talking out loud to myself about the chronological order of Byzantine emperors. How strange this all still is. When did i start talking to myself about Byzantine Emperors rather than home related projects, personal issues or worse, cancer? It’s incredibly empowering to understand and own a new body of knowledge.
A few weeks ago I discovered that the white ceramic statue of an enormous hand making an A-OK sign in my living room, is a satire of the enormous hand of the statue of Constantine. Before Constantine moved the centre of power from Rome to Byzantium in 326 ad, he built a 12 metre high statue of himself in Rome. Once relocated to the new capital, he erected a massive 50 metre high column, and in emperor like fashion, crowned it with another monument of himself and renamed the city Constantinople, after himself. Slightly narcissistic in my opinion, but the implications of that move have changed the course of history. To understand that and to recognize the significance of a piece of art I previously had no context for, is quite amazing to me. Who am I becoming?
This morning I received the final exam study list for my art history class. Ever had the feeling that the universe has unexpectedly smiled upon you? Among the forty works of art and architecture on the list are the two emperors and architectural works I’ve spent the last two weeks composing a paper on! What an unfamiliar form of excitement! I really never expected, even as little as a year ago, to have arrived at this new place of mind.
I’ve been researching the history, art and architecture of the Hagia Sophia and the Pantheon these past weeks. It’s hard to capture the magic of them without posting an entire research paper. But to give you a brief idea, the Hagia Sophia is a cathedral in old Constantinople, current Istanbul, built on the poetry of light. The Pantheon is a temple in Rome built on the often unrecognized beauty and symbolism of geometry. Poetry and Math. Are those not amazing concepts to build cathedrals and architecture upon?
Both of these buildings have long and tumultuous histories. They were originally conceived by people who never lived to see their completion in their current forms. Built and rebuilt on top of the same site, sometimes the original monuments were destroyed by fire, lightening, or had all their resplendent artistic fittings stolen by other governments. Sometimes entire cathedrals were seized by invaders and converted into the architecture of another culture, another religion. And yet in spite of this, thousands of years later, they both still stand as a testament to the enduring power of an idea.
I feel enormously small in light of the world I’ve stepped into these past months. But as my intellectual world has expanded, I’ve found myself almost unwittingly constructing new mental architecture, or my own cathedral of the mind. It’s a heady experience, one I highly recommend. It seems almost crazy to me now that formal education is viewed primarily as belonging to the ‘college age’ population of late teens and twenties. Of course, it’s challenging to find time and to finance education later in life. However, an older generation benefits equally from the intellectual engagement that comes with formal education. In my experience, it’s promoted a sense of wellness, confidence and renewed wonder well worth its time and tuition price tag.
In the celebrated words of Nike (who was, by the way, a Greek goddess representing victory before the athletic company hijacked her persona) if you’re considering further education, “Just do it”. There’s a cathedral of the mind awaiting.
(This post is dedicated to Scott, who is my major impetus in the discovery of cathedrals, both real and of the mind. Thank you.)