Case Studies in Disposal
Tuesday (March 13th): After several days of dealing with a bad cold (which kept me from a birthday open house on Sunday), I felt well enough this morning to get up, take a shower and do some things in my study, which is right next to the wood stove, and thus is quite cozy. It has been snowing today. Both our River Singers rehearsal and a make-up Concert Choir rehearsal have been cancelled because of the storm. (If not for the snow, we would have had to decide which to attend). At the moment the snow seems to have paused. But we are unplowed, so we are not going anywhere. We have another unexpected "free day" at home.
So what have I been doing? Going through old files in the four-drawer file cabinet. These files go back 50 years or more. What to toss? What to keep? I could take the view of tossing everything. That, I presume, is what will happen if I die before these files get cleaned out. So why not spare my family that and do it for them? I could, and that may be what I will do. But these files have interest for me while I am still alive. The question is whether they have enough interest to hold on to them, at least for a while.
Each file presents a different situation. I have come to look upon them as "case studies in disposal." Some questions I ask of each file: (1) Is there material in this file I want to have access to as a part of a writing project I hope to complete before I die?
(2) Is the material in this file redundant? (3) Is there anything in this file I want to share with Ellen (or someone else) before I dispose of it? (4) Would it make sense to preserve this file by making a digital copy of it?
Here are some specific instances:
File name: Corpus Hermeticum
This file contains a 29-page term paper (and related notes) which I wrote in graduate school at Brown University. It seems to have been written for a course in "Greek Religion" which I took in Fall of 1960 - my first year of graduate study. William R. Schoedel was the professor.
(Bill ultimately became my thesis advisor and a good friend. He and his wife, Grace, are still living in Urbana, Illinois, and we stay in touch at Christmas time. Ellen and I visited them almost exactly 12 years ago, March 4, 2006, as a part of our "Big Journey" in which we went to many of the places one or the other of us had lived before we met. I had never lived in Urbana, but we were going right by there, and Bill and Grace had been a big part of my life in the 1960s, so we made a point to stop).
The paper is an analysis of one tractate (No. 3, "The Holy Sermon") of a larger collection called The Corpus Hermeticum. According to my paper, this work , composed originally in Greek (abbreviated C.H. III), is sort of a mishmash of Hellenistic Greek/quasi-Egyptian/Philonic (i.e., Jewish)/Platonic ideas which dates from probably the 1st/2nd century, C.E., and most likely from Alexandria, Egypt (which was sort of a hot-bed for this sort of writing at that time). It has some affinities with what is called "Gnosticism," and in fact parts of the Corpus Hermeticum were found at the now-famous trove of Gnostic writings discovered at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, back in the mid-20th century, which, e.g., brought the full Gospel of Thomas (in a Coptic MS) to the light of day. Bill Schoedel had learned Coptic and translated the newly-found Gospel of Thomas when he was a graduate student at University of Chicago, so he had some interest in this area. He may have harbored some hope of grooming me to do something like that myself. In any case, this was my first foray into this sort of work - careful textual and historical/cultural analysis of a little known, esoteric manuscript which presented multiple issues of provenance (i.e., when and where did it come from?), textual corruption (in plain words, "gobble-de-gook"), overall purpose and meaning and relationship with other known works. I lacked the background in Greek that Bill had, but I made a brave effort to "be a scholar," though I have some memory of feeling inadequate to the task. I did prepare an extensive "appendix" in which I carefully typed out ( I had access to a typewriter with Greek characters! ) in parallel columns of Greek text the possible verbal similarities between C.H. III and other ancient works, including the Hellenistic Jewish works The Wisdom of Solomon, and The Wisdom of Sirach (see photo below). Bill's comments on the paper include the observation that my writing style was "wooden at times," but I did get an "A" on the paper.
Decision: Toss the file, but digitize 2 pages of bibliographical information.
Note: If you go on-line and search "Corpus Hermeticum" you will find lots of information, and might bump into David Myatt, a contemporary neo-Nazi and self-proclaimed Muslim convert (and suspected terrorist) who has spent a lot of time working on the C.H., including C.H. III, and who regards it as a very ancient, sacred text going back millennia to the fount of cosmic wisdom. But he is just the latest in a long line of people, including, e.g., the Rosicrucians, who have found deep wisdom in this esoteric text.