Friday, December 13, 2013

Monastic Scholar

This scholarly gentleman is a Byzantine monastic who was an imaginary character of mine back in my university days of the early 1970s. I  looked to him as an ideal during my classical studies. His monastic discipline and personal self-control would be mine, and his research and writing would inspire my own. His name was Loukas Chiaramonti, and he was born in Venice to a Greek mother and Venetian father. Despite being brought up as a Catholic, he switched to Eastern Orthodoxy in his 20s and later became an Eastern Orthodox monk. Loukas had a very diverse personal history through most of the 20th century. He had been a resistance fighter against the German occupiers of Greece as a young man. After the war he came to the USA where he became an academic specializing in Byzantine liturgy and religious poetry. He traveled in Europe and the Middle East doing research and was for some years a professor at Harvard. Later in his life he renounced the academic and modern world and joined a monastery on Mount Athos, where he spent about 20 years. He died as a monk in his late 80s. 

I have been re-reading my journals and my constant pleas to Loukas for the discipline and energy to continue as a classical scholar. From 40 years away it is obvious that I hated the scholarly life and academia and was miserable the whole time I was there. I just assumed that I would be doing this work no matter how I felt about it. Loukas was my ideal but I just couldn't transform myself into him. I could invoke his stern presence in front of the icons in his study but could never do enough. After a while, the whole thing just failed me and I had to leave.

Interestingly, the study in which I type this post, with a computer and Internet that I could not have imagined back in 1973, looks kind of like the library that Loukas is working in. I even have the icons on the wall but not the candles at the devotional sideboard. I wonder what Loukas would have made of the futuristic world I now inhabit. Meanwhile, I notice the colored illustrations in the book he is perusing. Is that an llluminated manuscript, or a comic book?

Loukas in his study is done in Pelikan Graphos sepia ink, and colored in watercolor. About 8 1/2" x 6 1/2" on sketchbook journal page, August 1973. Click for larger view.

No comments: