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The Renaissance
O divine lineage in mortal guise

It was just twelve when Sophie reached Joanna\'s front gate, out of breath with running. Joanna was standing in the front yard outside her family\'s yellow house.

"You\'ve been gone for five hours!" Joanna said sharply.

Sophie shook her head.

"No, I\'ve been gone for more than a thousand years."

"Where on earth have you been? You\'re crazy. Your mom called half an hour ago."

"What did you tell her?"

"I said you were at the drugstore. She said would you call her when you got back. But you should have seen my mom and dad when they came in with hot chocolate and rolls at ten this morning ... and your bed was empty."

"What did you say to them?"

"It was really embarrassing. I told them you went home because we got mad at each other."

"So we\'d better hurry up and be friends again. And we have to make sure your parents don\'t talk to my mom for a few days. Do you think we can do that?"

Joanna shrugged. Just then her father came around the corner with a wheelbarrow. He had a pair of coveralls on and was busy clearing up last year\'s leaves and twigs.

"Aha--so you\'re friends again, I see. Well, there\'s not so much as a single leaf left on the basement steps now."

"Fine," said Sophie. "So perhaps we can have our hot chocolate there instead of in bed."

Joanna\'s dad gave a forced laugh, but Joanna gasped. Verbal exchanges had always been more robust in Sophie\'s family than at the more well-to-do home of Mr. Ingebrigtsen, the financial adviser, and his wife.

"I\'m sorry, Joanna, but I felt I ought to take part in this cover-up operation as well."

"Are you going to tell me about it?"

"Sure, if you walk home with me. Because it\'s not for the ears of financial advisers or overgrown Barbie dolls."

"That\'s a rotten thing to say! I suppose you think a rocky marriage that drives one of the partners away to sea is better?"

"Probably not. But I hardly slept last night. And another thing, I\'ve begun to wonder whether Hilde can see everything we do."

They began to walk toward Clover Close.

"You mean she might have second sight?"

"Maybe. Maybe not."

Joanna was clearly not enthusiastic about all this secrecy.

"But that doesn\'t explain why her father sent a lot of crazy postcards to an empty cabin in the woods."

"I admit that is a weak spot."

"Do you want to tell me where you have been?"

So she did. Sophie told her everything, about the mysterious philosophy course as well. She made Joanna swear to keep everything secret.

They walked for a long time without speaking. As they approached Clover Close, Joanna said, "I don\'t like it."

She stopped at Sophie\'s gate and turned to go home again.

"Nobody asked you to like it. But philosophy is not a harmless party game. It\'s about who we are and where we come from. Do you think we learn enough about that at school?"

 "Nobody can answer questions like that anyway."

"Yes, but we don\'t even learn to ask them!"

Lunch was on the table when Sophie walked into the kitchen. Nothing was said about her not having called from Joanna\'s.

After lunch Sophie announced that she was going to take a nap. She admitted she had hardly slept at Joanna\'s house, which was not at all unusual at a sleepover.

Before getting into bed she stood in front of the big brass mirror which now hung on her wall. At first she only saw her own white and exhausted face. But then-- behind her own face, the faintest suggestion of another face seemed to appear. Sophie took one or two deep breaths. It was no good starting to imagine things.

She studied the sharp contours of her own pale face framed by that impossible hair which defied any style but nature\'s own. But beyond that face was the apparition of another girl. Suddenly the other girl began to wink frantically with both eyes, as if to signal that she was really in there on the other side. The apparition lasted only a few seconds. Then she was gone.

Sophie sat down on the edge of the bed. She had absolutely no doubt that it was Hilde she had seen in the mirror. She had caught a glimpse of her picture on a school I.D. in the major\'s cabin. It must have been the same girl she had seen in the mirror.

Wasn\'t it odd, how she always experienced mysterious things like this when she was dead tired. It meant that afterward she always had to ask herself whether it really had happened.

Sophie laid her clothes on the chair and crawled into bed. She fell asleep at once and had a strangely vivid dream.

She dreamed she was standing in a large garden that sloped down to a red boathouse. On the dock behind it sat a young fair-haired girl gazing out over the water. Sophie walked down and sat beside her. But the girl seemed not to notice her. Sophie introduced herself. "I\'m Sophie," she said. But the other girl could apparently neither see nor hear her. Suddenly Sophie heard a voice calling, "Hilde!" At once the girl jumped up from where she was sitting and ran as fast as she could up to the house. She couldn\'t have been deaf or blind after all. A middle-aged man came striding from the house toward her. He was wearing a khaki uniform and a blue beret. The girl threw her arms around his neck and he swung her around a few times. Sophie noticed a little gold crucifix on a chain lying on the dock where the girl had been sitting. She picked it up and held it in her hand. Then she woke up.

Sophie looked at the clock. She had been asleep for two hours. She sat up in bed, thinking about the strange dream. It was so real that she felt as if she had actually lived the experience. She was equally sure that the house and the dock really existed somewhere. Surely it resembled the picture she had seen hanging in the major\'s cabin? Anyway, there was no doubt at all that the girl in her dream was Hilde Moller Knag and that the man was her father, home from Lebanon. In her dream he had looked a lot like Alberto Knox ...

As Sophie stood up and began to tidy her bed, she found a gold crucifix on a chain under her pillow. On the back of the crucifix there were three letters engraved: HMK.

This was not the first time Sophie had dreamed she found a treasure. But this was definitely the first time she had brought it back from the dream.

"Damn!" she said aloud.

She was so mad that she opened the closet door and hurled the delicate crucifix up onto the top shelf with the silk scarf, the white stocking, and the postcards from Lebanon.

The next morning Sophie woke up to a big breakfast of hot rolls, orange juice, eggs, and vegetable salad. It was not often that her mother was up before Sophie on a Sunday morning. When she was, she liked to fix a solid meal for Sophie.

While they were eating, Mom said, "There\'s a strange dog in the garden. It\'s been sniffing round the old hedge all morning. I can\'t imagine what it\'s doing here, can you?"

 "Yes!" Sophie burst out, and at once regretted it.

"Has it been here before?"

Sophie had already left the table and gone into the living room to look out of the window facing the large garden. It was just as she thought.

Hermes was lying in front of the secret entrance to her den.

What should she say? She had no time to think of anything before her mother came and stood beside her.

"Did you say it had been here before?" she asked.

"I expect it buried a bone there and now it\'s come to fetch its treasure. Dogs have memories too ..."

"Maybe you\'re right, Sophie. You\'re the animal psychologist in the family."

Sophie thought feverishly.

"I\'ll take it home," she said.

"You know where it lives, then?"

Sophie shrugged her shoulders.

"It\'s probably got an address on its collar."

A couple of minutes later Sophie was on her way down the garden. When Hermes caught sight of her he came lolloping toward her, wagging his tail and jumping up to her.

"Good boy, Hermes!" said Sophie.

She knew her mother was watching from the window. She prayed he would not go through the hedge. But the dog dashed toward the gravel path in front of the house, streaked across the front yard, and jumped up to the gate.

When they had shut the gate behind them, Hermes continued to run a few yards in front of Sophie. It was a long way. Sophie and Hermes were not the only ones out for a Sunday walk. Whole families were setting off for the day. Sophie felt a pang of envy.

From time to time Hermes would run off and sniff at another dog or at something interesting by a garden hedge, but as soon as Sophie called "Here, boy!" he would come back to her at once.

They crossed an old pasture, a large playing field, and a playground, and emerged into an area with more traffic. They continued toward the town center along a broad street with cobbled stones and streetcars. Hermes led the way across the town square and up Church Street. They came out into the Old Town, with its massive staid town houses from the turn of the century. It was almost half past one.

Now they were on the other side of town. Sophie had not been there very often. Once when she was little, she remembered, she had been taken to visit an old aunt in one of these streets.

Eventually they reached a little square between several old houses. It was called New Square, although it all looked very old. But then the whole town was old; it had been founded way back in the Middle Ages.

Hermes walked toward No. 14, where he stood still and waited for Sophie to open the door. Her heart began to beat faster.

Inside the front door there were a number of green mailboxes attached to a panel. Sophie noticed a postcard hanging from one of the mailboxes in the top row. It had a stamped message from the mailman across it to the effect that the addressee was unknown.

The addressee was Hilde Moller Knag, 14 New Square. It was postmarked June 15. That was not for two weeks, but the mailman had obviously not noticed that.

Sophie took the card down and read it:

Dear Hilde, Now Sophie is coming to the philosopher\'s house. She will soon be fifteen, but you were fifteen yesterday. Or is it today, Hilde? If it is today, it must be late, then. But our watches do not always agree. One generation ages while another generation is brought forth. In the meantime history takes its course. Have you ever thought that the history of Europe is like a human life? Antiquity is like the childhood of Europe. Then come the interminable Middle Ages--Europe\'s schoolday. But at last comes the Renaissance; the long school-day is over. Europe comes of age in a burst of exuberance and a thirst for life. We could say that the Renaissance is Europe\'s fifteenth birthday! It is mid-June, my child, and it is wonderful to be alive!

P.S. Sorry to hear you lost your gold crucifix. You must learn to take better care of your things. Love, Dad--who is just around the corner.

Hermes was already on his way up the stairs. Sophie took the postcard with her and followed. She had to run to keep up with him; he was wagging his tail delightedly. They passed the second, third, and fourth stories. From then on there was only an attic staircase. Were they going up to the roof? Hermes clambered on up the stairs and stopped outside a narrow door, which he scratched at with his paw.

Sophie heard footsteps approaching from inside. The door opened, and there stood Alberto Knox. He had changed his clothes and was now wearing another costume. It consisted of white hose, red knee-breeches, and a yellow jacket with padded shoulders. He reminded Sophie of a joker in a deck of cards. If she was not much mistaken, this was a typical Renaissance costume.

"What a clown!" Sophie exclaimed, giving him a little push so that she could go inside the apartment.

Once again she had taken out her fear and shyness on the unfortunate philosophy teacher. Sophie\'s thoughts were in a turmoil because of the postcard she had found down in the hallway.

"Be calm, my child," said Alberto, closing the door behind her.

"And here\'s the mail," she said, handing him the postcard as if she held him responsible for it.

Alberto read it and shook his head.

"He gets more and more audacious. I wouldn\'t be surprised if he isn\'t using us as a kind of birthday diversion for his daughter."

With that he tore the postcard into small pieces and threw them into the wastepaper basket.

"It said that Hilde has lost her crucifix," said Sophie.

"So I read."

"And I found it, the same one, under my pillow at home. Can you understand how it got there?"

Alberto looked gravely into her eyes.

"It may seem alluring. But it\'s just a cheap trick that costs him no effort whatsoever. Let us rather concentrate on the big white rabbit that is pulled out of the universe\'s top hat."

They went into the living room. It was one of the most extraordinary rooms Sophie had ever seen.

Alberto lived in a spacious attic apartment with sloping walls. A sharp light directly from the sky flooded the room from a skylight set into one of the walls. There was also another window facing the town. Through this window Sophie could look over all the roofs in the Old Town.

But what amazed Sophie most was all the stuff the room was filled with--furniture and objects from various historical periods. There was a sofa from the thirties, an old desk from the beginning of the century, and a chair that had to be hundreds of years old. But it wasn\'t just the furniture. Old objects, either useful or decorative, were jumbled together on shelves and cupboards. There were old clocks and vases, mortars and retorts, knives and dolls, quill pens and bookends, octants and sextants, compasses and barometers. One entire wall was covered with books, but not the sort of books found in most bookstores. The book collection itself was a cross section of the production of many hundreds of years. On the other walls hung drawings and paintings, some from recent decades, but most of them also very old. There were a lot of old charts and maps on the walls too, and as far as Norway was concerned, they were not very accurate.

Sophie stood for several minutes without speaking and took everything in.

"What a lot of old junk you\'ve collected," she said.

"Now then! Just think of how many centuries of history I have preserved in this room. I wouldn\'t exactly call it junk."

"Do you manage an antique shop or something?"

Alberto looked almost pained.

"We can\'t all let ourselves be washed away by the tide of history, Sophie. Some of us must tarry in order to gather up what has been left along the river banks."

"What an odd thing to say."

 "Yes, but none the less true, child. We do not live in our own time alone; we carry our history within us. Don\'t forget that everything you see in this room was once brand new. That old sixteenth-century wooden doll might have been made for a five-year-old girl\'s birthday. By her old grandfather, maybe... then she became a teenager, then an adult, and then she married. Maybe she had a daughter of her own and gave the doll to her. She grew old, and one day she died. Although she had lived for a very long time, one day she was dead and gone. And she will never return. Actually she was only here for a short visit. But her doll--well, there it is on the shelf."

"Everything sounds so sad and solemn when you talk like that."

"Life is both sad and solemn. We are let into a wonderful world, we meet one another here, greet each other--and wander together for a brief moment. Then we lose each other and disappear as suddenly and unreasonably as we arrived."

"May I ask you something?"

"We\'re not playing hide-and-seek any more."

"Why did you move into the major\'s cabin?"

"So that we would not be so far from each other, when we were only talking by letter. I knew the old cabin would be empty."

"So you just moved in?"

"That\'s right. I moved in."

"Then maybe you can also explain how Hilde\'s father knew you were there."

"If I am right, he knows practically everything."

"But I still can\'t understand at all how you get a mailman to deliver mail in the middle of the woods!"

Alberto smiled archly.

"Even things like that are a pure bagatelle for Hilde\'s father. Cheap hocus-pocus, simple sleight of hand. We are living under what is possibly the world\'s closest surveillance."

Sophie could feel herself getting angry.

"If I ever meet him, I\'ll scratch his eyes out!"

Alberto walked over and sat down on the sofa. Sophie followed and sank into a deep armchair.

"Only philosophy can bring us closer to Hilde\'s father," Alberto said at last. "Today I shall tell you about the Renaissance."


"Not very long after St. Thomas Aquinas, cracks began to appear in the unifying culture of Christianity. Philosophy and science broke away more and more from the theology of the Church, thus enabling religious life to attain a freer relationship to reasoning. More people now emphasized that we cannot reach God through rationalism because God is in all ways unknowable. The important thing for a man was not to understand the divine mystery but to submit to God\'s will.

"As religion and science could now relate more freely to each other, the way was open both to new scientific methods and a new religious fervor. Thus the basis was created for two powerful upheavals in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, namely, the Renaissance and the Reformation."

"Can we take them one at a time?"

"By the Renaissance we mean the rich cultural development that began in the late fourteenth century. It started in Northern Italy and spread rapidly northward during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries."

"Didn\'t you tell me that the word \'renaissance\' meant rebirth?"

"I did indeed, and that which was to be reborn was the art and culture of antiquity. We also speak of Renaissance humanism, since now, after the long Dark Ages in which every aspect of life was seen through divine light, everything once again revolved around man. \'Go to the source\' was the motto, and that meant the humanism of antiquity first and foremost.

"It almost became a popular pastime to dig up ancient sculptures and scrolls, just as it became fashionable to learn Greek. The study of Greek humanism also had a pedagogical aim. Reading humanistic subjects provided a \'classical education\' and developed what may be called human qualities. \'Horses are born,\' it was said, \'but human beings are not born--they are formed.\' "

 "Do we have to be educated to be human beings?"

"Yes, that was the thought. But before we take a closer look at the ideas of Renaissance humanism, we must say a little about the political and cultural background of the Renaissance."

Alberto rose from the sofa and began to wander about the room. After a while he paused and pointed to an antique instrument on one of the shelves.

"What is that?" he asked.

"It looks like an old compass."

"Quite right."

He then pointed to an ancient firearm hanging on the wall above the sofa.

"And that?"

"An old-fashioned rifle."

"Exactly--and this?"

Alberto pulled a large book off one of the bookshelves.

"It\'s an old book."

"To be absolutely precise, it is an incunabulum."

"An incunabulum?"

"Actually, it means \'cradle.\' The word is used about books printed in the cradle days of printing. That is, before 1500."

"Is it really that old?"

"That old, yes. And these three discoveries--the compass, firearms, and the printing press--were essential preconditions for this new period we call the Renaissance."

"You\'ll have to explain that a bit more clearly."

"The compass made it easier to navigate. In other words, it was the basis for the great voyages of discovery. So were firearms in a way. The new weapons gave the Europeans military superiority over American and Asiatic cultures, although firearms were also an important factor in Europe. Printing played an important part in spreading the Renaissance humanists\' new ideas. And the art of printing was, not least, one of the factors that forced the Church to relinquish its former position as sole disseminator of knowledge. New inventions and instruments began to follow thick and fast. One important instrument, for example, was the telescope, which resulted in a completely new basis for astronomy." "And finally came rockets and space probes." "Now you\'re going too fast. But you could say that a process started in the Renaissance finally brought people to the moon. Or for that matter to Hiroshima and Chernobyl. However, it all began with changes on the cultural and economic front. An important condition was the transition from a subsistence economy to a monetary economy. Toward the end of the Middle Ages, cities had developed, with effective trades and a lively commerce of new goods, a monetary economy and banking. A middle class arose which developed a certain freedom with regard to the basic conditions of life. Necessities became something that could be bought for money. This state of affairs rewarded people\'s diligence, imagination, and ingenuity. New demands were made on the individual."

"It\'s a bit like the way Greek cities developed two thousand years earlier."

"Not altogether untrue. I told you how Greek philosophy broke away from the mythological world picture that was linked to peasant culture. In the same way, the Renaissance middle class began to break away from the feudal lords and the power of the church. As this was happening, Greek culture was being rediscovered through a closer contact with the Arabs in Spain and the Byzantine culture in the east."

"The three diverging streams from antiquity joined into one great river."

"You are an attentive pupil. That gives you some background on the Renaissance. I shall now tell you about the new ideas."

"Okay, but I\'ll have to go home and eat."

Alberto sat down on the sofa again. He looked at Sophie.

"Above all else, the Renaissance resulted in a new view of mankind. The humanism of the Renaissance brought a new belief in man and his worth, in striking contrast to the biased medieval emphasis on the sinful nature of man. Man was now considered infinitely great and valuable. One of the central figures of the Renaissance was Marsilio Ficino, who exclaimed: \'Know thyself, O divine lineage in mortal guise!\' Another central figure, Pica della Mirandola, wrote the Oration on the Dignity of Man, something that would have been unthinkable in the Middle Ages.

"Throughout the whole medieval period, the point of departure had always been God. The humanists of the Renaissance took as their point of departure man himself."

"But so did the Greek philosophers."

"That is precisely why we speak of a \'rebirth\' of antiquity\'s humanism. But Renaissance humanism was to an even greater extent characterized by individualism. We are not only human beings, we are unique individuals. This idea could then lead to an almost unrestrained worship of genius. The ideal became what we call the Renaissance man, a man of universal genius embracing all aspects of life, art, and science. The new view of man also manifested itself in an interest in the human anatomy. As in ancient times, people once again began to dissect the dead to discover how the body was constructed. It was imperative both for medical science and for art. Once again it became usual for works of art to depict the nude. High time, after a thousand years of prudery. Man was bold enough to be himself again. There was no longer anything to be ashamed of."

"It sounds intoxicating," said Sophie, leaning her arms on the little table that stood between her and the philosopher.

"Undeniably. The new view of mankind led to a whole new outlook. Man did not exist purely for God\'s sake. Man could therefore delight in life here and now. And with this new freedom to develop, the possibilities were limitless. The aim was now to exceed all boundaries. This was also a new idea, seen from the Greek humanistic point of view; the humanists of antiquity had emphasized the importance of tranquility, moderation, and restraint."

"And the Renaissance humanists lost their restraint?"

"They were certainly not especially moderate. They behaved as if the whole world had been reawakened.

They became intensely conscious of their epoch, which is what led them to introduce the term \'Middle Ages\' to cover the centuries between antiquity and their own time. There was an unrivaled development in all spheres of life. Art and architecture, literature, music, philosophy, and science flourished as never before. I will mention one concrete example. We have spoken of Ancient Rome, which gloried in titles such as the \'city of cities\' and the \'hub of the universe.\' During the Middle Ages the city declined, and by 1417 the old metropolis had only 17,000 inhabitants."

"Not much more than Lillesand, where Hilde lives."

"The Renaissance humanists saw it as their cultural duty to restore Rome: first and foremost, to begin the construction of the great St. Peter\'s Church over the grave of Peter the Apostle. And St. Peter\'s Church can boast neither of moderation nor restraint. Many great artists of the Renaissance took part in this building project, the greatest in the world. It began in 1506 and lasted for a hundred and twenty years, and it took another fifty before the huge St. Peter\'s Square was completed."

"It must be a gigantic church!"

"It is over 200 meters long and 130 meters high, and it covers an area of more than 16,000 square meters. But enough about the boldness of Renaissance man. It was also significant that the Renaissance brought with it a new view of nature. The fact that man felt at home in the world and did not consider life solely as a preparation for the hereafter, created a whole new approach to the physical world. Nature was now regarded as a positive thing. Many held the view that God was also present in his creation. If he is indeed infinite, he must be present in everything. This idea is called pantheism. The medieval philosophers had insisted that there is an insurmountable barrier between God and the Creation. It could now be said that nature is divine--and even that it is \'God\'s blossoming.\' Ideas of this kind were not always looked kindly on by the church. The fate of Gior-dano Bruno was a dramatic example of this. Not only did he claim that God was present in nature, he also believed that the universe was infinite in scope. He was punished very severely for his ideas."


"He was burned at the stake in Rome\'s Flower Market in the year 1600.&quo............
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