Thursday, 7 February 2019

Midori Hartman: The Art of Soul Hunting: Basil of Caesarea’s Letter 10

Basil of Caesarea begins Letter 10 to an unnamed widow describing a technique (technē) used in dove-hunting (peristerōn thēreutikē). In capturing and taming a dove (peristera), which is anointed and released amongst a wild flock, the master of the tame bird is able to possess the flock through the scent of that myrrh (tou murou ekeinou euōdia). Basil offers this metaphor to contextualize how the conversion of the letter recipient’s son Dionysius mirrors this technique: Basil has anointed the wings of the young man’s soul with divine ointment in the hope that she might convert.This paper analyzes Basil’s use of animality and the language of capture in Letter 10 as a conversion tactic. I compare his hunting-conversion metaphor with Xenophon of Athens’ connection between Virtue and toil as a critique against sophistry at the end of his manual On Hunting(XII-XIII). I argue that Basil’s compact letter presumes a similar connection between character and virtue in order to appeal to the widow in terms of elite appropriation of the quotidian to appeal to deeper and higher matters, in this case God. As Basil explicates in his treatise on the proper use of a Greek education (To Young Men), such metaphors can be used because they hold utility for the soul’s search for truth.

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