our greatest blessings come to us by way of madness Phaedr. 244a


Oscar Wilde, the modern Socrates

My out-of-love vigil for him, redux.

For one who looks at Beauty in the only way that Beauty can 
be seen—only then will it become possible for him to give birth 
(tiktein) not to images of virtue—because he’s in touch with no 
images—but to true virtue—because he is in touch with true 
Beauty. And being theophiles (god-loved/god-loving) belongs 
to anyone who has given birth to true virtue and nourished it, 
and if any human being could become immortal, it would be
this one.  ~Diotima in The Symposium

Wherefore, O judges, be of good cheer about death, and know of a certainty, that no evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death. He and his are not neglected by the gods; nor has my own approaching end happened by mere chance.

We call ourselves a utilitarian age, and we do not know the uses of any single thing. We have forgotten that Water can cleanse, and Fire purify, and that the Earth is mother to us all. . . Still, I am conscious that behind all this Beauty, satisfying though it be, there is some Spirit hidden of which the painted forms and shapes are but modes of manifestation, and it is with this Spirit that I desire to become in harmony .
~Oscar Wilde (De Profundis, 509 in Letters vol. I)
Things are because we see them, and what we see, and how we see it depends on the arts that have influenced us. ... One does not see anything until one sees its beauty. Then, and then only, does it come into existence. ~Oscar Wilde, The Decay of Lying
Message 2933 of 3062
From: (Deborah)
Date: Fri Nov 28, 2003 9:29 am
Subject: Re: [OscarWilde] Digest Number 1045
Wilde is the modern Socrates, and played the role deliberately and consciously.

From: "Deborah " muse@xxxxx.xxxx > Date: Thu Dec 9, 1999 3:31 pm Subject: RE: Getting Wilde

The 'foolishness' of Wilde & Queensberry doesn't seem a random act, a quirk, but a consistent part of Wilde's living the Romantic tradition. The Orphic descent to Hell, the dismemberment, and (potential) Re-collection through the Forms, is the very meat and drink of life to a classical scholar initiated in the Neo-Platonic /Rosicrucian/ Alchemical variety of Masonry. I think Wilde saw this as Fate and embraced it as it embraced him; that he felt he was marked to follow Platonic (certainly Ficino's) Beauty with the same fervor that enraptured Byron, Shelley, Keats, Rossetti.

This is simply intuition, not an attempt to write to rewrite history. We're way beyond that with Wilde. He is now just what he knew he would become: Wilde is myth.

The bigger question is: Does Orpheus know the price he will pay for his infatuation and longing for Apollo? Does he persist anyway? In the Catholic mysticism Wilde embraced symbolically (never literally; these are icons), it's the same knowledge of the Virgin holding her son on her lap, which is a metaphor for our understanding that we are mortal, and all it will take to be "immortal" (as in, one with the cosmos)... I believe most sincerely that this was (and is) the sort of thinking that would have been in Wilde's head. In his marrow and flesh.

Wilde is left to us in his work. In that he succeeded brilliantly.

By my soul,

From: muse@xxxxx.xxxx Date: Wed Oct 6, 1999 1:57 pm Subject: wilde and Soul

I agree that what Oscar embraced in the church (and his Rosicrucian flavored Freemasonry... shared with Whistler) was ritual, especially the idea of transubstantiation. Remember (once again!) the lines from Dorian Gray:

". . . . Soul and body, body and soul—how mysterious they were! There was animalism in the soul, and the body had its moments of spirituality. The senses could refine, and the intellect could degrade. Who could say where the fleshly impulse ceased, or the psychical impulse began? How shallow were the arbitrary definitions of ordinary psychologists! And yet how difficult to decide between the claims of the various schools!

Was the soul a shadow seated in the house of sin? Or was the body really in the soul, as Giordano Bruno thought? The separation of spirit from matter was a mystery, and the union of spirit with matter was a mystery also. . . . ."

I think approaching his work from this angle really opens it up in ways I couldn't see before. To view Dorian Gray as a Christian purgation tract (as the 50's movie did, perverting the meaning and even inverting elements... we should discuss this... Little Yellow Bird, indeed! ) is to miss it entirely. It's also a way of grokking Aestheticism, the very heart of the times. Compare Dorian to Rossetti's ultra mystical Hand & Soul.
Same walk down the deeper stairs. And the essence of magic.

Another Rossetti story about portraits that carry 'souls' embedded in their pigment is Rossetti's St. Agnes:

By my soul,

From: muse@...> Date: Thu Jul 13, 2000 3:09 pm Subject: Re: Philosophy

I still see Wilde's fascination as the one of EXPERIENCING a transcendence, going through the symbol (in poem, ritual, act) rather than getting stuck on it. Another perspective of the Socratic-Diotima section of the Symposium. Ellmann quotes this letter from Wilde more than once — a really key passage —here with my humble attempts to grok included. Please feel free to take me apart. It's why I come here:

"Sometime you will find, even as I have found, that there is no such thing as a romantic experience; there are romantic memories, and there is the desire of romance— that is all." (The paradox of the old 'beingness' , drawn to the forms by Eros as desire and by the memory of Beauty... which is the main business of 'standing in the upsurging draft of love.' Being lover rather than passive beloved. Penetrator rather than penetrated.) "Our most fiery moments of ecstasy are merely shadows of what somewhere else we have felt, or of what we long to some day feel." (Ah. The lost Zen, a danger of living the paradox! Time to change the tired perspective, turn the thing over. Take it from the otherside.) "So it seems to me. And, strangely enough, what comes of all this is a curious mixture of ardour and of indifference." (The boy's been in Eros' billowing draft a long time... I commiserate.) "I myself would sacrifice everything for a new experience, and I know there is no such thing as a new experience at all." (But let us not stop looking...) "I think I would more readily die for what I do not believe in than for what I hold to be true. I would go to the stake for a sensation and be a skeptic to the last!" (He made good on this.) "Only one thing remains infinitely fascinating to me, the mystery of moods. To be master of these moods is exquisite, to be mastered by them more exquisite still." (For this, man invented the especial concept of Sin. The devil, after all, a symptom of consciousness: of being in the sphere of opposites, biting the apple that split us off into the divine contraries. As Blake put it: Ever expanding in the bosom of God, the human imagination.) "Sometimes I think that the artistic life is a long and lovely suicide, and am not sorry it is so."

Oscar is just so right. We come out of death, we go back into death. Might as well live a bit in between.

Man has no body distinct from his soul. Eternity is in love with the productions of time. ....Joys impregnate. ~William Blake

Wilde fascinates. He left himself in his work and that's good magic.

I know I'm imposing, making Wilde up by mixing his consciousness with mine and the bit of soul left to our age. But he says it is our duty to do so.

Re Nietzsche, in the Introduction: The Critic as Artist as Wilde (Critical Writings of Oscar Wilde), Ellmann writes:

"Andre Gide found Nietzsche less exciting because he had read Wilde, and Thomas Mann in one of his last essays remarks almost with chagrin on how many of Nietzsche's aphorisms might have been expressed by Wilde, and how many of Wilde's by Nietzsche. What I think can be urged for Wilde then, is that for his own reasons and in his own way he laid the basis for many critical positions which are still debated in much the same terms, and which we like to attribute to more ponderous names."

It makes sense to see Wilde by way of Nietzsche (as in Jung's essay The Apollonian and the Dionysian in CW 6 , Psychological Types — a much more interesting essay than the general 'types' stuff... so it seems to me).
Also a ref to Wilde's Masonic/Catholic contraries in the intro. Which takes me back to the beginning: I still see Wilde's fascination (and to be fascinated is to follow your demon) as the one of EXPERIENCING a transcendence, going through the symbol (in poem, ritual, act) rather than getting stuck on it. ...

Good wishes,

From: muse@...> Date: Sun Jul 9, 2000 4:39 pm Subject: Re: Philosophical influences

Should say, Wilde was often called generous. May he inspire us.

Gwen said:
>>I could be wrong, but there too I think you will not find any evidence to support a first-hand knowledge of Masonry by Oscar. >>

Truth is, Oscar was a 19th C. Mason. Again, I think this century's hype over "Secret Societies" and conspiracy theories has occluded our perspective. Conan Doyle may have written of the horrors of the Red Circle, but he himself was a Mason. Masonry and its symbols are not secret at all. They are more like a big R Romantic poetry for things ineffable. (Remember, Byron was Carbonari, a masonic off-shoot. See Weisberger's Speculative Freemasonry and the Enlightenment. Seems an important source of the popularity of Orphic traditions, hand and hand w/ Greek revival.) You can easily turn up new and — more to the point — 19C Masonic encyclopedias at many libraries. MacKey is good.) I think what you'll see is that the 'secrecy' is a pose of one 'ever in search and never to find it'.... i.e., that the mysteries of existence are ever going to be mysteries, one's embrace of a particular dogma, faith, notwithstanding ... Mircea Eliade's The Sacred and the Profane is an excellent grounding in this mind frame. Forgive my many limitations! But I think it makes a point about ourselves as much as anything. Seems books are burned in many many ways. And always a loss.

The secrecy of any particular ritual is in emulation of Orphic and Eleusinian rites. What I'm getting at is that scholars traditionally dismiss the influence because they've not looked for it. Its unfamiliar ground. As here?

As to the RC and Pagan influences: Seems to me the Pagan in him DREW him to Catholicism. When I look at the Oxford movement or Rossetti's infatuations with the concepts of the Art Catholic, it is about the importance of ritual in the Mass. The literal transubstantiation, the soul / spirit to matter, etc. (Reread Oscar's ref to G.Bruno in Dorian Gray.) That term 'mystic', is just one who cuts out the middleman, experiencing a transcendence through symbolism between the sacred and the self. Again, Eliade puts it well.) Jung's Transformation Symbolism and the Mass (in Bollingen CW, vol 11) draws a direct correspondence between the symbolism of the consecration of the host and earlier Pagan rites, especially the Eleusinian mysteries. Connect this with Oscar's knowledge of Greek, direct study of its literature and classicism... and I think there's much to deepen the understanding of his fascination, its appeal to him. (Not to mention understanding him in general! Talk of masks, and Art as paradox.) Again, this is Catholicism not as dogma, but as symbolic ritual. A physical poetry, if you will. Conceptual art, even. :) All to say: Understand him from the perspective of a Mason: as a Platonic /Neo-Platonism philosopher. I think a case could be made that that is the grounding of most Romantics. And most poets. Certainly Yeats and Eliot, and Byron (his Vampyre: pure Eleusius), Shelley, Keats...

(And Pater and Ruskin influenced by... Can we not look deeper, yes?!)

Interesting to read the following essay and think of Oscar, his society, and sexual power structures in general. I think I understand those cartoons in Punch better: Oscar as Dionysus in his plum velvets and curls, the ladies swooning at his androgyny:
("Enacting Eros" by David Konstan )
also can get there from menu at:

Date: Fri Jul 14, 2000 8:40 pm
Subject: Re: Philosophy

Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy was published in 1871, so this sure ain't Nietzsche reading Oscar. Just the spirit of aestheticism in the air, those scented and unsatisfying cigarettes...

A deliciously dangerous book? Certainly goes down better than that little Bast statuette that made all voodoo in the black&white flick!

"Man is no longer the artist, he has become the work of art." ~Nietzsche speaking of the Dionysian impulse as an 'intoxication'.



From: Joe Gardner Subject: Help from Oscar (Long) Here's what Oscar sez on the subject of must & must not reads, written when he was asked to contribute to a series in the PALL MALL GAZETTE called "The Best Hundred Books by the Best Hundred Judges":

"Books, I fancy, may be conveniently divided into three classes:

"1. Books to read, such as Cicero's LETTERS, Suetonius, Vasari's LIVES OF THE PAINTERS, the AUTOBIOGRAPHY of Benvenuto Cellini, Sir John Mandeville, Marco Polo, St Simon's MEMOIRS, Mommsen, and (till we get a better one) Grote's HISTORY OF GREECE.

"2. Books to reread, such as Plato and Keats: in the sphere of poetry, the masters not the minstrels; in the sphere of philosophy, the seers not the savants.

"3. Books not to read at all, such as Thompson's SEASONS, Rogers's ITALY, Paley's EVIDENCES, all the Fathers except Augustine, all John Stuart Mill except the ESSAY ON LIBERTY, all Voltaire's plays without any exception, Butler's ANALOGY, Grant's ARISTOTLE, Hume's ENGLAND, Lewes's HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY, all argumentative books & all books that try to prove anything.

"The third class is by far the most important. To tell people what to read is, as a rule, either useless or harmful; for the apprecia- tion of literature is a question of temperament not teaching; to Parnassus there is no primer... But to tell people what not to read is a very different matter, and I venture to recommend it as a mission to the University Extension scheme.

"Indeed, it is one that is eminently needed in this age of ours, an age that reads so much it has no time to admire, and writes so much it has no time to think. Whoever will select out of the chaos of our modern curricula "The Worst Hundred Books" and publish a list of them, will confer on the rising generation a real and lasting benefit.

"After expressing these views I suppose I should not offer any suggestions...but I hope you will allow me the pleasure of being inconsistent, as I am anxious to put in a claim for a book that has been strangely omitted by most of the excellent judges who have contributed to your columns. I mean the GREEK ANTHOLOGY. The beautiful poems contained in this collection seem to me to hold the same position with regard to Greek dramatic literature as do the delicate little figurines of Tanagra to the Pheidian marbles, and to be quite as necessary for complete understanding of the Greek spirit.

"I am also amazed to find that Edgar Allan Poe has been passed over. Surely this marvellous lord of rhythmic expression deserves a place? If, in order to make room for him, it be necassary to elbow out someone else, I should elbow out Southey, and I think Baudelaire might be most advantageously substituted for Keble. No doubt both in THE CURSE OF KEHAMA and in THE CHRISTIAN YEAR there are poetic qualities of a certain kind, but absolute catholicity of taste is not without its dangers. It is only an auctioneer who should admire all schools of art."

Cheers from Joe Gardner, who says 'Right on, Oscar!' jgardner@u...


(final trial)

"The sentence of the Court is that each of you be imprisoned and kept to hard labor for two years."

Standing in the dock, Wilde blanched and reeled as if he had been struck.
His face contorted in pain, he was heard to mutter, "My God. My God. May I
say nothing, My Lord?"

Wills merely waved his hand at the jailers, gathered his papers and walked
out as the prisoners were led away.

The Trials of Oscar Wilde
Sentencing Statement of Justice Wills


Now what would a soul with training in the classics and an affinity for ritual and symbol, an aesthete and a sensate/intuitive be but a playwright? From the Greeks to the passion plays: a mask with a god behind it. But nevermind.

With love

extra credit:

A rebours (1884)

The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple...
~ Oscar Wilde

If it has been inordinately difficult for the late twentieth-century homosexual apologists to see this idealist dimension of Hellenism either in the formative moment of Victorian "homosexuality" or in Wilde, it is precisely because the salient forces fostered by that discord ~ self-development, diversity, "liberty of the heart" ~ so completely survived the wreck of Wilde's life and art as to have become quite invisibly what we are.
~Linda Dowling



at last -- "an indispensible resource for anyone studying Wilde's engagement with the Classics, a topic that has only recently attracted the attention of scholars in Victorian Studies and Classical Reception."

(Maenad's dance) 


Iain Ross, Oscar Wilde and Ancient Greece. Cambridge Studies in Nineteenth-Century Literature and Culture, 82.   Cambridge; New York:  Cambridge University Press, 2013.  Pp. xv, 274.  ISBN 9781107020320.  $95.00.  

Reviewed by Serena Witzke, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (switzke@email.unc.edu)


Iain Ross's impressive analysis of Oscar Wilde's engagement with ancient Greece and Hellenism examines the way trends in Victorian scholarship, institutions, and texts influenced Wilde's lifelong love affair with Greek language and culture. Ross consults not only the editions of texts that Wilde used, but also, whenever possible, Wilde's own texts themselves with marginalia and extensive annotation, and provides interpretive analysis of this contradictory writer's often- complicated comments. This dedication to primary source material makes Oscar Wilde and Ancient Greece an indispensible resource for anyone studying Wilde's engagement with the Classics, a topic that has only recently attracted the attention of scholars in Victorian Studies and Classical Reception.1...


And IMHO, the Platonic Eros is the shaping force of Wilde.


Great heavenly one who turns the universe, the God who is, Iaô, Lord, ruler of all, ablanathalaabla, grant, grant me favor. I shall have the name of the great God in this amulet: protect from every evil thing, he whom Jane Francesca bore, William begot.