Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Friday, October 09, 2009

The Seven Deadly Sins--Gluttony

Countless renderings of "the seven deadly sins" exist, but, if I'm not mistaken, I stumbled on them first in graduate school, in some early English literature course. (It's something of a sin that I attended a Dutch Calvinist college but had to be introduced to the seven deadlies at an unholy state U :)).

I believe they come marching along in Spencer's Fairie Queen, if I'm not mistaken, but they may also appear in Chaucer, somewhere along the road to Canterbury. They are almost ubiquitous (why not use the word when you get the chance?).

I've always found them handy, useful, really, for understanding myself as well as the world we live in; and I've never forgotten the mnenomic way I learned them way back then, for a test I suppose: P (pride), E (envy), W (wrath), S (sloth), L (lust or lechery), A (avarice or greed), and finally G (gluttony)--PEWSLAG.

Their most memorable rendering may be a series of woodcuts by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, a mid-16th century Flemish artist (see above). My own Dutch roots, I suppose, prompt me to love Bruegel's bizarre imagination, because it seems to me that one characteristic of the Dutch (and some Flemish)--of the Dutch Reformed particularly--is seemingly paradoxical penchants toward both piety and earthiness, as in, "oh, shit, I forgot to pray." If you hear that kind of thing, don't be afraid to ask about TULIPs.

Bruegel's versions of the seven deadlies flash that whacky trait in spades, delightfully moralistic in a delightfully earthy way.

I'm starting from the bottom, Gluttony, the least fatal of the sins of the flesh. The fat woman in the foreground is Dame Gluttony, an ordinary Flemish house wife who's she's riding a hog with the tailend of a jackass, for allegorical reasons. You might note that the beast too is indulging him/itself in what-not from the emptying barrel. And, of course, Dame Gluttony is drinking from a pitcher because an itsy-bitsy glass just doesn't do the job.

Darling little allegories abound. To the left, a man hurls from a bridge, while being held by a drinkin' buddy who's ready to give the poor sot yet another jigger of John Barleycorn. Pitilessly, the poor soul's vomit washes over another sad sack, who drank himself into the river.

Just behind all the vomiting, a naked man and woman (she looks "with child," but extended bellies in this woodcut are themselves ubiquitous) cavort, well, sort of--in a miserably drunken way, suggesting, of course, that gluttony leads to lust and lechery.

Over to the right, the extended legs of some guy protrude from a barrel of booze into which he's fallen. Maybe the most memorable little icon is right behind him--some fat guy lugging his behomoth belly in a wheelbarrow.

It's just plain great stuff. Read 'em and weep. Venture a glance and be wise.

Not long ago, reseachers in the geography department at Kansas State University released a study that tried--vainly, I'm sure--to show where and why seven-deadly-sin-ners really flourish in the good old U. S. of A. It's all in good fun, really, and, honestly, not to be taken too seriously, at least by a Calvinist like me, who's always understood that sin is more of a condition than an brazen act, even though the brazen acts get all the headlines.

Anyway, for gluttony those geographers searched out those areas of the country that have the highest rate of fast food restaurants per capita--to wit, where can you get a mushroom cloud-sized Hardee's Angus burgers every other block? And here's what they found. Red is bad.

Like Brueghel, these telling maps are really precious too. Whether or not they make any sense is another whole question. If I hadn't read the Apostle Paul, I'd wonder whether most of the country wasn't sinless. But then most quarters come out yellow, which, if you check the scale, is nothing to write home about either.
A week ago, my wife and I ate at a German restaurant in northern Minnesota. On special that night was schweinhachs--pig legs. Never one to turn down a good hog thigh, I ordered one, then ate about a third. I'm not kidding. What I took home has kept us eating through two more entire meals. Not only that, all three times I jawed on that hunk of hog, I've come away not wanting to eat for days.
Gen. Stan McChrystal, the man in Afghanistan right now, the general who's ordered up 40,000 new troops, eats just one meal a day--any more than that, and he feels lazy, I guess. He's up at four, running in the streets of the Afghan capital.
He's not on Brueghel's woodcut, but I am.
But if national surveys aren't woefully wrong, much of the U.S. of A., is running around with schweinhachs, red state or no.
Oh well, this old Calvinist thinks, for sure, it's never a bad idea to think a bit about sin.

1 comment:

Chris said...

CNN has a more helpful graphic timeline showing the increased rates of obesity. Notice just the last 15 years!