I admit that the first thing to come to mind when I hear “ethereal” is something akin to Celtic music: floating, serene, delicate. That’s similar to one definition, but not the complete picture.
Today I picked up C.S. Lewis’s The Discarded Image to reread the first few chapters before continuing. And there I saw ethereal-or aether.
The Discarded Image “paints a lucid picture of the medieval world view, providing the historical and cultural background for the literature of the Middle Ages and Renaissance (back cover)”.
Briefly, Lewis explains how “aether” refers to the immutable realm of the celestial bodies, contrasted with the constantly changing earth. Therefore we use the word ethereal to mean beyond the earth or airy.
Lewis goes on to discuss the medieval synthesis of science, faith and history. Today we base our worldview largely on the observable and those three categories are regarded separately (at least the first two). How those in ages past set up and rationalized such a system is fascinating, and explained later on. Hopefully I get to explore some of those elements here over the month.
Here’s a look ahead though. If we today put much into how observable something is, then we are different from our medieval ancestors in one way at least: “If their culture is regarded in response to an environment, then the elements in that environment to which it responded most vigorously were manuscripts (p. 5)”.
The relationship between text and the ethereal is one I look forward to reading about here.
Are you familiar with medieval thought? Do you think there are any currently relevant texts or methods from that period?