Author boards Alitalia Flight 864, his fellow passengers mostly Italians, for the short trip across the Mediterranean to Tunis, one of whose suburbs still bears the name of Carthage. According to a legend the Phoenicians founded the city in 814 B.C. The Tunisians amongst us are by and large dressed in ordinary modern western clothes, with two striking exceptions: Their power, based in the city of Tyre. A young man in white African shirt, pants. In modern Lebanon. And slippers. Was at its peak. And a young woman all in pink. It seems that Qart Hadash. Except for a gold embroidered white headscarf. The Phoenician name meaning “new city.” Otherwise, only two or three older women are wearing the hejab. Was founded with the aim of establishing a port and consolidating their hold on North Africa.
The seats and the carpet in the cabin of this relatively small plane are green. In 44 B.C. Julius Caesar re-established the city. On the green-bordered antimacassars, made of white paper, are printed in capital letters. In 29 B.C. it became a provincial capital. The web address, http://WWW.ALITALIA.COM/. Within 200 years it had grown to become the third largest imperial city after Rome and Alexandria. The flight attendants speak Italian and English, but not a word of French or Arabic. By this time the city had a population of 300,000. They have distributed Italian and English-language newspapers, but none in the languages of Tunisia. Three forums and a circus holding 70,000 people. The headlines in Italian and English both make mention of terrorist threats. And mammoth baths and an amphitheatre.
Though the guidebook, whose pocket histories author has been reading on the plane, say that the taxi fare from airport into the city should be about 3.5 Tunisian dinars. Colorful legends surround the demise of the Punic city during the third war with Rome. The driver’s meter spins up to 15 dinars in no time. After a furious fight 50,000 Carthaginians were taken into slavery. Before long we have arrived at Grand Hôtel de France. One thousand more remained defiantly besieged. Something less than what the name might suggest. Their commander, Hasdrubal, surrendered. But adequate. His wife and children committed suicide. Author had checked its reputation. By leaping into a fire. At two information counters in the airport. And the entire city was leveled and symbolically sprinkled with salt.
At the desk a sullen clerk demands that author relinquish his passport. After the fall of the Roman Empire. Author responds by saying that he will show him the passport. The Vandals and Byzantines both ruled from Carthage. But cannot give it to him. The city slipped back into obscurity. This customary repartee leads to an accusation that author does not trust the hotel. Following the Arab conquest. Author brushes aside the complaint. The area returned to agriculture as its chief activity. Waiting at the counter for the clerk’s assistant to copy the information. In the sixteenth century Leo the African reported. Having already offered to pay for the first night. Carthage’s production of peaches and pomegranates. Author is now asked to do so, because he “cannot be trusted.” Olives and figs.
Bien cher ami, writes Mohamed Selmi from Tunis to MM in China, Merci pour la correspondence. Rome, benevolent as it saw itself to be, was prepared to give the Numidians another chance. Tu me dis que tu arriveras à Tunis le 2 juillet. It split the kingdom into a western half centered on Cirta Regia (in modern Algeria).Tu seras le bien venu chez nous. And an eastern half based at Zama (near Siliana). J’attends des détails de ta place de visite. The last of the Zama kings, Juba I. Prefères-tu l’hôtel ou habiter chez nous en famille modestement?Backed the wrong side in the Roman civil war (Pompey instead of Caesar). Je ferai de mon mieux pour que ton séjour à Tunis soit agréable. And was trounced by Julius Caesar at the battle of Thapsus in 46 B.C. Bien fraternellement.
Author descends in the elevator to the front desk, where, avoiding the first clerk, he asks a second clerk how to make a call to his host’s cell phone. Rome was now firmly in control of its African outpost, and Roman settlement began in earnest. Whose number has only eight digits. Julius Caesar. “Téléphone publique,” he is told, “dix mètres d’ici.” Reestablished Carthage as a Roman city. Having inquired and been told how many coins in which denominations to insert, he dials the number. In 44 B.C. Only to reach a message in Arabic followed by a busy signal. It became the capital of an expanded colony. He tries again, unsuccessfully. That was known by the name of Africa Proconsularis. Deciding to let some time go by, he steps next door to a café and orders an espresso.
By the first century A.D. the wheat-growing plains of the Medjerda Vally and the Tell Plateau were supplying more that 60 per cent of the Roman Empire’s grain requirements. Now he returns to the phone, dials the number again and gets the same result, asking the helpful Nassar to see if he would try the number for him. Africa also supplied the wild animals used in amphitheatre shows at the Coliseum. Nassar dials and reaches a female voice, young, perhaps the host’s daughter, author thinks, as he patiently tells her who he is and whom he is seeking. As well as gold, olive oil and slaves. The young female, however, has never heard of author’s host. Ivory, ostrich plumes and garum (a fish paste delicacy). Nassar dials again but reaches a recorded message: the phone has been disconnected.
Author returns to hotel to fetch his host’s address, hoping to be taken there by taxi. The great cities built by the Romans on the backs of this prosperity: The address, he is told, however, is only a postal address. Dougga and Sufetula. Despite its specification of street number, zip code and Tunis suburb. Thuburbo Magus and Haidra. Nassar dials the number again on his cell phone no more efficaciously. Thysdrus or El-Jem (with its enormous amphitheatre). “Perhaps tomorrow,” he suggests in English (he does not speak French), “a friend of mine can take you to the post office and ask where your host lives.” And Bulla Regia. Author is overwhelmed by such helpful behavior. Are among Tunisia’s principal tourist attractions. Thanking Nassar, he bids him farewell till the morrow.
Up and out at 5:00 am for stroll to the archway entrance to the Medina, author finds that the three cafés in the place surrounding it, though in the process of being swept out, are not yet open for business. One of the earliest accounts of the Pre-Socratics and the Post-Aristotelians is afforded us by the great Neo-Platonist philosopher al-Farabi (d. 950). Accordingly he sets out up the principal boulevard of La Ville Nouvelle in search of caffeine. In his tract entitled What Ought to Precede the Study of Philosophy. The pink and green lights of a hotel flash off and on. Here al-Farabi refers to the Pythagorean school, founded by Pythagoras. A round moon hangs steady not far above the horizon. And the Cyreanic school, founded by Aristippus. Suddenly all the street lights are extinguished together. Followed by the Stoic school. Only the public theater, of all the buildings along the avenue, remains lit up, but from its own set of lights. Of whose members al-Farabi mentions Chrysippus but not its founder, Zeno of Citium.
Once past the theater. He refers to the Cynic school. Past the Grand Café du Théâtre. Founded by Diogenes. Still “Fermé” (Closed). Remarking that the members of that school were known as dogs. He reaches Café Ben Jemâa. Because they associated the neglect of civic duties and the love of their kinsmen and brothers. Side by side with Café Le Capitole. Which are traits pertaining to dogs. Both doing a brisk early morning trade. Another school mentioned by al-Farabi is the Skeptics. An espresso and a tart topped with apple and pineapple slices appear. Followers of Pyrrho. Author. Who negated the possibility of knowledge. Is already feeling better. Altogether. The breeze is cool. And hence are called. The coffee is hot. According to al-Farabi. The pollarded trees are filled with chirping birds. The Negations. Pedestrians are crossing the streets on the way to work, arriving at our café from all directions. (“Inadiyah.”) Raising his cup and saucer, he indicates to the waiter, who has taken a seat outdoors, that he needs another espresso.
He then refers to the hedonists. Waiter springs into action. Followers of Epicurus. Arriving at table to ask in Arabic. Who held that the aim of philosophy is the pleasure attendant upon its study. What it is that author requires. This short account of Greek schools should be supplemented by al-Farabi’s exposition of the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle. Having grasped the import of author’s wordless instructions. In two treatises sufficient to illustrate his wide-ranging knowledge of the Greek legacy. His boundless sympathy for the waiter’s situation in life and his gratitude for his solicitude. The two Neo-Platonic works in question are. Waiter breaks out in a smile, throws his towel over his shoulder and returns to café to bring back the second cup of coffee that he understands author to have asked for. The apocryphal Theologia Aristotelis. This time, to author’s delight, it turns out to be a cappuccino.And the Liber de Causis. Again with two lumps of sugar wedged end to end into the cup instead of placed on the saucer.
The Greek work whose impact was most decisive on Arab philosophy was not, as might be expected, Aristotle’s greatest venture into the realm of speculative thought, i.e., the Metaphysics. Pedestrians stroll by: Which had found its way into Arabic as early as the ninth century. Older men wearing short-sleeved shirts and ties; younger businessmen in striped dress shirts deployed out over their trousers; guys in baseball caps and tee shirts. It was rather the Theologia Aristotelis. “Cleveland,” reads a button-up baseball jersey, the “Cleve” on one side, the “land” on the other. An alleged Aristotelian compilation. Most of the passersby are ethnically Arabic, except for a black man, 25, who now crosses the boulevard in Adidas basketball warm-ups, dark blue with white stripes up the legs and across the shoulders. Whose Greek author is unknown. He trails behind him a black plastic fabric suitcase on rollers. (It was translated into Arabic for al-Kindi.) A white Fiat pulls up to the curb, its driver opening its cargo compartment to make a delivery.
Al-Kindi was the first purely philosophical Arab writer. Past increasingly elegant cafés not yet open for business. He flourished about the same time as the Arabic publication of the Metaphysica. Author continues his peripatetic stroll up the boulevard. By the Syrian Christian, “Abd al-Masib.” Past banks still shuttered. Born Na’imah of Emessa. Black birds are whirling about just above the treetops. The historical value of this work is considerable. Crossing the rue du Janvier 1952. It has been described as the epitome of Greek philosophy. He reaches in turn: Tunis Air, Comète Tours, Yves Rocher, Vita Sport, Jasmin. In Hellenistic times. None of them yet open for business. To blend into a whole. Their signs are in Arabic as well as Roman letters. The elements during the period of greater creativity. A young woman in headscarf and jeans pauses to examine an orange pair of sandals in the vitrine of a shoe store. It appealed to Arabs bent on harmonizing doctrines. Only to move on quickly in her day-glo green Nikes.
They were preoccupied not only with the task of harmonizing Greek philosophy and Islamic dogma. We are walking along (a sign high above on a building front finally tells us) the avenue Habibu Bourguiba. But also with harmonizing the divergent elements in Greek philosophy itself. The sign is lettered in French and Arabic. Accordingly, they must have looked upon the Theologica as an unexpected boon. The neoclassical facade of this whitewashed colonial building has begun in its upper reaches to catch the light from the rising sun. Though the Arabic version of Ibn Na’imah. At rue Houssine Bouzaiane two policemen stand in the middle of the street, which has been freshly swept with water from a street cleaning machine. Purports to translate Porphyry’s commentary. One policeman, in a white leather hat, also has a white leather holster for his pistol. Upon a text of Aristotle’s. Suddenly his commandant arrives and approaches scribbling author. None of our sources ascribes such a commentary to this Syrian Neo-Platonist.
Having been told the nature of author’s activity, he advises him to move to the boulevard’s median and take up a new station under its trees. Curiously enough, however, a Theologia is credited to Diodochus Proclus (d. 485). No sooner does author do so than he is approached by two plainclothes intelligence officers. The other great exponent of Neo-Platonism and the last great pagan representative of Greek thought. Who ask to see his “paper.” This work is almost certainly the same as the one known as Proclus’ Elements of Theology. In French one of them asks if he is French. Which went into the pseudo-Aristotelian corpus in Arabic. Having responded that he is instead American, he shows them his U.S. passport, which they. The Scholastic authors of the thirteenth century. Decline to examine in favor of examining his “Carte du Visiteur,” issued upon arrival at the airport. Thomas and Albert the Great. One policeman asks if the name on the document is author’s name. Called this work the Liber de Causis.
It would appear that he had inadvertently been standing too close to some politically sensitive building. Both the Theologia and the De Causis. At least at some politically sensitive time.Are remote from the genuine teaching of Aristotle. For now more police begin to arrive on the scene. The former is a paraphrase of Books IV, V and VI of Plotinus’ Enneads. Ignoring them all, author continues toward a landscaped roundabout. Which explains in part Porphry’s association with it in Arabic tradition. At the center of which a clock on a crenellated metal tower reads 6:00 am. That the Enneads’ genuine author. A police bus pulls up alongside author. Is not mentioned in connection with this compilation. From which descend light-blue-shirted policemen. Due, however, primarily to the startling fact. As a yellow municipal bus pauses to take on passengers, a white police motorcycle arrives and stops. That the great Greek thinker. Its dark-skinned driver in white gloves. Was almost unknown to the Arabs by this name.
Author continues nonchalantly. In the Theologia and the De Causis. Past La Banque de Tunisie. The doctrine of emanation. “Secteur bancaire: une nouvelle dynamique,” reads the headline of a first-page editorial.Which served as the cornerstone of almost all Arab philosophical thought. In La Presse de Tunisie. Is fully expounded and discussed. De nombreux volets de la vie économique. Here Plotinus’ doctrine of the One. S’inscrivent aujourd’hui dans la logique des impératifs. And the manner in which it generates. De mise à niveau intégrale. The order of being beneath it is set forth. Et de respect rigoureux des norms internationals. The nobility of its Plotinian theme. After which we enter into a stretch of sidewalk billboards. And the boldness. Advertising “Lisas Cup / Micro Aerée,” a sanitary pad. Of its conceptions. “Vanoise, Crème Chantilly, a woman in pink dress and French hairdo holding aloft a spoon. Reportedly moved al-Kindi. “Carta Fun,” for one’s cell phone. To write a commentary on this compendious work.
We have arrived at an intersection whose cross street is surmounted by an overpass. The author of the Theologia. Above a national gas station rises a sign. Says his aim is “to discuss the divine nature and exhibit it as the First Cause.” With the logo of a galloping horse. That time and the aeon [al-dahr] are both beneath it. Beneath which flies the flag of Tunisia: That it is the cause of causes. A red star and crescent within a white circle on a red ground. And their author. Author crosses the boulevard to return along its other side. After a fashion. The rising sun now mercifully at his back. And that the luminous virtue shines forth from it upon Reason. Il est en effet question de veiller à développer notre secteur bancaire. And through the intermediary of Reason upon the universal and heavenly Soul. We are heading toward the Medina again. Et de l’amener à assumer son rôle. And from Reason. Dans l’effort de développement du pays. Through the intermediary of the Soul upon Nature. Author scampers across the roundabout.
And from the Soul: His course through the quickening flow of early morning rush hour traffic. Through the intermediary of nature upon the objects of generation and corruption. Shielded by the body of a policeman also crossing. That this action [of the One]. Who dares the oncoming traffic to hit him. Issues forth from it without movement. Ce qui exige une amélioration du rendement de nos banques et organismes de crédit. And that the movement of all things. À travers la consolidation de leurs assises financières. Is from it and through it. Et l’adoption d’un système de gestion prudentielle. And that things gravitate toward it through a species of desire or appetite. Conforme notamment aux norms de Bâle II.” We pass the Hôtel du Lac, the moon, though slightly higher and paler, still suspended in the eastern sky. In this movement of desire. “Africa,” reads a sign above a modern light blue, curtain-wall building. The author finds the clue not only to the nature of the Soul but also the emanation of all things from the One.
“Vivre comme on aime,” reads a canopied, free-standing street-side stall displaying racks of CDs and videos. Thus the Soul. “Watch out!” Which is none other. “Perfect Stranger.” Than Reason. “Tiesto Sentation.” In the guise of desire. “Maniac Thrasher.” Performs one of two functions: Mel Gibson’s “Apocalypto.” It governs either the world of forms or that of particulars. Plus their titles in Arabic. Depending upon whether it is moved by desire for the universal or the particular. The music issuing from within the stall is a somber Arabic song. When it desires the particular. Moving along, we pass “Le Grill / Restaurant Touristique.” Because it yearns to reveal its active nature. Which features a fading photograph of a belly dancer posing with her male musical accompanists. It moves downward. All mustachioed. Directed by Reason. In white shirts, black vests and red bow ties. And dwells in animals, plants or humans. Their various instruments held inertly in their laps. In the form of an indivisible substance.
We pass The United Colors of Benneton, next to which a black guard stands alert before a bank in his starched blue uniform. Which. We are crossing rue Mustapha Kamel Ataturk. Upon the disintegration of the body. A swarthy Arab strides confidently past Patisserie Sweet House. Will rejoin. Moncef Barcous is showing its “Nouvelle Collection 2006 / 2007” of pure white suits, two manikins modeling them in blue shirts and enormous pink ties, headless, their feet having also disappeared. The realm of separate substances (or forms). At Hôtel Carlton a woman in a white, maroon-bordered uniform steps out the front door to empty a pail of water into a channel on the marble sidewalk. After passing. We pass Excel Hôtel, its maroon ground floor curtains drawn in secrecy. Through a series of progressive purifications. Beyond Versailles Fast Food, Librairie Al Kitab, in among its Arabic titles, is showing in its window Chateaubriand’s, Mémoires d’outre tombe (in a two volume edition), works by Khalil Gibran and Georges Sand.
In support of this view. As we cross the rue de Rome, a guy in a mesh jersey lettered “New York,” a foot-tall numeral “20” on his back, overtakes us to enter the Ministère de l’enseignement, where author, following, records (on display in a locked glass cabinet) the titles of books reading Réactions à l’occupation française de la Tunisie en 1881, Homologies bio-économique and Poissons commun de Tunisie. The author invokes the authority of Heraclitus, Empedocles, Pythagoras and Plato. We pass another branch of the Banque de Tunisie, where a woman in headscarf is cleaning its ATM’s screen. Who are all said to have held that the Soul descends into the body from the intelligible world. People are on their way to work but seem to be in no hurry to get there. This body Plato described as a dungeon. We pause at Selerie N. Buix, its window showing handbags; at La Joie de la France, its security door shuttered; at Maghred Sport, its shutter held two feet open by a red plastic stool. To which the Soul, he said, is temporarily consigned.
At 10:00 am author arrives at the public telephones, where Nassar places a call to his friend. The author of the Theologia also gives Plato credit for introducing the distinction between sensible and intelligible entities. “He will be here in an hour and a half,” he says. And for ascribing to the latter the character of permanence and immutability. Author retires to hotel for more rest. And to the former that of perpetual flux. Following his trip from Statione Termini to Fiumicino to Tunis Airport to Hôtel de France. Despite this distinction, however. Plus his two hour early morning tour of La Ville Nouvelle. Plato held that the cause of corporeal and incorporeal entities is the same: At 11:30 he returns, to find that Nassar must place another call. The First True entity (ens Realissimum). Author steps next door for another espresso. The Pure Good, or God.
As other customers of this Arabic café puff on their hookahs, he orders a second espresso. A too literal interpretation of Plato. Which, like the first. Might lead one to believe that the Pure Good. Arrives with two lumps of sugar. Was supposed to have created Reason, Soul and Nature in time. Squeezed end to end into the top of the cup. Plato, however, introduced the concept of time in his account of the beginning of creation. Draining the second cup, he steps next door again to meet the newly arrived Adam. In emulation of the ancient philosophers, simply to underscore. An Arabic-speaking Ghanian. The distinction between the superior, primary causes and the inferior, secondary causes. Together with Nassar we review the Xeroxed photo of Mohamed Selmi, his address in El-Menzah, his inoperative telephone number.
For one cannot talk of cause without reference to the concept of time. And we are off, not by taxi but on foot, to the Métro. Since a cause is assumed to be prior to its effect. A half hour ride deposits us in Tunis 5, where we walk to the post office and inquire about this man. Such priority, however, need not necessarily refer to temporal priority. After some discussion it is determined that we must consult at another post office. Of the two classes of agents, those which are subject to time and those which are not. Why, author wonders, can we not simply go to his address? Only the former can be said to act in time. Adam recommends further consultation. Accordingly it can be described as prior to their effects. By a taxi hard to find we tour a new neighborhood, the driver asking, "Where is 'la busta'"? Indeed, the agent reveals the very nature of the effect.
After half a dozen such inquiries we find it. And whether it is subject to time or not will depend not only on its own nature as effect, but rather on that of its causes. But the postal clerks have no idea where rue Mohamed Beyram is to be found. Perhaps the knottiest problem in the metaphysical doctrine of emanation that we shall find at the very center of Arab philosophical thought. We seek the help of a policeman sitting in his office within a market, who, together with two workers sitting outside provides for us many directions. Is the problem of plurality, or the emanation of the many from the One. We set out on foot. To furnish a clue to the solution of this problem. The map that a worker has drawn does not lead us to the street in question. WhichPlato had bequeathed to ancient philosophy. On the sidewalk we are directed to Café Java for more instructions.
The author of the Theoria urges the searcher “to fix his gaze upon the True One alone and leave behind all other things.” Within the very neighborhood where the street lies there is great uncertainty as to its identity. And return to himself and pause. After many more inadequate instructions are given, we at last find the street, along with its proper number, 17. For he will see, through the eye of the mind, the True One. A houseful of men directs us, on the same property, to a small gate, banging upon which does not produce response. Motionless, rising aloft, above and beyond everything else, both intelligible and sensible. We inquire again. He will perceive all things as images emanating from him and toward him. Divergent opinions suggest that there is another rue Mohamed Beyram in the same neighborhood. Actuated by their yearning for him as principle.
We set off back down the hill that we had climbed. In order to grasp the emanation of the “nobler essences of Forms” from the One. At a corner restaurant more explicit directions are given. It is, however, necessary to abstract from all modes of temporal generation. We pursue them, stopping to consult for confirmation two policemen standing on the street. For unlike their particular representations, these forms were generated by the One outside time (bi ghair zaman). “Direct ” is the word that they use in Arabic. Without the interposition between them of their Creator-Author of any agency. To indicate that the street is straight ahead, “en face de la mosque,” one adds, “visible” at the foot of the hill. How indeed could we suppose that they were generated in time. Down we continue under an increasingly hot sun. Seeing that time is caused by these forms?
Not finding the street, we are told to consult with a barber. The cause of time is not subject to time and comes to be in a higher or nobler mode, similar to that of the shade in relation to the object causing it. The barber is known to have the only map of the neighborhood. Being the cause or principle of all things, the One is nevertheless thoroughly other than they. Carefully he unfolds its Arabic pages, locating the original rue Mohamed Beyram. Whereas all things abide in it, it is not immanent in any of them. We mount the hill again beneath a yet hotter sun. For all things have proceeded from it, subsist in it and will ultimately return to it. Author has written a note on the back of Mohamed’s letter to him, supplying his hotel address. It is precisely because the One is none of the things that emanate from it. As he is about to deposit it in the mail box.
That it is possible for all things to issue forth from it. Adam insists that we give number 17 one more try. The first emanation from it is Reason, which are also the first essence and the first perfect entity. He speaks alone to a man getting out of a black Mercedes. From which the essences of all things, both in the higher and the lower worlds, emanate. The man takes out his cell phone, as author steps closer to see what is going on. Paradoxically enough, the One that causes all being and perfection is nevertheless above being and perfection. He apparently knows Mohamed. Since it lacks nothing. He has in his cell phone, he says, Mohamed’s correct number. Indeed, it is on account of its perfection. Mohamed answers. That the first perfect being (i.e. Reason) has issued forth from it. He will be home within two hours, he has told his friend.
The Perfect (al-Tamm), which is also the first being or essence, trains its gaze upon its author. Author and Adam take refuge in the air conditioned restaurant. Is filled with light and beauty. The very restaurant where misdirections had been given. And thereby becomes Reason. To linger for an hour over cheese pizza slices and stuffed olive leaves with eau gazifier, olives, marinated carrot sticks and Arabic bread. As a result, its actions have come to resemble those of the True One, from which it derived, and by which it was endowed with “great and numerous powers.” After lunch we take seats on a bench outside to await Mohamed. Whereupon it produced the Soul, in a motionless manner, analogous to the manner in which the One produced Reason in the first place. Without Adam’s linguistic skill this meeting would not have taken place.
The Soul, however, being “the effect of an effect,” is unable to act without motion. Within half an hour more he arrives. The product of its action being an image. On a small scooter. That is, an entity “which is continually evanescent and is neither permanent nor lasting,” as indeed are all the products of motion. Author mentions the incorrect phone number. This image is the world of Nature or sense. Mohamed protests that he had been to the airport with his daughter to pick up author (but admits that he was not on time). Being intermediate between Reason and Sense. He had tried to call. The Soul is able to gaze upward toward its author. But author’s cell phone was turned off. And thereby acquire. All is forgiven. Power and Light. Adam, a local university student of Arabic, and author are treated to cold soda, cool air conditioning and a warm reception.
Tunis (ancient Tynes) has existed since the earliest days of Carthaginian expansion. Vergil, a late riser, has managed this morning to get to the plaza in front of the Medina by 8:30 for a cup of coffee, his first experience of the beverage. The name features on fifth-century B.C. maps, and the Roman general Regulus camped here in 255 B.C. during the First Punic War. He has been reading the guide book again, wondering how to bring history into line with tragedy and philosophy. The Liber de Causis consists of 31 or 32 propositions which, like the Theologia, expound succinctly the chief tenets of emanationism. (Plato and Aristotle are second nature to Vergil, but it is a little too early in the day for Arabic philosophy.) How early this work had been translated into Arabic is difficult to determine. He is curious as to why only two of the three cafés in the plaza, all situated in view of the arch that introduces the Medina, have customers.
The Romans ignored Tunis after the defeat of Carthage. He returns to his Lonely Planet. But after ousting the Byzantines from Carthage in A.D. 695. (It is never too late to learn more history.) The victorious Arab Hassan bin Nooman decided to build again at Tunis. (Like Milton, his English imitator, Vergil was much taken with Euripides, especially with the tragedy of Medea.) Which he felt to be a good defensive position. The plaza spreads out before his eyes like a stage, a larger dramatic arena than he is accustomed to. Ibn al-Dadim, who wrote his bibliographical dictionary (al-Fihrist) in 987, ascribes to Proclus, in addition to the Elementatio Theologica,a treatise called the First Good, which appears to be the same book as the Liber de Causis. Several dozen people are moving about on this apron that leads into the Souk, but to Vergil’s way of thinking there is nothing happening here [certainly nothing dramatic, by contemporary standards].
The medina was sited on a narrow band of high ground flanked by the Sebkhet Sejoumito to the southwest and by Lake Tunis to the east. [Thank God there are no news reports later in the day of the suicide bombing of half a dozen shop owners and two dozen tourists.] An earlier work, the Suwan al-Hikmah of al-Sijistani cites excerpts purportedly taken from Proclus’ Niskus MinororPure Good. (Vergil was unaware of many things that we moderns take for granted; what we moderns sometimes forget is that he was also aware of many things that we know nothing about.) A deep water channel was dug across the lake to allow access to the sea. He asks the waiter, in Arabic, for a glass of water like those being served with the cups of coffee at other tables, and he is somewhat annoyed when the waiter replies in Latin. This would strengthen the supposition that the book was in circulation already by the middle of the tenth century.
The Mantuan pays for his coffee, thanks the waiter but does not leave a tip. We of course know that this argument is borne out by a treatise ascribed to the great naturalist and physician al-Razi (d. 925), titled Arguments against Proclus. He arises to follow Aeneas into this maze-like market, which he has been considering as a metaphor for Dido’s enticement (having already displaced the market from Carthage into the old city of Tunis, much as he had earlier displaced Carthage into Troy). His arguments for the eternity of the world, as well as John Philoponus’ counterarguments, had acquired considerable vogue among the Muslim theologians and philosophers of that century. As he edges toward the archway that introduces the Medina, dodging little fountains, Vergil takes note of the entrance into the plaza of a police van, which turns about to re-station troops, protected behind meshed windows, so as to face the Avenue de France.
The birth of the city can be dated to the building of the Zitouna Mosque in 732 A.D. As I say, there is a good deal that Vergil does not understand, including the English being spoken about him. Although it was not till the ninth century, when Aghlabid ruler Ibrahim ibn Ahmed II moved his court to Tunis, that it became the seat of power. He is a quick read, however, and has already picked up a passable fluency in French. The Liber de Causis ranks along with the Theologia Aristotelisas the major Greek source of the emanationist world-view to which the Muslim philosophers adhered almost without exception. (Vergil has a good deal more knowledge of the original emanationist Weltanschauung than Arab scholars could extrapolate.) It fell from favor under the Fatimids, who chose Mahdia as their capital in the tenth century and escaped the subsequent ravages of the eleventh-century Hifalian invasion to become the Almohad capital in 1160.
Having entered the stuffy maze of the market, Vergil finds its bustle a little less than charming. The book embodies the substance of Neo-Platonic thought as it was partially modified by Proclus, the great Neo-Platonist of the fifth century, the pupil of Syrianus, and a familiar name in the Arabian rosters of Aristotelian “commentators.” He had moved to Naples precisely to escape this sort of thing and is beginning to wonder whether he could not just as well imagine a maze as suffer his way through one. The city flourished under the Hafsids, who ruled from 1229 to 1574. At any rate he is glad when the covered market at last gives way to the sky and the narrow walls of its alleyways open up into a public space filled with a mosque and more public buildings marked Ministère des Finances, etc. (The population more than tripled to 60,000). Vergil is familiar with bureaucratic tedium, another reason why he had asked Maecenus for the villa.
The introductory propositions deal with the Proclean tetrad of One, Existence, Reason and Soul. At last the Dido-Aeneas business is beginning to take shape. Which already involves a development of the Plotinian triad in which Existence has no distinct place. Perhaps he should bring in a little more Pythagoras (which will attract Ovid’s attention, to the successor’s untutored detriment). The Liber de Causis interposes Existence between Reason and the One, stating expressly that the first created being is Existence. Yesterday Vergil had glanced at a book about what he has learned to call “l’Existentialisme,” putting it back on the shelf rather quickly. Since it is above Sense, above Soul and above Reason. Souks, mosques and medersas (Quaranic schools) were built. He is beginning to get the hang of the Arabic. And is the most comprehensive created being, as well as the highest and the most unified, by virtue of its proximity to the One.
“Yes,” Vergil muses, “the one and only.” Tunis suffered badly during the Turkish-Spanish tussles, which gave rise to the fall of the Hafsids. In a way, the future is not as difficult to master as the past, or for that matter, the present. But it is for this reason free from plurality, since it is composed of the two contrary elements of finitude and infinity. It only stands to reason, he thinks. Much of the city was destroyed, and the population fled. Troy is still on Aeneas’ mind: it must have been those murals. On to the third entity: the Plotinian Reason, which shares in the nature of Existence, though they both differ from the One, in that the One is above time and the aeon, whereas Existence and Reason are both above time.“And so on,” says Vergil. Tunis finally was secured for the Ottomans by Sinan Pasha in 1574. He wonders how long all this will continue. Reason differs from the Soul in other respects, for it is an “indivisible substance.”
Ah, the Soul of Dido, the Soul of Aeneas, the Soul of Vergilius. Their number was swollen by the arrival of refugees fleeing religious persecution. At which point, exiting the Souk, Vergil makes an incorrect turn and, by continuing into the Old Town, gets rather lost in a second maze, to extricate himself from which he must retrace his steps and turn back to his hotel. Moorish Andalusians from Spain and Jews from Livorno in Italy. He considers, for a moment, including some Biblical material in Book IV but decides to stop with Euripides. Its mode of cognition is twofold: Many were fine artisans, who played an important role in the city’s construction. As at Naples, for that matter. It knows what is beneath, insofar as it is the cause, and it knows what is above, insofar as it is the effect. Then I will introduce Mercury, he says, have him glide in perhaps for a landing. The colonizing French created a new heart for the city, east of the medina, on land reclaimed from Lake Tunis.
On a cool, sunny, wind-blown day we arrive by tram, Mohamed and MM, at the Bardo Museum, he to write a poem, author to view archaeological remains from Carthage. The two components of body are matter and form. The Bardo contains more, however, than first meets the eye: Body is a potential, form is an actual principle. Punic, Numidian, Christian and Islamic materials, as well as Roman. What is common to all bodies, both terrestrial and heavenly, is susceptibility. From the Antonine baths, from surrounding villas, from a shipwreck off the North African coast. To one or other of the ultimate contrary qualities of body. From “The House of Ulysses.” Hot or cold, moist and dry. It occupies the former official residence of the Husseinite beys.
At the head of the first stairway (author has left his host to the task of composing his poem) Aeneas is overwhelmed by an enormous, decadent but not especially refined marble statue of a languishing Apollo. The relation of matter to form is discussed at some length in al-Shifa. The first palace was commissioned by the Hafsid sultan Al-Mustansir, who had restored the Zaghouan-to-Cartage aqueduct so as to supply the palace and the medina with water. Matter can never be divested of form, for if it were, it would not be divisible and would have no locus. Once past Apollo, we enter a balconied hall exhibiting a Roman mosaic floor in cream, olive and dark grey. Material bodies, however, can be shown to differ from mathematical and other immaterial entities.
The present extravaganza was built in the later seventeenth century and thereafter steadily enlarged by a succession of Husseinite occupants. In respect of both its divisibility and its location in space. The decoration of the mosaic involves a repetition ad infinitum of grape leaves and a panel of wild beasts being hunted. Corporeal matter, however, owes its actual being to form, not in correlation with it but rather in the same way that an effect depends upon the cause. The mosaic’s “emblem,” or central square, shows Dionysus as Ephebe bestowing grapes upon a legendary king of ancient Ikaras-Oudna. So that if the latter were to be removed. Included in the building are some particularly lively ceilings coffered in Muslim style. The form would also be removed.
Cupids are everywhere harvesting the grapes, so what at first seems merely decorative is also dramatic, and perhaps symptomatic of a collective mode of Roman behavior in Carthage. From this it follows that form enjoys a certain ontological priority in relation to matter. The floor mosaics are surrounded with disproportionately large statues of the gods, of the heroes, of various Roman emperors, all producing a somewhat uncomfortable effect. The priority of actuality to potentiality, of form to matter, is both logical and ontological. Rather than study them in detail, author turns to experience the whole museum, leaving at once for Room 2, which houses “Baal Hammon,” named after a small terracotta statue of the Punic god seated on a throne, his arms resting on sphinxes.
Only in the succession of particulars does the potential precede the actual, namely, chronologically. From which we move on from one thing to another, through 35 rooms labeled: “Prehistoric,” “Punic,” “Early Christian,” “Bulla Regia, “Roman Emperors,” “Islamic,” among other categories. In universals this is ruled out, because eternal entities are always in actuality and the potential always depends on a preceding entity. “Carthage,” “Althiburos,” “Sousse,” “Dougga” and “El-Jem,” till we reach a room labeled “Virgil,” all, in apparent uniformity filled with mosaics, on their walls as well as their floors, rather crude in effect and stifling in program (see, for example, the “Triumph of Jupiter”). Thus actuality is prior to potentiality, both in being and in rank.
In the case of this supreme Roman god we are treated to a sandaled foot so large as to indicate a statue (from which it was broken off) seven meters high. Generally speaking, then, one may say that potentiality corresponds to a defect, actuality to perfection, in any process involving both terms. But back to Virgil, who had made us pause. The star piece in Room 15, a third-century mosaic from Sousse, is the oldest known portrait of the Augustan poet.For wherever there is imperfection, there is also potentiality. Seated holding a copy of his Aeneid, flanked by two Muses, a nervous looking Clio (history) and a more composed Melpomene (tragedy). Exactly what one had suspected: Virgil nervous about history but assured about (the) tragedy (of his own Book IV).
This imperfection is identified with evil. Now, however, Mohamed appears and announces that his Alexandrines (as always), under the pen name of “d’Anselme,” are ready for recitation, and it would be a shame not to include them in our narrative:
Madison Morrison, ô fameux professeur
Vous venez chez d’Anselme épandre la douceur
Soyez le bien venu chez nous en Tunisie
«Le Perrmesse» est à vous, ô chantre de l’Asie
Apollon est en fête, ébloui par votre art,
Heureux de vous servir, vous combler de nectar.
In the alcove off one northern gallery for the weary museum-visitor to rest, is a bench between two windows, one open to the East, one to the West. Insofar as a thing exists, it is, however, good, since evil is the privation of an actual state or feature only. As author settles into a seat on the baby blue bench, a cool breeze blows through the baby blue windows. For the relation of cause, and ultimately of the first Cause, to Being. From throughout the museum boom the cacophonous voices of tour guides. The chief subject matter of metaphysics. In Italian, French, Arabic and English. Is the next that the Aristotelian treatise turns its attention to. Rendering impossible our contemplation of the museum and its contents, to say nothing of more philosophical questions.
The theological implications of the distinction between the coming-to-be (huduth) and production are not far to seek. Author gazes back into the gallery toward a three-dimensional model of a temple and its precinct in Roman Carthage. The Muslim theologians, following the lead of John Philoponus, rested their case for the existence of God on the temporary determination of the world. In the room’s mural mosaics, as elsewhere throughout the museum, in many similar statues and mosaics, Dionysus is represented as the god of wine. On the fact that, prior to its creation, the world was not. A small bronze shows an inebriated Hercules. The discussion of the problem of unity and plurality leads logically to the discussion of the First Principle of Being.
One rather wonders if all the emphasis upon the god of alcohol (granted that Dionysus also represents a more general principal of fecundity). Who is supremely one. Does not indicate that the Romans themselves were doing an awful lot of heavy drinking in Carthage. Aristotle had made of this the “principle upon which the heavens and the world of nature depend” the supreme object of metaphysical thought. Subduing themselves as they subdued and administered the poor Carthaginians. Plotinus had raised it to far above the planes of thought and being portrayed in his system as the sidereal center from which all light shines forth and all being emanates. No wonder, for that matter, that Aeneas, and perhaps Vergil as well, had qualms about Carthage.
In the Koranic view of God an immense gulf separates the Being unto whom nothing is like from the multiplicity of creatures that he has brought forth. Theseus, in another mural, is shown struggling, naked, against the Minotaur, a sickle raised on high as he prepares to behead the monster. For Ibn Sina the essential characteristic of this Being, who rises above the world of contingent entities, is Necessity. The Roman mosaics are here so plentiful that many have been used to cover the trod-upon floors of the museum itself. The proof of existence is logically bound up with this characteristic, since however long the series of contingent entities in the world might be, it must ultimately terminate in a necessary principle upon which the whole series stands.
Having finished with the museum’s dowdy exhibits, we exit into the grounds of the Tunisian Parliament, cross the avenue and head down through a market. In this proof, Ibn Sina observes, we are concerned with the first, efficient cause of the series, which stands in essential or generic rather than accidental or individual relation to it. Author is warned to watch out for thieves. Otherwise the series would go on ad infinitum. In the typically narrow alleyways. In the direction of both the past and the future. Though much is for sale (tools, practical household items, electronic equipment, underwear and footwear), there is not much to eat or drink, aside from ice cream and coffee.
Nevertheless, according to Ibn Sina, the same reasoning can be applied, both to the formal and to the final causes of such a series. Baseball caps and basketball shoes are the items, it would seem, most in demand, or most plentifully displayed. An infinite regress would nullify the very concept of a final cause. Author’s friend, who is not ostensibly in the market for a hat, nonetheless pauses to examine a table full of fezzes: As the entity who determines that the series is teleological and gives it completeness. Olive and maroon, black and white, patterned and plain. Though necessity is the mark of the Supreme Being, it is not, according to Ibn Sina, its only distinguishing mark.
“Paris” perfume is being dispensed from liter-sized bottles. Its second characteristic is absolute unity. At last we have left the maze to stand beside a mosque. Such a unity excludes every mode of composition, including the composition of essence (mahiya: quidditas) and existence. Dried beans and fresh olives are displayed on wide, flat metal platters atop plastic barrels. Since only contingent entities are so composed. A vegetable and fruit market has spontaneously arisen across the street. Hence such entities, it may be said, are at once caused, composite and contingent. Pungent melons, peaches and grapes are available in a scene that Mohamed describes as “très populair.”
The attribute of Being therefore belongs to them not essentially, or per se, but rather per accidens. In a little park across from a crowded café we have settled in with three chairs, two for us to sit on, the third as our improvised table. The Necessary Being, on the other hand, does not depend upon any other agent or being. Mohamed resourcefully scouts out another, actual table, transporting it to our shady site. Its existence is a part of its very essence or definition. This morning the temperature and breeze are quite cool. Having no essence, the Necessary Being also has no genus either and no differentia. It is almost noon. Such an entity is both indefinable and indemonstrable.
From our perspective across the street from it. And neither its being nor its action can become an object of discursive thought. We are afforded an objective view of the all-male clientele of the café proper. Since it is without cause, quality, position or time. This is the “place el Halfaquin,” a white-lettered, blue street sign posted on a whitewashed wall beside an arch informs us. Furthermore, it is without equal. Women carefully walk down the middle of the roadway as they return from the market bearing heavy black plastic sacks. For only were it assumed to share in some quality or perfection pertaining to other entities as well could it be said to bear some similitude to other beings.
We have, it would seem, reached a quartier where (it sounds as though) Arabic only is spoken. This is ruled out, however, by its simplicity. Our waiter appears with a silver tray, on which are two coffees and a lemonade. Namely, the impossibility of any composition, including that of subject and predicate. In short, says Ibn: By way of summary: Apart from existence (al-Anniyah). We have visited museum, market, mosque and café. The Necessary Being should be characterized negatively. Tomorrow Mohamed’s daughter has planned an outing to Bizerte. Through both the exclusion of all similitude to other beings, and through the assertion of all relations pertaining to them:
But this, we realize, is in the future, and so only potential. “For everything derives from it but does not share with it in anything.” What is actual is the present scene. This statement brings out clearly the Plotinian character of Ibn Sina’s conception of the Supreme Being. Mohamed is on his cell phone to his daughter again. To whom all perfection belongs. Confirming the arrangements for her to meet MM and Adam. But who, like the One of the Enneads and the Demiurge of the Timaeus, is the fount of all being and goodness in the world and is indeed Being and Goodness entire. By the end of the day, however, we learn that Adam will be otherwise occupied.
Since Being or the Perfection of Being is what is universally desired. Whatever the case, what is known now is registered by Mohamed on author’s “Note Bloc” (a French schoolchild’s graphed pad). The Necessary Being to whom Being belongs essentially. The only writing paper available at the stationery store in author’s quartier. And who is not susceptible to any privation or non-being. Whose customers are more concerned with purchasing cardboard boxes and wrapping paper. It will be not only the Good but the Absolute Good as well. A yellow mailbox stands alone in the bright sun. “The source of all things without being any one of those things posterior to it.”
The remainder of our outing proceeds as unphilosophically as possible. First we must find a place to eat, for author is hungry. Mohamed proposes Le Restaurant de l’Indépendance, known for its economical Tunisian cuisine. We decide upon roast chicken but there first arrives a bowl of potatoes in a red sauce. Above, in a window that abuts the ceiling, are three panes of glass: red, yellow and blue. Author remarks upon the relationship of the colors to those of the Romanian flag and the tripartite Korean scheme of man, earth and heaven. Lunch finished, having failed to hail a taxi, we return on foot to author’s hotel and Mohamed’s motorbike, through an endless series of indoor market corridors.
The village of Sounine is situated not far from Bizerte, the ancient port of Tunis, where the Phoenicians established their maritime outpost. I commence by referring the reader to Aeneid, I, v. 12, in which Vergil first mentions Carthage (Grenville T. Temple, Excursions in the Mediterranean: Alger and Tunis, London, 1835). A port that every subsequent conquering power either embellished, destroyed or rebuilt. He next shows us the pious Aeneas laboring against a violent storm off the Tunisian shores. This is perhaps where Aeneas (to the extent that he represents an historical character) would have landed. Where he found himself in a very unpleasant situation. At least Bizerte is a good candidate. One to which our sailors of the present day, luckily for themselves, are not often subject.
Dido (to the extent, again, that she is historical) did not exist in the same historical frame as Aeneas (anymore than Augustus lived during the Punic Wars). In Vergil’s account we see the Trojan hero simultaneously attacked off the coast of Africa by no fewer than five different winds, a circumstance that must have greatly annoyed him. Though he had experienced the death of his first wife, Creusa, at Troy, Aeneas was free to remarry. For as Eurus (the east-south-east), Notus (the south), Africus (the west-south-west), Aquilo (the north-north-east) and Zephirus (the west) winds were all raging together. Dido, before Sychaeus, her first husband, had died, vowed to him that she would not. The Trojan hero, his squadrons and their masters must have experienced considerable difficulties.
Thus past and present, like history and politics, myth and legend, merge in Vergil. In fact these difficulties proved above their powers to surmount. Dido’s future he deals with d’outre tombe. The rocky points of the Arae, on which the south wind drove three of the ships. The future Aeneas he leaves untouched. Are, at present, known to the Moors by the name of Zowamoor es-Soghire. But like Odysseus. And to the Christians by the name of Zembretta. The future Roman hero outlives the epic in which he figures. Which, although much smaller than its neighbor, presents in its steep and abruptly rising sides a good exemplification of the dorsum immane. Likewise Vergil, preeminent among poets in this regard, outlives himself to see his work uncannily centralized in the western canon.
Like Homer in Greece and Dante in Italy, he is very much alive today. It is known in present charts as the Zembra and in ancient charts as Aegimurus. In Europe and America, in Africa and on the shores of Asia. In any event, three ships were driven by Eurus onto sand banks, which I imagine to be those that we now find extending from the Bourj Sidi Daud to Ras Addar, encompassing in its course Ras el Ahmar. Where MM has promulgated the Mantuan’s reputation. Another ship foundered, but as no details of this accident have been offered us, it would be useless to enter into investigation. Following such other Anglophone devotees as Spenser, Milton and Dryden, who had all taken with them to their own graves their adulation and continuation of the most revered of Roman poets.
I myself refrain from doing so, since shortly after the accident occurs, Neptune himself weighs in, raises the ship and enables it to reach Carthage. Author awaits Hallouma at the “Palmarium,” on the terrace of the Café du Théâtre. The description of the island is also perfection correct. Where he has finished his cappuccino and ordered a torte à pommes, pointing to it in the case and naming it. For Zowamoor is only nine nautical miles from Ras el Ahmar. Just as Adam, however, will not be joining us today, so the apple pastry does not arrive. And forms a powerful breakwater to the formidable seas. But rather a piece of chocolate cake instead. Which, during the winter, roll in from the west the north and the northeast, on some of the same winds that had disturbed the Trojan.
Did Vergil regard Aeneas and Dido as simulacra of Adam and Eve? Ras Addar and Rasel Ahmar form the flanking capes of the Bay of El Howareah. (As Yeats says, “What theme had Homer but original sin?”) The very spot that I imagine as the one where Aeneas is said to have landed, from its perfect resemblance to Vergil’s description. We will never know. The vastae rupes are very apparent indeed: Hallouma has not yet made her appearance. The tenini scopuli correspond to the headlands of Ras Addar and Ras el Ahmar. Though it is beyond the appointed time of our rendezvous. Which is also mentioned by Julius Caesar in his account of one of his military exploits. A grey kitten walks along the railing of the café’s balcony to descend daintily upon author’s marble-topped table.
The country around El Howareah is certainly not at present covered with forests, but only with brushwood, the trees having all been cut down for ship (and house) building. Perhaps, like Aeneas’ landfall in Carthage, which never occurred, like his meeting with (and “marriage” to) Dido. This does not, however, invalidate the claim of El Howareah to being the place where the Trojans landed. Today’s meeting may not take place. For do we doubt that the site of Philadelphia was formerly occupied by a magnificent forest, because at present we see there not a single tree? Yet this is not the case. The forest existed till very late, for Doctor Shaw, who traveled through Tunisia in 1728, particularly mentions it: “The mountain above the quarries is all over shaded with trees.”
At last Hallouma does arrive, protesting that author, who has been waiting for half an hour, is late. This confirms that Vergil really meant to describe the Bay of Carthage. She has been standing at curbside in her car. For it would be difficult to reconcile these lines with any part of the Neapolitan shores. Honking her horn in an attempt to get author’s attention. Whilst they accurately point to the magharas or caves of El Howareah. Now she requests that he meet her at curbside, once she had driven up again. These magharas are the quarries from which were taken the stones of Carthage. (She complains that she has had to park her car in a garage to come looking for him.) They consist of a considerable number of linked caves with vaulted roofs communicating with one another.
He obliges her, and we are off, first to pick up her father. Which may make us consider them really as a single cave and to justify the use of the term antrum. We return to Tunis 5, whose streets form an already too familiar locale. In the center of the vaulted roofs are square apertures cut through to the surface of the hill, admitting both light and fresh air. With Mohamed in the back seat holding fire, for the conversation now is in English between MM and this Ph.D. candidate in English. A number of little sources distill their clear waters through different fissures in the rock. We head north on a limited access highway through surprisingly well cultivated, Europeanate vistas. And in many of the chambers are still seen the stone seats that the workmen carved for their own convenience.
Now sooner have we reached Sounine than we set out on a short walk to exchange presents in the village. During the hours allotted to them for their meals and their repose. A grandmother, her hair dyed orange. The crews having landed. Her red embroidered robe looking more appropriate for a wedding festival. Aeneas ascended a rocky height to ascertain if any other part of his squadron should be in sight. Gains sympathy by showing us the signs of her gout. This is unquestionably the Jebel Ras Addar, or hill of Cape Bon, which raises its lofty and rocky head close to El Howareah and from whose summit, where now stands the little borj or fort, the eye embraces a most extensive view of the sea on both sides of the cave. Across from her on the floor lounges her fisherman son.
Nothing is more probable than that Aeneas saw deer, for the whole surrounding country, though stripped of its ancient forests, still abounds in game. He is attired in a jaunty red baseball cap and a red-and-white striped shirt. The great variety of which includes boar, hares and partridges. He is having the day off, for it is too windy to take the boats out. I certainly did not hear that Bakr el-Wahsh, the cervas, is sometimes still found, though it resembles the gazelle of the Jerid, which the Arabs course with greyhounds. Conversation, family news having been updated, has turned to comparative fishing. The plain extends towards Klibia on one side and towards Jebel Sidi Abd-er Rahman El Mekki on the other. Author recounts several of his international experiences on this head:
It is doubtless the same plain here described as the pasture ground of the herd. The practice of fishermen observed in Portugal, in India, in Thailand. On the morrow, Aeneas and his friend Achates, start their reconnaissance of the country. The Tunisian fisherman says, quite emphatically, in Arabic, “We can not take our boats apart, as you have observed the Indians doing.” Words addressed by Venus to her son fix the locality of their meeting. The mother explains to him his misapprehension, since he has apparently thought that the Indian boats, like his, were made of plastic. For, as she says, ubi cernes, we must look for the nearest place from which Carthage can first distinctly be seen. As to the question of when to go fishing, he replies, “This depends upon what kind of catch one is after.”
Ras Ziaphran, Hercules’s promontorium, is, on this account, likely to have been the spot, being distant by sea only twelve miles from Carthage. Author christens Dido’s (Hallouma and her husband’s) beautiful, if modest, seaside retreat “La Maison du Bonheur.” This is a distance which, in the clear and sunny clime of Africa, is not too great to prevent the eye from distinctly discerning objects of far less magnitude than houses and walls. Its old kitchen has been converted into a second bedroom, which now awaits a picture window. Venus, having quitted the two Trojans, they, in conformity to her directions, pursue their own route to arrive on the collem, the collective heights where now stands the village of Rades, Ades, which in a direct line is only four miles distant from Carthage.
It is a windy but gorgeous day, unbelievably cool for Africa in July. This walk, from El Howareah to Carthage, may at first appear rather a long one and more than could well be done in one day. The village surrounding it has scarcely been touched by European tourism, at least not yet. It is, however, often performed by the Arabs without halting and therefore to the ancient sinewy warrior must have proved but a pleasant stroll. The house has been supplied with running water and electricity, but with no further connections to the outside world and so remains an idyllic retreat. Aeneas, at all events, does not appear to have considered the distance too great for his friend, whom he immediately sends back to fetch Ascanius. The neighbors have been genuinely hospitable toward this total stranger.
We begin our outing by asking a passing pedestrian to photograph Aeneas and Achates, as we stand in front of a statue of Ibn Khaldoun. The interest of the Arabs in Pythagoreanism was a direct product of Alexandrian or Hellenistic influence. Mohamed refers to him as “the great Tunisian philosopher, who lived in Egypt.” However, the preoccupation of Muslim thinkers with the problem of unity contributed in large measure to their progressive adoption of the Pythagorean metaphysics of number. “Philosophe, Historien, Sociologue,” reads the inscription on the marble base of the bronze statue. Insofar as it reserved to the One, like Neo-Platonism, a preeminent status at the apex of reality. In Mohamed’s view Khaldoun was the founder of modern sociology.
The peculiar blend of mysticism and science so characteristic of Phythagoreanism made a decisive impact upon a large section of opinion in Islam. Author proposes that we pause for breakfast. That had come under the influence of Hellenic and Hellenistic thought. Before we board the train to Carthage, suggesting to that end perhaps a menu of omelet and coffee. This blend satisfied the bipolarity in Muslim thought. As we scour the narrow streets off the boulevard, however. Torn as it was between Greece and the Orient. It soon becomes apparent that in Tunis we can have either omelet or coffee. And pointed the way to the resolution. But not both. Of the spiritual tensions that this bipolarity generated. It is illegal for the café to serve omelets, and for the restaurant, coffee.
During the residence of Aeneas at Carthage, Dido formed a grand hunting party. “Which comes first, the coffee or the egg?” author inquires. According to the description given we may infer that the place of meeting was at Jebel Bou-Kurneen, the hills behind Hamman Lif. The question is deemed insufficiently philosophical. That is, the nearest very high ground in the vicinity of Carthage. Having had an espresso, a lemonade and a croissant at a stand-up café, he now seeks a restaurant. And where were still found different sorts of game in abundance. The side street is shaded from the rising sun. The game, having been driven off the hills, was eagerly pursued by Ascanius. The first restaurant that we come to, by chance in the rue Ibn Khaldoun, has chickens but no eggs (and thus no omelets).
“The Tunisian environment after 1918 increased the potential for mass nationalist mobilization.” Moreover, the esoteric character of Pythagoras harmonized with the Oriental spirit of withdrawal from the world. “High expectations and relative prosperity generated by the war contrasted with harsh local conditions during and after the period of demobilization.” And the urge to seek security in the inner fort of the Soul during this era of severe political and social upheaval. Having reached the rue Yugoslavie, we are told by a restaurateur that at 10:30 am we must wait another hour for an omelet. The tenth century witnessed brilliant intellectual and spiritual achievements but also the gradual breakup of the political unity of the Muslim empire of the Baghdad caliphs.
“Military pay, pensions, expatriated salaries and the inflated value for labor during the war had momentarily improved economic conditions for the rural population.” Ascanius pursued the deer, regardless of the approaching storm, presumably because he was a keen and eager huntsman. It is a chronological, if not a historical, question. The vast expanse of territory that was once the exclusive domain of a single sovereign caliph whose decrees ran from the Indus to the Atlantic was now governed by various rulers: As we re-cross the principal boulevard we pose for another photograph before another historical monument. All this occurs along those great plains that extend from the bottom of the Bay of Tunis, near Soliman, towards Hergla and Soussa. The Saffarids in Persia (867-908).
“Expropriation of crops for the metropole’s war effort and the scarcity of manufactured goods may have created problems for consumers, but state-organized rationing and the distribution of foodstuffs had kept mass suffering to a minimum from 1914-1918, that is, till the end of World War I.” Now we turn our attention to Dido and Aeneas to comment on the lovely queen of Carthage and the ungrateful wretch Aeneas. At Versailles Fast Food we make enquiry. The Samanids in Transoxiania and Persia (874-979). “The 1920s, however, brought economic disaster to the Tunisian rural population and to artisans and merchants linked to the agrarian economy.” “Une omelette n’est pas possible,” we are told. Though he would doubtless rather be regarded as the pious hero of Troy and the future Rome.
Mohamed explores an alleyway. The Ghaznawids in Afghanistan and the Punjab (962-1186). Full of Arabic restaurants. And the Buwayhids (946-1055), who for the first time insured the hegemony of the Shi’ites. Still no dice. “The 1920s, however, brought economic disaster to the Tunisian rural population and to artisans and merchants linked to the agrarian economy.” Either Dido and Aeneas were not so fond of the chase. “The year 1920 was the worst for Algerian and Tunisian agriculture since the disastrous famine of 1867.” Or they were more susceptible to the effects of rain and cold. “The harvest produced practically nothing.” Or perhaps they were taken up with their mutual passion and so declined to follow the hounds. “In certain regions upwards of 60 per cent of the livestock died.”
Therefore they took refuge in one of the caves of Jebel Mukhtar, a little to the east of Hammam Lif. Through their policies of religious intolerance, along with similar policies of the Turkish Saljuks (1055-1194) who superseded them, were ushered in the Crusades in 1096. We return to the avenue. “Then Typhus struck.” Host inquires of author if he would like to go back to an earlier restaurant that had offered an omelet. “The year 1921 provided some relief, but 1922 and 1924 were bad years.” These quarries were well known to the Christian slaves in the regency, most of whom were employed there in cutting stones. In Egypt and Spain, the authority of the Baghdad caliphate had been so successfully challenged that two rivals came to power by the beginning of the tenth century.
Author proposes instead that we proceed directly to the station and take the train to Carthage. These of course were the Fatimids of Egypt (909-1171) and the Umayyads of Spain (912-1031). “The combination of inflation coupled with drought wiped out war-time gains and forced an increasing number of native Tunisians to depend increasingly on the state for their sustenance.” What Aeneas and Dido did there is of course nothing to our purpose. “Perhaps,” he proposes, “Dido will be able to offer Aeneas an omelet.” Then, during the reign of the Buwayhids a secret philosophico-religious society, the Brethren of Purity (Iskwan al-Safa) arose at Basrah. “Was Aeneas a bad egg? Did Dido break his eggs? To make an omelet, must one not break eggs?” Again author’s questions are ignored.
“The colonial state had to continue, and even intensify, its intervention in the economy after the war.” Issuing from the ranks of the Isma’ili, a heterodox Shi’ite subsect who had been engaged in secret political propaganda since the death of their Imam, Isma’il, in 760 the Brethren continued their activity but injected into it a new scientific and philosophical spirit. We will probably never know the answers. We shall merely observe instead that afterwards the pious Aeneas behaved like an ungrateful cad. “But now it did so in order to prevent economic collapse and to curtail rural discontent, which, it was feared, would lead to revolution.” “Breaking an egg,” author observes, “is not a tragedy, except for the egg.” According to the oldest Arabic tradition. “And the chicken does not care.”
The active core of the Brethren of Purity, who are responsible for fifty-two philosophical epistles and a compendium, consisted of the following: “The contrast between the war-time boom years and the post-war years of penury contributed to mass discontent and precipitated mass agitation, a dangerous tendency in such a politically volatile situation.” Abu Sulayman al-Busti, Abu’l-Hasan, Al-Zanjani, Abu Ahmad al-Hahrajuri, al-Aufi and Zaid b. Rifa’a. For having been kindly received by Dido and treated with the most princely hospitality throughout his stay at Carthage, in return, gravidam Didi scelerate relinquas, he abruptly fled her and so was guilty of a decided breach of his erstwhile promise of marriage. Suddenly we have crossed over into new territory.
According to al-Sistitani’s Vessel of Wisdom (Suwan al-Hikmah), these scholars met and composed the Epistles, their actual words being Muquaddasi’s. “In this context, nationalist and labor union leaders, cognizant of the turmoil caused by economic dislocation and drought, organized their new mass movements.” Beneath the underpass, on the opposite side of the cross street, is a restaurant where one may order an omelet. The epistles formed an encyclopedia of the philosophical sciences current among the Arabs in the tenth century, in which mathematics and astrology occupied a primary position. With cheese and onions, as author had specified. “The French authorities crushed brutally several rural revolts without fanfare in the strictest secrecy, fearful of provoking larger uprisings.”
Before long, apparently, they circulated through the whole Muslim world. On the boulevard is parked a white pickup truck stacked full with trays of eggs. And the Spanish astronomer al-Majriti (d. ca. 1008) or his disciple al-Kirmani (d. 1066) is said to have been responsible for importing them into Spain from the East. It is simply a matter of culinary sociology. The aim of this politico-religious society may be gathered from the account contained in Epistle 44, titled “The Creed of the Brethren of Purity,” which says that the Brethren is a group of fellow-seekers after truth, who are held together by their contempt for the world and its allurements and their devotion to truth, whatever its origin, and that theology or “divine science” is their primary concern.
“Where the eggs are,” author remarks, “regardless of the chickens, there one may have the omelet, God willing.” The “real one,” according to the Creed, is synonymous with thing (res) as the most general or comprehensive term, and it has “no parts at all, and being indivisible, is one in so far as it is indivisible.” At last his interlocutor nods in agreement. The “figurative one,” on the other hand, refers to any sum or collection of things. Satisfied at last by Tunisian cuisine and hospitality we proceed to the station and board the train. Number or multiplicity arises from the progressive addition of one. The final two seats in the final coach are available for this journey of fifteen minutes. Of the original integers, says the Epistle, the number four occupies a place all its own.
The truck full of eggs has departed. The reason for this is that God desired that natural entitles should reflect or imitate supernatural entities, equally constituting a group of four entities: God, universal Reason, the universal Soul and primary matter. The train is at last about to leave. Moreover the relation of God to the multiplicity of particulars corresponds to the relation of One to number in general, that of Reason to two, that of the Soul to three, and that of matter to four. We are off, soon arriving at “Carthage Hannibal,” where we begin to mount the hill toward an overview, we hope, of the ancient site. At every stage in its discussion the Epistles reiterate the thesis that the study of mathematics is conducive to moral edification as well as to intellectual insight.
“Villa Didon,” reads a sign in this palm-lined avenue of modest villas. And that it serves primarily as a clue to the knowledge of the self. Since it is cool in the shade, we consider waiting for a taxi. Which is the pathway to the highest knowledge, i.e., the knowledge of God. When none appears, after several minutes of waiting, we continue on foot. Moreover, there are seven heavenly bodies that are crucial to an understanding of all things. We reach another sign for Villa Didon, which turns out to be either a hotel or a museum, depending on who it is that one consults. Altogether, it is maintained that. In getting off at “Carthage Hannibal” we apparently have come one stop too far for Dido’s Carthage, and must return to the preceding station or take a taxi up to Byrsa Hill.
There are eleven spheres. Accordingly we descend “L’Avenue d’Amphiteatre,” arriving by the sea at “Dido’s Palace,” in front of which, on a narrow strip of sand, several lively kids are playing with a beach ball. Which include these seven heavenly bodies. The turquoise sea spreads out before our gaze, as misty mountains rise above distant islands, and clear waters lap against the strand. Plus the Empyrean, the firmament, the atmosphere and the earth. There is no sign of Dido whatsoever (nor was there ever meant to be). The substance of the heavenly bodies is described as a “fifth nature,” or quintessence. Instead: the dole of summer sky, a cooling breeze, gentle waves, the dappling of light on the water’s surface, the playful voices of innocence and the absence of conflict.
It sets them apart from the other entities in the world of generation and corruption. At last by taxi we reach the summit of Byrsa Hill, the renowned vantage point from which to view the undistinguished modern city of Carthage, its distant ancient ruins and the sea and sky that the attentive have already viewed. Their motion is circular. Author accordingly declines to pay the touristic price for more viewing in favor of instead sitting beside the Cathedral of St. Louis in a café with a cup of coffee, a table on which to write and a chair in the shade. And they are not susceptible to increase or decrease. It is a pleasant little courtyard, and the Christianity is not infectious; a fountain gurgles as a sparrow solicits crumbs; and the unofficial Aeneas, free of Dido and other attachments, is at peace.
Finally, the Brethren, following the Stoics, describe man as a microcosm. We have left the place before the Cathedral of St. Louis, who was a most famous pilgrim (he died on Carthaginian soil), to begin our descent of Byrsa Hill by foot. And they find in the Seven Planets the Seven Powers: We pause for a view out over rooftops surmounted by satellite dishes and surrounded with palms. Attraction, grasping, digestion, impulsion, nutrition, growth and representation. Beyond are the waves of the Mediterranean. Which, they say, correspond, to man’s seven Spiritual Powers: sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch, speech and thought. By means of the first two we become aware of an airplane, as it is returning toward Rome. Each of which in turns corresponds to one of the planets.
Copyright © 2008 Madison Morrison
The Working Week Press