Thursday, May 12, 2011

How to eulogize

R. Joseph Hoffmann's sister died recently. He has written a moving tribute to her at his blog. I think this eulogy is well worth reading not only to learn about the remarkable woman described therein by her little brother, but also because it provides a profoundly humane and skillful example of that most important and difficult of philosophical exercises: meditation on death.

Hoffmann is known to me, and to many others, as the author of reconstructions of the critiques of Christianity by Julian and Celsus (originally written nearly two millennia ago). Both of those critiques were condemned to the flames by the Church, and as a result they survive only in fragments. Hoffmann chose to not merely translate these fragments, but to weave them back together and reconstruct, to the extent that this can be done, the original works (or, more accurately, a coherent and faithful recreation of the original arguments). (Hoffmann also attempted the same with Porphyry's critique of Christianity, but, in my opinion, too much of that work had been too thoroughly butchered for the original to be resurrected successfully.)

Hoffmann's depth as a writer and a thinker is demonstrated in his willingness to take on the task (and even more so in its accomplishment) of putting those ancient literary shards back together, and in the process to provide words of his own in order to once again make whole what had been so savagely violated. Although he is a committed atheist (or something like that), Hoffmann has thereby provided, in my opinion, a shining example to modern Pagans of the proper attitude toward the surviving ancient fragments of our religious traditions.

Even more so does Hoffmann's depth as a human being come through in his loving tribute to his sister. Go read it.