St. George and the Damsel

Here is an excerpt from an old post “Damsels in Distress,” in which I mention St. George whose feast we celebrate today:

That brings me more directly to the question of the “damsel in distress.”  It is a chivalric image of vulnerability and innocence.  Of course, such an image is not complete without the “knight in shining armor,” who conveys the sense of courage and heroism.  The image, completed with the damsel in distress being saved by the knight in shining armor, is the picture of courtesy and contains as happy an ending as anyone could hope for.  Perhaps the word that best describes it is one coined by Tolkien: eucatastrophe, meaning the complete reversal of catastrophe, idealized as the triumph of the Cross made available to all of us in the Eucharist.

Historically one of the earliest and most important examples of the image as it entered the West is the legend of St. George and the Dragon.  The story is by no means an exclusively Western treasure (I think of Russia and Lebanon, for example), but it is particularly important for an understanding of Western chivalry (especially in England).

As the legend goes, or at least one version of it, a dragon took up its abode at the spring from which the locals drew their water.  The dragon thus took custody of the spring and demanded a price for its use.  The only way the townsfolk could draw their water was by the offering of someone to the dragon as a human sacrifice.  Each day a new victim was selected by common agreement through the drawing of lots.  One fateful day, the lot fell to the princess of the kingdom, and even the intervention of her father, the king, was not enough to save her from the dragon; the people insisted that the arrangement be respected.  At this point, St. George providentially ride up on his steed and volunteered his services to face the dragon, which he did to great effect, the dragon being slain and the damsel rescued.  The awestruck townspeople as a result abandoned the ways of paganism and became Christians.

Crusaders, it is said, brought the story back from the East, and retold it as a courtly romance.  In a way typical of the Middle Ages, Christian tradition and hagiography was transformed into quasi-secular romance.  Certainly, for courtiers who heard this story the “art of courtly love,” could easily serve as the hermeneutic for the understanding of the story, in which case, it would not be any different from the story of the rescue of a damsel in the Arthurian cycle.  However, the Christian symbolism, even in the most embellished version of the legend, is unmistakable: the Christ figure enters into combat with the Demon and rescues the Virgin Church from his clutches.  This is paradise regained.  In some versions of the legend, there is even a tree (Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil) to which the maiden is tied and from which she is rescued.

The damsel in distress is the bride of Ephesians 5.  This passage of St. Paul on marriage is a holy incantation and exorcism that scatters the feminist demons to their dark and gloomy pits.  St. Paul, the “misogynist,” is actually the guardian of feminine weakness and the promoter of chivalry.  He admonishes the coward Adam and kneels at the feet of the hero Christ.  Both men and women are better for it, if by casting off the modern prejudice they can just for a moment wave away the wafting mist of the Ms. Rambo deception and see the Bridegroom and Bride for who they truly are.

Advertisements

Damsels in Distress

kill-bill

I started on this post more than a year ago and have come back to it from time to time.  While I am up at Mount St. Francis, hiding in my cave and working on my paper for our Coredemption conference in July, I thought I would finally knock it out.  I shot a video on the same topic  a while back.

****

As one interested in helping to bring about a revival of Christian Chivalry, I have thought fondly of the image of the “damsel in distress” as being both iconic and inspiring of the chivalric ideals. I was horrified, then, to see such an honorable term being disparaged by those otherwise promoting the ideals of chivalry. Call me naive or nostalgic (or worse), but I cannot for the life of me see anything wrong with it.

I will admit, if we understand “damsel in distress” as it is caricatured, for example, by the film image of the pretty woman being tied screaming to the train tracks by Dastardly Dan and then being rescued by Agent Jim West, then there is much to be disparaged. The poor helpless thing is abused by one womanizer only to be rescued by another, and all the while is oblivious to everything but the attention she is getting. The ideals of chivalry have always been partially obscured by the cult of “courtly love.” There is nothing new under the sun.

Television and film have that curious ability of turning unalloyed gold into lead, and contrariwise, of cultivating a fondness for the most obvious absurdities. We have learned to despise feminine vulnerability and celebrate the wonders of the Bionic Woman.

So what is the “damsel in distress,” and why should her place in the venerable history of womanhood be preserved and honored? To answer this question we must first examine the contemporary feminist trend to idolize the Amazon.

Continue reading

A Subtle Dragon

glaurung

When I posted last I was poking around a little on Anthony Esolen’s page in the Touchstone archives and found an excellent article on the Quest called “The Lovely Dragon of Choice: The Freedom Not to Be Free.” I think I will make it the topic for discussion at tomorrow night’s men’s discussion group meeting in Griswold.

I recommend a careful reading of the piece. It is worth reading twice.

What I took away from it is the way in which the “Dragon of Choice” has insinuated itself, not only into the hearts of those who consciously purvey the culture of death, but also into the hearts of those who wish to be the champions of life. In fact, life itself is a quest full of adventure, something that is dissolved by calculation and cleverness. Esolen pegs “Modern Man,” and by that I mean not the “other guys” but all of us:

Modern man is afraid of the quest, and is not particularly fond of hunger and cliffs, either. He will not see that the very point of an adventure is that you cannot plan it. And to be in quest of the Holy Grail—that is, the mystery of Christ made manifest in our world under the humble appearances of bread and wine—is to be prepared for the appearance, sudden and awful, even on a bare rock and when one’s stomach knots with hunger, of the ineffable God. Continue reading