Fortitude Sculpture by Serpotta in white stucco and gilding, height 200 cm, 1710-17.
Oratorio del Rosario di San Domenico, Palermo. Image: WGA
Elegantly dressed for the life she wants,
in her favourite high-heeled shoes, breastplate bodice and plumed headdress,
Fortitude leans her elbow on the pillar of patience,
never keeping her eyes off the longest battle.
She doesn’t like what she sees, but she will never give in, she will never be part of it, even when other people make snarky remarks about her posing in her Rococo niche.
She exemplifies the moral courage of sticking to her post “because it is noble to do so, or because it is disgraceful not to do so.”
Keeping true to herself, and her fashion sense,
without bragging or lecturing, she puts the fun back into virtue.
“Patience is the pillar which nothing can soften.”
St Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)
“She sat like Patience on a monument, Smiling at grief”
Viola in Twelfth Night, Shakespeare (1601)
Fortitude is one of the four Cardinal Virtues of Christianity, recommended in a life skills course dating back to the 4th century, based on Aristotelian and Platonic ethics.
Aristotle defined fortitude as courage governed by reason (or temperance) in circumstances of fear or over-confidence: “Courage….chooses its course and sticks to its post because it is noble to do so, or because it is disgraceful not to do so.”
St Augustine of Hippo defined fortitude as “love readily bearing all things for the sake of the loved object”.
Kant: “Virtue is the moral strength of the will in obeying the dictates of duty, never developing into a custom but always springing freshly and directly from the mind.”
Fortitude has become rarer in the modern world where license has chained us to new tyrannies, and freedom is as elusive as ever.
The advantages of self-control in adverse circumstances have been forgotten in the revolt against the misunderstood stiff upper lip. It’s adorable. The straighter the face, the better the joke.
The primary importance of sincerity in human intercourse – “speak what you feel, not what you ought to say” – has been effaced by knee-jerk opinion polls and social media group anxiety – Like to be Liked, Follow and Ye Will Be Followed – which have compromised Freedom of Speech and promulgated the nonsense that passes for wisdom nowadays.
If you’ve read this far, you deserve a modest disclaimer: yes, I’m as foolish as you.
The most self-expressive of Romantic poets would not have predicted humanity blogging itself to death.
The people who died for Democracy did not expect the Voice of the People would come from Babel.
Fortitude rests on her broken pillar, not on popularity.
Fortitude does not betray her soul, which to her is virtue, which to us is self-identity.
She fights on.
She wears the shoes she wants.
All four of the Cardinal Virtues, Prudence (or Wisdom), Fortitude (or Courage), Temperance (or Self-control) and Justice (or Fairness) were allegorized as female.
Figures of the Four Virtues from Ballet Comique de la Reine, 1582, one of the court entertainments commissioned by Catherine de Medici from which classical ballet, and political satire, developed. Image: Wikipedia
Fortitude lives up to her reputation for cheerfulness in adversity by playing the lute and holding a pillar at the same time.
“Ginger Rogers did everything [Fred Astaire] did,
backwards and in high heels.” Bob Thaves, Fred and Ernest comic strip, 1982
Poster for Top Hat, 1935
“Give a girl the right shoes and she can conquer the world.” Bette Midler
(often misattributed to Marilyn Monroe)
The Last of England by Ford Madox Brown, 1855. Oil on panel. Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery.
“Who in the world am I? Ah, that’s the great puzzle.”
Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)
“To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.”
Oscar Wilde, An Ideal Husband (1895)
“And you? When will you begin that long journey into yourself?”
Jalaluddin Rumi (1207 – 1273)
George Romney, Portrait of Lady Barbara Anne Russell née Whitworth
holding her son, Sir Henry Russell, “on one of the pier tables, playing with the looking glass”
(quoted from Sir Henry Russell’s memoir about the commission of the painting)
Oil on canvas, 1786/87. Last exhibited in ‘On Reflection’ at the National Gallery in 1998.
“That tragic, ruthless glance… is a question of his salvation…..
All the rest is rhetoric, posturing, farce”
Kierkegaard (1813 -1855)
“One of the mirrors in the house, an old pier glass inside a gilded oval frame that had lost its lustre a generation ago,
had cracked from too much self-reflection.
The more often they looked, the less clearly they saw themselves.“
Noelle Mackay, All the Rest (2017)
Now in this island of Atlantis there was a great and wonderful empire which had rule over the whole island and several others, and over parts of the continent…..Plato
With Britain as the new Atlantis, contriving its own liquidation through the hubris of Brexit and Conservative Government, where can a girl go in pursuit of freedom and happiness?
Our European neighbours who we have so rudely shunned are already showing us what we will be missing in their civilized world.
Spain has given vindication to anyone who’s been harassed by manspreading on a train or a bus, or in a theatre or cinema. It’s the beginning of reclaiming personal space, the rebirth of the rights of woman and man, the recognition that arseholes can’t have it all their own way anymore.
It’s the only news to have cheered me up on a scary Election Day, tired out by the cat that’s not mine but won’t leave my house and keeps me awake all night.
In one leap she burst through the barely open bedroom window and the rolled down blind, directly on to the landing pad of our bed. We could only see her outline in the dark, no more than a sinuous body and bushy tail, and from our experience of another cat trying to break in a week ago, we knew that it’s impossible to verify feline identification without electric light.
A nano-moment after our besotted “hello, darling” cooings, my husband said, “Are you a fox?” Knowing by now that the worst usually happens, I screamed and hid under the bedclothes.
At 7am, after the cat had eaten breakfast and gone out again, there was another kerfuffle as something struggled through the letterbox. Was it her? we wondered – but, no, it was the sound of the poor Lib Dems leafleting at dawn.
I voted for them, nevertheless – because they are the only party to have been consistent over Europe. I don’t understand why Labour and the Liberal Democrats are being so snotty to the rational, valiant Greens about a progressive alliance.
I don’t understand anything, I haven’t slept for weeks, and while I stutter and splutter over the keyboard, the beautiful, free-loading, conscience-free cat burglar is sleeping peacefully in her bed behind the sofa.
Conquest Cat Portrait by Martin Hübscher Photography
I did one of those voter-party match-making tests yesterday and the big shock for me was that my views are closer to UKIP than the modern Tory party, whose social policies really must have strayed right of Attila the Hun.
Wake up, Britons! Avert this catastrophe! Don’t you hear Drake’s drum? There’s time to finish the game and beat the Spaniards too – reputed to have been said while he played bowls at Plymouth Hoe, it turns out he never said it, and it’s a soundbite invented over a century later. Our national myths had charm, once, before poetic inspiration for doing the right thing deviated into knee-jerk nationalistic slogans.
Now, the threat to the precious stone set in a silver sea is not from a foreign Armada, it’s from ourselves.
We’ve lost the blessed plot. We’re no longer the envy of less happy lands; we’re the butt of the rest of the world’s bemusement and pity.
And this same progeny of evils comes
From our debate, from our dissension
Brexit is the poison that will taint a nation, a fungus that grew in the ideological rifts of the Conservative party and infected purer minds.
J’accuse: the right-wing Brexit conspiracy, in which the public has colluded, is an act of vandalism, defacing our country’s history and laying waste to its future.
Nothing that was true is true any more, nothing makes sense, not in my catatonic state. One thing is certain: all cats are grey in the dark. The inconstant cat’s not ours. She must have at least one other home. The stupid human beings in their different dwellings think she’s dependent on them alone, and she’s playing all of us.
Sounding like a Millwall fan chanting “Noone likes us, we don’t care”, I don’t like blogging, I don’t like Brexit, I don’t care if you don’t Like me, and all it takes to go to hell nowadays is pressing Publish, or drawing X on a ballot paper.
…..and the island of Atlantis …. disappeared in the depths of the sea. Plato