The Book of Kells

I was intrigued to see the book that Dublin is so proud of, and I wasn’t disappointed. Walking through the rain-washed squares of Trinity College, past all the students and tourists milling about the campus, I walked into the Trinity College Old Library to see the much talked about Book of Kells. Written about 800 years ago by at least 6 different scribes, it is reputedly the oldest book in existence in its original format. It was probably written at a monastery similar to the one below by monks.

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I was all agog to see the Book of Kells, rose early and off I went with nothing but 3 eggs, 2 pieces of toast with butter and blackberry currants jam, 3 cups of tea, some fruit, a spot of yogurt and some freshly squeezed fruit smoothie in me. (European hotels really do have the best continental breakfasts in the world. Try as I might, I could not get them to feed me less. Please can I have just 1 egg, nothing else, I’d say. “Just a leetel beet of vegetables on the side.” they’d say, and soon a tray bearing a couple of fried eggs, mushrooms, spinach, baked beans and toasts accompanying the eggs appeared behind a tottering waiter with a benevolent smile.)

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Anyway, the Book of Kells has scholars poring over its pages, art historians and critics study the dyes used for the illustrations in the book, and the book does look elegant. The letters were different, probably Celtic letters at the time, and the lettering had a calligraphic touch to it that we seem to have lost in the world of keyboards. What the book is about is, I guessed, derived more from the artful illustrations rather than the prose.

While it was inspiring to see writing as early as all that, I was not wholly prepared for how it made me feel later on.

Days later while walking down the streets, I’d recognize some rune from the Book of Kells or something similar looking displayed on the shop fronts, and feel a little strange. How ephemeral are our lives and its influences? Even the greatest works of the times, mean so little now. And only one book survived the times. What about the rest of the books written at that time?

So many languages fade away taking with it, another chunk of literary history forever with it. The thirukkurals in Tamil have had a good run so far.

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What writing will stand the tests of time, and which ones would not? What does it say about the writer who started with the intention of writing about the lofty Books of Kells and wrote instead of the fantastic breakfast she tucked into her stomach? Given how ephemeral even our inscribed works are, shouldn’t we have a little less ego, a little less lust for power, and little more acceptance of our state of being?

I mused on our social media presences. The place most avid users go to share our thoughts and feelings. Maybe we are subconsciously evaluating every thought that flits in like fluffy clouds on a bright day, taking a pulse of our feelings.  What of thoughts not shared, and if thoughts trigger feelings, will the absence of thought then remove suffering, but then what is the state of being?

Maybe that is why the old Eastern philosophers taught us to calm our minds. Ursula Le Guin’s quote comes to mind:

“Things don’t have purposes, as if the universe were a machine, where every part has a useful function. What’s the function of a galaxy? I don’t know if our life has a purpose and I don’t see that it matters. What does matter is that we’re a part. Like a thread in a cloth or a grass-blade in a field. It is and we are. What we do is like wind blowing on the grass.”

I like my spot of writing even if sometimes I have muddled things up a little more by the end of it all.

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