On the cusp of Enlightenment: Modern answers to seventeenth-century questions

Questions are quoted from John Dunton’s “Athenian Oracle;” answers are Simone Levy’s own renderings.

Q: “I am about nineteen years old, and have been often desired by my friends, who I believe are pious persons, to learn to dance, which I am sensible is needful to teach men how to behave themselves in company; but I somewhat question the lawfulness of it: for I take it to be an institution of the Pagans, who, upon the days of their sacrifices, did dance before the altars of their gods; as also condemned by the Fathers, as unlawful, in many of their writings. Besides, it weakens piety, occasions ill thoughts, and consequently seems a breach of the seventh commandment; it having been also the occasion of many bad actions, as well as the loss of time, which we ought rather to employ in prayer, and other exercises of piety and devotion. I desire your opinion?” (Athenian Oracle, 54-55)

A: So your friends are pressuring you to go out clubbing with them, but you are scared of the Pagan implications that gratuitous body movement often evokes. Completely understandable. I, too, was 19 years old—it was just last year. As someone who was in your shoes not too long ago, I consider myself an excellent resource on the matter. While it may seem counterintuitive, dancing can occupy a holy and pious context despite its placement in Pagan institutions. If you are scared to dance for yourself, try dancing for God. Surely a divine entrance into the beautiful sport that is dance will allow you to appreciate its merits, and as something more than just a loss of time. 

Q: “Why do flowers flourish and open in the morning, and are contracted and shut at night?” (Athenian Oracle, 91)

A: Excellent question! The truth is that flowers need to sleep for at least eight hours a night, just like you do. 

Q: “Where is the likeliest place to get a husband in?” (Athenian Oracle, 224) 

A: Definitely in Fresno. There are some fine, eligible men in Fresno. If the issue persists, do write in once more and we can organize an advert promoting your availability. 

Q: “I have promised Marriage against the consent of my friends; which they suspecting have resolved to marry me to another, for whom I have a great aversion : — how am I to behave myself in this difficult affair?” (Athenian Oracle, 231) 

A: Oh honey, I would ditch this so-called “friend” of yours. Maybe it was huge in the 17th century, but today, planning someone else’s life for them does not go over well. Kick her to the curb because you are your own person and you will do what you want to! Alternately, the really hot thing to do today is to go on a Twitter rant and garner as much attention to the situation as possible. In doing this, your “friend” will see that you do not mess around and she will learn to respect your autonomy. As a New Yorker cartoon by Emily Flake said, “Son, if you can’t say something nice, say something clever yet devastating.” Follow Emily’s lead on this and go for absolute broke. Expose her. Trash her. Take advantage of today’s obsession with cancellations and use that to end your “friend’s” entire future. Go for gold, baby. Please report back on how this goes. 

All questions quoted from the 1703 collected publication of the “Athenian Oracle” by John Dunton.

Looking for answers? In need of advice from a Taurus-sun, Virgo-moon, Gemini-rising? Think you can stump me? Email Simone at simone.a.levy@lawrence.edu with your own questions and you just might be featured in next week’s column.

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