Questions regarding the Lincoln Memorial

Following up on the last post about my time with Collegium, Christine and Bill in DC. Again, many thanks for their observations and thoughts, which are reflected below.

The Lincoln Memorial stands tall, as if out of reach. Wikipedia notes that the columns are Doric but doesn’t talk about the frontal access to the temple that Bill mentioned, nor the incredible height of this thing. The elements are Greek, Etruscan, Roman it seems (again, thank you Bill) – I’m not sure about this, I’d like someone to clarify.

When you get inside, you face Lincoln, who is staring out beyond you at the reflecting pool, which reflects the monument of the man he said we should worship in Lyceum. To his right (your left) is the Gettysburg Address, with a mural atop it. To his left is the Second Inaugural with a mural atop it. The murals are Egyptian in style, like the paintings inside the pyramids: they’re even made out of the same materials (a park ranger told me this. Encarta says the murals are oil on canvas. Another park ranger – I swear to God – told me that yes, indeed, the Memorial was “symbolic” when I asked specifically about Lincoln’s hands. I cannot repeat the language that I was screaming in my head here).

It is probably a good working assumption to say the words, the history (murals), and the man all are comments on the same theme.

Lincoln’s right hand being open and his stepping forward with his right foot probably are some kind of comment on Gettysburg. What could be characteristic of Gettysburg is the void after the carnage, the “formal feeling” “after great pain.” The only proper response would be to declare a “new birth of freedom:” nothing else could possibly be appropriate for the “honored dead,” nothing could come close to an honor they would want.

It remains for us to interpret the mural above the Gettysburg address. I have some complaints with this brochure the Park Service hands out as explanatory (warning: .pdf) – I really want to see them cite stuff, instead of just making assertions. I’m still going to write as if they know what they’re talking about, because I’ve been sitting on this project too long already.

There is an angel in the center of the Gettysburg Address mural, raising hands and causing shackles to drop. I am convinced the angel is different from the seated figures in the extreme left and right groups, inasmuch as they are crowned with laurels, and the angel needs no such crowning being a heavenly messenger.

The group all the way to the left of the Gettysburg Address mural represents justice. The seated figure has the sword of justice and a scroll, and is flanked by bodyguards. People are kneeling in front of the figure. The brochure says that both the central group and this group have two sibyls each. It makes sense why a divine group should have sibyls, but justice is earthly, wearing the crown of victory. What could those sibyls prophecy?

The group all the way to the right, as deep into the temple as one can go, is supposed to be immortality. But what is immortal? The seated figure is wearing a crown, and surrounded by the three theological virtues. There are no sibyls here, just a servant giving wine. Oil is in a vessel beside. We note that earlier generations had no problem picking up on Lincoln’s theological language in the Address, and didn’t go rifling through his personal papers to try and argue he was an atheist. It looks like the law and freedom together prophecy something that makes earthly republicanism divine.

The mural above Second Inaugural I have to rely on the brochure even more on: the central group is Unity (duh, there are two people holding hands and arts of various sorts abound), the left group is Fraternity (the abundance of the earth and family life are surrounded by the wine/oil vessels characteristic of immortal republicanism above), and the group to the extreme right is Charity. The interesting thing for all of us, as students of politics, is the emphasis on Unity centrally. We normally say that Fraternity and Charity are means to Unity. In doing so, we tend to forget what we assume when we approach another as a friend – why we make vows when we get married – why we pray even in the silence of our hearts.

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