Ukemi Audiobooks July 2020

Ukemi Audiobooks July 2020

A year ago or so, a number of correspondents wrote to me suggesting Summa Theologica, the momentous 13th century survey of Catholic theology by Thomas Aquinas, which, down the ensuing years, became a cornerstone of Western philosophy as well. I blinked. After all, it is huge – 2 million words which, in audiospeak, amounts to over 200 hours.

BUT – it is such an important work. I had closer look. It is divided neatly into four major parts (Part 1, Part 1 of Part 2, Part 2 of 2 and Part 3). That breaks down into fairly manageable volumes. And it would clearly grace the Ukemi catalogue! I was also fascinated to see how whether the final volume would attract loyal listeners. So, we set to work!

Aquinas set out to look at and comment on the theological teachings of the Catholic Church as he knew it. It had accrued a massive literature through the centuries – not just the Old and New Testaments, but the voluminous writings of Augustine of Hippo, Boethius, Dionysius the Areopagite, Anselm of Canterbury, and many more Christian writers. He extended his purview to Hebrew thinkers, including Maimonides, the 12th century Jewish philosopher. Most boldly and controversially, he drew on other traditions – crucially the philosophy of Ancient Greece and Rome (he calls Aristotle ‘The Philosopher’), as well as Plato and Cicero; and Arab writers and translators including Avicenna, Averroes and Al-Ghazali.

Furthermore, he developed a simple framework which he applied consistently throughout the work:

  • A question is proposed;
  • This is then considered under a variety of headings called Articles;
  • Objections are raised;
  • Aquinas then replies to those objections.

Throughout he refers to many authorities but makes his stance and view very clear.

Wide-ranging throughout, each Part does have a general emphasis: Part 1 emphasises theology, Part 2 emphasises ethics, Part 3 Christ.

Summa Theologica is, of course a major undertaking for a reader…and Martyn Swain – English born but resident in Cape Town – has risen to the challenge. A veteran simultaneous translator (French and German) for many international organisations, (he translated for Nelson Mandela during interviews for French radio), Swain has proved a natural audiobook reader with many recordings for Ukemi Audiobooks.

There is also the remarkable coincidence in the siting of this recording in Swain’s private studio in Cape Town. Father Laurence Shapcote of the Dominican order (Aquinas was a Dominican) who undertook the translation of the complete work in the first half of the 20th century, was born in South Africa (the son of a missionary) and lived there for much of his lifeHe translated this immense work on his own in Boksburg, Newcastle and Stellenbossch, undaunted by the immense learning involved in the project. A modest man, he requested that this translation was attributed to ‘the Fathers of the English Dominican Province.

Summa Theological Volume 2 (Prima Secundae) is scheduled for release in August.

Two other new titles have been released this month. Though best known for his ‘Parallel Lives’ Plutarch’s Moralia, his collection of essays, have always been enjoyed for their variety, their quiet wisdom and their wit. Now, Matthew Lloyd Davies presents, with his inimitable informal tone, a second volume, with essays ranging from ‘Were Athenians  more famous in War or in Wisdom’ to ‘Sayings of Kings and Commanders’ and ‘Bravery of Women.’

And Michael Lunts, after Nietzsche and Adam Smith, turns to 20th century philosophy, to read Time and Free Will by Henri Bergson, who takes a very different view from the existential stance of Heidegger. In effect Bergson asserts that free will is a fact. For Bergson intuition is experience in action and entering into the thing or state, empathy, is the way to absolute, rather than relative knowledge.

The Ukemi recording made by Mike Rogers, of William Langland’s sparking medieval poem Piers Plowman in the modern verse rendering by Charles Arthur Burrell has been very favourable reviewed in The Times by Christina Hardyment. Click here for the review.

Nicolas Soames

23 July 2020