Aug 012014
 

BattleofIssus333BC-mosaic-detail1Detail of the Alexander Mosaic, representing Alexander the Great on his horse Bucephalus, during the battle of Issus. via Ancient History Encyclopedia

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 History repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce.
—Karl Marx

…Out of the murderous innocence of the sea.
—W. B. Yeats

Anderson, slender and bespectacled, and Haggerty, who retained the musculature of the high-school wrestler he once was, had been roommates in graduate school. They had been rivals then and ever since. Before they knew one another, each had decided to major in Classics, and they had both applied to the same top-tier graduate programs in that field: Princeton, Brown, Berkeley, Chicago, Michigan, Stanford, Penn, UNC-Chapel Hill, Yale, Columbia, and Harvard. Both had been brilliant undergraduate students, excelling particularly in history and languages, including, of course, Greek and Latin. Since they had also been fulsomely recommended by their dazzled college professors, it was no surprise that, even in the fiercely competitive struggle to gain admission to these formidable programs, both had been accepted by all the universities to which they had applied. As Fate, and the rankings, would have it, both chose Princeton.

Fate once again took a hand in throwing them together as roommates, and, for whatever reason, both found themselves, after the first year, gravitating toward the study of Greece in the fourth century BCE, focusing particularly on matters Alexandrine. Here their paths diverged, and sharply, for they quickly and adamantly adopted antithetical positions regarding the Great one.

Following, with some sophisticated nuances of course, in the line of the venerable W. W. Tarn, Anderson, in a beautifully-written article in the Classical Quarterly and a well-received contribution to A Companion to the Hellenistic World, honed the image of Alexander as not only a forger of Greek-Persian-Oriental unity, but an idealistic believer in the ultimate unity of all man-(and woman-) kind. Though he was deeply troubled by his hero’s brutality in suppressing the early rebellion at Thebes, Anderson adhered in general to the line of thought so movingly laid out by Tarn back in the 1930s and recapitulated and amplified after World War II in his celebrated two-volume Alexander the Great (1948). The result was Anderson’s own magisterial and eloquent Alexander the Far-Seer (Harvard UP, 1995), in which he directly engaged the problematic “situation” at Thebes, gingerly depicting that slaughter of men and enslavement of women and children as ultimately humane: Alexander’s admittedly severe but effective way to punish betrayal and to preempt subsequent mutinies among the other Greek city-states.

Tarn’s image of Alexander, as embellished by Anderson, was that of a chivalrous (Exhibit 1: his exquisitely courteous treatment of the captured mother, wife, and daughters of the defeated Persian king, Darius) and visionary conqueror, a man more than two millennia ahead of his time. The appeal of this Alexander no doubt explained why, once he had become a professor himself, at Columbia, Anderson had been sought out by both Martin Scorsese and then by Oliver Stone in connection with Alexander film projects. Anderson, who had been remunerated handsomely as a consultant in both cases (enabling him to purchase and furnish a spacious apartment on Riverside Drive), regretted that Stone’s film had actually been made, starring an unfortunately blonde-wigged Colin Farrell, while Scorsese’s, which was to star Leonardo DiCaprio, had fallen by the wayside.

As for Haggerty’s Alexander: that was an altogether different kettle of fish. Haggerty had been powerfully and permanently influenced by the scholarship of the formidable Ernst Badian, who had been kind enough, even in retirement, to read and comment on a paper Haggerty had sent him unsolicited. For Badian, Tarn’s image of Alexander was a starry-eyed idealization created by a brilliant but UN-influenced scholar who had imposed his own well-intentioned but dreamy twentieth-century global utopianism on an ancient blood-letter, a brutal conqueror whose legacy, far from any unified world, was a Hellenistic and post-Hellenistic morass of division, endless war, and misery. Haggerty’s long-gestating major study, Alexander: The Myth vs. the Man, published by Peter Lang in the very month (May, 2011) Ernst Badian had died, exhibited, despite its relentless thesis, some modicum of scholarly balance. But it was too little, too late. More than occasionally, prior to that belated publication, Haggerty, fatally injuring in the process his status in the scholarly community, had succumbed to sensationalism, most notoriously in his scathing review of the second edition of his former roommate’s Alexander the Far-Seer.

In this jealousy-fueled assault on Anderson’s magnum opus, the legitimate son of Philip was summarily dismissed as a “murderous bastard and drunken thug,” not to mention being “homoerotic and undersexed.” Haggerty’s most vitriolic scorn was poured on Anderson’s “mendacity” and “patent hypocrisy” in rationalizing the “bloodbath at Thebes.” In Haggerty’s telling of the tale of Alexander, only Bucephalus—chosen, but not himself at liberty to choose his master—fared well. In fact, in his concluding sentence, Haggerty tossed a single contemptuous sop to his rival by unqualifiedly praising Anderson’s “justified admiration of the psychotic’s innocent warhorse,” a “four-legged hero who had played no part whatever in the bestial and bloody atrocities inflicted by his master on the unfortunate citizens of Thebes.”

§

Before the rivalry between Haggerty and Anderson had intensified and then petered out into a typical academic power-struggle evoking the spectacle of two impotent serpents hissing at each other, they had interacted, in their Princeton days, in a civilized and gradually friendly manner. Just as Fate had made them Classicists, sent them to Princeton, made them roommates, and drew them to the study of Alexander, so that uncanny and intertwining Power arranged for them to date, interchangeably, two very different women, having only beauty in common. At first, Diana had been with Haggerty, Alicia with Anderson. But at some point (the quartet could never pinpoint the precise moment of transposal), there had been a sudden switch. However incongruously, sensuous, pouty-lipped and opulently breasted Diana ended up with the delicate, even slightly effeminate Anderson; delicate, slim-hipped, ash-blonde Alicia with burly Haggerty.

Separately but simultaneously, the couples married the year after the men graduated from Princeton. As ambitious as her husband, Diana was not in the least reticent when it came to charming whoever might be in a position to advance her husband’s career. And that career did advance, rapidly, thanks to the combination of a burgeoning list of publications, entrée to the New York Review of Books, very occasional but still first–name relationships with “Marty” and “Oliver,” and that ample and strategically-located Riverside Drive apartment—all voluptuously enhanced by the social and related skills of a stunningly attractive hostess-wife.

Though it took well over a decade, it seemed, at least to an envious and increasingly embittered Haggerty, no time at all before his old roommate was a chaired professor in the Classics Department at Columbia, his considerable salary buttressed by an inherited but shrewdly augmented stock-portfolio. Meanwhile, Haggerty, professionally scarred by the “intemperance” of his savaging of Anderson’s much-applauded Alexander the Far-Seer, labored in the obscure vineyard of a second- tier small liberal arts college in upstate New York. On occasion, Haggerty would come down to New York City to work for the day in one or another of the libraries; then scurry back to the sticks on Amtrak. However, on their brief biannual visits to Manhattan to take in a show, he and Alicia were, at least at first, invariably invited to stay with the Andersons, who “wouldn’t hear” of their friends  “putting up at an expensive hotel.” The other unheard-of matter, ever-present but never addressed during these visits, was the attack on Anderson’s book: what even Alicia, the most candid of the four, simply accepted as the Great Taboo.

gemitoAlexander the Great mounting his horse Boukephalon. Vincenzo Gemito (1852-1929) via Wiki Media Commons.

As the years went on, these visits always seemed to coincide with parties, during which Alicia, though still attractive, was inevitably outshone by Diana, who had become ever more glamorous, a Bergdorf blonde whose champagne, salon-tended coiffure made Alicia’s unpretentiously-styled, naturally ash-blonde hair seem dishwater-dull. For his part, Haggerty, though he stood over six feet and had retained more than the remnants of an athletic physique, almost literally felt the testosterone drain from him during these affairs. He would drink too much, and still find himself self-conscious and cringing, surrounded by Manhattan theater people, and, even worse, by higher-paid and better-known academics. When the subject as to where he “taught” came up (as it always did), the cosmopolitan professors would predictably and condescendingly observe that they had heard “good things” about his little college “up there.” Eventually, both he and Alicia wearied of these petty humiliations, and either skipped coming down to the city at all, or slipped furtively in and out of town without informing the Andersons.

§

Then came the fateful autumn day. Haggerty, in Manhattan to do research in the Berg Collection of the 42nd Street Library, stopped at the Wine Bar in Bryant Park before heading to Penn Station. Suddenly feeling as leaden as the sinking light of dusk settling over the park, he realized, with a shock of recognition, that his current project, whatever its initial excitement, had palled. Even if he supported with solid evidence the point, or quibble, that had been preoccupying him for several months—so what? He needed at least one drink, maybe more, before setting out on the long, dark trip back along the Hudson and Mohawk. And there, a sudden burst of light in the darkness, was Diana! She had just tucked her cell phone in her bag, and was sipping a white wine. She glanced up, saw him, and smiled, then smiled again, this time differently. She was never more radiantly gorgeous, and Haggerty hadn’t seen that particular smile since their nights together back in Princeton. After three or four drinks, Diana pressed her warm lips to his ear and whispered, “I think it’s time we moved this act to a more intimate setting.”

Haggerty concurred, wondering only briefly if he could get away with using his Amtrak ticket a day late; tonight, at Diana’s insistence, they would be “putting up at an expensive hotel.” She called and made a reservation at the nearby Grand Hyatt. After they’d each discreetly attended to their other necessary phone calls (two, he noticed in Diana’s case), they headed out at full tilt to the hotel. Stopped by a red light at 42nd and Madison, Haggerty, unable to wait, pulled her to him and kissed her with a passion fired by genuine lust and a fury of jealousy and anger that had been simmering for years.

At the desk, he had to hold his briefcase in front of him to conceal his erection, and when they finally got into the room, he once again couldn’t wait. As it happened, neither could she. Their first fuck, up against the wall and half-clothed, was violent, almost savage. It was fantastic while it lasted, but he was too hot to control himself for long. He came earlier than he intended, and explosively. She groaned, but was far from finished. They stripped, had a drink from the mini-bar while he recovered, and then hit the bed. He went at her breasts like a starving baby, and then he was deep inside her. She felt familiar and yet different, better and certainly blonder. It was during their third encore that she murmured, “You’re making me crazy,” and she meant it.

§

That autumn, winter, and spring, Haggerty found it imperative that he work in the Berg Collection at least twice a month. Simultaneously, Diana discovered that her own delicate psyche demanded “quiet time,” when she needed to be “by herself” for a day or two. This need for contemplative solitude arose twice monthly, coinciding with her bi-monthly hair treatments and re-colorings at Bergdorf Goodman’s. As fate would have it, these restorative hiatuses also coincided precisely with Haggerty’s research expeditions to the city, during which he never had occasion to renew his “Special Visitors” card, the catalogued riches of the Berg Collection going unexplored while Haggerty devoted his energies to exploring the more palpable riches of the opulent Diana.

Anderson was not unaware of his wife’s flexible interpretation of their marriage bond. Aware as well that her exuberant sex drive dwarfed his own, he tended to be tolerant. But these twice-monthly absences eventually proved too much even for him. Suffering from unaccustomed jealousy and a festering sense of betrayal, he found himself becoming distracted from his current research—on Callisthenes, nephew to Aristotle and official historian on Alexander’s expedition into Persia. His research into Callisthenes’ possible (probable?) involvement in the Royal Pages’ conspiracy to murder their warrior-king fueled Anderson’s growing sense that he too was the victim of a conspiracy.

Awaking from a troubled dream one night, his scholarship and his likely cuckolding suddenly converged in a single name: “Haggerty!” A week later, on a bright Tuesday morning when Diana had set off for her regular bi-monthly salon visit to Bergdorf’s followed by her bi-monthly “rest,” Anderson phoned the hinterlands. Alicia answered. When, after the routine pleasantries, Anderson asked to speak to his old pal, she informed him that Haggerty was, “in fact, in Manhattan, doing some research, though he would be back Wednesday night.”

“Really,” said Anderson, concealing his emotion. “He should have arranged to stay with us.” The pretense of civility, hypocritically maintained over years now, had never ceased to amaze Alicia. Though Haggerty’s ferocious attack on Anderson’s book had in fact shattered their friendship, the offending review was never spoken of, or even alluded to, by either man. Always there, but never mentioned, it had long been the perennial elephant, or the warhorse, in the room.

“Well, there have been several trips of late, and he didn’t want to bother you and Diana.”

“Hmmm,” said Anderson. “Just what is it he’s working on?”

Alicia chuckled, but it was mirthless; her awareness of the men’s professional rivalry, like her husband’s suspiciously frequent trips to the city to do “research,” was far more a source of pain than of amusement. “I wouldn’t be at liberty to tell you if I knew. But, to be honest, I don’t. It must be going well, though; he always seems to come back…rejuvenated.”

“I just bet he does,” said Anderson, in a tone Alicia found more than usually difficult to decipher. Her own resigned tone touched Anderson, who found himself wondering, as he often had over the years, how it was that, betraying his heart and even against his will, he had turned from Alicia to Diana. Not that the turn was ever quite complete. Anderson had flirted with Alicia on a few occasions; and there was that night a few years back when, having had one scotch too many, he had kissed her when they were alone for a moment in the Andersons’ dining room. His attempt at seduction, if that’s what it was, ended before it began, with Alicia unresponsive and murmuring something about her “husband,” a loyalty that embarrassed and, even more, angered Anderson. But so be it: for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, it would be Anderson and Diana, Alicia and Haggerty. Perhaps old Pindar had it right: “that which is fated cannot be fled.”

Anderson let it all marinate. The longer it did, the more furious he became. Diana’s sensuality, at an earlier stage an ancillary means to career-advancement, had begun to degenerate into potentially embarrassing sexual indiscretions. But this treachery—with Haggerty of all people!—went beyond the endurable. Conscious of the melodramatic touch, he nevertheless vowed vengeance on both miscreants. Perhaps, afterward, he and Alicia, no longer bound by loyalty….

2801624-bucephalusAlexander Taming Bucephalus” by Francois Schommer, German, late 19th century. Via Wiki Media Commons.

As for Haggerty, Anderson’s resentment now soured into much more than professional hatred, though his emotions also leached into his scholarship. In a New Republic piece, he introduced a detectable caveat to his central Alexandrine thesis: the conqueror’s ultimate vision of universal unity and concord as the end to which all the bloodshed was merely a tactical means. “The end of art is peace,” said the late, great Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, in accepting his Nobel Prize. He acknowledged borrowing the phrase from his predecessor, the late, great Irish Nobel laureate, W. B. Yeats; who’d borrowed it from the not so-great, non-prize-winning, non-Irish 19th-century poet, Coventry Patmore; who doubtless lifted it himself. Anderson couldn’t speak for “art,” but he had long been sure that the end, as well as the beginning, of academic scholarship was not peace but war. Now he was beginning to wonder if the end—the purpose—of war was, not peace, but just…more war. He would soon, at his publisher’s request, be undertaking a 4th edition of Alexander the Far-Seer. Anderson decided to defer further historical speculation to that new—and very possibly substantially revised—edition of his masterwork.

§

In the meantime, he prepared to bait a trap. His plans were delayed when he wrenched his knee while jogging in Riverside Park, missing his step because of his preoccupation with his stratagem. But with some rehab, and a brace and cane, he experienced only minor pain, and productively utilized his un-Diana-like “rest period” by polishing the details of his version of Hamlet’s mouse-trap.

One particularly fine spring morning, when birds were singing and whatnot, he informed Diana over breakfast, just before she headed out for her bi-monthly highlighting and hiatus, that he had come to a decision regarding his estrangement from Haggerty. He had, he said, long since forgiven his erstwhile and underpaid friend for his intemperate review of Alexander the Far-Seer; indeed, to be candid, he had been “slightly” rethinking his own thesis. He even had enough equanimity to chuckle at Haggerty’s having limited his agreement with the book to the sentence in which Anderson had praised the brave and blameless Bucephalus, who, along with performing magnificently in battle, “had played no part whatever in the anomalous episode at Thebes.”

In any case, it was “high time” to “let bygones be bygones,” to “bury the hatchet, as it were.” What—he wanted to know—did she “think about a get-together? Perhaps dinner next week in Manhattan with the four of us, my treat, including their trip down from upstate.”

Though caught off guard, Diana, her feet as quicksilver as Mercury’s, instantly adjusted, responding that she thought the idea “fine,” even “delightful,” though she wondered if it might not be too much too soon on his knee.

“Not in the slightest. Wednesday, then, this week or next. I understand from Alicia that he’s been doing some mid-week research at the Berg twice a month.”

Diana was lighting a cigarette when he came out with that, but only the eye of a detective (or Anderson’s) would have caught the slight trembling of her hand as she flicked the lighter. What occasion had he to be speaking to Alicia? Was it just to do with his sudden idea for the men to make up over dinner, reuniting the two jolly couples of Princeton days? And what exactly had Alicia said, other than to blurt out the news about Haggerty’s “research” trips to the city? Best, Diana thought, to pass over all that terra incognita, and focus on the dinner plan.

“Wonderful. Where?” she asked, dilating her pupils to what she calibrated was the appropriate degree to convey surprised delight.

“Smith & Wolensky, I think. Not far from the library, and Haggerty loves a good steak.”

“Great. But I must dash.” Forgetting that she had just lit it, Diana stubbed out her cigarette, pecked him on the cheek leaving a faint imprint of lipstick, and was gone.

§

When, following their afternoon coupling and some rather more amorous imprintings of her lipstick, Diana informed her lover of this peace offering, Haggerty was instantly suspicious.

“Do you think the devious little prick knows about us?”

She thought not, and mentioned the unmentionable: Anderson’s specific reference to Haggerty’s review of Alexander the Far-Seer. He had even laughed, she reported, at what Haggerty had singled out as their one point of agreement: the praise of splendid Bucephalus.

“For whatever reason, he’s forgiven you. He recently injured his knee. Maybe he’s mellowing with age. In any case, his new attitude seems to be ‘live and let live’.”

“Arrogant son of a bitch; he doesn’t leave us much choice, does he?”

When Anderson phoned the following evening and extended his invitation, Haggerty, armed by Diana’s advance warning, worked up as much feigned surprise and enthusiasm as he could manage without puking. Actually, he was now looking forward to the meeting. He had decided to show up with his own peace-offering, a “Greek gift.” Triggered by Diana’s reference to Anderson’s injured knee, the idea had solidified into a specific shape. He had some shopping to do.

§

The following week the four met as arranged. After the somewhat strained handshakes and obligatory kisses, Haggerty checked a long package in the cloakroom adjoining the entrance. “A gift,” he winked at Anderson. The two couples had several drinks at the always inviting copper bar, and then adjourned to their reserved table. The evening, lubricated by several bottles of a fine red, was unexpectedly convivial. Warmed by the wine, and experiencing a vestige of the old friendship, Anderson began to waver. At one point he came close to jettisoning his plan to expose the clandestine lovers. But as fate would have it, that was the very instant that Haggerty and Diana exchanged furtive glances, fleeting and yet so unmistakably intimate that it re-fueled Anderson’s rage. Only the most Herculean effort at self-restraint enabled him to maintain his false veneer of bonhomie.

Though controlled, his hostility, squirming beneath the lacquered surface, took the form of several supposedly innocent questions intended to goad his rival: queries as to how Haggerty’s research in the Berg Collection was going? Whether he had received any grants and/or secured a publisher—other than “Peter Lange”—for his current and “long-gestating” book? What the “cost” was these days for a round-trip Amtrak ticket to the city? He even expressed a sincere wish that Haggerty hadn’t “spent too much” on the “gift” he’d checked in the cloakroom.  Diana grew a bit suspicious and restive, but, to Anderson’s annoyance, Haggerty refused to join in the petty professional game-playing by rising to the bait. Whether he was oblivious to Anderson’s barely camouflaged taunts, or simply basking in the confidence that comes from secretly fucking the wife of one’s interlocutor, host and rival, Haggerty remained maddeningly complacent and convivial.

Just as they were finishing their steaks, and Anderson was ordering yet another bottle of Pibarnon, Haggerty, who had been so animated and voluble during dinner that Alicia had suggested at one point that he try being “still” for at least a moment, excused himself. He returned with his package, presenting it to Anderson with a jovial yet enigmatic grin. Once unwrapped, it proved to be an exceptionally handsome mahogany cane, its oversized knob adorned with a silver horse’s head inscribed… BUCEPHALUS.

photo_verybig_129490Warrior (possibly Alexander) on a Horse, Macedonia, 2011. Photo by EPA/BGNES.

Only Alicia seemed puzzled, until Haggerty re-explained the inside joke. Diana, who required no explanation, wondered where it was all headed. Nervous, but anxious to alleviate the palpable tension at the table, Diana laughed. In fact, they all laughed—with the notable exception of Anderson, whose face reddened with repressed fury. He understood the joke beneath the joke. Haggerty was still rubbing it in, repeating, with that silver Bucephalus-head, his original assault on Anderson’s magnum opus. Anderson had brought them here, at considerable expense, to expose the sordid liaison between Haggerty and Diana. Softened by the wine, the fine meal, and the dinner conversation, he had considered abandoning his plan; and now, Haggerty, turning the tables, was not only cuckolding him, but making him the butt, rubbing salt in the old wound by bringing up that goddamned review. True, in the end, the attack had backfired, damaging Haggerty’s reputation far more than his own. But that sarcasm and ridicule still smarted, indeed stung even more, because, in his heart of hearts, Anderson had slowly come to realize that Haggerty’s critique, however snide and hyperbolic, was largely accurate.

He also realized (though no one at the table noticed at first) that his body was shaking.  Suddenly, in a spasm of uncontrollable rage, Anderson took up his steak knife, and—unaware of making any conscious decision, apparently guided by the inexorable Fate that had bound them together in so many other ways—leaned across the table and plunged it into Haggerty’s chest.

As the women screamed, the surprised stabbee clutched, as well he might, in the general vicinity of his heart. But the old wrestler in him rallied and he staggered to his feet, knocking his chair backward, grunting in pain and rage, and stretching out his trembling but still powerful hands toward his assailant. Shrinking back at first, but then rising to the occasion, Anderson hefted the heavy, Bucephalus-headed cane, and brought it down, battering his rival’s skull repeatedly, until Haggerty, strong as he was, finally collapsed on the table, the blood spurting from his chest and head-wounds forming two stains—distinct, then unified, then again separating—which, between them, soaked most if not all of the fine S&W linen table-cloth, turning the white one red.

Continuing to shriek, Diana and Alicia looked on, open-mouthed but catatonic. The stunned patrons round about them, having finally snapped out of their momentary paralysis, rushed belatedly to disarm the caner and assist the victim. The bludgeoned Haggerty twitched twice, then lay, finally, and in both senses of the word, still—in accord, ironically enough, with Alicia’s earlier suggestion. Struck dumb herself, Alicia gazed at her husband’s body, then at Anderson—who turned to Diana, then to Haggerty, then back again. The gesture implied causality: a causality into which Alicia—who now joined Anderson in staring at a for-once unnerved Diana—had a sudden, all-illuminating insight.

In the moment before he succumbed, providing he retained some minimal ability to appreciate irony, Haggerty may also have experienced a graphic insight:  in his case, into the all-too-human and universal nature of the wine-dark, mysterious impulses driving the bloody violence he had always dwelt on, perhaps to a fault and certainly glibly, in writing about Alexander. And, had he been able to articulate the thought, he might conceivably have expressed regret regarding his ill-chosen (or fated) gift of that formidable, Bucephalus-headed walking stick.

For his own part, Anderson experienced, albeit more consciously than his rival, a similar double-illumination. He felt that now, at last, he fully appreciated the sterling virtues of Bucephalus, and further, that, for perhaps the first time in his career as an Alexander scholar, he had grasped the immediate point and lasting impact of his hero’s Theban policy.

—Patrick J. Keane 

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Patrick J Keane smaller

Patrick J. Keane is Professor Emeritus of Le Moyne College and a Contributing Editor at Numéro Cinq. Though he has written on a wide range of topics, his areas of special interest have been 19th and 20th-century poetry in the Romantic tradition; Irish literature and history; the interactions of literature with philosophic, religious, and political thinking; the impact of Nietzsche on certain 20th century writers; and, most recently, Transatlantic studies, exploring the influence of German Idealist philosophy and British Romanticism on American writers. His books include William Butler Yeats: Contemporary Studies in Literature (1973), A Wild Civility: Interactions in the Poetry and Thought of Robert Graves (1980), Yeats’s Interactions with Tradition (1987), Terrible Beauty: Yeats, Joyce, Ireland and the Myth of the Devouring Female (1988), Coleridge’s Submerged Politics (1994), Emerson, Romanticism, and Intuitive Reason: The Transatlantic “Light of All Our Day” (2003), and Emily Dickinson’s Approving God: Divine Design and the Problem of Suffering (2007).

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