The Temple of the Thunder God

I remember once reading that a champagne glass is modeled on the breast of Helen of Troy.  I trust this meant the coupe, not the tulip or the flute.  In any case, I mention this titbit of mammary memorabilia to prepare you for my frank declaration that the dome of the U.S. Capitol is evidently modeled on the breast of a buxom showgirl who once fascinated lonesome congressmen in a burlesque theater on one of the seedier streets in Foggy Bottom.

Unlike immortal Helen, the name of this siren of the Senate is forgotten, but not, for better or worse, the stately shape of her protuberant pap.  This is nowadays the preferred backdrop of every boob on television, and we therefore see it nightly, lending its glorious and glandular gravitas to their grimacing grins and garrulous tongues.

Much has been said of late about the hallowed halls of our national assembly, but I must here exercise my Constitutional right to say that the U.S. Capitol is a preposterous building.  Which is not to say unsuitable.  Quite the opposite.

I should add that I have considerable first-hand experience with the U.S. Capitol, since I was long ago employed as a crack bicycle courier by the Ace Agency of Washington, D.C.  I have therefore seen that dome gleaming in sunshine and dripping with rain.  I once saw it (from below) while holding a door of the Capitol open for Tip O’Neil, then Speaker of the House.  But from any angle, or in any light, that dome reminds me that it covers the greatest burlesque theater on earth.

* * * * *

The modest knob on which the U.S. Capitol sits was once known as Jenkins Hill.  At the foot of Jenkins Hill ran an equally modest tributary of the Potomac that was known to local sportsmen as Goose Creek.  Just west of Jenkins Hill, where the National Mall now stretches in all its wind-swept and litter-strewn glory, Goose Creek once widened into a marshy arm of the Potomac estuary.  Indeed, when Don Alexander Hawkins surveyed the site of the soon-to-be-built Federal City in 1791, he indicated a sizable swamp directly below Jenkins Hill.  But this swamp, at least, was drained.

It was probably Thomas Jefferson who stripped Jenkins Hill of its respectable name, and then saddled it with the preposterous (although not unsuitable) name of Capitol Hill.  This was an expression of Mr. Jefferson’s preposterous paganism, since he was likening Jenkins Hill to the Capitolium or Capitoline Hill of ancient Rome.  As you may know, the Capitoline Hill was the religious center of pagan Rome, much like the acropolis of Athens or Temple Mount in Jerusalem.  The Capitoline Hill was home to many Pagan temples, the largest of which was the Temple of Jupiter Optimus Maximus.  That is to say Jove, the greatest and bestest god that ever was.

If you know anything about Thomas Jefferson, you will understand that this was a stick in the eye for American Christians, since their “temple of democracy” was dedicated to Jove, and not Jesus or Jehovah.  Perhaps it wasn’t their temple after all.

Preposterous and provoking, but not unsuitable.  Jove is, after all, the god of wind and thunder, and nothing (except that buxom showgirl) is more honored than wind and thunder in the great temple of democracy.  I have sometimes wished that the two houses of Congress had been named the House of Wind and the House of Thunder.  It would please me to think of Thunderers thundering in the upper house; and when I held the door for Tip O’Neil, I would have delighted to cry, “make way for the mighty Wind.”

* * * * *

Goose Creek nowadays runs through a sewer under the National Mall.  The spreading estuary at its mouth, in which eponymous geese once honked, is now a landfill with tourists on top.  But for nearly a century, Goose Creek flowed in the light of day with the preposterous name of Tiber.

In 1803 the Irish poet Thomas Moore visited the infant city of Washington and wrote.

“In Fancy now beneath the twilight gloom,
Come, let me lead thee o’er this modern Rome!
Where tribunes rule, where dusky Davi bow,
And what was Goose Creek once is Tiber now!”

And the hill once named for honest Jenkins was aggrandized to Capitol Hill.  And the edifice on its brow, at first decently denominated the Federal Building, was aggrandized to the Temple of the Thunder God.  And how those Thunderers ever afterwards thundered.   And how those mighty Winds have blown.

Charles Jared Ingersoll is a long-forgotten American politician and satirist who, in 1810, published a long-forgotten book of spurious letters in the manner of Montaigne’s Persian Letters.  These letters were purportedly written by a Jesuit priest who was a subject of the Turkish Sultan.  The priest visited the young Republic and wrote these letters to report his observations to the Sublime Porte.  As in Montaigne’s Persian Letters, the preposterousness of America was exposed through the misunderstandings and perplexities of a foreigner.  Here is Ingersoll’s Jesuit writing from Washington.

“Within sight of my window, there is a large castle, with a flag flying from the top, in which two hundred congressmen, as they are called, are confined, like muedhdkins [muezzins] in the minaret of a mosque, preaching day and night for the salvation of the people.”**

This was, I must point out, before the dome atop that large castle was engrossed with its great augmentation.  Before it sprouted those preposterous wings.  Before it truly merited the name, Temple of the Thunder God.  But oh how glorious, how grand–how absolutely Romanthat young Republic has since become.

*Thomas Moore “From the City of Washington” (1803)
**) Charles Jared Ingersoll, Inchiquin the Jesuit’s Letters (1810)

11 thoughts on “The Temple of the Thunder God

  1. Very nice, sir! Prior to reading your article, I am slightly ashamed to admit, I had no earthly idea where the expression, “By Jove!,” came from. From now on, I will use it more often, properly educated on its origin.

  2. Professor, I knew that you were an erstwhile Washingtonian, having condescended to stealing dumpster biscuits and suffering saucy harassment near the Fruit Loop. May I ask where you lived? We both spent our bloom of youth in that land of wind and thunder. I have mixed feelings about it. I think that the class issue bothered me most. The city is home to the wealthy, ladder climbers, and the ghetto poor. There isn’t much of a middle class or working class white scene. Maybe that still existed when you lived there, but it had disappeared by the time I arrived. To misuse a term from jolly red Karl, I felt keen alienation during my many years there. I always loved getting out beyond the Beltway and exurbia . . . Shenandoah, the Chesapeake Bay, the rolling hills of western Maryland. I even loved Baltimore; it reminded me of my hometown in many ways.

    As for the Capitol, I am fond of it. It was a frequent companion, though I’ve always disliked The Apotheosis of George Washington. How obnoxious! The more recent office buildings should be razed (Hart is awful!). But there is a lot of charm there. The Mall is a grand sight (and site). I know that it’s not organic, but it is (or was) America’s largest public square — in the middle of America’s largest campus of learning. And the Roman pretensions are glorious . . . but we have failed to guard the republic, just as the real Romans failed with theirs . . . and for many of the same reasons. There is a lot of ruin in a nation, and we may still come back from this . . . hopefully wiser than before. The present madness will destroy itself and those who indulge it.

    Your comment about T.J. reminded me of U.Va. Mr. Jefferson’s university has a library in its center instead of a chapel according to the wishes of its founder. Masonic D.C. is the same, though God’s stewards tried to rectify this with the magnificent temples on the eastern and western hills. If our fallen republic ever gets its Constantine, I want RFK stadium to be replaced by a suitable house of God that puts the Capitol, as impressive as it is, in its place. We can be refounded on Roman grounds, just different ones.

    • I moved to Arlington in 1981, where I slept in a hammock on the back porch of a squalid group house until I found a job. I then moved to Seaton Street, N.W. This is just inside Florida Avenue, west of 16th Street. Seaton Street is really an alley with very small rowhouses, and except for the three guys in our house, and the Korean grocer at the end of the street, it was in those days exclusively Black and a little wild. We would say we lived in Adams Morgan, but that wasn’t really true. After a while Seaton Street began to gentrify, so our rent doubled and I moved to a big, old, cockroach-infested apartment building on New Hampshire Avenue near Meridian Hill Park. I left there for graduate school in 1984. I was also alienated while I lived in D.C., but that was largely owing to the fact that I had hardly any money. I had nothing in common with the people who were as poor as I was, and I felt a pauper’s shame when I mixed with people who could read. Looking back, I remember it as Xanadu for a penniless, bookish lad who liked the ride bicycle paths and climb the crags at Carderock and Great Falls. I have yet to find a place that will give me red-state politics, blue-state lifestyle, and a job that keep me out of the dumpsters.

  3. With Eric Swalwell still in office, “thunder bucket” might be a more apt name than “thunder temple.”

    What does Eric Swalwell have in common with Nancy Pelosi?

    Both ripped one in public.

    • What could be more natural than to break wind in the House of Wind. Remember Obama hailed from the Windy City and the motto of all politicians is “you cannot Wind if you play.”

      • Indeed, what could be more natural? And being the Temple of Wind, it makes more and more sense that, over time, the practicers of the civic religion would realize that female priests of that religion may well be more suited than the male variety, and thus increase in numbers. Johnathan Swift wrote of such with unusual prescience for modern times, also tying them back to the practices of Rome:

        It is from this custom of the priests that some authors maintain these Æolists to have been very ancient in the world, because the delivery of their mysteries, which I have just now mentioned, appears exactly the same with that of other ancient oracles, whose inspirations were owing to certain subterraneous effluviums of wind delivered with the same pain to the priest, and much about the same influence on the people. It is true indeed that these were frequently managed and directed by female officers, whose organs were understood to be better disposed for the admission of those oracular gusts, as entering and passing up through a receptacle of greater capacity, and causing also a pruriency by the way, such as with due management has been refined from carnal into a spiritual ecstasy. And to strengthen this profound conjecture, it is further insisted that this custom of female priests is kept up still in certain refined colleges of our modern Æolists, who are agreed to receive their inspiration, derived through the receptacle aforesaid, like their ancestors the Sybils.

        I note in passing that the form of the Temple also seems appropriate. After all, if one thing comes through in the Greek myths on the subject, it’s that Jove himself is rather fond of buxom showgirls, and little concerned with their names.

  4. Yes. Washington the man. The city. The capitol. Romantically inspired in will to kill to found civilization. His ascension to heaven – his apotheosis enshrined in the rotunda. Washington is the god of the United States, some disputed deist version of Christ his God. The Postmodern War is Washington against Marx. The stakes? The erasure of the memory of each. The stealth weapon of the Decadent Left: Orwellian language and thought control modified for the present. The primary weakness of the Right: Playing by the Rules.

    Legends are the first recollected memories from which we recoil in absurdity. They are but “myth”. Also “ritual”. Myth is but ought not be pejorative. Jane Ellen Harrison–Themis: “A mythos to the Greek was primarily just a thing spoken, uttered by the mouth, its antithesis or rather correlative is the thing done, enacted, the ergon or work … The primary meaning of myth in religion is just the same as in early literature; it is the spoken correlative of the acted rite, the thing done.” P328

    Fratricidal twins Romulus Remus. Mother Vestal Virgin Rhea Silvia. Father god Mars. Violators of Vestal employment condition. Offspring set adrift. Saved by river god Tiberinus. Suckled by she wolf in cave Lupercal.

    At seven hills, Romulus wants to build on Palatine Hill, Remus on Aventine. Dispute resolution – seek the gods’ approval through auspicious bird augury contest (in”auger”ation).

    Remus saw 6 birds. Romulus saw 12 and claimed victory. Election fraud? (you can’t say that). Remus was killed. Romulus founds the city.

    Population growth next step? Rape abduction of the Sabine Women.

    With myth is the ritual.

    The oath of office: “In ancient Roman religion and law, the sacramentum was an oath or vow that rendered the swearer sacer, “given to the gods,” in the negative sense if he violated it.[1] Sacramentum also referred to a thing that was pledged as a sacred bond, and consequently forfeit if the oath were violated.[2] Both instances imply an underlying sacratio, act of consecration.”

    Here is a ritual:


    “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

    Who is the enemy? And what price will be paid for violators of this oath?

    Mark 3:25 “And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”


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