Better ‘spiritual’ patrons of the internet

In 1997 the Pope declared St Isidore the patron saint of the Internet. It had been 6 years since the foundation of the World Wide Web and 1361 years since the death of St Isidore, archbishop of Seville. The choice for St Isidore was motivated by the saint’s encyclopedic work. Written around 600 AD, his ‘Etymologies’ were an ambitious project aimed at collecting and preserving all available knowledge in something like an encyclopedia. And Isidore single-handedly completed it.

The Pope’s choice was sensible, but the patronage, I think, superficial. If the Internet is about storing information, then Isidore is the wisest choice for a pre-modern ‘spiritual’ patron. If, however, the internet is regarded more broadly, then the 7th-century saint may not be the most suitable candidate.

The Internet is the space where technology and information intersect. It is more than Wikipedia, more than our digital libraries. It has more in common with an organism than with the Library of Congress.

I think better patrons would be the Greco-Roman gods Hephaestus and Hermes (Vulcan and Mercury for the Romans).

Hephaestus was the god of fire, material skill and creative assembly. Hermes was the messenger of the Olympic gods. At their broadest, Hephaestus may be regarded as the god of technology, Hermes that of communication. Occasionally they used to work together, as when, according to the Iliad, Hephaestus forged Agamemnon’s scepter, which Hermes delivered to the Greek king.

Between the two of them, Hephaestus and Hermes watch over the digital space, where the constant flow of information drives a host of technologies, bringing them to us mortals below.

We live in the age of these two ancient gods, between the creativity of Hephaestus’ forge and the speed of Hermes’ winged feet.

Hephaistus was half-blind and crippled. His skill and creativity were always risky. Hermes was broadband-fast, but always under orders from a ruler on a mountain, telling him where to go and what to do. Not unlike our digital space.

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