Socrates and the Flute

Quote of the Week:

Cioran_in_Romania
Emil Cioran (1911-1995)

While they were preparing the hemlock, Socrates was learning how to play a new tune of the flute.
“What will be the use of that?” he was asked.
“To know this tune before dying.”

If I dare to repeat this reply long since trivialised by the handbooks, it is because it seems to me the sole serious justification of any desire to know, whether exercised on the brink of death or at any other moment of existence.

Emil Cioran: Drawn and Quartered

 

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The Journey of a Thousand Miles (El viaje de mil li)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana:

Lao Tzu (6th century BC)

The giant pine tree
grows from a tiny sprout.
The journey of a thousand miles
starts from beneath your feet.

Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching 64
(Transl. by Stephen Mitchell)


El árbol que casi no puede rodearse con los brazos,
brotó de un germen minúsculo.
La torre de nueve pisos,
comenzó por un montón de tierra.
El viaje de mil li empezó con un paso.

Lao-Tse: Tao te king LXIV

Quote of the Week: The God of Triangles

It seems to me, Usbek, that we never judge anything without secretly considering it in relation to our own self. I am not surprised that black men depict the devil as brilliantly white, and their own gods as coal-black, that the Venus of certain peoples has breasts that hang down to her thighs, and in short, that all idolaters have depicted their gods with human faces, and have endowed them with their own propensities. It has been quite correctly observed that if triangles were to make themselves a god, they would give him three sides.

(Montesquieu: Persian Letters)

The Amazing Cynicism of the Tao Teh King

In Search of Tranquility

I occasionally see world weary westerners traipsing down Regent Street in loose robes and sandals chanting ‘Hare Krishna’, apparently believing that this would ease their existential angst, or, better still, solve all their problems – I blame the Beatles. Personally, I’ve never yet felt tempted to sing ‘Hare Krishna’; mainly because it’s somebody else’s cultural background and I’ve got a perfectly serviceable one of my own. Even so – and despite the Beatles – I recognise that the East has much to offer us.

Continue reading “The Amazing Cynicism of the Tao Teh King”

Lao Tzu on Knowing Yourself (Lao-Tse sobre conocerte a ti mismo)

Quote of the Week / La cita de la semana:

Lao Tzu (6th century BC) [public domain via Wikipedia]

Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power.

If you realise that you have enough,
you are truly rich.

Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching, 33
(Transl. by Stephen Mitchell)


El que conoce a los demás es inteligente.
El que se conoce a sí mismo es iluminado.
El que vence a los demás es fuerte.
El que se vence a sí mismo es la fuerza.
El que se contenta es rico.

Lao-Tse: Tao te king, XXXIII

 

The Persian Letters of Montesquieu

Thirty-odd years ago I thought that the French author Montesquieu was enlightened, witty and clever. I based this opinion on reading his Persian Letters, an epistolary novel which details the experiences of two Persian travellers, Usbek and Rica, in France in the early part of the 18th century. Last month I picked up Persian Letters again… and found out what a change thirty-odd years made.

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Time and Chance Happens to Them All

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder, a novel about the 18th century collapse of a bridge in Peru in which five people were killed, is neatly bracketed by the opening and the closing chapters titled, respectively, Perhaps an Accident and Perhaps an Intention. The titles refer to the question that the Franciscan monk who witnessed the disaster was wrestling with: why did those particular five die? Brother Juniper expanded a great amount of effort and energy in trying to find the answer (but if you want to know what he came up with, you’ll have to read the book).

Vanitas (Adriaan Coorte) Photo by zullie via Wikimedia Commons [CC-BY-SA 2.0]
Continue reading “Time and Chance Happens to Them All”

God’s Chosen People?

The other day, reading a history of Spain by Juan Eslava Galán, I came across the following paragraph:

Spain had become the defender of the honour of God. Theologians and thinkers (not so many of these latter) became convinced that Spain and God were united in a pact. God promoted Spain to the rank of the chosen people, protected her and granted her riches and power (the Americas) in exchange for which Spain acted as his armed arm on Earth, champion of the true faith against the error of the Protestants and the Turks.

España se había erigido en defensora del honor de Dios. Teólogos y pensadores (de estos hubo menos) llegaron al convencimiento de que España y Dios estaban unidos por un pacto. Dios la había promocionado al rango de pueblo elegido, la protegía y le otorgaba riquezas y poder (las Américas) a cambio de que ella ejerciese como su brazo armado en la Tierra, paladín de la fe verdadera contra el error de protestantes y turcos.

This notion of the pact with God and the chosen people put me strongly in mind of the Hun-Hungarian legends which I read as a child.

Continue reading “God’s Chosen People?”

The Bridge of San Luis Rey

Philosophical Books (and the Death Sentence)

Okay, so there are books and there are philosophical books and when you hear the adjective philosophical in this context, you slam the book shut and run a mile or more, without so much as looking back – and by god, I don’t blame you. Twice I had to study philosophy at university and twice it bored me to tears.

Continue reading “The Bridge of San Luis Rey”

“Le bien publique” (The Public Good)

Thought for today, courtesy of Tolstoy:

As long as the world has existed and people have been killing each other, no one man has ever committed a crime upon his own kind without calming himself with this same thought. This thought was le bien publique, the supposed good of other people.

This is Tolstoy’s comment in War and Peace after the governor of Moscow, Rastopchin, offered up a political prisoner to the mob as a scapegoat for his own failures.

“In the interest of the public good.” We all heard this before. History brings countless examples, most of them horrific beyond belief.

Because who decides what’s in the interest of public good? And how far are we willing to go in the name of this public good?

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Ulysses Found

Travelling leads to strange encounters. Especially if you’re committed to speak the language of your destination.

In World War II a young Royal Navy sailor by the name of Ernle Bradford sauntered into a Greek bar in Alexandria and came out brainwashed because he had been imprudent enough to say “Kalimera” to the man behind the counter. A few years ago I went to Delphi and was imprudent enough not only to say “Kalimera” but to follow it up with saying that I hoped to read Herodotus in the original someday.

All avalanches begin with a snowflake.

Chance encounters. And Ulysses found…

Continue reading “Ulysses Found”