Tag Archives: Ancient greece

I read books. I know stuff.

How wonderfully passionate are the many ways that Socrates and Plato try to convince us that the only safe way that leads us to happiness, is education. Plato dreamed of public libraries, public lectures, education being a basic element of a free city-state.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau says: “If you wish to know what is meant by public education, read Plato’s Republic. Those who merely judge books by their titles take this for a treatise on politics, but it is the finest treatise on education ever written.” [Emile, or On Education (1762)]

No wonder why the great Cicero was seen most times with a book in hand.

CICERO (1)

 

*Literal translation is, of course: “If you have a garden in your library, nothing will be lacking.” [Epistulae ad familiares 9.4]

 

Oscar Wilde – Euripides

A Vision

TWO crownèd Kings, and One that stood alone

  With no green weight of laurels round his head,

  But with sad eyes as one uncomforted,

And wearied with man’s never-ceasing moan

For sins no bleating victim can atone,

  And sweet long lips with tears and kisses fed.

  Girt was he in a garment black and red,

And at his feet I marked a broken stone

  Which sent up lilies, dove-like, to his knees.

  Now at their sight, my heart being lit with flame

I cried to Beatricé, “Who are these?”

And she made answer, knowing well each name,

  “Æschylos first, the second Sophokles,

  And last (wide stream of tears!) Euripides.”

Oscar Wilde .  Poems.  1881.

euripides

Euripides. The last of ‘The Marvelous three’ Athenian theatre play writers. The most rebellious one. His criticism on religion -and the Olympian Gods in particular- and his attacks on traditional, social and moral values were infamous, earning the dislike of many of his fellow citizens. Even one of the most open minded audiences of the ancient world, the Athenians, had trouble understanding him.

Later he became immensely popular.  Theatre goers and play writers alike since then, bow before his talent and unprecedented boldness.

As Oscar Wilde explains:

“For though Euripides has not the Titan strength of Aeschylus, that Michael-Angelo of the Athenian stage, nor the self-restraint and artistic reserve of Sophocles, yet he has the qualities that are absolutely and entirely his own. His broad acceptance of the actual facts of life, his extraordinary insight into the workings of the human mind, his keen dramatic instinct for scene and situation, and his freedom from theological prejudice, make him the most interesting of studies. He was a poet, a philosopher and a playwright……..

…….He saw indeed that men and women as they are, are more interesting than men and women as they ought to be. He never tried to make humanity real by exaggerating its proportions. He cared little for giants or for gods. the sorrows of mortals touched him more than all the gladness of Olympus”

Plato was walking along the road…

…when a friend stopped him and said “My friend, I must tell you something bad I heard about one of your students.”

Plato said, “First answer me the three tests of knowledge. One, have you personally checked if this thing is true?” “No” the friend answered. “Then two,” said Plato, “Will this knowledge make me happier?” “No”. came the reply. “Then there is one final test to determine if I need this knowledge my friend.” said the master. ” Is it to my students’ advantage that I know it?” “Alas no.” came the reply.

“Then pass on your way my friend and do not tell me this thing.” said Plato and walked off smiling. This is why he was the greatest Philosopher of all, and also why he never found out that Aristotle was shagging his wife.

Fatherhood

A few months ago the US President was photographed crawling on the floor of the Oval Office, playing with a baby. This was seen as inappropriate by many as the Head of State isn’t supposed to be seen on his knees, especially inside the White house.

Obama and baby
[Pete Souza / White House]
Let me remind you of a short story from Ancient Greece. It involves a great king of the 4th c.BC

Agesilaus, the feared and respected leader of mighty Sparta, was famous for being very loving and affectionate with his kids. When his children were very young he used to play with them, doing ‘stupid’ things, rolling on the floor and generally behaving in a non-serious, non-‘kingly’ fashion; even in public.

fath
A father helping his kid on a swing

One day, while playing with his children out on his front yard, he was pretending to be a horse that his kids would ride. One of his friends saw him. He was shocked to see a Spartan king on his knees!

Agesilaus told his friend: “Please don’t judge me before you become a father too.”

 

Spartan officer
Spartan king [art-girona]

Epictetus

 

Epictetus (50-120AD)
Epictetus (50-120AD)

“Difficulties are things that show people who they really are!”
A slave born in Hierapolis that was to become a saint-like figure for the Greeks and the Romans. Poor, homeless he struggled with super-human energy and dedication to ease the pain of the sufferings of humanity through his teachings. One of his gratest fans was Marcus Aurelius himself!

Centuries later, the US Navy Admiral James Stockdale was able to retain his sanity during capture in a Viet Cong POW camp by relying on the philosophy of Epictetus…

Spartan army in retreat because of women? [The Telesilla incident]

Detail of a Painting of Hestia  by Howard David Johnson
Hestia (detail) Howard David Johnson

Back in the summer of 495 B.C a victorious Spartan army marches against the defenseless city of Argos. A few hours earlier that army annihilated the army of Argos. Now, the Spartan king Kleomenes leads his hoplites against the city which is empty of troops. They think it’s all over. It was. The army of Argos was wiped out. The Spartans; they just have to walk into the city.

Spartan phalanx
Spartan phalanx

The women of Argos think differently. Led by the poetess Telesilla they gather all arms they could find in the city and take up battle positions on the walls!

Telesilla manages to raise the moral of the women of Argos and now the wives and daughters of the soldiers of Argos decide that the war is not over yet…

Telesilla was one of the most famous poetesses of the Peloponnesus. As a young girl she always looked thin and weak. Definitely not the hero type. This didn’t stop her from grabbing shield & sword, putting a helmet on and facing the war machine of the ancient times: the mighty Spartans!

When Kleomenes reached the walls of Argos he noticed that all battle stations were manned. By women…

The king -after hesitating for a bit- decided to walk away.

  • If the Spartans were victorious this wouldn’t exactly be a celebration of their military honor.
  • If they failed to take the city then the shame would be too much to bare.The only solution was to retreat.
View of Argos from the top of the theatre
View of Argos from the top of the theatre

And thus Argos was miraculously saved!

Gathering Almond Blossoms John William Waterhouse (1849-1917)
Gathering Almond Blossoms
John William Waterhouse (1849-1917)

Diogenes: Politically incorrect

John William Waterhouse: Diogenes [1905]
John William Waterhouse: Diogenes [1905]
An anecdote that involves the cynic philosopher Diogenes of Sinope (404-323 B.C.):

” When some strangers (visiting Athens) expressed a wish to see Demosthenes, he (Diogenes the cynic) stretched out his middle finger and said, “There goes the demagogue of Athens.”

Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers. Book VI. Chapter 2. [34] 

So, there you go… The first recorded use of the middle finger!