Friday, March 23, 2007

Virtuous Men . . .

I read the following piece this morning . . . I have historical stuff emailed to me every morning, it's better than looking at the news . . . I already know what happened yesterday . . . but 2000 years ago? I gotta be reminded . . . I posted this because it hits the nail on the head from where I stand (I love mixing metaphors ). I consider myself closer to Roman . . . um . . . culture . . . for lack of a better word . . . than Greek, and that is why I have some fundamental problems with some Greek ideology . . . anyway, enough of me jibber-jabbering, read someone with an officially awarded and stamped piece of paper that heralds her, N.S. Gill, an expert on this stuff . . .

Virtuous Men of Greece and Rome

H.I. Marrou on the etymology of the Roman virtues

"Instead of wealthy people, almost all the people we know, from Homer to Hercules to Pericles to Euripides and Phidias, were excellent at something, or had received first prize at some kind of contest, including artistic ... theatrical ... or oratorical ... contests, or shone through their politically just ... or militarily ingenious ... examples. "Greek Cultural History"
H.I. Marrou, in his A History of Education in Antiquity, digresses into the origins of several Latin words:


Original Meaning

Standard Meaning

laetus well-manured ground joy
felix fertility of the soil happiness
frugi the profits virtue
egregius beast separated from his herd fame
putare prune think

Farming was central to early Roman life and its virtues, hard work, sacrifice, devotion, piety, and frugality, were the virtues of the early Romans. They honored custom which the family was perfectly suited to convey. Besides devotion to the fields and gods, Romans obeyed the father, the pater familias, with mater coming in a close second. Each family was different, each inculcated different values, but all families were also loyal to the state. Although there's an emotional similarity between John F. Kennedy's "ask not what your country can do for you," and Horace's "dulce et decorum est pro patria [literally father-land] mori," in practice we Americans, who show little respect for the institution of family, don't ask "what we can do for our country."

In many ways we have much more in common with the individualist, aristocratic ideal of the Greeks, for whom Achilles' petulant refusal to lead his troops into battle almost cost the Greeks the Trojan War. For the Greeks, individual honor and glory was more important. They prized virtue, arete, beauty and goodness, kalos kai agathos. Aristocracy meant rule by those with greatest merit. [ "Greek Cultural History: On Aristocracy" and "Virtue and the Proper Political Individual in Antiquity" 11/03/98]

. . . OK, now for something a little different but the same . . . here's a Roman quote on virtue that I think highlights the viciousness fundamental in all the Aristotlian virtues . . . hey, just as I'm an American with some Roman values, this Roman has some Greek values . . . and he elucidates a thoroughly Greek value here, and he backs me up when I say Aristotle's virtuous mean is still fundamentally vicious:

Licet ipse vitium sit ambitio, frequenter tamen causa virtutum est.
Ambition may be a fault in itself, but it is often the source of virtue.
Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, I, 2, 22


OnlyEd said...

Uh . . . you did notice that the original Roman meaning for "virtue" was "profits." Ah, capitalism! There is no greater evil than selling one's soul for profits.

Oh, you did see what the original meaning of happiness was . . . not something Aristotle would give two sentences worth of mention . . . that's fer sure.

Sorry, but I just gotta be recalcitrant. Aristotle has to convince me I'm wrong, and he's right. I won't accept his word for anything just because he's supposed to be . . . what? . . . better than me? Ha! I know more than he ever knew, and so do we all!

OnlyEd said...

No brag, just fact.

-Walter Brennan-

OnlyEd said...

OK, let's take a look at something my way (and you'll see how crazy i am):

Here's an epigram written by the poet Nossis of Locri (now the province of Reggio Calabria, Calabria, southern Italy).

Nossis 1
Nothing is sweeter than love, all other riches
second: even honey I've spat from my mouth.
This Nossis says: Whomever Kypris hasn't kissed
knows nothing of her flowers, what sort of roses.

Quintilian, who I quoted on virtue and ambition, lived 35-100 AD in Calagurius, Hispania which is now the autonomous region of Calahorra, La Rioja (don't know that country? It's inside Spain on the Ebro River).

Sappho, the poet-philosopher (my designation), lived on the Isle of Lesbos in the eastern Aegean Sea close to the Turkish shore. Sappho was born between 630 BCE and 612 BCE. Nossis of Locri followed Sappho's philosophy, Aristotle of Stagirus (yes, our Aristotle) lived from 384 BCE to 322 BCE, and he lived on Lesbos during the years 345-343 BCE -- Plato died in 347 BCE. Socrates lived from 470-399 BCE.

Why go on about all this? These people are from all over the Mediterranean region, from one end to the other, and the middle as well. We tend to think of ancient people being isolated and oblivious to what was going on just a couple hundred miles away. Well, they weren't. Quintilian, who lived last among these people, knew about Aristotle, Sappho and Nossis. Nossis knew about Aristotle and Sappho. Aristotle (& Socrates & Plato) knew about Sappho -- and Aristotle didn't listen.

A poem from Sappho:

It seems to me that man is equal to the gods,
that is, whoever sits opposite you
and, drawing nearer, savours, as you speak,
the sweetness of your voice

and the thrill of your laugh, which have so stirred the heart
in my own breast, that whenever I catch
sight of you, even if for a moment,
then my voice deserts me

and my tongue is struck silent, a delicate fire
suddenly races underneath my skin,
my eyes see nothing, my ears whistle like
the whirling of a top

and sweat pours down me and a trembling creeps over
my whole body, I am greener than grass,
at such times, I seem to be no more than
a step away from death;

but all can be endured since even a pauper....

What is the importance to all of this? Figure it out and you'll know how I think. It's actually a simple revelation.

OnlyEd said...

Patience, n. a minor form of despair, diguised as a virtue.

- Ambrose Bierce -

Why? Just because . . . I'm babbling to myself here . . . I need someone to intervene and show me my mis-steps.

OnlyEd said...

Sappho leapt from a cliff following her philosophy.

Socrates drank hemlock following his philosophy.

How did Aristotle die? Of natural causes, after fleeing from Eurymedon the Hierophant, who charged him with not holding the gods in honour.

How did Aristotle follow his philosophy? What did he do in life that reflects his philosophy? Is he a better example than Sappho or Socrates, or the person next to you? Did he believe in his philosophy enough to live and die for it? Do we?

Sorry, you'll have to answer those last questions for me.

OnlyEd said...

If I reach 9 comments before anyone replies i will be on the brink of madness . . . only kidding.

Sappho . . .

"What is beautiful is good, and who is good will soon also be beautiful."

the following is a nice, easy translation of a poem frag,ent . . . there must have been liberal substitution of words to get the rhyme . . . I'd rather have a transliteration with footnotes,. but . . . whaddyagonnado? Learn ancient Greek?

"The moon has set
In a bank of jet
That fringes the Western sky,
The pleiads seven
Have sunk from heaven
And the midnight hurries by;
My hopes are flown
And, alas! alone
On my weary couch I lie."

Oh yeah, her suicide might simply be legend . . . wholly concocted from poetic license . . . or not. Nobody knows . . . yet.

OnlyEd said...

OK, one more time and then . . . it's time to move on 'cause we got a lot more of Aristotle to read . . .

My reservation is this: Aristotle's virtue as the mean between vicious extremes on an entirely vicious spectrum is a fear-based philosophy in the same fashion as the Papist Philosophy of Sin. One is always measuring how much of which vice is appropriate to the situation. One is always grounded in vice. One is always considering how much evil will still qualify as 'good.' A true philosophy of virtue needs to be one that is based in good, nurtures a desire for good, and any evil is not-good. One needs to be measuring how much good is appropriate to the situation. The spectrum has to be variations on good, not evil. Vice steps off the spectrum, removes you from the path of virtue. You ain't there anymore.

Instead of a multitude of vice spectrums, way too many for anyone to keep track of in any situation, and way too easy to focus on one to the detriment of the others, I posit that if a person keeps in mind three simple things the path to Good is obvious in all situations. Those three wholly intertwined things are: Gentleness, Humour and Empathy.

OnlyEd said...

Man preys on man; and you mourn for the idle tapestry that decorated a gothic pillar, and the dronish bell that summoned the fat priest to prayer. You mourn for the empty pageant of a name, when slavery flaps her wing, ... Why is our fancy to be appalled by terrific perspectives of a hell beyond the grave? -- Hell stalks abroad; -- the lash resounds on the slave's naked sides; and the sick wretch, who can no longer earn the sour bread of unremitting labour, steals to a ditch to bid the world a long good night.
-- Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790)

Ah . . . she says it so much better than I can. Her poetic emotion is intensely and wonderfully invigorating to me. She knows what is real, and what is man-made tick-tock stuff. Reality is the filth on the street, not the vaporous ideals of windy men. Reality is what we do to each other, not what we pretend to be doing. Reality is all the world around us we've been trained to ignore, not the customs and courtesies nor the laws and traditions or even the revelations and commandments of society. Reality is a naked, battered and slashed woman tied to a tree while four laughing men rape her with rough branches and slash her breasts off for fun. They leave her there to die. She lives long enough to feel the gnats and flies collecting to begin the feast.

That is fucking reality going on right now somewhere in the world . . . The Congo, El Salvador . . . . numerous places and times . . . sometimes I think about that and want to hit someone . . . me . . . where's the outrage? "Wake up! Do Something!" But what can I do here in Connecticut? Make sure it doesn't happen here? Hah! This pitiful town has the highest incidence of rape, child rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, etc in the state, and one of the highest in the damn nation.

But nobody sees it. nobody does anything. Some day the bloody tree will be right here. Then what will I do?

Men. We're all fuckin' crazy.

Women. Why do they still care for us?

Virtue? Seems to me virtue is woman. You know what that makes men in the Greek Philosophical Universe. Vice.

Any argument there?

Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away. -- Philip K. Dick

OnlyEd said...

Bottle of claret for you if I'd realised
I'd forgotten all about it George, I'm sorry,
Will you forgive me?
Mmm yes
Number nine, number nine, number nine, number nine
Number nine, number nine, number nine, number nine
Number nine, number nine, number nine, number nine
Number nine, number nine, number...

. . . on the brink . . .

. . . nobody cares . . .

. . . (sigh) . . .

OK. Now for something completely different . . .