One Award, Two Quotes

Time has named the #metoo Silence Breakers as their Person of the Year for 2017; this is not the first time that they have named a group. (Vox has a piece on it here.) I don’t mean to say anything negative at all about the movement, which is really only incidental to the pattern that I want to call attention to with two quotes. Continue reading

Excerpt #16 — Simone Weil on What is Sacred in Each Person

“The good is the only source of the sacred.
There is nothing sacred except the good
and what is relative to the good.”

Simone Weil (pronounced “Vey”, because of her roots in France, despite what I understand to be the German origin of her family name) was one of the most brilliant, fascinating, and edifying figures of the 20th century. Every time I return to her I cannot escape the conviction that she is, in so many ways, like the North Star. It is not without reason that Albert Camus said that she was “the only great spirit of our times”, and I’m told that he visited Weil’s mother and meditated in Simone’s room on his way to receive his Nobel Prize. Her fame does not stop there. Even presidents cite her. Naturally, she has her own society.

The way I learned about Weil was through two books, Gravity and Grace as well as Waiting on God, both of which I’d read for several classes during my first two graduate degrees. (Susan Sontag, mentioned below, once judged that Waiting on God is the best introduction to Weil.) They are intense, extremely beautiful, but in the way that they showcase a love that follows through on principle to the point of sacrificing itself for others in solidarity, rather than culminating in grand thoughts or flowery language or merely in learned tomes. I could say something about the political and mystical elements in Weil here, but I won’t, because they should be learned from an encounter with her through her writings directly. Continue reading

Teaching the Feeling of the Classics

I first brought up historical distance here; I encourage all to read this distinct, but related, excerpt on Sententiae Antiquae about the role of the translator to bridge historical distance, to conquer time.

SENTENTIAE ANTIQUAE

Gilbert Murray, The Interpretation of Ancient Greek Literature

“I remember about twenty years ago reading an obituary notice of Bohn, the editor of the library of translations, written by Mr. Labouchere. The writer attributed to Bohn the signal service to mankind of having finally shown up the Classics. As long as the Classics remained a sealed book to him, the ordinary man could be imposed upon. He could be induced to believe in their extraordinary merits. But when, thanks to Mr. Bohn, they all lay before him in plain English prose, he could estimate them at their proper worth and be rid for ever of a great incubus. Take Bohn’s translation of the Agamemnon, as we may presume it appeared to Mr. Labouchere, and take the Agamemnon itself as it is to one of us: there is a broad gulf, and the bridging of that gulf is the chief part…

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Excerpt #13 — Larry Siedentop on Reason, Authority, and Will from Homeric Greece through the High Middle Ages

I am packing my library for a move, but dawdling in some of the books I should be carefully Tetris-ing into boxes. As I do, I am running across passages that are worth putting up here. Larry Siedentop’s Inventing the Individual is one of several works with such passages.

We have examined the Homeric idea of the good and goodness here before on Into the Clarities, and it is worth noting that the Platonic idea of the philosopher is set against the background of the ideal of the Homeric hero. We have also looked at the kind of cosmos in which the stars were thought to hold sway, such as in the opinion voiced by Seneca the Younger, below. Here below, the difference introduced by reason (λογος) in the ancient Homeric world stands out as remarkable; the post-Platonic and Late Antique model of reason is also contrasted with developments in the later Middle Ages. After Aquinas, the will played a more and more prominent role in anthropological models and in the way that individual virtue was understood. (On this note, see Bonnie Kent’s Virtues of the Will, which I also began dipping into.)  Continue reading

Excerpt #12 — Charles T. Mathewes on Departed Christendom and Present Modernity

Charles T. Mathewes (CV here), professor at the University of Virginia, has a course on Augustine of Hippo’s (A.D. 354-430) magisterial City of God. So far it is excellent, and Mathewes is also an excellent lecturer (there is an excellent preview of one of the lecture units of his course on Youtube here). I’ll be offering up at least one more excerpt from this Audible course regarding Gibbon vs. Nietzsche on the classical heritage. For now, however, here is a profitable extract from him on Christendom, and our inheritance from it. (I say profitable because one can use this profitably, even if one were to disagree.) Continue reading