Sunday, December 02, 2012

Insights into Jews and Greeks

A new book by Amos Oz and Fania Oz-Salzberger, Jews and Words, treats the deep relation of Jews to books and the act of reading:


A nice interview of Oz and Oz-Salzberger here.

 Out of print, but occasionally available through resellers, Anne Rockwell's Temple on a Hill gives us a bit of the world of Athens, with great characters and glimpses of the Greek mind:


Monday, November 26, 2012

Venetian artist at the Ringling

The Ringling Museum is set to open an exhibit of Paolo Veronese's work.
Paolo Veronese (1528–1588) was one of the giants of Venetian Renaissance painting. Though perhaps best known for his grand ceiling paintings and large Biblical feast scenes, Veronese and his workshop created altarpieces and smaller religious paintings for private devotion or collectors, as well as portraits, depictions of sensual narratives drawn from the classical tradition, and allegories glorifying the Venetian state. Veronese was also an outstanding draughtsman.

The exhibition Paolo Veronese: A Master and His Workshop in Renaissance Venice presents some of the artist’s finest paintings and drawings now in North American museums and private collections, as well as a selection of prints after important works.
The exhibit will run from Dec. 7, 2012 to April 14, 2013. Some distinguished scholars and lecturers will be coming - schedule here.

Veronese, The Art of Painting

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Liberal education is a conversation . . .

Mark Kingwell, a teacher in Toronto, on returning to a humanistic basis for education:

We philosophers don’t value Plato because he has been around so long; he has been around so long because he’s valuable. . . .

Sitting together in groups, with a shared text before us, still works as well as it did two millennia ago. And many innovations, such as flashy PowerPoint slides or “clickers” that rate instant comprehension, are just gadgets. Gadgets can be fun, but they are no substitute for reading, writing and discussion. . . 
Liberal education is a conversation, not a data transfer that might be accomplished as well online. That conversation starts in a room, with other people. It can even be a large room, if the professor is engaging and enthusiastic.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Montaigne's beams and the cultivation of freedom

A friend posted these links:.

The first is a catalog of the inscriptions that Montaigne placed on the beams of his famous library.

The second is an editorial on why narrow models of education are a betrayal of pedagogy.

Monday, October 08, 2012

An unusual wall painting in Pompeii.

As we've often alluded to the complex relationship of the worldview of the Greeks to that of the Hebrews -- here's a painting found at Pompei that suggests at least an awareness of the Old Testament wisdom books among 1st Century AD Romans:

According to Theodore Feder, the painting depicts the scene of Solomon in judgment, and the two women each claiming to be the mother of an infant, and how he decided that case. Feder says it's quite likely that the two figures on the far left, observing the scene, were meant to represent Socrates and Aristotle, thus bringing Hellenic philosophy into the chambers of Israel's wisest king.

Interestingly, Socrates's posture here is not unlike that of a satyr, which is interesting in light of a tradition stemming from Plato's Symposium. In that dialogue, Alcibiades compares Socrates to Silenus, an ugly old satyr to all appearances, but one who contains invaluable riches within. Feder's article is here. More on Silenus on the Ovid blog here.

(Thanks to Arline for the pointer to Feder's article.)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

US Gnoticism?

For an informed discussion of the relation of Romanticism to religion -- a kind of anticipation of the "death of God" proclaimed by Nietzsche -- have a look at this piece by Simon Critchley in the NY Times. Interestingly, citing Harold Bloom, it focuses on Mormonism, but locates that sect, tellingly, within the gnostic tradition:

Why I Love Mormonism

The Joseph Smith sermon alluded to is the King Follett sermon.

Newton on the cusp

Often wrongly portrayed as a cold rationalist, Isaac Newton is one of history’s most compelling figures. It is true that he was capable of the most precise and logical thought it is possible for a human to achieve: his three years of obsessive work that gave birth to the Principia, containing his theory of gravity, stand as the greatest achievement in science. 
Just as certainly, though, he was also consumed with what we would now view as completely unscientific pursuits: alchemy and biblical prophesy.

Was Isaac Newton a Scientist? A Sorcerer? Or Both? 

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

The Bible as philosophy

Yoram Hazony

What precisely is the content of the natural law ethics that emerges from the History of Israel? How is this ethics related to the content of the Mosaic law imbedded in this History? And how does it relate to the instructions God is depicted as giving individuals on particular occasions regarding specific actions they are to undertake? All three of these questions will have to be given satisfactory answers if we are to attain a clear view of the ethics of the History. And such a view will be needed, I suspect, if we wish to gain a full picture of the ethics of the prophetic orations and other biblical works as well.

"The bottom line is that the Bible introduces hope into human political affairs. What it does is it takes the individual, empowers the individual and says, 'Somewhere above you, there is a transcendent God who is not controlled by the king or by the priests or by the military, a power in the world that is able to hear you, and that is going to allow you to develop your understanding of what's right, and of the way the world should develop.' All of human history has proceeded from that first spark of hope that appears in the Hebrew scriptures."

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Classics in comic dress

The Graphic Canon (Seven Stories Press) is a gorgeous, one-of-a-kind trilogy that brings classic literatures of the world together with legendary graphic artists and illustrators. There are more than 130 illustrators represented and 190 literary works over three volumes—many newly commissioned, some hard to find—reinterpreted here for readers and collectors of all ages.

Volume 1 takes us on a visual tour from the earliest literature through the end of the 1700s. Along the way, we're treated to eye-popping renditions of the human race's greatest epics: GilgameshThe IliadThe Odyssey (in watercolors by Gareth Hinds), The AeneidBeowulf, and The Arabian Nights, plus later epics The Divine Comedy and The Canterbury Tales (both by legendary illustrator and graphic designer Seymour Chwast), Paradise Lost, and Le Morte D'Arthur. Two of ancient Greece's greatest plays are adapted—the tragedy Medea by Euripides and Tania Schrag’s uninhibited rendering of the very bawdy comedy Lysistrata by Aristophanes (the text of which is still censored in many textbooks). Also included is Robert Crumb’s rarely seen adaptation of James Boswell’s London Journal, filled with philosophical debate and lowbrow debauchery.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Inferno 4

Translated into English terza rima by Peter D’Epiro
[Note: A revised version of this translation was posted on 3.23.15]

A deafening peal of thunder broke the deep
Slumber inside my head and made me start
Like someone forcibly aroused from sleep.
Standing, I let my rested vision dart
Around that place, then fixed my gaze to know
What clue to where I was it could impart.
I stood at the edge of a cliff—down below
There gaped the abysmal vale of suffering, where
The blare of countless shrieks gives voice to woe.
It was dark, and deep, and full of misty air,
And though I peered to plumb its vast extent,
I failed to see a single thing down there.
“To that blind world now let us make descent,”
The poet, deathly pale, began to say;
“See that you follow me.” And I, intent
On learning what his pallor might convey,
Said, “How shall I come if you yourself appear
Frightened, who comfort me in my dismay?”

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Eros in Plato

Delancey Place offers "eclectic excerpts" from a large variety of books and blogs. You can subscribe and get them every day. Here's the excerpt from the Symposium for Valentine's Day:

In today's excerpt - symposia, the private banquets of the elite in ancient Athens. One such famous gathering was hosted by Agathon and attended by Socrates. The subject of the evening's discussion was the nature of Eros, the great god of desire. It is worth noting how esteemed homosexuality was at this time:

"Agathon, in a grand rhe­torical flourish befitting a poet, concludes [the early portion of the discussion by saying] that though all the gods are happy, Eros is 'the most happy, since he is the most beautiful and the best.'
"To this much, all the participants save the still-silent Socrates agree. But beyond Eros's power and proximity to happiness, there is little else on which the guests can establish common ground. One speaker, Pausanias, refuses to see Eros as a single entity, claiming that he must be divided in two as Common Eros and Heavenly Eros - the one, a seedy creature drawn by sexual appetite and so depraved that he will even sleep with women; the other, a more transcendent being attracted by mind as well as beauty, who finds his consummate expression in the higher love between boys and older men. Eryximachus, on the other hand, views Eros as a pantheistic force found not only in the hearts of gods and humans but 'also in nature - in the physical life of all animals, in plants that grow in the ground, and in virtually all living organisms.' 

"Finally, Aristophanes maintains in a celebrated fable that human beings were originally joined two at a time to form complete wholes. Overly powerful, these four-legged creatures provoked the suspicion of the gods, who had them sundered to reduce their strength; now each half walks the earth in search of its other. The fable explains our sexual orientation, for men originally joined to men will seek their complement in the same sex, while those origi­nally joined to women will seek their other half accordingly. It also explains our sense of longing and loss, as we wander the earth in search of the one who will make us whole. '[W]here happiness for the human races lies,' Aristophanes concludes, is 'in the successful pursuit of love.' Eros is the great benefactor who will '[return] us to our original condi­tion, healing us, and making us blessed and perfectly happy.'

"A pantheistic force animating the world; a schizophrenic deity both plebeian and patrician; a guide who leads us only to ourselves: Eros, clearly, is no simple god. He is, Socrates contends, no god at all. Draw­ing together the strands of these various reflections, Socrates main­tains that Eros is, rather, a 'great spirit' who is 'midway between what is divine and what is human,' his ambiguous nature owing to the strange circumstances of his conception. Sired at the birthday party of Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love, Eros is the child of Pov­erty, who came to the festivities uninvited as a beggar, and the god Plenty, a welcome guest who passed out there drunk. How Plenty is able to perform in such a state, we are not told (presumably, a feat of the gods), but perform he does, producing a son who is neither 'mor­tal nor immortal.' Now fully grown, Eros takes after his mother. Con­stantly in need, he is 'hard, unkempt, barefoot, homeless.' But, like his father, he is 'brave, enterprising, and determined.' Having inher­ited 'an eye for beauty and the good,' Eros continually searches for these two qualities through love, as befits one conceived in the pres­ence of Aphrodite. 

"Straddling the human and the divine, Eros is an emissary, con­ducting 'all association and communication, waking or sleeping,' between the gods and men. His twofold nature explains his defin­ing characteristic - desire itself. For what is desire but the human acknowledgment that one is in need, that one is lacking? As Socrates explains, 'the man who desires something desires what is not avail­able to him, and what he doesn't already have in his possession.' "

Author: Darrin M. McMahon  
Title: Happiness: A History 
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly PressDate: Copyright 2006 by Darrin M. McMahon
Pages: 32-34

Happiness: A History
by Darrin M. McMahon by Atlantic Monthly Press
If you wish to read further: Buy Now


Sunday, January 15, 2012

"a cultural language that we have learned to speak"

Mary Beard in the New York Review of Books:

Do the Classics Have a Future?
the classics are embedded in the way we think about ourselves, and our own history, in a more complex way than we usually allow. They are not just from or about the distant past. They are also a cultural language that we have learned to speak, in dialogue with the idea of antiquity. And to state the obvious, in a way, if they are about anybody, the classics are, of course, about us as much as about the Greeks and Romans.. . . 
The study of the classics is the study of what happens in the gap between antiquity and ourselves. It is not only the dialogue that we have with the culture of the classical world; it is also the dialogue that we have with those who have gone before us who were themselves in dialogue with the classical world. . .
The second point is the inextricable embeddedness of the classical tradition within Western culture. I don’t mean that the classics are synonymous with Western culture; there are of course many other multicultural strands and traditions that demand our attention, define who we are, and without which the contemporary world would be immeasurably poorer. But the fact is that Dante read Virgil’s Aeneid, not the epic of Gilgamesh.. . . if we were to amputate the classics from the modern world, it would mean more than closing down some university departments and consigning Latin grammar to the scrap heap. It would mean bleeding wounds in the body of Western culture—and a dark future of misunderstanding. I doubt we’ll go that way.