“A Safe Harbor for the Soul”: On Poetry and Reason

Philo, On Dreams 1.233

“Perhaps this is not sung truly, but it is wholly profitable and advantageous”

καὶ τάχα μὲν οὺκ ἀληθῶς, πάντως δὲ λυσιτελῶς καὶ συμφερόντως ᾄδεται

 

Proclus, Commentary on Plato’s Parmenides 1025.29-37

“Our soul experiences many wanderings and turns—one comes from the imagination, another emerges in the beliefs before these, and other occurs in understanding. But the life governed by the mind is free from vagrancy and this is the mystical harbor of the soul into which the poem leads Odysseus after the great wandering of his life and where we too, if we want to be saved, may find our mooring.”

Πολλαὶ οὖν αἱ πλάναι καὶ αἱ δινεύσεις τῆς ψυχῆς· ἄλλη γὰρ ἡ ἐν ταῖς φαντασίαις, ἄλλη πρὸ τούτων ἡ ἐν δόξαις, ἄλλη ἡ ἐν αὐτῇ τῇ διανοίᾳ· μόνη δὲ ἡ κατὰ νοῦν ζωὴ τὸ ἀπλανὲς ἔχει, καὶ οὗτος ὁ μυστικὸς ὅρμος τῆς ψυχῆς, εἰς ὃν καὶ ἡ ποίησις ἄγει τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα μετὰ τὴν πολλὴν πλάνην τῆς ζωῆς, καὶ ἡμεῖς, ἐὰν ἄρα σώζεσθαι θέλωμεν, μᾶλλον ἑαυτοὺς ἀνάξομεν.

 

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National Archaeological Museum, Athens 1130

A Troubling Take on Reason and Rage

Seneca, De Ira 19

“I say that anger has this evil: it is not willing to be ruled. It is irate against truth itself it truth seems to be against what it desires. It attacks those it has selected with bellowing, chaos, and near complete bodily seizure when it piles on insults and curses.

Reason does not do this. But if there is a need, it quietly and secretly destroys whole households and families which threaten the state along with wives and children. It demolishes the very roofs themselves and wipes out the names of those opposed to liberty.”

Habet, inquam, iracundia hoc mali; non vult regi. Irascitur veritati ipsi, si contra voluntatem suam apparuit; cum clamore et tumultu et totius corporis iactatione quos destinavit insequitur adiectis conviciis maledictisque. Hoc non facit ratio; sed si ita opus est, silens quietaque totas domus funditus tollit et familias rei publicae pestilentes cum coniugibus ac liberis perdit, tecta ipsa diruit et solo exaequat et inimica libertati nomina exstirpat.

Plutarch, Plato and Epictetus: Loving Exiles. Loving Learning. Living Awake.

Plutarch, On Exile 604a

But ‘exile’ is an insult. Indeed, it is such among fools who use as slander “poor man”, “bald”, “short”, and, by god, “foreigner” or “immigrant”. But, truly, those who are not obsessed by these insults find wonder in good people, whether they are poor, foreigners, or exiles.”

Ἀλλ᾿ ἐπονείδιστον ὁ φυγάς ἐστι. παρά γε τοῖς ἄφροσιν, οἳ καὶ “τὸν πτωχὸν” λοιδόρημα
ποιοῦνται καὶ “τὸν φαλακρὸν” καὶ “τὸν μικρὸν” καὶ νὴ Δία “τὸν ξένον” καὶ “τὸν μέτοικον.” ἀλλὰ μὴν οἱ μὴ τούτοις ὑποφερόμενοι θαυμάζουσι τοὺς ἀγαθούς, κἂν πένητες ὦσι, κἂν ξένοι, κἂν φυγάδες.

Plato, Republic 6 499e-500a

“Friend, I said, Don’t completely dismiss the majority of people in this way. The certainly have a different opinion, if instead of picking fights with them you would show them the people you say are philosophers by persuading them and working against their prejudice against loving learning—if you distinguish it so that they will know what their nature and business is so that they don’t mistakenly think you are talking about different people.

And even if they don’t see it this way, will you claim that they are going to take up a different answer and answer differently? Or do you think that someone who is calm and kind will get angry at someone who isn’t difficult or be jealous of someone who isn’t jealous? I will start out by saying that so harsh a nature develops in only a few people, not the majority.”

Ὦ μακάριε, ἦν δ’ ἐγώ, μὴ πάνυ οὕτω τῶν πολλῶν κατηγόρει. ἀλλοίαν τοι δόξαν ἕξουσιν, ἐὰν αὐτοῖς μὴ φιλονικῶν ἀλλὰ παραμυθούμενος καὶ ἀπολυόμενος τὴν τῆς φιλομαθίας διαβολὴν ἐνδεικνύῃ οὓς λέγεις 500τοὺς φιλοσόφους, καὶ διορίζῃ ὥσπερ ἄρτι τήν τε φύσιν αὐτῶν καὶ τὴν ἐπιτήδευσιν, ἵνα μὴ ἡγῶνταί σε λέγειν οὓς αὐτοὶ οἴονται. καὶ ἐὰν οὕτω θεῶνται, ἀλλοίαν τοι6 φήσεις αὐτοὺς δόξαν λήψεσθαι καὶ ἄλλα †ἀποκρίνεσθαι. ἢ οἴει τινὰ χαλεπαίνειν τῷ μὴ χαλεπῷ ἢ | φθονεῖν τῷ μὴ φθονερῷ ἄφθονόν τε καὶ πρᾷον ὄντα; ἐγὼ μὲν γάρ σε προφθάσας λέγω ὅτι ἐν ὀλίγοις τισὶν ἡγοῦμαι, ἀλλ’ οὐκ ἐν τῷ πλήθει, χαλεπὴν οὕτω φύσιν γίγνεσθαι.

Epictetus’ Dissertationes ad Arriano Digestae 1.5

“Epictetus said that if someone resists what is clearly true, then it is not easy to devise an argument to persuade him to change his mind. This is due neither to the man’s strength or the teacher’s weakness, but instead because once someone has been assailed and hardens to stone, how could anyone prevail upon him with reason?

Men are hardened to reason in two ways: one is the petrification of thought; the other comes from shame, whenever someone is deployed in battle to such a degree that he will not acknowledge what is obvious or depart from his fellow combatants. Most of us fear the necrosis of our bodies and we will do anything to avoid having this happen in anyway; but we don’t think at all about the mortification of our mind. By Zeus, if a man is disposed in such a way concerning the mind itself that he can’t follow any argument or understand anything, we believe that he is ill. But if shame or self-regard hardens a man, we still persist in calling this strength!

Do you sense that you are awake? “No”, he answers, “Not more than when I imagine that I am awake while I dream.” The fantasy of dreaming differs in no way from being awake? “Not at all.”

How do I have a conversation with this man? What kind of fire or iron can I take to him to make him perceive that he has turned to stone? Although he realizes it, he pretends he does not. He is even worse than a corpse. One man does not perceive the conflict—he is sick. The other perceives it and neither moves nor responds—he is even worse. His sense of shame and his self-regard have been amputated and his reason has not been excised but instead has been mutilated.

Should I call this strength? May it not be so, unless I should also it strength when perverts do and say everything that occurs to them in public.”

ε′. Πρὸς τοὺς ᾿Ακαδημαικούς.

῎Αν τις, φησίν, ἐνίστηται πρὸς τὰ ἄγαν ἐκφανῆ, πρὸς τοῦτον οὐ ῥᾴδιόν ἐστιν εὑ<ρεῖν λόγ>ον, δι’ οὗ μεταπείσει τις αὐτόν. τοῦτο δ’ οὔτε παρὰ <τὴν ἐκεί>νου γίνεται δύναμιν οὔτε παρὰ τὴν τοῦ διδάσκοντος ἀσθένειαν, ἀλλ’ ὅταν ἀπαχθεὶς ἀπολιθωθῇ, πῶς ἔτι χρήσηταί τις αὐτῷ διὰ λόγου;

᾿Απολιθώσεις δ’ εἰσὶ διτταί· ἡ μὲν τοῦ νοητικοῦ ἀπολίθωσις, ἡ δὲ τοῦ ἐντρεπτικοῦ, ὅταν τις παρατεταγμένος ᾖ μὴ ἐπινεύειν τοῖς ἐναργέσι μηδ’ ἀπὸ τῶν μαχομένων ἀφίστασθαι. οἱ δὲ πολλοὶ τὴν μὲν σωματικὴν ἀπονέκρωσιν φοβούμεθα καὶ πάντ’ <ἂν> μηχανησαίμεθα ὑπὲρ τοῦ μὴ περιπεσεῖν τοιούτῳ τινί, τῆς ψυχῆς δ’ ἀπονεκρουμένης οὐδὲν ἡμῖν μέλει. καὶ νὴ Δία ἐπὶ αὐτῆς τῆς ψυχῆς ἂν μὲν ᾖ οὕτως διακείμενος, ὥστε μηδεν<ὶ> παρακολουθεῖν μηδὲ συνιέναι μηδέν, καὶ τοῦτον κακῶς ἔχειν οἰόμεθα· ἂν δέ τινος τὸ ἐντρεπτικὸν καὶ αἰδῆμον ἀπονεκρωθῇ, τοῦτο ἔτι καὶ δύναμιν καλοῦμεν.

Καταλαμβάνεις ὅτι ἐγρήγορας; ‘οὔ’, φησίν· ‘οὐδὲ γάρ, ὅταν ἐν τοῖς ὕπνοις φαντάζωμαι, ὅτι ἐγρήγορα’. οὐδὲν οὖν διαφέρει αὕτη ἡ φαντασία ἐκείνης; ‘οὐδέν’. ἔτι τούτῳ διαλέγομαι; καὶ ποῖον αὐτῷ πῦρ ἢ ποῖον σίδηρον προσαγάγω, ἵν’ αἴσθηται ὅτι νενέκρωται; αἰσθανόμενος οὐ προσποιεῖται· ἔτι χείρων ἐστὶ τοῦ νεκροῦ. μάχην οὗτος οὐ συνορᾷ· κακῶς ἔχει. συνορῶν οὗτος οὐ  κινεῖται οὐδὲ προκόπτει· ἔτι ἀθλιώτερον ἔχει. ἐκτέτμηται τὸ αἰδῆμον αὐτοῦ καὶ ἐντρεπτικὸν καὶ τὸ λογικὸν οὐκ ἀποτέτμηται, ἀλλ’ ἀποτεθηρίωται. ταύτην ἐγὼ δύναμιν εἴπω; μὴ γένοιτο, εἰ μὴ καὶ τὴν τῶν κιναίδων, καθ’ ἣν πᾶν τὸ ἐπελθὸν ἐν μέσῳ καὶ ποιοῦσι καὶ λέγουσι.

Image result for ancient greek exile

Heraclitus, fr. 73

“It is not right to act and speak like men who are sleeping”

οὐ δεῖ ὥσπερ καθεύδοντας ποιεῖν καὶ λέγειν·

“A Safe Harbor for the Soul”: On Poetry and Reason

Philo, On Dreams 1.233

“Perhaps this is not sung truly, but it is wholly profitable and advantageous”

καὶ τάχα μὲν οὺκ ἀληθῶς, πάντως δὲ λυσιτελῶς καὶ συμφερόντως ᾄδεται

 

Proclus, Commentary on Plato’s Parmenides 1025.29-37

“Our soul experiences many wanderings and turns—one comes from the imagination, another emerges in the beliefs before these, and other occurs in understanding. But the life governed by the mind is free from vagrancy and this is the mystical harbor of the soul into which the poem leads Odysseus after the great wandering of his life and where we too, if we want to be saved, may find our mooring.”

Πολλαὶ οὖν αἱ πλάναι καὶ αἱ δινεύσεις τῆς ψυχῆς· ἄλλη γὰρ ἡ ἐν ταῖς φαντασίαις, ἄλλη πρὸ τούτων ἡ ἐν δόξαις, ἄλλη ἡ ἐν αὐτῇ τῇ διανοίᾳ· μόνη δὲ ἡ κατὰ νοῦν ζωὴ τὸ ἀπλανὲς ἔχει, καὶ οὗτος ὁ μυστικὸς ὅρμος τῆς ψυχῆς, εἰς ὃν καὶ ἡ ποίησις ἄγει τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα μετὰ τὴν πολλὴν πλάνην τῆς ζωῆς, καὶ ἡμεῖς, ἐὰν ἄρα σώζεσθαι θέλωμεν, μᾶλλον ἑαυτοὺς ἀνάξομεν.

 

Image result for Ancient Greek Odysseus mind song

National Archaeological Museum, Athens 1130

Fear is the Mind-Killer? (Lucretius, De Rerum Natura 2.53-61)

“But what if we see that these things are ridiculous and contemptible,
that, in truth, man’s fear and lurking anxiety
do not shudder at the sound of arms or fierce weapons
or when they bravely move among kings and the world’s rulers
if they do not revere the shine of gold or
turn at the bright shine of purple fabrics—
why do you doubt that real power is wholly the province of reason
especially when life labors completely in the shadows?
For just as children tremble at anything and
jump at dark shadows, so we remain afraid in the light
of things which should not be feared any more
than boys grow pale at shadows in imagining future dangers.
We must therefore dispel the mind’s fear and shadows
Not with a ray of sunshine or the clear shafts of day
But through nature’s clear vision and reason.”

quod si ridicula haec ludibriaque esse videmus,
re veraque metus hominum curaeque sequaces
nec metuunt sonitus armorum nec fera tela
audacterque inter reges rerumque potentis 50
versantur neque fulgorem reverentur ab auro
nec clarum vestis splendorem purpureai,
quid dubitas quin omnis sit haec rationis potestas,
omnis cum in tenebris praesertim vita laboret?
nam vel uti pueri trepidant atque omnia caecis 55
in tenebris metuunt, sic nos in luce timemus
inter dum, nihilo quae sunt metuenda magis quam
quae pueri in tenebris pavitant finguntque futura.
hunc igitur terrorem animi tenebrasque necessest
non radii solis neque lucida tela diei 60
discutiant, sed naturae species ratioque.

Now, I don’t know that Frank Herbert was reading Lucretius (and I don’t know that he wasn’t) but notions of pure rationalism that are a product of Enlightenments thinking (as well as some Near Eastern strands of thought) draw a bit on our friend Lucretius. Reading this passage made me think of the “Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear” which shows up early in Herbert’s Dune:

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain

Want to find more connections between the Classics and Science Fiction? There’s a whole book about that: Classical Traditions in Science Fiction edited by Brett Rogers and Benjamin Stevens.

Life’s Like Craps, but it Needn’t Be Crap: Plutarch and Plato

Plutarch, De Tranquilitate Animi 467b

“Plato likened life to a dice-game in which we need both to throw what is advantageous and to use the dice well after we’ve thrown them. And when we are subject to chance, if we take good advice, this is our task: though we cannot control the toss, we can accept the outcome luck gives us properly and allot to each event a place in which what is good for us helps the most and what was unplanned aggrieves the least.”

Κυβείᾳ γὰρ ὁ Πλάτων (Resp. 604c) τὸν βίον ἀπείκασεν, ἐν ᾧ καὶ βάλλειν δεῖ τὰ πρόσφορα, καὶ βαλόντα χρῆσθαι καλῶς τοῖς πεσοῦσι. τούτων δὲ τὸ μὲν βάλλειν οὐκ ἐφ’ ἡμῖν, τὸ δὲ προσηκόντως δέχεσθαι τὰ γινόμενα παρὰ τῆς τύχης καὶ νέμειν ἑκάστῳ τόπον, ἐν ᾧ καὶ τὸ οἰκεῖον ὠφελήσει μάλιστα καὶ τὸ ἀβούλητον ἥκιστα λυπήσει τοὺς ἐπιτυγχάνοντας, ἡμέτερον ἔργον ἐστίν, ἂν εὖ φρονῶμεν.

And here is the passage Plutarch is drawing on from the tenth book of the Republic (Plato, Republic 604c-d)

“The best way to deliberate about what has happened is just as we might in the fall of dice: to order our affairs in reference to how the dice have fallen where reason dictates the best place would be, and not to stumble forward like children shocked at the outcome wasting time with crying. Instead, we should always prepare our mind towards addressing what has happened as quickly as possible and to redress what has fallen and what ails, erasing lament [lit. threnody] with treatment*.”

Τῷ βουλεύεσθαι, ἦν δ’ ἐγώ, περὶ τὸ γεγονὸς καὶ ὥσπερ ἐν πτώσει κύβων πρὸς τὰ πεπτωκότα τίθεσθαι τὰ αὑτοῦ πράγματα, ὅπῃ ὁ λόγος αἱρεῖ βέλτιστ’ ἂν ἔχειν, ἀλλὰ μὴ προσπταίσαντας καθάπερ παῖδας ἐχομένους τοῦ πληγέντος ἐν τῷ βοᾶν διατρίβειν, ἀλλ’ ἀεὶ ἐθίζειν τὴν ψυχὴν ὅτι τάχιστα γίγνεσθαι πρὸς τὸ ἰᾶσθαί τε καὶ ἐπανορθοῦν τὸ πεσόν τε καὶ νοσῆσαν, ἰατρικῇ θρηνῳδίαν ἀφανίζοντα.

*ἰατρικῇ: lit. “art of medicine”; some translations use “therapy”.

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