Adjectives and Nouns, Part 2.


I try to keep this blog free from contemporary influences, preferring to concentrate on those which are timeless.  But there is so much attention given to diversity now–and by process of elimination to its opposite: uniformity*–that I thought I’d wade in a little deeper than I did in my first post.

Now there are many different adjectives we can apply to ourselves, but for purposes of “diversity” only two really matter, those which are immediately apparent: race (or nationality) and gender.  These are characteristics we are born with, and over which we really have no choice.**  There are of course other adjectives of religion, sexual orientation, political affiliations, etc.  (Age enters into it also, but the consequences are less well defined.)  So in these terms I will identify myself as a straight white male (and I realize that for many that disqualifies me from having any opinion on this subject).  For the society as a whole, those three adjectives are superfluous–I am the norm.  And they are certainly barriers to any kind of self-examination. We are trained to see only differences, and those differences are what provoke the question “What am I?”  Seeing only uniformity does not lead to self-examination.  Many people might think of being a straight white male as winning the lottery, but if your goal is self-realization, it’s a loser.  It may seem to be a blessing from a societal point of view, but in terms of a spiritual quest, it’s a disaster.  The sense of being different that occurs to young children can be the start of a lifetime of self-examination.  Unfortunately, it usually stops with the most obvious adjectives.

So if you are not a straight white male, if you are an oppressed minority (a term that’s really redundant), what do you do?  Well, if you’re like most people, you also take your adjectives–gay/trans, black/brown/yellow/red, female–to be nouns.  They are what you are.  You start from a place of suffering, of anger, you band with others of the same adjective, and take actions to increase your power, your share of the country’s big apple pie.

And it may well work–you may get the part, the contract, the job, the respect, the gig–hey, you may even become president!  And I don’t mean to belittle the suffering and hard work of those oppressed who have struggled to overcome the conscious and unconscious barriers that the rulers have put in their way.  But still, in terms of self-realization, of remembering that you are a noun, this too can be a disaster.  Each “victory” becomes just another way to perpetuate the illusion that those adjectives are what you “are.” At some point we all have to turn in our body/mind/heart apparatus, and how difficult that will be depends on how attached we are to it.  (It does seem to me that the older one gets, the less one holds on to this attachment.)

We all need to look more deeply within and realize that we are something universal.   We are not just the accidents of our birth, or products of the epithets that have become attached to us, like polytropos Odysseus or constant Penelope.  We are not just beautiful, we are Beauty; not just loving, but Love; not just individuals, but the One.

A closing thought from Maya Angelou: “All great artists draw from the same resource: the human heart, which tells us that we are all more alike than we are unalike.”¹

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

*The coded subtext to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is “Make America White Again.”

**Of course you could claim, as does Plato in Book 10 of The Republic, that we choose our lives on earth, and part of that would be the body/mind/heart apparatus that goes along with it.  That is a very interesting and relevant question, but since we don’t really have a way to verify it, I’ll leave it to one side for time being.

¹Letter to My Daughter, 2009.

Posted in Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on Adjectives and Nouns, Part 2.

Daemons and Suitors


Another of the common traits in religions/spiritual systems is the presence of what I’ll call daemons, disembodied forces that seem to do battle using us as their battleground.  For all practical purposes, it doesn’t really matter whether we call them disembodied spirits or ingrained synaptic circuits; the result is the same.  They carry on monologues or arguments within our minds and take our attention away from what is in front of us.  They can be “good” (angels) or “bad” (devils), but as long as we identify with them and allow them to feed on our attention, we will be unaware of the influence they hold over us.  A good primer on this influence, at least from the “dark” side, is The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis.  Primers on the influence of “our better angels” also abound (you can find many of them here), but their message is getting harder and harder to hear amid the continuous chatter of the mediasphere.

Read complete page.

Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on Daemons and Suitors

Norman Lewis


Title unknown (March on Washington), 1965, oil on fiberboard, 351/4 × 471/2 in., L. Ann and Jonathan P. Binstock, © Estate of Norman W. Lewis; Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, LLC, New York, NY

This morning I was taken by some friends to an exhibit of works by the American artist Norman Lewis (1909-1979) at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Art.  I had vaguely heard of him before and may have seen reproductions of one or two of his works.  But spending real time in his presence (via his artwork) was very moving, and if any of you live near Philadelphia I would encourage you to visit this show before it closes on April 3.

I’ve often spoken of Emerson as writing from that boundary where the expressible transforms into the inexpressible, where words meet their forms.  Lewis’s work brought that to mind in painting.  Normally I am less than thrilled by abstract painting–most of it strikes me as very ego-driven, trying to find some edge to draw attention to oneself.  Lewis, by contrast, works in a place that borders on the representational with the abstract.  Many of his works contain suggestions of human and animal forms, but they are shown against a background of what could be called the primal stuff of creation.  It brings to mind Plato’s Divided Line; that fine line where the physical touches its source.  Lewis’s works are portals into that place if we can be still and take the inner leap.

A truly transcendent artist.


Posted in Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on Norman Lewis

Pay Attention!?


One of the great crimes of the modern age (by which I mean since around the time of the Renaissance) is the “professionalizing” of philosophy.  It has, often among people with the best of intentions, become a purely academic study, with no “real world” implications.  It is exemplified in the statement, “There are nowadays professors of philosophy, but not philosophers.” If I tell you that was said by Henry David Thoreau in his work Walden in 1854, you’ll realize how long this problem has been around.¹  (A recent article in the New York Times supports this contention, although I would push the authors’ timeline further back.)

Read complete page.

Posted in History, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on Pay Attention!?

A Man of Constant Sorrow


Recent posts have started me thinking about sorrow and its purpose in human life, especially in the spiritual quest.  It may seem a strange topic to consider in relation to the Ideal, in the presence of which we know no sorrow, but as humans it is something with which we must contend until we realize the Ideal.  Our plight until then is that we are absent from our real self, and all the different forms of sorrow exhibit a sense of absence: absence of food, of friends, of health, of self-knowledge.

Read complete page.



Posted in Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on A Man of Constant Sorrow

A Quote about Ficino


Ficino was fascinated by Plato and tried to imitate him in almost all respects. He made his
estate in the Florentine countryside like that of Plato’s near Athens. The stone pines at
Montevecchio were intended to play the role of the platanus trees in the Academy’s groves.
The Terzolle brook corresponded to the Cephissus River. On the walls of the lecture hall
where the members gathered, over time various fitting maxims appeared (just as in the
Athenian Academy): “A bono in bonum omnia dirigentur” (“Everything comes from the
good and returns to the good”), “Fuge excessum, fuge negotia, laetus in praesens” (“Avoid
excess, flee from troubles, rejoice in the present moment”). In the hall there was also a bust of Plato before which burned an eternal lamp. Like Plato, Ficino opened his home to his friends, whom came to be called academics (Academici). Their master was called princeps Academicorum. The place where they met came to be called the Accademia Carregiana.
With Ficino’s growing fame, he was called the “second Plato” (alter Plato), and the title of
academic was an honorary distinction bestowed by Ficino himself. In this way he gathered
around himself a circle of persons known as Ficiniani (at the Academy there were also the
Pichiani or disciples of Pico, and the Savonaroliani or disciple of Savonarola). He created a
community of “brothers in Plato” (fratres in Platone) who were the “Platonic family”
(Platonica familia). He became the “father” (pater Platonicae familiae). They greeted each
other with the words “salus in Platone” (“good health in Plato”). The basic conditions for
membership were erudition, moral probity and friendship with Ficino.

Marian Ciszewski,  Universal Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on A Quote about Ficino



Some will seek the limelight; I will seek the sublime light.

Posted in Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on Seeking

Wilde’s “De Profundis”


A couple of posts ago I wrote a comparison of Emerson and Oscar Wilde and their takes on what constituted sin: “limitation” for Waldo, “stupidity” for Oscar.  At that time I speculated about whether the experience of being in prison would have changed Wilde’s chronic flippancy, and I’m both happy and sad to report that….well, it seems to have.  I’ve reread his De Profundis (From the Depths), and I would encourage you to do the same.  It is as many have noted a remarkable document, and despite some moments of self-pity and score-settling, he is shown as a man who painfully realizes the suffering he has brought upon himself, his family and his friends.

I must say to myself that I ruined myself, and that nobody great or small can be ruined except by his own hand. I am quite ready to say so. I am trying to say so, though they may not think it at the present moment. This pitiless indictment I bring without pity against myself. Terrible as was what the world did to me, what I did to myself was far more terrible still.

What he discovers through this experience is the value of suffering: “Where there is sorrow, there is holy ground.”  It, along with the strictures of prison life, pare the soul down to its essence, and can either make one permanently bitter, or opened up to a greater sense of self.  Wilde ultimately becomes one of the latter.

And the first thing that I have got to do is to free myself from any possible bitterness of feeling against the world.  I am completely penniless, and absolutely homeless. Yet there are worse things in the world than that. I am quite candid when I say that rather than go out from this prison with bitterness in my heart against the world, I would gladly and readily beg my bread from door to door.

What seems to change him is his loss of ego; not his individuality, but the sense that it’s all about me.  What makes the change is his discovery of humility.  To recall the topic of the last post, it is the letting go of the adjectives while keeping the noun.  “One cannot acquire it, except by surrendering everything that one has. It is only when one has lost all things, that one knows that one possesses it.”

I hope you will not settle for my quick recap here, but will get your own copy and read it attentively.  Its long passages on Christ will help you to see him in a new way, and the whole work will open your heart and renew your faith in Beauty.


Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on Wilde’s “De Profundis”

Adjectives and nouns


Are we confusing the two?  Are we thinking we “are” our descriptors?  Is it a ring of gold or gold in the shape of a ring?  Am I a white male or a human with light skin and penis?  What is the raw material from which humans are made?


The Sirens, by John Flaxman. From Wikimedia Commons.

As I’ve argued, Homer’s Odyssey can be seen as the process whereby Odysseus sheds all the adjectives and epithets that had become attached to him–“polytropos,” sacker of cities, cunning, resourceful, etc.–and becomes one again with his real self: his noun.  He does this by letting go of his past glories; hearing from Achilles in the underworld about the emptiness of kleos, weeping when he hears Demodokos sing of Troy, bearing up under the temptations of the sirens, and so on.  So it is with us.  Our adjectives are the identities with which we are born, really, whether from our sanskara or our genes, which we accept as givens and carefully nurture.  Our talents, preferences, tastes, sexual orientation, team affiliation.  Heart or head, cat person or dog person, left or right, materialist or idealist.  These are never really conscious choices–rather leanings we are born with, and then attempt to justify.  We can agree with the political, religious and social dogmas with which we are raised, or rebel against them.  But as with most of the academic analysis of the Odyssey–or any work for that matter–these are all just on the same plane.  Rearranging, or upgrading the furniture.

But we seldom observe the choices being made, since we are identified with mind that makes them.  So we pile on the adjectives, thinking we are becoming more complex, deeper, multifaceted, polytropos.  Meanwhile the observer, our noun itself, waits in the background for us to start letting go.  Waiting to lift the roof off the house.

Update 1/27: Just came across this video, which I think also makes the point.

Update 2/4: And came across this advice quoted in Bob Richardson’s book about Emerson’s writing process, First We Read, Then We Write: “Avoid adjectives.  Let the noun do the work.” (p. 35)  (Originally in Talks with Ralph Waldo Emerson by Charles J. Woodbury.  Also available online.)

Posted in Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on Adjectives and nouns

What am I?


What am I?  This is said to be “the master question of the philosopher.”  It’s also a category of riddles which is the closest most people get to thinking about the question.  But in a very real sense, it is the question we are on earth to answer, and until we do we will keep coming back–to earth and to the question.  Not “Who am I?”  That is too easily answered with all the adjectives we’ve come to associate with a particular body-mind-heart entity: name, gender, race, job, talents, etc.  “What am I?” forces you to go deeper, to something more essential.  Read complete page.

Posted in Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on What am I?

Spirituality and the “Iliad”



Anton Mozart, “The Battle of Troy,” 1614 or 22.

In contrast to the Odyssey, for me there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of spiritual significance in the Iliad, unless you count degrees of conflict and division as significant.  As I pointed out in my book The Journey Back to Where You Are, “The Iliad is a description of a world–and a soul–at war.  It’s first word is menin, “rage,” or “wrath,” and that sets the tone for the whole poem.  It is a world ruled by anger and conflict.”  Aside from the overall conflict between the “Greeks” and the Trojans, there is constant bickering among the Greeks, from the opening scene of the conflict between Agamemnon and Achilles right on through.  There are of course moments of relative peace and reconciliation, but they are the exceptions.  The detente between Achilles and Priam that closes the work is of course just temporary, and we know what happens after that.

If anything, it seems to be a negative lesson: this is what happens when we submit to conflict, to our desire to be superior, to win.  It inevitably leads to the use of force, and as Simone Weil says,

The true hero, the true subject, the center of the Iliad is force.  Force employed by man, force that enslaves man, force before which man’s flesh shrinks away.  In this work, at all times, the human spirit is shown as modified by its relations with force, as swept away, blinded, by the very force it imagined it could handle, as deformed by the weight of the force it submits to.¹

In most ways, then, a taxonomy of the ego, and the opposite of a spiritual quest.  But lately I have come to appreciate that the overarching metaphor in the Iliad is that of the citadel under siege.  (To articulate the obvious, which is my own special skill.)  If we examine this metaphor more closely, we can see some lessons for resolving the conflicts within our own beings.

As humans, we seem to accept that we are a mass of contradictions: conflicting desires, isolated egos longing for connections, stealing–that is, taking as our own–that which is given to us.  The archetypal example of this is Agamemnon, who tells Achilles,

I care neither for you nor for your anger [kotos]; and thus will I do: since Phoebus Apollo is taking Khrysēis from me, I shall send her with my ship and my followers, but I shall come to your tent and [185] take your own beautiful prize Brisēis, that you may learn how much stronger I am than you are, and that another may fear to set himself up as equal or comparable with me.²  (1:183-189)

This is the ultimate in “do unto others before they do unto you,” the same kind of arrogance or hubris that is the downfall of all “superpowers.”  (Agamemnon of course does get his when he arrives home, but goes on making trouble in the Underworld.  See Odyssey 11:455)  Odysseus himself becomes infected with this hubris, and it is his work in the Odyssey to overcome it, shedding it piece by piece in the course of his return home (nostos).

We may think of ourselves as conflicted beings, but all spiritual teachings, including those of the Greeks, tell us that we are in fact the Being (ontotes) of Parmenides, the Boundless (apeiron) of Empedocles, the Good (Agathon) of Plato.  We are in truth more like Troy than we are like Agamemnon.  If you have ever had the feeling of unity, the “citadel-ness,” alluded to by these terms, even to a small extent, you’ll know what this means.  Physically, the body is still, upright yet relaxed.  Mentally, thoughts can be seen as they come and go.  Emotionally, desires are minimized or absent.  There is an overall feeling of well-being, harmony approaching bliss, that comes not from getting what we want, but from knowing who we are.  (Thou art That.)  We have the sense that we are part of a great saga (or epic poem) and are merely playing the part we’ve been given.  We can understand Alkinoos in the Odyssey when he says: The gods arranged all this and they wove the fate of doom for mortals so that future generations might have something to sing about. (8: 579-80)  We want nothing other than that all beings should feel such love.

And yet most of the time we do not have this understanding.  We are like Penelope, wanting to be constant and faithful to the prospect of reunification, but surrounded by suitors–thoughts and desires–who, whatever their apparent good traits, are united in trying to convince her that Odysseus is dead, that reunification is not possible, and she must choose one of them as a new husband, even as they go on “devouring (her) substance.”  They are in fact parasites.  We are constantly tempted by the suitors and usually do end up marrying one of them, “a baser man.”  (20:83)

Or in the context of our current metaphor, we are like the citadel of Troy that is under long-term siege by “baser men.”  (Sorry, fellow Greek-lovers.  The Greeks are usually thought of as the heroes of the Iliad, but in just about every respect they behave like barbarians.)  From what we learn of Troy, it was not unlike how Ithaka is described: a peaceful kingdom ruled by “a gentle father.” (Priam:Troy, Odysseus:Ithaka)  It is self-contained and serves as a beacon for civilized behavior, perhaps just a notch or two below the Phaeakians.  But then, as we might say today, “there is a disturbance in the Force.”  Specifically, Paris absconds with Helen, and the saga begins.  As Robert Lamberton says, Helen

is worldly beauty, the fragmented, imperfect copy of the form of the beautiful inhabiting the material world. The implication is that it is this beauty that entices souls (i.e., the Greeks) to leave their true home and to enter into a mode of existence for which war provides the most apt metaphor.³

We forget that there is a “form of the beautiful,” as Plato says, a “Beauty Absolute,” available to us all at all times.  It is this desire to own one manifestation of Beauty, to have it all for oneself, that is the cause of the fall from the state of grace.  (It must be said that it is this same desire that drives and corrupts much of the art world today.)  From there the events are inevitable: the Greeks must try to get Helen back, the Trojans must resist, the Greeks who cannot win by force must do so by deceit through the Trojan Horse.

So it is with our internal “Greeks.”  We may think we have held them off, that they have given up and are sailing away for good.  But then they sneak in and take over.  (Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.)

I’ve made it sound rather hopeless, but it’s not.  If “Ares is just, and kills those who kill,” Athena is also just and gives wisdom to those who wish to be wise. We are born with knowledge of the Good (the One), but we settle for the knowledge of good and evil (the two).   Wisdom does however require our constant attention and vigilance against anything we might let in that would diminish it, a continuous choice of the true over the untrue, the whole over the partial, of love over force.  It requires a continuous remembering (anamnesis) that what we are is in fact perfect.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License

¹Simone Weil, The Iliad, or the Poem of Force, in War and the Iliad, New York Review Books, 2005, p. 3

²Homer, The Iliad, translated by Samuel Butler et. al.,  (All other Iliad quotes are also from this translation.)

³ Robert Lamberton, Homer the Theologian: Neoplatonist Allegorical Reading and the Growth of the Epic Tradition, University of California, 1989. p. 200.


Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on Spirituality and the “Iliad”

Sin: Stupidity or Limitation? Discuss.


So this was the plan: I’d read somewhere (okay, actually it was a clue in the NY Times crossword puzzle) that Oscar Wilde had written “There is no sin except stupidity.”  Remembering Emerson’s dictum “The only sin is limitation,” I said to myself, “Aha!  Here is a good opportunity to contrast the universality of Emerson with the snarky phrase-making of Wilde, who evidently regards anyone with whom he does not agree as stupid.”  So opening up my trusty search engine, I found that the Wilde quote is from The Critic as Artist, with Some Remarks upon the Importance of Doing Nothing, which I then downloaded onto my Kindle and started scanning through to find the quote.  Which, as it turned out, was very near the end.  So I did actually start to read the work, and I must say that while it did not lessen my regard for Waldo, it did increase it for Oscar.  It is a serious manifesto arguing the need for beauty and the veneration of the creative act wherever it is found–even, perhaps especially, in criticism.  Another lesson for me against reading with an ulterior motive in mind.


Oscar Wilde. Undated albumen print by Napoleon Sarony. From Wikimedia Commons.

Wilde was very popular in his own time (1854-1900), but of course his life had a tragic arc.  Born into a well-to-do family in Dublin, he was very well educated and became a darling of London society before being prosecuted for “gross indecency” (read “homosexuality”) and sent to prison at hard labor–itself a crime from which he never recovered.  When released he moved to France and died in poverty at 46.  Today he is often seen as a caricature of a homosexual, and his penchant for long hair and languid poses did nothing to counteract that.  Perhaps because of lingering homophobia, he is not read much these days as far as I can tell, and the contemporaries whom he quotes–Cardinal Newman, Robert Browning, Walter Pater, Ernest Renan and others–are not much either.  But he also shows a familiarity with writers in the Ideal tradition: Homer, Plato of course, and Plotinus.  There is even a quote by Emerson, from The Over-Soul, “that great artists work unconsciously, that they are ‘wiser than they knew,’ as, I think, Emerson remarks somewhere.”¹  But the quote is put into the mouth of Ernest (pun no doubt intended) who serves as a rather feckless foil for the real views of Wilde who speaks in the voice of Gilbert.

It is, yes, presented as a Platonic dialogue between these two, with Ernest’s Phaedrus playing straight man (pun not intended) to Gilbert’s Socrates.  The dialogue is a literary device which Wilde uses self-consciously², and it makes his points rather more palatable than a conventional essay might.  The main points are conveniently summarized by Ernest near the end of it:

You have told me many strange things to-night, Gilbert.  You have told me that it is more difficult to talk about a thing than to do it, and that to do nothing at all the most difficult thing in the world; you have told me that all Art is immoral, and all thought dangerous; that criticism is more creative than creation, and that the highest criticism is that which reveals in the work of Art what the artist had not put there; that it is exactly because a man cannot do a thing that he is the proper judge of it; and that the true critic is unfair, insincere, and not rational.  My friend, you are a dreamer.

I won’t go through all of these arguments–read the work yourself–but it did get me thinking about the nature and role of the critic and the artist, between which, in Wilde’s view, there is no distinction.  All artists, he says, begin with some raw material and transform it into something new; the critic just starts with another work of art as his or her raw material.  The word “critic” come from the Greek word kritikos, related to “crisis,” and denotes judging or choosing between two paths. For me it brings to mind the “resourceful” Odysseus, as he makes his way home and constantly has to discriminate the right action at any given moment to achieve his nostos.

For Wilde, our nostos is a return to the world of beauty, the love of which he reminds us is what Plato called the true aim of education.  “Good” art is what brings us closer to that timeless world, expands our view, stirs our better feelings, and brings us to a state (from stasis) of “doing nothing.”  It will bring us to a condition of stillness:

Like the Persephone of whom Landor tells us, the sweet pensive Persephone around whose white feet the asphodel and amaranth are blooming, he will sit contented “in that deep, motionless quiet which mortals pity, and which the gods enjoy.”  He will look out upon the world and know its secret.  By contact with divine things he will become divine.  His will be the perfect life, and his only.

“Bad” art does the opposite; essentially it diminishes us. It is the sin Emerson speaks of as “limitation.”  In contrast, Wilde at one point says, “The world is made by the singer for the dreamer,” a phrase that evokes Alkinoos in the Odyssey, “The gods arranged all this, and they wove the fate of doom for mortals, so that future generations might have something to sing about.”  Life is the raw material of art.

How much his views were changed by his legal ordeal and imprisonment, I can’t say.  I’m planning to read De Profundis and/or The Ballad of Reading Gaol, which describe that experience, and I’ll write about that sometime in future.  But for now, we can hear Wilde speaking through Gilbert as he answers Ernest:

Gilbert: Yes, I am a dreamer.  For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.

Ernest: His punishment?

Gilbert: And his reward.


¹The quote in context is actually about our own ability to separate the true from the untrue in the literature we read: “In the book I read, the good thought returns to me, as every truth will, the image of the whole soul. To the bad thought which I find in it, the same soul becomes a discerning, separating sword, and lops it away. We are wiser than we know. If we will not interfere with our thought, but will act entirely, or see how the thing stands in God, we know the particular thing, and every thing, and every man. For the Maker of all things and all persons stands behind us, and casts his dread omniscience through us over things.”  (The Over-Soul) Wilde expressed admiration for Emerson (“I think Walt Whitman and [Ralph Waldo] Emerson have given the world more than anyone else”), and toured America in 1882, the year Emerson died, but they never met.  Wilde did, however, meet Whitman.

²”Dialogue, certainly, that wonderful literary form from which, from Plato to Lucian, and from Lucian to Giordano Bruno to that grand old pagan in whom Carlyle took such delight, the creative critics of the world have always employed, can never lose for the thinker its attraction as a mode of expression.”

Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on Sin: Stupidity or Limitation? Discuss.

The Odyssey: A Dramatic Retelling of Homer’s Epic, by Simon Armitage


Another bargain-table find, this book was developed as a radio script and read on the BBC (where else??) in the summer of 2004.  (Note: the link takes you to the BBC page, but the play doesn’t seem to be available.)  I doubt that anyone who really loves the Odyssey will find much to love in this script, other than a few isolated passages of poetry.  As many of you know, I have my own interpretation, which would never come through in this adaptation.  Although Armitage acknowledges “taking a few liberties,” I’d say what he leaves out is more telling: the prophecy of Tireseas about planting the oar, the reunion with Laertes, the whole reconciliation at the end.  No doubt made for exciting radio drama–ironically, since the Odyssey was originally meant to be heard–but I’ll stick with the written version.

Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on The Odyssey: A Dramatic Retelling of Homer’s Epic, by Simon Armitage

Fear Not


Some time ago it occurred to me that if the “terrorists” who perpetrated the World Trade Center attacks of 9/11/01 wanted to maintain the fear, it wouldn’t be that hard.  They could easily walk onto a PATH train–a kind of subway that runs between Newark NJ and the World Trade Center–with a large device in a backpack.  If they got into the first car, especially on an anniversary of the event, and set it off just as the train was reaching the WTC station, they would kill many people, disrupt communications, and put themselves back on the front pages of the media center of the world.  This thought occurred to me as I was sitting in the front car of the PATH train on Sept. 11 2006.

I was reminded of it of course by the reactions to the attacks in Paris, hearing of the terrible deaths and then the brave reactions of people who would not let their own lives be altered by the madness of a few.  For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction–the equal reaction has apparently found the perpetrator, and the opposite reaction has seen the French people refuse to be intimidated, much as Americans refused in the days after 9/11.  But it is disheartening to hear the rhetoric that has emerged from those events, and it’s become evident that “terrorism” is a great gift to the “law and order” mindset, and the sound bite policies that want to respond with border closures and isolationism.  This is a long haul problem, of which we are not innocent, and there will no doubt be other attacks in the future.  My point is that we cannot stop living our lives.  We are all going to die at some point, and the odds of dying from “terrorism” are minuscule compared to the other plagues of modern life: auto accidents, gun violence, bad diet and so on.  The good news is that we are in fact immortal–we don’t really die, just change bodies.  To the extent that events like this cause us to examine our own mortality, our reason for being on the earth, they can be gifts to us as well.  This is of course not to let the “terrorists” off the hook–they will have much to answer for after their own life on earth ceases.  But we must learn to see this kind of twisted violence, even if we lose our own life, or that of someone we love, as just another form of human ignorance, and fear not.

Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on Fear Not

Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, by Patrick Leigh Fermor.


Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, by Patrick Leigh Fermor. New York Review Books 1958

When my wife handed me this book from a bargain table at a nearby bookstore, I admit I hadn’t heard of Fermor (1915-2011), but now have learned that he was a highly regarded travel writer with a special fondness for Greece. He fought with the Greek resistance in WWII and led the operation that captured the German General Kreipe, one of the more daring “special ops” of the war, and which helped to turn the tide against the Germans in Crete. He had quite a life—he was once described by a BBC journalist as “a cross between Indiana Jones, James Bond, and Graham Greene”–and there is now a society which promotes his life and work. So he is of interest to Greek scholars, as well as those who just like ripping yarn.

“On the map,” he says, “the southern part of the Peloponnese looks like a misshapen tooth fresh torn from its gum and with three peninsulas jutting southward in jagged and carious roots.” (Much of whether you will enjoy this book depends on how you feel about that sentence.) The middle peninsula is Mani, which comes across as a harsh, relatively barren land that has remained untouched by the outside world for centuries. (Note that the book was written in 1958, but I would doubt much has changed.) It’s impossible to encapsulate the book here, but I’ll note a few of my favorite passages—passages that alternate with some long and rather tedious digressions, which I’ll allow that some people may find fascinating.

On p. 25-6 he describes waking up from a daytime nap in the hills to find himself and his party, which included his wife Joan and a local guide, being scrutinized by “two barefoot, raggedly dressed and ikon-faced little girls of ten and twelve, both of them extremely beautiful.” They share some moments of mostly unarticulated mutual curiosity, until it was time for the party to leave.

“Go towards the Good,” one of them said, and the other, “May you have the Good Hour.”

The immobile figures of these two little Byzantines dwindled as we zigzagged downhill. Even at a distance we could sense the wide effulgent gaze which those four eyes aimed from their ledge half-way to the sky. They waved when we were just about to dip out of sight. There are very few people in these surroundings, Yorgo observed. “They are wild and shy and not accustomed to talk.” He pointed straight up into the air. The canyon was closing round us. “They see nothing by God.”

Chapter 5, “Lamentation,” describes the Mani practice of composing spontaneous funeral orations, or miroloy, a job which fell mostly to the women, and which perhaps as a result seems not to have been much studied. But the way Fermor describes this practice, “tempts one to think that here again is a direct descendant of Ancient Greece, a custom stretching back, perhaps, till before the Siege of Troy.” This seems therefore to be fertile ground for study, as with Lord and the Yugoslavs, and perhaps it has been. If not, this chapter is a good start.

On p. 140: “A spell of peace lives in the ruins of ancient Greek temples. As the traveller leans back among the fallen capitals and allows the hours to pass, it empties the mind of troubling thought and anxieties and slowly refills it, like a vessel that has been drained and scoured, with a quiet ecstasy. Nearly all that has happened fades to a limbo of shadows and insignificance and is painlessly replaced by an intimation of radiance, simplicity and calm which unties all knots and solves all riddles and seems to murmur a benevolent and unimperious suggestion that the whole of life, if it were allowed to unfold without hindrance or compulsion or search for alien solutions, might be limitlessly happy.”

Throughout the book, one gets a strong sense of the practice of xenia, the welcoming of strangers and their news of the outside world, remains here as strong as it did in Homer’s time. That, as he says, “hospitality in Greece carries an almost religious importance.” (p. 234) It brings to mind the ancient practice of theoxeny, where the gods themselves would wander the countryside to see if they would be honored. One gets the sense that there is almost a competition for the stranger among villagers, with the status they would bring to the host’s family.

On p. 243, speaking of seeing an old church which among the images of saints featured the “pagan sages of the Greek world,” …“but bereft of haloes. Their presence, due to passages in their writings interpreted as prophecy or ratification of the incarnation of Christ, seems to announce the age-old truth that the Greek Orthodox Church glorifies not only the Christian miracle as revealed to the Evangelists but the continuity and indestructibility of Hellenism and the part played in Christianity by the thought and discipline of the pagan Greek philosophers.”

The world Fermor describes in some ways seems as remote as that of Homer, but he often makes it as vivid. It shines a bright and loving light on this particular “tooth” that seems to exist outside of time.

Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on Mani: Travels in the Southern Peloponnese, by Patrick Leigh Fermor.

Simone Weil’s Apologetic Use of Literature, by Marie Cabaud Meaney (Oxford University Press, 2007)


It seems that anyone who pursues an interest in Greek literature and/or spiritual writing sooner or later encounters the work of Simone Weil.  She left little in the way of completed works, but filled many notebooks and letters, from which much of the material in this book is drawn.  She is always described as a brilliant intellect, but who later in her short life experienced a mystical vision about which she wrote that “Christ himself came down and took possession of me.”

She was famously not a “joiner,” either of the academy or of the (Catholic) Church, but cultivated and expressed a unique vision that attempted to reconcile the two.  In this book, which is really an apologia to Weil’s apologia (in the ancient Greek sense of “defense”), Cabaud Meaney sets out to provide the kind of coherent support for this vision that Weil herself in fact may have if she had lived longer.  Their basic premise is that the ancient Greek tragedies prefigure many of the themes that became central to Christianity: forgiveness, the duty of love, obedience to God vs. obedience to the law, the soul-killing effects of force, etc.

While Weil’s focus was on Greek literature, she was not the first to see this continuity.  I happened to be alternating between this book and one by Patrick Leigh Fermer called Mani (New York Review Books, 1958), which describes a walking tour he took of a remote Greek peninsula of that name in the 1950’s.  He describes seeing representations of Greek philosophers in an old church there, although “bereft of haloes.”  He goes on, “Their presence, due to passages in their work interpreted as prophecy or ratification of the incarnation of Christ, seems to announce the age-old truth that the Greek Orthodox Church glorifies not only the Christian miracle as revealed to the Evangelists but the continuity and indestructibility of Hellenism and the part played in Christianity by the thought and discipline of the pagan Greek philosophers.” (p. 243-4)  Weil, and Cabaud Meaney, make the case that this glorification can also be found in the tragedians: Sophocles, Aeschylus, and Euripides, as well as Homer.

Without her visionary experience, this insight might have been relegated to an academic journal somewhere, but it gains more force from her description of the personal encounter with Christ, and her subsequent efforts to help revive interest in the Catholic Church.  But while I admire Weil’s insistence on an outsider status (something I share), I can’t help but wonder why she remained loyal to the institution of the Church after her revelation.  From my own experience and other accounts I’ve read, such glimpses of the “supernatural” or “transcendental” are beyond name and form, which is what makes them so impossible to describe and so often results in their being dismissed by pure rationalists.

That is certainly not to say that they aren’t valid; my point is that both the Greeks and the Christians are expressing something more universal than either.  In another famous passage, Weil speaks of the Greeks “building bridges,” but which we have turned into habitations–we choose to live there rather than be transported to some unknowable “other side.”   I think if she had retained the mystery of what is on the other side, rather than providing the safe image of the Church, or even of the Christ, her work would be more universal.  It is unfortunate that she died so young, still it would seem in the “material-gathering” phase of her work, and not having time to express it fully, even if it meant developing a new language.  This book by Cabaud Meaney may be closest we get to that expression, and I’d recommend it to those interested in Weil’s thought.

Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on Simone Weil’s Apologetic Use of Literature, by Marie Cabaud Meaney (Oxford University Press, 2007)

How to Kill a Dragon, Pt. II



Hercules Slaying the Hydra-headed Monster. Engraving from the 17th c. by Gilles Rousselet.

In the last post I looked at how some of the “themes and ‘motifemes'” identified by Calvert Watkins as they related to scenes in Homer’s Odyssey.  Now I’d like to look at them in more depth as they relate to the spiritual quest in general. This quest, which we may dimly remember, is our attempt to “journey back to where we are,” to remember our true eternal Self by letting go of the illusory little changing selves with we are constantly identified.  Seen this way, our normal life, our “common day,” is turned upside-down, and we are adrift in a kind of dreamworld where the absurd is normal.

As a quick reminder, Watkins identifies ten of these themes:

  1. abnormal or inverse social or sexual relations
  2. the abuse or violation of hospitality
  3. abnormal servitude
  4. an injunction
  5. violation of the injunction
  6. the temporary victory of the (monster) over the hero; as a result
  7. the hero’s disfigurement or mutilation, itself causing real or potential loss of status or power
  8. the abuse or violation of the responsibility of “hospitality” to an inferior…
  9. the underwater locale of the combat
  10. the final paean, in direct speech of the victory which reestablishes order over chaos, followed by the death of the hero.

Some observations about how these themes can be identified in our own lives:

  1. If we can appreciate that our daily lives are but picture-shows, shadows projected onto the cave wall (as Plato describes them), we can also appreciate that all our relationships can be described as “abnormal or inverse.”  In our limited consciousness, we see all relations as more or less equal and certainly limited themselves.  We do not recognize gods and goddesses when we see them (even in ourselves), and we justify hanging around with demons by our need for making money or for prestige.  By the same token, we can become enchanted by making love with deities and forget our quest; if we have fallen in with the demons of matter, it means we’ve already forgotten.  Enjoy your fame and toys, but good luck with trying to get back on the quest.
  2. I’ve written more extensively about the idea of hospitality, or in Greek xenia, elsewhere, so I won’t go into it again in detail, but the basic idea is that every other human being is not other than your own self, just as you are not other than your own Self.  As the Irish prayer goes, “Often often often goes the Christ in the stranger’s guise,” which the Greeks would call theoxeny.  Our diminished word “hospitality” derives from the places of lodging, often run by the “Knights Hospitaliers,” for people on pilgrimages, which in a real way we all are.  Again I would say that this does not appeal to our literal sense of taking in strangers off the street, but to the way we treat other humans in all our interactions with them: whether we judge them, let them make us feel angry or envious, inferior or superior.  To do that is to violate this rule of xenia by thinking of ourselves as a separate being.
  3. Abnormal servitude.  This is something in which we pretty much all are engaged, in the sense that we see our activity, our work, as a means to an end rather than an end in itself.  Our true work is a gift which most of us tend to forget, along with most everything else, and so we look for ways to make up for it through money and status.  (I think I’ve finally found mine, by writing this blog and my books.)  Our true work is something to which our attention is naturally drawn, on which it rests and expands to its full consciousness.  As Emerson says,

    There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.

  4. An injunction.  This is a topic that probably requires its own book, since I think it is the cause of so much misunderstanding and suffering in the world, which tends toward the practice of “anything, any time, anywhere.”  And let me say that I am not one who wants a government or religion dictating what I can or cannot do–many of those “thou shalt nots” have become corrupted over the years.  But the fact remains that not all activities are equal:  there are actions which are compatible with the spiritual quest, and others which perpetuate the illusion that we are separate, limited and mortal beings, for whom

    Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage And then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.  (Macbeth, 5:5)

    If we wish to avoid this depressing view of our lives, we need to find a way to escape our “abnormal servitude.”  Therefore injunctions, i.e. “not joining.”

  5. Violation of the injunction.  Because we misunderstand the purpose of the injunctions, because we tend to see them as some arbitrary authority trying to keep me from enjoying myself, we are quick to violate them, often just because they are injunctions.  We disobey, we “sin” or “miss the mark” and because we are not immediately punished, we think we can violate them all with impunity.  But this is a case of being bound to them, just as surely as unquestioningly obeying them.
  6. That we are not immediately punished is the “temporary victory of the monster,” in that we think we are somehow exempt from the rules of the quest.  But none of us is, and the hero in us needs to reassert him- or herself.  We are in fact punished by being in prolonged separation from our true Self.  We can certainly experience the pleasant, but not the good.
  7. Disfigurement.  In the Odyssey the disfigurement and mutilation is made clear–Odysseus is made to look old and diminished through the handiwork of Athena, which results in his being mocked and humiliated by the suitors, which you know (if you’ve read my book) represent the self-important thoughts and desires that plague us day and night.  To become “disfigured, mutilated” is to become free from their power over us.  (I hope at this point that you realize I’m not talking about physical disfigurement.)  In a way we become invisible, one of “God’s spies,” perhaps not that interesting to talk to, not that ambitious, but “pure of heart.”
  8. To become disfigured in this way though is to invite “abuse of hospitality.”  We come to be on the receiving end of the lack of xenia that we may have practiced upon others.  We are ignored, we don’t matter.  But this too can be liberating–we are free of other peoples’ expectations.  (I am experiencing this more and more as I get older and become more and more invisible to those younger.)  We can let go of the need to assert ourselves and enjoy the status of observer.
  9. The underwater battle.  Again, in my book I speak of the symbolism of water as representing ignorance, that force that is constantly trying to pull us under and end the quest through whatever agent of the monster: Polyphemus, Sirens, Crashing Rocks, Skylla, Charibdis.  In the Odyssey it is always presented as an evil; a “vast waste” at best, a source of danger and death at worst.  The hero will always have access to some kind of wood to see him through these ordeals.
  10. The final paean.  “I am I again, unnamed and whole.”  Start writing yours now.


Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on How to Kill a Dragon, Pt. II

Books About the Ideal


The Journey Back to Where You Are: Homer's Odyssey as Spiritual Quest

The Journey Back to Where You Are: Homer’s Odyssey as Spiritual Quest

The Journey Back to Where You Are: Homer’s Odyssey as Spiritual Quest

This book views Homer’s Odyssey an allegory for the soul’s quest for reunification, a journey back from the strife and division of the Trojan War to the love and unity of one’s “native land,” enduring trials and temptations along the way.  This volume contains the complete Samuel Butler translation, recently updated by the faculty of the Center for Hellenic Studies at Harvard University, and used by permission.  This is a terrific book which shows a steady idealism, and an invoking of Emersonian personal reunification. Its language is a great strength; vigorous, colloquial, open, appealing, un-condescending, unshrinking from what must be included. It is substantial, engaging and important.  Robert D. Richardson Jr., Bancroft Prize-winning author of Emerson: The Mind on Fire

The Ideal in the West

The Ideal in the West (book)

The Ideal in the West

The essays on this blog have been collected into book form, available through

A com­mend­able attempt to beat back the dark­ness and inspire revelation.

In clear, unclut­tered prose, free of undue sophistry, Beard­s­ley cov­ers an immense amount of ter­ri­tory with alacrity, begin­ning chrono­log­i­cally with Athens in its golden age and touch­ing next on the Greek-influenced Roman philoso­phers. He then moves on to the Renais­sance, and finally to the 19th-century tran­scen­den­tal­ists of New Eng­land. …  Read­ers who brushed lightly against the Greek philoso­phers in the course of their edu­ca­tions will appre­ci­ate this chance to replen­ish and expand their store of knowl­edge, but those start­ing from scratch could do worse than learn­ing the basics from Beard­s­ley. At its best, his book may even spark a flame that leaps “from one soul to another” and ignites deeper understanding—though he believes, like Socrates, that the spo­ken word of the dialec­tic, face-to-face method can cre­ate a spark more surely than the writ­ten word ever could.  –Kirkus Reviews, Sept. 2015

The Ideal of Beauty and Other Essays

The Ideal of Beauty and Other Essays

The Ideal of Beauty and Other Essays

Walt Whitman thought that books distilled from other books “would probably pass away.” David Beardsley, like Whitman himself, gives the reader of The Ideal of Beauty the real thing, his own personal, felt, known, lived experiences, perceptions, and ideas. He makes the old Neoplatonic tradition as bright and attractive and relevant as today’s newspaper. Beardsley burns with a great incandescent philosophical blaze. It is all his own and it is contagious. It is a wonderful experience just to read it.         

Robert D. Richardson Jr., Bancroft Prize winner and author of Emerson: The Mind on Fire.

Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on Books About the Ideal

How to Kill a Dragon


I was recently looking for a little light reading, so I got a copy of Calvert Watkins‘s page turner (kidding!), subtitled Aspects of Indo-European Poetics.  If you don’t know it, it is a remarkable achievement displaying a level of scholarship that is truly humbling to someone like me whose attention span is usually measured in nanoseconds.  His knowledge of various Western (and some Eastern) languages derived from Indo-European is vast, and his ability to see connections among them most impressive.  I will admit that I did not read the book cover-to-cover.


A Giant of the Earth, by Antoine Wiertz (1806-1865). Musee Wiertz, Brussels.

As you may be able to tell from the title, after some opening chapters in which he delineates commonalities in the languages themselves, he concentrates on a basic theme that is common to the mythology of many of these cultures, from Irish to Indian; i.e. HERO SLAYS DRAGON.  He gives multiple examples of this theme from across cultures, and I’m sure we can all think of our own examples, such as Theseus and the Minotaur, and Odysseus and the Cyclops (even though he is not slain), Bilbo and Smaug. Later, Watkins expands this definition to include HERO SLAYS HERO and HERO SLAYS ANTI-HERO, specifically including the slaying of the suitors by Odysseus in this formulation.  “….an example of the second, where the anti-hero is assimilated into a monster, would be Odysseus and the suitors, or Orestes and Klutaimestra (sic).  In both the action is bidirectional, potentially reciprocal; either member may be the subject of the verb.”¹

But what I also found interesting is an analysis of the slayer myths in a chapter titled “Fergus mac Léti and the muirdris,” which concentrates on an Irish myth of that name.  I won’t reproduce it here, but I will quote his listing of “themes and ‘motifemes:'”

  1. abnormal or inverse social or sexual relations
  2. the abuse or violation of hospitality
  3. abnormal servitude
  4. an injunction
  5. violation of the injunction
  6. the temporary victory of the (monster) over the hero; as a result
  7. the hero’s disfigurement or mutilation, itself causing real or potential loss of status or power
  8. the abuse or violation of the responsibility of “hospitality” to an inferior…
  9. the underwater locale of the combat
  10. the final paean, in direct speech of the victory which reestablishes order over chaos, followed by the death of the hero.²

If you know the Odyssey at all, a number of these will jump out at you as common themes, perhaps especially in the second half where Odysseus returns to Ithaka.  If not, allow me to point out some of the more obvious:

  1. Odysseus sleeps with two goddesses, and while disguised as a beggar, demands the attention of Penelope, mistress of Ithaka.
  2. a number of these violations of xenia, including the encounter with the Cyclops
  3. Athena’s attention to Odysseus (a bit of a stretch, perhaps), and Odysseus himself playing the part of a beggar
  4. several of these also, most notably the command not to eat the cattle of the sun god Apollo
  5. violation of that injunction, (“They ate them.”), with its tragic effects of the crew being drowned and Odysseus alone surviving
  6. Poseidon (the uber-monster) temporarily wins, and Odysseus is cast adrift.  The theme recurs when he sails off from Calypso’s island and is washed ashore on Phaeakia
  7. when he first returns to Ithaka, he is transformed into a wretched beggar by Athena
  8. again the violation of hospitality, this time by the suitors to the disguised Odysseus
  9. the final combat does not take place underwater, but several of the previous battles are in the sea
  10. Athena speaks the final paean³, after which at some point in the future as predicted by Tireseias, Odysseus dies “(far) from the sea.”

So a pretty nice convergence of themes, which I doubt I’m the first to notice.  But of course my premise is that the Odyssey describes a spiritual quest, so how does this formulation relate to that?  Pretty well, I think, if we remember the allegorical aspect: a world of unity (light and life) interrupted by chaos (darkness and death) with the ultimate victory of unity.  The chaos is our everyday world, which we don’t recognize as “darkness and death,” and the state of unity is our true state, but one we have forgotten.  At times of course it seems that Poseidon and his agents will win the day, but always Odysseus has enough “good karma” in his relationship with Athena to overcome their traps.  (I’ll look at each of these elements of the quest in more detail in another post.)  In this case I think one can read the death of Odysseus as not like that of Achilles or the suitors, trudging down to the shadowy world of Hades, but as a permanent ascent into unity.

¹Watkins, Calvert, How to Kill a Dragon: Aspects of Indo-European Poetics.  Oxford University Press, 1995, p. 471

²Watkins, op. cit., p. 443-4

³“Son of Laertes, sprung from Zeus, Odysseus of many devices, stay thy hand, and make the strife of equal war to cease, lest haply the son of Cronos be wroth with thee, even Zeus, whose voice is borne afar.”  Odyssey 24:543-4

Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on How to Kill a Dragon

More or less


I am, I know, a lesser light, but a light nonetheless.

Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on More or less

Sweet Chariot


A survey of the metaphor of the chariot to describe the human soul.  Click here.

Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on Sweet Chariot



Recently I was in an online discussion over the relative merits of the Iliad vs. the Odyssey.  If you think about it, you probably have a preference for one or the other–mine of course is for the latter.  Anyway, in the course of one of the exchanges someone used the phrase “Philosophizing is easy,” going on to say that dealing with the “nitty-gritty” is tougher.  And of course that’s what most people seem to think, but on further reflection, I would beg to differ.

Philosophizing, that is “loving wisdom,” is perhaps the toughest thing one can do.  The “real world” tells you that you are of a certain race, and gender, and nationality, even a certain age.  But wisdom teaches that you are none of these.  You are the One, and paradoxically so is everyone else.  As George Harrison says, “Not too many people can see we’re all the same.”  That people should go to war with each other in the name of religion is perhaps the most extreme example of this–it would be funny if there weren’t so much pain involved.

The back story of the Iliad is that it was caused by Eris, goddess of Strife, resulting in Paris (Alexandros) wanting to “own” Beauty, in the form of Helen.  Wisdom would have told him that it can’t be owned; it is, as Plato says, and Ideal that stands behind all individual expressions of it.  But of course if he had been a philosopher, there would be no Iliad, and even I would think that was a loss to the world.  But Beauty is as much in us as it is anywhere else, and until we realize that we will always look for it outside, always think we are less than the One.

Posted in Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on Philosophizing

A Course in Consciousness


I forget now where I first connected with it, but I’ve spending time recently with this course which was taught by Prof. Stanley Sobottka (1930-2014) at the University of Virginia.  Although I have tried on a number of occasions to understand quantum physics, each time I reach a stage where it sounds like the structure of the language and the universe has just fallen apart and my eyes start to glaze over–which may be the point.  (I think I’m starting to get Schrödinger’s cat, however.)  But the impression I always get, is that of two realms–the solid predictable world of “classical physics,” of “things” which obey “laws,” the world of Newton and Galileo.  The one in which you and I (or at least our bodies) live.  Then there’s this subatomic realm where all bets are off.  This is like the Wild West.  It’s a realm not of things but of waveforms, and which don’t obey laws but may adhere to probabilities.  The world of Heisenberg, Bohr, Einstein.  We go there at our peril.

But Prof. Sobottka is working more in the service of consciousness rather than just physics, and so he brings into question the whole concept of the observer, and after a lot of background in physics and philosophy (the “monistic ideal” which includes a critique of Plato’s Cave Allegory), he posits a quite unique take on it: The ego, or false self, is an assumed separate entity with an assumed power of agency that is associated with the classical, conditioned, deterministic part, while the unconditioned self is an experience that is dominated by the full range of possibilities of the quantum part.  (Part 2, 7:7)

And later: There is only one consciousness. Our consciousness is nonlocal consciousness. My consciousness is identical to your consciousness. Only the contents are different. The entities that we falsely think we are result from identification of this consciousness with a concept in the conditioned mind. (Part 2, 7:8)

I would recommend this course if you want to get out of your comfort zone, and find some validation for the Ideal.


Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on A Course in Consciousness

New Review of “The Ideal in the West”


This just in, from Kirkus Reviews.  Full disclosure: I did pay for the review, but they are not obligated to give a good one.  (I would just note that at one point the reviewer speaks of “a wordy chapter.”  I’m sure that’s a typo and s/he meant “a worthy chapter.”  It’s a common mistake.)

A brief philosophical history of the Western understanding of the “Ideal” and the “Good,” from the ancient Greeks to Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Blogger, podcaster, amateur philosopher, and author Beardsley (The Journey Back to Where You Are, 2014) shows the instincts of a teacher as he sheds light on a Western spiritual tradition going back 2,500 years, to the era of Socrates and Plato. His intent in this volume, he writes, is to share his realization that “Western civilization is itself in possession of this spiritual tradition which is every bit as compelling and magnificent as any to be found in the East—not that there’s anything wrong with them.” Indeed, the East-West similarities are striking, such as a shared perception that the soul is immortal. In clear, uncluttered prose, free of undue sophistry, Beardsley covers an immense amount of territory with alacrity, beginning chronologically with Athens in its golden age and touching next on the Greek-influenced Roman philosophers. He then moves on to the Renaissance, and finally to the 19th-century transcendentalists of New England. Throughout, he relies on carefully selected words and works to elucidate meanings, and adds generally cogent commentary of his own. As a side trip, he considers whether the works of William Shakespeare fit within this Western philosophical tradition, and concludes that some do and some don’t. The book’s second part suggests how to live a life imbued by the Ideal, and includes a wordy chapter on getting beyond ego as a necessary first step. Readers who brushed lightly against the Greek philosophers in the course of their educations will appreciate this chance to replenish and expand their store of knowledge, but those starting from scratch could do worse than learning the basics from Beardsley. At its best, his book may even spark a flame that leaps “from one soul to another” and ignites deeper understanding—though he believes, like Socrates, that the spoken word of the dialectic, face-to-face method can create a spark more surely than the written word ever could.

A commendable attempt to beat back the darkness and inspire revelation.


Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on New Review of “The Ideal in the West”

The Religion With No Name


Recently I was commended to the site, which seems to specialize in alternate interpretations of history and mythology, and to one article in particular by Brian Muraresku.  It speaks for itself, and I hope you find it as fascinating as I did.

Posted in History, Literature, Philosophy, Spirituality | Comments Off on The Religion With No Name