Whether A Man Can Change, And How He May Change

Can a man change, or are his personality traits so fixed that external circumstances are incapable of adjusting them in any significant way?  This is a question that finds enthusiastic advocates for both answers.  The cynics–or as they prefer to be called, the “realists”–tell us that personality does not change.  Our knowledge contracts and expands, but the core of our being remains immutable.  We may become more polished in our presentations, or more adept at concealing our intentions, but in the end it is still the same old “us.”  We are here, and we have not changed.

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The Eloquence of Ali Ibn Al-Athir

Ali Ibn Al-Athir (علي عز الدین بن الاثیر الجزري) was an Arabic historian, poet, and scholar who served for a time under Saladin.  Born in 1160 in the city of Jazeera Ibn Omar (the modern Turkish town of Cizre), he received his education there and in Mosul, Iraq.  From an early age, he showed an uncanny aptitude for literary work, composing verses and prose with fluent ease; he was soon able to master the essentials of grammar, philology, rhetoric, and law.

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A Humanist Visits The German Baths

The Renaissance humanist Poggio Bracciolini wrote a fascinating letter to his close friend Niccolo Niccoli in May of 1416 while on one of his book-hunting expeditions to remote monasteries Germany.  While in Germany he had an opportunity to visit the baths near Kaiserstuhl, and he has left us a detailed description of the experience.

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Augustine’s “Misericorditer”: Benevolent Severity In Correcting One’s Enemies

I have recently learned of an interesting doctrine articulated by St. Augustine in one of his letters.  The letter in question is Epistula 138, and I should describe briefly its context.  One of Augustine’s friends was a pagan senator in Rome named Volusian; his mother happened to be a Christian, but he was not.  The sack of Rome by Alaric in 410 A.D. had been a deeply shocking event for everyone in the Roman world, no matter what their religion was.  There was very much an atmosphere of despair.  People wondered how such a thing could have happened to what seemed the strongest military state in the world.

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Age Of Spectacle: Chariot Races, The Hippodrome, And The Four Factions

To understand fully the social environment in which the eastern Roman empire operated, we must have some grasp of the unique culture surrounding Constantinople’s Hippodrome in the centuries that followed the disappearance of the Roman empire in the west.  In Byzantium, sport and politics achieved a strange admixture that has no exact historical parallel anywhere else; sport influenced politics, and politics guided sport.  It was a peculiar world, but one that makes sense once we understand the conditions that existed at the time.  We begin with the arena itself.

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The Fragility And Perishability Of Knowledge (Podcast)

In this podcast we discuss how fragile and perishable knowledge can be. We comment on the loss of Latin literature in the West, and the dissipation of the holdings of the Alexandrian library of the Ptolemies. It is clear that even a short period of neglect can result in the loss of a catastrophic quantity of irreplaceable knowledge. Every generation must safeguard, respect, and promote the legacy of the past, so that future epochs are not deprived of their cultural inheritance.  It only took about 200 years of neglect for the majority of Latin literature to become lost to history.  In the east, the great library of Alexandria, along with that of Pergamum, withered away from a combination of apathy, neglect, and the vicissitudes of time.  What lessons can be learned from these sobering facts?

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