Author’s Note For “Pantheon”

[The excerpt below is the foreword to the book Pantheon: Adventures in History, Biography, and the Mind]

An author’s foreword often takes the form of an apologia.  So it is with this one.  We find ourselves compelled to renew our study of the nature of man, and the many dimensions of masculine virtue, which first began with the publication of Thirty-Seven in 2014.  The favorable reception of Thirty-Seven made it clear that new approaches to man’s ancient problems were desperately needed, and would be gratefully welcomed.  The unchanging themes of the life of man had cried out for a new voice, and a new technique, that might give them a contemporary resonance.

For too long, the study of masculine virtues had been cloaked in feeble apologetics that neither dignified nor elevated man’s struggles.  What had been needed was a return to the basic sources in history, biography, and philosophy.  The nature of adversity, the struggle for personal mastery, the vagaries of Fortune, the triumph of visionary effort, and the moral dimensions of character:  these were subjects that demanded a refurbishment, and a modern perspective, that nevertheless paid homage to ancient models.

I have found the essay to be the best vehicle for the presentation and discussion of these themes.  Finding the right balance in each essay between a merciful brevity and a tiresome length is a delicate balancing act; and the author, perched on his quivering tightrope, can only hope that his audience is not offended by his occasional deference to either extreme.  I do not pretend to impartiality.  For this I offer no apology, nor any equivocations.  The current age calls not for a bland neutrality, but for a conviction that will ignite the imagination, and kindle its fires.  My method has been to use the essay as a bacteriologist might use his microscope, or as the astronomer might employ his celestially-directed lenses.

Through the use of historical examples, the study of philosophical questions, and the examination of moral problems, our knowledge of ourselves grows measure by measure.  The scope of these questions intimidates the author as much as it does the reader; and we can only hope that the awareness of our ignorance will serve as a constant stimulus in our quest for wisdom.  Effort in seeking wisdom is never wasted, for our goal is a noble one.  We may respectfully disagree with Seneca when he warns us,

Whether reason or fortune has concealed these things,

Let what has been hidden remain hidden, always awaiting discovery;

As the Truth, unearthed, always brings misfortune to its discoverer.[1]

The essays in this volume have been selected for their treatment of the themes listed in the paragraphs above.  I have decided, in addition, to give extended treatment to the topic of Neoplatonism.  The final chapter of the book contains a detailed summary of all fifty-four treatises of Plotinus’s Enneads.  It is the product of a thorough study of the original texts, and  constitutes nearly a book within a book.  I do not need to be told how rash this effort was; but being rash, I elected to proceed.

Neoplatonism and mystical philosophy is a subject of some interest to me, as I believe that its dedicated study can bring a vastly expanded appreciation of one’s spiritual potential.  Every reader, of course, will have to decide for himself.  We can only strike forward, and make our way as best we can, swinging our machete at the bramble of vines in the inhospitable jungle of the mind.  We recall Virgil’s lines (Aeneid II.494):  Fit via vi.  The road is made with force.  So we force our way through.

With the vast range of topics covered, it is certain that there will be differences of opinion among reasonable men about the finer points of analysis on a given topic.  The translations in the text from Latin and Arabic are my own, and to me alone must be ascribed errors in interpretation, if any may be found.  The writing of a book is a solitary endeavor, and at the same time, something of a collaborative one.  Ideas are plastic:  they need to be worked, shaped, molded, and discussed, before they can take a final form.

I owe several debts of gratitude in the preparation of this book.  My friend Winston Smith devoted much effort in reviewing the final manuscript, and made many welcome suggestions.  I am also appreciative of the many readers of Thirty-Seven who contacted me personally to offer enthusiastic statements of support and encouragement.  They are legion, and are heard.  A special place in this writer’s own pantheon must be reserved for the accommodating kindness of these selfless souls.

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[1] Sive ista ratio sive fortuna occulit,

Latere semper patere quod latuit diu;

Saepe eruentis veritas patuit malo.  [Oedipus IV.825]