There are times when a sleeping lion must rouse himself from repose to swat a yapping dog. Such ankle-biters need to learn that it is one thing to throw around malicious accusations, and quite another thing to be faced with a response. In matters such as these, I am not concerned with power or influence–unlike you, Ms. Zuckerberg–but only with my good name, and the meaning and purpose of my work.
I have recently learned that a writer, Donna Zuckerberg, has scribbled some derogatory article in which my name has appeared. Ms. Zuckerberg has read my book Thirty-Seven and attacks me on several alleged grounds, primarily these:
- That I do not devote enough attention in my writing to “women and children.”
- That I have an unduly “narrow view of history” in that I focus too much on character, masculine virtue, and leadership, and not enough on “historical processes.”
Ms. Zuckerberg proceeds to even more grandiose claims that the “manosphere” (whatever that is) is somehow “linked” to evil goblins and gremlins such as the “right wing” and other imaginary bugbears. By cherry-picking this and that, and by stringing a few unrelated names together, the obvious attempt here is to malign those who do not write about the things Ms. Zuckerberg wants people to write about, as well as those who do not toe her party line of political correctness. It is as false as it is intellectually dishonest.
You have falsely tried to categorize me as a “right wing” writer, and have falsely tried to attribute to me ideas that I do not believe. I am not concerned with your approval or your praise, Ms. Zuckerberg: I am concerned only with the truth. For as Terence says [Andros, 68], “Obsequiousness makes friends, but the truth generates enemies.” (Obsequium amicos, veritas odium parit). In fact we will show that Ms. Zuckerberg has no understanding of either my own work or of the classics she claims to be defending. Let us go through each point of Ms. Zuckerberg’s confused babbling to see what we may discover.
You first say that I do not “write about women.” What? What sort of foolishness is this? Have you even spent five minutes looking through the articles on my blog here?
Have you not seen my article on queen Amalasuntha?
Have you not seen my article on Christine de Pizan, and why women need role models as much as men do?
You have also said I lack an appreciation of “historical processes.” Oh, really? Is that so? Have you seen one of my most popular articles?:
So you have no idea what you’re talking about. But let me ask you this: am I required only to write about things you approve of? Who are you to try to categorize people, pin labels on people, or to try to dictate what someone should or should not write about? Who are you to try to police the thought of others? Did it ever occur to you that I certainly do recognize such processes, and understand their significance more than you do, but choose not to write about them very often? Our time, and our current condition, perhaps calls for a renaissance of character, and a renewed interest in the study of virtue and moral goodness. Even so, if you look at my books and my blog, you will find hardly anyone who writes about such a broad number of subjects. I deal with nearly everything, including agriculture, health, history, literature, film, current events, military affairs, and a myriad other topics. No one else writing today can produce what I produce. Look at my articles archive on this page, if you can handle that.
I mention these articles not because I need your approval, but only because they prove the falsity of your statement that I am not interested in writing about women. It might surprise you to learn, Ms. Zuckerberg, that a significant number of my readers are women. Does that shock you? Yet it is a fact. In truth, the most perceptive and intelligent review of one of my books has come from a woman. You can find it here. All types of readers come here to look at what is offered because they appreciate fine things and love quality. Anyone is welcome here who comes with a clean heart, a decent spirit, and who is free from malice or rude behavior.
Not only this, but unlike anyone else, I am willing to write knowledgeably on Islamic and Arabic history. Who else, in this political climate, is willing to do this? You, for all of your posturing? Would you dare to do this? Do you have any knowledge of the Arabic language? Are you willing to set your own prejudices aside for once, and approach the world with an open and honest heart? Would I be writing about these sorts of things if I were some “right wing” person? Well? What is your answer? You have no answer, only false labels and smears that are used to police the thought of others.
Consider these articles, for example, which are just a few among many that deal with Near Eastern cultural and historical subjects:
Who else but me has written with such knowledge and sensitivity on these subjects? Who, in the current climate of fear and hysteria, has been willing to probe into these waters? Who? You? The blunt truth is that, for all your snide, carping criticisms, you know nothing about my work. I deal with all subjects under the sun: anything that interests me can make an appearance here at Fortress of the Mind.
Do not confuse me with the gremlins and goblins that oppress your fantasies. I am not a political writer and have no political agenda; I identify with no political group. I fit into no neat category. If I really were some “right wing” person (which I am not), would I be writing the things I have described above? I have earned the right to write on these subjects because I am knowledgeable about them, and because my readers know that I work harder than anyone else to bring this forgotten wisdom of the past to new generations. They know I am sincere and accept me for this. I am sustained by the love and devotion of my readers; you are sustained and motivated by fear, bile, and malice.
As anyone can see, you cherry-pick random names and phrases out of context to “prove” your false points, and those things that mesh with your own personal agenda. This is intellectual dishonesty at its worst. I am not part of the “alt right” and have never been part of it. Your attempt to smear me with this label is a lie. I am an accomplished translator, essayist, and writer. My books speak for themselves. I am also a practicing trial attorney, and before that I was a military officer.
Let me move on to your other false point where you said I unduly emphasize character and virtue. How can someone like yourself, who claims to be a classicist, say such a thing? Do you hate your field that much? Are you that ignorant of the classical tradition that you claim to be upholding?
There are a great many classical writers, and one cannot speak for all of them in a few sentences. But are you actually going to try to claim, Ms. Zuckerberg, that an emphasis on character and virtue is not a thread that runs through a great number of classical authors? Are you so willfully blind that you refuse to see what is right before your eyes? Consider these examples, just to state a few.
I devoted a chapter to Plutarch in my book Thirty-Seven. He is certainly one of the most influential writers in history. Are you going to say, Ms. Zuckerberg, that character and morals were not important to him? Mme. Roland (Marie-Jeanne Phlippon, a distinguished woman I am sure you are ignorant of) called Plutarch “the pasture of great souls.” The poet Heinrich Heine was spurred to action by reading of the glorious deeds described in Plutarch, as was Napoleon and countless others.
Who can possibly complain about the vision and goodness of a man who could write (as Plutarch did) the following?:
Will not the good man consider every day to be a festival?…For the world is the most august of temples and most worthy of its Lord. Into this temple man is introduced at his birth, into the presence not of statues made with hands and motionless, but such as the Divine Mind has manifested to our senses…As this life is the most perfect of initiations into the most exalted of mysteries, we should be ever filled with good cheer and rejoicing. [De tranquilitate animi IX.20]
Are these the words of man who thinks character is not important? The scholar Richard Kimball said the following in his article Plutarch and the Issue of Character:
The issue of character, in both senses of “issue,” was at the heart of Plutarch’s teaching. It was also at the heart of Western culture for the centuries in which Plutarch was accounted an indispensable guide [italics mine]. Countless people turned to Plutarch not only for entertainment but also for moral intelligence. He was, as one scholar put it, “simply one of the most influential writers who ever lived,” not because of his art but because of the dignity he portrayed. We have lost our taste for that species of nobility.
It is just because we have lost our ability to recognize this nobility that I celebrate it so much. Are you so frightened of talk about character and leadership because you recognize that you fall so short of the ideal? Does this type of language make you uncomfortable, knowing deep down that you have no achievements of consequence to your own name, and that you can only elevate yourself by unfairly attacking others?
Consider this quote from the first paragraph of my published translation of Sallust’s Conspiracy of Catiline:
All men who seek to be better than the animals ought to exert themselves with the greatest efforts, lest they pass their lives in silence as if they were beasts of burden, which Nature has conditioned to be prostrate and subservient to their stomachs. All our powers are situated in our minds and bodies; we make use of the mind more for control, and the body for service. One of these we hold in common with the gods, and the other with the wild beasts. For me it seems more proper to seek glory through one’s natural character than through the efforts of naked force and, since this life that we delight in is short, to fashion a legacy for ourselves that is as lasting as possible. For glory derived from riches and appearances is transitory and brittle, but masculine virtue is pure and eternal.
Does this sound like someone who thought character was not important? Who, other than an unfeeling dolt, could fail to be inspired by such luminous diction? It was words like these that inspired me to work day and night to translate Sallust. Into this work I poured my heart and soul.
Character was important to the ancients even in areas where would not expect, such as rhetoric and medicine. Consider Quintilian. He spends a whole section in his treatise on oratory (Institutio Oratoria XII.5) to the importance of character. You should go and read it, since evidently you know nothing of these matters. In the same book, he also discusses how a knowledge of philosophy and history are also important. I spend a lot of time in my books and on my blog discussing these things.
Even the practice of medicine needed good character, according to Galen. In his aptly-named treatise Quod optimus medicus sit quoque philosophus (The Best Doctor Is Also A Philosopher) he tells us:
For if in order to discover the nature of the body, the differentiae of diseases and the indications for cures, it is appropriate for him to be practiced in logic, and to stay diligent in the practice of these things, to despise money, and to exercise self-control.[I.60K]
Character matters in everything, Ms. Zuckerberg, and it affects everything. And this is why I focus on it in my books. It is one of the themes running through my essay collections Thirty–Seven and Pantheon. If you had a more expansive soul and were possessed of deeper life experiences, you might have been capable of appreciating this. And this really is the heart of the matter. It is an incontestable fact that a diligent study of the classical texts and languages promotes civic virtue, moral excellence, and a deeper connection with the continuity of history. For you to be unaware of this–or, even worse, deliberately to ignore this fact–is shameful and inexcusable.
The works of antiquity have helped teach me to overcome bodily pain and deficiency by endurance and greatness of soul; to have contempt for death and the fleeting nature of life; to ward off melancholy by focusing on the majesty and glory of classical virtue (virtus); and to seek to live a balanced and happy life by cherishing friendship, family, and love. All these I have learned, and will continue to learn. I emphasize character, morals, and the education of the young because I know how important it is. I am a forty-eight year old man who has more scars than you will ever have. I have fought more battles than you will ever fight. While you were mincing around the halls of Princeton University, I was leading Marines in deployed environments in Okinawa and East Asia. While you were bullying people for not adhering to your politically-correct ideology, I was starting a law firm, trying cases in court, fighting for the rights of the common man, and making an honest name for myself.
This is the difference between you and me. While you are a child of privilege, I am a man who has earned his way through life through the sweat of his own brow.
Do you want to know why I write? Because I love the subject matter, and I truly believe in its power to bring back what we have lost from our society. I venerate these classical and Renaissance works because I know how true their lessons are for real life. I use them as a source of moral inspiration, a guide to a better life, and as a vision for the elevation of the human spirit.
You, on the other hand, use them as a punch line. You have no real feel for these works. If you did, you would never be able to miss the role of character and virtue in a great many classical and Renaissance works. In fact, I think that deep down, you despise these books. Why? They call attention to everything that you and your social justice warrior ilk are not: honorable, good, just, and fair-minded. Those who lack character and virtue hate nothing more than someone who talks about such things. You seek to shut people up who fail to toe your politically-correct line.
I seek to elevate people and raise them up, Ms. Zuckerberg, while you seek to pull people down and denigrate them. That is the difference between you and me. What works do you have in your own name? What achievements do you have to your credit? I only see some scribblings that attempt to capitalize on the work of others. What is this effrontery? Can’t you come up with your own original work, without trying to gain attention by unfairly attacking others? Do you make it a habit to live off the labor of others?
I, on the other hand, work day and night to perfect my craft. I work all day as an attorney and then write at night, producing books and articles that are equaled by no one. This, on top of all my other responsibilities. Can you comprehend what level of dedication and will this takes? The originality and passion of Thirty-Seven terrifies you because it comes from the heart; with learned rigor, it celebrates the great deeds of great men, presents a constructive philosophy of life that elevates man, and implicitly attacks the debilitating anti-masculine ethos of modern American society. It is an innovative work, and you sense this. It represents everything that you are not, and it speaks truths for which you have no answers.
You do not own the classics, Ms. Zuckerberg. It is not for you to dictate what someone should think or write. In your arrogance, you claim to be the purveyor of “truth” about the classics. You claim to be protecting the world from imaginary straw-men, gremlins, goblins, and assorted bugbears. I, on the other hand, never tried to dictate to people what they should and should not write. I never claimed to possess ultimate wisdom or glory, but only a desire for them. The only claim I make for myself is an acute desire for virtue and knowledge.
You are trying to swim in waters, Ms. Zuckerberg, that are too deep for you. Let me tell you a story (even though I’m sure you’d rather hear one about gremlins and goblins) that you might want to reflect on. Cicero relates this little anecdote in his De Oratore (II.18).
In his later years, after he had been defeated by Scipio, the great general Hannibal went to live in Syria under the protection of King Antiochus at Ephesus. At the king’s court there was a man–Phormio by name–who fancied himself an expert in many things he knew very little about. Hannibal was invited to hear him speak, and so he went to see what Phormio was all about. Phormio, who had never lifted a weapon in his entire life, began to discourse at length on military matters. He talked about how to lead men, about how to win victories, and many other things. Everyone applauded him when his talk was finished. When Hannibal was asked what he thought of this performance, he is said to have replied:
I have seen many foolish and inept old men. But none of them has delighted me as much as this old man, who speaks at such great length about things he knows nothing about.
I have shown how you know nothing about my work, and how you have (at best) a superficial understanding of one of the main themes running through the classics you claim to love so much. It remains only for me to point out that I have no connection to any of the people mentioned in your article. You have falsely and grotesquely tried to smear me by including my name with people whose ideas I do not share. I am not part of any political group and have no political agenda. I am not part of your imaginary world of goblins and gremlins, as you know very well. I am not part of the “alt right” and never have been. This is obvious to anyone who spends more than five minutes looking at my work.
Instead of trying to de-legitimize me by pinning false labels on me, you should be supporting me. Instead of attacking me, you should be celebrating me. I have published a number of books and translations, and continue to write regularly here at qcurtius.com. My work speaks for itself. I have done more to introduce young people to the classics than you have done, or ever will do. And I have done it through honesty, sincerity, and magnitudo animi. Can you say anything comparable? No. You lack greatness of soul; instead of creating, you know only how to denigrate and destroy. You spend your days obsessing about me and other innocent people who have done nothing to anyone. It is you, you who seeks to impose controls on what can and cannot be written about.
Ms. Zuckerberg! I realize you are trying to make a name for yourself by attacking writers in the hope that it will validate your own agenda. Like any unscrupulous opportunist, your game is try to fix labels on people who are more accomplished than you, or who have more to offer than you. You have nothing to offer except name-calling and thought-policing. I realize that your famous name makes you feel entitled to pass judgment on others and malign others. I realize that you feel entitled to bully and condescend to others who do not accept your agenda. It is not an untried path; many others have walked this road before. You have become the oppressor and the bigot that you claim to be protecting the world against.
Unlike you, I am not a child of privilege. No one ever gave me anything: I made my own way in life as the son of immigrants who did not have the benefit of being royalty like yourself. I earned my love of ancient wisdom with my own effort, and I hold it close to my heart. You will never be able to define me, order me what to think, command me what to say, or deter me in my quest for knowledge and virtue. That is something far, far beyond your poor power to attempt. You will have to find someone else to tremble in fear at the sound of your shrieking, for I am not the one to do so.
Your behavior is an insult to common standards of decency and honesty. You should be spending your time doing original research, collating manuscripts, and establishing yourself in your field. The very last thing you should be doing is attacking me.
Read more about great deeds and strength of character in Pantheon: