A Fool Is Put In His Place


The following anecdote is related in Ibn Khallikan’s short biographical profile of the philologist and rhetorician Al Said.  His full name was Abu al-Said Ibn al-Hasan Ibn Isa Al-Raba’i.  Verbal abilities are highly prized in cultures with rich literary traditions, and this tale bears testament to this fact.

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The Song Of Roland


As Europe took shape in the early medieval period, the vernacular languages found their voices in popular epics and ballads.  This was not an accident; access to Latin and its literature required literacy, and this was something not easy to come by at that time.  But the lay audiences of Europe began to develop their own voices, and these soon coalesced by degrees into coherent form.  The tradition was mostly oral at first, until these songs and ballads began to be written down.  In every new civilization it seems that the epic ballad occupies the first stage of literary expression; perhaps this is because a people must first master their environments before they can have the leisure to philosophize.  And mastery of the environment means capability in war.

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How Some Old Dystopian Science Fiction Predicted Our Future


The BBC recently ran an article describing how the 1987 Arnold Schwarzenegger action film The Running Man contained many supposedly accurate predictions of a dystopian future.  The article makes many valid points about how some elements of the film’s plot seem to describe our current social landscape, but the author forgets that The Running Man was in many ways a derivative film.  Much of its “predictions” were made by less promoted forerunners in the 1970s.

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A Retreat Can Spur Creative Energy: Machiavelli’s Letter To Francesco Vettori


Sometimes being away from the fray and the fracases of life can allow us to compose our thoughts and regenerate our spirits.  This has the effect of spurring the creative soul on to higher amplitudes of output.  We forget just how distracting it is for the mind to be bombarded with invasive stimuli; and while periods of withdrawal from the fray should not be permanent, they can, in the right doses, provide just that right proportion of flint and steel to spark great works.

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Seek It, And It Recedes; Ignore It, And It Comes To You


The biographer Ibn Khallikan relates the following anecdote about a man named Abu Amir Orwa Ibn Uzaina, a scholar and poet who died around A.D. 736.  Not much is known of his life except that he was a member of the Iraqi tribe of al-Laith.  It illustrates the importance of not chasing things in life too much.  From personal experience I can attest to this principle’s soundness.  When I was younger, there were times when I would try too much to chase things or control events.

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The Vengeance Of The Wife Of Orgiago


This story is found in Giovanni Boccaccio’s On Famous Women (De mulieribus claris).  The same qualities of greatness of soul (magnitudo animi and munificentia animi) and moral character that make men great also serve the same purpose for women, as I have recounted in these pages many times before.  It is right, then, for us to praise these virtues wherever we find them.

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Giving And Receiving


The minister Al Rabi’ Ibn Yunus (الربيع بن يونس) lived from about A.D. 730 to 785 and served the Abbasid caliphs Al Mansur and his successor Al Mahdi.  Amusing and instructive anecdotes have come down to us from the medieval Arabic historians about the interactions of the minister with his sovereigns.  We will relate two of them here, acknowledging our debt to Ibn Khallikan’s Biographical Dictionary (وفيات الأعيان وأنباء أبناء الزمان).  The stories illustrate the importance of honoring one’s word as well as the power of Fate.

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