What Knowledge Comes To Us From Dreams?

Arthur Conan Doyle’s sinister short story “The Leathern Funnel” deals with a phenomenon called psychometry:  the supposed ability of material objects associated with emotionally charged experiences to preserve and transmit a record of such events.  Published in 1900, the tale begins innocently enough with a meeting between friends, then slowly builds to an ominous crescendo of unease and sadistic malignancy.  Lionel Dacre, a wealthy owner of rare curiosities, owns a very old leather funnel from seventeenth-century France; the funnel has mysterious scratches, or bite-marks, on its neck.  Dacre persuades a friend (the unnamed narrator) to sleep with this funnel by his bedside.  In his dreams that night, the friend makes a horrifying discovery:  the funnel was actually used as a water-torture device during a pretrial procedure euphemistically called the “Extraordinary Question.”

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Accountability And Discipline Must Apply Equally To All

Yacub Ibn Al-Laith Al-Saffar (يعقوب بن الليث الصفار) lived from A.D. 840 to 879, and is credited as the founder of the Saffarid dynasty of Sistan.  Sistan is the geographic area now known as eastern Iran and southern Afghanistan; its capital was the city of Zaranj.  The word saffar in Arabic means “brass founder,” an artisan working in brass; but Yacub was said to be a coppersmith.  His biographer Ibn Khallikan credits Yacub with this wise saying:

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If You Cannot Be Great, At Least Do No Harm

Aesop tells us a story of a hunter who was once looking for the tracks of a lion.  Searching here and there with no success, he paused to ask a local woodcutter if he had seen the footprints of a lion, and, if so, where he thought the lion’s den might be found.  The woodcutter responded that there was no need to bother with prints; he would be happy to take the hunter to the lion’s den himself.  Instead of being pleased at this news, the hunter began to show signs of extreme nervousness and fear.  He then extricated himself from the situation, telling the woodcutter, “Thank you for your offer, but I am really only interested in finding the tracks of the lion, not the lion himself.”

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Never Surrender What Is Most Important

There is a fable in Aesop that involves the behavior of the beaver.  In ancient times, beavers were often hunted for the scented oil, known as castorea, that was found in sacs near its genital area.  The beaver liked to rub its hind parts against trees and logs, thereby possessively marking them with his scent; and this scent apparently had to humans a pleasant aroma, reputed to be evocative of vanilla.  The ancients mistakenly thought that this valued aromatic came from the beaver’s scrotum, rather than from special internal sacs adjacent to the genitalia.

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On Each Side Swords, And On Each Side Corpses

The Battle of Zama essentially concluded the Second Punic War, that terrible contest waged by Rome and Carthage for control of the western Mediterranean.  It took place in 202 B.C. near the town of Zama in what is now Tunisia.  The commanding generals were Hannibal on the Carthaginian side, and Publius Cornelius Scipio on the Roman.  The historian Livy (XXX.30) relates a fascinating exchange between these two great commanders that took place on the eve of the battle.

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On Obedience And Disobedience

We spend most of lives in obedience to one form of authority or another.  Rarely, if ever, is it counted as a virtue worthy of discussion by us moderns.  On the contrary:  we are expected to applaud disobedience, disorder, and challenges to authority, as if such disobedience were automatically exempt from scrutiny.

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