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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Preserving Something For Time To Make Better

Before I explore the main subject of this essay, I wanted to relate a tale about Alexander the Great’s leadership acumen.  The historian Arrian relates an event that he believes best distills Alexander’s genius for command.  It can be found in VI.26 of his History of Alexander.  When Alexander and his army were passing through the Gedrosian desert (a part of what is now Baluchistan), they ran low on water and began to be tormented by extreme thirst.  Water was almost nowhere to be found, and it would be some time before they could reach a reliable aquifer.

Continue reading

A Man Is Often The Cause Of His Own Misfortune

A reasonable amount of experience in life teaches us that we are often the source of the wrongs that fall upon our shoulders.  This is not always true, of course; but even a short period of honest reflection will reveal to us, if we examine the details of things, that we might have handled some situations better than we in fact did.  Learning does not take place without honest examination; and the first person who is in need of this honesty is ourselves.

Continue reading

The Man In The Well, And The Path Of Wisdom

In his allegorical work Kalila and Dimna, writer Ibn Muqaffa describes the journey to wisdom of one of his characters, a man named Barzouyeh.  Barzouyeh was the man sent by the king of Persia to India for the purpose of acquiring the precious text of Kalila and Dimna, which was reputed to contain a treasure-trove of worldly wisdom.  Ibn Muqaffa spends a good deal of time discussing Barzouyeh’s education and path to worldly wisdom; and it will be instructive for us to relate it here.

Continue reading

The Eight Qualities Of The Man Of Understanding

One of the first and greatest classics of Arabic prose is the Book of Kalila and Dimna.  It is a collection of fables told with an allegorical purpose, but it is presented with such wisdom, poetic eloquence, and engaging humor as to make it one of the treasures of world literature.  Its pedigree verifies its merit.  The stories it contains were originally derived from a Sanskrit classic called the Panchatantra, but a Persian scholar and translator named Ibn Muqaffa’ (ابن المقفع‎‎), writing around 740 A.D., reworked the stories into something that was entirely original.

Continue reading