The Kings Of Nothing

The war between Julius Caesar and Pompey engulfed the Roman world between 49 and 48 B.C.  Historians, seeking concision and brevity at the expense of accuracy, call it a “civil war”; and in one sense it is.  But to those who lived through it, or fell under the long shadow of its aftershocks, it was more than a civil war.  It was with good reason that the poet Lucan, in the first line of his Pharsalia, described the conflict as something “worse than civil”:

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All Men Seek Their Divine Origins

By 331 B.C. Alexander the Great had reached Egypt and brought it under his control.  He already had a string of incredible military victories to his credit, including those at Granicus, Issus, and Tyre.  He must have sensed, in the marrow of his bones, that he possessed some indefinable quality that separated him from other men. 

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Acknowledging The Debts To Our Predecessors

In his treatise On the Nature of the Gods, Cicero points out a shameful personal weakness of the philosopher Epicurus.  What was this character flaw?  It was Epicurus’s congenital inability to admit that he had ever been influenced by the thinkers that preceded him.  Cicero states:

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What Was It That Allowed Odysseus To Return Home?

Oliver Stone’s memoir Chasing the Light, which I began reading two weeks ago, relates an interesting anecdote.  After returning from military service in Vietnam, the future director enrolled in film school at New York University; one of the classes he attended, taught by a professor named Tim Leahy, dealt with classical drama. 

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On Whether Alexander Could Have Conquered Rome

It is said that after Alexander the Great completed his conquests in Asia, he intended eventually to turn his gaze westward to the Mediterranean region, and bring those lands under his control.  Death, of course, overtook him before he could begin this campaign.  Either the lingering effects of his battlefield wounds, or his dissolute living habits, brought him to an early grave. 

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The Moral Corruption Of The Elites

The military historian Polyaenus, in his Stratagems of War (II.17), relates the following anecdote.  There was once a man named Dinias, the son of Telesippus, who lived in the city of Cranon, which is located in the region of Thessaly in Greece.  He was originally from the town of Pheraea.  He was a poor man, we are told, and earned his living by hunting and fishing in the countryside near the city.

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Obstacles And Pitfalls For The Youthful Student Of Philosophy

I was recently asked in correspondence to provide some thoughts on the pitfalls and obstacles to the study of philosophy.  I have to admit that it was something of a relief to get this request, as it offers me a pretext to describe my own ideas on this subject.  All of us seek a greater level of understanding of things; but perhaps few of us give much thought to avoiding the obstacles to understanding.  A horse and its equestrian rider, however, cannot clear a hurdle until they have had experience in judging its height and length.  Here, then, are some of the most commonly encountered pitfalls of the student of philosophy. 

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Maneuvering Is Not A Substitute For Direct Action

Winston Churchill, like most statesmen, was known to have little patience for pettifoggery and pirouetting around a problem.  His mind instinctively sought the core of a problem, and was able to slash through brambles and thickets to find it.  His biographer William Manchester wrote, “[He] cared little for obtuse political or social theories; he was a man of action:  state the problem, find a solution, and solve the problem.” 

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All Opportunity For The Good, Yet None For The Unworthy

Philo of Alexandria wrote a relatively obscure essay entitled On the Prayers And Curses Uttered by Noah When He Became Sober.  His translator has fortunately shortened this unwieldy title to the compact De Sobrietate, or On Sobriety.  It contains the following passage of importance:

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The Almond, The Virtues, And Liberty Of Conscience

The philosopher Philo of Alexandria relates the following anecdote in his short treatise On the Life of Moses (II.23.178).  The prophet Moses, we are told, had appointed his brother to the office of high priest.  His decision had been based on his brother’s merits, but there was inevitably some grumbling by people who believed that the appointment was the result of familial favoritism. 

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