The Font Of Life And Leadership

How often do we really think about time, and our interactions with it?  We know that Augustine of Hippo, in his Confessions (XI.20), expended significant effort on the nature of time, and its effect on human affairs.  In his view it was not accurate to say, as we normally do, that the three “times” are past, present, and future.  The better way of understanding our perception of time, he says, is to observe that the three “varieties” of time co-existing in our souls are the following:

Continue reading

The Monkey Atop The Ship’s Mast, And How To Deal With Him

A nineteenth-century volume of nautical lore provides the following story of a strange incident at sea.  In 1818 there was a ship—its name is not recorded by the tale’s author—on its homeward voyage from Jamaica to Whitehaven, England.  One of the passengers was a young mother with her infant child, who was only several weeks old.  One day, the ship’s captain saw something on the horizon, and offered his spyglass to the mother, so that she might for herself see what it was.  She wrapped her child in her shawl and placed it carefully on the seat where she had been sitting.

Continue reading

The Humor And Wisdom Of Ibn Sabir Al-Manjaniki

Ibn Sabir Al-Manjaniki’s full name was Abu Yusuf Ibn Sabir Ibn Hauthara Al-Manjaniki; we note it here for completeness, and will not repeat it again.  He was also known in some circles by the surname Najm Al-Din, which means “star of religion.”  He was born  in Baghdad in January 1159, and spent his early life there.  He is nearly unique in having achieved enduring fame in two completely separate disciplines:  military engineering and poetry.

Continue reading

Sooner Or Later, Everyone Must Take A Side

The Athenian statesman and lawgiver Solon is said to have enacted an unusual law in 594 B.C.  The essence of the law was that, in times of civil conflict or crisis, every citizen had to take one side or another.  Neutrality was not an option; one could not “sit on the sidelines” and wait things out.  Anyone doing so would run the risk of being declared an outlaw (atimos), and might have his property confiscated.

Continue reading

Greed Is Always Their Undoing

In the first book of the Panchatantra (the classic Sanskrit collection of moral fables), the writer, Vishnu Sarma, mentions “five evils” that can befall an individual or a state:  absence or dearth; rebellion; addiction; calamities; and tactical inversions.  Each of these is explained in the following way.

Continue reading

Petrarch Counsels A Ruler On The Ends Of Power

Giacomo Bussolari was born to a poor family in Pavia, Italy around 1300.  A natural gift for oratory augmented the modest opportunities available to him; and he found in the Augustinian order a vehicle for the expression of his ambitions.  During the 1350s he was a leading figure in the city, even rising to command the city’s military during conflict with the Visconti in 1356.  Yet Fortune was to turn against him, as so often happens; by 1359 the Visconti had mounted a successful campaign against Pavia, and Bussolari was ignominiously deposed.

Continue reading

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.”

Continue reading

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:

Continue reading

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.”

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading