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.Continue reading
In this podcast I discuss my new translation of Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations. The work deals with five critical problems that face all of us: the fear of death, how to endure pain, how to alleviate mental distress, the various disorders of the mind, and why virtue is important for living a happy life. What questions could be more essential and fundamental than these?Continue reading
In this podcast, we discuss a serious subject. A reader explains that his family has just lost a young child, and he is searching for advice on how to deal with this calamity. I offer some suggestions drawn from Plutarch’s letter of consolation to his wife on the death of his two-year-old daughter Timoxena. We also discuss anecdotes from other sources (e.g., Cicero’s views on grief, the life of P.T. Barnum, etc.), and my own personal experiences. Fiat voluntas tua.Continue reading
The Ionian philosopher Heraclitus, who flourished around 500 B.C., was even in ancient times known for his obscurity and elusiveness. His well-deserved nickname was “The Obscure,” due to the fact that his elliptical sayings could be variously interpreted. Yet this was no impediment to his influence; his renown was considerable, and his fame rested on the strength of one book, On Nature. Time has not preserved it for us intact, but we do have about a hundred short fragments, and these provides us with the rudiments of his thought.
In one of his letters to his brother Quintus, Marcus Tullius Cicero makes the following observation:
The more virtuous a man is, the less he considers others to be evil. [Letters to Quintus I.4.12]
The idea is the same as that expressed in an old Korean proverb, which I remember from my residence in that country many years ago: “In the eyes of a Buddha, everything is Buddha-like; but to a pig’s eyes, everything appears piggish.” The proverb sounds much more beautiful, of course, in the original Korean; but the point remains valid. A great spirit—a soul imbued with a certain nobility—finds it difficult to comprehend, or accept, venality and baseness displayed by others. Such a man can be trained to recognize and avoid these things, but they will always retain an air of incomprehensibility to him, as if they were fundamentally anathema to his soul. Why is this?
We have forgotten the importance of physical gestures, and lost the power to use them effectively. The modern man mumbles hesitatingly through his daily conversations with speech, intonation, and physical movements that betray his supreme lack of confidence and paralyzed will; his sentences are strung together with drooping, truncated, insipid copulas and expressions that are just as uninspiring as his limp-wristed gesticulations, his distended paunch, and his lack of musculature. Grunting and stumbling have now replaced fluency of communication, grace of artistry, and the supple movement of a divine form towards a noble goal. Since the words flowing from so many mouths now mean so little, we can expect the gestures of such speakers to echo the hollowness of their words. It seems that T.S. Elio’s descriptive lines in “The Hollow Men” have become fact:
One of the myths associated with the foundation of Rome was that of the reconciliation between the Romans and the Sabines. This took place through the mediation of the Sabine women, who, after having been abducted by the Romans, grew tired of conflict and longed for peace. The kings of the two tribes—Romulus for the Romans and Titus Tatius for the Sabines—held a conference at a location where a battle had recently been fought between the two sides. Their purpose was to unify their two nations.
I was recently reading some of Cicero’s letters to Atticus, and came across this sentence in one of them:
Quid enim sumus, aut quid esse possumus? Domis an foris?