Monday, June 24

"Choosing" One's Own Destiny

It was a truly wonderful sight, he said, to watch how each soul selected its life — a sight at once melancholy and ludicrous and strange. The experience of their former life generally guided the choice. Thus he saw the soul which had once been that of Orpheus choosing the life of a swan, because having been put to death by women, he detested the whole race so much that he would not consent to be conceived and born of a woman. And he saw the soul of Thamyras choosing the life of a nightingale. He saw also a swan changing its nature, and selecting the life of a man; and its example was followed by other musical animals. The soul that drew the twentieth lot chose a lion's life. It was the soul of Ajax the son of Telamon, who shrunk from becoming a man because he recollected the decision respecting the arms of Achilles. He was followed by the soul of Agamemnon, who had been also taught by his sufferings to hate mankind so bitterly that he adopted in exchange an eagle's life. The soul of Atlanta, which had drawn one of the middle lots, beholding the great honours attached to the life of an athlete, could not resist the temptation to take it up. Then he saw the soul of Epeus the son of Panopeus, assuming the nature of a skilful work-woman. And in the distance, among the last, he saw the soul of the buffoon Thersites putting on the exterior of an ape. It so happened that the soul of Odysseus had drawn the last lot of all. When he came up to choose, the memory of his former sufferings had so abated his ambition that he went about a long time looking for a quiet retired life, which with great trouble he discovered lying about, and thrown contemptuously aside by the others. As soon as he saw it, he chose it gladly, and said that he would have done the same if he had even drawn the first lot. In the like manner some of the other animals passed into men, and into one another — the unjust passing into the wild, and the just into the tame: and every kind of mixture ensued. (Plato. Republic.)

Thursday, June 13

Begone You Old Man of the Sea!

It is probable then, that if a man should arrive in our city, so clever as to be able to assume any character and imitate any object, and should propose to make a public display of his talents and his productions, we shall pay him reverence as a sacred, admirable and charming personage, but we shall tell him that in our state there is no one like him, and that our law excludes such characters, and we shall send him away to another city after pouring perfumed oil upon his head, and crowning him with woolen fillets; but for ourselves, we shall employ, for the sake of our real good, that more austere and less fascinating poet and legend-writer, who will imitate for us the style of the virtuous man, and will cast his narratives in those moulds which we prescribed at the outset, when we were engaged with the training of our soldiers.
(Republic. Plato)

Monday, June 10

Politics of "Reluctance"

For this reason, then, good men will not consent to hold an office of power, either for the sake of money or for that of honour; for they neither wish to get the name of hirelings by openly exacting hire for their duties, nor of thieves by using their power to obtain it secretly, nor yet will they take office for the sake of honour, for they are not ambitious. Therefore compulsion and the fear of a penalty must be brought to bear on them, to make them consent to hold office; which is probably the reason why it is thought dishonourable to accept power willingly without waiting to be compelled. Now the heaviest of all penalties is to be governed by a worse man, in case of one's own refulsal to govern; and it is the fear of this, i believe, which induces virtuous men to take the posts of government; and when they do so, they enter upon their administration not with any idea of coming into a good thing, but as an unavoidable necessity  not expecting to enjoy themselves in it, but because they cannot find any person better or no worse than themselves to whom they can commit it. For the probability is that if there were a city composed of none but good men, it would be an object of competition to avoid the possession of power, just as now it is to obtain it, and then it would become clearly evident that it is not the nature of the genuine ruler to look to his own interest but to that of the subject: so that every judicious man would choose to be the recipient of benefits, rather than to have the trouble of conferring them upon others. Therefore i will on no account concede to Thrasmyachus that justice is the interest of the stronger.
(Republic. Plato.)

Tuesday, June 4

One Thing Is Needful.

To "give style" to one's character—a great and rare art! It is practiced by those who survey all the strengths and weaknesses of their nature and then fit them into an artistic plan until every one of them appears as art and reason and even weaknesses delight the eye. Here a large mass of second nature has been added; there a piece of original nature has been removed—both times through long practice and daily work at it. Here the ugly that could not be removed is concealed; there it has been reinterpreted and made sublime. Much that is vague and resisted shaping has been saved and exploited for distant views; it is meant to beckon toward the far and immeasurable. In the end, when the work is finished, it becomes evident how the constraint of a single taste governed and formed everything large and small. Whether this taste was good or bad is less important than one might suppose, if only it was a single taste!
(Nietzsche. The Gay Science.)

Even at that hour when the grey sky of St. Petersburg is shrouded in total darkness and all its race of officials have dined and sated the...