…one man's contribution to the Weeeeerly Wild World
I reached p.3119 in my set of the Children’s Encyclopedia by Arthur Mee, and a chapter on the ancient Greeks. It’s a charming piece, well I found the first half to be so, but perhaps it was written with an air of romance, through eyes masked by rose-tinted spectacles.
All our science, literature, and art began with this single people, ‘politically weak, numerically small, materially poor.’ We still use words which they invented ; we still think in channels which they were the first to discover ; our whole civilisation moves on a course which they set for mankind [seven-thousand years ago]… they were accustomed ‘to take little and to give much.’ [whereas] most nations live on other nations.
The article begins with Pythagoras, who in addition to inventing the triangle (if the memory of my Maths classes serves me correct), “made himself an exile and wandered about the world studying mankind… he set up a monastery, into which men might come who hated the vulgar strife of life and desired to seek truth in peace and quiet. No idle chatter was permitted in this school, but the works of Homer [not Simpson] and Hesiod were learned… disciples were taught to conquer all the crude appetites of their animal nature by work and study in order that their inward and spiritual life might be enriched.”
I would just like to add here that Pythagoras lived c. 570 – c. 495 BC, whereas the ancient Egyptians constructed their pyramids thousands of years earlier, and must have already known much about what would later become his theorem.
Coincidentally, (as much as these things ever are) I arrived at an episode of Young Indiana Jones this week (I have the DVD box-set which I dip into from time-to-time [link]) where the young Henry Jones Jr. goes with his father to visit the Hanging Monasteries of Greece.
There the young lad, who probably has a better grasp of these things than me, learns about the topics of Philosophy. The monks there go off for their day-long silent meditation while the two Jones’ are left suspended by a rope following the collapse of the rope-pulley system, the only means of reaching and leaving the monastery.
It seems strange to me that I haven’t ever “formally” studied philosophy. The thought of a day of silence and/or meditation puts into perspective the single days I find a challenge from living on my own and being self employed, with no one to talk to but myself (aside from you my dear reader). Such days I typically find it a challenge to keep my mind focussed on the things I want to achieve. I therefore find those ancient philosophers and monks to be an inspiration. Perhaps I might feel more at ease if I intended to have a day of silence.
Moving on to Euclid in the Encyclopedia I learn that what interested him in life was not anything that passed away; he turned his back on “the fashionable world of magic, superstition, noisy politics, slander, and social excitement.” Something I have seemed to have done. His pupil was Socrates, who I remember from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventures. I’ll include a link to them at the very end of this post because I don’t want to brainwash you just yet.
From Euclid we get Euclid Geometry, which brings us… full circle… (see what I did there) back to to Phythagoras:
In mathematics, the Pythagorean theorem, also known as Pythagoras’s theorem, is a fundamental relation in Euclidean geometry among the three sides of a right triangle. – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pythagorean_theorem
Then there is Hippocrates who has the staff of entwined snakes, which later formed the symbol for hospitals, and the Medical Bay on the star ship Enterprise. No wait, that’s Asclepius…
There were wizards and magicians in that time, who it would seem would dish out hocus-pocus remedies for your day-to-day ailments, whereas Hippocrates sought to discover the laws of the human body. I thought doctors these days still took the Hippocratic Oath, the promise not to seduce their patients (according to a book I have called “A Classical Education – the stuff you wish you’d been taught at school” by Caroline Taggart), but apparently not. It would seem that his work still isn’t fully accepted though since today we still hold true to strange ideas with seemingly no basis in fact; just last week there was talk on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine show (Monday 13th February 2017) about “Old Wives Tales”, about such things like “starving a flu and feeding a cold”, apparently it’s nonsense. But then a week later they have two doctors on the show discrediting the use of a whole swathe of prescription drugs, a mentality I share [link].
Dionysius Thrax, who I thought was depicted at the top of this post (but that’s a picture of Demosthenes which I cartoonified using its accompanying text in the Encylopedia), he did not take pleasure in the gossip all around him (we haven’t really evolved much in 2000 years have we?), although he listened intently to the sounds of their lips because he wanted to discover what was eternal in those sounds and thus he discovered the science of grammar.
From the work of these men… we may see quite simply the one glorious mark of genius which distinguished the Greek mind from all other minds in the world. It was an original mind, a questioning and exploring mind, a mind centred on spiritual inwardness, and never lost or unbalanced in the whirl of external things.