Sources, Shapes

This morning as I came out of a monumental edifice filled with symbols so elaborate, that as I looked at what I thought was but an ornamental flourish I realised it stood for crowned wings, I followed a small dog being walked and noticed the diminutive paw prints it left after trotting through puddles. Since I seemed inclined to develop banal thoughts at that moment, I thought of le scrapbooking and how attached people seem to become of what are to my eyes washed out symbols, like daisies or the cartoon heart. Which is not to say they are devoid of meaning, rather the range of meaning is less delineated. 'One-size-fits-all.' Bakhtinian centripetalism.
I keep thinking back to a passing remark Anne Lamott made on what she learned through on-line dating, that when people define themselves as "spiritual" they do not mean that they read Rumi, for example, but that they consider themselves "nice" (though her anecdotes of their "niceties" put even that in doubt). My association with the word "nice" is that we were forbidden to use it in written assignments. "What do you mean by 'nice'?!" the teacher would bellow. Indeed, sometimes the kindest people appear the harshest of all. Where are all the gruff people now.
I recall the slight horror I felt when I inherited a set of questions for the final exam I used to have to give; some of them were pure cliché. But one asked about the "return to nature" that is still a trend, if a minor one. I often think of that phrase, or the equally as hackneyed, "return to sources." This idyllic picture is only "nice" if viewed through the postcard image. All else is work. My favourite essay on country living is "Scipio's Villa" which describes the dank bath of the retired general who had no dirt, per se, to wash off anyway, given his wholesome labour in the fresh country air, in contrast with the city baths with ornate fixtures, where men had to bathe in scalding water to clean from themselves the stink of their turned oils.


One may be wont to conclude, given that Seneca's essay cited above was written so long ago, that man exhibits a frequent struggle against natural sources (of work, living, cleaning: wherein 'natural' is the golden mean). While I agree that it's a fallacy to consider history a series of repetitions, it would be foolish to expect that events and behaviours lack precedent. It is understanding the pattern of human fallibility that led Huxley in the first edition of Nature to write, alongside Goethe's aphorisms, that there would come a day when readers would look back on the latest scientific discoveries in that magazine as passé.
And yet it is possible today for people to walk around with higher degrees even in history who are happy to drink whatever contemporary koolaid lurks in the water cooler. They are all very 'nice' but far more menacing than any taciturn curmudgeon one may learn from.
Anyhow, I am more than happy to return to the past and make my way to lesson two of Pharr's Homeric Greek. I am astounded at how welcoming the language is: all these years, I have been picking up the odd word and idea, and the language is already taking shape in my mind (hopefully this is not an inferior mirage formed by an overheated brain). Like the single word μουσειον meaning dwelling place of the muses, and linked to our 'museum' brought to mind Gadamer's reminder of how much invocation of the muses preceded early philosophy. That the muses can bring much that is true, but also much that is false. That word also denoted a place dedicated to the muses; later a place of learning, as in the Μουσεῖον τῆς Ἀλεξανδρείας which included the Library of Alexandria. The relationship between man and learning was mediated. I would argue it is still mediated, by our ignorance.
As I read the Homeric words, and repeated pronunciation along with the few recordings I found, I remembered a hymn by Ephrem the Syrian, specifically the line: "symbols ran to their realisation". I think that line speaks well to sources, of which ancient Greek is one. The more genuine the source, the more accomplished the fulfillment, Διὸς δ᾽ ἐτελείετο βουλή, to quote the Iliad out of context. As far as I know, in ancient art, it is not the paw print that is of interest, but the animal itself, and the geometric scheme that surrounds it. 





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