Bearing Something

It suddenly became cold, as it is wont to. And dark. I looked out the window and saw the wind bringing a hundred bird shapes across the sky. They were not so much flying as being carried. One may dream of catching that wind, except for a lack of wings and geography defined by declensions of τολμάω; taking much to heart, bearing something difficult. I was thinking yesterday how a word like patience or endurance must be earned.
Perhaps one would never recognise an abstraction like endurance were it not for the right words outlining a space for it on the canvas of a life. Words that come with all of the bearing inherent in the word expectation. Like an enigma, they remain hidden until connected with something practically tangible that calls them into recognition. I think of how some people, regardless of background, are more receptive than others to ideas, as intimated in the Phaedrus.
In Aristotle's Rhetoric, like in the Phaedrus, it is further implied that the words of ideas ought to be those of φρόνησις, practical knowledge (e.g.), that will lead us to happiness. In the context of the hermeneutic reader's arc, where there is a circular movement between ideas and experience, our words are only as clear as we have got used to the feelings of words as they are applied to practical experience. This explains the strange experience of matronly expecting a word like endurance that takes time to get. But this does not explain why some people are barrenly and categorically decided to endure nothing.
One wonders if not everyone can read, if it is the soul that reads. Ricoeur writes it is the human function to be able to apprehend reality by distancing ourselves from it through words. Some people do not get this distance - described in Rhetoric as "a foreign air" (3.2), made possible by the metaphor, which also promotes perspicuity, how would it not, this rainbow of words stretching from earth to heaven and back down again.
I also see traces of the Phaedrus wherein rhetoric was described as a medicine, in Rhetoric: "The function of Rhetoric, then, is to deal with things about which we deliberate, but for which we have no systematic rules" (1.2.12). I wonder if I am right in drawing this comparison, or if I have taken the latter out of context. I did not reread the whole work (how many books must be reread how many times for mastery, and so very preferably in the original). Is Aristotle not saying that rhetoric is to tend to that which functions not systematically - rather like what Jowett wrote of the Phaedrus, that it is a picture, not a system? Allegory as the splint for the broken wings of the expecting soul, created anew to cater to the specifics of situation. Wings get broken a lot, if not through Herculean "temporary insanity."

I mention Hercules, and it is bold to invoke names out of prodigiously written contexts. But a professor of mine from before used to say that humanity would continue to exist so long as the possibility of retelling stories was not closed off. "Every utterance is a link in the historical chain of speech acts forming what we call human communities." The possibility to weigh in on utterances received; to retell a story in order to manifest one's agency; to understand that the words we use and ideas we combine are not ours alone but have come from the knowledge of the community to which we belong; this is speech.
It is ours to put life together in a meaningful way, to live, as Jowett writes, the good life and possibly leave the writing behind. But if one is to write it seems advisable to subscribe to Matthew Arnold's argument that we "see things for what they really are" and produce as suggested by Aristotle the "foreign air" that is the metaphor through the distance brought by the enigmatic statement, obscure because of the concealed similarity between things. A reminder of the hide and seek of the many days; when meaning veils itself behind words and laughs at the punned masquerade when the appearance of a life throws us for a loop. So it is that we have been warned not to take all things too literally.
Aristotle gives two examples of metaphoric language that are funny, to my mind. "Similarly, pirates now call themselves conveyors," is one. And the other: "I saw a man who glued bronze with fire to another," to refer to cupping, which helps circulation. So what helps articulation in the joints between words?
To gain distance from life through words... At the top of this post, I began with τολμάω which can also mean to do a thing despite a natural feeling. I wonder if that was how Hercules felt, knowing he would have to do what seemed impossible. He was helped by sympathetic deities - where sympathy means: drawing to oneself aiding influences; chords which vibrate together; the affinity of heavenly bodies; enduring with (σύν-) virtuous suffering (πάθος). Hercules had the experience of suffering, but he became ex-tolled, distanced, elevated from the burden of his troubles. Omnis sors ferendo superanda est.
Each day drawing up new rhetoric, bearing sympathy in mind, being carried by that which conveys. 


  1. 'Wings get broken a lot, if not through Herculean "temporary insanity."'

    That says a lot. What is important is that we fall and fly again.

    1. What a wonderful sentiment you added to this post. I agree that the importance in falling is in the getting up - and find the helping hand for the getting up in the sympathy of the coexistence of like-minded souls. Thank you for your comment.

  2. This summons many thoughts, responses, too many.. But one I have to put here, with reference to:

    In the context of the hermeneutic reader's arc, where there is a circular movement between ideas and experience, our words are only as clear as we have got used to the feelings of words as they are applied to practical experience.

    Can we call "experience" the odd instantaneous apprehension of the meaning of a word - of really "getting" what it means, in an almost random moment of awareness? That is: not seeming to be the result of any immediate or just prior lived experience. Cognizing a word without seeming to re-cognize it - as if the meaning just was there. One can of course "explain" this as a surfacing of something formerly experienced (or read, if we align the act of hearing a story with the fact of experientiality); but at the time - and I think of a time when I was perhaps 8 or 9 - when this happened, I had no idea of how to account for it. Nothing magical or mystical, just a seemingly arbitrary coming into consciousness of a clear sense of a word's meaning.

    And: Aristotle's linking rhetoric to the absence of purely logical systems seems at least to me to be analogous to the positioning of the Asclepian arts to pure practical knowledge. Asclepius as the practitioner of an art whose first principles rest occluded with his father Apollo.

    1. With regards to the first part of your comment, indeed... also re. theories on how meaning can be 'intuited, which gets really interesting in some theology - but you wrote nothing mystical... There was a video I meant to get back to on France Culture radio that's related, I will return to post the link when I find it later.

      Thanks for the mention of Asclepius, I look forward to reading up on that connection.

  3. Fwiw: One reference I have to that about Asclepius:

    Now, despite the rumours concerning the death of Asclepius, he remained a living god, which shows that men know very little about life and death, and take both very lightly, often wasting the former and fearing the latter without properly investigating any of them.
    Asclepius became the first and greatest of healers because he was the son of Apollo. For, it is said, the art of healing depends on divination, and it was after listening to his father's responses and oracles that he adapted different drugs to different diseases. Thus he taught his own sons and others the use of healing herbs, which to apply them to running wounds and which to dry wounds, and in what doses to administer drugs. But without the forecasts of prophetic wisdom, they say, he had never ventured to mingle with medicines, which are the most deadly of poisons.

    1. Very interesting. Thank you for the link; I tried to look up Asclepius in some books I have, but just came up with the Hermetic work by that name, with little description of even that.

      As for the France Culture podcast, here's the best bit of the blurb, "pourquoi l’espèce humaine est-elle la seule, parmi les primates, à avoir inventé des symboles parlés ou écrits ? Deux concepts récents, celui de “théorie de l’esprit” – c’est-à-dire la capacité d’imaginer ce que pensent nos congénères- et celui d’”espace de travail conscient” –un réseau neuronal où les idées se recombinent en synthèses nouvelles pourraient contribuer à cerner la singularité culturelle de l’esprit humain" and the link.

    2. P.S. Any further Asclepius links would be welcome, my brief internet foray did not reveal much. But at least I arrived at a satisfactory answer to the Asclepius riddle at the end of the Phaedo here thanks to Michael Gilleland's LTA. The link contains a link to the sacrifices of Asclepius.

  4. The link didn't work (has a superfluous / at end) but I found it. Interesting. I'll dig around some more, but for the moment, there's more about him on LTA -

    Alternate spellings: Aesculapius, and Aesclepius.


    1. Much obliged! And oh those pesky / signs - I thought I had to add one in to the a href, but shall stop doing that.