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My Time of Shakespeare: Romeo and Juliet

Here’s much to do with hate, but more with love: –

Why, then, O brawling love! O loving hate!

O anything, of nothing first create!

O heavy lightness! serious vanity!

Mis-shapen chaos of well-seeming forms!

Feather of lead, bright smoke, cold fire, sick health!

Still-waking sleep, that is not what it is? –

This love feel I, that feel no love in this.

Having read Romeo and Juliet multiple times, the first in junior high school, then college and also for leisure, I appreciate my own maturing perspective with each read. While the story remains constant and timeless, I myself change, which means it can forever feed my growth.

With this read, I take special note of analytical contrasts amidst romantic idealism. As a playwright, Shakespeare considers his audience’s reception in equal measure to his story. Two feuding families fueling generational hate (the audience never does find out what sparked the feud) and two “star-crossed lovers” victimized by fortune. Two youths under the elderly care of a nurse and friar who temper their passion with reason. A sad and dreary boy sickened by a happy love that incites him to both tenderness and violence. With these contrasts balanced within the plot and Shakespeare’s language, the audience must choose their empathies with these characters. “Such idiot children to go against their families for something so trivial as a crush.” “Such bravery to follow their hearts despite the surrounding hate.”

I believe Shakespeare considered these possible reactions and therefore added arguments between wisdom’s representatives and the youthful lovers. Friar Lawrence and Juliet’s nurse both argue for temperance and reason against Romeo and Juliet’s wayward passion. Yet, like parents, in the same breath they work to help them. Within their arguments, the audience might hear their own perspective modeled by either youth or wisdom. And yet whichever side the audience chooses, all four – the elderly and the youth – fight together in a losing battle against the only natural outcome of hate. In the end, no scheming can stop the inevitable parade of violence.

Alas, perhaps Shakespeare only intended to illustrate the futility of rebelling against social feuding. Violence and hate will design the same outcome regardless of Love’s attempts to scheme for a different end. Why combat war and hate? Nothing can withstand them. I argue, however, that Shakespeare does not embody this nihilism but rather presents an image of love’s value outside of reason.

Perhaps Shakespeare simply wanted to criticize conflict and warring factions. Stop fighting! No desirable result will happen and all innocence and happiness will wither and die! However, I would argue that Love itself does not wither and die at all. Yes, the feuding brought about a tragic end, but consider an alternate ending.

Romeo and Juliet suffer from the same misinformation – fooled by fortune time after time – but do not end their lives. They suffer other consequences but they live, although unhappily. Would they desire such an outcome to preserve their lives? I do not think so. Therefore, violence and hate get their design but Romeo and Juliet serve love unto the end. Though young and foolish, they find something many reasonable adults lack; service to something more precious than their lives. Is this not the essence of love?

In this way, perhaps Shakespeare did write the best love story ever told – miserable players either in service of love or hate, their fortunes beyond their control. Living and dying will happen regardless of their choices. Yet how would they choose to face each?

 
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Posted by on May 15, 2021 in William Shakespeare

 

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My Italian Renaissance: Art of War

My Italian Renaissance: Art of War

Art of War by Niccolò Machiavelli

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

And if in other things some errors are made, in the things of war all are made.


Like ancient Greek philosophers, Machiavelli presents a dialogue regarding his theories on a properly created and ordered land army based on learnings from ancient Rome. He presumably positions himself as a fictional character named Fabrizio who lectures and responds to young students, addressing topics such as: the origins of a virtuous soldier, the orders and armaments of an effective army in battle, encamped and during siege. If one wishes to study such concepts, looking for articulated diagrams and a cold dissemination of information, add this book to your collegiate reading list.

If one, however, looks for character and literary engagement, take a different class. I found myself finishing this book simply for the sake of finishing it.

As I limped toward the end, I did note one theme which lends credibility to Machiavelli as a literary force.

During the early Renaissance, Humanism rooted itself within Italian academic and artisan culture; this idea that pagan culture and Christian religion can co-exist in terms of human characteristics. Machiavelli’s thesis for Art of War begins by asserting how ancient Roman military practices can teach the current Italian city state how to wage war with virtue and efficacy. The old can make the new better. Fabrizio, the older scholar, teaches inquisitive students, the younger generation. The virtue of ancient Roman princes such as Caesar should manifest itself in the avaricious princes of the modern Italian city state who hire mercenaries to wage their wars. Knowing nothing other than the current mode of warfare within Italy, the younger students innocently, though ignorantly, question Fabrizio about his ideas and receive his polite but blunt and irritated responses. According to Fabrizio, directly mirroring ancient practices will not necessarily strengthen the modern military but applying their concepts to modern challenges will create a new military theory suited to their times. Ironically, the old perspective more readily abandons legacy thinking than the new, arrogant generation. “…my intention has not been to show you exactly how the ancient military was made, but how in these times one might order a military that would have more virtue than the one that is used [today].”

This book has a very niche market; like a collegiate textbook for your poli-sci class. But I do find it timeless in the way that every generation should build on the old rather than abandon it. Even in military orders, each generation ought not to seek a new genesis according to what makes sense to their novice mind, but humble themselves to first learn and then create.





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Posted by on May 1, 2021 in Niccolo Machiavelli

 

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My Italian Renaissance: The Decameron

My Italian Renaissance: The Decameron

The Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On the contrary, from what I have seen and heard, it seems to me that our proceedings have been marked by a constant sense of propriety, an unfailing spirit of harmony, and a continual feeling of brotherly and sisterly amity.


Stunning epics, shocking behavior, inspiring relationships, sarcastic roasts and hilarious jokes; all taboo in Guelf and Ghibelline infested Italy and set free during plague-ridden years. When social convention breaks down, moral pillars crumble under the collapsing weight.

Always exploring the raw nature of humanity in contrast to the artificial lives assembling its society, Boccaccio exploits our true nature like a raw nerve laid bare by the Black Plague. Ten young people scamper off to a utopian castle to escape the degradation of their city and enjoy the freedom of self-gratification. Over the span of a fortnight, they each tell ten stories, one each day, to entertain each other and express their criticisms of crazed lovers, hypocritical clergy and munificent socialites.

When reading The Decameron, one immediately notes the literary structure of the work. One hundred stories told by ten individuals over ten days; like building blocks to engineer a new mathematically sound society void of taboo, masked characteristics and unnatural conformity. Each day routinely ends with song and focuses on a set theme. One might imagine a state of anarchy but even these ten could not resist a compulsion to mimic state hierarchy, crowning a different king or queen for each day. One need not abandon order to embrace freedom, honesty and style.

Inspired by a self-ascribed infatuation with women and Love in all its manifestations, Boccaccio criticizes the social braces of medieval Italian society which stifle human nature. As bodies decay, one quickly learns that social constructs mean nothing when faced with a simple and base reality of life and death. Society has its function, but does it have meaning? If one loves another’s wife or husband, why not exercise that love? When society relegates women to property, does this mean they lack wit? When a clergyman proclaims the laws and morality of Christianity, does this mean they no longer behave as deplorably as others? When people dedicate their lives to the accumulation of power and wealth, does this mean that generosity dies?

The book does feel long but Boccaccio addresses this in his epilogue. Understandably, reading the The Decameron in the 21st century, even in times of COVID-19, must differ from reading The Decameron as Boccaccio’s contemporary. And if he truly writes it for women, then he assumes they have considerable leisure time. Even so, the stories explore fascinating themes and each storyteller’s personality and style add great variety. I will say I have an overwhelming compulsion to spend a day with Calandrino, Bruno and Buffalmacco. Though it may risk my well-being.



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Posted by on April 2, 2021 in Giovanni Boccaccio

 

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Thoughts: The Saga of the Volsungs, with the Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok

Thoughts: The Saga of the Volsungs, with the Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok

The Saga of the Volsungs, with the Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok by Anonymous

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I will help you like hand helps hand, or foot helps foot.


In these tales, we witness the evolution of Norse culture and, perhaps, the slow decline of the gods. While both tales follow a lineage legendarily descended from Odin, they have drastically different tones despite both dripping with blood, violence and vengeance.

Through the story of Sigurth, who slayed the dragon Fafnir, characters behave under predetermined Fate; arguably orchestrated by incorruptible and inescapable laws of human nature. As we witness with Sigurth, a noble man can suffer an ignoble fate if laws of human nature remain in tact. The law of greed and envy control the fates of Gunnar and Hogni. For Signy, the law of revenge fuels her undiscerning, murderous rampage. For Brynhild, the law of oath breaking drives her irrational pursuit of vengeance. For Guthrun, the laws of sorrow spark her vengeance. For these characters, none embrace their agency and they become simple vessels for acting out their emotions.

The last episode in Volsunga saga tells of Guthrun’s sons’ vengeance for the death of their half-sister, Svanhild, Guthrun’s daughter with Sigurth. Two of these sons kill the third because they misunderstand his cryptic response about his fighting prowess. At their own death, they realize that by killing their third brother, they kill their chance for victory in their endeavors. They remove all limbs from their victim King Jormunrekk but cannot remove his head, the part which their third brother would have removed. Because of this, the king can hear Odin himself advise him on how to kill his attackers and the brothers understand the folly of their mistake. The head, Wisdom, even without muscular limb to clench mystical swords, can bring down the most brutish warrior.

In Ragnars saga lothbrokar, the story transforms in tone as Wisdom becomes the prominent element driving the fates and actions of men. Odin does not appear as much as he had in Volsunga saga. Ragnar shares many similarities with Sigurth, even in his victory over a dragon, but he does not seek the treasure. He marries Aslaug out of desire rather than matching from social hierarchy. His son Ivar, the boneless, crippled and lacking in the physical prowess boasted of by heroes in Volsunga saga, proves the greatest Norseman of all the heroes because of his wisdom alongside his valor as a warrior. While still violent and honorable in the Norse tradition, Wisdom now thrives rather than beastial barbarism. The name of Ragnarsson ties a string of brotherhood around men down through the ages. In the far reaching corners of the globe stand mighty, speaking statues committed to standing in honor of those men until the end of the world. Odin is gone. His wisdom now lives within men rather than outside of them. Like Odin, men can now embrace their wisdom and break the shackles of law to create their own Fate; or die in the attempt.



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Posted by on January 28, 2021 in Anonymous, Jackson Crawford

 

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Thoughts: The Poetic Edda

Thoughts: The Poetic Edda

The Poetic Edda: Stories of the Norse Gods and Heroes by Jackson Crawford

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Buried beneath the earth / are horrible sorrows, / the desperate things / that make the elves weep. / Early in the morning, / everything that has caused / someone unhappiness / will be remembered anew.” (Hamthismal, Stanza 1)


Jackson Crawford translates and edits the The Poetic Edda, a Norse collection of mythical and heroic poems dating back to before the 14th century AD. I found a beautiful challenge in these stories; not only in the poetry itself but in the context of an early morality system different from what we might define during modern times. One will quickly identify transactional honor, repayment in kind for deeds done to them, the importance of hospitality, wisdom, vengeance, oaths and fate. One might surmise that these codes derive from a natural survival instinct within a culture scraping to survive in a harsh northern wilderness of scarce resources and a growing population. And yet more than a thousand years later we glean universal elements of human nature and might even see a bit of ourselves staring back at us from the pages.

The Poetic Edda splits between stories of the Norse gods and specific human heroes; the ferocity and imagery of genesis and Ragnarok; the practicality of the Havamal, the humor and entertainment of the god’s lives and the sorrow and tragedy of these ancient heroes.

Within all the poems, one senses a unifying thread of nature and fate. From a modern perspective, one might look for themes like justice within their eye-for-an-eye approach, or just desert for deeds done, or wisdom transcending everyday life into what we might call a spiritual plain. However, though it might take time – like building a muscle, one can only understand this culture after abandoning the rudimentary foundation of morality engrained within our own modern global culture.

Consider the idea of Fate. Odin spends much of his time working to prevent his fate which inadvertently twists it tighter around his neck and brings about the reality of Ragnarok. One quickly understands that despite the greatest strength and wisdom, one cannot escape their fate. Sigurth, despite knowing his fate through the prophecies of Gripir, faces it without the slightest effort to divert it. Because of this, audiences likely love Sigurth’s honor and courage and revere him as a great hero. Then we hear from the perspective of women, like Guthrun, who endure their fated suffering because of the deeds of men over which they have little control due to social constructs.

I imagine this idea of Fate as a universal truth; not in the literal sense of three Norns at the roots of Yggsdrasil carving destinies, but as a natural reality not even the gods can change. One imagines an inescapable cycle of cause and effect which denounces ideas of justice, mercy, love or forgiveness. Someone as commendable as Sigurth suffers an undeserved fate. Modern readers would feel a sense of tragedy and injustice. They might call to the heavens and ask God why He let this happen. But in a world governed by natural laws of human nature, a great man like Sigurth can understandably suffer an undeserved fate simply because of covetous men envying his treasure. This does not pervert an ancient Norse sense of morality. In fact, it might even seem natural. Even for the gods, Fate does not alter relative to a man’s character or deeds. It will function according to the laws of human nature regardless of the kind of hero or trickster upon which it executes itself.

Audiences can only live their best within these laws in an effort to survive as long as they can, even to the point of seeking renown, fame and sons to carry their name into immortality. The glory and honor, the suffering and sorrow; these things do not change natural law. In fact, themes like justice (in a fated sense), mercy, forgiveness…these words might sound similar to “green snow” for those living during ancient times. These themes invert natural law. Transcending such a concept would not ensure their survival nor inherently prove how they can deviate from their fate.

The Poetic Edda offers so much more: the characters of the gods when compared to the modern concept of deity, how they relate to people, and how humanity struggles between itself and the life into which it is thrust into leading. In fact, historically, as these Norse cultures expanded into lands more abundant in resources, one can imagine how their understanding of human nature may change leading to the death of the gods and a rebirth into a new world governed by a different nature. Perhaps this was fated, regardless of Odin’s efforts to postpone Ragnarok.



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Posted by on January 23, 2021 in Anonymous, Jackson Crawford

 

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Thoughts: Norse Mythology

Thoughts: Norse Mythology

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I love this book. With a master’s stroke, Gaiman retells tales from the Poetic Edda and Prose Edda in wildly entertaining and simplistic fashion. I imagine he focused as much on the editing process as he did on the writing process. Rather than retelling every story from the source material, he focuses on the “famous” Norse gods and their stories; Odin, Thor and Loki. Of course, popular culture has much more familiarity with these characters thanks to Marvel and their stories exhibit the soul of Norse Mythology accomplishing Gaiman’s goal. Why not introduce people to that soul with faces from Avengers movies?

In Biblical fashion, Gaiman begins the book with an account of the Norse creation story and ends it with the glorious catastrophe of Ragnarok. For these, and all stories in between, I found myself naturally striving to find commonalities and contrasts within the Judeo-Christian tradition. Assuredly, scholars dedicated to this study may provide better insights but I specifically noted a distinct lack of “good” and “evil”. The gods of Norse Mythology share commonality with God only in name. In character, they embody more humanity than deity, notwithstanding their supernatural capabilities. Seemingly governed only by a moral system of honor in oaths and balanced vengeance, they strive for wisdom, consider any means to accomplish an end and dedicate their existence to stopping their own end which, ironically, one can argue is of their own making.

And yet their end only spawns a new beginning derived from powers beyond their ken. They may create the control systems familiar to humans, but laws of balanced extremes and fate came before which they cannot control. Unlike the Judeo-Christian God, Odin suffers the same human confines of fate and mortality and does not exist before the beginning or after the end.

These myths do not seek to explain scientific phenomenon or describe a “backwards” people. Any indications of this only serve to engage audiences and differentiate the supernatural characteristics of these gods. Rather, these myths explain the nature of people, the struggles they encounter and the questions with which they wrestle. Any argument to the contrary results from an indefensible and partial reading of the stories. In all, an entertaining book rich with academic value appropriate for any age.



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Posted by on January 7, 2021 in Neil Gaiman

 

My Time of Shakespeare: Titus Andronicus

Lavinia from the Painting by J.W. Wright

Peace, tender sapling; thou art made of tears,

And tears will quickly melt thy life away. –


So savage! Very few Shakespeare plays drop my jaw so ruthlessly. Whatever unspoken rule I imagined for 16th century English playwrights disappeared or ran for the hills. Nothing implied, everything exposed. If England ever adopted a rating system for plays back in the renaissance period, this may have birthed it.

The audience struggles to find a moral anchor in this play. They might find their hero in Titus but then remember his role in the melting pot of horror. They might find themselves despising Tamora but then remember how she entered the fray. This play lacks cleanliness; not only with its gore but in its lack of a definitive principle or character. Audiences can only accept the messy realism of the uncleanliness and wonder how they might respond if thrust into the role of these characters.

Amidst topical themes of patriotism, politics, and even racism, Shakespeare explores justice and the size of the fire resulting from those fighting each other with it. Early in the play, each offending episode sprouts from pain caused by someone else. Each character festers in their unjust experience. Shakespeare not only explores those causes and effects but each character’s reaction to them; even how their self-victimization propels them to ungodly deeds.

I expect that many find their hero in Titus. As the grand Roman general, sacrificing his own livelihood in service to the Roman Empire, to an ideal, his soul and meaning in life, perhaps irresponsibly, lives and dies with the glory of that ideal. If that ideal, or the expression of that ideal, transforms into something viscous and threatening, one can understand how that mind begins to drift and focus on revenge. He not only suffers similar losses as other characters, but the loss of his soul. To believe in something so deeply, to mortgage his very being on it, can only create a violent vacuum in its horrible absence. However, this does not preclude his innocence, or even a pure unjust victimization, but audiences may sympathize more with him. But it is not a comfortable sympathy – blemished with a hope that a hero might have done things differently.

As Lucius address the Roman public during the conclusion, assuredly facing the audience directly and calling them Roman only in name, each person must decide how they feel about his sentencing of each character. Even at the end, after the bloody climactic tumult, when the audience relishes their chance to impulsively cheer for a character without considering their reasons for doing so, they return to their discomfort and the gray mire backdropped behind Lucius judgements.



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Posted by on January 2, 2021 in William Shakespeare

 

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My Time of Shakespeare: The Taming of the Shrew

Induction Scene II from the Painting in the Boydell Gallery, by R. Smirke, R.A.

This is a way to kill a wife with kindness: And thus I’ll curb her mad and headstrong humour. He that knows better how to tame a shrew, Now let him speak; ’tis charity to show.

Imagine yourself at a party, perhaps sitting around a table with friends old and new. They discuss frivolous matters, make lude jokes, laugh boisterously; while you watch, perhaps snicker politely from time to time, thinking more about the inherent paradox in their social behavior, their misguided desires, their humor and joy at their own self-debasement. Luckily, the Induction can help you do so! You find yourself convinced of your lordship and adorned with the crown of judge!

I imagine Shakespeare standing in the stage wings, out of the audience’s sight, behaving in the same way as you around the table, watching the audience laugh and his actors play out a tragedy disguised in comedy. The playwright laughing along with them, perpetuating the joke only to wake them from their crass, thoughtless debauchery at the end.

As I cherish in his other plays, Shakespeare makes such clean use of juxtaposition and deception. The audience engages in comparisons and contrasts; continuously weighing factors to identify the hero and villain, looking for themselves on stage to deposit their sympathies. The play, as a vehicle, drives the audience through each act molding and shifting their laments at each stop.

Do we condemn the honest “shrewdness” of Petruchio and Kate? Do we commend Lucretio’s perseverance despite his deceptive cunning? Do we stop to empathize with the characters by considering the nurturing that molded their dispositions? Though Petruchio and Kate both share a shrewd anger, under this surface similarity one might consider Petruchio’s motives – like that of a spoiled child – and Kate’s muzzled voice under the social constructs of marriage and desirability of her younger sister Bianca. Do those same social constructs forgive Lucretio’s pursuit of Bianca at the cost of his honesty?

And finally, when this comedy rears its ugly, tragic head, do these men consider how “taming the shrew” transforms the very objects of their affection into property – voiding them of the spirit that makes them human, that attracted them? Do they take responsibility for their part in backing a man who would “kill a wife with kindness” with no consideration of his own shrewdness? Do Bianca and the widow realize how they might have admired Kate and wished to keep a bit of shrewdness for themselves?

The audience, those friends around the party table, now pity Kate when earlier they might have chastised her. They miss her and wish they hadn’t lost a beacon of something they take for granted in themselves. They stop laughing and admit to themselves that the villain wins and they all lose.

“But Mr. Shakespeare – what of the Induction? Shouldn’t you conclude the play by returning to those people?” He says nothing knowing full well that Christopher Sly will carry home all his deliberations as one in the crowd leaving the playhouse.



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Posted by on January 1, 2021 in William Shakespeare

 

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My Italian Renaissance: The De Monarchia

My Italian Renaissance: The De Monarchia

The De Monarchia by Dante Alighieri

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

And he, together with other thinkers of that period, longed for unity among men, for unity that seemed never to be made a reality. Yet Dante believed and proclaimed that such a unity could come about, but in one way only, through a regeneration of society and a uniting of political interests under one head independent of the Church.


In The De Monarchia, Dante embarks on a philosophical journey to prove, without reasonable doubt and by laws of logic, the validity of a global monarchy. In modern times, most thinkers would immediately cringe at the idea; imagining a dictator razing the earth to ashes and enslaving her people without mercy. Perhaps they would sacrifice their own principles against freedom and book-burning finding exception with this treatise.

More importantly, they might ask how a genius like Dante, author of The Divine Comedy, one who argues by secular law of philosophy and logic for the existence and authority of God and the Christian faith, could profess such political sacrilege? Let him explain…

Dante organizes his argument into three books: the necessity of temporal monarchy for the good of the world, the validity of Rome as the seat of that temporal monarchy and lastly whether such a right derives from God or His vicar on earth. One ought to consider the political juxtaposition of Dante’s society; the ongoing conflict between Guelf (those defending papal supremacy in ruling the world) and Ghibellines (those defending the supremacy of the Emperor in ruling the world). One can argue how Dante proports the Ghibelline perspective and yet, as in all great things, gray rules their nature rather than definitive black and white. Ultimately, the timeless element of this treatise is its defense of separating Church and State; both with their functions in elevating human society and soul to its grandest heights.

Strangely, I found myself following Dante’s logic defending universal monarchy as the best political construct to support both human freedom and happiness. I will not regurgitate each argument here. But I did find myself asking whether Dante might alter his arguments in the modern day. Would he maintain that his science of reason still leads people to attain his goal of universal monarchy? He might; and say that the failure of dictatorships and communist governments derive from our inability to fully realize his universal government. However, he might say, as so many have, that the loftiest and most well-reasoned principles simply have no capacity for realistic application.

Dante begins to lose me in his second book defending Rome as the divinely ordained empire appropriated for universal rule. Within his arguments, one can find roots of just about any western “ism” and incomplete arguments formed to defend his point. I did not find that Dante spoke as confidently to this point though he leaned heavily on Logic and his reasoning.

In the last book, Dante flourishes in his defense of separating Church and State and outlining how both lack jurisdiction of power over the other, despite the many examples provided by Guelfs to the contrary. In these arguments and syllogisms, we find that timeless element of this treatise where mankind can continually return in defending this separation.

Ultimately, a fine treatise for those appreciative of Dante’s ability to apply logic to the divine; like a scientist illustrating art. It not only provides defenses for concepts applicable to modern times but may inspire others to continue the search for temporal constructs which enable his ultimate goal which, in Dante’s day, both Guelf and Ghibelline could agree – a state of human happiness.



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Posted by on December 27, 2020 in Dante Alighieri

 

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Thoughts: Life Of Tolstoy

Thoughts: Life Of Tolstoy

Life Of Tolstoy by Aylmer Maude

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

‘The Ant-Brotherhood was revealed to us but not the chief secret – the way for all men to cease suffering any misfortune, to leave off quarrelling and being angry, and become continuously happy – this secret he said he had written on a green stick buried by the road at the edge of a certain ravine, at which spot (since my body must be buried somewhere) I have asked to be buried in memory of Nikolenka.’



And buried there he was. Maude’s Life of Tolstoy impeccably encompasses a life; not just the events, family tree, work or legacy, but the essence and evolution of a man. He loads his pages with diary entries and letters from Tolstoy himself as well as his counterparts. He memorializes Tolstoy and lauds him to the highest by actually disagreeing with him on certain points. He loves Tolstoy for the man he was not the ideas he purported. He loves him for all his genius and faults; his humanity. And what a human…

In truth, the book reads more like a doctoral dissertation than a biography. Maude carefully balances objective reporting, reasonable analysis and pages upon pages of source material to support his claims. The reader not only comes to know Tolstoy intimately but Maude as well.

The book naturally follows the chronology of Tolstoy’s life and one learns to appreciate his human imperfections as building blocks, not defects, to a great life. At the end, conflict embroiled his life as the forces of his dogmatic icon battled the vulnerable, imperfect beauty of his humanity. According to Maude, his greatness manifests itself in his pursuit of moral perfection rather than the achievement of it. This brings the reader closer to Tolstoy, removed from the pedestal and akin to our own spirits.

Tolstoy lived as a man caught between his person and his path toward moral perfection – the secret to meaning and happiness. From the beginning and up to the end we see those linear projections come closer to alignment but stray from each other based on varying circumstances natural in the procession of life. Tolstoyism seemed to stray from his own personal hemisphere testing not only his own resolve but the validity of his claims. Where some argue that Tolstoy had discovered principles that would guarantee moral perfection and happiness, the spirit of those principles dissipate as with all things rooted in absolutism. And in the end, it is the spirit of War and Peace, Anna Karenina, etc and the characters either journeying within that spirit or towards it which inspire people to live as Tolstoy lived. People must feel inspired to seek happiness of their own volition or the principles crumble.

I imagine his sons carrying his casket alongside peasants; not because Tolstoyism demands it but because a man had inspired them -perhaps even to pursue love and moral perfection as he had. To dilute this inspiration into law only exemplifies one’s lack of faith not only in humanity’s ability to be inspired but in the man they love to inspire them.



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Posted by on December 17, 2020 in Aylmer Maude

 

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