Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Lucretius' On The Nature of Things - De rerum natura

Titus Lucretius Carus (c. 98-55 B.C.) was a Roman poet who wrote De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things). De rerum natura is an epic poem which explains life and the world in incipient atomic principles. In his poem Lucretius adheres to principles as set by philosopher Epicurus.
St. Jerome says that Lucretius committed suicide at the age of 44; furthermore, that Lucretius wrote the work between bouts of madness. None of this has been confirmed. What is clear is his allegiance to Gaius Memmius —an aristocrat married to Fausta, the daughter of the dictator Sulla— to whom he dedicates the work, mentioning him repeatedly throughout the six books.

About De rerum natura

What is astounding about this epic poem is that it was written more than 2,000 years ago, when the Roman universe was still accounted for by heroes, demigods, and gods—both native and imported.
From the very beginning one feels the athletic language of a poet determined to explain things and creatures in simple language. Although he frequently complains about the “poverty” of Latin to explain the concepts he had in mind, he never gives up in his efforts; at worst his verses reveal a clear-headed poet.

The task he set for himself —to anyone else— would have been too daunting to tackle, yet patiently he attempts to demolish old theories and traditions that had for too long overcome good sense. He deeply believed that matter consisted of minute building blocks he called atoms that their conjunction would spawn things and creatures—including sentient beings. Yet, one tradition —the Aristotelian— was difficult for Lucretius to overthrow, given the tremendous authority that Aristotle’s teaching had garnered over the years. As time and experience has proven, Lucretius eventually won the battle.
De rerum natura miraculously has survived wars, lootings, burnings, and other calamities; and worst of all: censoring. From Machiavelli, Montaigne, Thomas More, to Thomas Jefferson—Lucretius’s poem continues to exert great influence.

This translation (volume I of II) is rendered in prose and in American English for the benefit of readers who find it tedious to read a long poem from beginning to end. The book is a great investment that will pay great intellectual dividends in perpetuity. Volume II will be finished in two to three weeks.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

"Language is The House of Being." What It Means

"Language is the house of Being. In its home man dwells. Those who think and those who create with words are the guardians of this home." —Martin Heidegger, German philosopher, Letter on Humanism, 1947

The philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset once said that man had no nature, only history. While I respect this opinion, I think that man's real human nature is language. Just as the lesser god Prometheus handed fire to man, a major God handed a major boon to mankind: language.

After years of pondering whatever Martin Heidegger meant by "Language is the House of Being," it finally dawned on me (as I watched the news on TV) that Heidegger meant language is not only a construct, a shelter, an edifice, an abode, but the soul of humanity.

Through language we search heaven and earth; through language we accept or reject God; through language we accept or reject the absolutes that guide the human race.

And yes, it is only through language that we experience aesthetic bliss--and love.
Although bliss and love are more akin to the emotional life, the viscera, the central nervous system, the body can only partially express bliss and love. Language is indispensable, or if not, then try to tell that to painters, poets, and writers.
Take Trollope (in Pendennis):"It is best to love wisely, no doubt; but to love foolishly is better than not to be able to love at all." And Trollope went on to fill library shelves with language and love.

We think and we feel by using words. Though words are more adept and adequate to thinking than to feeling, we still recognize that even our deepest emotions must be converted into words to express what we feel. When we immerse ourselves in a good book we feel with and for the characters: with Don Quixote and Sancho we experience the real meaning of friendship; with Anna Karenina and Aschenbach we feel the exquisite pangs of deeply tormented souls; with Remedios The Beauty we ascend to heaven.

Can we build science without language? Isn't language the vessel of patterns, axioms, equations, paradigms, and formulas? Is wisdom achievable without language? Lucretius, in his long poem The Nature of the Universe, despite his lack of advanced mathematics, advanced science, and scientific instruments, proved with words (poetic words) that the universe is infinite.

Even the most recalcitrant nihilist or atheist needs language to refute the existence of God; the same God that gave him the gift of language.

When humans master a language, they are never homeless. Even when their houses burn--as we watched hurricanes destroy thousands of houses in New York and New Jersey--their spirit, their humanity survives in the House of Being. Loneliness is caused by lack of language. With language even the poorest souls will feel they own a house: Language is the house of being.

Augustine, City of God
Austen J, Pride and Prejudice
Austen J, "Marriage Proposals and Me"
Austen J, Emma
Borges, The Aleph
C. Bronte, Jane Eyre
Burroughs E,Tarzan
Cervantes, Don Quijote
Chaucer, Wife of Bath
Coelho P,The Alchemist
Coyle H, They Are Soldiers
Dante, New Life
Dickens C, David Copperfield
Dostoevsky, Crime&Punishment
ConanDoyle,Hound of Baskervilles
Dubner S, Superfreakonomics

DuMaurier D, Rebecca
Ellis B. E. American Psycho
Fitzgerald S, Great Gatsby
Flaubert G, Madame Bovary
Fleming I,Doctor No
Freud S, Leonardo Da Vinci
Friedan B, Feminine Mystique
GarciaMarquez, Of Love & OtherDemons
Guerrero M,ThePoison Pill

Grass G, The Tin Drum
Harris T, Hannibal Rising
Heidegger M,House of Being
Ishiguro K, Remains of The Day
Johnson S,Rasselas
Kosinski J, The Painted Bird
Lee H,To Kill a Mockingbird
McBain Ed,Gutter and Grave
Murakami H,Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
Nabokov V, Lolita
Meyer, S, Twilight
Ortega,Dehumanization of Art
Poe E A, Gordon Pym
Prose F, Reading Like a Writer
Rushdie S,Midnight Children
Sabatini R, Scaramouche
Spark M, Prime of Miss Brodie

Stendhal, Red and Black
Sterne L,Tristram Shandy
Stevenson R, Dr.Jekyll & Mr.Hyde
Stoker B, Dracula
Thackeray W,History of Pendennis
Tolstoy L, Anna Karenina
Trollope A, Autobiography
Unamuno M, Tragic Sense of Life
Voltaire, Candide
Webb J, Fields of Fire
Wharton E, The House of Mirth
Woolf V, To The Lighhouse

The secrets of 'no-doze' prose:
Mary Duffy's Sentence Openers

Lindsey Vonn after winning the Downhill World ...
Image via Wikipedia

Lindsey Vonn

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Stendhal's On Love


About Stendhal's On Love

Although Stendhal considered On Love his best creation, not many critics and readers will ever agree with him. Henry James called the book unreadable; others have called it bizarre; and some disconcerting and exasperating.

Here’s a warning by means of a question: what is the 21st century reader to make of this book? In my estimation, with some patience one can find not only an abundance of wit, but also much hidden wisdom about the mysterium tremendum that is human love.

If Stendhal’s On Love is considered a failure, then all I can say is that he is in good company, for Aristophanes, Plato, Denis de Rougemont, Ortega y Gasset, Eric Fromm and others also fell short—and no one can say they disgraced themselves.

Here’s a gem that never fails to give hope to men who search for love: “A requirement of love is that a man's face, at first sight, should show both something to be respected and something to be pitied.”

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Quintilian's The Orator's Education (Institutio Oratoria)

My new translation will be available in amazon and barnes and noble within 2 days.
Quintilian (34 AD – 100 AD)
Marcus Fabius Quintilianus was a Roman rhetorician born in Spain, with a huge influence and followers that lasted through the middle ages, the Renaissance, and as late as Jane Austen times, in England.
In the English speaking world his influence can be traced through Erasmus, Thomas, More, Lord Bacon, Adam Smith, and Hugh Blair. Blair’s textbook drew enormously on Quintilian, and it was mandatory part of the curriculum of the times; allusions to which may be found in Jane Austen’s novels, but particularly in Pride and Prejudice. Quintilian’s works touched different fields of study: philosophy, history, rhetoric, jurisprudence, literary criticism, and literature.
In the United States, many educators followed Quintilian’s methods of teaching and writing. In fact, John Quincy Adams’ lectures at Harvard University became the initial point for the teaching of Rhetoric in many universities.
During Quintilian’s retirement —from active teaching and as an advocate— he dedicated himself to writing books. His Institutio Oratoria (The Orator’s Education) is today his most famous work. In this 5-volume opus consisting of 12 books, Quintilian provides the guidelines for the shaping of “the perfect orator.” 
To create the perfect orator, Quintilian discusses education in general —as it has been said: from the cradle on— and the particulars of the canons of rhetoric, to include psychological insights into childrens’ minds. An upright man, Quintilian, was concerned not only with the protection of the child, but also with his moral development, equating the orator with a moral man: “The good man skilled in speaking.”

About Volume 1 (Books 1 and 2)

Books 1 and 2, deal with early childhood education. Trivial as it may seem today, Quintilian thought it important to discuss topics such as what should the parents do: educate the child at home or send him to school; discerning talent and temperament; the teaching of grammar (detecting barbarisms and solecisms); reading of the classics; discipline; nature versus nurture; is rhetoric and art—does it have any moral value? Is it useful? Etc.
Educators, teachers of all levels, historians, writers, students of the law, speakers, public speakers, politicians, administrators, managers, and business executives, will find these discussions enlightening. A well-rounded education should include the reading of all the books in Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria.