Quotable: Tolkien

“But of bliss and glad life there is little to be said, before it ends; as works fair and wonderful, while still they endure for eyes to see, are their own record, and only when they are in peril or broken for ever do they pass into song.”

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion, 95.

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On Manliness

You’ve met a man, so you say? How dare you use that wraith of a word? Yes, the ghost of manliness still haunts us to remind us that we are its killers. Do you know what that word once meant with all its embodied virility and strength? Perhaps you meant that you met a man like Gilgamesh the great king of Uruk. Your man, has he built the walls of Uruk-Haven, opened the mountain passes, fought the bull of heaven, and carved in a stone stela all his toils? What ambition does your man have? Or perhaps, he is more like David, with his cunning and righteous honor? Does your man brave death to face those who defy the name of God? Has your man withheld his hand from smiting his most loathsome enemy merely for the sake of God’s name? Yet, perhaps, this man of yours is different entirely. Perhaps his manliness is one of wisdom and piety. Has he governed his people well and made peace like that reluctant ruler, Numa Pompilius. Has your man seen the folly of youthful strife? Has he, by his strength of character, sealed the doors of Janus’s temple, washing clean hands filthy with blood? Or rather, is he like Gaius Mucius, who realized that while war may be inevitable it is better to die and freedom to be preserved? Tell me please, what is this man like, if you choose to call him that. Or if I may be so bold to ask, is he like that man, incredibly enfleshed who gave humanity its truest vision of manhood? Would he, like Jesus, courageously face death to serve and to call men and women to a higher vision of humanity, one which sees as its highest calling the service of the glory of God? Does his passion against sin burn to the point where he could brazenly flout the insidious religious traditions which enslave mankind? Would he bear with patience the consequences of others sin? Does he love like the lamb of God? Please, tell me if your man dares even to admire these men. If so, perhaps by the grace of God, you can say you’ve met a man.

Plutarch, on Patrons and Clients

By this more imposing title he distinguished the senate from the populace; and in other ways separated the nobles and the commons,–calling them patrons, and these their clients,–by which means he created wonderful love and amity betwixt them, productive of great justice in their dealings. For they were always their clients’ counsellors in law cases, their advocates in courts of justice; in fine, their advisers and supporters in all affairs whatever. These again faithfully served their patrons, not only paying them all respect and deference, but also, in case of poverty, helping them to portion their daughters and pay off their debts; and for a patron to witness against his client, or a client against his patron, was what no law nor magistrate could enforce.

Plutarch, “Romulus”

This quote could be very interesting in light of the situation in 1 Corinthians.

Xerxes and Artabanos on Life and Death

As [Xerxes] looked out over the whole Hellespont, whose water was completely hidden by all his ships, and at all the shores of the plains of Abydos, now so full of people, Xerxes congratulated himself for being so blessed. But then he suddenly burst into tears and wept.

Now his uncle Artabanos . . . noticed that Xerxes was weeping and said to him, “Sire, what a great divergence there is between your behavior now and that of just a moment ago: then you deemed yourself a blessed man, but now you are weeping!”

And Xerxes replied, “That is because I was suddenly overcome by pity as I considered the brevity of human life, since not one of all these people here will be alive one hundred years from now.”

Artabanos responded, “But even more pitiable than that are the experiences we suffer as we pass through life. For even in such a short span of life, no human being is born so fortunate–neither these men nor any others–that the wish to be dead rather than alive will not occur to him, and not just once, but often. For the misfortunes that befall us and the illnesses that harass us make even a short life seem long. And so because life is a hardship, death proves to be a human being’s most welcome escape, and the god, who gives us merely a taste of sweetness in life, is revealed to be a jealous deity.”

Herodotus, 7.46

The Barbarians of the Toe-lee-doe: A Lost Chapter of Herodotus

The Barbarians of the Toe-lee-doe:A Lost Chapter from Herodotus

     During my travels through the northernmost regions of the world, I came to a large coastal city, which in the barbarian language is called Toe-lee-doe. Some of the barbarians claim that the name is after a city across the cosmic ocean in the land of Spane. Others say it was called this because it was easy to pronounce. I disagree with these explanations since it seems to be a compound word meaning something like “a female deer that provides shelter to one’s feet.” I have a theory about what they mean by this but consider it to be irreligious to discuss it further.

     A curious custom these barbarians have is that they do not raise their own children, choosing rather to appoint certain “instructors” in their customs to carry out the task. This is especially strange because from what I could gather the customs that these instructors actually teach their children seem to have nothing to do with the customs of the barbarians outside of the place of instruction (which they refer to as a skule). To give an example, let me first explain the barbarians’ custom of dressing. Unlike the rest of the world, the barbarians wear rather tight fitting and restrictive clothing. Instead of cloaks they wear very short tunics, which only cover a span from the neck to just below the belly button. Yet, their genitals are not uncovered because on the bottom most barbarians will wear long tubes of cloth, which connect seamlessly with a sort of girdle up to their waist. The bottom of the tubes go all the way to the ground, and even in some cases drag on the ground! These tubes can be made of various materials, but are usually held up by some sort of leather strap. Some call these tubes and girdle “pants”—which I take to be some sort of a joke since “to pant” is to breathe heavily (perhaps a statement about how tight they are customarily worn). As far as I can tell the best name for the article is “trowzers”. Now it is customary in public to wear the tunic loosely falling over the trowzers. Yet, in the skule the instructors are extremely insistent that the only proper way of wearing the trowzers is pulled up over the tightly fitting tunic in a ridiculous way. It seems to me that there are only two possible explanations for this practice (the barbarians do not seem to be able to explain it). First, it may be that the instructors actually think it proper to humiliate the children. (Although, this should probably be discarded since the instructors themselves also practice this custom.) Second, it seems more likely that there is a formal religious principle, which necessitates this practice. The barbarians did confirm my suspicions on this point, but I will say no more about this for piety.

     Religiously, it seems that the barbarians honor no gods, save one they refer to as “Jee-zus” (it is unclear what the Hellenes call him). They honor Jee-zus by gathering for singing one time each week. They seem to also contribute small folded paper scraps to his temple, which symbolize their piety. On the whole, however, these practices seem to have been established long ago and have lost their original meaning or fervor. The barbarians say that an epiphany of Jee-zus has not happened for thousands of years, though they expect one soon. But that is all that needs to be said about the barbarians’ religion because it seems to have little to do with their customs and practices. On the other hand, their customs are largely driven by the acquisition of their currency. . .

(the remainder of the text is lost except for one other fragment)
“it is curious that these people seem to love eating what they call ‘dogs,’ which they claim are ground up beef encased in sheep intestines (though I rather doubt this claim since the meat tasted unlike any meat I’ve ever eaten.) A man named Tony Paco makes them in exorbitant quantities.”

History and John Lennon

I thought this article was interesting: I remember the real John Lennon, not the one airbrushed by history

It was the notion of John Lennon the myth, Lennon the martyr, Lennon the super genius, Lennon the real talent behind the Beatles, Lennon the man who saw through everything, Lennon the avant garde artist and Lennon the gentle, peace loving guy who prayed for the world.

Well, I knew John Lennon, and I liked him a lot. He was very kind and generous to me. I was about to fly out to New York and interview him when I got the call in the middle of the night, UK time, to tell me he’d been shot, so I wept many a tear that day.

But for the past three decades the man I’ve been reading about has grown less and less like the John Lennon I knew and, generally, more and more like some character out of Butler’s Lives Of The Saints.

As an art student John used to draw little cartoons of characters covered in warts. And it sometimes seems that the image of him that has mainly prevailed is one in which his own warts, have been largely air-brushed from public memory by misty-eyed fans, and the efforts of his widow Yoko Ono.

And later,

That he had many good points, there is no doubting. He was witty and funny and the “attitude” that he gave the Beatles chimed perfectly with the baby boomer aspirations of the Sixties. He was clever with words and brilliant at writing songs around slogans he made up, such as Give Peace a Chance and All You Need Is Love, instinctively knowing how to catch the moment and generate a million headlines. And, in association with Paul McCartney, he left the world an unequalled canon of popular songs.

But he was also easily led. It was not clever of him, for instance, to give financial help in 1971 to a self-proclaimed black power leader called Michael Abdul Malik, aka Michael X, who then jumped bail in Britain and fled to Trinidad.

A couple of years later Malik murdered two people on a commune he was running there and was later hanged for his crimes. Lennon couldn’t have known that it would end like that, but he should have been aware, as were many others, that Malik was bad news. Then there was financial help to an Irish Republican movement in the US at the height of the violence in Northern Ireland; not a good idea for a man of peace.

That was John, though, perspicacious in lyric, but, in a life immured by fame, surprisingly easily gulled by those who knew how to flatter him and scratch an ever open guilt wound.

I suspect the song he’s probably best remembered for is Imagine, the lyrics of which many found uplifting, even if the writer of them didn’t exactly practise what he preached. When an old Liverpool friend saw the wealth he’d accumulated in New York and teased him with the lyrics “remember ‘no possessions’, John, ‘it’s easy if you try’”, the former Beatle’s reply was characteristically, jokingly self-mocking: “It was only a bloody song.”

Book tease… Explaining Hitler, by Ron Rosenbaum

One can sense why Lanzmann finds in the impressionable plasticity of the baby pictures a fatally alluring invitation, an invitation that lures the unwary into the seductive labyrinth of ratiocination, the deceptive and dangerous promise of understanding. Dangerous perhaps because at the heart of the labyrinth the forbidden fruit on this particular tree of knowledge, lurks the logic of the aphorism: “To understand all is to forgive all.” To embark upon the attempt to understand Hitler, understand all the processes that transformed this innocent babe into a mass murderer, is to risk making his crimes ‘understandable’ and thus, Lanzmann implies, to acknowledge the forbidden possibility of having to forgive Hitler.

Explaining Hitler, by Ron Rosenbaum