Do You Have a Conscience???
What is Socrates’ “Daimonion”? Where does it come from?
Dear Classical Wisdom Reader,
My plan failed... miserably.
Last Friday I told you I was going to go offline, recharge my batteries and leave my laptop at home. Alas, that did not occur!
The morning of our departure I woke up to a slew of emails from Paypal saying the transactions for the Essential Classics Books had been reversed. Apparently I had failed to verify one part of the account... and so the payments were going back to the customers.
Problem is, we had already paid for all the shipping! The books had been sent! Most received.
So phone calls to customer service (many) were made... emails written... attempts to figure out what happened accomplished from a hotel room.
In the end, you see, I had to just ask many to resend the payment... which is astonishing because frankly, they don’t *have* to. I can’t force it, I have to rely on goodwill, an honor system, and the belief that those will act in good conscience.
Fortunately for me, I have literally the *BEST* community in the world (indeed, I have been contemplating a mailbag question: Are Classics lovers better people?), as the responses have been prompt, kind and understanding.
But this real world experiment has got me thinking about what makes us act on our morals? What compels us (even when we won’t get caught) to do the ‘right thing’?
From the ancient world, this concept could perhaps start with Zeus himself. The bizarre story of him ingesting Athena’s mother, Metis, not only explains the gray-eyed goddess’s miraculous birth, but in some ways, it’s an origin story of the ‘conscience’.
Metis was considered by the 5th century philosophers the first deity of wisdom and deep thought, while the Stoics allegorised Metis as the embodiment of "prudence", "wisdom" or "wise counsel". (And indeed, this standard continued into the Renaissance.) Either way, once in Zeus’ head, Metis played the wise council, an inner voice of reason and morality.
We also see this concept of conscience playing out powerfully in Sophocles’ Antigone, when one woman defies the local laws (as set up by Creon) and buries her brother ‘the traitor’, despite the punishment of death... Antigone does this because to leave him unburied goes against her morals, against what she sees as ‘divine’ laws.
But perhaps the most famous instance of ‘conscience’ in the ancient world comes from Socrates himself... the daimonion.
In Plato's Apology of Socrates, Socrates claims to have literally a "divine something" (the daimonion) that frequently warns him in the form of a "voice" against acting immorally but... and this is important, it never tells him what to do. While this guiding light is greatly open to interpretation, some see it as a religious inspiration, others feel it represents the true nature of the human soul, I personally regard it as a type of self-consciousness, an awareness of our inner morality.
Either way, the much larger question looms...
What is the “conscience”? Does it guide our morality... or just make us feel bad if we don’t do the right thing? Are these moral judgements based on reason... or should they be? And where does it come from?
Moreover, considering our community’s recent response, does the simple act of asking these questions, and contemplating these issues, make us better people?
As always, you can write to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or reply to this email... I’ll post your responses next week.
In the meantime, you can enjoy an eclectic, though mostly athletic, Mailbag below; we delve into the value of sports, but also a few comments regarding whether or not Penelope betrayed Odysseus, as well as an interesting insight into the Christmas tree!
And to those of you who have already helped me (with the very embarrassing paypal problem), a heartfelt thank you.
All the best,
Founder and Director
P.S. If you haven’t registered already, make sure to sign up for our next event, taking place next week on January 11th. We’ll discuss the state of ancient languages, how we can preserve them, and how we might inspire a love of them in future generations.
Make sure to take part in this important conversation, featuring Eugenia Manolidou, Greek classical composer, and course director at ancient Greek school Elliniki Agogi, Steven Hunt, from the University of Cambridge and Classics for All, as well as Gerardo Guzmàn, ancient Greek professor at the renowned Vivarium Novum Academy in Rome.
***Can’t join us on the day, don’t worry! If you register in advance, you will receive a recording afterwards. Just make sure to sign up in advance Here.
Maybe it is a good idea to distinguish the spectacle from the activity, as well as between professional sports and sports as practiced by millions of people. Sports of both kinds have always been used for political purposes. Sometimes I compare sports to a magic chewing gum ball that I knew as a kid, that - while you suck it - changes its color. Basically sport is an activity that has a goal in itself. Mens sana in corpere sana, a healthy mind in a healthy body. Top Sports are, most of the time, spectacles that are unhealthy to the practitioners. Professional sport is a theater and the show can inspire people to start the activity themselves. The number of soccer players will no doubt increase in Argentina, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Merry Christmas and all the best for 2023. Mind your health and do some sports even if it is only 30 minutes walking a day.
Many sports are metaphors of war and war is in our nature: proof is that there are always wars. So it is a kind of entertainment but it is also something else. When people talk of sports, it is like they are talking about brain surgery, but in reality it is about nothing of importance. Sports, often, are simulacrums of having purpose, and life is only lived if one has purpose, at least to my interpretation.
Of course, here I should separate athletes from spectators. Athletes have focus and there is purpose; to make the body ready for the sport, but spectators just need identity of purpose: what is your team? There is so little purpose in the mass.
Herman H. San Francisco
For Americans, football and government welfare seem analogous to panem et circensis. We ignore our kleptocratic government to our own peril.
I enjoy participating in sports, although at 69 years old my ability is not what it used to be. And I can enjoy watching sports, but my enjoyment is mild, and there are many other things that I would generally prefer to do. I have no favorite sports or teams, so when I do watch something, it is typically because I am with friends who are watching, and thus it is a social activity. But that happens rarely, because they seem to feel that I put a damper on things by my lack of, shall we say, "team spirit".
I have many things I still want to do, and - to me - time spent watching sports is time wasted. At the same time, I recognize that my perspective is not a common one - I am an oddball. It seems to me that most people have a subconscious desire to be part of a greater group, and sports is one way in which this is manifested.
As to your question: "Are sports a metaphor? entertainment? just a big distraction?" I would say that they are all three, to varying degrees and to different people. I do not begrudge others the enjoyment or fulfillment that they get through sports, but I do not share it.
I think sports unites us in a way a lot of stuff doesn't. I usually hate sports. Yet my little brother LOVES football. I dunno why. But I still watched some matches and kept track of the scores, and my heart practically broke when Morocco lost those last 2 matches, and I was kinda wondering 'why do I care' and it's because at this point it's barely sports, it's politics! Everyone cares! FIFA is in the news every day, and not just because of match scores. Drama. Politics. It's all the stuff us humans love, not just some footballer dudes.
And about the result on the athletes' bodies: It's their choice, isn't it? I roller skate. I hit my ear against a lampost skating earlier, and it was no-one's fault but mine.
So I think the world cup and other sporty stuff isn't really football, it's a chance for people around the world to unite in a way they normally wouldn't. I mean, everyone's talking about Croatia now. Before this, it was a place with a war in the past and a rich people holiday destination. Now people care about where Morocco is on a map ('Wait, it's in Africa?').
It's even giving me opportunities to make new friends. Someone wearing an ArgentinIan football shirt? I congratulate 'em! What a brilliant conversation starter! How much sports has done for me, even if I am a normally football hating person!
Y, también, ¡felicitationes! Argentina, ustedes ganaron, justo y cuadrado. ¡Buena suerte, chao!
The essence of sport is competition whether individual or team. Competition is Darwinian and exists in every species on earth since the beginnings of life. But is competition good beyond a biological necessity? Certainly not always, but with the sports we humans love to watch or partake in, I’d say yes, on balance. Especially doing them because they sharpen and discipline the mind, they’re fun and they promote health and longevity.
A small excerpt from my "L'ASTUTO OMERO"(THE CUNNING HOMER) of which I have almost completed the English translation (a very hard work!):
The mythographers subsequent to Homer have also tried to gossip about Penelope, insinuating that she was lover of Amphinomus, one of the suitors, or even that she had had relations with all the hundred and more suitors, generating the god Pan, or that she had married the son born from the union between Ulysses and Circe. Strangely, none of those who have talked so much about the alleged homosexual relationship between Achilles and Patroclus has ever had anything to say about this queen, who after marrying had only one child, she refuses to remarry with the most handsome young people in the neighborhood, she is always in her bedroom with her handmaids, she does not worry in the least that her husband will leave again going to find death who knows where... Not to mention that, even if she had had some little children from an underground relationship, she could always justify herself by saying that a god had appeared to her in the likeness of her husband (this was the most convenient excuse in vogue among the virtuous ladies of the time).
A remark about why Penelope set the contest with the bow.
Penelope had mentioned to the (disguised) Odysseus her intention for the bow contest, to put an end to her agony and protect Telemachus. Odysseus urged her to go ahead with it, with the words (book 19, about 580-590):
“Honoured wife of Odysseus, Laertes’s son,
do not delay this contest in your halls
a moment longer. I can assure you,
Odysseus will be here with all his schemes,
before these men pick up the polished bow,
string it, and shoot an arrow through the iron.”
-Translation by Ian Johnston, Vancouver Island University, Canada.
Happy New Year!
No. Penelope never betrayed Odysseus. She just needed to keep him honest. Both in intent and capacity.
On Christmas traditions:
We know that the Christmas Tree is the descendant of the «Eiresione», an olive tree branch decorated with the fruits of the earth and the wool of the sheep, which was called «ἔριον» (erion) hence the name «Εἰρεσιώνη». This custom goes way back to the mythical times! Indeed, “Eiresione” dates back to mythical times, when Theseus the founder and king of Athens killed the Minotaur. On his return to Athens, Theseus thanked Apollo for his help by establishing the feast of the “Eiresione”.
Make sure to catch Eugenia on January 11th for our important conversation about the future preservation of ancient languages!
You can learn more about this event Here: https://Preserve-ancient-languages.eventbrite.ie
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