Discover more from Classical Wisdom
How can we LET IT GO?
“My power flurries through the air into the ground
My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around
And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast
I'm never going back, the past is in the past
Let it go, let it go
When I'll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go” - Elsa, Frozen
Dear Classical Wisdom Reader,
Anyone who has spent any time with a school age child in the last decade is probably familiar with the above lyrics. Disney’s Frozen was so successful, after all, that it achieved a sequel, a musical, an ice show and merchandise that has flooded the world over.
So maybe it’s not surprising that one of the highest-grossing animated films of all time captured an important concept, a feeling, or a need...
That of “letting go”.
Like many things, the idea actually has very deep ancient roots, though I was unaware of it until your fellow Classical Wisdom Reader Tom wrote in:
On 21 Apr 2020, during the Covid Crisis, I was starting a deeper dive in stoicism.
I discovered that Mrs Elizabeth Carter was the first person to translate Epictetus from Greek to English sometime in the 1740's. The women are saving us from Hades river of forgetfulness, the river Lethe. I have an ancestor, Aletheia, a name which means "un-forgetfulness" or "un-concealment."
I discovered a word: aphesis. It means a letting go, Redemption, pardon. Deliverance, forgiveness and freedom. The action of the liberator unlocks the chains and the liberated moves away from what had chained them.
It is a necessity to have words like these.
I couldn’t agree more, Tom, and I certainly appreciate you bringing this idea to my attention... because “letting go” is something that everyone has to do at some point in their lives. Bearing grudges only harms ourselves, it can be a waste of our time, our energy, our resources.
But of course this is all easier said than done.
So, for this week, dear readers, I would like to ask you:
How do we ‘let go’? Can we nurture our ability to forgive, to forget? Should we strive for aphesis? With all the pressure to remember, what’s the value of not- remembering?
As always, you can write to me directly here: email@example.com or reply to this email.
As for today, you can enjoy a very eclectic mailbag, covering ancient comedy, free speech and common ancient Greek and Latin oversimplifications... below!
All the best,
Founder and Director
P.S. For you linguistics lovers out there, you might recognize ‘aphesis’ as the gradual loss of an unstressed vowel at the beginning of a word. Indeed you will know all too well how languages evolve... and sometimes completely disappear.
Here at Classical Wisdom we work hard to promote and preserve the ancient world, and one way to do that is to continue learning the Classical Languages. If this is something that interests you, an exciting goal for 2023, you should definitely check out this Classical Greek course, starting TODAY.
Your being here makes our work possible! To receive new posts and support our efforts to promote and preserve the Classics, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber:
On Ancient Comedy:
You bet they are! Read the surviving plays of Aristophanes.
San Antonio, Texas
There is a threefold response here which I believe is required.
1) The ancients can be funny to those who understand - for example the porter scene in Shakespeare's Macbeth, the January/May tales by Chaucer, and many comedic pieces from the ancients are things that when I heard in class the clever kids all laughed at - they are funny.
2) The second question is if all comedy from the ancients is funny - for example jokes about how the roman slavery system work are both not funny to many modern people due to their innate dislike of slavery (which has been educated not inborn), and due to them not knowing, or having any relation to the system at all.
3) Lastly is the fact that ancient 'comedies' weren't always comedic in the way we understand that to mean in our times. By this I mean that the ancient comedy was more to do with the move from confusion to an ordered ending (as opposed to a tragedy which is a move from order to chaos) than laughs.
In conclusion - yes the ancients can be, and are funny!
Thanks so much for these emails!
The Ancients can be funny, and for that matter, people can be funny regardless of the Era… if the humor is like how we like our wisdom—timeless!
Obviously, there are situations where contextual jokes lose their immediate hilarity as soon as the receiver is removed (once or many times over) from the original context when the joke made sense.
The term ‘inside joke’ comes to mind; the hilarity of a situation within a business organization or a group of friends needs timely explanation to become funny for outsiders.
But perhaps, there is underneath the arbitrariness of any joke some tinge of timelessness. What if all jokes are about exposing some absurd aspect of human existence, human nature, or the cosmos?
I am reminded of the joke thought and delivered by Chrysippus— at the sight of an ass eating figs, the old Stoic is said to have blurted out if the ass also wanted some unmixed wine to wash those figs down.
While good old Chrysippus supposedly laughed to death (literally, according to a biographical account!) at his own joke, we are nowadays, at first glance, left perplexed as to why it was so funny to see an ass eating figs... and then more so regarding why it was ironic to suggest the addition of some unmixed wine.
As I’ve found, it turns out the joke was funny because an ass, as a beast of burden, was considered an element of society below the lowest of the low—below even the lowliest slaves. In contrast, figs were regarded as a fine delicacy reserved for the wealthiest of society, akin to how we think about caviar.
Once demystified why this joke was so hilarious, one could think about something timeless in society: there have been and always have been the haves and have-nots. How amusing is it to ponder how things would turn out if, for a day, the haves and have-nots would switch roles just to make things interesting? Imagine this in Ancient Greece with their male-dominated slave-based society with oligarchs or aristocrats at the top. Or imagine this in Ancient India with the four-caste system. Or imagine this in 18th-century France during the time of Louis XIV. Or today, with the contrast between people who are struggling to survive in the least developed regions of the globe, the people who slave away in manufacturing plants at the heels of billionaires who fly in their jets almost daily.
SVBEEV - Si Vales, Bene Est. Ego Valeo.
If you are well, all is well, and I am well too.
In my experience, both men and women can be equally funny. The ability to make people laugh is not a given, but you can learn how to make people laugh and what makes them laugh. I'm not sure that men developed their humour 'in order to seduce women', because it does work both ways. I much prefer a woman who can make me laugh to one who is serious all the time, and I am sure that works the other way as well.
As for the ancients, their humour can often get lost in translation, but there are certain authors/plays that still make me laugh out loud, such as Aristophanes' 'Clouds' or 'Lysistrata', or Plautus’s 'Mostellaria'. I wish I could go back in time to see how they were actually performed, and how the audiences reacted compared to audiences today.
Humour is a great thing to give and have given, but it also has its warning posts. Not all humour suits all tastes and some people can get offended by humour that others find hilarious. I'm sure that would have been the same in ancient times as well .So, before cracking open the jokes, get to know your audience first. Humour is a wonderful thing if addressed correctly and given to the right audience, be that someone you wish to seduce, or a career path you wish to take.
Sadly, the pressures of recent things, such as covid, the cost of living crisis, global warming etc., has affected our ability to laugh. We British have always been famous for our sense of humour. Let's not lose that ability now. The world could be changed for the better with just a few more laughs.
On Free Speech:
Importantly, Socrates was a questioner, an explorer. Today, too many first amendment absolutists sound like they are not of this world, oblivious of worldly consequences. And/or they seem unwilling to see that some speech is less accurate, “truthful/full of truth that other speech.
Nuance, prudence, and some concern about consequences are necessities!
Looking forward to listening to the speakers
I always look forward to and enjoy your events! But I'm really looking forward to this one!! It's a very interesting topic and will spur some fun debate! Also, Alexandra and I both got a lot of our classical education from the Great Courses Plus. Learned that in the event a while back about classical education outside the classroom. So it's fun to hear people in these events that share some of my educational background! See you there!!
We are excited about the event as well! If you haven’t already registered, there is still time to do so here:
On Latin/Ancient Greek:
That was great a great event. So good to see so much enthusiasm and inventiveness in respect of the teaching of Greek and Latin!
I have a Classics degree (Oxford 1978) and I yield to none in my enthusiasm for the languages (and cultures). But I want to sound a note of caution. As a professional linguist I suggest that some classicists are over-exuberant in their endorsement of the languages, going beyond what the evidence will bear and at times actually contradicting the evidence. One contributor stated that Greek is the basis for all European languages. Even if one excludes languages, such as Hungarian which originated outside Europe, this is simply false. Most languages in Europe have taken much from Greek, especially English and the Romance languages with their extensive Greek-derived learned/technical lexis, (also from Latin, of course) but that is not the same as having a basis in Greek. Even English, and to a lesser extent the Romance languages, have grammars seriously different from that of Greek, and large amounts of non-Greek lexis, some of it non-Indo-European but some simply developed within non-Hellenic branches of Indo-European (like the grammar). This applies also to the rest of Germanic (including Scandinavian), Celtic etc. In fact, with the exception of some obscure partly Greek-based creoles, there is NO language in Europe which has its basis in Greek.
Your mathematician contributor (at the end) rehearsed the still commonly advanced view that Greek (or for some others Latin) gives one a deeper insight into logic. I have never seen a persuasive argument that this is so. Reading Greek PHILOSOPHY certainly helps one appreciate the history of logical thought. But as far as can be seen, the languages themselves display logical principles no better than any other languages. (There are occasional exceptions to this, e.g. Latin vel and aut explicitly encode the two logically important senses of ‘or’) Also, the highly irregular (and synchronically unmotivated) morphology of Latin and especially of Greek reduce the level of systematicity and transparency found in their structures.
Another contributor stated that the complexity of languages has been reducing over time. This is evidently an over-simplification. But this contributor was not dogmatic and seemed amenable to discussion. I would be happy to exchange ideas with anyone whose interests relate to linguistic issues. Linguistics has much to offer in such matters.
Overall, I wonder if more carefully expressed views, more in keeping with the actual evidence, or the overt challenging of extreme and inaccurate views, might be more persuasive (?)
Skeptical, historical and general linguist