Ancient Thought, Modern Agoraphobia

“While we are postponing, life speeds by.”

“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.”

-Seneca

I started reading (or rereading) some of the thinkers from Ancient Greece and Rome over the past two years.  Perhaps it is a time in life or simply an openness to timeless concepts that has drawn me back a couple of millennia.  Certainly the quotes above are meaningful to me, though I have picked concise, brief thoughts to share rather than lengthy discourses of some depth.

What strikes me most is the difference between how we perceive these early philosophers and the nature of their lives.  When I used to think of Socrates, I thought of a portly old man, expounding on life, or drinking hemlock in a sterile environment, wearing a white robe.

Socrates

Influential.  Brilliant.  Sterile.  Tedious.  Long gone and dusty.

 

In fact, Socrates was a very interesting man, always talking, feasting with friends, drinking and socializing.  In reading Plato’s works, I learned Socrates fought in battle as a soldier, showed courage and loyalty, and was invited to feasts as a favored guest.  Socrates spoke of the nature of love and beauty in rich and poetic language, not as a mathematical formula of A=B, therefore C.  Though his ideas were usually accepted as the best of those in an evening, his voice was one of many people enjoying a topic, rather than a teacher dictating to his students.  This was a man who loved his life, loved learning about it, and loved living it.

The more I read of ancient thinkers and philosophers, the more I am unimpressed with the sterile lives led by our current experts.  Modern experts frequently go from college to graduate school and on to professorships, never peeking their heads out of a library, never truly living the life existent beyond the confines of their ivory towers.  How few would attend a feast (or throw one) with a mix of more and less educated guests, from many walks of life, with opposing political and religious views?

I fear I have painted with too broad a stroke.  There are those who write and discuss beyond peer reviewed journals and safe, small gatherings of colleagues.  There are those who live the life of the mind, yet climb mountains, fire rifles and swim in strange waters.  Those who are unafraid to speak their unpopular ideas in their search for truth.  Those who are open to a challenge of their beliefs that they may be either refined or discarded.

I lament there are so few who show such courage.  How many of our politicians or scholars will be read thousands of years from now, much less in a hundred?   Whose words from our time will resonate through millennia as do the words of Cicero or Augustus Caesar?  Perhaps a fierce intensity of living should be placed alongside books as a good prescription for learning and discovering the intense truths of life.  I recommend starting right away.

“Begin at once to live, and count each separate day as a separate life.”

-Seneca

 

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