Primary Source: Xenophon’s “Memorabilia,” Book IV (ca. 370 BC) (Introduction to Western Civilization 3.11)

Socrates was so useful in all circumstances and in all ways, that any observer gifted with ordinary perception can see that nothing was more useful than the companionship of Socrates, and time spent with him in any place and in any circumstances. The very recollection of him in absence brought no small good to his constant companions and followers; for even in his light moods they gained no less from his society than when he was serious.

Thus he would often say he was “in love”; but clearly his heart was set not on those who were fair to outward view, but on those whose souls excelled in goodness. These excellent beings he recognized by their quickness to learn whatever subject they studied, ability to remember what they learned, and desire for every kind of knowledge on which depend good management of a household and estate and tactful dealing with men and the affairs of men. For education would make such beings not only happy in themselves, and successful in the management of their households, but capable of conferring happiness on their fellow-men and on states alike. His method of approach varied. To those who thought themselves possessed of natural endowments and despised learning, he explained that the greater the natural gifts, the greater is the need of education; pointing out that thoroughbreds by their spirit and mettle develop into serviceable and splendid creatures, if they are broken in as colts, but if unbroken, prove intractable and sorry jades; and high-bred puppies, keen workers and good tacklers of game, make first-rate hounds and useful dogs, if well trained, but, if untrained, turn out stupid, crazy, disobedient brutes. It is the same with human beings. The most highly gifted, the youths of ardent soul, capable of doing whatever they attempt, if educated and taught their duty grow into excellent and useful men; for manifold and great are their good deeds. But untrained and untaught, these same become utterly evil and mischievous; for without knowledge to discern their duty, they often put their hand to vile deeds, and through the very grandeur and vehemence of their nature, they are uncontrollable and intractable: therefore manifold and great are their evil deeds.

Those who prided themselves on riches and thought they had no need of education, supposing that their wealth would suffice them for gaining the objects of their wishes and winning honor among men, he admonished thus. “Only a fool” he said, “can think it possible to distinguish between things useful and things harmful without learning: only a fool can think that without distinguishing these he will get all he wants by means of his wealth and be able to do what is expedient: only a simpleton can think that without the power to do what is expedient he is doing well and has made good or sufficient provision for his life: only a simpleton can think that by his wealth alone without knowledge he will be reputed good at something, or will enjoy a good reputation without being reputed good at anything in particular.”

 

Vocabulary Builder

 Look up each of the following words in a dictionary and write the definition on a sheet of paper:

recollection

mettle

splendid

ardent

manifold

vile

admonish

suffice

expedient

provision

The Destruction of Israel (Introduction to Western Civilization 2.10)

Solomon became king of Israel after the death of his father David. Soon after he became king, God came to Solomon in a dream and told him to ask for anything he wanted. Rather than choosing a long life or riches, Solomon chose wisdom. Because he chose wisdom, God blessed him and he became one of the wisest men who ever lived. He was known throughout the world for his wisdom and people came from far away to receive his advice.

One story that is told about the wisdom of Solomon concerns two women who came to him. In the hands of one woman was a living baby and in the hands of the other was a baby who had died. The women were arguing over which baby belonged to whom. One of the woman said, “Her baby died while it was sleeping next to her and she came and stole my baby and placed the dead baby next to me.” The other woman said, “No, her baby died while it was sleeping next to her and now she has brought me here to try to take my baby away from me.” As they continued to argue back and forth, Solomon stood up from his throne and ordered, “Silence!” He sat and thought for a moment. Finally, he said, “Since both of you claim to be the mother of the living baby and since you cannot agree who is the real mother, each of you will have half of the living baby.” He turned to his guards and ordered them to cut the baby in half and give one half to each woman. One of the women said, “Good; that is fair!” The other woman cried out, “No, please! Don’t hurt the baby! Just give it to her!” Solomon said, “The woman who cried out is the mother. Give the child to her.” There are many stories like this that are told about Solomon’s great wisdom and the ways he solved difficult cases by thinking very carefully.

Solomon was also known for his great wealth. He acquired many possessions, including many animals and a great deal of gold and jewels while he was king of Israel. He used his money to build a large, beautiful temple dedicated to his God. This temple became the center of religion in Israel. People from all around Israel gathered at this temple to worship their God and offer sacrifices to him.

In spite of his great wisdom and wealth, however, Solomon also made many mistakes. He allowed his wives to influence him to build temples dedicated to other gods than the God of Israel. As a result, Israel began to suffer terribly and fall apart after Solomon’s death.

In 930 BC, almost immediately after the death of Solomon, there was a civil war in which the southern portion of Israel, called Judah, split off and formed its own kingdom. The two kingdoms remained at war for a very long time as each claimed to be the true heir of the kingdom of David and Solomon. Eventually, however, both were swallowed up by other nations. In 722 BC, the Assyrian Empire conquered the northern kingdom of Israel. In 586 BC, the Babylonians conquered the Assyrian Empire, including Israel. They also conquered the southern kingdom of Judah.

In order to force the people of Israel and Judah to stop worshipping their God and start worshipping the Babylonian gods, the Babylonians took the people of Israel and Judah away from their homeland and destroyed the temple which Solomon had built. For 50 years, the Israelites were forced to live in Mesopotamia, where they were treated as slaves by the Babylonians. This is the period called the Babylonian Captivity, during which Psalm 137, which you have already read, was written.

In 536 BC, however, the Persian Empire conquered the Babylonian Empire. The king of the Persians, Cyrus the Great, who was also a monotheist, allowed the Jews to return to their homeland. He even gave them money to help rebuild their temple. For a while, while the Jews were ruled by the Persians, they were allowed to live at peace in their homeland and to worship their own God. This situation, however, would not last long.

 

Review Questions

 1. What virtue was Solomon known for? How did he gain this virtue?

2. List the events which occurred in each of the following years:

a. 930 BC

b. 722 BC

c. 586 BC

d. 536 BC

3. Which king of Persia conquered the Babylonian Empire and allowed the Jews to return to their homeland to rebuild their temple?

 

Vocabulary Words

Civil war – a war between two groups within the same nation or country

Wisdom – a combination of experience and knowledge which produces good judgment

Augustine on spiritual development

In Book II, Chapter 7 of his On Christian Teaching, St. Augustine of Hippo provides a short but insightful description of the process of spiritual development from its earliest stages to its most advanced. In his description, he begins with the statement of Psalm 111:10 that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (KJV). He then draws out of this statement a seven step process from the fear of God to wisdom, which he describes as “the seventh and last step” in which the Christian “enjoys … peace and tranquility.”

The first step in this process, according to Augustine, is the fear of God, which consists of the awareness of one’s impending death. From this fear comes piety, the second step, which is the desire to avoid sin and to do good. “Fear,” says Augustine, “leads him [the Christian] to think of the judgment of God, and … piety … gives him no option but to believe in and submit to the authority of Scripture.” The coupling of the two, in turn, “compel[s] him to bewail his condition.” This is the third step, knowledge, which is a knowledge of the condition of fallen humanity in separation from God.

It is at this point that the Christian must make what Søren Kierkegaard called the leap of faith. This knowledge of the desperate situation of man can cause one to become “overwhelmed in despair.” If the Christian is willing to make this leap of faith, however, they move on to the fourth step of Augustine’s process, strength and resolution, “in which he hungers and thirsts after righteousness.” In this thirst, he turns away from earthly things and focuses on God only, seeking with renewed vigor to follow God’s commands.

From this, he reaches the fifth step, which Augustine describes as “the counsel of compassion.” Having recognized the seemingly hopeless situation of man (in step 3) and used this recognition as impetus to a reinvigorated dedication to piety (in step 4), the Christian now combines these elements and from this combination emerges with an authentic love for his neighbors. He sees that the human condition is universal and believes that God’s love is also, and so comes to love others as himself.

It is at this point that the Christian “mounts to the sixth step, in which he purifies the eye itself which can see God.” Through loving others as himself, the Christian is able to “die to this world,” eliminating selfish desires and focusing with unitary purpose on God. This, finally, leads the Christian to wisdom, which Augustine, following earlier Christian tradition, identifies with Christ himself.

In tracing out these steps, Augustine provides a framework for the Christian to understand and measure his progress in the spiritual life. He also cogently demonstrates the dynamic nature of conversion and of the Christian life. Rather than viewing conversion as a single point of change or the Christian life as a stagnant maintenance of the status quo, Augustine envisions the Christian undergoing a long process of conversion in which the Christian moves over a lifetime and beyond to a full vision of and complete relationship with God.

Man’s gifts and ingratitude

Whence, then, come pleasure and desire? For these are the principal evils that they talk of and hate. Nor does matter appear to be anything else. That these things, indeed, only belong to animals which are endowed with sense, and that nothing else but that which has sense perceives desire and pleasure, is manifest. For what perception of pleasure and pain is there in a plant? What in the earth, water, or air? And the demons, if indeed they are living beings endowed with sense, for this reason, perhaps, are delighted with what has been instituted in regard to sacrifices, and take it ill when these are wanting to them; but nothing of this sort can be imagined with respect to God. Therefore those who say, “Why are animals affected by pleasure and pain?” should first make the complaint, “Why are these animals endowed with sense, or why do they stand in need of food?” For if animals were immortal, they would have been set free from corruption and increase; such as the sun and moon and stars, although they are endowed with sense. They are, however, beyond the power of these, and of such a complaint. But man, being able to perceive and to judge, and being potentially wise,—for he has the power to become so,—when he has received what is peculiar to himself, treads it under foot.

St. Alexander of Lycopolis (ca. 300), Of the Manichaeans, ch. 15

Review: The Wayfinders

The Wayfinders
The Wayfinders by Wade Davis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Davis sets out in this book to prove the value of ancient wisdom to the modern world. The great hurdle he must overcome to do this is the great superstition of the present age: that newer always means better. Derived from this supposition are modern man’s cocksure belief in his own superiority over his forefathers and the disdain with which he treats his heritage. Though these hurdles do cripple modern man and must be overcome and though Davis gives us a fascinating attempt at that, ultimately he fails to accomplish his goal.

Davis’s ultimate failure in proving his point is largely the consequence of avoiding addressing it head-on until the final lecture. After a series of lectures in which Davis presents us with a pathetic set of descriptions of various examples of the Noble Savage and attempts, as is usually the case with such presentations, to wow us with his amazing prowess as a hunter/gatherer/navigator/animal tamer/navigator/[insert skill set here], he suddenly switches gears in the final lecture. He commits the unforgivable sin of non-fiction writing and offers us a surprise conclusion with a new focus on global warming.

Perhaps the greatest problem with Davis’s lectures is his apparent disdain for his own culture, the only culture which provides anthropologists with an inclination to preserve minority cultures and a concern about the negative impact of certain technologies. On pages 216-7, Davis lists the various cultures he has discussed in his lectures and which he believes can provide the wisdom the modern world needs to overcome its current crisis, including Tibetans, Polynesians, Inuits, the descendants of Incas, and others. Notably absent from this list are any Western cultures, and yet these cultures, and the greatr cultural entity of Western Civilization, are equally endangered. Cultural literacy is at an all-time low and the very treatment Davis gives to Western culture in this book is evidence of the lack of esteem in which its own denizens and products hold it. If we wish to save the cultures of Tibet and the Andes and to cultivate an authentic appreciation for these cultures, perhaps the best place to begin is by rediscovering our own culture and developing an admiration for it. This admiration should, of course, be one that recognizes the limitations of our culture, but it should be an admiration nonetheless. The identification of scientism, materialism, and colonialism with the full range and depth of Western Civilization is false and fatal.

Davis does a good job of making the point that every culture says something unique and valuable about the human experience. If he would have finished this thought by applying it to his own culture, the book would have come full circle. If a conference of cultures and a renewal of received wisdom are what are called for, surely the Bible, Greece, and Rome have places of honor.

Davis’s lectures are entertaining, enlightening, and engaging. They are filled throughout with insightful anecdotes and interesting stories. I recommend this book for anyone with an interest in anthropology. In spite of its shortcomings, this book does make for some very good reading.

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More smiths than guardians

And what is this knowledge and among whom is it found? I asked.
It is the knowledge of the guardians, he replied, and is found among those whom we were just now describing as perfect guardians.
And what is name which the city derives from this possession of this sort of knowledge?
The name of good in counsel and truly wise.
And will there be in our city more of these true guardians than smiths?
The smiths, he replied, will be far more numerous.

Plato, The Republic, Book IV