Thinking on the Self, Conflict, and Overcoming

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Like a faint heartbeat, a post to give proof of life.

The ironic thing is that I have been far more active on my Facebook page (wow, Word just corrected my grammar when I did not capitalize ‘Facebook’, I guess it is a thing now) than I have been here, apparently. Truth is, I haven’t had time, but I do not think that matters much. I have time now, and that, however brief, must not be ignored. You may be asking yourselves ‘why now?’ That’s the beauty of it all: I was never ‘not thinking like an ancient’ so I was technically never ‘not posting’. It is just that posting part that kept being left behind. Alas! I do have something to share:

τὸ νικᾶν αὐτὸν αὑτὸν πασῶν νικῶν πρώτη τε καὶ ἀρίστη, τὸ δὲ ἡττᾶσθαι αὐτὸν ὑφ᾽ ἑαυτοῦ πάντων αἴσχιστόν τε ἅμα καὶ κάκιστον.

“It goes something like this: victory over the self [is] in itself both of all victories foremost and also the highest, although to be made less than one-self, that is of all things the worst, and the most shameful.”

This, of course, was written by Plato (Laws 1.626e). I have this, in the Ancient Greek, in a poster on a classroom wall. Often, as point my students to my Greek helmets, I will tell the stories of men who dared to fight against themselves. I feel that, perhaps, things will sink in more when words are ancient and people are known. I don’t know if that is having any effect. Yet there is hope. One thing is certain: as much as I focus on Cicero or Plato, my students never make a sound while I do. I wonder if it is the power of the words or the telling of them in somber voice and passionate retelling, but something does take place. Despite it all, the success or the failure, I had never really paid attention to the words that followed:

ταῦτα γὰρ ὡς πολέμου ἐν ἑκάστοις ἡμῶν ὄντος πρὸς ἡμᾶς αὐτοὺς σημαίνει.

Listen intently to these: “For these things are the direct result of war in those of us being pressed to fight against ourselves.”

“The direct result” of looking into our souls is the imminent defeat or conquering of it. We must look, Plato suggests in Laws, because if we don’t we risk remaining who we are forever, unable to change, unable to become anything more. Doesn’t that seem like the worst thing that can happen to anyone? I think so. Cicero would have definitely agreed:

Nescire autem quid ante quam natus est acciderit, id est semper esse puerum.

“To know nothing, however, of what which took place before one had been born, that is to be always a child.”

I love Cicero, I love Plato, and I love ancient history. I find in it reasons for teaching and learning and, maybe, my students do as well. Hopefully I can instill in my students a sense of discovery of the self, so they can begin that struggle for self-determination and self-discovery. I feel like Plato understood the necessity for students to struggle against themselves and find within a reason to question life and each other. Today’s world is too much about victory without focusing at all on loss. Everybody wins, all the time. Perhaps it is time that we revived the possibility, however faint, that we could lose. I think that, alone, would give us the necessary energy to try things a little more.

Well, it may be short, but there it is.

Strength!

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Sapientia victa et semper erit

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I am not sure of many things. Some of them are obvious; others, not so much. The obvious I can tolerate, even fix, when the situation demands it. The others…well, let’s just say that unlike many others out there I am not in tune with the hidden meaning of things.

It has been a long summer.

I have written a thesis, finished and published a book, written curricula for three classes, and managed to survive the demands of a family of seven. To many, it is the happiness of a single moment which drives them to struggle against the tide of life that so overwhelmingly entraps and drowns some wanderers along its course to higher things. To me, it is many. There are many moments in life that can be considered success; many ends, in fact, that can drive that final crossing of the line. Here is one: when I write about anything, the very act of writing becomes a success. How many cannot write? I don’t mean those who are unable, but those who won’t. Anyone can write. Yet to write well requires a certain finesse of thought. A certain kind of pedantry. Words are aligned on a page and are required to fit into the mold piece by piece, step by step. One can never see what the final product is until the entire work has been completed. That is why writing is art. Like those articles and nouns bunched together followed by adverbs and verbs that permit the entry of conspicuous and inconspicuous direct and indirect objects. The comma, which allows for the interjection of another thought. The semicolon; that symbol which rudely interrupts the flow of a sentence to give succinct pause to an idea before it continues on the thread upon which it was set before. That conjunction, master of all breathing thought, which joins together and gives little room for pondering and even less for a response. I enjoy it, writing. There is no better way to pass the time than to revel in the empty white pages of an electronic document before it becomes filled with the pixels of thought, and black-colored letters. It is not the writing that made summer fester like an infected wound filled by unwanted parasites and pus. It was people. People whose voices were muddled by the unyielding course of ideas that gave birth to my writing. Voices yet heard and headed, but weak and languishing. Voices that despite their faintness held auctoritas over me. I think that my lack of heeding made the price higher, in respect of the happiness I was to have experienced.

One can never rely on another to gain the heavens.

Veritas indeed. No one will cross the threshold with you when you are about to win the race. Too busy. Successes cannot take place in company because the company will leave you, and you will leave it, when the end is near. In thought, for example, people always leave you when you are closest to the goal. There you stand, figuratively, at the gates of the temple of truth. There they leave you, as the door opens, and you fall. I wonder what it would be like to watch a fireman do the same, or a police officer. I wonder how one would feel when the fireman, about to reach the threshold of the house on fire, burning with complete determination to take with it the suffering being that occupied it and failed to recognize its demise, left the victim on the ground and with a tip of his hat and a smile on his face ran outside alone. We would be dumbfounded at the fact, although we would too soon have died and have little room to ruminate on the matter. Equally would the victim of a shooting be confounded if the policemen, having almost killed the assailant, turned to the victim and with a tone of newly-found success uttered that the rest could now be handled by the fallen person, dying in the poor misery of an inflicted gun shot wound. I suspect that, gun in hand, the dying devil fiend would finish the job all too promptly to allow a proper response.

We have become corrupted by self-sufficiency.

I depend on many to complete my day. Unsung heroes who are devoted to their craft as much, if not more, as I am to mine. There was once a janitor who smiled at me and gave me the courage to continue on with a day I thought wholly obliterated by disappointment and exhaustion. There was once a man who fed me at no charge when I was ready to pay for the delicious and meat-stocked sandwich I ordered at his deli. Having decided to be the best they could be at their particular professions had given them a sense of perspective beyond that of many others. They were educated in social relationships, they were committed to their accomplishment, but also to the accomplishments of others. They would not only get the person with whom they were connected only in passing to understand they were content with their choice, they would also have them know they too could be content with theirs. Those people carried me through the threshold and unto victory. Sapientia victa et semper erit.

It has been a long summer.

I may not be in tune with the hidden meaning of things, unlike many others. I can barely tolerate the obvious as it is. Yet, although I tend to fix the obvious I am not sure of many other things. I know, despite it all, that wisdom has conquered, and that it always will.

Thinking on Despair, Courage, and Fear

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There are three words that I have been pondering of late.

Despair.

Courage.

Fear.

It is perplexing to me how the etymology of words can encourage further investigation, even if the results are so highly individualized that we cannot find any meaning in them except that which we have found for ourselves. I find that, although the meaning of our universe remains hidden to those outside of its sphere, we can still write about what we find in hope, perhaps, that someone else of similar tendencies will find us. In essence, it is as if we were lost sailors in a tempestuous sea of darkness and destruction sending messages into the void and hoping someone, anyone, will notice our seeking for like-minds. We hope that in the vastness of that life-like sea there is a small island of hope in which our fellow human beings are also seeking what we seek. I don’t know if this means that, at some point, we will dock our small boat and commune with the equal-minded in some very-particular island of thought. Yet I do hope that in sending those faint and small messages out there, into the void, we can one day receive a reply that will testify to us of the truth of our personal musings. Thus I send my pings into the night. Seeking to find what others, in their differences, do not. My signal is as unique as those of others in this world with different thoughts.

Despair.

The Etymology Dictionary defines the verb as “c. 1300, from Anglo-French despeir, Old French despoir, from desperer.” I like to push a little deeper. French is a combination of two languages, Latin and Old German. I believe compound words have their genesis in Latin and Greek, something that has proven right time and time again. Looking at the Latin, the possible composition of the word may be de-sperare. Those of you acquainted with Latin will immediately notice two things, a participle (de) and the infinitive of the verb spero (sperare). The verb itself comes from the noun spe, which means ‘hope’ as an embodiment of the feeling, but which also means to ‘inherit’ as a factual contract. The noun is Fifth Declension, a complex idea in itself – I will just take ‘hope’ and go from there. The interesting thing is the participle, for it basically means ‘by, with, or from’ and it’s followed by an ablative noun, if one were present. Here we have a verb, but if that infinitive was a noun it would translate to something like ‘from (emphasized) hope.’ Thus, Despair, basically means ‘from to hope’ or ‘from hoping.’ It is interesting how ‘despair’ represents the going away from hope. A hope in which we had been firmly rooted up to whatever point it was that we left it. In other words, to come away from hope is to despair. Like most human affairs, it is a choice, it cannot be chosen for us. We, the hopeful ones, can rest on hope as long as we need to before resuming our inexorable race towards whatever goal we aim. That is the crux, the rub, and the meaning of it all. We choose. Despair is a choice. We choose when we come out of the protective circle of hope and move towards our intended goal, as it is meant to be, or towards the abyss of desperation, as we never intended.

I know this sounds maddening. I know people will say people do not choose despair. I am not saying that one chooses to be desperate. I am saying that one chooses the moment in which desperation takes place by letting go of hope. Let us think of the climber and his rope. When footing is lost, the climber hangs on to that rope, seeking to save his life. The rope is hope. As the climber struggles to find footing it is hope that keeps him alive, for things have gone astray, life has dealt that climber a dose of life itself. When will the climber let go of hope? Enter fear and courage. There are two scenarios to consider.

One, the climber will find courage, footing, and no longer needing hope, he will resume his expected path. What is courage? Once again the definition of the Etymology Dictionary runs thus: “c. 1300, from Old French corage (12c., Modern French courage) “heart, innermost feelings; temper,” from Vulgar Latin *coraticum (source of Italian coraggio, Spanish coraje), from Latin cor “heart,” from PIE root *kerd- (1) “heart” (see heart (n.)) which remains a common metaphor for inner strength. In Middle English, used broadly for “what is in one’s mind or thoughts,” hence “bravery,” but also “wrath, pride, confidence, lustiness,” or any sort of inclination. Replaced Old English ellen, which also meant “zeal, strength.” Quite nice. I like to think we can take a step back from the PIE “kerd-”, however, and visit Rome again to get a better sense of the word ‘courage’. In Latin, ‘cor’ was the heart. ‘Agere’ meant ‘to lead’. Thus cor-age(re) meant, quite literally, to lead with your heart. Now that is a definition as romantic as it is true. What is courage? I like to think that it is what drives us to act when all logic tells us we are doomed. Courage is the means by which the impossible (according to the mind, at least) can be overcome. We are no longer led by reason, but by the heart – the impossible. Courage is a place in which reason has no place, a realm in which logic has no bearing. Courage, thus, is the illogical pull of love, the overwhelming push of hatred, the madness of fear, the finality of entrapment. Courage is to lead with the heart and to lead with the heart despite the odds is courage applied. It is the last push of the strong, the last thought of the unwilling, the refuge of the ambivalent. It is the heart telling your mind that the odds count little when a life is on the line. The climber knows the end, and chooses to disobey the laws that dictates he has to fall. Courage leads him away from hope and he lets go into the despair that pushes up, to a better future.

Scenario two is grimmer. The climber will despair, his muscles will give into tiredness, and he will fall – this is the realm of fear. One last time, the definition of the Etymology Dictionary: Old English færan “to terrify, frighten,” from a Proto-Germanic verbal form of the root of fear (n.). Cognates: Old Saxon faron “to lie in wait,” Middle Dutch vaeren “to fear,” Old High German faren “to plot against,” Old Norse færa “to taunt.” Fear does not find its root in Greek or Latin, it is purely Germanic (the other half of French). It is not a composite word, which is another clue. Yet I like this word the most, because the farther back one goes the more one realizes that fear means to stand still, waiting for whatever the imagination has thought of as a possible scenario. Death. Our fear leads us to expect it, to await it, to embrace it. Dying is the most likely result of losing footing while climbing life. It is fact. Yet courage leads us to avoid standing still; to avoid receiving death with open arms. Whether we are afraid of death or not fear will tell us, in the end, that it is okay. We can let go of hope, the end is here. We despair for the wrong reasons, we despair and allow ourselves to fall.

To climb up this mountain we call life we must never despair for the sake of fear. We need to find our footing as courage would have us do, against the odds, even when life has dealt us such a blow that we are thrown completely out of balance, one that stopped us in our tracks. As we cannot move forward, we can take refuge only in hope until we find footing again and can then move forward, letting go of hope to find our path once again before us. That is hope. That is despair. They are polar opposites that allow us to continue our climb to the top of whatever plans we have made for ourselves or plunge us into obscurity. To ‘come away from hope’ (despair) is to give up on it. Use the precious moments you have to retrace your steps, reposition yourself, and regain the confidence you need to move forward – use courage. Come away from hope with courage towards the factuality of your plans, otherwise you will come away from hope in fear of the fall and, irrevocably, plunge into the abyss whence you came.

Lead with your heart instead.

Of Pride, Falling, and Rising

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“Pride cometh before the fall.”

That was the comment a family member made to me when I was reminiscing with someone else about my youth and the times shared with a dead person at his funeral. The subject was how “awesome I had been when I was young, and how much my son loved my stories, so much so that he did not mind if I was his teacher at school – it was not embarrassing for him at all.” The person I was speaking to agreed that the deceased had always admired that about me – my stories and personality. Then my family member (in-law, thankfully) said:

“What was that again? Pride cometh before the fall?”

My answer was as quick as it was clear:

“And I am still falling.”

“Yeah,” she replied, rolling her eyes.

My friend, who was actually the mother of one of my best friends said:

“He has always been like this.” Then she let out a hearty laugh.

I am not sure what my family member was going for with that comment. Perhaps it was that she wanted to be part of a conversation that was clearly not including her. My in-laws have known me for fourteen years, most of my friends for twenty. Nevertheless, I thought of the comment for a while – well, I am still thinking about it – and realized the problem. Let us quote the verse of which this individual was probably thinking:

“Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)

I prefer the Latin:

Contritionem praecedit superbia et ante ruinam exaltatur spiritus.

Overbearing pride (hubris) shall precede contrition and before ruin an exalted spirit.

Fascinating, is it not? It is not pride that brings the fall, but the overstepping of pride into hubris or, as the verse says, overbearing pride. Now, here is the trick. Pride is not bad. One can be proud of his/her accomplishments.

Let’s try the Ancient Greek:

Πρὸ συντριβῆς ἡγεῖται ὕβρις, πρὸ δὲ πτώματος κακοφροσύνη.

Hubris (I was right) is made to come before the crushing, and before the falling (associated with epilepsy, interestingly enough) an accumulation of bad deeds (folly, basically).

There is only one thing I dislike more than lazy translation: lazy quoting.

The pride that both the A. Greek and the Latin speak of is ‘overbearing pride.’ To the Greeks, this kind of pride brought on nemesis, in other words, righteous anger. To the Romans, the equivalent punishment to their overbearing pride was the bringing on of contrition, that is, the crushing of the soul and the body with the things pride has made truth when not so. I am certain that thinking myself good enough so that my son does not feel shame to call me father and teacher does not qualify for this overbearing pride. Considering my response, however – and I am terrible at responses on the spot – the verse becomes even clearer.

When does this fall take place?

“I am still falling,” I said. In the moment I answered like Apollodorus (the Gift of Apollo was his name). When Apollodorus’ friends were making fun of him, thinking him crazy for being a philosopher and not making money, he replied ἐγὠ μέντοι ὑμας οὐκ οἵομαι άλλ΄ εὐ οἰδα (Plato Symp. 173.2-3). “You think it, I however, know it well.” I know it well too. I am in a state of fallness. I drank my hemlock, like a good boy. Yet are we not all fallen? Man is in a fallen state, this individual and I both believe this as a product of our religion. I am down, perhaps if you think you are not so yourself, you should help me become risen as well – those of us who are still fallen and are not, unlike you, it would seem, enlightened. Instead, the comment made was not geared towards enlightenment, it was a pun. A pun on my fallen state from an individual who thought herself too far above me to make any other comment. Now that sounds like overbearing pride to me. Hold the hemlock for a second.

I really like the second half of that verse. Let us recall it in the three languages:

…and an haughty spirit before a fall.
…et ante ruinam exaltatur spiritus.
…πρὸ δὲ πτώματος κακοφροσύνη.

The conjunction ‘and’ is inseparable, all three languages use it (and, et, δὲ). That alone should tell us that those who do not quote the verse as a whole are missing out on something.

What could it be?

Well, that the fall only happens after one suffers of a haughty/exalted/badly-accumulated spirit. It is the spirit who thinks itself above others that causes the body to fall. As the Greek suggests, it is not a matter of if, but of when. Πτώματος is the fall provoked by the gods (nemesis) due to our κακοφροσύνη, not much different than epilepsy to the Greeks – of course, to them it was just the falling caused by pride, something that would annoy G. Julius Caesar quite a bit. Kακοφροσύνη is in direct opposition to συμφροςὐνη, which means to act wisely or to ‘act with wisdom’ – aka moderation. The opposite literally meant to ‘act with bad wisdom.’ Bad wisdom indeed, to quote scripture to give weight to words that would otherwise be absolutely empty but must be spoken nonetheless in order to bring ease to an exalted spirit.

Well, no. That is the answer. You are not better than me. I am not superbus, I am not hubristic, I am simply proud of the fact that I am a good enough father that my son won’t feel ashamed of me if I have to teach him and his friends in a classroom setting. Further, if we are all fallen, must we not learn to rise on the things we have been given? Are we forever to remain fallen? I don’t think so. Whether we have been cast into this world by god or by our parents alone, we were born to nothing, and it is up to us to use Good Wisdom in order to rise to something. Pride, the good kind, is not so much a tool of destruction as it is the rope by which we can pull ourselves out of this mud-pond that is life.

Besides. It is a funeral, we are supposed to tell stories and remind ourselves of the fools we were when the person now deceased came into our lives and made things run in a different direction. We are supposed to remember the dead, through the effect he or she had in our lives. Perhaps next time I will be able to answer that destruction happens in two stages to the religious. Overbearing pride brings about a destruction of the body, an exalted soul the fall of the spirit. Perhaps next time I won’t feel like I have to smile while explaining to others why my in-laws are the reason the word Bad-Wisdom exists at all.

No worries. I will drink my hemlock now.

Thinking on Standing, Moving, and Winning

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Suppose I wanted to pick this up as if I had never been gone. Would it be possible? I suppose not. However, that would imply that I was actually gone. I wasn’t. Not in my mind anyway. Teaching has proven far more complicated than I had ever anticipated. I thought I would be able to cruise through the job, finish a Master’s, write my thoughts, spend time with family, and enjoy my free time in the span of twenty-four hours. Silly me. But hey, here I am. I never stopped thinking, only writing this particular part of my life – I realize now how many other things I have written since I last posted here, I tire.

So, as they say, let us walk a road, for a moment, together.

Not long ago I was asked to teach, for about five minutes, at one of my church leadership meetings – I hope you all remember I am LDS; if not, you have just been reminded (insert smiley face here – I dare not try to use emoticons). The topic of conversation at the time was ‘unity.’ I thought of it as the unity of the leadership body, of course, and thus I proceeded to deliver a lesson on how we should be more united to the single purpose of instructing those who report to us. It was inspiring, if I do say so myself.

Out from those five minutes I spent teaching, the single most important concept was this:

Strings must be strung to be strong.

I brought that the point that ‘strings’ is a very ancient word, going back to the PIE ‘st’ and therefore ‘string,’ ‘strung,’ and ‘strong’ were all related. A string is something individualistic and alone, something liable to be broken, if one is not careful, due to its size and overall strength. However, if one gathers those strings and, forgive the redundancy, strings them, then those strings become strong. It was all applicable to us because we were nothing more than strings in this allegory but, if we were willing to become strung through the common principles of leadership, then we would become strong in that unity. I don’t know how much other people took from what I said, but I thought I was being quite smart in saying it.

Fast forward to Latin class some time later.

As I was reading Cicero, I noted the use of ‘Sto, Stare’ to denote standing. This Latin verb exists in many differing forms such us:

Sustain: To make something remain standing by (physically) holding it from under
Abstain: To stay away from something (or someone) making a stand
Substance: Something that makes something else (internally) stand by holding it up

I thought that was quite interesting, as my definition of String, Strung, and Strong had evolved from the singleness of the string to how the string is something or someone that stands alone. I realized that the best system of governance was that in which individuals became interdependent with other individuals therefore making an extremely strong idea possible. The concept of interdependence is not new, Mr. Covey, in one of his books (maybe the Seven Habits of Highly Efficient People thought it up long ago). Thus strings are individuals who stand independent and alone say, as in a Republic states stand independent and alone. However, these independent units can choose to become interdependent with other states and become, therefore, a Republic. This is the strongest form of interdependency I have been able to find and, I have also realized, was quite prevalent in the Ancient World.

Independent beings or institutions can become stronger by becoming interdependent with other independent beings or institutions.

Fast forward, again, to the Institute of Religion class I took yesterday.

I learned that one cannot remain still and be considered active. I can hear you all think. This must be obvious, like the sun shining, but it isn’t. Many times we seek to appease both sides of an argument by appealing to both of them. We tend to think of ourselves as peacemakers, pacifists, liberals, maybe – sorry to my liberal friends, I don’t mean this in any negative way, seriously. Well, we are not. We live in a world of oppositions, one that changes its point of view on a moment’s notice, every second, upon every new discovery. What that means is that we have a lot of people who are dependent on change, on new things, on modern things. There are few of us who are, say, strings. There are few of us who are independent of these world ideas. As such; as independent individuals, we like to think that we can settle this arguments between those who are dependent on them. We cannot.

Are there any arguments you have settled by settling it between two people? I didn’t think so.

I realized the true reach of that ancient word ‘st’ and how much we use it today. I also realized, unfortunately, that we use it without understanding that its original meaning was so negative many of our words today implicate precisely that, negativity. Here are some examples – sorry they are not in alphabetical order; that would have been quite tedious:

Stand = I believe this is the root word of ‘St.’ Quite literally its most basic meaning. Not moving.
Still = Adjective, unmoving, unchanged, standing in the same place (mentally or physically).
Stay = Verb, don’t stop standing there, don’t move.
Stone = Noun, a thing that is always (standing) in the same place, not moving.
Strong = Adjective, standing in place, unmovable (physically or mentally).
Strength = Noun, standing tall, unmovable, (physically or mentally).
Strung = Verb (String) standing fixed amongst others with whom you share standing (opinion or otherwise).
Stuck = Standing so thoroughly amongst other things or people one cannot move.
Static = Moving in place, therefore not moving anywhere, but standing in the same place.
Stick = something that stands straight and does not move, something stuck to something and therefore unmoving, an opinion that will not be changed, therefore unmoved.
Stale = Adj, no longer moving – flavor wise. Something dead and therefore always in place.
Stupid = someone who does not move forward in his/her thinking. Something that doesn’t allow us to move forward with our tasks for the day.
Stain = Noun, A spot that does not move, stands there; Verb, to cause something to be unmoved or stand upon something else.
Stunt = Verb, to be made to halt one’s progress, made to stand in place, unable to move mentally or physically. Noun, an action that will cause you to stand up and remain still or unmoving
Stagnant = Standing still, unmoving, therefore uninvolving, incapable of progress.
Steward = Noun, a person who stands in for another and holds the rights of said person.
Stink = A standing smell that dissipates upwards and therefore does not move nor progress.
Astounded = A–Stare (Latin) = To (be about to) stand still, incapable of moving forward
Apostasy = Apo-Stasis (Greek) = To be a by-stander as other people move forward or, as well, to stand away from truth, both apply with ‘apo.’
Stasis (Greek) = Civil War, because the moving-forward of the people is impossible as they are fighting. They figuratively stand in place.
Apostate = One who is a bystander.
Apostle = One who is made to move, therefore progresses.
Astute = A-st-ute (Latin) = One who has gone to move, therefore has evolved, is smart, has changed
Stop = literally to cease movement, stand in place.
Stamina = The amount energy you have before you can no longer stand.
Stench = Same as smell.
Standard = Something that stands on its own, has been proven true.
Distance = De-stare (Latin) = the space from which you stand in respect to me.
Distant = de-stas (Latin) = the space from which you are (mentally) away from me.
Anastasia = Ana-stasia (Greek) = To be made to stand up while lying in place, resurrect.
Extant = Ex-stare (Latin) = To stand out from amongst those lying down, to remain being.
Obstacle = What keeps your from standing, from moving forward.
Obstinate = What keeps you from standing (mentally), from moving forward with thinking.
Understand = To stand under something, to grasp it, know how it words.
Understate = to have an imaginary idea of the proper standing of something but undercut its value by making stand lessened, making it so it its definition cannot be moved.
State = imaginary standing and immovable line
Estate = ex-status = physical standing (that used to be an imaginary one) and immovable line that indicates property
Cost = How the imaginary value of something stands with (co-st) its real value.
Against = to stand opposing something previously contrasted.
Contrast = to stand opposite something in juxtaposition.

I could go on and on; but the matter is simple:

To win you must move. To move you must find those of like mind who can move with you. Only in interdependence will you find success.

What is that mean? That you must pick a side. Pick a side and then use your movement to make something of it. Use that momentum to your advantage and, in the end result of all things, help those of us who are dependent on the enlightenment of others to succeed. We cannot move forward if we just settle arguments.

That is a terrible idea. I like the fence. It is comfortable here and no one bothers me.

Our Lives Continue On

Time tugs at the heart with a soft thread attached only by common experiences and shared memories to someone too-long a stranger.

Whether attached to the living or the dead, those strings have a beginning and an end – there is always someone there. So when time tugs, tired of our indifference towards the person we no longer see at the end of a distant thread, pick it up anyway, tug along, and you will always find that the person on the other side tugs along with you.

We are all strung, you and I, to distant made-strangers we once loved and should care for again. Little sense is made of cutting ties when we are wholly dependent upon them; when life thus strung to strangers by soft strings is made strong through common experience and is the very thing that keeps our hearts beating.

A tug is a beat, a beat is a person we loved; time tugs, hearts work, and our lives continue on.

Thinking of Teachers, Students, and Trying

Teaching is an activity that demands constant vigilance and stage presence. I have never really thought of either, especially as a team, but as I have dived into teaching, the two seem to come hand in hand.

I have also felt bad. I have felt bad for the fact that I have not been able to construct any sort of meaningful thought over the last three weeks because, in my new job, I don’t get much time to myself; let alone time to myself in which I don’t have to worry about my University studies. Sadly, my university studies have suffered as well, and since I am not doing Greek and Latin as much as I should, nor reading anything beyond the scope of classroom teaching, I have not had the brilliant ideas I usually blog about here.

However, today is different. I have decided to write not because I should or came up with something absolutely gorgeous or smart to write about or expound on, I am have decided to write because I need to. I have realized that writing is a way for my thoughts to escape from my mind and be liberated from the drudgery of cyclical thinking and analytical exploration. Those thoughts, whilst kept from the outside world, are like different tiny little lights in a very dark room. They flicker and move, distracting my subconscious and causing periods of distraction far beyond their deserved relevance. Those are the thoughts I am freeing now, beyond the scope of my mind, so they can flutter out as newly hatched butterflies. They are beautiful, although I am happy that the ugly cocoon it left behind can now be disposed of and never seen again. Too many of those going in my mind for me to focus. But not anymore, now they are free.

So no super awesome Latin phrase today, no Greek translation, no creative thought of any kind, just an idea about teaching and what teaching can do for the young mind. Teaching is an activity that demands constant vigilance and stage presence. As I said above, it is something I never expected to see together. In order to become lost in the performance, the performer must not worry about the audience, too many distractions going on. Similarly, he who is to be vigilant, should not have to worry about their stage performance for, after all, they are not in the spotlight at all, but somewhere in the shadows. Teacher, unfortunately, are both in the spotlight and vigilant; they have to be, otherwise the students will go crazy, especially those at the back, and become lost forever in the recondite corners of misunderstanding. The teacher is the actor and the security officer, he is the performer and the bouncer, he is the playwright and the copyright agent.

So how can one perform and be vigilant at the same time? I have no clue. I didn’t say I would give any answers, just ask some questions. Perhaps, though, we may find that if we actually perform so well that students cannot help but listen, then we are both being vigilant and good performers all at once. However, nothing gets the attention of a classroom like good comedy, and many of us are just not great comedians. Perhaps acknowledging student interests can help. I sometimes ask kids (if career day is coming sometime soon) what they would like to be when they grow up. At first, there is never much participation, but once you answer a couple of the career choices with enthusiasm and even explaining a couple of the job options that those kid may have, others quickly follow suit and start answering as well. The performer, then, even when a teacher, has to connect with his/her audience on a day-to-day basis. Of course, the more rapport you build the better so, eventually, you can stop having to be funny, or extra attentive, and turn yourself to teaching.

In the end, we perform so we don’t have to watch as often. Perhaps that is true, maybe it isn’t; but I have found that when I have the class -performance-wise- I don’t have to spend as much time watching it. Even the kids who usually misbehave and don’t pay attention are drawn out by the vast majority who is having fun in the classroom. I guess one can make performance work for oneself. It boils down to interaction, I suppose, but not interaction with those who we have to watch, but interaction with those we don’t. If the majority is, indeed, paying attention, we can actively force those who don’t to pay attention as well. Thus yes, a teacher is both vigilant and a performer, but as he/she becomes a better performer, then vigilance loses ground until, in harmony, the class can move along together and learn.

Fortitudine Vincimus

There, let it be known it is fortitude which grants victory – and that I can still speak Latin. Do not cease, reader, to try.

Thinking Like the Ancients whilst Dressing and Reading like the Ancients

A while back I was asked to post some pictures of some of the gear I have. Well, Tina, here we go. Ignore the time frame, some of these are from a while ago. Others, are of a couple of years ago.

24799_1340939494342_380019_nThis is my first Corinthian helmet. I bought it from an online store operating out of Athens about eight years ago. The nose section is flat, something I have seen in 5th century Corinthian helms but that seems apocryphal. I rather like it. This wearable piece of armor cost me less than $100.

24677_1345188520565_2520913_nNow, this is my first real piece of armor. Made in the US using traditional methods, the crest is made of donkey hair and its was made of a single piece of bronze. This is my favorite armor. It is fully wearable (evidence forthcoming) and it is no more than three to four pounds in weight. This baby needs to be worn in the traditional manner, with lots of curly hair or a headband to cushion against the metal.

281 boardman armingPay close attention to how the hair is arranged by these dressing hoplites. So in the end, here is where we end up.

26166_1369937859283_981938_nNotice the wool hat under the helmet here. I was quite comfortable in it, even when I was being hit with the some of the swords I have laying around. It is quite fun, actually, having wearable ancient Greek armor laying around, especially when a couple of Roman busts set the mood as well.

419384_4636742407355_1539452702_nThis is a view of my office from the outside. It is in the basement of our house, of course, so I can also keep an eye on our children.

47268_4636742527358_974799237_nHere is the inside. My library is (conveniently) divided into a Roman section, on the right, and a Greek section, on the left, as any Ancient Roman would divide things. Not visible are my General section, on the left, and my Castilian Spanish section on the far right. All in all, I have some 500 books, most in their original language – actually, I have the least amount of books in English. Quite the modest library by anyone’s standards, at any rate, but it does the job for me. Right under the bust and the helms is the Magazine section. Mostly National Geographic, Archeology, and some Spanish publications. My copy of Twilight is laying around in there… not sure why.

Here is another selfie, for your viewing delight.

26166_1369938739305_5728712_nYou can’t tell I am Mediterranean at all, right?

Thinking on Dangling Prepositions, Grammar, and Dead Languages

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“Why can’t you end a sentence in a preposition?”

Marie’s question traveled across the room on the winged breath of Aether himself. There was chatter all around the room, thus I know the wind that gave movement to her words was not alone in its search for ears that would give room to the message it carried. Even then, it seemed the very emptiness of space made itself corporeal around the wind she had created and aided it to the ears of all, listening. The room fell silent, maybe not the gods but our perplexity gave power to what had been said. As soon as the high pitched sound in Marie’s voice marked the verbal question finished at the end of the sentence that was uttered we knew the queue for answers had been given. I don’t know about the others, but upon me the question had the effect of making me cease my translating. We all stared, in that study room, at the girl that had just realized she had asked a grammar question in a room filled to capacity with Latin and Ancient Greek Masters students. She shrugged, as if the silence had placed upon her small shoulders a weight too hard to bear and which needed to be cast off as if a mantle of despair.

“Just thinking out loud, guys.”

Too late. The query had been thrown to us, like stone to water, and ripples were to come back at the caster none the less. Later, I joked she should have known better; we laughed about it for a while. Now, John spoke first.

“It’s just an archaic rule for people who can’t let go of the past. In fact, I don’t think very many people really care for it these days.”

Some heads nod in approval, probably because John was the cranky activist amongst us and the one who thought he would learn Latin to help the masses understand the ancients better, not make things worse with old rules and old paradigms. I get a bit cold. John’s answer was the cookie-cutter version of a plausible explanation – maybe I will have to say something. But Alice chimed in next; I thought it funny she was so eager to answer the question she had sat up from her near-prone position between two chairs and turned herself towards Marie. She was serious, a bit too serious, fact which only added to the comedy of it all.

“There is a Latin sort of mold built into it. Those of us who still care for the ancient languages follow the example of Latin.”

She cast a glance over at John, who quickly gathered air – not a good sign, actually – and proceeded to formulate a response.

“Prescriptivism did indeed dictate that the Latin model should be followed. I agree that it is a Latin construction, but we do not speak Latin, we speak English, and as such the rule is an archaism that should be ignored (and most people do ignore it) by pretty much everyone around.”

Alice smiled, the left corner of her full lips slightly higher than the right. Her grey, hazel eyes reminded me of Athena. She would not, in character, leave this fight without getting in a good punch. She had a retort worth the enjoyment of the comeback, her lips revealed that much.

“Around what?”

John looked confused.

“Around what, what?”

“Everyone around what?”

John realized what he had fallen into, he attempted a recovery.

“Around everywhere. Everyone around everywhere, as in here everywhere.”

Alice’s smile grew wider; her teeth, gleaming in the evening sun that shone through the titanic glass windows at the university library hinted the pleasure she took in making John eat the words with which he had dared offend her beloved Latin.

“Perhaps if you hadn’t ended that phrase in a preposition, as Latin prescribed and, in turn, 18th century prescriptivism, your meaning would have been much clearer.”

Marie seemed sorry she had ‘thought out loud’ at all. I smiled. When one is an expert at dead languages these discussions are common place. She should really not worry about it at all. Yet, there was a hint of red on her cheeks, perhaps she was embarrassed at the fact she had not foreseen this ridiculous discussion. I only realized I had stopped following the conversation between John and Alice when he turned to me and summoned me back from thought by tapping on the table around which we were all gathered. I turned my head towards him.

“I said, ‘what do you think’?”

I looked at Marie again, she was begging for a resolution to the conflict, her eyes had changed into the half-closedness that people in pain get when they suffer in silence. I looked at Alice too, she knew I knew she was right. I then looked at Mark, who was sitting diagonally from me, only so I could answer the question without looking at John directly. Only then could I really avoid his spear-like eyes.

“Well, I think Alice is more correct here. Latin uses prepositions to indicate, well, positions. Where we are, how we get there, they are an essential part of what a preposition is. Also, it is not just Latin, but also Ancient Greek that does this. In order to say that Latin was a bad example for English you would have to recognize that Ancient Greek was a bad example as well.

My ears confirmed what I thought I saw from the corner of my eye. John moved in his chair. Ancient Greek is his specialty.

So you have to consider that, perhaps, it is simply more proper to avoid leaving dangling prepositions at the end of sentences. If you have a question such as ‘what did you step on’ or ‘who are you talking about?’ just move your preposition to the beginning of the sentence and decline accordingly.”

“Come on, who the crap declines anymore?”

John was now visibly upset.

“We do! Seriously, John!”

Alice was aghast. I laughed and continued.

“‘On what did you step’ and ‘About whom are you talking’ are phrases that require just a little practice. Both in Ancient Greek and Latin prepositions are always, without exception, followed by a case, if that rule wasn’t absolute, we would never know what was going on, let alone translate properly.”

John sighed. Alice smiled. Marie seemed relieved. Mark hadn’t moved at all, he was busy translating Cicero and the many, many prepositions followed by cases that had, for the last 3000 years, dictated that it was irrational to leave lonely prepositional words at the end of sentences. It was then that he looked up, as if Zeus thunderbolt had struck, and said:

“I’m hungry, guess where I think we should eat at?”

The prescriptivists influenced by Ancient Greek and Latin laughed; then, we went to dinner.

Thinking of Caesar, Grammar, and How Conservatives Behave

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I have been thinking on a phrase that Caesar used in his De Bello Gallico for a while now. Perhaps I am just overthinking it (yes, it happens) but I really like how the sentence speaks to his battle tactics.

Caesari omnia uno tempore erant agenda.
To Caesar, all things had to be done at a single time.
Para César, todas las cosas debian de haber sido hechas en un sólo momento.

The composition of the sentence, which flows quite well in the Latin, needs all sorts of prepositions and complex participles to make it work in English and Spanish. I could render it in English somewhat all-encompassing-like (how’s that for an adverb) without losing a lot of the meaning but, surprisingly, the Spanish gave me a lot of trouble. The verb to be, usually smooth in the Spanish, was somewhat awkward here, perhaps due to the language’s aversion to participles. Who knows.

The cool thing about this bit of writing, is that Caesar is talking about himself in the third person. Caesari is Caesar himself, in the Dative. Not only is he third person, but he makes himself the Indirect Object of the sentence (and the verb). Humility? I doubt it. Rather, he was expressing his opinion about a fact that he had experienced, and that all should consider, especially since he knew first hand. Sometimes will will construct something like ‘to me, it seems the best…’ In that sense, we are placing ourselves as an indirect actor, allowing the real subject of the sentence to come through in hopes that we can carry a point. So, what is our subject, if not almighty Caesar? Everything.

No, literally, omnia is the subject of the sentence. This little word in the nominative case and neuter gendered (I am not a fan of the neuters because they like to make you think they are direct objects – accusatives – when they aren’t) literally means ‘all things.’ ‘Everything’ as the subject seems almost fallacious. After all, no one can like ‘every kind of food,’ or ‘every person,’ or even ‘every good thing;’ but the use of the expression brings Caesar’s mind to us in an interesting way. The guy loved his extremes. Believe or not, conservatives tend to be far more all encompassing in their statements than liberals or democrats (ya, I just went there), and therefore use more words like ‘every,’ ‘always,’ ‘never,’ or ‘none’ more often than the aforementioned people. Why? Conservatism is pretty close to an ‘all or nothing’ sort of philosophy. In other words, conservatives are like the Sith.

The bad guys are conservatives? Well, sure, but hey, you didn't think the Jedi weren't liberals, right?

The bad guys are conservatives? Well, sure; but hey, you didn’t think the Jedi weren’t liberals, right? Freedom for all races, rights for all creatures, nature(force)-lovers…

It is no wander that Obi Wan Kenobi’s answer to Darth Vader in Episode III is “Only the Sith deal in absolutes.” After all, “you are either with me or against me” is quite a conservative statement to make. Things are black and white when extremes are applied – ask any conservative. Caesar is doing the same thing here by separating ‘all or nothing.’ By saying ‘all things’ Caesar forces the reader to take into account everything they think about when they ponder Roman issues, culture, and ideals. In writing this to the senate at Rome, which is what Caesar was doing, he was challenging their changing beliefs, because he had won in Germany and that gave him the right, therefore he was in the know of life, right? Well…

Uno tempore is an Ablative of Time in Which, ya, that exists. This ablative set the reader into a time, a single dot of time in which the action of the sentence happens. Why choose to write it here? Well, Caesar, like the Romans, was a Subject-Object-Verb kinda guy. We, English speakers, are a Verb-Subject-Object people. We say ‘The Dog Runs to me’ because that’s how we like our sentences, and we don’t really have a way to express the same idea in any other way. If I were to say ‘The Dog me runs’ people would wonder if you got run over by some Great Dane or something. Romans didn’t care as much for word order, because the ‘to’ in the sentence was embedded into their dative case. Equally, here, instead of using a preposition, such as ‘in,’ the position and spelling of Uno tempore tells us that ‘one time’ is the time in which the action happens. Fun!

But here’s the kicker: erant agenda is a construction made up of an imperfect verb and a participle. Verbs are awesome little things that tell you when things are happening, which tend to be useful – usually. In English, because we conjugate little, we need aiding verbs to tell us time. ‘I eat’ is a present, ‘I was eating’ is a past, ‘I will eat’ is a future. Caesar’s Latin modifies the verb proper to give us meaning. The verb mutates something like this:

I eat – eato
I will eat – eatebo
I was eating – eatebam

I have left the verb roots in English to give you an idea of what is added. You may say, ‘aha, there are too words there!’ And you would be right. Because prepositions can act as nouns, the verb is complimented by one. Erant literally means ‘they were being’ in the imperfect past. Here is Caesar being a Sith again. The imperfect past denotes an action that begun in the past and is still taking place. Thus, he is saying that since he begun to do things this way, he has always done things this way. ‘Things never change.’ Conservative much? Just in case you think I’m going crazy, take a look at agenda. Yes, we get our word agenda from this. The participle literally means ‘to be done’ or ‘about to be done.’ Future participles, such as this one, also carry a sense of duty (ought to be done) with them. The more accurate translation would be ‘ought to be done’ or ‘has to be done.’ Remember that famous phrase from Cato: “Carthago delenda est”? Same thing. Carthage ought to be destroyed, and Caesar’s being ‘ought to be done.’ Literally, the Roman Imperator (general, here, not Emperor) was saying that ‘to Caesar, all things ought to be done that were [being done] at a single moment.’

I just love that. To do things at that level of preparation, considering how massive Caesar’s army was, is impressive enough. To picture conservative Caesar writing to the senate of Rome telling them their indecision was shameful and that, in order to save the city, they too ought to do things within a single moment, is just impressive. But to understand that to Caesar life was but a moment in which all that could be done should be done in order to leave behind the greatest memory possible of oneself, giving meaning to the phrase alea iacta est, is just mind-blowing. Caesar stopped for no one (not just a phrase in Spaceballs, apparently), rather he understood the importance of carpe diem, and seized indeed. Maybe the Romans got tired of the guy because he didn’t give them a moment’s respite. Yet again, who does business on March 15th anyway?

Valete amicos!

Disclaimer: as much fun as it is to judge Caesar’s character on a single phrase, you probably shouldn’t compare him to a Sith Lord Conservative whilst amongst friends. Actually, don’t compare your conservative friends to the Sith either… come to think of it, don’t compare anyone to siths, they may think you are being mean.