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.