Category Archives: Prose

Emotional Contagion (Iliad VIII)

On the day recounted in Book VIII of the Iliad,

  • on earth, the Achaeans are twice driven behind their new walls;
    • during the first rout,
      • Odysseus does not hear when Diomedes urges him to come to the aid of Nestor;
      • Hector thinks he will be able to burn the Achaean ships and kill all the men;
      • Agamemnon prays for mere survival;
    • the second time, Hector calls for fires to be lit, lest the Greeks try to escape in the night;
  • in heaven, Zeus
    • weighs out a heavier fate for the Achaeans;
    • declares that it shall be so until Achilles is roused by the death of Patroclus;
    • warns Hera and Athena not to interfere (though they try to anyway).

I wrote a fuller summary in 2017. Because I was reading it, I also talked about Huysmans, Against Nature, and the belief of the main character that the prose poem could

contain within its small compass, like beef essence, the power of a novel, while eliminating its tedious analyses and superfluous descriptions.

Now I shall find reason to bring up Herodotus, Plato, Aristotle, Thoreau, and Freud, and especially William James and Collingwood on the subject of emotion.

Morning sun, obscured by overcast skies, still shines on waters in turmoil in the Bosphorus Strait
Waters of the Bosphorus, Sarıyer, Istanbul
Wednesday morning, January 11, 2023

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On Homer’s Iliad Book VII

Book VII of the Iliad shows us the paradox of men at war who can still work together.

Street scene: a rooster walks down the road while, on his right side, a cat faces him. A minibus, car, and building are in the background, along with some greenery
Cock and cat on a village street
near a stream channelled between concrete walls
Tarabya, Sarıyer, Istanbul
Wednesday, January 11, 2023

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Biological History

Sailboats and sun, seen through a mist and reflected in calm water
Tarabya Marina, Sarıyer, Istanbul
January 1, 2023

“As is the generation of leaves, so is that of humanity,” says Glaucus to Diomedes in the Iliad (Book VI, line 146, in Lattimore’s translation). However, leaves are normally considered biologically; humanity, historically. I touched on the distinction in the previous post; now I want to say more. I shall be looking again at R.G. Collingwood’s notion of biological history as a kind of mistake. Continue reading

On Homer’s Iliad Book III

Trunks of three mature trees on concrete wharf; strait beyond
Yeniköy (Νιχώρι) on the Bosphorus
Sarıyer, Istanbul, December 11, 2022
The Paphlagonians must have passed by here
on their way to join the Trojans
as they did according to Iliad II.851–5
as mentioned in the Wikipedia article “Cytorus
created by me in 2010

In Book III of the Iliad, we learn about Menelaus, Paris, Hector, Helen, and Priam. Having learned about Agamemnon, Achilles, and Patroclus in the first two books, now we know all of the players in the following summary of the epic.

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This is inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s Villette. After reading this 1853 novel a second time in the summer of 2018, I put some passages I liked into a LaTeX file. I added some commentary and came up with a document more than 90 A5 pages long. I recently reread it and was reminded how much I had enjoyed the novel. I thought some of my commentary could be adapted to stand alone as a blog post—this one.

Man in a field, sack over left shoulder, casts seeds with his right hand
The Sower,” 1850
Jean-François Millet (French, 1814–1875)
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

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Index to this series

In the Platonic dialogues, Socrates frequently mentions τέχνη (technê), which is art in the archaic sense: skill or craft. The concern of this post is how one develops a skill, and what it means to have one in the first place.

Books quoted or mentioned in the text, by Midgley, Weil, Thoreau, Tolstoy, Byrne, Wittgenstein, Arendt, and Alexander

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Plato and Christianity

Index to this series

This post uses work of Hannah Arendt, Augustine, R. G. Collingwood, Tom Holland, Somerset Maugham, and Ved Mehta.

Elevated highway, way above city streets

Ortaköy, December 27, 2021

In the first post of this series, I gave some reasons to read the Republic, and one of them was the problem of how our political leaders were not always the best. Plato had not solved that problem, since we still had it; but that meant nobody else had solved it either. Plato had at least taught us that people with great worldly power could nonetheless be more miserable than their subjects. In the Republic, Plato has Socrates teach that lesson

  • to Thrasymachus, in the latter part of Book I;
  • to Glaucon, who concludes at the end of Book IV that if having an unhealthy body is bad, having a vicious soul is worse;
  • in Book IX, with the account of the tyrant;
  • with the Myth of Er in Book X.

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On Reading Plato’s Republic

Index to this series

In adolescence, when I started visiting art museums in Washington for my own pleasure, I would visit also the museum shops, hoping to be able to take home a souvenir. Eventually, my own memories were enough to take home.

That is what I remember observing about myself, perhaps around the time when my body stopped growing taller. That time may be used to demarcate adulthood, although in kindergarten, it had made no sense to me that our bodies could ever stop growing.

Cycad with seeds
Cycads outside Selenium Twins
in the valley above Ihlamur Kasırları
on the way to Beşiktaş
December 27, 2021

I have not been to a museum since the advent of Covid-19, but I often want a souvenir when I am reading now. The souvenir may be in the form of pencil marks in a book, or pen marks in a magazine, or various interventions in an electronic file. To be able to make such interventions, I save webpages, usually with a browser’s print function or with Print Friendly.

I may also respond to what I read by writing blog posts. This is why I now have eighteen of those on Plato’s Republic: one for each of the fourteen parts in which the dialogue was divided for an online discussion, and four more for when I had an abundance of ideas.

Where has all of that left me?

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The Divided Line

Index to this series

We are still in the latter part of Book VI of Plato’s Republic, where Socrates undertakes to explain the education of the philosopher kings (502c–d). They are not literally so called, as we noted last time. They are going to need to “be able to bear the greatest studies” (503e), and “the idea of the good is the greatest study” (505a). People are confused about what the good is: many say it is pleasure; a few, knowledge (505b). It rather makes it possible to have knowledge (508d), and perhaps even pleasure (509a), as the sun makes seeing possible (508b–d). We looked at that much last time.

Sun through the leaves of planes
Dünya Barış Parkı 2021.10.30

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On Plato’s Republic, 5

Index to this series

Our fifth scheduled reading in the Republic is Book IV (Stephanus pages 419–45). Socrates speaks

  • with Adeimantus, through the completion of the construction of the city in speech;
  • with Glaucon, after he insists (427d) that Socrates join in the search for justice in the city; they find it and map it back to the individual.

Three dogs sit in the shade of a beach umbrella
Intellect, spirit, and appetite
Profesörler Sitesi, Altınova, Balıkesir, Turkey
September 13, 2021

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