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Monthly Archives: March 2015

Our intellect, however, no matter how independent of the past it may behave in science and technology, is ever renewed and consecrated by the consciousness of its connection with the mind of the remotest times and civilization. Indeed, it gets to know itself and value its lofty nature only through comparison with that which it, the eternally unchanging, has been in all times.

– Jacob Burckhardt (Reflections on History)

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At our universities, the historians like to dump the Ancient History course in the lap of philologists, and vice versa. Here and there it is treated like a poor old relation whom it would be a disgrace to let go to ruin entirely. But with the public at large antiquity is completely out of fashion, and the ‘culture’ which is supported by this public even feels hatred for it. Various faults of antiquity serve as a pretext. The real reason is conceit about modern communication and transport and the inventions of our century; then, too, there is the inability to distinguish technical and material greatness from the intellectual and moral kinds; and finally, the prevalent views about refinement of manners, philanthropy, and the like.

But what makes it generally impossible for the present-day average ‘educated’ man to find anything appealing in the ancient world is the total egoism of today’s private person who wants to exist as an individual and asks of the community only the greatest possible security for himself and his property, for which he pays his taxes amid sighs, and who also likes to attach himself to the community in a specific sense as an ‘official’.

On the other hand, the peoples of the ancient Orient, who lived tribally, impress us as races of which each individual is only a type, with the King has the highest type.

And even where the individual develops, especially since the Greeks, we still deal for a long time and essentially with types, e.g. The heroes, the lawgivers. They are, to be sure, depicted as great individuals, and this is borne out by feeling and tradition; but at the same time they are all the more fully types and condensations of the characteristic and the general. And last, the complete individual in antiquity is, above all, πολιτης [part of the state] to a degree of which we now, in the present mode of connection between the individual and the state, have no idea. Whenever one breaks with the πὁλεις (polis) or when it is lost, it is a tragedy every time.

Finally, today’s ‘educated’ men are firmly resolved to make a bargain, with whatever power, for their existence at any given time. There is an enormous veneration of life and property. There is a mass abdication, and not just on the part of the rulers! And there are numerous bargaining positions and concessions against the worst — and all this with great touchiness in matters of recognition and so-called honour.

With the ancients, on the contrary, it was all or nothing, with no fear of disaster. The fall of states, cities, and Kings was considered glorious. That is something utterly alien to us.

– Jacob Burckhardt (Reflections on History, #4.)

No one should ever judge what they do so positively or as having been done so well that they become so casual or self- confident in their actions that their reason grows lazy or slumbers. But they should always elevate themselves with the twin faculties of reason and will, thus activating the very best in themselves and protecting themselves against all harm by means of understanding in matters both internal and external. Thus they will not fail in anything anywhere but will make constant spiritual progress.

– Meister Eckhart (The Talks of Instruction, 8th part)

“History is the record of what one age finds worthy of note in another.”

– Jacob Burckhardt

Graceful as dancer’s arabesque and bow,
Our lives appear serene and without stress,
A gentle dance around pure nothingness
To which we sacrifice the here and now.

Our dreams are lovely and our game is bright,
So finely tuned, with many artful turns,
But deep beneath the tranquil surface burns
Longing for blood, barbarity, and night.

Freely our life revolves, and every breath
Is free as air, we live so playfully,
But secretly we crave reality:
Begetting, birth, and suffering, and death.

– Hesse (Glass Bead Game, p. 431)