Tuesday, 22 September 2015

My Reading of Herodotus's The Histories

"Consider what you have in the smallest chosen library. A company of the wisest and wittiest men that could be picked out of all civil countries, in a thousand years, have set in best order the results of their learning and wisdom. The men themselves were hid and inaccessible, solitary, impatient of interruption, fenced by etiquette; but the thought which they did not uncover to their bosom friend is here written out in transparent words to us, the strangers of another age" - Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Summer 2015 Reading List

by Kudakwashe Kanhutu

Aristotle, in his Poetics, famously summarised Homer’s thick volume epic poem – The Odyssey – in 3 sentences. He summarised it thus: 

“A certain man is absent from home for many years; he is jealously watched by Poseidon, and left desolate. Meanwhile his home is in a wretched plight – suitors are wasting his substance and plotting against his son. At length, tempest-tost, he himself arrives; he makes certain persons acquainted with him; he attacks the suitors with his own hand, and is himself preserved while he destroys them. This is the essence of the plot; the rest is episode.” 

Homer’s The Odyssey is around 560 pages long. I am going to do even better than Aristotle here and summarise Herodotus’s The Histories, which is 734 pages long, in one sentence: “Read it yourself!” 

Summer Readings: 

I come from a country where some dinosaurs still exist who think that not sharing the knowledge they have is a form of distinguishing themselves from the rest. Selfish, selfish, selfish. It is also something that only works to the detriment of the polity. The one thing I learnt, however, from the countries I have been to, where hogging knowledge is frowned upon, is that you don’t really have to converse with these dinosaurs as “everything that is worth knowing has already been put in books, just read them.” Of course, “the man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.” Luckily, I have had close contact with policy makers and various successful people who freely publish lists of what they are currently reading and what they have already read. Bill Gates’s Gates Notes is one such public source of good books but as I myself am not a man of business, I have never read any of his recommendations. My interest is in classical texts that teach about international relations, public policy and courtly intrigues. In that regard, I would sooner re-read Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince than read the Bill Gates recommended John Brooks’s Business Adventures. So, I have my own sources of reading lists. 

The Histories of Herodotus: 

Two years ago I spent the whole summer reading Thucydides’s The History of the Peloponnesian War – excellent book. Before then, in the previous summers, I had read the works of Plato, Thomas More, and Aristotle; the Epic Poems of Homer, Virgil, John Milton and John Dryden as part of my study for my first degree: Classics. It so happens then that the canon I currently enjoy reading was decided for me by my first degree. So, I tend to read works from Greek antiquity and I find them riveting. I had so far not found any time to read Herodotus, owing to lack of time, due to the reading demands of my second and third degrees: my recently finished studies in Modern Warfare. But The Histories has always been the great outstanding work from Greek antiquity that I still had to read. 

When I finally found time to read it, I was also initially very sceptical of Herodotus’s integrity as a Historian, but therein lay my mistake. Volumes have been written about people who miss the forest while looking for the tree. You prevent yourself from absorbing the lessons or enjoying the writing style of an author because you want to question that, “oh, if he wasn’t present when such and such happened, how can he report back to us, word for word, what was said during that occurrence?” Should you ever read all these works from antiquity, a better course of action is to concern yourself only with what you can learn from the recorded actions of the ancients and the outcomes they yielded in each instance. 

An even better way is to take Aristotle’s counsel when he defended epic poetry. He said; 

“Poetry, therefore, is a more philosophical and a higher thing than history: for poetry tends to express the universal, history the particular. By the universal I mean how a person of a certain type on occasion speak or act, according to the law of probability or necessity; and it is this universality at which poetry aims in the names she attaches to the personages.” 

With the passage of time (for Aristotle is a near contemporary of Herodotus), Herodotus’s The Histories can be argued to have come to hold the same value of “expressing the universal” that epic poetry was then argued to hold. 

This, then, is the way I read The Histories; as a recording of the actions that happened in the intercourse between Greeks and their neighbours in Asia, Europe and Africa (Ethiopia, Egypt and Libya feature prominently). What worked and what didn't work in that intercourse is what interested me in his Histories. This book is also excellent in that it applies as a textbook of both international relations and domestic politics. The intercourse between Greeks (Spartans, Athenians, and Thebans) as well as that between the Greeks and Barbarians (Persians, Ethiopians, Egyptians and Libyans) qualify as early forms of international relations. While the relationships between the military, religious figures, political figures and private citizens in, for example, Athens, qualifies as domestic politics 101. If you also look to modern times, after reading Herodotus, you will find that most of the events he recorded have been replicating themselves throughout the years. Herodotus’s Histories, in the words of Shakespeare, thus, held a mirror to human nature. 

Much Better Than Shakespeare: 

The other value of Herodotus’s The Histories is that it supplies you with maxims that have withstood the test of time. Shakespeare (who I read extensively) also has important maxims, but the problem with Shakespeare’s maxims is that they just jump at you, from nowhere, unsupported by the surrounding text. This anomaly has led many scholars to doubt the authenticity of Shakespeare’s authorship. It is as if a much cleverer scholar, after time had passed, added his own maxims but did not have the due care to add his maxims where they were supported by the preceding and succeeding text. An example of this is the Seven Ages of Man speech in As You Like It

Herodotus’s maxims in The Histories, on the other hand, are logical as they are supported by the surrounding text. Here are two quick examples: his quotation, “This is the bitterest pain among men, to have much knowledge but no power" comes during a conversation between a Persian soldier and Thersander, a Greek traitor who had taken sides with the Persians when they invaded Greece. The Persian implores Thersander to desert and seek his safety as this Persian expedition was doomed to perish. Thersander then asks the Persian soldier why he doesn’t take this knowledge to his generals so that they may forthwith stop the invasion, to which he then gets the above reply. The second quote is; “If a man insisted always on being serious, and never allowed himself a bit of fun and relaxation, he would go mad or become unstable without knowing it.” This comes from the passage where the Egyptians confonted their King, Amasis, and said to him his style of drinking and joking with common people was unbecoming for royal dignity, and the above is the suitable response he gave them. 

Herodotus: Not Just Another Academic: 

As I have a disdain for academics and scholars, I also warmed up to Herodotus because, not only did he record history, he also participated in its creation. Here is how he casually mentioned his involvement in the history he was recording in Book Eight, Chapter 132:  

When the whole fleet was collected together at Aegina, ambassadors from Ionia arrived at the Greek station; they had but just come from paying a visit to Sparta, where they had been entreating the Lacedaemonians to undertake the deliverance of their native land. One of these ambassadors was Herodotus, the son of Basileides. Originally they were seven in number; and the whole seven had conspired to slay Strattis the tyrant of Chios; one, however, of those engaged in the plot betrayed the enterprise; and the conspiracy being in this way discovered, Herodotus, and the remaining five, quitted Chios, and went straight to Sparta, whence they had now proceeded to Aegina, their object being to beseech the Greeks that they would pass over to Ionia. It was not, however, without difficulty that they were induced to advance even so far as Delos. 

Criticism of The Histories: 

Herodotus has been criticised for not writing his history in a chronological sequence as did Thucydides. I argue that as a pioneer of the writing of history, Herodotus had no frame of reference, unlike his successors like Thucydides, who just refined his invention. Another famous criticism is by Plutarch titled, The Malice of Herodotus. I advise you to read it yourself but his general complaint was that Herodotus painted the Barbarians (Persians, Europeans, Egyptians, Ethiopians, Libyans, Indians) in a positive light while denigrating his own kind – The Greeks. As a non – Greek myself, this does not bother me in the least.

The Histories is 734 pages long.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

A 101 Quotes On Education

by Kudakwashe Kanhutu

"Those who receive this privilege therefore, have a duty to repay the sacrifice which others have made. They are like the man who has been given all the food available in a starving village in order that he might have strength to bring supplies back from a distant place. If he takes this food and does not bring help to his brothers, he is a traitor. Similarly, if any of the young men and women who are given an education by the people of this Republic adopt attitudes of superiority, or fail to use their knowledge to help the development of this country, then they are betraying our union" - President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania.

"By selecting the youths of genius from among the classes of the poor, we hope to avail the State of those talents which nature has sown as liberally among the poor as the rich, but which perish without use if not sought for and cultivated" - Thomas Jefferson.

"It matters little to me whether my pupil is intended for the army, the church, or the law. Before his parents chose a calling for him nature called him to be a man. Life is the trade I would teach him. When he leaves me, I grant you, he will be neither a magistrate, a soldier, nor a priest; he will be a man. All that becomes a man he will learn as quickly as another. In vain will fate change his station, he will always be in his right place" - Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile or On Education, 1762.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be" - Thomas Jefferson.

"Education is an ornament in prosperity and a refuge in adversity" - Aristotle.

"He who opens a school door, closes a prison" - Victor Hugo.

"The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows" - Sydney J. Harris.

"The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet" - Aristotle.

"Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance" - Will Durant.

"Do not confine your children to your own learning, for they were born in another time" - Chinese Proverb.

"Do you know the secret of the true scholar? In every man there is something wherein I may learn of him; and in that I am his pupil" - Ralph Waldo Emerson.

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world" - Nelson Mandela.

"Teachers open the door, but you must enter by yourself" - Chinese Proverb.

"Learning is never done without errors and defeat" - Vladimir Lenin.

"If you are planning for a year, sow rice; if you are planning for a decade, plant trees; if you are planning for a lifetime, educate people" - Chinese Proverb. 

"No nation is permitted to live in ignorance with impunity" - Thomas Jefferson.

"Learning never exhausts the mind" - Leonardo da Vinci.

"The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education" - Martin Luther King, Jr.

"The principal goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done" - Jean Piaget.

"Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all" - Aristotle.

"What sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to a human soul" - Joseph Addison.

"You educate a man; you educate a man. You educate a woman; you educate a generation" - Brigham Young.

"You can never be overdressed or over educated" - Oscar Wilde.

“Education, then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of man” – Horace Mann.

“Do not train children to learning by force and harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each” – Plato.

“Education’s purpose is to replace an empty mind with an open one” – Malcolm Forbes.

"There is no knowledge that is not power" - Ralph Waldo Emerson.

“Every student can learn, just not on the same day, or the same way” – George Evans.

“Next in importance to freedom and justice is popular education, without which neither freedom nor justice can be permanently maintained” – James A. Garfield.

"Whatever the cost of our libraries, the price is cheap compared to that of an ignorant nation" - Walter Cronkite.

"Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value" – Albert Einstein.

"Definiteness of purpose is the starting point of all achievement" – W. Clement Stone.

“What then is time? If no one asks me, I know; if I wish to explain it to one that asks, I know not” - St Augustine of Hippo.

"Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius, power and magic in it" – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

"The mind is everything. What you think you become" – Buddha.

"The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why" – Mark Twain.

"A minimum of comfort is necessary for the practice of virtue" - Patrice Lumumba.

“If we encounter a man [or woman] of rare intellect, we should ask him [or her] what books he [or she] reads” - Ralph Waldo Emerson.

"Bodily exercise, when compulsory, does no harm to the body; but knowledge which is acquired under compulsion obtains no hold on the mind" - Plato, The Republic.

"Until philosophers are kings, or the kings and princes of this world have the spirit and power of philosophy, and political greatness and wisdom meet in one, and those commoner natures who pursue either to the exclusion of the other are compelled to stand aside, cities will never have rest from their evils — no, nor the human race, as I believe — and then only will this our State have a possibility of life and behold the light of day" - Plato, The Republic.

"The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now" – Chinese Proverb.

"A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in" - Greek Proverb.

"It is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits; it is evidently equally foolish to accept probable reasoning from a mathematician and to demand from a rhetorician scientific proofs" - Aristotle.

“Education is a better safeguard of liberty than a standing army” - Edward Everett.

"The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be" – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

"My best friend is the man who in wishing me well wishes it for my sake" - Aristotle.

"No one can escape his destiny" - Plato.

"A prince ought to have no other aim or thought, nor select anything else for his study, than war and its rules and discipline; for this is the sole art that belongs to him who rules" - Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, 1513.

"Therefore sages and intelligent princes are what they are, not because they are able to go to the bottom of all things, but because they understand what is essential in all things" - The Book of Lord Shang.

"To distinguish between the sun and moon is no test of vision, to hear the thunderclap is no indication of acute hearing" - Sun Tzu, The Art of War.

“The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them” - Mark Twain.

"The only fence against the world is a thorough knowledge of it" - John Locke.

"Happy is he who knows the causes of things" - Virgil.

"This education forms the common mind, Just as the twig is bent, the tree's inclined" - Alexander Pope.

"Seek knowledge even as far as China" - Hadith.

"We may sit in our library and yet be in all quarters of the earth" - John Lubbock.

"He alone is great and happy who fills his own station of independence, and has neither to command nor to obey" - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

"In this consists the difference between the character of a miser and that of a person of exact economy and assiduity. The one is anxious about small matters for their own sake; the other attends to them only in consequence of the scheme of life which he has laid down to himself" - Adam Smith. 

"One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors" - Plato, The Republic.

"Education consists mainly of what we have unlearned" - Mark Twain.

"If a man empties his purse into his head, no one can take it from him" - Benjamin Franklin.

"I attribute the little I know to my not having been ashamed to ask for information, and to my rule of conversing with all descriptions of men on those topics that form their own peculiar professions and pursuits" - John Locke.

"Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen" - Ralph Waldo Emerson.

"There is no road too long to the man who advances deliberately and without undue haste; there are no honors too distant to the man who prepares himself for them with patience" - Jean de la Bruyere.

"Is to dispute well logic's chiefest end? Affords this art no greater miracle? Then read no more, thou hast attain'd that end; A greater subject fitteth Faustus' wit" - Christopher Marlowe, The Tragicall History of Dr Faustus.