An Earth-born hero

Friday 🏆

1310 | [On Alison Keith’s Qualis et unde genus? Sextus Propertius, His Friends and Relations ]

More Propertius from this morning:

“Why choose, my life, to step out with styled hair
And move sheer curves in Coan costume?
Or why to drench your tresses in Orontes’ myrrh
And sell yourself with foreign gifts
And lose the charm of Nature for bought elegance,
Not letting the limbs shine with their own attractions?
This doctoring of your looks is pointless, believe me;
Love, being naked, does not love beauticians.
See what colours beautiful land sends up,
How ivies in the wild thrive better,
Arbutus grows more beautifully in lonely glens
And water knows by nature where to run.
Beaches appeal, with native pebbles painted,
And artlessly the birds sing sweeter.” (Propertius, 1.2)

Even if I could turn this into some intertextual masterpiece, I wouldn’t. The words begin to lose their meaning when they’ve been over-processed, over-intertextualized, over-touched. Words, like “Rome,” or “White,” or “Christian.”

I prefer clarity and authenticity. I’ll just send my love thoughts directly to my daughter. Any true daughter of mine would hear the words, and know its meaning.

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1428  | [On Alison Keith’s Qualis et unde genus? Sextus Propertius, His Friends and Relations ]

According to Keith, Propertius is said to have proclaimed about the Aeneid (or perhaps his own Monobyblos), “Yield, Roman writers, yield Greeks! Something greater than the Iliad is being brought to birth.” (Qualis et unde genus? Sexutus Propertius, His Friends and Relations, p.1) But what could be greater than the Iliad? Whatever proclaims itself to be greater than the Iliad is nothing short of a conspiracy theory.

People who proclaim any book to be greater than the Iliad misunderstand the nature of the epic. There can be no story greater than the human story, and that is what it is. It is the story of an Earth-born who ultimately transcends the artificial divisions created by the mortal coil. It is a story about the tragedy of difficult friendships. It is a story that incites humans to seek and establish true justice in the world — to create a world in which we love one another, despite what the gods may have in store for us. Nothing could be greater than the Iliad.

What story could be greater and more glorious? What, the story about the birth of a nation? Of a people finally unified? The universe is still greater than a unified Europe, or a unified China, or a unified Greece, or a unified Jewish diaspora, or a unified Catholic church of Rome, or a unified Klu-Klux-Klan, or any other unification of this or that; it’s just another division between us and “them.” Humanity is still greater than all these artificial divisions. And it is these artificial divisions that kill what is authentic and genuine — that kill Achilles. It is these artificial divisions which are his so-called “heel.” Samsara.

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1854 | Why does the Buddhist monk shave his/her hair? The reply: “It is very troublesome to have hair. So, we leave it everyday.”

One learns something new about oneself, even if one does not learn something new.

But here is something else that I had been wondering about for many months now. But I think I understand.

“Buddhist Monk: This is the bowl…
Bettany Hughes: Begging bowl.
Buddhist Monk: Begging bowl of monks.
Bettany Hughes: So, this you collect food and drinks, alms from other people.
Buddhist Monk: Every day.
Bettany Hughes: And why do you get your food from outside, why don’t you produce it yourself?
Buddhist Monk: Because monks have to depend on the people, on society. So, we have gratefulness and gratitude. So, what we return to them — our compassion, our wisdom. Monks can be a guide to the people, to the society, to show the path to wisdom, to show the path to peace and to show the path to happiness. Apart from that, monks have no other connections, relations to the lay people whatsoever.”
(Genius of the Ancient World, Season 1: Episode 1. “Buddha”)

I think that I understand. And I shouldn’t get frustrated. Instead, I should be grateful that I have something to give.

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2025 | [On Alison Keith’s Qualis et unde genus? Sextus Propertius, His Friends and Relations ]

Propertius II, 30.24:

hoc si crimen erit, crimen Amoris erit.” (If it is a crime, it is a crime of Love.)

Is it the reason that matters, or is it the consequence that matters? One might argue: Even if Love compels us all, still, there are better criminals and worse ones. The question isn’t whether we have good intentions or not, but whether we are skilled and successful or not. After all, all things aim for the good, says Aristotle. Everyone may be doing it, but some do it better than others. A good man is a man who is good at being a man. While a bad one fails in his attempt at it.

At least, that’s how I imagine the argument to go.

But what is it to be a man? Is it to be a not-woman? A not-animal? A not-automaton? A not-god?

What is it to be a self? A not-you? This is what Aristotle can’t answer.

But Socrates can. He would say: All that is done in self-knowledge is good. And, all that is done in self-ignorance is bad.