DOLORES [random thoughts]
“…y se figuraba que andaba pensando, pero en realidad no hacía más que evocar dolores.”
“…and he figured he was thinking when in reality he had only been evoking sorrows all along.”
I. WHETHER THE QUALITY OF A NATIONAL LITERATURE DEPENDS ON THE MIGHT AND PROSPERITY OF ITS COUNTRY
Let’s look at two cases.
A. The Spanish Empire
Spain was at the top of the world or relatively near it from the year 1492 to the year 1713. In 1492, the King of Aragón and the Queen of Castile (the married couple known as the Catholic Kings) conquered Granada, the last Moorish state in Iberia. At the same time, Christopher Columbus discovered America, setting off the process that would put most of the New World under Spanish rule.
A slow decline began about a hundred years in, culminating in the reign of Charles the Bewitched. The sickly end-product of Hapsburg inbreeding, King Charles watched helplessly as England, France and Austria fought to determine who should be the impotent monarch’s heir. By the end of the War of the Spanish Succession in 1713-14, Spain was finished.
This happened so long ago that it’s really hard to gauge just how mighty and feared (especially feared) Spain was. Two famous quotes will give us a taste of this: 1) Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, once said he spoke Spanish to God, Italian to his women, French to his men, and German to his horse [Charles was Flemish by birth]. 2) When the Count-Duke de Olivares was asked about the secret to Spain”s military prowess, he replied that God was Spanish and so he fought on the Spanish side.
So what about the literature? The Golden Age of Spanish Literature is said to span the years 1492 through 1681. In 1492 Antonio de Nebrija wrote his Grammar of the Spanish Language, the first published grammar of any Romance language! 1681 saw the death of Calderón de la Barca, the playwright responsible for Life is a Dream, among many other highly-regarded works.
By the 1670s Spain was falling rapidly. Two Dutch wars (one in the Seventies and one in the Eighties) ended up with an overwhelming French victory over the Spanish forces. Clearly in this case, it does seem like Spanish literature was best when the nation was strongest.
B. The Third Republic in France
The Third Republic in France arose in the year 1870 and was brought to a screeching halt in the year 1940. The events that ushered the republic in were as catastrophic as those ending it, and they all involved Germany.
The French Empire under Napoleon III went to war against Bismarck’s Prussia in 1870. And the German victory was total: Napoleon III was captured by the enemy, a Republic was formed essentially just in time to accept defeat, and the Prussian King was crowned German Emperor in Versailles the next year!
1940 saw Hitler’s troops pulverize the French Army and taking half of the country, then setting up the puppet Vichy regime in the south. In between, the Third Republic was buffetted by all sorts of scandals and controversies, possibly the most infamous of this being the Dreyfus Affair.
So what about literature? Well, no doubt the arts flourished during Napoleon III’s rule, and they are doing quite well in the postwar era, but not only did they prosper as well during the turbulent Thrid Republic, one could argue they reach a peak of sorts: Maupassant and Zola, Verlaine and Rimbaud, [plus two of my favorites] Céline and Saint-Exupéry.
In this case, it seems as if either the literature wasn’t paying attention to national affairs, or it was actually feeding off of the despair of the times. After all, Decadence was the rage during the Third Republic.
C. Quevedo’s Warning
The result of the inquiry is inconclusive, then. And for all that, how do you even measure quality in literature?? Be that as it may, let me end this with the poet Quevedo’s (1580-1645) warning to his country not to rest on its laurels. He writes:
“And it is easier, Spain, in so many ways
that what you alone took from all
all may take from you alone.”
II. WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?
Well, what’s anything? “Oh boy, here we go…” Nah, I’m just trying to point out that many people have completely different views of the content of philosophy and that debates around are endless.
So let’s go classical. Let’s assume that philosophy deals with the Good, the Beautiful and the True. After all, the Divine Plato taught Ideas, the object of philosophy, were all three of these adjectives, and who are we [I?] to oppose the master?
So philosophy has three branches, to use the lingo let’s call them Ethics, Aesthetics and Metaphysics. Each branch has its content of study, and if we can figure what each content is, then we’re on our way to discovering what philosophy is. Let’s take each branch in turn.
The content of ethics is good and evil, or simply the distinction between the two, though I guess if you believe in morally neutral acts then there might be three realms, poetically known as Heaven, Chaos and Hell.
But look, scientists and literary theorists are all working on Chaos Theory. Sure, they have their private heavens and their secret hells but do they actually believe in these things? No! Beyond Good and Evil was written what, 130 years ago? We should have digested this lesson by now. Certain Zen currents of thoughts have been in possession of this truth for centuries now: there is no good, there is no evil, there is only neutral chaos, the Abyss. There is no distinction [only Demogorgon] and with that there is no ethics. So this branch is absolutely empty.
On to the next!
Substitute the words “beautiful” and “ugly” for “good” and “evil” in the last section and we’re done. Aesthetics is empty as well.
But I guess I should add more to this. I mean, my blog posts consist mostly of dissecting beautiful things and trying to see what makes them tic, or when I’m at a loss for an interpretation, praising them uncontrollably. But it is this philosophy (the dissection, not the praise!!)? No, of course not. Call it criticism if you want, study it under matters of taste, chalk it up to an evolutionary mechanism to maximize the number of offspring by having the body experience a pleasing sensation at the view of something healthy and all in all beneficial to the organism, whatever.
Aesthetics as a philosophical discipline would fain discover and promptly delimit the bounds of the Beautiful. And who is left on Earth that thinks this possible???
On to the next.
Aha! Here we have substance. The True, Reality, these things exist, right? Sure they do, even when our understanding thereof is at best cloudy.
But metaphysics as the study of the real has a rival, and a fearsome one at that: Science or Physics. What (if anything) distinguishes the philosophical approach from the scientific approach to the Truth? And if an distinction is agreed upon, then we still have a second question: where can we find evidence that the philosophical approach contributes positively to this perennial quest?
We’re in a bind here. Either the answer to the first question is No, in which case the whole point of metaphysics falls to the ground, superseded as it is by Science; or, if the answer is Yes then we are faced by a terrible question that makes me shudder as I sit here typing on a microcomputer built (not thanks the latest efforts of the crowd of metaphysicians) but by physicists, scientists and engineers, amen.
So to sum up, a full two thirds of the content of philosophy as defined classically is totally empty. It isn’t that the purveyors of Ethics and Aesthetics are at fault here, it is simply a fundamental fact that these disciplines are substantially impossible.
The remaining third, although full to the brim, is being better serviced by a rival organization. Therefore there is no sense in talking about Philosophy in this day and age. None at all.
III. THE GREATEST PHILOSOPHERS OF ALL TIME
The greatest philosopher of all time is Master Plato.
Alfred North Whitehead said “The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.” You probably don’t need to know Whitehead but you most definitely need to get in touch with this truth…
Immanuel Kant comes in second place. Einstein in physics, Gödel in mathematics, all the psychologists, even the Communist movement (Marx → Hegel) rise out of the mega-structure built by Kant. And of course Kant owes much to Plato.
In third place, Aristotle. While modern philosophers and scholars all ride the manifold Kantian stream we call Modernity, most of us common folk remain stuck with The Philosopher of the Middle Ages, solid earthly earthy pre-Thomist Aristotle.
IV. ANCIENT GREEK IDENTITY – TWISTS AND TURNS – THE PELOPONNESE
This is really complicated stuff, and so these notes are my attempt to lay everything out as succintly as possible in one location. Greek identity in the great poleis seems to have been triple. That is, you have a tradition of an original people in the area, then a group of newcomers who expel or assimilate the older population. On top of this, you have a ruling dynasty which tends to be of wholly foreign origin separate from the first 2 groups.
The Hellenes, or proper Greeks, were said to descend from Hellen in the Hellas district of Thessaly. Hellen had three sons: Aeolus, Dorus and Xuthus. Xuthus has two sons: Ion and Achaeus. This is the origin of the four core Greek tribes: Aeolians, Dorians, Ionians and Achaeans.
The Aeolians spread out the most, reaching the western Peloponnese and the city of Corinth. An important group of them is kicked out of the original Hellas by the barbaric Thessalians, who proceed to give their name to that region. These Aeolians end up taking over Beotia, where the cities of Thebes, Orchomenus and Platea are.
The Achaeans become the most powerful group, ruling over the eastern Pelopponese. The Ionians live in Attica and the northern coast of the Peloponnese. The Dorians are confined to the Doris district of Thessaly.
Now, let’s take a look at Argos, Mycenae and surrounding cities. The eastern half of the Peloponnese was occupied by Achaeans. However, Argos, the greatest power in that region at the time, is founded [or refounded] by Danaus, an Egyptian. The trouble begins when his grandson Abas has twin sons: Acrisius and Proetus. These two hate each other and Acrisius ends up expelling Proetus, who builds walls over the nearby city of Tiryns and becomes its first king.
Acrisius has a daughter named Danaë. Danaë is impregnated by Zeus in the form of a divine shower and bears him a son named Perseus. According to prophecy, Perseus is destined to kill his grandfather. After several awesome adventures, like slaying Medusa, Perseus ends up accidentally killing Acrisius.
At this point Perseus feels very guilty about rising to the throne of Argos. He negotiates with Proetus’ son Megapenthes (currently the king of Tiryns) and they exchange kingdoms. After this Perseus founds the new polis of Mycenae and moves there with his wife Andromeda.
After some messiness, Perseus’ son Sthenelus becomes king of Mycenae and Tiryns. Later on his own son Eurystheus takes over. In the meantime, Sthenelus’ niece Alcmene is impregnated by Zeus and Heracles is born. Zeus intends his son to take over all of these lands but Eurystheus manages to keep everything away from him.
Once Hercules dies, Eurystheus sets about killing all of his progeny. Some of the Heracleids [children of Heracles] flee to the small district of Doris in central Greece. At that point, Doris is an obscure area occupied by an obscure people: the Dorians.
Eurystheus dies while chasing the Heracleids, and the two men he has left to take care of Mycenae and Tiryns take over. They are the brothers Thyestes and Atreus, sons of Pelops the king of Olympia in the western Pelopponese. They are in the East because they have been exiled by their father for killing his third son.
Thyestes and Atreus have a feud, the former killing the latter. Tiryns at this point reverts to Argos. Atreus’ two children, called Agamemnon and Menelaus, flee to Sparta, which is ruled by king Tyndareus, a grandson of Perseus by Sthenelus’ sister Gorgophone. Tyndareus aids the two to regain the kingdom of Mycenae. This is helped by the fact that an oracle has advised the Mycenaean to choose a ruler of Pelopid blood. Agamemnon becomes king, while Menelaus marries Tyndareus’ daughter Helen [of Troy] and succeeds to the throne of Sparta.
By the way, the line of the kings of Argos lasts two generations or so and then the kingdom is split into three parts. Eventually, one of the three rulers, Diomedes becomes the most powerful king in Argos.
And thus we have three great leaders of the Greek expedition to Troy: Agamemnon, king of Mycenae and leader of the expedition; Menelaus his brother, king of Sparta; Diomedes, king of Argos.
Before the war, Agamemnon’s son Orestes is supposed to marry Menelaus’ daughter Hermione. But after the war, Agamemnon’s wife kills him and is in turn killed by her son Orestes. The marriage plan is thrown away but Orestes manages to outsmart his enemies, elope with Hermione and become king of Mycenae, and Sparta by marriage. He later takes over Argos and Arcadia when the thrones are vacant.
Alas, all-powerful Orestes unification of the Peloponnese will not last long. His son Tisamenus soon faces an invasion from the north: the Heracleids lead the Dorians south and by killing him take over the Peloponnese. This is called the Return of the Heracleids, and it means that the Achaean population is displaced by the Dorians. The date for this is 80 years after the Fall of Troy…
The three Heracleid brothers give their assistant Oxylus the right to conquer Elis in the NW Pelopponese. Oxylus is an Aetolian, from a land to the west of Doris, and his so the kingdom of Elis will be ruled by Aetolians and not Dorians, although they will more often than be allies.
Each of the brothers takes over a kingdom: Temenus takes Argos, Cresphontes rules over Messenia [in the southwest] and Aristodemus’ kingdom is Sparta, to be ruled jointly by his two sons. This is the origin of the Spartan dual monarchy.
A good number of Acheans flee to that Ionian occupied coastal land in the north. From now on the region will be known as Achaea. A group of Achaeans ends up going to Boeotia and mixing with the Aeolians there. Finally, a combined group of Achaeans and Boeotian Aeolians migrate and colonize the northern part of the Asia Minor coast and isle of Lesbos. The Ionians expelled from Achaea mostly end up in Attica, and from there many migrate to the Cyclades and the central part of the Asia Minor coast.
So the status of the Peloponnese at the dawn of the historical age is this: 1) Elis is ruled by Aetolians; 2) Achaea is ruled by Achaeans; 3) Arcadia is ruled by Pelasgians [their position in the interior of the peninsula allowed the original Arcadians to maintain their rule without interruption; 4) the rest is Dorian. From there on out we see a development entailing the gradual weakening of Argos and the corresponding strengthening of Sparta.