Category Archives: Dialectics
What is an educated man?
This a dear reader wrote in to ask us, and I feel it is an excellent question. One, I’d like to present to you, and to the wider Classics community.
Of course the ancient Greeks and Romans had strong feelings on the subject. Many of the most famous schools in history were formed in ancient Athens, presided over by famous philosophers.
Plato’s Academy is often considered the first institution of higher learning in Europe, and there, students would have studied philosophy, mathematics and scientific endeavors. Aristotle’s Lyceum likewise holds a honorable ‘educated’ position in history. A more structured set up, the Lyceum consisted of lessons, lectures and cooperative research. Students were assigned historical or scientific research projects as part of their studies, the results of which contributed to Aristotle’s library.
The Spartans famously had a strict education, focused more on strength, endurance and discipline. The Romans, meanwhile, were more concerned with socialization and rudimentary education. Starting from the 4th century BC, by the height of the Roman Empire, their schools looked much like ours today. The system was arranged by tiers and students would progress through the steps – though advancement would occur from ability, rather than age.
The educator Quintilian recognized the importance of starting education as early as possible, noting that “memory … not only exists even in small children, but is specially retentive at that age”.
The process of instruction, of course, was not found in Greece or Rome alone.
The Aztecs, for instance, had mandatory schooling for all children at the age of 15, irregardless of gender, station or rank. Moreover, there were two types of schools: the telpochcalli, for practical and military studies, and the calmecac, for advanced learning in writing, astronomy, statesmanship, theology, and other areas.
The University of al-Qarawiyyin located in Fes, Morocco is the oldest existing, continually operating institution and is sometimes referred to as the oldest university. The House of Wisdom in Baghdad was a library, translation and educational centre from the 9th to 13th centuries.
India and China, likewise, had their own elaborate and historied systems, to which full volumes should be dedicated in order to appreciate…but that is not our task at hand.
The question today is: What is an educated man or woman? And, perhaps of equal importance, do these schools, or indeed any school, create an educated person?
A few months ago the lead singer of an all girl Thai pop group made a tearful apology. The 19 year-old had made a horrible mis-judgement in her wardrobe choice, donning a swastika only two days before the Holocaust Rememberance day.
The deputy chief of mission of the Israeli Embassy in Bangkok took to Twitter to express “shock and dismay” at the outfit.
While the young lady was upset at her lack of knowledge regarding modern world history, she should perhaps be given a bit of a pass. After all, for the majority of the world’s human history, the swastika has held a very different meaning. Indeed, prior to the 1930s, the ancient symbol enjoyed an unblemished reputation for over 12,000 years!
Originally based on sanskrit, the swastika means ‘’conducive to well being’ or ‘auspicious’. To the billion Hindus on the planet, it represents the sun and prosperity and in Buddhism, which has almost 500 million adherents, it symbolizes the auspicious footprints of the Buddha. Meanwhile the famously nonviolent Jainists believe that the swastika is the symbol for Suparshvanatha – the seventh of 24 Tirthankaras (spiritual teachers and saviours).
But this isn’t just an ‘eastern’ thing either.
Swastikas have also been found on pottery in archaeological digs in Africa, in the area of Kush and on pottery at the Jebel Barkal temples. The Navajos in North America called it whirling logs and it was also depicted by the Aztecs. The earliest known swastika is from 10,000 bce – part of “an intricate meander pattern of joined-up swastikas” found on a late paleolithic figurine of a bird, carved from mammoth ivory, found in Mezine, Ukraine.
In several major Indo-European religions, the swastika symbolizes lightning bolts, representing the thunder god and the king of the gods, such as Indra in Vedic Hinduism, Zeus in the ancient Greek religion, Jupiter in the ancient Roman religion, and Thor in the ancient Germanic religion.
The first use of the word swastika in a European text is found in 1871 with the publications of the controversial archeologist, Heinrich Schliemann, who discovered more than 1,800 ancient samples of the swastika symbol and its variants while digging the Hisarlik mound near the Aegean Sea coast for the history of Troy.
One might argue that the swastika is one of the most long-lasting positive universal symbols that exists on this planet.
And yet, all this good work was undone once it became adopted by the Nazi Party of Adolf Hitler. Since then the swastika has been associated with Nazism, fascism, racism in its (white supremacy) form, the Axis powers in World War II, the Holocaust in much of the West and remains a core symbol of neo-Nazi groups.
It appears that 12 millennia later, we are letting Adolf Hitler, of all people, define the swastika today!
Never ones to shy away from controversy or accept that there is anything outside the realm of questioning, we, instead, prefer to ask the ‘unaskable’. That is how philosophy works. We must press our limits and really investigate why or how we think about things.
Asking, after all, does not mean accepting… it merely forces us to live a more examined life.
And so with that in mind, I ask you, dear reader, should we bring back the Swastika? And it is even possible to reclaim misappropriated symbols? Once they have been tainted, can they ever return to their original meaning?
You can email me at [email protected] or write in the comments below.
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***The Dialectics is an exciting new section of Classical Wisdom. Taken from our weekly newsletters, it delves into the discourses our Classical Wisdom community is having about ancient and modern topics. The idea is to use our knowledge of the ancient world, as well as the logical and philosophical methods at our disposal to investigate important issues, whether they are current, theoretical or ethical.
Feel free to contribute to the conversation in the comments section below. We only ask you address the ideas, and not the people. This isn’t a space for ad hominem approaches.***
I thought I had it all figured out. I thought it was simple. I was wrong.
You see, I’ve always believed strongly that we just need to teach history so as not to repeat past mistakes. “Lest we forget” and all that. The dark, dirty secrets that had been swept under the rug should be brought out, and under the bright, honest and searing light, seen for what they really are. Genocides, dictatorships, corruptions, illegal detentions and internments… There’s no country in the world that doesn’t have a few nasty skeletons in the closet, a fact many have still not accepted.
And I thought that they all should… but a conversation over the weekend gave me considerable pause for thought.
I was speaking with a young South African about the recent violent murders of farmers. Now, I won’t get into the grisly details or delve deeper into this subject which is hugely controversial in and of itself. Suffice to say, it got me thinking about my aforementioned ‘certainties’.
History has long been used as a tool to inspire movements, both good and bad (indeed, many articles on Classical Wisdom have been dedicated to Tacitus and German nationalism).
But are there times when bringing up past events only makes matters worse? Can it open wounds and not allow healing? Are there moments when it would be best forgotten so folks can move on?
To put it more succinctly: can history incite hate? And should it, for peace and the good of the nation, be censored at times?
As usual, you can write me directly at [email protected] or comment below with your thoughts on history, revenge and nationalism…