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Category Archives: Dialectics

Does Evil Exist?

by March 22, 2021

South Africa’s most famous serial killer hunter – and former Classical Wisdom webinar speaker – Micki Pistorius has spent a lot of time with murderers. Not people who have caused accidental deaths or impassioned manslaughter, but some of the most horrible men -and women- alive. She has been face to face with individuals who have infamously earned monikers such as the “Phoenix strangler”, the “ABC killer”, and the “station strangler”.

Surely these serial killers, accounting for hundreds of innocent deaths, epitomize the very concept of evil itself.
And yet, Micki, South Africa’s former Chief Investigative Psychologist, is fervent in that they are “not monsters; they are human beings with tortured souls. I will never condone what they do, but I can understand them.”

She goes on to explain in her book “Catch me a Killer”, that “Serial killers are not born evil, they develop into killers as a consequence of what happens to them during their childhood years. The tragedy of serial killers lies in the dichotomy that they feel compelled to kill innocent strangers in order to express their own pain and anger. It is an existential manifestation to them.”
And this comes straight from the mouth of one of the world’s foremost psychological profilers! Who among us can pretend even for a second that we would know more about a mass murderer than Micki?

Anya Leonard and
Micki Pistorius discuss relationships and ancient warriors in March’s webinar

It goes to show then, that even at the most extreme tail end of humanity, far, far away from the bell curve’s apex – inside the mind of a serial killer – we are still forced to question if there is actually evidence of evil.
So where does this leave us, dear reader? Does evil exist? And if so, where does it come from? And why is it here?
As always, you can comment below or write me directly at [email protected].

Should we glorify Caesar? And those like him?

by March 15, 2021

Beware the Ides of March! Today is always a big day in the world of ancient history lovers, because traditionally it marks the anniversary of the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BC.
Gaius Julius Caesar was a Roman general, Consul, statesman, and notable author of Latin prose. He was both a conquering hero… and a dictator.
He played an essential role in the history of Ancient Rome, acting out pivotal parts in events that led to the demise of the Republic and the rise of the Empire. He invaded Britain, he changed the calendar, he wrote extensive histories, just name a few of his accolades.
Julius Caesar

Bust of Caesar

He also managed to piss enough people off to get himself seriously stabbed in the back. It’s this latter point that folks seem to forget. Not the fact that he was assassinated (pretty sure no one forgets that), but that he was so unpopular as to warrant assassination in the first place.
In fact, a recent article we posted on Caesar’s potential contemporary parallel seemed to bring out everyone’s ire, no matter where they stood on the political spectrum. It really was only when this point was made by a reader, illustrating how divisive the man really was, that the conversation calmed down.
And so it is to this end I’d like to ask you, dear reader. Today we remember Caesar, but should we praise him?
We have a tendency to romanticize and glorify these bigger than life historical characters, whether they are Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great or Pericles… but we also know that they wouldn’t last a moment in our current culture.

“Alexander and Diogenes” by Caspar de Crayer. Diogenes once asked Alexander the Great to stand out his light.

They accomplished ‘Great’ things, but often at the expense of others… and when I say ‘expense,’ I mean that literally. Even if we don’t try to hold them up to our modern sensibilities, their praiseworthy attributes are still in question. We can’t forget that they were also feared and despised by many in their own time period.
Enough even to get murdered by a best friend!!!
Death of Caesar

Assassination of Caesar by William Holmes Sullivan, c. 1888, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

So this Ides of March, I ask:
Should we glorify Caesar? And those like him?
As always, you can write to me directly at [email protected] or comment below.

Are the Classics Under Attack?

by March 1, 2021

Those who immerse themselves in the ancient world are often faced with a number of ‘-cides’. All offensive and forbidden, you can’t get through a myth or a history book without encountering suicide, homicide, infanticide, matricide, fratricide, regicide… to name a few.
But perhaps, in our modern era of 2021, there may be a new ‘cide’ in town…Could we be facing a case of Homercide?
Calliope Mourning Homer, by Jacques Louis David

Calliope Mourning Homer, by Jacques Louis David

Perhaps it is the result of these so many ‘cides’, as well as their equally unthinkable taboos such as incest, human slavery, and rape, that cause such a kerfuffle. Apparently, these elements of the ancient world aren’t acceptable to read or talk about anymore (though ironically their ubiquitous presence elsewhere is deemed less problematic?)
Or at least, that’s the impression I get. A few recent articles doing the rounds seems to confirm this. The well read article regarding Professor Dan-el Padilla Peralta in the New York times seemed to shoot a hypothetical arrow across the bow. Others, such as Andrew Sullivan, responded to the accusations either very well or not at all, depending on the side you are on.
This increasingly political issue was echoed on a series of calls I had just the other day. It seemed like everyone up north I spoke to wanted to speak about the matter, to voice their opinions and ask me my own.

The Acropolis Museum

Now, don’t get me wrong… I have a lot of opinions on this issue. A lot. It would be impossible to not have a few thoughts on the issue and also own a company called “Classical Wisdom”…
What I’m not sure about is the validity of the situation… Is it just something whipped up by the media and spurred on by a few vocal twitterers? Or… is this an existential issue? A piece of history threatened to be removed?
Outside Academia and America both, it’s easy to underestimate the situation… or at least not be privy to the nuisance of our current cultural milieu. Thus, I’m left with many more questions than answers… and hence I’d like to ask your opinion on the matter.

Is that the classics on that shard of pottery?

Are professors being canceled? Are the great books being burned? Or are they being subjected to a 2021 facelift? An upgrade to accommodate our modern values? Or is all this completely blown out of proportion and we can get back to our dusty translations undisturbed?
Essentially, what is actually happening? Are the Classics under attack? And if so, what should we – the classics lovers of the world- do about it?
As always, you can write me directly at [email protected] or comment below.

Greece or Rome: Which was more Influential?

by February 16, 2021

Anyone who knows me, knows I like to stir the proverbial pot. (While anyone who watched this weekend’s webinar knows I completely forgot about the actual pot…on the stove).
It’s for this very reason I so enjoy our Monday (sometimes Tuesday) mailbags. I love to grow a good debate, birth a lively discussion, or stoke a controversial conversation.
I often do this with the help of philosophical inquiries or political disputations… lend our classical minded perspectives to modern issues or add our own contemporary opinions to age old issues.

Lord Elgin… always a controversial character

Other times, all I have to do is hit a hot topic, such as the Elgin marbles, slavery in the ancient world… or indeed, the question of today’s issue.
Yes, dear reader, I’m asking it! I’m forging ahead with probably the greatest divider within our niche field, our classics community. Left, right, male, female, black, white… none of that matters! Today I inquire:
Greece… or Rome?
Which had the greater impact? What changed the world… the philosophical roots of the Hellas or the military might of the Latins?
You decide once and for all.
As always, you can comment below or write me directly at [email protected].

Do Sports have Value?

by February 9, 2021

The problem with being a perennial expat is that annual events up north can really catch you off guard.
Take Sunday, for instance… We were casually having a roast pork lunch which came out quite close to dinner, which resulted in a long ‘sobre mesa’ (the discussion that takes place after a meal)…
And before we knew it, we realised it was the superbowl!
Now, anyone who knows me (or has seen me run) knows I’m not exactly the athletic type. I am, however, a sucker for ritual and cherry picked traditions. It was thus this mind set that was quickly put to task: an order for chicken wings (KFC was all I could find last minute) and beer (only a domestic artesanal version from the Andes could be purchased – but no matter) and the arduous effort of finding live streaming available in our country.
It took a bit of tech-whizzery… but in the end I was able to see the husband of Brazil’s most famous beauty in action.

Apparently this model’s husband does sport…

Being that it’s such a break from my routine, the act of sport gazing did get me thinking about this ubiquitous, universal physical activity. As long as there have been people interacting, there have been sports…indeed it goes back much farther than the era that these humble pages cover!
We commence as far back as around 15,300 years ago; Cave paintings found in the Lascaux caves in France appear to depict sprinting and wrestling in the Upper Paleolithic. The origins of boxing have also been traced to ancient Sumer and the Epic of Gilgamesh gives one of the first historical records of sport with Gilgamesh engaging in a form of belt wrestling with Enkidu, events from around 2800 to 2600 BCE. Meanwhile wrestling, weightlifting, long jump, swimming, rowing, archery, fishing and athletics, as well as various kinds of ball games, were well-developed and regulated in ancient Egypt before 2000 BCE.
When we finally get to our time period of focus, we chance upon the Minoans jumping over bulls (1500 BCE) and the funeral games of the Mycenaean period, between 1600 BCE and c. 1100 BCE, depicted in the Iliad. We can recall king Odysseus of Ithaca proving his royal status to king Alkinoös of the Phaeacians by showing his proficiency in throwing the javelin.

Bull leaping fresco from the Palace of Knossos, Crete

And then, of course we arrive at the Olympic Games recorded in 776 BCE in Olympia, where they were celebrated until 393 CE. Other important sporting events in ancient Greece included the Isthmian games, the Nemean Games, and the Pythian Games. Together with the Olympics, these were the most prestigious games, and formed the Panhellenic Games.
It’s clear that the Greeks really loved sport… and the Romans did too.
Of course, the Romans did manage to make it quite bloody, proving once more their thirst for violence.
One only has to imagine the inherent gore involved with gladiators to know what I mean. Chariot racers had notoriously short careers due to notoriously short life spans. Though we should remember that the original boxing and wrestling (not to mention pankration!) weren’t without their perils.
Famous Charioteer

Gaius Appuleius Diocles (104 – after 146) was a Roman charioteer, who became one of the most celebrated athletes in ancient history.

Which brings me to my mailbag question of the week… just because something has been around for a long time, doesn’t make it necessarily good or valuable. Similarly just because something is fun to watch, doesn’t mean we should…
Entertainment can come at a moral cost. Like a Woody Allen movie, we should question the motives of the persons involved and wonder if we are eating our chicken wings with a bit of sin on our hands. After all, is not the spectacle at the expense of the young men’s bodies that are partaking in such a violent endeavor?
Indeed, we are forced to ask the very premise of the issue, the root of it all:
Do Sports have value in the first place? Are they Moral? Are they good?
As always, you can comment below or write me directly at [email protected]

The End of the World: Trump, Pericles and the Land of Fire

by February 3, 2021

You may have noticed, dear reader, that this week’s monday mailbag is coming out on wednesday…which is a little strange. However, this does mean two issues in one day, which is no doubt very exciting!
The reason for this is because I have just come back from the end of the world… literally.

I’m not exactly sure why we booked a last minute holiday to Tierra del Fuego, the land of fire, but I have a few suspicions.
Perhaps, in keeping with the epic themes of which we so often surround ourselves, I wished to improve my Kleos – my reputation or glory. Like Odysseus traveling to the underworld in the Nekyia, it is the journeys to the most extreme places that really get people talking.

A View of Beagle Chanel, Ushuaia, Argentina

Maybe it was because after all the doomsday talk of the last year, I decided that the best way to start 2021 was to journey to el fin del mundo, the end of the world. You know, to see what all the fuss is about.
Or it could just be that summer in the city of Buenos Aires is bloody hot!

Either way it was a mere three hour flight to the most southern city in the world, Ushuaia. Upon arrival we were immediately struck by the serrated majesty of the mountains ripping into a crystalline sky, the emerald waters of the Beagle channel, once traversed and named by Charles Darwin himself, as well as the extremely cold air, fresh off a penguin’s breath.
And it’s the middle of summer! I can’t possibly imagine what the winter feels like…

We did all the musts… climbed up to a glacier, visited the farthest post office in the world… and of course appreciated the local flora and fauna (cute penguins and huskies included!)

Sealions at the end of the world

Visiting the Huskies…

In the exposed face of such raw nature, where everything must struggle to survive, life truly has another meaning, making it impossible to come away without gaining a new, humble perspective.
It was thus quite a strange disconnect, when the reader mail came rolling in… I had made sure to leave my laptop at home, of course, but in a state of such folly, I had downloaded the outlook app on my phone. It appears that the world of politics, of Trump, traitor or triumphant, had followed me to the end of the world.
I suppose it goes to show that Pericles was right all along… just because you don’t take an interest in politics, doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.
What struck me, however, in reading the comments was… well, the very varied responses. It appears that Van Bryan managed to offend everyone – whether they were on the right or the left. Well done, I thought! It’s always good to read a different perspective, especially when you don’t agree with it. How then are we to know our own ideas if they are never challenged? How else can we grow without reading the alternative?
In the words of Aristotle, it takes an educated mind to be able to entertain an idea without accepting it. Therefore, I took great pride in my readers who were able to think rationally, maturely in the face of a perhaps confronting concept. What joy to see some appreciate the free flowing of ideas and then discuss it, as a lover of wisdom should!
Imagine how much Socrates would have loved to partake in a conversation just like this…
Some, I fear to say, were a little less robust in their response. Nonetheless, the reader mail was so extensive that I felt it my duty to dedicate this week’s mailbag to the issue. Those who receive our free email can enjoy the full reader mail that went out today… for those of you reading here on the web, I still have a follow up for you. As a special treat, I forwarded quite a few of the emails to Van in order for him to provide a quick response. I did so this morning, so we should be appreciative of his prompt reply, below…
Dear Readers,
First, allow us to say thank you for your poignant– and frank– feedback. We’re delighted to find a readership that can consider controversial ideas and then disagree without accusing the author of being some unsavory thing. What a concept!
Some are upset by our “praise” for The Donald. That’s strange… we didn’t think we were praising the man. We came to bury Caesar, not praise him. Remember? So we will accept that response without comment.
Some object to the comparison of Donald to Achilles. We’re not sure why…
The defining moment for Achilles is when he makes the decision to forge ahead into battle– knowing he will surely die– rather than live his life as an anonymous man. Is that so different from The Donald? The man– upon accepting the highest office– must have known he would be slain. And he chose that path rather than to live a life as a notorious– but mostly unseen– B-list celebrity.
Right decision? Wrong decision? Disastrous decision? We don’t know… truly. But it feels like a tragic decision to us.
Some are upset by the characterization of Trump as a Julius Caesar. Perhaps he is more like Gaius Marius, or Caligula, or Nero! The man who tweeted while Rome burned…
We admit that no historical comparison is perfect. And as Victor Davis Hanson pointed out during his interview with your editor, we must be careful of all historical lessons. Because everybody– on every side– always claims to know the Truth (uppercase T) of historical wisdom.
Caesar– as dear readers pointed out– was a military man. He was lauded in his day. But as was also noted, Caesar’s adulation mostly stemmed from his invasion of foreign lands and the subsequent exploitation of the population. They tear down your statue for that sort of thing today! Caesar was also a popular author. You can still read his work today.
Donald is neither. He’s an (alleged) draft dodger. And he never met a book he didn’t want to not open.
Still, we think there’s something there…
Caesar– like Donald– was a member of the Populare faction. He was “a man of the people.” And the plebeians only turn to such rough men when they feel they have no other choice. There are numerous books on this topic for interested readers. But we’d actually recommend Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcast on the topic. It’s a wonderful long-form podcast that discusses the nuances of the movement.
Last point…
Beware the Ides of March

The Assassination of Caesar

The assassination of Julius Caesar set the stage for the empire that the Roman “Deep State” claims to have wanted to avoid. Violence begets violence, dear reader. And tyranny– even in the name of stopping tyranny– begets more tyranny.
In the wake of the fall of Caesar Trump, we wonder what will become of America. There is talk now of turning the weapons of State– which for decades wreaked havoc on foreign lands– onto the polis Americana. All in the name of stamping out hate speech… or domestic terrorists… or “insurrectionists”. It’s for your own good, you see. It always is…
But my word, dear reader. That is a dark and bumpy road. The guardrails are out. The streetlights don’t come on. And the wolves prowl just off the shoulder. Are you sure you want to travel there? Are you sure you want to stumble blindly down that alleyway?
Well… alright then.
But we’re almost certain you won’t like where it leads…
Yours humbly,

Van Bryan