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Apocryphal, Anecdotal and Sensational: What the ‘Apophthegms’ Tell Us About the Ancient World

by on April 28, 2021

Written by Steven Whitehead, Contributing Writer of Classical Wisdom and host of the Spartan History Podcast
To the southwest of Thessaloniki, in northern Greece, lies the small town of Pydna. It was here on June the 28th, 168 BCE, that an already-crumbling Hellenic civilization began its final decline.
Under the leadership of Consul Lucius Aemilius Paullus, a Roman army crushed the Macedonian forces led by King Perseus – last in a royal line stretching back to Alexander the Great. In so doing, the Romans proved both the ascendency of their manipular tactics over the phalanx, and the Latins over the Greeks.
Coin showing Perseus, King of Macedonia 179-168 BC
From a relative zenith in the years following the Greco-Persian wars, the various independent city-states of Greece began to devour themselves in a series of internecine wars, with the Peloponnesian conflict between Athens and Sparta as a stand out. Bled dry as a result, the squabbling Hellenes could offer little resistance when the rising power of Macedon swept south, first under Phillip and then his son, enforcing submission to all in their path. This marked the end of the Classical and the beginning of the Hellenistic periods, when Greek culture and influence was spread to most of the known world.

Can We Make Philosophy Popular?

by on April 26, 2021

It didn’t take too long before realising he was famous. Probably the third or fourth group asking for photos tipped us off. Of course we didn’t know who the distinguished gentleman sitting two tables over was at first… a sideways snap, dispatched to a local friend who’s more ‘knowledgeable’ about Spanish celebs, confirmed the star’s details. 
It was none other than Francesc Orella, the Catalan star of the popular netflix series, Merlí
I was delighted… because, despite my usual dearth in popular culture references, I did in fact know the show. Indeed, I had been recommended the series numerous times! Afterall, it is a show about a philosophy teacher… and each episode includes the approaches of a great thinker or school of thought, such as the Peripatetics, Nietzsche or Schopenhauer, linking their teachings with fictional events and characters. 
The creators reference films like Dead Poets Society, in their attempts to bring philosophy to the public. They even described Orella’s character as a sort of ‘new Aristotle’ who ‘teaches his students to question and reflect’. 

Becoming Boudica: How Celtic Female Warrior Culture Challenged Rome

by on April 23, 2021

Written by Tom G. Hamilton, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
The Roman historian Tacitus tells us that the Celts made no distinction of sex when appointing their commanders and in western Iberia. According to the Greek historian Strabo, women fought alongside men. For the Celts, a woman could not only wage war—she was also a warrior herself. 
But first: what were the Celts doing in western Iberia? After all, the first countries that come to mind when one thinks of Celtic culture are not Spain and Portugal, which principally comprise the Iberian peninsula (along with a small area of southern France and Gibraltar). But the Celts did indeed live there—and had for a long time. In fact, DNA studies link Celtic roots to the Iberian peninsula. In ancient times, Celtic culture was associated with all of Atlantic Europe—an area that encompasses the British Isles, Portugal, Belgium, parts of Spain, France and northern Germany—creating a major cultural division between Atlantic and Central Europe.
This divide can be seen in many areas. For example, unlike other European cultures, in the Celtic world, domestic roles went out the window in the event of war. In conflict situations Celtic women dropped what they were doing and took up arms.

Antigone and the Ethics of Desire

by on April 21, 2021

Written by Claudia Hauer, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom
Sophocles’ play Antigone remains one of the most compelling and oft-performed of the Greek tragedies. The play was recently adapted for use in Ferguson, Missouri by Theater of War, a social justice project which uses performances of Greek tragedy to encourage communities to bridge the military-civil divide.
In the case of Ferguson, Antigone addressed the stark divide between law enforcement and citizens. Antigone’s resistance to the tyrannical authority of the state resonates with audiences. The opposition between uncle Creon and niece Antigone reflects the timeless conflict between the laws of the state and the laws of conscience—for instance, French playwright Jean Anouilh’s famous 1944 re-staging of the play in Nazi-occupied France emphasized Antigone’s rejection of authority. 
Antigone from ‘Antigone’ by Sophocles, by Marie Spartali Stillman
In these popular productions, Antigone’s conflict with the state has focused on her taking a stand for the good. In the early 19th century, in his Lectures on Aesthetics, Hegel argues that Antigone is the greatest of the Greek tragedies for the perfection in which it pits Antigone and Creon’s principles against one another. But there is another possibility as well. One of Antigone’s strongest qualities is her desire. Aristotle argues in the Nicomachean Ethics that all men by nature desire the good. What if the key word in Aristotle’s statement is not ‘the good,’ but ‘desire’? 

On Angels: Myth and Belief East and West, Part 4

by on April 20, 2021

Written by Stefan Sencerz, Contributing Writer, Classical Wisdom

Part 1 and part 2 of this series focus on angels in the Western tradition. Part 3 focuses on the Eastern tradition as does the following article, the final installment in the series.

There are, of course, some dissimilarities between devas and angels. For one thing, angels are not born and seem to be everlasting. Devas are born (or reborn) (Rg Veda i.143.2 and x.129.6) and do not remain in their heavens eternally. Although their life-spans are very long, eventually they exhaust their karma and are reborn in a different realm.

Artist unknown

There are, however, some interesting similarities between them. Both devas and angels are purely spiritual (i.e., immaterial) beings. Devas seem to lack perfect knowledge or wisdom and generally do not interact with devas occupying plans of existence higher than their own.

They can also lack spiritual wisdom. For example, according to Kaushitaki Upanishad (Book 4), Indra was weaker than his adversaries, Asuras, before he come to know his own Atman (soul), suggesting a kind of spiritual awakening.

Indra and Sachi Riding the Divine Elephant Airavata, from a Panchakalyanaka (Five Auspicious Events in the Life of Jina Rishabhanatha ([Adinatha]), India

Perhaps most interestingly, both angels and devas display moral flaws. Some angels are excessively proud or jealous of humans. This leads to their rebellion against God and eventual fall. Similarly, many devas are too preoccupied with pleasures, failing to give proper respect to Buddha and his fully awakened disciples, who represent the perfect wisdom. Thus, they show a similar lack of humility.

Do We Need to Almost Die to Know How to Live?

by on April 19, 2021

It was exactly six years ago tomorrow that I almost died. It would have been an ancient death, just as it was the end of millions of women before me. My family was asked to fly in to say goodbye, a team of experts gathered around my bedside, anxiously waiting and unable to do much. At one point, I had only hours left… 
It was at that moment (or perhaps earlier when I was going in and out of consciousness… I have no idea; time itself became irrelevant) I had a sort of vision… a feeling if you will. It was of a large tree with its branches first extended and then dripping down to the ground, where it connected to its extensive roots.
The “Tree of Life” is a very ancient and widespread mytheme or archetype in many of the world’s mythologies, religious and philosophical traditions… going as far back as the Epic of Gilgamesh! 
Mercifully it is more unusual to ‘give up the ghost’ in childbirth nowadays (at least in most developed countries), but historically it was sadly the norm. At its worst, one in three women perished in the act…  
Then, as in now, there is something both deeply tragic and poetic about leaving this world as another enters. The turnstile of life, its cycles and repetition, become so blatant and undeniable.