Sunday, 19 February 2017

Reading All Around the World Challenge

Jean from Howling Frog Books is hosting a Reading All Around the World Challenge and with some trepidation, I'm jumping into the fray.

Why do I want to be part of another challenge?  I don't know.  But since this one is so open-ended, the pressure is minimal and the benefits ......... well, hopefully it will get me reading in countries that I normally don't visit book-wise.  In any case, the outline for the challenge is as follows:

    • Pick 50+ countries or go for the gold with all of them! The number depends on you. 
    • Sign up at the project page here. 
    • Read either fiction by a writer living in/from the country, OR a non-fiction book about it, such as memoir, history, culture, language. 
    • Tweet your posts with #readingallaround 
    • There are no time constraints. You can decide on a timeline, but don't worry if you don't make it. If you're going for the full list, I'd recommend five years at least to complete it. 
    • Keep track of your reading. Maybe fill in a list or build a Google map of all your books and countries. Maintain it at your blog and post about the books you read. 
    • When you reach your goal, celebrate!

    So here I go!  Please check out my Reading All Around the World page in progress. I'm not sure at this point how many countries I'll read so I've listed a number of them, and then I'll chop and change as the mood hits me.  Wish me luck!

    Monday, 13 February 2017

    Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope

    "When young Mark Robarts was leaving college, his father might well declare that all men began to say all good things to him, and to extol his fortune in that he had a son blessed with so excellent a disposition."

    In Framley Parsonage, the fourth book in the Chronicles of Barsetshire, Trollope gives us a lively romp through the lives of the inhabitants of East Barsetshire, introducing us not only to their whims and follies, but through their actions, the culture and society of a 19th century English town. 

    Mark Robarts, a parson of the village of Framley, and a beneficiary of Lady Lufton whose son was his schoolmate, is married to Fanny, a genteel lady of respectable birth.  Yet his patroness is at times difficult to please, and Robarts must navigate the storms of friendship, duty, and financial matters, often muddying the waters that he is trying desperately to clear.  When his father dies and his sister, Lucy, comes to live at the parsonage, an unexpected complication develops that was unforeseen by all and upsets the carefully calibrated balance of societal acceptance.  Robarts encounters further obstacles when he embroils himself with a member of parliament, Nathaniel Sowerby, and his financial dealings.  His trusting, artless, clerical nature is in sharp contrast to the Machiavellian intrigue of men of enterprise, and it appears nothing good will come of the connection.

    The Parsonage Farm, Rickmansworth (c. 1840)
    John White
    source ArtUK

    In Mark Roberts financial dealings with Sowerby, one wonders if Trollope was offering a subtle indictment as to the interactions and associations of church and state.  The innocent perceptions of one is unable to account for the devious machinations of the other and, because of Robarts' influence on those around him, they are affected by the imprudent alliance as well.  Add to that Lady Lufton's displeasure at the Duke of Omnium's vulgar societal group and a possible marriage between a peer and a commoner, and you have class conflict at its finest, a subject of which Trollope is most adept at exploring with a light-heartedness that often belies the deeper implications.

    Trollope reintroduces characters from the previous Barsetshire books: The Warden, Barchester Towers and Dr. Thorne.  Miss Dunstable displays her wily financial prowess, Dr. Thorne his ability to be influenced, the Grantley's are in top form with not one, but two suitors in their daughter's wake, and even gentle old Septimus Harding makes a brief appearance.

    The Houses of Parliament (c. 1844?)
    George Chambers II
    source ArtUK

    Two years it took me to complete this novel.  Isn't that ridiculous?  For some reason, the first part of it just dragged, but as soon as I hit the half-way point, I was completely hooked and drawn in to the characters and their stories.  Next in line is A Small House at Allington, which I've heard is excellent.  It won't take me two years to read through this one, I promise!

    Saturday, 11 February 2017

    Herodotus' The Histories ~ Book IV

    Book IV (Melpomene)

    "Following the capture of Babylon, Darius led an army against Scythia."

    Not content with overrunning Babylon, Darius turns his attention to Scythia, wanting to revenge himself on them for an earlier attack on Media.  The Scythians had been absent from their country for 28 years and upon returning, found their wives had taken slaves to their beds and now the off-spring had raised an army against them.  At first, the battle was difficult but when the Scythians decided to treat the slaves as slaves, dropping their weapons and advancing with whips, the slaves abandoned their positions and fled. Herodotus now begins a detailed history of the Scythians, revealing a curious observation: the north of the land is not open to view because both the land and air are full of feathers! The Hellenes claim that the Scythians are descendents of Herakles (Hercules), but Herodotus prefers the theory that they migrated from Asia and took over the land from the Cimmerians who did not fight them, as the people fled and the royal Cimmerians divided into two groups and battled each other until all lay dead so they could be buried in their own land.

    Aristeas, the poet of Proconnesus, died in a fuller's shop but as news of his death spread, one man claimed to have just spoken with him.  When they went to retrieve his body, it was missing and seven years later he turned up in Proconnesus, composing verses, and at their completion, disappeared again.  Two hundred and forty years later he appeared in Metapontines, Italy, instructed them to build an altar to Apollo, disappeared again (of course), and to this day in the agora a statue of Aristeas stands beside one of Apollo.

    Genius of Greek Poetry (1878)
    George Frederick Watts
    source Wikiart

    More descriptions of the Scythian people, the territory, and their customs follow, including an interesting area of bald-headed men who claim that goat-footed men inhabit the mountains and beyond that, a people who sleep for six months of the year. Herodotus completely discounts the latter declaration.  As for the Issedones, when their fathers die, they eat them and keep their hair as a momento, and the women wield power equally with the men.  Scythian winters can be severe and Herodotus believes the feathers thought to fall in the north must be continuous snowfall.

    Herodotus moves on now to describe the Hyperboreans and their customs, then scorns contemporary map makers:

    “And it makes me laugh when I see so many people nowadays drawing maps of the earth and not one of them giving an intelligent representation of it.”

    Herodotus will give his account, starting with the four nations between the two seas, then describing the Asian peninsula.  Nechos, king of Egypt, sent Phoenicians to sail around Libya, back through the pillars of Herakles, into the Mediterranean  and back to Egypt.  Later, Sataspes, an Achaimenid Persian, raped a girl who was the granddaughter of Megabyzos but since his mother was sister to Darius, King Xerxes granted her request for her son to sail from Egypt all the way around Libya until he encounted the Gulf of Arabia instead of being impaled, as was the penalty.  The man did not complete his task and was speared. 

    Tripoli, Libya
    Jennens & Bettridge
    source ArtUK

    Darius discovered most of Asia.  As for boundaries, Herodotus gives theories for the names of the areas of Libya, Asia and Europe.  Scythian rivers now become Herodotus’ focus and he gives details of many of them, from their size to the direction of their flow.  A list of the Scythian gods is now provided and he expounds on the sacrifices of which only those to Ares are different. 

    The Scythian practices in war are quite disgusting.  When a man first kills, he drinks some of his victim’s blood; he decapitates and recovers the heads of those he’s killed and takes them to the king to receive his share of the plunder.  He elaborately removes the skin from the head and works it into a handkerchief which he displays on the bridle of his horse; the more "handkerchiefs" he has, the more esteem he receives (Ugh!).  They can make cloaks by stitching the “handkerchiefs” together.  They will also take the hands from their victims and use them as quiver covers.  They can also take skins from whole bodies, stretch them over frames of wood and then carry them on their horses.  As for the skulls of his most hated enemies, he saws them below the eyebrows, cleans them out, stretches oxhide over them, and for the more wealthy Scythian, he gilds the inside and uses it as a drinking cup (how absolutely repulsive!).  If a man has a dispute with a relative, he does the same and then brings the cup out for visitors, explaining their conflict, and that is how valour is earned.  If one has not killed a man within a year, he is a disgrace.

    Battle Scene
    Italian School
    source ArtUK

    When the king falls ill, they blame one of the townspeople for swearing falsely on the royal hearth.  Either the man is condemned by groups of soothsayers or if he is eventually absolved, the first group of soothsayers who condemned him is put to death by being burned in oxcarts.  Information on how the Scythians swear oaths, and bury their kings and each other, is now offered. The Scythians do not like foreign customs, as exemplified by the story of Anacharsis who was shot dead by the king for practicing them.  Likewise, a Scythian king called Skyles took up Hellenistic rites, worshiping the god Bacchus.  For his betrayal, the people revolted and Skyles fled to Thrace where he was eventually handed over and beheaded by his brother, Octamasades, the new ruler.

    Back we go to Darius' impending invasion of Scythia, where a Persian, Oiobazos, requests that Darius release one of his three sons from military duty as a favour, and Darius releases all three, but then proceeds to cut all their throats.  Darius travels from Susa to Chalcedon and sails to the Kyaneai Rocks (through which Jason and the Argonauts sailed) to view the magnificent Pontus bridge, which Herodotus describes in detail.  Finally Darius crosses the Hellespont and continues his journey leaving pillars to commemorate his advance as he goes.  Next, he conquers the Getai and Herodotus tells a tale about a man or divinity, he's not sure which, named Salmoxis who might be a contemporary of Pythagoras and whom the people believe they go to when they die. Herodotus does not believe all he hears of him.

    Bosphorus (1829)
    Maxim Borobiev
    source Wikiart

    As Darius crosses the river Ister, the Scythians begin to get nervous and attempt to enlist nearby kingdoms for assistance in the coming confrontation.  The kings of the Gelonians, Boudinoi and Sauromatai agree to help but the kings of the Agathyrsoi, Neurians, Maneaters, Black Cloaks, and Taurians decline on the basis that the Scythians had first been the aggressors towards the Persians.  If the Persians attack them, they will fight but until then will remain neutral.  Thus, when the Persians advance, the Scythians first retreat into the Black Cloaks territory, then the Maneaters, then the Neurians, picking up allies on their way, however the Agathyrsoi refuse to allow the Scythians into their territory, forcing them back to Scythian land.  The Scythians continue to retreat, always keeping ahead of the Persians until Darius is driven to distraction.  He sends a message to them demanding they either fight or give gifts to their "master".  In reply, the Scythians are unimpressed, stating that they were not fleeing, rather they always behaved so and if the Persians could find their ancestral graves, then they would fight, but in response to Darius' claim of master, they reply, "Weep."

    Scythian emissaries meeting with Darius
    Victor Vasnetsov
    source Wikimedia Commons

    They then begin incursions against Darius' calvary when they go for provisions, always sending them running.  However, they encounter a problem when attacking on horseback for as there are no mules or donkeys in Scythia, when their horses hear the Persian mules and donkeys braying, they are thrown into confusion with the noise.  Yet the Scythians are exceptionally crafty and decide to draw the Persians further into their territory by leaving some herds behind, in hopes that their army will experience severe infliction from the lack of food available.  Seizing these stray animals, the Persians would be encouraged with their gain.  When Darius eventually finds himself in a predicament, the Scythians send gifts of a bird, a mouse, a frog and five arrows saying that if the Persians are clever, they will be able to decipher the message.  Darius thinks it means that the Scythians will surrender to him, but Gobryas, one of the seven who had deposed the Magus, thinks that unless they fly like the wind, the Scythians will overcome them.  Meanwhile the Scythians return to Ister and order the Ionians to abandon the bridge after the 60 days which Darius had commanded.  Darius, however, sees the Scythians chasing a hare and immediately accepts Gobryas' prophecy (what? Does anyone know why on earth the hare would change his mind?)  Being the crafty person that he is, and completely devoid of empathy, Darius leaves behind his weaker soldiers with the donkeys, under the pretext that the rest of the army is leaving to attack the Scythians when, in fact, they're retreating.  The Scythians pursue the fleeing Persians and, knowing the land better, arrive at the bridge at Ister before them.  They order the Ionians to depart immediately with their freedom after demolishing the bridge. Athenian general Miltiades and Histiaios of Miletus confer, the former counselling withdrawal, the latter loyalty to Darius.  The tyrants of the various kingdoms cast lots and Histiaios' plan is accepted in that they will pretend to be acting on the advice of the Scythians, but only dismantle the bridge until they are out of arrow range.  Content, the Scythians leave to search for Darius and his army, but miss him, allowing the king to reach Ister, rebuild the bridge and escape, leaving in Europe Megabazos as his general.

    Libyan Sybil - Sistine Chapel (1510)
    Michelangelo Buonarotti
    source Wikiart

    Herodotus now relates stories of how the Minyans settled in Lacedaemon (Sparta) and how their arrogance sparked discontent, their imprisonment and escape.  From there, he offers a lengthy commentary on how Libya was founded by a descendent of Theras, and then the city of Cyrene in Libya by Battos, the dividing of the Cyrenians into three tribes and then details of the various Libyan nations. From the Nasamones who have many wives and swear oaths and obtain prophecies, to the Psylloi who made war on the south wind and were buried by it (Herodotus is only repeating what he was told by the Libyans), to the Garamontes who avoid "all human contact and social interaction," Herodotus introduces the reader to these many nations, customs, native animals and crop production. In summary, there are four general nations in Libya, the Libyans and Ethiopians who are indigenous, and the Phoenicians and Hellenes who have immigrated.

    Lastly follows the story of the Cyrenian queen Pheretime's march to Barke with the Persian army loaned to her by Aryandes, the governor or Egpyt, to avenge the death of her son, Arkesilaos. The Barkians successfully repel the army until finally Amasis, leader of the army, devises a plan to capture the city.  He meets with negotiators to agree to peace which would last "for as long as this earth stays in place."  Little does the Barkians know that the army had built trenches under them and covered them with planks and dirt.  After breaking the planks (and therefore moving the earth and nullifying the oath), the Persians overrun the city putting those responsible for the murder to death, and enslaving the others. Thus Pheretime extracts her revenge on Barke.  Yet hatred without comes from hatred within, and in the final days of her life, worms infest her body, teeming within it and crawling out of it.
    "Thus the gods manifest their resentment against humans who execute vengeance violently and excessively."

    Book III (Thalia)                                                                   Book V (Terpsichore) ⇒

    Wednesday, 8 February 2017

    The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

    "It was dusk ---- winter dusk."

    I'd been waiting to read this book for almost my whole life -- no exaggeration -- so I was pleased when I drew it for this week's Deal Me In challenge.  Wolves ...... children left under the care of a ominous governess and imprisioned .... escape .....  What could be more suspenseful and exciting?  Or so I thought .........

    Bonnie lives with her parents, Lord and Lady Willoughby, in a grand house called Willoughby Chase which is surrounded by woods populated by wolves.  One must take care in travelling at night as the risk of attack is quite real. As the story begins, Bonnie's parents are preparing to leave on a trip because of her mother's ill health, and her small cousin, Sylvia, arrives to keep her company in their absence.  Sylvia lives with Aunt Agatha, Lord Willoughby's sister, who is really too old to properly care for her anymore, so she journeys by train to her new home.  On her way, she encounters a strange man, Josiah Grimlock, who attempts to befriend her, although his manner makes Sylvia uncomfortable.  When they arrive at the station and a suitcase knocks her companion over the head, stunning him, the man is taken with her to Willoughby Chase for his convalescence.  To the house also comes Mrs. Slighcarp, who is a distant relative and governess arrived to look after the girls. Neither child is taken with Mrs. Slighcarp, who immediately appears harsh, dictatorial and mysteriously assertive.  When Bonnie's parents leave, enigmatic conferences begin between Slighcarp and Grimlock, and while all the servants except James the coachman and Pattern the maid are dismissed, the two girls are put to work as servants.
    Bradley Manor, Devon (1830)
    source ArtUK
    However, Bonnie's spirit, at least, is not in the least daunted and she attempts to get a message to the local doctor pleading for assistance.  The message intercepted, the girls are moved to an industrial village nearby to inhabit a school for orphans run under the watchful eye of a Mrs. Brisket.  When Slighcarp informs Bonnie that her parents have perished during their voyage at sea, all seems bleak and hopeless.  How could the help of a boy gooseherd and a sickly old woman be of assistance in their desperate plight?  One must read the novel to imagine how the fabulously implausible and unexpected are brought into order again.

    Fighting Off the Wolves
    Piotr Stojanov
    source ArtUK
    I'm sorry ...... I tried to like this novel, I really did.  As a plot, it has some interesting characteristics, but while at times suspenseful, the writing held together about as firmly as stringy taffy.  Actions were related with a tone of practicality, yet sometimes those actions were highly improbable.  From a complete stranger being engaged to run your estate and watch your beloved daughter for months on end without any investigation or anyone to check on her while you're away (even if she is a long lost relative --- hello!  Warning bells!), to leaving your elderly sister completely alone again without anyone to check on her, to an area that produces blue geraniums.  Not to mention there were certain characters that appeared to simply be thrown into the story willy-nilly, without any true connection to the plot. Then to top it off, the wolves themselves were sprinkled here and there without much effect other than a slight bit of tension now and then.  Okay, I do understand the wordplay in that the wolves could be referring to the actual wolves or the human "wolves" of Willoughby Chase, but the intermeshing of the two was still rather sloppy.  Yet in spite of all my issues with the novel, I suspect your average reader would like this story a little bit more than I did.  I'm a connoisseur of children's novels and have read some truly excellent ones.  In comparison, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase pales beside them, but overall it wasn't a terrible novel.  It does deserve to be read once.

    Wow, I have two children's classics already finished for the year!  A short story is on schedule for the next Deal Me In choice, The Life You Save Might Be Your Own by Flannery O'Connor.

    Week 6 - Deal Me In Challenge - Seven of Hearts

    Monday, 6 February 2017

    The Great Ideas ~ The Difference Between Knowledge and Opinion

    The Difference Between Knowledge and Opinion

    When considering the distinction between knowledge and opinion there are some questions that need investigation:

    1. What sort of objects are the objects of knowledge, as opposed to the objects about which we can only have opinion?
    2. What is the psychological difference between knowing and opining as acts of the mind?
    3. Can we have knowledge and opinion about one and the same thing?
    4. What is the scope of knowledge?  How much knowledge do we really have as opposed to the kinds of things about which we can only have opinions?  What is the limit or scope of opinion in the things of our mind?

    Luckman begs another question to Adler: Does freedom of conscience give a person a right to his own opinion in matters of religion and, if so, are matters of religious belief and religious faith simply matters of opinion rather than knowledge?  Adler responds that this question is contained in the fourth question, as we try to separate the "sphere" of knowledge from the "sphere" of opinion.

    Before he begins, Adler investigates the difference between knowledge and "right opinion".  With knowledge, you have the truth and know that it is true.  With right opinion, you have the truth but you will not understand why it is true.

    Public Opinion
    George Bernard O'Neill
    source ArtUK

    It's Better To Be Ignorant Than Wrong

    Adler introduces the terms error and ignorance.  In both cases, the person will not have the truth; then how is each term different?  The person in error does not have the truth but does not know that he does not know the truth and, in fact, might think that he has it; whereas the person in ignorance does not have the truth and knows that he does not have it.  Knowledge and right opnion (on the side of truth) are mirror images to ignorance and error (on the side of lack of truth).

    Therefore, ignorance is closer to knowledge than error.  In fact, to impart knowledge, one must first correct error to get the person in a state of ignorance so they can then begin to learn.  This method was Socrates' principle of teaching.  He would go around "cross-examining the pretenders to knowledge and wisdom," and by this method demonstrate their errors.

    Virtue and Nobility Putting
    Ignorance to Flight (c. 1743)
    Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
    source ArtUK

    School Children Mainly Learn Opinions

    Ooo hoo!  This should be a good one!

    The Greeks were very concerned about the difference between knowledge and opinion. Plato believed that only knowledge is teachable; right opinion was not teachable because it was not established on reason, and since it had no principles, there was no basis for anything to be demonstrated.

    Most of the subjects that children learn in school are right opnion, such as history, geography, etc., compared to geometry which can be rationally taught and learned, and outcomes can be proven based on principles.

    Aristotle, however, felt that one man can opine that which the other man knows, one possessing right opinion and the other knowledge about the same thing.  For example, a teacher teaching geometry knows the truth of the Pythagorean Theorem because he has seen the conclusion demonstrated but a student who can only say that it's true because his teacher said so, only has right opinion of it on the authority of the teacher.

    Anyone who argues from authority, holding an opinion or position, he is holding it as a matter of opinion.  (Hold on to your hats for this next quote:)
    "And whenever a teacher appeals to his authority to persuade the students to believe something, that teacher isn't teaching; he's really only indoctrinating them; he is forming right opinions in their minds."
    Luckman wonders how much, if any knowledge is taught in schools and if it's even possible to attain knowledge in these institutions.  Alder, while acknowledging that it's a difficult question, promises to address it by dividing the domain of knowledge from that of opinion.

    A School Teacher Explains (1516)
    Hans Holbein the Younger
    source Wikiart

    Opinions Are Accepted Voluntarily

    How do we determine the difference between the act of knowing and that of opining? When our compliance is involuntary, caused by the object about which we're thinking, is knowledge; for example, if someone holds up two apples and then another two apples you are compelled to acknowledge that 2+2=4.  An opinion leaves you free to make up your mind based on authority, your interests, your emotions, your passions, etc. Your opinion is an act of will, which Adler calls wishful thinking, and the emotional content is great; with lack of evidence of facts, one tends to support our opinions with emotions. Adler states schools may teach opinions but they must be substantiated and tested without merely relying on authority or knowledge.  Luckman wants to know of what is taught in school, how much is knowledge and how much is highly probably opinion.

    Skeptics Deny That We Have Knowledge

    Adler responds to Luckman's question, asserting that there are two answers, one given by the skeptic and the other given by the opponent to the skeptic.  The skeptic believes that we have almost no knowledge, the opponent that we have substantially more knowledge.

    The Skeptic

    Michel Montaigne represent an extreme of skepticism, stating that everything is a matter of opinion and that man knows nothing.  The illusions of the senses cause us to think we know when in fact, "... we mustn't be fooled by the feelings which we sometimes have of certainty."  David Hume exhibits a more moderate skepticism, stating that we do have some knowledge, but it is knowledge based on science and mathematics.  Hume believes that this is the only knowledge of which we're in possession.  Hume's famous statement sums up his beliefs:

    "If we take in our hand any volume ..... let us ask 'Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number?', that is, is it a work in mathematics?  Or let us ask, 'Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matters of fact and existence?', that is, is it a work in experimental science?  If the answer to both these questions is no, Hume says, 'Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion."

    In modern times, we have descended even further into scepticism than Hume.  We question if even mathematics is knowledge based on Euclidean and non-Euclidean geometry.

    Life's Illusions (1849)
    George Frederick Watts
    source Wikiart

    Answer To The Skeptic

    (ooo, this is good)

    Adler first looks at perceptual illusion.  How do we know that there are illusions?  We can only know something as an illusion if "we regard some sense perceptions as accurate," otherwise we couldn't categorize others as illusions.  If there are two lines on a paper that look different lengths, but we pick up a ruler and measure each finding that they are the same, we correct an illusory perception.  But if one sees the measurement itself as a perception and not as knowledge, one couldn't have called the wrong perception an illusion.

    With regard to mathematics, the opponent could say that "mathematics is not based only on assumptions but upon axioms, self-evident truths," as are metaphysics and other branches of philosophical science.

    History and experimental science likely fall under the label of highly probable opinion, so perhaps in this case the skeptic and his opponent are in agreement, however experimental science is a type of conditional knowledge, "conditional upon the state of the evidence at a given time."

    One last reply to the skeptic is given, Adler pointing out that even if the extreme skeptic tried to defend his case, he would defeat himself every time because he could not make an argument that did not establish something as knowledge.

    Religio and Fides (Religion and Faith) [1575-77]
    Paolo Vernese
    source Wikart

    Is Religion A Matter of Opinion?

    Luckman still would like Adler to address if religion and matters of faith are knowledge or opinion.  Adler says there are two views of religious faith:

    1. William James asserted that "religious faith is an act of the will to believe and this act of the will to believe takes place when we are beyond the evidence or the evidence is insufficient."  James believed that faith was strictly opinion.
    2. Thomas Aquinas believed, as James, that faith is an act of will, but unlike James, believed it is an act of will motivated by "the supernatural gift of the grace of God."  For Aquinas, faith wasn't knowledge or opinion but somewhere in between.

    To expand, Adler quotes Aquinas:

    "The intellect assents to a thing in two ways: first, through being moved to assent by its very object which is known either by itself as in the case of first principles or axioms or through something else already known as in the case of demonstrating conclusions.  In either case, you have knowledge, not opinion.  Secondly, the intellect assents to something not through being sufficiently moved to assent by its proper object, but through an act of choice, whereby it voluntarily turns to one side rather than the other."

    If doubt or fear accompany the experience, you have opinion, but if certainly follows, one has faith.  Aquinas continues:  "And this certainty of faith, results from the fact that it is supernatural," this gift from God, "since man, by assenting to maters of faith, is raised above his nature, this must needs accrue to him for some supernatural principle, moving him inwardly, and this is God.  Therefore faith, as regard to the assent which is the chief act of faith, is from God, moving man inwardly by grace."

    Luckman doesn't see how Aquinas has proven faith is intermediary, between both knowledge and opinion, rather like both of them, and Adler expands.  Faith is like opinion because it is an act of will ("Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."  Hebrews 11:1 NKJV), but it is also knowledge, in that there is a certainty that is even greater than the certainty of ordinary knowledge, but this certainty is based on the supernatural gift of grace.

    Next Adler will investigate the problems of opinion in relation to human freedom in Opinion and Human Freedom.

    ⇐ How To Think About Opinion                              Opinion and Human Freedom ⇒

    Friday, 3 February 2017

    Herodotus' The Histories ~ Book III

    Book III (Thalia)

    "It was against this Amasis that Cambyses son of Cyrus was preparing to wage war, with an army of his other subjects, including Ionian and Aeolian Hellenes."

    Back to Cambyses, the ruler of the Persians, who was getting ready to attack Egypt. From a number of complex circumstances, Cambyses asked for Amasis, the king of Egypt's daughter but, not wishing to give his daughter the position of a concubine, Amasis sent a daughter of Apries.  I'm not certain what he was thinking, but of course the daughter exposed Amasis' ploy, and Cambyses became enraged.  There are other tales about this circumstance, but Herodotus brushes them off with contempt.  At the launching of the campaign against Egypt, a mercenary, Phanes, who was disenfranchised with Amasis, fled to Cambyses while evading capture and revealed Egyptian secrets for a successful offensive. Cambyses was to get permission of the Arabian king to lead his army through Arabian land, as the Egyptians would be expecting them by sea and not by land.  When the two armies met, Amasis was dead and his son, Psammenitos was ruler.  Psammenitos had captured the sons of Phanes, cut their throats over bowls in their father's sight to pay him for his treachery, and then drank their blood before going into battle.  Quite disgusting, isn't it?

    An interesting tidbit from this battle.  The Egyptian warriors fell on one side of the field and the Persians on the other.  If one examines the skulls of each, the Persian skulls are soft and a small pebble will rupture them, however the Egyptian skulls are so hard, they are difficult to crack with a rock.  Herodotus surmises this is because the Egyptians shave their heads from childhood and the sun thickens the bone; conversely the Persians cover their heads with caps and their heads become soft from the shade. Egyptians also do not go bald; there are fewer bald Egyptians than anywhere else.

    A Skull
    source ArtUK

    After claiming victory over the Egyptians, Cambyses tested the spirit of their conquered king.  He had both Psammenitos' daughter and son paraded through the street, the former as a slave and the latter to his death along with other prominent children. Although the other fathers wept and lamented, Psammenitos remained silent.  Yet when his former drinking buddy, now a pauper, was paraded before him, Psammenitos sobbed openly.  When questioned, he explained to Cambyses that his family's misfortune was too dreadful for tears but the beggar had his land taken and fallen into poverty in old age, indeed an affliction worthy of grief.  Impressed by his answer (and Croesus as well, who was with Cambyses), the Persian king pardoned the son of Psammenitos but too late, as he'd already been executed.  If Psammenitos had shown some wisdom, he would have been treated well and left to rule as administrator, but he incited a revolt and was made to drink the blood of a bull, dying soon after.

    Slave Market, Cairo (1838)
    William James Müller
    source ArtUK

    Moving on, Cambyses had the corpse of Amasis extracted, then violated it by plucking, stabbing and abusing it.  When it withstood such indecencies, Cambyses had it burned. Stories are told that it was not actually the corpse of Amasis, who had a prophecy beforehand and placed another corpse just inside the door of the tomb, but Herodotus does not believe this story for a moment.

    Planning to conquer the Carthaginians, Ammonians and the Ethiopians, Cambyses sent people called the Fish-Eaters to Ethiopia with gifts of a purple robe, a necklace of twisted gold, bracelets, an alabaster pot of perfume, and a jar of Phoenician date-palm wine.  Not to be fooled, the Ethiopians chastized the king, showing contempt for all the gifts except for the wine.  Their censure was strong, berating Cambyses for attempting to send spies and for having set his sights on a country that was not his and for his plans to put their people into slavery.  They returned a bow, saying that when a Persian could draw if as effortlessly as their king, then they should make war, but until then, look elsewhere for their conquests.  When the spies returned with this information, Cambyses was enraged.  He took his army with the intent to crush his enemy, but his troops ran out of food one-fifth of the way and soon began to consume grass and then their pack animals.  When they began to consume each other, Cambyses gave up and returned to Thebes where he found that the part of his army that had set out to subdue the Ammonians had disappeared, some say buried by a tremendous sand storm.  When he arrived back in Memphis, it was the celebration of the epiphany of the god Apis, but the Persian king suspected the people where lauding his embarrassingly ineffectual campaigns and killed everyone who was revelling, while whipping the priests and, stabbing Apis (a calf) in the thigh, killing him.  Already irrational in many of his actions, after this act Cambyses went completely insane.

    Women of Phoenicia (1879)
    Robert Fowler
    source ArtUK

    First, Cambyses slew his brother, scared that he was going to usurp his throne, then next, one of his two sisters whom he had taken as wives against convention.  Herodotus alludes to Cambyses having “the sacred disease” which is noted as epilepsy.  Next, he directed his insanity toward Prexaspes, his messenger, announcing that he was going to conduct an experiment.  He pointed out Prexaspes’ son standing on the porch and declared if he was able to shoot an arrow through his heart, the Persians were talking nonsense when they declared him insane, but if he missed, the Persians would be telling the truth.  After he shot the boy, he demanded that he be cut open to examine the accuracy of his aim.  Croesus (heavens, this man seems to be everywhere) immediately admonished his behaviour, indicating that if he did not temper it, the Persians might revolt against him whereupon Cambyses tried to shoot him and when he escaped, the king ordered his death.  Yet Croesus had friends who hid him, hoping the king would eventually miss him, which he did, wishing for his return, but upon it he killed the men he had ordered to kill Croesus for their disobedience.  He then desecrated sacred areas, digging up graves and inspecting corpses (Yuck!), which proves to Herodotus that he was absolutely deranged. 

    The Final Arrow
    Dez Quarréll
    source ArtUK

    While Cambyses was in Egypt, the Lacedaemonians were warring with Samos and their ruler, Polykrates, to capture the island.  Polykrates’ power had grown so remarkably that it made his ally, king Amasis of Egypt, send him a letter of concern:  no one enjoys complete good fortune so Polykrates must select his most precious possession and dispose of it to balance his fortune, the good with the bad.  Polykrates chooses a precious emerald ring and tosses it into the ocean, but when one of his subjects presents an enormous and beautiful fish to the king, Polykrates finds his ring inside it.  When Amasis read in a letter sent by the king about this surprise, he immediately broke off his alliance so "when severe and dreadful misfortune should finally strike Polykrates, Amasis' spirit would not be tortured with anguish, as it would be for a friend and ally."

    Hillside, Sparta
    Derek Bangham
    source ArtUK

    Complexities follow, as the Spartans wage war against Polykrates with regard to some Samian exiles for the following reason:  Polykrates had offered Cambyses his troops in his war against Egypt and sent him Samian men who were most likely to revolt against their king, making a pact with Cambyses that they should never return, however the men escaped and sailed back to Samos where they engaged in battle but eventually had to flee to Sparta.  The Spartans agreed to help the Samians since the Samians had helped them once, but they were also irritated about the seizure by the Samians of a breastplate and then a bowl that was supposed to be sent to Croesus.  The Corinthians too had bad feelings toward Samos, for their leader Periandros, had sent 300 sons of Corcyra to be castrated and the Samians gave them sanctuary before returning them to Corcyra. There was ongoing enmity between Corinth and Corcyra and this is why:

    After Periandros, king of Corinth, killed his wife Melissa, his two sons were sent to their maternal grandfather and he reveal to them their father's perfidy.  The younger son, Lykophron, was distraught and refused to utter one word to his father, so Periandros ejected him from the house and he went into exile.  His father, enraged at his behaviour, issued an edict that no one was to give him lodging.  Finally when Lykophron was thin and beggarly, Periandros pleaded for reconciliation, but the boy would not listen and was sent to Corcyra.  More pleading and begging followed but the boy was adamant, although he finally agreed to meet his father in Corcyra, covertly planning to sail to Corinth at the same time, but the Corcyrans did not want Periandros on their land and killed Lykophron instead.  

    Samos, Greece
    Colin Graham Frederick Hayes
    source ArtUK

    And so, the Lacedaemonians (Spartans) beseiged Samos for 40 days and then gave up, abandoning the Samian exiles.  More information on these Samians follow and Herodotus reveals that he has given such a length history of them because they achieved three of the greatest engineering feats of the Hellenes: 1) they dug a tunnel through a 900-foot mountain; 2) they built a mole around the harbour in the sea, and; 3) they built the largest of all temples.

    Back to Cambyses who had left Smerdis (Guamata), one of two brothers called the Magi, in Persia to govern in his absence, and then finds that he has revolted against him. When this Smerdis had learned that another Smerdis (Bardiya), the son of Cyrus and the brother of Cambyses, had been secretly killed by the advisor of Cambyses, Prexaspes, due to a prophecy, he decided to take this Smerdis' identity and claim rule as a descendent of Cyrus.  Cambyses, realizing that the prophecy had actually been about this particular Smerdis and not his brother, suddenly became sane in his anguish, but soon died from a spear wound to his thigh that became gangrenous.  The Magi courted Prexaspes to their side, planning to have him announce Smerdis as the son of Cyrus, but instead the advisor revealed the truth and threw himself from the tower, ending his life in honour.  Meanwhile seven Persian men, led by Darius, had also had plans to reveal Smerdis' status as an imposter.  One of the men's daughters was a wife of Smerdis and she was to find out whether he had ears or none ...... the false Smerdis had had them cut off for an offence by Smerdis, son of Cyrus.  When she found he had none, their plan was put into motion.  They entered the palace and slew both of the Magi, cutting of their heads and then rushed outside with them to proclaim to the Persians the cause of their deeds.  The people were so enraged that they joined in the slaughter of one Magus after another, and to this day there is a celebration day called the Murder of the Magi, where every Magus must stay inside his house.  Otanes, Megabyzos and Darius then argued about the best form of government for Persia to continue under, a democracy, an oligarchy or a monarchy, and the monarchy won out. Darius came up with an amazingly complex and intelligent way of determining their next king: they would ride outside the city at sunrise and the man whose horse made the first noise would be named king.  Brilliant!  ..... Good grief!  One could only hope that Darius did not get chosen, but this man was scheming, if not intelligent, and had his groom trick his horse into neighing first and lo, the kingship was his.  Yikes!  At the same time, thunder and lightning sounded, apparently sealing the decision.  Darius quickly began to organize his empire is a most businesslike way.  Comparing the three Persian rulers, the people say Darius was a retailer and conducted his affairs like a shopkeeper; Cambyses was a master of slaves and harsh and scornful; and Cyrus, a father who was gentle and saw to it that all good things would be theirs.

    The Election of Darius (1767-77)
    Sawrey Gilpin
    source ArtUK

    Herodotus goes into detailed accounts of where Darius received his tributes and for how much, then moves to India giving some details of Indian customs.  I can't wait for your comments when you get to this part, Cirtnecce!  Moving to Arabia, Herodotus talks about vipers and winged serpents and how the Arabians harvest frankincense, having to ward off bat-like creatures.  The harvesting of cinnamon is even more fantastic: huge birds carry the stalks of cinnamon to incorporate into their nests, so the Arabians leave bones of dead donkeys, cattle, etc. under the nests and when the birds take them back, they are so heavy they make the nests crash to the ground and the cinnamon is gathered.  

    One of the Persian seven, Intaphrenes, met his death by attempting to see Darius, as per their agreement. When the guards prevented him, he cut off their ears and noses, disturbing Darius who convinced himself Intaphrenes was plotting against him.  He arrested him and his family, but Darius, at the plea of Intaphrenes' wife, allowed her to release one captive and shockingly she chose her brother, as she could get another husband and children but not another brother.  Pleased with her explanation, Darius released the brother and, as a gift, her eldest son but killed the rest.

    A Persian, Oroites, who was the governor of Sardis, lured Polykrates of Samos to Magnesia where he killed him in a most disgusting way and hung him from a stake, fulfilling the nightmares of Polykrates' daughter.  Yet soon after, Darius sent a man to Sardis who convinced Oroites bodyguards to end his life and thus they did.  

    More stories follow telling of Samos, of particular interest how Maiandrios of Samos greeted a Persia envoy led by Orantes, how he allowed his crazy brother, Charilaos, to attack the envoy while he escaped to Lacedaemon.  Maiandrios attempted to dazzle the king of Sparta, Kleomenes, with gifts but the king sensed the danger of his guest and banished him.  Meanwhile, the Babylonians were revolting against poor Darius who, though he tried every trick in the book, including the one by Cyrus (see Book I), could not suppress them.  However, Zopyros' mule fulfilled a portent that when a mule gave birth, the Persians would take the city, so Zopyros mutilated himself and went to Darius, revealing a plan that included the killing of Darius' own troops.  Darius agreed and Babylon was taken.  While Cyrus had allowed the city walls and gates to remain intact, Darius destroyed them and killed 3000 of its most important citizens.  However, he was kind enough to bring more wives for those left, as the Babylonians had killed most of theirs so they wouldn't use up the food.  Zopyros was lauded by Darius all his days.

    Babylon Fallen
    Gustave Dore
    source Wikiart

    Book II (Euterpe)                                                 Book IV (Melpomene)

    Wednesday, 1 February 2017

    February ~ Baby, It's Cold ....... or Not ...........

    My new resolution for 2017 is to attempt to journal monthly updates and I almost forgot, only remembering yesterday that it was the last day of the month!  Yikes!

    January came and went rather quickly, like a strong breeze coming in one window and whooshing out the other.  Earlier in the month we had unusually cold temperatures for a long time, sometimes dipping to -10 C (14 F) but usually hovering around -3 C (26 F). The lower temperatures were WAAAY too cold and I didn't want to go out in them, but around -3 C was quite nice.  A huge pond south of us froze so we ended up skating for quite a few days.

    We met old and new friends there and it was so much fun!  We skated endlessly, even played some hockey and I didn't fall once!  I love being outside and could happily spend most of my time there with the co-operation of the weather!  We've had a few warmer days in the latter part of the month, one day making it up to 10 C (50 F) but overall it has remained quite cold.

    Still Life Books (1880)
    Ernest Eugène Lefebvre
    source ArtUK
    As for books read for January, I finished an embarrassing few, completing The Comedy of Errors, and a children's classic, The Tanglewoods' Secret. Lame, I know, and my only excuse is that I have many things going on to divert me from reading, an overloaded brain from trying to deal with them all and ....... oh yes, I have a number of other reads I'm trying to juggle at the same time, such as, Don Quixote, Dr. Zhivago, The Pickwick Papers, The Faerie Queene (good luck, me!), my Great Ideas Project, etc.  On a positive note, I began Herodotus' The Histories and I am on track with my Deal Me In Challenge, drawing 2 essays (Vulgarity and Politics and the English Language), 1 children's classic (The Tanglewoods' Secret) and 2 short stories (Le Horla and The Little Woman).

    Girl Reading
    Charles Edward Perugini
    source ArtUK
    February is probably not going to be a successful month as far as volume goes.  I'm continuing with The Histories and hope to finish it up ---- however, I'll be sad when I do because I've fallen in love with Herodotus ---- but since I've only completed Book III and have five to go, I suspect this read will spill into March.  I would like to join a group on Goodreads while they read The Charterhouse of Parma by Stendahl, but it will depend on how my on-going reads are progressing. Another sleeper is A Small House at Allington by Anthony Trollope ----- will I ever get to this one soon? Sigh!  So, as you see, my year has begun slowly and in a somewhat disorganized fashion.  It gives me a feeling of trepidation because usually the year begins well for me and I fall off as it goes along.  If this muddle is my start, what will the rest of the year look like?  **** tremble ****  In any case, I'm going to plug along and enjoy my journeys with Herodotus!

    As for other treats for the month, I'm hoping to get in at least one day of cross-country skiing and I'd like to start to get out more and do some biking, if the weather improves. Perhaps I shouldn't hold my breath, as they are predicting snow for this weekend.  As much as I've enjoyed the colder temperatures a whiff of spring would be a nice change. February is usually considered a blue type of month here, but I hope for pleasanter days and sunnier skies, both literally and personally.