The classical love

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It would be devastating to know that the heart of your beloved has already parted with you. It would be even more catastrophic to learn that your love has been unrequited and consumable because it was never on equal terms for what’s worth to your once beloved. The affair of the heart is the common human trait that transcends the subjectivity of time and space, the boundary of ethnic, racial, and territorial demarcations. The truth of the matter is that when you are consumed with a burning passion sans the mind and the heart, you play fast and loose with your own life as a collateral. In the ancient times, the unconstrained passion lured the desperately love-stricken to turn to the supernatural dependencies of magic spells or love potions at the expense of their own lives in the hope of making their beloveds fall in love with them. Such was the case of one slave girl in ancient Greece who made love a dangerous game.

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the goddess Circa on the left

Her name was Dilitra, and she was in love with her wealthy master named Philoneos, whose interest in her was to satisfy his libido and nothing more. For she was his faithful and obedient bed-mate at his command. And she was in turn assigned to a relatively comfortable domestic drudgery, such as tidying up chambers and assisting in cooking in the kitchen, while other slaves toiled to the bone, as befitted what they were. As a concubine, Dilitra wanted no more and only wanted it to last as long as his master wanted her. Then all seemed to be a denouement of her happy concubinage, when she found out that Philoneos would sell her to a brothel because he was simply “bored” with her. That was a total blow to Dilitra’s faith in Philoneos whom she loved and trusted. Blindsided by her lover’s betrayal, Dilitra resorted to the magical use of herbs and potions – called pharmaka as believed to be empowered from the goddess Circe – from a sorcerer who guaranteed her that he would fall back in love with her. So she poured the potion into wine, which Philoneos voraciously gulped down at dinner. The result was the instant death of her treacherous lover, and the execution of the distressed poor Dilitra after the horrible torture by the authority on the count of punitive nature of crime against her master.

The historical record of the tragic event tells a variety of facts prevalent in the classical times. First, the idea of love was primarily erotic rather than platonic, sensual rather than holistic. In fact, what we now understand about “love” would have felt alien to the ancients in terms of relationship between man and woman because such modern idea of love was no more than a close bond between family members or a master and a horse or a dog. That is to say, love in the minds of the ancient meant the physical play of desires – Lust.In this regard, Dilitra’s desperate measure of using the magic potion betokens her attempt to awaken the flickering erotic love in Philoneos in order that he would not sell her to a brothel to let her become a pornail – a common prostitute. Hence the potion was really meant to be an aphrodisiac that went awry.

Second, the use of spells and love potions was something of a norm in the ancient Greece, where religion and daily life were inseparably bound together. It is said that there were two ways of inducing lust in a person: (1) an agon spell, which included magic, through the power of a demon to drive the desired one mad with lust for the one who initiated it. The effect of the spell, I think, could amount to the image of a fanatic band of maenads accompanying the wine god Dionysus.  It was known to be mostly used by men; and (2) pharmaka, which was regarded as drug-induced love preferred by women because of the supposedly less mortally dangerous than the employment of a demon. However, anyone who opted for this “mild” form of craft did not know that its effect could be more fatal than an agon spell because it was a chemical intoxication consisting of various herbs that could be lethal when mixed improperly as is illustrated in the story of Dilitra.

It would be an anachronistic or impudent mistake of assuming that Dilitra’s tragic end resulted from her own foolhardy, rash decision to turn to quackery and superstition if we were pitchforked backwards in time. It was her only choice to secure her life under the aegis of her lover-master whose lust for her was the only guaranty of the cherished wishes. On one hand, the story of Dilitra tells us how we as humanity have evolved in understanding the meaning of love, many special thanks to philosophers and psychologists, that it complements the body and the mind (as represented by Eros and Psyche, respectively, in Roman mythology.) On the other hand, it shows us at the heat of the passion, we can return to our animal nature governed by id only. Now, that would be quite a thespian tragedy.

Author’s note: This writing is based upon my reading of an article about the history of love spells and potions in ancient Greece from a history magazine. The woeful life of the slave girl who depended upon her master’s desire of her was pathetic enough to put pen to paper. What if she just ran away when she found out her master’s intention to sell her to a brothel, instead of resorting to the drastic measure of getting the drug? No, she should have just escaped from his household forthwith. It seems to me that it was her lack of self-confidence that chained her down to her voluntary enslavement that ultimately led her to death.

 

the ancients already knew it

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The brain is a foundation of the universe that controls our physical as well as mental being. In a similar manner of the cosmos constantly moving across the great divine space, the brain fires nerve cells called neurons and expands their territories from the physical realms of perception to the world of consciousness, which creates a model of our own reality. The brain is the leviathan enterprise that puts together the tesserae of our existence under our constant attentive care of its functional longevity by understanding its fabulous varieties that neither age cannot wither away nor custom can stale away.

Our brains keep learning and adopting throughout our lives by the two neurological processes: Neurogenesis by which the brain creates neurons and neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to rewire the connections between the neurons. These processes continue to change and grow our brains into very old age as scientifically corroborated by the finding of these neurological processes in the brains of 70-year-olds with terminal illness. Also, Albert Einstein whose brain was dissected after his death to unravel the secret of the genius was found to have more interconnections between the neurons in his brain. This is very telling evidence because Einstein was considered “slow” during his high school years. What Einstein made genius was his use of imaginations and reasoning skills that required of him the use of the faculties of the mind to the extent possible by firing and wiring millions of neurons. To further illustrate the wonder works of neurogenesis and neurolplasticity, scientists have found it in the avian world. Unlike other birds, canaries produce new melodies every ear to attract a mate. On examining their brains, scientists discovered that canaries generate each neurons each spring.

The theory of the brain is not as complex as it seems. Simply put, thoughts are like “sparks” rising from a campfire or sunlight’s igniting fire when focused through a magnifying glass. A thought repeated with intense focus becomes concentrated mental power, which becomes a dominant, archetypal energy that authorizes our thoughts and actions. These thoughts in the form of neurons form neural networks, which are like paths through a meadow. What we should do is a change in our brain by rewiring the neural pathways that drive our thought and actions. Einstein, whether or not he knew about neurology, constantly expanded the neural networks by engaging himself in finding a Rosetta Stone for Relativity Theory and other questions of the Universe.

The workings of the brain are in conjunction  with the upkeep of physical exercise, social interactions, and new daily challenges because they are portent stimuli to ignite ongoing mental sparks in the brain. In fact, the ancient Greeks and Romans already knew about the key elements of keeping the body and mind fit with the slogan of “Mans sana in corpore sano” (Sound mind dwells in healthy body.” Father of western narrative history Herodotus noted a holistic connection between diet, drink, exercise and lifespan. Socrates pointed out that many people did not think clearly because their body wasn’t in good health. His pupil and founder of Lyceum Aristotle added that physical exercise was essential for general mental and physical capacity. Then there was famous Roman orator, writer, and statesman Cicero proclaimed that soundness of mind depended on applying one’s energies to something of interest. This relates to the empirical finding of keeping the mind fit and alert in spite of horrible existential situations as evidenced by founder of Logotheraphy Viktor E. Frankl, who endured the horrors of daily life at Auschwitz and other subsequent concentration camps by persistently forcing this thought to turn to drafting his books on the tablet of his mind to publish them after the war. It’s both a priori and a posteriori illustration of how channeling one’s interest to intellectual or creative activities keeps his mental state stable and fit in such a dreadful mire of despondency and atrociousness.

In light of the above, it is not a hyped fashionably cliched mantra that we are what we think and what we do all the time. Popularity of self-help literature bestriding the bestseller charts has the origin of truth in the workings of the brain in the form of neurogenesis and neuroplasticity. For my own brain at the moment of writing this essay is firing and wiring neurons, expanding the neural pathways and the yonder territories of my consciousness. The brain is then also plastic because it is being shaped by everything we do and what we opt not to do. It’s really a self-fulfilling prophecy without recourse to deities or even demons. Consequently, the more actively we use our brain to accomplish new daily challenges by fulfilling demands placed upon our daily tasks however trifle and insignificant that may seem and learning something creative or intellectually stimulating, the healthier our bodily and mental health becomes. Which is elegantly summed up by poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: “Still achieving, still pursuing… Learning to labor and wait.” For this reason, the brain and the mind are concomitantly intertwined to constitute our wholeness so fascinating, so awesome that even a Psalmist praised God because we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Surely, the praise is worth the singing, for our brain and its works are indeed a wonder.

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beautiful mind

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The image of Aeneas in her eyes awakes
the primal senses in the thalamus,
lights the vision in the occipital cortex,
decides that she loves what she sees
as the sensation becomes consciousness
on the high altar of the prefrontal cortex,
and then on the funeral pyre it all becomes
her dolorous memories in the hippocampus.

Author’s Note: The subject of neurogenesis and neuroplasticity is multidisciplinary, ranging from literature to history, fine arts, and sociology, because it analyzes how the mind works by conceptualizing raw senses into consciousness. That said, I wanted to incorporate the bullet theory of how the brain works in connection with the operation of cognitive faculties called “the mind’ into my favorite unrequited love story of Dido, the beautiful queen of Carthage who hopelessly felt for the wondering Trojan hero Aeneas, who left her at the behest of of Juno (Zeus in Greek mythology). 

leonardo’s horse that came alive

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“Il Gran Cavallo” in San Siro, Milan, Italy

It was meant to be the largest horse in the world when the future Duke of Milan Ludovico Sforza commissioned Leonardo Da Vinci in 1482 to conjure it up from the phantasmal world of the artist with his magic chisels. This fantastical statuesque beast, “Il Gran Cavallo” (aka “Cavallo”) was soon to be cast in bronze, standing 24 feet high as the greatest equestrian statue in the world, following the clay model of the equal height made by Da Vinci. Then war broke out in 1499, ravaging Milan and engulfing the clay horse, leaving Da Vinci alone with the original sketches of Cavallo to go back to the drawing room. Such was Da Vinci’s plan to restore the aborted birth of the magnificent bronze horse before it became indefinitely suspended by his death.

The story of the unfinished Leonardo’s Horse piqued my usual counter-popularity curiosity when I came upon an article in a magazine on the train. Since this year sees the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo Da Vinci, many an article has featured the masterpieces of Da Vinci and the background stories thereof, but to me none other than this story about Da Vinci’s last masterpiece is intriguing and worth the writing. In fact, this “Horse that Never Was” had spanned a phantasmagoria of imaginations throughout the centuries until a certain American art patron named Charles C. Dent intended to make it his lifelong goal to bring the abstract equestrian statue to reality in 1977 when he first learned about Leonardo’s incomplete project about which the National Geography magazine covered. Upon his death in 1994, American sculptor Nina Akamu continued to carry out where her Renaissance predecessor had left off based upon the surviving sketches as a substratum of artistic guidance and completed a bronze sculpture of the horse in 1999, which was dedicated in San Siro in Milan, Italy. The great statue of Cavallo is a sight to behold with poised magnificence: it commands a sense of legitimate attention in a moment of suggestively continuous galloping that looks wholly authentic and real, rendering a majestic impression of dynamic continuity to marching music as pomp and pompous as Radetzky March.

Da Vinci’s creation of the great horse proves to be his last masterpiece that truly links the past with the present and the future by the medium of art. It weaves the subjectivity of time into a grand tapestry of history and betokens cultural achievements as an intelligent collective enterprise. Akamu wonderfully re-created the great horse by internalizing the artistic sense of the Renaissance period by devoting her years of studying Italian Renaissance works of art in Italy as she pursued the highest levels of craftsmanship and professionalism in the field. Also, her love of animals, especially horses, contributed to the anatomical study of and aesthetic perspective on Leonardo’s Horse. Akamu’s recreation of Cavallo manifests beauty that penetrates minds of the beholders and lingers there in solipsistic ecstasy so deep and intimate that it feels almost physical. For our faculty, as it interacts with a plight of fantasy, is rather instinctive than reasoning; rather sensual because it delights in pleasure than because it thrives in disciplines. That is why “Il Gran Cavallo” is a gorgeous piece of art.

bath of oblivion

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Sleep by Jean-Edouard Vuillard.

Sweet sleep, gentle sleep, nature’s kind nurse
puts me into the bath of Lethean forgetfulness
with the balm of rosebud for the heartaches
and wipes away my tears from the sorrow eyes.

Author’s Note: I hope to forget all things, erase all things, clean all things from the tablet of my mind, which is filled with woeful stories and unpleasant scenes of the day. Sleeping has been the only natural medication that relieves me of the hurt mind.

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