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Philosopher, Poet, and Doctor

Edgar Allan Poe’s tribute of “To the glory that was Greece” sprang from my mind when I received this month’s subscription to a British history magazine BBC History Revealed. It came in the magnificent package of ancient Greece Special, ranging from the Archaic to Hellenistic periods, from slaves to Socrates, and from Auspices to trepanation. I feel dutiful that writing about my thoughts from the reading serves a purpose of writing to achieve experiential value to gain refreshing knowledge about the famously glorious ancient Greece and creative value to record my thoughts about following impressive findings.

Surprising Opponent of Democracy
Socrates was the one who called upon Philosophy from celestial paradise into the world, took her to the villas and huts of mortals, and persuaded her to stay among them. He was indubitably the father of philosophy as Herodotus was of western narrative history. His submission to drinking fatal poison as execution for corrupting the Athenian youth by saying “Bad law is still law” is immortalized in works of art from painting to engraves, poems and plays. Woe betides anyone who would disbelieve that the most democratic thinker opposed democracy in his time. Yet don’t let sorrow turn into disappointment in betrayal because democracy in Socrates’s time was different from our modern concept and practice of republican democracy. Athenian democracy directly involved people of all classes in politics without representations for constituents. Any Athenian citizen- excluding women, slaves, and foreigners- could voice out and execute their wills however uncouth and unreasonable. This form of mob-style demagoguery without desires being reined by the judgment is what Socrates criticized, not freedom of human spirits. Naturally, having seen his venerable teacher killed by the will of demagogues, Plato was an even stronger opponent of Athenian democracy that ceased to reign in the early 4th century BC following the Greeks’ unsuccessful revolt against Macedonia rule.

Nothing is better than the simple.
Anyte of Tegea was a very popular poet of circa 3rd century BC. Anyte is considered one of the first poets to focus on the simplicity of beauty found in nature and life, which is different from most ancient Greek poetry eulogizing the mighty achievements of heroes and the majestic powers of gods. Her eloquently crafted poetry with comprehensively accessible use of simple language gorgeously manifests richly delicate emotional sensitivity that collapses the millenniums between her writing and our reading them. Although her popularity earned her the sobriquet of “Female Homer,” a comparison to nineteen-century American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is deemed more apposite and understandable for both poets sublimated the ordinary to the sublime with the feeling of beauty and love for nature and life.

A hole into the skull
Trepanation was a medical technique that Hippocrates, the father of medicines and doctors, codified in circa 5th century BC. He believed that there were four humors in the human body: Blood – Air, Yellow bile – Fire, Black bile – Earth, and Phlegm – Water. The idea of humourism consisted of thus: if one of them was redundant or deficient, ailments of spiritual and physical kinds arose. Therefore, drilling a hole into the skull of the affected suffering from depression, headache, fractures, or other symptoms of a mystical condition, would relieve the patient of malady. The Inca civilization was indeed famous for successful cases of trepanation, more favorably effectuated than those of 19th century American Civil War experience. However, it was Hippocrates who contextualized the procedural and impacts of the prehistoric operation. Trepanation is still performed today in the name of craniotomy.

The mists of the past seem strangely distant due to our conditioned sense of evolutionary scale in the continuum of prehistoric and modern times. However, history shows us in today’s world that the people who lived before us millenniums ago had emotions and concerns similar to ours and that human cultural progress is a collective enterprise without fully recognizing it within the circumferences of time and space. Just as Herodotus was gobsmacked by the sight of great pyramids built centuries before him, our descendants will be awe-struck to see the ancient ruins of the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building and the tires of the New York City or of Los Angeles. Time and culture are ephemeral, but cultural heritage and artifacts in the treasure of works of art and humanities passed down to posterity are eternal as long as the human race exists.

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All for the best: a tale of ‘Candide,’ by Voltaire – book review

Candide by Voltaire

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Candide is a touchy-feely whimsical story about the absurdities of optimism against realism in a delightfully witty guise of romantic adventure fiction. An entertaining satire that is both intelligent and humorous at best, it is a collective coming-of-age story of a man whose anfractuous life passages enlighten him of the reality of life and the world.

As the novella’s title betokens, the protagonist Candide grows from a naïve young man sheltered in the Edenic castle of privilege and prestige in the protégé of philosopher Pangloss. Pangloss indoctrinates in Candide Leibnizian optimism, which posits that all is best for the best of all possible worlds. Candide’s expulsion from the castle because he was fascinated with his uncle’s beautiful daughter Cunegonde marks his journey toward the truth to the purpose of his suffering and what it means in life. Doctor Pangloss, a parody of collective complacent philosophers, keeps telling him that it is God’s will and that his life change is a manifestation of immanence, an intellectual belief in God’s presence in the world concreted by Spinoza. He preaches a pre-established harmony in the world because it is already the best in its most perfect form. Pangloss is an abstract philosophy and institutional religion incarnate in his glorious scholastic appellation and unyielding intellectual pride that refuses to recognize truth.

The adventure of Candide is similar to that of Gulliver in his travels to unknown worlds in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. Gulliver is a ship’s surgeon full of ideals shaped by established a priori schools of thought until he encounters wondrous creatures in mysterious lands, all exhibiting the best and worst human characters manifested in their appearances. Swift wrote Gulliver’s Travels to criticize the ills of society’s need for reformation as one of England’s leading literary figures with social consciousness. Swift was also one of whom lent a kind hand to Voltaire when he stayed in England to avoid the growing fury of France’s church authority. Volatile Voltaire was known for capricious terms with his literary peers, but his admiration of Swift’s work and him as a brilliant satirist remained loyal. Voltaire’s Candide is more straightforward and realistic, sans mysteriously curious creatures of a wide arc of imagination. However, both Candide and Gulliver share the same thematic elements of parodying the hypocrisies of religious doctrines, and human nature laid bare in the style of chivalric adventure fiction.

The story is a carnival of characters united by deceptive fallacies, chased by untenable ideals, tangled by insatiable desires, obstructed by variants of life, and succumbed to deceptive pleasures. Nonetheless, one can’t weigh the misfortunes of humans and set a just estimate on their sorrows just as Pangloss deigns to aver, for humanity is imperfect in the imperfect world. Therefore we must strive to make it better for the common good of society as best as we can. Voltaire dreams of a new community with callous palms of laborers conversant with more delicate tissues of resilience, self-respect, and heroism in real life, whose touch thrills the spirit in the most exhilarating way than the idle hands of thinkers and priests. By writing Candide, he creates a society of people who sailed through the vicissitudes of life in the triumph of epistemological a posteriori truth over ontological a priori precepts.

Candide is surprisingly easy to read and wastes no time for boredom. Voltaire himself was a man of no-nonsense whose simple but effective use of words is reminiscent of Hemingway and Stephen Crane, who were titans of literary realism. John Milton’s metaphysical poem Paradise Lost rang hallow in its abstruse display of classical knowledge. Homer and Dante lost their luster in the words that people did not use any longer. An authentic intellectual lives among people and puts his learning into action for the good of people. Candide is an excellent company to console your weary spirit and sorrowful heart if you are tired of eternal optimism and forceful positive thinking that has become a still fashionable mass mantra.



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Hercules the first superhero – book review

Hercules – The first superhero: by Philip Matyszak

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The ancient Greek superhero Hercules always has a status of a modern-day Mount Hollywood celebrity with Paparazzi-conscious showmanship. He also reminds me of an advantaged individual who could get away with wrongdoings. Hercules was an impulsive egoist and an irascible aristocrat for what was worth the ancient Greek superhero, a paragon of masculine heroism with a view to celebrity. This uncommon biography about the superhero whose name still rings red herrings after millennium flows of time evolves around the legendary performance of the Twelve Labors, anchoring them to the historical events of a man with a colossal ego.

With a wealth of knowledge on ancient Greek history and extensive research on the subject, Matyszak puts in the capacity of Hercules’s counsel per se in the tribunal between humanity and divinity, who searches for truth based upon factual findings. Matyszak’s defense for his now divine client Hercules is erudite and comprehensive, with exhibits drawn from classical Greek and Roman historians and writers whose wits and reasons were anything but those of Hercules. In addition, the author’s trademark storytelling narrative makes the story of the ancient Greek killer all the more vivid and engaging that each chapter holds the attention of the reader in the phantasmagorical display of images as depicted in Grecian urns or vases.

Notwithstanding the attractiveness of the narrative and the narrator, there are reasons I disapprove of Hercules as a hero, an antithesis of the other half-god, half-man Jesus of Nazareth in millenniums later. The Labors resulted from his egotistical attempt to free himself from the guilt of killing his family in moments of passion. However, he was neither remorseful nor appropriately punished for killing his music teacher Linus whose head his recalcitrant prince pupil Hercules shattered with a lyre he was trying to teach him how to play the way it should. As a prince of Thebes, Hercules had no qualms of consciousness for killing his elderly music teacher whose social status was beneath him, and gods condoned it because he was a son of Zeus.

His peremptory sense of entitlement knows no boundary because of his arrogance and hubris. For example, during his Fourth labor of capturing Erymanthian Boar, Hercules killed almost the entire race of centaurs, driving them to near extinction. But Hercules himself was the cause of the killing spree because he intimidated Pholus, a wise, kindly centaur, to open a jar of undiluted wine, a gift from Dionysus to centaurs, who became intoxicated and attacked Hercules out of stupor. Yet, his killing of the drunken centaurs was not even a subject of guilt and was regarded as collateral damage because centaurs were known as lustful creatures. But didn’t Hercules also sleep around with women – and only the beautiful – wherever he went to, and sire children, one of whom became the founder of the Scythians?

To summarize, the story of Hercules boils down to a conclusion that Hercules was a representative figure of a human whose essence is both divine and mortal, always on a chariot race with two horses of desire and reason. Some revisionists claim Hercules was an ancient Greek psychopath who took pleasure in killing people, beasts, and demi-gods. To me, a psychopath loses either the shackle of the ego or the supervisor of the superego, running a mind chariot alone even it drives to a pit full of fire. Methinks, Hercules was a cossetted brat without disciplines that controlled his power of reason, which is apart from mental acuteness or ingenuity. Adler’s will to power embodies the figure of BC man-God hero without regard for compassion and charity. Hercules was anything but Samuel Johnson’s conception of a biographic figure who empathizes for the common characteristics of life in the principle of universal judgment and sentiments. I now know why Christianity has won favors from poor and ordinary people and become the subject of persecutions from emperors and kings because Jesus of Nazareth, begotten by God and born of Virgin Mary, is gentle yet strong, kind but firm, which seems simple but divine.



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John Dee, Queen Elizabeth’s Gandalf who designed 007 – book review

John Dee: The Life and Legacy of the English Occultist, Alchemist, and Philosopher Who Became Queen Elizabeth I’s Spiritual Advisor by Charles River Editors

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Ben Jonson’s alchemist Subtle in his famous Elizabethan play ‘The Alchemist’ is a knave quack intent upon doing a lucrative occult business by luring the gullible, rich or poor, learned or general. But John Dee, Queen Elizabeth I’s English-Welsh astrologer, was anything but. He was a highly educated man graduating from Cambridge University with a penchant for esoteric knowledge beyond the realm of the physical world, and brilliant engineering feat contributed to his epithet as the queen’s occultist to the eyes of those who regarded him as something of Rasputin in the queen’s retinue. To me, Dee was a curious figure of science and magic, fact and mystery dissolving into one another.

From the cradle to the grave, John Dee’s life appears to be starlit with mystical numbers and stars that govern his destiny to pursue the knowledge of the beyond. Born in the household of a well-to-do textile merchant on July 13th, 1527, Dee’s fate was already revealed in the combination of the lucky number 7 and the ominous 13. He was endowed with intellect and heart, which is not typical for an astute scholar with a high education degree. Also, an ingenious engineer in stage productions of plays, Dee created the modern-day equivalent of special effects employing a man-powered crane and other apparatuses used as a counterweight fly system. He was fascinated with the science behind mathematics and used it to know astrology and celestial navigation in understanding human lives. He chose the coronation date for Elizabeth when Jupiter juxtaposed alone with Venus, opposing Saturn, and conjecturing Mars. The astrological interpretation betrays the virgin queen’s reign with the beauty of the goddesses and the power of the god of gods. Methinks, Dee’s interpretation must have attributed to the queen’s famous Tilbury Address in which she described herself as possessing “the body of a weak, feeble woman but the heart and stomach of a king.” Furthermore, the famous secret code of “007” was an invention of Dee used between Dee and the queen meaning “For your eyes only” as in “00” as a symbol of eyes and “7” Dee’s favorite lucky number.

Dee had a bona fide intention to use his knowledge to benefit people of all classes. During his post as royal astrologer under Queen Mary’s reign, Dee proposed to the queen that she establish a national library accessible to all for the universal education of the minds. This revolutionary idea was unprecedented and rejected. Dee was a man of books and used his learning from reading for the welfare of England. He propelled England into the Age of Exploration. He legitimized the British expansion of territories, including America, to which, according to Dee’s certification, a Welsh prince sailed in 1170, which was three centuries before Columbus’ voyage. Patriotic stargazer elucidated further that it was Grate Britain’s destiny to gain all of the territories supposedly appropriated by King Arthur by coining the term “The British Empire.”

After the death of his beloved Queen Elizabeth, Dee dwindled in his career and fell into obscurity, not least because he lost favor with the successor King James I, the scourge of god against witchcraft and magic as deviltry. We don’t know whether he was secretly in league with the devil in his once magnificent personal library. The opinions on John Dee are still debatable, if not controversial. Some might say he was a would-be Merlin or Gandalf. Some might call him a Rasputin who tricked the virgin queen into believing superstitions with his mephistophelean pact for the souls to populate the circles of hell. I want to say Dee was akin to Atlas, one of the Titans who was also fascinated with astrology and astronomy and generous with munificent generosity in the form of divine fire to mortals, for which he was condemned to bear the weight of the celestial globe.



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Voltaire, the moral rebel – book review

Voltaire: A Life from Beginning to End by Hourly History

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


The role of intellectuals is to see the corrupt at the heart of society and stand furious with the mass and constantly monitor the conditions of ill-effects and actively work on the improvement of living conditions. For books can never teach the use of books. Otherwise, they are no more than armchair academics complacent with their impressive scholastic achievements and high social esteem as elites of society, proudly distanced themselves from the general. But Voltaire wasn’t, nor was he a demagogic writer grandstanding with the ire of the have-nots.

Born as Francois-Marie Arouet on November 21, 1694, when the discovery of the New World and religious turmoil swept Europe, Voltaire was destined to become a cavalier of new thoughts, the Enlightenment of Thoughts, which the Catholic Church regarded as a dangerous school of ideas to the mass. Yet, Voltaire wasn’t hell-bent on destroying the Catholic Church as a freemason but pilloried the corruption of the ecclesiastical members and the duplicities of their teachings and acts in practice. Religion is also a social institution made and governed by people and therefore subject to corruption and dysfunction. Before the French Revolution, the Catholic Church controlled people’s ways of thinking and exerted its authority over political and cultural spheres. That was why Voltaire’s lifelong resistance against the Catholic Church arose, not from blindly malicious intention to sabotage belief of the religion.

Voltaire was very human with his volatile temper but also with passionate munificence. He was fluent in English and his years of stay in England, the country he regarded as a model country of liberty of thoughts and religions. During his visit, he met John Locke, Jonathan Swift, and Alexander Pope, to whom Voltaire was said to be very rude for reasons clandestine. Methinks that for a person as at once passionate and sensitive as Voltaire, the anecdotal vignette sounds true, but who can blame him for his temper and let it eclipse his wholesale brilliance as an unbridled thinker and writer unafraid of speaking against the social injustice against the unprivileged? Rousseau, a fellow freethinker, abandoned his child at an orphanage and berated the illiterate. Isaac Newton, whom Voltaire respected for his scientific findings and logical mind, mistreated his servants with whacks and beatings. But, on the contrary, Voltaire paid off all the tax debts of his tenants on his properties. Also, he published ‘Candide,’ which is an allegorical book about the absurdities of the teachings of the Church and a man’s search for a God in this world, in 1759 at a meager price accessible to poor readers yearning for a taste of Enlightenment.

The absence of God’s presence in the deeds of the clergy and religious people and the presence of injustice in the name of elusive God were the questions Voltaire had in mind, and yet he wasn’t blasphemous about the God they believed. On the contrary, Voltaire’s belief was ecumenical in the principle of syncretism founded on a universal belief system according to Natural Law, a conscience. He was liberal in ideas but responsible in acts by accommodating his knowledge to practice for ordinary life. Samuel Johnson’s definition of an imperiously sullen scholar who loses his days in unsocial silence and lives in the crowd of life without a companion was the opposite of Voltaire. Indeed, Voltaire had no morals, yet he was a very moral person for sure.



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