Saturday, December 28, 2013

What Is Wrong with Peter Jackson’s Hobbit Films, Especially the Second One!

1. The Elves are sinister and antagonistic to the dwarves and Bilbo. 
In the first Jackson effort to make a movie of The Hobbit he committed this mistake.  He portrayed the elves of Rivendell as hostile to dwarves and mean-spirited.  He presented them as antagonistic to Thorin and his company.    One need only read The Hobbit’s chapter III - A Short Rest – to measure the depth of this distortion.  One paragraph from the chapter sums up their stay in Rivendell and the relationship between Bilbo, the Dwarves, and Gandalf and their hoist Elrond and his people.

“Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to: while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale and take a deal of telling anyway.  They stayed long in that good house, fourteen days at least, and they found it hard to leave.  Bilbo would gladly have stopped there for ever and ever – even supposing a wish would have taken him right back to his hobbit-hole without trouble.  Yet there is little to tell about their stay.”  pp. 63 - 64

A few lines later their departure from Rivendell is chronicled as follows, “Now they rode away amid songs of farewell and good speed, with their hearts ready for more adventure, and with a knowledge of the road they must follow over the Misty Mountains to the land beyond.”  p. 65

Tolkien presented Elrond as fair faced and strong, a warrior who is a friend to Thorin and company.  Jackson’s first film completely misrepresents this. 

In the second film, the Elves are once more represented as menacing, their king almost evil.  In Tolkien’s book, the name sake of the movie - but hardly its inspiration, it is the dwarves who desperately try to make contact with the elves, chasing the magical forest folk through Mirkwood in a desperate effort to get their help.  Here is the description Tolkien himself gives of the elves of Mirkwood. 

“The feasting people were Wood-elves, of course.  These are not wicked folk.  If they have a fault it is distrust of strangers.  Though their magic was strong, even in those days they were wary.  They differed from the high Elves of the West, and were more dangerous and less wise.”   [There is nothing wrong with being dangerous.  In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf explains to Frodo and his hobbit friends that they themselves are dangerous and that he, Gandalf, is more dangerous than any force in Middle Earth, except, perhaps, for the Dark Lord himself.]  “For most of them (together with their scattered relations in the hills and mountains) were descended from the ancient tribes that never went to Faerie in the West.  There the Light-elves and the Deep-elves (or Gnomes) and the Sea-elves lived for ages and grew fairer and wiser and more learned, and invented their magic and their cunning craft in the making of beautiful and marvelous things, before they came back into the Wide World.  In the Wide World the Wood-elves lingered in the twilight before the raising of the Sun and Moon; and afterwards they wandered in the forests that grew beneath the sunrise.  They loved best the edges of the woods, from which they could escape at times to hunt, or to ride and run over the open lands by moonlight or starlight; and after the coming of Men they took ever more and more to the gloaming and the dusk.  Still elves they were and remain, and that is Good People.”  p. 178

The Gray-elves of Mirkwood do distrust dwarves.   In The Silmarillion it tells that it was the dwarves who brought mistrust between their kind and the “Good People”.  From the treachery of Mim, the petty dwarf, to the murder of Thingol; to the destruction of Menegroth, and the responsibility for many evil things, it was always the dwarves that did the evil.  Thorin and his people were not party to these crimes – but the Elves' mistrust for Dwarves was earned and the stubbornness and greed of Thorin and his friends was to blame for the imprisonment of the company.  In response to Balin’s arrogant demands, the King of the elves explains his justice in holding the company: “It is a crime to wander in my realm without leave.  Do you forget that you were in my kingdom, using the road that my people made?  Did you not three times pursue and trouble my people in the forest and rouse the spiders with your riot and clamor?  After all the disturbance you have made I have a right to know what brings you here, and if you will not tell me now, I will keep you all in prison until you have learned sense and manners!”  (The Hobbit) p. 184.  He does not torture them – and although he locks them up for their “crimes” and their stubbornness –  he gives them the food and drink they crave.

A final point – Bilbo himself chooses the Elven King and his allies over Thorin and company; delivering to the Elven King and Bard the Arkenstone of Thrain.   In the battle of the Five Armies, Bilbo takes his stand with the Elves.  And it is the Elven King who, conducts Bilbo and Gandalf to the edge of Mirkwood, and who will eliminate the remaining goblins that have fled the battle.  At their parting, Bilbo gives the king a necklace of silver and pearls as payment for the “hospitality” that was given Bilbo in the elven halls. 

2. Everyone and everything is so dang dirty. 

a) Bree is described by Tolkien as: “some hundred stone houses of the Big Folk, mostly above the Road, nestling on the hillside with windows looking west.” (Fellowship of the Ring p. 162) The Prancing Pony Inn, itself is described as a “pleasant house “ (Fellowship p. 164), and when the Hobbits arrive - on the recommendation of Tom Bombadil, they wait outside “as someone began singing a merry song inside, and many cheerful voices joined loudly in the chorus.  They listened to this encouraging sound for a moment and then got off their ponies.  The song ended and there was a burst of laughter and clapping.” (Fellowship p. 164) 

In the movie, Bree is presented as some cross between a sewer and a slum.  The inn is full of evil people all of whom are filthy dirty.  Even Gandalf looks like he hasn’t had a bath in weeks. 

b) There is not a clean face in the movie – even the elves look moldy.  How odd for hobbits who so love to bathe that they sing songs about it.  See one of Bilbo’s favorite bath-songs on page 111 of the Fellowship of the Rings. 

The dwarves and Bilbo take a bath after escaping the goblins: “Then they took off their clothes and bathed in the river, which was shallow and clear and stony at the ford.  When they had dried in the sun, which was now strong and warm, they were refreshed . . .” (The Hobbit p 125)

3) Way too much violence and way too many Goblins.
 Bilbo and his companions do not see a goblin from the moment the eagles whisk them safely away to the Carrock, except for the one killed by Beorn when he went to the mountains to confirm the story of the killing of the Great Goblin.  What is particularly galling is that Bilbo is shown as killing goblins.  In The Hobbit, Bilbo only stings spiders.  This aspect of his character is important to who he is.  He is courageous and reliable but NOT a killer. 

The whole “movie production” battle along the river, between Legolas, that strange girl elf, the dwarves, and all those wargs and goblins is silly.  That Thranduil would allow goblins into his realm – while arresting dwarves and a hobbit –  is absurd in the first place, but that he would leave his son to faced scores of them in desperate battle is even more ridiculous.  The fact that all these ferocious goblins are so easily slaughtered; as fast as either elf maid, elf, or wounded dwarf takes a shot or swing at them, would be laughable, if it wasn’t so offensive.   Meanwhile, Bilbo and his buddies can bash and crash over cliffs and waterfalls that would kill anyone, all without a burse.

The whole interaction between Smaug and Bilbo, not to mention the “battle” he, Smaug, has with the dwarves; is ludicrous.  The Great Golden Dragon can’t even deal with one hobbit standing at his nose, or 10, (for some reason Jackson left three of them in Laketown), dwarves.   Once more we see our “heroes” bashing over cliffs without care and facing fire that melts gold without so much as singed beards.  Not only is there molten gold and dragon fire everywhere, but Thorin Oakenshield jumps in a wheel barrow and goes floating down a stream of the melted metal.  This is so incredulous as to be ridiculous.  How stupid does Jackson think his audience is?  Even if the temperature of the molten flow of gold did not melt the metal  of the wheel barrow, it would have been rendered a red hot frying pan and cooked up the “Mt. King” like so much bacon and eggs.

4) And by the way, where does the light in the caverns come from?

 It is a long journey down into the dark before the glow of the dragon gives a faint light to Bilbo’s creep into the mountain. 

5) Misrepresentation of Lake-town and Bard. 

Thorin and company were welcomed from the first in Laketown – where they crash the Master’s party and are almost immediately welcomed and well taken care of until they are sent on their way well provisioned.  “So one day, although autumn was now getting far on, and winds were cold, and leaves were falling fast, three large boats left Lake-town, laden with rowers, dwarfs, Mr. Baggins, and many provisions.  Horses and ponies had been sent round by circuitous paths to meet them at their appointed landing-place. “(The Hobbit p. 212)

Why is Lake-town a slum?  It is the prosperous center of trade, a pride of the growing influence of men in the world.  Jackson's world - which is NOT Tolkien's - is full of ruin and mess, as if he cannot picture anything beautiful.  Even his mountains are treeless and ugly.

As for the vulnerable spot in Smaug’s armor; it has nothing to do with a ballista.  It was a spot in his armpit were he did not apply an adequate layer of jewels from his hoard.  Bilbo saw this and when he reported it to the Dwarves, the thrush hears and takes the news to Bard.  Thus, Bilbo plays an important part in the defeat of the dragon. 

Bard is a captain of archers, and well respected in Laketown.  And most importantly he deals with Smaug with a regular long bow and a black arrow.  “Arrow!” said the bowman.  “Black arrow! I have saved you to the last.  You have never failed me and always I have recovered you.  I had you from my father and he from of old.  If ever you came from the forges of the true king under the Mountain, go now and speed well!  The dragon swooped once more lower than ever, and as he turned and dived down his belly glittered white with sparkling fires of gems in the moon—but not in one place.  The great bow twanged. The black arrow sped straight from the string, straight for the hollow by the left breast where the foreleg was flung wide.  In it smote and vanished, barb, shaft and feather, so fierce was its flight.” (The Hobbit pp. 260 – 261)

7) Finally, (although I could go on and on!)  is the whole Gandalf going off with Radagast to attack  Dol Guldur silliness.  

Gandalf did discover that Sauron was at Dol Guldur, but with the help of the White Council he drove him out.  (Although this is just what Sauron had planned.)  There was not battle between the two, and that Gandalf was captured and held there is a complete fabrication. 

Gandalf himself describes his adventure in Dol Guldur during his speech at the Council of Elrond: “Some here will remember that many years ago I myself dared to pass the doors of the Necromancer in Dol Guldur, and secretly explored his ways, and found thus that our fears were true: he was none other than Sauron, our Enemy of old, at length taking shape and power again. Some, too, will remember also that Saruman dissuaded us from open deeds against him, and for long we watched him only.  Then at last, as his shadow grew, Saruman yielded, and the Council put forth its strength and drove the evil out of Mirkwood – and that  was in the very year of the finding of this Ring: strange chance, if chance it was.  (Fellowship of the Ring p 263)

Not only is it implausible that Gandalf would have been captured – but even more fantastic is the thought that Sauron would have caged him and not destroyed him – as Gandalf is Sauron’s chief nemesis in Middle Earth.

Also, I am forced to consider all the wonderful things left out:  The gradual introduction of the company to Beorn, Beorn’s true character, the long and challenging journey through Mirkwood, all would have made wonderful movie scenes. Add to these painful omissions the absence of the forest revelries of the elves, Bilbo’s songs and effective rock throwing at the spiders, the careful packing of the Dwarves in the barrels, their warm welcome in Laketown, the journey to the Lonely Mountain, the meeting with the ravens, the interaction with the thrush. 

The most significant omission was Bilbo’s taking of the cup.  This is an intentional link that Tolkien makes to Beauwolf, a central factor in Tolkien’s purpose in writing the book in the first place.  If anything proves that Jackson knows little and understands even less about the purpose of Tolkien’s creations it is this error. 

As I sat through the film, I became more and more disappointed. Are the pages of The Hobbit to be thus polluted? * What was most discouraging was to think of the treasure and talent that had been thus squandered.  There will probably never be another attempt to make this wonderful book into a movie and more and more this perversion will come to be what the world thinks of when they thinks of The Hobbit – it can only harm Tolkien’s legacy.

*From Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice, Ch. 5 paragraph 63: “Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?” 

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Measured Drawing of Bpah Oh Quaidt

One of my  many handsome staff members posed of a photo in Indian costume at Loll last summer.  I made the picture “for my own study”, as master Arikawa would say.  I tried to follow the Bargue protocol, however as I had no schema to work form, I had to make my own.  I printed the picture out in black and white.  To get the size I wanted (16 by 12) I had to print the picture out in chunks and tape them together on the drawing board.

The first stage was to produce the outline of the figure shape and the contained shadows on the “cheep” drawing paper.  Each highpoint had to be carefully measured and marked.
Once the high points were "mapped out" I connected them to produce an outline - turned out pretty good.
Next came the outlining of the interior shadow shapes, and the features.  The hand and the headdress were particularly daunting.  The detail on the glossy prints was not as fine as I wanted, so I printed out a copy of my model's head on regular paper and lined it up.

The next step was to carefully remove the drawing from the drawing board, cover the back with 2B graphite, and then trace the entire outline on to a sheet of Stonehenge pearl gray paper.  As I would have a lot of measuring to do, I placed black threads across the drawing surface to reestablish the horizontal and vertical reference lines. I put up a color version of the model because I could see subtle traits more clearly on it.  The next step was to begin to darken the lines, measuring and adjusting as I went along. 
The outline needed a lot of adjusting.  One must continually search the model for discrepancies; then measure with the knitting needle and make the adjustments. 
After the outlines are in place, I began to fill in the value.  I tried to keep it uniform, but there were so many subtle differences in value that I found myself "modeling the darks" as I went along.  The head dress was very challenging, and at the same time extremely rewarding to do.  For all the intricacies of the feathers, the figure itself was more difficult. One can forgive errors and inaccuracies in a bunch of feathers, the face of a friend is far more demanding. 

Once the darks were in place I progressed to modeling the lights and wrapping the figure in tone. I also added more and more details and "punched up" the darks and lights.  I kept staring at the model, making subtle changes, with the eraser as much as with the various pencils: darks in 2 B, half tones in HB and light tones in 2H.  Working the outlines became particularly challenging and therefore fun.  I referenced Bargue and other favorite artists to see how they did it.  Before I finished I asked several friends to critique the work.  There were many helpful hints.

This is the finished drawing.  If I could get it back I would probable do more work on it - but it has passed to its new owner, so I have to be content with prints, and digital versions.  I choose to believe the "real" thing looks a little better than these.
Surprise, this drawing was actually accepted in at the Eccles Community Art Center’s Black and White Art Exhibition.  The show was, from February 7th until March 29th, 2014  My beautiful model went to see his likeness on the wall and had this picture taken.  It’s not quite the “Paris Salon”, but after years of rejection slips, it was kind of fun.    

Plato's Philebus

This dialogue is a debate between Socrates and Protarchus, although the discussion was begun by Philebus and he occasionally chips in.  The topic of the argument is what constitutes the good in human life – is it pleasure or knowledge.  Philebus position is that it is pleasure – this seems fitting since his name means “youth lover”.

In his introduction, the Editor, John M. Cooper, puts it this way.  Socrates will argue, NOT that the good in human life is knowledge (not pleasure), but that it is some third thing, which in fact is the principle of the proper mixture of knowledge and pleasure – both together – within a life.  Knowledge, he will argue, though not the good itself, is vastly closer and more akin to it than pleasure is.  Thus knowledge wins second prize in the contest, coming far ahead of pleasure in the final accounting.

 All quotes are form: Plato – Complete Works, Edited by John M. Cooper, Associate Editor, D. S. Hutchinson, Hackett Publishing Company, Indianapolis/Cambridge, 1997.

The Definitions of Pleasure and Knowledge:

Socrates: Philebus holds that what is good for all creatures is to enjoy themselves, to be pleased and delighted, and whatever else goes together with that kind of thing. We contend that not these, but knowing, understanding, and remembering, and what belongs with them, right opinion and true calculations, are better than pleasure and more agreeable to all who attain them. . .  p. 399

The Endless Nature of Debate:

Socrates: By way of making the point that it is through discourse that the same thing flits around, becoming one and many in all sorts of ways, in whatever it may be that is said at any time, both long ago and now.  And this will never come to an end, nor has it just begun, but it seems to me that this is an “immortal and ageless” condition that comes to us with discourse.  Whoever among the young first gets a taste of it is as pleased as if he had found a treasure of wisdom.  p. 403

On Literacy – Letters and Written Language: 

Socrates: The way some god or god-inspired man discovered that vocal sound is unlimited, as tradition in Egypt claims for a certain deity called Theuth.  He was the first to discover that the vowels in that unlimited variety are not one but several, and again that there are others that are not voiced, but make some kind of noise, and that they, too have a number.  As a third kind of letters he established the ones we now call mute.  After this he further subdivided the ones without sound or mutes down to every single unit.  In the same fashion he also dealt without the vowels and the intermediates, until he had found out the number for each one of them, and then he gave all of them together the name “letter.”  And as he realized that none of us could gain any knowledge of a single one of them, taken by itself with understanding them all, he considered that the one link that somehow unifies them all and called it the art of literacy.  P. 406

The Question under Consideration:

Protarchus:  Now, Philebus advocated that it is pleasure, amusement, enjoyment, and whatever else there is of this kind.  You [Socrates] on the contrary denied this for all of them, but rather proposed those other goods we willingly and with good reason keep reminding ourselves of, so that they can be tested as they are lying side by side in our memory.  You claim, it seems, that the good that should by right be called superior to pleasure, at least, is reason, as well as knowledge, intelligence, science, and everything that is akin to them, which must be obtained, rather than Philebus’ candidates.  p. 407

Knowledge Necessary:

Socrates:  Moreover, due to lack of memory, it would be impossible for you to remember that you ever enjoyed yourself, and for any pleasure to survive for one moment to the next, since it would leave no memory.  But, not possessing right judgment, you would not realize that you are enjoying yourself even while you do, and, being unable to calculate, you could not figure out any future pleasures for yourself.  You could thus not live a human life but the life of a mollusk or of one of those creatures in shells that live in the sea.  p. 409

Cause = Maker:

Socrates:  And is it not the case that there is no difference between the nature of what makes and the cause, except in name, so that the maker and the cause would rightly be called one?  p. 414

Reason Is King:

Socrates:  It is easy to settle, nevertheless. For all the wise are agreed, in true self-exaltation, that reason is our king, both over heaven and earth.  And perhaps they are justified,  But let us go into the discussion of this class itself at greater length, if you have no objection. . . Whether we hold the view that the universe and this whole would order are ruled by unreason and irregularity, as chance would have it, or whether they are not rather, as our forebears taught us, governed by reason and by the order of a wonderful intelligence.

Protarchus:  How can you ever think of a comparison here, Socrates?  What you suggest now is downright impious, I would say.  The only account that can do justice to the wonderful spectacle presented by cosmic order of sun, moon, and stars and the revolution of the whole heaven, is that reason arranges it all, and I for my part would never waver in saying or believing it.  pp. 416-417

The Soul of the Universe:

Socrates: But where does it come from, unless the body of the universe which has the same properties as ours, but more beautiful in all respects, happens to possess a soul?

Protarchus:  Clearly for nowhere else.

Socrates:  We surely cannot maintain this assumption, with respect to our four classes (limit, the unlimited, their mixture and their cause—which is present in everything): that this cause is recognized as all-encompassing wisdom, since among us it imports the soul and provides training for the body and medicine for its ailments and in other cases order and restitution, but that it should fail to be responsible for the same things on a large scale in the whole universe (things that are, in addition beautiful and pure), for the contrivance of what has so fair and wonderful a nature.  p. 418

On the Mind of Zeus:

Socrates: You will therefore say that in the nature of Zeus there is the soul of a king, as well as a king’s reason, in virtue of this power displayed by the cause, while paying tribute for other fine qualities in the other divinities, in conformity with the names by which their like to be addressed. 

Protarchus: Very much so.

Socrates: Do not think that we have engaged in an idle discussion here, Protarchus, for it comes as a support for the thinkers of old who held that view that reason is forever the ruler over the universe.  p. 418

On Pleasure and Pain:

Socrates:  Pleasure and pain seem to me by nature to arise together in the common kind.  p. 419

On Forgetting and Memory:

Socrates: . . . Forgetting is rather the loss of memory, but in the case in question here no memory has yet arisen.  It would be absurd to say that there could be the process of losing something that neither is nor was in existence, wouldn’t it?  p. 422

On Memory and Recollection:

Socrates:  So if someone were to call memory ‘the preservation of perception’, he would be speaking correctly, as far as I am concerned. . . Do we not call it ‘recollection’ when the soul recalls as much as possible by itself, without the aid of the body, what she had once experienced together with the body? p. 422

On Weakness of Sense-Perception:

Socrates:  When a person takes his judgments and assertions directly from sight or any other sense-perception and then views the images he has from inside himself, corresponding to those judgments and assertion.  Or is it not something of this sort that is going on in us?

Protarchus: Quite definitely.

Socrates:  And are not the pictures of the true judgments and assertions true, and the pictures of the false ones false?

Protarchus: Quite definitely.  p. 428

Pleasure and Pain:

Socrates:  But they hold a false judgment about pleasure, if in fact freedom from pain and pleasure each have a nature of their own.  p. 433

On Asceticism:

Socrates:  It is a nature not without nobility but out of an inordinate hatred that they have conceived against the power of pleasure, they refuse to acknowledge anything healthy in it, even to the point that they regard its very attractiveness itself as witchcraft rather than pleasure.  p. 434  

Tragedy and Comedy are Both a Mixture of Pleasure and Pain:

Socrates: And the same happens in those who watch tragedies: There is laughter mixed with the weeping, if you remember.

Protarchus:  How could I forget?

Socrates:  Now, look at our state of mind in comedy, Don’t you realize that it also involves a mixture of pleasure and pain.  p. 437

The Admonition of the Delphic Oracle vs. Ignorance:

Socrates:  It [ignorance] is, in sum, a kind of vice that derives its name from a special disposition; it is, among all the vices, the one with a character that stands in direct opposition to the one recommended by the famous inscription in Delphi.

Protarchus:  You mean the one that says “Know thyself,” Socrates?

Socrates:  I do.  p. 438

Power Plus Ignorance a Bad Thing (Think Obama):

Socrates:  So make this the point of division.  All those who combine this delusion with weakness and are unable to avenge themselves when they are laughed at, you are justified in calling ridiculous.  But as for those who do have the power and strength to take revenge, if you call them dangerous and hateful, you are getting exactly the right conception about them. For ignorance on the side of the strong and powerful is odious and ugly; it is harmful even for their neighbors, both the ignorance itself and the imitations, whatever they may be.  p. 439

On Pleasure from the Good and the Beautiful: (sights, sounds, smells, and learning)

Socrates: By the beauty of shape, I do not mean what the many might presuppose, namely that of a living being or of a picture.  What I mean, what the argument demands, is rather something straight or round and what is constructed out of these with a compass, rule, and square, such as plane figures and solids.  Those things I take it are not beautiful in a relative sense, as others are, but are by their very nature forever beautiful by themselves.  They provide their own specific pleasures that are not at all comparable to those of rubbing!  And colors are beautiful in an analogous way and import their own kinds of pleasures.  Do we not understand it better or how do you feel? 

Protarchus:  I am really trying to understand, Socrates, but will you also try to say this more clearly?

Socrates:  What I am saying is that those among the smooth and bright sounds that produce one pure note are not beautiful in relation to anything else but in and by themselves and that they are accompanied by their own pleasures, which belong to them by nature.

Protarchus:  That much is true.

Socrates: Then there is also the less divine tribe of pleasures connected with smells. . .

Protarchus: I do get your point.

Socrates:  The let us also add to these the pleasures of learning, if indeed we are agreed that there is no such thing as hunger for learning connected with them, nor any pains that have their source in a hunger for learning.  p. 441

The value of measuring: (On Modern “Art”)

Socrates:  If someone were to take away all counting, measuring, and weighing from the arts and crafts, the rest might be said to be worthless.

Protarchus:  Worthless, indeed!

Socrates: All we would have left would be conjecture and the training of our senses through experience and routine.  We would have to rely on our ability to make the lucky guesses that many people call art, once it has acquired some proficiency through practice and hard work.  p. 445

What Is the First Science? Rhetoric or the Study of Being:

Socrates:  But the power of dialectic would repudiate us if we put any other science ahead of her.

Protarchus: What science do we mean by that again?

Socrates:  Clearly everybody would know what science I am referring to now!  For I take it that anyone with any share of reason at all would consider the discipline concerned with being and with what is really and forever in every way eternally self-same by far the truest of all kinds of knowledge.  But what is your position?

Protarchus:  On many occasions, Socrates, I have heard Gorgias insist that the art of persuasion is superior to all others because it enslaves all the rest, with their own consent, not by force, and is therefore by far the best of all the arts.  Now I am reluctant to take up a position against either him or you.  p 447

On Opinion:

Socrates:  When you gave this answer now, did you realize that most of the arts and sciences and those who work at them are in the first place only concerned with opinions and make opinions the center of their search?  p. 448

The Need for Eternal Truth:

Socrates:  So how could we assert anything definite about these matters with exact truth if it never did possess nor will possess nor now possesses any kind of sameness?

Protarchus:  Impossible.

Socrates:  And how could we ever hope to achieve any kind of certainty about subject matters that do not in themselves possess any certainty?

Protarchus:  I see no way.  p. 448

Reason and Knowledge -  Most Honored:

Socrates:  And aren’t reason and knowledge name that deserve the highest honor?  p. 449

Two Kinds of Science:

Socrates:  But there was also a difference between different sciences, since one kind deals with a subject matter that comes to be and perishes, the other is concerned with what is free of that, the eternal and self-same.  Since we made truth our criterion, the latter kind appeared to be the truer one.  p. 451

In Support of a “Liberal” Education:

Socrates:  But having decided that it was innocuous or even beneficial to spend our lives in the pursuit of all the arts and crafts, we may now come to the same conclusion about the pleasures.  If it is beneficial and harmless to live our lives enjoying all the pleasures, then we should mix them in.

Protarchus:  So what are we to say in their case, and what are we to do?

Socrates:  We should not turn to ourselves with this question, Protarchus, But to the pleasures themselves, as well as to the different kinds of knowledge, and find out how they feel about each other by putting the question in this way.  p. 452

The Good = the Beautiful and the True:

Socrates:  But now we notice that the force of the good has taken refuge in an alliance with the nature of the beautiful.  For measure and proportion manifest themselves in all areas as beauty and virtue.

Protarchus:  Undeniably.

Socrates: But we did say that truth is also included along with them in our mixture?

Protarchus:  Indeed.

Socrates: Well, then, if we cannot capture the good in one form, we will have to take hold of it in a conjunction of three: beauty, proportion, and truth.  Let us affirm that these should by right be treated as a unity and be held responsible for what is in the mixture, for its goodness is what makes the mixture itself a good one. 

Protarchus:  Very well stated.

Socrates:  Anyone would by now be able to judge between pleasure and intelligence, which of the two is more closely related to the supreme good and more valuable among gods and men.

Protarchus:  Even if it is obvious, it is better to make it explicit in our discussion.

Socrates:  So now let us judge each one of the three in relation to pleasure and reason.  For we have to see for which of those two we want to grant closer kinship to each of them.

Protarchus:  You mean to beauty, truth, and measure?

Socrates:  Yes.  Take up truth first, Protarchus, and, holding it in fort of you, look at all three: reason, truth, and pleasure.  Then, after withholding judgment for a long time, give your answer, whether for you pleasures or reason is more akin to truth. 

Protarchus: . . . pleasure is the greatest imposter of all . . . Reason, by contrast, either is the same as truth or of all things it is most like it and most true.  p. 454

Monday, November 25, 2013

Lays of Ancient Rome, Thomas Babington Macaulay

These “Lays” are Roman styled ballads composed by Macaulay in the 1830’s and first published in 1842.  The became standard assignments for reading in the upper class “public” schools of Britain, and were often memorized and recited by the students.  Winston Churchill memorized them, and I see there effect in the remarkable speaking talent which set him apart in greatness.  It seems that Macaulay felt the loss of the ancient, pre-Greek, oral tradition of Rome and set himself the task of restoring some of it.  Like J. R. R. Tolkien, Thomas Macaulay determined to fill a hole in world literature with a plausible patch of his own creation.  Macaulay’s creation provides a wonderful window into Roman history, and an understanding of the ethos that drove western dominance through the twentieth Century and into the future.

I have read Horatius at the Bridge to my classes and Camp Staffs for decades, albeit in an abridged version.  A couple of years ago I bought my 1947 American printed edition of the book at Sam Wells Book Store.  I am ashamed to admit that it remained unread until this month.  I was rather surprised to find several of the pages still folded, rather than cut, at their outside edge – proof that I was not the first to own it without reading it.  I am very glad I cut the pages and released their wonder. 

I was also pleasantly surprised at how closely my appreciation of Livy and other chroniclers of Rome matched that of Macaulay.  He celebrates the same heroes and heroines I have long extoled. 


Gauls destroy Roman Records:

It is certain that, more than three hundred and sixty years after the date ordinarily assigned for the foundation of the city, the public records were, with scarcely an exception, destroyed by the Gauls. p. ix

Surviving Latin Literature Based on Greek Models:

 The Latin literature which has come down to us is of later date than the commencement of the Second Punic War, and consists almost exclusively of works fashioned on Greek models.  The best Latin metres, heroic, elegiac, lyric, and dramatic, are of Greek origin.   The best Latin epic poetry [Vergil’s Aeneid] is the feeble echo of the Iliad and Odyssey.   p. xiii

Poetry to Help Memory: 

Metrical composition, therefore which, in a highly civilized nation, is a mere luxury, is, in nations imperfectly civilized, almost a necessary of life, and is valued less on account of the pleasure which it gives to the ear, than on account of the help which it gives to the memory.  p. xiv

Only the Greeks Preserved Their Poetry:

In truth, the only people who, through their whole passage from simplicity to the highest civilization, never for a moment ceased to love and admire their old ballads, were the Greeks.  p. xvii – xviii

Romulus and Remus Were Not Like Swine Herds: 

(Quoting Dionysius)  “Even in the hut of Faustulus,” – so these old lays appear to have run, -- “ the children of Rhea and Mars were, in port and in spirit, not like unto swineherds or cowherds, but such that men might well guess them to be of the blood of Kings and Gods.” p. xix

Value of Old Ballads in Education: 

Valerius Maximus give us exactly similar information, without mentioning his authority, and observes that the ancient Roman ballads were probably of more benefit to the young than all the lectures of the Athenian schools, and that to the influence of the national poetry were to be ascribed the virtues of such men as Camillus and Fabricius.  p. xxii

The Genius of Rome and Greece:  The conquered, says Horace, led captive the conquerors.  It was precisely at the time at which the Roman people rose to unrivalled political ascendency that they stooped to pass under the intellectual yoke.  It was precisely at the time at which the sceptre departed from Greece that the empire of her language and of her arts became universal and despotic.   p. xxiv

Triumph of Greek Literature: The victory of the foreign taste was decisive; and indeed we can hardly blame the Romans for turning away with contempt from the rude lays which had delighted their fathers, and giving their whole admiration to the immortal productions of Greece.  p. xxvii

Macaulay on His Poems: In the following poems the author speaks, not in his own person, but in the persons of ancient minstrels who know only what a Roman citizen, born three or four hundred years before the Christian aera, may be supposed to have known, and who are in nowise above the passions and prejudices of their age and nation.  p. xxxv


Duty – the best way to die: 


Then out spake brave Horatius,

The Captain of the Gate;

‘To every man upon this Earth

Death cometh soon or late.

And how can man die better

Than facing fearful odds,

For the ashes of his father,

And the temples of his Gods,


‘And for the tender mother

 Who dandled him to rest,

And for the wife who nurses

His baby at her breast,

And for the holy maidens

Who feed the eternal flame,

To save them for false Sextus

That wrought the deed of shame?  p. 21

Sacrifices for Rome:


For Romans in Rome’s quarrel

Spared neither land nor gold,

Nor son nor wife, nor limb nor life,

In the brave days of old. pp. 22 – 23


The good old days:


Then none was for a party;

Then all were for the state;

Then the great man helped the poor,

And the poor man loved the great:

Then lands were fairly portioned;

The spoils were fairly sold:

The Romans were like brothers

In the brave days of old.

The evil present:


Now Romans is to Roman

More hateful than a foe,

And the Tribunes beard the high,

And the Fathers grind the low.

As we wax hot in faction,

In battle we wax cold:

Wherefore men fight not as they fought

In the brave days of old. p. 23

The Battle of Lake Regillus

Machiavelli – Roman Style:

Livy and Dionysius tells us that, when Tarquin the Proud was asked what was the best mode of governing a conquered city, he replied only by beating down with his staff all the tallest poppies in his garden.  p. 46

On Roman History – the Stories I Use:

Then the character of the narrative changes.  From the first mention of Lucretia to the retreat of Porsena nothing seems to be borrowed from foreign sources.  The villainy of Sextus, the suicide of his victim, the revolution the death of the sons of Brutus, the defense of the bridge, Mucius burning his hand, Cloelia swimming through Tiber, seem to all be strictly Roman.  p. 47

Forgotten Warriors:


The fisher baits his angle;

The hunter twangs his bow;

Little they think of those strong limbs

That moulder deep below.

Little they think how sternly

That day the trumpets pealed;

How in the slippery swamp of blood

Warrior and war-horse reeled;

How wolves came with fierce gallop,

And crows on eager wings,

To tear the flesh of captains,

And peck the eyes of kings;

How thick the dead lay scattered

Under the Porcian height;

How through the gates of Tusculum

Raved the wild stream of flight;

And how the Lake Regillus

Bubbled with crimson foam,

What time the Thirty Cities

Came forth to war with Rome.  p. 61

How the Jays Called the Eagle to fight:


‘Once the jays sent a message

Unto the eagle’s nest:-- 

Now yield thou up thine eyrie

Unto the carrion-kite,

Or come forth valiantly, and face

The jays in deadly fight.—

Forth looked in wrath the eagle;

And carrion-kite and jay,

Soon as they saw his beak and claw

Fled screaming far away.’ p. 63

On Choosing a Dictator:


In seasons of great peril

‘Tis good that one bear sway;

Then choose we a Dictator,

Whom al men shall obey. p. 64

On the Death of the Sacred King:


Those trees in whose dim shadow

The ghastly priest doth reign,

The priest who slew the slayer,

And shall himself be slain;  p. 66

The Ghost of Lucretia:


A woman fair and stately,

But pale as are the dead,

Oft through the watches of the night

Sat spinning by his [Sextus] bed.

And as she plied the distaff,

In a sweet voice and low,

She sang of the great old houses,

And fights fought long ago.

So spun she, and so sang she,

Until the east was grey,

Then pointed to her bleeding breast,

And shrieked, and fled away. p. 68

Win or Die:


‘Romans, stand firm!’ quoth Aulus,

‘And win this fight or die!’ p. 77


Grievances of the Plebes:

They were excluded from the highest magistracies; They were excluded from all share in the public lands; and they were ground down to the dust by partial and barbarous legislation touching pecuniary contracts.  The ruling class is Rome was a monied class; and it made and administered the laws with a view solely to its own interest. p. 100

On the rights of the Plebes:

From the early period they had been admitted to some share of political power.  They were enrolled each in his century, and were allowed a share, considerable though not proportioned to their numerical strength, in the disposal of those high dignities from which they were themselves excluded.  p. 101

The Tribunes:

The Plebeians had also the privilege of annually appointing officers, named Tribunes, who had no active share in the government of the Commonwealth, but who, by degrees, acquired a power formidable even to the ablest and most resolute Consuls and Dictators.  The person of the Tribune was inviolable; and, though he could directly effect little, he could obstruct everything. pp 101-102

On Roman Respect for Law:

But, even in the paroxysms of faction, the Roman retained his gravity, his respect for law, and his tenderness for the lives of his fellow-citizens. P. 102

Roman Filibuster (The Tribunes at Work):

Year after year Licinius and Sextius were re-elected Tribunes.  Year after year, if the narrative which has come down to us is to be trusted, they continued to exert, to the full extent, their power of stopping the whole machine of government.  No curule magistrates could be chosen; no military muster could be held.  We now too little of the state of Rome in those days to be able to conjecture how during that long anarchy, the peace was kept, and ordinary justice administered between man and man.  The animosity of both parties rose to the greatest height.  The excitement, we may well suppose, would have been peculiarly intense at the annual elections of Tribunes.  On such occasions there can be little doubt that the great families did all that could be done, by threats and caresses, to break the union of the Plebeians.  That union, however, proved indissoluble.  At length the good cause triumphed.  The Licinian laws were carried.  Lucius Sextius was the first Plebeian Consul, Caius Licinius the third.

The results of this great change were singularly happy and glorious.  Two centuries of prosperity, harmony, and victory followed the reconciliation of the orders.  pp. 102-103

The Story of the Downfall of the Council of Ten:

The immediate cause of the downfall of this execrable government was said to have been an attempt made by Appius Claudius upon the chastity of a beautiful young girl of humble birth.  The story ran that the Decemvir, unable to succeed by bribes and solicitations, resorted to an outrageous act of tyranny.  A vile dependent of Claudian house laid claim to the damsel as his slave.  The cause was brought before the tribunal of Appius.  The wicked magistrate, in defiance of the clearest proofs, gave judgment for the claimant.  But the girl’s father, a brave soldier, saved her from servitude and dishonor by stabbing her to the heart in the sight of the whole Forum.  That blow was the signal for a general explosion.  Camp and city rose at once; the Ten were pulled down; the Tribuneship was re-established; and Appius escaped the hands of the executioner only by a voluntary death.  p. 107-108

Late Night Comedians & MSNBC:

Such varlets pimp and jest for hire among the lying Greeks;

Such Varlets still are paid to hoot when brave Licinius speaks.. 112

When There Were No Tribunes:

For then there was not Tribune to speak the word of might,

Which makes the rich man tremble, and guards the poor man’s right.  p.118

History as inspiration for great acts:

Be men to-day, Quirites, or be for ever slaves!

For this did Servius give us laws?  For this did Lucrece bleed?

For this was the great vengeance wrought on Tarquin’s evil seed?

For this did those false sons make red the axes of their sire?

 For this did Scaevola’s right had his in the Tuscan fire?

Shall we, who could not brook one lord, crouch to the wicked Ten?

Oh for that ancient spirit which curbed the Senate’s will!

Oh for the tents which in old time whitened the Sacred Hill!  p. 119

The Value of Good Women:

Then leave the poor Plebeian his single tie to life—

The sweet, sweet love of daughter, of sister, and of wife.

The gentle speech, the balm for all that his vexed soul endures,

The kiss, in which he half forgets even such a yoke as yours.

Still let the maiden’s beauty swell the father’s breast with pride;

Still let the bridegroom’s arms infold an unpolluted bride. pp. 121-122

The Prophecy of Capys

On the Roman Army:

Their arms, their gradations of rank, their order of battle, their method of intrenchment, were all of Latin origin, and had all been gradually brought near to perfection, not by study of foreign models, but by the genius and experience of many generations of great native commanders.  The first words which broke from the king [Pyrrhus], when his practiced eye had surveyed the Roman encampment, were full of meaning;-- ‘These barbarians,’ he said, ‘hae nothing barbarous in their military arrangements.’ p. 140

On the defeat of Pyrrhus:

The conquerors had a good right to exult in their success; for their glory was all their own.  They had not learned from their enemy how to conquer him.  It was with their own national arms, and in their own national battle-array, that they had overcome weapons and tactics long believed to be invincible.  The pilum and the broadsword had vanquished the Macedonian spear.  The legion had broken the Macedonian phalanx.  Even the elephants, when the surprise produced by their first appearance was over, could cause no disorder in the steady yet flexible battalions of Rome. p. 141

Mother Wolf:


The ravening she-wolf knew them,

And licked them o’er and o’er,

And gave them of her own fierce milk,

Rich with raw flesh and gore. p.147

The Fate of Rome Reveled to Romulus:


. . . Thou, that art sprung from the War-god’s loins,

And hast tugged at the she-wolf’s breast.

‘From sunrise unto sunset

All earth shall hear thy fame:

A glorious city thou shalt build,

And name in by thy name:

And there, unquenched through ages,

Like Vesta’s sacred fire,

Shall live the spirit of thy nurse,

The spirit of thy sire. p. 153

Prophesy to Rome:


‘Thine, Roman, is the pilum:

Roman, the sword is thine,

The even trench, the bristling mound,

The legion’s ordered line;

An thine the wheels of triumph,

Which with their laurelled train

Move slowly up the shouting streets

To Jove’s eternal fane.  p. 155

Roman Weapons Prove the Best:


‘Hurrah! For the good weapons

That keep the War-god’s land.

Hurrah! For Rome’s stout pilum

In a stout Roman hand.

Hurrah! For Rome’s short broadsword,

That through the thick array

Of leveled spears and serried shields

Hews deep its gory way. p. 157