pythagoras to byzantium

It’s difficult to put the notion of Greece and the traditional assumption we have of it as birthplace of Western civilization, into context, particularly cultural, when confronted with images of mass civil unrest. The images do lend themselves to a sense that what we term civilization may not be a solid foundation on which assumptions about our sense of progress, moral high ground and place within the world are to be taken with our equal tendency to compare with others. That is, the notion of civilization may be a constructed and artificial creation, a giant packaging to contain the mechanisms of ideology and especially the concept of markets, currencies, and the military/industrial/entertainment complexes which operate within.

---David's Poussin-scale Death of Socrates (1787), whose adaptation -- whose virtual citation -- of the Eudamidas is indisputable, but also to its monumental predecessor, the epoch-making Oath of the Horatii (1784), which, although not resembling Poussin's painting in obvious respects, amounts in my view to a brilliant reinterpretation of the latter's division of its dramatis personae into two seemingly disconnected but in fact intimately related groups, one male, the other female, in both of which intense absorption reigns -- on the part of the men in swearing a mortal oath, on that of the women in anticipatory grief.--- Read More:

As Jesus has been deified as blond and blue eyes, so Plato , Socrates and Aristotle are Oxford rowers and ivory tower sound bite fodder. Civilization is a convenient sham dreamed up by shillers like Sam Huntington and others, a purely synthetic boundary, and plausibly even the basis of Kafka’s story, “Before The Law.” The idea of West has been canonized into the heart of the most conservative tenets of capitalist ideology. What we really mean is a collection of Empires with shifting alliances that collectively are after more of the pie which requires dominating and subjugating weaker states for this purpose under the rubric of liberty and freedom. So much for the long introduction.

---Nicolas Poussin, Et in Arcadia Ego, 1637-38, oil on canvas, 185 cm × 121 cm (72.8 in × 47.6 in) (Louvre) In opposition to the frivolous sensuality of Rococo painters like Jean-Honoré Fragonard and François Boucher, the Neo-classicists looked to Nicolas Poussin for their inspiration. The decision to promote Poussiniste painting became an ethical consideration. ---Read More:

Way back when, I was advised that my math scores and math aptitude were insufficient for a university program in commerce that I had applied into and surprisingly been accepted, with the caveat that all my electives for the first year and before if possible are to be basic maths otherwise the program would be beyond my capacity. So, that summer I enrolled in an evening course at the old YMCA high school downtown in an algebra and geometry class, basically set up for flunkies who wanted take a stab at the game.

The class was almost entirely of Greeks. There was a Jewish kid with blond hair who was way to smart and couldn’t figure out his presence, and one English girl. The rest were all guys. You could tell they were bad boys, but good kids about a year or two younger than myself. The teacher was a heavy set but agile fellow, also Greek I think. It was surprising how everyone arrived at class on time and was in the room before the prof made his entrance and how class started on time and proceeded under his auspices in quiet but intense study. And everyone showed up every class. No absents. The mid-terms were taken and my score was okay, nothing to take an encore for, and in general it was a ho-hum result for most. But the prof said we were making progress and not to give up, that there was much to be encouraged about. So everyone stayed.

---The child, Benoit Agnes Trioson, was the son of Girodet’s mentor and stepfather. The boy died young, making him all the more "romantic." (Keats, Shelley and Byron also died young.) Putting his book aside, he gazes off into the distance, thinking his own thoughts, his face radiant with consciousness. He is shown in the traditional pose of melancholy, his head resting on one hand. It is an astonishing psychological portrait, pre-dating Gericault’s portraits of the insane, which attempt to convey their mental state, but are much less convincing than Girodet’s singular portrait. All the more so because Girodet shows the boy as an individual, not as a type. It is rare enough to treat children as serious persons -- Goya and Velazquez do so -- and even rarer to realize they have a serious mental life. --- Read More:

We were really grasping mathematics, gaining an understanding of what it meant and how the underlying structure contained some wonderful truths. But, we did not get it completely, but were moving in that sense. Definite progress. Geometry came, and to me it was science fiction; these vulgar, grotesque shapes fling in the sky, attacking, something out of science fiction; aggressive aliens resistant to parries and impervious to defense. But the class soldiered on. And the final exam came. Then, a funny thing happened on the way to the Parthenon. The kid sitting in front of me, a chubby, good natured type , but bright, though more dreamer than number cruncher, turned to me before the class and said he had all the answers to the exam! He said, the answers were on the teachers desk in front of him in a flyer and he had lifted the results and copied them.

---Ingres's choice of this compositional scheme is consistent with the nature of his subject, the deification of a single genius to whom all subsequent generations are indebted. Like Zeus on Mount Olympus, Homer is located in splendid isolation at the apex of a slowly ascending pyramid of historical figures, both ancient and modern, who have come to venerate him. Seated just below the blind poet are personifications of the Iliad and the Odyssey, represented as a pair of very sturdy women who bear the attributes of a sword and an oar. Hovering above Homer is the goddess Nike, who crowns him with a laurel wreath. In the Ingres hierarchic pantheon of great men, the classical figures are placed in the higher middle stratum, where they are seen mainly in full length. They appear in mirror-image pairs: Aeschylus, with his scroll on the left, is reflected on the right by Pindar with his lyre; Apelles, with his brushes and palette, by Phidias with his mallet. Amid these classical giants, only two moderns are admitted: Raphael, who is led by Apelles, and Dante who is accompanied by Virgil.--- Read More:

I knew that kid was smart. He generously shared the bounty and we copied them onto pencils using the protractor point to make notches. Looking back, I think the teacher had to have made them available. It doesn’t make sense. We were learning a lot. real progress. Just not quite enough. Like a hockey player learning the game, but not being able to finish the score in front of the net. Needless to say, the teacher got an illustrious evaluation on the  form that day, duly signed and dated and the exam exhibited that his students had made substantial and everlasting progress between the mediocre mid-term and the sterling final. Perhaps Greece was not really the center of Western Civilization, but something a little more profound.

Several years later, at university, there was another Greek student who sat beside me in micro-economics. A real sweet guy, but the course was problematic. Before the final, he asked if I would help him. That is, help him cheat by feeding answers so he wo

not fail. Wow. I was hesitant, but not against it, but hardly favorable to the request. Then, he elaborated how it was to be done. This must have been a system handed down from generation to generation. It was impressive. The details escape me, but I was confident enough to say I would help him on the first quarter or actually third, after which he was on his own. I’m pretty sure he got through…

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