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Love

Remembering the dog drying place

Friday, 23 February, 2018 0 Comments

“Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring — it was peace.” — Milan Kundera

Prince drying himself


Ausonius and Attusia and Valentinian

Tuesday, 14 February, 2017 0 Comments

Decimus Magnus Ausonius was the most famous poet of his time and Emperor Valentinian I summoned him to Rome to teach his son Gratian. He spent the years between 365 and 388 there and then returned to his native Bordeaux. In this epigram for his wife, Attusia, he pictures them still youthful in their old age. It is a haunting vision of a couple fully in love ageing together… and it’s entirely imaginary because Attusia died when she was 28. Forty years later, Ausonius wrote Ad Uxorem (To His Wife).

To His Wife

Love, let us live as we have lived, nor lose
The little names that were the first night’s grace,
And never come the day that sees us old,
I still your lad, and you my little lass.
Let me be older than old Nestor’s years,
And you the Sibyl, if we heed it not.
What should we know, we two, of ripe old age?
We’ll have its richness, and the years forgot.

Translation from the Latin by Helen Waddell (1889 – 1965)

Ad Uxorem

Uxor, vivamus quod viximus et teneamus
nomina quae primo sumpsimus in thalamo;
nec ferat ulla dies, ut commutemur in aevo,
quin tibi sim iuvenis tuque puella mihi.
Nestore sim quamvis provectior aemulaque annis
vincas Cumanam tu quoque Deiphoben,
nos ignoremus quid sit matura senectus,
scire aevi meritum, non numerare decet.

Ausonius (310 – 395)


Human cruelty and evil

Friday, 5 August, 2016 0 Comments

Yesterday’s post here about artificial and emotional intelligence referenced Simon Baron-Cohen’s book, Zero Degrees of Empathy: A New Theory of Human Cruelty. The book appeared under a different title in the United States: The Science of Evil: On Empathy and the Origins of Human Cruelty. The use of the “e as in evil” added to its impact in the bookstores, no doubt, as the combination of “Evil” and “Cruelty” beats “Empathy” and “Cruelty” when it comes to visceral reactions.

Evil The cruel person, says Professor Baron-Cohen, treats someone as if they are an object — ignoring their thoughts and feelings. This is one of the worst things a person can do to another human being. A person suspends empathy when thinking only about his or her own mind (single-mindedness) because empathy is the ability to “identify what someone else is thinking or feeling and respond to that with appropriate emotion,” writes Baron-Cohen. This “empathy erosion” arises from emotions such as resentment or hatred and those who entirely lack empathy are borderline personalities: psychopaths and narcissists.

Compared to the cruel person, an empathic person does not merely ask someone how they are feeling, rather he or she avoids hurting their feelings, considers how to make them feel good and evaluates the impact of his or her words and actions on others. The empathic person listens to what is said, notes how it is said and responds in a decent way. In this way, empathy is a human and a saintly quality.

In the final chapter, “Reflections on Human Cruelty,” Baron-Cohen deliberates on the risks of indifference to cruelty and terrorism. Hannah Arendt’s famous “banality of evil” characterization of Adolf Eichmann is assessed in light of the criticism expressed by the late David Cesarini that she observed only the beginning of the war criminal’s trial. Had she stayed longer, she would have seen how the Nazi displayed extraordinary creativity in planning mass murder. As regards terrorists, their unempathic acts are not necessarily the result of lack of empathy claims Baron-Cohen. “The belief and/or the actual political context may drive the behavior,” he says. This may be so, but as the 9/11 terrorists flew their planes into the Twin Towers, few would deny that their switched-off empathy had led them down a path of cruelty to acts of incomprehensible evil.

Cruelty and evil are facts of life. We should not shy away from naming and shaming them or those persons who engage in human cruelty and evil.

“In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand fold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations.” — Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago


Remembering those who built for us

Saturday, 18 June, 2016 0 Comments

On 18 June 1952, Michael Fitzgerald and Catherine O’Donnell were married in the village of Lisvernane, County Tipperary. The ceremony was followed by a meal at Riversdale House Hotel in the Glen of Aherlow. Transport for the bride and her family was via a Ford V8 driven by Jack Fraser, grocer/publican/undertaker, but cars were scarce in the Ireland of the early 1950s so some of the guests cycled. The wedding cake was prepared by the bride, baked by Mrs Ryan-Russell, who had a Stanley Range cooker, and the icing was added by the confectionery specialists of Kiely’s Bread Company in Tipperary town. The sun shone and the couple went on to spend 59 years together, during which time they earned love and respect from those who loved and respected them.

Mammy and Daddy

Scaffolding is one of the first poems Seamus Heaney wrote. It’s a metaphorical work about the construction of a marriage and the measures needed to keep it firm in the face of the shocks. Walls of “sure and solid stone” will be strong enough to stand on their own, says Heaney. “Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall / Confident that we have built our wall.”

Scaffolding

Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;

Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.

And yet all this comes down when the job’s done
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.

So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me

Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.

Seamus Heaney (1939 — 2013)


The heart of the Valentine matter

Sunday, 14 February, 2016 0 Comments

According to the ancients, Saint Valentine of Rome was martyred on 14 February in the third-century and buried in a cemetery on the Via Flaminia. History and hagiography disagree on the exactness of all this, but Saint Valentine’s Day is widely recognized as an occasion for romance and E. E. Cummings provides suitable words for the occasion.

Love was Cummings’ main subject of interest and he approached it, and poetry, with a charming sense of linguistic invention that enabled him to create verse that was lyrical, visual and unique: “[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]” is classic Cummings.

[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)

                  i fear

no fate(for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

e.e. cummings (1894 – 1962)

The heart of love