Origin Story

One of my most vocal critics recently commented about this blog, “It’s not like you write anything original; you just rehash the ideas of classical authors.” For the most part, I agree. Even the original poetry that I’ve posted here is absolutely packed with classical references.

But my critic’s observation is, itself, unoriginal. Virtually nothing is wholly original.

“The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” – Ecclesiastes

“If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.” – Issac Newton

“A thought is often original, though you have uttered it a hundred times.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes

“When Shakespeare is charged with debts to his authors, Landor replies, ‘Yet he was more original than his originals. He breathed upon dead bodies and brought them into life.'” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, quoting Walter Savage Landor, discussing William Shakespeare

“As the ancients
Say wisely, have a care o’ th’ main chance,
And look before you ere you leap;
For as you sow, ye are like to reap.” – Samuel Butler, paraphrasing John Lyly, John Heywood, and St. Paul

“[The] borrowing and refurbishing of shop-worn goods, as a matter of fact, is the invariable habit of traders in ideas, at all times and everywhere. . . .  At the moment of the contemporary metaphysician’s loftiest flight, when he is most gratefully warmed by the feeling that he is far above all the  ordinary airlanes and has absolutely novel concept by the tail, he is suddenly pulled up by the discovery that what is entertaining him is simply the ghost of some ancient idea that his school-master forced into him in 1887, or the mouldering corpse of a doctrine that was made official in his country during the late war, or a sort of fermentation-product, to mix the figure, of a banal heresy launched upon him recently by his wife.” – H. L. Mencken

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Beer of the week: Bavaria Premium – This beer is fairly unoriginal. The name clearly meant to evoke thoughts of the great beer-producing region of Southeast Germany, despite the fact that this beer is from Holland. Similarities in the packaging and price of this beer led me to speculate that Bavaria is a product of the same brewery that gave us Hollandia. A quick search indicates that my hunch was correct. Bavaria is a golden pils with little head retention or aroma. There is a malty sweetness that has a hint of honey. For the price, it is not a bad choice, though I prefer a bit more hops in my lagers.

Reading of the week: In Defense of Women by H.L. Mencken –  The introduction to this book is typical Mencken: plenty of wit and cynicism, and, ultimately, a good deal of sense. “If I knew what was true, I’d probably be willing to sweat and strive for it, and maybe even to die for it to the tune of bugle-blasts. But so far I have not found it.”

Question of the week: Many argue that the word “unique” does not admit of degrees; something either is or is not unique. Is the same true of “original”? Can something be “slightly” or “very” original?

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On Esoterism

Descartes chose Latin as the language for his Meditations on First Philosophy, in which he famously strips philosophy bare and restarts with the single principle “I think, therefore I am.” He made that decision because he “thought it would not be expedient to illustrate [his philosophy] at greater length in French, and in a discourse that might be read by all, lest even the more feeble minds should believe that this path might be entered upon by them.” His fear, apparently, was that he may lead weaker men into error by giving them access to ideas they could not quite grasp and methods that they could not follow.

This is somewhat reminiscent of Romans 14Paul makes it clear that there is no food that is “spiritually unclean”. But he also exhorts believers not to flaunt that knowledge in front of people who are weaker spiritually, lest they should misunderstand and stumble in their faith. Like Descartes, Paul seems to think that some people are more likely to be led into error than to a higher truth, so it is best to hide certain ideas from them. In a way, this seems terribly patronizing. If it is correct, however, it is extremely prescient and even charitable.

A more skeptical interpretation of Descartes’ decision not to make his work widely available might be to suggest that he was interested in protecting himself rather than protecting “feeble minds”. If his work were read in a certain way, he may have greatly offended the powers that be (either by upsetting individuals of status or by earning the disdain of the masses.) There are certainly times when it is dangerous to speak the truth, and the truth is often more dangerous to the speaker than to the people at large.

Luckily, I am not in the same position since I am sure that my readers are far from feeble-minded.

Beer of the Week: Staropramen – This Czech pilsner begins with spicy aromatic hops that are so typical of the style. There is a bit of bready malt in the flavor, but in general it is the hops that dominate. That is not to say that it is very bitter, it is actually very well rounded. Overall, this beer is very nice.

Reading of the week: Meditations on First Philosophy by René Descartes, Preface to the Reader – For as well known as the principle “I think, therefore I am” is, it is often forgotten that the next step of Descartes’ philosophy is to demonstrate that God also exists. Not, perhaps, the God that we are used to, but a “Deity… incomprehensible and infinite.”

Question of the week: Do you often refrain from saying what you really think? If so, do you do it for your own sake or for the sake of others?


What is love? (Baby, don’t hurt me.)

There is a lot to be said for the Musslemen and their religion. There are, no doubt, some sections in the writings of Mahomet that can be found objectionable, but this is the case for almost all writers. What Mahomet, or at least his followers, did that is certainly praise-worthy is forbid the translation of his work. Strictly speaking, there are no “English translations” of the Coran; there are only “English interpretations.” This helps prevent quite a number of misunderstandings.

If one has been to three English language Christian weddings, then he has heard a reading from Chapter 13 of  The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians at least twice. “Love is patient. Love is kind.” Love is… not what St. Paul was writing about. At least not love the way people commonly think about it. And certainly not the sort of love that is typified by that of a blushing bride for her bridegroom. The original Greek is “αγάπη.” Agape is a selfless love for humanity as a whole. It is not brotherly love or erotic love, but a detached, spiritual love. Earlier English translations used “Charity” since they were actually translating from the Vulgate of St. Jerome, a 4th century Latin translation which used “Caritas” for Agape. The use of “Charity” today sounds pretty funny when one gets to the third verse: “Suppose I give everything I have to poor people. And…I don’t have Charity.”

For a long time, the Catholic Church held that the Bible could not be translated from Latin into the common tongue. (Of course, the fact that the Latin Bible was itself a translation of the original didn’t seem to bother anybody.) But then Martin Luther and his buddy Gutenberg came along and pumped out a whole heap of German language Bibles. No doubt there are subtle problems in the German version, but what can you do? Such is the price one pays for not reading every written work in its original language. The problem is simply unavoidable and one must either suffer through it or become fluent in every language that has interesting authors.

Beer of the Week: Löwenbräu Original – There are a few beers that I love for their taste, their history and the memories they invoke. This beer is one of them. The reader can determine for himself what sort of love can exist between man and beer. Löwenbräu is a nice example of the Munich Helles Lager. It is golden and has some of the spicy hops character of a pilsner, but is maltier and not quite as bitter. Löwenbräu has a pleasant but somewhat weak aroma which has some nice earthy tones. The flavor is light and malty, but the crisp hops are present throughout. This is just a really good beer.

Reading of the week: The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians, Chapter 13 – Paul names Agape, Faith and Hope as the three most important things to have, and Agape, the most important of all. Not only does he outline the importance of Agape, he makes a bold and inspiring statement: “When I was a child, I talked like a child. I thought like a child. I had the understanding of a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.”

Question of the week:  Although more evident in poetry, are the difficulties of translation more important in spiritual/philosophical texts?