Geeks, Greeks, Dudes and Druids   Leave a comment

tblSometimes I can contrive nothing better to say or do on this blog than simply pass along something I’ve been reading for its surprise or its insight — or at best, both at once.  (Why begin with an image of Jake, Donny and Walt? Keep reading.  Or call it a Druidic obsession with triads…)

Today’s shamelessly self-indulgent instance of such a something comes from a post on another blog, where I encountered the following passage from The Greek Commonwealth by British scholar, utopian and idealist Alfred Zimmern, first published 1911, and now available online. (It’s also been reprinted at least five times by Oxford, the latest edition I’ve found dating from 1977.  Yes, I spent time tracking that info down.  It’s better than grading the mountain of essays that sit on my desk and desktop. Call it rationalized procrastination.)  In a chapter on poverty, noted the poster, Zimmern “tries to get the reader to imagine, in a poetic passage, the daily life of the Greeks in Classical times.”

Sappho and Alcaeus

Here, then, is Zimmern himself:

We think of the Greeks as pioneers of civilisation and unconsciously credit them with the material blessings and comforts in which we moderns have been taught, and are trying to teach Asiatics and Africans, to think that civilisation consists.

We must imagine houses without drains, beds without sheets or springs, rooms as cold, or as hot, as the open air, only draftier, meals that began and ended with pudding, and cities that could boast neither gentry nor millionaires. We must learn to tell the time without watches, to cross rivers without bridges, and seas without a compass, to fasten our clothes (or rather our two pieces of cloth) with two pins instead of rows of buttons, to wear our shoes or sandals without stockings, to warm ourselves over a pot of ashes, to judge open-air plays or lawsuits on a cold winter’s morning, to study poetry without books, geography without maps, and politics without newspapers. In a word we must learn how to be civilized without being comfortable. Or rather we must learn to enjoy the society of people for whom comfort meant something very different from motor-cars and armchairs, who, although or because they lived plainly and austerely and sat at the table of life without expecting any dessert, saw more of the use and beauty and goodness of the few things which were vouch-safed them – their minds, their bodies and Nature outside and around them.

Greek literature, like the Gospels, is a great protest against the modern view that the really important thing is to be comfortable…

How many Druids would hold this up as an ideal as well, at least at first?  But would — or could — we be as happy? Somehow I can imagine Jake Lebowski (from the Coen brothers’ ’98 film The Big Lebowski) would manage better in such conditions than I would. The Stoner might just beat out the Loner.  “There are things more important than comfort, says fantasy author Ursula LeGuin, “unless one is an old woman or a cat.”  She’s now an old woman, as her image here shows; I confess that for some years, I’ve noticed a creeping feline-ness of (dis)inclination invade my once radical and rebellious bones …

leguin

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Images: BBC News article on The Big Lebowski (worth reading!); Plato’s Academy; Ursula LeGuin.

Updated: 18:31 24 Feb. 2013

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