our greatest blessings come to us by way of madness Phaedr. 244a

2011/06/24

wise beyond hope



Many are the awesome things but nothing more awesome than man
This being on the stormy surface of the gray sea goes, through the roaring
swells making his way.
Of the gods the highest, Earth unfailing, untiring, he wears away with the ploughs' passage, year by year with the horse-like breed tilling.
The fickle clan of birds he traps and directs, and the tribes of beasts and the sea kin of the deep in his mesh-woven nets, ingenious man.
He controls, with his devices, of the wilderness beast the mountain-going, the hairy-necked horse he breaks with harness about its neck, and the bull, ruler of the mountain
Speech and wind-like thought and city-ruling desires he learnt, and from
chilling frosts and harsh rain's clear-aired arrows to shelter, always ingenious.
He goes into nothing unprepared for what may come.
From Hades alone he will not avoid but he has made himself an escaper from incurable diseases.
Cleverness in ingenuity, something wise beyond hope, sometimes moving him to harm and sometimes to good...
Respecting the land's laws and the gods' oath-bound justice, he is of a high city but an outlaw is he for whom the dishonorable is companion because of his audacity.
Never by my hearth nor in agreement of thought may anyone who does such things be!
SOPHOCLES Antigone

2

Harper's, June 07

Many things are formidable, and yet nothing is quite so formidable as man.
Over the gray sea and the storming south wind,
Through the foam and welling of the waves, he makes his perilous way;
The Earth also, highest of the deities, who never shows fatigue, nor exhaustion, nor decay,
Ever he furrows and ploughs, year on year, with his ploughshare, muzzles and horses.
The light-seeking birds of the air he stalks and traps, the wild beasts of the forest, and the salty brood of the sea, he catches with his richly woven net–
He, the cunning one,
And by his arts he achieves mastery of the savage game, of the creatures who
wind their way upon the heights, tamed through his wondrous art,
And the defiant steed he bends to his will under the bit.
Speech and wind-driven thoughts and emotions form the foundation upon which he builds the city,
All of this he has taught himself; and to take shelter before the inhospitable torrents of the heavens, and the freeze of the winter sky.
He is prepared for everything; against nothing does he want for protection.
Even against once perplexing ailments he has developed an escape.
Only against death has he at last no refuge.
Supplied with cleverness of every imaginable type,
He ventures once towards evil, and then towards good.
If he honors the laws of the land and the right attested by the Gods,
Then may his city prosper. But homeless shall he be if he boorishly debases himself.
–Sophocles, “Antigone,” Chorus (lines 340-380) (S.H. transl. after Hans
Jonas)

3

Wonders are many, yet of all
Things is Man the most wonderful.
He can sail on the stormy sea
Though the tempest rage, and the loud
Waves roar around, as he makes his
Path amid the towering surge.
Earth inexhaustible, ageless, he wearies, as
Backwards and forwards, from season to season, his
Ox-team drives along the ploughshare.

He can entrap the cheerful birds,
Setting a snare, and all the wild
Beasts of the earth he has learned to catch, and
Fish that teem in the deep sea, with
Nets knotted of stout cords; of
Such inventiveness is man.
Through his inventions he becomes lord
Even of the beasts of the mountain: the long-haired
Horse he subdues to the yoke on his neck, and the
Hill-bred bull, of strength untiring.

And speech he has learned, and thought
So swift, and the temper of mind
To dwell within cities, and not to lie bare
Amid the keen, biting frosts
Or cower beneath pelting rain;
Full of resource against all that comes to him
Is Man. Against Death alone
He is left with no defense.
But painfull sickness he can cure
By his own skill.

Surpassing belief, the device and
Cunning that Man has attained,
And it bringeth him now to evil, now to good.
If he observe Law, and tread
The righteous path God ordained,
Honored is he; dishonored, the man whose reckless heart
Shall make him join hands with sin:
May I not think like him,
Nor may such an impious man
Dwell in my house.
trans H. D. F. Kitto

********

The city state and individual. The gods and the mortal. Fate and choice. Genius and self/ego. Rocks and hard places.

Down the road a bit, off in the sand:

"I am the light, and create the darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I am the Lord, that doeth all these things." (Isa. 45:7)

That's Yahweh being very clear, little concerned for the tireless who so endlessly feel obliged to apologize for his darkness.

Bless paradox. Bless us all who find a way to live with bend not break, the deep message of Antigone.


"Listen, Moirai (Fates) ... hear our prayers ... send us rose-bloomed Eunomia (Good Order in civic government) and her bright-throned sisters Dike (Justice) and garland-wearing Eirene (Peace), and make this city forget its heavy-hearted misfortunes." - Greek Lyric V Anonymous Fragments 1018 (from Stobaeus, Anthology)