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The Aeneid is an epic poem written in Latin by the Roman poet Virgil. Thought to be largely historical in its heyday, it tells of the mythic journey and adventures of the Trojan hero Aeneas, who in ancient legend founded Rome.
Aeneas had already been known through Homer, who depicted him as a righteous, trustworthy soul, loyal to Rome.
Virgil in his Aeneid furthers Homer’s emphasis on Aeneas’ piety by representing him, in keeping with fashionable Roman ideals, as a symbol of filial, societal and spiritual devotion—i.e. devotion to parents, to the glory of Rome and its many deities.
The poem had a great influence on Dante, and was core university reading in the Middle Ages. Today, it still fascinates students of myth and classical studies. And for depth psychology, Aeneas makes a journey to the underworld, which speaks to the importance of the so-called collective unconscious.
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- Aeneas (earthpages.wordpress.com)
David Bowie (1947 -) is a British musician, record producer, arranger, actor and visual artist. Originally David Jones, apparently he changed his surname to avoid confusion with the popular Monkee of the time, Davey Jones.
Most would agree that Bowie is in a rare league of iconic rockers, including the likes of Elvis Presley, Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Michael Jackson, Bob Marley, Madonna and Elton John.
His best music synthesizes existing idioms to create something fresh and often exploratory. And because of his considerable talent, his musical explorations rarely go off the grid.
Bowie the philosopher, if you like, also takes us to new dimensions often passed over by status quo thinkers. His song “Starman” (1972) ponders the idea of extraterrestrial life and its potential impact on humanity.
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’d like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds
There’s a starman waiting in the sky
He’s told us not to blow it
Cause he knows it’s all worthwhile
And in “Loving the Alien” (1984) he sings:
Believing the strangest things
loving the alien…
Meanwhile, Black Tie White Noise (1993) looks to the meeting of spirit and the body, a topic that sometimes scares away so-called intellectuals who think they’re smart but really are quite narrow-minded:
Where the flesh meets
the spirit world
Where the traffic is thin…
You’ve been around
but you’ve changed me
In Bowie’s heyday the press often depicted him as “going away” from this world into some kind of creative journey and then “returning” whenever he produced a hit single.
There might be some psychological truth to this, as found in “Little Wonder” (1997):
Enter Galactic, see me to be you
It’s all in the tablets, Sneezy Bhutan
Little wonder then, little wonder
You little wonder, little wonder you…
Sending me so far away,
so far away…
Not unlike the Hindu Shiva-Shakti dyad, Bowie plunged into cross-dressing before this was considered chic in the music industry.
But there’s more to Bowie than meets the eye. Connecting him to religion and spirituality is far from spurious, considering his interest in parapsychology, as found in “Sound and Vision” (1977):
Don’t you wonder sometimes
‘Bout sound and vision…
I will sit right down,
Waiting for the gift of sound and vision
Within Asian systems paranormal abilities are known as siddhis, and in Catholic mysticism those which come from God are called called interior locutions, insights, perceptions and private revelations.
Bowie himself, however, is often critical of organized religion, as expressed in this chant from The Buddha of Suburbia (1993), released several years before the Catholic sex-abuse lawsuits hit the media:
Sex and the church
Sex and the church
Sex and the church
And the church
And the church
Bowie might someday be regarded not just as a musician but as a visionary or futurist. Considering the looming global water crisis the following scenario from “Looking for Water” (2003) doesn’t seem too far off:
Silver leaves are spinning round
Take my hand as we
go down and down
Looking for water…
I’m looking for water
Looking for water
I’m looking for water
Looking for water…
Pythagoras linked musical harmony to cosmic order, while Orpheus used his lyre to wrest his wife Eurydice from the underworld lord of death, Cerberus. But like Lot’s wife, and against a dire warning not to look back while escaping, Orpheus foolishly cast a glance backward, losing Eurydice forever.
This story speaks to the wisdom of accepting and trusting in the future, an idea summed up in Bowie’s tune, “Changes” (1971):
Turn and face the strange
ch ch changes…
time may change me
but I can’t trace time
Bowie has also ventured into acting and composing soundtracks for film and video games. For some time he hosted a lively, free internet forum called “Discourse” at davidbowie.com, which now charges membership fees.
Although criticized for being cheap when it comes to charity, Bowie replies
I can never make my mind up, I’m so f***ing flippy floppy. I can see both sides of everything and it’s really awful. Source » “DAVID BOWIE – BOWIE’S CHARITY STRUGGLES” at contactmusic.com
Cheap or not, for his considerable import as an artist he was awarded the 2008 Andromeda Award at earthpages.org.
Around 2004 Bowie suffered a heart attack and underwent emergency surgery. Since then he’s understandably kept a low profile, appearing here and there, and endorsing his son’s 2009 “Moon” movie.
All that changed when on his 66th birthday he released a new album, The Next Day (2013). Keeping true to form, one of his videos for the record upset the Catholic League. And so far it’s the fastest-selling album of 2013.
Other interesting things about Bowie:
- he was offered but declined a knighthood
- his actual religious views remain somewhat mysterious
- he just wants to make records now (and not give concerts)
- he’s apparently vowed never to do public interviews again
Earthpages.org’s Very First 2008 Andromeda Award!
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Cupid ((Latin Cupido, “desire”) comes under many guises. As the Roman god of Love, he’s the son of Venus.
The 2nd century Latin writer Apuleus portrays him in The Golden Ass as the lover of Psyche. But the timeless tale of Cupid and Pscyhe goes back at least to the 4th century BCE, where its depicted in Greek art.
Depth psychologists have much to say about the relationship between Cupid and Psyche. In Jungian archetypal psychology Psyche is taken as the cold, somewhat icy soul in need of a “shattering” or “melting” from the warm, sensitive Cupid. Cupid, on the other hand, risks utter destruction unless Psyche’s gaze is tempered with love.
In the language of symbols, the successful union of Cupid and Psyche represents a fruitful togetherness, not unlike the Yin and the Yang, love and knowledge or affection and wisdom.
In art Cupid is usually depicted naked. He’s often winged with bow and arrow, wearing a boyish or cherub-like countenance.
In folklore, Cupid, like the Indian kama, afflicts human beings with a proverbial “dart to the heart.” His marks invariably fall in love or become filled with desire for another person. His chief mythic parallel is the Greek god Eros.
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In that work the character Dr. Pangloss is a mouthpiece for the Leibnizian view. Pangloss clings to his rosy philosophical outlook despite undergoing horrendous personal sufferings.
Votaire, himself, had his fair share of suffering. He was imprisoned in the Bastille for speaking out against a French nobleman who’d insulted him. And his imprisonment came after he was beaten up by the nobleman’s servants and denied compensation.
In 1726, Voltaire responded to an insult from the young French nobleman Chevalier de Rohan, whose servants beat him a few days later. Since Voltaire was seeking compensation, and was even willing to fight in a duel, the aristocratic Rohan family obtained a royal lettre de cachet, an often arbitrary penal decree signed by the French King (Louis XV, in the time of Voltaire) that was often bought by members of the wealthy nobility to dispose of undesirables. This warrant caused Voltaire to be imprisoned in the Bastille without a trial and without an opportunity to defend himself. Fearing an indefinite prison sentence, Voltaire suggested that he be exiled to England as an alternative punishment, which the French authorities accepted. This incident marked the beginning of Voltaire’s attempts to reform the French judicial system.¹
This no doubt set the scene for Voltaire’s Candide, and many other works which advocated fair play and the betterment of society, to include freedom of speech and religion.
Candide was banned by the authorities for being blasphemous. But Voltaire’s sharp wit and clever insights couldn’t be resisted by Enlightenment thinkers. The book was secretly circulated and extremely popular. Voltaire’s fresh approach influenced many other authors, and Candide is now recognized as a classic of Western literature.
As often happens, if a petty, jealous or fearful authority tries to hold back a great personality, this usually spurs the creative soul on to even greater heights of achievement—which, ironically, supports Leibniz’s position.
The American conductor Leonard Bernstein wrote the music for an operetta based on Voltaire’s work. Also called Candide, it opened on Broadway in 1956 to lacklustre reviews.
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The Druids were Celtic pagan priests. Although much pseudo-history and quasi sacred lore can be found, in actual fact we don’t know too much about them because they were sworn to secrecy and not permitted to express their beliefs in writing. We do, however, have written accounts from indirect sources.
When in Gaul, the Roman leader Julius Caesar noted that the Druids worshipped gods, passed on their traditions to the young, practiced human sacrifice in oak groves and forbade certain people from attending sacrificial ceremonies. Because attendance at sacrificial ceremonies cemented one’s in-group status, those forbidden to attend were marginalized.
Caesar also says the Druids met annually at a location taken to be the center of Gaul. Like contemporary priests, they didn’t fight in wars nor pay taxes. The Roman writer Pliny (the Elder, 23-79 CE) wrote that, in addition to their priestly role, the Druids were seers, diviners and healers.
The ancient Roman senator and historian Tacitus (56–117 CE) mentions Druidic presence in Britain. The Druids served as officials at their allegedly bloody and frightening human sacrifices, the victims usually being criminals. Sometimes, however, innocent people were sacrificed in times of national calamity.
Caesar says that giant casings of intertwined branches held victims as they were burnt alive by the Druids. Humans and animals, alike, were used as burnt offerings for the gods. However, it’s been suggested that the Romans cited the Druidic practice of human sacrifice to undermine the Druid’s political power. The Romans, themselves, executed human beings for the apparent good of the State (in the form of scourging to the death or crucifixion) but human sacrifice to the gods was no longer practiced in the classical world.
Despite New Age philosophies based on the alleged teachings of the Druids, there is scant hard evidence that they possessed any detailed body of esoteric knowledge or, as S. G. F. Brandon puts it, “any subtle and sophisticated philosophy.” Brandon, in fact, suggests that the Druids were not unlike any other “barbarian priesthood.”¹ And there’s no visible evidence to link the Druids with Stonehenge, as suggested by the English writer John Aubrey in 1649 and by numerous TV specials and contemporary enthusiasts.
Through the fantasy literature of writers like J. J. R. Tolkien and Terry Brooks, the idea of the Druid-Sorcerer is firmly established as a kind of archetypal image depicting the powerful, brooding, wise and yet somewhat ambivalent magician. Not surprisingly, Druids feature prominently in off- and online gaming.
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¹ S. G. F. Brandon ed., “Celtic (Pagan) Religion” in A Dictionary of Comparative Religion: New York: Scribner, 1970, p. 180-184. By way of contrast, Neo-Druidism is a movement that, among other things, venerates nature.
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Jacques Derrida (1930-2004) was an influential French philosopher of language born in Algeria who taught at the Sorbonne and the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris.
Derrida and his followers suggest that the semiotic sense of denotation is, for the most part, chimerical and that everything is connotation.
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Euripides (480-406 BCE) was a Greek dramatist, born in Athens. As a youth he was an athlete, winning prizes at Eleusinian and Thesean gymnastic events. After studying philosophy under Anaxagoras (along with his friend Socrates), rhetoric under Prodicus and dabbling in painting, Euripides realized that literature was his forté.
Euripides is identified with theatrical innovations that have profoundly influenced drama down to modern times, especially in the representation of traditional, mythical heroes as ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. This new approach led him to pioneer developments that later writers adapted to comedy, some of which are characteristic of romance. Yet he also became “the most tragic of poets”,[nb 1] focusing on the inner lives and motives of his characters in a way previously unknown.¹
He wrote some 80 dramas, out of which 19 remain. Medea, Electra, and Trojan Women were performed during his lifetime but his work became increasingly popular after his death. The Bacchae, for instance, was performed in Athens only after he had died.
Euripides is also relevant to contemporary psychiatry and, in particular, depth psychology. His play Heracles (416 BCE) most effectively personifies Madness as the daughter of Heaven and Night, sent to drive Heracles insane:
Madness has mounted her chariot
Groans and tears accompany her
She plies the lash, hell-bent for murder
rage gleaming from her eyes
A Gorgon of the night, and around her
Bristle the hissing heads of a hundred snakes²
Fully versed in the myths and legends that permeated his culture, he was also aware of the Sophists and the early scientists and philosophers like Anaxagoras.³ So Euripides didn’t buy into but, rather, satirized the popular religion of his day. He did believe in the idea of divine providence but was skeptical of many of the religious beliefs and practices that dominated the ancient Greek world.
Put simply, he preferred to find his own answers to questions concerning ultimate truth. As such, he’s been called ’the poet of the Greek enlightenment,’ among a variety of other things by his detractors and admirers.4
² Euripides, cited in Eric Flaum and David Pandy, The Encyclopedia of Mythology: Gods, Heroes, and Legends of the Greeks and Romans, Philadelphia, Courage Books, 1993, p. 99.
³ Peter Burian ” Euripides ” The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome. Ed. Michael Gagarin. © Oxford University Press 2010. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome: (e-reference edition). Oxford University Press. Toronto Public Library. 25 May 2012 http://www.oxford-greecerome.com/entry?entry=t294.e458
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Erasmus Desiderius (originally Gerrit Gerritszoon 1467-1536) was a Dutch scholar, man of letters and statesman born in Rotterdam. His humorous and insightful writings about religion during the Renaissance, especially the practices of the clergy, won him renown and gained controversy among the intellectual and religious elites of his day.
A former Augustinian monk (1487) and priest (1492), his most famous work, In Praise of Folly, (1509) apparently was written in only a week as an idle pastime while visiting, and for the benefit of, Sir Thomas More. But its numerous scholarly references suggest that it was re-worked prior to publication.
Holding many views that would not seem out of place for a contemporary thinker, Erasmus has the extra benefit of not being swayed by contemporary scientific materialism. Insanity, for instance, is said to be of two types:
One kind is sent from hell by the vengeful furies whenever they let loose their snakes and assail the hearts of men with lust for war, insatiable thirst for gold, the disgrace of forbidden love…or some other sort of evil…The other is quit different, desirable above everything, and is known to come to me. It occurs whenever some happy mental aberration frees the soul from its anxious cares and at the same time restores it by the addition of manifold delights.”¹
Probably due to his keen intelligence, he was never persecuted for his views. He seems to have mastered the art of getting the knives of notables to butter his bread instead of stabbing him in the back.
Erasmus was a humanist who believed that the ethical principles of religion were more important than its rules, regulations, doctrines and ceremonies. He took great pains to illustrate that the clergy was rife with hypocrisy and corruption. Colloquia familiaria (1519) was a parody of abuses and degeneracy among the clergy.
After some time Erasmus denounced the Reformation figure Martin Luther, whom he had formerly praised. Luther’s dogmatic theology was too rigid for Erasmus’ free-style thinking. Among his other works, Erasmus was the first to translate the Greek New Testament.
¹ Erasmus of Rotterdam, Praise of Folly and Letter to Martin Dorp, 1515, trans. Betty Radice, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973, p. 121.
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David Hume (1711-76) was a Scottish philosopher who developed a naturalist perspective on all aspects of human life.
For Hume, the highest good is based on the pursuit of happiness. We are personally happy when we’re good to others, not due to some high spiritual reward but because this approach leads to a harmonious social whole. So personal and social well-being go hand in hand.
This means that morality isn’t based on austere rational principles but on the desire for enjoyment. Accordingly, Hume believes that reason cannot determine anything without experience. And he goes as far to say that reason is the “slave of passion.”
Hume’s metaphysics, in particular his critique of the belief in cause and effect, remains an important challenge to our conventional way of seeing. All we can be sure of, says Hume, is that certain events occur one after another in a given region and for a certain duration.
In billiards, for instance, the white ball appears to cause the motion of other balls when impacting them on the gaming table. But here’s the radical part. Hume says that all we can truly know is that, in the past, the first ball impacted and the other balls moved. We cannot prove that the first ball’s impact will always be followed by movement of the other balls. And for Hume, there is no rational way to demonstrate a causal connection:
Reason can never shew us the connexion of one object with another, tho’ aided by experience, and the observation of their constant conjunction in all past instances. When the mind, therefore, passes from the idea or impression of one object to the idea or belief of another, it is not determin’d by reason, but by certain principles, which associate together the ideas of these objects, and unite them in the imagination.¹
Put differently, from prior experience we build up a series of expectations and habitual ways of interpreting observations. Hume calls these “ideas.” But ideas they simply are. Although we expect the billiard balls to move, we have no way of proving or knowing that they always will.
At first, this may seem absurd. But Hume’s critique of causality had a profound effect on one of the most important thinkers in the history of Western philosophy, Immanuel Kant. Mortimer Adler says “…Kant tells us that David Hume awakened him from his dogmatic slumbers.”²
In addition, on a quantum level of reality, contemporary physicists claim that observations of subatomic particles support the ideas of probability and simultaneity instead of linear causality.
However, some say it’s invalid to compare quantum and macroscopic levels of reality because subatomic particles exist in an entirely different arena, and behave in different ways than the larger aggregate objects which they make up.
This debate continues to this day, the answer to which might depend on one’s core beliefs and related worldview. Or in Hume’s terms, one’s “customs of thought.”
¹ David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature (1896 ed.), SECTION VI.: Of the inference from the impression to the idea, paragraph 278.
² Adler, Mortimer J. (1996). Ten Philosophical Mistakes. Simon & Schuster. p. 94, cited at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critique_of_Pure_Reason#cite_note-2
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