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Epicurus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Epicurus (c.341-270 BCE) was a Greek materialist philosopher, born on the island of Samos who founded a school at Mitylene in 310 BCE. In 305 BCE he opened a school of philosophy in Athens, leading an exemplary life of simplicity and temperance.

From a few extant letters and fragments, we learn that Epicurus believed that happiness was the highest good and that life ended at the point of death. This was not the path of wanton hedonism, as some medieval Christian opponents suspected, but rather deliverance from pain and worry.

The Christian disdain for Epicurus, aside from his disbelief in the afterlife, was exacerbated by some of his followers who advocated sensual pleasure-seeking as the highest goal in life. While Epicurus did see pleasure and pain as standards against which to measure a successful or unsuccessful life, he also advocated restraint. And his understanding of pleasure was more akin to the notion of tranquility than a succession of ephemeral thrills.

Related Posts » Epicureanism, Epicurism

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Epicurian Postcard           /       Epicure d...

Epicurian Postcard / Epicure de Rappel (Photo credit: Pierre Metivier)

Today, epicurism usually means the pursuit of pleasure, as in fine cuisine, wine-tasting, etc. This everyday usage distorts the original doctrines of the philosophical school of Epicureanism.

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Enlightenment (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the Buddhist sense enlightenment means achieving absolute spiritual realization through loss of the ego and, ultimately, one’s individuality. Once enlightened the Buddhist believes they’re no longer reborn and, and through the annihilation of any kind of individuality, even spiritual individuality, they apparently free themselves from suffering.

Unlike Christianity, Buddhism has no positive sense of individuality, not even spiritual individuality in the afterlife. Being an individual is just bad news in Buddhism.

A spiritual meaning for the word enlightenment is not restricted to Buddhism, however. The Oxford English Dictionary tells us that, as far back as 1621, enlightenment has been used in Christianity to refer to the idea that God illuminates individual souls and that such souls are powerless to illuminate themselves with divine grace and understanding.

1621   R. Aylett Song of Songs i. iv. iv. 83   The Word, without the Spirits enlightenment, Is as good Seede sowne on vntilled ground.¹

The picture shows a gathering of distinguished...

The picture shows a gathering of distinguished guests in the drawing-room of French hostess Marie-Thérèse Rodet Geoffrin (1699-1777) who is seated on the right. There is a bust of Voltaire in the background. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the historical sense the period of “The Enlightenment” refers to an 18th-century philosophical movement emerging out of the 17th-century Scientific Revolution, to include the works of Adam Smith, Locke, Hume and Newton. It advocated reason and education over what was regarded as superstition, blind faith and historically laden dogmas. So in this context, the word enlightenment has a totally different meaning than the quotation above.

1836   N. Amer. Rev. July 176   When he [sc. Tieck] made his first appearance, it was, under the banner of Nicolai, as one of the Berlin advocates of enlightenment and reason, and enemies of superstition and mysticism.²

The Enlightenment championed the idea of “progress” as a challenge to entrenched forms of Christianity; however the idea of progress, and all the unspoken connotations that go with it, is now questioned by many. In France the Enlightenment produced the first great encyclopedias of Diderot and d’Alembert, with contributions from leading figures like Voltaire, Montesquieu, Condorcet and Rousseau.

In the Western contemporary sense enlightenment means a novel thought, a new way of looking at things, insight or the dispelling of ignorance.

¹ OED third edition, November 2010; online version March 2012. <;; accessed 01 May 2012. An entry for this word was first included in New English Dictionary, 1891.

² Ibid.

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Johannes Gutenberg

The Gutenberg Bible displayed by the United St...

The Gutenberg Bible displayed by the United States Library of Congress - Raul654 via Wikipedia

Johannes Gutenberg (1400-68) was a German inventor usually credited with the advent of the printing press based on movable type.

Records are scant but Guternberg likely began printing in Strasbourg (1430-44), seeking to reproduce the religious manuscripts of the day. He constructed a printing press in 1448 with the financial backing of Johann Fust. Around 1455 he printed a 42-line Bible, which historians call the “Gutenberg Bible,” a word respected for its aesthetic charm.

The Chinese had been block-printing with stamps and seals since the Shang dynasty (BCE 1766 – 1122) but the innovation of movable type sparked a technological revolution that continues into the 21st century. The impact of movable type on literacy – and society in general – is much discussed in contemporary sociology and cultural studies courses.

A set of metal types

A Set of Metal Types - Willi Heidelbach via Wikipedia

What you probably don’t hear in these courses, however, is that we’re not really sure if Gutenberg was the inventor of movable type. The uncertainty arose when researchers realized subtle differences between some characters within different printed copies of the same work.

Elaborate computer scans have apparently confirmed that these differences indicate that Gutenberg did not use one indestructible mould but, rather, had to employ some other method to mass produce copies of a single work. And this exact method is still subject to debate.

The following except from Wikipedia explains:

The invention of the making of types with punch, matrix and mold has been widely attributed to Gutenberg. However, recent evidence suggests that Gutenberg’s process was somewhat different. If he used the punch and matrix approach, all his letters should have been nearly identical, with some variations due to miscasting and inking. However, the type used in Gutenberg’s earliest work shows other variations.[citation needed]

In 2001, the physicist Blaise Agüera y Arcas and Princeton librarian Paul Needham, used digital scans of a Papal bull in the Scheide Library, Princeton, to carefully compare the same letters (types) appearing in different parts of the printed text.[20][21] The irregularities in Gutenberg’s type, particularly in simple characters such as the hyphen, suggested that the variations could not have come from either ink smear or from wear and damage on the pieces of metal on the types themselves. While some identical types are clearly used on other pages, other variations, subjected to detailed image analysis, suggested that they could not have been produced from the same matrix. Transmitted light pictures of the page also appeared to reveal substructures in the type that could not arise from traditional punchcutting techniques. They hypothesized that the method may have involved impressing simple shapes to create alphabets in “cuneiform” style in a matrix made of some soft material, perhaps sand. Casting the type would destroy the mould, and the matrix would need to be recreated to make each additional sort. This could explain the variations in the type, as well as the substructures observed in the printed images.

Thus, they feel that “the decisive factor for the birth of typography”, the use of reusable moulds for casting type, might have been a more progressive process than was previously thought.[22] They suggest that the additional step of using the punch to create a mould that could be reused many times was not taken until twenty years later, in the 1470s. Others have not accepted some or all of their suggestions, and have interpreted the evidence in other ways, and the truth of the matter remains very uncertain.[23]

Related posts » à Kempis (Thomas), McLuhan (Marshall Herbert)

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Encounter Magazine

Encounter Magazine uploaded by World of Good via Flickr

History is the study of past (and arguably present) ideas, objects, people and events. Scholars usually credit the Greek Heroditus (c. 484 BCE – c. 425 BCE) as the founder of historical writing.

History often involves a particular narrative style that categorizes and describes according to certain time periods and geographical limits. For instance, Lord Kenneth Clark‘s groundbreaking Civilization series for BBC TV pretty much ignored the achievements of ancient China and several other cultures. This is because history must be selective.

Clark was well aware of these shortcomings and, in his view, overcame them by insisting that the series be entitled: Civilization: A Personal View.

More recently, the presentation of history has been popularized by time-charts, point form outlines, multimedia and other innovative techniques which have expanded our definition of the “narrative.”

Feminists often say that history is biased by patriarchy. It’s written mostly by men about men or by men interpreting women’s experiences from a male perspective. Feminists also suggest that female writers of history often adopt a stereotypical male attitude (i.e. sexist).

One strategy that feminists have used to further their agenda is to call history “herstory.” This is an effective contemporary word play, but has been criticized for ignoring the etymology of the word history. The Greek word historia translates to “inquiry, knowledge acquired by investigation.”¹

Michel Foucault

Michel Foucault via Wikipedia (follow link for fair use rationale)

The French postodern thinker Michel Foucault argues that history is about the interpretation of not only discovered but often selected forms of knowledge. For Foucault, past events and items are often selected and interpreted to make them seem significant for the benefit of those with social power, while other events and items that would challenge their power are routinely ignored.

According to this view, history is a kind of collective myth. Or more correctly, it’s an ongoing struggle for legitimacy among several competing discourses (a popular term among postmoderns) of power. So in a nutshell, the cleverest myth-makers benefit most.

On the other hand, the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung says that myth is history because it depicts mankind’s collective psychological past.

Two important points to consider with regard to the postmodern view are:

  1. Are the best mythmakers conscious of being such, or do they, perhaps, simply create and perpetuate relative “truths” out of ignorance.
  2. Not entirely unlike Karl Marx‘s  notion of false consciousness, postmoderns believe that prevailing social myths spread throughout a culture so that even those who don’t benefit will believe in and espouse those social “fictions,” as Foucault once put it. And some may believe in a culturally relative discourse which is actually harmful to them.

A good example for #2 would be gays and lesbians before the American Psychiatric Association voted in 1974 that homosexuality wasn’t a mental disorder.² Prior to that time, many gays and lesbians would no doubt have questioned why they were apparently “wrong,” blindly believing in the psychiatric biases of the day.

Related Posts » Archaeology, Counter-discourse, Dialectical Materialism, Forces of Production, Hegel (Georg Wilhelm Friedrich), Intercession, Jewish Mysticism, Joachim of Fiore, Language, Lévi-Strauss (Claude),  Moses and Monotheism, Myth, Nietzsche (Friedrich), Occam’s razor, Relations of Production, Scholarship, Sign


² Chuck Stewart, Homosexuality and the law: a dictionary, p. 41.

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Mary Magdalene. Lime tree wood and polychromy,...

Mary Magdalene by Gregor Erhart († 1540). Lime tree wood and polychromy, 16th century. Part of the feet were restored in the 19th century via Wikipedia

The term heterodox means about the same thing as “unorthodox.” It denotes views and related practices opposed to and usually publicly condemned by established figures or leaders. The word heterodox is found in religious and secular matters.

In religion, a heterodox position might be an outright heresy, which counters core doctrines, or it may just be different enough from standard teachings to elicit public condemnation from orthodox leaders.

Historically, both Protestant and Catholic forms of Christianity have imprisoned, tortured and burned people alive for holding apparently Satanic views about the nature of Christ or some other item of dogma. In retrospect, any reasonable person is compelled to ask who was really behaving like a devil.

Today, the Catholic Church publicly opposes some charismatic preachers of Christianity while accepting others. The tension between orthodox and heterodox groups seems to be greatest when they share areas of ideological overlap.

Sociologists and Religious Studies professors like John Gager say that whenever the beliefs and practices of an out-group get a bit too close for comfort to those of an established in-group, members of the in-group get upset. The in-group then wants to better define its boundaries, which may lead to exclusion, condemnation or, as we’ve seen in the often grisly march of human history, persecution.

According to this theory, it’s the similarity of the two groups that riles the established in-group. Radically different out-groups lacking some kind of thematic overlap with an entrenched in-group are usually ignored. But when an out-group hits a nerve by getting too ideologically close to the in-group—that’s when sparks fly.

This dynamic apparently took place between the early Christians and the Gnostics. And a similar kind of dynamic continues to this day.¹

The following is a smattering of historical usage for the term “heterodox” from the Oxford English Dictionary, illustrating its different meanings that have existed through the centuries:

1650    J. Row Hist. Kirk Scotl. (1842) 354   Christ’s locall descending to hell, and divers others heterodoxe doctrines.

1658    G. Starkey Natures Explic. 18   Whosoever should dare to swarve from these [Galen and Aristotle]‥being looked upon as Heterodox, was the object of scorn and derision.

1859    W. Collins Queen of Hearts I. 20   The Major‥held some strangely heterodox opinions on the modern education of girls.

¹ See “DVD Review – The Murder of Mary Magdalene: Genocide of the Holy Bloodline” »

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Burning of the Heretics (Auto-da-fé)

Burning of the Heretics by Pedro Berruguete (1450–1504) via Wikipedia

The Inquisitions were a movement of organized and often cruel evil in which the Catholic Church or Catholic national leaders legally tried, tortured and executed apparent ‘heretics.’

The legal tests for determining heretics were both irrational and in many cases, predetermined by ludicrous experimenter bias. And in many cases the authorities of the day were legally permitted to seize property formerly owned by someone branded as a heretic.

Under Torquemada (1420–1498) a horrific total of 2000 heretics were burnt at the stake, all on one occasion.

The Inquisition began around the 12th century and extended in various waves within Europe until finally abolished in Spain in 1834.

Related posts » Just War, Latin, Witches Hammer

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Frontispiece depicting Juvenal and Persius, fr...

Frontispiece depicting Juvenal and Persius, from a volume translated by John Dryden in 1711 via Wikipedia

Juvenal (Decimus Junius Juvenali, c. 55-130 CE) was a Roman satirist whose sharp, critical eye gives a reality check to those who uncritically glorify ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt as examples of a mythical ‘golden age.’

The ancient world was typically corrupt, hypocritical and cruel, with large numbers of miserable have-nots (slaves and the over-taxed poor) at the whim and mercy of a tiny group of often tyrannical rulers.

As for sacred temples, Juvenal writes that they are frequently used as meeting places for casual hetero- and homosexual sex. To the “provincial” Naevolus he says:

It’s not so long, I recall, since you used to hang around the temples of Ceres and Isis, or Ganymede’s little shrine
In the temple of Peace, or Cybele’s secret grotto
On the Palatine Hill – all such places are hot-spots for easy women.
You laid them by the dozens then, and (something you don’t mention)
More often than not you would have their husbands, too (Juvenal, The Sixteen Satires, trans. Peter Green, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974, p. 195).

And his take on the Roman state religion’s feast days is just as controversial:

What feast-day’s so holy it never produces the usual quota
Of theft, embezzlement, fraud, all those criminal get-rich-quick schemes,
Glittering fortunes won by the dagger or drug-box? (Ibid., p. 249).

Juvenal’s vivid and piercing portrait of ancient Rome might be more relevant to some contemporary cultures than Voltaire‘s equally powerful satire, Candide, even though the latter is nearer to the present, chronologically speaking.

Contemporary scholars don’t know if Juvenal really stood behind his criticisms or, instead, was simply writing about some of his contemporaries who viewed things as he wrote them.

While Juvenal’s mode of satire has been noted from antiquity for its wrathful scorn towards all representatives of social deviance, some politically progressive scholars such as W.S. Anderson and later S.M. Braund have attempted to defend his work as actually a rhetorical persona (mask) taken up by the author to critique the very attitudes he appears to be exhibiting in his works.¹


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Category:Christianity of the Middle Ages

Image via Wikipedia

A knight was a mounted warrior in the Middle Ages who pledged allegiance to the Church and, as such, answered to ordained priests. During the Crusades it was believed that a knight only fought for just and holy causes.

However, many abuses occurred (including rapes, pillaging, cruelty and senseless murder), and some would argue that the whole idea of ‘killing for Christ’ is a twisted perversion of Christ’s teachings.

It has often been said that crusaders tended to behave particularly badly once they were in the field. That they could be undisciplined and capable of acts of great cruelty cannot be denied.¹

The Crusading knight was also a servant of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and as the institution developed over the centuries, the idea of knighthood became highly romanticized in life, literature and song. Instead of being a mere ‘killer for Christ,’ the knight evolved into a courageous hero who was bound to protect women through acts of chivalry. At least, that was the prevailing ideal in the latter Middle Ages, an idea that became even more pronounced during the Renaissance.

Part of the knight’s identity rested upon horsemanship and another part on armoury–just as horsemanship, battle attire and weapons have always been important to warriors, stretching back into antiquity. When the technology of warfare changed, the old idea of the mounted knight in armor gradually fell into obscurity.

Today, the knight remains an omnipresent symbol of heroism and honor in works of fiction and pop culture. And those knighted by royalty are done so for some great lifetime achievement (e.g. Sir Paul McCartney, Sir Elton John and Sir Michael Phillip “Mick” Jagger).

In addition, certain religious groups have adapted the term knight to symbolize holiness and the pursuit of goodness (e.g. The Knights of Columbus).

Interestingly, some contemporary figures do not accept the honor of knighthood which the British royalty so carefully offers.²

¹ See Rethinking the Crusades by JONATHAN RILEY SMITH »

² David Bowie declined the honor in 2003, saying : “I would never have any intention of accepting anything like that. I seriously don’t know what it’s for. It’s not what I spent my life working for.” See » And many others have responded similarly, as revealed in this list:

Related Posts » Batman, Darth Vader, Holy Grail, Jedi, Luke Skywalker, Obi Wan Kenobi, Suffering, Tagore (Rabindranath), Tarot

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Lenin, Vladimir Ilyich

Chinese poster featuring Marx, Engels, Lenin, ...

Chinese poster with Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao. Caption reads, "Long live Marxism-Leninism and Maoism" via Wikipedia

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1870-1924) was a Russian politician and Marxist revolutionary who believed that, once communism was fully in place, existing bureaucratic structures would slowly disappear—hence his oft-quoted belief in the “withering away of the state.”

From observable history, however, it seems that communism has never been achieved as Marx envisioned it. And most, if not all, of the countries that have attempted communism arguably have exhibited authoritarianism, corruption and stagnant mediocrity, this often enforced by vulgar militarism.

Today, some writers suggest that Marx was right in saying that Capitalism “carries the seeds of its own destruction” by pointing to things like WikiLeaks as apparent proof of that position.¹

¹ See for instance, “The Destructive Role of WikiLeaks-o-phobia in World Politics” by Hasan A. Yahya:

Related Posts » Kardasians, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell (George)


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