Education, Glory and Wisdom- meditations on the 21°-22°-23° Delphic Laws

“For it is education which makes the difference between a man and a wild beast, a Greek and a Barbarian, a free man and a slave”.

 

 

21) Cling to discipline (Παιδειας αντεχου)

Here we have an another very important concept in the Hellenic Tradition, “paideia”, i.e. education, learning, training and science, signifying the general learning that should be the possession of a complete and perfectly realized human being. It has to do with the shaping of the Hellenic character, and is a concept at the center of the Hellenic educational genius which is the secret of the undying influence of Hellas upon all subsequent ages. Paideia in the Hellenic  sense aims at the creation of the higher type of man. The principle of the Hellenic Tradition is not individualism but humanism–humanitas–in a noble and weighty sense. Paideia is  the process of educating man into his true form. Plato’s primary directive for philosophy focused on the strenuous development of the intellect, the will, and the body, motivated by a ceaseless desire to regain the lost union with the eternal, for the recollection of the Ideals is both the means and the goal of true knowledge. Education, therefore, for Plato is in the service of the soul and the divine. So he says in his Laws: “So long as the young generation is, and continues to be, well brought up, our ship of state will have a fair voyage; otherwise the consequences are better left unspoken.”

The Hellenic conception of education for the sake of wholeness is enclosed in the term Paideia, the education in virtue from youth up for the sake of citizenship, knowing how to rule and be ruled on the basis of justice. Paideia originally referred to a process of education, the means to an educational end. Later in Hellenistic times, it came to refer to the end itself and the word came to signify “culture,” the very end to be achieved. The personal culture thus obtained was a man or woman’s paideia, the very thing for which he/she was born, the sum of intellectual, moral, and aesthetic as well as physical qualities that make one a complete and whole human being. It is this theme that provided and still provides unity to the Hellenic Tradition in our devotion to a single ideal of human perfection, in accordance with the will of the Gods.

This law clearly tells us a very important order: never to put aside the high ideal of paideia. We must always strive toward perfection and reunion with the higher Ideals because this is precisely the aim of the human existence in its true meaning. This is possible only if we elevate ourselves by means of virtue and knowledge, and one of the key means, handed down by our Ancestors, is in fact the whole system of paideia, as it was practiced in the ancient times.

 

22) Pursue honor (Δοξαν διωκε)

“Doxa” has two fields of application: in the philosophical context it means opinion, belief, concept, as opposed to the true episteme, science. The other meaning is esteem, glory, honor, reputation, fame and renown. This implies a very important ethical law in the Tradition: the importance given to glory above all other values: “doxan antì toû zên airesthai”, to prefer the glory instead of life. This value can be better understood through the remembering of the fatal choice of Achilles: the issue is framed by Achilles’ mother,  Thetis. Being a Goddess, she has access to prophecies unavailable to mortals. The momentous prophecy She relates to Achilles is that he carries with him two possible fates: he can either stay in Troy, fight gloriously, and achieve undying fame; or he can leave Troy, survive to old age, and die without glory or fame. The decision is his, but, either way, the stated outcome is certain. In Book 9 of the Iliad, Achilles says he has decided to go home (and live a long life), rather than stay and fight. However, he later changes his mind, chooses the heroic path, and becomes the most illustrious hero of the Trojan War.

It is better to die sooner but gloriously, leaving behind imperishable fame, than to die a bit later leaving behind an empty, undistinguished life: the one who dies young is dear to the Gods. Moreover, the warrior who achieves immortal glory does get to relish his brief, shining moment while he is still alive, and dies knowing he will be remembered forever. Man’s lot, as described by Sarpedon, invites the courageous to exalt glory and fame as the only route to a meaningful immortality. It is to sacrifice oneself, and achieve immortal glory: one way is also to create works of art, philosophy and poetry that can survive after their creators are gone and achieve immortality both for themselves and for their authors.

In fact this law underlies the desire for immortality that can be only achieved through this selfless sacrifice. There is a another word in Greek to indicate fame and glory, kleos, that comes from klyo, to hear, so conveying the meaning of “what the others hear about you, that is your fame/reputation”; on the contrary doxa focuses on what is thought, what is known about a person, in other words:  commonly held beliefs accepted by the wise and by elders. “Seekers of honor might well imitate racers, who do not injure their antagonists, but limit themselves to trying to achieve the victory themselves… Seekers of true glory should strive really to become what they wished to seem; for counsel is not as sacred as praise, the former being useful only among men, while the latter mostly referred to the divinities.”

 

23) Long for wisdom (Σοφιαν ζηλου)

“Sophia” is a very important word, mostly in the philosophical milieu; it deals with various aspects of religion and knowledge in union with philosophy and theology. The very word philo-sophia can be an another way of rendering this same law. Sophia has been summed up simply as “Life.” She is the wisdom principle in man, which is the intellectual aspect of the soul, (which) redeems itself by renouncing error (following the pathway of philosophy); Sophia is also termed as the World Soul (anima mundi), divine feminine, Perfect Nature. In short this word tends to pick out the sort of excellence in a particular domain that derives from experience and expertise. In early applications of the term to “wise men,” for example the Seven Sages.

Sophia is the perfection of human understanding  and is consisting in a fully comprehensive and systematic grasp of the rational order in the universe. Sophia can be understood also as “knowledge of the divine and the human, and their causes”. Plato defined sophia as non-hypothetical knowledge, knowledge of what always exists, knowledge which contemplates the cause of being. Plato distinguishes also wisdom or sophia from phronesis or “practical wisdom”: “The ability which by itself is productive of human happiness; the knowledge of what is good and bad; the knowledge that produces happiness; the disposition by which we judge what is to be done and what it not to be done.”
Plato says that sophia is our own personal knowledge of the Ideals—knowledge which contemplates the cause of being, or else what always exists. It is what Iamblichus ascribes to divine Pythagoras: “Pythagoras unfolded to the Greeks all the disciplines, theories and researches that would purify the intellect from the blindness introduced by studies of a different kind, so as to enable it to perceive the true principles and causes of the universe.” and “Attention to the body might be compared to unworthy friends, and is liable to rapid failure; while knowldge lasts till death, and for some procures post-mortem renown, and may be likened to good, reliable friends.” This is the very loving longing of the philosophical soul, to which only is companion the true happiness, eudaimonia.

 

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