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Knowledge and Names

A Star Without a Name

When a baby is taken from the wet nurse,
it easily forgets her
and starts eating solid food.
Seeds feed awhile on ground,
then lift up into the sun.
So you should taste the filtered light
and work your way toward wisdom
with no personal covering.
That's how you came here, like a star
without a name.  Move across the night sky
with those anonymous lights.
                (Rumi, Mathnawi III, 1284-1288)

Rumi is interesting, he writes from a time and a place that are often overlooked.  He lived in the thirteenth century, a Sufi mystic.  His poems have spread throughout popular culture in recent years, often lines or poems can be found on inspirational posters (here).  Inspirational posters feel trite, but they also show how this man from 700 years ago can be understood and empathized with by people from different times and places.

This poem, “A Star Without a Name”, is full of analogies that trace the life of an individual.  The baby moves on early in life, like the seed starting in the ground and gradually reaching towards the sun.  This transitions to the light of wisdom; as understanding grows, the individual starts with “filtered light” until they can attain wisdom, without anything shielding them from the light.  I find it interesting that Rumi embraces both the filtered and unfiltered light, I see it as the teaching by others and the learning by the individual without others guidance.  It is how I envision the school system to be going, they try to give you the tools to learn, while they filter the light for you.  Hopefully, at the end, the student is equipped to fathom the unfiltered light.

The ending is so lonely though, arriving like a star without a name, an “anonymous light”, it is a solitary adventure in the end, even if you started with companions and guides.


Consumption History

School is out for the summer and I have packed all my history textbooks away, and I am probably not going to pull them out for leisure reading over the summer.

open book

However, this summer I have been listening to  historically focused podcasts, like Backstory or Revisionist History.  It is a bit odd, I thought that once I was out of school I would consume different content.

Through different mediums I fell like I consume incredibly related content, it just depends on what is the most accessible or interesting to me.  It always comes back to the story, the how we got to be where we are now, the constants of human nature.

If people did one thing then, why did they do it? Do we do the same things today? Why do we do them?

This contrast between how I consume history in school and how I consume it in the summer.  The style of presentation and the medium are both factors in how or why it is consumed.  During the school year it is often assigned as reading, from a textbook; for the summer it is more conversational, the topics of podcasts, more entertaining than otherwise for me.  Most of the podcasts that I have found are like history’s highlight reels, the producers favorite stories from a time period, and not a linear, continuous narrative.  This seems to be a product of the medium as well, it is set up for non-linear consumption, for someone to scroll through until they see a title that looks interesting.  This is consumption history, wrapped into a single unit and ready to go, no longer building up on all previous episodes.

How do you like consuming history?  What other topics interest you?

Telescoping Time

As the second semester Humanistic Studies comes to a close, we have covered Ancient Greeks through Rome’s conquest, across Europe and through the Renaissance, with just the slightest hint of the Reformation.
“But in any case, it is the chief value of legend to mix up the centuries while preserving the sentiment; to see all ages in a sort of splendid foreshortening. That is the use of tradition: it telescopes history”

G. K. Chesterton, The Ballad of the White Horse

As we pass through the material, the times and people which we read and discuss become closer and more understood.  The closer and more real the people become, the easier it is to reach an understanding of them.
Because the Renaissance was built upon antiquity, in reality, and in our study, I think that I have found a duller appreciation of the Renaissance than I would have otherwise.  The foundation was laid so I was able to build on it.  One of the most difficult things to understand are the references to common knowledge of that time.  I think that the building up from antiquity has been most helpful for me in the understanding of the Renaissance and especially the literature for this semester.

Who is the best? I, Benvenuto Cellini, am the best! At EVERYTHING!

Benvenuto Cellini, did a lot of things according to his autobiography.  In every endeavor, he claims that he was the best at it ever and was honored by all around size1him.  In this autobiography, Cellini continuously says that to tell the entirety of his accomplishments in an area, “It would take me too long to write” (67).  In doing this, Cellini is both claiming that there is more than what he has said and that he is full of experience.

The areas which Cellini claims expertise in are marksmanship (42), being a goldsmith (10), was an awesome lover (121), courageous (11), leading armies (69), being a necromancer’s assistant (116) and was well connected (59).  The only thing that he resists doing, but is still awesome at, is being a musician (34).
There are definitely more things which Cellini claims to be good at and it is rather ridiculous to read.  This list of expertise and what it contains is new to that time.  Before then, many of the biographies were simply about the wars that kings won and their conduct.  This is a personal account, Cellini is telling the reader how he feels, what he is doing, and what the consequences and reactions are to that.  This shift is something that develops through the Italian Renaissance and Cellini embodies.
12c4ac8a6caa4885c1a4211c6a7a4218_home-clipart-cartoons-cartoon-clipart-long-list_350-276It also feels really familiar, like a college admission form.  The college wants you to be a leader and be studios and be well connected and have interesting hobbies. For college, it is expected, required that you have at least a smattering of skills and talents.  For Cellini, it was the most important thing, he was writing around 58 years old, he had had so much more time than a traditional college bound student.  For me, this expectation of colleges was one of the strangest ones, I am coming here to get an education, I am 17 years old, what do you think I will have done that I should add to this list you want?

Diversification Or Isolation


1.  The act or process of diversifying; state of being diversified.
2.  The act or practice of manufacturing a variety of products,investing in a variety of securities, selling a variety of merchandise, etc., so that a failure in or an economic slump affecting one of them will not be disastrous.
ef47a1d2092bfaa764acec01e52e0055When we use the word “diversification” it is often in the same sentence as the word “portfolio”.  This is the second definition offered above, where diversification occurs because of fear of economic slumps.  Now diversifying your investment portfolio is a good idea, it does provide better odds for an improvement in your monetary situation.
However, is your portfolio the only thing you diversify?
Can you diversify the contents of your mind?
I don’t know if you can, and if you are reading this, then I think you would have to make a choice.  The choice would be to search out other ideas, and then engage with the ideas with the intent of letting them actually change how you think or act.  Even though you might not agree with every idea, by engaging with it, you are increasing diversity and you have more information than before.
The mental diversity is what either allows a person to embrace a global perspective or be isolated.  If the mind in question either chooses not to or does not have an opportunity to diversify, they become geographically and temporally isolated with a restricted set of ideas easily accessible or presented.
This type of isolation can be harmful, because we live in a society that is increasingly global the impacts of isolation are farther reaching.

Too Hot, Too Cold, Just Right

In reading The Book of the Courtier by Baldesar Castiglione, I was struck by the desirable characteristics described, and how these characteristics felt so familiar.

The virtues and their expression are that he “should be fierce, rough, and always at the fore in the presence of the enemy; but anywhere else he should be kind, modest, reticent and anxious above all to avoid ostentation” (58-59).  The courtier is supposed to embody a spectrum, from fierce warrior to refined court attendant.  The appearance is also important “both manly and graceful” (61).
Being able to rest in the middle ground, or at least pass over it, this is the ability of the courtier.  It feels like they are being judged like the Three Bears, and the judge is Goldilocks.  They must think but not over think (68), they must be graceful but not effeminate (61), they exhibit good sense and discretion (64).  The courtier must always be just right, the perfect place to fulfill the duties of a courtier as both an elite solder and a well schooled decoration for the court.

The Economic Sphinx

You approach the sphinx outside Thebes.  The sphinx asks her riddle but you are not ready for this one, you only studied for the classic sphinx riddle “what walks on four feet in the morning, two feet at noon and three in the evening?”


Instead of blurting out the answer of “Man!” you hold back and replay what she just said in your head.  The real question she asked was, “Would you like 100 drachma (ancient Greek currency) today, or 110 drachma in 2 years?”

You aren’t allowed any clarifying questions, all you can do is answer correctly or be eaten.

Weighing all factors, you wonder if investment, inflation, and interest exist in this time period, and you don’t really know.  A this time there are a lot of wars and invasions that make a stable financial system difficult to maintain.  All these things might exist, but since you don’t know it they do, then you don’t know the numbers of any of them so you can’t do the math.

Realizing that with all these factors, you can’t really compare two different drachma amounts at two different points in time, you decide that the safest answer is the one that she didn’t offer you.

You say “It depends, because you cannot truly compare two amounts at two different times.”


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