Old sustains new. Ruins are reductions to an essence. The past lies in fragments in order to occupy the present. When I saw Greek ruins for the first time they were distant and unfamiliar. Knowledge develops with familiarity.
I find it difficult to identify with ancient temples. I’m completely unmoved on my first encounter with them. It takes a long time for me to delve into my thoughts and exercise my eye, before I can enjoy the simplicity and the wisdom, the power and grace of an ancient temple. Nikos Kazantakis
In myth, Daedalus crafted statues that were life-like. Once complete they had to be tied up to stop them from running off. Familiarity itself is like a statue that is life-like. An object may be familiar today, but the thought may be lost tomorrow. We are bombarded by shards of familiarity all the time. Why would one last over another?
For virtue may be under the guidance of right opinion as well as of knowledge; and right opinion is for practical purposes as good as knowledge, but is incapable of being taught, and is also liable, like the images of Daedalus, to ‘walk off,’ because not bound by the tie of the cause. This is the sort of instinct which is possessed by statesmen, who are not wise or knowing persons, but only inspired or divine. The higher virtue, which is identical with knowledge, is an ideal only. If the statesman had this knowledge, and could teach what he knew, he would be like Tiresias in the world below,—’he alone has wisdom, but the rest flit like shadows.’
Benjamin Jowett on Plato’s Meno
The knees of the Caryatids are elegantly bent. Vitruvius said their support of the Erechtheion symbolized an eternal penance for treachery (the citizens of Caryae collaborated with the Persians against the Greeks). Now one of the statues is broken into pieces and one has been parted from the others to stand in London. What sort of penance could that be?
Their bearing is not consistent with a state of penance, however. Effortless counterpoise in marble was an innovation following the Persian war. Victory leads to confidence and confidence begets style. Bodies emerged from archaic stiffness, but the innocent smiles tightened into a classic neutrality. Perhaps the new “swagger” betrays a feeling of lost innocence, while the new face suggests a trace of knowing irony.
The birth of Athena from the east pediment was framed between statues of Helios and Selene (sun and moon) to show that the event took place at dusk. Most of the statuary depicting the event itself is lost, but parts of the horses to draw the chariots of Helios and Selene remain. So the dynamos of movement, sequence and time persist, while the events themselves have crumbled.
Ancient Goddesses were born in style. A pale shimmer is inherited by the derivatives they inspired.
Twisted, jealous and lunatic men hacked at stone in order to protect (honour?) their own images of the divine. There were exceptions. Generations of zealots spared an ancient scene because they saw it as one of their own: in the 32nd metope of the north side, Hebe faces her mother Hera. Misguided pilgrims imagined the scene to be a depiction of the Annunciation so they left it intact: “false positive.”
Nike and Poseidon were in competition for Athens. Amphitrite drove the chariot for Poseidon, while Athena was driven by Nike.
How did the Greeks manage their building projects? Plutarch wrote that in all of Pericles’ building programme “the most wondrous thing of all was the speed of their work.” How did “star architects” like Iktinos and Kallikrates get on together? How often did they meet? How hard was it for Phidias to supervise it all? How did they report to their sponsor Pericles?
It is fitting that much knowledge about the colours and effects of bronze-age Greek painting is due to sensitive watercolour works, namely those of Emile Gilliéron père et fils.
The primary Pythagorean colours were white, black, red, ochre. Ancient China had five which, translated simply, were white, black, red, green, yellow.
At the New Philosophou monastery in Arcadia you can find a monk who radiates intelligence and kindness like an archetype. He understands everything. His speech is calm and clear and then suddenly it is breathless and then it seems like he speaks only on the in-breath. I have the image of an engine, over-revving. There is too much and not enough. When he’s not sure he’ll say: “I’m sorry I don’t know that”, or “I’m sorry I didn’t ask them” and he puts his hand on his chest over the heart. He likes being there to talk to the many visitors. With God’s help he will become a priest, he says. But is he not one already?
Delphi was an institution to share history and decide on tangled futures. Its buildings were wrought together into a web of ideas held in common by all the states: a collective consciousness. Contributions were made in the form of donations: humble braggadocio. Rivals outdid each other but contributions all served a higher purpose: to enhance the prestige of an institution for decision-making. It was the centre of the world.
Human endeavor is caught in an eternal tension between the effectiveness of small groups acting independently and the need to mesh with the wider community. A small group can innovate rapidly and efficiently, but this produces a subculture whose concepts are not understood by others. Coordinating actions across a large group, however, is painfully slow and takes an enormous amount of communication. The world works across the spectrum between these extremes, with a tendency to start small—from the personal idea—and move toward a wider understanding over time… Tim Berners-Lee et. al.
Each life is a myth, a song given out
of darkness, a tale for children, the legend we create.
Are we not heroes, each of us
in one fashion or another,
wandering through mysterious labyrinths?
Evan S. Connell
A ruddy face. He wears outdoor clothes. He call for a taxi. He has just asked a fellow passenger where he is and has used the answer to assess that he will arrive in ten minutes. The calculation was made aloud. His voice grates. His walking stick has a gold-coloured dog as a handle. He chews gum. His eyes look watery and a little distant, but his manner is nervous and alert. He has big ears. His walking stick is nicked in places and has a rubber tip. It is fastened to his right arm with a piece of string. He seeks conversation with those around him. He set a timer on his phone to go off in just under ten minutes. The train is still going so he gets up to prepare for the expected event. He limps. The train arrives. Someone wishes him good luck as he exits the train. A few moments later he stands waiting by the exit: the taxi isn’t there for him yet.
There is nothing more shameful than for a human being to be no different from a material thing, something without a spiritual nature.
There are several bracelets beneath her watch-strap, which is brown: a jangle of cheap metal mixed with black fabric bands. One of them has a little star attached on a short string. A scarf is folded neatly over her lap. Her Apple tablet is positioned on the tray table and she is watching a drama. She wears “Beats” headphones and her arms are now crossed. Occasionally she picks up her phone to check Facebook as she watches the tablet. The coffee cup on the tray table next to the tablet is red. Her blouse has blue horizontal stripes over a white background. Her cardigan is a dark mauve colour. A golden chain dangles as her head is declined to match the 70% incline of the tablet resting on the prop embedded in its cover. She briefly chews a finger nail, clears her throat, adjusts her ring, dusts dirt from her phone with her finger. Her attention is fading out. The drama does not at this moment provide the entertainment or distraction her consciousness needs to stay in the zone.
A new reason for a late arrival: the overhead lines came down somewhere. The announcement: “We had overhead line issues on the fast, which is why we were routed onto the slow. But be assured this was the fastest route into London this morning.”
Another day on an afternoon train. A man collapses onto a seat at the last moment before departure. It sounded like he was being chased by a station attendant. He is wild-eyed, his hair is matted. Tired, rough, vodka bottle in hand, he mutters to himself, coughs and splutters, throws the vodka bottle to one side and collapses into himself, laughs and groans. The woman next to him is stoic. A bit later the train shudders and stops with a smell of burnt rubber. The driver makes an announcement: “apologies for the abrupt stop and perhaps trauma, my foot slipped off the pedal. Just a piece of emergency equipment working correctly.”