Monthly Archives: August 2012

Voices set in stone

Among the many treasures that the waves of history have washed up on our shores, few are as tantalizing as the grave steles that tell us about lives from previous centuries. Sometimes they capture a quotation from the deceased that they saw fit to define the essence of a lifetime. Others record how the owner of the tombstone was regarded by family or friends. The messages they convey are certainly humbling and moving.
Consider the grave stele of Mentor, the gladiator, from II c. A.D. that stoically states: “I, Mentor, have defeated everybody in famous stadiums and died according to fate. Powerful Moria has dragged me to Hades and now, I lie in this grave. My life has ended in the bloody hands of Amarantos.” It is worth noticing that “Mentor” was probably just a pseudonym adopted to evoke a connection with the mythological hero. It is also possible that the grave stele was paid by the same gladiator that killed him.

Mentor, the gladiator

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Atomic Imagination

The year is 1932 and a promising hungarian physicist, Leó Szilárd, has just finished reading the “The World Set Free” by H.G. Wells. First published in 1914, it foretold the invention of atomic weapons decades before the idea of releasing large amounts of energy from atomic reactions was considered even possible. In fact, as late as 1933, the famous physicist Ernest Rutherford was quoted as saying “anyone who looked for a source of power in the transformation of the atoms is talking moonshine”. Continue reading

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The Old Knight

Liz Wirth: What do you care? What do you care about Black Rock?
John J. Macreedy: I don’t care anything about Black Rock. Only it just seems to me that there aren’t many towns like this in America. But… one town like it is enough. And because I think something kind of bad happened here, Miss Wirth, something I can’t quite seem to find a handle to.
Liz Wirth: You don’t know what you’re talking about.
John J. Macreedy: Well, I know this much. The rule of law has left here, and the guerrillas have taken over.

 

Variations of the same story have been told many times but I find this one especially moving. The old  knight wears a cheap suit and his eyes show the pain of old wounds. His body has withered but not his determination to repay a personal debt and stand up for decency. We are not told much about him but his actions speak louder than words. Continue reading

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The Roman Manifest

A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of the Euro disintegration…. first issued as a physical currency almost thirteen years ago, the Euro quickly became more than anything else, the embodiment of the European Union dream. That same currency, full of symbolic value, is now on the brink of collapse. The financial crisis has washed away the appeal of the notion of closer integration in Europe and old national rivalries and grudges are quickly resurfacing. If the Euro breaks apart, it is hard to see how the European Union will be able to survive.

At this time of crisis, the European politicians would do well to look back into European history and see what they can learn from the past. In particular, the history of Rome provides extremely valuable principles to guide us through the present turmoil. Let us not forget that Rome, first as a republic and then as an empire, lies at the very foundation of Europe and lasted, at least in the west of the continent, for over a thousand years. What made Rome so successful? Continue reading

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The Just

Jorge Luis Borges

A man who, as Voltaire wished, cultivates his garden.
He who is grateful that music exists on earth.
He who discovers an etymology with pleasure.
A pair in a Southern café, enjoying a silent game of chess.
The potter meditating on colour and form.
The typographer who set this, though perhaps not pleased.
A man and a woman reading the last triplets of a certain canto.
He who is stroking a sleeping creature.
He who justifies, or seeks to, a wrong done him.
He who is grateful for Stevenson’s existence.
He who prefers the others to be right.
These people, without knowing, are saving the world.

Jorge Luis Borges
Translated by A. S. Kline © 2008 All Rights Reserved

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