There is such a failure of understanding, at least by me . Such a failure because there seems no end to such human-made suffering – such killing, human upon human, such human-made emotionally-induced violence, such destruction – that we men in our majority cause and have caused, world-wide, year following year, decade following decade, century upon century, millennia after millennia.
For millennia, any and every cause – any ideology, any faith, any belief, any personal emotion, personal loyalty, a chain-of-command – has hallowed our violence, our hatred, our killing. Every century we seem to invent some new excuse – or regurgitate some old excuse – for our unempathic behaviour.
Yet compassion, hope of peace, personal and familial love – those now so familiar muliebral virtues – endure and continue to enchant at least some of us. So much so that many men continue to believe in God, in Allah, or in some inscrutable mechanism such as karma. Are we men then the phenotype of Janus?
Perhaps we are. But can our human culture of pathei-mathos perhaps change, redeem, us? Yet again I do not know, and can only once again hope even given that:
I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?
Because I do not hope to know again
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again
So I am returned to whence and where I was, the only fallible personal certainty now being personal and familial love.
An extract from an e-mail to a friend, inspired by Gymnopédie No. 1 (Erik Satie) played by Lavinia Meijer,
with a footnote added, and some emendations made, post scriptum
 εἶτα τὸν τὰ χαλεπὰ γνῶναι δυνάμενον καὶ μὴ ῥᾴδια ἀνθρώπῳ γιγνώσκειν τοῦτον σοφόν. “Yet the wise person is the one able to understand such complex matters as seem incomprehensible to other human beings.”
Thus it follows – quod erat demonstrandum – that I am still far, so very far, from being wise.
As someone brought up as a Catholic, who in his early years was educated at a Catholic Preparatory School, who entered the noviciate of a Catholic monastery, and who – perhaps unusually – also some years later converted to Islam, lived for a decade as a Muslim, travelled in Muslim lands, and studied the Quran and Sunnah in Arabic, I am dismayed, unsettled, at the killing of an elderly Priest in a Church at Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray in France by two persons who (according to information received so far) were radical Muslims and probably inspired by the Middle-Eastern group ad-Dawlah al-Islamiyah fil ‘Iraq wa ash-Sham, named in the lands of the West as Daesh, Isis, and ‘Islamic State’.
So dismayed, unsettled, that I have the temerity to break my self-imposed, years-long, silence regarding ‘current affairs’ and ‘current events’. For such a killing of such an elderly religious figure – taken hostage with (according to current and informed reports) two nuns during Mass – is just so dishonourable, so cowardly, that it yet again places (for me at least) into perspective “what is at stake”, remembering as I do that quotational phrase because it was said to me in 2001 by a Special Branch (SO12) British police officer shortly after the 9/11 attacks in New York.
What is at stake – as that Special Branch officer, and so many of his colleagues, intuitively knew – is the culture of the West itself, manifest as that culture is in such modern societies as those in Britain, France, and the United States, and created as such a culture has been by hundreds of years of communal and individual hardship and pathei-mathos. For the lands of such a culture are – despite their many imperfections, and in comparison to so many other non-Western lands – places of relative safety and peace and opportunity for the majority of their citizens. Places of law, and order, where so many know – and try to do – what is right, what is just, what is honourable. And places where so many other people, world-wide, hope and seek to reach and live.
Of course, such truths are not what I, personally, believed for many decades, seeking as I so often did to undermine such Western societies by political, by revolutionary, and even by terrorist, means. But as I mentioned in a fairly recent essay:
“The reality of The United States of America – in its vastness and its diversity (social, religious, racial) – is, as so discovered via my own recent pathei-mathos, so very different from the answers propagated by those who, lacking such a personal pathei-mathos extending over years of such a diverse America, personally or ideologically fixate on ‘this’ or ‘that’ perceived or even real causal personal problems as exist in a land such as America. Yet the reality of America is of many people – both in government and otherwise – who, from the best of intentions, seek and have saught to make their family, their local area, their State, their nation, a better place.” 
What therefore can be done, and is there as some have assumed a clash of ‘civilizations’ with “us” contrasted with “them”?
As to what can be done, my own fallible answer born as it is from some four decades of experience of extremism and pathei-mathos, is that it seems incumbent upon us to know, to remember, how and why our Western societies came into being, how and why they have been progressively reformed over a century and more, and why it is incumbent on each one of us to be prepared to do what is honourable in the immediacy of the living moment.
In this I recall what another member of SO12 said to me following my arrest in 1998 following allegations of ‘conspiracy/incitement to murder’ and ‘incitement to racial hatred’. Which was that he was simply doing his duty, in an honourable way, according to what was laid down: according to the oath of his office and thus according to the accumulated law of the land, and that it was not for him or his colleagues to judge since such judgement was the prerogative of an established Court of Law so constituted in its longevity that a fair trial was possible. He had guidelines, a supra-personal and well-established duty, while I realized I had none, having been guided for so long only by hubris.
As to whether there is a ‘clash of civilizations’, my own fallible answer is that there is not; that here, now – as so often in our human past – there is only a clash between the honourable and the dishonourable, and that while such modern societies as those in Britain, France, and the United States, are far from perfect they do often manifest for perhaps a majority what is decent, honourable, especially when compared to the majority of past societies, so that when dishonour occurs in such societies – when some dishonourable deed is done – there are usually individuals, be they Police officers, or soldiers, or journalists, or some citizen, who will seek to redress that dishonour.
For honour is only and ever honour, always the same, while the dishonourable, the cowardly, can hide behind, and have for millennia hidden behind, some cause or ideology or religion or some personal excuse that they or others have manufactured and denoted by some name.
For the fault is not that of some religion named Islam; nor of some extremist version of that religion. The fault is ourselves, our human nature; our propensity – and seemingly, sometimes, our need – to be violent, to find in some cause or some ideology or some religion, an excuse for our desire, our need, to be selfish, dishonourable, violent, or establish a ‘name’ for ourselves.
What we – in societies such as those in Britain, France, and the United States – have evolved, so slowly, so painfully over a century and more are some reasonable guidelines, a sense of duty, regarding what is honourable and what is dishonourable.
As Homer declaimed well over two thousand years ago:
τὸν δ᾽ ἐπαλαστήσασα προσηύδα Παλλὰς Ἀθήνη:
‘ὢ πόποι, ἦ δὴ πολλὸν ἀποιχομένου Ὀδυσῆος
δεύῃ, ὅ κε μνηστῆρσιν ἀναιδέσι χεῖρας ἐφείη.
εἰ γὰρ νῦν ἐλθὼν δόμου ἐν πρώτῃσι θύρῃσι
σταίη, ἔχων πήληκα καὶ ἀσπίδα καὶ δύο δοῦρε 
July 26th 2016
Extract From A Letter To A Friend
 In Praise Of America And Britain, 2015.
 Then Pallas Athena – angry at this – said to him:
Before the gods! How great is the need here for the absent Odysseus –
For him to set about these disrespectful ones with his fists!
Would that he would arrive at the outer gate of this dwelling
With his helmet on and holding his shield and two spears.
Odyssey, Book I, 252-256
Image credit: Attic Vase c. 480 BCE, depicting Athena (Antikensammlungen, Munich, Germany)
I saw an angel today. She was no ordinary angel this young woman: wheelchair bound – being pushed by an older women I took to be her mother – sitting quite still in an awkward pose, her barely fleshed bones only lightly covered by white flowing clothes which the warm soft wind of Summer billowed just ever so slightly. Her unmoving face, her deep-set eyes, seemed in that moment of my passing so sadly-gentle there was no way for me to stop the unexpected tears. So I embarrassed turned away there where so many sea-seekers thronged.
But what could should I have done, one holiday stranger to two others? Something other perhaps than that unbidden momentary recollection: there (Summum Silentium) after Compline forty years before kneeling on the stone floor of the Chapel giving inner voice to a needful prayer:
Salve, Regina, Mater misericordiæ,
vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve.
Ad te clamamus exsules filii Hevæ,
Ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes
in hac lacrimarum valle.
So yet again I am humbled by mistakes, riven with such a known unknowing that I feel again the infortunity of life and the need for my many expiative years: I am no one to explain so little to any since there seems to be only intimations that sometimes may presence like that angel.
Several times, in the last decade or so, I have – when considering certain current events, and social change, and the activities, policies, and speeches, of certain politicians – often asked myself a particular question: What impression or what conclusions would a non-terran (a hypothetical visiting alien from another star-system) have of or draw from those events, such social change, and those politicians? And what, therefore, would be the conclusions that such a non-terran would make regarding our nature, our human character, as a species?
Which answers seemed to me to depend on what criteria – ethical, experiential, ontological, and otherwise – such a non-terran might employ. Would, for instance, the home-world of such a non-terran be a place of relative peace and prosperity which, having endured millennia of conflict and war, had evolved beyond conflict and war and had also ended poverty? Would, for instance, such a non-terran view matters dispassionately, having evolved such that they are always able to control – or have developed beyond – such strong personal emotions as now, as for all of our human history, so often still seem to overwhelm we humans leading us and having led us to be selfish, to lie, to cheat, to manipulate, to use violence – and sometimes kill – in order to fulfil a personal desire?
The criteria I now (post-2011) apply to this hypothetical scenario are those derived from my own experience, and from reflecting over several years upon that experience, which criteria are of course subjective, personal, and it is thus no coincidence that they now are reflected in my philosophy of pathei-mathos. Thus the ethics I assume such an interstellar space-faring sentient non-terran might adhere to are based on honour and the apprehension of suffering and hubris that empathy provides; just as the ontology derives from a numinous awareness of how causal and fallible and transient every sentient life is in respect of the vastness of the cosmos (spatially and in terms of aeons of causal time), with such ethics and ontology a natural consequence of such a culture whose genesis is that pathei-mathos – ancestral, individual, societal – that derives from millennia of suffering, conflict, war, poverty, corruption, and oppression.
Furthermore, my reflexion on the past fifty years of human space exploration leads me to further conclude that we as a species – and perhaps every sentient species – can only venture forth, en masse, to explore and colonize new worlds when certain social and political conditions exist: when we, when perhaps every sentient species, have matured sufficiently to be able to, as individuals, control ourselves (without any internal or external coercion deriving from laws or from some belief be such belief ideological, political, or religious) and thus when we use reason and empathy as our raison d’etre and not our emotions, our desires, our egoism or some -ism or some -ology or some faith that we accept or believe in or need. For despite the technology making such space exploration and colonization now feasible for us (if only currently within our solar system) we lack the political will, the social desire, the trans-national cooperation, the vision, to realize it even given that our own habitable planet is slowly undergoing a transformation for the worse wrought by ourselves. All we have – decades after the landings on the Moon – are a few individuals inhabiting and only for a while just one Earth-orbiting space station and a few small-scale, theorized, human landings on Mars a decade or more in the future. For instead of such a vision of a new frontier which frontier a multitude of families can settle and which can be the genesis of new cultures and new human societies, all we have had in the past fifty years is more of the same: regional wars and armed conflicts; invasions, violent coups and revolutions; violent protests, the killing and imprisonment and torture of protestors and dissenters; political propaganda for this political cause or that; exploitation of resources and of other humans; terrorism, murder, rape, theft, and greed.
How then would my hypothetical space-faring alien judge us as a species, and how would such a non-terran view such squabbles – political, social, ideological, religious, and be they violent or non-violent – and such poverty, inequality, and oppression, as still seem to so bedevil almost all societies currently existing on planet Earth?
In addition, how would we as individuals – and how would our governments – interact with, and treat, such an alien were such an alien, visiting Earth incognito, to be discovered? Would we treat such an alien with respect, with honour: as a non-threatening ambassador from another world? Would any current government on Earth willingly and openly and world-wide acknowledge the existence of such extra-terrestrial life and allow Earth ambassadors from any country, and scientists, and the media, full and open access to such an alien sentient being? I have my own personal intuition regarding answers to such questions.
But, remaining undiscovered, what would our visiting alien observer report regarding Earth and ourselves on their return to their own planet? Again, I have my own personal intuition regarding answers to such questions. Which answers could well be that we are an aggressive, still rather primitive and very violent, species best avoided until such time as we might outwardly demonstrate – through perhaps having numerous peaceful, cooperating, colonies on other worlds – that we have culturally and personally, in moral terms, advanced.
Which rather – to me at least – places certain current events, social change by -isms, by -ologies, through disruption and violence and via revolution, and the activities, policies, and speeches, of certain politicians, and armed conflicts, into what I intuit is a necessary cosmic, non-terran, perspective. Which perspective is of us as a species still evolving; as having the potential and now the means to further and to consciously, and as individuals, to so evolve.
Will we do this? And how? Again, my answer – fallible as it is, repeated by me as it hereby is, and born as it is from my own pathei-mathos – is that it could well begin with us as individuals consciously deciding to change through cultivating empathy and viewing ourselves and our world in the perspective of the cosmos. Which perspective is of our smallness, our fallibility, our mortality, and of our appreciation of the numinous and thus of the need to avoid the error of hubris; an error which we mortals, millennia following millennia, have always made and which even now – even with our ancestral world-wide culture of pathei-mathos – we still commit day after day, year after year, and century after century, enshrined as such hubris seems to be in so many politicians; in -isms and -ologies; in disruptive and violent social change and revolutions; in armed conflicts, and in our very physis as human individuals: an apparently unchanged physis which so motivates so many of us to still be egoistic, to lie, to cheat, to steal, to murder, to manipulate, to be violent, and to often be motived by avarice, pride, jealousy, and a selfish sexual desire.
As someone, over one and half-thousand years ago, wrote regarding human beings:
τοῖς δὲ ἀνοήτοις καὶ κακοῖς καὶ πονηροῖς καὶ φθονεροῖς καὶ πλεονέκταις καὶ φονεῦσι καὶ ἀσεβέσι πόρρωθέν εἰμι͵ τῷ τιμωρῷ ἐκχωρήσας δαίμονι͵ ὅστις τὴν ὀξύτητα τοῦ πυρὸς προσβάλλων θρώσκει αὐτὸν αἰσθητικῶς καὶ μᾶλλον ἐπὶ τὰς ἀνομίας αὐτὸν ὁπλίζει͵ ἵνα τύχῃ πλείονος τιμωρίας͵ καὶ οὐ παύεται ἐπ΄ ὀρέξεις ἀπλέ τους τὴν ἐπιθυμίαν ἔχων͵ ἀκορέστως σκοτομαχῶν͵ καὶ τοῦ τον βασανίζει͵ καὶ ἐπ΄ αὐτὸν πῦρ ἐπὶ τὸ πλεῖον αὐξάνει
“I keep myself distant from the unreasonable, the rotten, the malicious, the jealous, the greedy, the bloodthirsty, the hubriatic, instead, giving them up to the avenging daemon, who assigns to them the sharpness of fire, who visibly assails them, and who equips them for more lawlessness so that they happen upon even more vengeance. For they cannot control their excessive yearnings, are always in the darkness – which tests them – and thus increase that fire even more.” 
Which is basically the same understanding that Aeschylus revealed in his Oresteia trilogy many centuries before: the wisdom of pathei-mathos and the numinous pagan allegory of Μοῖραι τρίμορφοι μνήμονές τ᾽ Ἐρινύες , and which wisdom was also described by Milton over a millennia later by means of another allegory:
The infernal Serpent; he it was, whose guile,
Stirred up with envy and revenge, deceived
The mother of mankind.
 Poemandres, 23. Corpus Hermeticum. Translated by DWM in Poemandres, A Translation and Commentary. 2014. ISBN 978-1495470684.
 Aeschylus (attributed), Prometheus Bound, 515-6
τίς οὖν ἀνάγκης ἐστὶν οἰακοστρόφος.
Μοῖραι τρίμορφοι μνήμονές τ᾽ Ἐρινύες
Who then compels to steer us?
Trimorphed Moirai with their ever-heedful Furies!
A Perplexing Failure To Understand
Being a slightly revised extract from a letter to a friend,
with some footnotes added post scriptum
One of the multitude of things that I have, for years, failed to understand – sans any belief in an all-powerful supra-personal deity – is why I am still alive while people like Sue and Fran – and the millions of others like them – died or were killed, too early. For they neither caused any deaths nor inflicted any suffering on another living being, human and otherwise, while I – and the millions like me, worldwide – continued to live despite having so caused, directly and/or indirectly, deaths and suffering. And in my case, directly and indirectly as my documented so lamentable extremist amoral decades – of violence, hatred, incitement, of being a “theoretician of revolution/terror” – so clearly reveal.
Yet – over twenty years after the death of Sue, and almost ten years since the death of Fran – here I am, still breathing, still pontificating. And all I have – despite years of interior reflexion – is a feeling, an intuition: of the how and why our thousand of years old human culture of pathei-mathos is important because – or so it seems to me – it might bring (at least to some others) a wordless intimation of one possible answer to such a perplexing question.
For it is a culture that includes, for example, such diverse artisements as the Oresteia of Aeschylus, the Lamentations of Jeremiah by Thomas Tallis, and the life – and death – of people such as Jesse James, Mohandas K Gandhi, and Edith Cavell; and which culture, enshrined as it is in Studia Humanitatis, can perchance teach some of each new generation that valuable lesson about our human physis, jumelle as our physis is  and thus paradoxical as we honourable/dishonourable (often hubriatic) mortals are:
ἄνδρα μοι ἔννεπε, μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ
πλάγχθη, ἐπεὶ Τροίης ἱερὸν πτολίεθρον ἔπερσεν:
πολλῶν δ᾽ ἀνθρώπων ἴδεν ἄστεα καὶ νόον ἔγνω,
πολλὰ δ᾽ ὅ γ᾽ ἐν πόντῳ πάθεν ἄλγεα ὃν κατὰ θυμόν,
ἀρνύμενος ἥν τε ψυχὴν καὶ νόστον ἑταίρων.
ἀλλ᾽ οὐδ᾽ ὣς ἑτάρους ἐρρύσατο, ἱέμενός περ:
αὐτῶν γὰρ σφετέρῃσιν ἀτασθαλίῃσιν ὄλοντο,
νήπιοι, οἳ κατὰ βοῦς Ὑπερίονος Ἠελίοιο
ἤσθιον: αὐτὰρ ὁ τοῖσιν ἀφείλετο νόστιμον ἦμαρ
The Muse shall tell of the many adventures of that man of the many stratagems
Who, after the pillage of that hallowed citadel at Troy,
Saw the towns of many a people and experienced their ways:
He whose vigour, at sea, was weakened by many afflictions
As he strove to win life for himself and return his comrades to their homes.
But not even he, for all this yearning, could save those comrades
For they were destroyed by their own immature foolishness
Having devoured the cattle of Helios, that son of Hyperion,
Who plucked from them the day of their returning 
A lesson about ourselves which so many others have attempted to communicate to us, as recounted in a certain tragedy:
οὕτω δ᾽ Ἀτρέως παῖδας ὁ κρείσσων
ἐπ᾽ Ἀλεξάνδρῳ πέμπει ξένιος
Ζεὺς πολυάνορος ἀμφὶ γυναικὸς
πολλὰ παλαίσματα καὶ γυιοβαρῆ
γόνατος κονίαισιν ἐρειδομένου
διακναιομένης τ᾽ ἐν προτελείοις
κάμακος θήσων Δαναοῖσι
Τρωσί θ᾽ ὁμοίως. ἔστι δ᾽ ὅπη νῦν
ἔστι: τελεῖται δ᾽ ἐς τὸ πεπρωμένον
Thus were those sons of Atreus sent forth
By mighty Zeus, guardian of hospitality, against Alexander
On account of that woman who has had many men.
And many would be the limb-wearying combats
With knees pushed into the dirt
And spears worn-out in the initial sacrifice
Of Trojans and Danaans alike.
What is now, came to be
As it came to be. And its ending has been ordained 
and as described – millennia ago – by a certain poetess:
φαίνεταί μοι κῆνος ἴσος θέοισιν
ἔμμεν᾽ ὤνηρ, ὄττις ἐνάντιός τοι
ἰσδάνει καὶ πλάσιον ἆδυ φωνεί-
καὶ γελαίσας ἰμέροεν, τό μ᾽ ἦ μὰν
καρδίαν ἐν στήθεσιν ἐπτόαισεν
ὠς γὰρ ἔς σ᾽ ἴδω βρόχε᾽, ὤς με φώναι-
σ᾽ οὐδ᾽ ἒν ἔτ᾽ εἴκει,
ἀλλ᾽ ἄκαν μὲν γλῶσσα <ἔαγε>, λέπτον
δ᾽ αὔτικα χρῶι πῦρ ὐπαδεδρόμηκεν,
ὀππάτεσσι δ᾽ οὐδ᾽ ἒν ὄρημμ᾽, ἐπιρρόμ-
βεισι δ᾽ ἄκουαι,
<έκαδε μ᾽ ἴδρως ψῦχρος κακχέεται / κὰδ’ δέ ἴδρως κακχέεται> τρόμος δὲ
παῖσαν ἄγρει, χλωροτέρα δὲ ποίας
ἔμμι, τεθνάκην δ᾽ ὀλίγω ᾽πιδεύης
φαίνομ᾽ ἔμ᾽ αὔται
I see he who sits near you as an equal of the gods
For he can closely listen to your delightful voice
And that seductive laugh
That makes the heart behind my breasts to tremble.
Even when I glimpse you for a moment
My tongue is stilled as speech deserts me
While a delicate fire is beneath my skin –
My eyes cannot see, then,
When I hear only a whirling sound
As I shivering, sweat
Because all of me trembles;
I become paler than drought-grass
And nearer to death 
and as, for example, described by the scribe of an ancient Hermetic MS:
Solum enim animal homo duplex est; et eius una pars simplex, quae, ut Graeci aiunt οὐσιώδης, quam vocamus divinae similitudinis formam; est autem quadruplex quod ὑλικὸν Graeci, nos mundanum dicimus, e quo factum est corpus, quo circumtegitur illud quod in homine divinum esse iam diximus, in quo mentis divinitas tecta sola cum cognatis suis, id est mentis purae sensibus, secum ipsa conquiescat tamquam muro corporis saepta.
Humans are the only species that is jumelle, with one aspect that foundation which the Greeks termed οὐσιώδης and we describe as being akin in appearance to divinity, and yet also being quadruplex, termed by the Greeks ὑλικός and which we describe as worldly; whereby from such is the corporeal [body] that, as mentioned, is of – in humans – the divinity, and in which is that divine disposition, to which it is solely related, that is in character a singular perceiveration and untoiling since enclosed within the corporeal. 
But will we – can we – mortals, en masse, read, listen, reflect, experience, and so learn? Or will we, as our tragic history of the past three millennia so seems to indicate, continue to be divided – individually, and en masse – between the masculous and the muliebral; between honour and dishonour; between war and peace; between empathy and ipseity?
I do so wish I knew. But all I have to offer, now in the fading twilight of my own mortal life, is an appreciation (perhaps contrary, these days, to οἱ πλέονες) of what some schools, independent (‘private’) or otherwise, still fortunately do understand is the importance of a ‘classical education’, and what may possibly be apprehended by such poor words of mine as this:
Here, sea, Skylark and such a breeze as rushes reeds
Where sandy beach meets
To meld with sky
And a tumbling cumuli of cloud
Briefly cool our Sun.
I am no one, while ageing memory flows:
For was there ever such a bliss as this
While the short night lasted
And we touched kissed meshed ourselves together
To sweat, sweating, humid,
Fearing so many times to fully open our eyes
Lest it all really was
But Dawn arrived as it then arrived bringing with its light
Loose limbs and such a reminder
As would could should did
Make us late that day for work.
So, here: a tiredness of age
Brightened by such a June as this
When sandy beach meets
To meld with sky
And that tumbling cumuli of cloud
Briefly cools a Sun
For there are so many recollections of centuries of a so human love, so many memories of years – centuries – of hubris and dishonour, that I can now only live each slowly passing daylight hour modus vivendi:
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel 
 Pœmandres (Corpus Hermeticum), 15:
καὶ διὰ τοῦτο παρὰ πάντα τὰ ἐπὶ γῆς ζῷα διπλοῦς ἐστιν ὁ ἄνθρωπος, θνητὸς μὲν διὰ τὸ σῶμα, ἀθάνατος δὲ διὰ τὸν οὐσιώδη ἄνθρωπον. ἀθάνατος γὰρ ὢν καὶ πάντων τὴν ἐξουσίαν ἔχων τὰ θνητὰ πάσχει ὑποκείμενος τῇ εἱμαρμένῃ
Which is why, distinct among all other beings on Earth, mortals are jumelle; deathful of body yet deathless the inner mortal. Yet, although deathless and possessing full authority, the human is still subject to wyrd
See also Sophocles, Antigone, v. 334 & vv. 365-36:
πολλὰ τὰ δεινὰ κοὐδὲν ἀνθρώπου δεινότερον πέλει…
σοφόν τι τὸ μηχανόεν τέχνας ὑπὲρ ἐλπίδ᾽ ἔχων
τοτὲ μὲν κακόν, ἄλλοτ᾽ ἐπ᾽ ἐσθλὸν ἕρπει
There exists much that is strange, yet nothing
Has more strangeness than a human being…
Beyond his own hopes, his cunning
In inventive arts – he who arrives
Now with dishonour, then with chivalry
 Homer, Odyssey, Book 1, v. 1-9
 Aeschylus, Agamemnon, v. 60-68
 Sappho, Fragment 31
 Asclepius, VII, 13-20
 TS Eliot, Ash Wednesday
A pdf of this essay is available here – dwm-some-metaphysical-questions.pdf
The cosmogony described in the Ιερός Λόγος tractate of the Corpus Hermeticum answers certain interesting and important metaphysical questions in a particular and ancient way:
Δόξα πάντων ὁ θεὸς καὶ θεῖον καὶ φύσις θεία. ἀρχὴ
τῶν ὄντων ὁ θεός καὶ νοῦς καὶ φύσις καὶ ὕλη, σοφία εἰς
δεῖξιν ἁπάντων ὤν· ἀρχὴ τὸ θεῖον καὶ φύσις καὶ ἐνέργεια
καὶ ἀνάγκη καὶ τέλος καὶ ἀνανέωσις […]
τὸ γὰρ θεῖον ἡ πᾶσα κοσμικὴ σύγκρασις φύσει ἀνανεου-
μένη· ἐν γὰρ τῷ θείῳ καὶ ἡ φύσις καθέστηκεν
The numen of all beings is theos: numinal, and of numinal physis.
The origin of what exists is theos, who is Perceiveration and Physis and Substance:
The sapientia which is a revealing of all beings.
For the numinal is the origin: physis, vigour, incumbency, accomplishment, renewance […]
The divine is all of that mixion: renewance of the cosmic order through Physis
For Physis is presenced in the divine. (1)
All such ‘theological’ answers – from classical Greco-Roman paganism and mysticism to Gnosticism to Christianity and Islam – lead us to enquire (i) if Being – whether denoted by terms such as acausal, born-less, θεός The One, The Divine, God, The Eternal, Mονάς – can be apprehended (or defined) by some-things which are causal (denoted by terms such as spatial, temporal, renewance), and (ii) whether this ‘acausal Being’ is the origin or the genesis or ‘the artisan’ (2) or the creator of both causal being (including ‘time’, and ‘change’) and of causal living beings such as ourselves.
That is, (i) has causal spatially-existing being ’emerged from’ – or been created by – acausal Being, and (ii) are causal beings – such as ourselves – an aspect or emanation of acausal Being?
My admittedly fallible understanding now, after some years of reflexion and based as it is on my limited knowledge, is that formulating such a question in such terms – causal/acausal; whole/parts; eternal/temporal; ipseity/unity; emergent from/genesis of – is a mis-apprehension of what-is because such denoting is ‘us as observer’ (i) positing, as Plato did, such things as a theory regarding ‘the ideal’ (3), and/or (ii) constructing a form or abstraction (ἰδέᾳ) which we then presume to project onto what is assumed to be ‘external’ to us, both of which present us with only an illusion of understanding and meaning because implicit in such theories and in all such constructed forms are (i) an opposite (an ‘other’) and (ii) the potentiality for discord (dialectical or otherwise) between such opposites and/or because of a pursuit of what is regarded as ‘the ideal’ of some-thing. Hence, perhaps, why Heraclitus is reported to have written:
εἰδέναι δὲ χρὴ τὸν πόλεμον ἐόντα ξυνόν, καὶ δίκην ἔριν, καὶ γινόμενα πάντα κατ΄ ἔριν καὶ χρεώμενα
One should be aware that Polemos pervades, with discord δίκη, and that beings are naturally born by discord. [Fragment 80]
πάντα δὲ γίνεσθαι καθ᾽ εἱμαρμένην καὶ διὰ τῆς ἐναντιοδρομίας ἡρμόσθαι τὰ ὄντα
All by genesis is appropriately apportioned [separated into portions] with beings bound together again by enantiodromia. [Diogenes Laërtius, ix. 7]
In effect, our innate assumption of our existence as sentient individuals – separate from ‘the other’, be that other Being itself or other beings – leads us and has led us to formulate and to strive to answer certain metaphysical questions in a particular way. That is, from the position of an ‘observer’ whose answers are dependant on postulated concepts described or denoted by words such as ‘time’, ‘change’, God, theos/theoi, and ‘the ideal’.
Is it therefore possible for us to discover our being, our physis – in effect, know Reality and discover the meaning of our existence – without such postulations, be they metaphysical or theological or otherwise? My fallible answer, based as it is on my limited knowledge and my own experience, is that it is possible; and possible by means of empathy and pathei-mathos. However, by necessity – given the personal (local) horizon of both empathy and pathei-mathos (4) – the knowing so revealed is (i) only our personal fallible answer, and also is (ii) always sans denotatum (5), a wordless empathic knowing that cannot be expressed (by words, terms) without in some way distorting it or denuding it of such numinosity as has been personally discovered (revealed) by empathy and pathei-mathos.
For empathy and pathei-mathos incline us to suggest that ipseity is an illusion of perspective: that there is, fundamentally, no division between ‘us’ – as some individual sentient, mortal being – and what has hitherto been understood and named as the Unity, The One, God, The Eternal. That ‘we’ are not ‘observers’ but rather Being existing as Being exists and is presenced in the Cosmos. That thus all our striving, individually and collectively when based on some ideal or on some form – some abstraction and what is derived therefrom, such as ideology and dogma – always is or becomes sad/tragic, and which recurrence of sadness/tragedy, generation following generation, is perhaps even inevitable unless and until we live according to the wordless knowing that empathy and pathei-mathos reveal. In this matter, Heraclitus perhaps had something interesting to say, again:
τοῦ δὲ λόγου τοῦδ᾽ ἐόντος ἀεὶ ἀξύνετοι γίνονται ἄνθρωποι καὶ πρόσθεν ἢ ἀκοῦσαι καὶ ἀκούσαντες τὸ πρῶτον· γινομένων γὰρ πάντων κατὰ τὸν λόγον τόνδε ἀπείροισιν ἐοίκασι, πειρώμενοι καὶ ἐπέων καὶ ἔργων τοιούτων, ὁκοίων ἐγὼ διηγεῦμαι κατὰ φύσιν διαιρέων ἕκαστον καὶ φράζων ὅκως ἔχει· τοὺς δὲ ἄλλους ἀνθρώπους λανθάνει ὁκόσα ἐγερθέντες ποιοῦσιν, ὅκωσπερ ὁκόσα εὕδοντες ἐπιλανθάνονται
Although this naming and expression [which I explain] exists, human beings tend to ignore it, both before and after they have become aware of it. Yet even though, regarding such naming and expression, I have revealed details of how Physis has been cleaved asunder, some human beings are inexperienced concerning it, fumbling about with words and deeds, just as other human beings, be they interested or just forgetful, are unaware of what they have done. [Fragment 1]
What, therefore, is the wordless knowing that empathy and pathei-mathos reveal? It is the knowing manifest in our human culture of pathei-mathos. The knowing communicated to us, for example, by art, music, literature, and manifest in the lives of those who presenced, in their living, compassion, love, and honour. Germane to this knowing is that – unlike a form or an abstraction – it is always personal (limited in its applicability) and can only be embodied in and presenced by some-thing or by some-one which or who lives. That is, it cannot be abstracted out of the living, the personal, moment of its presencing by someone or abstracted out from its living apprehension by others in the immediacy-of-the-moment, and thus cannot become ‘an ideal’ or form the foundation for some dogma or ideology or supra-personal faith.
Plato, Art, and The Ideal
Since art can wordlessly communicate to us the wisdom, and the knowing of Reality, revealed individually by both empathy and the culture of pathei-mathos, it seems apposite to briefly consider Plato’s rather influential notions of τὸ καλόν (of beauty) and of ‘the ideal’.
As Isocrates wrote of Helen of Troy:
κάλλους γὰρ πλεῖστον μέρος μετέσχεν, ὃ σεμνότατον καὶ τιμιώτατον καὶ θειότατον τῶν ὄντων ἐστίν.
Of all things valued, numinous, and divine, she had the greatest share: beauty. [Encomium, 54]
However, with Plato, τὸ καλόν becomes impersonal, even when the subject he is writing about is human ‘nobility’. That is, it becomes something unrelated to what is personally known and proven (revealed) by what is real (as for example in the deeds of a real-life individual). For Plato, it is related to or manifests ἀρετή (‘virtue’), which in his philosophy becomes a hypothesized abstraction which a person may or may not possess and which, it is claimed, can be ‘brought into being’ by other abstractions, such as a Republic.
Thus, in Phaedo (78b), Plato writes about αὐτὸ τὸ καλόν and about αὐτὸ ἕκαστον ὃ ἔστιν: that is, of ‘abstract’ (true, ideal) beauty and of ‘abstract’ (true, ideal) being. In Kratylus 389d he has Socrates talk about ‘true, ideal’ naming (denotatum) – βλέποντα πρὸς αὐτὸ ἐκεῖνο ὃ ἔστιν ὄνομα.
Also in Kratylus (386d-386e), Plato has Socrates say:
μήτε ἑκάστῳ ἰδίᾳ ἕκαστον τῶν ὄντων ἐστίν δῆλον δὴ ὅτι αὐτὰ αὑτῶν οὐσίαν ἔχοντά τινα βέβαιόν ἐστι τὰ πράγματα
Each being has their own mode [of being] which is constant, and which is neither caused by nor related to us.
Furthermore, he writes that:
πρῶτον μὲν ἀεὶ ὂν καὶ οὔτε γιγνόμενον οὔτε ἀπολλύμενον, οὔτε αὐξανόμενον οὔτε φθίνον (Symposium 210e – 211a)
Firstly, it always exists, and has no genesis. It does not die, does not grow, does not decay.
ἀρχόμενον ἀπὸ τῶνδε τῶν καλῶν ἐκείνου ἕνεκα τοῦ καλοῦ ἀεὶ ἐπανιέναι, ὥσπερ ἐπαναβασμοῖς χρώμενον (Symposium 211c)
Starting from that beauty, that person must – because of such beauty – always as by a ladder move on, upwards.
While many other examples could be adduced, it does seem evident that Plato posits some abstraction – whether described by him in terms such as ἰδέᾳ, εἶδος, or involving αὐτὸ (i.e. form, ideal, ‘true’/of itself) – and which abstraction, because it has no genesis, does not die, does not grow, and yet which invokes change – a moving-on by or discord resulting from the pursuit of such an ideal by individuals – is independent of and often damaging to our living (and thus numinous) reality as individual diverse human beings possessed of the faculty of empathy and able to learn from the culture of pathei-mathos.
In contrast, when Aristotle, in an oblique reference to Plato, writes τοῦ δὲ καλοῦ μέγιστα εἴδη τάξις καὶ συμμετρία καὶ τὸ ὡρισμένον (6) he is referring to what is real, what actually exists – ὥστε διὰ τοῦτο ὀρθῶς οἱ γεωμέτραι λέγουσι καὶ περὶ ὄντων διαλέγονται καὶ ὄντα ἐστίν: διττὸν γὰρ τὸ ὄν. That is, to the beauty of geometry as manifest, for example, by geometricians when – as in Euclid’s Elements – they make logical deductions from schemata and harmony and consonancy. Aristotle goes on to write that τὸ καλόν is especially revealed (δείκνυμι) in mathematics: ἃ μάλιστα δεικνύουσιν αἱ μαθηματικαὶ ἐπιστῆμαι.
Also, when Aristotle deals with ἀρετή he considers it a μέσον (meson, median, a balance between ‘being’ (actually existing) and ‘not-being’ (a potentiality), qv. Metaphysics 9.1051a) and thus discards Plato’s εἶδος of an abstractive ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Which discarding was an excellent philosophical beginning given how Plato’s abstractive ‘ideal’ of some-thing with its implication that a person “must – because of that ideal – always as by a ladder be moving on, upwards,” is and has been the genesis of discord and suffering.
Empathy and pathei-mathos, however, emphasize the importance of living in the “immediacy of the personal, living, moment”, sans the pursuit of some ideal or of some assumed perfection; with what is ‘good’ being not some abstraction denoted by some faith, dogma, ideal, ideology, or by some collocation of words, but rather is a function of, a wordless revealing by, our personal, our individual, empathic horizon, by our pathei-mathos, and by the collected human pathei-mathos of millennia manifest as that is in the culture of pathei-mathos. Which revealing is that what-lives is more important that any ideal, than any abstraction or form, with ‘the good’ simply being that which does not cause suffering to, or which can alleviate the suffering of, what-lives, human and otherwise.
Thus the ‘meaning’ of our physis, of our living, so revealed, is just that of a certain way of living; a non-defined, non-definable, very personal way of living, only relevant to us as an individual where we – appreciating our human culture of pathei-mathos, and thus appreciative of art, music, literature, and other emanations of the numinous – incline toward not causing suffering and incline (by means of empathy, compassion, and honour) toward alleviating such suffering as we may personally encounter in the “immediacy of the personal, living, moment”.
The genesis of this essay was some correspondence, in February and March 2015, with an academic, and which correspondence concerned certain metaphysical questions. I have paraphrased parts of, or utilized quotations from, or rewritten certain passages from, several of my replies. All translations (and errors) are mine.
(1) Myatt, David, Ιερός Λόγος: An Esoteric Mythos. 2015. ISBN 978-1507660126.
(2) In respect of theos as artisan (δημιουργόν) qv. the Corpus Hermeticum; for example Poemandres 11.
(3) qv. Plato, Art, and The Ideal, below.
(4) The ‘local horizon of empathy’ is a natural consequence of my understanding of empathy as a human faculty, albeit a faculty that is still quite underdeveloped. For what empathy provides – or can provide – is a very personal wordless knowing in the immediacy-of-the-living-moment. Thus empathy inclines us as individuals to appreciate that what is beyond the purveu of our empathy – beyond our personal empathic knowing of others, beyond our knowledge and our experience, beyond the limited (local) range of our empathy and that personal (local) knowledge of ourselves which pathei-mathos reveals – is something we rationally, we humbly, accept we do not know and so cannot judge or form a reasonable, a fair, a balanced, opinion about.
For empathy, like pathei-mathos, lives within us; manifesting, as both empathy and pathei-mathos do, the always limited nature, the horizon, of our own knowledge and understanding.
(5) Denotatum – from the Latin, denotare – is used here in accord with its general meaning, which is “to denote or to describe by an expression or a word; to name some-thing; to refer that which is so named or so denoted.”
(6) Metaphysics, Book 13, 1078a. “The most noticeable expressions of kalos are schemata and harmony and consonancy.”
Gold funerary tablet (c. 200 BCE) found at Eleutherna, Crete,
of the kind presumed to be associated
with an aural ἱερός λόγος (esoteric mythos),
all of which funerary items have inscriptions similar to the following:
Γῆς παῖς εἰμι καὶ Οὐρανοῦ ἀστερόεντος
(I am a child of Gaia and the starry heavens)