On Fools

Do not saddle yourself with fools: he is one who does not know them, and a greater, he who knowing them, does not shake them off, for they are dangerous in the daily round, and deadly as confidants, even if at times their cowardice restrains them; or the watchful eye of another; in the end they commit some foolishness, or speak it, which if they tarry over it, is only to make it worse: slight aid to another’s reputation, he who has none himself; they are full of woes, the welts of their follies, and they trade in the one for the other; but this about them is not so bad, that even though the wise are of no service to them, they are of much service to the wise, either as example, or as warning.

Gracian’s Manual, § 197

To make haste slowly

Diligent, and intelligent. Diligence quickly accomplishes what the intelligence has well thought out. Haste is the passion of fools, and as they know not the difficulties, they work without heed: wiser men, on the other hand, are likely to fail from over-caution; for of reflection is bred delay: and so their hesitation in acting loses them the fruits of their good judgment. Promptitude is the mother of fortune. He does much who leaves nothing for tomorrow. A magnificent motto: to make haste slowly.

Gracian’s Manual, § 53

Truth…limps along upon the arm of time

Look beneath. For ordinarily things are far other than they seem; and the dullness which does not seek to pass beyond the rind, is due to be increasingly disillusioned if it gets deeper into the interior. The false is forever the lead in everything, continually dragging along the fools: the truth brings up the rear, is late, and limps along upon the arm of time, wherefore the man of insight will save for it at least the half of that faculty, which our great mother has wisely given us twice. Deceit is superficial, wherefore the superficial are taken in at once. The man of substance lives safely within himself, to be better treasured of his colleagues, and of those who know.

Gracian’s Manual, § 146

He who does not know, does not live

Have helpful spirits about you. The good fortune of the mighty that they can surround themselves with men of understanding who protect them from the dangers of every ignorance, who disengage them from the snarls of every difficulty. A singular distinction, to be served by the wise; and better than the barbarous taste of Tigranes, he who used captive kings as servants. A new kind of lordship and of the best in life: by art to make subjects of those whom nature placed above you. Knowledge is long, and life is short, and he who does not know, does not live. Peculiarly smart, therefore, to learn without effort and much from many, being taught by all. Later, in the assembly this man speaks for the many, for through his lips there speak all the sages that he drew upon for counsel; thus does he gain the title of oracle through the sweat of others. These superior souls first choose the lesson: to teach it later as the quintessence of wisdom. Wherefore let him who cannot manage to have wisdom in his train, at least strive to be familiar with it.

Gracian’s Manual, § 15.

The Art of Living Well

The art of living well. Of living abundantly! Two are done quickly with life, the fool, and the dissolute. The one because he does not know how to preserve it, and the other because he does not know its value. As virtue is its own reward; so is vice its own punishment: for he who lives too fast is quickly through, and in a double sense: while he who rests in virtue, never dies. For the life of the spirit becomes the life of the body, and the life lived well gathers unto itself not only fullness of days, but even length.

Gracian’s Manual,

The ear is the side door of truth

[Be] Alert when seeking information. We live for the most part by what is told us; it is little that we see; thus we live in the faith of others; the ear is the side door of truth, but the front door of falsehood. The truth is sometimes seen, but rarely heard: on the fewest of occasions does it arrive in its elemental purity, especially if it has travelled far, for then it is always soiled by what has happened on the road: for feeling tinges with her colors all that she touches, sometimes happily: she always leaves some kind of mark, wherefore listen cautiously to the admirer, yet more cautiously to the tattler. It requires the whole attention at such times, to discover the intent of the newsbearer, in order to know beforehand which foot he is going to put forward. With reflection examine into what may be feigned, and what may be false.

Gracian’s Manual, paragraph 80

Another Treasure

I’ve just been lucky enough to find a copy of the Martin Fischer translation of Baltasar Gracian’s A Truthtelling Manual and the Art of Worldly Wisdom, the second edition printed by Charles C. Thomas, Springfield Illinois, 1956. The pages were uncut, so the book had never been read, and the dustjacket and slipbox of this little book, about 3 x 5 x 1 inches, are in fine condition. All for $14! Gracian’s manual will be well-known to some of you. For others, here is a short description from the dustjacket:

This is not a sweetmeat for children but a volume for men of this world—and but few of them. A new translation into English of the famous Spanish classic of Padre Baltasar Gracian. A practical manual of self-instruction, absolutely unique, and peculiarly appropriate to the thinking man of these perilous times.

Baltasar Gracián y Morales (c. 1601-1658) was a Jesuit priest and professor in Spain, well-known, indeed infamous in a manner similar to St John Chrysostom: bane of the wealthy, beloved of the people. The Oraculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia comprises three hundred paragraphs excerpted from Gracian’s other works, as polished and well-set jewels of his thought, by his friend and publisher Don Vincencio Juan de Lastanosa in 1653. The first paragraph:

Everything today has its point, but the art of making yourself count for something the greatest: more is demanded to produce one wise man today, than seven formerly; and more is needed to deal with a single individual in our times, than with a whole people in the past.

I can dimly remember hearing of Gracian’s Manual as a child, and recall it as one of those books that young men were expected to possess, and not just possess but read, and not just read but live, a manual on becoming a man. Specifically, the Manual brings to mind an old world approach to education in the proper Latin sense, the raising up of a boy into a man. Moving to California as a child led to a distancing for me from such traditional things, as it probably does for all families but the most staunchly traditional in this faddish land of fruits and nuts. Still, the memory was struck and resounded today, in my seeing this little book stuck in a shelf, and was reinforced by the clerk, an older man than I am, but one who knew it as I did: a book for a man on how to be a man, and one meant to be carried and read. So I will, and hopefully it’s not too late to take some of Gracian’s advice to heart and do a bit more growing up. For as my gentlemen readers will undoubtedly, if only secretly, admit, there still lies too much of the boy in each of us, oftentimes harbored.

Inside the cover of this particular copy I’ve bought is an inscription: “With thanks and appreciation EWL.” But, as I noted, the pages were uncut, and this book has never been read. I find that very sad. It has, however, found a loving home at last.

Philip Glass: Akhnaten

Open are the double doors of the horizon
Unlocked are its bolts
Clouds darken the sky
The stars rain down
The constellations stagger
The bones of the hell hounds tremble
The porters are silent
When they see this king
Dawning as a soul

Such are the first words (from the Old Kingdom Pyramid Texts) spoken by the Scribe in the prelude of the Philip Glass opera Akhnaten. The setting for the immediately following Act I Scene 1 is the funeral of Amenhotep III, which contains two rousing pieces sung in ancient Egyptian. The opera includes a number of other pieces in Egyptian, as well as one in Akkadian (a section from Amarna Letter EA 288), and a few verses in Hebrew from Psalm 104, which naturally follow the end of the English translation of The Hymn to the Aten. Though many may find much of Glass’ work repetitious, it is much less so in this work than in others. In any case, the novelty of the ancient languages is just too much to pass up! In addition, the performance and recording are exquisite. I hadn’t listened to this in a long time before today, and had forgotten how enjoyable it is. It’s a two CD piece, with (at least in my old CBS Masterworks edition) a 93 page booklet with the credits, introduction, libretto and translations in German and French, performed by the Stuttgart State Opera Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Dennis Russell Davies. Akhnaten was the third work in Glass’ Trilogy: Einstein on the Beach (1976), Satyagraha (1980; depicting the life of Gandhi, with Sanskrit libretto), and Akhnaten (1984; it seems the boxed Masterworks edition is out of print; I don’t know what that Sony one is like).

Those of you teaching or learning Egyptian, Akkadian, or Hebrew could no doubt use parts of Akhnaten for counting some “ancient meets modern” classroom coup, I would think. The rest of us can just plain enjoy it!

Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh

I’ve just been to the new de Young Museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park to see the soon-closing exhibit Hatshepsut: From Queen to Pharaoh. The exhibit closes here 5 February, moving to The Met in New York (21 March-9 July) and finally the Kimball Art Museum in Fort Worth (27 August-10 December 2006). Rather than a strict focus on Hatshepsut, the artifacts included in the exhibit date to the early Eighteenth Dynasty in general, down into the sole reign of Thutmose III, with a majority of non-royal items. There were some huge statues, at least twice life-size, included, but the vast majority of items were small, and therefore difficult to enjoy or even to see due to the crush of the crowd (never go to the museum on the weekend!). The catalog is quite fine, and nearly a steal at under $30 for the softcover (only $35 for the hardcover), which you can, for now, purchase online here (in the past, Fine Art Museums of San Francisco website links to such have been temporary, so I don’t expect this link to be valid for too much longer). In any case, if you have a chance to see the exhibit in SF, New York, or Fort Worth, it’s well worth the effort if you can avoid the crush. There are items in the catalog that I didn’t see at all in the museum due to the number of people in the way. I’ll probably make a morning visit during the week, which I had intended to do last week, but it was too busy a week. Note to all potential patrons of any museum: when you want to know the least crowded time to go, ask a docent sometime, and then go only at their recommended times. Again: never go to a major museum on the weekend if you actually intend on having a remotely pleasant visit. I should’ve known better. Still, I did have a very nice rainy day’s walk through Golden Gate Park, which is almost always nice.

Since the de Young just reopened in November (the original museum was severely damaged in the 1989 earthquake, closed in 2000, torn down, and this new museum constructed), part of the interest for me today was in seeing the new museum, as I was rather fond of the old building, never having thought it so ugly as some say it was. Well, it’s different, of course, and will take some getting used to, like any new building. I don’t think the new tower is ever going to grow on me, as it resembles too strongly an air traffic control tower. The exterior of the museum is sheathed in beaten copper, which, now that it’s taking on a patina, is actually quite nice (by all accounts it was quite ugly when new and shiny). The landscaping is still in progress, and as it was raining today with just a little too much wind as I was leaving, a stroll through the sculpture garden was not on my list, but it looks like a nice thing for more pleasant weather. Unfortunately, across the way from the de Young, the California Academy of Sciences is now closed and being reconstructed, with a re-opening date of “late 2008,” so there’s going to be construction going on for a while right there.

Anyhow, if you have a chance, see the Hatshepsut exhibit. It’s well worth your time, just for the indescribable serenity of line and form that Egyptian art possesses and the calm that this distinctively beautiful tradition of art instills.