Believe me, you will find more lessons in the woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you what you cannot learn from masters. Bernard of Clairvaux
When searching for manliness, a man is actually searching for integrity. He is searching for power, but one of a special kind. It’s a power springing out of inner silence, quietude and wholeness. It’s like the silence of a forest — it’s silent, but not empty. It’s like the silence of Spirit — not ignorant, but knowing. This force is born in the silence of the heart, just like a spring is silently born in the deepness of the earth. It’s like a rock’s silence ready to amplify your voice. It’s like a tree’s silence with the leaves breathing, the juices flowing, the cells growing. The silence of an electrified thundercloud ready to become a fiery arrow. The silence of an age-old pond holding the heavenly abyss.
«The more a vicious man denies his vice, the more does it insinuate itself and master him: as those people really poor who pretend to be rich get still more poor from their false display.»
It was not in nature’s plan for us her chosen children to be creatures base and ignoble,—no, she brought us into life, and into the whole universe, as into some great field of contest, that we should be at once spectators and ambitious rivals of her mighty deeds, and from the first implanted in our souls an invincible yearning for all that is great, all that is diviner than ourselves.
Longinus, On the Sublime
«There are seven marks of an uncultured, and seven of a wise man. The wise man does not speak before him who is greater than he in wisdom; and does not interrupt the speech of his companion; he is not hasty to answer; he questions according to the subject-matter; and answers to the point; he speaks upon the first thing first, and upon the last, last; regarding that which he has not understood he says, «I do not understand it;» and he acknowledges the truth. The reverse of all this is to be found in an uncultured man.»
This fragment is from Pirkei Avot, written in the 2nd century CE, but I can imagine the same text dating a few hundreds of years before that time. One can find similar passages in the Babylonian Counsels of Wisdom, dating to a time before 700 BC:
«Let your mouth be controlled and your speech guarded: Therein is a man’s wealth—let your lips be very precious. Let insolence and blasphemy be your abomination; Speak nothing profane nor any untrue report. A talebearer is accursed. … Do not utter libel, speak what is of good report. Do not say evil things, speak well of people. One who utters libel and speaks evil, Men will waylay him with his debit account to Shamash. Beware of careless talk, guard your lips; Do not utter solemn oaths while alone, For what you say in a moment will follow you afterwards. But exert yourself to restrain your speech.»
Instructions of Amenemope, dating from the New Kingdom, very late in the second millennium BC:
«Another thing good in the heart of the god: To pause before speaking. Don’t start a quarrel with a hot-mouthed man, Nor needle him with words. Pause before a foe, bend before an attacker. Sleep (on it) before speaking.»
Instructions of Ptahhotep, dating from the second millennium B.C.:
«Don’t be proud of your knowledge, Consult the ignorant and the wise; The limits of art are not reached, No artist’s skills are perfect; Good speech is more hidden than greenstone, Yet may be found among maids at the grindstones. … Guard against reviling speech, Which embroils one great with another; Keep to the truth, don’t exceed it, But an outburst should not be repeated.»
He whose works exceed his wisdom, his wisdom shall endure; but he whose wisdom exceeds his works, his wisdom will not endure.
Hesiod’s Works and Days is one of my favourite ancient Greek books. I like his collection of rules of life, which are somewhat similar to the wisdom of Proverbs, and his very beautiful description of seasons showing the mode of life of ancient Greeks.
«For the man who gives willingly, even though he gives a great thing, rejoices in his gift and is glad in heart; but whoever gives way to shamelessness and takes something himself, even though it be a small thing, it freezes his heart.»
«He who adds to what he has, will keep off bright-eyed hunger; for if you add only a little to a little and do this often, soon that little will become great.»
«But when the artichoke flowers, and the chirping grass-hopper sits in a tree and pours down his shrill song continually from under his wings in the season of wearisome heat, then goats are plumpest and wine sweetest; women are most wanton, but men are feeblest, because Sirius parches head and knees and the skin is dry through heat. But at that time let me have a shady rock and wine of Biblis, a clot of curds and milk of drained goats with the flesh of an heifer fed in the woods, that has never calved, and of firstling kids; then also let me drink bright wine, sitting in the shade, when my heart is satisfied with food, and so, turning my head to face the fresh Zephyr, from the everflowing spring which pours down unfouled thrice pour an offering of water, but make a fourth libation of wine.»
Hesiod, Works and Days
The largest intellects are far from being the most exact. A mind always intent on correctness is apt to be dissipated in trifles; but in great affluence of thought, as in vast material wealth, there must needs be an occasional neglect of detail.
Longinus, On the Sublime
…»There we lay
Half-buried in a couch of fragrant reed
And fresh-cut vineleaves, who so glad as we?
A wealth of elm and poplar shook o’erhead;
Hard by, a sacred spring flowed gurgling on
From the Nymphs’ grot, and in the sombre boughs
The sweet cicada chirped laboriously.
Hid in the thick thorn-bushes far away
The treefrog’s note was heard; the crested lark
Sang with the goldfinch; turtles made their moan,
And o’er the fountain hung the gilded bee.
All of rich summer smacked, of autumn all:
Pears at our feet, and apples at our side
Rolled in luxuriance; branches on the ground
Sprawled, overweighed with damsons; while we brushed
From the cask’s head the crust of four long years.»
Theocritus, Idyll VII
«In human life nothing is truly great which is despised by all elevated minds. For example, no man of sense can regard wealth, honour, glory, and power, or any of those things which are surrounded by a great external parade of pomp and circumstance, as the highest blessings, seeing that merely to despise such things is a blessing of no common order: certainly those who possess them are admired much less than those who, having the opportunity to acquire them, through greatness of soul neglect it.
Now let us apply this principle to the Sublime in poetry or in prose; let us ask in all cases, is it merely a specious sublimity? is this gorgeous exterior a mere false and clumsy pageant, which if laid open will be found to conceal nothing but emptiness? for if so, a noble mind will scorn instead of admiring it.»
Longinus, On the Sublime