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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Gnōthi Seauton

Some ancient Greek, with stone hammer and sharp chisel, carved Gnōthi Seauton into the marble lintel at the entrance to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. I wonder…was he pounding out an admonition, or simply offering sound advice?

Gnōthi Seauton Know Thyself! Hah! As.if.

Five and a half decades into this, and I still can’t claim to know myself. I’m slowly getting there, though. Given time enough, experience enough, trials and errors enough, I just might come to know myself well enough to know who I really am, what I essentially need, and what I truly want. I don’t want to die a mystery to myself.

This is no casual endeavor. A lot rides on knowing oneself. If nothing else, knowing oneself protects the innocent. I daresay, behind every broken lover’s vow (assuming, of course, good faith at the start) is someone who does not know himself/herself (quite often, there are two confused souls at work). A promise, a vow, a troth or pledge presumes (at the very least) a rudimentary understanding of one’s own capabilities and will; at least a smattering of familiarity with one’s heart, mind and soul. The promissor owes at least that much to the promissee. Sigh. I’ve failed others in that regard. Others have, in turn, failed me. they say...karma’s a bitch.

I guess I just cast a vote for admonition.

But, speaking of karma, how about a vote for sound advice? What if it’s true, what the Buddhists say...that wisdom purifies the mind, that mastering one’s mind leads to enlightenment, and that enlightenment leads to the end of suffering? What if...what if the Gnostics were correct in preaching that God and Heaven reside within each of us? “Know thyself” then, becomes sound advice…in fact, far, far more, than just sound advice…

If I knew myself better, I might be able to tell you who is right. As it stands, I can only puzzle and ponder.

* * *

Know Thyself
by Alexander Pope

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of mankind is Man.
Placed on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise and rudely great:
With too much knowledge for the Sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the Stoic’s pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act or rest,
In doubt to deem himself a God or Beast,
In doubt his mind or body to prefer;
Born but to die, and reasoning but to err;
Alike in ignorance, his reason such
Whether he thinks too little or too much:
Chaos of thought and passion, all confused;
Still by himself abused, or disabused;
Created half to rise and half to fall;
Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;
Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurled:
The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!

* * *

Great Oracle moment:

It is said the Oracle at Delphi proclaimed Socrates to be the wisest man in Greece, to which Socrates replied that, if so, it was because he alone was aware of his own ignorance.

* * *


Blogger CHIC-HANDSOME said...

good year

Fri Jan 12, 02:30:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

Merci bien!

Fri Jan 12, 02:40:00 PM  
Blogger Fiona said...

Tis true, I'm at the end of my fourth I too am still 'learning' my self.

Life is full of "aaah ha's" and I believe that all power does reside in ourselves as we have the power to choose between good and bad, and we have the power to make a difference, even if only in our self.

Mon Jan 15, 11:42:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

Yes, Fiona, life is full of "aaah ha's" "oooh no's" and "what tha's!!!?!"

I had achieved a state of self-awareness not all that long ago, and then my world exploded, disintegrated and collapsed. I'm dusting myself off and venturing forth into a new world and a new life (truly a new life).

There are plenty of lessons left for me to learn...a whole new "self" to discover.

Tue Jan 16, 09:39:00 AM  
Blogger Sunny Delight said...

I used to believe I would reach a point in life when I would feel completely self-actualized, be perfectly content because I would know who I was, where I was at in the grand scheme of things....but now I am not so sure that ever occurrs. Perhaps for those of us who do seek, we may reach a point of self-knowledge, self-acceptance, which then does make the rest of our life flow more gently, but I don't think we ever completely stop searching.

Wed Jan 17, 12:13:00 AM  
Blogger Ed said...

Alexander Pope would have made a great Buddhist.

Wed Jan 17, 10:58:00 AM  
Blogger Sally-Sal said...

I'm still "getting to know" myself ;-)

Wed Jan 17, 06:28:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

Aren't we all, Sal?

And, Buddha...I doubt our dearly departed Mr. Pope could hold a candle to you. Just sayin'

Wed Jan 17, 08:20:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

I agree, Ms. Delight, that self-knowledge seems, always, just beyond our reach. Whenever I think I've learned something important, essential or fundamental about myself, I do something, or act in a way that turns that understanding on its head. Time and time again, age and/or circumstance give me cause to reevaluate. Two years ago I was far closer to self-awareness than I am today. Go figure.

Wed Jan 17, 08:34:00 PM  
Blogger Fiona said...

I feel I have more self-assuredness as I age.

At the same time, I believe that the excitement of the possibilities and potential of my remaining years will take me towards experiences that will serve to let me know that I really don't know myself yet at all.

Good grief that doesn't make much sense but I'm not sure how else to express it!

Wed Jan 17, 09:35:00 PM  
Blogger Jonas said...

Your comment makes sense to me, Fiona. So much so, that I'm moved to share one of my all-time favorite poems (I consider it a "signature" poem of sorts):


may have killed the cat; more likely
the cat was just unlucky, or else curious
to see what death was like, having no cause
to go on licking paws, or fathering
litter on litter of kittens, predictably.

Nevertheless, to be curious
is dangerous enough. To distrust
what is always said, what seems,
to ask odd questions, interfere in dreams,
leave home, smell rats, have hunches
does not endear him to those doggy circles
where well-smelt baskets, suitable wives, good lunches
are the order of things, and where prevails
much wagging of incurious heads and tails.

Face it. Curiosity
will not cause him to die –
only lack of it will.
Never to want to see
the other side of the hill,
or that improbable country
where living is an idyll
(although a probable hell)
would kill us all.
Only the curious
have, if they live, a tale
worth telling at all.

Dogs say he loves too much, is irresponsible,
is changeable, marries too many wives,
deserts his children, chills all dinner tables
with tales of his nine lives.
Well, he is lucky. Let him be
nine-lived and contradictory,
curious enough to change, prepared to pay
the cat price, which is to die
and die again and again,
each time with no less pain.
A cat minority of one
is all that can be counted on
to tell the truth. And what he has to tell
on each return from hell
is this: that dying is what the living do,
that dying is what the loving do,
and that dead dogs are those who do not know
that hell is where, to live, they have to go.

Alastair Reid

Thu Jan 18, 07:25:00 AM  

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