Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context.
27 December 2012
KEEP OUT OF POLITICS AND CULTIVATE YOUR GARDEN
This was the advice of the hedonistic Greek philosopher Epicurus of Samos (341 to 270 BC). In the second half of the Classical Period (776 to 323 BC), Greeks lived in city states, where, in theory at least, they could often play an active role in local government. In the succeeding Hellenistic Period (323 to 30 BC), however, during which Epicurus lived much of his life, the Greek world had become globalised thanks to the conquests of Alexander the Great (356 to 323 BC) and the individual citizen had much less political importance. How was he (sadly, it was always a “he” in the culture of the time) to attune himself to the vast cosmopolis in which he now lived? Epicurus’s answer was: keep out of politics, cultivate your garden and aim at the pleasure of a refined intellect.
RETURN TO THE COUNTRY
[by] Tao Yuan-ming
From early youth I have been out of tune with the vulgar;
By nature I love the hill and mountain.
For thirteen years I have fallen by error
Into the world’s thick web.
A bird in a cage yearns for the old forest;
A fish in a pond thinks of its former stream.
I have reclaimed the wasteland in the South
And come back to farm and garden
To stick to my dull life as of old.
I have more than ten mou of land,
With eight or nine rooms in a thatched hut;
Elms and willows shade the eaves behind,
While peach and plum trees grow in front of it.
Distant villages can be dimly discerned;
Neighbouring chimneys emit their smoke gently.
The dogs bark in deep lanes,
And roosters crow on the tops of mulberry trees.
Within doors there is no worldly care;
In the vacant rooms there is leisure.
Long confined in a cage,
I am again at one with nature.
Tao Qian (aka Tao Yuan-ming). Chinese poet (365-427 AD).
MY SABINE FARM
[ by Horace]
Odi profanum uolgus et arceo.
Fauete linguis: carmina non prius
audita Musarum sacerdos
uirginibus puerisque canto.
Regum timendorum in proprios greges, 5
reges in ipsos imperium est Iouis,
clari Giganteo triumpho,
cuncta supercilio mouentis.
Est ut uiro uir latius ordinet
arbusta sulcis, hic generosior 10
descendat in campum petitor,
moribus hic meliorque fama
contendat, illi turba clientium
sit maior: aequa lege Necessitas
sortitur insignis et imos,
omne capax mouet urna nomen. 15
Destrictus ensis cui super impia
ceruice pendet, non Siculae dapes
dulcem elaboratum saporem,
non auium citharaequecantus 20
Somnum reducent: somnus agrestium
lenis uirorum non humilis domos
fastidit umbrosamque ripam,
non Zephyris agitata tempe.
Desiderantem quod satis est neque 25
tumultuosum sollicitat mare,
nec saeuus Arcturi cadentis
impetus aut orientis Haedi,
non uerberatae grandine uineae
fundusque mendax, arbore nunc aquas 30
culpante, nunc torrentia agros
sidera, nunc hiemes iniquas.
Contracta pisces aequora sentiunt
iactis in altum molibus: huc frequens
caementa demittit redemptor
cum famulis dominusque terrae 35
fastidiosus: sed Timor et Minae
scandunt eodem quo dominus, neque
decedit aerata triremi et
post equitem sedet atra Cura. 40
Quod si dolentem nec Phrygius lapis
nec purpurarum sidere clarior
delenit usus nec Falerna
uitis Achaemeniumque costum,
cur inuidendis postibus et nouo 45
sublime ritu moliar atrium?
Cur ualle permutem Sabina
I hate the vulgar crowd, and keep them at a distance:
grant me your silence. A priest of the Muses,
I sing a song never heard before,
I sing a song for young women and boys.
The power of dread kings over their peoples,
is the power Jove has over those kings themselves,
famed for his defeat of the Giants,
controlling all with a nod of his head.
It’s true that one man will lay out his vineyards
over wider acres than will his neighbour,
that one candidate who descends to
the Campus, will maintain that he’s nobler,
another’s more famous, or has a larger
crowd of followers: but Necessity sorts
the fates of high and low with equal
justice: the roomy urn holds every name.
Sicilian feasts won’t supply sweet flavours
to the man above whose impious head hangs
a naked sword, nor will the singing
of birds or the playing of zithers bring back
soft sleep. But gentle slumber doesn’t despise
the humble house of a rural labourer,
or a riverbank deep in the shade,
or the vale of Tempe, stirred by the breeze.
He who only longs for what is sufficient,
is never disturbed by tumultuous seas,
nor the savage power of Arcturus
setting, nor the strength of the Kids rising,
nor his vineyards being lashed by the hailstones,
nor his treacherous farmland, rain being blamed
for the state of the trees, the dog-star
parching the fields, or the cruel winter.
The fish can feel that the channel’s narrowing,
when piles are driven deep: the builder, his team
of workers, the lord who scorns the land
pour the rubble down into the waters.
But Fear and Menace climb up to the same place
where the lord climbs up, and dark Care will not leave
the bronze-clad trireme, and even sits
behind the horseman when he’s out riding.
So if neither Phrygian stone, nor purple,
brighter than the constellations, can solace
the grieving man, nor Falernian
wine, nor the perfumes purchased from Persia,
why should I build a regal hall in modern
style, with lofty columns to stir up envy?
Why should I exchange my Sabine valley,
for the heavier burden of excess wealth?
Odes III. I Quintus Horatius Flaccus (Horace). Roman poet (65-8 BC).
After leaving public office in Peking in the north of China, whether as retirees or because of a spat with their superiors, Chinese civil servants often moved south towards the Yangtse River, where they settled in towns such as Suzhou, which was (and still is) famed for its gardens. When in office, they had functioned as buttoned-up Confucian officials necessarily subservient to the formal rituals of the imperial court. Afterwards, in retirement, sloughing off the stifling Confucianism of the bureaucracy, they often became Taoists, seeking thereafter to live life in accordance not with orthodox prescription but with the rhythms of Nature.
A mou is 0.667 of a hectare.
You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts. For instance:
1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)
2. Partitocracy v. Democracy (20 July 2012)
3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)
4. Capitalism in practice (4 July 2012)
5.Ladder (21 June 2012)
6. A tale of two cities (1) (6 June 2012)
7. A tale of two cities (2) (7 June 2012)
8. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)
Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.