‘Unlike other monks, Cistercians wore plain, undyed wool – for which reason they were known as the ‘White Monks’. The return to heroic monasticism meant that they ate only the coarsest wheat bread, and were ordered to avoid coloured glass in the chapel, and gold and silver on the altar.
And they were not allowed to wear underpants. St Benedict had not mentioned them in his list of permitted clothing for monks, so the Cistercians would have no truck with the evil things – much to the amusement of a number of their contemporaries. Some called it ‘bare-bottomed piety’ and Walter Map, the twelfth-century author, wit and foe of Cistercians, suggested they shunned underpants ‘to preserve coolness in that part of the body lest sudden heats provoke unchastity’.’
Socrates (469-399BC) may have had his head in the clouds, and was portrayed in Aristophanes’ comedy as entertaining ideas ranging from the scientifically absurd (“How do you measure a flea’s jump?”) to the socially subversive (“I can teach anyone to win any argument, even if they’re in the wrong”).
This picture is at odds with the main sources of biographical data on Socrates, the writings of his pupils Plato and Xenophon. Both the latter treat him with great respect as a moral questioner and guide, but they say almost nothing of Socrates’ earlier activities.
In fact our first description of Socrates, dating to his thirties, show him as a man of action. He served in a military campaign in northern Greece in 432BC, and during a brutal battle he saved the life of his beloved young friend Alcibiades. Subsequently he never left Athens, and spent his time trying to get his fellow Athenians to examine their own lives and thoughts.
We might speculate that Socrates had toyed with science and politics in his youth, until a life-and-death experience in battle turned him to devoting the remainder of his life to the search for wisdom and truth.
As he wrote nothing himself, our strongest image of Socrates as a philosopher comes from the dialogues of his devoted pupil Plato, whose own pupil Aristotle was tutor of Alexander, prince of Macedon.
Philautia is self-respect. The love we give to ourselves. This is not immediately vanity, like narcissism, but our joy in being true to our own values. The strength to care for ourselves so that we can in turn care for others.
The clever Greeks realized there were two types. One was an unhealthy variety associated with narcissism, where you became self-obsessed and focused on personal fame and fortune. A healthier version enhanced your wider capacity to love.
“I cannot conceive of a greater loss than the loss of one’s self-respect.”
– Mahatma Gandhi
The idea was that if you like yourself and feel secure in yourself, you will have plenty of love to give others (as is reflected in the Buddhist-inspired concept of “self-compassion”). Or, as Aristotle put it, “All friendly feelings for others are an extension of a man’s feelings for himself.”
In the end,
There was Earth, and it was with form and beauty.
And Man dwelt upon the lands of the Earth, among the meadows and the trees, and he said,
“Let us build our dwellings in this place of beauty.”
And he built cities and covered the Earth with concrete and steel.
And the meadows were gone.
And Man said, “It is good.”
– Kenneth Ross (Reprinted from The Idaho Wildlife Review, May-June, 1967)
Technical terms, jargon and mumbo jumbo might give you the fleeting warmth of belonging to an exclusive club, but they are the enemies of truth. As the anthropologist Margaret Mead once wrote, if you can’t explain yourself to a twelve-year-old child, stay inside the university or lab until you have a better grasp of your subject matter.
“Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition.”
– Jacques Barzun