03 June 2005

Better Articulation Of Things Learned Earlier

Jamie James (22):
We shall never know exactly to what extent the historical Pythagoras corresponds to the Master of humanist tradition, any more than we shall ever know who actually wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey, or whether all those spiritual utterances in the Gospels were really said by the historical Jesus of Nazareth. Yet the doubts themselves are anachronistic: the point is that through the vast span of history in which Pythagorean humanism (and the study of Homer, and Christianity) were vibrant intellectual forces, there was never a shadow of doubt as to the authenticity and veracity of the tradition. You can put quotation marks around "Pythagoras" if that will make you feel more up-to-date, but it will not alter the meaning; the people who pursued Pythagoreanism over the course of thousands of years did believe, implicitly, in the historicity of the Master. The real Jesus may have been a charlatan, but the Jesus worshipped by millions of people changed the course of history; and it would be wrong, regardless of what a thousand copiously annotated doctoral dissertations may say, to attribute the Iliad to Anonymous.
James (18):
In this century the classics have slipped to the periphery of the curriculum, and in the place of enquiring humanism we now have condescending nihilism: the modern intelligentsia smiles at Christian fundamentalists, at credulous followers of absurd schools of psychotherapy, at adherents of what is called the New Age. Yet if people are driven to feel a connection with the Absolute by wearing crystal jewelry and listening to voice from beyond grave, as naïve as those beliefs may be perhaps we ought not castigate them for abandoning science--for has not science abandoned them? Is it reasonable to expect that the man in the street will be content with being told, "Your life is pointless, and you are destined to be a sterile, meaningless speck of stardust, but be of good cheer: science will tell you how to power your automobile with pig droppings"?

James, Jamie. The Music of the Spheres. New York: Copernicus, 1993.

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