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mercredi, 04 juillet 2012

Introduction to Aristotle’s Politics

Introduction to Aristotle’s Politics
Part 1: The Aim & Elements of Politics

Posted By Greg Johnson

Part 1 of 2

Author’s Note:

The following introduction to Aristotle’s Politics focuses on the issues of freedom and popular government. It is a reworking of a more “academic” text penned in 2001.


1. The Necessity of Politics

Aristotle is famous for holding that man is by nature a political animal. But what does this mean? Aristotle explains that,

even when human beings are not in need of each other’s help, they have no less desire to live together, though it is also true that the common advantage draws them into union insofar as noble living is something they each partake of. So this above all is the end, whether for everyone in common or for each singly (Politics 3.6, 1278b19–22).[1]

Here Aristotle contrasts two different needs of the human soul that give rise to different forms of community, one pre-political and the other political.

The first need is material. On this account, men form communities to secure the necessities of life. Because few are capable of fulfilling all their needs alone, material self-interest forces them to co-operate, each developing his particular talents and trading his products with others. The classical example of such a community is the “city of pigs” in the second book of Plato’s Republic.

The second need is spiritual. Even in the absence of material need, human beings will form communities because only through community can man satisfy his spiritual need to live nobly, i.e., to achieve eudaimonia, happiness or well-being, which Aristotle defines as a life of unimpeded virtuous activity.

Aristotle holds that the forms of association which arise from material needs are pre-political. These include the family, the master-slave relationship, the village, the market, and alliances for mutual defense. With the exception of the master-slave relationship, the pre-political realm could be organized on purely libertarian, capitalist principles. Individual rights and private property could allow individuals to associate and disassociate freely by means of persuasion and trade, according to their own determination of their interests.

But in Politics 3.9, Aristotle denies that the realm of material needs, whether organized on libertarian or non-libertarian lines, could ever fully satisfy man’s spiritual need for happiness: “It is not the case . . . that people come together for the sake of life alone, but rather for the sake of living well” (1280a31), and “the political community must be set down as existing for the sake of noble deeds and not merely for living together” (1281a2). Aristotle’s clearest repudiation of any minimalistic form of liberalism is the following passage:

Nor do people come together for the sake of an alliance to prevent themselves from being wronged by anyone, nor again for purposes of mutual exchange and mutual utility. Otherwise the Etruscans and Carthaginians and all those who have treaties with each other would be citizens of one city. . . . [But they are not] concerned about what each other’s character should be, not even with the aim of preventing anyone subject to the agreements from becoming unjust or acquiring a single depraved habit. They are concerned only that they should not do any wrong to each other. But all those who are concerned about a good state of law concentrate their attention on political virtue and vice, from which it is manifest that the city truly and not verbally so called must make virtue its care. (1280a34–b7)

Aristotle does not disdain mutual exchange and mutual protection. But he thinks that the state must do more. It must concern itself with the character of the citizen; it must encourage virtue and discourage vice.

But why does Aristotle think that the pursuit of virtue is political at all, much less the defining characteristic of the political? Why does he reject the liberal principle that whether and how men pursue virtue is an ineluctably private choice? The ultimate anthropological foundation of Aristotelian political science is man’s neoteny. Many animals can fend for themselves as soon as they are born. But man is born radically immature and incapable of living on his own. We need many years of care and education. Nature does not give us the ability to survive, much less flourish. But she gives us the ability to acquire the ability. Skills are acquired abilities to live. Virtue is the acquired ability to live well. The best way to acquire virtue is not through trial and error, but through education, which allows us to benefit from the trials and avoid the errors of others. Fortune permitting, if we act virtuously, we will live well.

Liberals often claim that freedom of choice is a necessary condition of virtue. We can receive no moral credit for a virtue which is not freely chosen but is instead forced upon us. Aristotle, however, holds that force is a necessary condition of virtue. Aristotle may have defined man as the rational animal, but unlike the Sophists of his day he did not think that rational persuasion is sufficient to instill virtue:

. . . if reasoned words were sufficient by themselves to make us decent, they would, to follow a remark of Theognis, justly carry off many and great rewards, and the thing to do would be to provide them. But, as it is, words seem to have the strength to incite and urge on those of the young who are generous and to get a well-bred character and one truly in love with the noble to be possessed by virtue; but they appear incapable of inciting the many toward becoming gentlemen. For the many naturally obey the rule of fear, not of shame, and shun what is base not because it is ugly but because it is punished. Living by passion as they do, they pursue their own pleasures and whatever will bring these pleasures about . . . ; but of the noble and truly pleasant they do not even have the notion, since they have never tasted it. How could reasoned words reform such people? For it is not possible, or nor easy, to replace by reason what has long since become fixed in the character. (Nicomachean Ethics, 10.9, 1179b4–18)

The defect of reason can, however, be corrected by force: “Reason and teaching by no means prevail in everyone’s case; instead, there is need that the hearer’s soul, like earth about to nourish the seed, be worked over in its habits beforehand so as to enjoy and hate in a noble way. . . . Passion, as a general rule, does not seem to yield to reason but to force” (Nicomachean Ethics, 10.9, 1179b23–25). The behavioral substratum of virtue is habit, and habits can be inculcated by force. Aristotle describes law as “reasoned speech that proceeds from prudence and intellect” but yet “has force behind it” (Nicomachean Ethics, 10.9, 1180a18). Therefore, the compulsion of the appropriate laws is a great aid in acquiring virtue.

At this point, however, one might object that Aristotle has established only a case for parental, not political, force in moral education. Aristotle admits that only in Sparta and a few other cities is there public education in morals, while “In most cities these matters are neglected, and each lives as he wishes, giving sacred law, in Cyclops’ fashion, to his wife and children” (Nicomachean Ethics, 10.9, 1180a24–27). Aristotle grants that an education adapted to an individual is better than an education given to a group (Nicomachean Ethics, 10.9, 1180b7). But this is an argument against the collective reception of education, not the collective provision. He then argues that such an education is best left to experts, not parents. Just as parents have professional doctors care for their childrens’ bodies, they should have professional educators care for their souls (Nicomachean Ethics, 10.9, 1180b14–23). But this does not establish that the professionals should be employees of the state.

Two additional arguments for public education are found in Politics 8.1:

[1] Since the whole city has one end, it is manifest that everyone must also have one and the same education and that taking care of this education must be a common matter. It must not be private in the way that it is now, when everyone takes care of their own children privately and teaches them whatever private learning they think best. Of common things, the training must be common. [2] At the same time, no citizen should even think he belongs to himself but instead that each belongs to the city, for each is part of the city. The care of each part, however, naturally looks to the care of the whole, and to this extent praise might be due to the Spartans, for they devote the most serious attention to their children and do so in common. (Politics, 8.1 [5.1], 1337a21–32)

The second argument is both weak and question-begging. Although it may be useful for citizens to “think” that they belong to the city, not themselves, Aristotle offers no reason to think that this is true. Furthermore, the citizens would not think so unless they received precisely the collective education that needs to be established. The first argument, however, is quite strong. If the single, overriding aim of political life is the happiness of the citizens, and if this aim is best attained by public education, then no regime can be legitimate if it fails to provide public education.[2]

Another argument for public moral education can be constructed from the overall argument of the Politics. Since public education is more widely distributed than private education, other things being equal, the populace will become more virtuous on the whole. As we shall see, it is widespread virtue that makes popular government possible. Popular government is, moreover, one of the bulwarks of popular liberty. Compulsory public education in virtue, therefore, is a bulwark of liberty.

2. Politics and Freedom

Aristotle’s emphasis on compulsory moral education puts him in the “positive” libertarian camp. For Aristotle, a free man is not merely any man who lives in a free society. A free man possesses certain traits of character which allow him to govern himself responsibly and attain happiness. These traits are, however, the product of a long process of compulsory tutelage. But such compulsion can be justified only by the production of a free and happy individual, and its scope is therefore limited by this goal. Since Aristotle ultimately accepted the Socratic principle that all men desire happiness, education merely compels us to do what we really want. It frees us from our own ignorance, folly, and irrationality and frees us for our own self-actualization. This may be the rationale for Aristotle’s claim that, “the law’s laying down of what is decent is not oppressive” (Nicomachean Ethics, 10.9, 1180a24). Since Aristotle thinks that freedom from the internal compulsion of the passions is more important than freedom from the external compulsion of force, and that force can quell the passions and establish virtue’s empire over them, Aristotle as much as Rousseau believes that we can be forced to be free.

But throughout the Politics, Aristotle shows that he is concerned to protect “negative” liberty as well. In Politics 2.2–5, Aristotle ingeniously defends private families, private property, and private enterprise from Plato’s communistic proposals in the Republic, thereby preserving the freedom of large spheres of human activity.

Aristotle’s concern with privacy is evident in his criticism of a proposal of Hippodamus of Miletus which would encourage spies and informers (2.8, 1268b22).

Aristotle is concerned to create a regime in which the rich do not enslave the poor and the poor do not plunder the rich (3.10, 1281a13–27).

Second Amendment enthusiasts will be gratified at Aristotle’s emphasis on the importance of a wide distribution of arms in maintaining the freedom of the populace (2.8, 1268a16-24; 3.17, 1288a12–14; 4.3 [6.3], 1289b27–40; 4.13 [6.13], 1297a12–27; 7.11 [4.11], 1330b17–20).

War and empire are great enemies of liberty, so isolationists and peace lovers will be gratified by Aristotle’s critique of warlike regimes and praise of peace. The good life requires peace and leisure. War is not an end in itself, but merely a means to ensure peace (7.14 [4.14], 1334a2–10; 2.9, 1271a41–b9).

The best regime is not oriented outward, toward dominating other peoples, but inward, towards the happiness of its own. The best regime is an earthly analogue of the Prime Mover. It is self-sufficient and turned inward upon itself (7.3 [4.3], 1325a14–31). Granted, Aristotle may not think that negative liberty is the whole of the good life, but it is an important component which needs to be safeguarded.[3]

3. The Elements of Politics and the Mixed Regime

Since the aim of political association is the good life, the best political regime is the one that best delivers the good life. Delivering the good life can be broken down into two components: production and distribution. There are two basic kinds of goods: the goods of the body and the goods of the soul.[4] Both sorts of goods can be produced and distributed privately and publicly, but Aristotle treats the production and distribution of bodily goods as primarily private whereas he treats the production and distribution of spiritual goods as primarily public. The primary goods of the soul are moral and intellectual virtue, which are best produced by public education, and honor, the public recognition of virtue, talent, and service rendered to the city.[5] The principle of distributive justice is defined as proportionate equality: equally worthy people should be equally happy and unequally worthy people should be unequally happy, commensurate with their unequal worth (Nicomachean Ethics, 5.6–7). The best regime, in short, combines happiness and justice.

But how is the best regime to be organized? Aristotle builds his account from at least three sets of elements.

First, in Politics 3.6–7, Aristotle observes that sovereignty can rest either with men or with laws. If with men, then it can rest in one man, few men, or many men. (Aristotle treats it as self-evident that it cannot rest in all men.) The rulers can exercise political power for two different ends: for the common good and for special interests. One pursues the common good by promoting the happiness of all according to justice. Special interests can be broken down into individual or factional interests. A ruler can be blamed for pursuing such goods only if he does so without regard to justice, i.e., without a just concern for the happiness of all. When a single man rules for the common good, we have kingship. When he rules for his own good, we have tyranny. When the few rule for the common good, we have aristocracy. When they rule for their factional interest, we have oligarchy. When the many rule for the common good, we have polity. When they rule for their factional interest, we have democracy. These six regimes can exist in pure forms, or they can be mixed together.

Second, Aristotle treats social classes as elemental political distinctions. In Politics 3.8 he refines his definitions of oligarchy and democracy, claiming that oligarchy is actually the rule by the rich, whether they are few or many, and democracy is rule by the poor, whether they are few or many. Similarly, in Politics 4.11 (6.1) Aristotle also defines polity as rule by the middle class. In Politics 4.4 (6.4), Aristotle argues that the social classes are irreducible political distinctions. One can be a rich, poor, or middle class juror, legislator, or office-holder. One can be a rich, poor, or middle class farmer or merchant. But one cannot be both rich and poor at the same time (1291b2–13). Class distinctions cannot be eliminated; therefore, they have to be recognized and respected, their disadvantages meliorated and their advantages harnessed for the common good.

Third, in Politics 4.14 (6.14), Aristotle divides the activities of rulership into three different functions: legislative, judicial, and executive.[6]

Because rulership can be functionally divided, it is possible to create a mixed regime by assigning different functions to different parts of the populace. One could, for instance, mix monarchy and elite rule by assigning supreme executive office to a single man and the legislative and judicial functions to the few. Or one could divide the legislative function into different houses, assigning one to the few and another to the many. Aristotle suggests giving the few the power to legislate and the many the power to veto legislation. He suggests that officers be elected by the many, but nominated from the few. The few should make expenditures, but the many should audit them (2.12, 1274a15–21; 3.11, 1281b21–33; 4.14 [6.14], 1298b26–40).

In Politics 3.10, Aristotle argues that some sort of mixed regime is preferable, since no pure regime is satisfactory: “A difficulty arises as to what should be the controlling part of the city, for it is really either the multitude or the rich or the decent or the best one of all or a tyrant? But all of them appear unsatisfactory” (1281a11–13). Democracy is bad because the poor unjustly plunder the substance of the rich; oligarchy is bad because the rich oppress and exploit the poor; tyranny is bad because the tyrant does injustice to everyone (1281a13–28). Kingship and aristocracy are unsatisfactory because they leave the many without honors and are schools for snobbery and high-handedness (1281a28–33; 4.11 [6.11], 1295b13ff). A pure polity might be unsatisfactory because it lacks a trained leadership caste and is therefore liable to make poor decisions (3.11, 1281b21–33).

4. Checks and Balances, Political Rule, and the Rule of Law

Aristotle’s mixed regime is the origin of the idea of the separation of powers and “checks and balances.” It goes hand in hand with a very modern political realism. Aristotle claims that, “all regimes that look to the common advantage turn out, according to what is simply just, to be correct ones, while those that look only to the advantage of their rulers are mistaken and are all deviations from the correct regime. For they are despotic, but the city is a community of the free” (3.6, 1279a17–21).

It is odd, then, that in Politics 4.8–9 (6.8–9) Aristotle describes the best regime as a mixture of two defective regimes, oligarchy and democracy–not of two correct regimes, aristocracy and polity. But perhaps Aristotle entertained the possibility of composing a regime that tends to the common good out of classes which pursue their own factional interests.

Perhaps Aristotle thought that the “intention” to pursue the common good can repose not in the minds of individual men, but in the institutional logic of the regime itself. This would be an enormous advantage, for it would bring about the common good without having to rely entirely upon men of virtue and good will, who are in far shorter supply than men who pursue their own individual and factional advantages.

Related to the mixed regime with its checks and balances is the notion of “political rule.” Political rule consists of ruling and being ruled in turn:

. . . there is a sort of rule exercised over those who are similar in birth and free. This rule we call political rule, and the ruler must learn it by being ruled, just as one learns to be a cavalry commander by serving under a cavalry commander . . . Hence is was nobly said that one cannot rule well without having been ruled. And while virtue in these two cases is different, the good citizen must learn and be able both to be ruled and to rule. This is in fact the virtue of the citizen, to know rule over the free from both sides. (3.4, 1277b7–15; cf. 1.13, 1259b31–34 and 2.2, 1261a32–b3)

Aristotle makes it clear that political rule can exist only where the populace consists of men who are free, i.e., sufficiently virtuous that they can rule themselves. They must also be economically middle-class, well-armed, and warlike. They must, in short, be the sort of men who can participate responsibly in government, who want to participate, and who cannot safely be excluded. A populace that is slavish, vice-ridden, poor, and unarmed can easily be disenfranchised and exploited. If power were entirely in the hands of a free populace, the regime would be a pure polity, and political rule would exist entirely between equals. If, however, a free populace were to take part in a mixed regime, then political rule would exist between different parts of the regime. The many and the few would divide power and functions between them. Not only would members of each class take turns performing the different functions allotted to them, the classes themselves would rule over others in one respect and be ruled in another. In these circumstances, then, checks and balances are merely one form of political rule.

In Politics 3.16, Aristotle connects political rule to the rule of law:

What is just is that people exercise rule no more than they are subject to it and that therefore they rule by turns. But this is already law, for the arrangement is law. Therefore, it is preferable that law rule rather than any one of the citizens. And even if, to pursue the same argument, it were better that there be some persons exercising rule, their appointment should be as guardians and servants of the laws. For though there must be some offices, that there should be this one person exercising rule is, they say, not just, at least when all are similar. (1287a15–22)

Aristotle’s point is simple. If two men govern by turns, then sovereignty does not ultimately repose in either of them, but in the rule that they govern by turns. The same can be said of checks and balances. If the few spend money and the many audit the accounts, then neither group is sovereign, the laws are. If sovereignty reposes in laws, not men, the common good is safe. As Aristotle points out, “anyone who bids the laws to rule seems to bid god and intellect alone to rule, but anyone who bids a human being to rule adds on also the wild beast. For desire is such a beast and spiritedness perverts rulers even when they are the best of men. Hence law is intellect without appetite” (1287a23–31). The greatest enemy of the common good is private interest. The laws, however, have no private interests. Thus if our laws are conducive to the common good, we need not depend entirely on the virtue and public-spiritedness of men.

Aristotle would, however, hasten to add that no regime can do without these characteristics entirely, for the laws cannot apply themselves. They must be applied by men, and their application will seldom be better than the men who apply them. Furthermore, even though a regime may function without entirely virtuous citizens, no legitimate regime can be indifferent to the virtue of the citizens, for the whole purpose of political association is to instill the virtues necessary for happiness.


1. All quotes from Aristotle are from The Politics of Aristotle, trans. and ed. Peter L. Phillips Simpson (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997). Simpson’s edition has two unique features. First, The Politics is introduced by a translation of Nicomachean Ethics 10.9. Second, Simpson moves books 7 and 8 of The Politics, positioning them between the traditional books 3 and 4. I retain the traditional ordering, indicating Simpson’s renumbering parenthetically. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes are from The Politics. Quotes from the Nicomachean Ethics will be indicated as such.

2. A useful commentary on these and other Aristotelian arguments for public education is Randall R. Curren, Aristotle on the Necessity of Public Education (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000).

3. For a fuller discussion of the value Aristotle puts on liberty, see Roderick T. Long, “Aristotle’s Conception of Freedom,” The Review of Metaphysics 49, no. 4 (June 1996), pp. 787–802.

4. One could add a third category of instrumental goods, but these goods are instrumental to the intrinsic goods of the body, the soul, or both, and thus could be classified under those headings.

5. As for the highest good of the soul, which is attained by philosophy, Aristotle’s flight from Athens near the end of his life shows that he recognized that different political orders can be more or less open to free thought, but I suspect that he was realist enough (and Platonist enough) to recognize that even the best cities are unlikely to positively cultivate true freedom to philosophize. I would wager that Aristotle would be both surprised at the freedom of thought in the United States and receptive to Tocquevillian complaints about the American tendency toward conformism that makes such freedom unthreatening to the reigning climate of opinion. A cynic might argue that if Americans actually made use of their freedom of thought, it would be quickly taken away.

6. On the complexities of the executive role in the Politics, see Harvey C. Mansfield, Jr., Taming the Prince: The Ambivalence of Modern Executive Power (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1993), chs. 2–3.

Introduction to Aristotle’s Politics
Part 2: In Defense of Popular Government


Part 2 of 2

5. The Good Man and the Good Citizen

Having now surveyed Aristotle’s thoughts on the elements and proper aim of politics, we can now examine his arguments for popular government. When I use the phrase “popular government,” it should be borne in mind that Aristotle does not advocate a pure polity, but a mixed regime with a popular element.

Aristotle’s first case for bringing the many into government can be discerned in Politics 3.4. Aristotle’s question is whether the virtues of the good man and the good citizen are the same. They are not the same, insofar as the virtue of the good citizen is defined relative to the regime, and there are many different regimes, while the virtue of the good man is defined relative to human nature, which is one. One can therefore be a good citizen but not a good man, and a good man but not a good citizen. History is replete with examples of regimes which punish men for their virtues and reward them for their vices. Aristotle does, however, allow that the good man and the good citizen can be one in a regime in which the virtues required of a good citizen do not differ from the virtues of a good man.

The chief virtue of a good man is prudence. But prudence is not required of a citizen insofar as he is ruled. Only obedience is required. Prudence is, however, required of a citizen insofar as he rules. Since the best regime best encourages happiness by best cultivating virtue, a regime which allows the many to govern along with the few is better than a regime which excludes them. By including the many in ruling, a popular regime encourages the widest cultivation of prudence and gives the greatest opportunity for its exercise. The best way to bring the many into the regime is what Aristotle calls political rule: ruling and being ruled in turn, as prescribed by law.

Political rule not only teaches the virtue of prudence to the many, it teaches the virtue of being ruled to the few, who must give way in turn to the many. Since the few aspire to rule but not be ruled, Aristotle argues that they cannot rule without first having been ruled: “the ruler must learn [political rule] by being ruled, just as one learns to be a cavalry commander by serving under a cavalry commander . . . Hence is was nobly said that one cannot rule well without having been ruled. And while virtue in these two cases is different, the good citizen must learn and be able both to be ruled and to rule. This is, in fact, the virtue of a citizen, to know rule over the free from both sides. Indeed, the good man too possesses both” (3.4, 1277b7–16).

Aristotle names justice as a virtue which is learned both in ruling and being ruled. Those born to wealth and power are liable to arrogance and the love of command. By subjecting them to the rule of others, including their social inferiors, they learn to respect their freedom and justly appraise their worth.

6. Potlucks, Chimeras, Juries

Aristotle’s next case for bringing the many into the regime is found in Politics 3.11.[1] Aristotle seeks to rebut the aristocratic argument against popular participation, namely that the best political decisions are wise ones, but wisdom is found only among the few, not the many. Popular participation, therefore, would inevitably dilute the quality of the political decision-makers, increasing the number of foolish decisions. Aristotle accepts the premise that the wise should rule, but he argues that there are circumstances in which the few and the many together are wiser than the few on their own. The aristocratic principle, therefore, demands the participation of the many:

. . . the many, each of whom is not a serious man, nevertheless could, when they have come together, be better than those few best–not, indeed, individually but as a whole, just as meals furnished collectively are better than meals furnished at one person’s expense. For each of them, though many, could have a part of virtue and prudence, and just as they could, when joined together in a multitude, become one human being with many feet, hands, and senses, so also could they become one in character and thought. That is why the many are better judges of the works of music and the poets, for one of them judges one part and another another and all of them the whole. (1281a42–b10)

At first glance, this argument seems preposterous. History and everyday life are filled with examples of wise individuals opposing foolish collectives. But Aristotle does not claim that the many are always wiser than the few, simply that they can be under certain conditions (1281b15).

The analogy of the potluck supper is instructive (cf. 3.15, 1286a28–30).[2] A potluck supper can be better than one provided by a single person if it offers a greater number and variety of dishes and diffuses costs and labor. But potluck suppers are not always superior–that is the “luck” in it. Potlucks are often imbalanced. On one occasion, there may be too many desserts and no salads. On another, three people may bring chicken and no one brings beef or pork. The best potluck, therefore, is a centrally orchestrated one which mobilizes the resources of many different contributors but ensures a balanced and wholesome meal.

Likewise, the best way to include the many in political decision-making is to orchestrate their participation, giving them a delimited role that maximizes their virtues and minimizes their vices. This cannot be accomplished in a purely popular regime, particularly a lawless one, but it can be accomplished in a mixed regime in which the participation of the populace is circumscribed by law and checked by the interests of other elements of the population.

Aristotle’s second analogy–which likens the intellectual and moral unity of the many to a man with many feet, hands, and sense organs, i.e., a freak of nature–does not exactly assuage doubters. But his point is valid. While even the best of men may lack a particular virtue, it is unlikely that it will be entirely absent from a large throng. Therefore, the many are potentially as virtuous or even more virtuous than the few if their scattered virtues can be gathered together and put to work. But history records many examples of groups acting less morally than any member on his own. Thus the potential moral superiority of the many is unlikely to emerge in a lawless democracy. But it could emerge in a lawful mixed regime, which actively encourages and employs the virtues of the many while checking their vices. This process can be illustrated by adapting an analogy that Aristotle offers to illustrate another point: A painting of a man can be more beautiful than any real man, for the painter can pick out the best features of individual men and combine them into a beautiful whole (3.11, 1281b10–11).

Aristotle illustrates the potential superiority of collective judgment with another questionable assertion, that “the many are better judges of the works of music and the poets, for one of them judges one part and another another and all of them the whole.” Again, this seems preposterous. Good taste, like wisdom, is not widely distributed and is cultivated by the few, not the many. Far more people buy “rap” recordings than classical ones. But Aristotle is not claiming that the many are better judges in all cases. Aristotle is likely referring to Greek dramatic competitions. These competitions were juried by the audience, not a small number of connoisseurs.

A jury trial or competition is a genuine collective decision-making process in which each juror is morally enjoined to pay close attention the matter at hand and to render an objective judgment.[3] Although each juror has his own partial impression, when jurors deliberate they can add their partial impressions together to arrive at a more complete and adequate account. To the extent that a jury decision must approach unanimity, the jurors will be motivated to examine the issue from all sides and persuade one another to move toward a rationally motivated consensus. A jury decision can, therefore, be more rational, well-informed, and objective than an individual one.[4] The market, by contrast, is not a collective decision-making process. It does not require a consumer to compare his preferences to those of others, to persuade others of their validity or defend them from criticism, or to arrive at any sort of consensus. Instead, the market merely registers the collective effects of individual decisions.[5]

7. Freedom and Stability

Another argument for popular government in Politics 3.11 (1281b21–33) is that it is more stable. Aristotle grants the Aristocratic principle that it is not safe for the populace to share in “the greatest offices” because, “on account of their injustice and unwisdom, they would do wrong in some things and go wrong in others.” But then he goes on to argue that it would not be safe to exclude the many from rule altogether, since a city “that has many in it who lack honor and are poor must of necessity be full of enemies,” which would be a source of instability. Instability is, however, inconsistent with the proper aim of politics, for the good life requires peace. The solution is a mixed regime which ensures peace and stability by allowing the many to participate in government, but not to occupy the highest offices. In Politics 2.9, Aristotle praises the Spartan Ephorate for holding the regime together, “since, as the populace share in the greatest office, it keeps them quiet. . . . For if any regime is going to survive, all the parts of the city must want it both to exist and to remain as it is” (1270b17–22; cf. Aristotle’s discussion of the Carthaginians in 2.9, 1272b29–32; see also 4.13 [6.13], 1297b6).

In Politics 2.12, Aristotle offers another reason for including the populace in government. Solon gave the populace, “the power that was most necessary (electing to office and auditing the accounts), since without it they would have been enslaved and hostile” (1274a4–6). Here Aristotle makes it clear that he values liberty, and he values popular government because it protects the liberty of the many.

8. Expert Knowledge

In Politics 3.11 Aristotle rebuts the argument that the many should not be involved in politics because they are amateurs, and decisions in politics, as in medicine and other fields, should be left to experts. In response to this, Aristotle repeats his argument that the many, taken together, may be better judges than a few experts. He then adds that there are some arts in which the products can be appreciated by people who do not possess the art: “Appreciating a house, for example, does not just belong to the builder; the one who uses it, namely the household manager, will pass an even better judgment on it. Likewise, the pilot judges the rudder better than the carpenter and the dinner guest judges the feast better than the chef” (1282a19–22). If the art of statesmanship is like these, then the best judge of the quality of a statesman is not the few political experts, but the many political laymen who are ruled by him. The judgment of the populace should not, therefore, be disdained.

9. Resistance to Corruption

In Politics 3.15 Aristotle argues that popular regimes are more resistant to corruption. Even in a regime in which law ultimately rules, there are particular circumstances which the laws do not anticipate. Where the law cannot decide, men must do so. But this creates an opportunity for corruption. Aristotle argues that such decisions are better made by large bodies deliberating in public: “What is many is more incorruptible: the multitude, like a greater quantity of water, is harder to ruin than a few. A single person’s judgment must necessarily be corrupted when he is overcome by anger or some other such passion, but getting everyone in the other case to become angry and go wrong at the same time takes a lot of doing. Let the multitude in question, however, be the free who are acting in no way against law, except where law is necessarily deficient” (1286a33–38). Aristotle’s argument that the many may collectively possess fewer vices than the few is merely a mirror image of his earlier collective virtue argument. Here, as elsewhere, Aristotle defends popular government only under delimited circumstances. The populace must be free, not slavish, and they must decide only when the laws cannot.

10. Delegation and Diffusion of Power

Politics 3.16 is devoted to arguments against total kingship. One of these arguments can be turned into a case for popular government. Aristotle claims that total kingship is unsustainable: “It is not easy for one person to oversee many things, so there will need to be many officials appointed in subordination to him. Consequently, what is the difference between having them there right from the start and having one man in this way appoint them? . . . if a man who is serious is justly ruler because he is better, then two good men are better than one” (1287b8–12, cf. 1287b25–29).

Since total kingship is unworkable, kings must necessarily appoint superior men as “peers” to help them. But if total kingship must create an aristocracy, then why not have aristocracy from the start?

This argument could, however, be pushed further to make a case for popular government. An aristocracy cannot effectively rule the people without the active participation of some and the passive acquiescence of the rest. As we have seen above, Aristotle argues that the best way to bring this about is popular government. But if aristocracy must eventually bring the populace into the regime, then why not include them from the very beginning?

11. When Regimes Fail

In Politics 4.2 (6.2), Aristotle returns to his list of pure regime types. The three just regimes are kingship, aristocracy, and polity; the three unjust ones are tyranny, oligarchy, and democracy. Aristotle proceeds to rank the three just regimes in terms of the kinds of virtues they require. Thus Aristotle identifies kingship and aristocracy as the best regimes because they are both founded on “fully equipped virtue” (1289a31). Of the two, kingship is the very best, for it depends upon a virtue so superlative that it is possessed by only one man. Aristocracy is less exalted because it presupposes somewhat more broadly distributed and therefore less exalted virtue. Polity depends upon even more widespread and modest virtue. Furthermore, the populace, unlike kings and aristocrats, lacks the full complement of material equipment necessary to fully exercise such virtues as magnificence.

By this ranking, polity is not the best regime, but the least of the good ones. But Aristotle then offers a new, politically realistic standard for ranking the just regimes which reverses their order. Kingship may be the best regime from a morally idealistic perspective, but when it degenerates it turns into tyranny, which is the worst regime. Aristocracy may be the second best regime from a morally idealistic perspective, but when it degenerates it turns into oligarchy, which is the second worst regime. Polity may be the third choice of the moral idealist, but when it degenerates, it merely becomes democracy, which is the best of a bad lot.

Since degeneration is inevitable, the political realist ranks regimes not only in terms of their best performances, but also in terms of their worst. By this standard, polity is the best of the good regimes and kingship the worst. Kingship is best under ideal conditions, polity under real conditions. Kingship is a sleek Jaguar, polity a dowdy Volvo. On the road, the Jaguar is clearly better. But when they go in the ditch, the Volvo shows itself to be the better car overall.

12. The Middle Class Regime

Aristotle displays the same political realism in his praise of the middle class regime in Politics 4.11 (6.11): “If we judge neither by a virtue that is beyond the reach of private individuals, nor by an education requiring a nature and equipment dependent on chance, nor again a regime that is as one would pray for, but by a way of life that most can share in common together and by a regime that most cities can participate in . . . ,” then a large, politically enfranchised middle class has much to recommend it: “In the case of political community . . . the one that is based on those in the middle is best, and . . . cities capable of being well governed are those sorts where the middle is large . . .” (1295b35–36).

Since the middle class is the wealthier stratum of the common people, Aristotle’s arguments for middle class government are ipso facto arguments for popular government. Aristotle makes it clear from the beginning, however, that he is not talking about a purely popular regime, but a mixed one compounded out of a middle class populace and those elements of aristocracy which are not out of the reach of most cities (1295a30–34).

Aristotle’s first argument for the middle regime seems a sophistry: “If it was nobly said in the Ethics that the happy way of life is unimpeded life in accordance with virtue and that virtue is a mean, then necessarily the middle way of life, the life of a mean that everyone can attain, must be best. The same definitions must hold also for the virtue and vice of city and regime, since the regime is a certain way of life of a city” (1295a35–40).

In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle makes it clear that the fact that virtue can be understood as a mean between two vices, one of excess and the other of defect, does not imply either that virtue is merely an arithmetic mean (Nicomachean Ethics, 2.2, 1106a26–b8), or that virtue is to be regarded as mediocrity, not as superlative (Nicomachean Ethics, 2.2, 1107a9–27). Here, however, Aristotle describes the mean not as a superlative, but as a mediocrity “that everyone can attain.” This conclusion follows only if we presuppose that the morally idealistic doctrine of the Ethics has been modified into a moral realism analogous to the political realism of Politics 4.2.

Aristotle then claims that in a regime the mean lies in the middle class: “In all cities there are in fact three parts: those who are exceedingly well-off, those who are exceedingly needy, and the third who are in the middle of these two. So, since it is agreed that the mean and middle is best, then it is manifest that a middling possession also of the goods of fortune must be best of all” (1295b1–3). Aristotle is, however, equivocating. He begins by defining the middle class as an arithmetic mean between the rich and the poor. He concludes that the middle class is a moral mean. But he does not establish that the arithmetic mean corresponds with the moral.

Aristotle does, however, go on to offer reasons for thinking that the social mean corresponds to the moral mean. But the middle class is not necessarily more virtuous because its members have been properly educated, but because their social position and class interests lead them to act as if they had been.

First, Aristotle argues that “the middle most easily obeys reason.” Those who are “excessively beautiful or strong or well-born or wealthy” find it hard to follow reason, because they tend to be “insolent and rather wicked in great things.” By contrast, those who are poor and “extremely wretched and weak, and have an exceeding lack of honor” tend to become “villains and too much involved in petty wickedness.” The middle class is, however, too humble to breed insolence and too well-off to breed villainy. Since most injustices arise from insolence and villainy, a regime with a strong middle class will be more likely to be just.

Second, Aristotle argues that the middle class is best suited to ruling and being ruled in turn. Those who enjoy, “an excess of good fortune (strength, wealth, friends, and other things of the sort)” love to rule and dislike being ruled. Both of these attitudes are harmful to the city, yet they naturally arise among the wealthy. From an early age, the wealthy are instilled with a “love of ruing and desire to rule, both of which are harmful to cities” (1295b12), and, “because of the luxury they live in, being ruled is not something they get used to, even at school” (1295b13–17). By contrast, poverty breeds vice, servility, and small-mindedness. Thus the poor are easy to push around, and if they do gain power they are incapable of exercising it virtuously. Therefore, without a middle class, “a city of slaves and masters arises, not a city of the free, and the first are full of envy while the second are full of contempt.” Such a city must be “at the furthest remove from friendship and political community” (1295b21–24). The presence of a strong middle class, however, binds the city into a whole, limiting the tendency of the rich to tyranny and the poor to slavishness, creating a “city of the free.”

Third, Aristotle argues that middle class citizens enjoy the safest and most stable lives, imbuing the regime as a whole with these characteristics. Those in the middle are, among all the citizens, the most likely to survive in times of upheaval, when the poor starve and the rich become targets. They are sufficiently content with their lot not to envy the possessions of the rich. Yet they are not so wealthy that the poor envy them. They neither plot against the rich nor are plotted against by the poor.

Fourth, a large middle class stabilizes a regime, particularly if the middle is “stronger than both extremes or, otherwise, than either one of them. For the middle will tip the balance when added to either side and prevent the emergence of an excess at the opposite extremes” (1295b36–40). Without a large and powerful middle class, “either ultimate rule of the populace arises or unmixed oligarchy does, or, because of excess on both sides, tyranny” (1296a3; cf. 6.12, 1297a6ff).

Fifth is the related point that regimes with large middle classes are relatively free of faction and therefore more concerned with the common good. This is because a large middle class makes it harder to separate everyone out into two groups (1296a7–10).

Finally, Aristotle claims that one sign of the superiority of middle class regimes is that the best legislators come from the middle class. As examples, he cites Solon, Lycurgus, and Charondas (1296a18–21).

Conclusion: Aristotle’s Polity and Our Own

If the proper aim of government is to promote the happiness of the citizen, Aristotle marshals an impressive array of arguments for giving the people, specifically the middle class, a role in government. These arguments can be grouped under five headings: virtue, rational decision-making, freedom, stability, and resistance to corruption.

Popular government both presupposes and encourages widespread virtue among the citizens, and virtue is a necessary condition of happiness. Middle class citizens are particularly likely to follow practical reason and act justly, for they are corrupted neither by wealth nor by poverty. Popular participation can improve political decision-making by mobilizing scattered information and experience, and more informed decisions are more likely to promote happiness. In particular, popular government channels the experiences of those who are actually governed back into the decision-making process.

Popular participation preserves the freedom of the people, who would otherwise be exploited if they had no say in government. By preserving the freedom of the people, popular participation unifies the regime, promoting peace and stability which in turn are conducive to the pursuit of happiness. This is particularly the case with middle class regimes, for the middle class prevents excessive and destabilizing separation and between the extremes of wealth and poverty.

Popular governments are also more resistant to corruption. It is harder to use bribery or trickery to corrupt decisions made by many people deliberating together in public than by one person or a few deciding in private. This means that popular regimes are more likely to promote the common good instead of allowing the state to become a tool for the pursuit of one special interest at the expense of another. Furthermore, if a popular regime does become corrupt, it is most likely to become a democracy, which is the least unjust of the bad regimes and the easiest to reform.

All these are good arguments for giving the people a role in government. But not just any people. And not just any role.

First, Aristotle presupposes a small city-state. He did not think that any regime could pursue the common good if it became too large. This is particularly true of a popular regime, for the larger the populace, the less room any particular citizen has for meaningful participation.

Second, he presupposes a populace which is racially and culturally homogeneous. A more diverse population is subject to faction and strife. It will either break up into distinct communities or it will have to be held together by violence and governed by an elite. A more diverse population also erodes a society’s moral consensus, making moral education even more difficult.

Third, political participation will be limited to middle-class and wealthy property-owning males, specifically men who derive their income from the ownership of productive land, not merchants and craftsmen.

Fourth, Aristotle circumscribes the role of the populace by assigning it specific legal roles, such as the election of officers and the auditing of accounts–roles which are checked and balanced by the legal roles of the aristocratic element, such as occupying leadership positions.

If Aristotle is right about the conditions of popular government, then he would probably take a dim view of its prospects in America.

First and foremost, Aristotle would deplore America’s lack of concern with moral education. Aristotle’s disagreement would go beyond the obvious fact that the American founders did not make moral education the central concern of the state. America has neglected to cultivate even the minimal moral virtues required to maintain a liberal regime, virtues such as independence, personal responsibility, and basic civility.

Second, Aristotle would predict that multiculturalism and non-white immigration will destroy the cultural preconditions of popular government.

Third, Aristotle would reject America’s ever-widening franchise–particularly the extension of the vote to women, non-property owners, and cultural aliens–as a sure prescription for lowering the quality of public decision-making in the voting booth and jury room.

Fourth, Aristotle would be alarmed by the continuing erosion of the American working and middle classes by competition from foreign workers both inside and outside America’s borders. He would deplore America’s transformation from an agrarian to an industrial-mercantile civilization and support autarky rather than free trade and economic globalization.

Fifth, Aristotle would be alarmed by ongoing attempts to disarm the populace.

Sixth, he would condemn America’s imperialistic and warlike policies toward other nations.

Finally, Aristotle would likely observe that since genuine popular government is difficult with hundreds of thousands of citizens it will be impossible with hundreds of millions.

In short, if Aristotle were alive today, he would find himself to the right of Patrick J. Buchanan, decrying America’s decline from a republic to an empire. Aristotle challenges us to show whether and how liberty and popular government are compatible with feminism, multiculturalism, and globalized capitalism.

To conclude, however, on a more positive note: Although Aristotle gives reasons to think that the future of popular government in America is unpromising, he also gives reasons for optimism about the long-term prospects of popular government in general, for his defense of popular government is based on a realistic assessment of human nature, not only in its striving for perfection, but also in its propensity for failure.


1. For useful discussions of the arguments of Politics 3.11, see Mary P. Nichols, Citizens and Statesmen: A Study of Aristotle’s Politics (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 1992), 66–71, and Peter L. Phillips Simpson, A Philosophical Commentary on the Politics of Aristotle (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998), 166-71.

2. On the potluck supper analogy, see Arlene W. Saxonhouse, Fear of Diversity: The Birth of Political Science in Ancient Greek Thought (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 222–24.

3. I wish to thank M. L. C. for suggesting the model of a jury trial.

4 . For a beautiful description of the deliberative process of a jury, see John C. Calhoun, A Disquisition on Government, in Union and Liberty: The Political Philosophy of John C. Calhoun, ed. Ross M. Lence (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1992), 49–50.

5. Friedrich A. Hayek’s classic essay “The Use of Knowledge in Society,” in his Individualism and Economic Order (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948), argues that the market is superior to central planning because it better mobilizes widely scattered information. The market is, of course, larger than any possible jury and thus will always command more information. However, if one were to compare a market and a jury of the same size, the jury would clearly be a more rational decision-making process, for the market registers decisions based on perspectives which are in principle entirely solipsistic, whereas the jury requires a genuine dialogue which challenges all participants to transcend their partial and subjective perspectives and work toward a rational consensus which is more objective than any individual decision because it more adequately accounts for the phenomena in question than could any individual decision. It is this crucial disanalogy that seems to vitiate attempts to justify the market in terms of Gadamerian, Popperian, or Habermasian models and communicative rationality. For the best statement of this sort of approach, see G. B. Madison, The Political Economy of Civil Society and Human Rights (New York: Routledge, 1998), esp. chs. 3–5.


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jeudi, 26 avril 2012

Platon, encore et toujours

Platon, encore et toujours

par Claude BOURRINET

Est-il une époque dans laquelle la possibilité d’une prise de distance ait été si malaisée, presque iplatocooperativeindividualismorg.jpgmpossible, et pour beaucoup improbable ? Pourtant, les monuments écrits laissent entrevoir des situations que l’on pourrait nommer, au risque de l’anachronisme, « totalitaires », où non seulement l’on était sommé de prendre position, mais aussi de participer, de manifester son adhésion passivement ou activement.

L’Athènes antique, l’Empire byzantin, l’Europe médiévale, l’Empire omeyyade, et pour tout dire la plupart des systèmes socio-politiques, de la Chine à la pointe de l’Eurasie, et sans doute aussi dans l’Amérique précolombienne ou sur les îles étroites du Pacifique, les hommes se sont définis par rapport à un tout qui les englobait, et auquel ils devaient s’aliéner, c’est-à-dire abandonner une part plus ou moins grande de leur liberté.

S’il n’est pas facile de définir ce qu’est cette dernière, il l’est beaucoup plus de désigner les forces d’enrégimentement, pour peu justement qu’on en soit assez délivré pour pouvoir les percevoir. C’est d’ailleurs peut-être justement là un début de définition de ce que serait la « liberté », qui est avant tout une possibilité de voir, et donc de s’extraire un minimum pour acquérir le champ nécessaire de la perception.

Si nous survolons les siècles, nous constatons que la plupart des hommes sont « jetés » dans une situation, qu’ils n’ont certes pas choisie, parce que la naissance même les y a mis. Le fait brut des premières empreintes de la petite enfance, le visage maternel, les sons qui nous pénètrent, la structuration mentale induite par les stimuli, les expériences sensorielles, l’apprentissage de la langue, laquelle porte le legs d’une longue mémoire et découpe implicitement, et même formellement, par le verbe, le mot, les fonctions, le réel, l’éducation et le système de valeurs de l’entourage immédiat, tout cela s’impose comme le mode d’être naturel de l’individu, et produit une grande partie de son identité.

L’accent mis sur l’individu s’appelle individualisme. Notons au passage que cette entité sur laquelle semble reposer les possibilités d’existence est mise en doute par sa prétention à être indivisible. L’éclatement du moi, depuis la « mort de Dieu », du fondement métaphysique de sa pérennité, de sa légitimité, accentué par les coups de boutoir des philosophies du « soupçon », comme le marxisme, le nietzschéisme, la psychanalyse, le structuralisme, a invalidé tout régime s’en prévalant, quand bien même le temps semble faire triompher la démocratie, les droits de l’homme, qui supposent l’autonomie et l’intégrité de l’individu en tant que tel.

Les visions du monde ancien supposaient l’existence, dans l’homme, d’une instance solide de jugement et de décision. Les philosophies antiques, le stoïcisme, par exemple, qui a tant influencé le christianisme, mais aussi les religions, quelles qu’elles soient, païennes ou issues du judaïsme, ne mettent pas en doute l’existence du moi, à charge de le définir. Cependant, contrairement au monde moderne, qui a conçu le sujet, un ego détaché du monde, soit à partir de Hobbes dans le domaine politique, ou de Descartes dans celui des sciences, ce « moi » ne prend sa véritable plénitude que dans l’engagement. Aristote a défini l’homme comme animal politique, et, d’une certaine façon, la société chrétienne est une république où tout adepte du Christ est un citoyen.

On sait que Platon, dégoûté par la démagogie athénienne, critique obstiné de la sophistique, avait trouvé sa voie dans la quête transcendante des Idées, la vraie réalité. La mort de Socrate avait été pour lui la révélation de l’aporie démocratique, d’un système fondé sur la toute puissance de la doxa, de l’opinion. Nul n’en a dévoilé et explicité autant la fausseté et l’inanité. Cela n’empêcha pas d’ailleurs le philosophe de se mêler, à ses dépens, du côté de la Grande Grèce, à la chose politique, mais il était dès lors convenu que si l’on s’échappait vraiment de l’emprise sociétale, quitte à y revenir avec une conscience supérieure, c’était par le haut. La fuite « horizontale », par un recours, pour ainsi dire, aux forêts, si elle a dû exister, était dans les faits inimaginables, si l’on se souvient de la gravité d’une peine telle que l’ostracisme. Être rejeté de la communauté s’avérait pire que la mort. Les Robinsons volontaires n’ont pas été répertoriés par l’écriture des faits mémorables. Au fond, la seule possibilité pensable de rupture socio-politique, à l’époque, était la tentation du transfuge. On prenait parti, par les pieds, pour l’ennemi héréditaire.

Depuis Platon, donc, on sait que le retrait véritable, celui de l’âme, à savoir de cet œil spirituel qui demeure lorsque l’accessoire a été jugé selon sa nature, est à la portée de l’être qui éprouve une impossibilité radicale à trouver une justification à la médiocrité du monde. L’ironie voulut que le platonisme fût le fondement idéologique d’un empire à vocation totalitaire. La métaphysique, en se sécularisant, peut se transformer en idéologie. Toutefois, le platonisme est l’horizon indépassable, dans notre civilisation (le bouddhisme en étant un autre, ailleurs) de la possibilité dans un même temps du refus du monde, et de son acceptation à un niveau supérieur.

Du reste, il ne faudrait pas croire que la doctrine de Platon soit réservée au royaume des nuées et des vapeurs intellectuelles détachées du sol rugueux de la réalité empirique. Qui n’éprouve pas l’écœurement profond qui assaille celui qui se frotte quelque peu à la réalité prosaïque actuelle ne sait pas ce que sont le bon goût et la pureté, même à l’état de semblant. Il est des mises en situation qui s’apparentent au mal de mer et à l’éventualité du naufrage.

Toutefois, du moment que notre âge, qui est né vers la fin de ce que l’on nomme abusivement le « Moyen Âge », a vu s’éloigner dans le ciel lointain, puis disparaître dans un rêve impuissant, l’ombre lumineuse de Messer Dieu, l’emprise de l’opinion, ennoblie par les vocables démocratique et par l’invocation déclamatoire du peuple comme alternative à l’omniscience divine, s’est accrue, jusqu’à tenir tout le champ du pensable. Les Guerres de religion du XVIe siècle ont précipité cette évolution, et nous en sommes les légataires universels.

Les périodes électorales, nombreuses, car l’onction du ciel, comme disent les Chinois, doit être, dans le système actuel de validation du politique, désacralisé et sans cesse en voie de délitement, assez fréquent pour offrir une légitimité minimale, offrent l’intérêt de mettre en demeure la vérité du monde dans lequel nous tentons de vivre. À ce compte, ce que disait Platon n’a pas pris une ride. Car l’inauthenticité, le mensonge, la sidération, la manipulation, qui sont le lot quotidien d’un type social fondé sur la marchandise, c’est-à-dire la séduction matérialiste, la réclame, c’est-à-dire la persuasion et le jeu des pulsions, le culte des instincts, c’est-à-dire l’abaissement aux Diktat du corps, l’ignorance, c’est-à-dire le rejet haineux de l’excellence et du savoir profond, plongent ce qui nous reste de pureté et d’aspiration à la beauté dans la pire des souffrances. Comment vivre, s’exprimer, espérer dans un univers pareil ? Le retrait par le haut a été décrédibilisé, le monde en soi paraissant ne pas exister, et le mysticisme n’étant plus que lubie et sublimation sexuelle, voire difformité mentale. Le défoulement électoraliste, joué par de mauvais acteurs, de piètres comédiens dirigés par de bons metteurs en scène, et captivant des spectateurs bon public, niais comme une Margot un peu niaise ficelée par une sentimentalité à courte vue, nous met en présence, journellement pour peu qu’on s’avise imprudemment de se connecter aux médias, avec ce que l’humain comporte de pire, de plus sale, intellectuellement et émotionnellement. On n’en sort pas indemne. Tout n’est que réduction, connotation, farce, mystification, mensonge, trompe-l’œil, appel aux bas instincts, complaisance et faiblesse calculée. Les démocraties antiques, qui, pourtant, étaient si discutables, n’étaient pas aussi avilies, car elles gardaient encore, dans les faits et leur perception, un principe aristocratique, qui faisait du citoyen athénien ou romain le membre d’une caste supérieure, et, à ce titre, tenu à des devoirs impérieux de vertu et de sacrifice. L’hédonisme contemporain et l’égalitarisme consubstantiel au totalitarisme véritable, interdisent l’écart conceptuel indispensable pour voir à moyen ou long terme, et pour juger ce qui est bon pour ne pas sombrer dans l’esclavage, quel qu’il soit. Du reste, l’existence de ce dernier, ce me semble, relevait, dans les temps anciens, autant de nécessités éthiques que de besoins économiques. Car c’est en voyant cette condition pitoyable que l’homme libre sentait la valeur de sa liberté. Pour éduquer le jeune Spartiate, par exemple, on le mettait en présence d’un ilote ivre. Chaque jour, nous assistons à ce genre d’abaissement, sans réaction idoine. La perte du sentiment aristocratique a vidé de son sens l’idée démocratique. Cette intuition existentielle et politique existait encore dans la Révolution française, et jusqu’à la Commune. Puis, la force des choses, l’avènement de la consommation de masse, l’a remisée au rayon des souvenirs désuets.

Claude Bourrinet

Article printed from Europe Maxima: http://www.europemaxima.com

URL to article: http://www.europemaxima.com/?p=2424

lundi, 26 décembre 2011

Spiritualità cosmica nell’Ellade arcaica

Spiritualità cosmica nell’Ellade arcaica


Ex: http://www.centrostudilaruna.it/

La religione ellenica si presenta come un insieme di culti e di riti che intendono trasmettere nella storia e nella vita quotidiana lo stesso impulso spirituale personificato dalla complessa varietà delle figurazioni divine. La sua rappresentazione religiosa è usualmente costituita dalla mitologia, ossia da un complesso di narrazioni di vicende divine che intendono “spiegare” in una prospettiva mito-poetica il significato del mondo o di singoli momenti di esso. I vari cicli mitologici non sono altro che proiezioni drammatizzate di quegli impulsi spirituali, una loro formulazione plastica che tende a restituire una visione “teologica” all’esperienza che i vari aedi, cantori, indovini o estatici hanno contemplato contemporaneamente come vita cosmica e ritmo divino.


Questo particolare carattere mitico-rituale ha comportato l’inesistenza di un qualsiasi Fondatore divino dal quale possa essersi originata la religione ellenica o che abbia in qualche modo “riformato” alcuni suoi caratteri fondamenti. Da ciò anche il fatto che la vasta rappresentazione mitologica e il complesso dei rituali non si trovano codificati in un insieme di testi sacri da cui poter sviluppare una dottrina religiosa o presso i quali tale dottrina potesse essere custodita e trasmessa senza alterazione. Tale assenza di libri rivelati ha poi permesso che si sviluppasse nell’Ellade la particolare funzione dei poeti i quali nelle loro opere hanno sostituito ciò che altrove veniva esplicato dagli scribi, esaltando particolarmente ciò che si potrebbe chiamare la “visione mitica” a detrimento di una qualsiasi rivelazione divina che potesse essere codificata e, appunto, “scritta”. Questo carattere fa sì che la religione ellenica si presenti non come un corpus dottrinale al quale aderire o al limite convertirsi, ma come una forma spirituale connaturata naturalmente a quel popolo, una “forma formante” che si invera nelle varie  espressioni di vita e dalla quale si può evadere non con un rifiuto, ma cambiando la stessa identità nazionale.


Come ulteriore conseguenza tutto ciò ha comportato il tipico atteggiamento di perpetuazione di usi, costumi e rituali ancestrali, di conservazione di un patrimonio religioso che viene trasmesso come elemento di identità e di custodia di un ordine la cui origine si confonde con quella stessa del popolo ellenico. Da ciò anche il carattere fondamentalmente conservatore di questa religione, presso cui l’aderenza alla tradizione esprimeva l’unico criterio di ortodossia e che rendeva “attuale” e “storica” la lotta per l’ordine tradizionale contro ogni forma di disordine. Questa storicità è una delle peculiarità della religione ellenica ed è determinata dallo stesso scenario mitologico tradizionale. Qui, infatti, la nascita del popolo ellenico va a confondersi con la stessa religione. Le origini nazionali non sono altro che un momento dello svolgimento della genealogia divina, una sua modalità di determinazione storica che ad un certo punto, come sembra indicare in modo specifico il mitologema di Hellenos sul quale torneremo, ha visto il “trapasso” del divino nell’umano di una particolare essenza divina, per di più tesa ad esplicitare la funzione di un ordine cosmico che il nuovo ciclo aperto da Deucalione dovrà realizzare.


La funzione del mito all’interno della spiritualità ellenica appare fondamentale. Il termine mythos si ritrova con significati vari all’interno della storia religiosa ellenica con utilizzazioni diverse e spesso persino opposte. Secondo molti esegeti diventa meno evidente rispetto a quanto ritenevano i classicisti dell’Ottocento una derivazione semantica di mythos da myēo, anche se ovviamente tale derivazione continua ad avere una sua forza dimostrativa di non poco rilievo e di forte persuasione. Ultimamente, però, alcuni studiosi appoggiandosi a diverse giustificazioni linguistico-formali, hanno pensato che si possa risalire ad un radicale indoeuropeo *mēudh-, *mudh- col significato speciale di “ricordarsi”, “aspirare a”, “riflettere”. Si avrebbe perciò il mythos quale “pensiero”, ma non riferito al pensare meramente cerebrale che si determina in un discorso logico-esplicativo, quanto piuttosto ad un “pensiero che si rivela”, che viene comunicato da una dimensione superiore a quella del tempo nella quale si consuma la vita umana. In particolare, sarà Omero che in entrambi i suoi poemi ci darà un “pensiero” (= mythos) che viene elaborato, un’idea, un “principio” che deve essere svelato.  Si entra così in un’area sacrale che vede il mito in rapporto strettissimo con il rito, con la dimensione “narrativo-esplicativa” di una condizione spirituale che è possibile esperire nell’atto rituale o nell’ispirazione estatica. E’ l’esperienza del veggente omerico che svela ciò che “ha visto con meraviglia”, quando lo spettatore, la cosa contemplata e l’atto del vedere diventano una thēoria, una “visione” la cui condizione l’aedo omerico esprime sì con la parola (è uno dei significato di mythos), ma con una parola che recita e “rappresenta” l’essere del mondo, tesa più ad incantare l’ascoltatore trasportandolo nel pieno dell’età eroica che a “raccontare” fatti, cosa che dà significato non transeunte all’uso ellenico di recitare brani di Omero durante alcune rappresentazioni rituali.


Fra i tanti mitologhemi più antichi dell’Ellade un interesse particolare può avere la constatazione che assieme ad Helios, quali figlie di Iperion e di Tia (“la divina”) troviamo anche Selene ed Eos, l’Aurora celeste. Va detto subito che i miti relativi ad Helios sono giunti in modo frammentario a tal punto che si è autorizzati a pensare che ci si trovi di fronte a cicli diversi intersecantisi e confusi l’un l’altro. Tale per es. la curiosa storia riportata da Ateneo che raccontava del viaggio di Helios fatto al tramonto in una coppa d’oro fino a raggiungere la mitica Etiopia. Quello che può interessare è che etimologicamente “etiopia” deriva dalla radice *aith- col significato di “bruciare” e di ”risplendere”, dato che qui tale radice include il senso di “fuoco che brucia” e perciò “risplende”. Si allude perciò ad una terra dove sì la luce risplende, ma di uno splendore di tipo vespertino, occidentale, evidenziato dal fatto che il viaggio di Helios si svolge al tramonto e che il popolo etiope era ritenuto essere non di razza nera, ma rossa, posta dal simbolismo tradizionale sempre ad occidente, al crepuscolo del percorso del sole.


Ancora più ricco di significati è il mito riportato da Omero nell’Odissea, là dove si fa menzione delle due figlie di Helios: Lampetia, “colei che illumina” e Faetusa, “colei che risplende”, le due divinità che custodiscono i 350 buoi del sole nell’isola di Trinacria. Secondo Bâl G. Tilak qui si ha una precisa allusione ad un antico anno di 350 giorni che verosimilmente doveva essere seguito da una notte cosmica di 10 giorni, ossia la durata dell’anno propria ad alcune regioni circumpolari, “là dove si compiono le rivoluzioni del sole”, ricorda ancora Omero (Od. XV, 403 e sgg.). E l’ipotesi acquista maggiore luce ove si consideri che queste due figlie di Helios presentate da Omero come le custodi dell’anno artico, personificano rispettivamente la luce che ne “illumina” l’inizio e la luce che “risplende” al suo compimento, ossia la luce dei due solstizi, quello estivo e quello invernale. Nel mitologhema le due sorelle si trovano ad esplicare la loro funzione di custodia nell’isola di Trinacria che è stata sempre concepita come la proiezione della mitica “terra del sole”. Persino lo stesso simbolo del triskel che graficamente la definisce, secondo le pittografie studiate da Dechélette, non esprime altro che lo stesso movimento del sole considerato nella prospettiva del suo rivelarsi secondo modalità cicliche che si srotolano attorno ad una divisione triadrica dell’anno che ha sostituito quella binaria risalente ad epoche molto più antiche, e ancora non si è stabilizzato nella divisione quaternaria, quella propria all’anno del periodo “classico” dell’Ellade. In un suo aspetto la Trinacria appare come il simbolo della potenza cosmica creativa che si dispiega nel tempo, la sua forza di manifestazione, perciò come uno dei simboli stessi che rivelano come tale potenza si sia inverata in una “terra primordiale”, una “terra originaria”, “solare”.


I miti relativi ad Eos, l”’Aurora” o la “luce aurorale”, sono molto più poveri e già risentono dell’influsso della leggenda eroica. Un altro nome della dèa dell’aurora fu Emera, “il Giorno”, che forse vuole esprimere l’idea di un’intera epoca umana. E sono note le storie di questa dèa della luce aurorale in connessione alla Syria, “la terra del sole” di Omero, oppure quelle relative ai suoi rapporti con Kephalonia, “la terra del centro” dove Kephalos, il Caput celeste, il “punto” cosmico di orientamento di una carta stellare molto antica (e comunque precedente  i rivolgimenti celesti cui accennava Aristotele per spiegare il passaggio del sole dal suo primordiale percorso sulla Via Lattea a quello attuale), si era “sposato” con l’Orsa celeste. Secondo questi miti alle origini gli sposi Kephalos e la Grande Orsa (con i suoi septem triones che trascinano il Grande Carro e lo fanno girare perpetuamente attorno al “perno” del cielo, il polo) si trovavano congiunti nello stesso quadrante cosmico secondo una direttrice che doveva risultare perpendicolare all’asse dell’osservatore allocato nella Kephalonia.


Dalle confraternite degli aedi itineranti, dei thēologoi e dei cosmologi arcaici, quelli che Aristotele radunava sotto la dizione di prōtoi thēologesantes (“i primordiali thēologoi”), probabilmente sono emerse tutti quei veggenti che si esprimevano attraverso il canto e la poesia sacra e, dunque, anche i due massimi cantori dell’antica Ellade, Omero ed Esiodo. Il caso di Esiodo è molto particolare. Non solo trasmette tutta una serie di elementi mitologici di un passato che rimanda ad epoche difficili da determinare, ma il personaggio appare pienamente consapevole del proprio ruolo di Aedo sacro, un cantore ispirato al quale era stato concesso il dono della poesia (= sapienza) che lo scettro d’oro donatogli dalle Muse sembra aver sanzionato in modo definitivo, dato che è detto che sono proprio loro che gli hanno insegnato “uno splendido canto, mentre pascolava gli agnelli ai piedi del sacro Elicona”, e addirittura in una gara poetica vince l’insegna dell’ispirazione apollinea, il sacro tripode che egli poi dedicherà alle Muse. E’ tutto un mondo che può essere ricondotto a forme di conoscenza ispirate che permettono di risalire oltre il transeunte, al “principio”, là dove le varie figurazioni divine hanno preso forma.


Lo stesso Omero può darci indicazioni importanti in questa direzione. Il suo nome, infatti, nel dialetto eolico cumano fu spesso interpretato come “il cieco” e rimanda più che ad un epiteto individuale, ad una attività più generale legata alle ispirazioni divine e alle estasi arcaiche. “Omero” personifica la funzione sacra dell’archegeta delle confraternite degli Aedi, colui che ha ricevuto la capacità di “vedere” oltre i limiti delle apparenze e, come gli indovini guardano al futuro, egli sotto l’ispirazione del dio canta il tempo passato, l’età eroica, “creandone” le espressioni, le gesta, lo scenario. La sua attività rimanda ad una funzione demiurgica tesa ad ordinare la visione ricevuta in uno stato di ispirazione divina e la rivela agli uomini, esattamente come hanno fatto gli Omeridi dell’isola di Chio, quella straordinaria confraternita di cantori la cui fisionomia rimanda agli aedi ispirati che hanno percorso la Grecia in ogni tempo e la cui qualificazione più importante era quella di essere “discendenti” di Omero, più esattamente gli eredi della tradizione dei veggenti omerici.


Esiodo ha conservato anche altri mitologhemi che possono essere fuorusciti da una cosmologia arcaica. Nell’enunciazione delle ère che descrivono il processo di impoverimento che dalla pienezza della spiritualità primordiale conclude nell’età del ferro, egli ci dà il senso di un loro rapporto non meramente cronologico, di successione temporale, ma quale espressione di “qualità” storiche, quali cicli che per la loro completezza, per il loro riflettere un determinato tipo di spiritualità rivelatasi in un tempo preciso, “storico”, in sé non sono legati ai cicli successivi. Questo fondamentale disegno unitario delle ère esiodee è rilevabile anche da un altro punto di vista che riconduce il mito riportato da Esiodo alle più arcaiche speculazioni indoeuropee sulle origini del cosmo. Se, infatti, si considera la successione delle età e delle varie razze che incarnano via via i valori spirituali delle singole ère, avremo il seguente quadro. Prima di tutto si avrà la razza aurea caratterizzata da una pienezza biologica propria al tipo di spiritualità di quel “tempo-fuori-del-tempo”, a-cronico, che in sé delinea la condizione di perfezione originaria cui devono tendere tutte le altre razze da lui individuate come specifiche dei diversi cicli temporali che si svilupperanno dopo la scomparsa della razza aurea. Questa razza primordiale appare perciò come una “totalità” all’interno della quale si realizza l’armonia e la giustizia, mentre la sua perfezione  in modo eminente consente l’espressione piena delle tre attribuzioni classificate da Georges Dumézil come funzioni cosmico-sociali [sacerdozio, forza guerriera e fecondità] che nella prospettiva esiodea sintetizzano ogni gerarchia sociale: gli uomini dell’età aurea saranno “buoni”, “guardiani giusti” e “dispensatori di ricchezza” (Erga, vv. 123-126).


Dopo la fine dell’età aurea e della razza che ne aveva incarnato l’essenza di luce, si succedono altre ère in una progressione che scivola sempre più verso il disordine e una onnipervadente empietà. Dall’età argentea a quella ferrea si ha perciò la delineazione di uno svolgimento progressivo che inizia da uno stato fanciullesco e puerile, poi diventa una dura e spietata giovinezza (gli uomini dell’età del bronzo nascevano “con una grande forza e mani invincibili spuntavano dagli omeri al loro corpo gagliardo”; Erga, vv. 143-149), si stabilizza per un po’ come l’equilibrata maturità degli Eroi e si conclude infine con l’età del ferro, l’èra della vecchiaia (“quando verranno al mondo gli uomini con le tempie candide fin dalla nascita”; v. 181), il crepuscolo del tempo cosmico ed umano. Dall’alba al tramonto dell’essere cosmico. La figura delineata appare quella di un Macrantropo, il prototipo mitico dell’esistenza che in sé contiene in principio le varie possibilità che si svilupperanno nel corso del tempo. Dal suo sacrificio rituale, ossia dalla sua “scomposizione” in ère cosmiche, si determina l’essere del mondo e degli uomini, mentre le razze che secondo Esiodo si susseguono l’una all’altra appaiono come le modalità diversificate di un tutto unitario, le “membra” dell’essere cosmico che si distende nel tempo e i suoi quattro stadi di esistenza.


La concezione di Esiodo non deve essere considerata una sua creazione originale ed individuale, ma va collocata all’interno di teorie cicliche di grande importanza e variamente articolate. La tradizione ellenica, infatti, ci parla di tre successivi cataclismi relativi alla sparizione di Ogygia, al diluvio di Deucalione e a quello di Dardano che avrebbero via via distrutto terre o continenti sui quali regnava l’empietà più profonda. Prescindendo da quelli di Ogygia e di Dardano sui quali ci siamo intrattenuti altrove, qui interessa soffermarci sul diluvio di Deucalione per gli accostamenti e gli sviluppi cui può dar luogo. Esso, infatti, ci riporta al ciclo dei titani per il semplice fatto che Deucalione risulta essere il figlio di Prometeo il quale, a sua volta, era stato concepito dal titano Giapeto e dall’oceanina Climene. Da questa unione era nato anche un secondo figlio di Giapeto, un fratello di Prometeo,  il famoso Atlante considerato il padre delle Esperidi, di Maia e della Plèiadi, ossia tutto un gruppo di esseri divini che si appoggiavano a precise costellazioni celesti poste sempre ad Occidente, mentre la tradizione ci dice che Zeus, a chiusura del ciclo spirituale precedente, pose entrambi i fratelli a presiedere i due poli opposti del mondo. Atlante presidiava l’Occidente e Prometeo l’Oriente, secondo un asse equinoziale che sostituisce il più antico asse solstiziale nord-sud e costituisce una precisa indicazione sull’esistenza nell’Ellade arcaica di dottrine sui cicli cosmici formulate secondo una narrazione che interpretava in termini mito-poetici un’antica tradizione sacra sulla strutturazione dei movimenti celesti.


Alla fine dell’età del bronzo, a causa della tracotanza ed empietà di quella razza Zeus volle un diluvio che ne cancellasse ogni traccia. Su consiglio del padre Deucalione e sua moglie Pirrha costruirono un’arca nella quale posero ciò che doveva essere salvato dal diluvio. Dopo nove giorni e nove notti durante i quali il diluvio distrusse la civiltà della razza bronzea, approdarono finalmente sul Parnaso dove finalmente sacrificarono a Zeus e così diedero inizio ad un nuovo ciclo. La titanessa Themis, la stessa che sarà soppiantata da Apollo a Delfi, enuncia in forma di enigma un oracolo che, avveratosi, costituirà l’origine stessa del genere umano. Gli elementi fondamentali del mito si possono considerare:


  1. L’arca che custodisce i germi della sapienza dei cicli spirituali precedenti;
  2. Deucalione e Pirrha che per la loro genealogia perpetuano in qualche modo anche aspetti importanti dell’età primordiale e perciò impediscono che ci sia una vera e propria rottura col mondo precedente;
  3. Il sacrificio a Zeus sul monte, l’axis mundi che diventa il luogo originario della nuova civiltà;
  4. L’oracolo di Themis, che permetterà la nascita del genere umano;
  5. La forma di enigma dell’oracolo.


Secondo la forma più conosciuta del mito, il figlio della coppia Deucalione-Pirrha (= il “Bianco” e la “Rossa”) scampata al diluvio sarà Hellenos il cui nome etimologicamente può essere ricondotto a “splendere”, “luce”, che secondo Jean Haudry darà come significato “colui che ha il viso solare” e perciò la sua discendenza, quella che formerà il nucleo essenziale delle diverse tribù greche, sarà propriamente il “popolo del sole”. Se ora poniamo mente al fatto che Helios è spesso rappresentato con sette raggi e che in India il settimo Aditya è Surya, il sole, ci si accorgerà che il parallelismo India-Ellade arcaica ha più di un punto di contatto e trova la sua ragione d’essere probabilmente nelle condizioni spirituali originarie dalle quale ha preso forma l’Ellade come noi la conosciamo in piena epoca del ferro.


Nell’ambito di questi cicli mitologici antichissimi può porsi anche l’orfismo la cui struttura misteriosofica ricalca forme di spiritualità cosmica del tipo che è possibile rinvenire per es. anche nell’India vedica o in certi aspetti della soteriologia tantrica. Le dottrine orfiche appaiono strutturate già a partire dal VII-VI sec., quando il bìos orphikòs costituirà un riferimento costante nel patrimonio speculativo dei filosofi e persino dei molti ciarlatani, ed è facile trovare quei thēologoi e quegli orfeotelesti accennati da Platone che ci documentano una massiccia presenza orfica nel mondo religioso e nella società dell’Ellade storica.


Una versione delle tante cosmogonie orfiche ci presenta quale entità primordiale la Notte dalla quale scaturiscono gli esseri divini, perciò in qualche modo una sorta di originaria scaturigine del tutto. E’ da questo principio che procede l’Uovo cosmico che, simile al Brahmanda indù, col suo scomporsi rende manifesti il cielo e la terra e, soprattutto, Phanes, l’Essere Primordiale “luminoso”, lo “splendente”, l’archetipo universale da cui promana ogni esistente, il Protogonos colui che contiene in sé la stesso i germi della manifestazione universale. Lo straordinario di questa struttura teo-cosmogonica estremamente arcaica è il fatto che tali concezioni furono concepite come supporti di una elaborata misteriosofia che affascinò personaggi come Platone e che appare piuttosto distante dalle usuali convinzioni elleniche sugli dèi olimpici e sulla relativa loro vita rituale. Ma c’è di più. Un’antica testimonianza riportata da Otto Kern (fr. 21a) e sviluppata nelle sue implicazioni escatologiche da Richard Reitzenstein, ci dice che secondo gli orfici l’universo era ritenuto il “corpo visibile” di Zeus, il quale perciò era ritenuto l’inizio, il mezzo e il fine del cosmo. Tale figurazione orfica di Zeus (che evidentemente non ha nulla dello Zeus olimpico) è contemporaneamente “uomo e donna”, un principio androginico dal quale si origina autonomamente per autogenesi il cielo, la terra e gli elementi fondamentali della vita cosmica, il vento, l’acqua, il fuoco, il sole, la luna. Come ha fatto notare Ugo Bianchi, questa concezione deve riflettere idee molto antiche se ancora nel VII sec. Terpandro testimonia la loro vitalità, forse come idee scaturite da forme rituali da riferirsi addirittura al passato indoeuropeo ove si accetti l’ipotesi di Anders Olerud, poi sviluppata da Geo Widengren nel capitolo sul panteismo del suo poderoso manuale di fenomenologia religiosa, sull’arcaicità dell’idea di microcosmo e di macrocosmo e sulla corrispondenza simbolica di queste due sfere in una struttura formale che abbia ben chiari i diversi stati molteplici dell’essere.


E’ la dottrina del Macrantropo dal cui sacrificio rituale si origina il cosmo, la stessa che abbiamo visto serpeggiare anche nella visione esiodea dei cicli cosmici e che, formulata in vario modo, si ritrova nelle cosmogonie e nelle dottrine sacrificali di molti popoli indoeuropei. Ma questo è un altro discorso che si intende riprendere in un apposito studio.


Per approfondire:


F. Vian, La guèrre des Geants. Le mythe avant l’èpoque hellènistique, Paris 1952.


N. D’Anna, Da Orfeo a Pitagora. Dalle estasi arcaiche all’armonia cosmica, Simmetria, Roma 2011.


N. D’Anna, Il Gioco cosmico. Tempo ed eternità nell’antica Grecia, Mediterranee, Roma 2006.


[Tratto, col gentile consenso dell’Autore, da “Atrium” 2/2011].

mardi, 16 août 2011

Aeschylus' Agamemnon: The Multiple Uses of Greek Tragedy

Aeschylus’ Agamemnon:
The Multiple Uses of Greek Tragedy

Jonathan BOWDEN

Ex: http://www.counter-currents.com/

eschyle.jpgGreek tragedy is all but forgotten in mainstream culture, but there is a very good reason for looking at it again with fresh eyes. The reasons for this are manifold, but they basically have to do with anti-materialism and the culture of compression. To put it bluntly, reading Greek tragedy can give literally anyone a crash course in Western civilization which is short, pithy, and terribly apt.

Let’s take — for purposes of illustration — the first part of the Oresteia by Aeschylus, which concentrates on Agamemnon’s murder by his wife Clytemnestra. This work would take about two hours to read in a verse translation by Lewis Campbell (say). You will learn more about the civilization in those two hours than many a university foundation course, or hour after hour of public television, are capable of giving you.

The real reason for perusing this material, however, is the sense of excitement which it is capable of generating. Agamemnon and his entourage have returned to Argos after the successful sack of Troy and the destruction of Priam’s city.

A series of torches across the Greek peninsula announces the triumph, and the Watchman on the palace roof is the first to bear witness to the signal. The Chorus of Argive Elders soon gathers and is addressed in turn by a herald and then Clytemnestra. She swears undying loyalty to her husband (falsely) and makes way for his triumphant entry, although for those with acute ears there is a sense of foreboding in the imagery and early language of the play.

Agamemnon enters and speaks of his victories, but is ill-disposed to walk on the purple vestments that his wife has had strewn on the ground. He considers them unworthy or liable to damage his standing with the Gods. Clytemnestra seems to want her husband to behave more like an Eastern potentate than a Greek monarch. After much show of reluctance — he accedes to his wife’s wishes, kicks off his sandals and walks on the Imperial purple . . . in a manner that Clytemnestra knows will antagonize the Gods. She wishes this due to the future assassination which she has in view.

The prophetess Cassandra is then introduced from Agamemnon’s car, and she outlines — in ecstatic asides and verbal follies — the likelihood of her paramour’s death at the hands of his wife. She also speculates on the origin of the curse deep in the history of the House of Atreus — when Thyestes’ own children were baked in a pie for the edification of their father in revenge for adultery. This sets in train the codex of revenge and hatred which inundates the House’s walls with blood and gore and sets the ground for new horrors at a later date. Cassandra, surrounded by the near-seeing and purblind chorus, goes into the House where her Fate is sealed.

After a discrete interval, Clytemnestra emerges in one of the most dramatic sequences in all of Western art. She clutches a dagger in one hand and is partly covered in blood; whereas Agamemnon, her previous lord and husband, lies dead inside the folds of a net, with Cassandra raving and raving over him. The prototype for Lady Macbeth and every other three-dimensional female villain, Clytemnestra boasts of her deed and how she executed it — to the shock, horror, and awe of the Argive elders.

The killing is justified — in her eyes at least — by the sacrifice of her daughter, Iphigenia, to make the wind change its direction when the Greek fleet is becalmed at Aulis on the way to Troy. For this willful act of child-murder, Clytemnestra has lain in wait with her lover, Aegisthus, to slay the King of Argos. (Aegisthus is descended from Thyestes and has his own reasons for wishing doom to the House of Atreus.)

This particular play ends with a confrontation between Aegisthus’ soldiers and the elderly members of the Chorus, but Clytemnestra — by now sick of bloodshed and desiring peace — intervenes so as to prevent further conflict. The play concludes with the two tyrants, surrounded by their mercenaries, walking back towards the palace where they will rule over the Argives.

The question is always raised in modernity: Why bother with this material now? The real reason is the abundant ethnic and racial health of ancient Greek culture. Although tragic, blood-thirsty, and mordant in tone, it is abundantly alive at several different levels. It also exists as the prototype for so much Western culture, whether high or low.

As I have already intimated, a two-hour read is broadly equivalent to a short university course in and of itself. Also, the pre-Christian semantics of this material speaks across two and a half thousand years very directly to us today, certainly in the post-Christian context of Western Europe. Another reason for parents reading this material to adolescent children (at the very least) is its pagan immediacy. This is not cultural fare that can be dismissed as lacking pathos, blood-and-guts, or a sense of reality, if not normalcy.

Another reason for refusing to give this work a wide berth has to be the fact that various forces which were out-gunned and defeated in the twentieth century definitely took the Greek side in various cultural debates. This can also be seen in Wyndham Lewis’ Childermass which I reviewed [2] elsewhere on this site, where the chorus of opposition to the Humanist Bailiff (a sort of democratic Punch) has to be the philosopher Hesperides and his band of Greeks.

The culture of the Greeks still has dangers associated with it, hence the re-routing of Classics to a netherworld in the Western academy. Yet the refutation of Bernal’s Black Athena is still everywhere around us; as long as people have the wit to pick up the plays of Aeschylus and read.

Article printed from Counter-Currents Publishing: http://www.counter-currents.com

URL to article: http://www.counter-currents.com/2011/08/aeschylus-agamemnon/

jeudi, 05 mai 2011

Sippenpflege in Athen und in Sparta

Sippenpflege in Athen und in Sparta

Hans Friedrich Karl Günther

Ex: http://centrostudilaruna.it/

Eine attische Sippenpflege [läßt sich im ganzen Hellenentum wahrnehmen], wenn auch nirgends so entschieden wie in Sparta, ein Rassenglaube, den Jacob Burckhardt so bezeichnet und eingehender dargestellt hat. Dieser Rassenglaube, ein Vertrauen zu den ausgesiebten Anlagen der bewährten Geschlechter und die Gewißheit, daß leibliche Vortrefflichkeit als ein Anzeichen geistigen und seelischen Vorrangs gelten dürfe, überdauert in Athen und bei anderen hellenischen Stämmen die Zeiten der Adelsherrschaft und der Tyrannis und reicht bei den Besten noch weit in die Zeiten der Volksherrschaft hinein. In Athens „Blütezeit“, einer Spätzeit der lebenskundlich gesehenen athenischen Geschichte, bricht der Rassenglaube noch einmal bei Euripides hervor. Überall bei den Hellenen verließ man sich „auf den Anblick der Rasse, welche mit der physischen Schönheit den Aus-druck des Geistes verband“ (J. Burckhardt); es gab einen allgemeinen hellenischen Glau-ben „an Erblichkeit der Fähigkeiten“, eine allgemeine hellenische Überzeugung von der Unabänderlichkeit ererbter Eigenschaften: der Wohlgeborene sei durch nichts zu verschlechtern, der Schlechtgeborene durch nichts zu verbessern, und alle Schulung (pai-deusis) bedeute den Anlagen gegenüber nur wenig. Aus diesen Überzeugungen ergab sich die echt hellenische Zielsetzung der „Schön-Tüchtigkeit“ (kalokagathía), dieser Ausruf zuerst für die Gattenwahl und Kinderzeugung, dann für die Erziehung, die eine günstige Entfaltung guter Anlagen verbürgen sollte. Am mächtigsten bricht dieser Rassenglaube bei dem thebanischen Dichter Pindaros hervor (Olympische Ode IX, 152; X, 24/25; XI, 19 ff; XIII, 16; Nemeische Ode 70 ff). Das Auslesevorbild des Wohlgearteten blieb bis in die Zerfallszeiten hinein in den besten Geschlechtern aller hellenischen Stämme bestehen. Die Bezeichnung gennaios enthält wie die lateinische Bezeichnung generosus („wohlgeboren, wohlgeartet“) die Vorstellung edler Artung als ererbter und vererblicher Beschaffenheit (vgl. auch Herodotos 111,81; Sohn XXIII, 20 D). Herodotos (VII, 204) zählt die tüchtigen Ahnen des bei den Thermopylen gefallenen Spartanerkönigs Leonidas auf bis zu Herakles zurück.

Die staatliche Stärke Spartas wurde von den hellenischen Geschichtsschreibern der Siebung, Auslese und Ausmerze des Stammes und seiner Geschlechter zugeschrieben. Xenophon hat in seiner Schrift über die Verfassung der Lakedaimonier (1,10; V, 9) zunächst ausgesprochen, die lykurgischen Gesetze hätten Sparta Männer verschafft, die durch hohen Wuchs und Kraft ausgezeichnet seien, und dann zusammenfassend geurteilt: „Es ist leicht zu erkennen, daß diese [siebenden, auslesenden und ausmerzenden] Maßnahmen einen Stamm hervorbringen würden, überragend an Wuchs und Stärke; man wird nicht leicht ein gesünderes und tauglicheres Volk finden als die Spartaner”. Herodotos (IX, 72) nennt die Spartaner die schönsten Männer unter den Hellenen. Die rassische Eigenart der Spartanerinnen wird durch den um – 650 in Sparta wirkenden Dichter Alkman (Bruchstücke 54) gekennzeichnet, der seine Base Agesichora rühmt: ihr Haar blühe wie unvermischtes Gold über silberhellem Antlitz. Der Vergleich heller Haut mit dem Silber findet sich schon bei Homer. Im 5. Jh. rühmte der Dichter Bakchylides (XIX, 2) die „blonden Mädchen aus Lakonien“. Noch der Erzbischof von Thessalonike (Saloniki), der im 12 Jh. lebende Eustathios, der Erläuterungen zu Homer schrieb, bekundete bei Erwähnung einer Iliasstelle (IV, 141), bei den Spartanern hätten helle Haut und blondes Haar die Zeichen männlichen Wesens bedeutet.

Einsichtige Männer der anderen hellenischen Stämme haben immer die edle Art des Spartanertums anerkannt, selbst dann, wenn ihr Heimatstaat mit Sparta im Kriege lag. Der weitblickende Thukydides (III, 83) beklagt das Schwinden des Edelmuts und der Auf-richtigkeit bei den Dorern während des Peloponnesischen Krieges, den seine Vaterstadt Athen gegen Sparta führte. In ganz Hellas haben die Edlergearteten in Sparta ein Wunschbild besten Hellenentums erblickt. So hat auch Platon gedacht, dessen Vorschläge zu einer staatlichen Erbpflege dem dorischen Vorbilde folgen. Männlichkeit und Staatsgesinnung des Dorertums in Sparta, dessen Bewahrung von Maß und Würde, diese apollinischen Züge eines sich selbst beherrschenden, zum Befehl geschaffenen Edelmannstums: alle diese Wesenszüge sind von den Besten in Hellas bewundert worden. Die gefestigte Einheitlichkeit spartanischen Wesens durch die Jahrhunderte ist aber sicherlich ein Ergebnis der bestimmt gerichteten Auslese im Stamm der Spartaner gewesen, einer bewußten Einhaltung der lykurgischen Ausleserichtung.

* * *

Sorge: Lebensgeschichte des hellenischen Volkes, Pähl 1965, S. 158 f.

lundi, 28 février 2011

Plato & Indo-European Tripartition

Edouard RIX

Ex: http://www.counter-currents.com/

Translated by Greg Johnson

plato.jpgIn 1938, Georges Dumézil discovered, the existence of a veritable Indo-European “ideology,” a specific mental structure manifesting a common conception of the world. He writes:

According to this conception, which can be reconstructed through the comparison of documents from the majority of ancient Indo-European societies, any organization, from the cosmos to any human group, requires for its existence three hierarchical types of action, that I propose to call the three fundamental functions: (1) mastery of the sacred and knowledge and the form of temporal power founded upon it, (2) physical force and warlike valor, and (3) fruitfulness and abundance with their conditions and consequences.[1]

On the social plane, one finds this tripartition in the whole Indo-European realm, from India to Ireland, the three functions corresponding schematically to the priest-kings, the warriors, and finally to the producers, peasants, and craftsmen. In traditional India, the Brahmins correspond to the first function, the Kshatriyas to the second, and the Vaishyas to the third. According to Julius Caesar, in the extreme west of the Indo-European realm, Celtic society was composed of Druids, of Equites or Knights, and Plebs, the people.

In ancient Greece, however, there had been a tendency quite early on to eliminate any trace of the trifunctional ideology. According to Dumézil, “Greece is not helpful to our case. Mr. Bernard Sergent made a critical assessment of the expressions of the trifunctional structure, isolated most of the time in the process of fossilization, that one might recognize there: it is next to nothing compared with the wealth offered by India and Italy.”[2] However, an attentive reader of the works of Plato can find proof there of the survival of functional tripartition in traditional Greece.

The Platonic Ideal City

In the Republic, Plato discusses the ideal city, affirming that “the classes that exist in the City are the very same ones that exist in the soul of each individual.”[3] According to Plato’s analysis of human nature, the human soul has three parts: reason, located in the head, which enables us to think; feeling, located in the heart, that enables us to love; and desire, located in the belly, that drives us to sustain ourselves and reproduce. Each part of the soul has its own specific virtue or excellence: wisdom, courage, and temperance. Justice is the proper relationship of the three parts. According to Plato, the constitution of the city is merely the constitution of the soul writ large.

Concretely, the philosopher distinguishes three functions within the city. First, “those who watch over the City as a whole, enemies outside as well as friends within,”[4] the guardians, who correspond to the head, seat of intelligence and reason, the Logos. Then, the “auxiliaries and assistants of the decisions of the rulers,”[5] who correspond to the heart, seat of courage, Thymos. Finally the producers, craftsmen and peasants, who correspond to the belly, seat of the appetites. “You who belong to the City,” Plato explains, “are all brothers, but the god, in creating those among you able to govern, mixed gold in their material; this is why they are the most valuable. He mixed silver into those who are able to be auxiliaries, and as for the rest, the farmers and craftsmen, he mixed in iron and bronze.”[6]

Plato emphasizes that, “A city seems to be just precisely when each of the three natural groups present in it performs its own task.”[7] Indeed, just as an individual must subject his stomach to his heart, and his heart to his reason, the crafts must be subjected to the art of the warriors, who themselves must be subjected to the magistrates, i.e., to politics—this last being inseparable from philosophy, for the magistrates must become philosophers.

Plato also distinguishes three kinds of political regimes, each of which is related to the one of the functions of the city and by extension with one of the parts or faculties of the human soul. Regimes ruled by reason include monarchy, government by one man, and aristocracy, or government by the best. “Timocracy” is Plato’s term for government by warriors, which is ordered by the noble passions of the heart. Regimes ruled by the lowest passions of the human soul and material appetites include oligarchy, or rule by the rich; democracy, or rule by the majority; and tyranny, the rule of one man who follows appetite, not reason.

Without a doubt, this Platonic ideal city resting on three strictly hierarchical classes, reproduces the traditional Indo-European tri-functional organization of society. Indeed, in Greece which completely seems to have forgotten tripartition, Plato entrusts the political life of the city to philosopher-kings, the guardians, assisted by a military caste, the auxiliaries, who reign over the lower classes, the producers.

Plato is convinced that only the guardians, i.e., the sages, have the capacity to use reason equitably for the community good, whereas ordinary men cannot rise above their personal passions and interests. On the other hand, the members of the ruling caste must lead an entirely communal life, without private property or family, as well as many elements of egoistic temptation, division, and, ultimately, corruption. “Among them, no good will be private property, except the basic necessities,” decrees the philosopher, who recommends, moreover, “that they live communally, as on a military expedition,” and who among the inhabitants of the city “they are the only ones who have no right to have money or gold, or even to touch them; they are the only ones forbidden to enter private homes, wear ornaments, or drink from silver and gold containers.”[8]

“Because,” he adds, “as soon as they privately own land, a dwelling, and money, they will become administrators of their goods, cultivators instead of being the guardians of the city, and instead of being the defenders of the other citizens, they will become their tyrants and enemies, hated and hating in turn, and they will pass their lives conspiring against the others and will become the objects of conspiracy, and they will often be more afraid of their interior enemies than those outside, bringing themselves and the whole city to ruin.”[9] Moreover, their children will be removed at birth in order to receive a collective military education.

This “Platonic communism,” a virile and ascetic communism that has nothing to do with the Messianic nightmares of Marx and Trotsky, is not unrelated to the national communitarianism of Sparta.  As Montesquieu put it with some justice, “Plato’s politics is nothing more than an idealized version of Sparta’s.”


1. G. Dumézil, L’oubli de l’homme et l’honneur des dieux et autres essais. Vingt-cinq esquisses de mythologies (Paris: Gallimard, 1985), p. 94.

2. Ibid, p.13.

3. Platon, La République (Paris: Flammarion, 2008), p. 262.

4. Ibid, p. 199.

5. Ibid, p. 200.

6. Ibid, p. 201.

7. Ibid, p. 245.

8. Ibid, p. 205.

9. Ibid, pp. 205–206.

Source: Réfléchir & Agir, Winter 2009, no. 31.

samedi, 29 janvier 2011

Jacqueline de Romilly et la bonne Grèce


Jacqueline de Romilly et la bonne Grèce

par Claude BOURRINET

Assurément, il n’est guère correct de s’en prendre à une défunte et à son œuvre. La seule excuse à donner est que l’académicienne n’aurait pas pris la peine de réfuter ce qui suit. Cependant, le ton dithyrambique et l’encens qui ont accompagné les obsèques de l’illustre helléniste avait de quoi irriter, non seulement parce que la flagornerie, même quand il s’agit d’un mort, horripile, comme si ce supplément d’âme eût l’heur de faire oublier la catastrophe annoncée qui ruine l’enseignement du latin et du grec en France, mais on ne s’est guère demandé, et pour cause, si la bonne dame du Collège de France avait fait tout ce qu’il fallait pour qu’une telle tragédie fût devenue impensable. Il y eut bien des pétitions, des murmures de couloir, mais Jacqueline de Romilly était bien trop intégrée pour ruer comme une bacchante ou poursuivre les assassins du grec comme une Érinye assoiffée de sang.

À vrai dire, je n’ai jamais essayé de lire un de ses ouvrages sans que le livre me tombe des mains, tellement il est farci de bons sentiments, et de cette manie anachronique de démontrer l’impossible, à savoir que les Grecs, c’était nous, les modernes de 1789, de la République etc. Le paradigme politique a radicalement changé, tant le christianisme a bouleversé notre manière de voir le monde et les hommes, l’individualisme, la marchandisation, la coupure avec un ordre holiste du monde ont contribué à broyer ce qui demeurait de l’Antiquité. Au demeurant, Walter Friedrich Otto le dit très bien dans Les dieux de la Grèce; comme le souligne Détienne dans la préface de cet ouvrage fondamental : « il faut […] prendre la mesure de ce qui nous sépare, de ce qui nous rend étrangers à l’esprit grec; et en conséquence dénoncer les préjugés [positiviste et chrétien] qui nous empêchent de comprendre «  les dieux de la Grèce ” ».

Et si, bien sûr, la Grèce est à l’origine de l’Europe, ce n’est pas dans le sens où les héritiers de la IIIe République l’entendent. D’une certaine manière, même si je me retrouve dans cette époque, en en partageant tous les fondements, y compris les plus scandaleux pour un moderne, et qui sont très éloignés de l’idéologie néochrétienne des droits de l’homme, la Grèce antique est complètement différente du monde contemporain. À son contact, on est en présence avec la véritable altérité (en fait notre identité). Hegel disait que pour un moderne, un Grec est aussi bizarre et étrange qu’un chien.

Voilà ce que qu’écrivait Hegel de l’Africain dans La Raison dans l’Histoire : « C’est précisément pour cette raison que nous ne pouvons vraiment nous identifier, par le sentiment, à sa nature, de la même façon que nous ne pouvons nous identifier à celle d’un chien, ou à celle d’un Grec qui s’agenouillait devant l’image de Zeus. Ce n’est que par la pensée que nous pouvons parvenir à cette compréhension de sa nature; nous ne pouvons en effet sentir que ce qui est semblable à nos sentiments. »

Le fondement de la pensée véritable, c’est ce sentiment d’étrangeté, un arrachement aux certitudes les plus convenues, pour parvenir à notre vérité profonde.

Un Grec est plus proche du Sioux, d’une certaine façon, que du kantien.

Maintenant, avec un effort d’imagination et beaucoup de caractère, on peut se sentir plus proche du Sioux que du kantien.

Jacqueline de Romilly n’a eu donc de cesse d’invoquer la Grèce antique pour louer les vertus supposées de la modernité : la démocratie, dont chacun sait qu’elle est une « invention des Grecs », l’égalité, notamment entre hommes et femmes, les droits de l’homme, etc. La presse ne s’est pas fait faute de le rappeler à satiété, comme si le retour à l’hellénisme ne pouvait que passer par les fourches caudines du politiquement correct.

La source des confusions, lorsqu’on s’avise de s’inspirer des théories politiques de l’Antiquité pour définir les modèles organisationnels de la meilleure société possible, est que nous avons affaire à deux mondes différents, et l’erreur de perspective conduit à des décalages conceptuels et symboliques, à des malentendus. Les notions qui font l’objet d’un glissement suprahistorique fallacieux, confinant à l’anachronisme, sont aisément repérables dans cette phrase, tout à fait représentative du style qu’on trouve chez nos universitaires : « Un sens de l’humanité sorti de l’histoire dont les valeurs et les idées sont toujours dans l’actualité, surtout si on a à l’esprit les remises en cause actuelles des valeurs républicaines de liberté, d’égalité et de fraternité, au nom du droit à la différence confinant à la différence des droits, du communautarisme encouragé par le clientélisme politique, d’un retour radical du religieux et du patriarcat déniant aux femmes qu’elles puissent être les égales de l’homme ! » (Guylain Chevrier, docteur en histoire, cf. http://www.agoravox.fr)

Tout y est, avec même le ton déclamatoire.

La réduction, dans les classes de collège et de lycée, de l’apport hellénique à la démocratie a de quoi irriter. Luciano Canfora , pour ne parler que du terme « démocratie », a démontré que, dans le préambule à la Constitution européenne de 2003, ses concepteurs, par « « bassesse » philologique », ont falsifié les « propos que Thucydide prête à Périclès » (qui était, de facto, prince – prôtos anêr, dixit Thucydide – d’Athènes) en assimilant démocratie et liberté. La « gaffe » provient de leur formation scolaire, qui leur a révélé que « la Grèce a inventé la démocratie » (« formule facile, tellement simplificatrice qu’elle se révèle fausse », écrit Canfora), sans entrevoir qu’« aucun texte écrit par un auteur athénien ne célèbre la démocratie » ! Celle-là, dans l’histoire des Grecs antiques, a été un régime minoritaire, ramassé dans le temps, qu’il n’a pas été si démocratique que cela (au sens moderne), et qu’il a été méprisé par pratiquement tous les penseurs, à commencer par le premier, Platon, qui lui reprocha d’avoir assassiné Socrate. Il faudrait analyser de plus près ce que dit Aristote, qui est plutôt pour le gouvernement des meilleurs.

D’autre part, la notion d’égalité est aussi un piège : Agamemnon par exemple est le primus inter pares. Il n’est pas question d’égalité entre êtres humains, mais entre aristocrates, entre rois. Thersite en sait quelque chose, qui reçoit de la part d’Ulysse un coup de sceptre pour avoir prôné le défaitisme, et, avant tout, pour avoir pris la parole.

Pratiquement personne n’a remis en cause l’esclavage.

Ce que l’on omet de dire, c’est que, si l’on survole l’histoire hellénique jusqu’à Rome et au-delà, le régime qui s’impose et qui, justifié par les stoïciens, les platoniciens et d’autres, semble le plus légitime, surtout après Alexandre, c’est la monarchie. L’Empire romain est fondé sur cette idéologie, comme l’a montré Jerphagnon.

Qu’en est-il de l’égalité entre l’homme et la femme ? Ce n’est pas à un Grec qu’on va faire passer cette baliverne ! Il en aurait bien ri, lui qui, sur cette question, ressemble beaucoup à un musulman, en remisant son épouse dans le gynécée. Lysistrata est une COMÉDIE, destinée à FAIRE RIRE ! Autant dire que l’idée d’égalité entre hommes et femmes était présentée comme une bouffonnerie.

Je renvoie à Vernant pour ce qui est du « mythe d’Œdipe », qu’il dénonce savamment en montrant que Freud s’était trompé sur toute la ligne.

Loin de moi l’idée de démolir la statue funèbre de Jacqueline de Romilly, mais j’avoue que les éloges actuels m’énervent un peu.

Pour apprécier en profondeur la pensée grecque (et subsidiairement romaine), autant lire Vernant, Jerphagnon (l’exquis !), Friedrich Otto, Paul Veyne, qui me semblent plus incisifs que la bonne dame pour classes terminales…

Claude Bourrinet

Article printed from Europe Maxima: http://www.europemaxima.com

URL to article: http://www.europemaxima.com/?p=1846

lundi, 29 novembre 2010

Greek & Barbarian

Greek & Barbarian


Ex: http://www.counter-currents.com/

The Landmark Herodotus: The Histories
Edited by Robert B. Strassler
New York: Pantheon, 2007

Independent scholar Robert Strassler has produced far and away the best English edition aimed at the general reader of the work which remains the fountainhead of the Western historical tradition. Let us hope there is still a fit audience out there for it—men, that is, capable of learning what Herodotus has to teach. Generations of schoolboys at British public schools, German Gymnasia, and American rural academies once read his Histories to learn who they were—in other words, what it meant to be men of the West.

On a first approach, Herodotus’s great work appears a confusing welter of names, colorful stories, digressions, and miscellaneous ethnographic information. I have taught the work to undergraduates and remember students valiantly struggling to discuss “that one King of Wherever, who was fighting that tribe, whatever they were called . . .” In reality, the narrative is carefully—indeed intricately—structured, but in a manner that only becomes clear after repeated readings. What Strassler has done is provide a wealth of maps, indices, cross references, notes, illustrations, and appendices which reduce the preliminary mental effort required merely to grasp this overall structure. The reader can thus proceed more quickly to genuine historical understanding.

It is remarkable that no one in the small, overspecialized world of academic classical studies has ever bothered to attempt such a project. Strassler himself fetchingly admits: “I am not a scholar of ancient Greek and indeed can barely parse a simple sentence in that language” (xlvi). He commissioned a new translation for this edition by Andrea Purvis of Duke University. It is not “dazzling,” as the publisher’s blurb claims, but perhaps something better: unpretentiously accurate, and less mannered than its nearest competitor, David Grene’s 1987 version.

Herodotus grew up in Halicarnassus, an important trading center on the edge of the Greek world, where Greek and Barbarian came into frequent contact. He traveled widely, visiting Egypt as well as many Greek cities; he interviewed public figures and veterans of the events he recounts and gave public readings of his work, which he called the “Inquiries” (historiē in Greek). His great theme is the contrast between Greek and Barbarian, and more particularly the struggle of Greek freedom with Asiatic despotism. The narrative is designed from the beginning to culminate in a description of the successful Greek struggle to repel the Persian invasions of 490 and 480 BC.

Herodotus, like most ancient writers, was concerned with freedom primarily in a political sense. He says nothing about freedom of commerce or religion or conscience or of individual action. All of these may be fine things, but they are ideals which belong to a later age.

During the Cold War, many were inclined to cite the greater efficiency of the market economy as the fundamental distinguishing trait of the West, proudly pointing to our groaning supermarket shelves and favorably contrasting them with Soviet bread lines. Persons used to this way of viewing matters will be especially liable to a feeling of cognitive dissonance when reading Herodotus, who constantly stresses the wealth of oriental despotisms; whereas “in Hellas,” according to one Greek quoted in the Histories, “poverty is always and forever a native resident” (Book 7: chapter 102).

An especially famous and illustrative story, not less significant for being probably unhistorical, concerns Solon the Athenian lawgiver and Croesus of Lydia (immortalized in the expression “rich as Croesus”). After proudly displaying his wealth to his Athenian visitor, Croesus hopefully asks whether Solon in all his travels has “yet seen anyone who surpasses all others in happiness and prosperity?” Solon disappoints him by naming a number of Greeks who lived in relatively moderate circumstances. Croesus indignantly asks “are you disparaging my happiness as though it were nothing? Do you think me worth less than even a common man?” Solon explains that no judgment can be made while Croesus is still alive, for reversals of fortune are too common. (1:30-32) Croesus eventually attempts to conquer the Persians, but is defeated by them and deprived of his kingdom.

The Asiatics as portrayed by Herodotus might be described, for lack of a better word, as accumulators. This applies no less to political power than to wealth. “We have conquered and made slaves of the Sacae, Indians, Ethiopians, Assyrians, and many other great nations” says one Persian grandee matter of factly, “not because they had committed injustices against Persia, but only to increase our own power through them” (7:8). In other words, they are believers in what a contemporary neoconservative journalist might call “national greatness.” They build larger monuments than the Greeks and undertake vast projects such as diverting rivers. It never seems to occur to them that anything might become too big or too organized. When they attempt the conquest of Greece, Herodotus shows them becoming encumbered by their vast baggage trains, unable to moor their multitude of ships properly in tiny Greek coves—generally crushed beneath their own weight like a beached whale as much as they are defeated by the Hellenic armies.

A related Asiatic trait is a failure to acknowledge human limitations. When Xerxes’ invasion is delayed by stormy weather at the Hellespont, he orders the beachhead scourged and branded. His slaves are instructed to say: “Bitter water, your Master is imposing this penalty upon you for wronging him. King Xerxes will cross you whether you like it or not” (7:35). Similarly, there is no real place in the Asiatic’s thought for death, because it is the ultimate limitation on human planning and power. Xerxes weeps while reviewing his army as it occurs to him that all his men will be dead in a hundred years, but decides he must simply put the matter out of his mind.

The Solonian view of happiness as a life well lived from beginning to end, by contrast, begins with the fundamental fact of human finitude. It is this characteristically Greek view which Aristotle eventually formalized and extended in his discussion of happiness (eudaimonia) in the Nicomachian Ethics, and which has continued to influence the best minds of Christendom to this day. The modern “consumerist” mentality, by contrast, might be understood as a relapse into Asiatic barbarism.

The Persians make efforts to buy off Greek leaders. Herodotus describes the wealth of a Persian Satrap named Hydarnes, and then recounts his advice to some Spartan envoys passing through his province on the way to the Persian capitol:

“Lacedaemonians, why are you trying to avoid becoming the King’s friends? You can see that the King knows how to honor good men when you look at me and the state of my affairs. This could be the same for you if only you would surrender yourselves to the King, since he would surely think you to be good men and allow each of you Greek territory to rule over.” To this they replied, “Hydarnes, you offer us this advice only because you do not have a fair and proper perspective. For you counsel us based on your experience of only one way of life, but you have had no experience of the other: you know well how to be a slave but have not yet experienced freedom, nor have you felt whether it is sweet or not. But if you could try freedom, you would advise us to fight for it, and not only with spears, but with axes!” (7:135)

When the envoys arrive in Susa,

At first the King’s bodyguards ordered them and actually tried to force them to prostrate themselves before the King; but they refused to do so, saying that they would never do that, even if the bodyguards should try to push them down to the ground headfirst, since it was not their custom [nomos] to prostrate themselves before any human being. (7:136)

King Xerxes, by contrast, is a great believer in “leadership:” if he were alive today, one might picture him topping the bestseller lists with books on his “Seven Principles of Effective Leadership.” Before invading Greece, he asks:

How could 1,000 or even 10,000 or 50,000 men, all of them alike being free and lacking one man to rule over them, stand up to an army as great as mine? Now if they were under the rule of one man, as is our way, they would fear that man and be better able, in spite of their natural inclinations, to go out and confront larger forces, despite their being outnumbered, because they would then be compelled by the lash. But they would never dare to do such a thing if they were allowed their freedom! (7:103)

At the Battle of Salamis, he has a throne erected for himself on a prominent hill, convinced that his men will fight best knowing they are under his watchful eye.

Herodotus leaves us in no doubt where he stands on this issue; he relates in his own voice that

the Athenians increased in strength, which demonstrates that an equal voice in government has beneficial impact not merely in one way, but in every way: the Athenians, while ruled by tyrants, were no better in war than any of the peoples living around them, but once they were rid of tyrants, they became by far the best of all. Thus it is clear that they were deliberately slack while repressed, since they were working for a master, but that after they were freed, they became ardently devoted to working hard so as to win achievements for themselves as individuals. (5:78)

This comparative lack of emphasis on leadership does not mean the ancients were egalitarian levelers. All successful enterprises must be organized hierarchically, because this is what allows men to coordinate their efforts. The Greeks, in fact, made a proverb of a line from Homer’s Iliad: “Lordship for many is no good thing; let there be one ruler.” Moreover, they greatly honored men who performed leadership functions successfully.

Public offices were, however, always distinguished from the particular men holding them. They did not regard their magistrates as sacred, and none ever claimed to be descended from Zeus. Aristotle defined political freedom as “ruling and being ruled in turn.” In battle, Greek captains fought in a corner of the phalanx beside their men; they could be difficult for an enemy to distinguish.

What allowed Greeks to combine effective organization with political freedom? Herodotus suggests it was a kind of “rule of law.” As a Greek advisor explains to Xerxes:

Though they are free, they are not free in all respects, for they are actually ruled by a lord and master: law [nomos] is their master, and it is the law that they inwardly fear—much more so than your men fear you. They do whatever it commands, which is always the same: it forbids them to flee from battle, and no matter how many men they are fighting, it orders them to remain in their rank and either prevail or perish. (7:104)

In order to appreciate what is being said here, it is important to understand what is meant by law, or nomos. If it were possible to make intelligible to Herodotus such modern legal phenomena as executive orders, Supreme Court decrees, or annually updated administrative regulations, it is more than doubtful whether he would have considered them examples of nomos. These are simply instruments of power, not much different from what existed in the Persian Empire or any despotism. A “rule of law” in this sense makes no particular contribution to freedom. In fact, much of the West’s current predicament results from our traditional respect for law being converted into a weapon against us, rendering us subject to a regime of arbitrary commands disguised as “law” and concocted by an irresponsible power elite hostile to our interests.

It is essential to nomos that it be superpersonal. Often the word can be translated “custom,” which helps one understand that it cannot be decreed by any man, whether King or Hellenic magistrate. Freedom under nomos is not lack of a master, as Herodotus makes clear, but the capacity for self-mastery. In battle, it extends even to the point of demanding total self-sacrifice.

This helps to explain why wealth is dangerous to freedom; the man who becomes used to gratifying his desires comes to be ruled by desire and loses his capacity for self-mastery and sacrifice. When an earlier King of Persia is threatened by rebellion, Herodotus shows him being advised as follows:

Prohibit them from possessing weapons of war, order them to wear tunics under their cloaks and soft boots, instruct them to play the lyre and the harp, and tell them to educate their sons to be shopkeepers. If you do this, sire, you will soon see that they will become women instead of men and thus will pose no danger or threat to you of any future rebellion. (1:155)

The limitations of the Asiatic leadership principle become evident when an Asiatic army loses its leader. It is liable to cease being an army—to become a rabble, a mob of individuals incapable of organization or initiative. A famous episode from later Greek history makes clear how the Greek way was different: In 401 BC, about a generation after Herodotus’ death, an army of ten thousand Greek mercenaries marched into the heart of the Persian Empire in support of a rival candidate for the Imperial title. Their leader was killed in battle and they were stranded hundreds of miles deep in hostile territory. A Persian representative came to accept their surrender and collect their weapons, and was flummoxed to learn the Greeks had no intention of handing any weapons over. Instead, they simply met in assembly and elected a new leader for themselves—exactly as they were accustomed to do in the political assembles of their home cities. They proceeded to fight their way back to Greece with most of them surviving, and the entire might of the Persian Empire was insufficient to stop them. It is safe to say that no Persian army could have equaled the feat.

This spirit of independence and self-reliance did not last forever. The Greek cities wore out their strength through decades of fighting with one another. In 338, they finally fell to Philip, King of Macedon. By 291, Athenians were celebrating the triumphal return of a Macedonian general to their city in hymns describing him as a “living god.” He used the Parthenon to house his harem. Economic historians tell us that the overall Greek standard of living was higher in this later age, however.

Today we see a traitorous leadership consciously abandons our heritage of freedom to a barbarism worse than Persian, buying us off with the bread and circuses of television, shopping malls, and tax subsidies for collaborators, punishing the few who offer even verbal resistance. The reader who still has a mind to do something about this situation might find some lessons in the pages of Herodotus. He would be well advised to take a little time from our current plight to reacquaint himself with what Western man has been.

TOQ Online, April 19, 2009

jeudi, 09 septembre 2010

Deux ouvrages de V. D. Hanson en poche

GUERRES : Deux ouvrages de Victor Davis Hanson viennent de paraître au format poche

La guerre du Péloponnèse


Aucun conflit, dans l’Histoire, n’est aussi riche d’enseignements pour notre époque que la guerre du Péloponnèse  » : cette conviction est au cœur de l’enquête menée par l’historien Victor Davis Hanson sur la lutte qui opposa, il y a près de deux mille cinq cents ans, Sparte et Athènes. Car la guerre du Péloponnèse préfigure nombre de conflits modernes : ce fut un affrontement titanesque entre deux superpuissances et leurs alliés, une sorte de guerre mondiale à l’échelle de la Grèce ancienne ; ce fut aussi une sanglante guerre civile, puisqu’elle mit aux prises des hommes qui adoraient les mêmes dieux et parlaient la même langue ; ce fut surtout une guerre sale, qui inventa de nouvelles méthodes de terreur, bien éloignées du traditionnel combat d’hoplites. Sièges, coups de main, meurtres d’otages, massacres de civils et de prisonniers s’enchaînèrent pendant vingt-sept ans, jusqu’à la capitulation d’Athènes : la Grèce de l’âge d’or n’était plus. Pour raconter le premier conflit total de l’Histoire, ce livre, s’inspirant de Thucydide, nous fait toucher du doigt la chair même de la guerre : le sort d’Athènes livrée à une peste meurtrière, l’effroi d’assiégés mourant de faim, le recours à d’effroyables techniques militaires, le désespoir de généraux illustres comme la mort, loin de chez eux, d’humbles soldats paysans…

Carnage et culture

La supériorité militaire de l’Occident, depuis l’Antiquité, semble reposer sur une conception particulière de la guerre et de la mort. Car l’issue d’une guerre ne dépend pas toujours du nombre de combattants, de la connaissance du terrain, ou même de la stratégie des chefs militaires. À l’analyse tactique ou géopolitique, Victor Davis Hanson oppose une théorie quelque peu iconoclaste : la victoire, sur le champ de bataille, tient à la cristallisation de valeurs économiques, politiques et culturelles. Ce sont l’individualisme, la démocratie, le rationalisme et l’esprit d’entreprise qui firent plier, en maints endroits du monde, les armées ennemies. Ce fut encore l’Occident qui accoucha des conceptions les plus radicales et les plus meurtrières de la guerre : la guerre « juste » ou la guerre d’anéantissement, par exemple.

À travers le récit de neuf batailles décisives (Salamine, 480 avant J.-C. ; Gaugamèles, 331 avant J.-C. ; Cannes, 216 avant J.-C. ; Poitiers, 732 ; Tenochtitlan, 1520-1521 ; Lépante, 1571 ; Rorke’s Drift, 1879 ; Midway, 1942 et Tet, 1968), Victor Davis Hanson explore les multiples facettes d’une suprématie guerrière inégalée. Profondément polémique, cette histoire de la « supériorité » occidentale permet de lire en filigrane son envers te plus sombre : le cannibalisme politique et religieux des Européens au fil des siècles.


Source : Theatrum Belli [1]

Article printed from :: Novopress Québec: http://qc.novopress.info

URL to article: http://qc.novopress.info/8965/8965/

URLs in this post:

[1] Theatrum Belli: http://www.theatrum-belli.com/

vendredi, 03 septembre 2010

Latin et grec, notre bien


Latin et grec, notre bien

par Claude BOURRINET

Personne ne parviendra à nous convaincre que nous ne vivons pas une époque formidable, une de ces fractures historiques qui rendent la vie intéressante, du moins du point de vue du spectateur. La disparition programmée de l’apprentissage du latin et du grec, par exemple, apparaît bien comme un symptôme d’un changement de civilisation dont nous sommes témoins, lequel n’arrive que rarement, tous les cinq cents ans peut-être, ou même tous les deux mille ans. En effet, on nous apprend que le C.A.P.E.S. [ou Certificat d’aptitude au professorat de l’enseignement du second degré qui est un diplôme professionnel du ministère français de l'« Éducation nationale » - N.D.L.R.] de Lettres classiques est vidé de sa substance, et qu’en lieu et place de la maîtrise de ces langues anciennes, qui constituent l’une des expressions de notre longue mémoire, constitutive de notre être, de notre destin, l’accent va être mis, comme d’ailleurs dans les autres épreuves disciplinaires, sur les gadgets pédagogiques et l’éthique de la servilité. Tout un programme.

Au moins les Barbares du Ve siècle, tout en combattant Rome, l’adulaient-ils, et ne rêvaient que de se mouler dans l’Empire pour mieux le renforcer. Ce que l’on appelle le Moyen Âge, au demeurant, avec ses moines appliqués, ses évêques princiers et tout son appareil ecclésial, n’a fait que nous transmettre ce que, jusqu’à maintenant, on considérait comme un trésor, la culture humanistique antique.

L’Europe a vécu sur ce legs, qui l’a constituée. Homère, Thucydide, Platon, Aristote, Virgile, Horace, etc. en sont les fondateurs, et fréquenter ces auteurs, c’est retrouver une grande partie de nos racines.

Dénoncer l’utilitarisme étroit de nos libéraux dont le cerveau a été remplacé par un tiroir-caisse n’est certes pas inutile. C’est là souligner combien la nouvelle élite est inférieure aux Goths, qui avaient l’humilité de se vouloir les écoliers des vaincus. Les nouveaux barbares ne jurent que par la modernité la plus vulgaire, celle qui se fonde sur la pacotille de supermarché, pour l’accumulation de laquelle il suffit de quelques connaissances rudimentaires, et d’un esprit confinant au réflexe conditionné reptilien. Le monde de la consommation de masse n’exige pas plus pour être heureux. Et il suffit par-dessus d’un peu de prêchi-prêcha bien-pensant, et de conditionnement pervers, pour attacher la planète sur le lit de Procuste.

Il paraît cependant pour le moins fragile de vouloir opposer un utilitarisme à un autre. Les membres du jury de C.A.P.E.S. de Lettres classiques, qui ont publié une lettre de protestation contre le mauvais coup porté par les malfaiteurs qui nous gouvernent, arguent pour défendre l’apprentissage du latin et du grec, de l’avantage qu’on en tirerait pour la maîtrise de notre propre langue, et plus généralement de l’approfondissement de la sensibilité langagière qu’il apporterait. Soit, on veut bien en convenir, et même reconnaître que la familiarité avec ces langues anciennes puisse contribuer à un rééquilibrage, notamment au profit de classes « défavorisés » (selon le jargon convenu), ce que tend à prouver certaines expériences pédagogiques en banlieue. De la même façon, la référence, dans la proclamation, à la démocratie athénienne, relève pathétiquement d’une dernière tentative de persuasion, en invoquant les mânes républicains, qui font consensus.

C’est assez vain, en regard de la tendance lourde à éradiquer tout rapport à la culture dans l’Éducation nationale, et d’une certaine manière on se trompe de combat.

grec.jpgD’abord, il est indispensable  de faire justice à une illusion. Un coup de sonde dans les quarante dernières années suffit pour cela. En quoi l’enseignement du latin et du grec a-t-il pu contribuer en quoi que ce soit à l’approfondissement de la culture, sinon à sa défense ? Les élèves qui sont passés par cette étape scolaire, certes en soi passionnante, ne se sont pas singularisés dans la critique d’une modernité qui se présente comme une guillotine de l’intelligence. Ils ont suivi le mouvement. Il est presque normal que ce pôle d’excellence ait été emporté, comme tout le reste, par la cataracte de néant qui ensevelit  notre civilisation. Il aurait pu servir de môle de résistance, mais il aurait fallu que la classe moyenne fût d’une autre trempe. Car est-il est utile aussi d’évoquer les professeurs de latin et de grec qui, sauf exceptions (soyons juste) ne sont pas différents des autres enseignants ? Ils possèdent, comme chacun, leur petit pré carré, leurs us et coutumes, leurs intérêts, et, généralement, partagent les mêmes illusions politiquement correctes, ainsi qu’un penchant à profiter (comme tout le monde, soyons juste !) de la société de consommation. Faire des thèmes et des versions contribue à renforcer la maîtrise intellectuelle et langagière, certes, mais cela suffit-il à la pensée ? Ne se référer par exemple qu’à la démocratie athénienne, pour autant qu’elle soit comprise de façon adéquate, ce qui n’est pas certain dans le contexte mensonger de l’éducation qui est la nôtre, c’est faire fi de Sparte (victorieuse de la cité de Périclès), de l’opinion de quasi tous les penseurs antiques, qui ont méprisé la démocratie, de l’idéologie monarchique, apportée par Alexandre et les diadoques, consolidée par le stoïcisme et le néoplatonisme, et qui a perduré jusqu’aux temps modernes. Il faut être honnête intellectuellement, ou faire de l’idéologie. De même, la Grèce et la Rome qu’ont imaginées les professeurs du XIXe siècle sont complètement fallacieuses. Les Grecs et les Romains étaient, d’une certaine manière, plus proche du monde que Jack London dépeint dans L’Appel de la forêt, et le fascisme mussolinien avait plus de légitimité à y chercher des raisons d’exister qu’une démocratie moderne que les Anciens n’ont même pas imaginée (ils en auraient été horrifiés, plutôt !).

D’une certaine manière, on comprend pourquoi, instinctivement ou consciemment, les béotiens qui nous gouvernent cherchent à faire disparaître les références à l’Antiquité, qui a le fâcheux défaut de faire connaître un mode de penser, de sentir, d’exister autre. Notre époque, qui est toujours à la recherche de l’Autre, devrait bien s’en aviser.

Faut-il absolument connaître, par ailleurs, le latin et le grec, pour avoir accès à des penseurs qui nous sont aussi vitaux que l’oxygène que nous respirons ? C’est bien sûr préférable, mais pas indispensable. Et, en guise de provocation, pourquoi ne pas se féliciter de la disparition de l’enseignement de ces langues dans notre éducation de moins en moins « nationale » ? Si le mouvement que l’on nommera (pour faire vite) « identitaire » (au sens large) était conséquent, il sauterait sur l’occasion pour susciter des écoles spécifiques, et nous ramasserions avec délectation, jubilation, ce que nos ennemis, nos ennemis mortels, ont laissé tomber avec mépris, et qui peut être, entre nos mains, une arme culturelle redoutable. Récupérons notre bien !

Claude Bourrinet

Article printed from Europe Maxima: http://www.europemaxima.com

URL to article: http://www.europemaxima.com/?p=1622


lundi, 14 juin 2010

El hombre integro (spoudaios) como norma del obrar

19296D1_apollon_v.jpgEl hombre íntegro (spoudaios) como norma del obrar

Alberto Buela (*)


En estos días que nos hemos enterado por un estudioso amigo, que los ingleses de Oxford, que solo se citan a sí mismo en los estudios aristotélicos, han citado nuestra vieja traducción de 1981 del Protréptico de Aristóteles, única obra en castellano citada por ellos desde la época del ñaupa.

Y además, luego de haber visto como el gallego Megino Rodríguez se hizo el burro en su lamentable traducción del 2005, no haciendo ni siquiera mención a la existencia de nuestro trabajo, es que vamos a  encarar lo que para nosotros es la médula de la ética del hijo de Efestiada de Calcide.

Y lo vamos a hacer porque a esta altura de la soirée [1] pretendemos ofrecer, al lego en forma simple y clara, la idea fuerza que funda la ética aristotélica y que recorre toda la obra del esposo de Pythia y de Herpilis.  

La intención expresa que nos guía es dejar de lado toda actitud erudita, llevándonos del consejo del Don Miguel Reale, ese gran pensador brasileño cuando afirmaba: cultura es aquello que queda cuando el andamiaje de la erudición se viene abajo.


El tutelado de Próxenes se ocupó durante toda su vida del tema ético, desde sus primeros escritos como el Protréptico hasta sus últimos como la Magna Moralia [2]. O sea, desde sus treinta y un años siendo aún discípulo de Platón hasta los sesenta y dos cercanos a su muerte.


Antes que nada, cabe destacar la exigencia aristotélica en ética; de llevar a la práctica aquello que se estudia y así lo afirma en forma tajante y definitiva: “Lo que hay que hacer después de haberlo aprendido, lo aprendemos haciéndolo… practicando la justicia nos hacemos justos y practicando la temperancia temperantes” (EN. 1103 a 31). “Puesto que el presente estudio no es teórico como los otros, pues investigamos- en ética- no para saber qué es la virtud sino para ser buenos” (EN. 1103 b 28). El realismo aristotélico es el signo de su filosofía, es por ello que el genial Rafael pinta a Aristóteles señalando con su índice la tierra mientras camina junto a Platón.


Y de qué tipo y clase es ese hombre bueno que nos propone el maestro de Alejandro?  Es el spoudaios (spoudaioV), el phronimos(fronimoV). Es la idea fuerza, es el centro de toda le ética aristotélica, de modo que si caracterizamos acabadamente estos conceptos vamos a comprender su mensaje ético.

Ya en uno de sus primeros escritos, el Protréptico,  afirma:“Además qué regla (kanon) o qué determinación precisa (oroV  akribesteroV) de lo que es bueno podemos tener sino el criterio del hombre sapiente (fronimoV). Frag. 39. “todos estamos de acuerdo que el hombre más íntegro dirija (spoudaiotaton arcein). Frag. 38.

Al respecto afirma en la Ética Nicomaquea: “El spoudaios enjuicia correctamente todas las cuestiones prácticas y en todas ellas se le devela lo verdadero…quizá el spoudaios difiere de los demás por ver lo verdadero en cada cuestión como si fuera el canon y la medida en ellas”  (EN. 1113 a 29-32). Como se dijo la areté (excelencia) y el spoudaios parecen ser la medida de todas las cosas. Éste está de acuerdo consigo mismo y tiende con toda su alma a fines que no divergen entre sí” (EN. 1166 a 12-19). Y más adelante, casi al final de la ética va ser mucho más explícito: “En los hombres los placeres varían mucho pues las mismas cosas agradan a unos y molestan a otros… Esto ocurre con las cosas dulces, que no parecen lo mismo al que tiene fiebre que al que está sano y lo mismo ocurre con todo lo demás. Pero en tales casos, se considera que lo verdadero es lo que le parece al spoudaios, y si esto es cierto, y la medida de cada cosa son la areté (excelencia) y el spoudaios como tal, son placeres los que a él le parecen y agradables aquellas cosas en que se complace” (EN. 1176 a 17-19).



Vemos por estas y otras muchas citas[3] que podríamos agregar que los términos spoudáios y phrónimos van a tener, desde sus primeros escritos hasta los últimos, un peso significativo y determinante en toda la ética del padre de Nicómano. Ellos son el centro y el fundamento de toda su ética.

El primer significado del término spoudáios menta el esfuerzo serio y sostenido aplicado a una cosa digna y en una segunda acepción se vincula a las nociones de areté (excelencia o perfección) y agathós (bien).

Esta valoración del spoudaios, por el padrino de Nicanor, como última  regla y norma en las cuestiones prácticas y morales es asombrosa. Erróneamente, como le ocurrió a Dirlmeier, el último traductor al alemán, se puede pensar que se asemeja al adagio del sofista Protágoras: “el hombre es la medida de todas las cosas”, pero en realidad el dueño de Tacón, Filón y Olímpico se distancia porque el spoudaios no es el hombre común del sofista sino el hombre digno. Y con esta afirmación se aleja también de Platón y sus normas universales para el obrar.

Sin quererlo nos ayuda, el maestro de Teofrastro, a enfrentar la filosofía moral moderna y la certeza que busca ésta en los juicios ético-morales. Ante el rigorismo ético del pensamiento ilustrado, de la ética autónoma, del formalismo kantiano, y la ética veterotestamentaria, Aristóteles nos propone el criterio de lo verosímil como guía y norma del hacer y del obrar. “Pues no se puede buscar del mismo modo el rigor en todas las cuestiones, sino en cada una según la materia que subyazca a ellas” (EN. 1098 a 27).



Viene ahora la cuestión de cómo traducir estos dos términos cruciales para la comprensión de la filosofía práctica del hijo de Nicómaco.


Así para spoudaios [4]J. Tricot traduce por “l´homme de bien o vertueux”. Pallí Bonet y E.Sinnott  por “hombre bueno”. J. Montoya y T. de Koninck por “hombre virtuoso”.  Emile Bréhier  David Ross y Nicola  Abbagnano por “sofós”, esto es por sabio, sage o saggio. En cambio ya el español Antonio Tovar en 1953 lo traduce por “diligente” y muchos años después el alemán Harder lo traduce por “hombre noble y serio”. Y el argentino Pablo Maurette por “hombre circunspecto”, “ya que el adjetivo castellano expresa a la vez la idea de sabiduría pero también anuncia seriedad, paz interior y perseverancia. P.Aubenque la traduce por “diligente y serio”.


En nuestro criterio, traducir spoudaios por bueno tiene una connotación exclusivamente moral que el término griego supera. En cuanto a la traducción por virtuoso, el término no existe en griego.

Traducir por sabio es una visión intelectualista. Más cerca del original están las versiones de hombre noble, serio o circunspecto pero dejan de lado el aspecto práctico del spoudáios. En cuanto a la traducción por diligente, a la inversa que la anterior, se limita solo al aspecto práctico del spoudáios, es por eso que Aubenque (l´éponge) se percata y agrega el término serio.  


Nosotros preferimos traducirlo por “hombre íntegro y diligente” pues cada vez que se plantea el tema del criterio en la elección ética o en la vida práctica es el spoudáios quien aparece. Y es como hombre digno que agota en sí la función propia del hombre (juzga adecuadamente)  y como diligente actúa siempre de acuerdo con la areté (la excelencia o perfección) de cada cosa, acción o situación.

Aquello que asombra de esta idea del spoudaios es que éste no es ni se alza como una regla trascendente, como los diez mandamientos, sino que el spoudaios mismo es quien se convierte en la medida de la acción perfecta tanto en el hacer como en el obrar.


En el spoudaios su deseo se refiere siempre al bien y como cada cual es bueno para sí mismo es, en definitiva para nosotros para quienes queremos el bien, ya que la preferencia de sí mismo se encuentra en el fondo de todos los deseos.

El spoudaios es el que realiza al grado máximo las potencialidades de la naturaleza humana. Lo que caracteriza al spoudaios es contemplar la verdad en cada acción o tarea y el es la referencia y la medida de lo noble y agradable.

El spoudaios hace lo que debe hacer de manera oportuna. Es el hombre que actúa siempre con la areté. Este concepto de areté no se limita simplemente al plano moral como sucede cuando se la traduce por “virtud” sino que debe de ser entendida como excelencia o perfección de las cosas y las acciones y así podemos hablar de la areté del ojo que es percibir bien, la del caballo que es correr, la del ascensor que es subir y bajar. Es decir que la areté expresa y tiene tanto un contenido moral y ético como funcional, y es por ello que debemos traducir y entender el término areté como excelencia, perfección o acabamiento de algo.

Y esto es lo que logra el spoudaios con su obrar y con su hacer, transformase, él mismo, en canon y la medida que se presenta como norma no trascendente de la sociedad,[5] y es por esta última razón que sólo a partir de él podemos conseguir la implantación de un verdadero y genuino humanismo.


En cuanto al concepto de phrónesis hace ya muchos años en nuestra traducción al castellano del Protréptico (1981) hemos sostenido: “La aparición por primera vez del término phrónesis, capital para la interpretación jaegerdiana del Protréptico, nos obliga a justificar nuestra traducción del vocablo. Hemos optado por traducir phronimos por sapiente y phrónesis por sapiencia por dos motivos. Primero porque nuestra menospreciada lengua castellana (no se aceptaban comunicaciones en castellano en los congresos internacionales de filosofía en la época) es la única de las lenguas modernas que, sin forzarla, lo permite. Y segundo, porque dado que la noción de phrónesis implica la identidad entre el conocimiento teorético y la conducta práctica, el traducirla por “sabiduría” a secas, tal como se ha hecho habitualmente, es mutilar parte del concepto. Ello implica in nuce una interpretación platónica del Protréptico, y traducirla por “prudencia” la limita a un aspecto moral que el concepto supera, mientras que “sapiencia o saber sapiencial”, implica no sólo un conocimiento teórico sino también su proyección práctica“ [6].

Ya observó hace más de medio siglo ese agudo traductor de Aristóteles al castellano que fue el mejicano Antonio Gómez Robledo: “Hoy la prudencia tiene que ver con una cautela medrosa y no con el heroísmo moral, el esfuerzo alto y sostenido de la virtud”.


Sobre este tema es interesante notar que los scholars ingleses, especialistas desde siempre en los estudios aristotélicos, se han jactado de sus traducciones por lo ajustado de las mismas a la brevedad de la expresión griega. Sin embargo en esta ocasión tanto el inglés como el francés han tenido que ceder a la precisión del castellano. Así para phrónesis ellos necesitan de dos términos, sea practical wisdom o saggesse practique, en tanto que al castellano le alcanza con uno: sapiencia.[7] Ya decían nuestros viejos criollos: Hay que dejar de ser léido para ser sapiente. Así la tarea del sapiente consiste en saber dirigir correctamente la vida. Su saber, a la vez,  teórico y práctico le permite distinguir lo que es bueno de lo que es malo y encontrar los medios adecuados para nuestros fines verdaderos: “los sapientes buscan lo que es bueno para ellos y creen que es esto lo que debe hacerse” (EN. 1142 a 1).


Spoudaios y phronimos, íntegro y sapiente, son dos caras de una misma moneda, son dos términos que pintan conceptos similares, solo se distinguen por los matices, uno destaca la integridad, la seriedad que viene del verbo spoudázein y otro el matiz más intelectual que viene del verbo phronéin.

Así el hombre íntegro y sapiente será aquel que sabe actuar en la vida cotidiana de forma tal que sus acciones, por lo incierta que es la vida en sí misma, se transforman en norma y medida de lo que debe hacerse para el buen vivir.



(*) arkegueta, aprendiz constante

Universidad Tecnológica Nacional (UTN)


[1] Es que llevamos 40 años leyendo sistemáticamente al Discípulo.

[2] Los escritos que tratan específicamente de la ética son: Protréptico, Ética Eudemia, Ética Nicomaquea, Magna Moralia (algunos (Aubenque) dicen que no sería de Aristóteles y otros (Ackrill) que sí), y uno pequeño De virtutibus et vicis donde no hay en toda la opera omnia  de Aristóteles ni en ninguno de los sesudos comentaristas del Estagirita una síntesis más acabada de su teoría de las virtudes como la que nos brinda este pequeño tratado. Está bien, no salió de la pluma de Aristóteles, pero quien quiera que haya escrito este opúsculo conocía al Filósofo como los mejores.

[3] Cf. EN 1179 b 20; 1155 a 12-19; EE 1218 b 34; Rhet 1367 b 21, etc.

[4] Cf. EN, 1109a 24, 1113a 25, 1114b 19, 1130b 25, 1144a 17 y 1154a 6

[5] Salvando la distancia teológica que media, el spoudaios nos recuerda el Jesús existencial que se alza como norma, aquel del: ego sum via, veritas et vita  o “el que no está conmigo está contra mi”.

[6] Aristóteles: Protréptico, Bs.As., Ed. Cultura et labor, 1983, p. 44

[7] Existe una anécdota de José Luís Borges quien ante la jactancia inglesa de la brevedad de su expresión tomó un cuento inglés y lo escribió en castellano mucho más breve. De ello se dio cuenta André Malreaux cuando caracterizó el mérito de Borges afirmando: “su genio está en la economía y belleza de su expresión”.

dimanche, 13 juin 2010

L'Iliade et nous

L’Iliade et nous

par Claude BOURRINET

iliada.jpgLe monde homérique est un rêve. Et comme tout rêve, il est ce que nous possédons de plus intime et de plus lointain. Rien n’est plus légitime, pour les historiens, d’y chercher des indices de réalité. Je veux parler des reflets déformés, anachroniques ou non, de relations économiques, sociales, humaines, qui traduisent des conditions de civilisations entremêlées, entre la période mycénienne – et même avant, jusqu’aux souvenirs du monde minoen – et la fin de l’âge sombre, de 1500 à 750 avant notre ère, environ. L’érudition a ses raisons, et il est donné à notre âge scientiste de considérer un legs poétique comme un document d’étude à peu près comme un autre.

C’est évidemment une grave erreur, inévitable.

Les Hellènes ne considéraient pas l’Iliade et l’Odyssée ainsi, bien que les Alexandrins, rompus à la pédante habitude d’anatomiser les textes, les eussent alourdis d’exégèses allégoriques et de commentaires moralisateurs. Avant eux, Platon avait mis en garde : il dit, dans La République, qu’Homère « est l’instituteur de la Grèce et que pour l’administration et l’éducation des hommes il mérite qu’on le prenne et qu’on l’étudie, et qu’on règle selon ses préceptes toute sa conduite ». Il est vrai qu’il place cet éloge dans la bouche d’admirateurs que rencontrerait Glaucon, fils d’Ariston, et que lui, le philosophe des Idées, préférait « se souvenir qu’en fait de poésie il ne faut admettre dans la cité que des hymnes aux dieux et des éloges des gens de bien. »

Ce qui, il faut en convenir, constitue un programme certes admirable, mais fort réduit dans son ambition de rendre compte du monde, et tout autant limité dans ses qualités imaginatives, sans évoquer pour l’instant la réelle efficacité d’une telle manière d’aborder la création artistique, la poiêsis.

Comme le principe de l’art mimétique prévalut durant presque toute l’histoire de l’Europe, et que l’affirmation horatienne : Ut pictora poiêsis, y présida, il fallut bien qu’il restât quelque séquelle du soupçon jeté par Platon sur l’image, même chez le Poète par excellence, le père de l’Europe, le premier de tous les enchanteurs qui nourrirent l’esprit des Européens. La Fontaine lui-même, qui, pourtant, fit sienne la tentative somme toute assez bien réussie d’une résurrection du langage des dieux, répéta, dans Le Pouvoir des fables, cette dénonciation, pour ainsi dire pascalienne, de l’inévitable divertissement, du fatal détournement, qui fait oublier l’essentiel au peuple, à savoir que Philippe est sur le point d’avaler la Grèce.

À propos d’orateur, il y a, au chant II de l’Iliade, un épisode assez tumultueux où Odusseus (« en colère »), c’est-à-dire Ulysse, remet le demos dans le droit chemin. À notre tour, comme les Hellènes, regardons si nous pouvons trouver dans la fable matière à enseignement.

Rappelons les faits brièvement.

Je laisse de côté la raison ultime de la tuerie et des souffrances sans nom qui allaient suivre la « détestable colère d’Achille », le ressort secret de la Guerre de Troie, le dessein d’un Zeus qui, attentif aux demandes de la Terre, peinant sous le poids d’une humanité trop prolifique, avait décidé de décimer celle-ci par des guerres dévastatrices. Nil novi sub sole, rien de nouveau sous le Soleil, le passé est le miroir du futur. Les voies des dieux étant éternelles, tel sera notre avenir…

La querelle qui oppose Achille à Agamemnon au sujet des captives, Chryséis et Briséis, n’est que prétexte à soutenir son rang et à manifester son orgueil. L’assemblée des Achéens convoquée par le fils de Thétis se contente d’assister à la violente confrontation entre l’Atride et le roi des Myrmidons. Le monde homérique est un univers aristocrate, une cime où évoluent des aigles, une terre impitoyable où se donnent libre cours la férocité et l’avidité, sans rien de « moral », de prédateurs pour lesquels la nature a légué une place de choix. Le demos assiste sans intervenir à ce choc entre Grands. Il n’est que le témoin de ce duel oral, qui pourrait devenir rapidement physique, si n’était la vigilance d’Athéna. L’Iliade, comme l’Odyssée, privilégie le point de vue des nobles. Tout est perçu selon leurs codes. La hiérarchie des valeurs, les notions de convenance et de bienséance dépendent de leur vision du monde. Leur intérêt matériel est mis en parallèle avec leur fonction : il manifeste leur excellence et témoigne de leur bravoure, dont le fruit est le butin et les cadeaux. Nous avons affaire ici à un théâtre tragique, ostentatoire, tourné vers la vie, sensible, à l’extrême, à la caducité de celle-ci, et à la jouissance, sous toutes ses formes, de l’existence. L’éclat de la Geste doit, avant de disparaître dans l’Achéron aux ombres fuyantes et mélancoliques, jeter une lueur divine sur le terrible royaume de la destruction qu’est la Terre des mortels. Une telle destinée n’est réservée qu’à une élite, aux héros. Le « peuple » est inutile pour assurer la reconnaissance de leur valeur. Celle-ci ne peut s’exercer qu’inter pares.

Or, il est singulier, au regard d’un moderne imprégné par le mythe de la démocratie athénienne, de constater qu’une telle logique, qui se trouve aussi dans l’Odyssée, ait pu convenir aux aspirations de l’ensemble des Grecs pendant des siècles, et pas seulement des aristocrates. Il faut croire que ces tendances correspondent à une disposition de l’esprit humain, magnifiquement illustrée par Nietzsche dans son Zarathoustra. La tâche qui nous reviendrait serait de les traduire selon notre situation, qui est celle d’un monde dégénéré. Car le monde d’Homère, qui, déjà, notait combien le monde avait décliné, est mort. Nous sommes dans l’univers du dernier homme. Et pourtant, l’Iliade nous tient un langage que nous pouvons encore comprendre, qui va droit au cœur des êtres bien nés. Qui ne vivrait encore avec le chant du Poète, qui n’a guère son égal ? Il suffit de lire, même en français. Résonne alors un timbre sublime dans l’âme du lecteur, et les vibrations rehaussent le cœur.

Le chant II présente une assemblée encore plus chaotique que la précédente, celle du chant I. L’acteur principal de cet épisode est Ulysse. Nous allons nous attarder particulièrement sur la signification d’une péripétie, qui commence comme une farce, puisque Agamemnon, trompé par le Songe, messager de Zeus, est pris au mot lorsque, voulant imprudemment mettre à l’épreuve les Achéens, les hommes de troupe, pris de panique, se précipitent vers leurs nefs pour rejoindre leurs patries.

Ulysse, donc, désespérant de l’évolution d’une situation qui semble mettre fin à l’aventure troyenne, inspiré par Athéna, réagit vivement.

Son comportement obéit à deux systèmes de représentation : qu’il ait affaire aux pairs, il agit avec courtoisie, mais fermeté ; qu’il soit en présence du demos, il réagit plus brutalement, usant du sceptre d’Agamemnon comme d’une trique, un peu comme frère Jean des Entommeures se saisit du « baston de la croix, qui estoit de cueur de cormier, long comme une lance, rond à plain poing et quelque peu semé de fleurs de lys », pour donner sur les ennemis qui pillaient les vignes du Seigneur.

Arrêtons-nous sur cette figure du sceptre, emblème de roi et d’orateur.

Celui que tient Ulysse n’est pas n’importe lequel : c’est celui « que jadis a ouvré le labeur d’Héphaïstos. Celui-ci l’a remis à sire Zeus, fils de Cronos. Zeus alors l’a remis au Messager, Tueur d’Argos. Sire Hermès l’a remis à Pélops, piqueur de cavales. À son tour, Pélops l’a remis à Atrée, le pasteur d’hommes. Atrée mourant l’a laissé à Tyeste riche en troupeaux. Et Tyeste, à son tour, le laisse aux mains d’Agamemnon… ».

Si l’accent est mis sur l’origine de cet instrument hautement politique qu’est le sceptre, c’est qu’il permet d’appréhender une dimension de la prise de parole devant une assemblée que nous avons perdue avec la démocratisation de l’expression publique et la confusion des voix. Or, le politique pose des questions essentielles, souvent inavouées, liées à l’organisation de la société. Qui doit parler ? Qui possède un statut tel qu’il est naturel, convenable et incontestable qu’il en soit ainsi ? Le caractère inviolable de celui qui tient le sceptre rappelle ce privilège du tribun romain. Nous ne sommes pas ici dans le cas contemporain où le politique se trouve laïcisé, désacralisé, profané. Dans le monde archaïque d’Homère, la légitimité politique vient dans haut. Le mana du sceptre est d’origine divine, et ne puise pas sa puissance de l’assentiment du peuple. En fait, la démocratie donne l’illusion d’un pouvoir qui se passe bien d’une telle onction. Seulement, ce n’est qu’une illusion. Les Athéniens confiaient l’élection de leurs représentants au hasard. Ce n’était pas mal trouvé, si le hasard est le jouet des dieux. Nous faisons, quant à nous, comme s’ils étaient choisis par la libre volonté du peuple, comme si la libre volonté existait, sans parler du peuple, qui n’est qu’une hypothèse idéologique. Dans la réalité, la classe politique contemporaine n’est qu’une parodie de noblesse, qui se coopte hypocritement, et joue une pièce qui n’a certes pas la grandeur de celles de jadis. Autres temps, autres mœurs…

Si le sceptre est l’expression et l’illustration matérielle du politique, cela signifie qu’il traduit le monopole de la parole et celui de la violence. Tout pouvoir étatique, même embryonnaire, se réfère à ces deux compétences. Que fait Ulysse ? Il remet à la raison les rois et les héros, avec des termes persuasifs, « avec des mots apaisants », usant tour à tour de l’éloge et de la crainte. En revanche, quand il croise un « homme du peuple », du demos, il le frappe avec le sceptre et le remet à sa place, pour employer une formule triviale mais très vraie dans ce cas-là. « Chacun ne va pas devenir roi, ici, parmi nous, les Achéens », profère-t-il dans une profession de foi antidémocratique. « Avoir trop de chefs ne vaut rien : qu’un seul soit chef, qu’un seul soit roi… », ajoute-t-il. Et l’aède de conclure : « Ainsi il parle en chef et remet l’ordre au camp. »

Encore faut-il faire la part entre deux catégories au sein du peuple. Car intervient Thersite. Dans un monde où l’apparence est reine, il paraît normal que celui-ci soit pourvu, à l’encontre des héros, d’attributs physiques rédhibitoires, frisant la caricature. Son comportement aussi est inspiré par la haine des Grands, la jalousie, le ressentiment et la tentation de la désertion. Il est, pour ainsi dire, un subversif, un révolutionnaire, un bolchevik. Il souhaite presque la défaite de son propre pays. Au moins ne fera-t-il rien pour sa victoire, qui n’est pas la sienne, mais celle des aristocrates, « qui s’en mettent plein les poches ». Ulysse n’est pas tendre avec lui car, non content de l’agonir d’injures, il le corrige sévèrement, suscitant en même temps chez les autres pitié et contentement.

Il est utile de s’arrêter un moment pour peser cette anecdote très significative. La guerre, avant l’avènement de la cité-État grecque, la polis, relève d’un projet personnel. C’est parce qu’Hélène avait suivi, de grès ou de force, Alexandre Pâris à Troie qu’Agamemnon, pour venger Ménélas, avait rameuté un certain nombre de « rois », qui étaient soit des vassaux, soit des alliés, soit de simples aventuriers. Il ne s’agit pas à proprement parler d’une guerre nationale, car dans le monde homérique, c’est la famille qui prévaut, ou bien l’oïkos, c’est-à-dire ce que sera la « villa » latine, une cellule économique autarcique fondée sur des relations d’interdépendances fortes et hiérarchisées, un monde organique solidaire. Bien sûr, derrière le prétexte passionnel, il y a la rapacité : la guerre est pourvoyeuse de butin autant que de mort. C’est une occasion de s’enrichir. Mais c’est une affaire privée, et, à ce titre, le peuple (celui qui ne fait pas partie des troupiers, « serviteurs » (thérapôn) qui font le voyage guerrier, comme Mérion, thérapôn du roi Idoméné de Crète), la perçoit avec une certaine indifférence, pourvu qu’elle n’ait pas trop d’incidences dans sa propre existence. Le seul cas où il se trouve dans la nécessité d’y participer est lorsque la survie même de la communauté est en question, comme c’est le sort de Troie. Alors le peuple participe aux combats, d’une façon ou d’une autre. C’est une guerre totale.

Dans les temps modernes, les progrès de l’idée républicaine ont conduit à la l’idée de conscription, et à la guerre telle que nous en avons vu les ravages durant les deux dernières guerres mondiales. Dans l’avenir, étant donné que les conflits sont de plus en plus pris en charge par des professionnels et des techniciens, l’implication du « peuple » devient un paramètre de plus en plus malaisé à situer, si l’on écarte sa fonction invariable de servir de cible. Et dans le contexte actuel de mondialisation des oligarchies et des interventions militaires aux buts confus, la question est de savoir s’il est légitime de donner son assentiment à des actions guerrières qui paraissent ne satisfaire que les intérêts d’une pseudo-noblesse, en fait d’une ploutocratie, qui n’a rien à voir avec l’aristocratie achéenne. La question se pose évidemment autrement pour un soldat qui, sur le théâtre des opérations, est guidé par le sentiment de l’honneur et le sens de la camaraderie. Cependant, une telle réflexion doit être menée, car il n’est pas impossible qu’à un certain moment il ne faille prendre des résolument singulièrement concrètes.

Une fois l’ordre établi et l’assistance attentive, Ulysse prend la parole. Songeons qu’Ulysse n’a pas bonne presse dans la mémoire grecque et occidentale. Comme le déclare Philoctète, dans la pièce éponyme de Sophocle : « Il a toujours à la bouche, je le sais, le mensonge et la fourberie. » Aussi est-il un personnage ambivalent, quelque peu oriental dans sa gouaille et l’agilité de sa langue. Athéna le loue de savoir mentir. Il trompe Polyphème, le Cyclope. Il est celui qui use de cette faculté que les Grecs appellent la Métis, l’intelligence pratique, ou l’ingéniosité rusée. Après que Zeus eut avalé celle-ci, le père des dieux engendra Athéna de son crâne fendu par Héphaïstos. La déesse, chaste et guerrière, est la protectrice du Seigneur d’Ithaque, qui échappe à l’opprobre liée à l’emploi du mensonge grâce à son caractère héroïque. Ne réagit-il pas vivement, chez les Phéaciens, à la cour du roi Alcinoos, lorsqu’un noble insinue qu’il ressemblerait plutôt à un marchand phénicien (universellement méprisés) qu’à un héros ? Ulysse n’est pas couard, ni efféminé comme Pâris. Il ne trompe pas comme les négociants qui parcourent les mers en quête de bonnes affaires et qui manient tous les moyens de persuasion pour des buts mercantiles. Sa fourberie provient d’un esprit qui demeure paysan. Combien la bourde de Glaucos, qui échange, au nom des liens d’hospitalité, son armure d’or contre l’armure de bronze de Diomède (« habile comme un dieu ») est-elle susceptible d’être contée aux jeunes et aux anciens, autour de l’âtre, comme une bonne blague et une excellente affaire ? Il est vrai aussi que le monde des dieux n’est pas exempt de fourberies diverses. Quant à l’éthique guerrière, elle s’accommode de la ruse, non de celle de l’archet qui se cache pour décocher un carreau mortel, mais de celle que force la nécessité, Ulysse ayant par exemple à faire face à d’innombrables prétendants sans scrupule, ou qui relève d’une tactique militaire éprouvée : personne dans l’antiquité grecque n’aurait osé médire les Lacédémonien pour avoir mimé la fuite devant les Mèdes avant de retourner brusquement  les rangs serrés d’Hoplites pour massacrer l’ennemi approché trop près.

Il n’en demeure pas moins que le monde héroïque est solidement fondé sur la franchise, celle que la force librement déployée manifeste, la loyauté et la droiture.

Ulysse fait partie de cette catégorie de personnages, comme Nestor, à qui il a été accordé en plus de la prudence (la sagesse) l’art de la persuasion, notamment « politique ». Dans l’Odyssée, l’omniprésence des navires constitue un symbole. On sait que pour Platon, ce motif devint un exemplum philosophique. Ulysse commande, dirige, tente même des expériences lors de l’épisode des sirènes. Il n’est pas toujours obéi, loin de là. Ses compagnons sont ainsi tous tués pour avoir sacrifié les bœufs du dieu Soleil, Hélios, malgré les avis de leur chef.

Dans le chant II de l’Iliade, le futur concepteur du cheval dit « de Troie » s’adresse à des amis, non à ennemis. Une empathie virtuelle existe autour de valeurs communes, que son discours va explicitées (ces valeurs étant au demeurant partagées tout autant par les Troyens). Le résultat est atteint, car, à la fin de la harangue, « les Argiens poussent un grand cri, et les nefs, à l’entour, terriblement résonnent de la clameur des Achéens, qui applaudissent tous à l’avis du divin Ulysse », réaction populaire qui fait penser à celle produite par le discours de Marc Antoine, après l’assassinat de César, discours qui se déploie sur le même registre émotionnel.

Sur quoi insiste en substance ce discours ? D’abord sur le sentiment de honte : celle d’humilier son seigneur, d’avoir manqué à « la promesse qu’ils t’[Agamemnon] ont faite », de détruire Ilion. Celle de se comporter comme des « jeunes enfants ou des veuves » (c’est-à-dire des êtres sans grande importance dans un monde de guerriers). Le deuxième point, après la captatio benevolentiae, qui repose sur une certaine compréhension des souffrances endurées, est l’appel à la mémoire collective. L’orateur narre longuement un prodige (une mère oiseau dévorée avec ses huit petits par un serpent bientôt pétrifié par Zeus) s’étant déroulé à Aulis, interprété par le devin Calchas, qui annonçait l’issue heureuse du conflit au bout de dix ans. Muthos signifie parole, récit. Ulysse n’use pas de concepts, d’une explication (déroulement) argumentative rationnelle et serrée. Il utilise la fable (histoire), et pire pour nous, modernes sceptiques et quelque peu voltairiens, le récit d’un « miracle ». Personne ne met en doute la réalité du phénomène, parce que tous ont vu, mais aussi parce qu’un tel fait entre dans l’horizon mental et imaginaire des Grecs de cette époque (par la suite, on abordera le mythe selon deux instances : la croyance populaire, et l’instrumentalisation philosophique, allégorique, plus distanciée). Mais il n’existe pas de point de vue « laïc », dans l’Iliade. La pleine expansion de la vie s’appuie sur son amplification sacralisée dans la sphère divine. La rupture n’a pas encore eu lieu.

Le point commun de ces deux piliers que sont l’honneur et la mémoire est la fidélité : fidélité à un homme, à une parole, aux dieux qui ont fait signe. Les deux strates de réalité, celle des mortels et celle des immortels, sont inextricablement mêlées. Même si les dieux prennent parfois la distance qui est la leur, et laissent parfois entrevoir, dans leurs rires et leurs regards, une réalité cosmique extra humaine, ils prennent part aux circonstances « historiques », et les actes possèdent ainsi une signification qu’on pourrait nommer eschatologique.

Certes, un voltairien soupçonnerait volontiers Ulysse d’avoir berné, mené comme des enfants, les Achéens. Ses dons d’orateur sont ceux que les sophistes cultiveront de façon néfastes chez les rejetons de l’aristocratie athénienne. Ce sont des qualités que les Spartiates mépriseront. Les beaux parleurs ont mauvaise réputation chez les hommes d’action. Sauf quand la rhétorique est dirigée efficacement vers cette même action. Les grands généraux, César, Alexandre, Napoléon, étaient pourvus de ce talent d’entraîneurs d’hommes. Ce qui compte, c’est le résultat, l’efficacité, au demeurant, résidant aussi dans l’expression d’une volonté commune, qui confère au chef une représentativité indiscutable. Les discours rationnels, le logos pesant des arguments élaborés, froids, contrairement à ceux qui expriment violemment passions et affirmation des valeurs, sont, dans l’Iliade, presque aussi inexistants que l’argent. Ulysse ne fait que rappeler franchement le devoir. Dans une société de la honte, il n’est pas besoin de chercher la vérité. Elle est là, éclatante dans la parole déployée, comme le cœur du monde est là, devant les yeux, sous la lumière claire du Soleil.

Dans l’Iliade, on ne se voile que rarement (exception faite d’Ulysse, comme on l’a vu).

Aussi bien, finalement, l’Iliade est-elle moins un rêve qu’un tableau, d’un réalisme cru, de ce qu’était peut-être une société sans beaucoup de fards. Société qui doit beaucoup à la mentalité paysanne : les aristocrates hellènes détestaient la mer, étant des gens de la Terre (même si Homère rejette le culte de Déméter). Thalassa n’est pas un terme d’origine indo-européenne.  Le monde moderne issu de l’individualisme et du culte de l’argent ne peut comprendre combien l’horizon noble rencontre celui du peuple des champs et des montagnes. Les métaphores naturelles très nombreuses dans les deux épopées d’Homère ne sont pas présentes par hasard. Elles relèvent souvent d’un sens aiguisé de l’observation, comme on le voit chez le paysan ou le guerrier.

Reste le problème de l’utilisation du mythe dans l’action politique. Georges Sorel en avait fait un levier pour soulever et renverser le monde bourgeois.

Mais la question demeure de la nature d’un mythe qui réunirait autour de valeurs communes les contempteurs de la société moderne.

Quels sont donc actuellement les mythes assez puissants pour fédérer des groupes ou des nations autour de valeurs communes ?

Claude Bourrinet

Article printed from Europe Maxima: http://www.europemaxima.com

URL to article: http://www.europemaxima.com/?p=224

mercredi, 14 avril 2010

Forme della personalità umana nell'Ellade

Forme della personalità umana nell’Ellade

Autore: Nuccio D'Anna

Ex: http://www.centrostudilaruna.it/

leonida.jpgUno degli aspetti più caratterizzanti nello studio dell’Iliade e dell’Odissea è la scoperta delle modalità da parte di tutti i personaggi che hanno un rilievo narrativo, di “entrare” in se stessi e di dialogare non solo con gli dèi che si svelano in ogni aspetto dell’accadere umano, ma anche di scrutare i propri sentimenti, di “guardare” il vasto mondo che si muove nella vita interiore. E’ una realtà particolare, non facilmente rinvenibile in altre civiltà antiche e tale da spingere alcuni studiosi del mondo ellenico ad ipotizzare una particolare capacità percettiva, probabilmente caratterizzante l’intero popolo ellenico, tesa a dare significato al senso vivo della personalità umana che già alle origini di quella civiltà ne ha reso unica la visione del mondo.

Agli albori del mondo ellenico l’uomo rappresentato da Omero ci rivela immediatamente quello che è stato definito “il suo vigile e chiaro pensiero“, una speciale capacità di guardare il mondo in modo impersonale pur avendo consapevolezza del valore del proprio Io in quell’atto essenziale, e poi di esprimere un giudizio che tiene conto contemporaneamente della realtà esteriore, della libertà insita in ogni scelta, del fatto che ciò che ne sostanzia il significato è la persona del singolo, l’uomo libero. Per esprimere questa tendenza profondamente connaturata, gli Elleni usavano il termine εύλάβεια = “circospezione”, “cautela”, che invitava ad un atteggiamento di prudente azione, di misurato rapporto prima con gli dèi, poi con il vasto mondo, infine con la comunità degli uomini. Un atteggiamento profondamente vissuto di misurato equilibrio rendeva ogni Elleno incapace di mostrare una eccessiva espansività e dava forza ad ogni loro atto nel quale si riteneva che i sentimenti dovessero dimorare come la sostanza dell’agire umano.

E’ la tragedia greca che rivela questo aspetto particolare del vivere. Qui l’uomo è continuamente messo di fronte a se stesso, alla grandiosità di sentimenti in grado di abbracciare il vasto mondo, ad emozioni che molto spesso sembrano caricarsi di un peso insopportabile, ma che nel punto in cui il protagonista li incanala nell’alveo della tradizione e li articola nella complessa sua vita interiore, risultano essenziali per la valorizzazione di sé, diventano la base per capire il significato del mondo e lo stesso “agire” degli dèi.

Nella stessa poesia lirica i vari poeti manifestano per la prima volta un senso della propria individualità che è un segnale della vivacità intellettuale di quel tempo. Essi parlano di sé, fanno persino conoscere il proprio nome, “esistono” come persone individuabili, con aspirazioni e ideali che differenziano ognuno di loro dagli altri e li caratterizzano come individui coscienti di una personalità irripetibile. Non basta dire che la lirica greca è strettamente legata a forme poetiche pre-letterarie, forse derivate dalla tradizione compositiva scaturita dal mondo del sacro, le cui radici affondano nei canti dei danzatori sacri, nei peana che arricchivano la vita rituale dei vari santuari, oppure nelle stesse canzoni popolari e contadine “ordinate” attorno a ritmi di un mondo antichissimo, tutto un insieme tradizionale che, come ha fatto notare Louis Gernet, costituiva l’elemento fondamentale della vita rituale del primitivo mondo ellenico. Quando la poesia lirica giunge al suo momento di maturità, l’individualità del poeta è chiara, non c’è nessuna possibilità di confondere le poesie di un Alceo con quelle di Saffo, le nitide descrizioni di un Anacreonte con quanto scrivono Bacchilide, Simonide o Stesicoro. Ognuno di loro canta ciò che lo distingue dagli altri e lo rende unico, irrepetibile; il canto è il frutto di una individualità che esprime un mondo interiore e un fluire di sentimenti assolutamente “personale”. La coscienza della propria personalità e del proprio mondo interiore non solo è chiaramente affermata, ma diventa il segno distintivo capace di valorizzare ogni uomo, anche coloro che ascoltano solamente questi canti, ognuno vi ritrova aspetti fondanti della propria vita interiore. Non c’è destino o fato che possa impedire all’Elleno di attingere a questo suo pulsare interiore, dove i sentimenti, gli impulsi e i valori tradizionali sono vissuti secondo modalità irripetibili, si incontrano, danno vita alla personalità individuale, ad un essere umano “completo”.

La grande filologia dell’Ottocento riteneva che nei due grandi poemi delle origini elleniche la coscienza dell’Io fosse poco evidente, qualcuno addirittura ne negava la presenza anche se l’ira di Achille, il ruolo di Ulisse, quello di Patroclo, di Ettore e di tanti altri sembravano smentire con ogni evidenza queste affermazioni, verosimilmente scaturite da una visione evoluzionistica della vita incapace di ammettere che poemi tanto antichi contenessero già tutto ciò che i filologi positivisti ritenevano caratteristico dell’uomo razionale ed “evoluto”, insomma, “moderno”. Ma la primitiva esperienza filosofica greca, la lirica, la tragedia e la stessa commedia ci dicono che la percezione dell’Io per l’Elleno era un fattore essenziale del suo modo di vedere l’universo, di percepire la vita del cosmo, di sperimentarne i ritmi, di guardare con un occhio che andava a penetrare lo stesso significato del vasto mondo.  Da ciò la varietà di termini, tipica del vocabolario ellenico, per esprimere l’atto del “vedere”, verbi che da una percezione puramente fisica a poco a poco ci trasportano in un ambito carico di significati astratti,  poi di simboli, di valori, di spiritualità. L’Elleno classico riteneva che questo suo sentimento dell’Io doveva essere vissuto fino in fondo, percepiva una distanza incolmabile fra ciò che lo caratterizzava in modo irripetibile e gli uomini che vivevano attorno a sé e sperimentavano un identico sentimento della propria specificità. Non concepì l’Io come un limite da controllare o da sopprimere, ma come un valore fondamentale capace di rendere irripetibile la stessa esistenza, caratterizzante anche le personalità divine, persino il modo di essere degli stessi dèi olimpici.

La tragedia ci rappresenta spesso un personaggio-eroe di fronte all’enigma di  sconosciute potenze estranee alla propria vita quotidiana che vorrebbero condizionarne l’esistenza, obbligarlo a scelte non appartenenti alla sua interiorità, al suo naturale atteggiarsi come un essere libero posto di fronte al vasto mondo. In questi momenti l’Elleno attinge al suo Io che “vuole”, alla volontà di determinare la stessa esistenza, di restare fedele al destino che gli è stato assegnato, di non abbandonarsi, di esigere da sé non solo il totale controllo della propria vita, ma anche di affrontare la morte, il momento ultimo dell’esistenza, con la consapevolezza di aver vissuto l’”attimo” irripetibile che è l’essere se stessi forgiando il proprio capolavoro, la propria esistenza. Per questo la sua appartenenza alla polis, ad una comunità completa ed organica, non diminuiva il senso dell’Io, il valore assegnato ad una interiorità ricca e variegata, ma si riteneva che la persona umana e la “ricchezza” di valori che ne distingueva il modo di essere, doveva essere in grado di completarsi nella vita sociale, non di spegnersi o annegare in un  “collettivo statale”.

Questo spiccato senso dell’Io ha una particolarità: il differenziare il soggetto da  un oggetto posto fuori da chi contempla la natura con sue leggi specifiche, non assimilabili a quelle dell’uomo, comporta la capacità di interpretare le leggi di quel mondo, di enucleare una loro formulazione, di astrarre dall’esperienza unica ed irripetibile del singolo delle definizioni logico-razionali che ne dovranno fare capire il significato e le costanti valide non solo per chi ha sperimentato questa capacità, ma anche per coloro che non ne sono consapevoli e restano ai margini della sua ricchezza analitica e descrittiva. Nasce la volontà di astrarre concetti logici, e dunque leggi valide universalmente quand’anche non se ne sappia comprendere il processo costruttivo. La filosofia e la scienza ellenica, il primo risultato di questa attitudine astrattiva, presuppongono un Io che analizza, si pone come soggetto riflessivo che astrae dall’esperienza contenuti ormai spesso persino estranei all’etica e al mondo del sacro. Affiora la prima esperienza di un pensiero laico.

Nella civiltà ateniese che raggiunge il sua apogeo al tempo di Pericle, la consapevolezza del valore della libertà umana è piena e condivisa. La libertà viene considerata un valore oggettivo al quale non è assolutamente possibile rinunciare se non perdendo la propria identità di uomo. E tuttavia Pericle non teme di proclamare che il limite di questa libertà sta nelle leggi che strutturano l’ordinamento giuridico e danno definizione appropriata alla libertà civica, che indirizza ognuno ad essere non solo un uomo libero, ma un cittadino libero che assieme ad altri suoi eguali esercita il proprio diritto. Il rischio di un ordinamento politico come quello dell’Atene del V secolo era che nel punto in cui cessava di essere tutelato da una personalità eccezionale come quella di Pericle, si potevano verificare forme di sfaldamento verso un individualismo esasperato che poteva condurre non solo alla decadenza dello stato, ma al suo diventare preda di avventurieri affascinanti. E’ quello che accadde alla morte di Pericle nella temperie particolare succeduta alla fine delle guerre peloponnesiache, la “guerra civile” del mondo ellenico che condusse gradatamente alla perdita della libertà e alla sottomissione all’impero macedone.

La consapevolezza del valore dell’individualità umana, il dovere di agire secondo coscienza e in piena libertà, non porta l’Elleno a staccarsi dai valori religiosi che ne sostanziano l’esistenza e nel quotidiano arricchiscono la sua vita comunitaria, i ritmi della convivenza cittadina. Quella “legge divina” il cui valore fu potentemente tratteggiato nelle tragedie di Eschilo, attraversa ogni aspetto della vita del singolo e della comunità cittadina (“tutte le leggi umane traggono nutrimento dall’unica legge divina”, egli ci dice), e non c’è abitante della Grecia arcaica, dal più umile dei contadini al più arrogante dei governanti che non ne sia stato consapevole.

Anche se i Sofisti cercarono con i mezzi della dialettica e con una parola onnipervadente di fare sperimentare una diversa dimensione dell’Io completamente staccata dai valori tradizionali; anche se molti membri dell’élite nobiliare ateniese pensarono di aderire a questa nuova realtà capace di svincolare l’Io da ogni legame rituale, di appartenenza o di eredità, la gran parte degli Elleni non si riconobbe in questa nuova predicazione che commisurava ogni cosa alla capacità di persuadere con la parola, di ammaliare, di rendere non significante ogni valore, il vivere individuale e la stessa comunità cittadina tutta. In un’epoca nella quale sembrava trionfare la ricchezza e il potere, Socrate volle ricordare che i valori reali non stavano nell’apparenza e nell’arbitrio individuale, ma nel valore che l’uomo assegnava a se stesso. Socrate valorizza il sentimento dell’Io in rapporto all’interiorità umana, alla ricchezza che riteneva di trovare nell’animo umano e alla possibilità di scoprire il Bene come un elemento essenziale e assolutamente primario nella vita dei singoli e della realtà comunitaria. Certo, il suo insistere nel dialogo con tutti per cercare quella che sembrava l’irraggiungibile verità, poteva farlo sembrare simile ai Sofisti, apparentarlo al loro modo di essere, alla loro sfrenata dialettica, e Aristofane non mancò di ridicolizzare questi aspetti del metodo educativo di Socrate. E tuttavia la sua ricerca ha un fine, mira a stabilire una precisa condizione interiore dell’uomo, a fare emergere una certezza nella quale il Bene si identifica con la coscienza dell’uomo retto. E’ una scoperta dalle conseguenze importanti che Platone non mancherà di sviluppare. Il giusto non può più sottrarsi alla verità che affiora nella propria anima, una verità che vive della certezza di azioni pure e rette, si alimenta nel rispetto della propria interiorità, si nutre di una giustizia non più delegata alle istituzioni, ma resa viva da una vita vissuta come conformità al Vero e al Bene. La grandezza della morte di Socrate, il Giusto che affronta il proprio destino pur nella consapevolezza della sentenza ingiusta decretata da un tribunale ostile e di parte, conclude una vita vissuta secondo giustizia e senza tentennamenti: l’ingiustizia (=la fuga dalla prigione preparata dai suoi discepoli) non può sostituire l’altra ingiustizia, quella che hanno orchestrato i suoi nemici condannandolo a morte. Socrate dimostra con la propria morte accettata consapevolmente e con virilità, che il rispetto delle leggi della patria non deve ridursi ad un atto esteriore “obbligato” dalla forza dello stato, ma è un “modo di essere” scaturente da una forma interiore, dalla consapevolezza che il Giusto coincide con il Bene e dimora nell’animo dell’”uomo nobile”. La legge non è una norma empirica creata per regolamentare una astratta comunità, ma è la “forma formante” della vita degli uomini liberi. L’uomo che vive della propria ricchezza interiore, si nutre di un’etica capace di rendere la vita degna di essere vissuta, non può eludere il richiamo della giustizia. Anche quando ogni cosa parrebbe giustificare la trasgressione e gli altri uomini approverebbero.

E tuttavia, per quanto attento al valore della persona, alla ricchezza dell’interiorità umana, alla consapevolezza che ogni uomo vive in rapporto con una comunità cittadina, in Socrate non troviamo una compiuta dottrina dello Stato e dei rapporti fra i cittadini. Pur nella viva e straordinaria attenzione al senso della comunità e al valore delle leggi comunitarie che l’uomo libero ha scelto, non c’è in Socrate una dottrina dello Stato, almeno non ne è rimasta traccia nelle testimonianze arrivate fino a noi. La sua attenzione al Bene come valore essenziale che giustifica il significato dell’esistenza umana, non si traduce in una riflessione compiuta sul “bene comune”, sulla società e le sue istituzioni.

L’arcaica società ellenica era arrivata alle forme di vita nella polis dopo un lungo processo che aveva trasformato antichissime tradizioni cui erano legati tutti i popoli dell’Ellade. Al centro della vita familiare troviamo il padre che nell’età arcaica copriva aspetti pontificali connessi alla sua funzione di sacerdote domestico. La madre, invece, era la garante della perpetuità del recinto familiare, del prolungamento nel tempo della famiglia, non una somma di individui legati da sentimenti, ma un tipo particolare di confraternita sacra diretta dal capo-famiglia che ne officiava i riti ancestrali conservati con cura e gelosamente custoditi e trasmessi da padre in figlio. Più all’esterno c’era il genos, costituito da tutti i “rami” che praticavano lo stesso rituale e spesso si riunivano attorno ad una tomba-ara gentilizia. La tribù riuniva una serie di genos attorno ad un culto unitario che veniva celebrato da tutti i membri nell’anniversario dell‘eroe eponimo. Quando le tribù elleniche cominciarono ad urbanizzarsi è evidente che tali ordinamenti poggianti su strutture gentilizie e familiari, non potevano più reggere e fu necessario un riadattamento sfociato in quella particolare struttura sociale da Aristotele definita il governo dei “liberi governati”.

Hoplites.jpgLa prospettiva politica di Aristotele muove dalla constatazione che l’organizzazione statale è la condizione stessa del vivere civile. E’ all’interno della polis che l’uomo può soddisfare non soltanto i suoi bisogni materiali, ma anche quelli morali solo che riesca ad equilibrare la libertà della comunità cittadina con la norma o costituzione che regola la vita civile, realizzando la concordia fra i membri dello stato, concordia che permette la partecipazione di “diritto” e di “giustizia” alla vita pubblica. Aristotele non fa altro che teorizzare la vita cittadina nella sua dimensione etica, analizzando oggettivamente una realtà politica ritenuta ormai “normale”. Nella vita comunitaria l’uomo può adempiere a funzioni altrove impossibili; solo nella realtà sociale si concretizza interamente una armonica maturazione della persona umana; solo in rapporto agli altri è possibile commisurare la grandezza di un essere libero. E’ questa dimensione che rende “vera” la celebre definizione di Aristotele secondo cui “l’uomo è un animale sociale”, nella sua interezza concepibile solo in rapporto agli altri uomini e alle istituzioni datesi liberamente da tutti i cittadini. Si tratta di una prospettiva particolare, che in sè rappresenta una novità rispetto ad altre elaborazioni di tipo politico che i vari pensatori greci non avevano mancato di elaborare. Si pensi a questo proposito a Platone e ai fondamenti dello stato da lui delineati, alle tre “classi sociali” che sostanziano il suo ideale di uno stato armonico, un ideale che G. Dumézil ha ritrovato in tutte le civiltà derivate dalla preistoria indoeuropea. Si pensi a questo proposito ai vari legislatori ellenici che in età arcaica, al sorgere delle città, ne hanno dettato i fondamenti giuridici e hanno costituito molto spesso l’elemento fondante delle molte colonie nate dalle ondate migratorie condotte all’insegna della spiritualità apollinea.

C’è in Platone una preminenza dello stato rispetto ai cittadini giustificata nella prospettiva dello “stato ideale”, di un ordinamento ideale che si ritiene possa essere il solo a conservare l’eredità più antica dell’Ellade, agli occhi di Platone l’unico in grado di garantire l’equilibrio del corpo sociale. Nelle sue tre opere politiche, la Repubblica, Le Leggi e il Politico, lo stato è la “forma” capace di dare ordine ad una sostanza=demos che lasciata a se stessa rischia di restare amorfa poichè in sé contiene elementi di dispersione e di disordine che impediscono ogni pur piccolo tentativo di erigere una società ordinata. E’ anche per questo motivo che lo stato ideale di Platone diviso nelle sue tre “classi sociali”, non fa che riflettere le tre “potenze dell’anima” che costituiscono il complesso della vita interiore di ogni uomo retto. L’ordinamento dello stato ideale, quello che probabilmente doveva attualizzare sul piano filosofico una arcaica consuetudine un tempo ben viva presso tutti i popoli indoeuropei, oggettiva l’armonia che regge la vita dell’uomo arcaico, un “corpo sociale” capace sul proprio piano di riprodurre la gerarchia delle “potenze” che ritmano la vita interiore dell’organismo umano.

La prospettiva delle Leggi è diversa. Platone qui sembra più attento a dare indicazioni perché si formi uno stato che nella realtà delle condizioni decadenti della Grecia del suo tempo possa adempiere alla sua funzione formativa, uno stato capace hic et nunc di enucleare le leggi e gli ordinamenti che devono essere come la “spina dorsale” di un corpo vivo il cui compito continua ad essere quello di dare “forma” all’informe. Proprio per queste ragioni qui è possibile trovare alcuni cenni a tradizioni antichissime nelle quali predominavano aspetti iniziatici che intendevano trasformare il giovane in un guerriero pienamente integrato nella propria comunità. A questo proposito è forse utile fare un cenno a Sparta e alla sua struttura cittadina per le oggettive similitudini che è possibile rinvenire con alcuni aspetti delle dottrine platoniche. L’ordinamento elaborato da Licurgo, che si incentrava sulla supremazia degli Spartiati e sulla selezione più rigorosa per ottenere un’élite dirigente presso la quale le caratteristiche guerriere dovevano essere assolutamente predominanti, non era altro che il tentativo di perpetuare in una società urbanizzata, strutture iniziatiche appartenenti al passato guerriero delle tribù doriche che in un’epoca ormai confinata nel mito avevano invaso il Peloponneso. Non si tratta solo della rigida educazione guerriera che, d’altronde, anche le altre città elleniche possedevano e aveva formato quei magnifici combattenti che avevano fermato l’assalto dei Persiani salvando la civiltà ellenica. Il fondamento statale spartano restava il rigido senso della comunità, la preminenza data allo stato e alla patria, la consapevolezza che la libertà del singolo non significava nulla fuori di quel contesto comunitario, il senso della custodia di valori antichissimi trasmessi mediante metodi educativi i quali, quanto ai fini, in parte è possibile trovare anche in altre aree culturali.

La prospettiva di Aristotele, questo straordinario discepolo sostanzialmente “infedele” di Platone, tuttavia è cambiata. Al centro della sua riflessione non c’è più lo stato, il genos, la fratrìa o le arcaiche famiglie con i loro culti e i loro rituali ancestrali. Lo stesso stato acquista un rilievo particolare, perde la sua preminenza sulla società e diventa l’elemento di coesione e di identità della comunità cittadina. Al centro ora troviamo il cittadino di una città che molto spesso ha eliminato tutte le tracce degli ordinamenti antichi e che non intende più ordinarsi attorno alle tradizioni custodite dalle famiglie patrizie. E’ un rivolgimento che rende molto diversa la prospettiva aristotelica e giustifica la sua attenzione al cittadino senza radici di una città cosmopolita e tesa ad aperture verso mondi nuovi che necessariamente in antico non era possibile neanche concepire. Il cittadino deve esplicare la sua libertà individuale nell’ambito di ordinamenti liberamente accettati e condivisi, deve vivere una vita sociale che è come il segno distintivo della sua ricchezza creativa, deve concorrere ad ordinare il mondo circostante e i suoi concittadini con piena aderenza allo spirito e alla lettera delle leggi, ormai diventate la vera  “ossatura” dello stato, alle quali egli stesso ha concorso.

Secondo Aristotele l’unità dello stato e la concordia dei cittadini, ossia l’equilibrio dell’organismo che egli ha in vista, non può essere conservata a lungo se le famiglie e i gruppi sociali sono economicamente dipendenti, se vige un sistema economico incapace di garantire l’autonoma esistenza dei vari corpi sociali e dei singoli cittadini. L’enucleazione del principio della proprietà privata come elemento assolutamente indispensabile per il libero esercizio della libertà individuale è uno degli elementi che danno alla dottrina aristotelica dello stato quei caratteri di “modernità” che da sempre ne hanno reso importante lo studio e la riflessione. I proprietari, sostiene Aristotele, proprio per la loro attività amministrativa, sono abituati a rispettare il diritto, a chiedere che le leggi abbiano una definizione chiara e non discussa, a decidere autonomamente e liberamente l’utile per se stessi e per la comunità cittadina tutta. L’attenzione aristotelica per questi aspetti della libera espressione della personalità umana, in sé una forma di “allargamento” e di consolidamento dello spazio di libertà individuale, si potrebbe definire come una prima delineazione di forme di sussidiarietà che solo le moderne encicliche papali hanno sviluppato in modo consequenziale.

E tuttavia il cittadino-proprietario che intende rimanere estraneo alla vita politica della propria città non può far parte del sistema politico che Aristotele ha in mente. Il cittadino deve partecipare delle decisioni politiche, il suo contributo alla vita comunitaria costituisce uno dei momenti essenziali della sua stessa vita di uomo libero, ne contrassegna il modo di essere e alcune delle stesse finalità esistenziali. L’ideale pan-ellenico del “governo dei governati” non può realizzarsi se non nel presupposto di un cittadino libero che esprime il proprio punto di vista, partecipa alla vita sociale e concorre alle decisioni dello stato. L’assunzione di responsabilità è insita in questa condizione di libertà individuale. Non potrebbe esserci per Aristotele un governo rappresentativo al quale delegare la vita legislativa. Non c’è delega che il cittadino della polis possa accettare, egli deve concorrere liberamente alla formazione delle leggi, ne deve vedere i risvolti, persino convincere gli altri di eventuali errori: il dialogo sociale è la forma della partecipazione diretta in un organismo che ha eretto al centro della propria esistenza un sistema di valori da tutti condivisi.

Nuccio D'Anna

jeudi, 10 décembre 2009

Mit Latein und Altgriechisch unsere Kultur verstehen: Ein

Mit Latein und Altgriechisch unsere Kultur verstehen: Ein Plädoyer für die alten Sprachen

Geschrieben von: Marco Reese   

Ex: http://www.blauenarzisse.de/


Englisch ist die Weltsprache. Das kann man nicht bestreiten. Chinesisch, aber auch Spanisch, Französisch und Russisch haben weltweit eine große Bedeutung. Die deutsche Sprache steht hintan. Um jedoch unsere deutsche und abendländische Kultur wirklich begreifen zu können, müssen wir viele Jahrhunderte in die Vergangenheit reisen: Unser Erbe beruht auf dem Griechischen und dem Latein.

Das Abendland ist eine „Synthese des griechischen, römischen und christlichen Geistes“

Wir haben einen größeren, einen abendländischen oder europäischen Zusammenhang vorliegen. National- und Regionalgeschichte sind darin einzuordnen. Auf dieser Ebene sind die europäischen Völker elementar miteinander verbunden. Das Abendland oder auch Europa stellt eine geschichtlich gewachsene Synthese dar, eine „Synthese des griechischen, römischen und christlichen Geistes“ (Konstantin Karamanlis). Man könnte noch germanische, keltische und slawische Wurzeln ergänzen. Den Wesenskern hat Karamanlis aber bereits berührt.

Die Synthese erstreckt sich von den griechischen Epen Homers über die ebenfalls griechischen Werke Platons und des Aristoteles, die „Septuaginta“, die griechische Übersetzung des Alten Testaments und die hellenistische Literatur. Dazu tritt die im eigentlichen Sinne römische Literatur: exemplarisch seien hier Cato der Ältere, Caesar, Cicero, Sallust, Vergil, Livius, Seneca und Tacitus genannt. Schließlich ergänzen das griechische Neue Testament, lateinische und griechische Kirchenväter sowie die Werke der Neuplatoniker diese Liste.

So viel zur Antike. Die alten Sprachen jedoch bleiben von Bedeutung: Das heutige Griechisch entwickelte sich linear aus dem früheren. Währenddessen entstanden aus dem spätantiken Latein einerseits die romanischen Sprachen, vor allem Französisch, Italienisch, Spanisch, Portugiesisch und auch Rumänisch.

Außerdem wurde das eigentliche Latein zur Gelehrtensprache des entstehenden christlichen Abendlandes. Auch dieses Latein war einem Wandel unterworfen, allerdings einem sehr langsamen, da es nicht Muttersprache war. Vielmehr war es die Sprache der Kirche, der Wissenschaft und der Diplomatie. So stellte es neben dem Christentum ein einigendes Band Europas dar, ohne daß der innereuropäischen Vielfalt damit Abbruch getan worden wäre.

In der Renaissance beschäftigte man sich verstärkt mit der Antike

Im 15. und 16. Jahrhundert widmeten sich Gelehrte wiederum stärker antiken lateinischen wie auch griechischen Autoren und Inhalten. Wir befinden uns in der Renaissance. Die Rezeption zumindest der lateinischen Werke der Antike war allerdings im Mittelalter nie ganz abgerissen. Zudem beschäftigte sich die Theologie ab dem 12. Jahrhundert auch mit Aristoteles. Hier lag eine Anregung durch orientalische Denkrichtungen vor, welche die griechische Philosophie rezipierten.

Ab dem 16. Jahrhundert setzte eine weitere Emanzipation der Nationalsprachen ein. Für die deutsche Sprache ist freilich Luthers Bibelübersetzung zu berücksichtigen. Währenddessen blieb allerdings Latein nicht nur Liturgie- und Verkehrssprache der katholischen Kirche, sondern lange Zeit vorrangige Sprache der Wissenschaften. In der Diplomatie stieg während des Barock das Französische auf. Freilich hat sich dies längst geändert, aber noch heute sind in Deutschland Dissertationen und Habilitationen auch in lateinischer Sprache zugelassen.

Gründe genug also, die lateinische und griechische Sprache als elementares Erbe Europas zu betrachten. Freilich sollte dazu eine entsprechende Beachtung im Schulwesen gehören. Zwar ist nicht gerade ein Untergang des altsprachlichen Unterrichts zu befürchten. Aber er wird heute viel weniger beachtet als noch vor einigen Jahrzehnten. Da altsprachlicher Unterricht als „elitär“ gilt, paßt er nicht so recht in eine geschichtslose, praktisch-materialistische Zeit, in der oft nur nach dem Gesichtspunkt der Nützlichkeit und Verwertbarkeit geurteilt wird.

Dabei öffnen einem die alten Sprachen einen ganzen Reigen an Erkenntnissen. Nicht nur schult die Beschäftigung mit diesen beiden Sprachen das analytische Vermögen. Die Kenntnis der lateinischen Sprache erleichtert zudem das Erlernen heutiger romanischer Sprachen. Auch der Wortschatz des Englischen ist lateinisch geprägt – wie auch zahlreiche Fachausdrücke diverser Wissenschaftsbereiche lateinischer wie griechischer Abkunft sind.

Latein und Altgriechisch lehren uns unsere kulturellen Hintergründe

Viel bedeutender aber ist, daß Latein und Altgriechisch in geschichtliche Hintergründe einführen, die für das Verständnis unserer Kultur unerläßlich sind. Josef Kraus, Vorsitzender des Deutschen Lehrerverbandes, riet 1998 zur Stärkung des Fremdsprachenunterrichts, bemerkte jedoch: „Dazu gehört auch eine Stärkung des Lateinischen, das eine Brücke zu einer europäischen Mehrsprachigkeit bietet.“

Es ist daher zu begrüßen, wenn beispielsweise im Freistaat Thüringen der Lateinunterricht nun bereits ab dem fünften Schuljahr erteilt werden kann. Zwar ist dem Lateinischen aufgrund des Geschilderten weiterhin der Vorrang gegenüber dem Altgriechischen einzuräumen. Dennoch sollte Altgriechisch wieder verstärkt an Schulen und sei es in Form von AGs angeboten werden. Diese schöne Sprache ist leider viel zu selten geworden.

Es sollte auch die Fähigkeit, ins Lateinische und Altgriechische zu übersetzen, im Unterricht wieder stärker gefördert werden. Dadurch beherrschen Schüler die Sprachen nachweisbar besser. Wenn die alten Sprachen erst einmal wieder auf einer gesunden Basis stehen, kann man über eine Ausweitung nachdenken.

Will Europa als Ganzheit eine gemeinsame Zukunft haben, so muß es sich auf das gemeinsame Erbe besinnen. Dazu gehören die lateinische und griechische Sprache, Literatur und das Denken unterschiedlicher Zeiten. Das Bildungswesen muß diesen Sachverhalt ernstnehmen.

vendredi, 21 novembre 2008

Savitri Devi: Hellénisme et hindouisme, la grande aventure


Savitri Devi:

Hellénisme et hindouisme, la grande aventure

par Jean Mabire

Le goût très moderne pour le scandale et l’étrange peut parfois transfigurer les aventures intellectuelles les plus captivantes en trompeuse pâture médiatique. C'est ainsi que le livre de Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, Hitler’s priestess, récemment traduit en français sous l’étiquette La prêtresse d’Hitler, risque d'attirer les amateurs d’ésotérisme de pacotille en dissimulant l’itinéraire absolument passionnant de cette Grecque, née en France, qui devait découvrir aux Indes le point d'ancrage d’une singulière croyance politico-religieuse.

Personne ne connaissait cette femme, auteur d’une vingtaine de livres, où un authentique chef-d’œuvre, L’Etang aux lotus, témoignage d’une fort poétique conversion, voisinait avec un portrait fabuleux du pharaon Akhenaton, fils du soleil s’il en fut, et des pamphlets d’une rare violence publiés après la guerre en éditions semi-clandestines.

Celle qui se faisait appeler Savitri Devi et épousa le militant nationaliste hindou Asit Krishna Mukherji devait, sur la fin de sa vie, fréquenter les milieux les plus extrémistes d’Europe et d’Amérique où elle passa pour une sorte d’illuminée.

Les chemins intellectuellement et spirituellement les plus insolites comme les plus dangereux qu’elle fréquenta par passion tout autant que par devoir, ne peuvent faire oublier les longues années où elle rechercha, toujours sincère, une sorte de foi indo-européenne exaltée, dont elle fut, plus qu’une prêtresse, un véritable « gourou », à la fois oriental et « polaire ».

L’hérédité est là. Implacable. Celle qui se fera un jour appeler Savitri Devi est née le 30 septembre 1905, dans le Rhône, d’une mère originaire de Cornouaille britannique nommée Nash et d'un père moitié italien de Londres [Lombardy—ed.] et moitié grec de Lyon, qui portait le nom de Portas. L’enfant reçoit le prénom de Maximiani, forme féminine hellénique de Maximien. En remontant fort loin dans le temps, elle pouvait se dire « nordique », Jutlandaise du côté maternel et Lombarde du côté paternel.

Elle était aussi « Barbare », influencée par les poèmes de Charles Leconte de Lisle, le dieu littéraire de sa jeunesse.

Curieusement, sa germanophilie remonte à un premier séjour en Grèce, où elle rêvait des Doriens sur les ruines de l’Acropole d'Athènes. De retour en France, elle devait acquérir la nationalité hellénique en 1928 par une démarche au consulat grec de Lyon, sa ville natale. De solides études la conduisent à un double doctorat en 1935, avec un essai critique sur son lointain compatriote Théophile Kaïris, poète et patriote, éveilleur du nationalisme hellénique, et une thèse sur La simplicité mathématique.

C’est tout à la fois une littéraire, une scientifique et surtout une passionnée aux élans fort romantiques. De son enthousiasme pour la Grèce, elle tire un engouement pour l’aventure indo-européenne qui la conduira en Inde, où elle découvre l'immense richesse d’une culture païenne pré-chrétienne.

Elle se veut désormais citoyenne de l’Âryâvarta, nom traditionnel des territoires aryens de l’Asie du Sud où elle va rechercher « les dieux et les rites voisins de ceux de la Grèce antique, de la Rome antique et de la Germanie antique, que les gens de notre race ont possédés, avec le culte du Soleil, il y a six mille ans, et auxquels des millions d’êtres vivants de toutes les races restent attachés ».

Au printemps 1932, à 27 ans, elle accomplit ce que Lanza del Vasto nommera un jour « le pèlerinage aux sources ».

Elle n’est pas une touriste mais une croyante. Elle va rapidement apprendre les langues du pays, l’hindî et le bengali, et vivre dans l’âshram de Rabîndranâth Tagore à Shantiniketan, dans le Bengale. Elle part ensuite comme professeur dans un collège non loin de Delhi, où elle enseigne l’histoire.

Maximiani Portas prend alors le nom de Savitri Devi, en l’honneur de la divinité solaire féminine.

En 1940, elle fait paraître à Calcutta son premier livre, L’Etang aux lotus, où elle raconte dans un style très lyrique sa « conversion » à l’hindouisme, à la fin des années trente. Ce livre, publié en français, est à la fois récit de voyage et longue quête spirituelle d’une jeune femme qui va désormais vivre illuminée par une foi qui ne la quittera plus jamais :

« Si j’avais à me choisir une devise, je prendrais celle-ci : Pure, dure, sûre, en d’autres termes :  inaltérable. J’exprimerais par là l’idéal des Forts, de ceux que rien n’abat, que rien ne corrompt, que rien ne fait changer ; de ceux sur qui on peut compter, parce que leur vie est ordre et fidélité, à l’unisson avec l’éternel. »

Dès la fin de 1936, elle s’est fixée à Calcutta, où elle enseigne à ses nouveaux « compatriotes » l’hindouisme, « gardien de l’héritage aryen et védique depuis des siècles, essence même de l’Inde ».

Tout naturellement, sa vision religieuse est aussi une vision politique et elle s’implique totalement dans le nationalisme hindou et notamment dans le mouvement de D.V. Savarkar. L’Inde n'est pas seulement une patrie, une future nation, c’est aussi une véritable Terre Sainte, celle des Védas, des dieux et des héros.

Elle écrit, cette fois en anglais : A Warning to the Hindus, où elle critique les influences chrétiennes et musulmanes, dans une optique à la fois païenne et anticolonialiste. Elle épouse alors Asit Krishna Mukherji, un éditeur hindou, assez anti-britannique pour s’affirmer pro-germanique.

Du combat culturel et religieux, elle passe, sous son influence, à la lutte clandestine dans le sillage du chef nationaliste Subhas Chandra Bose, qui rêve d’une armée capable de libérer les Indes, avec l’aide des Allemands et des Japonais.

Savitri Devi, devenue militante, n’en poursuit pas moins sa grande quête spirituelle. Elle se passionne alors pour le pharaon égyptien Akhenaton, époux de la reine Néfertiti et fondateur d’une religion solaire vieille de 3.300 ans.

Son penchant pour ce souverain, qu’elle nomme « fils de Dieu », se double d’un véritable culte de la Nature qui la conduit à prendre la défense des animaux dans son livre Impeachment of Man, critique radicale de l’anthropocentrisme.

Le livre paraît en 1945. Elle vient d’avoir 40 ans et décide de partir en Europe, où elle veut voir ce que devient l'Allemagne de la défaite. Elle séjourne d’abord à Londres et à Lyon. Puis elle se rend dans les ruines du IIIe Reich. Elle affirme vivre alors dans le « Kali-Yuga », l’Age de Fer, d’où repartira un nouveau cycle : Ages d’Or, d’Argent et de Bronze.

Elle défend la théorie des trois types d’Hommes : les Hommes dans le Temps, les Hommes au-dessus du Temps et les Hommes contre le Temps. Elle s’exalte de plus en plus et considère désormais Hitler comme un « avatar », une réincarnation des héros indiens de la Bhagavad Gîtâ !

Ses propos et ses brochures lui vaudront d’être emprisonnée à Werl par les autorités de la zone d’occupation britannique qui l’accusent de néo-nazisme.

Libérée en 1949, elle va désormais se partager entre l’Inde, l’Europe et l’Amérique, écrivant des pamphlets politico-religieux d’une rare violence : Défiance (1950), Gold in the Furnace (1953), Pilgrimage (1958), The Lightning and the Sun (1958).

Tandis que ses livres paraissent à Calcutta, elle parcourt le monde au hasard de ses obsessions et de ses amitiés, rencontrant, sans discernement, quelques rescapés de l’aventure hitlérienne et bon nombre de néo-nazis, souvent parmi les plus folkloriques.

Elle vit chichement de son métier d’institutrice et fera plusieurs séjours dans des asiles de vieillards indigents, alors qu’elle est devenue presque aveugle. Elle meurt chez une amie, dans un petit village anglais de l’Essex, le 22 octobre 1982, à l’âge de 77 ans.

Si le livre, assez hostile, que lui a consacré Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke la qualifie de « prêtresse d’Hitler », il aurait peut-être été plus juste de la présenter comme « prophétesse du New Age et de l’écologie profonde »

Publié dans la série de Jean Mabire, « Que lire ? », volume 7, 2003.