May 21, 2019

1. Jaeger on Ancient Greece: Homer

I’d like to continue my discussion of Werner Jaeger’s Paideia: The Ideals of Greek Culture. Jaeger suggests that we use the word “education” to mean training — learning to read, learning math, etc. He suggests that we use the word “culture” to mean something more — aspiring toward “an ideal of man as he ought to be.... Culture is shown in the whole man — both in his external appearance and conduct, and in his inner nature.”1 In England, this was the ideal of the “gentleman,” in Greece the term kalos kagathos was used. In both England and Greece, this was the ideal of the nobility, but when the middle class rose to power, it became a universal ideal.

Culture begins in the nobility. “The nobility is the prime mover in forming a nation’s culture.... Culture is simply the aristocratic ideal of a nation, increasingly intellectualized.”2 Can culture survive in a time like ours, when there’s neither a nobility nor a lingering respect for the nobility?

Jaeger discusses the concept of areté — excellence, courtly behavior, strength/courage. “The idea of areté is the quintessence of early Greek aristocratic education.” In the early books of Homer, Jaeger says, areté means “the strength and skill of a warrior or athlete.” In later books, Homer occasionally applies the term to “moral or spiritual qualities.”3 “It was natural that, in the warlike age of the great migrations, men should be valued chiefly for their prowess in battle: there are analogies for this in other countries.”

Jaeger also discusses the concept of aidos — the reverence or shame that keeps you within the bounds of right conduct. If aidos is flouted, a feeling of nemesis is aroused in others. “Both aidos and nemesis are essential parts of Homer’s ideal of aristocracy.” The nobleman isn’t he who does what he wants, the nobleman is he who is bound by a sense of duty, by aidos.

The aristocrats are continually competing with each other, trying to prove their areté, striving for victory in war and sport. “The hero’s whole life and effort are a race for the first prize, an unceasing strife for supremacy over his peers.”4 Be the best. Excel all others. “This motto, which teachers of all ages have quoted to their pupils, modern educational ‘levellers’ have now, for the first time, abandoned.”

In my view, striving to be the best, and win first prize, is a recipe for stress. Better to aim at personal growth, at balance and wholeness. This doesn’t mean, however, that we’re satisfied with mediocrity. If one has an ideal, one is naturally inclined to make one’s best effort. Imagine you’re a pianist. Wouldn’t you want to make your best effort out of love for the music, as well as love for first prize?

Jaeger says that the reward of areté is honor. The Greek hunger for honor is evident in the names they gave their children; many Greek names end in “cles” (kleos = honor, fame). “Pericles” means “widespread fame”; Themistocles, Sophocles, and Damocles are also derived from kleos.5

In Homer’s day, your worth was measured by the opinion of your society, by the praise/blame of the people around you, by your honor. In Aristotle’s day, “the philosophic man... could dispense with such external recognition, although (as Aristotle says) he might not be entirely indifferent to it.” In general, the early Greeks, like other early peoples, were judged by society, not by conscience. “Nowadays we must find it difficult to imagine how entirely public was the conscience of a Greek. (In fact, the early Greeks never conceived anything like the personal conscience of modern times.)”6

Honor lives on after death, the hero’s glory lives on “in that very ideal of his areté which accompanied and directed him throughout his life.” After his death, the hero is remembered on the “scroll of honor” that motivated him when he was alive. Even the gods seek honor, and “jealously avenge any infringement of it.”

The greatest tragedy is to deserve honor but not receive it. This is the tragedy of Achilles in the Iliad. “A preeminent areté has been denied its honor.” Agamemnon has taken Achilles’ battle prize, a girl named Briseis. Achilles’ comrades can’t appeal to his patriotism; “patriotism is strange to the old aristocratic world.” So Achilles sits out, and broods on his offended honor, and hopes that the Greeks are defeated.

Meanwhile, his mother, Thetis, pleads his case to Zeus:

“Honor my son, who must die sooner than all others. Agamemnon has robbed him of his honor; do you honor him, Olympian!” And the highest of the gods is gracious to Achilles, by allowing the Achaeans, deprived of his help, to be defeated; so that they see how unjustly they have acted in cheating their greatest hero of his honor.

Another Greek hero, Ajax, is also deprived of the honor due him. Among the Greek warriors, Ajax is second only to Achilles. When Achilles dies, Ajax and Odysseus both plead for his armor. The wily Odysseus persuades the Greeks to give him Achilles’ armor. Ajax is furious, broods on his offended honor, and in a fit of madness, kills a flock of sheep. Dripping with blood and doubly disgraced, he falls on his own sword.

The pursuit of areté and honor inspired not only Homer’s heroes, but also later Greeks like Plato and Aristotle. “In many details, the ethical doctrines of Plato and Aristotle were founded on the aristocratic morality of early Greece.” Like their ancestors, Plato and Aristotle advocated the pursuit of the noble, the beautiful, the heroic, even if that pursuit ended in death.

Aristotle praises the megalo-psychos — the proud or high-minded man. Aristotle “admires self-love, just as he prizes high-mindedness and the desire for honor, because his philosophy is deeply rooted in the old aristocratic code of morality.” This self-love is love of one’s ideal, it drives one to strive for areté, to achieve the beautiful, even at the expense of one’s life. The great-souled man, according to Aristotle, is “he who thinks himself worthy of great things and really is.”7

And what does Aristotle regard as beautiful, noble?

He was thinking chiefly of acts of moral heroism. A man who loves himself will (he thought) always be ready to sacrifice himself for his friends or his country, to abandon possessions and honors in order to [achieve the beautiful].

For Aristotle, “the utmost sacrifice to an ideal is a proof of a highly developed self-love.” Achilles was a great-souled man (megalo-psychos) because he was prepared to sacrifice his life for a heroic ideal, he was prepared to confront Hector, who had slain his friend Patroclus, though he knew that confronting Hector would ultimately lead to his own death. Achilles made a “deliberate choice of a great deed at the cost of his own life.”

Plato says that a culture-hero resembles a Homeric hero, a culture-hero is willing to sacrifice his life for his ideal.

The speech of Diotima in Plato’s Symposium draws a parallel between the struggles of law-giver and poet to build their spiritual monuments, and the willingness of the great heroes of antiquity to sacrifice their all and to bear hardship, struggle, and death, in order to win the prize of imperishable fame.8

One thinks of Proust telling his maid, “Last night I wrote ‘The End.’ Now I can die.”

So the old ideals of the aristocrat, the warrior, the Homeric hero, survived and evolved, and can still be traced in the work of Plato and Aristotle.

Aristotle himself wrote a hymn to the immortal areté of his friend Hermias... who died to keep faith with his philosophical and moral ideals; and in that hymn he expressly connects his own philosophical conception of areté with that found in Homer, and with its Homeric ideals Achilles and Ajax. And it is clear that many features in his description of self-love are drawn from the character of Achilles. The Homeric poems and the great Athenian philosophers are bound together by the continuing life of the old Hellenic ideal of areté.

Since we live in the age of the suicide bomber, we have a different view of dying-for-an-ideal than Aristotle had. We’re inclined to advocate living for an ideal, rather than dying for an ideal. In general, however, I think that these Greek ideals are still fresh, still applicable. It still makes sense to pursue a high ideal, take pride in that pursuit, and even risk one’s life in that pursuit.

2. A Pillar of the Community

If you hire a lawyer for a specific task, such as a trust or a will, you may pay a fixed price, and you may feel that you’ve gotten a fair deal. But if you hire a lawyer for an open-ended project, such as a dispute with a neighbor, then the lawyer can charge you whatever he wants, and he’s going to want a lot. You may think that your neighbor has injured you by stealing your land, but eventually you’ll realize that the greatest injury your neighbor has inflicted on you was exposing you to the rapacity of your own lawyer. In many ways, your lawyer is a more dangerous enemy than a land-thief.

An inexperienced person thinks that his lawyer will charge him for the hours he works, and those hours are determined by the client’s needs. In fact, your lawyer will try to gauge how much money you have to spend, then create invoices for that amount. Your lawyer’s goal is not to meet your needs, but rather to take your money. He will invent projects that don’t benefit you, and inflate the hours that he works; two hours worked will become three or four hours billed — or more.

Though your lawyer doesn’t know your financial situation, he can feel how much “paying power” you have. Likewise, you don’t know how many hours your lawyer is working for you, but you can feel whether his prices are fair. My father was a salesman for more than fifty years. I once heard him say, “The customer can feel when he’s being charged a high price.”

If you hire a carpenter, he may try to make as much money as possible. But if you dispute his invoice, he may need to take you to court to collect, and he isn’t comfortable going to court, so you have some leverage in a dispute with a carpenter. With a lawyer, things are different: court is his “home turf,” so he can easily take you to court to collect an invoice, or to put a lien on your house. In a dispute with your lawyer, you have no leverage, so he can charge you whatever he wants. You’re at his mercy, and he will have no mercy, he will drive the knife in to the hilt.

A license to practice law is a license to steal. Your lawyer can send you a sky-high invoice, then dare you not to pay. Over the entrance of every law school should be inscribed the words, Thou Shalt Not Gouge The Client.

“My lawyer won’t gouge me, I’ll ask for an estimate before he starts a project.” Your lawyer will give you an estimate, but he won’t be tied to the estimate. He’ll charge you 300% of the estimate, without a word of apology or explanation. The estimate is fake, just as the hourly rate is fake. An estimate won’t protect you, nothing will protect you, you will be plundered.

And when the dispute reaches its climax, and the battle is hottest, will your lawyer be fighting at your side? No, he’ll be far away, he has no interest in justice, he has no interest in a fair outcome. He understands power and money, he’s indifferent to justice. Worse, his invoices will force you to surrender to the land-thief, his invoices ensure the triumph of injustice. Your lawyer is the land-thief’s best friend. The land-thief can simply wait patiently until your lawyer has emptied your bank account, then take your land.

People sometimes grumble about personal-injury lawyers, and the damage they do to society. But this damage is usually spread throughout society; you can think of it as a tax of $75 per year, per person, paid in the form of higher insurance premiums. But the kind of lawyer that I’m talking about attacks individuals, ruins individuals; the damage he does isn’t spread out, it’s concentrated at one point, and is thus more damaging.

Your lawyer may be involved in civic affairs, a pillar of the community, a generous donor to numerous charities. And the charities are grateful to him for his generosity, even though he isn’t donating his own money, he’s donating your money, he’s donating the money that he pilfered from you. Your lawyer is a pillar of the community and an expert at legalized robbery.

Can anything be done to improve the system? If enough people are angry, reform is possible. Here’s what I suggest:

  1. Make it easier for people to represent themselves in court — simplify the process, simplify the language. Make it harder for judges to overturn a jury-verdict that favors a person who represents himself.
  2. If a lawyer has a dispute with his own client, and takes his client to court to collect, don’t let him charge the client for court costs, and don’t let him put a lien on the client’s property.
  3. Make lawyer-invoices a matter of public record, so cheating is exposed to the light of day.
  4. Make the tax returns of lawyers a matter of public record, so greed is exposed to the light of day.

When I told a friend how much money I was spending on legal fees, he said, “You could go to law school for that.” Interesting idea. One way to break the stranglehold that lawyers have over society would be to make it easier, quicker, and cheaper to go to law school (online law schools?). In Shakespeare’s day, noblemen routinely went to law school, not to represent clients, but to manage their own legal affairs (Shakespeare himself went to law school, hence the detailed knowledge of law that we find in his plays). If you don’t go to law school, sooner or later you’ll be at the mercy of a lawyer.

If you’re involved in a dispute, beware of three tricks:

  1. The Fake Punt  You’re told that your opponent wants peace, he’s settling on terms acceptable to you. But just before the closing date, just before the signing of the treaty, a “minor adjustment” is made. So it wasn’t really a punt, it was a fake punt; your opponent isn’t really settling, he’s pretending to settle, he’s fighting by different means. Your team is so exhausted, so tired of paying legal bills, and so eager for peace, that it accepts the “minor adjustment.” Your team is divided between a “peace party” and a “war party.” The peace party insists on peace at any price, peace now. The fake punt is successful, the land-thief wins the dispute.
  2. The Stampede  After the dispute has dragged on for years, you’re told that the closing, the signing of the treaty, is in a few days, and you need to act fast. There’s no reason for this sudden urgency, it’s an attempt to stampede your team, to prevent your team from acting with deliberation. You’re told that you must accept a bad deal now, the train is leaving soon. Your team is stampeded, the land-thief wins.
  3. The Salami Trick  You refuse to accept the bad deal, you refuse to be stampeded. Your opponent makes a concession, but the concession is so small that it doesn’t alter the basic character of the deal; he gives you a slice of salami, but he’s cut the slice so thin that it’s almost meaningless. Your team can’t bear further negotiation. Surrender. The land-thief wins.

In baseball, a pitcher is paid more if he has lots of wins, and few losses. Likewise, a lawyer is paid more if he wins lots of court cases. So if you go to court, your lawyer will work hard because he wants to have another victory on his record. But if your dispute doesn’t involve court, he’s indifferent to the outcome, as a pitcher might be indifferent to the outcome of a game in which he doesn’t pitch.

I met a lawyer who would say to prospective clients, “I kill people. Lawsuits destroy lives.” He knew that clients want an aggressive lawyer, a “killer lawyer.” If you look at lawyer-advertising, or lawyer-websites, you’ll see that lawyers claim to be aggressive, to be killers. The naive client thinks the lawyer will attack his opponent, it doesn’t occur to him that the lawyer might attack him, might turn his guns against his own client. If the lawyer goes to court, he’ll attack the opponent (to add another victory to his record), but if the lawyer doesn’t go to court, he may well attack his own client.

I once played tennis with a lawyer who lived near Amherst, Massachusetts. After the game, he said to me, “I’m a lawyer. In this area, individuals don’t have a lot of money, so I go after insurance companies, they have deep pockets. If you’re injured, call me.” He made no pretense of fighting for justice, or contributing to society. He was simply grabbing as much money as he could, and stuffing it in his pocket. We can infer from his remarks that, if he lived in an area where individuals had more money, he would plunder individuals as well as insurance companies. His approach to legal work reminds me of the bank-robber Willie Sutton. When Sutton was asked why he robbed banks, he said, “Because that’s where the money is.”

How can fraud be detected in lawyers’ bills? Perhaps by using Benford’s Law, which is often used to detect fraud in elections, in government programs, etc. Benford’s Law looks at numbers, especially the first digit in a series of numbers. If a lawyer’s bills often start with 4 (for example, $4,968.72), that should raise suspicion. The lawyer is trying to get as much money as possible, without going over $5,000. Another lawyer might use a different system, but it should be possible to show that the numbers follow a pattern; the bills aren’t honest, they don’t reflect hours/work, they’re created to maximize the take.

Perhaps one reason for the rise of Trump is that people making less than $50,000 are angry with people making more than $200,000. They perceive the moral rot of the elites, they’ve lost all respect for the elites, they’re infuriated, they want to cast a “protest vote.” Greed and moral decay are tearing our society apart.

3. Hesiod

I read Jaeger’s chapter on Hesiod, a Greek poet who lived about 700 BC. Hesiod is best known for Works and Days, a poem that was inspired by his legal dispute with his brother, Perses. This dispute has striking similarities to my own legal dispute. Perses started the dispute by trying to obtain more than half of the property in question. Perses bribed the judges, and got them on his side. Hesiod was on defense, Hesiod was seeking not land or money but justice. “The lawsuit was clearly an important event in Hesiod’s life.”9 Like me, Hesiod had multiple foes: he had to battle both his brother and the corrupt judges.

My neighbor didn’t bribe the judges. We didn’t go to court, we went to the Town Planning Office. Like Perses, my neighbor started the dispute by reaching for more than half of the property in question (Aristotle said that all injustice is rooted in greed, pleonexia, the desire for more than your share). Before my family knew what was happening, my neighbor had engaged the most prominent, well-connected law firm in town. This firm had one of their people inside the Planning Office. In other words, someone was working part-time for the Planning Office, and part-time for my neighbor’s law firm — an obvious conflict of interest.

So my neighbor didn’t need to bribe the Planning Office, he could achieve the same result through this conflict of interest. A conflict of interest has the same effect as a bribe, it warps justice. So my family talked to the Planning Office for more than two years, and spent more than $100,000 in legal fees, but made no progress.

Finally we went above the Planning Office to the Select Board, and they immediately saw the justice of our cause. We were able to win a partial victory.

In ancient Greece, it was not uncommon for people to bribe judges. One way to prevent this was to increase the number of judges/jurors. At the trial of Socrates, there were more than 500 jurors; it would be difficult to bribe such a large number of people.

Hesiod’s poem has a personal quality that Homer’s epics lack.

Out of his fight for his own rights against his brother’s aggrandizement and the corruption of the judges, was born the passionate faith in justice which inspires his most personal poem, the Works and Days. The great novelty of this work is that its author speaks in his own person. Abandoning the traditional objectivity of epic, he himself comes forward to preach the blessings of justice and the damnation of injustice.... He makes the lawsuit so real for his readers, he recreates so vividly the moment just before the verdict....

When you yourself are the victim of injustice, you appreciate the importance of justice. Justice is as important as food and oxygen, life is almost impossible without justice. “Fish and wild beasts and the winged birds shall eat one another, for there is no justice among them. But to man [Zeus] has given justice, the highest good of all.”

Hesiod was a farmer in Boeotia, in central Greece. He describes his family home as “grim and joyless... ‘bad in winter, cruel in summer, never good at any time.’” Hesiod doesn’t write about the aristocrat’s life of leisure and war (otium and bellum). Hesiod praises the hard-working farmer who doesn’t try to acquire wealth by bribing judges and swindling neighbors. “Hesiod deliberately sets up against the aristocratic training of Homer’s heroes a working-class ideal of education, based on the areté of the ordinary man. Righteousness and Work are the foundations on which it is built.” In our time, the aristocracy is gone, so Hesiod’s approach to culture is more relevant than Homer’s.

Hesiod’s poetry is didactic, educational, ethical. It isn’t art for art’s sake, it isn’t the kind of poetry that our literary critics are fond of, hence Hesiod’s popularity/reputation seems to be declining. Few people have even heard of him. His aim is “to find the true nature of things.” Hesiod’s Muses tell him, “We know how to tell many lies which are like truth, but we know also how to utter the truth when we wish.” Hesiod has often been compared to a Hebrew prophet.

Works and Days expresses the age-old experience of the farmer, the wisdom that has accumulated for thousands of years.

Thence it derives a vitality and power which far surpasses the conventional poeticizing of many parts of the Iliad and Odyssey.... We smell the rich fragrance of the earth freshly turned by the plough; from the bushes we hear the cuckoo calling the countryman to work.... Hesiod really shows us the whole of country life.10

4. Miscellaneous

A. Problems often come in bunches: you have a neighbor problem, then you get a lawyer problem, too; you have an ankle problem, then you get a knee problem, too; you have a medical problem, then you get a financial problem, too. Problems spawn other problems.

B. I saw the new PBS drama Les Misérables (it’s a drama, not a musical). It’s a powerful work, I recommend it. One senses immediately that there’s a great novelist behind it; there are many gripping scenes. It’s made up of six one-hour episodes.

I mentioned in the last issue that Elizabeth Gaskell, author of Cranford, isn’t part of the “core canon,” she’s part of the “extended canon.” The same might be said of Victor Hugo. When you watch Les Misérables, you can understand why Hugo would be very popular. But you also notice some vulgar tricks, like a protagonist with enormous physical strength. And you notice a tendency to glorify the downtrodden (les misérables); Nietzsche called Hugo a “theatrical demagogue.” Discriminating critics never have a good word for Hugo, but millions of readers have enjoyed his work. I almost regret seeing the video because now the book would be less enjoyable.

C. I saw an Oxfordian film called Nothing Is Truer Than Truth (2018). It focuses on Oxford’s travels, and how they correlate with Shakespeare’s works. It wouldn’t be suitable as an introduction to the Shakespeare controversy, and it has few new insights. It features British actor (and Oxfordian) Derek Jacobi. It argues that Oxford was bi-sexual, and that, when he was in Italy, he had a 16-year-old page-boy, whom he brought back to England. It also argues that Oxford visited Cyprus, and spent time at the port of Famagusta, which is alluded to in Othello.

© L. James Hammond 2019
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1. Ch. 1, p. 3 back
2. Ch. 1, p. 4. “It is a fundamental fact in the history of culture that all higher civilization springs from the differentiation of social classes.”

Kalos kagathos is a combination of kalos (beautiful) and agathos (good). Jaeger describes it as “the chivalrous ideal of the complete human personality, harmonious in mind and body, foursquare in battle and speech, song and action.” back

3. Ch. 1, p. 6. Jaeger views the Iliad as older than the Odyssey.

Jaeger says that Homer’s similes sometimes tell us much about the poet (Shakespeare scholars make the same argument about Shakespeare). “Homer’s similes, in contrast to the rigidly stylized heroic narrative, often show traces of the real life of the poet’s own time.”(Ch. 4, footnote 45, p. 434) back

4. Ch. 1, p. 7 back
5. See Ch. 1, footnote 24, p. 419 back
6. Ch. 1, p. 9. In a recent issue, I discussed how the Chinese are affected by the feeling of shame, while people in the West are affected by the feeling of guilt. Shame is a public emotion, guilt a private emotion. back
7. Ch. 3, footnote 24, p. 429. The baseball player Dizzy Dean made a similar point: “It ain’t braggin’ if it’s true.” back
8. Ch. 1, p. 13. The legislator was originally a moralist, and early legislation laid down “rules of respect for gods, parents, and strangers.” (Ch. 1, p. 3) Perhaps Moses is an example of an early legislator who was also a moralist. back
9. Ch. 4, p. 63 back
10. Ch. 4, p. 73. According to Jaeger, Hesiod argues that “Zeus preserves justice even although earthly judges spurn it, and that ill-gotten gains never prosper.”(Ch. 4, p. 62) There is a “purpose which rules the world,”(Ch. 4, p. 72) a “moral order of the world.”(Ch. 4, p. 73) Do we believe this today? We may believe in some sort of moral order, but I don’t think we have as much faith as Hesiod had in the triumph of justice, and the defeat of injustice.

Jaeger says that the sophists rejected the idea of a moral order. “Hesiod’s sharp distinction between the life of the beasts and the life of man was abandoned later in the age of the sophists by those who expressly put man and beast on one and the same level and thought them both subject to the same law: the ‘struggle for life,’ the supreme norm of which is that might makes right. Then all law appeared as an artificial convention.”(Ch. 4, footnote 44, p. 434)

Jaeger says that Hesiod was the first to develop the concept of Eros, “the cosmic force which creates life.”(Ch. 3, p. 65 and footnote 31, p. 433) “Hesiod’s Eros is a philosophical conception of his own: a new idea which was to have profoundly stimulating effects on later speculation.” Hesiod’s Eros was further developed by Aeschylus, Parmenides, Empedocles, Plato, Aristotle, Lucretius, etc. It was sometimes called philia or Aphrodite. Christian thinkers tried to reconcile Eros with Christian agape. Jaeger says that the idea was discussed by Dante and the scholastics, and later revived by 19th-century poets. Since Jaeger is ignorant of psychology, he doesn’t mention that the idea of Eros reached its zenith in Freud’s theory of a life-instinct. back