June 7, 2007 - 0 Comments

"The greatest realistic works of fiction have been written by the French and the Russians. To read one of the great Frenchmen's books is to feel mingled despair and loathing for mankind, so base, so trivial and so wretched. But to read a great Russian novel is to have an altogether different experience. The baseness, the beast in us, the misery of life, are there as plain to see as in the French book, but what we are left with is not despair and not loathing, but a sense of pity and wonder before mankind that can so suffer. The Russian sees life in that way because the Russian genius is primarily poetical; the French genius is not. Anna Karenina is a tragedy; Madame Bovary is not. Realism and Romanticism, or comparative degrees of Realism, have nothing to do with the matter. It is a case of the small soul against the great soul and the power of a writer whose special endowment is "voir clair dans ce qui est" against the intuition of a poet."

"All who were taken alive were made slaves. The greater part of them wer put in the stone quarries near Syracuse where nature did the torturing without need of human assistance. The frightful heat by day and the bitter cold by night insured the survival of very few. Thucydides writes their epitaph: 'Having done what men could they suffered what men must.'"

"On this point it is illuminating to consider our every-day use of the words tragedy and tragic. Pain, sorrow, disaster, are always spoken of as depressing, as dragging down-- the dark abyss of pain, a crushing sorrow, an overwhelming disaster. But speak of tragedy and extraordinarily the metaphor changes. Lift us to tragic heights, we way, and never anything else. The depths of pathos but never of tragedy. Always the height of tragedy. A word is no light matter. Words have with truth been called fossil poetry, each, that is, a symbol of a creative thought. The whole philosophy of human nature is implicit in human speech. It is a matter to pause over, that the instinct of mankind has perceived a difference, not of degree but of kind, between tragic pain and all other pain. There is something in tragedy which marks it off from the other disaster so sharply that in our common speech we bear witness to the difference."

(regarding the Peloponnesian War) "They fought not because they were different - democratic Athens and oligarchical Sparta - but because they were alike."

-- Edith Hamilton, The Greek Way, 1930


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