Why I Love: Ancient History

IT’S FALLING ASLEEP HOLDING A copy of Herodotus’ The Histories or Gaster’s The Oldest Stories in the World. It’s the endless theorizing about daily life in a different context. It’s the observation that no matter what the era, people will still be people. It’s the seminal technologies still strangely similar to our own. (It’s thus the feeling of anthropological deja vu.) It’s the skill and effort involved in translations. It’s the feeling of Deep Time, even though recorded history is only 6,000 years long. (It’s also knowing that we’ve only had 200-300 generations in that time.)

First Graf: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

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THIS WAS THE FIRST FANTASY I ever read — at the tender age of six or seven, IIRC — and remains one of my most beloved and oft-quoted books. In some ways it’s similar to Bullwinkle or SpongeBob Squarepants: touted as kiddie fare, but really told with a more mature audience in mind. Lewis Carroll’s puzzles and paradoxes (and John Tenniel’s classic illustrations) have been discussed for almost as long as the book has seen print, and some of the former’s riddles (“Why is a raven like a writing desk?”) remain today as enigmatic as Zen koans.

365 Names of God: “Supreme Being”

SUPREME BEING WHENEVER I HEAR this Name, I think of the part played by Sir Ralph Richardson in the 1981 Terry Gilliam film Time Bandits: a dapper, suit-wearing, businesslike, no-nonsense-on-my-watch sort of G?d. The Name may also refer to the object of the “oceanic feeling” popularized by Sigmund Freud — that aspect of “being” which is most “supreme.” And it might also denote the Dweller at the Summit of the Universe (which, in an apparently spherical universe like our own, would be the place with the best view thereof). Two out of these three may or may not be the same thing. Beware of imitations.

Everybody is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
— Albert Einstein

5 Thoughts: Re-re-RE-Viewings

0. THERE ARE FILMS THAT YOU see once and say, “Meh.” Then there are others which grab hold of and mold your psyche in unexpected ways; movies that cry out “Watch me!” and require repeated viewings to grok in fullness — films that, while deep enough on their own, reveal new depths as the viewer grows with life-experience. Here are five to which I return every couple of years to measure myself.

1. Casablanca. Perhaps the greatest movie ever made, it has everything — romance, intrigue, honor, superb acting / writing / directing, Humphrey Bogart. Who doesn’t want to watch Bogie go from cynic to idealist and wind up fighting Nazis with someone he barely trusts?

Words to Bring Back: “Chary”

– Definition: adj. cautiously or suspiciously reluctant to do something.

– Used in a sentence: Due to long experience, my cat is no longer chary of taking his arthritis medicine.

– Why: I suppose you could always use the synonymic rhyme “wary,” but to me “chary” sounds similar to “charity” — and it’s sometimes prudent to be so when offered something for nothing.

Literal Myths

DOES IT MATTER WHETHER OR not sacred writings are historically accurate?

This question comes up for me every year at our living-room Torah study, as people go to great lengths to try and explain the fantastical events of the Book of Exodus. Somebody is bound to mention that the Nile’s fish were killed by a blood-red tide, that locust swarms were a common (and in this case, well-timed) occurrence, that Mount Sinai was a volcano, etc., etc., etc.

I feel that these good-natured and well-intentioned attempts at explanations are unnecessary. My point of view is that what matters is the story.