Monday, November 28, 2011

Nobody is a Self-Creation

I know I'm late getting to the party but I want to recall for a moment the faux kerfuffle over Elizabeth Warren and her assertion that no one--no one--is a creation of him (her) self alone.  To my mind this insight is so self-evidently right I can't imagine how anybody can begin to see the world otherwise (but it takes all kinds, doesn't it?).  Anyway, my immediate (belated) point is that ever since I first saw her viral video, I've been recalling my favorite Christmas poem--W.H. Auden's For the Time Being, previously quoted in this forum.  Readers will remember it as a solilloquy of Herod the great and why he just had to slaughter that infant to save the world from perdition. Herod begins by counting his blessings -- "let me honor," he says, "those through whom my naure is by necessity what it is." And:

To Fortune that I have become Tetrarch, that I have escaped assassination, that at sixty my head is clear and my digestion sound.

To my Father for the means to gratify my love of travel and study.

To my Mother for a straight nose.

To Eva, my coloured nurse for regular habits.

To my brother, Sandy, who married a trapeze-artist and died of drink for so refuting the position of the Hedonists.

To Mr. Stewart, nicknamed: The Carp, who instructed me in the elements of geometry through which I came to perceive the errors of the tragic poets.

To Professor Lighthouse for his lectures on The Peloponnesian War.

To the stranger on the boat to Sicily for recommending to me Brown on Resolution.

To my secretary, Miss Button for admitting that my speeches were inaudible.
Readers may also recognize that Auden is here making an homage to Marcus Aurelius who begins his Meditations with the same kind of catalog. But the Emperor appears to be far more grateful; his list extends over several pages. I excerpt:

I. Of my grandfather Verus I have learned to be gentle and meek, and to refrain from all anger and passion. From the fame and memory of him that begot me I have learned both shamefastness and manlike behaviour. Of my mother I have learned to be religious, and bountiful; and to forbear, not only to do, but to intend any evil; to content myself with a spare diet, and to fly all such excess as is incidental to great wealth. Of my great-grandfather, both to frequent public schools and auditories, and to get me good and able teachers at home; and that I ought not to think much, if upon such occasions, I were at excessive charges.
And so forth and so forth. But perhaps in particular:

VIII. Of Fronto, to how much envy and fraud and hypocrisy the state of a tyrannous king is subject unto, and how they who are commonly called Εὐπατρίδα, i.e. nobly born, are in some sort incapable, or void of natural affection.
Εὐπατρίδα= "Eupatrida," the well-born though oddly, the translator leaves it in the original Greek.  Now, I wonder where I can find a copy of Brown on Resolution...

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