Wisdom of Life

Plato: On the Wisdom and the Meaning of Life

“The madness of love is the greatest of heaven’s blessings.

“The first and greatest victory is to conquer yourself;
to be conquered by yourself is of all things most shameful and vile.”

“Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back. Those who wish to sing always find a song. At the touch of a lover, everyone becomes a poet.

According to Greek mythology, humans were originally created with four arms, four legs and a head with two faces. Fearing their power, Zeus split them into two separate parts, condemning them to spend their lives in search of their other halves. And when one of them meets the other half, the actual half of himself, whether he be a lover of youth or a lover of another sort, the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy and one will not be out of the other’s sight, as I may say, even for a moment.

Love is born into every human being; it calls back the halves of our original nature together; it tries to make one out of two and heal the wound of human nature. Love is simply the name for our pursuit of wholeness, for our desire to be complete.

Love is not a god at all, but is rather a spirit that mediates between people and the objects of their desire. Love is neither wise nor beautiful, but is rather the desire for wisdom and beauty. Love is the joy of the good, the wonder of the wise, the amazement of the Gods.

…as a breath of wind or some echo rebounds from smooth, hard surfaces and returns to the source from which it issued, so the stream of beauty passes back into its possessor through his eyes, which is its natural route to the soul; arriving there and setting him all aflutter, it waters the passages of the feathers and causes the wings to grow, and fills the soul of the loved one in his turn with love.

Life must be lived as play, playing certain games, making sacrifices, singing and dancing, and then a man will be able to propitiate the gods, and defend himself against his enemies, and win in the contest.

The man who makes everything that leads to happiness depends upon himself, and not upon other men, has adopted the very best plan for living happily. This is the man of moderation, the man of manly character and of wisdom.

There are three classes of men; lovers of wisdom, lovers of honor, and lovers of gain. Wise men speak because they have something to say; fools — because they have to say something. An empty vessel makes the loudest sound, so they that have the least wit are the greatest babblers. People are like dirt. They can either nourish you and help you grow as a person or they can stunt your growth and make you wilt and die. Excellence” is not a gift, but a skill that takes practice. We do not act “rightly” because we are “excellent”, in fact we achieve “excellence” by acting “rightly”.

Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.

Good people do not need laws to tell them to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around the laws. Ignorance — is the root and stem of every evil. No wealth can ever make a bad man at peace with himself. The greatest wealth is to live content with little.

For many generations…they obeyed the laws and loved the divine to which they were akin…they reckoned that qualities of character were far more important than their present prosperity. So they bore the burden of their wealth and possessions lightly, and did not let their high standard of living intoxicate them or make them lose their self-control…

But when the divine element in them became weakened…and their human traits became predominant, they ceased to be able to carry their prosperity with moderation.

Man is a tame or civilized animal; nevertheless he requires proper instruction and a fortunate nature, and then of all animals he becomes the most divine and most civilized; but if he be insufficiently or ill- educated he is the most savage of earthly creatures.

No man should bring children into the world who is unwilling to persevere to the end in their nature and education. You know that the beginning is the most important part of any work, especially in the case of a young and tender thing; for that is the time at which the character is being formed and the desired impression is more readily taken. Shall we just carelessly allow children to hear any casual tales which may be devised by casual persons, and to receive into their minds ideas for the most part the very opposite of those which we should wish them to have when they are grown up? We cannot. Anything received into the mind at that age is likely to become indelible and unalterable; and therefore it is most important that the tales which the young first hear should be models of virtuous thoughts.

Education is teaching our children to desire the right things. The object of education is to teach us to love what is beautiful. I would teach children music, physics, and philosophy; but most importantly music, for the patterns in music and all the arts are the keys to learning.

Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the Universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, gaiety and life to everything. It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is good and just and beautiful.

Beauty of style and harmony and grace and good rhythm depend on simplicity – I mean the true simplicity of a rightly and nobly ordered mind and character, not that other simplicity which is only a euphemism for folly.

We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light. Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.

Those who are able to see beyond the shadows and lies of their culture will never be understood, let alone believed, by the masses.

Have you ever sensed that our soul is immortal and never dies? The soul takes flight to the world that is invisible but there arriving she is sure of bliss and forever dwells in paradise.

What if the man could see beauty itself, pure, unalloyed, stripped of mortality, and all its pollution stains and vanities, unchanging, divine… the man becoming in that communion the friend of God, himself immortal… Would that be a life to disregard?

The love of the Gods belongs to anyone who has given to true virtue and nourished it, and if any human being could become immortal, it would be he.”

You’re my Star, a stargazer too,
and I wish that I were Heaven,
with a billion eyes to look at you.”

Quotes from The Republic, The Symposium and Apology

***

~Plato was an Athenian philosopher during the Classical period in Ancient Greece, founder of the Platonist school of thought, and the Academy, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world.

©Excellence Reporter 2020

Categories: Wisdom of Life

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