Saturday, September 05, 2020


Intellectual Discussions

Agathias, Histories 2.29.4-5 (tr. Joseph D. Frendo):
So they would often congregate towards evening, in all probability after some drunken orgy, and blithely embark upon an impromptu discussion of the most exalted and intangible topics. Such discussions invariably degenerated into the sort of inconclusive hair-splitting which results neither in persuasion nor in enlightenment.

Each man would cling tenaciously to his own views till in the end tempers rose at the thought of each other's intransigence and they would resort to open abuse, using foul language like people brawling over a game of dice. Eventually the debate would be adjourned, the contestants being parted with difficulty and the whole fruitless exercise serving merely to make enemies out of friends.

τοιγάρτοι τὰ πολλὰ περὶ δείλην ὀψίαν ἀπὸ κραιπάλης, ὡς τὸ εἰκὸς, καὶ ἀκολασίας ξυναλιζόμενοι, οὕτω δὴ ἐκ τοῦ παρείκοντος ἐκείνων τῶν ὑπερτέρων ἀπάρχονται λόγων καὶ ζητήσεως θεσπεσίας, ἀεί τε περὶ ταὐτὰ στενολεσχοῦντες οὔτε πείθονται ὑπο σφῶν οὔτε ἄλλως μεταμανθάνουσι τὰ προεγνωσμένα, ὁποῖα ἄττα καὶ τύχοιεν ὄντα.

ἔχονται δὲ διὰ παντὸς τῶν αὐτῶν οἱ αὐτοὶ, καὶ τελευτῶντες τῆς φιλονεικίας χαλεπαίνουσι κατ' ἀλλήλων καὶ ἀναφανδὸν διαλοιδοροῦνται, φωνὰς ἀσχήμονας ἀφιέντες, ὥσπερ ἐν κύβοις διαμαχόμενοι. οὕτω τε λύπαι αὐτοῖς ὁ ἀγὼν, καὶ μόλις ἀπαλλάττονται, ὀνήσαντες μὲν οὐδ' ὁπωστιοῦν ἢ ὀνηθέντες, ἔχθιστοι δὲ ἀντὶ φίλων γεγενημένοι.
Logan Pearsall Smith (1865-1946), More Trivia (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1921), pp. 127-128:
I remember how charmed I was with these new acquaintances, to whose house I had been taken that afternoon to call. I remember the gardens through which we sauntered, with peaches ripening on the sunny walls; I remember the mellow light on the old portraits in the drawing-room, the friendly atmosphere and tranquil voices; and how, as the quiet stream of talk flowed on, one subject after another was pleasantly mirrored on its surface;—till, at a chance remark, there was a sudden change and darkening, an angry swirl, as if a monster were raising its head above the waters.

What was it about, the dreadful disputation into which we were plunged, in spite of desperate efforts to clutch at other subjects? Was it Tariff Reform or Table-rapping—Bacon and Shakespeare, Disestablishment, perhaps—or Anti-Vivisection? What did any of us know or really care about it? What force, what fury drove us into saying the stupid, intolerant, denunciatory things we said; that made us feel we would rather die than not say them? How could a group of humane, polite and intelligent people be so suddenly transformed into barking animals?

Why do we let these Abstractions and implacable Dogmatisms take possession of us, glare at each other through our eyes, and fight their futile, frenzied conflicts in our persons? Life without the rancours and ever-recurring battles of these Bogeys might be so simple, friendly, affectionate and pleasant!

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