New Civilization News: Know Thyself    
 Know Thyself6 comments
picture2 Oct 2005 @ 08:02, by Uncle Remus

Know thyself, these two words were inscribed on the oracle-shrine of Apollo at Delphi, Greece (6th century B.C.). In Grendel, by John Gardner (1971), the same phrase, however, appears with this somewhat unexpected twist in one of the Dragon's dialogues with Grendel:

"Find a pile of gold and sit on it."

Grendel is a reworking of the classic epic, Beowulf. Focusing on the monster from the original poem, John Gardner retells the traditional legend from the viewpoint of Grendel, "a well of contradictions," which one review describes as a monster that is "wrecked and oedipal, an 'I' seeing only 'Its'."

Interestingly, each of the twelve chapters borrows ideas from different school of philosophy, showing how each is applied and used in the character of Grendel. There's also some good wicked humor and intesting reflections on the nature of reality and mythmaking.

The dialogue that takes place between Grendel and the dragon is one of the most entertaining of any book I remember. The Dragon gives Grendel what seem to be three distinct bits of advice: "Know thyself, that's my dictum. Know how much you've got, and beware of strangers!"

More about this in Julio Machado's excellent summary, here:

"The dragon launches into a sprawling philosophical discussion...[in which he]...explains that humans have a tendency to extrapolate theories and grossly generalize from the limited evidence they have, hampered as they are by their restricted vision of the world (...) Finally, the dragon reveals that the world Grendel knows is no more than a small ripple in the stream of Time, a gathering of dust that will fade away completely when enough years pass. All of man's monuments, systems, and inventions will eventually fade from the world entirely. Even the dragon himself will be killed someday. In light of this vision, the dragon scoffs at Grendel...[and presents that]...whether Grendel sticks with man, helps the poor, or feeds the hungry is irrelevant in the long run. The dragon, for his part, plans only to count all his money and perhaps sort it out into piles. After ridiculing humankind's theories...the dragon gives Grendel a final piece of advice: "seek out gold and sit on it."
Though the dragon is a fully realized character---indeed, the only character beside Beowulf's with whom Grendel has any significant dialogue---many critics have proposed that the dragon is not a real being, but comes instead from within Grendel's own psyche. The dragon seems to live in another dimension, one reached not by a physical journey but a mental one, as Grendel has to "make his mind a blank" in order to approach the dragon. Moreover, several characteristics of the dragon are echoes of things Grendel has previously witnessed: the dragon's "nyeh heh heh" laugh, for example, recalls the laugh of the goldworker Grendel once watched at Hart. The dragon is a curious amalgam of dragon imagery from widely varying sources, including Asiatic mythology, Christian texts, and the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, which were enjoying a surge in popularity at the time of Grendel's publication.
Despite the dragon's claims of complete, unlimited knowledge, we should follow Grendel's lead and regard the dragon and his teachings with some amount of skepticism. The dragon hardly bears any of the characteristics one would expect in a sage old teacher. Wheezing, greedy, and slightly effete, he spouts a torrent of philosophical chatter that seems to parody man's own convoluted attempts at making meaning."

Machado, Julio. SparkNote on Grendel

The problem with individualism---as a philosophy---is that it can easily tip over into egotism, or elitism, and poorly digested spiritual ideas where concepts such as "know thyself," "awaken to thy true potential," "rise above thy limitations" are twisted into "there is no point in thy trying to change our civilization from the outside... thou create thy own reality... change comes from the inside... blah blah blah...".

Self-knowledge and self-improvement are good and worthy goals, but that doesn't make them a spiritual justification - or a political argument - to condemn civic activism, or just simply forget compassion and ignore inequities in the world, based on some premise that "people create their own realities," or even, as I have sometimes heard, that "individuals alone are responsible for their problems" - a "blame the victim" attitude that one has come to expect from certain political circles, but which takes on an especially obnoxious quality when it is cloaked in pseudo-spiritual pronouncements buttressed by smug New Age platitudes.

A rift appears when the difference between "ego-centered" spirituality versus "self-transcending" spirituality is blurred.

Clearly everyone has his or her own talents, stories, history - and this makes things interesting. But no man -no woman- is an island

I sometimes look for quotes, randomly, on the greater NCN - i.e. the WWW. This one is from Dissensus:

"Individuality is something that lives on its own, but if I put one crystal next to another, the crystal presents itself as singular only insofar as it reflects its neighbor, and on and on, all the way back to infinity. When I talk about a multitude I'm talking about a group of singularities. These singularities don't exist in the way that individuals are classically thought to exist, as something with a substance all its own. Here it's a question of singularities that only exist as parts of relationships, or only insofar as they reflect one another, or place themselves in a mutual relationship. That's what's absolutely fundamental, the fact that a crystal is also a crystal with an ability to exist in relationships, and not simply to exist for itself alone."

The binary concept of "inside" and "outside" is mostly illusory. Or as the poet Jelaluddin Rumi would put it:

When matter dissolves in the Ocean the particles glow. As who I am now
melts in a candle flame, identity becomes one vast motion.

Civilizations are based on how we come together with our different perspectives and contradictions and find out how much we have in common and what that can mean for doing things together....

Art© by David Mattingly

[< Back] [New Civilization News]



13 Oct 2005 @ 14:27 by rayon : Good Stuff
accidental find, as always; the government grants individuality in exchange for votes. The church grants individuality in relation to the needs of others. A different sort of individuality can be understood depending from whom the offer is made. One can explore around, see who offers the most benefits, practice the rituals, whether at Court of Versailles at Louis Quartorze, and develop individuality within that genre. On the other hand, one can say I am true individual, staying away from Versailles, in my Cottage Ornee (yes the French invented the pretty rose garland cottage) a little piece of neo classicism stating a Rustic claim. I think there has to be context here. In the past there have been polite codes of practice showing regard for others feelings in delicate subjects. But nicely put with the crystals, lets crystalise  

1 Nov 2005 @ 02:27 by swan : In my experience,
knowing thyself, leads naturally to wanting to reach out to others and support them. If one is truly serious about conscious evolution it doesn't lead to egoism or elitism but the desire for everyone to evolve. Of course there will be people who don't want to evolve and that is ok too. In America we were socialized to be independent and self sufficiant which has moved us away from family and community. As we unravel the collective spell and extract ourselves, by learning who we truly are we learn as you say "no man/woman is an island" and that we need each other. I don't know if everyone has this experience but I have and I am one of those people who believes that change comes from within. go figure...  

13 May 2009 @ 19:22 by Lalage @ : adobe photoshop cs3 animaciya
Hello everyone. I am a new member here. I am from the US and am 20 years old. I am here to share my experiences and gain from your expertise. Help me! Need information about: adobe photoshop cs3 animaciya. I found only this - adobe photoshop cs2 na russkom. Com, you find name brand software at unbeatable prices. Registered designs - minor and consequential amendments of act. With respect :cool:, Lalage from China.  

5 Mar 2015 @ 10:03 by mnfoodtrucks @ : Thank you so much! Really rich content a
Thank you so much! Really rich content and very useful information. I found my problem’s solution starting over here.  

9 Mar 2015 @ 10:58 by cmdenttravel @ : A good point Ralph, but I believe people
A good point Ralph, but I believe people are going to have a hard time defending prejudice when the possibility of answering certain kinds of questions with much greater precision increases  

30 Mar 2015 @ 10:18 by oncarecrm @ : I just want to say I am just newbie to b
I just want to say I am just newbie to blogging and site-building and really enjoyed your blog site. Probably I’m likely to bookmark your website . You really come with fabulous articles. Regards for revealing your website page.  

Your Name:
Your URL: (or email)
For verification, please type the word you see on the left:

Other entries in
23 Sep 2010 @ 18:13: fbi hacks my NEWCIV Site.
22 Sep 2010 @ 02:15: Who Wins?
21 Sep 2010 @ 23:48: Our StressOut Program for Suicide Prevention with Mindfulness
20 Sep 2010 @ 21:24: Quote for today...
16 Sep 2010 @ 19:00: From "Max Sandor's Tales to his grandson"
11 Jul 2010 @ 14:31: Germany, Uruquay, and Applied Quantum Theory
9 Jul 2010 @ 11:07: The Purpose
7 Jul 2010 @ 01:06: The Bicycle Paradigm
21 Jun 2010 @ 23:38: Summer Solstice 2010 - Sunset
4 Jun 2010 @ 21:06: Time to Shine. . .

[< Back] [New Civilization News] [PermaLink]?