Who Has No Home

In this passage from The Bhagavad Gita 12: 13-20, Krishna lists the qualities good men should strive for:

One who bears no hatred, who is a compassionate friend to all creatures, who is not possessive or selfish, equal in happiness and distress, and forgiving,

Who is dedicated to the spiritual path, always satisfied, self-controlled, and determined, whose mind and intelligence are fixed on me– this devotee of mine is dear to me.

One who troubles no one and is troubled by no one, who is unmoved by happiness, anger, fear, or distress– is dear to me.

One who is detached, pure, skillful, without cares or troubles, and selfless in all endeavors– this devotee of mine is dear to me.

One who does not grasp joy or hatred, grief or desire, good or bad– this devoted soul is dear to me.

One who looks equally on friends or enemies, honor or dishonor, heat or cold, happiness or distress, praise or blame, who craves nothing, is silent and satisfied in any situation, who has no home, who is even-minded and filled with devotion– such a person is dear to me.

Those who faithfully follow this eternal path of devotion, making me their Supreme God, are dearly beloved to me.

This translation is by Ranchor Prime, and it’s one of my favorites.  It’s very simple and easy to understand.  There is an older, more poetic translation by Sir Edwin Arnold that can be downloaded free from Project Gutenberg, HERE.

Changes

Excerpted from The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, translated by John Addington Symonds:

The Pope accordingly sent for him at once; and when the man arrived, he made us both appear before him, and commissioned each of us to furnish a design for mounting an unicorn’s horn, the finest which had ever been seen, and which had been sold for 17,000 ducats of the Camera. The Pope meant to give it to King Francis; but first he wished it richly set in gold, and ordered us to make sketches for this purpose.

In the 21st century, our first impulse would be to ask, “Is this really a unicorn horn?”

In the 16th century, the question never occurred to him.

This doesn’t make me feel superior at all.  This makes me wonder what the 26th century will think of us.

(The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini is in the public domain and may be downloaded for free from Project Gutenberg HERE.)

Did I ever tell you about the time…

I am currently reading The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini, translated by John Addington Symonds.

Cellini was a 16th century artist of some note, and- to hear him tell it- one of the most remarkable men who ever lived.  My feeling is that there may be a kernel of truth buried under the self-aggrandizement, but I’m taking this more as a work of fiction.  Remember Commander McBragg from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show?  It reads kind of like that, only with more duels and swordplay.

I got my copy for $2 at a charity sale, but it is in the public domain and may be downloaded for free from Project Gutenberg.

Literary Odyssey

My first introduction to Homer’s work, like most people, was when I was forced in high school to read excerpts from 19th century translations of The Odyssey and The Iliad; hacking and slashing through a forest of footnotes, trying to pick out which Greek names to memorize for the test, wondering if the teacher found some sort of perverse pleasure in torturing his students.  And, like most people, that approach kind of ruined it for me.

But over the weekend I found a copy of Homer’s The Odyssey translated by Robert Fagles on the clearance shelf, bought it on impulse, and to my surprise, I’m really enjoying it.   There are no footnotes to ruin the flow– they aren’t needed– and he managed to simplify the language without in any way diminishing the beauty of the words.  I can understand what’s happening without cheating and looking at the Cliff’s Notes.

In school I was overwhelmed and bored; this time, it’s a joy.

I may go back and re-read the earlier translations one day– they’re in the public domain, and you can find them for free at Project Gutenberg— but this is the way it should have been introduced to me, all those years ago.

Darwin’s Dogs

On the face of it, a book about the formulation of a theory sounds like a rather dry topic, but Emma Townshend’s book Darwin’s Dogs: How Darwin’s Pets Helped Form a World-Changing Theory of Evolution is surprisingly entertaining as well as informative.  She weaves his many disparate influences (some of which are, as you guessed, dogs) together with amusing anecdotes, and does a brilliant job of explaining how it all came together.

In the passage below, she explains how a book in the unrelated field of economics came to influence Charles Darwin in a profoundly different way.  (As an aside, note how many times she points out that these are Thomas Malthus’s ideas, not her own; she doesn’t’ want these horrible thoughts in any way traced by to her!):

Darwin was no trendsetter when he began reading the Reverend Thomas Malthus’s bestseller An Essay on the Principle of Population. On the contrary, Darwin was trailing well behind fashionable opinion, for the book had been published in 1798 and had gone through six editions, each selling more than the last. Malthus wrote the book while working as a rural curate in Surrey; yet it became one of the most influential texts in the history of political economy. Malthus, thought hard-minded Victorians, explained why Poor Relief didn’t work, and why it would be better in the long run to let the Irish starve.

Malthus’s book scrutinized wars, famines, price crashes and economic shortages which troubled mankind and coolly pointed out that whatever the variables, whatever the conditions, whatever the differences, two things would always be the same. When food supplies (which he called “the means of subsistence”) increased, they could never increase faster than arithmetically: by a certain percentage a year. But human populations, said Malthus, increase exponentially. A couple produces five children, each of those children produce five children, each of those grandchildren produce five children and suddenly one married couple have a hundred and twenty-five descendants.

Thus, a human population can grow far quicker than the supply of food ever can. And as soon as populations are increasing faster than the food supply, said Malthus, checks will come into play. These ‘checks’ will include plagues, wars and most of all, starvation and famine. A new generation of children die; there is enough food to go round. For Malthus it was simply a question of mathematical patterns.

Darwin’s insight whilst reading Malthus concentrated on those checks.  For Darwin, the natural world was a place of incredible competition for food, for security, for a chance to reproduce.  Darwin took Malthus’s idea of many more individuals being born that would ever be able to survive, each competing against the other for the basic right to continue living.  He considered his own experience of the natural world:  the huge masses of frogspawn in spring ponds, the large litters of farm cats.  This image of a seething mass of individuals stayed with Darwin.

Darwin’s Dogs: How Darwin’s Pets Helped Form a World-Changing Theory of Evolution  is on sale at Daedalus Books for just $3.98 right now.  If you’re interested, don’t delay- they specialize in overstocks, so when they’re gone, they’re gone.  Here’s the link:  DaedalusBooks.com