How to Win an Election

Anyone running for office should consider reading How to Win an Election, by Quintus Tullius Cicero, translated by Philip Freeman. It’s a short, small book subtitled An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians (Princeton University Press, 2012). It contains both the Latin and the English translation of Quintus’ letter to his more famous brother, the orator Marcus Cicero. Quintus penned it in 64 BCE when Marcus decided … (more–>)

Back to Horace

During the pandemic lockdowns, I heard a lot of people bemoan their inability to travel; on vacation, to visit relatives, to shop, or just to get out of their homes and see new places. People felt isolated, some went stir-crazy. We are a not merely a culture easily bored with staying in one place: our entire species has wanderlust. Two millennia ago, the poet Quintus Horatius … (more–>)

The Science Fiction of Robert Frost

Robert Frost was a great American poet, and I’ve enjoyed many of his poems over the decades I’ve been reading poetry. Some are a tad bucolic for my taste, but many also plumb the depths of human emotions so succinctly as to make Frost more universal than simply American. But while he never wrote any science fiction, his words have been used in that genre. Recently … (more–>)

Hobbesian vs Benthamite Politics

Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) was not an optimist about human behaviour. Writing more than a century after Niccolo Machiavelli, the English political philosopher argued in his masterwork, Leviathan (1651), that the quest for power was the main motivation for humans. And that our quest to acquire more would never cease until we were dead. He wrote: …in the first place, I put for a general inclination of … (more–>)

Ancient Election Wisdom

I recently came across this piece by Marcus Tullius Cicero (one of my favourite classical authors) on the Sententiae Antiquae website (a good source of classical Latin and Greek translations), taken from Cicero’s oration Pro Murena (35-36). Lucius Licinius Murena was elected as his election as consul in 62 BCE but was subsequently accused of bribery. He was defended by  Cicero, who recorded his speech for … (more–>)

The Book of Knowledge: 3

Back in the Mesozoic of my life, I came across a quotation from Giacomo Casanova that, as far as I can remember these days, went “No man can know everything, but every man should attempt to.” For many decades, I didn’t know the source, or whether it was misquoted, misattributed, or simply a fake as we experience so often on most internet quote sites (aka clickbait … (more–>)

The Book of Knowledge: 2

Last post I mentioned I had rescued a set of encyclopedias from the dumpster at the end of this year’s Mother Of All Yard Sales (MOAYS; an Optimist Club event). I didn’t explain what I saved and why, but I’m here to explain, and to show. Bear with me. First, let me give you some personal background. Aside from being a writer, in my career I … (more–>)

The Book of Knowledge: 1

When I was growing up in the Fifties and Sixties, having an encyclopedia in your home was the bee’s knees, to use my grandmother’s phrase. It was a sign of sophistication and learning, of culture and wisdom. And being reasonably well-off, because encyclopedias were not inexpensive. I can still hear Jimminy Cricket singing the song (it’s how I learned to spell encyclopedia). Many school libraries had … (more–>)

Ars Poetica

Horace’s Ars Poetica, or the Art of Poetry, was written as a 476-line poem in a letter to his friend, the Roman senator  Lucius Calpurnius Piso (Lucius) and his two sons, around 19 BCE. It was known for a time as the “Epistle to the Pisos” until 95CE when the critic  Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (Quintilian) called it the Ars Poetica in his a twelve-volume textbook on … (more–>)

Milton Was Wrong

In 1644, the English poet and pamphleteer John Milton wrote an impassioned defence of free speech (or, more factually, against censorship of print and in favour of restriction-free publication) called the Areopagitica. It was subtitled A speech of Mr. John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicenc’d Printing, to the Parlament of England. In it, Milton argued that, given the choice between truth and lies, people were … (more–>)

Smith, Rock, and the Trivialization of Western Culture

If Neil Postman were alive today, sitting in a bar or café with Chris Hedges, I wonder which one would say “I told you so!” first after seeing social media this past week? The story that clogged the social media pipes this week was the slap one actor gave another on stage during the performance of the annual onanism festival called the Oscars. And as soon … (more–>)

Kerouac’s Haikus

Haiku is like a razor blade: small, light, but yet strong and incredibly sharp. Haiku says “Look over there!” and then smacks you from the other side. Haiku is the neutron star of poetry: stunning density combined with astounding brightness. Haiku swims in a sea of metaphor, darting like quick, bright fish among the forest of words. Haiku has a formal definition: “an unrhymed verse form of … (more–>)

Wild Fruits

When he died of tuberculosis in his mother’s home, in 1862, 44-year-old Henry David Thoreau had already made his mark on the world with the publication of several books and numerous essays, including Civil Disobedience, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, The Maine Woods, A Yankee in Canada, and his classic, Walden, or Life in the Woods. I trust we’re all familiar with Thoreau’s … (more–>)

Socrates and Saunderson

In Plato’s dialogue Gorgias, Socrates debates with three sophists — Gorgias the rhetorician and his pupils Polus, and Callicles — about justice, power, morality, and virtue. Socrates also questions the value of oratory and rhetoric — the crafts of the sophists — in contemporary politics and whether they do good for the people. Spoiler alert: he’s not convinced they are for the good. You can read … (more–>)

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