Thursday, 4 June 2015

present and perdurant

Though modern Greek has adopted a more straightforward term to convey happiness, ευτυχία—just suggesting good works—the classical term Eudæmonia is fortunately still around with all its mysterious and internecine intrigues.
The greatest minds are unable to come to a consensus on what constitutes happiness (or whether that’s even a question worthy of pursuit), but I have to wonder if even the first interlocutors really knew what was meant by Eudæmonia. Semantics are of course important considerations and flourishing or thriving might be a better word than our emotionally-laden happiness—the Romans rendered it as felicitas, who was also sometimes deified, but I don’t believe that any translation could capture the sense of being a role-model compounded with a guardian angel or fairy godmother figure like the original Greek. One achieves happiness, it’s argued, by emulating the example of that demon—dæmons just being spirits, familiars or lesser deities and not diabolical ones. The nature of those qualities and whether there’s some universal imperative are hopeless elusive, though that does not mean we shouldn’t bother. Furthermore, one’s level of bliss can be impacted retroactively should one’s present deportment cause him or her to earn a bad reputation after death.
Thinking about these rarefied ideas in general and particularly the last bit that invokes the directionality of time makes me turn back to the novel I am currently enjoying, Jo Walton’s absolutely amazing Just City—wherein the goddess Athena gathers the prescribed youth from all ages in order to experimentally create the utopia of Plato’s Republic overseen by those who’ve prayed for wisdom. I wonder if one’s eudæmon isn’t more of a conflicted personality, like shoulder angels. The cover of the Walton’s book, incidentally, focusses in on a particular section of this larger famous fresco by Raphael—showing students engaged on the steps of the Academy below. The different elements and possible perspectives in this work of art makes me think about another of Raphael’s masterpieces, the Sistine Madonna, who’s two puti reflecting upward has become a better known detail. H and I got to see it in its entirety in Dresden once. The aforementioned fresco, however, is out of public view in the papal apartments but I recalled the style and how the tableaux extended beyond the frame, preceding into the background, as the image that was on our ticket stubs from the Vatican Museum—the ephemera buried behind too many layers of our bulletin board to excavate, just now. I don’t believe I am any closer to the being able to articulate what happiness is but do feel I’ve gone on a little trip in time just now myself.