Into [European feudalism’s] backward-looking, ritualistic, rigidly structured life, the growing economic forces at work in the new towns brought stress. As the trade in surplus goods increased, merchants found that the raw materials they needed were controlled by feudal lords who neither understood nor cared about commerce. Transportation of goods through their lands was both dangerous and costly. Alternative sites for commerce had to be found and the towns seemed to offer the best alternative.
Free from the feudal bonds of the countryside, the urban dweller was envied by his peasant counterpart. ‘Stadtluft machtfrei’ (the air of the town makes you free), they said in eleventh-century Germany, because after a statutory period of residence there a serf would automatically become a freedman. Soon enough the townspeople, with their economic strength and their craftsmen supported by the general surplus, began to demand from kings and emperors those statutes which would reinforce their freedom in law. Merchants who had no place in the feudal pyramid of serf, knight, priest and king now had the money to buy social status.
As the aristocrats began to commute their serfs’ dues from service to cash, money began to weaken the old social structure. Ambition began to express itself in outward show. ‘It is too easy to change your station now’ complained the Italian, Thomasin of Zirclaria. ‘Nobody keeps his place!’ The word ‘ambition’ took on common usage for the first time.
— The Day the Universe Changed, p. 31
In the Minoan days of Crete an unprecedented flowering of learning and the arts was cultivated by Athena. Dynamic architecture rose to four stories, pillared and finely detailed, yet always infused with the serenity of the Goddess. Patiently Her mortals charted the heavens, devised a calendar, kept written archives. In the palaces they painted striking frescoes of Her Priestesses and sculpted Her owl and ever-renewing serpent in the shrine rooms. Goddess figures and their rituals were deftly engraved on seals and amulets. Graceful scenes were cast in relief for gold vessels and jewelry. Athena nurtured all the arts, but Her favorites were weaving and pottery.
Long before there were palaces, the Goddess had appeared to a group of women gathering plants in a field. She broke open the stems of blue-flowered flax and showed them how the threadlike fibers could be spun and then woven. The woof and warp danced in Her fingers until a length of cloth was bom before them. She told them which plants and roots would color the cloth, and then She led the mortals from the field to a pit of clay. There they watched Athena form a long serpent and coil it, much like the serpents coiled around Her arms. She formed a vessel and smoothed the sides, then deftly applied a paste made from another clay and water. When it was baked in a hollow in the earth, a spiral pattern emerged clearly. The image of circles that repeat and repeat yet move forward was kept by the women for centuries.
As the mortals moved forward, Athena guided the impulse of the arts. She knew they would never flourish in an air of strife, so She protected households from divisive forces and guarded towns against aggression. So invincible was the aura of Her protection that the Minoans lived in unfortified coastal towns. Their shipping trade prospered and they enjoyed a peace that spanned a thousand years. To Athena each family held the olive bough sacred, each worshipped Her in their home. Then quite suddenly the flowering of the Minoans was slashed. Northern barbarians, more fierce than the Aegean Goddess had ever known, invaded the island and carried Athena away to Attica. There they made her a soldier.
— Lost Goddesses of Early Greece, pp. 99-101
To modern sensibility the fact of a story’s being allegorical makes it less likely to be an accurate depiction of real events. Modern writers try to drain their texts of meaning, to flatten them out in order to make them more naturalistic.
To the ancients, who believed that every single thing that happens on earth is guided by the motions of the stars and planets, the more a narrative brought out these ‘poetic’ patterns, the truer and more realistic the text.
So, it may be tempting to view the journeys into the Underworld made by Hercules, Theseus, and Orpheus as mere metaphor. It is true that on one level their adventures represent the beginning of humanity’s coming to terms with the reality of death. But, as we try to imagine the adventures underground of Hercules, Theseus, and the others, we must not conceive of them as to be purely internal or mental journeys, such as we might contemplate today. When they battled with monsters and demons, they were confronting forces that infested their own beings, the corrupted human flesh, the dark labyrinth of the human brain. But they were also fighting real monsters of flesh and blood.
— The Secret History of the World, p. 146
Brandon Castellano:…We can reduce costs, reduce manpower.Don Raphael Aiuppo:I’ve always measured wealth in the number of people loyal to me!
— “Squeeze” – Wiseguy, Season 1
Michael Garibaldi:He’s lying. I can tell.Jeffrey Sinclair:Everyone lies, Michael. The innocent lie because they don’t want to be blamed for something they didn’t do, and guilty lie because they don’t have any other choice. Find out why he’s lying; the rest will take care of itself.
— “And the Sky Full of Stars” – Babylon 5, Season 1
Although Vikings did not shy from diplomacy, force was inevitable. Everything conditioned them toward achieving material goals, from religion to fame. Odin, their god of war, combined fierceness and heroism on the battlefield with cunning and treachery, and so it is no surprise that stratagems were a key part of Viking warfare. All hope for future renown was conditioned on what one did while alive; good deeds, unlike in Christian beliefs, were not a prerogative for salvation. The Viking lived in a world where chaos was the reverse side of order and where order could be imposed only by physical confrontation.
— Barbarians, Marauders, and Infidels, p. 143
For a thirteenth-century [C.E.] baron life indoors was always a poor substitute for outdoor activity. Despite the great fireplace and the screens blocking the draughts, the hall was frequently damp, dark, and cheerless during the long winter. The high cost of candles and the inefficiency of rush-lights drove most to bed soon after nightfall. Life in winter was only enjoyable when a crowd gathered for a great feast, or when a minstrel’s song, and the welcome warmth of the fire, added to the pleasure of supper on a cold evening. Under the prevailing harsh and uncomfortable conditions it is little wonder that the medieval poets, and even the sober chroniclers, sang the joys of spring with such lyric intensity. It gave them back light, warmth, and their freedom of movement.
…The country [of tenth century Castile] is high and bare, though it may have been more thickly wooded in the early Middle Ages than it is today….
…Large tracts of land were still untamed, roamed by wild pigs and cattle, wolves and probably bears…. They were roamed also by voluntary or involuntary drop-outs from human society such as hermits or outlaws….
It was a rough, stark world where status mattered, justice was uncomplicated, and war never far away.
This sounds like a great setting for a fantasy roleplaying game.
King Osric:There comes a time, thief, when the jewels cease to sparkle. When the gold loses its luster. When the throne room becomes a prison. And all that is left…is a father’s love for his child.
— “Conan the Barbarian” (1982)
The martial arts sensei is very much like a Zen master; he has not sought out the student, nor does he prevent him from leaving. If the student wants guidance in climbing the steep path to expertise, the instructor is willing to act as guide—on the condition that the student be prepared to take care of himself along the way. The instructor’s function is to delegate to the student exactly those tasks which he is capable of mastering, and then to leave him as much as possible to himself and his inner abilities. The student may follow in the footsteps of his guide or choose an alternate path—the choice was his.
The instructor first teaching technique (waza) without discussing its significance; he simply waits for the student to discover this for himself. If the student has the necessary dedication, and the teacher provides the proper spiritual inspiration, then the meaning and essence of the martial arts will finally reveal themselves to him.
— Zen in the Martial Arts, p. 5
[The Odyssey] is not a poem about then and there, but now and here. The poem describes the inner geography of those who hear it. Every aspect of it is grand metaphor. Odysseus is not sailing on the Mediterranean but through the fears and desires of a man’s life. The gods are not distant creators but elements within us: their careless pitilessness, their flaky and transient interests, their indifference, their casual selfishness, their deceit, their earth-shaking footfalls….
Inside the great keep of the castle was the required minimum of living-space: a great hall; provision in the basement for supplies; a private chamber, and perhaps a solar, for the lord and lady; a chapel; a well; and privies. In large castles, the number of chambers and guardrooms would of course be multiplied to provide for a larger garrison, as well as for the household. The great hall was the centre of all social activity and the common meeting place. It usually occupied almost the full expanse of the main floor, with a dais at one end, a fireplace in one wall, and screens or “spurs” to block the draughts of cold air from the entry doors. The bed-chamber of the lord of the castle and his wife was normally on the floor above the great hall and provided a relatively private spot.
…The wine of ancient Greece did not taste anything like the wine we know today. It was thick like syrup, and was often heavily flavored with honey, thyme, aloes, and juniper berries. Most people today would find it awful. Even then they had to water it down to avoid toxic intoxication….
A dojo is a miniature cosmos where we make contact with ourselves—our fears, anxieties, reactions, and habits. It is an arena of confined conflict where we confront an opponent who is not an opponent but rather a partner engaged in helping us understand ourselves more fully. It is a place where we can learn a great deal in a short time about who we are and how we react in the world. The conflicts that take place inside the dojo help us handle conflicts that take place outside. The total concentration and discipline required to study martial arts carries over to daily life. The activity in the dojo calls on us to constantly attempt new things, so it is also a source of learning—in Zen terminology, a source of self-enlightenment.
— Zen in the Martial Arts, p. 4
Space was severely limited within the great stone keep [of a thirteenth century, C.E., English castle], so accommodation for most of the household activities was provided in numerous wooden buildings erected within the inner courtyard. The kitchen might be an elaborate separate structure or merely a shed protecting the cook and the fires from the weather. Frequently the animals and poultry awaiting their turn for the pot were kept in the courtyard, near the kitchen, till the cook required them. In the bailey was a farriery where the smith shod the many horses needed by the household. A pigeon-loft, often a large and elaborate structure, or a dairy might add yet other varieties of animal life to the courtyard. The bailey might also contain a large chapel for the benefit of all the household, since the small chapel in the keep was normally reserved for the lord and lady of the castle and their immediate retinue. Occasionally another separate building existed to house the bells for the chapel. The general impression is one of a confusing hodgepodge of structures designed for many different uses, but all dominated by the solid masonry of the keep and enclosed by a thick wall.
Coming from who knows where, a lucky find is potentially unsettling to whatever world it enters. The moralists will be likely to complain, the gamblers will be pleased, while everyone else will wait to see if it really is amusing, this new thing. Whatever the case, before we can have a full sense of the disruptions and delights that come in the wake of a lucky find, we need fuller examples to work with. In 1965 [C.E.] George Foster, an anthropologist who had worked in Mexico and Italy, published an essay that is partly about how peasants respond when their neighbors’ fortunes suddenly change. In “Peasant Society and the Image of Limited Good,” Foster argues that many othervise perplexing details of peasant behavior can be understood by assuming that peasants believe there is a fixed quantity of wealth in the community and therefore that if someone in the group suddenly becomes richer it must be because someone else, or the group as a whole, has become poorer. The idea holds if we imagine, as Foster does, a closed community, or—to put it the other way—the idea finds its exceptions in cases in which wealth clearly comes from outside the nominal bounds of the group. Peasants do not feel ripped off if one of their number becomes richer as “a result of selling labor as a migrant worker, for it is clear that wages so earned come from across the border. More telling for my purposes are the other ways to get wealth without being subjected to group opprobrium. In peasant communities in southern Italy, for example, the neighbors won’t harass someone whose sudden success comes as a “gift of Fortune,” as, for example, when “a rich gentleman gave a poor boy a violin,” or when “a rich gentlewoman adopted an abandoned child,” when a man “hit upon a hidden treasure” buried in the woods, and when “another was lucky enough to win in the lottery.”
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and new we lie
In Flanders Fields.
Take up your quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields.
— John McCrae
A man is born gentle and weak.
At his death he is hard and stiff.
Green plants are tender and filled with sap.
At their death they are withered and dry.
Therefore the stiff and unbending is the disciple of death.
The gentle and yielding is the disciple of life.
Thus an army without flexibility never wins a battle.
A tree that is unbending is easily broken.
The hard and the strong will fall.
The soft and weak will overcome.
— Lao-Tzu, Tao Te Ching