Archive for July 5th, 2010

On 8, May 1739 Voltaire set out in the company of the du Chatelets for the Low Countries. In Brussels they rented a house in the rue de la Grosse Tour. Since they had time on their hands they set out to hard work: Voltaire was busy with his play, Mahomet and finishing Louis XIV.
After the Peace of Utrecht, in 1713, Belgium the cockpit of Europe for long, had become Austrian Netherlands. While Spain was in control any one who showed signs of intelligence or promise whould have been hauled to gaol and head chopped off. As the Regents of Spanish tyranny wanted it was not safer for subjugated nation to think. It had become an acquired habit for the Belgians to keep out of intellectual life. Instead they were all gaga over material progress and making money. Voltaire was bored and he complained bitterly,’Brussels is the extinguisher of imagination. There is no decent printer or engraver, not one single man of letters…This is the country of obedience.’
When he gave a party for Mme du Chatalet sent out invitations in the name of ‘the Envoy from Utopia’, only to find out that not one of the guests had ever heard of Utopia!
Later they went to stay with the Duc d’Arenberg at Enghien the only books they could find were the one they had brought along. Later when he complained of the Flemish to Crown Prince Frederick
( who later became Frederick the Great) he sympathized with him and said, he should see what the German were like, ferocious as the beasts they pursued.(ack: Voltaire in Love-Nancy Mitford,Penguin)

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(After the threat posed by Persia was gone Athens and Sparta fell out. Their rivalry will bleed them white and their decline will leave Rome to rise as an imperial power. b.)
Athens of old was gone. None could believe how quickly the city had showed a deep chasm within itself. It was thus Aesop found Athens in his advanced years. He was sixty something. When one of old acquaintances shared his disappointment at the deep division rearing its head Aesop dismissed it thus, ”Nothing strange, Cleomenes, what do you expect from a city of highest ideals but would require slaves? We ourselves are to blame.”
Even when Athens looked so formidable, tocsin of decline was going on at a rate that was so subtle and implacable. The citizens the wise, the good, and the bad spent their lives just as the very dregs of the city made their living: for all their actions good or bad could not have stemmed the crisis. It wasn’t the guardian spirit of the city had abandoned the city but the march of events taking elsewhere needed more room to spread out. In the face of such overwhelming onslaught the city was not adequately protected. (Just as a hurricane can be explained as Mother Nature letting out excess of heat escape. Hurricane Katrina, – or Floyd before it, made a landfall not caring where it hit. The dikes of New Orleans would fail and create unparalleled havoc. Such an impersonal hand takes over history of nations as well.) Athens was no exception to the general rule.

Athens in transition. For Aesop it was as if his beloved city, that tower of pride had vanished, brick by brick even while he sought its shelter: his more pressing concern was to beat back the boredom which was creeping on his old age.
Aesop told stories to the Athenians the young and old, not so much for its moral content but as a way of being part of the warmth that the living gave out. It did lessen the pain of losing his wife, and his old master and his wife. And his only friend Xeno took leave for the last time. Before he died the old cynic felt homesick. He had a knack of making every friend look a fool. It did not work in the case of Aesop because he affirmed that he was a fool. “I am a fool for progress Xeno. I look forward to changes. What these will be or in what shape or form I have no idea. Yet I call it is progress. (A higher state of things, so I tell myself.) But when it comes, I am sure, I will not like it at all.”

A tragic poet had his play put up before the boards. He watched a tragic actor who was required to wear thick shoes and tall wigs. Since it was his play and knew the effect he wanted from him he explained his entry called for a subtle approach. The much harried actor said when he came in such thick shoes it was a wonder he did not fall over. “So I need a cane to support myself. How much more subtlety you intend to put into my cane?”
Another time a comic actor who did not impress his audience with his witticisms asked the public, ”You get two obols worth of seat, free from the city. The least you could do is show some appreciation of that?”
Dramatists of yore wrote as they often said, as inspired by gods. The audience lapped it up and said they were enlightened and taken to a higher sphere as a result. Aesop was shrewd to note how the relationship between the writer and his audience went a shift over the years. It was progress that Aesop thought as natural. The audience became enlightened with so many plays that they attended in civic pride and it made them arbiters as well. Gradually it was the taste of man on the street that decided the kind of plays that were to be staged. Not the poet, not the muse but the uncouth rabble set the trend. It was the masses that in the end beat the system. (ch:11-Beating the System:sections 4-6)


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