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Pascal’s Fundamentals of Religion

Interesting thoughts by Blaise Pascal  

The Christian religion then teaches men these two truths; that there is a God whom men can know, and that there is a corruption in their nature which renders them unworthy of Him. It is equally important to men to know both these points; and it is equally dangerous for man to know God without knowing his own wretchedness, and to know his own wretchedness without knowing the Redeemer who can free him from it. The knowledge of only one of these points gives rise either to the pride of philosophers, who have known God, and not their own wretchedness, or to the despair of atheists, who know their own wretchedness, but not the Redeemer.

For it is not true that all reveals God, and it is not true that all conceals God. But it is at the same time true that He hides Himself from those who tempt Him, and that He reveals Himself to those who seek Him, because men are both unworthy and capable of God; unworthy by their corruption, capable by their original nature.

Harvard Classics


the first step towards victory undoubtedly is to gain courage


Themistocles was an Ancient Greek politician and general. He was the leader of the democratic party in Athens and participated in the Battle of Marathon and the Naval Battle of Artemision.

It is believed that he was born around 527 BC. Little is known about his childhood years; he may have been disobedient, which led to him being disavowed by his father. However, Plutarch mentions that he does not believe it to be true. On the year he was born, the tyrant of Athens Peisistratus died and was succeeded by his sons, Ipparchus and Ippias. The former was murdered a few years later, so Ippias became paranoid and increased his dependence on non – Athenians to remain in power. Kleisthenes eventually overthrew Ippias and established democracy.

Themistocles’ reputation among common people was vital in his election as an archon in 493 BC. During this time, he aimed at making Athens a naval power, so he asked that a new port be created in Piraeus that would replace the one in Faliron. His political opponent was Aristeides, who managed to gain the support of the Athenian aristocracy. When a new source of silver was found in 483 BC, Aristeides was of the opinion of giving one tenth of the revenue to the gods and distributing the rest to the citizens; this was the usual practice in similar cases. However, Themistocles managed to convince the people to use the money in order to build 200 triremes, an extremely high number for the time, and ostracize Aristeides.

In 481 BC, thirty city states of Greece formed an alliance against the imminent Persian attack, including Sparta and Athens. The Spartans took the command of the army; the Athenians wanted to take the command of the fleet, but were opposed by the Corinthians and the Aegineans. In the end, Evryviades became the typical commander of the fleet, but it was evident that the true leader would be Themistocles. In 480 BC, the Spartan army marched to Thermopylae and the fleet sailed to Artemision. Although Evryviades tried to avoid the naval battle, it eventually took place and the Greeks won, having suffered significant losses. Combined with the loss of the battle in Thermopylae, the only choice for the fleet was to retreat.

After Thermopylae, many Greek states started surrendering to the Persians, but Themistocles was not disheartened. He convinced the Athenians to sail to Salamina, where the famous naval battle occurred. The Greek triremes crushed the Persian fleet, with strategic and tactical choices by Themistocles, and repelled the Persians.

Battle of Salamis by Wilhelm von Kaulbach

Battle of Salamis
In the aftermath of Thermopylae, Boeotia fell to the Persians, who then began to advance on Athens. The Peloponnesian Allies prepared to now defend the Isthmus of Corinth, thus abandoning Athens to the Persians. From Artemisium, the Allied fleet sailed to the island of Salamis, where the Athenian ships helped with the final evacuation of Athens. The Peloponnesian contingents wanted to sail to the coast of the Isthmus to concentrate forces with the army. However, Themistocles tried to convince them to remain in the Straits of Salamis, invoking the lessons of Artemisium; “battle in close conditions works to our advantage”. After threatening to sail with the whole Athenian people into exile in Sicily, he eventually persuaded the other Allies, whose security after all relied on the Athenian navy, to accept his plan. Therefore, even after Athens had fallen to the Persians, and the Persian navy had arrived off the coast of Salamis, the Allied navy remained in the Straits. Themistocles appears to have been aiming to fight a battle that would cripple the Persian navy, and thus guarantee the security of the Peloponnesus.

To bring about this battle, Themistocles used a cunning mix of subterfuge and misinformation, psychologically exploiting Xerxes’s desire to finish the invasion. Xerxes’s actions indicate that he was keen to finish the conquest of Greece in 480 BC, and to do this, he needed a decisive victory over the Allied fleet. Themistocles sent a servant, Sicinnus, to Xerxes, with a message proclaiming that Themistocles was “on king’s side and prefers that your affairs prevail, not the Hellenes”. Themistocles claimed that the Allied commanders were infighting, that the Peloponnesians were planning to evacuate that very night, and that to gain victory all the Persians needed to do was to block the straits.[52] In performing this subterfuge, Themistocles seems to have been trying to lure the Persian fleet into the Straits. The message also had a secondary purpose, namely that in the event of an Allied defeat, the Athenians would probably receive some degree of mercy from Xerxes (having indicated their readiness to submit). At any rate, this was exactly the kind of news that Xerxes wanted to hear. Xerxes evidently took the bait, and the Persian fleet was sent out to effect the block. Perhaps overconfident and expecting no resistance, the Persian navy sailed into the Straits, only to find that, far from disintegrating, the Allied navy was ready for battle.

According to Herodotus, after the Persian navy began its maneuvers, Aristides arrived at the Allied camp from Aegina. Aristides had been recalled from exile along with the other ostracized Athenians on the order of Themistocles, so that Athens might be united against the Persians. Aristides told Themistocles that the Persian fleet had encircled the Allies, which greatly pleased Themistocles, as he now knew that the Persians had walked into his trap. The Allied commanders seem to have taken this news rather uncomplainingly, and Holland therefore suggests that they were party to Themistocles’s ruse all along. Either way, the Allies prepared for battle, and Themistocles delivered a speech to the marines before they embarked on the ships. In the ensuing battle, the cramped conditions in the Straits hindered the much larger Persian navy, which became disarrayed, and the Allies took advantage to win a famous victory.

Salamis was the turning point in the second Persian invasion, and indeed the Greco-Persian Wars in general. While the battle did not end the Persian invasion, it effectively ensured that all Greece would not be conquered, and allowed the Allies to go on the offensive in 479 BC. A number of historians believe that Salamis is one of the most significant battles in human history. Since Themistocles’ long-standing advocacy of Athenian naval power enabled the Allied fleet to fight, and his stratagem brought about the Battle of Salamis, it is probably not an exaggeration to say, as Plutarch does, that Themistocles, “…is thought to have been the man most instrumental in achieving the salvation of Hellas.”

Returning to Athens, he continued increasing the naval power of Athens and his policies eventually led to the Delos Alliance, with the aim to liberate the Ionic cities from the Persians. Nevertheless, the aristocracy started gaining more political power and Themistocles was set aside. He was accused of a series of mistakes and was finally ostracized in 471 BC to Argos. After a series of events, he found himself at the court of the Persian King, Artaxerxes, who accepted him with joy. A few years later, when the king asked him to provide advice for the Egyptian revolution, Themistocles chose to commit suicide rather than undermine the Greek interests or be ungrateful to the Persian king.

Harvard Classics

July 6 – Sir Thomas More: Utopia

The Origin of “Utopia”
When Europe was suffering from evil rulers, heavy taxes, and despair, Sir Thomas More dreamed of a happy land where an intelligently managed state perfected happiness.
(Sir Thomas More executed, July 6, 1535.)
Read from More‘s UTOPIA Vol. 36, pp. 135142

Book 1: Dialogue of Counsel

The work begins with written correspondence between Thomas More and several people he had met in Europe: Peter Gilles, town clerk of Antwerp, and Hieronymus van Busleyden, counselor to Charles V. More chose these letters, which are communications between actual people, to further the plausibility of his fictional land. In the same spirit, these letters also include a specimen of the Utopian alphabet and its poetry. The letters also explain the lack of widespread travel to Utopia; during the first mention of the land, someone had coughed during announcement of the exact longitude and latitude. The first book tells of the traveller Raphael Hythlodaeus, to whom More is introduced in Antwerp, and it also explores the subject of how best to counsel a prince, a popular topic at the time.

The first discussions with Raphael allow him to discuss some of the modern ills affecting Europe such as the tendency of kings to start wars and the subsequent loss of money on fruitless endeavours. He also criticises the use of execution to punish theft, saying thieves might as well murder whom they rob, to remove witnesses, if the punishment is going to be the same. He lays most of the problems of theft on the practice of enclosure—the enclosing of common land—and the subsequent poverty and starvation of people who are denied access to land because of sheep farming.

More tries to convince Raphael that he could find a good job in a royal court, advising monarchs, but Raphael says that his views are too radical and would not be listened to. Raphael sees himself in the tradition of Plato: he knows that for good governance, kings must act philosophically. He, however, points out that:

“Plato doubtless did well foresee, unless kings themselves would apply their minds to the study of philosophy, that else they would never thoroughly allow the council of philosophers, being themselves before, even from their tender age, infected and corrupt with perverse and evil opinions.”

More seems to contemplate the duty of philosophers to work around and in real situations and, for the sake of political expediency, work within flawed systems to make them better, rather than hoping to start again from first principles.

“… for in courts they will not bear with a man’s holding his peace or conniving at what others do: a man must barefacedly approve of the worst counsels and consent to the blackest designs, so that he would pass for a spy, or, possibly, for a traitor, that did but coldly approve of such wicked practices”

Book 2: Discourse on Utopia

Utopia is placed in the New World and More links Raphael’s travels in with Amerigo Vespucci’s real life voyages of discovery. He suggests that Raphael is one of the 24 men Vespucci, in his Four Voyages of 1507, says he left for six months at Cabo Frio, Brazil. Raphael then travels farther and finds the island of Utopia, where he spends five years observing the customs of the natives.

According to More, the island of Utopia is
…two hundred miles across in the middle part, where it is widest, and nowhere much narrower than this except towards the two ends, where it gradually tapers. These ends, curved round as if completing a circle five hundred miles in circumference, make the island crescent-shaped, like a new moon.[9]

The island was originally a peninsula but a 15-mile wide channel was dug by the community’s founder King Utopos to separate it from the mainland. The island contains 54 cities. Each city is divided into four equal parts. The capital city, Amaurot, is located directly in the middle of the crescent island.

Each city has not more than 6000 households, each family consisting of between 10 and 16 adults. Thirty households are grouped together and elect a Syphograntus (whom More says is now called a phylarchus). Every ten Syphogranti have an elected Traniborus (more recently called a protophylarchus) ruling over them. The 200 Syphogranti of a city elect a Prince in a secret ballot. The Prince stays for life unless he is deposed or removed for suspicion of tyranny.

People are re-distributed around the households and towns to keep numbers even. If the island suffers from overpopulation, colonies are set up on the mainland. Alternatively, the natives of the mainland are invited to be part of these Utopian colonies, but if they dislike them and no longer wish to stay they may return. In the case of under-population the colonists are re-called.

There is no private property on Utopia, with goods being stored in warehouses and people requesting what they need. There are also no locks on the doors of the houses, and the houses are rotated between the citizens every ten years. Agriculture provides the most important occupation on the island. Every person is taught it and must live in the countryside, farming for two years at a time, with women doing the same work as men. Parallel to this, every citizen must learn at least one of the other essential trades: weaving (mainly done by the women), carpentry, metalsmithing and masonry. There is deliberate simplicity about these trades; for instance, all people wear the same types of simple clothes and there are no dressmakers making fine apparel. All able-bodied citizens must work; thus unemployment is eradicated, and the length of the working day can be minimized: the people only have to work six hours a day (although many willingly work for longer). More does allow scholars in his society to become the ruling officials or priests, people picked during their primary education for their ability to learn. All other citizens, however, are encouraged to apply themselves to learning in their leisure time.

Slavery is a feature of Utopian life and it is reported that every household has two slaves. The slaves are either from other countries (prisoners of war, people condemned to die, or poor people) or are the Utopian criminals. These criminals are weighed down with chains made out of gold. The gold is part of the community wealth of the country, and fettering criminals with it or using it for shameful things like chamber pots gives the citizens a healthy dislike of it. It also makes it difficult to steal as it is in plain view. The wealth, though, is of little importance and is only good for buying commodities from foreign nations or bribing these nations to fight each other. Slaves are periodically released for good behaviour. Jewels are worn by children, who finally give them up as they mature.

Other significant innovations of Utopia include: a welfare state with free hospitals, euthanasia permissible by the state, priests being allowed to marry, divorce permitted, premarital sex punished by a lifetime of enforced celibacy and adultery being punished by enslavement. Meals are taken in community dining halls and the job of feeding the population is given to a different household in turn. Although all are fed the same, Raphael explains that the old and the administrators are given the best of the food. Travel on the island is only permitted with an internal passport and any people found without a passport are, on a first occasion, returned in disgrace, but after a second offence they are placed in slavery. In addition, there are no lawyers and the law is made deliberately simple, as all should understand it and not leave people in any doubt of what is right and wrong.

There are several religions on the island: moon-worshipers, sun-worshipers, planet-worshipers, ancestor-worshipers and monotheists, but each is tolerant of the others. Only atheists are despised (but allowed) in Utopia, as they are seen as representing a danger to the state: since they do not believe in any punishment or reward after this life, they have no reason to share the communistic life of Utopia, and will break the laws for their own gain. They are not banished, but are encouraged to talk out their erroneous beliefs with the priests until they are convinced of their error. Raphael says that through his teachings Christianity was beginning to take hold in Utopia. The toleration of all other religious ideas is enshrined in a universal prayer all the Utopians recite.

…but, if they are mistaken, and if there is either a better government, or a religion more acceptable to God, they implore His goodness to let them know it.

Wives are subject to their husbands and husbands are subject to their wives although women are restricted to conducting household tasks for the most part. Only few widowed women become priests. While all are trained in military arts, women confess their sins to their husbands once a month. Gambling, hunting, makeup and astrology are all discouraged in Utopia. The role allocated to women in Utopia might, however, have been seen as being more liberal from a contemporary point of view.

Utopians do not like to engage in war. If they feel countries friendly to them have been wronged, they will send military aid, but they try to capture, rather than kill, enemies. They are upset if they achieve victory through bloodshed. The main purpose of war is to achieve that which, if they had achieved already, they would not have gone to war over.

Privacy is not regarded as freedom in Utopia; taverns, ale-houses and places for private gatherings are non-existent for the effect of keeping all men in full view, so that they are obliged to behave well.


The story is written from the perspective of More himself. This was common at the time, and More uses his own name and background to create the narrator. The book is written in two parts: “Book one: Dialogue of Council,” and “Book two: Discourse on Utopia.”

The first book is told from the perspective of More, the narrator, who is introduced by his friend Peter Giles to a fellow traveller named Raphael Hythloday, whose name translates as “expert of nonsense” in Greek. In an amical dialogue with More and Giles, Hythloday expresses strong criticism of then-modern practices in England and other Catholicism-dominated countries, such as the crime of theft being punishable by death, and the over-willingness of kings to start wars (Getty, 321).

Book two has Hythloday tell his interlocutors about Utopia, where he has lived for five years, with the aim of convincing them about its superior state of affairs. Utopia turns out to be a socialist state. Interpretations about this important part of the book vary. Gilbert notes that while some experts[who?] believe that More supports socialism, others believe that he shows how socialism is impractical. The former would argue that More used book two to show how socialism would work in practice. Individual cities are run by privately elected princes and families are made up of ten to sixteen adults living in a single household. It is unknown if More truly believed in socialism, or if he printed Utopia as a way to show that true socialism was impractical (Gilbert). More printed many writings involving socialism, some seemingly in defense of the practices, and others seemingly scathing satires against it. Some scholars believe that More uses this structure to show the perspective of something as an idea against something put into practice. Hythloday describes the city as perfect and ideal. He believes the society thrives and is perfect. As such, he is used to represent the more fanatic socialists and radical reformists of his day. When More arrives he describes the social and cultural norms put into practice, citing a city thriving and idealistic. While some believe this is More’s ideal society, some believe the book’s title, which translates to “Nowhere” from Greek, is a way to describe that the practices used in Utopia are impractical and could not be used in a modern world successfully (Gilbert). Either way, Utopia has become one of the most talked about works both in defense of socialism and against it.

One of the most troublesome questions about Utopia is Thomas More’s reason for writing it. Most scholars see it as a comment on or criticism of 16th-century Catholicism, for the evils of More’s day are laid out in Book I and in many ways apparently solved in Book II. Indeed, Utopia has many of the characteristics of satire, and there are many jokes and satirical asides such as how honest people are in Europe, but these are usually contrasted with the simple, uncomplicated society of the Utopians.

Yet, the puzzle is that some of the practices and institutions of the Utopians, such as the ease of divorce, euthanasia and both married priests and female priests, seem to be polar opposites of More’s beliefs and the teachings of the Catholic Church of which he was a devout member. Another often cited apparent contradiction is that of the religious tolerance of Utopia contrasted with his persecution of Protestants as Lord Chancellor. Similarly, the criticism of lawyers comes from a writer who, as Lord Chancellor, was arguably the most influential lawyer in England. It can be answered, however, that as a pagan society Utopians had the best ethics that could be reached through reason alone, or that More changed from his early life to his later when he was Lord Chancellor.

One highly influential interpretation of Utopia is that of intellectual historian Quentin Skinner. He has argued that More was taking part in the Renaissance humanist debate over true nobility, and that he was writing to prove the perfect commonwealth could not occur with private property. Crucially, Skinner sees Raphael Hythlodaeus as embodying the Platonic view that philosophers should not get involved in politics, while the character of More embodies the more pragmatic Ciceronian view. Thus the society Raphael proposes is the ideal More would want. But without communism, which he saw no possibility of occurring, it was wiser to take a more pragmatic view.

Quentin Skinner’s interpretation of Utopia is consistent with the speculation that Stephen Greenblatt made in The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. There, Greenblatt argued that More was under the Epicurean influence of Lucretius’s On the Nature of Things and the people that live in Utopia were an example of how pleasure has become their guiding principle of life.[14] Although Greenblatt acknowledged that More’s insistence on the existence of an afterlife and punishment for people holding contrary views were inconsistent with the essentially materialist view of Epicureanism, Greenblatt contended that it was the minimum conditions for what the pious More would have considered as necessary to live a happy life.

Another complication comes from the Greek meanings of the names of people and places in the work. Apart from Utopia, meaning “Noplace,” several other lands are mentioned: Achora meaning “Nolandia”, Polyleritae meaning “Muchnonsense”, Macarenses meaning “Happiland,” and the river Anydrus meaning “Nowater”. Raphael’s last name, Hythlodaeus means “dispenser of nonsense” surely implying that the whole of the Utopian text is ‘nonsense’. Additionally the Latin rendering of More’s name, Morus, is similar to the word for a fool in Greek (μωρός). It is unclear whether More is simply being ironic, an in-joke for those who know Greek, seeing as the place he is talking about does not actually exist or whether there is actually a sense of distancing of Hythlodaeus’ and the More’s (“Morus”) views in the text from his own.

The name Raphael, though, may have been chosen by More to remind his readers of the archangel Raphael who is mentioned in the Book of Tobit (3:17; 5:4, 16; 6:11, 14, 16, 18; also in chs. 7, 8, 9, 11, 12). In that book the angel guides Tobias and later cures his father of his blindness. While Hythlodaeus may suggest his words are not to be trusted, Raphael meaning (in Hebrew) “God has healed” suggests that Raphael may be opening the eyes of the reader to what is true. The suggestion that More may have agreed with the views of Raphael is given weight by the way he dressed; with “his cloak… hanging carelessly about him”; a style which Roger Ascham reports that More himself was wont to adopt. Furthermore, more recent criticism has questioned the reliability of both Gile’s annotations and the character of “More” in the text itself. Claims that the book only subverts Utopia and Hythlodaeus are possibly oversimplistic.

In Humans and Animals in Thomas More’s Utopia, Christopher Burlinson argues that More intended to produce a fictional space in which ethical concerns of humanity and bestial inhumanity could be explored. Burlinson regards the Utopian criticisms of finding pleasure in the spectacle of bloodshed as reflective of More’s own anxieties about the fragility of humanity and the ease in which humans fall to beast-like ways. According to Burlinson, More interprets this decadent expression of animal cruelty as a causal antecedent for the cruel intercourse present within the world of Utopia and More’s own. Burlinson does not argue that More explicitly equates animal and human subjectivities, but is interested in More’s treatment of human-animal relations as significant ethical concerns intertwined with religious ideas of salvation and the divine qualities of souls.

In Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World, Jack Weatherford asserts that native American societies played an inspirational role for More’s writing. For example, indigenous Americans, although referred to as “noble savages” in many circles, showed the possibility of living in social harmony [with nature] and prosperity without the rule a king…”. The early British and French settlers in the 1500 and 1600s were relatively shocked to see how the native Americans moved around so freely across the untamed land, not beholden by debt, “lack of magistrates, forced services, riches, poverty or inheritance”.

In Utopian Justifications: More’s Utopia, Settler Colonialism, and Contemporary Ecocritical Concerns, Susan Bruce juxtaposes Utopian justifications for the violent dispossession of idle peoples unwilling to surrender lands that are underutilized with Peter Kosminsky’s The Promise, a 2011 television drama centered around Zionist settler colonialism in modern-day Palestine. Bruce’s treatment of Utopian foreign policy, which mirrored European concerns in More’s day, situates More’s text as an articulation of settler colonialism. Bruce identifies an isomorphic relationship between Utopian settler logic and the account provided by The Promise’s Paul, who recalls his father’s criticism of Palestinians as undeserving, indolent, and animalistic occupants of the land. Bruce interprets the Utopian fixation with material surplus as foundational for exploitative gift economies which ensnare Utopia’s bordering neighbors into a subservient relationship of dependence, in which they remain in constant fear of being subsumed by the superficially generous Utopians.

Harvard Classics

July 5 – Thousand and One Nights: The Tailor

A Tailor Entertains a King
Here is another of those fanciful Oriental stories that proclaims the democracy of Eastern despotism. A tailor might talk with a king and receive either a death sentence or the office of Grand Vizier as a reward.
Read from THE THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS Vol. 16, pp. 149-162

One Thousand and One Nights is a collection of Middle Eastern folk tales compiled in Arabic during the Islamic Golden Age. It is often known in English as the Arabian Nights, from the first English-language edition, which rendered the title as The Arabian Nights’ Entertainment.

The main frame story concerns Shahryār (Persian: شهريار‎, from Middle Persian: šahr-dār, ‘holder of realm’), whom the narrator calls a “Sasanian king” ruling in “India and China.” Shahryār is shocked to learn that his brother’s wife is unfaithful. Discovering that his own wife’s infidelity has been even more flagrant, he has her killed. In his bitterness and grief, he decides that all women are the same. Shahryār begins to marry a succession of virgins only to execute each one the next morning, before she has a chance to dishonor him.

Eventually the Vizier (Wazir), whose duty it is to provide them, cannot find any more virgins. Scheherazade (Persian: شهْرزاد‎, Shahrazād, from Middle Persian: شهر‎, čehr, ‘lineage’ + ازاد‎, āzād, ‘noble’), the vizier’s daughter, offers herself as the next bride and her father reluctantly agrees. On the night of their marriage, Scheherazade begins to tell the king a tale, but does not end it. The king, curious about how the story ends, is thus forced to postpone her execution in order to hear the conclusion. The next night, as soon as she finishes the tale, she begins another one, and the king, eager to hear the conclusion of that tale as well, postpones her execution once again. This goes on for one thousand and one nights, hence the name.

The tailor tells this story to the king of China.

The day before meeting the hunchback, he attended an early morning banquet. One of the guests, a lame man, refused to enter when he recognized a barber in the group. The man blamed the barber for his lameness and other misfortunes that had caused him to leave his native Baghdad. Guests begged to hear the story.

In Baghdad the young man fell in love with a woman he saw in a window. His desire made him ill. An old woman noticed his distress and convinced the young woman, a judge’s daughter locked in her chamber, to let him visit. The young woman reluctantly allowed the young man to enter in secret on Friday before the noon prayer.

Friday came, and the man eagerly prepared for their meeting. First he summoned a barber to shave his head. Instead of cutting the man’s hair, the barber took out an astrolabe—an instrument used to calculate the positions of the stars and planets. He claimed the heavenly conditions were unlucky for meeting another person. The barber then bragged about his skills in medicine, scholarship, Muslim doctrine, and other fields. He praised his own discretion, saying his nickname was “the Silent One.” Impatient, the young man insisted the barber just cut his hair. But the barber kept bragging and only shaved a few hairs at a time. Certain the man was in danger, the barber wouldn’t let him leave.

At noon the man sneaked off to his meeting with the woman, unaware the barber was following him. When the barber heard a scream from inside the house, he mistakenly thought the man was being murdered and caused a commotion in the streets. The man was forced to escape in a chest. He broke his leg jumping from the chest, then ran away. The barber ran after him, claiming he had saved the man’s life. Certain the barber wouldn’t leave him alone otherwise, the man sold his goods and moved to a new country.

After hearing the story, the guests at the banquet asked the barber if it was true. The barber maintained his actions had saved the man’s life. He said he’s the wisest of his six brothers and would tell a story to prove his good character.

The lame man is one of several characters whose unrequited love, or separation from his beloved, renders him physically ill. Most of the love poems in The Arabian Nights combine love and sorrow. This love affair seems like it may lead to disaster; the reader already knows the lame man didn’t get a happy ending. What’s more, the judge’s daughter seems to have no interest in him.

However, the story takes an unusual turn and becomes an over-the-top comedy. It resembles a burlesque—a comic treatment of a serious subject—by sidelining the dramatic, earnest love story for the barber’s antics. The contrast between the barber’s incompetence and his pride, and between his constant chatter and his image of himself as “The Silent One,” provide humor. His misadventures were turned into an 1858 comic opera by German composer Peter Cornelius (1824–74) called The Barber of Baghdad.

In medieval times barbers were often multidisciplinary professionals. European barbers didn’t only cut hair. They also functioned as both surgeons and bloodletters. This barber, on the other hand, doesn’t do much professionally other than read the signs of the stars.

The comedy escalates with the time constraints—the haircut has to happen before noon. Days in medieval Islamic countries were structured around the five daily calls to prayer.

As the plot descends into comic chaos, the barber reveals the story’s central situational irony. He insists God sent him to save the lame man from the destruction the barber caused himself. Nevertheless, the lame man still attributes the chain of events to divine foresight, believing God planned to ruin his life in the city by sending the barber.

Harvard Classics

July 4 – Declaration of Independence

In Congress, July 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America, When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences

For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:

For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.


Button Gwinnett

Lyman Hall

George Walton

North Carolina

William Hooper

Joseph Hewes

John Penn

South Carolina

Edward Rutledge

Thomas Heyward, Jr.

Thomas Lynch, Jr.

Arthur Middleton


John Hancock

Samuel Adams

John Adams

Robert Treat Paine

Elbridge Gerry


Roger Sherman

Samuel Huntington

William Williams

Oliver Wolcott


Samuel Chase

William Paca

Thomas Stone

Charles Carroll of Carrollton


George Wythe

Richard Henry Lee

Thomas Jefferson

Benjamin Harrison

Thomas Nelson, Jr.

Francis Lightfoot Lee

Carter Braxton


Robert Morris

Benjamin Rush

Benjamin Franklin

John Morton

George Clymer

James Smith

George Taylor

James Wilson

George Ross


Caesar Rodney

George Read

Thomas McKean

New York

William Floyd

Philip Livingston

Francis Lewis

Lewis Morris

New Jersey

Richard Stockton

John Witherspoon

Francis Hopkinson

John Hart

Abraham Clark

New Hampshire

Josiah Bartlett

William Whipple

Matthew Thornton

Rhode Island

Stephen Hopkins

William Ellery

Harvard Classics

July 3 – Frank Aretas Haskell: The Battle of Gettysburg

3 Gettysburg by an Eyewitness
An officer in that momentous battle narrates every major action of both armies. Thus we see the swarming lines of Confederates advance – the hand-to-hand struggle.
(Battle of Gettysburg, July 1-3. 1863.)
Read from Haskell‘s BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG Vol. 43, pp. 326335 (end)

Frank Aretas Haskell – Franklin Aretas Haskell was a Union Army officer during the American Civil War who was killed during the Battle of Cold Harbor. Haskell wrote a famous account of the Battle of Gettysburg that was published posthumously.

Harvard Classics

July 2 – Plutarch: Caesar

2 “Julius” Becomes “July”
So that the date for certain festivals would not fall one year in midwinter and in the heat of summer another year, Cæsar reformed the calendar. July was named for him.
Read from Plutarch‘s CÆSAR Vol. 12, pp. 310315

Plutarch – Plutarch was a Greek Middle Platonist philosopher, historian, biographer, essayist, and priest at the Temple of Apollo. He is known primarily for his Parallel Lives, a series of biographies of illustrious Greeks and Romans, and Moralia, a collection of essays and speeches.

In the hope that the government of a single person would give them time (the citizens) to breather after so many civil wars and calamities, made him (Caesar) dictator for life.

Affections of the people to be the best and surest guard (against death) // promised consulships, provided feasts, public entertainment

Past honor a motivation to continue with ideas of greater action

Parthians – The Parthian Empire, also known as the Arsacid Empire, was a major Iranian political and cultural power in ancient Iran from 247 BC to 224 AD.

Hyrcania – a historical region composed of the land south-east of the Caspian Sea in modern-day Iran and Turkmenistan, bound in the south by the Alborz mountain range and the Kopet Dag in the east.

Pontus – a region on the southern coast of the Black Sea, located in modern-day eastern Black Sea Region of Turkey.

Calendar adjustment to account for the “irregularity of time” // Romans wanted to make revolutions of their months to fall within the course of their year

Intercalary month – Mercedonius // was the intercalary month of the Roman calendar. The resulting leap year was either 377 or 378 days long. It theoretically occurred every two (or occasionally three) years, but was sometimes avoided or employed by the Roman pontiffs for political reasons regardless of the state of the solar year. Mercedonius was eliminated by Julius Caesar when he introduced the Julian calendar in 46 BC.

JULY: This month used to be called Quintilis – the Roman word for “fifth” as it was the fifth month of the Roman year. It was later changed to July by the ruler of Roman world, Julius Caesar, after his family name (Julius).

Harvard Classics

July 1 – Charles Darwin: Origin of Species

1 Darwin Not First Evolutionist
While Darwin was working on his theory of evolution, another scientist independently arrived at the same conclusions. Darwin, then, was not the first to study evolution.
(Darwin publishes outline of “Origin of Species” July 1, 1858.)
Read from Darwin‘s ORIGIN OF SPECIES Vol. 11, pp. 517

Lamarck (Jean-Baptiste)Philosophie Zoologique
Hist. Nat. des Animaux sans Vertebres
Geoffroy Saint-HilaireLife
Patrick MatthewNaval Timber and Arboriculture
Robert ChambersVestiges of Creation
Richard OwenThe Nature of Limbs
Baden PowellPhilosophy of Creation

Prior belief species were immutable

Lamarck observed difficulty in distinguishing species and varieties // perfect gradation of forms in certain groups. Attributed to direct action of life conditions

Geoffroy – condition of life or “monde ambiant” // belief that species stopped evolving

Professor Grant (1826) Edinburgh Philosophical Journal vol. xiv. p. 283


Harvard Classics

June 30 – John Stewart Mill: On Liberty

“Democracy” has not always been the choice of oppressed people. The tyranny of the majority is a recognized evil as harmful as the misrule of a king. And rather than exchange a lesser evil for a greater, a rule by king has often been preferred to a republic.
Read: Mill‘s ON LIBERTY Vol. 25, pp. 195203

Essay not “the so-called Liberty of the Will” rather than civil or “social liberty.”
Social liberty = nature and limits exercised by society over an individual
Struggle between liberty and authority a conspicuous feature of history between classes of subjects and the government
Rulers traditionally conceived as an antagonistic position to the people they ruled
Power necessary but dangerous – established to protect weaker community members from the larger mass
Traditional patriots were to set limits of power which the ruler could exercise

Two methods: establishing immunities in the form of rights // if overreach by ruler rebellion was justifiable; second is establishment of constitutional checks
Modern methodology was establishment of elected representatives (democratic republic)

Too much importance on the limitation of power itself (desire for elected leaders to represent their will)
necessary for people to limit their power over themselves: Democratic Republic – majority can use their power against the will of the minority

The people who exercise power are not always the same people who have that power exercised over (not a true self government) // the will of the people most practically means the will of the most numerous and active part of the people (the majority or those who succeeded in making themselves accepted as the majority).

“Tyranny of the majority” – an evil which society requires to be on its guard

the only time individuals or society as a whole can interfere with individual liberty is for self-protection.

Harvard Classics

June 29 – Shakespeare: Macbeth

“Is That a Dagger I See Before Me?”
Macbeth, spurred on by the ambitious and crafty Lady Macbeth, committed murder to secure the crown of Scotland. But he paid dearly for his gain. Ghostly guests appeared at his banquet and threatened him with dire threats. (Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre burned June 29, 1613.)
Read from Shakespeare‘s MACBETH Vol. 46, pp. 357365

Character “Fleance” – Fleance is Banquo’s son. The Witches predict that Banquo’s children will be kings, but this doesn’t happen during the play. Macbeth wants Fleance killed because he knows it is he who will inherit the crown not his own children.

Character “Lennox” – is a young Thane attending on Duncan. He accompanies Macduff the morning of Duncan’s murder, and notes that he cannot remember as stormy a night as the preceding one. He joins Macbeth’s court, but is soon convinced of the usurper’s guilt, which he cautiously exposes to similarly-minded lords in ironical phrases.

Character “Macduff” – is a young Thane attending on Duncan. He accompanies Macduff the morning of Duncan’s murder, and notes that he cannot remember as stormy a night as the preceding one. He joins Macbeth’s court, but is soon convinced of the usurper’s guilt, which he cautiously exposes to similarly-minded lords in ironical phrases.

Character “Hecate” – Hecate is the Witches’ mistress. She appears briefly to scold them for dealing with Macbeth without her say so. She thinks Macbeth is ungrateful and doesn’t deserve their help. She warns the Witches that she will set up illusions to confuse Macbeth and give him a false sense of security.

Character “Duncan” – King Duncan is a fictional character in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. He is the father of two youthful sons, and the victim of a well-plotted regicide in a power grab by his trusted captain Macbeth.

Macbeth: Thou are the best o’ the cut-throats; yet he’s good That did the like for Fleance. If thou didst it, Thou are the nonpareil. (the one without equal)

  • 1 Witch. Thrice the brinded cat hath mew’d.
  • 2 Witch. Thrice, and once the hedge-pig whin’d.
  • 3 Witch. Harpier cries; ’tis time, ’tis time.
  • 1 Witch. Round about the cauldron go;
    In the poison’d entrails throw.
    Toad, that under cold stone
    Days and nights has thirty-one
    Swelt’red venom sleeping got,
    Boil thou first i’ the charmed pot.
    All. Double, double, toil and trouble;
    Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
  • 2 Witch. Fillet of a fenny snake,
    In the cauldron boil and bake;
    Eye of newt and toe of frog,
    Wool of bat and tongue of dog,
    Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,
    Lizard’s leg and howlet’s wing,
    For a charm of powerful trouble,
    Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
    All. Double, double, toil and trouble;
    Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
  • 3 Witch. Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,
    Witches’ mummy, maw and gulf
    Of the ravin’d salt-sea shark,
    Root of hemlock digg’d i’ the dark,
    Liver of blaspheming Jew,
    Gall of goat, and slips of yew
    Sliver’d in the moon’s eclipse,
    Nose of Turk and Tartar’s lips,
    Finger of birth-strangled babe
    Ditch-deliver’d by a drab,
    Make the gruel thick and slab.
    Add thereto a tiger’s chaudron,
    For the ingredients of our cauldron.
    All. Double, double, toil and trouble;
    Fire burn and cauldron bubble.
  • 2 Witch. Cool it with a baboon’s blood,
    Then the charm is firm and good.