March 25, 2012

Lathe Biōsas - Live Secretly

Ernesto Galli della Loggia
Photo: Silvia Crupano
Italy’s elite has lost the noble taste for that disdain which is the reverse of affectation, a taking pleasure in, and appreciating the elegance of, sobriety. The celebrated apple that President Einaudi once asked if anyone wanted to share with him at an official dinner is perhaps no longer even on the Quirinale Palace menu. Nor does Einaudi’s famously snobbish, and more than a tad stingy, publisher son have many emulators nowadays of his treks to find delicious (in his opinion) food at out-of-the-way hostelries.
Fashion holds up a mirror to this debacle. Once upon a time, young people from Lombardy’s upper classes would sport loden topcoats and high Vibram shoes. The old English tweeds that bourgeois ladies from Naples so nonchalantly donned have given way to the fashion-driven elegance of today’s up and coming thirty and forty-somethings, accoutred strictly in black, like so many bodyguards or undertakers.

Today’s vast, eagerly seized opportunities to show off superfluous high-bling luxury say a lot about Italy’s elite in their sheer lack of restraint.

~ Ernesto Galli Della Loggia, Corriere della Sera, March 19, 2012
   [Read the full article here]

It’s Saturday, a great day for several reasons, one of which, for us blog writers, is that most readers are “off-duty.” Well, of course, I’m not saying that I don’t like blog readers. No, quite the contrary! In my view they are by far the most interesting of all readers. What I mean is that sometimes one can want to write without wanting to be read by too many people. And this because you don’t want to be misunderstood… In my case I don’t want to be associated with any kind of bigotry. Yet, there is a limit to everything; there are things I cannot stand. One of them is the above described “way of life” of the Italian elite.

Raphael, School of Athens (detail): Epicurus
Vatican Museums
That’s the kind of bad habits that may lead many people, especially young people (the most virtuous and ethical ones), to keep away from politics and to stop striving for higher levels of achievement in every field of study and in every area of life.

Perhaps that’s also part of what led the great Epicurus to utter the famous quote λάθε βιῶσας (lathe biōsas), “live secretly,” “get through life without drawing attention to yourself.” Consequently, unlike the Stoics, Epicurus and his disciples showed little interest in participating in the politics of the day. But then again, in the days of Epicurus Greece had already lost its independence. Does this have anything to teach us today?


  1. Unfortunately in today's world, 'the young' seem to be conditioned into thinking that drawing attention to themselves could be a short cut to success or to making a name for themselves. But this is not only an illusion, it could also be a dangerous invitation to exploitation and abuse. Of course this is a reference to Facebook and the increasing number of sites that are trying to emulate the idea.

    One can even reach the ironic situation of having to take a peep at Facebook in order to get some idea of what the kids are doing.
    When millions of young are so engrossed, trying to draw attention to themselves via Facebook and the like, it can only become banal, thus self defeating. Even the talented can become lost in the electro-social network jungle and have to learn once more that there are no short cuts. Only hard work, love and dedication.

    'Artists should avoid politics like the plague', I once thought. But as we (including those who don't have the national right to vote) are all directly effected by the consequences of the majority's choice, and as people in general seem to be more vulnerable than ever to media manipulation, (now rife in France) one ends up by being persuaded that there's no choice.

    Apart from that, I would agree. One does one's best work in peace and secrecy. Whether the finished results will be appreciated, successful, immortal, etc., are questions that are in fact less important in relationship to the conviction that one has produced something worthwhile. And through history this has always been the case.