Monday, January 23, 2012

Final Essay - Plato's Cave and the Renaissance

Final Essay

By Thomas

The Renaissance was the return of ideals and standards from ancient Rome and Greece. It was a rebirth of philosophies, a rejection of superstition and outdates religious ideas, and an emphasis on humanism, education, and the possibility and capacity of the human body. The revolutionary rebirth, from Martin Luther’s reformation of the church to Van Eyck’s application of perspective and deletion of religious symbolism, was an exit from the dark cave of the Middle Ages, and an enlightenment of mankind to what would be known to Plato as the single truth.

In the Plato’s allegory of the cave, the people would be shown a mere shadow cast upon by a flame which they would believe was reality, and it was not until someone would break free and face the light that they would truly be enlightened and educated by the one single ideal which would be given to them upon exiting the cave. The thousand years of the Middle Ages could quite easily be seen as when humanity was trapped within the cave. Religious superstition coupled with a low standard of education and terrible standards of living held back the Europeans and it was not until late heroes such as Charlemagne, an educational revolutionist, and early innovators such as Brunellesco came along, that the restriction within the cave would finally end. The Renaissance, much like the realization of the cave, was not an immediate switch in philosophies. It took its roots in Florence originally, a democratic republic ruled by a single family between Geneva and Venice which benefitted from the marble trade routes. It set an example by being separated both politically and geographically from the rest of Italy, and taking advantage of its wealth by applying them to urban values and humanistic ideals. The Medici family who ruled Florence could take much of the credit for keeping the Renaissance moving, with much of the financial support coming from the family, and the motivational support especially from Lorenzo was vital to many of the works commissioned there. It was the Florentines who were among the first to finally break free of the Middle Ages, to leave the cave, and set an example for the rest of Italy and Europe.

At first the Renaissance movement was limited to the area around Florence but soon many were brought out to experience the enlightenment of the movement. Once emerged from the cave, the Renaissance took on full stride and revolutionized practically every facet of human life. By the time the movement had reached Rome, the people had already looked into the sun, the single truth, and were ready to embrace it. Gone were old religious ideals that man was a sinner, and in came the human spirit, protestation of the old church, and artistic support via the church’s patronage. Flat, religious paintings were replaced by Michelangelo’s realization of god as a tangible being and Raphael’s mathematical creation of space and perspective, and the return of Roman influence in Rossellino’s tomb of Bruni and Michelangelo’s David. People were living in the moment, and were living grandly. A true representation of this would be the reconstruction of St. Peters, which really, without a doubt, symbolizes the change of philosophy and personal identification for the Renaissance. This was the realization of the cave allegory, in which humanity was at first trapped in a false reality of primitive living but eventually, due to a key few people, would emerge to take on full potential of whatever they had, to truly become knowledgeable, and to understand the one truth which was, in the Renaissance’s case: humanism and man as the centre pole of culture.

The Renaissance could be described as a return of Roman and Greek ideas, but it can also be seen as the exit and truly realization of human potential from the dark, unrealistic cave known as the Middle Ages. The artistic and philosophical feats may be impressive on their own, but the emergence from what could be seen as the lowest point in humanity and the transfer from that to one the highest is not only equally impressive but a true representation of the power of humanity. In Plato’s terms, the Renaissance is perhaps the most perfect example of humanity of exiting the cave and becoming truly intelligent, but also a validification of the allegory itself.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Marius vs. Sulla (Click to enlarge!)

Test Essay - 4

Julius Caesar and the fall of the Republic

By Thomas

The assassination of the dictator and leader of Rome, Julius Caesar, may have begun the ultimate downfall of the glorious Roman Republic. Julius Caesar came to power alongside Pompey and Crassus in 60BC all of whom had a very military oriented background; however after an internal conflict with Pompey, who supported a Senatorial government, Caesar crowned himself dictator, a title which he would eventually keep for life. While Caesar’s rule was triumphant and active while it lasted, he made many controversial and unconstitutional decisions, and with the fear that Caesar would continue to make irrational militaristic decisions, the Senate, which largely believed in the abolishment of a single ruler, chose to assassinate Caesar on the Senate floor. The assassination of Julius Caesar would not only end the rule of one of the greatest military leaders in human history, but prove to be an unforgiveable mistake which would lead to the end of the Roman Republic.

One of the primary reasons for the collapse of the Republic after Caesars death is the lack of a distinguished ruler to follow. Between Octavian, Marc Antony, and Lepidus, and the lack of a proper heir, the Empire would be once again split into three districts, forming the Second Triumvirate. Having already failed once, the political situation was only asking for another internal conflict which would once again break up a centralized Roman Republic, and with the defeat of Pompey in a naval battle and Marc Antony’s departure to Egypt, the Roman world was essentially handed to Octavian who would take advantage of Rome’s fragile state in order to pursue his self interests of becoming a complete ruler. While the leadership of Caesar might have been drastic and perhaps brutal, the position was not only earned, but kept, well managed, and was on the constant search for expansion. The dormant attitude that many of Caesar’s successors would introduce to the people of Rome would not only make Rome a vulnerable target but would promote stagnation and laziness. Caesar’s heart lay within Rome, and the militaristic attitude he carried was much more successful then the perhaps inadequate successor candidates.

The second piece of evidence of the association between the fall of the Roman Republic and the assassination of Julius Caesar was that the dictator as a personality would become a symbol and icon for Rome, and the fall of a great leader such as Caesar would bring down many ideals of the Roman civilization along side of him. The Roman ideals are based around brutality, fame, fortune, independent success, and arrogance and Caesar represented many, if not all of these traits. Rome, first of all, must have been ruled by a single, dominant leader or party that was prepared for war and the punishment of internal conflicts. Caesar himself was gathering momentum through many facets such as military victories against Pompey’s son in Spain, and the alliance between him and Egypt’s Cleopatra, and the Senate’s fear that Caesar was destroying Rome is an example of why the Senatorial system was not completely successful in the Roman’s case. Caesar lead by example during his reign, by exhibiting the power of Rome and demonstrating what Roman represented, and ultimately the fearful Senate would bring down Caesar and many of the old Roman ideals with him.

The killing of Julius Caesar was perhaps the most significant and important event in the Roman Republic. The Senate, afraid of their own leader would assassinate him, bringing down the whole political system along with him, when in fact by keeping him it could have preserved the Roman traits which began to diminish in the Empire. This would become the most unforgiveable mistake that the Roman Senate would make.

Monday, December 12, 2011


Charlemagne emerged as Frankish king at the beginning of the Middle Ages, and was crowned Emperor of Rome in 800AD. He reconquered much of France, northern Italy, as well as bits of Western Germany. Pope Leo III crowned him Protector of Rome and Emperor of Romans on Christmas Day, 800 AD after his defeat of the Lombards (barbarians in Northern Italy). He was a patron of the arts, and revived much of the religion and culture of the Catholic Church. He brought about the first reemergence of civilization since the collapse of the Roman Empire. His strong, catholic beliefs and conquest of central europe brought about the end of the barbarian incursions and spread the catholic faith. He was the first leader, since the collapse of Rome, to bring education and intellectual enlightenment to the people of Europe. After his death, his empire was passed on to his son, Louis the Pius. Charlemagne's rule of western europe brought about end of the barbarians and began the middle ages.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Siddhartha Essay

The story of Siddhartha follows a young Brahmin boy throughout his life and his journey of self discovery. He encounters many situations and is acquainted with many personalities during his life, slowly building his understanding of himself and the world around him. Though he was born a Hindu, Siddhartha strayed off of the traditional path, often indulging in ideas and facing new consequences, and while at first he visits formal teachers for wise enlightenment, he quickly discovers that the true way to know one’s self is from no one but himself and his experiences, and while the many teachers he is taught by share with him great wisdom, the one true wisdom could only be unlocked by Siddhartha himself and above all, the message in the story of Siddhartha is to find wisdom, Nirvana, and spiritual enlightenment through intuition and experience.

At first, Siddhartha seeks enlightenment through a very direct approach, traveling at an early age to find the wise teacher, the Buddha, to help them reach Nirvana, but after much time with the Samanas, while Govinda is satisfied with his current state and Siddhartha learns many new skills and virtues such as patience and listening, he once again feels unsatisfied and does not seem convinced by the Buddha and his teachings. Siddhartha, now frustrated, embarks from his lifestyle of renouncement and meditation to indulge in the material world. He meets his second major teacher here: the elusive woman, Kamala. Once in the city, Siddhartha occupies himself with the material world of the Child-People. Obsessed with gambling and sex, Siddhartha renounces his previous values and unleashes his lust. Following his current path Siddhartha soon becomes a businessman, enjoying an affluent life where monetary value is everything. His teacher here, Kawaswami, taught him more practical life skills and while Siddhartha seemed to be unaware of his deteriorating spiritual form, he is caught in a trap of believing that it can help enlighten him. Disillusioned and upset, Siddhartha then leaves out of the city and will soon encounter his most influential and vital teachers.

Near the end of Siddhartha’s journey, he is reacquainted with the ferryman, Vasudeva who seems to have reached enlightenment. Vasudeva tells Siddhartha about the river, and what it represents, and this is where Siddhartha would gain some of his greatest teachings, realizing that the world comes together as one organism, and the string and nature of time. Vasudeva teaches Siddhartha that he must find enlightenment in himself, and through the river he finally achieves total peace and in a way, a sense of Nirvana. Throughout this tale, Siddhartha travels in search of reaching enlightenment, and comes across many teachers along the way. In the end, although Siddhartha seems to reach Nirvana through the river, I believe that all of the teachers and people that Siddhartha came across as well as his rejection of them were vital to his peace. At first, when Siddhartha learns the teachings of the Buddha, he finally realizes that a direct approach of renouncement and meditation may not be the ideal way of reaching an understanding, and while Kamala and Kawaswami bring Siddhartha down to a more material, immediate and unsatisfactory lifestyle, they teach Siddhartha the dangers and benefits of love, lust, and indulgence and most importantly the importance of it if one is to be completely enlightened. But of course, the final man who helps him, Vasudeva, realizes that problems Siddhartha is facing, and rather than take a direct method, he just recommends that Siddhartha listen to the river, and learn from, guiding him in the direction of Nirvana.

The search for knowledge and complete enlightenment plays a huge role in the life of Siddhartha, who ultimately aims to find Nirvana. Through the early teachings from the Buddha and Vasudeva that he received, he understood that a direct approach at achieving his goal was contradictory to the meaning of enlightenment itself. He learned from Vasudeva that everyone has wisdom and knowledge inside of them, and by searching for it in a direct approach we are only furthering ourselves away from it even more. By participating in an organized religion with the Brahmins and Samana he realized that wisdom could not be taught, but had to be experienced and so Siddhartha left to embark on his journey. Siddhartha finally reaches peace when he is enlightened by the river, which was the unity of the entire world, containing the whole universe and time itself, and it was here where he heard the Om. Govinda on the other hand, fails to reach total Nirvana as he could not gain wisdom from the teachings of the Buddha. Although he had spent his whole life listening to his teachings, he was not as satisfied and as at peace as Siddhartha was, and at the conclusion of the story, finds Siddhartha and asks him to teach him. He teaches Govinda to listen to the river, and reach enlightenment through his experiences, but his final statement is that to reach enlightenment, Govinda must accept love, which most must religious renounce, and for him to achieve Nirvana, he must first accept love.

Another major moment that Siddhartha had to undergo was his transition and search for balance between the material and spiritual world. Like wisdom itself, Siddhartha had to find the balance between complete renouncement and indulgence with the Child-People who knew nothing of the spiritual world and worried only about money and love, and while love may not have completely pure when he met Kamala, when he meets his son Siddhartha feels his first attachment to someone else, and in turn learns to accept the world and love the people around him without resisting. By doing so, Siddhartha finds the complete balance between the material world of love and spiritual world of renouncement.

As we follow Siddhartha’s life and his journey to seek Nirvana, we see him encounter many teachers to help enlighten him and reach his goal. However, he ultimately understands that his enlightenment and wisdom must come from within, and throughout his life, he experiences many losses, affairs, teachings and transitions between both the spiritual and material world that help him. Wisdom and teachings are the major themes in the story of Siddhartha and his path to enlightenment.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Test Essay - 3

Looking back on human history, the most evident and obvious achievements that have been recorded or that still exist today are the architectural feats. Whether we look at the Chinese and their Great Wall, the Egyptians and the Giza pyramids, or even to more recent European history to locations such as the Cathedral of Notre Dame, the architectural and technological displays that each dynasty leaves behind is a clear and descriptive representation of the civilization as a whole. However, taking into the account the time span in which these were made, as well as the resources and technology available to each civilization, it becomes obvious that many of these communities had to use slave labour in order to achieve their goal. Whether this is an immoral act or if it is just the natural course of a civilization, it is clear that in ancient history and in our modern day to a certain extent, slaves were required for the creation of great achievements.

The first and possibly most well known example is the Great Wall of China. Started during the Qin dynasty between 221BC and 206BC, the great wall was often dubbed the longest grave yard in the world. In the few years the Qin had worked on the wall, over 3000 slaves that ranged from criminals to peasants died on the job, lacking nutrition and proper wages. Not only would the Great Wall not have been possible without the use of slaves, considering its massive size, but the Chinese as a race may have been influenced drastically if not for the protection against the Mongol invasions that the Great Wall provided. Another prime example is the pyramids of Giza. By hiring and training thousands of skilled workmen to work full time for decades without rest would have completely drained Egypt of their resources and by pulling in tens of thousands of slaves the project was possible. The argument that now comes in is that: was the means of construction justified? Iconic civilizations such as Mayans, who had poorly paid workers to work away on pyramids, would come away with a religious site that benefitted and brought together the community at the time as well as leaving a marvel for the rest of the world and for civilizations that would follow to admire. In my opinion, although the slaves would have been treated poorly, the construction of these spectacles is a necessary part for a civilization to leave its mark on human history.

In today’s age in first world countries however, slaves are no longer needed. With the technology that has been developed over the last decades, the man power that machines such as cranes or bulldozers provide simply removes the need for much of the manual labour required in the construction of these types of architecture. Even with workers, the implementation of technology allows for proper payment and treatment. Ironically though, with the convenience of modern day technology, the aura or “wowness” factor behind the spectacles are much harder to obtain. When looking at the Stonehenge for instance, a religious monument built between 3000BC and 2000BC, the fact that a whole community collaborated for perhaps as long as centuries to create a tribute to their religion is much more fascinating than anything that has been built in recent history by the means of machinery.

The final point to make is the incentive of the rulers who forced the slaves into work as well and if their decision was justified or not. For example, the construction of the Parthenon that was built during the golden ages of Ancient Greece was heavily reliant on the usage of slaves. Pericles wanted to set the standard for architecture in the western world, as well as showcase the advancements of the Greek civilization through the building of the Parthenon and for this to happen he needed an efficient and affordable work force. Not only was he trying to create a monument to show Greek power, but the building itself was a temple dedicated to the Goddess Athena. This would have, without a doubt, been a popular decision with the higher members of not only Athens but of many city states in Greece. I think the justification of the usage of slaves is legitimate here, as its purpose was to provide a culmination of all Greek culture as well as serve a purpose to the entire community of Athens, and while many slaves died in the making, it simply could not have been done in any other way.

Slave labour now would be heavily looked down upon, but the fact is that hundreds or even thousands of years ago, these architectural feats could have been accomplished in any other way, and with much more imbalance in the social structure and discrimination towards lower classes, the usage of slaves was much more acceptable. The buildings that still stand today definitely show how much dominance that civilization would have had as well as their dedication to either the religion or icon that the community worshipped. In our current world, building a pyramid out of stone would be a difficult but definitely achievable project, but looking back thousands of years to tens of thousands of slaves who dedicated their lives to creating a monument to their king is simply unmatched in today’s culture.