Crates seems polite

by Andrea Elizabeth

from the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy

Diogenes’ most famous successor was Crates (c.328-325 b.c.). He was a Boeotian, from Thebes, and renounced his wealth to become a Cynic. He seems to have been more pleasant than Diogenes; according to some reports, every Athenian house was open to him, and he was even regarded by them as a household god. Perhaps the most famous incident involving Crates is his marriage to Hipparchia, who took up the Cynic way of life despite her family’s opposition and insisted that educating herself was preferable to working a loom. Like Diogenes, Crates emphasized that happiness is self-sufficiency, and claimed that asceticism is required for self-sufficiency; e.g., he advises that no one is happy if happiness is measured by the balance of pleasure and pain, since in each period of our lives there is more pain than pleasure.

This description of weaving connects to another book I’ve begun, The Life of Charlotte Brontë by Elizabeth Gaskell. In the second chapter she writes,

The idea of the mistress and her maidens spinning at the great wheels while the master was abroad, ploughing his fields, or seeing after his flocks on the purple moors, is very poetical to look back upon; but when such life actually touches on our own days, and we can hear particulars from the lips of those now living, details of coarseness – of the uncouthness of the rustic mingled with the sharpness of the tradesman – of irregularity and fierce lawlessness – come out, that rather mar the vision of pastoral innocence and simplicity. Still, as it is the exceptional and exaggerated characteristics of any period that leave the most vivid memory behind them, it would be wrong, and in my opinion faithless, to conclude that such and such forms of society and modes of living were not best for the period when they prevailed, although the abuses they may have led into, and the gradual progress of the world, have made it well that such ways and manners should pass away for ever, and as preposterous to attempt to return to them, as it would be for a man to return to the clothes of his childhood.

Gaskell is obviously sold on civilized society, but this scathing review of the biography is more cynical in the vein of Diogenes. Though again, I wish it were more polite and did not reduce everything to sexual lust. This uncivilized place produced the Brontë sisters! Haworth was my absolute favorite part of the U.K.

In the above I learned of Charlotte’s dramatic seeking the attention of the headmaster of the school where she taught English and music. Here’s a sample of the nature of her letters. In them I hear her intense loneliness and the scarcity of finding someone, who she calls friend, that she respects. Both the above reviewers should cut her some slack. As did the headmaster’s wife; thank you, dear lady.

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