John Milton in the Retiro Park?

Written on October 22, 2007 by Arantza de Areilza in Arts & Cultures & Societies

Angel_caido Arantza de Areilza                         (Click here for this post in Spanish)

This weekend, I went to the Retiro Park in Madrid to visit the only statue dedicated to the fallen angel, who names one of the entrances to the gardens.  It was the Duke of Fernan Nuñez, deaf to the exclamations of scandalized fellow members of the Aristocracy of the age, who entrusted the sculptor Ricardo Bellver in 1874, to erect this fountain at the end of the avenue that bears his name.  The author was honored four years later in the National Exposition in 1878. 

This singular monument to the Devil symbolizes the banishment of Lucipher from Heaven for having defied God’s commands. 

In this singular form, the idea of lost Paradise appears once again encompassing History. 

Perhaps the epic poem of John Milton (1608-1674) Paradise Lost is one of the most brilliant works ever written on this subject.  In this epic of more than 10,000 verses, Milton describes the original loss of Paradise and the fall of man into sin.  Milton characterizes this by representing Heaven and Hell as spiritual states, rather than physical ones.  Satan and his court are banished from Heaven to Chaos.  From there, Satan plots his vengeance: to tempt the most perfect creation of God, man, to try the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  It is this act of disobedience to God which provokes their definitive expulsion from original Paradise.  Through the narration of how Lucipher and man have been expelled from Paradise because of their disobedience to God, Milton tries to justify God’s behavior towards man and convey the hope that the son of God will bring after the fall. 

Milton was a great defender of Republican ideas which took force in Cromwell’s England after the English Civil War and supported his beliefs in the Puritan mandate of the inviolability of the conscience.  Milton, a precursor of liberalism, defended the separation of Church and State and a great constitutional liberty.  As such, he moves through History as a theoretician of Animist Materialism, which argued that the universe is composed of only one substance material which is “animate, self-active, and free”.  Milton also defended divorce and the belief that the soul dies with the body. 

I asked myself what would this British poet and philosopher have thought, branded as a heretic in his time, if he could walk beneath the shadow of the Fallen Angel of Bellver in these solitary days in the Retiro.  Do you think he would have smiled? 


Freedom from Deception

Written on October 22, 2007 by Santiago Iñiguez in Philosophy

Santiago Iniguez

Marcus Aurelius (121-180), Meditations

It is rare to find a writing emperor, but even more an emperor that
would have wished to have been a philosopher rather than wear the
purple. This is the case of Marcus Aurelius, known as the last good
emperor of the Antonine’s
dynasty in the second century of our era, at a time when the Roman
Empire was besieged by barbarians. You may be familiar with his image
if you have been in Rome and visited Capitol Hill, where his colossal
equestrian statute, made of bronze, remains because early Christians
believed it represented St. Peter.

Marcus Aurelius lived in times when Rome was experiencing both
internal and external turbulence. Internally, different political and
cultural opposing streams concurred: in religion, the fight between
defendants of the old faith in Roman deities and Christians was
starting to erode old beliefs associated with old Roman customs and
Law; in philosophy, stoics, epicureans, and supporters of imported
doctrines of Plato and other Greek philosophers contended to become the
standard. Marcus Aurelius was, by education and self-cultivation, a
stoic. Basically, stoics defended personal self-control, the subjection
of the own senses to the mind, the acceptance of nature –they professed
some sort of pantheism- and of given state of things, in order to
achieve perfection. Thus, stoics opposed epicureans and hedonists.

This spirit influences Marcus Aurelius “Meditations”, which exude
some form of holiness and sanctity. In fact, at his death, after a
battle on the Danube Front (the hit movie Gladiator here
at least was accurate), he was declared sacred, being the last Roman
emperor to be considered part of the deities. Why did he write this
book? The Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy
explains that “by reflecting upon philosophical ideas and, perhaps more
importantly, writing them down, Marcus engages in a repetitive process
designed to habituate his mind into a new way of thinking”. Indeed,
many of the maxims sound repetitive, but they may be recommendable at
times when managers have to face deception, failures or any other sort
of setback. I include a selection:

–    “II.1. Begin the morning by saying to yourself: I shall meet
with the busybody, the ungrateful, arrogant, deceitful, envious,
unsocial (…) I can neither be harmed by any of them (…) for we are made
for cooperation, like feet, like hands, like eyelids, like the rows of
the upper and lower teeth”.

–    “II.5. …Do every act of your life as it were the last”.

–    “II.14. Though you were to live three thousand years, or three
million, still remember that no man looses any other life than this
which now lives, or lives any other than this which he now loses”.

An advice to those who look for places to retire and recharge the
batteries –I declare myself guilty of this, since I am writing these
lines at my little house in the country:

–    “IV.3 Men seek retreats for themselves, houses in the country,
seashores, and mountains, and you too are wont to desire such things
very much. But this is altogether a mark of the common sort of man, for
it is in your power, whenever you shall choose, to retire into

A further piece of advice to cultivate modesty; valuable since it comes from an Emperor:

–    “IV.3. But perhaps a longing for the thing called fame torments
you. See how soon everything is forgotten; look at the chaos of
infinite time on each side of the present, and the emptiness of
applause, and the fickleness and poor judgement of those who pretend to
praise, and the narrowness of the space within which it is confined.
For the whole earth is but a point and in that how small a nook is this
your dwelling, and how few are there within it, and what kind of people
are they who will praise you?”

However, there are two aspects of Marcus Aurelius personality, which
do not fit with the pure thoughts of the “Meditations”. First, he
devoted most of his life to warfare. Second, his son Commodus, who
became his successor, was not a very good apprentice, since he became
one of the most deplorable emperors of Rome. However, this happens in
the best of families, doesn’t it?



Written on October 20, 2007 by DeansTalk in Arts & Cultures & Societies

Fernando Fontes


Estoy seguro que todos hemos pensado alguna vez cual debería ser el equilibrio en nuestras vidas en relación a preocuparnos sólo por el presente o demasiado por el futuro y cómo nos condiciona el pasado.

Acabo de leer “El arte de ser feliz”  de Arthur Schopenhauer,  curioso título para  un libro cuyo autor ha pasado a la historia  como  el filósofo del pesimismo.

Pues bien, la regla nº 19 de este “Arte de ser feliz” versa sobre cómo debemos vivir el presente sin preocuparnos excesivamente del futuro y tratando de no estar condicionados por nuestro pasado.

Os reproduzco el texto:

“No hay que  entregarse a grandes júbilos ni a grandes lamentos ante ningún suceso, porque la variabilidad de todas las cosas puede modificarlo por completo en cualquier momento, en cambio, disfrutar en todo momento el presente lo más alegremente posible: ésta es la sabiduría de la vida. Pero la mayoría de las veces hacemos lo contrario: Los planes y las preocupaciones cara al futuro, o también la nostalgia del pasado nos ocupan tan plena y constantemente que casi siempre menospreciamos y descuidamos el presente. Y, sin embargo, sólo éste es seguro, mientras que el futuro y también el pasado casi siempre son diferentes de cómo los pensamos. Engañándonos de esta manera, nos privamos de toda la vida. Si bien, la búsqueda del pasado siempre es inútil, la preocupación por el futuro lo es a menudo y por eso sólo el presente es el escenario de nuestra felicidad, lo cierto es, sin embargo, que este presente se convierte en pasado a cada momento y entonces resulta tan indiferente como si nunca hubiese existido: ¿dónde queda, pues, un espacio para nuestra felicidad.”

Estoy de acuerdo, prácticamente, en todo, párrafo por párrafo, desde el inicial  “no hay que entregarse a grandes júbilos ni a grandes lamentos ante ningún suceso” hasta la pregunta final “¿dónde queda pues un espacio para nuestra felicidad?”.

Me resulta especialmente inquietante lo que dice de que tanto el futuro como el pasado, casi siempre son diferentes de como los pensamos.

Y, desde luego, creo que está en lo cierto al afirmar que sólo existe el presente y dependiendo cómo lo vivamos,  podremos llegar a ser felices.

Espero comentarios.


Some Thoughts on Kipling

Written on October 19, 2007 by Rolf Strom-Olsen in Arts & Cultures & Societies


Rolf Strom-Olsen

Several days ago, my fellow contributor Santiago Iniguez posted his comments about ‘If’, the well-known poem by Rudyard Kipling, who among other things remains the youngest winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature (an achievement that was not threatened by this year’s recipient). Reading those well-known verses, I was reminded how much Kipling remains a fairly misunderstood character. His name is still closely associated with the late nineteenth century jingoism of the British Empire, the poet laureate of the Gatling gun. His reputation, once unassailable, has tumbled along with the British Empire with which he is so closely associated. Much of Kipling’s writings has been eclipsed, or at least coloured by, the perception that he was cheerleading a British imperial impulse founded on exploitation and racial superiority. After all, this was the man who wrote, in response to America’s tentative efforts as an imperial power (in the Philippines),

                        Take up the White Man’s burden–
                        Send forth the best ye breed–
                         Go bind your sons to exile
                         To serve your captives’ need;
                         To wait in heavy harness,
                         On fluttered folk and wild–
                         Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
                         Half-devil and half-child.

Read more…


Recent News in the Humanities

Written on October 18, 2007 by Felicia Appenteng in Arts & Cultures & Societies

It has been an exciting week in the humanities, with the awarding of the Man Booker Prize as well as the Nobel Prize for Literature. Below, please find links to read these award winning authors.


The first chapter of Man Booker Prize winner Anne Enright´s “The Gathering”:


                           An op-ed piece written by Nobel Prize winner Doris Lessing.

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