Will time tell?

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“How did it get so late so soon?”

This whimsical question attributed to Dr. Seuss grows less whimsical as we grow older and stake out our place in the geography of time.

I am reading the beautiful translation of Dante’s Inferno by former U. S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky. It’s a paperback published in 1994.

While I was reading it, I remembered that I own an antique, illustrated volume of this work dating from 1860. I pulled it out—nine inches by twelve, gilt-edged, fully six pounds on my scale. I slowly paged through it to relish the beautiful drawings.

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The two books lay side by side on my table when I was struck by the dichotomy: the same epic poem rendered in two totally different ways—separated only by time.

My question became: The old or the new . . . which gives more pleasure . . . which version is “better?”

And I realized that I have lived long enough to have the same question about many, many things.

I collected a few images, hoping they might lead to an answer. Take a look, and reach your own conclusions.

The old . . . 

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And the new . . .

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The old . . . 

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And the new . . . 

 

The old . . . 

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And the new . . .

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How about these . . . 

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My theory is that technology, which shows itself in the tactile products of our hands, replaces the old with the new, disposes of the former in favor of the latter.

The fruit of our minds endures, however, and finds new interpretation and new application with the passing of time.

An example is Stoicism, a philosophy coined 2,300 years ago in ancient Greece.

Writing in New Humanist a few months ago, Professor Massimo Pigliucci says:

Stoic practice actually works. It provided the philosophical bases for a number of evidence-based modern psychotherapies, including Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy, Albert Ellis’s rational emotive behaviour therapy, and the family of approaches known as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). While a philosophy of life is broader than a therapy, and while, of course, CBT has been greatly expanded beyond its Stoic roots, it is satisfying to a scientist such as myself to know that some of the ancient ­Stoics’ insights into human psychology are still valid today.

I confess. I’m torn between the old and the new, the classic and the contemporary, the modern and the traditional. I see goodness and value in all of them.

Perhaps the answer is what the ancient Romans called in media res . . . the middle path.

Walt Whitman pointed us in this direction in his majestic poem, Song of Myself:

I am of old and young, of the foolish as much as the wise,

Regardless of others, ever regardful of others,

Maternal as well as paternal, a child as well as a man,

Stuffed with the stuff that is course, and stuffed with the stuff that is fine, one of the nation, of many nations, the smallest the same and the largest.

 

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I’ll give the last words to German poet Ludwig Jacobowski, loosely translated as: “Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened.”


If you enjoyed reading this, you will like my newest book, Saints and Poets, Maybe: One Hundred Wanderings, available at Amazon


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