Wednesday, June 5, 2013

From EdX, The Ancient Greek Hero, with Professor Gregory Nagy

“But after you kill the suitors in your own house, killing them either by trickery or openly, by way of sharp bronze, you must go on a journey then, taking with you a well-made oar, until you come to a place where men do not know what the sea is and do not even eat any food that is mixed with sea salt, nor do they know anything about ships, which are painted purple on each side, and well-made oars that are like wings for ships. And I will tell you a sign, a very clear one, which will not get lost in your thinking. Whenever someone on the road encounters you and says that it must be a winnowing shovel that you have on your radiant shoulder, at that point, you must stick into the ground the well-made oar.” Odyssey xi 118-128

PROFESSOR GREGORY NAGY:  . . . what you do is when you harvest wheat, and there's a big pile of harvested wheat, you use the winnowing shovel by taking that agricultural implement, tossing what you've piled up into the air -- and even the slightest breeze will blow the chaff off to the side and will allow the heavier material, which is the grain of the wheat, to fall more or less straight down.

It's hard work. It's apparently very, very, very hard work. And it takes a long, long, long time. And by the time you're finished, ideally the chaff has all blown away and just maybe scattered around you, but the pile of grains of wheat, the real thing, the real McCoy, is right there in the middle. And it's a pile.

CLAUDIA FILOS: So that process itself is one of discernment, about what's the important thing and what's not the important thing.

PROFESSOR GREGORY NAGY: Separate the sheep from the goats. Or as a friend of mine used to say, separate the Angoras from the other goats, which is more like it. It's also separate what is true from what is not true. It separates the genuine from the false. It separates the useful from the useless. And you can go on and on and on. And this is the process of discrimination, of choosing.

And in ancient Greek, the word for this process is krisis. And what you have to use to make your choice is have criteria. And that means that you have to have critical judgment. Which means that at the critical point, which is the crisis, you have to be critical and you have to use judgment.