January 15th, 2010

New Moon Watch: The Envy of Achievement


“The Ancients weighed the achievement of an individual by the sum and substance of his actions. Most of Plutarch‘s biographies–for example, of Themistocles, Alcibiades, Pompey, and Antony— are heroic assortments of virtues and vices, clear renderings of the psychological diversity and paradox which seem almost indispensable components of historic greatness.

We moderns, on the other hand, influenced by our religion, qualify all our estimation with a surgical standard of moral purity.

For the ancients, virtue was action, accomplishment, contribution; for us it is an essence so pure and fragile in nature that a beaker of goodness can be ruined by a dram of sin.

Dante makes his beloved teacher, Brunetto Latini, a sufferer in hell, because all his memorable virtues were combined with a single serious vice. Francis Bacon is almost never mentioned as a historical figure without reference to the single act of malfeasance which, deftly exploited by an enemy, ended his political career. The grievous and numerous faults of Winston Churchill are expounded upon interminably by the beneficiaries of the free institutions he fought to save.

And this stubborn altruism, often so extreme as to constitute a conspiracy against nature, extends beyond our histories into our daily lives. Shunning peccadillos, we suffer infamies. Anxious to avoid even appearing to do harm, we lose touch with the necessarily hazardous practice of goodness. We use rectitude to mask our envy of achievement.”

Robert Grudin

opening photograph Stilleben by Hippolyte Bayard c.1839

2 Responses to 'New Moon Watch: The Envy of Achievement'
Filed Under: New Moon Watch and Time
Bookmark and Share
  • Nancy

    I find it interesting that many people do not understand or accept the duality of human nature. We are all complex . Accepting ourselves and other people requires that we come to terms with this fact. “Rectitude to mask our envy of achievement” very true.

  • You touched an important point, very true… Perhaps, the next transits in Aries, if can unleash dangerous rage, will probably even give someone the courage to be seen “bad” though achieving something important… No matter what “others” may say…

    By the way, is not Internet a sort a poll on ourselves…
    Mad people apart – they exist, oh they exist! – is it true or not that we tend to avoid confrontation on the levels of ideas…

    I think so, too much anxiety and lack of self-esteeem, over-compensated by phrases like “I’m the best of best” and things like these, words which cannot mask the anxiety of **appearing** to harm…