I must admit to having been richly amused as you wrote that you are older – and mentioned exactly how old – and that some things might not be retained in your mind and memory, as if you were suffering from some form of disease or malady connected to old age which brings forgetfulness with it. I have never considered age to be much of a factor in letter writing, and certainly not in the ability of a person to learn or to set out on a journey which involves gathering new experiences, making new friends, exploring new avenues of knowledge. Sometimes it is a great advantage to have some years under your belt in order to add perspective to what you are faced with: at this great age it is clear that you no longer learn by rote, or merely by hearing and assimilation as a child would, but choose those specific areas which you wish to concentrate on, which interest you, which speak to your mind as much as to your curiosity and environment. I was also amused because I am almost a decade older than you are, but I rarely mention my age as, in a good and clear relationship, it makes no difference how old a person is. Were there underlying interests, it would be a completely different matter, but an exchange, a written and platonic friendship, it makes no difference. Clearly, on the rare occasions when I write to someone who is under-age, when I send them a letter and a few small trinkets – postcards and stamps, that sort of thing – to encourage them at the start of their letter writing experiences, I tell them exactly who I am and how old, to prevent misunderstandings. Which results, of course, in my not receiving a reply, but that disturbs me very little. Another person entering the wonderful world of letter writing is good.
As with many quotations which are used today – and I am as guilty of this as anyone else – there is often more to the words that we read than is shown, and less than the author intended. Quotations are often used to back up a specific point, even when the context of the original does not fit in with the context of that text it is employed within. So your text:
A criminal is in any case a man who risks his life, his honour, his freedom – a man of courage
is a very small part of a much longer text within the work Der Wille zur Macht: Prinzip einer neuen Wertsetzung (The Will to Power: Principles of a New Evaluation), with this section, as it is a work divided into many smaller numbered sections containing his thoughts as noted over several years, being dated about 1887. This is the whole text, from a translation from 1967:
Crime belongs to the concept “revolt against the social order.” One does not “punish” a rebel; one suppresses him. A rebel can be a miserable and contemptible man; but there is nothing contemptible in a revolt as such — and to be a rebel in view of contemporary society does not in itself lower the value of a man. There are even cases in which one might have to honor a rebel, because he finds something in our society against which war ought to be waged — he awakens us from our slumber.
If a criminal perpetrates an individual act against an individual this does not demonstrate that his whole instinct is not in a state of war with the whole order: his deed as a mere symptom.
One should reduce the concept “punishment” to the concept: suppression of a revolt, security measures against the suppressed (total or partial imprisonment). But one should not express contempt through punishment: a criminal is in any case a man who risks his life, his honor, his freedom — a man of courage. Neither should one take punishment to be a penance; or as a payment, as if an exchange relationship existed between guilt and punishment — punishment does not purify, for crime does not sully.
One should not deprive the criminal of the possibility of making his peace with society; provided he does not belong to the race of criminals. In that case one should make war on him even before he has committed any hostile act (first operation as soon as one has him in one’s power: his castration).
One should not hold against the criminal his bad manners or the low level of his intelligence. Nothing is more common than that he should misunderstand himself (for often his rebellious instinct, the rancor of the declasse, has not reached consciousness, that he should slander and dishonor his deed under the influence of fear and failure — quite apart from those cases in which, psychologically speaking, the criminal surrenders to an uncomprehended drive and by some subsidiary action ascribes a false motive to his deed (perhaps by a robbery when what he wanted was blood ).
One should beware of assessing the value of a man according to a single deed. Napoleon warned against this. For our haut-relief deeds are quite especially insignificant. If men like us have no crime, e.g., murder, on our conscience — why is it? Because a few opportune circumstances were lacking. And if we did it, what would that indicate about our value? In a way one would despise us if one thought we had not the strength to kill a man under certain circumstances. In almost all crimes some qualities also find expression which ought not to be lacking in a man. It was not without justification that Dostoevsky said of the inmates of his Siberian prisons that they formed the strongest and most valuable part of the Russian people. If with us the criminal is an ill-nourished and stunted plant, this is to the dishonor of our social relationships; in the age of the Renaissance the criminal throve and acquired for himself his own kind of virtue — virtue in the Renaissance style, to be sure, virtù, morale-free virtue.
One can enhance only those men whom one does not treat with contempt; moral contempt causes greater indignity and harm than any crime.
The first thing that you will notice here is that Nietzsche is not talking about common criminality, about those who rob and steal, those who commit murder without cause. He is predominantly referring to those who rebel against society or, as we might say today, those who have a different political opinion to the prevailing one and voice that opinion through demonstrations, through acts which express their Freedom of Speech; something which was not quite the same in Germany in 1887 where certain political and religious opposition was considered almost to be treason, and punishable by imprisonment. Here he is also saying that, in his opinion – and we should bear in mind that these are more thoughts and notes than anything else – that punishment, on a political and religious level, does not clear the problem, it merely enhances it. Suppressing opposition merely causes it to become secretive, to go underground, and to become more virulent. Suppressing those of a different view is not recommended as we stand no chance of learning from this view, from the stand point of another person or group. Those who rebel against the direction a State or country has chosen to go are not necessarily traitors, they could well be more patriotic than those following the bad course, making the bad decisions. A government is not going to be able to educate a person – here the final sentence in my quotation – by suppressing them, as this is a worse crime than that which they are accused of having committed.
It could almost be assumed, from the brevity of your quotation, that Nietzsche is lauding the actions of what we today regard as criminals, those who have committed a crime against property or person, and that he believes someone who breaks into an unoccupied house and ransacks it is a form of hero because he or she shows courage. That is clearly not the case, he is referring to those who stand up for justice, as they see it, through peaceful means if possible, and are struck down, exiled or imprisoned as a result. Having said that, as we have moved on from those dark ages when people were still seeking some form of enlightenment, that last sentence is as relevant today as it ever was, and goes for everyone, not just those who have been incarcerated: suppression, contempt, ignorance are far greater moral and social crimes than they once were, and certainly do not bring anyone back onto the ‘straight and narrow’, whatever that may be! I wonder, though, when you read the entire section as Nietzsche wrote it: does that change your impression of him, or just of the short quotation as you knew it? I have no doubt that it changes your comprehension of the sentence quoted, simply by putting it into context, but of Nietzsche himself?
Next you have two sentences which I assume are quotations, although I couldn’t find the first – about Christianity being a hard religion in that form. What I did find for the second, though, was:
The Christian faith from the beginning, is sacrifice, the sacrifice of all freedom, all pride, all self-confidence of spirit, it is at the same time subjection, self-derision, and self-mutilation.
This is, of course, also Nietzsche, taken from Beyond Good and Evil, written in about 1886 and covers as much his searches and researches into religion as his abhorrence of what could have been good and great, but has become a method of suppression based upon an imaginary figure (God).
That which is so astonishing in the religious life of the ancient Greeks is the irrestrainable stream of gratitude which it pours forth – it is a very superior kind of man who takes such an attitude towards nature and life. Later on, when the populace got the upper hand in Greece, fear became rampant also in religion, and Christianity was preparing itself.
He goes on to write of Descartes, of the soul, of cruelty and suppression and the loss of faith, as opposed to religion which is merely a dogmatic forcing of faith in a specific direction to the benefit of the few, the loss of the masses.
Perhaps the most solemn conceptions that have caused the most fighting and suffering, the conceptions “God” and “sin”, will one day seem to us of no more importance than a child’s plaything or a child’s pain seems to an old man.
I suspect this is one of the many reasons why Christians are so keen to move around Nietzsche and avoid looking too closely at some of his works, while happily pulling out others which can be bent and shaped to their own way of thinking. This idea is hardly new: Marsilio Ficino was quite happy to take the works of Plato and interpret them as Christian works, although it must have been clear to all that Plato most certainly did not have a Christian god in mind when forming his philosophy, when recounting the works of Socrates, when teaching his students. It is not necessarily clear that he had any specific god or group of gods in mind, but it was vital for the Christians then, as in the past, and as today, to turn things to their way of thinking, as if there is no other, often at the cost of truth and honest interpretations. Ficino was, of course, writing in the second half of the fifteenth century, where one still had to be careful about what was said, what was thought, above all what was written, or risk forfeiting life.
I’m not surprised that you’ve found nothing by de Montaigne, or Cicero, in your library. They are not exactly the top bestsellers of our present day and tend, sadly, to be confined to the interests of those required to study certain periods of history, certain strains of political and philosophical thinking. You will often find them quoted, but rarely more than that, after all: who has the time and energy to read such massive tomes these days? If there is n love interest involved, with a buxom heroine and a brave hero, the idea of reading anything longer then about three hundred pages would scare everyone away. And my copy of de Montaigne is over one thousand three hundred pages. Cicero, in the Loeb Classical Library edition from Harvard, runs to about twenty volumes, I believe.
Marguerite Porete, whose poem you quote, is also a fine example Nietzsche could have called upon as an example of the ways of Christianity. She was burned at the stake in 1310 having written a Christian book of mysticism dealing with the workings of Agape or divine love called The Mirror of Simple Souls which was considered to be heresy at the time. Two hundred years later the same views were propounded by John of the Cross in his book Ascent of Mount Carmel, which the Catholic Church accepted. Porete has now been rehabilitated, and her small book is considered an important part of Christian mysticism but, of course, she was a woman and therefore not educated and, as in some areas today, not to be considered on a par with any male who might come out with the same thoughts and ideas at some stage. It is interesting, as I look at a copy of the book published in 1927, to see how the Catholic Church handled it once it became as accepted text. This copy was published by Burns Oates and Washbourne Limited, London, publishers to the Holy See (the Vatican), translated by someone using just the initials M.N., edited by Clare Kirchberger but noted as being
By an unknown French mystic of the thirteenth century
on the title page. I find it hard to believe that they did not know who had written the work, and what became of her – meaning, of course, that it was the Church and people working for the Church who had her executed for heresy.
Not being able to fit into any specific category in life is a good thing, in my opinion. None of us really wishes to be pigeon-holed, but that is exactly what we let ourselves be, even encourage sometimes, when we stick to the same interests and do not let anything new enter our lives. Sometimes change is bad, unless you can justify it and are prepared not only to stand behind your arguments, but also to think them through and ensure they make sense. I know many people who believe that they change their opinion, their stance, their outlook on life at no time whatsoever, and then discover that there have been gradual changes as new information, new experiences, new facts and opinions from other people have brought influence upon them. Anyone who cannot adapt, who cannot take in something new, who is not versatile, or attempts to remain staunch and unbending is, in my mind, already dead and buried. There is just too much on offer in this world, no matter what our circumstances may be, for us to go blindly the same route every single day without looking left and right, without veering off course now and then, without stopping to sniff the scent of a flower.
In some ways I feel sorry for those who need to put their faith in a god or gods for their daily well-being, for their lives and successes. It is often our own work which brings in the highlights of life, our own efforts, sweat and tears which carries us on through the day. If it were not so, why don’t we just settle down on the couch and wait for everything that is good to come to us? I have no problem with faith: anyone who wishes to believe in a god or gods, in a supreme being, in the spaghetti monster; that’s fine by me. I have my own belief, my own faith, my own direction which I am following and know, at the end of the day, if it’s been a good one, that’s thanks to my work. If it’s been a bad day, then I need to do better. I do have a problem with dogmatic religion – with dogmatic, unchanging anything – but that is just me and my life’s experiences. We all look upon the world and the way of humankind with different eyes.
From those quotations that you gave me to try to find: the first quotation is complete and sung by the chorus in Iphigenia at Aulis, and is quoted in The Meaning of Helen: In Search of an Ancient Icon by Robert E. Meager, published in 2002 by Bolchazy-Carducci Publishers of Wauconda, Illinois as a follow on from the original 1995 publication by Continuum, New York. The original – this work is merely an interesting delving into the character of several beauties from classical history and legend called Helen – is indeed by Euripides, and was written in about 406 BCE. Iphigenia was the daughter of King Agamemnon and Queen Clytemnestra and, following an insult against the goddess Artemis, is to be executed as a punishment. Once she is executed Agamemnon’s ships can sail for Troy, and we all know what happened there!
La Vita Nuova (The New Life) by Dante Alighieri is a short work, by our standards, and there is a translation by Kline which runs:
To every captive soul and gentle heart
into whose sight this present speech may come,
so that they might write its meaning for me,
greetings, in their lord’s name, who is Love.
Already a third of the hours were almost past
of the time when all the stars were shining,
when Amor suddenly appeared to me
whose memory fills me with terror.
Joyfully Amor seemed to me to hold
my heart in his hand, and held in his arms
my lady wrapped in a cloth sleeping.
Then he woke her, and that burning heart
he fed to her reverently, she fearing,
afterwards he went not to be seen weeping.
This, if I remember correctly, is the second meeting of Dante with Beatrice, who he has not seen for nine years, and covers, after this, many events of love, of betrayal, of death. The work is a mixture of poetry to prose memories with explanations of life, his feelings, beliefs and everything which could be written down as part of the character of a besotted artist of the times.
Your next one is slightly different because it has little or nothing to do with love, as we understand it, but fascination and loyalty, and your quote is not quite correct. In fact it was spoken by General Vandamme (a rough, typical soldier of the Revolution even more brutal and energetic than Augereau) to Marshall d’Arnano in 1815 and runs:
That devil of a man exercises a fascination on me that I cannot explain even to myself, and in such a degree that, though I fear neither God nor devil, when I am in his presence I am ready to tremble like a child, and he could make me go through the eye of a needle to throw myself into the fire.
He was speaking of Napoleon Bonaparte.
I do not have any journals with quotations listed or noted in them, I gave that up many years ago. For a while I had notebooks filled with all sorts of quotations, but then it became almost impossible to keep a track of them and to remember where they had come from: I often noted something quickly and didn’t bother with the source. If you saw my library you’d also see rows of books with little slips of paper sticking out at all angles, where had marked a passage of interest, sometimes with a notation on the paper, sometimes without. This, too, I have given up on. There are simply too many and, something else I have noticed which comes with growing older and learning more, many are no longer relevant at the moment, or had a specific moment way back when which has now been and gone. My own journal, with a few other things glued in so that it is not just a long text no one can read, runs to nearly fifty volumes, and if I had added quotations and texts of interest, references and all the rest from the books that I read, there would be twice as many.
It is difficult to describe myself, a hint as to my ancient years has already been made above. I have never been much good at writing a profile or a biography, and tend normally to just tell people what I have done when they ask me about myself. At my age there is no longer any need for a personal description, life is in the wrinkles which, fortunately, are mainly about my eyes (blue) and show that I have laughed a million times too often.
As to the number of people who write: there is a lot of competition out there. Right now about eleven thousand people are listed on the one site – of that less than a thousand list themselves as female – so it is very easy to get lost or overlooked. I am sure that the bulk of those who have paid to get their profile and a few photographs published are never seen at all, never receive even one letter, let alone have the chance to form a longer friendship. Although I suppose it also depends on what a person is searching for, whether it is really written friendship or, as happens sometimes, a Sugar Daddy. A sad fact of life, understandable, but sad. Many also prefer the modern methods of communication, using tablets sold by one or other of the specialist communications firms which are allowed into the prisons, but this is hardly ideal and, to my way of thinking, has nothing special going for it. Receiving a real letter, holding that letter in your hands, is what matters: there is no comparison. Yes, it can take two weeks for a letter from overseas, and it is perhaps a little bit more expensive than having a home-grown pen friend, although they are good too, but the main thing is to have someone to write to, someone to converse with. We all go our own way and have our own preferences.