Showing posts with label wisdom. Show all posts
Showing posts with label wisdom. Show all posts


Prudence, Wisdom, and Self-Care: The Uncommon Story of Zeus and Metis

We've all heard of Zeus, the King of the Gods, known for his godly escapades and tumultuous love affairs. However, little is spotlighted about Metis, Zeus’s first wife and the Greek personification of prudence. Often sidelined by mainstream mythological tales, the story of Zeus and Metis carries essential lessons on prudence, wisdom, and self-care—virtues that have seemingly fallen by the wayside in today's fast-paced world.

A drawing of the face of the Oceanid Titaness Metis
The Writer's Imagining of Metis
as Drawn on an Ancient Greek Vase.

The Misunderstanding of Prudence

Unfortunately, prudence often suffers from a negative connotation, easily confused with being a prude or overly cautious. Yet, the virtue signifies the art of making thoughtful and balanced decisions that bring the least harm and greatest good. A case in point is Prudential, one of America’s leading insurance companies, built on the very tenets of safeguarding and caution. 

The Transformative Tale of Zeus and Metis

In Greek mythology, Metis embodies the virtue of prudence. Pursued by Zeus, she transforms into various animals to escape his advances—a common trope in Greek mythology. Zeus, afraid that Metis would bear a child more powerful than him, swallows her whole. While this may seem like the end for Metis, she continues to live within Zeus, imparting wisdom and prudential advice.

Wisdom Versus Prudence

The child born from this unique union is Athena, the goddess of wisdom. However, it's suggested that Athena lacks the maternal warmth that defined Metis. Herein lies the nuanced difference between wisdom and prudence: wisdom often focuses on knowledge and rational decisions, while prudence adds an emotional layer, emphasizing care for oneself and others.

The Self-Care Connection

Prudence is not just about minimizing risks; it's a form of self-care. It requires a delicate balance of wisdom and empathy to make decisions that are beneficial not only to oneself but also to those we care about. This often involves taking a step back, evaluating the situation, and then proceeding with caution and consideration.

The Living Legacy of Metis

While Metis might have met an unfortunate end, her essence lived on, both in Zeus’s wisdom and Athena’s intellect. This eternal legacy serves as a lesson that prudence, wisdom, and self-care are deeply intertwined virtues, worth much more than their misunderstood reputations. 

Through the tale of Zeus and Metis, we find a treasure trove of life lessons waiting to be applied in our own lives. Far from being forgotten, their story teaches us that prudence is not a constraint.

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Quotation: A Proverb on Taking a Hint (And How One Word is Enough)

In this quote post, I lay into a pithy proverb coined by a Roman dramatist about taking a hint (and when to take it).

A word to the wise is sufficient.”

— Attributed to Terence, Roman Playwright (born in Carthage, North Africa c. 195 B.C.E, and died c. 159 B.C.E.)

     I had scribbled this quote in my journal. I keep all of the journals I've written since I was eleven or twelve years old. I've slowly been digitizing them, which is why I came across this quote I had written down when I was a sophomore in high school. Taking an English class with a highly creative teacher, I learned to keep quotes that I liked so later I could think about them and write about them. As a teacher, I often have students think about quotes, and I encourage them to collect their favorites. Gone are the days of marble composition books — but kids today use Quizlet or Anki to collect what they like and find online. Or, quotes are made into memes (I have a Pinterest page devoted to quotes-turned-into-memes). But I never wrote about "a word to the wise" until now.

Hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil.
Photo by Joao Tzanno on Unsplash

     If you were to classify the quote, it's technically a proverb. In Latin, it's "Verbum sapienti sat[is] est." While it's attributed to Terence, the saying has taken on a life of its own. It's often written only as "a word to the wise" or "a word to the wise is enough." But what does it mean? When I first read the proverb, I misinterpreted it. I thought it meant, wise people (i.e., smart people) don't need you to talk to them too much. Just say a simple word to them, and that's enough. As if really smart people are incredibly tight-lipped. But that's not what the proverb is meant to convey. A word to the wise is more about the wise person. A sage doesn't need a lot of information to sum up what's going on in any given complicated situation. If you turn to a wise person, all they need is a hint of what you're going through, and they can infer a solution.
Wise Teachers Need Just a Word And That's Enough
     Teachers need this skill. In a school setting, millions of things are going on at once, and kids tend to expect their teachers to guide them — right? A wise teacher can infer correctly what's going on. I guess a modern version of "word to the wise" is the ability to "read the room." All it takes is a whiff of something, a word, an action, and a wise teacher can sum up a situation and intuitively enact a plan.
     In some ways, I am good at taking a hint and understanding the bigger picture. A lot is often unsaid. When people say "read between the lines," what they mean is pick up on the clues of what's not being said. Having exceptional emotional intelligence is a prerequisite for the wise person. Don't go to extremes in one's thinking. Trust one's gut. Act with purpose. Don't second guess. Avoid excessive speculation. Another quote comes to mind — the most simple answer is most likely the best one. That's from William of Occam, a fourteenth-century monk, and philosopher — 
 "The simplest explanation is probably the best. Don't complicate matters if you don't have to"
     And Occam is right. A reasonable explanation is often the correct answer rather than a many-stepped answer. Listen to people try to argue that NASA didn't send humans to the moon. It takes more steps to say that the moon landing was a setup than to simply accept the most reasonable (albeit spectacular) answer that we sent men to the moon.
Some Folks Need More Than Just a Word (And That's the Problem)
     Thinking of the converse of "word to the wise" is helpful. Have you ever tried to explain a situation to someone, but the person just couldn't seem "to get it"? At a dinner party, I had a friend tell another friend's wife, "Oh. Your mother is so pretty tonight." Even though I tried to save my friend from her faux pas she didn't get the hint. She ran right into the situation completely unaware that she didn't size up the situation properly. Some people are incredibly literal — they need everything spelled out for them. Usually, they are more rule-based individuals. Intuitive people can come up with solutions faster because they skip a few steps. And they accept when they are wrong. And they know when to avoid rules and when to follow them.
A Word to the Wise! Hear ye!
     Have you noticed examples of "a word to the wise" in your own life? Maybe you know someone who exemplifies the proverb. Or you have a co-worker or a boss who is exceptional at picking up on clues to solve a problem. Either way — let me know your stories. Leave a comment.
Sources: The Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs. United Kingdom, Oxford University Press, 2015. / Ammer, Christine. The Dictionary of Clichés: A Word Lover's Guide to 4,000 Overused Phrases and Almost-Pleasing Platitudes. United States, Skyhorse Publishing, 2013.


Fish in the Sea (Or, Why I Like Aquariums)

Coney Island Beach back in the day.
I enjoy aquariums. The vast amount of water in large, transparent tanks transfix the eyes. I can watch stingrays all day. I anthropomorphize their bellies — don't you think they look like smiling faces? In New York — at Coney Island  there is a modest aquarium. I was excited when I found the moray eel hanging out behind a fake coral. Aquatic creatures! It's comforting to fantasize about life in water. One of my favorite Disney animations is The Sword in the Stone* the boy Arthur turns into a squiggly little fish  then a squirrel  but it is the fish scene I liked the most. Wouldn't life be so much agiler under the waves? Well, when a garfish isn't chasing you.
Arthur (as a fish) being chased by a garfish 
in Disney's The Sword and the Stone (1963)


Quotation on How the Wise Understand

a word to the wise is sufficient
dictum sapienti sat est

Attributed to Plautus, Roman dramatist and Terence, Roman poet

PDF Copy for Printing


Preparing for My Graduate Schools Oral Exams: On Phronesis

I am writing this right now because I need the motivation to care about the practical:
Aristotle brushed his teeth and had time to think?! #mindblown
On Thursday mornings for the past month, I have been meeting with a fellow graduate student to study for the Philosophy department's oral exam. She is preparing for Aristotle. Although Ancient Philosophy is not my specific area, I find myself going back to the Ancients. My study buddy was explicating Aristotle on phronesis which is found in these two works: the Ethics and the Politics. Aristotle develops this cool idea about wisdom which I think makes sense. We tend to think of wisdom as something disconnected from practical everyday life. Or, we tend to think the attainment of wisdom has nothing to do with practical matters. The wise man just is wise. Right? Wisdom appears to be totally inactive and geared towards contemplation. Nothing to do with everyday stuff like brushing your teeth and getting rid of head lice. Aristotle has this groovy notion that if a person really wants wisdom what he first needs to do is get his practical affairs in order. To achieve the leisure time to reflect one has to do the boring, tedious stuff first. Scheduling, being to work on time, replying to email, making money, and all the stuff we associate with the humdrum must be accomplished, or at least those things ought to be managed well by us if we ever want time to reflect on the good stuff.