Wise babies

“(ll. 169c-169d) And again far-seeing Zeus made yet another generation, the fifth, of men who are upon the bounteous earth.
(ll. 170-201) Thereafter, would that I were not among the men of the fifth generation, but either had died before or been born afterwards. For now truly is a race of iron, and men never rest from labour and sorrow by day, and from perishing by night; and the gods shall lay sore trouble upon them. But, notwithstanding, even these shall have some good mingled with their evils. And Zeus will destroy this race of mortal men also when they come to have grey hair on the temples at their birth (6). The father will not agree with his children, nor the children with their father, nor guest with his host, nor comrade with comrade; nor will brother be dear to brother as aforetime. Men will dishonour their parents as they grow quickly old, and will carp at them, chiding them with bitter words, hard-hearted they, not knowing the fear of the gods. They will not repay their aged parents the cost their nurture, for might shall be their right: and one man will sack another’s city. There will be no favour for the man who keeps his oath or for the just or for the good; but rather men will praise the evil-doer and his violent dealing. Strength will be right and reverence will cease to be; and the wicked will hurt the worthy man, speaking false words against him, and will swear an oath upon them. Envy, foul-mouthed, delighting in evil, with scowling face, will go along with wretched men one and all. And then Aidos and Nemesis (7), with their sweet forms wrapped in white robes, will go from the wide-pathed earth and forsake mankind to join the company of the deathless gods: and bitter sorrows will be left for mortal men, and there will be no help against evil.” -Hesiod

“Thus we find, particularly in the greater and more highly developed historical people, a consciousness, often toned down to a universal skepticism, of how much folly and superstition are in the belief that the education of a people must be so overwhelmingly historical as it is now, but it has been precisely the most powerful people, that is, powerful in deeds and works, who have lived differently and have raised their young people differently. However, that folly and that superstition suit us—so runs the skeptical objection—us, the late comers, the faded last shoots of more powerful and more happily courageous generations, us, in whom one can see realized Herod’s prophecy that one day people would be born with instant grey beards and that Zeus would exterminate this generation as soon as that sign became visible to him. But historical culture is really a kind of congenital grey-haired condition, and those who bear its mark from childhood on would have to come to the instinctive belief in the old age of humanity. However, in old age what is suitable now is an old person’s occupation, that is, looking back, tallying the accounts, balancing the books, seeking through memories consolation in what used to be—in short, a historical culture. The human race, however, is a tough and persistent thing and does not wish to have its steps forward and backwards viewed according to millennia, or indeed hardly according to hundreds of thousands of years. That is, it does not at all wish to be viewed as a totality by the infinitely small atomic point of the individual person. Then what will a couple of thousand years signify (or, put another way, the time period of thirty-four consecutive human lives, reckoned at sixty years each) so that we can still speak of the beginning of such a time as still the “Youth of Mankind” and the end of it as already the “Old Age of Mankind”? Is it not much more the case that in this paralyzing belief in an already faded humanity there sticks the misunderstanding of an idea of Christian theology inherited from the Middle Ages, the idea of the imminent end of the world, of the nervously awaited judgment? Has that idea put on new clothes through the intensified need of history to judge, as if our time, the last of all possible, has been authorized to consider itself the universal court room for everything in the past, something which Christian belief awaited, not in any way from human beings, but from the “Son of Man”? In earlier times this was, for humanity as well as for the individual, a loudly proclaimed “memento mori,” an always tormenting barb and, so to speak, the summit of medieval knowledge and conscience. The phrase of more recent times, called out in a contrasting response, “memento vivere,” sounds, to speak openly, still quite timid, is not a full-throated cry, and has something almost dishonest about it.* For humanity still sits firmly on the memento mori and betrays the fact through its universal need for history. In spite of the most powerful beating of its wings, knowledge cannot tear itself loose in freedom. A deep feeling of hopelessness is left over and has taken on that historical colouring, because of which all higher education and culture are now melancholy and dark. A religion which of all the hours of a person’s life considers the last the most important, which generally predicts the end of earthy life and condemns all living people to live in the fifth act of the tragedy, certainly arouses the deepest and noblest forces, but it is hostile to all new cultivation, daring undertakings, and free desiring. It resists every flight into the unknown, because there it does not love and does not hope. It lets what is coming into being push forward only unwillingly, so that at the right time it can force it to the side or sacrifice it as a seducer of being, as a liar about the worth of existence. What the Florentines did when, under the influence of Savonarola’s sermons calling for repentance, they organized those famous sacrificial fires of paintings, manuscripts, mirrors, and masks, Christianity would like to do with every culture which rouses one to renewed striving and which leads to that slogan memento vivere.* And if it is not possible to achieve this directly, without a digression (that is, through superior force), then it attains its goal nonetheless if it unites itself with historical culture, for the most part even without its knowledge, and now, speaking out through historical knowledge, with a shrug of its shoulders, rejects all becoming and thus disseminates the feeling of the person who has come much too late and who has the characteristics of an epigone, in short, of the person born with grey hair. The stringent and profoundly serious consideration of the worthlessness of everything which has happened, of the way in which the world in its maturity is ready for judgment, has evaporated to a skeptical consciousness that it is in any case good to know everything that has happened, because it is too late to do anything better. Thus the historical sense makes its servants passive and retrospective. It is almost the case that only in momentary forgetfulness, when that very sense is intermittent, does the patient suffering from the historical fever become active, so that, as soon as the action is over and done with, he may dissect his deed, through analytical consideration prevent any further effects, and finally flay it for “History.” In this sense, we are still living in the Middle Ages, and history is still a disguised theology, in exactly the same way that the reverence with which the unscientific laity treat the scientific caste is a reverence inherited from the clergy. What people in earlier times gave the church, people now give, although in scantier amounts, to scientific knowledge. However, the fact that people give was something the church brought about in earlier times, not something first done by the modern spirit, which, along with its other good characteristics, instead has something stingy about it, as is well known, and is, so far as the preeminent virtue of generosity is concerned, a miser.” -Nietzsche

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