Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Thumos

In his superb translation of Parmenides, Stanley Lombardo renders the first lines of the poem as follows:

The horses that take me to the ends of my mind
Were taking me now: the drivers had put me
on the road to the Goddess, the manifest Way
that leads the enlightened through every delusion.

The more literal Peter Kingsley in his wise and revelatory book Reality has it thus:
The mares that carry me as far as longing can reach rode on, once they had come and fetched me onto the legendary road of the divinity that carries the man who knows through the vast and dark unknown...

Lombardo admits that his is a radical translation. "Ends of my mind" instead of "longing" might seem a distortion of meaning. The Greek word usually translated as "longing" or "desire" is thumos. Lombardo explains that his version is meant to suggest "a unique inner experience, the encounter of one's mind with Being and the realization that they are the same." If translated as desire or longing, thumos would seem an activity of the lower mind rather than an insatiable drive for an ultimate encounter with the divine; it is essentially untranslatable.

I see this as a case where the literal translation is an essential gloss on the poetry. On thumos, Kingsley writes that it is "the energy of life itself. It's the raw presence in us that senses and feels; the massed power of our emotional being." So it is not merely desire in the materialist sense of wanting to possess or objectify. It is the fire of life that impels us to travel in consciousness.

It is easy to forget that it is the thumos in us that is running things. If it wants us to ride the wild horses to the end of the galaxy and plunge ourselves into the fiery heart of God, we will do so or die trying. And that is a good thing. The varied veils of human life are relentlessly being peeled away as we struggle, as a species, to climb out of our cradle endlessly rocking, and try so awkwardly to walk. Thumos will not let us sleep forever. It throws off the veil, takes us out of the mind, and takes us to the halls of the inner divinities whose have been waiting, silently, since time began for us to recognize them, so they may whisper to us one true thing at last.

It is time to study Parmenides and Empedocles and the other pre-Socratic Greek philosophers, because they represent the lost wellsprings of the Western tradition. Logic, analysis, and science proceeded from them. Yet what they were about had nothing to do with what we made of their gift. We have yet to plumb the true meaning of Parmenides' statement: "for to think and to be are one and the same."

1 comment:

Cheryl B. said...

I loved your blog today (Feb. 15) Dougie! You never fail to create interest with your writing.
:-)