Old Man with a Beard

“… shame will vanish.” Hesiod, Works and Days

Hesiod gives a remarkable description of a degenerate culture by pointing to several of its hallmark characteristics. This one is particularly chilling.

“Shame” for the Greeks refers to a crucial human passion: one that recoils from what is wicked or indecent. The feeling of shame is rooted in an insight—be it ever so subconscious or pre-conceptual—an insight into the real distinction between good and evil. Indeed true shame springs from an appreciation that moral uprightness is precious, and its opposite repulsive.

While to feel shame for evil is natural, just how deeply and about what we feel it is subject to our social and moral environment. Cultivation of proper shame is a hallmark of civilization.

But shame can vanish.

Our society often treats what is shameful as though it were good. The worst instances are perhaps too obvious to need mentioning. Yet we might fruitfully look closer to home, and consider our own sensitivity to what is shameful, albeit in lesser instances. Immodesty, crude language, unnecessary violence, rude manners, disrespect for authority and age, crassness, a cult of ugliness: these are shameful. Yet it seems we are becoming inured to them. Alas, sometimes we entertain ourselves with them; we watch (even share?) internet videos highlighting them.

If we, our friends, and our children are not ashamed of that which is shameful, rooted in a reverence for the whole spectrum of what is good and beautiful, then we must act to change this.

Hesiod’s words may have described his age, and they do describe our own age in large part. It is in our power whether they describe our own lives and households.

Hesiod (8th century B.C.) was a Greek contemporary of Homer, and likewise an epic poet. His Works and Days sketches the year-round work on a homestead. It also describes various characteristics of both a troubled time period—Hesiod’s own, and those of a golden age. I am going to devote several Wednesday Quotes to the characteristics of the former, followed by several concerning the latter.

Image: Old Man with a Beard, Rembrandt

Originally posted at Bacon from Acorns

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John A. Cuddeback is a professor and chairman of the Philosophy Department at Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia, where he has taught since 1995. He received a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America under the direction of F. Russell Hittinger. He has lectured on various topics including virtue, culture, natural law, friendship, and household. His book Friendship: The Art of Happiness was republished in 2010 as True Friendship: Where Virtue Becomes Happiness. His writings have appeared in Nova et Vetera, The Thomist, and The Review of Metaphysics, as well as in several volumes published by the American Maritain Association. Though raised in what he calls an ‘archetypical suburb,’ Columbia, Maryland, he and his wife Sofia consider themselves blessed to be raising their six children in the shadow of the Blue Ridge on the banks of the Shenandoah. At the material center of their homesteading projects are heritage breed pigs, which like the pigs of Eumaeus are fattened on acorns, yielding a bacon that too few people ever enjoy. His website dedicated to the philosophy of family and household is baconfromacorns.com.