I live in Vienna, the city of my childhood joy and adult dreams.
I am not your typical dreamer: I know about people and about life, more than most. I have read a great lot; I have thought a lot. I have worked in many jobs during my studies. I studied literature and culture of the US, UK and Persia. I have read about many more. I have an M.A. to my name.
Yet, Vienna, the long and relaxed cultural tradition of mixed heritage, the faint glimmer of a monarchy that ended a century ago but was hundreds of years in place; the older and newer places in the town and city, the gardens and parks, and last but not at all least, the people:
Vienna is the city where you still feel the pace of a more human speed, as I put it earlier, in German: “where you are – elegantly – never in a real hurry.”
Milton called his epic masterpiece ‘Paradise Lost’. It is based on the Christian religion.
Vienna never was a paradise, if you looked closely enough: it has an old-world charm and flair though that is as unique as that of Paris, France, or that of Prague, Czechia.
Artists, musicians and writers lived and died here. Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Strauß, father and son, Schubert and Brahms, to name just a very few, composed world-famous musical pieces, concertos and operas people have listened to and loved (or hated…) for centuries.
I worked in the so-called ‘Wienerwald’ for two years, a region that is surrounding Vienna and is a real forest in many places: the air in Vienna and in that forest is of a certain balmy nature you may feel making you almost dizzy, like a glass of champagne.
I am not exaggerating, if you ever get the chance to come here and are the least bit sensitive to that kind of impression, you will know. And it is that one-glass-of-a-good-wine-feeling, such as wines you find around here in abundance too, not a drunken kind of state, at all.
All this is true. As well as the truth about people, who are often very similarly human inside of a region, a culture – or inside and out of ‘business’. Ideas and points of view are similar.
So, Vienna as well is very human. It’s not a paradise in the fairy-tale sense.
It is a paradise in spite of and because of the slightly frayed seams of its dress.
I love it.
Athena, goddess of wisdom, war and crafts in Greek mythology, brought to life again…in a manner of speaking.
Why ‘real’ – or ‘true to life’, when talking about ‘mythology’? Which in the tradition of almost all peoples around the globe is a ‘myth’ to begin with, something like a ‘highbrow fairy story’?
Of Greek mythology it can be said particularly well that it was built, based on what was common in the society at the time:
life, love and war or parents and children, brothers and sisters. Kings, queens, gods and peasants, they figured in it, fought, won, lost, loved and hated just as human beings did – and do.
As a child I encountered the German retold stories of Greek mythology ‘en vogue’ then. I didn’t like the style. It seemed cramped and rather bent on trying to provide a sense of blind worship for the old traditions. Typical among those that seem to hold anything of ancient Greece in highest regard without checking twice – or real understanding and a broader view.
Still, recently I came across a documentary about the Greek myths that not only was colourful, consists of more than 20 parts – but also seems true to ‘life’.
The second time after reading Joachim Fernau, historian, of hotly debated, enlightened approach, who yet successfully made ancient history come to life in his books on Roman or Greek mythology and history.
Colourful, too, great fun to read, with real insight.
Athena, the Modern Woman?
Athena is particular to me because she seems to represent a figure as a woman I feel I can relate too:
not perfect, but well-liked, desired even, yet not easily taken in – or had. She fights only in order to make more peace.
She sprang from the head of her father Zeus, reigning god of Greek mythology, at birth, also a striking way to come to life: a father’s thought or idea…
She failed once dreadfully when killing her sister in a sparring fight, where her father Zeus interfered at the last minute, blinded her sister momentarily to weaken her and thus makes Athena kill her sister accidentally.
A little background here makes it clearer:
‘Pallas’ had been her uncle Poseidon’s daughter in the tales, but both had been raised and felt like sisters. That Zeus would interfere at all, in the tales was due to an old rivalry between his brother Poseidon and himself.
That’s apparently why she is called ‘Pallas Athena’ on most statues or scrolls or in texts: she put the name of her beloved sister in front of her own to remind and be reminded for the rest of her life.
She is protective goddess of all crafts, close to arts and although I am not a craftswoman as such, I like many crafts very well, such as knitting, crocheting, or cooking.
Wisdom, last but not at all least of the main characteristics and responsibilities of her as a figure in the tales:
wisdom is dear to me and I try to attain more, as the years pass by, always have held in it in high regard.
Wisdom and knowledge are not the same thing by a long chalk. But experience and a kind heart, as well as knowledge are the best possible bases for wisdom to come – sometimes sooner, sometimes later.
Non-violently ‘fight’ for peace, be wise, do not let them fool you and look your fellow-man – literally and figuratively – squarely in the eye, yet remember also about love or passion, quality-wise, instead of quantity: that’s what this image means to me in a nutshell. Athena.
I am part of a family that for hundreds of years has been busy to educate and learn and further culture, arts and knowledge, basically across half of Europe.
When I was still a girl, I often felt overwhelmed and intimidated by all the possible knowledge domains that are there these days, all the facts, figures and rules of art one would learn, languages and their often hidden meaning. Mathematics, physics, chemistry, in short: all the subjects of the higher holistic academic education, based on humanist principles, in turn based on Wilhelm von Humboldt’s Humboldtian education ideal of the nineteenth century.
I often asked myself: will I ever be able to learn and understand all these facts? Apart from the possible interpretations and philosophical consequential thoughts one might develop. My parents used to discuss philosophical matters, such as epistemology, the limitations of knowledge, as opposed to wisdom, terminology questions, or language, society and its roots, politics, arts, sciences, literature…
I’ve learned in the meantime that for all the high ideals and aspirations, growing up does for us what we need: knowledge becomes ‘manageable’, categories form in the mind and thus build a solid structure, slowly but surely, if we continue.
I also learned early in life about Socrates and his (alleged) dictum:
“I know that I know nothing.” Although proper research does not find this to be part of the Plato texts, it is widely acknowledged as a short gesture of respect towards previous philosophers and scientists, in the sense that a wealth of knowledge exists and one human being would not be enough to imbibe it all.
Some people have answered the question ‘why study’ in a more generic way:
‘Being educated is a worthy and dignified asset and a proper value of distinction.’
‘It can be crucial for a life in wealth or even riches’ – which is the, alas, modern, utilitarian variety of the reason for education.
But somehow these answers weren’t enough for me. They seemed to reduce knowledge and wisdom to something ‘countable’.
For myself I have found a basis for education that is rooted in a belief and experience, especially those blessed with wealthy families and upbringing, may not easily share:
‘Education can make the fundamental difference between the ‘unbearable lightness of being’ – and the ‘unbearable heaviness of being’.’
Lightness of being may be felt by those, who live in comfortable circumstances, who do not know, what real want or need of the fundamental necessities in life feels like. And who may even be tempted to idle away their lives in constant partying and drinking and perhaps even drug abuse, or worse, in order to quench any emotion or thought of emptiness or lack of focus this way. (This kind of behaviour may be a phase only, when people think they have to prove their membership of the ‘wealthy elements’ of society, prove to be bold and exciting…)
Heaviness of being can be felt by those, who have seen – or see – this want, this need. Who have to reduce their living circumstances for years or even decades to the bare living and breathing and clothing and food.
For some time I was part of the second aspect of people. One day, after years and years, one might say, I had the chance to ‘return’ to the museums of my childhood, to the paintings, the knowledge of scientists and meaning.
I entered that hall of paintings, in my case the Flemish and Netherlands artists of the 14th to 16th century, mainly.
And suddenly I was moved almost to tears, feeling:
“Thank God, this is all here, still, and will be, whatever else may happen.”
It was like a revelation at that moment, of art lifting me up above the worries and fears of everyday life. I remembered a number of things I had learned during childhood about the rules for why these paintings were just this way. That made the experience even more insightful and exciting.
So, my answer(s) to the question above, why education, are these:
It can lift you up.
It broadens the horizon of understanding, that is understanding humans, ways of life, religions and politics.
It can make you feel as if a light, like a beacon, shines on our lives, because all those wonderful artists have created art to make life more colourful, multi-faceted and exciting.
So, be undaunted, now or later, and conquer the knowledge, the wisdom and the arts – to light up your life with the knowledge and arts – your way.