Animals And Humans In King Lear

Scattered throughout Shakespeare’s King Lear are references to animals. These references serve as points of comparison, and affinity, with the human animal. The purpose of these references is to highlight human existence on the appetitive level – that which solely feeds and nurtures the body, without concern for concepts that drive human society, such as ethics and morality.

In fact, it is for this very reason that Lear is turned out into the wild heath, very much like a feral beast, wherein he can enact his tragedy, free from all associations with the constructs of civilization.

In effect, the animal references in King Lear emphasize humankind’s affinity with all living things, in that each of us is involved in a cycle – birth, begetting offspring, death – life outside civilization, life as the instinctual drive to breed and survive.

As well, it is important to realize that human society is also a construct of superfluity in that human beings tend to accumulate wealth and power, without thinking about why they need to carry on in this way.

This is precisely the painful lesson that Lear learns on the heath. He has been turned out into the storm like some mad, unwanted animal. He, the king, is powerless before nature. All his wealth, all his influence, even his fifty companions that he kept with him at all times as a show of his might – are all stripped away. On the heath, he is no more than a lost, old man whom no one wants.

Interestingly enough, Lear the king, living in his court, was more appetitive, more driven by his own sense of power (since he could make or break the lives of his daughter, especially Cordelia) – more like an animal – than the human being that he becomes on the heath.

It is by suffering like a wretched animal, by being cast to the very lowest level of subsistence, that Lear learns about truth of a human life, indeed the value of a human life.

It by suffering that he undergoes purification, where all superfluity is stripped from him, and he becomes a man that finally understands the value of love and compassion. And the animals teach this lesson to him:

Poor naked wretches, wheresoe’er you are,
That bide the pelting of this pitiless storm,
How shall your houseless heads and unfed sides,
Your loop’d and window’d raggedness, defend you
From seasons such as these? O, I have ta’en
Too little care of this! Take physic, pomp,
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That thou mayst shake the superflux to them,
And show the heavens more just (III.iv.28-36).

Despite the darkness that pervades the entire play, King Lear is about the discovery of love. All too often a lifetime will go by before we understand the reality of love.

In fact, the entire play is structured around the idea of inversion – things that we assume are normal and therefore proper (such as Lear the King parceling out his kingdom to the daughter who loves him the most) – are twisted and inherently wrong, if not evil.

By his own action, by trying to see which daughter loves him the most, Lear unleashes the tragedy that shall consume in the end. Lear the “wise, old king” is in fact a foolish old man – for he actually believes he can discern true love by initiating a game – “Let’s play who loves Dad the most.”

But Cordelia refuses to play. She knows that true love is not contained in mere words, but is in fact found in actions and deeds – something Lear himself bitterly learns:

No, no, no, no! Come let’s away to prison:
We two alone will sing like birds i’ the cage;
When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down
And ask of thee forgiveness. So we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we’ll talk with them too –
Who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out (V.iii.8-15).

Birds in a cage are freer than kings at court. They are completely without guile and deception. The inversion continues, for the cage is the freest place for Lear; it is there he finds truth, and it is there that he finds true love that Cordelia bears for him.

Of course, it is in the nature of Shakespearean tragedy that death comes precisely – and only – when complete realization is achieved and truth laid bare.

Thus, when Lear finds Cordelia, it is too late. Death takes away the very person that Lear sought throughout the play – someone who would love him without hope for reward.

And it is at this very juncture that we have the strongest evocation of the parallel between human existence and animals – for as living creatures we share the same fate – some will die soon, others a little later, but human and animals – indeed all life – is bound to the cycle of life and death:

Why should a dog, a horse, a rat, have life,
And thou no breath at all? Thou’lt come no more,
Never, never, never, never, never (V.iii.307-309).
The finality of “Never” rings like a knell upon all human hopes to be greater and higher than what we really are – human animals.

It is this question that Kent asks as he sees Lear carry in the dead Ophelia: “Is this the promis’d end” (V.iii.265).

When the play ends, we must answer Kent and say, “Yes. This is the promised end – for death makes animals of us all.” And it is to Kent that we must leave the final word: “Break, heart, I prithee, break”(V.iii.314).


The photo shows, “King Lear, Act I, Scene I (Cordelia’s Farewell),” by Edwin Austin Abbey, painted in 1898.

Terrorism Is Meaningless

Terrorism is of course a means to an end, more often than not political and ideological. In its barest form, it is the imposition of one will over another. Given this imposition, therefore, it is essential we ask: is terrorism ever justified? Is it right to impose one will over another?

This leads us to the question of ethics. Thus, is terrorism an ethical act? In order to understand this complex question, we need to first of all contextualize our arguments in the thoughts of thinkers who have sought to formulate the contours of what constitutes ethical life. Thus, we shall first turn to the works of Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, and St. Thomas Aquinas.

Broadly speaking, idealists such as idealists such as Plato have contended that there is an absolute good to which human activities aspire. According to Plato, good is an essential element of reality. Evil does not exist in itself but is an imperfect reflection of the real, which is good. Saint Augustine, regarded as the founder of Christian theology, sought to integrate Platonic and Christian views of goodness.

On the other hand, Aristotle decided that the highest good for the individual is the complete exercise of the specifically human function of rationality. And Saint Thomas Aquinas reconciled Aristotelianism with the authority of the church by acknowledging the truth of sense experience, but only as complementary to faith. He used Aristotelian logic to support the Augustinian concepts of original sin and redemption through divine grace.

In the Crito, Socrates tells us that one should never willingly do wrong, and even after being wronged or injured it is still not right to do wrong or injure in return. In fact, Socrates rejects returning wrong for wrong and the breaking of agreements and covenants, and he refuses to injure his country and his friends.

Thus, terrorism loses its justification, because it seeks to return wrong for wrong, and willingly do injury.

In the Euthyphro, Socrates points out that perhaps the holy is holy because the gods approve it, or do they approve something because it is holy. By analogy he shows that things are loved because someone loves them, and not the reverse.

Socrates then asks him if all that is holy is just; but as reverence is only a part of fear, so holiness is only a part of justice. Terrorism is again denied justification, since it is not an act of justice, nor of love, but an act of fear, since justice and love are equated by Socrates.

In Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle sees the parallel between those who think they will perform good by mere theoretical knowledge and the patients who listen attentively and comprehend what the doctor says, but do not carry out his orders.

Aristotle considers that pleasure as such is the lowest good in certain sense. Aristotle yet acknowledges that pleasure is something positive, and it s effect is perfect the exercise of a faculty. Pleasure differs specifically according to the character of the activities to which they are attached, and the good man must be our standard as to what is truly pleasant and unpleasant to desire.

Terrorism, therefore, is an unpleasant desire that a good man must avoid.

Similarly, Augustine’s tells us that the purpose of life is to be happy. To be happy, you must achieve what you truly want. Here, terrorism may briefly find justification in that a terrorist seeks to do what he truly wants.

But a wise man desires only what he can obtain, and to be happy, one must know how to obtain it. The aim of a terrorist is unobtainable, since he seeks happiness in that which is perishable.

Augustine tells us that true happiness cannot come from a perishable thing since one must worry about the protection of the item, and worrying is incompatible with happiness. Since God is the only permanent thing, thus, God is the only true goal.

Knowing God requires divine grace, which has to be earned through humility and temperance. Again, terrorism contradicts the notion of humility and temperance, since it is the violent imposition of one will over another. This temperance is called wisdom.

One should love God above Self, Others, and Objects, because those would not bring true happiness. Thus, terrorism cannot be justified, because it an extreme love of Self. Evil is not a positive force to Augustine, it is merely the absence of good.

Therefore, terrorism is evil, since good is absent, and good being the active pursuit of happiness, within the context of humility and temperance.

Aquinas bases his doctrine on the natural law, on his understanding of God and His relation to His creation. He grounds his theory of natural law in the notion of an eternal law (in God). N

ext, Aquinas asks whether there is in us a natural law. The Natural Law, as applied to the case of human beings, requires greater precision because of the fact that we have reason and free will.

It is our nature humans to act freely (i.e. to be provident for ourselves and others) by being inclined toward our proper acts and end. That is, we human beings must exercise our natural reason to discover what is best for us in order to achieve the end to which their nature inclines.

Furthermore, we must exercise our freedom, by choosing what reason determines to naturally suited to us, i.e. what is best for our nature. Thus, is terrorism an exercise in freedom? Yet, how can it be? Does it achieve a proper end, we must ask. It is certainly an act of free will, yet it is not part of reason.

The natural inclination of humans to achieve their proper end through reason and free will is the natural law. Formally defined, the Natural Law is humans’ participation in the Eternal Law, through reason and will. Humans actively participate in the eternal law of God (the governance of the world) by using reason in conformity with the Natural Law to discern what is good and evil.

Therefore, terrorism can never participate in eternal law, for it stands outside it, opposite it. Aquinas distinguishes different levels of precepts or commands that the Natural Law entails.

The most universal is the command, “Good is to be done and pursued and evil avoided.” Again, terrorism is denied justification since it does not obey the universal command to pursue and do good, and avoid evil.

These philosophers show us that terrorism cannot be justified because it seeks to return wrong for wrong; it is an act of fear, and not of justice or love; it is an unpleasant desire that a good man must avoid; it does not participate in humility and temperance, and thus it lacks grace; it is an evil act because good is absent from it; terrorism is unreasonable; and it does not obey the natural law in that it does not pursue and do good, and avoid evil.



The photo shows, “The Bombing At the Cafe Terminus,” an illustration from Le Petit Journal, February 26, 1894.

The Memory Palace Of Jorge Luis Borges

Jorge Luis Borges in “Funes the Memorious” describes Funes as “not very capable of thought.” This observation certainly serves to undermine Socrates notion that knowledge is recollection of an innate wisdom. In the same paragraph, Borges continues: “To think is to forget a difference, to generalize, to abstract.”

These three categories are precisely constituents of knowledge and the process of recollection that Socrates explores, and they are precisely the processes that are missing in Funes.

Funes is a compiler of information. Bu having a perfect memory he has the capability of storing vast amounts of knowledge. However, he cannot abstract or generalize these facts. He cannot see the pattern that these facts fall into, or create.

When Socrates states that wisdom is intimately linked to recollection, he is clearly giving us a cause for consciousness. Funes, by merely recording perfectly, does is not aware as to what constitutes consciousness.

Funes is like a computer that can store vast amounts of information, yet it cannot think. Information in and of itself is not wisdom.

Wisdom comes from recollection, because when we recollect we construct patterns of thought, we seek similarities, we seek meaning that will congeal facts into a process of consciousness, allowing us to understand what it is that makes us aware.

As well, by stressing the importance of recollection in the process of acquiring wisdom, Socrates is also valorizing imagination.

Thus to possess consciousness is to possess imagination. This is precisely the difference between pure storage of information, and the imaginative use of that information.

As well, when we recollect something, we immediately re-construct that fact into a symbol or metaphor that becomes a cue to our own understanding of reality.

Because Funes has a perfect memory, and most of us do not, he cannot give the past a distinct identity, which independent from the external world that we ourselves inhabit. Socrates allows for the construction of precisely this world.

Through the imaginative process, which is also the act of recollection, we remember something imperfectly, and then proceed to construct thoughts that qualify this recollection, thereby arriving at imaginative thought.

And this precisely what Funes does not possess. He is a vast archive of information, a library, where information is certainly stored, but where imagination must be brought into play in order to transform, and therefore construct, facts into wisdom. Here we can ask, does a library have a memory? Or memory brought into the library by consciousness.

As well, it is important to realize that by stating that Funes if not capable of thought, Borges is also setting Funes as an opposite to the Socratic principle of wisdom.

Where Socrates describes consciousness as linked to memory in that recollection is an active re-construction of reality, and is therefore imagination – Funes is not part of consciousness; he is merely a “storage facility.”

Funes memory is merely an exact copy of external reality. It is perfect. Socrates’ process of recollection on the other hand is completely different from Funes’ memory. Socrates is speaking about consciousness, which is imperfect and inherently selective. Imperfect memory actively seeks out imagination and creativity – which is very the definition of thought.

In effect, Funes’ incapability of thought is in direct opposition to Socrates who links memory with recollection, and thereby consciousness and creative thought.


The photo shows, “Wedding on the Roof Garden,” by Dodo (Dörte Clara Wolff), painted in 1929.

Doric And Ionic Orders In Greek Architecture

The beginnings of the Greek Doric and Ionic orders lies rooted in temple architecture. Early designs were simple and practical, where a shrine was constructed to house the image of a deity.

Under a low-pitched gable roof, the interior was a windowless rectangular room called the “cella,” which sheltered the cult statue of the deity. The “portal,” or doorway to the cella was on one of the short ends, which extended outward in a “portico,” or porch, faced with columns to form the “façade,” or front. Sometimes columns were erected around the building in a series known as a “colonnade.”

The construction was simple: a platform of three steps, the top one known as the “stylobate,” from which rose the rose the upright “posts” that supported the “lintels,” or horizontal beams.

When these columns and lintels were made of marble, the weight and size of the superstructure could be increased and the “intercolumniation,” or span between the supporting posts, widened.

The history of Greek temple architecture was largely the refining of this “post-and-lintel” method of construction, which permitted the architects a steadily increasing freedom of expression as time went on.

And it is in this method that we find the beginnings of the Doric and the Ionic orders, as well as their refinements. Let us now examine both these styles, and their evolution.

The Doric order is the oldest classical style of temple architecture, characterized by simple, sturdy columns that rise without a base to an unornamented, cushion like capital. The “capital” or crown of the Doric column is in three parts: the necking, the echinus, and the abacus.

The purpose of any capital is to smooth the passage between the vertical shaft of the column and the horizontal portion of the building above. The “necking” is the first break in the upward lines of the shafts, though the fluting continues up to the outward flare of the round, cushion like echinus.

This, in turn, leads to the abacus, a block of stone that squares the circle, so to speak, and makes the progression between the round lower and rectangular upper members.

Above the columns and below the roof is the “entablature.” Directly above the abacus is the architrave, a series of plain rectangular blocks. These stretch from the center of one column to that of its neighbor to constitute the lintels of the construction. They also support the upper parts of the entablature, namely, frieze, cornices, and pediment. At this point, sculpture is called into play for decorative purposes, beginning with a carved band known as a “frieze.”

In the Doric order, the frieze is made up of alternating triglyphs and metopes. The rectangular triglyphs are so named because of their grooves (“glyphs”), two in the center and a half groove on either side.

They are the weight-bearing sections, and as a rule, one is placed above each column and another in the space between. The sameness of the triglyphs contrasts with the differently carved relief panels of the metopes. This alternation creates a visual rhythm, which illustrates the classical principle of harmonizing the opposites of unity and variety.

The frieze is protected by the overhanging “cornice” (and enhanced by its shadow), and the “raking cornice” rises gable like from the side angles to the apex in the center. The triangular space enclosed by the cornices is called the “pediment,” which is recessed or set back to create a shelf on which freestanding sculpture can be placed to climax the decorative scheme.

As well, a “peristyle” or colonnade, of freestanding columns completely surrounded the temple (as in the Parthenon). The columns were placed far enough from the cella walls to permit an “ambulatory,” or passageway. The number of columns used on the porch of a Greek temple was determined by the size of the building rather than by any rigid rule. The usual number was six, although some temples had as few as two, others as many as ten or twelve.

The outer surface of the Doric column has twenty grooves, or “flutes,” that form concave vertical channels from the bottom to the top of the shaft. Fluting serves several purposes, the first being to correct an optical illusion.

When seen in bright sunlight, a series of ungrooved round columns appears flattened. In addition to maintaining the round appearance, the fluting makes a constant play of light and shadow and makes a number of graceful curves to please the eye.

Also, the increased number of vertical lines quickens the visual rhythm, and the eye is led upward toward the sculpture of the entablature.

The Doric order can be seen in the Parthenon, which was built entirely of Pentelic marble. When freshly quarried, this fine-grained stone was cream colored, but as it has weathered through the centuries, its minute veins of iron have oxidized, so that today the color varies from light beige to darker golden tones, depending on the light.

For sheer technical skill of its Doric construction, the Parthenon is astonishing. No mortar was used anywhere; the stones were cut so exactly that when fitted together; they form a single smooth surface.

The columns, which appear to be monoliths of marble, are in fact constructed of sections called “drums,” so tightly fitted by square plugs in the center that the joinings are scarcely visible. The harmonious proportions of the Parthenon have long been attributed to some subtle system of mathematical ratios.

But despite close study and analysis, no geometrical system has so far been found that fits all the evidence. However, there is a recurrence in several instances of the proportion 9:4.

This proportion has been noticed in the length of the building (228 feet) relative to its width (104 feet), when measured on the stylobate, or top step.

The next evolved stage of the Greek column, the Ionic, developed in Asia Minor and is distinguished by slender, fluted columns and capitals decorated with volutes or scrolls. Thus, the Ionic order is more slender and has its greatest diameter at the bottom, in marked contrast with the Doric style.

The Ionic shaft rests on a molded base instead of directly on the stylobate, and they have twenty instead of twenty-four flutings. Most striking, however, is the Ionic capital, with its “volutes,” or scroll-like ornaments.

The fine columns rested on molded bases carved with a delicate design. The necking had a band decorated with a pattern, and above it was a smaller band with another decorative motif, followed by the volutes and then a thin abacus carved with various designs.

The columns supported an architrave divided horizontally into three bands, each receding slightly inward. The architrave thus consists of a continuous carved frieze rather than the alternating Doric triglyphs and metopes. Above rose a shallow pediment without sculpture. The Ionic order is perfectly demonstrated by the Erechtheum.

The plan of the Erechtheum is as complex as the Parthenon is simple. The rectangular interior (about 31½ feet wide and 61¼ feet long) had for rooms for the various shrines on two different levels.

One was 10¾ feet higher than the other. Projecting outward from three of the sides were porticoes, each of different size and design. The east porch has a row of six Ionic columns almost 22 feet high.

The north porch has a similar number but with four in front and two on the sides; while the smaller porch on the south is famous for its six “caryatids,” the sculptured maidens who replace the usual columns.

Thus, at their Acropolis, the Athenians brought to the highest point of development two distinct Greek building traditions: the Doric (with the Parthenon) and the Ionic (with the Erechtheum as well as the Temple of Athena Nike).

By displaying the two architectural orders, the Athenians made a symbolic reference to their city as the place where the Dorian people (of the western Greek mainland), and the Ionian people (of the east coast of Asia Minor across the Aegean Sea) had for centuries lived together in peace and harmony.


The photo shows,  “The Temple of Athena Nike. View from the North-East,” by Werner Carl-Friedrich, painted in 1877.