Jun 11 2012

The Vanity of Glory

Published by at 2:11 pm under Vanity of Glory

The original Themista was one of the most devoted followers of the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus. She was called the female Solon, and Epicurus dedicated a number of his works to her. She was also one of the first women in history to write a book of philosophy, which she entitled The Vanity of Glory. Her book was widely influential in antiquity–several hundred years after her death Cicero quoted from it in a speech before the Roman senate.

While the book is now lost, its title remains, and its truth has resonated over the centuries. A good philosopher will always understand that there is no more pathetic waste of time and energy than what is now called attention whoring. Those who succumb to the siren call of fame and celebrity are in pursuit of a sad illusion which will never make them happy. How much better to practice the Epicurean virtue of lathe biôsas, kai apobiôsas, which translates as live unknown, die unknown. If you wish to live a harmonious and contented existence, you need to fly under the radar. You’ll be glad you did.

I am now going to start posting an occasional vanity of glory quote, the kind of which Themista would probably have approved. I will start with one of the most memorable sonnets ever written, Ozymandias (1818), by Percy Bysshe Shelley:


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desart. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

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