This is the second in my writing prompts using aphorisms from Gracian's Pocket Oracle.
4. Knowledge and courage take turns at greatness. Because they are immortal, they can make you so. You are as much as you know, and if you are wise you can do anything. The uninformed person is a dark world unto himself. Judgment and strength: eyes and hands. Without courage, wisdom bears no fruit.
Gracian begins by stating that knowledge and courage are immortal and if one possesses each they too can become immortal.
The great question is "Why?" Why are knowledge and courage immortal?
History appears to support Gracian in that the most knowledgeable people of all time are remembered and often have had to have courage, because their beliefs and writing went against convention or they had to overcome significant obstacles to accomplish their goals.
When generally searching to get a sense of who others deem to be most knowledgeable, often the results focus on intelligence or more specifically, those with the highest IQ.
The word 'knowledge' (according to the Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories) is Middle English, whose source is Old English 'cnawan'. The word "was originally a verb in the sense 'acknowledge, recognize'."
Know has two strands, 'apprehend' and 'comprehend'.
The ability to apprehend everything that is known and further to comprehend it all is something that is unattainable today and likely ever. Aristotle (384 - 322 BC) is often attributed with being the last person to "know everything". Da Vinci (1452-1519), Shakespeare (1564-1616), and Goethe (1749-1832) are also cited by various sources as being in this 'class' of individuals.
While these individuals surely had very high intelligence, they are more well known for the diversity of their knowledge as compared to Newton or Galileo who were more specifically known for their work in math and science.
Courage is also Middle English and was 'once referred to the heart as the seat of feelings'. It is derived from Old French 'corage'.
'Having heart' is often associated with courage. It is a 'fighting spirit'. It demonstrates one's desire to achieve.
In the next sentence, Gracian goes beyond having knowledge and courage by adding being wise. Wise is related to 'wit', which is 'have knowledge of'. Being wise is then using one's knowledge and experience to make 'good' or 'right' decisions. In doing so, one 'can do anything'.
He closes with two sentences: "Judgment and strength: eyes and hands. Without courage, wisdom bears no fruit."
Here he reinforces his opening statement that knowledge and courage must work together to achieve success.
So what about, "The uninformed person is a dark world unto himself."?
This sentence seems out of sorts with everything else in this passage. It strikes me more as the start of a promo for the book itself, "The uninformed person is a dark world unto himself. Learn how to be enlightened, live well, and be immortalized in history by reading this book!"
I don't think this is what Gracian had in mind, though.
The entire work is based on, as stated in the introduction, "a book of strategies for knowing, judging, and acting: for making one's way in the world and achieving distinction and perfection." The opposite of which is one who does none of these things, the 'uninformed' person and being such that individual is in a solitary place without hope for improvement.
This person has neither knowledge or courage and by extension wisdom or strength.
What do you think?
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Ross R. Nunamaker