Al Shahrastani-The Apothegms of Homer The Poet
‘The Apotheosis of Homer’, by John Flaxman
Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA are ‘The Apothegms of Homer the Poet’, a small chapter within Al Shahrastani’s mastertwork, the ‘Kitab al-Milal wa al-Nihal’ (The Book of Sects and Creeds). In the ‘Greek Philosophers’ section. From page 255 to 259. After Hermes and Hippocrates, we continue our mining of such a treasure trove with the Apothegms of Homer the Poet. More to come, as time allows.
Homer belongs to the group of great elders; Plato and Aristotle rank him at the highest. Due to their sound knowledge and solid wisdom, their excellent opinions and the purity of expression, there is much for us to benefit from his poems. For instance, he said: ‘It is not good to have many chiefs’; this is a concise saying that encompasses many layers of meaning. In fact, plurality of leaders creates discrepancies that bring ruin to any command, even wise. We can also fathom from this saying an argument for divine unicity; in fact, a plurality of gods would lead to conflicts that would attack and destroy the essence of divinity. We can also see in this saying an argument of practical wisdom: If all the inhabitant of a country were chiefs, there would be no subjects and if they would be all subjects, there will be no chief.
Here are some of his Apothegms:
1. Homer said: ‘People never cease to astonish me! instead of imitating God, the Most-High, they reduce all this to a mere imitation of animals.’ His disciple said: ‘Is it not simply that they realized they die like animals?’ Homer answered: ‘If this is the cause, they astonish me even greater, blinded by their mortal body they live in, they don’t see the immortal souls within.’
2. Homer said: ‘The person who thinks life is a hindrance for us and that death frees and liberates us, he prefers death to life.’
3. Homer said: ‘The intellect works in two ways: One way comes from nature and the other from experience; they are like water and earth. Also, fire melts all that is solid, purifies it and prepares it to be worked upon, likewise the intellect melts all object (umur), purifies them, divides them, and prepares them to be worked upon.
4. Homer said: ‘One man of good is worth more than everything on earth. One wicked man is lesser than everything on earth.’
5. Homer said: ‘Be benevolent, you will become noble; be patient and you will be loved; don’t be proud and you will no be humiliated; submit your desires, because poor is the man who is slave to his desires.’
6. Homer said: ‘This world is like a trading house. Woe to whom only gets losses.’
7. Homer said: ‘Illnesses consists of three things: Excess, defects in the four natures and what grows sorrows. Healing of the person who has to much or too little of the four natures, are the remedies; healing of what unsettles the heart are the words of the wise men and friends.’
8. Homer said: ‘It is better to be blind than ignorant; as the greatest inconvenience of being blind is to fall into a well and to break one’s neck; whereas being ignorant is to face eternal perdition.’
9. Homer said: ‘The prelude to laudable actions is composure; the prelude to blameworthy actions is shamelessness.’
10. Heraclitus said: ‘Poor Homer, seeing the opposition that rules between all beings under the sphere of the Moon, said: ‘May God pleases in making the opposition disappear from this world, from the people and their rulers!’ This last word means the stars and the difference of their nature. Homer wished that like that all reciprocal opposition and the alterities would be annihilated from this world, so that this dragging and passing world would enter into the immobile, vivacious and perennial realm.
11. Homer was teaching that Bahram (Mars) unites with Al-Zuhra (Venus) and from their union the nature of this world was born. He said: ‘Venus is the cause of unification (tawhid) and reunion; Mars is the cause of division and differences; therefore, the fact of being unified (tawahhud) is the opposite of division. From there we can say that nature is ambiguous, as she builds and reduces, unifies and divides.
12. Homer said: ‘Writing is what intelligence manifests by the mean of the quill, likewise, when our human nature comes before our soul, it desires it as its own element.’
Here are now some excerpts from his verses:
1. ‘A man must be aware of human affairs.’
2. ‘Education is a treasure that cannot be stolen.’
3. ‘Take out of your life what brings you sorrow.’
4. ‘The affairs of the world teach you.’
5. ‘You, as a mortal, should not underestimate the hostility of the immortals.’
6. ‘We rejoice at all that we can harvest during our time’.
7. ‘Time reveals truth and sheds light upon it.’
8. ‘Always remember that you are a human being.’
9. ‘Man, learn how to subdue your anger.’
10. ‘If a wrong hit you, know that you deserved it.’
11. ‘Seek everybody’s fulfilment, not only yours.’
12. ‘Untimely laughter is the cousin of tears.’
13. ‘The earth gives birth to everything and then takes it back.’
14. ‘The advice of a coward is faint.’
15. ‘Take revenge of your enemies in a way that does not harm you.’
16. ‘Be daring but not reckless.’
17. ‘You as a mortal should not impersonate an immortal.’
18. ‘If you want to live, do nothing that makes your death an unavoidable fate.’
19. ‘Nature gives birth to everything according to the will of the almighty Lord.’
20. ‘He who does no evil is divine.’
21. ‘Put your trust in God and he will help you in your endeavors.’
22. ‘To be assisting evil men in their actions is a sin.’
23. ‘The loser is he who fights against God and destiny.’
24. ‘Contemplate God and be aware of human affairs.’
25. ‘If God is eager to save you, you will find sea after the desert.’
26. ‘Noble is the intelligence that talks to God.’
27. ‘The Law is enabled by the leader of the city.’
28. ‘Even though it has strength, the mob has no reason.’
29. ‘The law asks you to respect your parents like your respect God.’
30. ‘Consider your parents like divine’.
31. ‘The true father is the one who has educated not just procreated.
32. ‘Talking in untimely manner can have an deep impact on the whole life.’
33. ‘When luck is present, business is thriving.’
34. ‘We cannot fathom the laws of nature.’
35. ‘Hand washes hand, finger washes finger.’
36. ‘Rejoice of what you have gained for yourself, not what you have provided to others.’ Homer here means by ‘what you have gained for yourself’, knowledge and by ‘what you have provided others’, wealth.
Homer said: ‘The vine caries three grapes; the grape of pleasure, of intoxication and the grape of recklessness.’ And ‘The best things in the world are ordinary and in the world of the intellect the highest.’
It is said that poetry existed before philosophy and that Homer invented it. Thales lived three hundred and forty-two years after him. The first philosopher that lived among them lived in the year nine hundred fifty-one after the death of Moses (upon him salvation). This is what Cyril of Alexandria tells in his book and Porphyry mention that Thales was born in the year hundred and twenty-three after the rule of king Nabonassar.