Give me that man that is not passion’s slave…

“Give me that man  that is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him  In my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of heart, As I do thee.”

Thus Hamlet, speaking to Horatio (Act III Scene 2), extols the man who is not a slave to passion. I have been asserting for some time now that among the many benefits that a student might derive from a liberal education is that he stands a chance at escaping slavery to his passions.

Now perhaps any kind of disciplined pursuit requires that a person restrain his passions to some extent. For example St Paul mentions this in today’s reading specifically referring to the discipline of the athlete:

“Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain.  25And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible.  26I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: 27But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.”

And the same would seem to hold for obtaining any kind of excellence or virtue- that is, one would need to bring one’s prevailing passions under some sort of rule in order to excel.

But in the end Athletes, especially in our time, do not provide us with many examples of people who have appeared to have succeeded in bringing their passions under the subjection of reason in general. I would think that it would be very difficult to play golf successfully if one were perpetually drunk. Or perhaps it would be difficult to be an Olympic medalist if one were excessively fearful or given to uncontrollable anger or profound despair.

Still, I have a feeling that athletes, though possessing temperance or self mastery in this or that area of their lives, might not be the best or most consistent examples of men who have achieved freedom from their passions generally.

Liberal education on the other hand attempts to address man as a whole and attempts to bring all the passions under the subjection of reason. Liberal education, frees those who pursue it, from subjection to their passions.

The means by which it does this is wrapped up largely in what Aristotle called “Catharsis.” Catharsis is a critically important word to understand for anyone who wishes to understand freedom from the passions.

What exactly does catharsis mean? How many kinds of catharsis of the passions are there?

We shall answer the first question by making an an analogy to medicine- and as to how many kinds of catharsis there are?

Three! How could there be more?

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About marklangley

Academic Dean at The Lyceum (a school he founded in 2003, see theLyceum.org) Mark loves sacred music and Gregorian Chant and singing with his lovely wife, Stephanie, and their twelve children.
This entry was posted in classical education, Liberal Arts, Literature and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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