Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Riddle of the Sphinx

The riddle: "What goes on four legs in the morning, on two legs at noon, and on three legs in the evening?" Oedipus solved the riddle, "A man, who crawls on all fours as a baby, walks on two legs as an adult, and walks with a cane in old age," and the Sphinx destroyed herself. Morning, noon, and night are metaphors for the three ages of a person's life.

Aristotle's Three Ages

Youthful, prime, and elderly. "To put it generally, all the valuable qualities that youth and age divide between them are united in the prime of life, while all their excesses or defects are replaced by moderation and fitness. The body is in its prime from thirty to five-and-thirty; the mind about forty-nine."

Shakespeare's Seven Ages

Infancy, childhood, the lover, the soldier, the justice, old age, and extreme old age, as in Jaques' "All the world's a stage" monologue in As You Like It:

"All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress' eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon's mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper'd pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,

Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything."

Ann Bradstreet's Four Ages of Man

I'm in love with Ann Bradstreet (1612–1672). Here's the introduction to her poem The Four Ages of Man.

"Lo now! four other acts upon the stage,
Childhood, and Youth, the Manly, and Old-age.
The first: son unto Phlegm, grand-child to water,
Unstable, supple, moist, and cold’s his Nature.
The second: frolic claims his pedigree;
From blood and air, for hot and moist is he.
The third of fire and choler is compos’d,
Vindicative, and quarrelsome dispos’d.
The last, of earth and heavy melancholy,
Solid, hating all lightness, and all folly.
Childhood was cloth’d in white, and given to show,
His spring was intermixed with some snow.
Upon his head a Garland Nature set:
Of Daisy, Primrose, and the Violet.
Such cold mean flowers (as these) blossom betime,
Before the Sun hath throughly warm’d the clime.
His hobby striding, did not ride, but run,
And in his hand an hour-glass new begun,
In dangers every moment of a fall,
And when ‘tis broke, then ends his life and all.
But if he held till it have run its last,
Then may he live till threescore years or past.
Next, youth came up in gorgeous attire
(As that fond age, doth most of all desire),
His Suit of Crimson, and his Scarf of Green.
In’s countenance, his pride quickly was seen.
Garland of Roses, Pinks, and Gillyflowers
Seemed to grow on’s head (bedew’d with showers).
His face as fresh, as is Aurora fair,
When blushing first, she ‘gins to red the Air.
No wooden horse, but one of metal try’d:
He seems to fly, or swim, and not to ride.
Then prancing on the Stage, about he wheels;
But as he went, death waited at his heels.
The next came up, in a more graver sort,
As one that cared for a good report.
His Sword by’s side, and choler in his eyes,
But neither us’d (as yet) for he was wise,
Of Autumn fruits a basket on his arm,
His golden rod in’s purse, which was his charm.
And last of all, to act upon this Stage,
Leaning upon his staff, comes up old age.
Under his arm a Sheaf of wheat he bore,
A Harvest of the best: what needs he more?
In’s other hand a glass, ev’n almost run,
This writ about: This out, then I am done.
His hoary hairs and grave aspect made way,
And all gave ear to what he had to say.
These being met, each in his equipage
Intend to speak, according to their age,
But wise Old-age did with all gravity
To childish childhood give precedency,
And to the rest, his reason mildly told:
That he was young, before he grew so old.
To do as he, the rest full soon assents,
Their method was that of the Elements,
That each should tell what of himself he knew,
Both good and bad, but yet no more then’s true.
With heed now stood, three ages of frail man,
To hear the child, who crying, thus began."

Sartre and the Four Ages of Man

Was Jean-Paul Sartre's trilogy (intended as a tetralogyThe Roads to Freedom (Les chemins de la liberté) inspired in part by the four stages of man/stages of life in Hinduism? The three published novels were L'âge de raison (The Age of Reason), Le sursis (The Reprieve), and La mort dans l'âme (Troubled Sleep or Iron in the Soul or, more literally, Death in the Soul). The fourth novel, La dernière chance (The Last Chance), was never finished, though two chapters were published in 1949 in Sartre's magazine Les Temps modernes under the title Drôle d'amitié (Strange Friendship). The four Hindu ages are Brahmacharya (the celibate student, up to age 25), Grihastha (the married family man, up to around age 50), Vanaprastha (the hermit in retreat), and Sannyasa (the wandering recluse).

Sannyasa - The Wandering Recluse

"At this stage, a man is supposed to be totally devoted to God. He is a sannyasi, he has no home, no other attachment; he has renounced all desires, fears and hopes, duties and responsibilities. He is virtually merged with God, all his worldly ties are broken, and his sole concern becomes attaining moksha, or release from the circle of birth and death. (Suffice it to say, very few Hindu men can go up to this stage of becoming a complete ascetic.) When he dies, the funeral ceremonies (Pretakarma) are performed by his son and heir." –

Vanaprastha - The Hermit in Retreat

"This stage of a man begins when his duty as a householder comes to an end: He has become a grandfather, his children are grown up, and have established lives of their own. At this age, he should renounce all physical, material and sexual pleasures, retire from his social and professional life, leave his home, and go to live in a forest hut, spending his time in prayers. He is allowed to take his wife along, but is supposed to maintain little contact with the family. This kind of life is indeed very harsh and cruel for an aged person. No wonder, this third ashrama is now nearly obsolete." –

Grihastha - The Married Family Man

"This period begins when a man gets married, and undertakes the responsibility for earning a living and supporting his family. At this stage, Hinduism supports the pursuit of wealth (artha) as a necessity, and indulgence in sexual pleasure (kama), under certain defined social and cosmic norms. This ashrama lasts until around the age of 50. According to the Laws of Manu, when a person's skin wrinkles and his hair greys, he should go out into the forest. However, in real life, most Hindus are so much in love with this second ashrama that the Grihastha stage lasts a lifetime!" –

Brahmacharya - The Celibate Student

"This is a period of formal education. It lasts until the age of 25, during which, the young male leaves home to stay with a guru and attain both spiritual and practical knowledge. During this period, he is called a brahmachari, and is prepared for his future profession, as well as for his family, and social and religious life ahead." –

The Blue Boy Rehung

Back he goes, next to his girlfriends. But where's Pinkie?

Reclining Blue Boy

Will the real Blue Boy please stand up. Great set of pictures of the painting's restoration at the Huntington Library in 2009. Interesting that the conservators chose to varnish the painting outside.