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Hrihorii Skovoroda - A Conversation Among Five Travelers Concerning Life

Hrihorii Skovoroda - A Conversation Among Five Travelers Concerning Life

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A Conversation Among Five Travelers Concerning Life's True HappinessHryhorii (Gregory) Skovoroda(1722-1794)
Published in Russian Philosophy, Vol. I, The Beginnings of Russian Philosophy: The Slavophiles: TheWesternizers, edited by James M. Edie, James P. Scanlan, and Mary-Barbara Zeldin, with the collaboration of George L. Kline (The University of Tennessee Press, 1965). Translated by George L. Kline from "Razgovor pyati putnikov o istinnom shchasti v zhizni," in Gregory Skovoroda, Tvori v dvokh tomakh, Kiev, 1961, I, 207-214, 215-224, 226, 227, 229, 130-232, 232-258, 238-14:, 242-243, 244-245, 145-247. Variant readings (given in the criticalcommentary at the back of the volume cited) have been used in a few cases where they seemed to be required by thesense. All footnotes are the translator's; where identification was possible, Scriptural and other citations notidentified by Skovoroda have been identified in the footnotes.Transcribed into hypertext by Andrew Chrucky, July 30, 2004. I have substituted throughout the text colloquialEnglish expressions for archaic English pronouns and verbs. Thus, "you" instead of "thou," except where Biblical passages are quoted.
Athanasius.In their lives men labor, are troubled, and pile up treasures, but to what end many of them do notthemselves know. Upon reflection, all the thousands of varied human enterprises are seen tohave but a single end -- the heart's happiness. To this end we choose friends according to our inclination in order that we may take pleasure in sharing our thoughts with them; we achievehigh rank in order that our judgment may rejoice at the respect of others; we devise various kindsof food and drink to please our taste; we seek out different kinds of music, composing amultitude of concertos, minuets, dances, and contre-danses to delight our ears; we build finehouses, plant gardens and orchards, and weave gold-brocaded fabrics, embroidering them with pleasingly colored silken threads, and deck ourselves out in such garments -- which are soft anddelicate to the touch and give pleasure to the eye of the beholder; we concoct fragrant perfumes, powders, and creams to gratify our sense of smell. In a word, we try to gladden our spirits withevery means we can devise. Oh, how great is the gladness of the high-born and prosperous in thisworld! Men of open spirit live in their houses with joy and satisfaction. Oh, how precious areyou, joy of the heart!For your sake, tsars, princes, and men of wealth pay uncounted thousands. And we who are poor and not prosperous nourish ourselves, as it were, from the crumbs that fall from their tables. Justthink of the triumphant splendor of the renowned cities of Europe.James.It is truly great. I have heard that nowhere are there more diversions and delights than in Parisand Venice.Athanasius.True, they are many, but until you bring them to us from Venice we will perish here of boredom.Gregory.Stop talking nonsense, dear friends. High rank, a pleasant setting, games, diversions, and all of your many enterprises are powerless to bring joy to the spirit or to drive away the boredom thathas taken possession of you.James.What then can do it?Gregory.Only one thing, and that is to discover in what true happiness consists and then to acquire it.
 
Athanasius.That is true. We are born for true happiness, and we travel toward it; our life is a road whichflows like a river.James.I have long sought happiness, but nowhere have I been able to find it.Gregory.If you truly wish to find it, unravel this question for me: What is the best of all for man?James.Heaven knows. You do ask us for something which the great sages have not been able to provide; they have diverged in their views like travelers on different roads. For what is best of allis highest of all, and what is highest of all is the head and crown of all. This chief good wascalled by the ancient philosophers the "ultimate good" and the "summum bonum." But who canunravel for you the homeland and haven of all our desires?Gregory.Softly, my dear sir! You have risen very high. Let me put it to you more simply: What do youdesire most of all in life?James.It is as though you had stirred up an ant hill with your staff -- so greatly has your questionagitated our desires.Athanasius.I should like to be a man of high rank and have underlings who are as sturdy as Russians and asvirtuous as ancient Romans; I should like a house like those in Venice and a garden like those inFlorence; I should like to be intelligent, learned, noble, and as rich as a bull in furs.Gregory.What nonsense are you speaking?Athanasius.Stalwart as a lion, comely as Venus --James.I suddenly recall a she-dog named Venus.Gregory.My dear sir, please to continue.James.With a tail like a lion, a head like a bear, ears like a donkey. . . .Gregory.To think that such foolish wishes should reach the ears of God. You, with your enterprises, arelike the tree which desires at one and the same time to be an oak, a maple, a linden, a birch, a figtree, an olive tree, a plane tree, a date tree, a rosebush, and a rue -- both sun and moon, both headand tail. The babe in arms often reaches for a sharp knife or a flame, but Nature, our mostmerciful mother, knows better than we do what is good for us. Although we weep and howl, she
 
feeds us, as is seemly, at her own breasts, and clothes us. The good child is satisfied with this, but the bad seed stirs up both himself and others. Millions of unhappy children complain day andnight, content with nothing. If you place one thing in their hands, they cry for something else.We cannot fail to be unhappy.Athanasius.Why is that?Gregory.Because we cannot find happiness.James.For what reason?Gregory.Because we do not desire it and cannot desire it.Athanasius.But why?Gregory.Because we do not understand in what it consists. The chief thing is to discover the source of desire. Desire seeks something and then receives it. This is well-being, that is, the getting of what is good for you.1 Now should you understand what wisdom means.James.I often hear the word "wisdom."Gregory.It is the task of wisdom to explain what happiness consists in -- this is its right wing,2 and virtuelabors to find it. For this reason, the Greeks and Romans called it "manliness" and "strength"(αρετε, virtus) -- that is its left wing. Without these two wings you can never rise up and flyaway into well-being. Wisdom is like the sharp and far-seeing eye of the eagle; and virtue is likemanly arms joined to the nimble legs of a deer. This divine union is vividly depicted in thefollowing fable.James.You have taken it out of my mouth. For surely you mean the story of the two travelers -- onelegless, the other blind.Gregory.Indeed, you have grasped my very thought.Athanasius.Will you set it forth more fully?Gregory.A traveler, in passing through many countries and kingdoms, lost his legs. He then thought of returning to his father's house. Supporting himself with his arms and hands, he made his way back, but with enormous labor. Finally, when he had crawled to the top of a mountain fromwhich he could see his father's house, he lost his arms and hands as well. From that spot hissharp eyes gazed with hungry joy across the rivers, fields, and cliffs, across the summits of the

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