Where Shall Wisdom Be Found? (An Eclectic Hellenist’s List to Remind Himself What Matters)

I haven’t posted anything personal in awhile, so perhaps this will fit the bill. This is not a poem. This is a list. I tend to make a lot of lists. It’s something I do. The past few months of my life have not been easy, and a number of events have made me extremely disheartened, a bit more disillusioned and disappointed in the quotidian world than usual. Some of these events would be obvious to the regular readers of this blog (like the death of my grandmother, which I’m still struggling with); others are so subtle I’m not sure if I could really explain them to anyone. One subject in particular has been bothering me: I find it downright staggering how many useless distractions pervade our lives. Almost everything out there in the mainstream culture seems so meaningless, so shallow, so completely devoid of wisdom and beauty and inspiration. Utterly fed up with it all, I decided to make this list for myself, to remind me what matters. It’s really long and I don’t actually expect anyone else to read it. But here it is anyway. If nothing else, it should at least provide a window into some of my tastes in literature, art, music, etc. For those who are interested, it includes a series of snapshots about my spirituality in general, some scattered insights into my beliefs and practices, some of my primary gods and spirits and heroes and ancestors, and examples of the many cultural and philosophical traditions I draw from. I list quite a few writers and books, so I suppose this could also be seen as my stab at generating an “Eclectic Curriculum” or “Eclectic Canon” or “Eclectic Great Books Program,” from the perspective of a multicultural queer feminist, epic poet and ardent bibliophile who happens to be an eclectic Hellenist and devotional polytheist (say that ten times fast). I had to limit myself to the number of items I included on each list-within-a-list, as this whole thing could easily have been 100 times longer than it is now. It is therefore necessarily incomplete (as all such lists always are).

The title and the refrain (yes, this list has a refrain – I see no reason why a list can’t have a refrain) were inspired by the title of a book by Harold Bloom. I’ve read almost all of Harold Bloom’s major books, even though I vehemently disagree with his rather Eurocentric/Western slant (which, to be fair, is also his area of expertise). He’s a self-proclaimed Gnostic (and his books are filled with Orphic and Hermetic themes), but I’ve also noted a distinct bias for the Abrahamic traditions, often to the detriment of the Greco-Roman Classics (one of his blind spots). All that being said, Harold Bloom is a brilliant gem in the otherwise rather dross world of literary criticism, and he remains one of the few contemporary literary critics who I constantly return to for inspiration. I’ve discovered countless authors – books that changed my life – from his insightful commentaries and introductions. And I have always admired his uncompromising commitment to literary excellence, regardless of mainstream trends. As Bloom explains in his introduction to Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?: “I have only three criteria for what I go on reading and teaching: aesthetic splendor, intellectual power, wisdom. Societal pressures and journalistic fashions may obscure these standards for a time, but mere Period Pieces never endure. The mind always returns to its needs for beauty, truth, and insight. Mortality hovers, and all of us learn the triumph of time. ‘We have an interval, and then our place knows us no more.’”

Which pretty much says it all, as far as I’m concerned. The following list was directly inspired by the above quote, by the mind’s eternal hunger for beauty and wisdom and inspiration. In an era where meaningless distractions pervade everything, I wrote this list to remind me what matters.

Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?
(An Eclectic Hellenist’s List to Remind Himself What Matters)

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the poets:
in Homer and Shakespeare and Walt Whitman,
in Hesiod and Sappho and Ovid,
in Enheduanna and Li Po and Rumi,
in Matsuo Bashō and John Keats and P.B. Shelley,
in Friedrich Hölderlin and Gérard de Nerval and Charles Baudelaire,
in Emily Dickinson and C. P. Cavafy and W.B. Yeats,
in Rainer Maria Rilke and Fernando Pessoa and Yannis Ritsos,
in Mina Loy and Ezra Pound and H.D. (Hilda Doolittle),
in Antonin Artaud and Langston Hughes and Robert Duncan . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the sages:
in Socrates and Plato and Diogenes,
in Lao Tzu and Confucius and Siddhārtha Gautama Buddha,
in Marcus Aurelius and Plotinus and Proclus,
in Montaigne and Emerson and Thoreau,
in Thomas Taylor and Nietzsche and Black Elk,
in Edward Carpenter and Emma Goldman and Carl Jung,
in Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Thích Nhất Hạnh,
in Jiddu Krishnamurti and Eknath Easwaran and Harry Hay,
in Iris Murdoch and James Hillman and Gloria Anzaldúa . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the novelists:
in Petronius and Apuleius and Lady Murasaki,
in Cervantes and Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens,
in Herman Melville and George Eliot and The Brontë Sisters,
in Leo Tolstoy and Marcel Proust and Franz Kafka,
in Thomas Mann and James Joyce and Nikos Kazantzakis,
in Gertrude Stein and Virginia Woolf and Zora Neale Hurston,
in Marguerite Yourcenar and Jean Genet and Yukio Mishima,
in William S. Burroughs and James Baldwin and Gore Vidal,
in Mary Renault and Toni Morrison and John Rechy . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the storytellers:
in Chaucer and Boccaccio and Scheherazade,
in Aesop and The Brothers Grimm and Andrew Lang,
in Edgar Allan Poe and Lewis Caroll and Arthur Conan Doyle,
in Anton Chekhov and Katherine Mansfield and Jorge Luis Borges,
in J.M. Barrie and Kenneth Grahame and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry,
in Lloyd Alexander and Rosemary Sutcliff and The Golden Treasury Readers,
in J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman,
in Guy Davenport and Leslie Marmon Silko and Roberto Calasso,
in John Crowley and Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the epics:
in The Iliad and The Odyssey and The Aeneid,
in The Metamorphoses and The Argonautica and The Dionysiaca,
in The Epic of Gilgamesh and The Enûma Eliš and The Shahnameh,
in The Mahabharata and The Ramayana and The Heike Monogatari,
in The Táin Bó Cúailnge and The Mabinogion and The Poems of Ossian,
in The Eddas and The Nibelungenlied and The Kalevala,
in Beowulf and Parzival and Le Morte d’Arthur,
in The Sundiata and The Popol Vuh and The Diné Bahane’,
in The Epic of King Gesar and The Lusiads and The Faerie Queene . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the classics:
in The Seven Sages and The Nine Lyric Poets and The Greek Anthology,
in Aeschylus and Sophocles and Euripides,
in Aristophanes and Herodotus and Plutarch,
in Dante and Milton and Goethe,
in Rabelais and Voltaire and Oscar Wilde,
in The Harvard Classics, The Great Books Foundation and The Lifetime Reading Plan,
in The Western Canon and The Pāli Canon and The Global Literary Canon,
in The Norton Anthologies and The Longman Anthologies and The Heath Anthologies,
in the many shelves of anthologies and literary collections that line my home library . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the margins of literature:
in Anyte of Tegea and Claudia Trophime and Christine de Pizan,
in Nezahualcoyotl and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and Phillis Wheatley,
in Wu Tsao and Mark Akenside and Richard Henry Horne,
in Sarah Morgan Bryan Piatt and Skaay and Uvavnuk,
in Zitkala-Ša and Radclyffe Hall and María Sabina,
in Witter Bynner and Mary Butts and Adelaide Crapsey,
in Melvin B. Tolson and Aquah Laluah and Marguerite Young,
in Harold Norse and Kate Bornstein and Will Alexander,
in Leslie Feinberg and Werewere Liking and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the sacred texts:
in The Upanishads and The Bhagavad-Gita and The Dhammapada,
in The Lotus Sutra and The Pure Land Sutras and The Questions of Milinda,
in The Tao Te Ching and The I Ching and The Analects of Confucius,
in The Homeric Hymns and The Orphic Hymns and The Rig Veda,
in The Hermetica and The Chaldaean Oracles and Plato’s Timaeus,
in The Egyptian Book of the Dead and The Bardo Thodol and The Orphic Fragments,
in The Navajo Night Chant and The Odú Ifá and The Kumulipo,
in The Emerald Tablet and The Stanzas of Dzyan and Leland’s Aradia,
in Crowley’s Liber AL vel Legis, Yeats’s A Vision, and Jung’s Red Book . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the mythographers:
in (Pseudo) Apollodorus and Hyginus and Pausanias,
in Jane Ellen Harrison and Walter F. Otto and Karl Kerényi,
in James G. Frazer and Robert Graves and Giorgio de Santillana,
in Franz Cumont and E. A. Wallis Budge and Leo Frobenius,
in Hilda R. Ellis Davidson and Heinrich Zimmer and Joseph Campbell,
in Franz Boas and Thelma Adamson and Robert Bringhurst,
in Georges Dumézil and Jaan Puhvel and Alex Fantalov,
in Mircea Eliade and Michael Witzel and Wim van Binsbergen,
in the myths and legends and folklore from every land and every era . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the visual arts:
in Praxiteles and Michelangelo and Caravaggio,
in Antoine-Louis Barye and Katsushika Hokusai and William Blake,
in William Morris and Harriet Powers and Hosteen Klah,
in Gustave Moreau and Odilon Redon and Erté,
in Evelyn de Morgan and Vincent Van Gogh and Séraphine de Senlis,
in Sonia Delaunay and Marsden Hartley and Frida Kahlo,
in Man Ray and Salvador Dalí and Joseph Cornell,
in Romare Bearden and Jess Collins and Herbert List,
in Ana Mendieta and Judy Chicago and Jean-Michel Basquiat . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in music:
in Hildegard von Bingen and Henry Purcell and Hector Berlioz,
in Frédéric Chopin and Fanny Mendelssohn and Richard Wagner,
in Gustav Holst and George Gershwin and Miles Davis,
in Édith Piaf and Sarah Vaughan and Nina Simone,
in Miriam Makeba and Cesária Évora and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan,
in John Lennon and Jim Morrison and Patti Smith,
in Brian Eno and Ryuichi Sakamoto and The Master Musicians of Jajouka,
in Sandy Denny and Kate Bush and Sainkho Namtchylak,
in The Cocteau Twins and Rozz Williams and Dead Can Dance . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in film:
in Fritz Lang and G.W. Pabst and F.W. Murnau,
in Carl Dreyer and Charlie Chaplin and Jean Cocteau,
in Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles and Jean Renoir,
in Federico Fellini and Ingmar Bergman and Akira Kurosawa,
in Satyajit Ray and Michael Cacoyannis and Ousmane Sembène,
in Pier Paolo Pasolini and Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Derek Jarman,
in Kenneth Anger and Stan Brakhage and Stanley Kubrick,
in David Lynch and Peter Greenaway and Jane Campion,
in Pedro Almodóvar and Julie Taymor and Darren Aronofsky . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in my fellow pagans and polytheists:
in H. Jeremiah Lewis and Sarah Kate Istra Winter and P. Sufenas Virius Lupus,
in Edward P. Butler and Kallimakhos and Lykeia,
in Isaac Bonewits and Ian Corrigan and Skip Ellison,
in Raven Kaldera and Galina Krasskova and Kveldulf Gundarsson,
in T. Thorn Coyle and Starhawk and Scott Cunningham,
in John Michael Greer and Poke Runyon and John Opsopaus,
in Alexei Kondratiev and Erynn Rowan Laurie and Ceisiwr Serith,
in Valiel Elentári and Brian A. Kenny and M.A. Rivera,
in all the bloggers and podcasters and columnists who inspire me daily . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the loved ones of my Grove:
in the poetry, music, art, cuisine, and impeccable taste of my beloved Star-Prince,
in the quilts and cloth sculptures and textile creations of my wonderful Mother,
in the writings and photography of my best friend and ally Pandora,
in the handmade jewelry and the amazing green thumb of Clover,
in the constant creativity and ingenuity and aesthetic sensibility of Scarlett,
in the quests and adventures and inventions devised by Will,
in the magnificent garden and the poems and countless talents of Pam,
in the homespun crafts and the illuminating astral charts of Capella,
in all the eccentric denizens of The Island of Misfit Toys . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the Hellenic Gods:
in Hestia and Hera and Demeter,
in Zeus and Poseidon and Hades,
in Hermes and Apollon and Dionysos,
in Artemis and Persephone and Athena,
in Hephaestus and Aphrodite and Ares,
in Hekate and Pan and Gaia,
in Asklepios and Herakles and the Dioskouroi,
in the Muses and the Heroes and the Nymphs,
in the Olympians and the Titans and the Protogenoi and the entire Hellenic pantheon . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in all Deities:
in Thoth and Isis and Horus – and all the Gods of Egypt,
in Freyr and Heimdall and Loki – and all the Northern Gods,
in Brighid and Lugh and Sequana – and all the Gods of the Celts,
in Ganesha and Mitra-Varuna and Krishna – and all the Gods of India,
in She-Who-Watches and Raven and The Changer – and all the Gods of Cascadia,
in Perkūnas and Veles and Mari – and all the Gods of Old Europe,
in Antinoüs and Oya and The Rainbow Serpent – and all the Gods of the World,
in the Unnamed Gods and the Unknown Gods and the Gods of our Ancestors,
in All Members of All Pantheons, All Goddesses and All Gods . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the Heroes and Heroines:
in Narkissos and Achilles and Patroclus,
in Orpheus and Abaris and Pythagoras,
in Harmodius and Aristogeiton and Diotima,
in Polydeukion and The Emperor Julian and Hypatia,
in the Sages and Teachers and Leaders,
in the Mystics and Prophets and Visionaries,
in the Poets and Artists and Scribes,
in the Musicians and Performers and Sacred Fools,
in The Men Who Loved Men, The Women Who Loved Women, and The Gender Nonconformists of all eras . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in my Ancestors:
in my maternal Grandmother – my second mother, who gave me the myths,
in my paternal Grandmother – my third mother, the storyteller and palm-reader,
in my two Grandfathers – my fathers, the gardener and the cowboy,
in my Aunt Vi and my Uncle Ray, whose spirits have guarded me since childhood,
in my Greek Great-Grandfather, born in Arcadia and buried beside his best friend,
in my Norwegian Great-Grandmother, the seer who was raised by a witch,
in my Irish ancestors, descendants of The Liberator, so many of whom died in the mines,
in my English ancestors, The Plantagenets, descendants of Queens and Kings,
in my Bohemian ancestors, my French ancestors, my African ancestors, and all my Blood-Kindred . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the Spirits:
in my Agathos Daimon and The Torch-Bearers and our Household Lares,
in my childhood guardians – The Cat, The Owl and The Eagle,
in The Dandelion Faerie, The Pine White Butterfly and The Oreads of the Island,
in The Old Man of the Mountain, The Basket Ogress and The Rain-Makers,
in The Wounded Sentinel and The Nooksack River and The Salish Sea,
in The Thunderbird and The Sisiutl and the Stl’eluqum,
in the Elves and the Elementals and the Faerie Folk,
in the Spirit Guides and Animal Totems and Greenwights,
in all the Nymphs and Spirits and Daimones and Sidhe . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the animal kingdom:
in the Barn Owl and the Red-tailed Hawk and the Bald Eagle,
in the Raven and the Bluejay and the Hummingbird,
in the Seagull and the Cormorant and the Chickadee,
in the Mountain Lion and the Coyote and the Raccoon,
in the Black-tailed Deer and the Squirrel and the Rabbit,
in the House Cat and the Box Turtle and the Tree Frog,
in the Orca and the Salmon and the Jellyfish,
in the Butterfly and the Dragonfly and the Honey Bee,
in the Cricket and the Spider and the Ladybug . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the green world:
in the Douglas Fir and the Red Cedar and the Western Hemlock,
in the Grand Fir and the Bigleaf Maple and the Pacific Madrone,
in the Shore Pine and the Sitka Spruce and the Pacific Yew,
in the Quaking Aspen and the Paper Birch and the Willow,
in the Rhododendron and the Wild Hyacinth and the Blackberry Vine,
in the Stinging Nettle and the Sword Fern and the Bull-Head Kelp,
in the countless Mushrooms and Mosses and Lichens,
in the Fairy Slipper and the Pathfinder and the Forget-Me-Not,
in the Slender Hawkweed and the Hairy Cat’s-Ear and the Dandelion Puff . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the stars:
in the Sun and the Moon and the Milky Way,
in the Morning Star and the Evening Star and the Pole-Star,
in the Red Planet and the Jovian Planet and the Senex,
in the Messenger and the Magician and the Mystic,
in The Virgin and The Bull and The Twins,
in The Lion and The Eagle and The Dragon,
in The Bears and The Swan and The Lyre,
in The Hunter and The Dog-Star and The Seven Sisters,
in all the planets and constellations and celestial objects . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the symbolic teachings:
in The Fire, The Well and The Tree,
in Yin and Yang, The Two Substances and The Two Powers,
in The Three Realms, The Three Worlds and The Three Kindreds,
in the Four Noble Truths, the Five Elements and the Six Cardinal Directions,
in the Seven Chakras, the Seven Principles and the Twelve Natural Laws,
in the Neoplatonist Triads and Hebdomads and Dodecads,
in Gematria, the Zodiac, and the Planetary Spheres,
in the Runes and the Ogham and the Tarot,
in all the systems of esoteric correspondences created to comprehend the Ineffable . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in many spiritual traditions:
in Paganism and Polytheism and Animism,
in Hellenism and Heathenry and Kemeticism,
in Druidry and Witchcraft and Shamanism,
in Hermeticism and Neoplatonism and the Orphic Tradition,
in Buddhism and Taoism and Shinto,
in Vedanta and Theosophy and Transcendentalism,
in Devotional Polytheism and Local-Focus Polytheism and Eclectic Reconstructionism,
in Hard Polytheism and Polycentric Syncretism and Religious Pluralism,
in Classical Humanism and Romantic Modernism and Visionary Mysticism . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in ritual:
in my thrice-daily devotionals – morning and evening and night,
in the recitation and composition of hymns to the gods,
in burning incense and pouring libations at our household shrines,
in creating sacred space and raising magickal energy,
in trance journeys and astral dreaming and pathworking,
in meditation and mantram and prayer,
in the mask and the bonfire and the drum,
in offering a sacrifice, walking the labyrinth and dancing round a maypole,
in celebrating the lunar cycle, the festival calendar and The Wheel of the Year . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty in the simple things in life:
in a fresh-baked loaf of bread and a good bottle of wine,
in the sound of crashing waves and the patchwork colors of sunset,
in a pocket full of beach stones and the feel of rain on my face,
in a hike through the forest and the notes of birdsong,
in a potluck feast followed by a game of cards,
in the laughter of friends and the smile of a beautiful soul,
in a shelf of well-loved books and a notebook full of scribblings,
in a home-cooked meal and a table set with candles,
in curling up under a blanket and the kiss of my Beloved . . .

Where shall wisdom be found?

I find wisdom, inspiration and beauty all around me:
in the North and in the South,
in the East and in the West,
above me and below me,
before me and behind me,
and deep in the center within me.
I walk in wisdom.
I walk in inspiration.
I walk in beauty.
I walk in beauty . . .


Wit and Wisdom from the Divine Oscar Wilde (October 16, 1854 – November 30, 1900)

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”
― Oscar Wilde

“You can never be overdressed or overeducated.”
― Oscar Wilde

“Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.”
― Oscar Wilde

“Yes: I am a dreamer. For a dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist

“With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?”
― Oscar Wilde

“The world is a stage and the play is badly cast.”
― Oscar Wilde

“America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.”
― Oscar Wilde

“There are moments when one has to choose between living one’s own life, fully, entirely, completely―or dragging out some false, shallow, degrading existence that the world in its hypocrisy demands.”
― Oscar Wilde

“Behind every exquisite thing that existed, there was something tragic.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

“Everything in moderation, including moderation.”
― Oscar Wilde

“We live in an age when unnecessary things are our only necessities.”
― Oscar Wilde

“I adore simple pleasures. They are the last refuge of the complex.”
― Oscar Wilde

“Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.”
― Oscar Wilde

“Every effect that one produces gives one an enemy. To be popular one must be a mediocrity.” ― Oscar Wilde

“The difference between literature and journalism is that journalism is unreadable and literature is not read.”
― Oscar Wilde

“Art is the most intense mode of individualism that the world has known.”
― Oscar Wilde

“It is through art, and through art only, that we can realise our perfection.”
― Oscar Wilde

“To become a spectator of one’s own life is to escape the suffering of life.”
― Oscar Wilde

“Truth, in matters of religion, is simply the opinion that has survived.”
― Oscar Wilde

“All great ideas are dangerous.”
― Oscar Wilde

“I never take any notice to what common people say, and I never interfere with what charming people do.”
― Oscar Wilde

“The only people I would care to be with now are artists and people who have suffered: those who know what beauty is, and those who know what sorrow is: nobody else interests me.”
― Oscar Wilde

Gore Vidal on Monotheism

“Monotheism is easily the greatest disaster to befall the human race.”
― Gore Vidal

“It is astonishing to think that millions of people in my time—now, too, I suppose—actually thought that at a given moment in history two human beings had evolved to a higher state than that of all the gods that ever were or ever will be. This is titanism, as the Greeks would say. This is madness.”
― Gore Vidal (from his novel, Creation)

Gore Vidal (photograph by Carl van Vechten)

Today (October 3rd) is the birthday of the eminently quotable Gore Vidal, who recently died this past July.  Gore Vidal has always been one of my heroes and role models, and I daresay his novel Julian should be *required reading* for anyone who identifies as a pagan, polytheist, or Heathen.

Gore Vidal was a remarkable writer and a remarkable man.  His many books and essays are the sublime creations of a true public intellectual, a self-described “gadfly” with razor-edged wit, and the incredible ability to write historical novels that are often more insightful and illuminating than anything you’ll find in a history textbook or in a “nonfiction” book written by a more traditional historian.  I daresay Vidal’s Narratives of Empire series (Burr, Lincoln, 1876, etc.) may be one of the great American epics and certainly one of the best chronicles of this nation’s history.

Many years ago, I had the privilege and the pleasure to meet Gore Vidal after a book reading and lecture/discussion series.  A friend of mine had somehow gotten tickets to the cocktail party following the event, and when Gore Vidal finally entered the room, my precocious 20-year-old self (at the time I was just a pretty blonde slip of a youth), marched right up to him, with my beloved copy of Julian under my arm, and enthusiastically thanked him for writing one of my favorite novels.  I was quick to proudly exclaim that “Emperor Julian is my hero!”  Gore Vidal (who had a remarkable presence – he seemed larger than life, and he absolutely radiated both charisma and gravitas) then stared directly into my eyes, as if he was boring right into my soul.  Having apparently found what he was looking for, he huffed in a deep breath and loudly barked:  “He’s my hero too!  I wish he’d won!”  And then, in a booming voice that could be heard by the entire room, he bellowed out:  “MONOTHEISM!  It’s gotta go!”  I was delighted, especially when he followed with:  “And I have the solution!”

“What’s your solution, Mr. Vidal?”

He took time for a dramatic pause (everyone was listening now), as he proclaimed:  “Tax the churches!”  We then had a relatively brief but fascinating conversation about the separation of church and state, Julian’s life and philosophy (he dismissed Julian’s Neoplatonism as “absurd but harmless,” though certainly preferable to the alternative represented by Constantine and his Christian heirs), and how different the world might be if Julian had lived and found time to solidify his reign and launch a dynasty.  Vidal then signed my battered and well-loved paperback of the novel.  It was a remarkable experience that I will always remember, and I still can’t believe the grand old gadfly has left us.  However,  his words definitely still carry a sting:

Gore Vidal on the United States:

“We are the United States of Amnesia, we learn nothing because we remember nothing.”
― Gore Vidal

“America started out wanting to be Greece and ended up Rome.” ― Gore Vidal

“Half of the American people have never read a newspaper. Half never voted for President. One hopes it is the same half.”
― Gore Vidal

“The American press exists for one purpose only, and that is to convince Americans that they are living in the greatest and most envied country in the history of the world. The Press tells the American people how awful every other country is and how wonderful the United States is and how evil communism is and how happy they should be to have freedom to buy seven different sorts of detergent.”
― Gore Vidal

“I believe there’s something very salutary in, say, beating up a gay-bashing policeman. Preferably one fights through the courts, through the laws, through education, but if at a neighborhood level violence is necessary, I’m all for violence. It’s the only thing Americans understand.”
― Gore Vidal

“Today’s public figures can no longer write their own speeches or books, and there is some evidence that they can’t read them either. ”
― Gore Vidal

Gore Vidal on Writing:

“Write something, even if it’s just a suicide note. ”
― Gore Vidal

“Write what you know will always be excellent advice for those who ought not to write at all. Write what you think, what you imagine, what you suspect!”
― Gore Vidal, The Essential Gore Vidal

“Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn.”
― Gore Vidal

“Each writer is born with a repertory company in his head.”
― Gore Vidal

“In America, the race goes to the loud, the solemn, the hustler. If you think you’re a great writer, you must say that you are.”
― Gore Vidal

Gore Vidal on Life:

“The unfed mind devours itself.”
― Gore Vidal

“The malady of civilized man is his knowledge of death. The good artist, like the wise man, addresses himself to life and invests with his private vision the deeds and thoughts of men. The creation of a work of art, like an act of love, is our one small yes at the center of a vast no.”
― Gore Vidal

“Because there is no cosmic point to the life that each of us perceives on this distant bit of dust at galaxy’s edge, all the more reason for us to maintain in proper balance what we have here. Because there is nothing else. Nothing. This is it. And quite enough, all in all.”
― Gore Vidal

“Of course his dust would be absorbed in other living things and to that degree at least he would exist again, though it was plain enough that the specific combination which was he would never exist again.”
― Gore Vidal, The City and the Pillar

“There is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise.”
― Gore Vidal


If you are interested in learning more about Gore Vidal’s life, I highly recommend the documentary The Education of Gore Vidal, which aired on PBS as part of the American Masters series (it also used to be available on Youtube, but it appears to have been taken down).  Though there are also a ton of great clips of Vidal online.  This Youtube user has many wonderful examples.  And here are two more:


We’ll end with a few more marvelous quotes, all from Gore Vidal’s Julian:

“How marvelous books are, crossing worlds and centuries, defeating ignorance and, finally, cruel time itself.”
― Gore Vidal, Julian

“We are given our place in time as we are given our eyes: weak, strong, clear, squinting, the thing is not ours to choose. Well, this has been a squinting, walleyed time to be born in.”
― Gore Vidal, Julian

“Nothing human is finally calculable; even to ourselves we are strange.”
― Gore Vidal, Julian

“Never offend an enemy in a small way.”
― Gore Vidal, Julian

“History is idle gossip about a happening whose truth is lost the instant it has taken place.”
― Gore Vidal, Julian

“I have been reading Plotinus all evening. He has the power to sooth me; and I find his sadness curiously comforting. Even when he writes: “Life here with the things of earth is a sinking, a defeat, a failure of the wing.” The wing has indeed failed. One sinks. Defeat is certain. Even as I write these lines, the lamp wick sputters to an end, and the pool of light in which I sit contracts. Soon the room will be dark. One has always feared that death would be like this. But what else is there? With Julian, the light went, and now nothing remains but to let the darkness come, and hope for a new sun and another day, born of time’s mystery and a man’s love of life.”
― Gore Vidal, Julian

The Poet’s Calendar for October (List of Honored Poet-Heroes and Culture Heroes)

For the last couple years or so, at the beginning of each calendar month I create something I’ve dubbed “The Poet’s Calendar,” which is a list of the Poet-Heroes (as well as non-writers/non-poets who I’ve dubbed my “Culture Heroes”) whose memory I honor, usually by marking their birthday in some way.  I often utilize this calendar when creating posts for my Poet-Heroes Series.  However, there are always far more Poet-Heroes and Culture Heroes each month than I have time to write about every day, so I’ve decided to start sharing these calendars as a monthly feature for those who might likewise be interested in honoring the poets.

Thus, the following calendar is a list of the Poet-Heroes and Culture Heroes who I will be honoring in various ways in October.  For those who are new to the subject, I’ve written an introduction to the ancient Greek concept of Poet-Heroes here: “The Dead Poets Society (Reviving the Ancient Greek Cult of the Poet).” Please keep in mind that my definition of “poet” is particularly broad and encompassing of many writers or thinkers or scholars in general.  The majority are poets, but some are better known for other aspects of their lives than their writing, and others are artists, musicians, and leaders/activists who weren’t writers at all, but who are personally important to me in various ways.  (To me, there is undoubtedly “poetry” to be found in a painting by Picasso or Simeon Solomon, a song by John Lennon or Nico, or a photograph by Herbert List – to use just a few examples from October.) Many of the Heroes and Heroines below are also important figures in LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) history, as I specifically like to honor my LGBTQ Ancestors (who I affectionately refer to as “The Men Who Loved Men, The Women Who Loved Women, and The Gender Nonconformists of All Eras”). Which reminds me that October also happens to be LGBT History Month in the United States – check out http://lgbthistorymonth.com/ for more information and some great resources, especially for educators!

I prefer to honor the Poet-Heroes on their birthdays.  When those dates are unknown, I try to look for an existing tradition, such as the Florentine Academy’s celebration of Plato’s birthday on November 7th.  One site that has been particularly useful in this regard (and an inspiration for my Poet’s Calendar) is The Perpetual Festival Calendar, (associated with The Shrine of Wisdom magazine – a Theosophical magazine published in the U.K. between 1919 and 1947), which includes festival dates for a number of ancient philosophers and poets (particularly the Neoplatonists). Also, since Poet-Heroes and Culture Heroes are part of my practice of honoring the Heroes/Heroines, the Ancestors and the Dead, please note that I only honor those who have shuffled off this mortal coil.  (My page on The Global Literary Canon, however, also includes many great writers who are thankfully still alive and still writing.  Keep in mind that the best way to honor living writers is to buy their books, spread the word, and write positive reviews!)

There are many ways to honor the Poet-Heroes and Culture Heroes on the days listed below.  The easiest way is to simply acknowledge their names as part of your daily devotional practice (if you have one), perhaps by adding them to a list of Ancestors, Heroes/Heroines, and/or honored dead.  If you happen to live near their gravesite (or near a statue, memorial, historical monument, or anywhere significant to their life and work), you could take this one step further by visiting this place and pouring out a libation or leaving an offering in their honor.  But the best and most obvious way is to somehow acknowledge and appreciate the creative work they’ve left behind.  Read one of their poems, or find an excerpt from their writing.  Check out one of their books (or CDs or films) from your local library.  If they were a musician or a visual artist, find an example of their work to listen to or view.  Find an inspiring quote and share it with someone.  Read a biography, even a brief one (below I’ve included links to biographies, mostly from Wikipedia, but also from GLBTQ.com – my favorite encyclopedia of queer history.)  You could watch a documentary about them, or a film inspired by their life or adapted from one of their books.  If you are particularly devoted to a specific Hero/Heroine, then you could write about them on your blog, thereby sharing their work with others.  If you are a teacher/educator, you might want to start your lesson that day with a quote or example of their work.  If you are a writer/artist yourself, perhaps their works will inspire you to create something new in their honor.  Any or all of these actions will honor them and thereby keep their memories alive.  What is remembered, lives.

Also, if there’s a writer/philosopher/artist/activist (or any deceased individual who has made a positive cultural impact) born in the month of October (or whose memory you feel should be celebrated in October) and who you think belongs here, please let me know in the comments and they can be added to the list!

The Poet’s Calendar for October
(A List of Poet-Heroes and Culture Heroes)

* = not actually born on this day, honored and remembered now because their actual date of birth is unknown.

October 1st:
William Beckford – Gothic novelist, art collector and flamboyant English aristocrat
Annie Besant – British Theosophist and writer
Louis Untermeyer – American poet and anthologist
Isaac Bonewits – American writer, druid, and founder of Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF)

October 2nd:
*Aristotle – Greek philosopher
Charles Ricketts – English artist, designer, writer and publisher, who lived with his  lifelong partner and artistic collaborator Charles Shannon (an English painter) for over 50 years
Mahatma Gandhi – Indian leader, philosopher, writer, and activist
Wallace Stevens – American poet
Assotto Saint – Haitian-born American poet, performance artist, and musician

October 3rd:
Allan Kardec – French spiritualist, writer and educator
Alain-Fournier – French novelist
Sergei Yesenin [aka Sergei Esenin] – Russian Poet
Louis Aragon – French poet, novelist and activist
Gore Vidal – American novelist, essayist, screenwriter and satirist

October 4th:
Juliette Adam – French author and feminist
Alan L. Hart – American physician, scientist, writer and one of the first female-to-male (FTM) trans individuals to undergo surgery in the U.S.
Violeta Parra – Chilean composer, songwriter, folklorist, ethnomusicologist and visual artist
C.A. Tripp – American psychologist, writer, scholar and researcher for Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey

October 5th:
Denis Diderot – French philosopher and writer
Chevalier D’Eon – French diplomat and spy whose first 49 years were spent as a man, and whose last 33 years were spent as a woman
John Addington Symonds – English poet, translator, scholar, and early gay rights activist
Teresa de la Parra – Venezuelan novelist
Flann O’Brien – Irish novelist, playwright and satirist
José Donoso – Chilean novelist and short-story writer
Václav Havel – Czech playwright, essayist, poet, dissident and politician

October 6th:
Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton – patron (and possibly lover) of Shakespeare, believed to be the “Fair Youth” and subject of Shakespeare’s first 126 love sonnets
Mikhail Kuzmin – Russian poet, musician and novelist

October 7th:
John Horne Burns – American novelist
Herbert List – German photographer

October 8th:
*Confucius [Kongzi, Kong Fuzi, K’ung Fu-tzu] – Chinese philosopher and sage
[Confucius memorial activities have been carried out annually in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the rest of the world from September 26 to October 10]
Harriet Taylor Mill – English philosopher and women’s rights advocate
Marina Tsvetaeva – Russian poet
Frank Herbert – American science fiction author

October 9th:
Harriet Hosmer – American sculptor
Simeon Solomon – English painter
Mário de Andrade – Brazilian poet, novelist, ethnomusicologist, photographer and art historian
John Lennon – English musician, singer, songwriter and activist
Léopold Sédar Senghor – Senegalese poet, politician, and cultural theorist

October 10th:
*Plotinus – Greco-Egyptian philosopher
*Thomas Traherne – English poet
R. K. Narayan – Indian novelist, essayist, translator and mythographer
Mercè Rodoreda – Catalan Spanish novelist
Claude Simon – French novelist
Harold Pinter – English playwright, screenwriter, director, actor and poet

October 11th:
Joe Simon – American comic book writer and artist (co-creator of Captain America)
Douglas Wilson – Canadian writer, publisher, and gay rights activist

October 12th:
*Demosthenes – Greek statesman and orator
Henry More – English philosopher of the Cambridge Platonist school
Aleister Crowley – English occultist, mystic, ceremonial magician and poet
Ding Ling – Chinese novelist and short fiction writer
Ann Petry – American author who became the first black woman writer with book sales topping a million copies
Robert Fitzgerald – American poet, critic and translator
Alice Childress – African-American playwright, novelist and actor
Arthur Evans – American writer, philosopher, and gay rights activist, author of Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture

October 13th:
Reed Erickson – American philanthropist, LGBT activist and female-to-male (FTM) trans trailblazer
Lenny Bruce – American comedian, social critic and satirist
Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan – Pakistani musician, primarily a singer of Qawwali, the devotional music of the Sufis

October 14th:
William Penn – Colonial American writer, philosopher, and early champion of democracy and religious freedom
Vernon Lee – English novelist, scholar, aesthete and writer of supernatural fiction
e. e. cummings – American poet, novelist, essayist, playwright and painter
Katherine Mansfield – New Zealand writer of short fiction
Hannah Arendt –  German-born American writer and political theorist

October 15th:
Virgil (Publius Vergilius Maro) – Roman poet (possibly of Gaulish/Celtic descent)
*Nizami Ganjavi – Persian poet
Mikhail Lermontov – Russian writer, poet and painter
Friedrich Nietzsche – German philosopher, poet and classical philologist
Italo Calvino – Italian novelist and writer of short fiction
P. G. Wodehouse – English novelist, poet, playwright and humorist
John Kenneth Galbraith – Canadian-American economist
Michel Foucault – French philosopher, historian, philosopher, social theorist and literary critic

October 16th:
Oscar Wilde – Irish playwright, poet, novelist, philosopher and wit
Eugene O’Neill – American playwright
Paul Monette – American novelist, poet and memoirist
Nico – German singer, lyricist, composer, musician, fashion model and actress

October 17th:
Jupiter Hammon – American poet and activist, the first African-American writer to be published in the present-day United States
Georg Büchner – German playwright and poet
Yvor Winters – American poet
Nathanael West – American novelist, screenwriter and satirist
Jerry Siegel – American comic book writer (co-creator of Superman)
Arthur Miller – American playwright and essayist

October 18th:
Zhu Xi [Chu Hsi] – Chinese philosopher and scholar
Michael Wigglesworth – Colonial-era Puritan poet whose tortured diary described his homoerotic longings, including his identification as a godspouse of Jesus (who he regularly refers to as his “husband”)
Heinrich von Kleist – German poet, playwright and novelist
Henri Bergson – French philosopher
A. J. Liebling – American journalist, critic and food/travel writer
Wendy Wasserstein – American playwright

October 19th:
Marsilio Ficino – Italian philosopher, occultist and reviver of Neoplatonism
Thomas Browne – English author and scholar
John Woolman – Colonial-era American writer, activist and abolitionist
Leigh Hunt – English poet, essayist and critic
Miguel Ángel Asturias – Guatemalan poet, novelist, playwright, journalist and diplomat
Divine (Harris Glenn Milstead) – American actor, singer, performance artist and fierce drag queen

October 20th:
*Ammonius Hermiae – Greco-Egyptian philosopher
Arthur Rimbaud – French poet
Nellie McClung – Canadian novelist, feminist, politician, and social activist
Selma Lagerlöf – Swedish author and the first female writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature
Philip Whalen – American poet, novelist and Zen Buddhist monk

October 21st:
Samuel Taylor Coleridge – English poet, critic and philosopher
Alphonse de Lamartine – French poet, writer and politician
William Dale Jennings – American LGBT rights activist, playwright and author

October 22nd:
Leconte de Lisle – French poet and translator
Sarah Bernhardt – French actress, “the Divine Sarah,” “the most famous actress the world has ever known”
Lord Alfred Douglas – English poet and translator, lover of Oscar Wilde
Timothy Leary – American writer, psychologist, activist and advocate of psychedelics

October 23rd:
*Boethius – Roman philosopher
Robert Bridges – British poet

October 24th:
Sarah Josepha Hale – American poet, essayist, editor, and activist, credited with getting Thanksgiving recognized as a national holiday in the U.S.
August von Platen – German poet and playwright
Bob Kane – American comic book artist and writer (creator of Batman)
Denise Levertov – British-born American poet
Paula Gunn Allen – Native American poet, scholar and lesbian activist

October 25th:
*Taliesin – Legendary Welsh poet and bard
*Geoffrey Chaucer – English poet, the Father of English Literature
Benjamin Constant – Swiss-born French philosopher, writer and politician
Max Stirner – German philosopher
Pablo Picasso – Spanish painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, and designer
Karin Boye – Swedish poet and novelist
John Berryman – American poet and scholar
Claude Cahun – French artist, photographer, writer, and activist whose work played with concepts of gender and sexuality

October 26th:
*Maximus Tyrius – Greek rhetorician and philosopher

October 27th:
James Macpherson – Scottish poet, known as the “translator” (collector/adapter/forger/creator) of the Ossian cycle
Katherine Bradley – one-half of the literary lesbian duo who wrote poetry under the pseudonym of “Michael Field”
Dylan Thomas – Welsh poet and playwright
Sylvia Plath – American poet and novelist

October 28th:
Desiderius Erasmus – Dutch humanist, scholar and philosopher
Ivan Turgenev – Russian novelist and playwright
Evelyn Waugh – English novelist
Francis Bacon – Irish-born British painter

October 29th:
Shin Saimdang – Korean artist, poet and calligraphist
James Boswell – Scottish biographer of Dr. Samuel Johnson
Jean Giraudoux – French playwright, novelist, essayist and diplomat

October 30th:
André Chénier – French poet
Fyodor Dostoyevsky – Russian novelist and essayist
Paul Valéry – French poet, essayist and philosopher
Ezra Pound – American poet, translator, critic, essayist and promoter of Modernism
Ruth Gordon – American actress, playwright and screenwriter
Kostas Karyotakis – Greek poet

October 31st:
John Keats – English poet
Mary Wilkins Freeman – American novelist and writer of short fiction
Natalie Clifford Barney – American-born poet, memoirist and wit, hostess of a famous lesbian salon in Paris
Marie Laurencin – French painter, printmaker and designer
Napoleon Lapathiotis – Greek poet

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