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The Land of One-Eyed Men: More of Plutarch’s Life of Sertorius

I wrote earlier about Sertorius and his white fawn. Another aspect of Plutarch’s Sertorius that I find striking is the introduction that has correspondences to both Jung’s synchronicity and Freud’s uncanny.

With Jung’s notion we get meaningful coincidence and pattern detection which are here in Plutarch’s opening. With Freud’s uncanny, we get doubling and doppelgängers, strangeness and fear. Oh, and he spends some time on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s “The Sandman,” which features the title character who will sometimes pluck eyes from people to feed his children. Freud’s “Unheimlich” is a fun one for me because of how the familiar becomes strange and how these ideas tie into horror literature and film.

Below is the opening paragraph by Plutarch. I’m taking the liberty of breaking it into several paragraphs for easier reading:

It is perhaps not to be wondered at, since fortune is ever changing her course and time is infinite, that the same incidents should occur many times, spontaneously. For, if the multitude of elements is unlimited, fortune has in the abundance of her material an ample provider of coincidences; and if, on the other hand, there is a limited number of elements from which events are interwoven, the same things must happen many times, being brought to pass by the same agencies. 

Now, there are some who delight to collect, from reading and hearsay, such accidental happenings as look like works of calculation and forethought. They note, for example, that there were two celebrated persons called Attis, one a Syrian, the other an Arcadian, and that both were killed by a wild boar; that there were two Actaeons, one of whom was torn in pieces by his dogs, the other by his lovers; that there were two Scipios, by one of whom the Carthaginians were conquered in an earlier war, and by the other, in a later war, were destroyed root and branch; that Ilium was taken by Heracles on account of the horses of Laomedon, by Agamemnon by means of what is called the wooden horse, and a third time by Charidemus, because a horse fell in the gateway and prevented the Ilians from closing the gate quickly enough; that there are two cities which have the same name as the most fragrant plants, Ios and Smyrna, in one of which the poet Homer is said to have been born, and in the other to have died.  

I will therefore make this addition to their collection. The most warlike of generals, and those who achieved most by a mixture of craft and ability, have been one-eyed men, — Philip, Antigonus, Hannibal, and the subject of this Life, Sertorius; of whom one might say that he was more continent with women than Philip, more faithful to his friends than Antigonus, more merciful towards his enemies than Hannibal, and inferior to none of them in understanding, though in fortune to them all. Fortune he ever found harder to deal with than his open foes, and yet he made himself equal to the experience of Metellus, the daring of Pompey, the fortune of Sulla, and the power in Rome, though he was an exile and a stranger in command of Barbarians.

Bonus: The Freud essay also deals with eyes and missing eyes in terms of fears of castration–that might be fun to read back in terms of these generals not wanting to be emasculated. Or something like that.

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Stephen McClurg

I like red peppers and Jan Svankmajer movies.

1. Current Listening: May Day by Silica Gel

2. Current Viewing: "Uncle Yanco" (1967).

3. Current Reading: Ottessa Moshfegh: Death In Her Hands

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