Sunday, March 10, 2013

Know Thyself: Conosci te stesso

owl, symbol of wisdom
Know thyself: that's the name of the new Coursera MOOC that I started this week. It's about self-knowledge: what it is, why it's important, and how to develop it. The E-learning course is over, and this new one will last ten weeks, until the middle of May. The course has a bit of philosophy, a bit of psychology, along with information about meditation. 70,000 people have enrolled, and I've joined a study group with older students, hoping to be able to follow the discussion with a smaller group of folks. This week the readings focused on Socrates and several meditative techniques. After reading about Socrates, I feel validated in many ways. I've never been one to follow the crowd, and am always questioning things, which sometimes gets me into trouble. Finding out that Socrates had similar habits and is remembered more than 2400 years later, well, I don't feel so odd anymore! For more information, and a short video about the course, try this link:

Know Thyself

I'm also starting a 3-week course at the University of Kansas on the Monuments of Ancient Rome, and I'm eager to see what they cover. I'm especially interested in learning more about the Via Appia Antica. I tried to get to the stretch of the Appian Way that lies beyond Rome last year, but was unsuccessful, and am planning to try again next fall. Another area of Italy I want to visit is near Naples. I'd like to spend some time on the small island of Ischia in September, and while I'm in the area, I want to visit Pompeii, Herculaneum and Capri (again), to view some of the ancient buildings and artifacts stored there. I recently read a compelling book, The Night Villa, by Carol Goodman, that centers around the papyri, or ancient scrolls that were found in Herculaneum (Ercolano) in the late 1700's. 

Both Pompeii and Ercolano where covered in volcanic ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D.  Ercolano is famous as one of the few ancient cities that can now be seen in almost its original magnificence, because unlike Pompeii, it was buried so deep that the the upper stories of many buildings remained intact, and the hotter ash preserved wooden household objects and even food. There is a famous villa in Ercolano called Villa dei Papiri: its name derives from the discovery of a library in the villa containing nearly 1800 papyrus scrolls. Piso, a literate man who patronized poets and philosophers (including Epicurius, who turns out to be very interesting!), had created a large and well-stocked library there, and it's the only one to survive intact from antiquity. Most of the scrolls are stored at the National Library in Naples: some of the unrolled scrolls were scanned in 2009 by x-rays, in hopes of being able to read the ancient writing, but so far they've had no luck.  (Some info provided by Wikipedia)

As often happens, I feel that I'm being led somewhere by the synchronistic events in my life, and I'm curious to see how things will play out in the months to come. In the meantime, I'm working and studying a lot....with little time for play!