All Greeks think they are great philosophers. After all, the very word is pure Greek, derived from two simple words: philos –friend and sophia – wisdom; this combination makes Greeks friends of wisdom. Let me rather say that it made the Ancient Greeks friends of wisdom and somehow the Modern Greeks seemed to have strayed, for surely financial wisdom forms part of general wisdom.
My father had friends, both in South Africa and in Greece that he could comfortably philosophise with for hours on end. Somehow the friends in Greece seemed better in these discourses and there was one friend in particular that stood out as a fountain of wisdom for my father. It helped that my father had the time when he was in Greece to sit for hours on end, sometimes days, talking with the old man, George Simbonis.
The old man would have made fine company for Solon in Athens 27 centuries before. Solon said “I grow old learning many things.” My father learnt immeasurably from Simbonis. When they were both younger and the old man would work in the fields near Kortsouli my father would walk there, about 7 kilometres from the village, have a break and a chat and then work in the fields with him and walk back. They would talk comfortably about this and that, never scandalous, always enquiring, reasoning and advising.
The walk from the house to Kortsouli is flat and on a narrow tar road that takes you to Tripolis. After passing a handful of houses and the old village spring’ you enter the avenue of planes trees for about a kilometre. This shades you from the warm morning sun in summer with its promise of heat later. The road curves gently to the right around a hill with a church on top amidst the pines, Agio Ilia. As you round that hill you can see the smaller hill of Kortsouli, after which lie the fields of the old man, amidst the ruins of the ancient city of Mantinea.
The two men, one older by twenty years, were quite ascetic in the fields. Working and drinking deep dark cold well water, eating fruit and for lunch some cheese and bread with a sip of wine. It was one of my father’s favourite sayings, metron ariston – moderation is best, attributed to Cleobolus, who was another of the seven sages, like Solon. All fathers of philosophy. The two friends lived this philosophy in the Arcadian sunlight.
This legacy of philosophy has left me intrigued; it is an exploration of the link between modern and ancient life that is bridged by Christianity. One of my old affirmations is this:
“My mind is quiet and rich, and I have accumulated the wisdom of the generations before me.”
It came to me from this rich tapestry, and the more I think about it the more complex it is in its derivations yet simple in origin.