Quintus Curtius is a man of many faces. Lawyer, former United States Marine Corps major, linguist, world traveler, classicist, writer, and keen observer. One suspects the man is secretly an amalgam of thousands of years of human experience. Yet, if there’s one thing above all else he would probably like to be remembered by, the thing he’d like to be the foundation of his kleos, is as a philosopher and teacher.
A major theme of his first book, Thirty Seven, is on the education and instruction of the young. He devotes an entire essay (the seventh) explicitly on the subject, and the book is one which implicitly aims for this as its singular purpose.
The Limits of Reason:
When reading Thirty Seven, one sometimes wonders whether Quintus Curtius is the last of the classical philosophers. One can see that it is the classics which have influenced him the most, as opposed to the seemingly dull, dogmatic, linear, pure rationalist view of the world of modernity. This rationalist, modern viewpoint is one I also critique heavily in Stumped: How Trump Triumphed (as it cannot explain most human decision-making and hence, Trump’s rise), and Quintus Curtius makes it a central emphasis in Thirty Seven that the inculcation of character, the teaching of a strong moral compass, is just as important if not more so than the imparting and expected regurgitation of endless bits of factual knowledge. Quintus Curtius seems to lament that this regime of education and instruction has passed into the mists of time, and holds it responsible for a large part of the present social malaise we see – effeminacy in men, masculinity in women, consumerism, corruption, and so on. It would be hard to disagree. More specifically, when it comes to the limits of rationalism and factual knowledge in the human condition, he has this to say on the subject:
We cannot be sure Corbin was wrong in placing his faith in imagination over reason. All around us, I think, is evidence that the great thinkers of the West’s Age of Reason (Bacon, Descartes, Hobbes, etc.) may have placed too much faith in logic and “reason” as a cure-all for man’s woes. We have access to more and more, but seem to perceive less and less. We are drowning in information, but are more ignorant and unfulfilled than ever. The breakdown in discipline is a direct result of the abandonment of our ancient moral code, which sprang from imaginative religion. Every untried youth now believes himself fit to pass judgment on the intellectual heritage of several millennia. (pg. 66)
This almost mirrors the language I use in the introduction of Stumped. The power of imagination that Quintus Curtius describes is nowadays largely untapped, but, as Donald Trump and others demonstrate, these imaginative impulses are what truly move mankind to action, not the sterile, secondary considerations of logic, which typically only take place after the basic decision has already been made.
Thirty Seven is a guide in some ways to reconnect with that imagination within you, the millennia of intellectual and spiritual heritage behind you as a man of the West.
Fate or Character?
The examination of character, fate, and how they interact is another central theme of Thirty Seven. Quintus Curtius mentions the fickleness of fate and fortune in the prologue:
As his battered frame reached the shoreline, he knew he would need to run the remainder of the way if he were to get his circulation going again. He had passed the beach when he tripped on a cluster of rocks and collapsed in a heap within twenty-five feet of Carnoustie Street. He had begun to drift out of consciousness when two passers-by spotted his haggard shape and lurching frame. Shocked by the gashes on his chin and hand, and by his involuntary shivering and mumbled speech, they carried him to a nearby convenience store, and from there his family was called. It was nearly sundown; if only one more hour had passed, no one would have seen him, and he might have died of exposure. And so, by such slender threads of spider-silk, over churning cauldrons, are our fates suspended. (pg. vii)
The prologue is a reminder to the reader, particularly to the young one who believes he’s immortal and can do anything, that our control over the world is far less than we’d like it to be. For all our efforts, as seen in the subject of the prologue who did his best to stay alive, fate can still stick it to us in the end. Quintus Curtius happens in some ways in Thirty Seven upon a chicken-and-egg question: does character determine fate or are we totally powerless before it, as fate may help to determine character?
The answer might never be found. Quintus Curtius explores it a bit further in his chapter on Stoicism, which, combined with the strong character he wishes to help the reader become throughout Thirty Seven, can serve to bridge the gap of fate and help the reader get in the right frame of mind to succeed anyway.
Quintus Curtius may be mirroring Mike Cernovich in Gorilla Mindset in some ways. He’s telling us that we can control our character, but little else, and this is what we must focus the brunt of our efforts on – to mold the best character for ourselves. When that is finished, many other things can fall into place, and we must not be distraught or dejected by what fate doesn’t bestow.
It’s the best answer to the chicken-and-egg question that can presently be found, and much of Quintus’ essays are tailored for that purpose.
Speaking and Writing Well:
The most practical of the essays in Thirty Seven is the thirty-first. In it, Quintus Curtius describes the rhetorical techniques of Cicero, Seneca the Elder, and Quintilian, imparting actionable advice to the reader to improve his writing and speaking ability. Quintilian in particular is regarded as the most complete authority. One of the bits that Quintus Curtius quoted in Quintilian was something I wrote in Stumped – the effectiveness of hand movements in communication:
Avoid wild gesticulations when speaking, but seek the mastery of effective hand movements. Quintilian has an entire section in his treatise on the proper types and employment of hand movements as an aid to communication. (pg. 163)
Body language takes up the bulk of communication. Knowing this is crucial if you’re to be a great and charismatic communicator. After recently writing about hand gestures in the fourth chapter of Stumped (which deals with Trump’s charisma and how you can learn from him to be more charismatic), reading this bit from Quintus Curtius about Quintilian confirmed to me that I was on the right track.
True and False Friends:
Another very important essay in Quintus Curtius’ Thirty Seven is the thirteenth, concerning the difference between true friends from false ones. One of the most important passages on this was the following, as it is not always obvious:
Constant displays of subservience to his target. With true friends, there is little or no jealousy or rivalry. So a true friend will feel content, or apathetic, if his friend is more successful than he in some area. But the parasitic flatterer is ever mindful of his desire to be a minion to his target. He will make displays of inferiority and subservience: his desire to always remain “below” his target in ability or achievement. He wants not honest equality, but pandering subservience. (pg 76-7)
This is essentially exactly what Louis XIV mentioned regarding the difference between flatterers and true admirers. Just as women test men for such subservience, you should always be on the lookout for subservient characters. Quintus Curtius mentions other ways on how to distinguish your true friends from false hangers-on in the essay.
Thirty Seven will probably be seen by most as a guide for the more advanced wanderer of Poseidon’s chaotic sea. The very young, concerned with securing their existence and desiring action, will likely immediately prefer guides to seducing women or making money, as that will inevitably be the main desire in their minds, and for good reason.
Yet, I was in some way already connected to the spiritual past and the lives of great men and events which Quintus Curtius describes so eloquently throughout Thirty Seven. This undoubtedly gave me a leg up when I began my real journey to self-discovery and improvement. I was more grounded than most. I had an identity already, a kernel that could more easily be built into a blazing bonfire.
Most men unfortunately don’t have that kernel. They’ve been stripped of it by the media and education system. Therefore, a new educational program is essential, and Thirty Seven is a crucial ingredient.
If I could critique the book in one area (and thus help to prevent myself from being a false friend to Quintus Curtius), it’s that I think it could have been organized better. The biographies of great figures like Boethius, Cicero, Augustine, and so on could have been bunched together, the examination of historical events like the Battle of Lepanto could have had their own section, and the more esoteric essays like “I am the Mystic” or the one on Stoicism might have had their own section. This may have served to make each essay more easily accessible and easier to recall from the reader’s memory. But, maybe that’s just me.
We can conclude with this passage:
Consider the bird (in H.G. Wells’ Aepyornis Island). Is he a symbol? Of course. But of what, exactly.
He is a symbol of our innermost, deepest Holy Grail. Our deepest Blood-Desire. Every man’s sacred quest is etched into his bones from the moment he is born. He cannot escape this destiny. He can dodge his quest for some time, but in the end, if he wishes to become truly fulfilled, he must take up the quest. And man, like the biologist in the story, is required to chase down and possess this hidden, Sacred Chalice. Required to: if we are to be men. We nurture this wish, covet it, and care for it, as the biologist did with his precious and ancient cargo of eggs.
And then: chase it down, this Holy Grail, show it no mercy. Kill it, in order to possess it utterly. And this is ever a pretty sight. For the process of hunting down and possessing our deepest desire is never clean and easy; because part of you dies in the process. It can be a ghastly, brutal process. Blood is going to run into the white sand, and form obscene clumps about our feet. And yet this is necessary, a sacred requirement of our Great Transition. For it is only in this way that man can advance, grow, and move forward. The hunting down and destruction of our own inner Holy Grail is exactly like being reborn. Man and his tools – even if he has only a rusty knife – are enough for him to master his environment. We don’t negate each other, we complement each other. I am a man, and I am master of my environment. I am a man!
And in the right hands, my dull, rusty knife here by my side is enough. We need only the will to use it. Because there is no other way, really. If we are to move forward to our own Great Day as men, we must go through this mortal hunt. This chasing down of our innermost Blood-Being and Blood-Desire. Even if it means we must grapple with our own inner, prehistoric monsters, and fight them to the death with blood bubbling into our clean white sand, it must still be done.
And there is no going back, for this reversion would be the death of us, as men. (pg. 41-2)
This is the essence of masculinity. It’s the Homeric calling. As I say in Stumped, masculinity must be earned. It isn’t given. This passage highlights that fact in a manifest way.
If you’re looking for a philosophy of life, a doctrine to ground you, and to reconnect with your historical past to make you more confident in the future, click here to get Thirty Seven by Quintus Curtius.