Boxing Pythagoras

Philosophy from the mind of a fighter

Let no man glory in the greatness of his mind

Let no man glory in the greatness of his mind,
but rather keep watch o’er his wits.
Cautious and silent let him enter a dwelling;
to the heedful comes seldom harm,
for none can find a more faithful friend
than the wealth of mother wit

Hávamál 6

The Hávamál is an Old Norse poem collected alongside other works (now known together as the “Poetic Edda”) in the Codex Regius in the 1270’s. The name of this poem translates as “Sayings of the High One,” and to that end it is a compilation of proverbs attributed to the Norse god, Oðinn. In the mythology of the northmen, Oðinn was thought to be the wisest of all the gods, and the Hávamál represents an attempt to convey that wisdom to Men. Modern practitioners of Norse Heathenry (sometimes also called “Ásatrú,” “Forn Sed,” “Urglawwe,” or a host of other names) tend to view this poem similarly to the way Christians read the Old Testament book of Proverbs. Some heathens believe that the Hávamál represents actual, literal words spoken by the god Oðinn, but most recognize that these proverbs were recorded by very human beings, and therefore the text is not usually ascribed the same sort of infallibility as Christians claim for their own holy books.

The particular stanza of the Hávamál which I quoted, above, has always been one which particularly resonated with me. It is incredibly sound advice, and does well to describe the very purpose behind Boxing Pythagoras. To paraphrase, a man should not brag vainly about his intellect, but should instead constantly re-evaluate his own positions. In this way, a man never becomes complacent with his knowledge. Complacency can quite often lead to wrongheadedness, and when combined with a big ego, this can quickly lead to problems. Ironically, it is often the man who brags most about his strengths that is the weakest.

When we are instructed to cautiously and silently “enter a dwelling,” we are being told not to strike up an argument simply for the sake of argument. Don’t enter a man’s home and arrogantly correct him on all his wrong thinking. Do not begin a conversation by haphazardly casting your own wisdom all about. Rather, be mindful of both your words and those of others, and this caution will protect you. “To the heedful seldom comes harm.” This was a lesson I learned the hard way, especially when I first began arguing on the Internet, years ago. I would very often jump into a conversation, arrogantly bestowing my knowledge upon people I thought to be woefully misguided, only to learn that my own assertions were completely incorrect.

“For none can find a more faithful friend than the wealth of mother wit.” Your own beliefs, knowledge, and understanding informs absolutely everything you do. Every choice you make, every decision which you decide, is formulated based on your wit. Having a well-formed intellect will help you throughout your whole life. Wisdom will steer your life far more truly than any other rudder, and for that reason, we should strive after it.

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3 thoughts on “Let no man glory in the greatness of his mind

  1. Ishmael on said:

    It seems you spend a lot of words explaining what is wrong, but maybe you can spend some words explaining what is right.

    • I did try to spend a number of words in explaining what is right. I stated that I believe a man should “constantly re-evaluate his own positions,” that he should “be mindful of both [his] words and those of others,” and that he should “strive after” both wisdom and “a well-informed intellect.” Furthermore, I would argue that eliminating that which is wrong is the first step on the path to discovering that which is right.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Ishmael!

  2. I really enjoyed the Norse history! Great article as well. Have you read John Mill’s On Liberty? Very similar topics and arguments. If you haven’t already (though I wouldn’t be surprised if you had) definitely take a look. Totally up your alley for this argument.

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