Michelangelo and the Art of Perfection

“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” 

Aristotle

There’s a myth about Michelangelo working on the Sistine Chapel.

One day, someone was watching the Italian artist spend an insane amount of time laboring over a small, hidden corner of the chapel’s ceiling.

Surprised by Michelangelo’s persistence to make that obscure corner as perfect as possible, they asked the artist, “Who is ever going to know if it’s perfect or not?”

Michelangelo replied, “I will.”

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The Rubicon Paradox

During the Roman Republic the river Rubicon acted as a sort of frontier line between the Roman province of Cisalpine Gaul to the northeast and Italy proper, controlled directly by Rome, to the south.

In 49 BC, perhaps on January 10, Julius Caesar led a single legion, Legio XIII Gemina, south over the Rubicon from Cisalpine Gaul into Italy. In doing so, he deliberately broke the law limiting his imperium, his authority to control his army.

As he led his army across the Rubicon river into Central Italy, Julius Caesar is credited to having said the following words, “Alea iacta est”.

“The die has been cast.”

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Conquering the World: Choose One of Two Paths

In 336 B.C., a brash 20-year-old prince visited the Greek city-state of Corinth. During his stay, the prince visited the philosopher Diogenes of Sinope, one of the founders of the Cynic philosophy.

The philosopher was quite a controversial character, infamous for his open criticism of Plato and his rather shocking lifestyle; he begged for a living and often slept in a large ceramic jar, or pithos, near the gymnasium in Corinth.

The young prince decided to meet this eccentric character. He found the philosopher lying in the sun. The prince addressed him and asked if he wanted anything at all from him, to which Diogenes replied, “Yes, I just want you not to stand in the sun.”

The young prince was so impressed by the philosopher’s nonchalant demeanor that he stated, “But truly, if I were not Alexander, I wish I were Diogenes.”

Two years later, now a king in his own right, Alexander set out to conquer his way to the edge of the known world.

During the following decade, nothing stopped him. Nothing. Vastly superior armies, impregnable fortresses, mountains and rivers and deserts, hunger, thirst, the sea itself, the uttermost extremes of physical hardship and war. His body was littered with scars; everywhere that is, except his back. He never retreated, and he never lost a battle.

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The Beauty of Doing What You Can With What You Have

Some five hundred years ago, a 26 year old sculptor was given the task of turning a leftover slab of marble into a work of art. Other artists had tried to give life to the stone and had failed, but the young artist took on the contract, determined to shape the marble that others had discarded.

Early in the morning on September 13, 1501, the young artist began to work in order to extract his vision from the piece of stone. He carved and carved until he set his dream free.

Later, artist Giorgio Vasari would describe the process as, “bringing back to life of one who was dead.”

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Lessons on Time Management From the Richest Stoic

In AD 65, Seneca the Younger was ordered to take his own life by the Roman Emperor Nero. Seneca followed tradition by severing several veins in order to bleed to death, while also ingesting poison.

This order was a response to Seneca’s supposed involvement in a conspiracy to assassinate Nero. Former consul and advisor to the emperor and one of the richest and most powerful men in Rome, Seneca decided to embody the stoic philosophy to the very end. He accepted his fate with calm, even though those around him urged him to beg for his life.

While Seneca’s words of wisdom touched on countless aspects of life, he is perhaps best remembered for his piercing thoughts on the value of time.

This wisdom is relevant to this day, or maybe even more so, as we live in a world that makes it easy to lose track of time as we immerse ourselves in countless micro-distractions.

Carpe diem, as the Romans used to say, is an art that needs tinkering with as we do our best to seize time rather than waste it.

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