What is a Man: 3000 Years of Wisdom on the Art of Manly Virtue

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At a time when all of America is debating the wayward course of contemporary manhood, one thing has been missing from the conversation: a source to which concerned readers might turn for guidance and inspiration, a path back to the wisdom of our shared tradition of manly virtues.

Missing, that is, until now. In What Is a Man? historian and commentator Waller R. Newell collects three thousand years of the finest and most thought-provoking writings on the subject of manhood. ...

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Overview

At a time when all of America is debating the wayward course of contemporary manhood, one thing has been missing from the conversation: a source to which concerned readers might turn for guidance and inspiration, a path back to the wisdom of our shared tradition of manly virtues.

Missing, that is, until now. In What Is a Man? historian and commentator Waller R. Newell collects three thousand years of the finest and most thought-provoking writings on the subject of manhood. Introduced and placed in context by Newell's incisive and illuminating commentary, each of the eight sections in this volume addresses one aspect of the shared traditions of manliness -- from wisdom to chivalry to nobility. From Aristotle on courage to Sir Thomas Malory on love, honor, and chastity; from Shakespeare on leadership to John Cheever on adolescence; from Jane Austen on pride to Theodore Roosevelt on family life -- each new voice contributes perspective and authority to this multifaceted exploration of virtue and masculinity. And the final section, "The Invisible Man," reflects the confusions of modern manhood, addressing issues of violence, media imagery, and the role of the counterculture through commentators as diverse as James Dean, David Foster Wallace, and Kurt Cobain.

An anthology of extraordinary scope and depth, What Is a Man? reminds us all of the relevance of the manly tradition and offers a blueprint for men (and women) eager to uphold the honor of our forefathers' legacy.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Some time ago Shakespeare wrote, "What is a man?" The question remains, still somewhat of a mystery. Newell (political science and philosophy, Carleton Univ., Ottawa) offers countless responses in this highly diversified anthology featuring the opinions of the famous--Homer, Plato, Sir Thomas Mallory, Chaucer, Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, Aesop, Cicero, Tolstoy, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, Hemingway, John F. Kennedy, Shakespeare, of course, and also Anonymous, to name a few. All possibilities of manliness are explored: bravery, chivalry, eroticism, sexuality, aggression, hostility, violence, morality, love, and being a boy, husband, and father. Newell's pithy commentary adds the necessary touch of irony and, yes, insight into the unending search for manliness. What it means to be a man (in any age), with all of its attendant virtues and vices, is a complex subject, not readily agreed upon, understood, or accepted. Newell, with his new collection, suggests persuasively that the quest should continue. Recommended for all public libraries.--Robert L. Kelly, Fort Wayne Community Schs., IN Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060392963
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/1/2000
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 790
  • Product dimensions: 6.52 (w) x 9.59 (h) x 1.91 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One



The Chivalrous Man

We often hear that chivalry is dead.But the very fact that we can lament its passing suggests we still have some recollection of it. What does it mean for a man to be chivalrous? Refined manners, courtesy toward others, respect for women, and a character bred to the virtues of honor, courage, and self-restraint—these would all be part of what we have in mind when the concept of chivalry is invoked. Chivalry is often associated with the ideals of medieval knighthood, as portrayed in the legends of King Arthur and his knights. The perfect knight was thought to embody a distinct array of ideals: piety, valor, gentleness, compassion for the suffering; knights were expected, moreover, to lead a sublime and spiritual inner life. In matters of love, the perfect knight always acted with moderation, composure, and patience in wooing his fair damsel. The chivalrous man wanted his lady to love him for his worthy character and his courage in defending justice, faith, and duty.

Chivalry, then, means much more than simply good manners-opening doors for ladies, for instance, or spreading one's trench coat over a puddle. These are the outward signs of a deeper experience-the process by which a man's love for a woman helps to perfect his own character. A common theme throughout the readings in this section is that love gives a man the strongest motive to overcome and avoid bad behavior, so as to make himself admirable and worthy of affection in the eyes of his beloved. They demonstrate, again and again, one of the paradoxes of the chivalric ideal: that an overwhelming romantic passion can furnishthe surest inducement to moral decency. Readers will find in this section guidance from all ages on how a man can make himself worthy of a woman's love, how to avoid the temptations of lust and other excesses of erotic passion, and how to conduct himself toward his beloved in a gracious and admirable fashion.

The Manly Lover

Orpheus and Eurydice
From Thomas Bulfinch,
Bulfinch's Mythology

A man's love for a woman can conquer even death. From the influential Victorian-era collection of ancient and medieval myths.

Orpheus was the son of Apollo and the Muse Calliope. He was presented by his father with a lyre and taught to play upon it, which he did to such perfection that nothing could withstand the charm of his music. Not only his fellow-mortals, but wild beasts were softened by his strains, and gathering round him laid by their fierceness, and stood entranced with his lay. Nay, the very trees and rocks were sensible to the charm. The former crowded round him and the latter relaxed somewhat of their hardness, softened by his notes.

Hymen had been called to bless with his presence the nuptials of Orpheus with Eurydice; but though he attended, he brought no happy omens with him. His very torch smoked and brought tears into their eyes. In coincidence with such prognostics, Eurydice, shortly after her marriage, while wandering with the nymphs, her companions, was seen by the shepherd Aristaeus, who was struck by her beauty and made advances to her. She fled, and in flying trod upon a snake in the grass, was bitten in the foot, and died. Orpheus sang his grief to all who breathed the upper air, both gods and men, and finding it all unavailing resolved to seek his wife in the regions of the dead. He descended by a cave situated on the side of the promontory of Taenarus and arrived at the Stygian realm. He passed through crowds of ghosts and presented himself before the throne of Pluto and Proserpine. Accompanying the words with the lyre, he sung, "O deities of the underworld, to whom all we who live must come, hear my words, for they are true. I come not to spy out the secrets of Tartarus, nor to try my strength against the three-headed dog with snaky hair who guards the entrance. I come to seek my wife, whose opening years the poisonous viper's fang has brought to an untimely end. Love has led me here, Love, a god all powerful with us who dwell on the earth, and, if old traditions say true, not less so here. I implore you by these abodes full of terror, these realms of silence and uncreated things, unite again the thread of Eurydice's life. We all are destined to you, and sooner or later must pass to your domain. She too, when she shall have filled her term of life, will rightly be yours. But till then grant her to me, I beseech you. If you deny me, I cannot return alone; you shall triumph in the death of us both."

As he sang these tender strains, the very ghosts shed tears. Tantalus, in spite of his thirst, stopped for a moment his efforts for water, Ixion's wheel stood still, the vulture ceased to tear the giant's liver, the daughters of Danaus rested from their task of drawing water in a sieve, and Sisyphus sat on his rock to listen. Then for the first time, it is said, the cheeks of the Furies were wet with tears. Proserpine could not resist, and Pluto himself gave way. Eurydice was called. She came from among the new-arrived ghosts, limping with her wounded foot. Orpheus was permitted to take her away with him on one condition, that he should not turn around to look at her till they should have reached the upper air. Under this condition they proceeded on their way, he leading, she following, through passages dark and steep, in total silence, till they had nearly reached the outlet into the cheerful upper world, when Orpheus, in a moment of forgetfulness, to assure himself that she was still following, cast a glance behind him, when instantly she was borne away. Stretching out their arms to embrace each other, they grasped only the air! Dying now a second time, she yet cannot reproach her husband, for how can she blame his impatience to behold her? "Farewell," she said, "a last farewell:"— and was hurried away, so fast that the sound hardly reached his ears.

Orpheus endeavored to follow her, and besought permission to return and try once more for her release; but the stern ferryman repulsed him and refused passage. Seven days he lingered about the brink, without food or sleep; then bitterly accusing of cruelty the powers of Erebus, he sang his complaints to the rocks and mountains, melting the hearts of tigers and moving the oaks from their stations. He held himself aloof from womankind, dwelling constantly on the recollection of his sad mischance. The Thracian maidens tried their best to captivate him, but he repulsed their advances. They bore with him as long as they could; but finding him insensible one day, excited by the rites of Bacchus, one of them exclaimed, "See yonder our despiser!" and threw at him her javelin. The weapon, as soon as it came within the sound of his lyre, fell harmless at his feet.So did also the stones that they threw at him.But the women raised a scream and drowned the voice of the music, and then the missiles reached him and soon were stained with his blood.The maniacs tore him limb from limb, and threw his head and his lyre into the river Hebrus, down which they floated, murmuring sad music, to which the shores responded a plaintive symphony...

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 24, 2000

    An Encyclopedia of Manly Virtue and Conduct

    Every college freshman should be required to read this book in a course of the same name. Women too! Especially the Women! This is a highly sophisticated, scholarly, and thorough presentation of true masculinity. It contains excerpts from Greek and Roman mythology, the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, Shakespeare, Plato, and other great works of world literature and pholosophy. This is NOT and elaborate version of one of those popular feel good, fashion, or pop psychology publications with nonsense of the type one can buy at the grocery store: Esquire, GQ, Cosmopolitan, Vanity Fair, etc., etc. The studied and thoughtful selections from the Great Books alone make this book worth the price. It reminds one of just how little the world has really changed. We are the same basic men and women we were 3000 years ago. Our natures have not changed. We may think that we live in a world where everything is new under the sun. This book shows how false that assumption is. Author Waller Newell makes the past relevant for today. His selections demonstrate that true generosity, courage, good humor, compassion, virtue, and above all love, have not changed. As men and women we have been there before. Problems have new faces and different names, but at root they are all the same ones we have always faced and which must be solved anew by each generation. Newell's book is a profound anthology of moral and political philosophy and solid practical advice. Newell concludes his book with his own brief essay. In many ways I think it is one of the best in the book. He sums up the basis for his choice of selections with the phrase 'love perfects.' It is an apt umbrella for this anthology. The bottom line is that being a man (like being a woman) is about good character: decency, compassion, generosity, integrity, commitment, courage. Hardly a surprise one would think. However, in a world that so often advocates only the extremes of macho violence and effete sentimentality, Newell's book is a welcome antedote.

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