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To philosophize is to learn how to die

Learning from Lecture Notes on an Ancient Idea by Dr Kurt Borg Friday 14 April 2023 at 11:07 am

A few days ago I found myself in a lecture entitled: To philosophize is to learn how to die Notes on an Ancient Idea by Dr Kurt Borg

  by Nataša Pantović

"To philosophize is to learn how to die" this is how Michel de Montaigne, the 16th century French writer puts it, quoting Cicero, who is thinking of Socrates condemned to death.


The Death of Socrates by French painter Jacques Louis David in 1787, the story of the execution of Socrates as told by Plato in his Phaed located in The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The founding figure of Western philosophy, Socrates (469-399 BC) left no writings, was the teacher of Plato and is best known for his style of teaching, asking question until his students arrived at own understanding. Socrates’ learning to die is bound with the question of the immortality of the soul. Socrates was accused of corrupting the youth of Athens and sentenced to death. He had to drink the cup of poisonous.

Socrates’ death is bound with the question of the immortality of the soul: how does one transcend it so as to come back resurrected, or immortal.

  Lecture: To philosophize is to learn how to die by Dr Kurt Borg

Michel de Montaigne’s “To philosophize is to learn how to die” was an essay he had published. Montaigne has lived through three tragedies in quick succession. His best friend died of the plague in 1563, not long after, his father and his brother died. Soon after he had a dangerous horse accident, Montaigne, who was a successful lawyer, retired from public life at the age of 38. Montaigne found himself terrified of his own death.

Montaigne says that he developed the habit of having death all the time with him. Montaigne tells us: “He who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.”

In this view, a life lived well, is one that comprehends death.

T.S. Eliot said, we have to see the skull beneath the skin.

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Richard England

THIS HOLY EARTH Wednesday 05 April 2023 at 2:43 pm

  by Nataša Pantović

Yesterday, I was privileged to listen to FFA (a Maltese NGO: All for Environment) organised interview, with Richard England discussing his life and work, people he admired and learned from, and his need to create architecture with love.

One of the first anecdotes Richard has narrated was when he had returned home in 1962 after completing his studies at the University of Milan and an 18 month apprenticeship in the studio of Gio Ponti. When Richard showed his father (also an architect) the recommendation letter that he got from Ponti (the Italian architect was his father's favourite), praising his work, his father, has decided to entrust him with the commission of the Manikata Church. It was the small Parish Church of Saint Joseph in a village of Malta. The church was built by around 500 of the area’s farmers on a volunteer basis.

Manikata Parish Church designed by Richard England

Manikata Parish Church designed by Richard England

The farmers wished to build a church with a bigger dome than the village next door. The new church’s unorthodox form and the young architect’s new ideas have been published in the prestigious Architectural Review. The publication served as a sign of authority for the villagers and the Church to embrace it. “We cut the stone, one by one.” Recalled Richard. Now, to draw a building is easy but making a building is like fighting a war. Once you make a sketch, you are against so many forces: the client, builders, planners, and you have to present your ideas to the public.

The architect’s first project was followed by a string of important works – the Garden for Myriam in St. Julians, which is dedicated to his wife, an extension at the University of Malta, St Francis of Assisi Church in Qawra. He also worked in Baghdad and Belgrade.

'Mythopoli' series Richald England drawing

'Mythopoli' series Richald England drawing

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Different perspectives on women in the arts

Learning from University of Malta Conference Tuesday 28 March 2023 at 10:23 am

by Nataša Pantović

As Malta approaches another Equinox, or Eastern, University ensures that the programme of events celebrate Woman’s Day with a cultural twist. The spring season brings another Conference entitled: ‘Different perspectives on women in the arts'.

The women’s activists fought for women’s right to work, to vote, and to have equal access to education. In 1882 in England, women were for the first time allowed to keep their own earnings, and were allowed into Oxford or Cambridge University much later. Change came at a snail’s pace.

We examined the fascination Oriental art and life in the Middle East held for European artists. What appears to have been a ‘golden cage’ carried an unusual amount of freedom. Oriental interiors, depicted usually in Constantinople (Istanbul) hid pictures of exotic, colourful Oriental carpets, servants bringing in entertainment, and the naked women bathing or resting on the carpets or sofas seemingly perfectly content.

However, in Europe women’s natural place was in the home, where she is protected from all danger and temptation. The man guards the woman from all, within his house. A luxurious enclosed life did not refer to a working class or a village women cultivating lands, or slaving away surrounded by many kids in a house with no electricity, no running water, with heavy loads to carry.

The pictures do say a lot more about male fantasies than the reality of life in a harem. Ottoman Princess Senila Sultan in a letter to her friend says: ‘The things they make up about us are unimaginable. They believe that we are slaves that we are shut up in chambers and left to die. We live in our cages, dressed in costumes of pink and light green satin and dance and sing songs, and even pipes of opium.’

This event was introduced by Dr Charlene Vella (Department of Art and Art History), and chaired by paintings conservator Rachel Vella. Dr Mark Sagona (Head of Department) delivered a welcoming note. Papers on varying topics on women in the arts were presented by Art History graduates Rachel Abdilla, Nadette Xuereb, Hannah Dowling, Fine Arts graduate Marie Claire Farrugia and textile conservator Leyre Quevedo Bayona.

Chairperson: Rachel Vella

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Italian Theatre Shamans

Learning from Lecture The Maltese and La Commedia Dell’Arte Sunday 26 February 2023 at 5:24 pm

Ancient Theatre   

by Nataša Pantović

Theatre is one of the oldest way of expression. It was at first a religious expression, meant to communicate with the Gods. A Scottish friend of mine Nicholas Jackman acted Macbeth, in the Shakespeare’s performance, at the Valletta’s Manuel Theatre this weekend. To be true to the play, at the time of our ancestors, the actors did believe in the witches they portrayed. To the audience, witches were a fact of life, real force manifestation, as real as the Hamlet’s ghost of his late father. That is why it is the most difficult to act a mad man.

In traditional societies the first shamans were our first actors. They improvised, channelling  subconscious states. What psychologist Jung found in alchemy (transforming metal into gold) is a precursor guide to the psychology of humanity.

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Ancient Ritual King Carni-val

Learning from Carnival in Malta Sunday 19 February 2023 at 1:59 pm


by Nataša Pantović

Carnival in the Middle Ages took not just a few days, but the period between Christmas and Lent. In those two months, of winter, when the most of the population rested from their usual hard agricultural work, populations celebrated.

The Roman Saturnalia, was a festival organised at the same time, with lots of food and drink, dress-up and parades. The social order was reversed and rules of behaviour were suspended, also a temporary King was crowned and everyone had to abide by his orders. Even today, participants elect a King Carnival.

Historically in Malta, this festival can be traced to the 1400s where we find the Universita’ issuing directives about the price of meat during carnival. 

With the arrival of the Grand Masters of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem (1530-1798), Carnival was recorded in 1535. At that time the festival was all about knights entering various tournaments. 

Ancient Ritual King Carnival

The two festivals share features of masks, role reversals, temporary social equality, and permitted rule breaking.

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