By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. —Psalm 137 (KJV)

Nostalgia is sentimentality for the past, typically for a particular period or place with positive associations, but sometimes also for the past in general, ‘the good old days’ of earlier life.

At the end of André Brink’s novel, An Instant the Wind, the character of Adam memorably says, ‘The land which happened inside us no one can take away from us again, not even ourselves.’ Nostalgia combines the sadness of loss with the joy that the loss is not complete, nor ever can be.

‘Nostalgia’ is a portmanteau neologism coined in 1688 by Swiss medical student Johannes Hofer from the Greek nóstos (homecoming) and álgos (pain, ache). Nóstos is, of course, the overriding theme of Homer’s Odyssey, in which Odysseus strives to get home to Penelope and Telemachus after the Trojan War.

In Virgil’s Aeneid, Aeneas, another survivor of the Trojan War and the ancestor of Romulus and Remus, gazes upon a Carthaginian mural depicting battles of the Trojan War and the deaths of his kin. Moved to tears, he cries out, sunt lacrimae rerum et mentem mortalia tangunt: ‘These are the tears of things and mortal things touch the mind’.

Johannes Hofer intended ‘nostalgia’ to refer to the homesickness of Swiss mercenaries fighting in foreign lowlands. The symptoms of this homesickness, also known as Schweizerheimweh or mal du Suisse and attributed by military physicians to ear and brain damage from the constant clanging of cowbells, included pining for Alpine landscapes, fainting, fever, and even, in extremis, death. In the Dictionnaire de musique (1767), Jean-Jacques Rousseau claims that Swiss mercenaries were threatened with severe punishment to prevent them from singing their Swiss songs and thereby exacerbating their nostalgia. By the 19th century, nostalgia had become a topos in Romantic literature, inspiring a fashion for alpinism among the European cultural elite.

Today, nostalgia is no longer looked upon as a mental disorder, but instead as a natural, common, and even positive emotion, a means of escaping the deadening confines of time and space. Bouts of nostalgia are often prompted by thoughts about the past; feelings of loneliness, disconnectedness, or meaninglessness; particular places and objects; and smell, touch, music, and weather.

When I was 14, I kept a lock of the fur of my English sheepdog Oscar after he got run-over by a tractor and had to be put down. Like the books and toys of our childhood, or our childhood home, the lock became like a time portal, which, for many years, helped me to nostalgize about Oscar.

I say ‘help’ because nostalgia does have a surprising number of adaptive functions. Everyday life is humdrum, often even absurd, but nostalgia lends us context, perspective, and connectedness, reassuring us that our life is not as banal as it seems, that it is rooted in a narrative, and that there have been (and will again be) meaningful moments and experiences.

In that much, nostalgia serves a similar function to anticipation, which can be defined as enthusiasm and excitement for some expected or hoped-for good event. The hauntings of times gone by, and the imaginings of times to come, strengthen us in lesser times.

Nostalgia is nothing if not paradoxical. In supplying us with substance and texture, it also reminds us of their lack, moving us either to creativity or restoration. This restoration often takes the form of spending, and marketers rely on nostalgia to sell us everything from music and clothes to cars and houses.

Nostalgia also serves important social functions. Many friendships and connections endure solely or mostly out of nostalgia, so much so that inducing or sharing in a nostalgic moment can at once revive a flagging relationship.

Nostalgia is commoner in uncertain times or times of transition or change. According to one recent study, it is also commoner on cold days or in cold rooms, and actually makes us feel warmer!

On the other hand, it can be argued that nostalgia is a form of self-deception in that it invariably involves distortion and idealization of the past, not least because the bad and boring bits fade from memory more quickly than the peak experiences. The Romans had a tag for the phenomenon that psychologists have come to call ‘rosy retropection’: memoria praeteritorum bonorum, ‘the past is always well remembered’.

If overindulged, nostalgia can give rise to a utopia that has never existed nor can ever exist, and yet is pursued at all costs, sapping all life and joy and potential from the present. For many people, paradise is not so much a place that you go to as the place that you come from.

Nostalgia ought to be distinguished from homesickness and from regret.

Although homesickness is a loan translation of nostalgia, it refers more specifically to the distress or impairment caused by an actual or anticipated separation from home.

Regret is a conscious negative emotional reaction to past actions or lack thereof. Regret differs from disappointment in that regret is of actions, disappointment of outcomes. Guilt is deep regret for actions because they fell short of our moral standards. Guilt is a prerequisite for remorse, which is more mature and turned out than guilt in that it includes an impulse for repentance and reparation.

Nostalgia can more fruitfully be compared to a number of similar or related concepts including saudademono no awarewabi-sabidukkha, and Sehnsucht.

Saudade is a Portuguese and Galician word for the love and longing for someone or something that has been lost and may never be regained. It is the desolate incompleteness or wistful dreaminess that can be felt even in the presence of its object, when that presence is threatened or incomplete (a great example is contained in the famous final scene of Cinema Paradiso). The rise of saudade is associated with the decline of Portugal and the yen for its imperial heyday, a yen so strong as to have entered the national anthem: Levantai hoje de novo o splendor de Portugal (‘Let us once again lift up the splendor of Portugal’).

The literal translation of the Japanese mono no aware is ‘the pathos of things’. Coined in the 18th century by Motoori Norinaga for his literary criticism of the Tale of Genjii, it refers to a heightened consciousness of the transience of things coupled with an acute appreciation of their ephemeral beauty and a gentle sadness or wistfulness at their passing—and, by extension, at the realization, reminder, or truth that all things must pass. Although beauty itself is eternal in its recurrence, its particular manifestations are unique and special because they cannot in themselves be preserved or recreated.

Related to mono no aware is wabi-sabi, an aesthetic of impermanence and imperfection that is rooted in Zen Buddhism. Wabi-sabi calls upon the acceptance and espousal of transience and inadequacy to foster a sense of serene melancholy and spiritual longing, and, with it, liberation from material and mundane distractions. Hagi pots with their pockmarked surfaces, cracked glaze, and signature chip embody wabi-sabi. With age, the pots take on deeper tones and become even more fragile and unique. Also embodying wabi-sabi are haiku poems that evoke transience and loneliness. Here is a pair from me.

The sunlit seabed—

A golden reticulum

Of racing ribbons.

The moonlit lagoon—

Silver scales scintillating

On quivering brine.

The Buddha is reputed to have said, “I have taught one thing and one thing only, dukkha and the cessation of dukkha.” That dukkha, or ‘suffering’, is inherent in all life is the first of the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. The second of the Four Noble Truths is that the cause of all suffering is lust, that is, coveting or craving. The deepest form of dukkha is the sense of dissatisfaction that things, being impermanent and insubstantial, can never measure up to our standards or expectations. When we understand this truth, we stop struggling in hope and fear, we stop craving, but instead open up to the ways of the world. It is not that we no longer suffer, but that the sting has been removed because, for want of better expression, we no longer think that our suffering has to do with us.

Sehnsucht is German for ‘longing’, ‘yearning’, or ‘craving’. It is dissatisfaction with an imperfect reality paired with the conscious or unconscious yearning for an ideal that comes to seem even more real than reality itself, as in the final lines of Walt Whitman’s Song of the Universal.

Is it a dream?

Nay, but the lack of it the dream,

And, failing it, life’s lore and wealth a dream,

And all the world a dream.

CS Lewis called Sehnsucht ‘the inconsolable longing’ in the human heart for ‘we know not what’. In the afterword to the third edition of The Pilgrim’s Regress, he describes the feeling as ‘that unnameable something, desire for which pierces us like a rapier at the smell of bonfire, the sound of wild ducks flying overhead, the title of the The Well at the World’s End, the opening lines of Kubla Khan, the morning cobwebs in late summer, or the noise of falling waves.’

Lewis redefines this feeling as ‘joy’, which he understands as ‘an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction’, and which I like to think of—in the broadest sense—as our aesthetic and creative reservoir.

The paradox of ‘joy’ arises from the self-defeating nature of human desire, which might be thought of as nothing more or less than a desire for desire, a longing for longing.

In The Weight of Glory, Lewis illustrates this from the age-old quest for beauty,

The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have not visited.



Zhou X et al: Heartwarming memories: Nostalgia maintains physiological comfort. Emotion. 2012 Aug; 12(4):700

There is little point in being anything unless we can also be that thing when it matters most. Courage is the noblest of the virtues because it is the one that guarantees all the others, and the one that is most often mortally missing.

But what is courage? It seems like an easy question, until, that is, we try to answer it. In Plato’s Laches, Socrates famously sticks the question to the eminent Athenian general Laches. Also present is the Athenian general Nicias. Here is a brief outline of the conversation that ensues:

S: What is courage?

L: Courage is when a soldier is willing to remain at his post and defend himself against the enemy.

S: But a man who flees from his post can also sometimes be called courageous. Aeneas was always fleeing on horses, yet Homer praised him for his knowledge of fear and called him the ‘counsellor of fear’.

L: Perhaps, but these are cases concerning horsemen and chariots, not foot soldiers.

S: Well what about the Spartan hoplites at the Battle of Plataea, who fled the enemy only to turn back once their lines had been broken? In any case, what I really want to know from you is this: what is courage in every instance, for the foot soldier, for the horseman, and for every other class of warrior, not to forget those who are courageous in illness or poverty and those who are brave in the face of pain or fear.

L: How do you mean?

S: Well, what is it that all these instances of courage have in common? For example, quickness can be found in running, in speaking, and in playing the lyre. In each of these instances, ‘quickness’ can be defined as ‘the quality which accomplishes much in little time’. Is there a similar, single definition of courage that can apply to every one of its instances?

L: I suggest that courage is a sort of endurance of the soul.

S: That can’t be right. Endurance can be born out of wisdom, but it can also be born out of folly, in which case it is likely to be blame- worthy. Courage, by contrast, is always fine and praiseworthy.

L: Very well then, courage is ‘wise endurance of the soul’.

S: Who do you think is more courageous, the man who is willing to hold out in battle in the knowledge that he is in a stronger posi- tion, or the one in the opposite camp who is willing to hold out nonetheless?

L: The second man, of course—though you are right, his endurance is, of course, the more foolish.

S: Yet foolish endurance is disgraceful and harmful, whereas courage is always a fine and noble thing.

L: I’m thoroughly confused.

S: So am I, Laches. Still, we should persevere in our enquiry so that courage itself won’t make fun of us for not searching for it courageously!

L: I’m sure I know what courage is. Of course I do! So why do I seem unable to put it into words?

N: I once heard Socrates say that every person is good with respect to that in which he is wise, and bad in respect to that in which he is ignorant. So perhaps courage is some sort of knowledge or wisdom.

S: Thank you, Nicias. Let’s go with that. If courage is some sort of knowledge, of what is it the knowledge?

N: It is the knowledge of the fearful and the hopeful in war, as well as in every other sphere or situation.

L: Nonsense! Wisdom is other than courage. When it comes to illness, it is the physician who knows best what is to be feared but the patient who shows courage. So wisdom and courage can’t be the same thing.

N: That’s wrong. The physician’s knowledge amounts to no more than an ability to describe health and disease, whereas it is the patient who truly knows whether his illness is more to be feared than his recovery. And so it is the patient, and not the physician, who knows best what is to be feared and what is to be hoped.

S: Nicias, if, as you say, courage is the knowledge of the grounds of fear and hope, then courage is very rare among men, while animals can never be called courageous but at most fearless.

N: The same is also true of children. A child who fears nothing because he has no sense can hardly be called courageous.

S: Right, so let’s investigate the grounds of fear and hope. Fear is produced by anticipated evil things, but not by evil things that have happened or that are happening. Hope, in contrast, is produced by anticipated good things or by anticipated non-evil things.

N: Right.

S: For any science of knowledge, there is not one science of the past, one of the present, and one of the future. Knowledge of past, present, and future are the same type of knowledge.

N: Of course.

S: Thus, courage is not merely the knowledge of fearful and hopeful things, but the knowledge of all things, including those that are in the present and in the past. A person who had such knowledge could not be said to be lacking in courage, but neither could he be said to be lacking in justice, temperance, or indeed any of the virtues. So, in trying to define courage, which is a part of virtue, we have suc- ceeded in defining virtue itself. Virtue is wisdom—or so it seemed to me just a moment ago.


Courage, says Socrates, is knowledge. Imagine that I am walking along a beach and spot someone drowning. I know that I cannot swim and that there are strong currents in this particular area, but I jump in anyway because a human life is at stake. Very soon, I too need rescuing, and, despite my best intentions, have only succeeded in making a bad situation worse. As I completely misjudged the situation, I acted not bravely but recklessly. The lifeguard, in contrast, is a strong swimmer and equipped with a floater. From past experience, she knows that if she dives in she stands an excellent chance of making a rescue. Of course there is some risk involved, but the potential benefit is so large and likely that it far outweighs the risk. If the lifeguard perfectly understands all this, she will ‘courageously’ dive in. If she does not dive in, she cannot be said to have a full grasp of the situation.

One of Socrates’ most famous arguments is that no one ever knowingly does evil. If people do wrong, it is, ultimately, because they are unable to measure and compare pleasures and pains—not, as many people think, because their ethics are overwhelmed by a desire for pleasure. People do evil because they are ignorant. They act with recklessness or cowardice because such is the limit of their understanding. In the long term, courage maximizes pleasure and minimizes pain, both for ourselves and for those around us, which is why Socrates called it ‘a kind of salvation’.

Now, geometry, medicine, and any other field of knowledge can readily be taught and passed on from one person to another. However, this does not seem to be the case with courage and the other parts of virtue, which suggests that Socrates’ conclusion in the Laches is wrong and that they are not knowledge after all. In the Meno, which Plato almost certainly wrote several years after the Laches, Socrates argues that people of wisdom and virtue such as Themistocles are in fact very poor at imparting these qualities. Themistocles was able to teach his son Cleophantus skills such as standing upright on horseback and shooting javelins, but no one ever praised Cleophantus for his wisdom and virtue, and the same can be said for Lysimachus and his son Aristides, Pericles and his sons Paralus and Xanthippus, and Thucydides and his sons Melesias and Stephanus. As there do not appear to be any teachers of virtue, it seems that virtue cannot be taught; and if virtue cannot be taught, then it is not, after all, a type of knowledge.

If virtue cannot be taught, how, asks Meno, did good men come about? Socrates replies that he and Meno have so far overlooked that right action is possible under guidance other than that of knowledge. A man who has knowledge of the road to Larisa may make a good guide, but a man who has only correct opinion of the road but has never been and does not know may make just as good a guide. If he who thinks the truth can be just as good a guide to Larisa as he who knows the truth, then correct opinion can be just as good a guide to right action as knowledge. In that case, how, asks Meno, is knowledge any different from correct opinion? Socrates replies that correct opinions are like the statues of Daedalus, which had to be tied down so that they would not run away. Correct opinions can be tied down with ‘an account of the reason why’, whereupon they cease to be correct opinions and become knowledge.

Since virtue is not knowledge, all that remains is for it to be correct opinion. This much explains why virtuous men such as Themistocles, Lysimachus, and Pericles were unable to impart their virtue to their sons. Virtuous people are no different from soothsayers, prophets, and poets, who say many true things when they are inspired but have no real knowledge of what they are saying. If ever there were a virtuous person who was able to impart his virtue to another, he would be said to be among the living as Homer says Tiresias was among the dead: ‘he alone has understanding; but the rest are flitting shades.’

Like all virtue, courage consists not in knowledge but in correct opinion. Virtue relates to behaviour, and in particular to good behaviour or ethics. In ethics, the choice of one action over others involves a complex and indeterminate calculus that cannot be condensed into, and hence expressed as, knowledge. Whereas knowledge is precise and explicit, correct opinion is vague and unarticulated and more akin to intuition or instinct. Thus, correct opinion, and so courage, cannot be taught but only ever encouraged or inspired.

From this I conclude that the best education consists not in being taught but in being inspired—which is, I think, a far more difficult thing to do. Unfortunately, it seems that many people are simply not open to being inspired, not even by the most charismatic people or greatest works of art and thought.

As Hemingway scathed, ‘He was just a coward and that was the worst luck any man could have.’

Where does self-esteem really come from?

‘Confidence’ derives from the Latin fidere, ‘to trust’. Self-confidence essentially means to trust and have faith in oneself. It is our certainty as to our judgement, ability, and so on—in short, our certainty as to our aptitude to engage with the world. A self-confident person is able to act on opportunities, rise to new challenges, take control of difficult situations, and accept responsibility and criticism if things go wrong.

Just as the foundation of successful experience is self-confidence, so the foundation of self-confidence is successful experience. Although any successful experience contributes to our general self-confidence, it is, of course, possible to be highly confident in one area, such as cooking or dancing, but very unsure in another, such as public speaking.

In the absence of confidence, courage takes over. Confidence operates in the realm of the known; courage, on the other hand, operates in the realm of the unknown, the uncertain, and the fearsome: you cannot be a confident swimmer unless you once had the courage to lose your footing in deep water. Courage is more noble than confidence, because it requires more strength, and because a courageous person is one with limitless capabilities and possibilities. In the lonely hearts, ladies often specify that they are looking for a confident man, but who they are truly looking for is a courageous man.

While self-confidence and self-esteem often go hand in hand, it is possible to have high self-confidence and yet low self-esteem, as is, for example, the case with many celebrities. Esteem derives from the Latin aestimare, ‘to appraise, value, rate, weigh, estimate’, and self-esteem is the cognitive and, above all, emotional appraisal of our own worth. Our self-esteem is the matrix through which we think, feel, and act. It reflects, and also in large part determines, our relation to ourself, to others, and to the world.

It is possible that self-esteem evolved as a barometer of status or acceptance in the social group, or else to lend us the strength to act in the face of fear and anxiety. Psychologist Abraham Maslow included it as a deficiency need in his hierarchy of needs, and argued that a person could not meet his growth needs unless he had already met his deficiency needs. To me, it seems that we are each born with a healthy self-esteem (and a small smattering of self-confidence), which is then either sustained or undermined by our life experiences.

In the West, self-esteem is primarily based on achievement, whereas in the East it is primarily based on ‘worthiness’, that is, on being seen and accepted as a good member of the family, community, and other in-groups. In the West, you can get away with being a bad in-group member so long as you are successful; in the East, you can get away with being unsuccessful so long as you are a good in-group member.

One problem with achievement-based self-esteem is that it promotes the fear of failure and the pursuit of success at all costs. Moreover, because achievement is not wholly within our control, and because its effects are transient, it cannot offer a secure foundation for our self-esteem. Worthiness-based self-esteem also has its limitations. First, it relies heavily on the acceptance or rejection of others, and so, like achievement-based self-esteem, is not wholly within our control. Second, because acceptance is contingent upon conformity with the in-group, it severely restricts our range of possibilities.

People with healthy self-esteem are able to take risks and to give their all to a project or ambition, because, although failure may hurt or upset them, it is not going to damage or diminish them. They do not rely on externals such as status or income, or on crutches such as alcohol, drugs, or sex. To the contrary, they treat themselves with respect and take good care of their health, development, and environment. They are open to growth experiences and meaningful relationships, tolerant of risk, quick to joy and delight, and accepting and forgiving of themselves and others.

It is instructive to compare healthy self-esteem with pride and also with arrogance. If self-confidence is “I can” and self-esteem is “I am”, then pride is “I did”. To feel proud is to take pleasure from the goodness of our past actions and achievements.

Pride could not be more different from arrogance in that, if pride stems from satisfaction, arrogance stems from hunger and emptiness. Arrogance derives from the Latin rogare (ask, propose), and means ‘to claim for oneself or assume’. Arrogance does not amount to excessive self-esteem, for just as there can be no such thing as excessive physical health or excessive moral virtue, so there can be no such thing as excessive self-esteem. Instead, it betrays all the opposite.

Arrogant people require constant reassuring and bolstering both from themselves and from others, which accounts for their boastfulness, entitlement, anger, and reluctance to learn from mistakes and failures. In contrast, people with healthy self-esteem do not seek to pull themselves up by pushing others down. Instead, they are happy simply to revel in the miracle of existence, with cheerfulness, humility, and quiet action.

Just as high self-esteem does not amount to arrogance, so low self-esteem does not amount to humility. Humble people understand that there is more to life than just themselves, but that need not mean that they do not have a healthy self-regard.

Needless to say, only a minority of people with low or insecure self-esteem are arrogant: most simply suffer silently. People with low or insecure self-esteem tend to see the world as a hostile place and themselves as its victim. As a result, they are reluctant to express and assert themselves, miss out on experiences and opportunities, and feel powerless to change things. All this lowers their self-esteem still further, sucking them into a downward spiral.

Low self-esteem can be deeply rooted, with origins in traumatic childhood experiences such as prolonged separation from parent figures, neglect, or emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. In later life, self-esteem can be undermined by ill health, negative life events such as losing a job or getting divorced, deficient or frustrating relationships, and a general sense of lack of control. This sense of lack of control may be especially marked in victims of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, or victims of discrimination on the grounds of religion, culture, race, sex, or sexual orientation.

The relationship between low self-esteem and mental disorder and mental distress is very complex. Low self-esteem predisposes to mental disorder, which in turn knocks self-esteem. In some cases, low self-esteem is in itself a cardinal feature of mental disorder, as, for example, in depression or borderline personality disorder.

The Buddhist take on poor self-regard is that it is akin to a negative emotion or delusion because, if a person is not secure in himself, he is left to frantically pursue everything except what is truly important: his own growth and that of others. Moreover, his agitation is vain: it does not change the past, it does not change the future, but only makes the present miserable.

The Buddhist notion of diligence is to delight in positive deeds, and the person who does not engage in such virtuous activity is a victim of kausidya, that is, ‘laziness’ or ‘spiritual sloth’. Kausidya has three aspects: not doing something out of indolence (laziness), not doing something out of faintheartedness (poor self-regard), and seeming busy but in reality wasting time and energy on meaningless activities that will not accomplish anything in the long run (manic defence). Only when we refrain from these three aspects of kausidya are we truly diligent.

Tagore, the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, seems to perfectly encapsulate the Buddhist attitude in this poem-prayer.

Let me not pray to be sheltered from dangers but to be fearless in facing them.

Let me not beg for the stilling of my pain but for the heart to conquer it.

Let me not crave in anxious fear to be saved but hope for the patience to win my freedom.

Grant me that I may not be a coward, feeling your mercy in my success alone; but let me find the grasp of your hand in my failure.

Aside from prayer, is there any way in which we might increase our self-esteem?

Many people find it simpler to work on their self-confidence than on their self-esteem, and end up with a long list of abilities and achievements to show for themselves. As they also depend on this list for their self-esteem, they cannot afford to look upon themselves as they truly are, with all their imperfections and failures. And so they are unable to recognize, let alone address, their real problems and limitations, and, more tragically still, to accept and love themselves as the less-than-perfect human beings that they truly are.

As anyone who has been to university knows, a long list of abilities and achievements is neither sufficient nor necessary for healthy self-esteem. While people keep on working at their list in the hope that it might one day be long enough, they try to fill the void with status, income, possessions, relationships, sex, and so on. Attack their status, criticize their car, and observe in their reaction that it is them that you attack and criticize.

Similarly, it is no good trying to pump up the self-esteem of children (and, increasingly, adults) with empty and condescending praise. No one will be fooled, least of all the children, who will feel confused if not exasperated, and be held back from the sort of endeavour from which real self-esteem may grow. And what sort of endeavour is that?

Whenever we live up to our dreams and promises, we can feel ourself growing. Whenever we fail but know that we have given our best, we can feel ourself growing. Whenever we stand up for our values and face the consequences, we can feel ourself growing. Whenever we come to terms with a difficult truth, we can feel ourself growing. Whenever we bravely live up to our ideals, we can feel ourself growing. That is what growth depends on. Growth depends on bravely living up to our ideals, not on the ideals of the bank that we work for, or our parents’ praise, or our children’s successes, or anything else that is not truly our own but, instead, a betrayal of ourself.

Socrates bravely lived up to his ideals—more than that, he bravely died for his ideals. He is notable both for what he is and what he is not. And what is he not? He is not someone who ever lost faith in the mind’s ability to think, learn, decide, and choose, that is, to apprehend and master reality. Nor is he someone who ever betrayed knowledge and integrity in favour of deception and unconsciousness. In seeking to align mind with matter, he remained faithful both to himself and to the world, and here he is today still alive in this sentence.

More than a great philosopher, Socrates was the living embodiment of the dream that philosophy might one day set us free.