Why the Stoics, like their ancestors the Cynics, greatly valued hardship.
After being exiled from his native Sinope for having defaced its coinage, Diogenes the Cynic moved to Athens, took up the life of a beggar, and made it his mission to metaphorically deface the coinage of custom and convention—which, he maintained, was the false currency of morality.
Diogenes disdained the need for conventional shelter and other corrupting ‘dainties’ and chose instead to live in a storage jar and survive on a diet of chickpeas and lupins. He used to beg for the bare necessities, including from statues—saying that he was thereby practising for rejection. He held that human beings had much to learn from the simplicity and artlessness of dogs, which, unlike human beings, had not ‘complicated every simple gift of the gods’. The term ‘Cynic’ possibly derives from the Greek for ‘dog-like’, kynikos.
In the deep winter, Diogenes would strip naked and embrace bronze statues. One day, upon seeing this, a Spartan asked him whether he was cold. When he said that he was not, the Spartan replied, “Well, then, what’s so impressive about what you’re doing?”
Like their ancestors the Cynics, and like the Spartans, the Stoics greatly valued hardship, albeit it on a more modest or moderate scale. We should, they said, routinely practice poverty or put ourselves through mild hardship, and this for several reasons.
First, to discover what we can do without, and reduce our fear of losing these things. In his Letters, Seneca advises Lucilius: ‘Set yourself a period of some days in which you will be content with very small amounts of food, and the cheapest kinds, and with coarse clothing, and say to yourself, “Is this what I was afraid of?”‘
Second, to be reminded that simple things, such as bread and olive oil, or a good night’s sleep, can be just as enjoyable and profitable as any great banquet, and thus that pleasure is both easily available and highly transferable.
Third, to better reflect upon our true goals, or to work towards them. ‘If you want to have time for your mind’, says Seneca, ‘you must either be poor or resemble the poor… One cannot study without frugality, and frugality is just voluntary poverty.’
Here are six more benefits of self-imposed hardship, according to the Stoics:
To increase our appreciation and enjoyment of the things that we normally enjoy.
To break from our normal routine, and reinvigorate our minds while exercising and reinforcing our freedom.
To be prepared for future hardship, which, unless we are suddenly struck dead, is all but a certainty.
To be convinced that the greater part of our suffering lies not in fact but in our attitude towards it.
To practise self-discipline, or test our Stoicism.
To empathize with less fortunate people, and people from the past.
In addition, self-imposed poverty and hardship can also have more mundane benefits, such as losing weight, or saving time or money.
Finally, all the reasons so far enumerated are themselves a source of pride, and pleasure of a different kind. ‘Do not’ says Marcus Aurelius, ‘lament misfortune. Instead, rejoice that you are the sort of person who can undergo misfortune without letting it upset you.’
Seneca does us the favour of putting self-imposed hardship into radical perspective when he says: ‘Armies have endured being deprived of everything for another person’s domination, so who will hesitate to put up with poverty when the aim is to liberate the mind from fits of madness?’
The emperor Augustus commissioned Virgil to write the Aeneid, which came to be regarded as the national epic of Rome, and Virgil’s finest work. The poem tells the story of Aeneas, the son Venus, goddess of love, by the Trojan prince Anchises, as he flees burning Troy and strives to fulfill his destiny, which, as oft foretold, is to reach Italy and sire the line of the Romans, who will come to rule all the known world.
The most Stoicial passage in the Aeneid is the one known as Creusa’s farewell, which has been used for centuries for emotional education. As the concealed Greek soldiers pour out of the wooden horse, Hector, the fallen Trojan hero, appears to Aeneas in a dream and urges him to flee their beloved Troy. When Aeneas awakens, the city is in flames with fighting and looting in every corner. Aeneas gathers a few men and fights as best he can but loses his companions and witnesses the slaughter of King Priam upon his own altar. He sees Helen hiding and resolves to kill her; but his mother Venus appears and stays his hand, telling him that it is not Helen but the gods who are to blame for the war. Echoing Hector, Venus urges him to flee with his family.
Aeneas repairs to his house, but his father Anchises refuses to leave. The head of his son Ascanius briefly catches fire, and this omen is confirmed by a shooting star, which now not even Anchises can ignore. Aeneas carries his father in his back (as we all do) and leads his son by the hand, while Creusa, his wife, follows closely behind. Once outside the city gates, Aeneas finds that Creusa is no longer with them, and turns back in search of her.
But amid the tumult, and after searching in every place, Aeneas finds only Creusa’s ghost, which speaks to him. Creusa, or her ghost, bids Aeneas not to grieve, for it was the will of the gods that she should die. Death is preferable to being raped, or enslaved to ‘some proud Grecian dame’. She foretells that, after many arduous years of wandering, Aeneas will arrive in Latium to a bride and kingdom, and there restore the Trojan line. She bids him farewell and reminds him that she will live on in their ‘common issue’, Ascanius. As it vanishes, Aeneas tries three times, in vain, to grasp at her spectre.
Creusa is completely accepting of fate, and, although she sees it clearly, does not begrudge her husband his kingdom to come or bride to be. Her detachment and perspective, which enable her to empathize with Aeneas and even to help him along his way, rather than grieve for all that she has lost, are an epitome of Stoicism, and especially of ‘the view from above’.
If we are too absorbed in our life and times, our perspective shrinks, and we become fearful and hopeful and prone to upset. Like readers of tabloid newspapers, we panic or rage at every little thing, rather than being alive in our lives. To achieve Creusa’s greatness of soul, we need to distance ourself from the life that we happen to be leading, and what better way to distance ourself than by seeking to adopt the perspective of Zeus on Olympus and look down from on high onto the world? The reason, maybe, why billionaires are so keen to blast themselves up into space.
Cicero’s Republic has largely been lost, but a part of the final book, called the Dream of Scipio, has survived in a commentary by Macrobius, which rose to prominence in the Middle Ages. The passage describes a dream that the Roman general Scipio Aemilianus is supposed to have had at the outset of the Third Punic War, which culminated in the destruction of Carthage.
In this dream, Scipio Aemilianus is visited by his grandfather-by-adoption, Scipio Africanus, who defeated Hannibal at the outcome of the Second Punic War. The Elder Scipio shows him Carthage, the Earth, and the cosmos from the outer heavens, ‘a place on high, full of stars, and bright and shining.’ Scipio is awed by the music of the spheres, and sees that Rome is only a small part of the Earth, and the Earth a small part of the cosmos, and that it is better to fix our mind on this eternal picture, and to seek out wisdom and virtue, than to bleed and sweat for transient fame and fortune.
In the words of Marcus Aurelius, which are all the more remarkable for coming from an emperor:
Keep in mind how fast things pass by and are gone—those that are now, and those to come. Existence flows past us like a river… Nothing is stable, not even what’s right here. The infinity of past and future gapes before us—a chasm whose depths we cannot see. So it would take an idiot to feel self-importance or distress. Or any indignation, either. As if the things that irritate us lasted.
After centuries of absence, Canary wines are back at the top table.
Canary Wharf, in London, got its name from the landing dock for fruit from the Canary Islands. The name is apt in that the Spanish named the Canaries after the large dogs [Latin, canes] that they found there, and Canary Wharf is on the Isle of Dogs. In 1479, Castille and Portugal ratified the Treaty of Alcáçovas, ceding the Canaries to Castille, and, to Portugal, Madeira, the Azores, and Cape Verde. However, the indigenous Guanches put up a good fight, and it is not until 1496 that Castille, now united with Aragon as Spain, achieved undisputed dominion over the islands.
The Canaries were a necessary port of call in the European settlement of the Americas. As there were then no vineyards on the other side of the Atlantic, large quantities of wine went with the settlers. Many grape varieties in the Canaries were brought from Madeira, and in turn sent to the Americas. Listán Prieto, which has disappeared from Spain, is still cultivated in the Canaries, and corresponds to Pais in Chile, Criolla Chica in Argentina, and Mission in North America. Of the early wines, the most renowned was a sweet, fortified Malvasia known in Elizabethan England as ‘Canary’. Thus, Shakespeare in Henry IV (1598): ‘But, in faith, you have drunk too much canaries, and that’s a marvellous searching wine, and it perfumes the blood…’ When Anglo-Spanish relations soured, so did exports, and the Canaries fell back on dry wines made from other varieties, or Vidueños—which, however, never achieved the same fame. Today, the people of the Canaries tend to overlook the local wines, and many still prefer to drink fruity, semi-sweet vinos afrutados or even Rioja from mainland Spain. The islands churn out a lot of bulk wine for the millions of mainly British and German sunseekers who visit every year. Things began to change from 2006 with the foundation of Suertes del Marqués in Tenerife, which, by adopting a ‘Burgundian’ approach, showed what could be achieved in these fortunate isles. After centuries of absence, Canary wines, albeit in another incarnation, are back at the top table in Britain and America.
The Canaries are a volcanic archipelago that is much closer to the Moroccan coast than to Spain. Situated 500km further south of Madeira, on the 28th parallel, the islands are nearer to the Equator than other fine wine regions, but the cool Canary current, which forms the descending limb of the North Atlantic gyre, moderates temperatures and limits any Saharan influence. Tenerife, the largest of the seven main islands, is surmounted by Mount Teide, which, at 3715m, is the highest peak in Spain, and the third highest active volcano in the world after Hawaii’s Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. Although a mere 2,000 square kilometres in area, Tenerife is like a continent, with the prevailing north-easterly alisios trade winds obstructed by the Teide so that the north of the island, under the ‘sea of clouds’, or mar de nubes, is lush and temperate while the sunny south is semi-desertic. The Teide, which in winter is capped in snow, also creates a large diversity of mesoclimates, and, during a late November stay, I drove from the lunar landscape of the Teide National Park (6 degrees) to the banana plantations of La Orotava (20 degrees) well within the hour.
It gets even more interesting because phylloxera does not seem to take to the Canary Islands. Almost all the vines, some of which are three times centenarian, are ungrafted, and still propagated by layering, leading to a ‘Jurassic Park’ of grape varieties that have largely or entirely disappeared from Europe, and that have begun, in the Canaries, to give rise to indigenous varieties such as Listán Negro, which is a crossing between Listán Blanco and Negramoll. Following years of meticulous research and study, Juan Jesús Méndez of Bodega Viñátigo has led the way in rehabilitating ancestral grape varieties and traditional wine styles. Today, the dominant varieties are Listán Blanco (Palomino Fino) and Listán Negro; other notable varieties include Malvasía Aromática (Malvasía di Lipari), Marmajuelo, Albillo Criollo, and Verdello (Verdelho) for the whites, and Negramoll (Tinta Negra Mole), Vijariego Negro, Baboso Negro (Alfrocheiro), and Listán Prieto for the reds. Across the island, arable land is scarce and expensive, and vineyards, or suertes, are small, rugged, and difficult to work, owing, not least, to traditional training methods such as cordon trenzado, prevalent in Valle de la Orotava, which involves long braids of up to 20m long. Following fruit set, the braids are propped up to keep the grape clusters off the ground, or, alternatively, remain propped up year-round to save on labour. Historically, after the harvest, the braids were swung around to make room for a winter crop of potatoes. Wineries in Tenerife typically buy a lot of their grapes from an ageing population of small growers, and, as their numbers dwindle, many suertes and entire systems of terraces are being abandoned. In total, there are around 3,500ha under vine, spread across 5 DOs (Tacoronte-Acentejo, Valle de la Orotava, Ycoden-Daute-Isora, Valle de Güímar, and Abona), although the distinction between north and south, and producer style, is much more important than that between DOs. There is also a newer Islas Canarias DO (2012) that permits blending across all the islands and strongly divides opinion. Is a DO for marketing, or for saying something significant about a wine? Los Frontones, in the southern DO of Abona, is, at 1700m, the highest vineyard in Europe.
The trio of producers that did most to put Tenerife onto the world wine map are Suertes del Marqués, Envínate, and Borja Perez, which all three emphasise vineyard work against interventionist winemaking to deliver elegant, terroir-driven, ‘volcanic’ wines characterized by low alcohol, structured multiform acidity, and salty minerality. Envínate has four projects on Tenerife: its flagship wines are the Taganan series from old vines in Taganana in the far north of the island (first picture), a place that reminded me a lot of Seixal in Madeira. The vineyards in Taganana are so rugged and remote that the harvest has to be taken out by horse. Other notable wineries include Viñátigo, Tajinaste, and the up-and-coming Tierra Fundida. Altos de Trevejos stands apart for being in the south of the island, working with often very old vines at altitudes of 1300m. With its complex volcanic soils, historical grape varieties, and old ungrafted vines, Tenerife is a paradise for wine lovers as well as sunseekers—although the best wines can be hard to find, especially on the island’s own wine lists.
Cured premiered on PBS on 11 October to coincide with National Coming Out Day. The documentary chronicles the years-long campaign which led the American Psychiatric Association (APA) to remove homosexuality from its manual of mental disorders.
Featuring rich, newly unearthed archival footage and incisive interviews with key players, Cured has already won an award from the American Historical Association. The British Film Institute called it “one of the best documentaries of this or any year.”
The first part made me sick to my stomach. In one scene, shot in 1966, an assembly of children are warned, “If we catch you with a homosexual… the rest of your life will be a living hell.” In another scene, a psychiatrist publicly opines that homosexuals cannot “remain happy for long.”
Homosexuality had once been in the purview of the Church, but people no longer believed so much in sin, and homosexuality came to be rebranded as something more credible for the times. In the first edition of its manual of mental disorders (DSM-I), published in 1952, the APA included homosexuality as a “sociopathic personality disturbance.” In the second edition (DSM-II), published in 1968, it reclassified it as a “sexual deviation.”
By the 1960s, a large majority of Americans believed homosexuality to be a mental illness, and many looked upon gays with varying mixtures of disgust, discomfort, and fear. People who were denounced as homosexual were unable to work as a teacher or judge or civil servant, or even to retain the custody of their children. Most gays had little choice but to remain closeted. Many bought into the narrative that they were mentally defective: some hoped that marriage might cure them; others sought treatment or were coerced into it.
The most common “treatment” at the time was talk therapy, but many gay men and women were subjected to more aggressive interventions such as aversion therapy and electroconvulsive therapy—even, in extremis, castration or lobotomy.
One, now elderly, victim described it as “like a horror movie.”
Small, isolated protests began to take place from 1965, with activists putting their livelihoods and families and friendships on the line. This gay liberation movement began to snowball after the 1969 Stonewall Uprising, in response to an arbitrary police raid in Greenwich Village, New York.
In 1970, activists infiltrated and disrupted the National Convention of the APA. At the 1971 convention, astronomer Frank Kameny demanded that psychiatrists provide scientific evidence for their claim that homosexuality is a mental disorder. In 1972, Dr John Fryer—who, like Kameny, had lost his job after being outed—addressed the convention under strict anonymity, complete with mask and wig and voice-distorting microphone. He began: “I am a homosexual. I am a psychiatrist… What is it like?” Hearts were warming, and minds shifting on the meltwater. In 1973, activist Ronald Gold received a standing ovation for his talk entitled, “Stop it, you’re making me sick!”
In December 1973, the APA board voted unanimously (with two abstentions) to remove homosexuality from the DSM. But psychoanalysts who objected to that move forced the APA to hold a referendum. In 1974, the APA asked its membership to vote on whether to affirm the board’s vote: 5,854 psychiatrists voted in favour, 3,810 against. The APA then compromised, removing homosexuality but replacing it, in effect, with “sexual orientation disturbance” for people “in conflict with” their sexual orientation. Not until 1987 did homosexuality completely drop out of the DSM.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organization in Geneva only removed homosexuality from its International Classification of Diseases (ICD) with the publication of ICD-10 in 1992, although ICD-10 still carried the construct of “ego-dystonic sexual orientation.” In this “condition” the person is not in doubt about his or her sexual orientation, however, “wishes it were different because of associated psychological and behavioural disorders.”
As I discuss in The Meaning of Madness, the evolution of the status of homosexuality in the classifications of mental disorders highlights that concepts of mental disorder can be rapidly evolving social constructs that change as society changes. Today, the standard of psychotherapy in the US and Europe is gay affirmative psychotherapy, which encourages gay people to accept their sexual orientation—although some licensed professionals still conduct so-called “conversion therapy.”
The early successes of the gay liberation movement are not ancient history but well within living memory. Gay marriage has been legal for some years now, but the old notions of sin and mental illness, of guilt and inadequacy, live on in the collective consciousness, including the substance of gay people born long after the 1970s. While the documentary is All-American, there are many countries in which homosexuality remains illegal, in some cases punishable with life imprisonment or even death. In many parts of Africa, conditions for gay people are in fact getting worse. Some important battles have been won but the war is far from over, and this documentary is good ammunition.
I think it’s also worth asking why attitudes to homosexuality, at least in America and Europe, have shifted so far and so fast after centuries of stasis. We flatter ourselves that we are more enlightened and tolerant than our forebears, but progress in one area is often tied to progress in other areas, and it must have helped that gender roles are now less defined and childbearing no longer the imperative it used to be.
But that is not to diminish the achievements of heroic activists like Frank Kameny and John Fryer, who carried the hand of history.
In the U.S., Cured is available to stream for free through November 30 at pbs.org and on the PBS video app. The film is streaming in the UK on Sky and NOW through 2024.
The first advanced civilization of Europe, the Minoans, were already making wine on Crete four thousand years ago. In the second century, Crete was known in Rome and beyond for a sweet wine called protropos. In the Middle Ages, under the Venetians, the sweet Malvasia di Candia (as Crete was then known) was traded far and wide.
Wine production went into decline under the Ottomans, and, until recently, Crete was mostly known for bulk wine. Still today, the island accounts for around a fifth of Greece’s total area under vine. Phylloxera came late, from 1974, and many of the old vines that were lost were replaced with olives or international varieties such as Chardonnay and Syrah. Happily, in recent years a new generation of winemakers have been busy reviving ancient indigenous varieties, and their wines are starting to make a mark on the palate if not yet on the wallet.
Crete is the largest island of Greece, forming the southern boundary of the Aegean Sea. It is about 260 km long and from 15 to 60km wide. The capital Heraklion, on the central northern coast, is more southerly than Tunis, but soaring mountains along the length of the island make for cooler, wetter conditions than might be expected, especially in the western Chania [pronounced ‘Hania’] region. In fact, Crete is a powerhouse of agriculture as well as tourism, and one of the richest regions of Greece.
Most of the vineyards are on the northern side of the mountains, where they are sheltered from the hot Libyan winds and exposed to cooling Aegean and mountain breezes. Unusually for Europe, they tend to face north, like the Cretans themselves, who are strongly attached to Mother Greece. The green and rolling foothills behind Heraklion (pictured) account for over 85% of total production, and include the PDOs of Dafnes, Peza, and Archanes—although, with Crete, it is wise not to get too embroiled with appellations. There is also some quality production in Chania and around Sitia in the east. Soils are predominantly limestone-rich calcareous clay, quite unlike in nearby and volcanic Santorini.
The varieties that are attracting the most interest and enthusiasm are Vidiano and Liatiko, which might be thought of, respectively, as the Cretan Viognier (or Roussanne) and the Cretan Pinot Noir. Vidiano is beginning to eclipse the serviceable Vilana, which had once been encouraged. Liatiko is light and pale and liable to bronzing, but also fresh and floral and haunting. In my limited experience, both Vidiano and Liatiko seem to benefit from a bit of bottle age. The two other notable red varieties, Mandilari and Kotsifali, are often blended, with Kotsifali playing Merlot to Mandilari’s Cabernet Sauvignon—although the wines themselves are more redolent of Northern Rhône crus than of Bordeaux. Indigenous varieties are often blended with international varieties, which is a shame insofar as it obscures their Cretan identity. Another notable variety, native to Chania, is Moscato Spinas, a thin-skinned clone of Muscat Blanc that makes for fresh and elegant wines.
Leading producers include Diamantakis, Doulofakis, Idaia, and Lyrarakis in the centre, Manousakis in the Chania region, and the iconic and idiosyncratic Yiannis Economou near Sitia. Lyrarakis is credited with rescuing three ancient indigenous varieties: Dafni, Plyto, and Melissaki. Dafni, like Portugal’s Loureiro, means ‘laurel’: it is bright and fresh with notes of bayleaf, sage, pine, ginger, quinine, and citrus fruits. Plyto on the other hand seemed to be more about length, structure, and minerality, with high acidity and a saline finish. Lyrarakis’ Voila Assyrtiko, from Sitia, is the best Assyrtiko from outside Santorini and Tinos that I have tasted, and a real bargain to boot.