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Stultitia, or an Essay on Stupidity

Stultitia. Which is Latin, gentle reader, for “stupidity”.

It is August 1975, and our friend George Pappas is taking Mickey and your humble servant to dinner at a nice taverna in downtown Athens. The three of us have just graduated the summer program in Modern Greek at IMKhA up north in Salonica. I am a first-year grad student in Armenian studies at Oxford, Mickey is a nice British Jewish boy majoring in Serbo-Croatian at Birmingham University, and George is a Greek-American from New Jersey who’s living in retirement in the city of Aeschylus and Socrates.

The three of us are seated in a taxi and the driver’s knuckles are getting steadily whiter on the steering wheel as he barrels much too fast through the chaotic traffic of the Hellenic capital: George is recounting the events of two years ago and his explanation of them is evidently annoying our charioteer. In 1973 the fascist military junta was still in power, and the students at the Athens Polytechnic were demonstrating against it. The colonels sent in the army and it was a bloodbath. “Why are the soldiers killing those boys and girls, Uncle George?” asked his visiting niece as they observed the mayhem from a safe distance. “Because they [the soldiers] are stupid, darling,” Uncle George patiently explained. The colonels and their dogs were doubtless also ignorant, bigoted, and wicked. But it was Stultitia who brought those other virtues into harmonious accord; and it was the Renaissance scholar Erasmus’ satire “The Praise of Folly” that secured Stupidity, ennobled with her Latin name, a seat on Olympus as a goddess.

The driver (“We are not amused!”) gruffly refused a tip, and Mickey and I, who had not eaten much that week, inhaled rather than merely ate the delicious stew to which George, bless him, treated us at the restaurant. Later on that night, Mickey and I sat in a café on Syntagmatos (Constitution Square) till closing time and regaled each other with accounts of our obscure, absurd, visionary dreams. I still remember one of his: An enormous bird waddled over to him and remarked companionably, “You can get quite a good half-cup of tea over there.”

One was reminded of Stultitia and her importance in human affairs when an irate reader from Poland of this august newspaper considered these lines in a recent article of mine published here in The Times of Israel: “Christianity became the dominant faith of the Roman Empire over the course of the fourth century: in his writings, St. John Chrysostom castigated the synagogues as satanic dens frequented by actors and homosexuals (which actually sounds kind of fun), and the Pauline Christian church was anti-Semitic in a way that the Jerusalem Church of James and Peter, which it superseded, had not been.” A staid, even turgid observation, one might think. But no! Outraged, the man penned this eloquent note: “‘Satanic dens frequented by actors and homosexuals (sounds actually fun)’ you start the article as if you yourself are a Jew and start the article by fetishizing about satanic homosexuals?! Why is a satanic homosexual such as yourself writing articles for a Jerusalem news page? Who on earth put something like you in such a position?”

Remarkable!  Erasmus’ goddess would no doubt be gratified by the gentleman’s dedication to her, and by his deft employment of her favored rhetorical device of non sequitur. Stultitia triumphant. But perhaps it is time for a candid confession: We satanic homosexuals actually aspire to world domination, and you can read all about it in our mission statement, Protocols of the Elders of Zion. As for our synagogues, it’s a non-stop orgy, let me tell you. Hey, wanna copy of the Tanya? I can sell it to you in a plain brown paper wrapping. And who appointed me? Well it was my fellow Martians, of course. We’ve been on your planet for years, infiltrating your society “in every walk of life”— as Jack Nicholson puts it in the movie “Easy Rider”. This essay itself is all an encoded message to my reptilian, extraterrestrial fellow conspirators. Oops. I forgot what it was I wanted to tell them. Stultitia again.

Seriously, ladies and gentlemen, my wrathful interlocutor put me in mind of an important factor that seems to have been overlooked in attempts to explain why things are the way they are now. Why are the BBC, the faculty and students of Harvard, Columbia, and other places calling for Israel to be wiped out? Why is Colombia severing relations with Israel? (Maybe it’s because Israel doesn’t buy enough cocaine? Just saying.) Why is Turkey cutting trade ties? Why am I getting hate mail from a bigot half a world away? Why do the wicked flourish, O Lord? Why?

Yes, anti-Semitism is hard-wired into both Christian theology (cf. John Chrysostom) and Islam. Yes, the Jews are the coal miner’s canary, the first to smell that something in the air is wrong. Yes, the anti-colonial ideology of leftist academia is a distortion ab initio and is easily manipulated. Yes, anti-Semites and bigots are just plain no good. Yes to all those considerations.

But as it seems to me, a modest spokesperson for the satanic homosexual cabal, we must give plain old stupidity its due. Dubious pride of place belongs to Stultitia. As my old teacher Nina Georgievna used to say, Si on est mort, c’est pour lointain; si on est bête, c’est pour toujours.

Why do they hate us? “Because they are stupid, darling.”

About the Author
Born New York City to Sephardic Mom and Ashkenazic Dad, educated at Bronx Science HS, Columbia, Oxford, SOAS (Univ. of London), professor of ancient Iranian at Columbia, of Armenian at Harvard, lectured on Jewish studies where now live in retirement: Fresno, California. Published many books & scholarly articles. Belong to Chabad.