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Owen Barfield and the Origin of Language

Owen Barfield and the Origin of Language (New)

by Barfield, Owen

Publisher: Rudolf Steiner College Press

Binding: Pamphlet

Book ID: 9780916786427, 0916786420


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Lecture given by Owen Barfield in June 1976, first published in To wards, Vol. I no.2 (June 1978) and Vol. I no 3 (December 1978).

Aristotle once admonished his hearers to “call no man happy until he is dead.” When people hear that I think they generally assume that it was simply a piece of ordinary pessimism, signifying that it is better to be dead than alive. That is not actually what he meant. In the original context he was trying to define the meaning of the word “happiness,” happiness meaning not just a state of mind which you enjoy for an hour or two, or a day or two, but something that applies to a whole life. Perhaps the word “blessedness” would be more appropriate. Because it applies only to a whole life, you could only really decide whether a man is happy or not after he is dead. Well, I mention that because it occurred to me that, if Aristotle had been asked about the choice of a human subject for a biographical lecture he might very well have laid down the same rule; and I notice that the sponsors of this series, in all the other lectures, have observed that rule inasmuch as all the other subjects have completed their lives. There is another difference, and it is one that involves a certain amount of embarrassment. In every other case the subject of the lecture was one person, the lecturer another. Here they are both one and the same human being. That does arouse a certain element of embarrassment, and I have come to the conclusion that I can mitigate it a little by following the previous lecturers in the practice of referring to the Subject in the third person. I hope you will approve.

It happens that the actual moment when the Subject of this lecture was first made aware that it is possible to enjoy language as such -- the very nature of language -- can be identified very precisely. The scene is a school-room in the few minutes before the master comes in to take a lesson in Latin syntax . . . 19 pages.

Owen Barfield (1898-1997) was a British philosopher and member of the Inklings, a group that included C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and J. R. R. Tolkien. Author of several books including A History in English Words, Barfield contributed ideas on language and myth to the Inklings.

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