And This Unconquered?

From the opening page of The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut, 1959.

Everyone knows how to find the meaning of life within himself.

But mankind wasn’t always so lucky.  Less than a century ago men and women did not have easy access to the puzzle boxes within them

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They could not name even one of the fifty-three portals to the soul.

Gimcrack religions were big business.

Mankind, ignorant of the truths that lie within every human being, looked outward–pushed ever outward.  What mankind hoped to learn in its outward push was who was actually in charge of all creation, and what all creation was all about.

Mankind flung its advance agents ever outward, ever outward.  Eventually if flung them out into space, into the colorless, tasteless, weightless sea of outwardness without end.

If flung them like stones.

These unhappy agents found what had already been found in abundance on Earth–a nightmare of meaninglessness without end.  The bounties of space, of infinite outwardness, were three: empty heroics, low comedy, and pointless death.

Outwardness lost, at last, its imagined attractions.

Only inwardness remained to be explored.

Only the human soul remained terra incognita.

This was the beginning of goodness and wisdom.

What were the people like in olden times, with their souls yet unexplored?

The following is a true story from the Nightmare Ages, falling roughly, give or take a few years, between the Second World War and the Third Great Depression.

From Kit Marlow’s Tamburlaine the Great, Part II, 1588:

But I perceive my martial strength is spent:
In vain I strive and rail against those powers
That mean t’ invest me in a higher throne,
As much too high for this disdainful earth.
Give me a map; then let me see how much
Is left for me to conquer all the world,
That these, my boys, may finish all my wants.

[One brings a map.]

Here I began to march towards Persia,
Along Armenia and the Caspian Sea,
And thence unto Bithynia, where I took
The Turk and his great empress prisoners.
Then march’d I into Egypt and Arabia;
And here, not far from Alexandria,
Whereas the Terrene and the Red Sea meet,
Being distant less than full a hundred leagues,
I meant to cut a channel to them both,
That men might quickly sail to India.
From thence to Nubia near Borno-lake,
And so along the Aethiopian sea,
Cutting the tropic line of Capricorn,
I conquer’d all as far as Zanzibar.
Then, by the northern part of Africa,
I came at last to Graecia, and from thence
To Asia, where I stay against my will;
Which is from Scythia, where I first began,
Backward[s] and forwards near five thousand leagues.
Look here, my boys; see, what a world of ground
Lies westward from the midst of Cancer’s line
Unto the rising of this earthly globe,
Whereas the sun, declining from our sight,
Begins the day with our Antipodes!
And shall I die, and this unconquered?

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