Divine Fury: A History of Genius by Darrin M. McMahon

By Darrin M. McMahon

Genius. The notice connotes a virtually unworldly energy: the facility to create, to understand common secrets and techniques, even to spoil. As popular highbrow historian Darrin McMahon explains in Divine Fury, the concept that of genius may be traced again to antiquity, whilst males of serious perception have been regarded as instructed via demons. the fashionable notion of genius emerged in stress with a turning out to be trust in human equality; contesting the concept that every one are created equivalent, geniuses served to dramatize the exception of striking participants now not ruled by way of traditional legislation. this day, the belief of genius has turn into cheapened—rock stars and soccer coaches earn the time period with doubtless an identical ease as astrophysicists and philosophers—yet our enduring fascination with it displays the wishes, wishes, and fears of standard people.

The first accomplished heritage of this mysterious but foundational thought, Divine Fury follows the fortunes of genius from Socrates to Napoleon to Einstein and past, interpreting its democratization, disappearance, and capability rebirth.

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30 The Problems is a collection of ruminations on perplexing questions of “science,” such as why some women are bald or some men hairy. ” The assumption and point of departure—that men of eminence across various fields share what we would describe as a common physiological makeup—reflects not only a belief in a natural or inherent disposition to excellence, but also the influence of a broader tradition of medical speculation that was evolving at the same time that Aristotle and his students were active.

But those who coveted the very highest glory were drawn directly to the source, traveling to Alexander’s tomb in the city he had founded in Egypt, Alexandria, as if one might glean his secrets simply by being in the place. Pompey went there, and Julius Caesar, and, most famously of all, Caesar’s grand-nephew and adopted son, Octavian, the future emperor Augustus, who made the journey after defeating his rival, Marc Antony, at the Battle of Actium in 31 BCE and deposing Antony’s consort, the queen Cleopatra.

What was the difference between a poet driven mad by the Muse and a philosopher like Socrates, whose daimonion whispered in his ear? Weren’t they likewise possessed, and so equally dangerous? The question takes on added drama when we bear in mind that one of Socrates’s principal accusers, the Athenian citizen Miletus, was a poet himself. Was Plato simply avenging his master in banishing the bards from the Republic? Or worse, was he committing the very same crime that the rulers of Athens had committed against his beloved teacher, condemning the appeal to a god he could not control?

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