Standing on The Shoulders of Titans

Cedalion standing on the shoulders of Orion from Blind Orion Searching for the Rising Sun by Nicolas Poussin, 1658, Oil on canvas; 46 7/8 x 72 in. (119.1 x 182.9 cm), Metropolitan Museum of Art

The metaphor of dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants (Latin: nanos gigantum humeris insidentes) expresses the meaning of “discovering truth by building on previous discoveries”. While it can be traced to at least the 12th century, attributed to Bernard of Chartres, its most familiar expression in English is found in a 1676 letter of Isaac Newton:

More details This picture is derived from Greek mythology, where the blind giant Orion carried his servant Cedalion on his shoulders.

In ‘Women Who Run With The Wolves’ Clarissa Pinkola Estes shares a numinous dream in which she finds ‘someone patting (her) foot in encouragement’. When she looked down she saw that she was “standing on the shoulders of an old woman who was steadying her ankles and smiling up” at her. In the dream Estes protested that it was her who should support the older woman on her shoulders but the old woman insisted that this was “how it is meant to be”. It turned out that the old woman was standing on the shoulders of an even older woman who was standing on the shoulders of… and so the line continued.

Modern story tellers are, as recent articles about the long history of Fairy Tales testify, “descendants of a very long line of people, troubadours, bards, griots, cantors, traveling poets, bums, hags and crazy people.”

Story is  very old art. It is good to stop and do a stock take of just whose shoulders you are standing upon, to take the time to express gratitude to those who have, through their work, nurtured your creativity.

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2 responses

  1. My apologies for taking so long to reply to this wonderful post. My old dog gave us a quite a scare. Thought I was going to have to say good bye to my old girl, but she rallied, and now here I am on the subject of gratitude.

    Well, Madame Muse, Heather Blakey her own self is at the top of the list in bold, gold print as my main Word Nutritionist for the last 15 years! There are two others, teachers as well, Tedd Reed and Donna Carpenter (may she RIP), who have carried and challenged me all along these years. Beyond that? There are my fellow Ravens met at the Soul Food Cafe built by the inimitable Mrs. Blakey.

    On a regular basis, I owe Kerry Scherer nee Vincent, also an original Soul Foodie, pearls and gold for giving me cause to write on a daily basis, even if they are ridiculously long emails to her that are metaphors so elongated I could print the pages out and lay them end to end the length of my driveway. She grants me daily audience encouraging me to keep going, little by little, as both a fellow visual artist and a writer herself. She helps me to know what words I send her way to save in my notes to go into the “whole” – into the serious writing projects – and which are sent along simply to keep my fingers nimble.

    The bottom line is that this river or words that continues to flow through my life and those inspiring souls who float along upon her can be traced back to the nourishing waters of M. Muse, Heather Blakey.

    I am hesitant to name names because I know I’m going to accidentally fail to mention some very important people. I’m terrible with names, for one things, and for some reason even more forgetful of the names of people I’ve known for a very long time. Anita Moscoso? Spelled correctly? Is a great writer, and a great encouragement. She is a very clever writer who writes…not “horror fiction” exactly…but it is certainly a type of “nightmare” or “creepy” writing (please forgive me for not having the correct genre title for it, Anita!) As a survivor of night terrors and nightmares I admit it’s not my favourite genre, understandably, but damn does she do it well!!!

    And so I cannot quit. No matter what. Too many of my peers are still going and I can’t bear to be left behind, and too many have given me too much support for me to waste it.

  2. Thank you Stephie! It has been a long, fruitful association. These words mean a lot to me!

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