Near the beginning of his De Rerum Natura, Lucretius predicts that Mount Etna will again erupt — “ad caelumque ferat flammai fulgura rursum.” The old classics hand, believing that he is dealing with the eccentricities of a poet, will take this as a colourful way to describe a volcano vomiting forth.

But “fulgura” here refers to lightning, so that if the passage is properly translated, lightning will be thrown into the sky.

This is not a poetic metaphor. It is a description that is scientifically exact. The lightning is generated in the heart of the volcano, and thus shoots upward. We aren’t reading what it looks like, but what it is.

Scientists — for instance, a knowing Epicurean like Lucretius — can grasp this. Literature professors might grasp it as well, I suppose, though they tend not to. And, journalists … know less than anybody. In reading the classics, with attention, and perhaps a dictionary, one acquires some respect for the ancients.


Afghans similarly. They have had a most unfortunate reputation through most of my adult life, … as psychopathic killers. Yet when I travelled, fairly extensively in that country, as a youth, I saw no sign of this. There were several mostly unrelated regions of Afghanistan, yet there was only one district in one region (Baluchistan) that I felt uncomfortable visiting, to the point of unsafe.

In those days, Afghanistan had not yet been invaded by the Soviets; let alone by Americans and the combined forces of NATO. She had a king. She was surprisingly independent, and ridiculously poor, but was mastering the art of begging from the world’s competing suppliers of foreign aid.

This was unwise. It is sufficient to be poor: the powers will most likely leave you alone in that case.

But the Afghans, especially the overly proud Pashtoons, had the settled habit of gunning down unwelcome intruders. This is not as mad as the world assumes, for it usually discourages their entry.

Granted, Afghans were, in the main, infidels; but when not being invaded, they were generous and hospitable, lively and charming peoples, almost to a fault. Also, some of them good dancers.

The libels told against them are appalling. The Taliban are a small part of the population, though enthusiastically armed, and manly. Their native, foreign-equipped defence forces, against this Taliban, were useful, before the United States Congress decided to cut them off supplies, repeating the crime they had committed at the end of the Vietnam War.

Unlike Afghans, it appears that Americans are easily defeated. Patience and time are all that is needful. They panic and surrender, when they hold all the cards — for instance, surrendering the immense, quite defensible, Bagram Airfield, which they still had a use for, if they were going to ship Americans out. Many other decisions, in which their advantages were relinquished, leave an unfortunate impression of sub-normal intelligence.

More significantly, they announce to the world that they are untrustworthy and unreliable. I am puzzled by such behaviour. A sovereign nation tries generally to avoid this.

They need science, and poets. Also manliness. They have soldiers and aeroplanes enough.