Of Knowledge and Shoes
Institutional Communication Service
28 February 2021
"For the mind does not require filling like a bottle, but rather, like wood, a spark to kindle an ardent desire for the truth." Taking our cue from Plutarch's words (Moralia, On Listening to Lectures), we continue our journey through USI's knowledge lab on the occasion of the University's 25th anniversary. We do so with a literally "fabulous" reflection on knowledge, learning and teaching by the Pro-rector for Education and Students' Experience, Prof. Lorenzo Cantoni.
The miller in Puss in Boots bequeathed his children a mill, a donkey and a cat. The third one, apparently the unluckiest, will marry the princess and become king. Only the ability to know, our spiritual dimension, allows us to grow far beyond our material condition. Only by nurturing the cat within us can we grow as human beings and go past mills - material possessions - and donkeys: the physical dimension of life.
The cat wore a pair of boots - hence the name of the fairy tale in French and Italian - but it also had a Master: it was a Master Cat...
Cinderella nurtured her ability to make acquaintances and relate to other people in a friendly and sympathetic way, even at the cost of being humiliated and sleeping on the floor by the fireplace. Her inner wealth found external expression in the clothes that the fairy godmother gave her. And above all in her shoes: whether they were golden as suggested by the Brothers Grimm, or made of glass, as in Charles Perrault's version, or maybe crystal, as in Walt Disney's film. Thanks to her shoes, she could touch the ground and at the same time move lightly at the dance (in Latin, we would say: Nihil est in intellectu quod non prius fuerit in sensu).
And it was thanks to a shoe that she was re-cognised.
Snow White's Queen-stepmother, instead of seeking self-knowledge and the knowledge of the world (γνῶθι σαυτόν would have been said in Greek), questioned the mirror only to confirm her vanity and arrogance, her will to kill whoever could cast a shadow on her. Several times she tried to kill Snow White but in vain. It was not a desire for knowledge but an anxious and irritated curiosity that drove her to the young queen's wedding whom the mirror had revealed to be thousand times more beautiful than she was: Snow White. Incapable of having a relationship with the earth and sky, the Evil Queen's end was marked by two scorching shoes .
Pinocchio did not need shoes when, as soon as he was rough-hewn, he ran away from Geppetto and "jumped about like a hare, and beating his wooden feet on the pavement, he made a noise like twenty pairs of peasant clogs". He was caught by a carabiniere and returned "into Geppetto's own hands, who gave him a good earful right away. But imagine how he felt when, while looking for his ears, he was unable to find them: and do you know why? Because, in the frenzy of sculpting him, he had forgotten to make them".
When the puppet learned to listen, he became a human being. He was no longer a chunk of wood that needs roots but became the only tree with roots in heaven, as Plato teaches in Timaeus.
Here then is the purpose of teaching and learning: to know, in a genuine, humble, good and beautiful way. And this also gives joy:
"light of the intellect, light filled with love,
love of true good, love filled with happiness,
a happiness surpassing every sweetness.".
(Dante Alighieri, Divine Comedy, Paradiso XXX, 40-42).
 „Aber es waren schon eiserne Pantoffeln über das Kohlenfeuer gestellt worden. Sie wurden mit Zangen hereingetragen und vor sie hingestellt. Da musste sie in die rotglühenden Schuhe treten und so lange tanzen, bis sie tot zur Erde fiel“.
#USI25 #shapingknowledge #knowledgelab #sparks
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