What’s the whole thing about the widow in Zorba the Greek?

Depends what whole thing you’re asking about.

The village widow comes up again in Kazantzakis’ Christ Recrucified, as the stand-in for Mary Magdalen: in traditional Greek society, a young widow was the only available sexual outlet for men—unmarried women were guarded by their fathers, married women by their husbands. So lots of barely repressed stuff there with the author.

The figure of Madam Hortense in Zorba is portrayed with indulgence and sympathy, as a sexual figure (as women often are in the novels), but also as a misfit, a stranger stuck in Greek traditional society. Certainly with a lot more sympathy than others. Captain Michael has a standin for Kazantzakis bring his Jewish wife back home to Crete, and the ghost of the grandfather tormenting her to her death. I think of Kazantzakis himself, flirting with Jewish women in Berlin in his 40s (“liebe Genossin”), and feel like retching.

That’s two “what’s the whole thing”s, but I’ll add if you get more specific, OP, and if I remember.

What might future languages look like?

One of the foundational assumptions of Historical Linguistics is Uniformitarianism. We assume that, after the initial period of the evolution of language, Language is going to look the same as a structure, no matter if it’s 5000 years ago or 5000 years from now—because language is determined as a human faculty, and humans have not essentially changed biologically. So long as human brains are the same, and the human vocal tract is the same, language will be more of the same.

In fact, even if you take the human vocal tract out of the equation, language is still pretty much the same. One of the more gratifying conclusions from the study of sign languages is that Cherology is not essentially different to phonology. Which is in fact why we no longer use the term cherology.

Now, if the robots take over, the singularity hits and we get plugged into the Matrix, we all drown, or we all nuke each other, all bets are off. But so long as humans remain identifiably human, and live in recognisably human societies, there’s no reason to think that future languages will look substantially different to our current languages, any more than preliterate languages look substantially different to literary languages.

There’ll be bits that are different, sure. Different fads in discourse organisation. Different semantic fields in vocabulary. Different metaphors. Different extents of linguistic diversity, maybe (though dialects are certainly far from dead; they’re just organised along different distributions now). But there will still be anaphors, and word orders, and sandhi, and coarticulation, and synonyms, and presuppositions, and inflections, and tenses. The core of language as a system will remain recognisable.

Answered 2016-12-06 · Upvoted by

Logan R. Kearsley, MA in Linguistics from BYU, 8 years working in research for language pedagogy. and

Steve Rapaport, Linguistics PhD candidate at Edinburgh. Has lived in USA, Sweden, Italy, UK.

What did Cormac Mccarthy mean by: “There is no God and we are his prophets.”?

Don’t even know who the chap is, but don’t need to, it’s pretty obvious.

This is a parody of the Islamic profession of faith, There is no God but Allah, but Muhammad is His Prophet. As His Prophet, Muhammad systematised and presented to the community the understanding of the divine that is Islam. Muhammad conveyed from Allah an understanding of the divine, through the Quran.

Mccarthy’s statement is:

  • There is no God [at all]: i.e., Atheism
  • We are his prophets: instead of Muhammad, each of us constructs our own understanding of the divine (acts as a Prophet), because that understanding is ultimately a response to human concerns, and not a revelation from beyond.

What are some aspects of famous Quorans that you dislike?

Ahah! An opportunity to complain about Quora Celebrities! Which I’m not! I’m, what, tier #3 out of #4?

Surprised I haven’t found this already asked elsewhere. Though, of course, Quora Search.

There are frequent recurring complaints about Tier #1 writers, those with follower counts in the tens or hundreds of thousands. They are why I make a point of not following them, and have limited interaction with them. They are not intrinsic personality flaws: they are partly Quora Celebrities being the victims of their success (overloaded in Quora traffic), and partly Quora Celebrities being the victims of being the kinds of personalities that end up being followed by hundreds of thousands.

Just a list in no particular order, and with no particular referents. (OK, some of them I have some people in mind, but this is not meant for character assassination.)

  • Soapboxing
  • Superciliousness
  • Superficiality
  • Surfeit of Upvotes
  • Instablocking
  • Ignoring Interaction
  • Intransigence
  • Irascibility
  • and: Cliquishness
    • Yes, we Tier #2 and #3 people do it too. But we don’t have an official Facebook forum for it.

EDIT: I am hereby adopting Eric Villines’ taxonomy, which is nicely refined: Eric Villines’ answer to What are the different “tiers” of Quora writers (related to number of views)? I am talking about his Tier #6.

To summarise (with my descriptors):

  • Tier 1: lurkers. 0 followers.
  • Tier 2: occasional users. <10 followers. 10–1k views/month.
  • Tier 3: regular users. 10–20 followers. 1–10k views/month.
  • Tier 4: serious users. 20–1k followers. 10k–100k views/month.
  • Tier 5: popular/addicted users. 1k–10k followers. 100k–1M views/month.
  • Tier 6: superstars. 10k+ followers, 1M+ views.

Under this taxonomy, everyone I choose to associate with is #3–#5, and my big change in Quora behaviour was when I started to associate with #5, fairly recently. The famous people described in this answer are #6. I am #4, and will hit #5 on current trends next year.

Why is Christianity obsessed with sexuality?

The cumulative effect of the following:

  • Patriarchy, and its concern to control fertility and access to fertile women as tribal commodities.
  • The concern of archaic Judaism to associate fertility with religious identity (circumcision).
  • The dismissal of bodily desire as more base than spiritual pursuits, to be regulated (already present in both Judaism and several strands of Greek philosophy).
  • The emergence of asceticism in some branches of Judaism.
  • The presence of some ascetic preoccupations, and concerns over temptation, in the preaching of Jesus of Nazareth.
  • The severe discomfort with sexuality and the physical world in general of Paul.
  • The rejection of libertine sexuality associated with paganism (already in place in the injunction to Gentile Christians to abstain from fornication and blood sacrifices, if they weren’t going to get circumcised).
  • The continued discomfort with sexuality and preoccupation with abstinence of most Church Fathers.
  • The asceticism of both the Eastern Desert Fathers, and of Jerome who joined them.
  • The more intellectual yet even more pessimistic outlook on humanity of Augustine.

Who were the least saintly saints?

Cyril of Alexandria.

Patriarch of Alexandria. Doctor of the Church. Founder of Mariology, and formulator of the concept of the Mother of God. Establisher of Miaphysitism, the distinct belief of the Oriental Orthodox Church; yet his formulation was also foundational to the Chalcedonian Christianity of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church.

Even if you don’t hold him directly responsible for the lynching of Hypatia, St Cyril was a street thug in a long line of street thug Patriarchs of Alexandria, with monks as his shock troops—and heretics, Jews, pagans, and any Christian who crossed him as his target. Most of his contemporaries recoiled from him; the church historian of the time, Socrates of Constantinople, does not have much nice to say of him.

A couple of decades ago, his collected works were accidentally deleted at the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, on the old Ibycus system before my time; the grad student ran in exclaiming “I’ve deleted Cyril! I’ve deleted Cyril!”

That’s not much of a revenge against Hypatia (especially once the backups were restored). But it’ll have to do.

What is your very first memory?

Originally Answered:

What is your first memory?

I remember remembering my earliest memory. I don’t remember it, but I remember remembering it.

I remember remembering being photographed, and thinking how tight my pants were. The photo is with my sister, and I must have been 3 or 4. It’s at my parents’; I should get it some time and scan it in.

Yes, I was chubby.

What is the biggest atrocity you have seen committed against books?

Yeah, when I was an undergrad, someone did a conceptual art thingy, involving nailing books into the lawn. And students had the kind of anguish that McKayla Kennedy spoke of in her Pinterest answer. And rescued the books; I got a Ulysses out of it.

The books were going to be pulped by the publishers anyway, as surplus; they were released for the conceptual art thingy on the understanding noone would rescue them.

Was that the biggest atrocity?


McKayla rightly identifies that a conceptual art thingy is worse than burning a book. Burning a book recognises its power. An art piece?

They don’t care what they’re doing to the poor things, all that matters is how it looks.

There’s worse than that though, McKayla. Even that, at least, is a symbolic acknowledgement of the book; it fetishises it as a symbol.

You know what’s worse?

Whenever I step back in the university library. And I see students, one after the other, on their laptops and on the remaining desktops. Checking Facebook, or eating lunch, or Googling, or studying PDFs.

And not one of the bastards paying any attention to what’s sitting on the shelves.

There’s worse things still than fetishing a book.

There’s being utterly oblivious to them. Within the temple once consecrated to them.

What inspires you to write on Quora?

I’ll of course overlap with others, but that’s to be expected, and it’s a Survey Question anyway.

Let me break this down into what motivates me and what triggers me.


  • Interacting with clever and/or (usually and) lovely people that I respect.
  • Learning about stuff I’m interested in. On occasion, that I didn’t even know I was interested in.
  • Adulation.
  • Sharing niche stuff I know quite well about.
  • Reasoning about stuff I don’t know well at all, but arriving at an intellectually satisfying conclusion, based on Wikipedia and my powers of inference. That is truly one of the highlights for me.
  • Writing well-crafted prose. Or hilarious prose. Or touching prose. (Only succumbed to writing verse here once so far.)
  • Adulation.
  • Feedback. Can I get more feedback, people? Even if it isn’t adulation?
    • Don’t mind the adulation either, though.


  • An intriguing question on subject matter close to me, that I know all about. Often in a pet topic. You know the ones.
  • An even more intriguing question, on subject matter that is not necessarily close to me, but that I know enough about to think through.
  • An A2A on something that might not be intriguing at all, but that I can have fun with anyway. That includes an awful lot of survey questions.
  • A question well answered by a fellow Quoran, where I have something to add to their answer (and that warrants a bit more than a comment). If my answer is going to be supplemental to theirs, I’ve lately taken to writing “Vote #1 That Quoran”: I’ve got a following by now, and I can get more upvotes than their original answer even if I’m just a clueless outsider.
  • A question that has so far been answered by a bunch of people, stupidly. (Is stupidly too harsh? Unreflectively, reflexively, superficially.) It’s good to think “no, you haven’t got it at all”, crack my knuckles, and get to setting the record straight.
  • A good discussion in comments, that raises a new question. Sometimes, I might A2A myself as a result.

Is it a problem that Quora is fairly self-contained?

I find the respondents’ reactions to date odd; but then again, I wasn’t attracted to Quora because it was a walled garden. I’m grateful that the stuff I write on Quora gets higher ranking in Google than what I’ve written outside Quora, and I’m annoyed that outsiders have to jump through hoops to get to it.

I’m more of an old school internet person, and I agree with those who think walled gardens compromise the integrity and the usefulness of the web. Hyperlinks are the point of it. Hyperlinks in, and hyperlinks out, and the free flow of information in between.

And the biggest annoyance about Quora being a walled garden? I’m not convinced it’ll be around in five years. And archive.org has no reach into it. Everything we do and are is a sand mandala; but walled gardens are that much more perishable. And that much less impactful.