By Diomedes | Robert O'Reilly | 9 Sep 2023




Last weekend I took a two day refresher course in first aid and CPR. It's a requirement for union electricians to keep up to date and review every three years.

At the very beginning of the training the instructor states that it's because of the 'good Samaritan' law, not going into any specifics or its context in the bible. Then he moves on to how we must all ask consent of the injured before giving them aid, if they are conscious, or assume implied consent if they are unconscious.

Now being of a philosophical bent this made me wonder. What would make any of us, if we were the first to come upon the scene of some car crash to hurry in? Why not just call 911 and stand by or walk away and not get our hands bloodied.

As I sat there over many hours listening to the details of triage I pondered whether or not I, a fairly old man (69) would rush in to help the accident victim.

Two shinning scenes from literature came strikingly to mind.

The first is from the Roman playwright Terence, one of the earliest Latin authors we have extent, writing a play called the the 'self tormentor' in 163 BC. It's one of the very first examples of Latin literature. The comparatively crude Romans, having conquered Greece fifty years earlier, were amazed at the advanced culture of the Greeks and starting to admire its arts and literature and decided they wanted plays in their own language and built a theater.

This drama by the young Terence opens with a scene in the countryside where a young man has purchased a small farm and is inspecting his property one morning. Across a low stone wall is an adjoining farm where he sees his new neighbor, an old man, some twenty feet away not noticing him. The old man has stopped in his tracks while plowing his field and is in deep distress. Between sobs he's talking to himself, saying "What am I going to do now? My son has left for the city and won't help me. I'm to old to continue on like this alone. I'm going to loose my farm."

The young man overhears this sad speech and calls to the old man and asks if he can help. The old man surprised by his presence, turns to him and angrily states: "Who are you? This is none of your business. Mind your own plot. This has nothing to do with you."

The young man replies with a single line:

"Homo sum, humani nil a me alienum puto."

This translates exactly as: "I am a man, and nothing human is not my concern."

The Romans were fond of double negatives, so to put it in clearer English he said:

"I am a man and everything human is my business."

This one line, about the tenth in the play, stopped the show. The whole audience stood up and applauded for minutes before it could resume. The fact that this event was recorded by other writers centuries later and has come down to us millennia later shows what a profound impression it had made.

It has the ring to some universal truth to it.

The second sterling example from literature that would impel one to come to a strangers aid is of fairly recent date and touching a far different heart string.

It's from 'a streetcar named desire', and Blanche Dubois, a southern belle fallen upon very hard times, her close family dying in a very short span and close to a nervous breakdown, then losing her job as a teacher and broke and having to go live with her one remaining younger sister Stella in the slums of New Orleans, where Stella's crude husband Stanley resents her and torments all her finer sensitivities and insults all that she once was, breaking her spirit and mind to the ending scene where she is led off to a mental institution by a kindly doctor who treats her as a gentleman and taking her arm gently she utters the line:

"I have always depended upon the kindness of strangers."


Anyone who doesn't know that great literature has a deep and rich humanizing effect on one's soul is missing the very best and noblest emotions in life and I strongly recommend that you remedy that.



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B.A. in Latin and Greek from U.C. Berkley. Writer, Blogger and retired Electrician.

Robert O'Reilly
Robert O'Reilly

I am educated in the Western Classical Tradition, B.A. from U.C. Berkeley in Latin and Greek, English major, one year at U. of Toronto, studied under Alain Renoir and Northrop Frye, read most classics full time for many years after university in French, English, Latin and Greek to the modern day. I am interested in the near future of technology, what changes it imposes upon our heritage and character as humans. Short stories and Essays are my medium.

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