The Secret History - by Donna Tartt

His students – if they were any mark of his tutelage – were imposing enough, and different as they all were they shared a certain coolness, a cruel, mannered charm which was not modern in the least but had a strange cold breath of the ancient world: they were magnificent creatures, such eyes, such hands, such looks – sic oculos, sic ille manus, sic ora ferebat. I envied them, and found them attractive; moreover this strange quality, far from being natural, gave every indication of having been intensely cultivated.

'It's a temptation for any intelligent person, and especially for perfectionists such as the ancients and ourselves, to try to murder the primitive, emotive, appetitive self. But that is a mistake.' 'Why?' said Francis, leaning slightly forward. Julian arched an eyebrow; his long, wise nose gave his profile a forward tilt, like an Etruscan in a bas-relief. 'Because it is dangerous to ignore the existence of the irrational. The more cultivated a person is, the more intelligent, the more repressed, then the more he needs some method of channeling the primitive impulses he's worked so hard to subdue. Otherwise those powerful old forces will mass and strengthen until they are violent enough to break free, more violent for the delay, often strong enough to sweep the will away entirely. For a warning of what happens in the absence of such a pressure valve, we have the example of the Romans.

All my life, people have taken my shyness for sullenness, snobbery, bad temper of one sort or another. 'Stop looking so superior!' my father sometimes used to shout at me when I was eating, watching television, or otherwise minding my own business. But this facial cast of mine (that's what I think it is, really, a way my mouth has of turning down at the corners, it has little to do with my actual moods) has worked as often to my favor as to my disadvantage. Months after I got to know the five of them, I found to my surprise that at the start they'd been nearly as bewildered by me as I by them. It never occurred to me that my behavior could seem to them anything but awkward and provincial, certainly not that it would appear as enigmatic as it in fact did; why, they eventually asked me, hadn't I told anyone anything about myself?

'When you're worried about something,' said Henry abruptly, 'have you ever tried thinking in a different language?' 'What?' It slows you down. Keeps your thoughts from running wild. A good discipline in any circumstance. Or you might try doing what the Buddhists do.' 'What?' 'In the practice of Zen there is an exercise called zazen similar, I think, to the Theravadic practice of vipassana. One sits facing a blank wall. No matter the emotion one feels, no matter how strong or violent, one remains motionless. Facing the wall. The discipline, of course, is in continuing to sit.'

Forgive me, for all the things I did but mostly for the ones that I did not. Mais, vrai, j'ai trop pleure! Les aubes sont navrantes. What a sad and beautiful line that is. I'd always hoped that someday I'd have the chance to use it. And maybe the dawns will be less harrowing in that country for which I shortly depart. Then again, the Athenians think death to be merely sleep. Soon I will know for myself.