Summary of Know Then Thyself

This extract ‘Know Then Thyself’ taken from An Essay on Man: Epistle II written by Alexander Pope argues that human beings should learn to look at themselves and try to learn about their own nature, power, limitations, and weakness. It is a plea to look inward to gather knowledge about oneself. It is in fact a scientific inquire propagated by enlightenment.

The poet says that man should know himself. The proper study of mankind is the man himself. He should not try to scan the ways of God. The mysteries of God are beyond the scope of human intellect. Therefore, a man should concentrate on his own study. In the third line, the poet says that man is a curious paradox. He stands on the isthmus between divinity and animality. He has in him the elements of a God and a beast as well. He is a mixture of the opposite. He is wise (intelligent) and has a lot of knowledge but still, there are a lot of things of which he is ignorant. He is crude as well as civilized. In other words pope considers man a great riddle.

Man has a great deal of knowledge yet he remains sceptic (a sceptic is a person who is full of doubts and can’t be called enlightened. he has great power over material things but he is a slave of his own passion. So he is too weak to be called stoic (stoic is a person who remains unaffected by any emotions like pain, suffering, happiness etc. Man every remains in a state of uncertainty. According to the poet, a man hangs in doubt whether he should lead a life of action or of rest. He doesn’t know whether he should consider himself a god or a beast. Man is indeed a big riddle.

The poet says that man always remains in a state of uncertainly. He is not able to decide whether he should give preference to his body or his mind. He doesn’t know which of the two is more important.

Another enigma about man is that he is born only to die. The end of the man’s life is death. Birth and death are two extremes. He becomes intelligent but intelligence is followed by errors. Logic and errors are another set of extremes but all these extremes coexist. Whether he should think too much or too little, it’s a big question before man because his reasoning is always imperfect.

Explanations

1. Reference To The Context

Know then thyself, presume not God to scan;
The proper study of mankind is man.
Plac’d on this isthmus of a middle state,
A being darkly wise, and rudely great:

Explanation-In these lines poet says that man should know himself. The proper study of mankind is the man himself. He should not try to scan the ways of God. The mysteries of God are beyond the scope of human intellect. Therefore, a man should concentrate on his own study. In the third line, the poet says that man is a curious paradox. He stands on the isthmus between divinity and animality. He has in him the elements of a God and a beast as well. He is a mixture of the opposite. He is wise (intelligent) and has a lot of knowledge but still, there are a lot of things of which he is ignorant. He is crude as well as civilized. In other words pope considers man a great ride.

2. Reference to the Context

With too much knowledge for the sceptic side,
With too much weakness for the stoic’s pride,
He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest;
In doubt to deem himself a god, or beast;

Explanation-Man has a great deal of knowledge yet he remains sceptic (a sceptic is a person who is full of doubts and can’t be called enlightened. he has great power over material things but he is a slave of his own passion. So he is too weak to be called stoic (stoic is a person who remains unaffected by any emotions like pain, suffering, happiness etc). Man every remains in a state of uncertainty. According to the poet, a man hangs in doubt whether he should lead a life of action or of rest. He doesn’t know whether he should consider himself a god or a beast. Man is indeed a big riddle. In doubt his mind or body to prefer;

Born but to die, and reas’ning but to err;

Alike in ignorance, his reason such,

Whether he thinks too little, or too much:

Explanation– The poet says that man always remains in a state of uncertainly. He is not able to decide whether he should give preference to his body or his mind. He doesn’t know which of the two is more important. Another enigma about man is that he is born only to die. The end of the man’s life is death. Birth and death are two extremes. He becomes intelligent but intelligence is followed by errors. Logic and errors ae another set of extremes but all these extremes coexist. Whether he should think too much or too little, it’s a big question before man because his reasoning is always imperfect.

3. Reference to the Context

Chaos of thought and passion, all confus’d;

Still by himself abus’d, or disabus’d;

Created half to rise, and a half to fall;

Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;

Explanation– Man is a chaos of thought and passion. Sometimes his mind dominates and sometimes heart. He is not able to decide whether he should be proud of that is born as a man or he should abuse himself for this. He is a mixture of opposites. He is created half to rise and half to fell. In other words, he is half animal and half-divine. His divine qualities lift him upwards but his animal qualities debase him. Man is a great lord of all things. He has mastered material things but the paradox is that he has become prey of all things.

Sole judge of truth, in endless error hurl’d:

The glory, jest, and riddle of the world!

Explanation– His is only judge of truth on this earth. He decides what is good and bad but his own life is a history of errors. Sometimes he performs deeds worthy of time. At other time his actions are worthy of shame. Man is indeed an enigma. Poet has rightly called him, the glory, jest, and riddle of the world.

Explain the following stanza with reference to the context

1. Chaos of thought and passion, all confus’d;

Still by himself abus’d, or disabus’d;

Created half to rise, and a half to fall;

Great lord of all things, yet a prey to all;

Reference– These lines have been taken from the poem ‘Know Thy Themselves’ written by Alexander Pope. This poem is an extract from his long poem ‘An Essay on Man’. In this poem, the poet emphasizes that the proper study of mankind is the man himself.

Explanation– Man is a chaos of thought and passion. Sometimes his mind dominates and sometimes heart. He is not able to decide whether he should be proud of that is born as a man or he should abuse himself for this. He is a mixture of opposites. He is created half to rise and half to fell. In other words, he is half animal and half-divine. His divine qualities lift him upwards but his animal qualities debase him.

Man is a great lord of all things. He has mastered material things but the paradox is that he has become prey of all things.

2. With too much knowledge for the sceptic side,

With too much weakness for the stoic’s pride,

He hangs between; in doubt to act, or rest;

In doubt to deem himself a god, or beast

Reference– These lines have been taken from the poem ‘Know Thy Themselves’, written by Alexander Pope. This poem is an extract from his long poem ‘An Essay on Man’. In this poem, the poet emphasizes that the proper study of mankind is the man himself.

Explanation-Man has a great deal of knowledge yet he remains sceptic (a sceptic is a person who is full of doubts and can’t be called enlightened . he has great power over material things but he is a slave of his own passion. So he is too weak to be called stoic(stoic is a person who remains unaffected by any emotions like pain, suffering, happiness etc). Man every remains in a state of uncertainty. According to the poet, a man hangs in doubt whether he should lead a life of action or rest. He doesn’t know whether he should consider himself a god or a beast. Man is indeed a big riddle.


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