"Time in it selfe is alwayes one, but Occasion runs Diuision vpon Time, her note is not alwayes one, which ought to be noted by them which are not negligent of their Time." - William Cornwallis (1600)

 

Although we tend to think of time as singular and more-or-less constant, in the past, there were different kinds of time. The ancient Greeks bequeathed to the Renaissance period a number of different types of time: chronos - chronological time, much like our view of time; aon - eternity; and kairos - the rare moment, instant, opportunity or occasion. It is in this last that I am most interested.

 

Kairos, largely forgotten outside of its religious meaning through much of the medieval period, was revived in the Renaissance, carrying with it all the sense of urgency, as well as moral flexibility, it had for the sophists and other Greek thinkers (such as Isocrates and Plutarch). Although for the Greeks Kairos was usually personified as a young boy, in the Renaissance it became a young woman, usually depicted as on the right (by Holbein).

 

This term, variously translated as occasio, occasion, occasione, opportunity and so on, became central to the writings of Renaissance political thinkers such as Machiavelli and Botero - the father of Reason of State, and immortalised on the stage by Shakespeare.

 

My article tracing the re-emergence of kairos in Renaissance political philosophy was published in 2014 by Renaissance Quarterly. I currently co-covene a research network on the subject, which presented preliminary findings at RSA 2015 in Berlin.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

TIME

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