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The Legacy of Hungarian Writer and Philosopher Béla Hamvas to be Celebrated in Balatonfüred

Hungary Today 2018.03.22.

A 2-day long memorial event, to be held from March 23rd-24th, is being organized to honor the legacy of Béla Hamvas, one of the most prolific Hungarian conceptual thinkers and philosophers of the 20th century. Balatonfüred was selected as the location for this event, a town which is a great host for all kinds of literary and artistic events. Hamvas died 50 years ago this coming November. 

Most people don’t know that, despite Hamvas’ extraordinary and fantastic mind, he worked as a physical laborer for a period of 20 years. He was silenced by the socialist dictatorship of Rákosi and Kádár from 1948 on, and his writings were published only after his passing, from the mid-1980s on, when the socialist regime was already weakened and democracy was on the horizon.

There is a pilgrimage to the Linden Tree as part of this memorial event that bears the name of Hamvas in Koloska valley. This magnificent valley appears to have a sacred impact on visitors who wander through it in complete stupefaction and awe. We walked up there once with a friend on a rainy day and it had such a calming influence on me that I had a smile on my face for days.

Writer and philosopher Béla Hamvas was born in 1897 in Eperjes (today Presov) in Upper Hungary (today part of Slovakia) below the Tátra mountains. His first literary works were published in 1919. After acquiring his social science degree, he was employed as a contributor at Budapest Hírlap and Szózat, two prominent publications of the time. From 1927 he worked as a librarian at the capital city library (Fővárosi Könytár) until 1948. This was the most productive period of his career as a writer. In 1948, he was suspended from his job by the communist regime and had to work as a physical laborer until his official retirement in 1964. He died four years later. His literary and philosophical works were silenced and banned by the regime up until 1983. He received a posthumous Kossuth prize in 1990.

Poet and former state secretary of state for culture Géza Szőcs is scheduled to honor the legacy of Hamvas at the ceremonies in Balatonfüred. Antal Dúl, a theologian who passed away this February, and who established a book publishing company to specifically focus on exposing the works of Hamvas to a wider audience, will also be honored.

One of the best-known works of Hamvas is “The Philosophy of Wine.” It is my personal favorite as it is a marvelous expression of adoration of life and the sanctity of wine, a sort of Mediterranean intoxication and admiration for God in the age of atheism. It is a glass of fiery Szekszárdi red or a green-golden Somlói that can reiterate this adulation.

His literary legacy is much debated. Some adore his works, some ignore them or are reluctant to accept them. He was perhaps ignored by some because he praised God and rejected agnosticism in an age of Godlessness. He was also controversial as he was critical of women, (not a popular theme today) as he considered them to be incapable of nurturing true friendships or see the world in its entirety. Therefore, he did not see them as good statesmen or politicians.

However, in our modern age of rising technology and excessive materialism, there is an increasing need to accept Hamvas and become one of his disciples. There is an increasing affinity in all of us towards the magic of silence. Hamvas deeply believed this. He cited Aldous Huxley’s extrapolation that the circle of silence around us is being reduced by 13 and a half kilometers each year due to human expansion and material greed. The time in our human existence may not be too far away that silence will be phased out around us entirely. At that point, he said that “happiness can only be grasped in the Himalaya mountains or in the middle of the ocean perhaps.”


His best-known quotes are:

Hamvas in his later years.

“The secret of love is that out of two, there will become a union of one. The secret of friendship is the opposite: that out of one, there will become a partnership of two.”

“All wine is a wonderful social companion whose essence comes out best when it is consumed in good company.”

“There is really no mystery to the great journey called life. The mission we have is threefold: heaven tells us to be good, Earth tells us to become affluent and our human essence tells us to create order among us. But in the final analysis we have only one combined mission: to be true to ourselves.”

“Solitude can be difficult. To look outside into the gray daybreak in November, to come out onto the patio and there is no one in sight. This loneliness can be cured only by the knowledge that you have a better chance of deciphering the beauty of life in solitary confinement because that is when you begin to understand the essence of God who is one and only. You can be temporarily happier in a social setting, but you can only access God when you are by yourself.”

“The Parliament is a place where our injuries are often caused. The local pub is a place where those injuries are healed.”

“The essence of our human existence is to raise those who have fallen, to find the ones who are lost, to shed light onto the minds of those who see darkness, to cleanse those who have been disparaged. In sum, our mission is to lead our fellow human beings to salvation and redemption. We need to be lifted into the stratosphere onto another level of existence where our spiritual essence can be exposed.”

“A woman will often forget her past friends, but will tend to remember her great lovers. A man will often forget his lovers, but will always remember his friends.”

“There are four forms of friendship: the heroic, the intimate, the spiritual and the playful. True friendship will be found when all four of these are present at the same time.”

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By Adam Topolansky


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