The Misanthrope, Pieter Brueghel the Elder

The misanthrope

The misanthrope 850 480 V.M. Kwen Khan Khu

Dearly beloved companions of the path: I am pleased to send you an explanation about a painting created by the Flemish Renaissance artist named Pieter Brueghel the Elder. This work was created in 1568. It is now preserved in the National Museum of Capodimonte in Naples, Italy. This pictorial work is called…


The Misanthrope, Pieter Brueghel the Elder
The Misanthrope, Pieter Brueghel the Elder

The painting enclosed in a circle within a square frame depicts an old man dressed in black and with a white beard clasping his hands in front of him. A smaller, barefoot man behind him uses a knife to cut the threads from the old man’s money bag. The old man seems so lost in thought that he does not notice the robberies or the caltrops that stand in his way. Interestingly, a cruciform globe encloses the thief.

On the other hand, a phrase written in Flemish, in the lower part, tells us:

«Om dat de werelt is soe ongetru / Daer om gha ir in den ru».

‘Because the world is perfidious, I go into mourning’…..

After this digression, patient reader, let us now try to comprehend the elements contained in this work of art.

As a central part of it we see the old man wearing a completely black garment. Such clothing is not that of a hermit but that of an individual who is resentful and fed up with the people of this world. That is what defines a misanthrope, someone who divorces himself from the world and prefers to withdraw into himself and in his thoughts. In our world there are thousands of people who have this egoic tendency that drives them to detest or hate the rest of their fellow men, because for these people the rest of human beings constitute something perfidious. Hence the phrase written in the Flemish language that says: Om dat de werelt is soe ongetru / Daer om gha ir in den ru….. Translation: ‘Because the world is perfidious, I go into mourning’……

The thief who goes after the old man and steals the old man’s purse is enclosed in a cruciform globe. In this case it is not about anything alchemical, no. This globe that encloses the thief represents the human microcosm that is always trying to take advantage of the weaknesses of others.

It is sad to know that misanthropic people often get involved in our metaphysical studies, people of whom we could say that they are always saying masses to themselves. Such individuals do not talk to anyone and live bottled up in their own thoughts, to such an extent that they do not even realize the miseries that other fellow men can cause them, as is the case of the thief in our subject of study. Undoubtedly, this kind of individual could not do the Secret Path because, precisely, this hermetic path can only be lived by co-existing with the imperfections of our world.

Misanthropy, like mythomania, are really states of our animal Ego that can be described as psychological illnesses, and, in fact, psychiatrists treat these people with intense treatment sessions to try to include them in society.

The old man’s exclamation in which he expresses that “because this world is perfidious, I am going into mourning” is nothing else than a state caused by a psychological aggregate that makes him feel far above others. In other words, he is, then, a vain man who covers himself in black clothes to differentiate himself from the rest of human beings, but inside he carries tantrums and contempt to try to show us that he is not like the others……

Our V.M. Samael Aun Weor has clearly told us: “Only by living with our fellow men is it possible to discover our own defects and then be able to eliminate them.” This indicates to us that, certainly, life is a school to which we come to see our imperfections and, once discovered, to comprehend and eliminate them. Such is the blindness of the misanthropes that in their pilgrimage through our world they are unable to see the dangers they have before their very eyes and they are victims of many painful and unpleasant circumstances. This is the case of the pebbles or caltrops that are on the path that the old man travels. Such caltrops or pebbles may symbolize not only material dangers, but also psychic or mentaloid dangers. Usually, the misanthrope does not fit in anywhere, because wherever he goes he does not like to associate with anyone, thus earning the antipathy of others.

The Misanthrope, Pieter Brueghel the Elder (detail)

This misanthropy is somewhat akin to the mania that leads some people to want to brag about being humble. This reminds us of that anecdote in which the great philosopher Socrates, observing Aristippus walking through the streets of Athens wearing clothes full of holes, trying to appear humble in the eyes of others, blurted out an ironic phrase:  “Aristippus, through the holes in your clothing your pride is seen”…

Detail with the caltrops found on the path of the old man. The caltrop is an “area denial weapon” or “anti-access weaponry system”, composed of two or more sharp nails or spines arranged in such a way that one of them is always pointed upwards from a stable base.


Allow me now to add a few sentences for your reflection:

“I am convinced that the first test of a great man is humility.”

“A truly great soul embraces the whole human race in its affection, and would like to see all men happy and blissful.”
Baron of Holbach

“Humanity is what it is: it is not a question of changing it but of knowing it.”
Gustave Flaubert

“The humility of hypocrites is the greatest and haughtiest among the proud.”

“I love my country more than my family, but I love humanity more than my country.”

─‘Thus passes the worldly glory’─.

Kwen Khan Khu