Ecce, homo faber

February 14, 2008

Sennett defines craftmanship as “an enduring, basic human impulse, the desire to do a job well for its own sake”. His interest in the subject arises from his work as an academic sociologist, but this says only the barest minimum about his expertise. He is at home in historical, philosophical and psychological literature, and has a lively interest in music, architecture and urban planning, all of which have influenced and broadened his conception of craft. He believes that craft is as vital to the healthy functioning of modern societies as it was to the medieval guilds lauded and romanticised by Morris and Ruskin.


The household of the medieval craftsman was not a place of domestic love, but a place of authority, in which the relation of master and apprentice was more fundamental than that of father and son. Civic pride counted more than domestic contentment, and the crafts themselves were fully incorporated into the religion of the town, taking their place among the rituals and sacraments whereby the community renewed its sense of legitimacy and its devotion to God.

Review of The Craftsman by Richard Sennett via

I read Sennett’s The Corrosion of Character years ago, and remember liking it, though finding the style a little dry at times. This looks pretty interesting, and probably worth pursuing at the library at some point. In any event, never one to let a Homer reference by, here’s the Hymn to Hephaestus mentioned in the review:

Sing, clear voiced Muse, of Hephaestos, renowned
for his inventive skill, who with grey-eyed Athene,
taught to men upon earth arts of great splendor, men who
in former days lived like wild beasts in mountain caves. But having learned skills
from Hephaestus, famed for his work and craftsmanship, they now, free from care,
peacefully live year by year in their houses.

Be gracious, Hephaestus, and grant me excellence and prosperity!


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