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Q: provenance of phrases ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   1 Comment )
Subject: provenance of phrases
Category: Reference, Education and News > Teaching and Research
Asked by: olasduif-ga
List Price: $20.00
Posted: 05 Nov 2003 00:05 PST
Expires: 05 Dec 2003 00:05 PST
Question ID: 272775
What is the provenance of the title of Wilfred Bion's book, 'Seven Servants?'
Also of T. E. Lawrence's 'Seven Pillars of Wisdom.'

Request for Question Clarification by juggler-ga on 05 Nov 2003 01:39 PST
The provenance of Lawrence's title is fairly well-established, but the
origin of Bion's title may be somewhat more difficult to definitively

You might consider splitting this question in two (i.e., reducing the
price of this question to $10 and opening up a second question for the
Lawrence title).
Subject: Re: provenance of phrases
Answered By: tehuti-ga on 05 Nov 2003 03:52 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Hello olasduif,

I have found a single reference to a possible provenance for the Bion
title.  This is on the web site of the Mexican Institute of Group and
Organizational Relations, in article about Bion by Jansy Berndt de
Souza Mello at
The article is in Portuguese. You can get a very rough translation
using the Google autotranslator

The author refers to a book by  Pablo Cesar Sandler ?Conversando com
Bion?, in which he translates the text of a lecture given by Bion in
New York.  Sandler includes a poem, which Bion recited during the New
York lecture, and which he had been made to learn by heart during his
childhood. It is by Rudyard Kipling and appears in his ?Just So?
stories.  The poem starts:
?I keep six honest serving-men
  (They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
  And How and Where and Who.?
You can read the rest at: 

He then goes on to say that Bion recited the same poem during the last
lecture he gave in Brazil. ?Seven Servants? includes the papers,
?Elements of Psycho-Analysis?, ?Learning from Experience?,
?Transformations?, ?Attention and Interpretation?.
(There is a bibliography of Bion's works at )
de Souza Mello suggests that the contents of these papers relate to
the ?six serving-men? of Kipling, namely the questions we ask in order
to learn, but with the addition of a seventh element, and that this
inspired the title of the whole collection.

With respect to the ?Seven Pillars of Wisdom?, this paragraph is found
in the Bible:

?Wisdom hath builded a house: she hath hewn out her seven pillars.
Give instruction to the wise man, and he will yet be wiser: teach a
just man, and he will increase in learning.?
Book of Proverbs, 9:1.

This is commonly cited as the origin for Lawrence's use of the phrase. 

The web site of the Victoria University Library, Toronto, features a
commentary on an exhibition about Lawrence and cites this passage.  It
also mentions that ? it has been questioned whether the title had any
relation to the subject matter of Lawrence's book.? 

In a poem, written to a dead friend, which Lawrence includes as a
dedication in the ?Seven Pillars?, he speaks of a seven-pillared house
in reference to Freedom:
?I loved you, so I drew these tides of men into my hands
and wrote my will across the sky in stars
To earn you Freedom, the seven-pillared worthy house,
that your eyes might be shining for me
When we came.?
Project Gutenberg Australia e-text of the ?Seven Pillars?

Search strategy:
1.Bion ?Seven Servants?
2.Kipling seven
3.Lawrence ?Seven Pillars?

Clarification of Answer by tehuti-ga on 05 Nov 2003 04:10 PST
Incidentally, I forgot to mention that according to an article by
photographer Bill Wisecup, the Bedouin of Wadi Rum in Jordan have
given the name "Seven Pillars of Wisdom" to a series of natural
colonnades, in order to satisfy those tourists who believe that
Lawrence's pillars must exist in physical reality somewhere.
olasduif-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars and gave an additional tip of: $5.00
Awesome and so swift. Impressive. Thank you!

Subject: Re: provenance of phrases
From: amalik-ga on 05 Nov 2003 04:26 PST
Thank you for your question on Bion's "Seven Servants".  I haven't
enjoyed not being able to find the answer to a question so much in
ages.  But I did get to read about the influence of the British School
on psychoanalytical aesthetics and that was quite interesting.

I've given pointers to non-definitive information about Bion but list
the links here in case a Google researcher might find that they spark
an errant thought or association and a lightbulb goes off.

Most interesting is the excerpt from the talk his wife gave.  

"In The Dawn of Oblivion there is a particularly apposite conversation
between Somites, Soma, Psyche, Infancy, Childhood and Maturity."

It may well be that there is a similar conversation contained with the
text of "Seven Servants" that someone who has read the book can

The religous passage is very interesting given Bion's concept of the container.

-- amalik


Lawrence of Arabia Factfile 
Frequently Asked Questions
Answers by Jeremy Wilson

What is the origin of the title Seven Pillars of Wisdom?

The title is a deliberate echo of a biblical text: Proverbs IX.i: 

Wisdom hath builded her house,
She hath hewn out her seven pillars'

Lawrence originally intended Seven Pillars of Wisdom to be the title
of a book that he began writing before the First World War, about
seven great cities of the Middle East. The draft seems to have been
incomplete when war broke out, and he later said that he had destroyed
it (it has never been found). After the war, he transferred the title
to his book about the Arab Revolt.


Wilfred Bion's book, "Seven Servants"
Bion, W. R. (1977e). Seven Servants. New York: Jason Aronson inc.
(includes Elements of Psychoanalysis, Learning from Experience,
Transformations, Attention and Interpretation).
Francesca Bion
The Days of Our Years 
  The following text is from an address Mrs Bion gave in April 1994 in
Toronto and Montreal, Canada. It was first published in The Journal of
the Melanie Klein & Object Relations Journal, Vol 13, No.1, 1995.

His continuing work with psychotics formed the foundation of the four
books of the sixties - Learning from Experience, Elements of
Psychoanalysis, Transformations, and Attention and Interpretation.
. . . . 
In The Dawn of Oblivion there is a particularly apposite conversation
between Somites, Soma, Psyche, Infancy, Childhood and Maturity.


Fortunio The assumed name of a damsel, youngest of three sisters, who
dressed herself as a cavalier to save her aged father, who was
summoned to the army. Fortunio on the way engaged seven servants:
Strong-back, who could carry on his back enough liquor to fill a
river; Lightfoot, who could traverse any distance in no time;
Marksman, who could hit an object at any distance; Fine-ear, who could
hear anything, no matter where uttered; Boisterer, who could do any
amount of cudgelling; Gourmand, who could eat any amount of food; and
Tippler, who could drink a river dry and thirst again. Fortunio,
having rendered invaluable services to King Alfourite, by the aid of
her seven servants, at last married him. (Grimm's Goblins: Fortunio.
Countess D'Aulnoy: Fairy Tales.)

Psyche's Weblog

The seventh? But, after all, there are only six? This teaches that
here is the Temple of the [celestial] Sanctuary, and it bears all [the
other six], and that is why it is the seventh.
**And what is it? The Thought that has neither end nor limit.
Similarly this place, too, has neither end nor limit. Gershom Scholem,
Origins of the Kabbalah, Princeton, 1990, p.115

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