“Magnetic Inspiration”: My Favorite Passage (and Metaphor) from Plato

Plato’s Ion 533d-534e

“I also see, Ion, and I am about to show you what I think this means. For talking well about Homer is not some skill within you—as I was just saying—but it is a divine power that moves you, just as in that stone which Euripides calls a ‘Magnet” but which most people call Herakleian. For this stone not only moves iron rings but it also imbues the rings with the same power so that they can do the same thing as the stone in turn—they move other rings and as a result there is a great chain of iron and rings connected to each other. But the power from that stone runs through them all. In this way, the Muse herself makes people inspired, and a linked chain of inspired people extend from her.

All the good poets of epic utter those beautiful poems not because of skill but because they are inspired and possessed—the good lyric poets are the same, just as the Korybantes do not dance when they are in their right minds, so too the lyric poets do not compose their fine lines when they are sensible, but when they embark upon their harmony and rhythm, they are in revelry and possessed. They are just like the bacchants who draw honey and milk from rivers when they are possessed, not when they are in their normal state of mind. The soul of the lyric poets does this too, which they themselves admit: for they claim, as I see it, that they bring to us their songs by gathering from the honey-flowing springs from certain gardens and glades of the Muses like bees—and they fly too!

And they speak the truth. For a poet is an empty thing—winged, and sacred and not capable of composing before it is inspired and out of mind, when thought is no longer inside. Until one has gained this state, every person is incapable of composing or giving oracles. Because they compose not by skill—when they say many fine things about their subjects—but by divine dispensation, as you do about Homer, each is only capable of composing well in the arena where the Musa compels—one person composes dithyramb, one encomia, another dance songs, another epic and another iambic poetry. But each is useless in the other genres.”

     ΣΩ. Καὶ ὁρῶ, ὦ ῎Ιων, καὶ ἔρχομαί γέ σοι ἀποφανούμενος ὅ μοι δοκεῖ τοῦτο εἶναι. ἔστι γὰρ τοῦτο τέχνη μὲν οὐκ ὂν παρὰ σοὶ περὶ ῾Ομήρου εὖ λέγειν, ὃ νυνδὴ ἔλεγον, θεία δὲ δύναμις ἥ σε κινεῖ, ὥσπερ ἐν τῇ λίθῳ ἣν Εὐριπίδης μὲν Μαγνῆτιν ὠνόμασεν, οἱ δὲ πολλοὶ ῾Ηρακλείαν. καὶ γὰρ αὕτη ἡ λίθος οὐ μόνον αὐτοὺς τοὺς δακτυλίους ἄγει τοὺς σιδηροῦς, ἀλλὰ καὶ δύναμιν ἐντίθησι τοῖς δακτυλίοις ὥστ’ αὖ δύνασθαι ταὐτὸν τοῦτο ποιεῖν ὅπερ ἡ λίθος, ἄλλους ἄγειν δακτυλίους, ὥστ’ ἐνίοτε ὁρμαθὸς μακρὸς πάνυ σιδηρίων καὶ δακτυλίων ἐξ ἀλλήλων ἤρτηται· πᾶσι δὲ τούτοις ἐξ ἐκείνης τῆς λίθου ἡ δύναμις ἀνήρτηται. οὕτω δὲ καὶ ἡ Μοῦσα ἐνθέους μὲν ποιεῖ αὐτή, διὰ δὲ τῶν ἐνθέων τούτων ἄλλων ἐνθουσιαζόντων ὁρμαθὸς ἐξαρτᾶται.

πάντες γὰρ οἵ  τε τῶν ἐπῶν ποιηταὶ οἱ ἀγαθοὶ οὐκ ἐκ τέχνης ἀλλ’ ἔνθεοι ὄντες καὶ κατεχόμενοι πάντα ταῦτα τὰ καλὰ λέγουσι ποιήματα, καὶ οἱ μελοποιοὶ οἱ ἀγαθοὶ ὡσαύτως, ὥσπερ οἱ κορυβαντιῶντες οὐκ ἔμφρονες ὄντες ὀρχοῦνται, οὕτω καὶ οἱ μελοποιοὶ οὐκ ἔμφρονες ὄντες τὰ καλὰ μέλη ταῦτα ποιοῦσιν, ἀλλ’ ἐπειδὰν ἐμβῶσιν εἰς τὴν ἁρμονίαν καὶ εἰς τὸν ῥυθμόν, βακχεύουσι καὶ κατεχόμενοι, ὥσπερ αἱ βάκχαι ἀρύονται ἐκ τῶν ποταμῶν μέλι καὶ γάλα κατεχόμεναι, ἔμφρονες δὲ οὖσαι οὔ, καὶ τῶν μελοποιῶν ἡ ψυχὴ τοῦτο ἐργάζεται, ὅπερ αὐτοὶ λέγουσι. λέγουσι γὰρ δήπουθεν πρὸς ἡμᾶς οἱ ποιηταὶ ὅτι ἀπὸ κρηνῶν μελιρρύτων ἐκ Μουσῶν κήπων τινῶν καὶ ναπῶν δρεπόμενοι τὰ μέλη ἡμῖν φέρουσιν ὥσπερ αἱ μέλιτται, καὶ αὐτοὶ οὕτω πετόμενοι· καὶ ἀληθῆ λέγουσι. κοῦφον γὰρ χρῆμα ποιητής ἐστιν καὶ πτηνὸν καὶ ἱερόν, καὶ οὐ πρότερον οἷός τε ποιεῖν πρὶν ἂν ἔνθεός τε γένηται καὶ ἔκφρων καὶ ὁ νοῦς μηκέτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐνῇ· ἕως δ’ ἂν τουτὶ ἔχῃ τὸ κτῆμα, ἀδύνατος πᾶς ποιεῖν ἄνθρωπός ἐστιν καὶ χρησμῳδεῖν. ἅτε οὖν οὐ τέχνῃ ποιοῦντες καὶ πολλὰ λέγοντες καὶ καλὰ περὶ τῶν πραγμάτων, ὥσπερ σὺ περὶ ῾Ομήρου, ἀλλὰ θείᾳ μοίρᾳ, τοῦτο μόνον οἷός τε ἕκαστος ποιεῖν καλῶς ἐφ’ ὃ ἡ Μοῦσα αὐτὸν ὥρμησεν, ὁ μὲν διθυράμβους, ὁ δὲ ἐγκώμια, ὁ δὲ ὑπορχήματα, ὁ δ’ ἔπη, ὁ δ’ ἰάμβους· τὰ δ’ ἄλλα φαῦλος αὐτῶν ἕκαστός ἐστιν.

535e-536a

“Do you understand that the audience is the last of the rings which I was describing as transmitting through one another the power from the Herakleian stone and that you are the middle as the rhapsode and interpreter—that the poet himself is the first ring? The god moves the soul of all of these people wherever he wants, stringing the power from one into another.”

οἶσθα οὖν ὅτι οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ θεατὴς τῶν δακτυλίων ὁ ἔσχατος, ὧν ἐγὼ ἔλεγον ὑπὸ τῆς Ἡρακλειώτιδος λίθου ἀπ᾽ ἀλλήλων τὴν δύναμιν λαμβάνειν; ὁ δὲ μέσος σὺ ὁ ῥαψῳδὸς καὶ ὑποκριτής, ὁ δὲ πρῶτος αὐτὸς ὁ ποιητής ὁ δὲ θεὸς διὰ πάντων τούτων ἕλκει τὴν ψυχὴν ὅποι ἂν βούληται τῶν ἀνθρώπων, ἀνακρεμαννὺς ἐξ ἀλλήλων τὴν δύναμιν.

Fresco of women dancing in a line

Fresco, Museo Nationale, Naples. c. 400 BCE

Plato’s Bad Example of Courtly Fruit Lobbing

Or, how not to slide into a lady’s DMs.

Diogenes Laertius Vita Phil 1.3 (32)= Greek Anthology 5.79

“I am tossing you an apple. If you willingly love me,
Take it and share with me your virginity.
But if the worst should happen and you retreat.
Take the apple and think: its ripeness is preciously brief.”

Τῷ μήλῳ βάλλω σε· σὺ δ᾽ εἰ μὲν ἑκοῦσα φιλεῖς με,
δεξαμένη τῆς σῆς παρθενίης μετάδος·
εἰ δ᾽ ἄρ᾽, ὃ μὴ γίγνοιτο, ὀκνεῖς, τοῦτ᾽ αὐτὸ λαβοῦσα
σκέψαι τὴν ὥρην ὡς ὀλιγοχρόνιος.

Diogenes attributes a companion couplet to Plato as well; the Greek Anthology gives it to Philodemos. How do you like those, um, apples?

Greek Anthology 5.80

 “I’m an apple. Someone who fancies you sent me your way.
Nod your head, Xanthippê. You and I are both starting to fade.”

Μῆλον ἐγώ· πέμπει με φιλῶν σέ τις. ἀλλ᾽ ἐπίνευσον,
Ξανθίππη· κἀγὼ καὶ σὺ μαραινόμεθα.

Ah, those virgins who make little of apples and much of time. What would Robert Herrick say?

Image result for medieval manuscript apple

A very different apple for a very different day.

This is essentially like saying:

I have sent you some fruit
So I can have sex with you.
So take of your top
Before my gift rots
Cause we both know that you’re rotting too.

A Wish To be Invulnerable: The Rape and Sex-Change of Kaineus

When I presented a selection of intersex stories from Phlegon of Tralles earlier this week, I left out what I find to be the most disturbing story, a rape followed by a sex-change. Ovid tells a version of this tale.

Phlegon, On Amazing Things 5

5 “Others tell the story that in the land of the Lapiths the king Elatos had a daughter whose name was Kainis. After Poseidon had sex with her he promised to make her into whatever she wanted. She said she wanted to be changed into a man who was invulnerable. When Poseidon did this—as was right—he changed her name to Kaineus.”

Οἱ αὐτοὶ ἱστοροῦσιν κατὰ τὴν Λαπίθων χώραν γενέσθαι ᾿Ελάτῳ τῷ βασιλεῖ θυγατέρα ὀνομαζομένην Καινίδα.

ταύτῃ δὲ Ποσειδῶνα μιγέντα ἐπαγγείλασθαι ποιήσειν αὐτῇ ὃ ἂν ἐθέλῃ, τὴν δὲ ἀξιῶσαι μεταλλάξαι αὐτὴν εἰς ἄνδρα ποιῆσαί τε ἄτρωτον. τοῦ δὲ Ποσειδῶνος κατὰ τὸ ἀξιωθὲν ποιήσαντος μετονομασθῆναι Καινέα.

This story is older than Ovid and Phlegon. It is detailed in the fragments of Akousilaus, perhaps alluded to in Homer, definitely indicated by Apollonius Rhodes, and present even in Plato. While the sex-change narrative remains an important element, the main feature of Kaineus’ tale is his hubris–because of his invulnerability he asks to be made into a god.

Akousilaus FGrH 2 fr. 22 [=P.Oxy. 13, 1611, fr. 1, col. 2, 38-96]

“Poseidon has sex with Kainê of Elatos. Then—for it was not right for him [sic] to have children with him nor anyone else—Poseidon turned him into an invulnerable man, who had the greatest strength of the men at that time. Whenever anyone tried to strike him with iron or bronze, [the attacker] was completely defeated.

Then [Kaineus] became king of the Lapiths and was warring with the Centaurs. After he set up his javelin in the agora he was asking to be included in the number of the gods. This was not pleasing to the gods. And when Zeus saw him doing this, he threatened him and raised the Centaurs against him. They struck him straight down into the earth and placed a stone above as assign. Then he died.”

«Καινῆιδὲ τῆι ᾽Ελάτου μίσγεται ΙΙοσειδῶν. ἔπειτα – οὐ γὰρ ἦν αὐτῶι ἱερὸν παῖδας τεκέν οὐτ᾽ ἐξ ἐκείνου οὐτ᾽ ἐξ ἄλλου οὐδενός – ποιεῖ αὐτὸν Ποσειδέων ἄνδρα ἄτρωτον, ἰσχὺν ἔχοντα μεγίστην τῶν ἀνθρώπων τῶν τότε, καὶ ὅτε τις αὐτὸν κεντοίη σιδήρωι ἢ χαλκῶι, ἡλίσκετο μάλιστα χρημάτων. καὶ γίγνεται βασιλεὺς οὗτος Λαπιθέων καὶ τοῖς Κενταύροις πολεμέεσκε. ἔπειτα στήσας ἀκόν[τιον ἐν ἀγορᾶι θεὸν ἐκέλευεν ἀριθμεῖν. θεοῖ]σι δ᾽ οὐκ ἦεν [ἀρεστόν, καὶ] Ζεὺς ἰδὼν αὐτὸν ταῦτα ποιοῦντα ἀπειλεῖ καὶ ἐφορμᾶι τοὺς Κενταύρους, κἀκεῖνοι αὐτὸν κατακόπτουσιν ὄρθιον κατὰ γῆς καὶ ἄνωθεν πέτρην ἐπιτιθεῖσιν σῆμα, καὶ ἀποθνήσκει.»

In this account, Poseidon seems to be changing Kaineus because of his inability to have children. This makes it rather clear what women are good for from this cultural perspective. In addition, it is interesting that Kaineus as an intersex figure is involved in the war between the Lapiths and Centaurs, a conflict which has its origins in a rapes at a wedding and is often seen as a reflection of the civilized Lapiths struggling against the primitive and violent urges of the Centaurs.

But, as can be seen from the relief below which dates to the early Archaic period, the punishment of Kaineus is a primary motif of the story tradition. In a way, if the sex-change and rape were equally ancient, this is a tale about a women who is raped ultimately being punished for surviving and thriving and exacting retribution for her suffering.

D Scholia ad Il. 264

“Kaineus was a son of Elatos and king of the Lapiths. He was a very beautiful virgin girl before. But after Poseidon had sex with her, she asked to be changed from a young woman into a man. And he became invulnerable, and the most excellent of those alive at the time. And after he stuck his javelin into the middle of the agora, he demanded to be entered into the number of the gods for this reason.

Zeus was annoyed by this request and he arranged the following type of payback from him for impiety. For, even though he was invincible, he made him less while he was fighting the Centaurs. For they were hurling and striking him with pines and oak trees and they drove him into the ground. Apollonius recalls this in the Argonautica saying this, “For the singers used to report the fame that Kaineus was killed by Centaurs, when he alone from the rest of the best drove them, they surged back. They were not strong enough to repel him nor to kill him, but he went under the earth, unbroken, unbent, pummeled by the striking force of powerful pines.”

Καινέα τε. Καὶ τὸν Καινέα. ὁ δὲ Και-
νεὺς ᾿Ελάτου μὲν παῖς, Λαπίθων δὲ βα-
σιλεὺς, πρότερον ἦν παρθένος εὐπρεπής.
μιγέντος δὲ αὐτῇ Ποσειδῶνος, αἰτησα-
μένη μεταβαλεῖν εἰς ἄνδρα ἡ νεᾶνις, ἄ-
τρωτος γίγνεται, γενναιότατος τῶν καθ’
αὑτὸν ὑπάρξας· καὶ δή ποτε πήξας ἀ-
κόντιον ἐν τῷ μεσαιτάτῳ τῆς ἀγορὰς,
θεοῖς τοῦτο προσέταξεν ἀριθμεῖν. δι’ ἣν
αἰτίαν ἀγανακτήσας ὁ Ζεὺς, τιμωρίαν
τῆς ἀσεβείας παρ’ αὐτοῦ εἰσεπράξατο.
μαχόμενον γὰρ αὐτὸν τοῖς Κενταύροις
καὶ ἄτρωτον ὄντα ὑποχείριον ἐποίησε.
βάλλοντες γὰρ αὐτὸν οἱ προειρημένοι δρυ-
σί τε καὶ ἐλάταις, ἤρεισαν εἰς γῆν.
μέμνηται δὲ αὐτοῦ καὶ ᾿Απολλώνιος ἐν
τοῖς ᾿Αργοναυτικοῖς λέγων οὕτως· Καινέα
γὰρ τὸν πρόσθεν ἐπικλείουσιν ἀοιδοὶ Κεν-
ταύροισιν ὀλέσθαι, ὅτε σφέας οἶος ἀπ’
ἄλλων ῎Ηλασ’ ἀριστήων· οἱ δ’ ἔμπαλιν
ὁρμηθέντες, Οὔτε μιν ἀγκλῖναι προτέρω
σθένον, οὔτε δαΐξαι· ᾿Αλλ’ ἄῤῥηκτος,
ἄκαμπτος ἐδύσσατο νειόθι γαίης, Θεινό-
μενος στιβαρῆσι καταΐγδην ἐλάτῃσιν.

This story is held up as a wistful impossibility by Plato in the laws. This passage is, well, upsetting.

Plato’s Laws 944d-c

“What then would be the right punishment for someone who has thrown away this kind of a power of a defensive weapon for the opposite? For it is not possible for a person to do the opposite of what they say the god did when he changed the Thessalian Kaineus from a women into a man. For one who throws away his shield, the opposite of this transformation, changing from a man into a women, in some way would be the best of all punishments for this.”

ζημία δὴ τῷ τὴν τοιαύτην ἀμυντηρίων ὅπλων εἰς τοὐναντίον ἀφέντι δύναμιν τίς ἄρα γίγνοιτ᾿ ἂν πρόσφορος; οὐ γὰρ δυνατὸν ἀνθρώπῳ δρᾷν τοὐναντίον <ἢ> ὥς2 ποτε θεόν φασι δρᾶσαι, Καινέα τὸν Θετταλὸν ἐκ γυναικὸς μεταβαλόντα εἰς ἀνδρὸς φύσιν ἦν γὰρ ἂν ἀνδρὶ ῥιψάσπιδι τρόπον τινὰ πρέπουσα πασῶν Εμάλιστα ἡ ᾿κείνῃ τῇ γενέσει ἐναντία γένεσις, εἰς γυναῖκα ἐξ ἀνδρὸς μεταβαλοῦσα, τιμωρία τούτῳ γενομένη.

Poets: Gardeners of the Mind

Simonides, fr. 6.3

“Simonides said that Hesiod is a gardener while Homer is a garland-weaver—the first planted the legends of the heroes and gods and then the second braided together them the garland of the Iliad and the Odyssey.”

GNOMOL. VAT. GR. 1144 (= Hesiod. T 18d Jac): Σιμωνίδης τὸν ῾Ησίοδον κηπουρὸν ἔλεγε, τὸν δὲ ῞Ομηρον στεφανηπλόκον, τὸν μὲν ὡς φυτεύσαντα τὰς περὶ θεῶν καὶ ἡρώων μυθολογίας, τὸν δὲ ὡς ἐξ αὐτῶν συμπλέξαντα τὸν᾿Ιλιάδος καὶ Οδυσσείας στέφανον.

κηπολόγος: “teaching in the garden”

κηποποιία: “garden making”

κηποτάφιον: “a garden grave”

κηποτύρρανος: “tyrant of the garden”

κηπουργός: “garden worker”

κηποφύλαξ: “guardian of the garden”
Od. 24. 336–339

“But, come, if I may tell you about the trees through the well-founded orchard
The ones which you gave to me—when I was a child I asked you about each
As I followed you through the garden. We traced a path through them
And you named and spoke about each one.”

εἰ δ’ ἄγε τοι καὶ δένδρε’ ἐϋκτιμένην κατ’ ἀλῳὴν
εἴπω, ἅ μοί ποτ’ ἔδωκας, ἐγὼ δ’ ᾔτευν σε ἕκαστα
παιδνὸς ἐών, κατὰ κῆπον ἐπισπόμενος· διὰ δ’ αὐτῶν
ἱκνεύμεσθα, σὺ δ’ ὠνόμασας καὶ ἔειπες ἕκαστα.

Alex Purves (2010:228) retraces these steps as Odysseus “taking an imaginary walk through the orchard in his mind just as [Elizabeth] Minchin has suggested that Homer takes a cognitive walk through the Peloponnese in order to recount the Catalogue of Ships (2001: 84-7).”

Plato, Ion

“For poets certainly tell us that they bring us songs by drawing from the honey-flowing springs or certain gardens and glades of the Muses just like bees. And because they too are winged, they also speak the truth.”

Λέγουσι γὰρ δήπουθεν πρὸς ἡμᾶς οἱ ποιηταί, ὅτι ἀπὸ κρηνῶν μελιρρύτων ἢ ἐκ Μουσῶν κήπων τινῶν καὶ ναπῶν δρεπόμενοι τὰ μέλη ἡμῖν φέρουσιν ὥσπερ αἱ
μέλιτται. καὶ αὐτοὶ οὕτω πετόμενοι, καὶ ἀληθῆ λέγουσι.

Image result for medieval manuscript gardening

The Mysterious Garden, from a miniature medieval manuscript, Guillaume de Machaut: Poetical Work

his video is pure genius:

Do you ever grow anything in the garden of your mind?”

Opposites Attract: Plato, Hesiod, and Paula

Plato, Lysis, 215c-d

“I once heard someone saying—and I just now remembered it—that like is most hostile to like and the good is hostile to the good. Indeed, I believe that he furnished Hesiod as a witness, since he says that “a potter rivals a potter, a singer a singer, and a beggar a beggar” and he says that this is the same by necessity with everything else, especially when something is very similar, they are filled with envy, competitiveness, and enmity. But things that are unlike one another are filled with love.”

῎Ηδη ποτέ του ἤκουσα λέγοντος, καὶ ἄρτι ἀναμιμνῄσκομαι, ὅτι τὸ μὲν ὅμοιον τῷ ὁμοίῳ καὶ οἱ ἀγαθοὶ τοῖς ἀγαθοῖς πολεμιώτατοι εἶεν· καὶ δὴ καὶ τὸν ῾Ησίοδον ἐπήγετο μάρτυρα, λέγων ὡς ἄρα—

καὶ κεραμεὺς κεραμεῖ κοτέει καὶ ἀοιδὸς ἀοιδῷ
καὶ πτωχὸς πτωχῷ,

καὶ τἆλλα δὴ πάντα οὕτως ἔφη ἀναγκαῖον εἶναι μάλιστα τὰ ὁμοιότατα ἄλληλα φθόνου τε καὶ φιλονικίας καὶ ἔχθρας ἐμπίμπλασθαι, τὰ δ’ ἀνομοιότατα φιλίας·

I am not quite sure that Hesiod would agree to this interpretation:

Hes. Fr. 264

“Good men flock to the tables of good men on their own.”
αὐτόματοι δ’ ἀγαθοὶ ἀγαθῶν ἐπὶ δαῖτας ἵενται.

And, because of my age, I cannot even think “opposites attract” without hearing this:

Martin Luther King Jr. and Socrates

There have been several articles over the years (both in print, the fine piece by T. E. Strunk and online: a website and a editorial) about Martin Luther King’s engagement with the Classics–specifically the figure of Socrates and Plato’s Apology–and its influence on his thought and his rhetoric. I think those who want to ‘correct’ his response and reception of Classical models should just be ignored; those who note, however, that such reception must also be understood from a particular theological perspective put their efforts to far better work.

On this day in his honor, I do think it is worthwhile for us to reflect on the process of reception and how MLK made his own Socrates in a way that enriched his life and those of his interlocutors–both the addressees of his Letter from Birmingham Jail and the generations of cultural respondents who have followed him. MLK refers to Socrates three times in that letter:

“Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half-truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.”

“In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn’t this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn’t this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn’t this like condemning Jesus because his unique God-consciousness and never-ceasing devotion to God’s will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion?”

“To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.”

While a classical Platonist might quibble, what I see hear is the creation of a personal Socrates from multiple texts. In the first passage, Socrates has a revelatory power not dissimilar to Jesus’–this is the Socrates of the parable of the Cave (from the Republic, the philosopher who dabbled in the idea of the ideal forms. This Socrates promises that the world we experience isn’t the real world but that with practice and grace we may be able to through the fallacies that surround us. The second and third passages model a different kind of Socrates, one that is particularly Christian, but also one who models a positive and constructive apostasy close to MLK’s own heart and life.

Apology 30e

“Now, Athenians, I am considerably lacking in defending myself, as one might expect, but instead I do it for you, so that you don’t make a mistake against a god’s gift to you by convicting me. For, if you kill me, you will not easily find another like me—simply put—even if it is rather ridiculous to say—you will lose someone dedicated to the city thanks to the god just as to a great and noble horse who has become sluggish because of its size and needs to be roused from its languor by some gadfly. This seems to be the way the god has attached me to the city.

 I am the kind of person who wakes you up, persuades you and reproaches you and I do not stop assailing each one of you everywhere and all day long. No other like this will arise for you easily, men, but if you listen to me, you will spare me. Perhaps, however, because you are annoyed just like drowsy people suddenly awakened, and you listen to Anytos you could easily kill me and then spend the rest of your life sleeping if the god fails to send anyone else to you because he cares about you.

That I really happen to be the sort of person who is sent to the city by the god you might recognize from this: It don’t seem to care about my own affairs and to worry about my household being neglected for this many years in the manner that is normal for people. Instead, I am always laboring on your behalf, going to each person in private as a father or older brother would, trying to persuade you to care for what is most important.”

νῦν οὖν, ὦ ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι, πολλοῦ δέω ἐγὼ ὑπὲρ ἐμαυτοῦ ἀπολογεῖσθαι, ὥς τις ἂν οἴοιτο, ἀλλὰ ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν, μή τι ἐξαμάρτητε περὶ τὴν τοῦ θεοῦ δόσιν ὑμῖν ἐμοῦ καταψηφισάμενοι. ἐὰν γάρ με ἀποκτείνητε, οὐ ῥᾳδίως ἄλλον τοιοῦτον εὑρήσετε, ἀτεχνῶς, εἰ καὶ γελοιότερον εἰπεῖν, προσκείμενον τῇ πόλει ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ ὥσπερ ἵππῳ μεγάλῳ μὲν καὶ γενναίῳ, | ὑπὸ μεγέθους δὲ νωθεστέρῳ καὶ δεομένῳ ἐγείρεσθαι ὑπὸ μύωπός τινος· οἷον δή μοι δοκεῖ ὁ θεὸς ἐμὲ τῇ πόλει προστεθηκέναι—τοιοῦτόν τινα ὃς ὑμᾶς ἐγείρων καὶ πείθων καὶ ὀνειδίζων ἕνα ἕκαστον οὐδὲν παύομαι τὴν ἡμέραν ὅλην πανταχοῦ προσκαθίζων. τοιοῦτος οὖν ἄλλος οὐ ῥᾳδίως ὑμῖν γενήσεται, ὦ ἄνδρες, ἀλλ’ ἐὰν ἐμοὶ πείθησθε, φείσεσθέ μου· ὑμεῖς δ’ ἴσως τάχ’ ἂν ἀχθόμενοι, ὥσπερ οἱ νυστάζοντες ἐγειρόμενοι, | κρούσαντες ἄν με, πειθόμενοι Ἀνύτῳ, ῥᾳδίως ἂν ἀποκτείναιτε, εἶτα τὸν λοιπὸν βίον καθεύδοντες διατελοῖτε ἄν, εἰ μή τινα ἄλλον ὁ θεὸς ὑμῖν ἐπιπέμψειεν κηδόμενος ὑμῶν. ὅτι δ’ ἐγὼ τυγχάνω ὢν τοιοῦτος οἷος ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ τῇ πόλει δεδόσθαι, ἐνθένδε ἂν κατανοήσαιτε· οὐ γὰρ ἀνθρωπίνῳ ἔοικε τὸ ἐμὲ τῶν μὲν ἐμαυτοῦ πάντων ἠμεληκέναι καὶ ἀνέχεσθαι τῶν οἰκείων ἀμελουμένων τοσαῦτα ἤδη ἔτη, τὸ δὲ ὑμέτερον πράττειν ἀεί, ἰδίᾳ ἑκάστῳ προσιόντα ὥσπερ πατέρα ἢ ἀδελφὸν πρεσβύτερον πείθοντα ἐπιμελεῖσθαι ἀρετῆς.

This gadfly Socrates stands as the model for the conscientious objector, the social activist, the cultural warrior who agitates for the improvement of her or his state to the point of the sacrifice of self for the greater good.

The reason I wish to dismiss many of those who critique MLK’s use of Socrates as in some way inauthentic is that I believe their policing of his reception has cultural authoritarianism at its core. Even from the beginning of the 4th century BCE the figure of Socrates has been one of the apostate in construction and reception. Xenophon’s Socrates and Plato’s are different. Hell, Plato’s Socrates is rarely the same from one dialogue to the next. His lessons and values shift not just among his students but over time.

MLK’s amalgamation of Socrates is not just a stage in the religio-historical reception of Socrates and, therefore, a vital and important version, but it is also a model of the reception of Socrates as a model by a member of a marginalized group. We can learn from MLK’s Socrates and our responses to his identification with the Platonic figure. And, I dare say, we can learn more from the importance of such a figure from MLK than from standard academic responses.

Here is a passage I have been mulling over the past few days:

“An attempt, termed ‘feminist standpoint theory’ was made by Harstock (1983) to theorize the value of drawing on particular perspectives. The underlying assumption within this theory is that structural privilege precludes clarity of thought because there is no impetus to theorize ‘the norm’. By contrast, structural marginalization increases clarity of thought because such persons not only have access to dominant understandings but also have access to ‘abnormal’ or subjugated perspectives.”

Sam Warner. “Disrupting Identity Through Visible Therapy: A Feminist Post-Structuralist Approach to Working with Women Who have Experienced Child Sexual Abuse.” Feminist Review 68 (2001) 115-139.

As many of us who have taught literature, art, and language in diverse classrooms know intuitively, students who have been marginalized by race, language, gender, sexual identification, or ability, can ‘read’ and ‘understand’ the experiences of individuals of privilege and structural advantages with far more success than the other way around. MLK’s reading of what Socrates means from a broader cultural perspective thus not teaches us merely about what he found valuable in the figure, but it also teaches us about the broader cultural valences.

When Socrates stands up for his beliefs and dedicates himself to the betterment of the state, he sacrifices his own personal good for the good of the state. To this day, activists from all walks of life–but especially those from the margins–risk their own health, wealth, and future success to make the world better for others. For MLK, Socrates was a source of strength, and I suspect, comfort.

Observing this is important not just for us to appreciate the cultural position of both figures–but also for educators and the continuing discussion of how relevant Classics remains and how the reception of Socrates provides encouragement and direction for those who wish to make our world a better place.

Image result for Ancient Greek Socrates gadfly

Some Thoughts on Reflecting on Another Year Gone By

Heraclitus, fr. 111

“Sickness makes health sweet and good [just as] hunger makes fullness and fatigue makes rest.”

νοῦσος ὑγιείην ἐποίησεν ἡδὺ καὶ ἀγαθόν, λιμὸς κόρον, κάματος ἀνάπαυσιν.

Od. 15.398-401

“Now let us dine and drink in my home
And take pleasure while we recall to one another
Our grievous pains. For a man may take pleasure even in pain,
Later, when he has suffered and come through so many things.”

νῶϊ δ’ ἐνὶ κλισίῃ πίνοντέ τε δαινυμένω τε
κήδεσιν ἀλλήλων τερπώμεθα λευγαλέοισι
μνωομένω· μετὰ γάρ τε καὶ ἄλγεσι τέρπεται ἀνήρ,
ὅς τις δὴ μάλα πολλὰ πάθῃ καὶ πόλλ’ ἐπαληθῇ.

Euripides, Fr. 133

“It is certainly sweet to recall your struggles after you’ve been saved”

ἀλλ’ ἡδύ τοι σωθέντα μεμνῆσθαι πόνων.

Archippus, fr. 45

“Mother, it is sweet to see the sea from the land
when you don’t have to sail any longer.”

ὡς ἡδὺ τὴν θάλατταν ἀπὸ τῆς γῆς ὁρᾶν
ὦ μῆτερ ἐστι, μὴ πλέοντα μηδαμοῦ

Od. 12.212

“But when we escape from here thanks to my virtue,
my planning, and my mind, I think we will  recall these things, perhaps.”

ἀλλὰ καὶ ἔνθεν ἐμῇ ἀρετῇ βουλῇ τε νόῳ τε
ἐκφύγομεν, καί που τῶνδε μνήσεσθαι ὀΐω.

Vergil, Aeneid 1.203

“Perhaps one day it will be a joy to remember even these things”

forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit

AMPHORA DEPICTING ULYSSES, ATHENA

Plato, Hippias Minor 372a-c: Willingness to Learn is My Sole Good Quality

“Can you see, Hippias, that I am earnest when I say I am obsessed with questioning wise men? I probably have only this one good quality, since I exhibit others that are plainly wretched: for I stumble over facts and don’t know what they are. This is a sufficient sign of it for me, that whenever I meet one of the men famed for his wisdom or those all the Greeks recognize for their wisdom, I seem to know nothing…

And what greater sign of ignorance is there than differing from wise men? But I do have one wondrous quality that saves me: I am not ashamed to learn; no I investigate and ask questions and have much gratitude for anyone who answers—I have never deprived someone of thanks. For I have never denied that I learned something and pretended that the thing learned was some personal discovery. Instead, I praise the one who taught me because he is wise and I show off what I have learned from him.”

latin-teacher

ὁρᾷς, ὦ Ἱππία, ὅτι ἐγὼ ἀληθῆ λέγω, λέγων ὡς λιπαρής εἰμι πρὸς τὰς ἐρωτήσεις τῶν σοφῶν; καὶ κινδυνεύω ἓν μόνον ἔχειν τοῦτο ἀγαθόν, τἆλλα ἔχων πάνυ φαῦλα: τῶν μὲν γὰρ πραγμάτων ᾗ ἔχει ἔσφαλμαι, καὶ οὐκ οἶδ᾽ ὅπῃ ἐστί. τεκμήριον δέ μοι τούτου ἱκανόν, ὅτι ἐπειδὰν συγγένωμαί τῳ ὑμῶν τῶν εὐδοκιμούντων ἐπὶ σοφίᾳ καὶ οἷς οἱ Ἕλληνες πάντες μάρτυρές εἰσι τῆς σοφίας, φαίνομαι οὐδὲν εἰδώς:…

καίτοι τί μεῖζον ἀμαθίας τεκμήριον ἢ ἐπειδάν τις σοφοῖς ἀνδράσι διαφέρηται; ἓν δὲ τοῦτο θαυμάσιον ἔχω ἀγαθόν, ὅ με σῴζει: οὐ γὰρ αἰσχύνομαι μανθάνων, ἀλλὰ πυνθάνομαι καὶ ἐρωτῶ καὶ χάριν πολλὴν ἔχω τῷ ἀποκρινομένῳ, καὶ οὐδένα πώποτε ἀπεστέρησα χάριτος. οὐ γὰρ πώποτε ἔξαρνος ἐγενόμην μαθών τι, ἐμαυτοῦ ποιούμενος τὸ μάθημα εἶναι ὡς εὕρημα: ἀλλ᾽ ἐγκωμιάζω τὸν διδάξαντά με ὡς σοφὸν ὄντα, ἀποφαίνων ἃ ἔμαθον παρ᾽ αὐτοῦ

Procrastination: A Greek and Roman Tradition

Our word ‘procrastination’ is pretty much a direct borrowing from Latin (first attested in English in 1548, according to the OED–we really delayed in adopting it!). There was also a brief-lived adaptation of Latin cunctatio (delay) in English cunctation, cunctatory, cunctatious (etc.) but, thankfully, that fell into disuse. Eventually.

Here are some Greek and Roman thoughts on delay:

From the Suda:

Ἀμβολία: ἡ ὑπέρθεσις: Hesitation: postponement
Ἀναβάλλειν: To Delay
Ἀνάθεσις: ἡ ὑπέρθεσις: A delay: postponement
Διαμέλλει: ἀναβολῇ χρῆται: He/she put something off: to employ procrastination.

A few proverbs from the Suda

“The wings of Daidalos”: used of those who employ delay because they lack a prosthetic.

Δαιδάλου πτερά: ἐπὶ τῶν δι’ ἀπορίαν προσθήκης χρωμένων παρελκύσει.

“The hedgehog would put off childbirth.” This proverb is applied to situations that become worse with delay”

Ἐχῖνος τὸν τόκον ἀναβάλλῃ: λέγεται ἐφ’ ὧν τὸ ἀναβάλλεσθαι πρὸς χείρονος γίνεται.

Image result for Medieval manuscript hedgehog

Terence, Andria 206

“Dave, this is no place for sluggishness or procrastination.”

Dave, nil locist segnitiae neque socordiae,

Propertius, 1.12

“Why can’t you stop flinging a charge of laziness at me—
The claim that Rome, Ponticus, is making me procrastinate?”

Quid mihi desidiae non cessas fingere crimen,
quod faciat nobis, Pontice, Roma moram?

Achilles Tatius, Leucippe and Clitophon 18

“For when beauty, wealth and sex converge upon you, you better not sit or procrastinate!”

κάλλος γὰρ καὶ πλοῦτος καὶ ἔρως εἰ συνῆλθον ἐπὶ σέ, οὐχ ἕδρας οὐδὲ ἀναβολῆς

Cicero, Letters (to Atticus) 10.9

“Fearing this, I fell into this delay. But I might achieve everything if I hurry—if I procrastinate, I lose.”

hoc verens in hanc tarditatem incidi. sed adsequar omnia si propero: si cunctor, amitto.

Cicero, Letters to Friends (Caelius Rufus to Cicero, 87)

“You know how slow and barely effective Marcellus is. And Servius too, the procrastinator….”

nosti Marcellum, quam tardus et parum efficax sit, itemque Servium, quam cunctator

Thucydides, 2.18

“The Peloponnesians believed that when they arrived they would have captured everything outside still immediately, except for his procrastination…”

καὶ ἐδόκουν οἱ Πελοποννήσιοι ἐπελθόντες ἂν διὰ τάχους πάντα ἔτι ἔξω καταλαβεῖν, εἰ μὴ διὰ τὴν ἐκείνου μέλλησιν

Demosthenes, Second Olynthiac 23

“It is no surprise that Philip, when he goes on campaign himself, toiling and present at every event, overlooking no opportunity or season, outstrips us as we procrastinate, vote on things, and make official inquiries.”

οὐ δὴ θαυμαστόν ἐστιν, εἰ στρατευόμενος καὶ πονῶν ἐκεῖνος αὐτὸς καὶ παρὼν ἐφ᾿ ἅπασι καὶ μήτε καιρὸν μήθ᾿ ὥραν παραλείπων ἡμῶν μελλόντων καὶ ψηφιζομένων καὶ πυνθανομένων περιγίγνεται.

Plato, Critias 108d

“I need to do this already, I can’t procrastinate anymore!”

τοῦτ᾿ οὖν αὐτὸ ἤδη δραστέον, καὶ μελλητέον οὐδὲν ἔτι.

Minucius Felix, Octavius 13

“Shouldn’t everyone should respect and imitate the procrastination of Simonides, the lyric poet? When he was asked by the tyrant Hiero what he thought about the nature of the gods, first he asked for a day to think about it. On the next day, he asked for two more days. And he requested another two when reminded again!

Finally, when the tyrant asked the cause of so much delay, he responded that to him “the truth became as much more obscure as the time spent pursuing it”. To my taste, matters that are uncertain should be let as they are. When so many impressive minds disagree, decisions should not be made rashly or speedily for either side to avoid entertaining an old woman’s superstition or the loss of all religion.”

Simonidis Melici nonne admiranda omnibus et sectanda cunctatio? Qui Simonides, cum de eo, quid et quales arbitraretur deos, ab Hierone tyranno quaereretur, primo deliberationi diem petiit, postridie biduum prorogavit, mox alterum tantum admonitus adiunxit. Postremo, cum causas tantae morae tyrannus inquireret, respondit ille ‘quod sibi, quanto inquisitio tardior pergeret, tanto veritas fieret obscurior.’Mea quoque opinione quae sunt dubia, ut sunt, relinquenda sunt, nec, tot ac tantis viris deliberantibus, temere et audaciter in alteram partem ferenda sententia est, ne aut anilis inducatur superstitio aut omnis religio destruatur.”

Martial, 5.58

“Postumus, you always say that you will live tomorrow, tomorrow!
But that ‘tomorrow’ of yours – when does it ever come?
How far off is that ‘tomorrow’! Where is it, or where should it be sought?
Does it lie hidden among the Parthians, or the Armenians?
That ‘tomorrow’ is as old as Priam or Nestor.
For how much can ‘tomorrow’ be purchased?
You will live tomorrow, you say?
Postumus, even living today is too late;
he is the wise man, who lived yesterday.

Cras te uicturum, cras dicis, Postume, semper:
dic mihi, cras istud, Postume, quando uenit?
Quam longe cras istud! ubi est? aut unde petendum?
Numquid apud Parthos Armeniosque latet?
Iam cras istud habet Priami uel Nestoris annos.              5
Cras istud quanti, dic mihi, possit emi?
Cras uiues? Hodie iam uiuere, Postume, serum est:
ille sapit quisquis, Postume, uixit heri.

Why Insanity is Superior. And Some Etymologies.

Socrates is the speaker of this passage which includes some curious assertions about sanity and madness and some adventurous folk etymologies.

Plato Phaedrus 244b-d

“If it were simply the case that insanity is evil, then this would be said truly. But, in truth, the greatest goods come to us from madness when it is given as a divine gift. For the prophet at Delphi and the priestesses at Dodona have completed many fine things for Greece both in public and private, because they were insane. But when they are in their right minds, they have done little or nothing.

And if we speak about the Sibyl and the rest—however many provide prophecy while inspired and by predicting many things for many people have improved their lives—we should clearly be spending a long time describing it all. This is also worthy of acknowledging, that the ancients who gave things names did not belief that madness was shameful or worthy of reproach. For they would not have interwoven this name—mania—with that finest art by which the future is judged.

No, instead, since it is a divine dispensation and because it is noble, they named it according to their belief. These days people call it the mantic art, callously adding a tau. When they name sane people’s investigation of the future through other means like bird omens and similar signs—since they must provide from their own perspective the mind (nous) and inquiry (historia) by means of human thought (oiêsis)—they call it oionoistic thought and make it more reverent by adding an omega as current people do. How much more complete and honorable prophecy is to augury both in name and in its action the ancients assert it is that much superior because madness is divine in origin and sanity is human.”

εἰ μὲν γὰρ ἦν ἁπλοῦν τὸ μανίαν κακὸν εἶναι, καλῶς ἂν ἐλέγετο· νῦν δὲ τὰ μέγιστα τῶν ἀγαθῶν ἡμῖν γίγνεται διὰ μανίας, θείᾳ μέντοι δόσει διδομένης. ἥ τε γὰρ δὴ ἐν Δελφοῖς προφῆτις αἵ τ᾿ ἐν Δωδώνῃ ἱέρειαι μανεῖσαι μὲν πολλὰ δὴ καὶ καλὰ ἰδίᾳ τε καὶ δημοσίᾳ τὴν Ἑλλάδα εἰργάσαντο, σωφρονοῦσαι δὲ βραχέα ἢ οὐδέν· καὶ ἐὰν δὴ λέγωμεν Σίβυλλάν τε καὶ ἄλλους, ὅσοι μαντικῇ χρώμενοι ἐνθέῳ πολλὰ δὴ πολλοῖς προλέγοντες εἰς τὸ μέλλον ὤρθωσαν, μηκύνοιμεν ἂν δῆλα παντὶ λέγοντες· τόδε μὴν ἄξιον ἐπιμαρτύρασθαι, ὅτι καὶ τῶν παλαιῶν οἱ τὰ ὀνόματα τιθέμενοι οὐκ αἰσχρὸν ἡγοῦντο οὐδὲ ὄνειδος μανίαν.οὐ γὰρ ἂν τῇ καλλίστῃ τέχνῃ, ᾗ τὸ μέλλον κρίνεται, αὐτὸ τοῦτο τοὔνομα ἐμπλέκοντες μανικὴν ἐκάλεσαν· ἀλλ᾿ ὡς καλοῦ ὄντος, ὅταν θείᾳ μοίρᾳ γίγνηται, οὕτω νομίσαντες ἔθεντο, οἱ δὲ νῦν ἀπειροκάλως τὸ ταῦ ἐπεμβάλλοντες μαντικὴν ἐκάλεσαν. ἐπεὶ καὶ τήν γε τῶν ἐμφρόνων ζήτησιν τοῦ μέλλοντος διά τε ὀρνίθων ποιουμένων καὶ τῶν ἄλλων σημείων, ἅτ᾿ ἐκ διανοίας ποριζομένων ἀνθρωπίνῃ οἰήσει νοῦν τε καὶ ἱστορίαν, οἰονοϊστικὴν ἐπωνόμασαν, ἣν νῦν οἰωνιστικὴν τῷ ω σεμνύνοντες οἱ νέοι καλοῦσιν· ὅσῳ δὴ οὖν τελεώτερον καὶ ἐντιμότερον μαντικὴ οἰωνιστικῆς, τό τε ὄνομα τοῦ ὀνόματος ἔργον τ᾿ ἔργου, τόσῳ κάλλιον μαρτυροῦσιν οἱ παλαιοὶ μανίαν σωφροσύνης τὴν ἐκ θεοῦ τῆς παρ᾿ ἀνθρώπων γιγνομένης.

Image result for Ancient Greek prophecy

The logic here might be a little bewildering, but Socrates/Plato seem to be on t something with the first etymology

Beekes Madness

A Post from a Year Ago: Polybius and Plato on Government Cycles

A year ago this Tuesday I found myself contemplating a bottle of bourbon and Polybius.

Polybius, Histories 6.4

“The proof that what I have said is true comes from the following. It must not be asserted that every well-made government is a principality, but only the government which is assented to voluntarily and which is governed by reason rather than fear and force. Nor should we consider every oligarchy to be an aristocracy: the latter emerges only when men rule because they are the most just and the most prudent. In a similar way, a true democracy is not that in which the majority has the power to do whatever it wants, but what counts is if the will of the majority enforces observance of its traditional laws, honor to the customary laws, duty to parents, respect to elders, obedience to the laws—then it is right to call a state a democracy.

From this, we can isolate six types of government: the three I have just mentioned and three additional, related forms, monarchy, oligarchy, and mob rule. The first of these, monarchy, arises naturally, and without machination. The second follows it and develops from it with preparation and adjustment. Once this has transformed into the evil form akin to it, tyranny, and aristocracy develops from the dissolution of both. When aristocracy devolves into oligarchy as is natural, and the people turn into rage over the injustice of their leaders, democracy emerges. Over time, mob-rule develops from outrage and illegality. Anyone can understand clearly from this pattern that the things I am saying now are true, based on the nature of each government in its origins and its evolution.”

polybius

ὅτι δ᾽ ἀληθές ἐστι τὸ λεγόμενον ἐκ τούτων συμφανές. [2] οὔτε γὰρ πᾶσαν δήπου μοναρχίαν εὐθέως βασιλείαν ῥητέον, ἀλλὰ μόνην τὴν ἐξ ἑκόντων συγχωρουμένην καὶ τῇ γνώμῃ τὸ πλεῖον ἢ φόβῳ καὶ βίᾳ κυβερνωμένην: [3] οὐδὲ μὴν πᾶσαν ὀλιγαρχίαν ἀριστοκρατίαν νομιστέον, ἀλλὰ ταύτην, ἥτις ἂν κατ᾽ ἐκλογὴν ὑπὸ τῶν δικαιοτάτων καὶ φρονιμωτάτων ἀνδρῶν βραβεύηται. [4] παραπλησίως οὐδὲ δημοκρατίαν, ἐν ᾗ πᾶν πλῆθος κύριόν ἐστι ποιεῖν ὅ, [5] τι ποτ᾽ ἂν αὐτὸ βουληθῇ καὶ πρόθηται παρὰ δ᾽ ᾧ πάτριόν ἐστι καὶ σύνηθες θεοὺς σέβεσθαι, γονεῖς θεραπεύειν, πρεσβυτέρους αἰδεῖσθαι, νόμοις πείθεσθαι, παρὰ τοῖς τοιούτοις συστήμασιν ὅταν τὸ τοῖς πλείοσι δόξαν νικᾷ, τοῦτο καλεῖν δεῖ δημοκρατίαν. διὸ καὶ γένη μὲν ἓξ εἶναι ῥητέον πολιτειῶν, [6] τρία μὲν ἃ πάντες θρυλοῦσι καὶ νῦν προείρηται, τρία δὲ τὰ τούτοις συμφυῆ, λέγω δὲ μοναρχίαν, ὀλιγαρχίαν, ὀχλοκρατίαν. [7] πρώτη μὲν οὖν ἀκατασκεύως καὶ φυσικῶς συνίσταται μοναρχία, ταύτῃ δ᾽ ἕπεται καὶ ἐκ ταύτης γεννᾶται μετὰ κατασκευῆς καὶ διορθώσεως βασιλεία. [8] μεταβαλλούσης δὲ ταύτης εἰς τὰ συμφυῆ κακά, λέγω δ᾽ εἰς τυραννίδ᾽, αὖθις ἐκ τῆς τούτων καταλύσεως ἀριστοκρατία φύεται. [9] καὶ μὴν ταύτης εἰς ὀλιγαρχίαν ἐκτραπείσης κατὰ φύσιν, τοῦ δὲ πλήθους ὀργῇ μετελθόντος τὰς τῶν προεστώτων ἀδικίας, γεννᾶται δῆμος. [10] ἐκ δὲ τῆς τούτου πάλιν ὕβρεως καὶ παρανομίας ἀποπληροῦται σὺν χρόνοις ὀχλοκρατία. [11] γνοίη δ᾽ ἄν τις σαφέστατα περὶ τούτων ὡς ἀληθῶς ἐστιν οἷα δὴ νῦν εἶπον, ἐπὶ τὰς ἑκάστων κατὰ φύσιν ἀρχὰς καὶ γενέσεις καὶ μεταβολὰς ἐπιστήσας.

anaklosis

Later in the year, I read a slightly disturbing piece comparing the views of Steve Bannon and Plato concerning movements in governments. Without comment on this, a friend asked me about the same basic passage from Plato, because it was discussed on the BBC:

The passage at the center of this appears to be as follows:

Plato, Republic  564a

“It is likely, I said, that tyranny emerges out of no other state except for democracy—the greatest and most savage servitude emerges, I suppose, from the greatest freedom.”

Εἰκότως τοίνυν, εἶπον, οὐκ ἐξ ἄλλης πολιτείας τυραννὶς καθίσταται ἢ ἐκ δημοκρατίας, ἐξ οἶμαι τῆς ἀκροτάτης ἐλευθερίας δουλεία πλείστη τε καὶ ἀγριωτάτη.

The problem with the discussions, however, is that Plato’s interlocutors take a very long time to get to this point: the discussion about the four types of government starts at 544a  So picking out this single passage is kind of like watching one series of the Superbowl and thinking you know the whole game.

(And, as an aside, plucking any bit out of its context in a Platonic dialogue is a little dodgy. [And I say this with authority as someone whose hobby is taking quotations out of context.] I am not a Platonist, but I have read enough to know that each dialogue presents its own development of arguments, essentially a self-contained universe of ideas. The dialogues do interrelate, but an idea projected in one is not a universal assertion. This is especially true in the Republic.]

Much earlier in the piece, Plato starts to discuss democracy. His issue has to do with the importance of money:

Rep. 555b

“Therefore, I said, this sort of manner facilitates the change from oligarchy into democracy, through the insatiable pursuit for its proposed good, that there be as much wealth as possible?”

How’s that?

I guess I mean that when those who rule in a state rule because they possess much, they are not willing to restrain by law however many of the youth are unhindered, to prevent them from spending and wasting their own wealth, because they hope that by acquiring and lending money on their possessions, they might become even wealthier still and more honored.

Ah, alright.

Therefore it is clear in this city that it is impossible to honor wealth and obtain sufficient wisdom among the citizens at the same time, but, rather, it is necessary to care for one or the other?

Ok, he said, that seems right.”

Οὐκοῦν, ἦν δ’ ἐγώ, μεταβάλλει μὲν τρόπον τινὰ τοιόνδε ἐξ ὀλιγαρχίας εἰς δημοκρατίαν, δι’ ἀπληστίαν τοῦ προκειμένου ἀγαθοῦ, τοῦ ὡς πλουσιώτατον δεῖν γίγνεσθαι;

Πῶς δή;

῞Ατε οἶμαι ἄρχοντες ἐν αὐτῇ οἱ ἄρχοντες διὰ τὸ πολλὰ κεκτῆσθαι, οὐκ ἐθέλουσιν εἴργειν νόμῳ τῶν νέων ὅσοι ἂν ἀκόλαστοι γίγνωνται, μὴ ἐξεῖναι αὐτοῖς ἀναλίσκειν τε καὶ ἀπολλύναι τὰ αὑτῶν, ἵνα ὠνούμενοι τὰ τῶν τοιούτων καὶ εἰσδανείζοντες ἔτι πλουσιώτεροι καὶ ἐντιμότεροι γίγνωνται.

Παντός γε μᾶλλον.

Οὐκοῦν δῆλον ἤδη τοῦτο ἐν πόλει, ὅτι πλοῦτον τιμᾶν καὶ σωφροσύνην ἅμα ἱκανῶς κτᾶσθαι ἐν τοῖς πολίταις ἀδύνατον, ἀλλ’ ἀνάγκη ἢ τοῦ ἑτέρου ἀμελεῖν ἢ τοῦ ἑτέρου;

᾿Επιεικῶς, ἔφη, δῆλον.

Παραμελοῦντες δὴ ἐν ταῖς ὀλιγαρχίαις καὶ ἐφιέντες ἀκολασταίνειν οὐκ ἀγεννεῖς ἐνίοτε ἀνθρώπους πένητας ἠνάγκασαν γενέσθαι.

(It is interesting that the anti-financial aspect of this dialogue is praised by few…) Plato’s vision of political change is not merely shaped by an aristocratic prejudice against new money, but it is also conditioned by Athenian and local Greek histories. His sample sizes are not large enough! The political cycles envisioned by the later historian Polybius seem a lot more realistic and pertinent, to my taste.

%d bloggers like this: