Sunday, September 7, 2014

Airbrushed Memories

This is where I came from.
I passed this way.
This should not be shameful
Or hard to say.

A self is a self.
It is not a screen.
A person should respect
What he has been.

This is my past
Which I shall not discard.
This is the ideal.
This is hard.
- James Fenton, "The Ideal"

17 comments:

nicrap said...

Hello fj. How are you? It has been a long time. o/t I have been revisiting "the cycle of Socrates' death" — Apology, Crito, Phaedo, in that order — and i finally picked up Phaedo today. As it has always been my custom to give book introductions a miss and to go straight to the text, i was doing just that, i.e., skipping the introduction, when my eyes caught something in it which made me stay a while...I would like to share it with you: There is nothing in any tragedy, ancient or modern, nothing in poetry or history (with one exception), like the last hours of Socrates in Plato.

Who or what do you think the writer (Jowett?) had in mind? Who was that 'one exception'? Jesus? and the story of His Passion as told in Gospels? (Was the use of the word 'history' deliberate then?) The chap never explains it! :/

nicrap said...

Jowett?

The translation is by Jowett (btw, here is a much better translation of Phaedo, if you are interested.) I don't know if the introduction is by him, too, or not ... it doesn't say.

Thersites said...

To meet one's pending execution in a willfully celebratory manner? Christ does come to mind, and I can't think of any others, at present.

Hope you have been well!

Thersites said...

Chapter XVI Plato's Theory of Immortality

THE dialogue called after Phaedo is interesting in several respects. It purports to describe the last moments in the life of Socrates: his conversation immediately before drinking the hemlock, and after, until he loses consciousness. This presents Plato's ideal of a man who is both wise and good in the highest degree, and who is totally without fear of death. Socrates in face of death, as represented by Plato, was important ethically, both in ancient and modern times. What gospel account of the Passion and Crucifixion was for Christians, the Phaedo was for pagan or freethinking philosophers.* But the imperturbability of Socrates in his last hour is bound up with his belief in immortality, and the Phaedo is important in setting forth, not only the death of a martyr, but also many doctrines which were afterward Christian. The theology of St. Paul and of the Fathers was largely derived from it, directly or indirectly, and can hardly be understood if Plato is ignored.

*Even for many Christians, it is second only to the death of Christ. "There is nothing in any tragedy, ancient or modern, nothing in poetry or history (with one exception), like the last hours of Socrates in Plato." These are the words of the Rev. Benjamin Jowett.


- Bertrand Russell, "A History of Western Philosophy"

nicrap said...

wow. Great find. I was not wrong to put my faith in you. ;) But to come to think of it, who else it could have been? Does any other instance come to mind? Calanus? (Who famously said to Alexander, We shall meet in Babylon.) But he was a rather obscure sage from India and largely forgotten today. Then there is 'the death of Peregrinus' by Lucian, but it's more a parody or a satire than anything else. So, yes, Jesus was indeed the logical choice.

nicrap said...

p.s. I've been very well. thanks! :)

nicrap said...

Actually, Calanus (along with Dandamis and other Gymnosophists who may or may not have been named) may not have been at all obscure in the Late Antiquity and the early Christian centuries when Alexander romances were very popular and proliferated greatly. I have a very interesting text on these 'naked philosophers' (as they were called) in case you would like a look at it: here. :)

Thersites said...

AN interesting subject. Thanks for introducing it!

I've been playing with Vedic math lately, myself. ;)

nicrap said...

I am familiar with the paper you linked, fj. Actually, i read it not long ago...

...Among other things, it recounts the story of an encounter between Yudhisthira and a yaksha (a water spirit.) Yudhisthria is one of the five brothers, who make the central cast of Mahabharata, one of the two great sanskrit epics. He is the eldest of the five and is the son of Yama (each is born of a different deity), the god of death as well as of the moral law, and is known for his piety and righteousness...a philosopher! and is often put to test on that score (the theme of the philosophical life/true life as a life of test which was so common in Antiquity.) Just one such time is his encounter with the yaksha. The latter puts to him riddles/questions — mostly on the moral law — which he answers with great sagacity, thus evincing his knowledge of the law and, in the process, also saving the lives of his younger brothers, who before him had been put to death by the yaksha for having failed to answer the questions. The yaksha then reveals himself to be none other than the god of death himself (and his father). Thus, it is him, and not Arjuna or Bhima — his younger brothers and both renowned warriors — who alone is shown to be triumphant over death. Both symbolically (in being the son of the death of god) as well as in reality (in defeating the same.) This theme of the philosopher as someone — the only one — who is victorious over death (or the fear of death, which is the main thing) becomes even more evident when we come to the last moments in the brothers' lives. Having retired from public life, the brothers decide to ascend to heaven; but, one by one, they all fall by the wayside (to their deaths) save Yudhisthira, who alone reaches to the top (and from there to heaven.) A hero, indeed; but, unlike others, a philosophical hero.

nicrap said...

I've been playing with Vedic math lately, myself.

Is it any good? I know next to nothing about it. :(

nicrap said...

Here is the full account of the five brothers' (commonly known as Pandavas) journey to heaven. It's a very interesting account, at least i find it so. Draupadi (also called Panchali) who was wed to all of them also accomapnies them in the journey, along with a dog who later turns out to be Dharma or Yama (the God of death and Moral Law as well as Yudhisthira's father.) Hope with these you will be able to access the text more easily. :)

Ah yes, Duryodhana is their main antagonist and the wicked king of Kauravas (the rival clan.)

WomanHonorThyself said...

God bless you my patriotic friend on this Sept 11th..I shall light candles at the Memorial ...

-FJ said...

Thank you, Angel. Light one for me!

-FJ said...

I think I need the Vedic Guidebook for Dummies. Is there a genealogy chart for the Vedas like there is for Hesiod?

nicrap said...

For dummies (sorry, that's the best i could do). heh. But this is like scratching the surface, maybe not even that, as the number of Hindu gods and goddesses is said to be in millions — 330 millions, to be precise. However, the number may have been born of a misconception, and the real number may be much less...

...it changes. Hinduism is a kind of laborartory where every 2-3 hundred years or so new gods are "born". It's very interesting, indeed, especially if you like to study myths and legends. Recently, one such case is of Sai Baba. A holy man born in 1838 he is now worshipped all over India, by some as God. This's even caused a controversy, but i think even that is nothing new and is part of the whole "birth of the gods" process. :)

Thersites said...

I'll take it (for Dummies)!

And it's one of the things that I loved about the Greek tragedies... that the characters were always evolving and the stories changing. In the end, the reader keeps what representations of the gods and messengers makes the most sense to him.

nicrap said...

Indeed.