There be dragons!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

thaumatapoioi after grading essays.

While grading essays I read an article by Asli Gocer "The Puppet Theater in Plato's Parable of the Cave" which intrigued me. Gocer points out the use of the word "thaumatopoioi" for the puppets in the cave.

Plato writes in Republic Bk 7:

"Picture further the light from a fire burning higher up and at a distance behind them, and between the fire and the prisoners and above them a road along which a low wall has been built, as the exhibitors of puppet-shows have partitions before the men themselves, above which they show the puppets.”
“See also, then, men carrying past the wall implements of all kinds that rise above the wall, and human images and shapes of animals as well, wrought in stone and wood and every material, some of these bearers presumably speaking and others silent.”

In Greek, the first part of the passage reads:

φῶς δὲ αὐτοῖς πυρὸς ἄνωθεν καὶ πόρρωθεν καόμενον ὄπισθεν αὐτῶν, μεταξὺ δὲ τοῦ πυρὸς καὶτῶν δεσμωτῶν ἐπάνω ὁδόν, παρ᾽ ἣν ἰδὲ τειχίον παρῳκοδομημένον, ὥσπερ τοῖς θαυματοποιοῖςπρὸ τῶν ἀνθρώπων πρόκειται τὰ παραφράγματα, ὑπὲρ ὧν τὰ θαύματα δεικνύασιν

The word used thaumatapoiois (θαυματοποιοῖς) for the shadow puppets seems the same as the thaumasta (θαυμαστὰ)that draws Gyges into the crevice back in Bk 2;

"after a great deluge of rain and an earthquake the ground opened and a chasm appeared in the place where he was pasturing; and they say that he saw and wondered and went down into the chasm; and the story goes that he beheld other marvels there"

in Greek

ὄμβρου δὲ πολλοῦ γενομένου καὶ σεισμοῦ ῥαγῆναί τι τῆςγῆς καὶ γενέσθαι χάσμα κατὰ τὸν τόπον ἔνεμεν. ἰδόνταδὲ καὶ θαυμάσαντα καταβῆναι καὶ ἰδεῖν ἄλλα τε δὴ μυθολογοῦσιν θαυμαστὰ

This also seems the same as the later thaumata that Er describes.

Gyges, the Prisoner/pilgrim, Er are the same man in three stages of the alchemical transmogrification effected by the dialectic process.

"All Philosophy begins in wonder" (θαυμαστὰ) Plato states. "All love of wisdom begins in wonder." Whereas the Scriptures proclaim that "Fear of the Lord is the root of all wisdom." Are wonder and fear of the Lord the same thing? Who is the Lord? The Good? Darkness? The Abyss? All of the above?

Wonders draw the man into the darkness; the darkness makes him a prisoner; wonders draw the man up from his state as prisoner into the light of the real; wonders are revealed after passing out of the "cave" through death.

Pythagoreans believed that the soul was merely a balance of perfectly tuned harmonies. With such balance comes the soul and life; loss of such balance kills. The balance of the dialogue (Republic) seems to exist in order to create or "give birth to" (genesis) a soul in the reader/interlocutor; it is a genesis (becoming) towards to on (being).

Yet this is a monologue. Plato assumes the role of Socrates, who is actually remembering his words and the interlocutors' in discussion. This creates several layers of "masking" (thaumatapoiois). Why? To whom? Does he believe it or just use it? Is it real or is it just shadow puppets.

There is, consequently, a balance in the dialogue between the "sleeping" man (Thrasymachus; the minotaur) and the "awakened" man (Odysseus; the sun hero, who chooses the life of the ordinary man in the myth of Er); between the unborn man (Cephalus; the head) and the born man (Er; the man of the air - man of earth);
between doxa and gnosis; eikoni and eidoi; the cave and the world of forms.

Yet neither cave, nor world of forms is the really real. The world of forms is no more "real" than the cave as both are in the myth in the narrative in the monologue in the Platonic work itself. The real is in the middle; on the ground outside the cave; in the here, now, and present. Both worlds, (sleeping/waking, prenatal life/adulthood, doxa/gnosis, eikoni/eidoi, shadows/forms) are connected together in the here and now; that's the point. It is the hypostatic union, the philosopher-king, man fully alive is man suffering (the central phrase in the Gospel of John is "Jesus wept"; Jn 11:35) - stretched on the cross of existence that unites horizontal and vertical.

All metaphors must at some point be abandoned, all guiding stars at some point must be relinquished, all ships at some point must be burned if we are to see the new world. The point is, therefore, beyond the point. Not simply to scrutinize the thaumatapoioi that comprise any work of literature, but to see the literature in part and in whole simultaneously and thus to "live dear to one another and to the gods, both while remaining here and when, like conquerors in the games who go round to gather gifts, we receive our reward." Or to borrow from Dante a more poetical way of saying this,

Io ritornai da la santissima onda
rifatto sì come piante novelle
rinnovellate di novella fronda,

puro e disposto a salire alle stelle

From the most holy water I returned
Regenerate, in the manner of new trees
That are renewed with a new foliage,

Pure and disposed to mount unto the stars.


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