There be dragons!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The PhilosopherKing

This is in order to get the idea down. I want eventually to make a video series on Plato.

Book 1 begins with "I went down" - I have long held that this is a descendo de caeli much like the later Incarnation image; it is also a descent into the underworld like in Homer's "Odyssey" (a reference to which exists right there in Book 1: "this is a lesson which I suspect you must have learnt out of Homer; for he, speaking of Autolycus, the maternal grandfather of Odysseus, who is a favourite of his, affirms that He was excellent above all men in theft and perjury. And so, you and Homer and Simonides are agreed that justice is an art of theft...")
The geography itself contributes to this play on mythology since the Acropolis, the high shining city of marble and gold, parallel to Olympus, is physically higher up in elevation than the Peiraeus. The latter city, because it is a port city, would have been a polyglot of language, religion, culture, attitudes towards life. Like any port city it would have had a large "red light" district of shady establishments, drinking, and prostitution. It would have been a hotbed of hot beds. Moreover, the city name, Peiraeus(Πειραιεύς), means "the place over the passage" and was built over a series of salt mines and caverns. It is also the last land jetty into the Mediterranean before making the southerly cross over the wine-dark sea to Egypt, the land of the dead. So in all respects, Peiraeus is the metaphorical underworld.
Yet, Socrates goes there not to impart wisdom or to talk with people that might better understand him but to see the festival of Bendis; "...a Thracian goddess of the moon and the hunt whom the Greeks identified with Artemis, and hence with the other two aspects of the former Minoan Triple Goddess, Hecate and Persephone." Socrates is drawn, erotically, by the prospect of some holy beauty, some light in the darkness, and descends to see the festival. He is returning in the evening when he is stopped by Polemarchus and others who playfully "capture" him and take him to the house of Cephalus for a dinner party where Glaucon metaphorically eats the food of the underworld. Thus there is a play on the myth of Persephone and Demeter.
The play on mythology also is in reference to Hercules who descends to the underworld not only to drag back Cerberus but also to return Alcestis to Admetus. He does both deeds by force. Socrates similarly "drags" the conversation out of the dark at the end of book 1. But just as he thinks he has done with the talk Glaucon, his companion, returning with him to the high city at the beginning of the book, challenges him and expresses the sorrowful and horrifying proposition that life is really rather a meaningless bore. In this way, and since he was following Socrates up to the light at the beginning of the dialogue, Glaucon is Eurydice and Socrates must play Orpheus for the next nine books to bring him back from the "land of the dead" which is the psychological state of seeing righteousness as a dull, meaningless emptiness.

Three opinions about Justice in Bk 1 are expressed;
1. Cephalus (the head, the chief) = telling the truth and giving back what is owed
2. Polemarchus (one who begins, or leads a war) = do good to friends and harm to enemies
3. Thrasymachus (bold fighter) = advantage of the strong

Justice, ton dikaion, righteousness or goodness is all these things. The righteous man does tell the truth and gives back what is owed; he does good to his friends and harm to his enemies; he has the advantage over other b/c he possesses the strength of being beyond the law and obedient to the law.

This set of three is repeated in the three types of good presented by Glaucon (the Eurydice figure)
1. good enjoyed for its own sake
2. good enjoyed for its sake and what it produces
3. good produced from something that is hateful (which is where Glaucon says most people equate Justice)

And this set of three is reiterated in the idea of justice as a mean between two extremes
1. best = doing injustice w/o penalty
2. justice = not v. great, but not too painful; doing some smaller injustices w/o penalty of severe punishment
3. worst = suffering injustice w/o revenge

This set of three is like unto the setting of the dialogue, namely
1. Acropolis (Olympus; realm of the gods, or the land of light & life)
2. the main or middle city
3. Peiraeus (Hades; realm of the dead, darkness & chaos)

This is parallel to the metaphysical states of
1. heaven
2. limbo
3. hell

But Glaucon/Eurydice, who has accosted Socrates/Orpheus in his return to the light, suggests that most people live in that limbo realm of the long grey day - justice is a compromise, and the best that we can hope for, in this life and the next, although not too thrilling or inspiring is at least not too painful.

The Acropolis/Olympus of doing injustice w/o penalty, is like the Playboy mansion, the bling of the gangsta, the pimp with the money and the babes and the convertible. Most of us will not achieve that, but if we were able to with impunity we would jump at that chance. Who, after all, wants to be a millionaire?

The Peiraeus/Hades of suffering injustice is a horrible prospect; malaka; utter degradation and despair coupled with eternal pain. No one wants that and the fear of its prospect keeps most people, as Nietzsche pointed out, from "aspiring to greatness". We are like Macbeth,

To be the same in thine own act and valour
As thou art in desire? Wouldst thou have that
Which thou esteem'st the ornament of life,
And live a coward in thine own esteem,
Letting 'I dare not' wait upon 'I would,'
Like the poor cat i' the adage?

Thus, according to Glaucon, the very best we can hope to look forward to is this long grey day of the afterlife, hating job, hating family, hating life, looking forward to weekend football and maybe a vacation to somewhere warm.
Sad. Lethal. And deadening of all inspiration, aspiration, and happiness in life. Such an attitude makes dead men. How to revive them? How to raise the dead and lead them up from the underworld? Socrates not only has to raise one dead soul (like Orpheus) but ten! A multiplication connoting extreme difficulty.

The proposal of the philosopher king seems to offer the correction for Glaucon's "Gyges" (Geges, or dirt guy) image. If one is to see the good philosophers must become kings and kings philosophers. Philosophers, those who tell the truth and give back what is owed and thus are put upon, living in Peiraeus, hated but producing good, suffering injustice w/o revenge - these sorts of men must become kings and kings, those who impose their rule and advantage through strength, living on the Acropolis, enjoying the good for its own sake, doing what they will without penalty, must become philosophers. The high and the low must be united. Only the philosopher king can be truly ton dikaion, righteous, enjoying the good for itself and producing good themselves, doing good to friends (all humanity) and harm to enemies (untruth and evil). Socrates proposes a "marriage of heaven and hell" as Blake put it. Thus uniting the two spheres in the vesica piscis into one, unbroken, golden ring of continuous strength - one Socrates (whose name means "unbroken power").

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