I’ve been reading Plato’s The Republic for the second time. The first time was in college 50 years ago. I was a philosophy major. It was required reading.
So was The Brothers Karamazov. I recently reread that classic of love, betrayal, money, murder, and insanity. Fun. And just like that, August flew by.
Reading a book without the pressure of writing a paper or taking an exam is so much more enjoyable. Like running without weights. I figure two or three more Russian novels and this pandemic will be over (or I’ll be insane).
In college, I took Greek for four years, so I read portions of The Republic in its original language. I wrote a paper. I passed the exam. I don’t know how. The book is obtuse in any language.
Still, I committed to plowing through it again (all 10 books). I also regularly bang my head against the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle. I’ve heard that reading obtuse books and working crossword puzzles can prevent dementia. (We’ll see.)
I took up The Republic, in part, because I wanted a diversion from the “ship of fools.” I needed a breather. Nothing like visiting the rational philosophical dialogues of fourth century BCE Greece to get away from this plague of anxiety.
I would breathe fresh Hellenic air. I would revel in wisdom. I would chew lotus. I would forget. Ah, antiquity.
It didn’t work out so well.
Unfortunately, parts of The Republic are clear as day. For example, Plato compares the state to a ship and asks: What would happen if we entrusted the navigation of a ship to a rich man—who knew nothing about piloting—just because he was rich?
And then later, in regard to a state ruled by a tyrant adored by the gullible masses, he says: When the tyrant has disposed of foreign enemies by conquest or treaty, and there is nothing to fear from them, then he is always stirring up some war at home, in order that the people may require a strong leader.
I closed the book and pushed it aside.
I’m now rereading Mad magazines.
Top, Sarah Dillon, “The Untitled Space”
Bottom, Alfred E. Neuman, Blueshirtbanter.com
See Paula’s impressionistic photograph on the home page.
I understand. Sometimes it’s too much to bear. I still hope we can move past today’s insanity!
I agree with you 100% when you comment on our current president. Hope things go well in November.
I smile in empathy for your momentary forgetfulness that true wisdom IS ancient–and harsh truth in present circumstances! I read with anticipation of your turning to MAD for an injection of “sanity stabilization.” I had been thinking of accessing my beautiful collection of children’s books as I read your inclusion of Plato’s warnings, but a return to innocence just won’t cut it.
Maybe it is “the we” who should sail away, after we vote.
The prescient sections of The Republic you cited were scary, and perhaps should be provided to all members (especially Republicans) in Congress. Who would not want to escape these current times. Historical fiction always helps me with the wisdom of hindsight. I have been losing myself in a comedy drama called, The Detectorists, about a small, iconic, club of metal detectorists (not detectors as they are always having to correct people in the show) in England.
Spend next week watching reruns of the “Waltons” Maybe you can find it with Greek subtitles.
There are those who say we must not destroy history, yet apparently never read history.
My Only Hope is that there’s enough of us thinking alike, that our “would be dictator” will be completely and unequivocally” thrown out of office ???
Ah, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Or as Yogi so eloquently put it, “It’s like deja vu all over again!”
And meanwhile I’ve been reading books about the founding of the nation–Rick Atkinson’s “The British Are Coming” and David McCullough’s “John Adams.” The seeds of 2020 were already sprouting like mad when the American enterprise was just getting started. You’re right to seek wisdom and consolation where you can.
Most of my conversations since March have been with plants and bugs and water.