Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Aristophanes - The Clouds

Hello!  Sorry it's been so long ... my 10 year reading plan may be a 30 year plan!  The past month I've been stuck in "The Clouds" by Aristophanes.

To start, I was unsure if I was reading this play correctly.  It was fairly difficult reading with unfamiliar historical references and strange speech.  That alone made it a good experience for me to understand what it must be like for someone to read the Bible for the first time -- it must be difficult.  After a while, though, I started to get into the story and started chuckling at some statements, then wondered if I was supposed to ... is this a comedy?  After some "cheating" on wikipedia, I was encouraged to know that I was understanding the story and comedy quite correctly!

The story consists of a father who is broke because of his wife and son's "high" living.  He wants to educate himself like the great thinkers of Sacrate's school so that he can learn the "bad logic" that will help him win his cases in court and escape paying his debts.

The play's main purpose is to make a fool out of Sacrates (and as I believe like Hollywood can do, change public opinion).  The father enrolls himself in Sacrates' school and eventually Socrates expells him because he is too dull and old.  The father then enrolls his son to take his place.  The son finishes the education and ends up turning on the father and mother -- part of the purpose to sway public opinion that Sacrates corrupts the youth.

The play is very entertaining with the chorus of  "The Clouds" and a debate between "Right Logic" and "Wrong Logic".  The Clouds are like the gods that control events.  In the end, they state to the father that they allowed him to go through all these things in order to teach him a lesson ... and to repent of his devious plans and just pay his debts.

"Right Logic" and "Wrong Logic" have a humorous debate, but interesting as they argue for the minds of the youth.  When Right Logic, for example, promotes chastity, Wrong Logic "proves" him wrong wrong by pointing out that everyone else (including Zeus) are immoral adulterers.  This of course is truly a fallacy, in my opinion, since what others do has no bearing on the truth of the statement that chastity is good.  Both conservatives and liberals, religious and non-religious people use this fallacy in their arguments.  I have to be careful not to use this in my conversations with others!

Also, Right Logic is mocked when he warns that Wrong Logic's ways will bend your mind to think that foul will be fair and fair will be foul.  Again, this is repeated in the Bible where it says: 

Isaiah 5:19-21 (New International Version)
19 to those who say, "Let God hurry, let him hasten his work so we may see it. Let it approach, let the plan of the Holy One of Israel come, so we may know it."
20 Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.
21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.

Can you think of any topics today that one side says evil is good and the other side says that the good is evil?

That's all for now.  On to PLATO: Republic [Book I-II]

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Socrates Continues to Surprise

I left off finishing Plato's Apology.  The book is not about Sacrate's apologizing for his actions :-) but defending them.  Apologetics

This will be a short post, due to life and time ... but here are some things that stood out to me in the last part of the book:

I admire Socrates because when asked to do something "unrighteous" or "unholy" he would not -- even at the risk of his life.  He also claimed he was always the same person in Public or in Private. 

I had put Greek democracy on some sort of pedestal, but it sounds like they had the same problems with special interests, corruption, and power that we have today.  Socrates mentioned, "Judges (should) have sworn to judge according to the laws and not according to their own good pleasure."

After Socrates is sentenced to die, he ponders his death.  First, he tells the accusers they should be thanking him for his service rather than condemning him.  Then, he tells them what a "gift" they have given him!  For, he reasoned, death is either a peaceful sleep of nothingness or a journey to another place -- where he can discuss his ideas with "true" judges in the sons of the gods, the (G)od (s), and the heros of old.

And finally, another interesting quote: "... the unexamined life is not worth living"


The next book I read was Crito.  This is a dialogue between Socrates and Crito in the prison.  Crito comes to visit Socrates and give him options for escape.  Apparently, he could "buy" his freedom and excape to another country.  Socrates hears Crito's plans, but, as usual, stops to consider if these actions would be consistent with his life.

Being a citizen of Athens by choice, he determines that he has placed himself under the authority of its laws and it would be inconsistent to disregard them.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but the laws and people of our government are there by our own choice.  Did we dedicate the resources to make the changes we thought were important?  Did we vote in the elections?  Do we benefit from a government that we do not like, but not willing to sacrifice to change it?  Do we only obey the laws that we think are correct?  How much authority do we give the state in controlling our lives?

In this dialogue, the State claims that IT brought Socrates into existence, provided for him, educated him -- and IT could take him out of existence.  And I thought that was a new idea!

Socrates had a lot of reasons to live:  a wife, children to raise, his blog followers ...  But he chose the good of the State, his family and followers above his own.  Even though he was falsely accused and unfairly sentenced -- he thought of others:

"Listen, then, Socrates, to us who have brought you up. Think not of life and children first, and of justice afterwards, but of justice first, that you may be justified before the princes of the world below. For neither will you nor any that belong to you be happier or holier or juster in this life, or happier in another, if you do as Crito bids. Now you depart in innocence, a sufferer and not a doer of evil; a victim, not of the laws, but of men. But if you go forth, returning evil for evil, and injury for injury, breaking the covenants and agreements which you have made with us, and wronging those whom you ought least to wrong, that is to say, yourself, your friends, your country, and us, we shall be angry with you while you live, and our brethren, the laws in the world below, will receive you as an enemy; for they will know that you have done your best to destroy us. Listen, then, to us and not to Crito."

This is the "voice" that Socrates could not get out of his head.  Apparently, he heard voices regularly ... oh well.

Socrates rocks!

On to ARISTOPHANES: Clouds, Lysistrata
Vol. 5, pp. 488-506, 583-599

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Wow!  That is all I can say at this point in my Journey.  I did not expect to be so encouraged so soon in this project.  So, to my 2 faithful followers, here is my first post on the readings thus far.

Last week I ironically stated one of my biggest struggles in life -- that some (if not most) people seem to think they are experts in something -- and therefore everything.  My problem is that the more I learn, the more I realize I don't know.  I have only read half of Plato's Apology and Sacrates had me laughing and almost brought me to tears!  Thank you!!

Sacrates, on his quest to prove "God" wrong in that God told others that "Sacrates was the wisest man on earth", discovered and solved the problem that I just described.  He checked the "wisest" politicians and concluded that: "Well, although I do not suppose that either of us is [wise] -- I am better off than he is, for he knows nothing and thinks that he knows; I neither know nor think that I know.   ... then, I seem to have slightly the advantage of him."  Thank you Sacrates!

Next he tested the poets and artisans and found similar results.  " -- because they were good workmen they thought that they also knew all sorts of high matters.  ...I asked myself on behalf of the oracle, whether I would like to be as I was, neither having their knowledge nor their ignorance, or like them in both; and I made answer to myself ... that I was better off as I was."  Thank you Sacrates!

Sacrates came to the correct conclusion, similar to Solomon in the Bible (the wisest man in the Bible, who asked God for wisdom ahead of anything else he could imagine):  "that God only is wise;  and by his answer [that Sacrates is the wisest man] he intends to show that the wisdom of men is worth little or nothing; he is not speaking of Socrates, he is only using my name by way of illustration, as if he said, 'He, O men, is the wisest, who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing.'"

I can't help but think of George Carlin- an actor (poet/artisan?) who thinks he is an expert in political affairs.  I only pick on him because he met "Soo Crates" when he acted in the movie "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure".  (I thought Sean Penn played in that movie, but I was mistaken -- but it would have made a better example!)  Enough said.  (Maybe, along this journey, I'll find a difference with other "actors" like Ronald Reagan?)

Let's continue on to my second surprise of this book.

Sacrates is being accused of being an atheist and for corrupting the youth.  He denies both.  Here is a fascinating quote -- I think especially for a student of Jesus' teachings: "For this is the command of God, as I would have you know; ... For I do nothing but go about persuading you all, old and young alike, not to take thought for your persons and your properties, but first and chiefly to care about the greatest improvement of the soul. I tell you that virtue is not given by money, but that from virtue come money and every other good of man, public as well as private. This is my teaching, and if this is the doctrine which corrupts the youth, my influence is ruinous indeed."

Sound familiar?  Here's Matthew 6:33: "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."

I am wondering who this "G"od is that Socrates refers to?  Could it be Jehovah?  Did he know of the Jews?  He lived around 450BC.  Did Jesus know of Sacrates? 

See!  More questions!  Eaaaxcellent Dude!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Journey Is About To Begin!

Welcome ...

Well, I've promised several people that I would start this project this weekend.  How difficult could it be to start reading 54 books that my wife and I picked up at a local estate sale for $ 42.50?  The problem is, I wanted to say something profound before I began!  I want to sound educated and enlightened ... but, sorry, it's just not happening for me lately ... perhaps that is why I'm interested in this quest.

In Book 1 of our 1957 edition, "The Great Conversation: The Substance of a Liberal Education", the author makes a statement about a subject that I happened to mention to my wife today -- childhood and the feeling that "I've never grown up."  The author states: "I must reiterate that you can set no store by your education in childhood and youth, no matter how good it was. Childhood and youth are no time to get an education.  They are the time to get ready to get an education.  The most that we can hope for from these uninteresting and chaotic periods of life  is that during them we shall be set on the right path, the path of realizing our human possibilities through intellectual effort and aesthetic appreciation.  The great issues, now issues of life and death for civilization call for mature minds."  If that was true in 1952, how true now in 2010.

It's time to grow up and continue my education.

The quote above should not insult any young reader -- it just means that we can continue to read the same Shakespeare or Plato that we did in 9th grade, Sophomore in college, or in our apartment with a toddler at our feet.  These books and ideas will mean something more and hopefully show us something new each time we read them.  I've realized lately that education never ends.  Nothing irritates me more than someone educated beyond their intelligence (proven by their attitude that they have an undergraduate degree or a PhD and therefore know all the answers about just about everything.)

Learning seems to have the opposite affect on me ... the more I learn the more I realize there is to know ... and what a moron I am!  This does not mean that I can't still believe in an absolute Truth, but I'm much more careful where to draw the lines.  Perhaps when this journey is done, I'll know if any of my statements here are true.

So, welcome to this journal of my self-education.  "The Great Conversation" is about to start and I hope that you will join in with me and challenge me.  I also hope that The Conversation doesn't end and we don't become so arrogant that we say that we're done.

I've written more than I expected tonight.  We'll cover some interesting ground in the years ahead.  Here are some links to some resources if you do not have your own collection of The Great Books -- most of them are free online:

Here is my goal for the coming month:
1.     PLATO:  Apology, Crito
Vol. 7, pp. 200-219 (20 pages)

2.     ARISTOPHANES:  Clouds, Lysistrata
Vol. 5, pp. 488-506, 583-599 (19 + 17 = 36 pages)
3.     PLATO:  Republic [Book I-II]
Vol. 7, pp. 295-324 (20 pages)

Talk with you soon!