Paulus Torchus

Month: May, 2013

Tartuffe, by Molière

ImageAnd so we go from stodgy agnostics to mockeries of religious hypocrites (although, in all fairness, I am once again breaching the intended order of reading. The library, where this volume of continental drama resides, was closed for the weekend and so I went to the bookstore to try and buy as many of the plays included in the volume as I could. I only succeeded in finding two. So while Tartuffe is in the middle of this volume, I read it first). Religious hypocrisy is an issue, especially to those who tend towards pietism. There is no greater fall and, I daresay, none so satisfying to watch than the fall from a high horse. This, however, is likely but another manifestation of our universal slavery to the way of all flesh.

The version of Tartuffe that we read today is not the original. The original was, for reasons we are left to imagine and with the precise sort of irony that the universe likes to play in these matters, censored. I chose to read the Virginia Scott translation. It strives to preserve the sing-song rhyming couplets of the original (the Harvard Classics translation does not for reasons I cannot imagine). It is not a terribly complex story, but its greatness rests in its simplicity and clarity.

The story is of one Orgon who brings into his home a man who claims and attempts to parade the deepest of piety. Everyone sees through this except for Orgon and his mother. Tartuffe (who does not appear on stage until the third act) connives to marry Orgon’s daughter, to attempt to commit adultery with Orgon’s wife, and ultimately to usurp Orgon’s estate, fortune, and standing. It is probably worthwhile to note that Tartuffe, who poses as one who is concerned about the highest aspirations of humankind, soaks in some of the basest of instincts, that of the rutting animal.

As I said, these are universal themes which translate seamlessly to our time. Orgon is now the person who sold everything before Harold Camping’s end time date or the well meaning shut-in sending their general assistance check to Benny Hinn. Just as in the days of Moliere, the media loves Tartuffe because religious hypocrisy makes us feel better about our own shortcomings. I would add my own two cents that genuine Christian values do not make for obedient consumers and so the media flaunts every scrap of religious hypocrisy they can muster to undermine any quest for meaning outside of said media.

There are a few bits that do not translate quite so well. The deus ex machina is, in this case, a rex ex machina and in an increasingly libertarian and anti-monarchist west, it is difficult to imagine this playing anything but ironic today. Molière ends the piece in one great genuflection towards the throne which I found to be charming if a bit archaic and utilitarian from a man whose previous version of the play had been censored by that very same king.

When the sack of money inevitably falls from the sky onto my head or the wealthy distant relative with no heirs dies, and I found the Chico Classical Theater Company, Tartuffe is on my short list of shows I would direct as soon as possible. I think the value is in the quality of the play, but is also in the opportunity for reflection. We laugh at the lead characters, but, hopefully, we also look at Orgon and Tartuffe and look in our own hearts to see where we are behaving just like them.


Let’s All Write an Eclogue!

The eclogue is an ancient form in which a speaker, either in a monologue or a dialogue, expresses their views on a topic. They are often pastoral, especially when the topic is something like “the greatness of simple living,” but they can also take place in an urban atmosphere if the topic is, say, “the greatness of progress.”

If you have two people speaking, you can have them disagree (and then have one of them “win” the dialogue) or you can have them agree (and build the case together.) Here is an example:

Eclogue by a Five-barred Gate

by Louis MacNeice

Well, I dreamt it was a hot day, the territorials
Were out on melting asphalt under the howitzers,
The brass music bounced on the houses. Come
I heard cry as it were a water-nymph, come and fulfil me
And I sped floating, my feet plashing in the tops of the wheat
But my eyes were blind,
I found her with my hands lying on the drying hay,
Wet heat in the deeps of the hay, as my hand delved,
And I possessed her, gross and good like the hay,
And she went and my eyes regained sight and the sky was full of ladders
Angels ascending and descending with a shine like mackerel—
Now I come to tell it it sounds nonsense.

The form is still occasionally employed (notably by the FAR underrated Louis MacNeice), but for the most part has fallen into disfavor in modern times. I understood the why of this viscerally while trying to write one. First of all, it felt extremely preachy. Second, and likewise, it seemed forced to me to write about ideas in this manner.

I chose to have a dialogue.

For my subject matter, I chose a topic which is one of my go-to rants: the subject of anti-intellectualism in modern America. I have recently joined the social media platform of Tumblr and, in the process of following people, have learned that there is a television series either currently running or in recent memory dealing, if I understand correctly, with the character of Hannibal Lecter before the events of The Silence of the Lambs, back when he was still actively eating people.

It reminded me of something I have felt for some time, that Hannibal Lecter is an anti-intellectual meme in our culture. He is a highly intelligent and cultured man and one of the most evil beasties stomping on the terra. Someone usually counters that they know many intelligent people who like Hannibal Lecter, but that proves nothing. No one is better at self-loathing than smart people. Someone may also counter with some anti-hero clap-trap. I won’t deny many of American entertainment’s current reprogramming agendas, like the humiliation of human dignity. More than one reprogramming agenda can be at work within the same meme.

This inevitably reminds me of a related rant, which is that I also believe that 1980s and 1990s sit-com character Frasier Crane is also an anti-intellectual meme in our society. He is an intelligent and cultured man who is a buffoon set up for our mockery. We see him as pompous and identify, instead, with his working class father or working class bar-mates. In both cases we are taught as a culture to denigrate and feel better than people who are trying to better themselves while subconsciously reinforcing repulsion towards bettering ourselves (thereby remaining more pliant television viewers which is equal to more obedient consumers).

But now I am giving away the content of the poem.

So, here are the two doctors self-deconstructing in my eclogue.

Eclogue on Anti-Intellectualism

by Paul Mathers


I thank you for accepting my invitation

To speak with me here on my radio station.

Perhaps today together we can fix

The problem: that either one of us exists.


Now sit us down and share from this decanter

And we’ll work out this issue through our banter,

How bettering one’s self’s presented as too daunting

by entertainment’s game of Three Card Monte.


The medium is what the medium sells.

It’s the answer to what, why, and how it tells.

And so we are paid handsomely to show

that low is high and, also, high is low.


The argument is merely dietary.

High culture does not make virtue plenary

And aspirations can tend towards the gall.

Our world fears heights. The gutter’s a short fall.


Buffoonery or evil is the predicate.

Intellectual minstrel shows to validate

Watching anti-intellectual medleys.

Snobbery’s specter replaces Sloth in 7 Deadlies.


If each man’s improvement he sought to see

Of himself and his neighbor, then could he

no longer be the advertiser’s cog

and exit the arena where dog eats dog.


Instead of letting others rule your head

Get thee to a library instead.


You are, of your soul’s helm, the only giver.

Beware of captains who would eat your liver.

Inaugural Address and Sir Walter Scott by Thomas Carlyle

ImageOne imagines the moment when Dr. Eliot is presenting his list of books to Collier and Sons.

“And this title simply must be in the series. Everyone must read this.”

“But, Dr. Eliot, then this volume will only be around 300 pages. It will look odd on the shelf and Gatsby wont want to buy it and cut all the pages.”

“Ah. Well, I’m sure I can scrape together a few more short pieces by x.”

This has happened more than twice in this series. Although, in the case of Carlyle, I didn’t mind it so much.

The Inaugural Address was a hoot! Carlyle was appointed Rector at the University of Edinburgh late in life. The only official duty of the position was to give an Inaugural Address. Granted it was 1836 when people may have been less jaded, and granted it was a group of young people who genuinely wanted to be there, and granted he worked the crowd (“Edinburgh crowds are the best crowds! Hey, anyone here like John Knox and Oliver Cromwell? Give it up for the Puritans, Scots!” Not actual quotes, but also not terribly inaccurate paraphrases of some bits), but still this was a crowd that I genuinely would have like to have been a part of.

Here is an actual excerpt from the speech:

“There is such a thing as a man endeavoring to persuade himself, and endeavoring to persuade others, that he knows things, when he does not know more than the outside skin of them; and yet he goes flourishing about with them [Hear, hear, and a laugh]. There is also a process called cramming, in some Universities [A laugh]- that is, getting-up such points of things as the examiner is likely to put questions about. Avoid all that, as entirely unworthy of an honorable mind. Be modest, and humble, and assiduous in your attention to what your teachers tell you, who are profoundly interested in trying to bring you forward the right way, so far as they have been able to understand it.”

It goes on and on like that. I have to restrain myself from quoting more. It would not be difficult to find yourself wanting to quote the whole thing. Not only was Carlyle that charismatic (note the cheers and laughs at moments that might not elicit more than a smirk in the aforementioned jaded present day), but the speech is that packed with wisdom. It was a delight to read, something I will read again, and something I would highly recommend to young people.

Needless to say, I did not find this to be the filler material.

When I began his piece on Sir Walter Scott, I thought, “Wait a minute. Is this a book review? For a book that we have not been called upon to read?”

Yes and no. Also, even the portion to which the answer is “yes” serves a higher function. Carlyle speaks to those who criticize the “warts and all” school of biography. He defends this version of the telling of a life of a heroic figure by suggesting that it adds rather than demerits their heroic standing in that it humanizes. Therefore, it is a more efficacious way of elevating the human spirit, by suggesting the attainability of greatness. I would agree with him entirely with one small caveat. There is a difference between a “warts and all” biography and a “taking them down a notch” biography. I suspect that the latter had not yet been invented in Carlyle’s day or, at least, if they were, were only circulated in humbler circles.

Carlyle then goes on to give a sort of digest of the Life of Scott. It is engaging, but also just as human as his build up might suggest. We read a passage about the young Scott’s drinking parties. We hear of his visits with the prince and their gift of story-telling. We hear of how Scott handles fame, with vigor in output, tolerance with the deluge of guests, and more than a jot of foolishness in regards to his finances.

Carlyle takes a break at this point to turn his critique to the man’s oeuvre. He notes that his work, while ripping good reading in his time and wildly popular, lacks the enduring quality of speaking to the human experience. He says that Scott wrote people from the inside out rather than the outside in and thereby never reach their heart. There is nothing instructive to life, virtue, religion, or consolation in this cold universe. In an unnerving moment, Carlyle speculates that few people will be reading him two centuries hence (which is roughly right now) and that Scott will become a museum piece, something that people liked 200 years ago (I thought of some of our own highly popular novelists of the day).

He ends with a disconsolate excerpt from Scott’s journal on the death of his wife. This serves to thrust the point home in a heart-breakingly, almost monstrous way, of the potential here versus the execution. Scott’s private words of grief echo one of my deepest fears. Scott’s public works of publication… I’m not sure I’ll ever get around to reading in my lifetime.

As far as filler material goes, this was the best of the series thus far. I greatly enjoyed Carlyle although I still wonder why he is here and The Iliad or Candide or countless other works of great value did not make the cut. But such, I suppose, is the shifting nature of opinion over time.

Let’s All Write Couplets!

On first glance this might seem like a chapter on beef in a text about stew. You can have stew without beef, but an awful lot of stew contains beef, and beef by itself is not stew.

Couplets on their own can be poems. They have a similar austere and compact feel that one gets from haiku. As for finding examples, I fairly stumble over them. Here’s a couplet from Coleridge:

“Work without hope draws nectar in a sieve,

And hope without an object cannot live.”

Here’s a possibly familiar folk song:

And so forth. A lot of songs are made of couplets.

Padgett points out different types of couplets. A closed couplet may simply be a thought encapsulated within the rhyme:

I think that I shall never see

A poem lovely as a tree.”

While open couplets are ones that rhyme while the thought continues:

“And ever against eating cares

Lap me in soft Lydian airs

Married to immortal verse

Such as the meeting soul may pierce

In notes with many a winding bout

Of linked sweetness long drawn out.”

That’s Joyce Kilmer and John Milton respectively. This latter technique is called enjambment. It prevents the rhyme from sounding too sing-songy. You can also have sentence breaks in the middle of a line. This is called a caesura, presumably because you are stabbing the rhyme scheme repeatedly in the back. We will return to employing the couplet often as we continue through the poetic forms. For now, I thought I would jot down a few of my own.

Simply writing couplets is a bit like writing haiku. You end up with these little slice of life pieces:

“I shall not leave my wifi’s grasp

‘Til I have closed up all my apps.”


“Though I’m not one to claim to be a specially deft cerebrator,

I must insist, to make Reds choice, employ a wine aerator!”


“Just write the script, sawbones, on paper, tissue, or papyrus!

Anything to help me lick this dratted rhinovirus!”


You could go on like that indefinitely (and become a successful recording artist no doubt). But I also need to attempt one of these enjambments.

“I take a daily luncheon walk upon a nature trail

An invigorating diversion and one that never fails

to delight me, save for one consistent undercurrent of dread:

On average, about once a year, a bird poops on my head.”

True story. As you can see, I did not take this form particularly seriously, but that’s because I took this to be more of an exercise than an actual viable poetic form. Much like how one might, when called upon to translate from English into Latin, choose to translate Lady Gaga lyrics for giggles (“Roma, Roma-ma!”)

I think I’ve done enough damage here tonight. Next time: the Eclogue.

Characteristics by Thomas Carlyle

ImageIntrepid readers might suspect that I am not saying anything concrete by saying that I enjoyed reading Carlyle far more than I enjoyed Mill. If I were to say that I enjoyed it 100 times more, those who heard me talk about Mill might think that the amount I enjoyed Carlyle was still zero. This would be incorrect.

I found Carlyle to be an infinitely more engaging read. His passion is evident. He has the fire of a mystic in his rhetorical style.

Characteristics was an essay which originally appeared in The Edinburgh Review in 1831. It deals with an “illness” of society in his time, that of a hyper-active self-consciousness (that this remains one of Carlyle’s best known works is a testimony to the unfortunately also enduring quality of that societal illness).

He writes that the unconscious is a sign of health and consciousness is a sign of disease (a century before Jung even!) and then makes the case that human society, specifically politics, has a similar principle. In fact, he seems to view society as an organism, reminding me very much of the Collective Unconscious.

He also devotes a large portion to the dichotomy of the secular versus the religious in the (then) recent manifestations of Materialism and Spiritualism, respectively taught by Hope and Schlegel. He seems to suggest that both extremes having been so recently plumbed, it remains for a synthesis to emerge. Again, this could have been written this week. Although his synthesis would seem to suggest a “burning out” of skepticism and a renewal of faith. What sort of faith he would condone is not made clear by this essay.

I don’t have much more to say about the piece (it was a short piece) except to say that one of my initial reactions was astonishment that this man was such close friends with Mill. Their writing is so vastly different. I should think it’s a testimony to each of the men’s character that they could co-exist and, in fact, foster a friendship with such glaring differences.

On Liberty by John Stuart Mill

delacroix-libertyThanks to John Stuart Mill there is no chance of me finishing this series this year. The only other author I struggled this hard with in this entire series was St. Augustine… and I agreed with him and liked him! Mill was a slog. Mill made me nostalgic for Edmund Burke.

Why? Well, let’s start with the obvious and work our way down. Here is the first sentence of his section on applications for his thoughts on liberty:

“The principles asserted in these pages must be more generally admitted as the basis for discussion of details, before a consistent application of them to all the various departments of government and morals can be attempted with any prospect of advantage.”

If I told you I just read 300+ pages that read just like that, you wouldn’t exactly run out and buy a copy for your summer beach reading, now would you? Mill throws NO rhetorical bones to the reader. No anecdotes, certainly no jokes, no personality. I’ve read more gripping writing from economists.

Then there are the problems with what he says. One of the major problems that I spotted immediately, I later found is one of the major criticisms of this work. He does not define what he means by “harm.” The context is his arguments about personal liberty. He says, in essence (boiling out his circumlocution), that a person ought to be free to do whatever they like so long as it doesn’t harm anyone else. On the surface this may sound reasonable, but what does he mean by “harm”? Does it harm me if homeless people camp on the curb outside of my house and smoke crack? Does it harm a child to have an alcoholic father? Does pornography harm anyone? I know what my own society seems to want to say, but that is part of the problem I have with this concept. I live in a town where “dressing up” seems to mean wearing a t-shirt that you’ve bought within the past 3 years.

You see, I live in a world very much like the one that John Stuart Mill is describing and I see the problems with it. He spends a great deal of time talking about the virtues of eccentricity, claiming that it fosters genius within a culture. I understand that he was writing in England in the days of Victoria, but I live in modern America where everyone thinks they are a special snowflake whose every word and gesture should be applauded. Nobody wants to contribute. Everyone wants to consume. Everyone thinks they are a king and, as a result, you can set your watch by the economic crashes.

Mill has those moments that utterly disgust me when Liberalism circles back around to Libertarianism. Like when the government distrusting hippies become the same kind of anti-vaccination conspiracy theorists whose fears are just as much going to kill us all as the rabid right-wing fringe nuts who fall for that same nonsense. Or when your pot-smoking nephew starts reading InfoWars and spews his internet education all over your dinner table. Or when Arlo Guthrie endorses Ron Paul. Perhaps hope is the worst demon, but I feel a little hope for humankind die within me when these things happen. And when Mill started writing about Free Trade, I groaned out loud.

There are also some concepts I agreed with in part. He has a section on education in which he stresses the importance of the government seeing to an educated population in so much as they need to make certain that said population is educated and NOT that they ought to be in charge of what is taught. The matter of education ought to be left to the institutes of learning, not to the governing body or any other interest. He even goes so far as to suggest that a child of a certain age ought to be tested to see if they can read and if they can’t the parents should be fined! I have mixed feelings about that, but I do agree that a population well educated on all socio-economic levels is crucial to a civilization. Unfortunately today we also encounter a problem that Mill was innocent of any way of foreseeing: that of education becoming nothing but learning to pass the tests. But I suppose that would fall under the heading of how poorly it goes when a government meddles in the matter of the education.

And, finally, there is our disagreement over religion. Mill at least teaches religious tolerance, and we can meet on that level. He doesn’t have much use for the corrective forces which religion contribute to a society, but at least he allows them to exist and so, under his system, they would contribute anyway in spite of his minimizing credit for their contributions. But there is another modern problem which Mill did not foresee (although he might have done well to look at an historical problem like John Knox). There are those in contemporary Christianity called Reconstructionists who would seek to establish the Law of Moses as the law of the United States, along with other obnoxious ideas. I have known people like this and subsequently disassociated myself from them. They are a large and growing group. Suppose they grew to 51% of the people who voted on election day. This would not be good for vast portions of our population… probably including me!

I have major problems with Utilitarianism. It would seek to say that the promotion of happiness is good and the promotion of sadness is bad (or “evil.” For an atheist, Mill sure throws that word around a lot). The problem is in our definitions. Whose happiness? How do we measure this happiness? There is also the problem of human dignity.

Let’s say a person is 70 years old, beloved, with a large family who they have worked their long life to provide for. Let’s say the population shifts dramatically to the point where there are a lot of elderly and, frankly, not enough young people to support the elderly. Let’s say that the elderly person never wanted to be a burden on their family. Let’s say that it is also becoming increasingly hard to find organs for transplant operations and that a vote is coming up for voluntary euthanasia. I see how Mill’s worldview might interpret solutions for this problem:

I actually personally feel that we are not far from this in a society where doctors want to maximize the amount of money they make, drug companies want to maximize their profits, as do insurance companies, and this unholy trinity are given influence over the health decisions of individuals. Not that I think there is any kind of conspiracy. Rather I think that the appeal to the baser elements of human nature (namely avarice) in matters of life and death are a recipe for atrocity. When society decides that a person is a burden, pity the person when society also gets to decide their worth. Unfortunately, I think that Mill’s worldview is currently winning.

I think my major problem with Mill is a question of the dignity of human life. I think his philosophy leads to a low view of that dignity.

I do think it was worthwhile to wrestle with his ideas, to find them fallacious and to understand why. That having been said, I hope to never read another word written by the man so long as I live.

The Ancient Greeks: Reflections on a Course-week 7

ImageI am going to miss this class exceedingly. I finished the class on Tuesday and I still have it open in another tab. I have two other classes slated for the near future, but something tells me I had the great good fortune of reaping the benefits of a particularly excellent online course this first go-round.

The 5th Century ended with the “Sicilian Expedition” (or, more accurately, “invasion”). In 415 BCE, the Athenians attacked Sicily. Egesta quarreled with Silenus. Silenus petitioned Carthage for aid and Egesta petitioned Athens for aid. That settled, Athens moved on to Sicily. Thucydides was livid and caustic about this campaign. He told the Athenians that they didn’t know what they were doing.

Indeed. Niceas, a general, you might remember, whose name is on The Peace of Niceas, was against the invasion. He said in front of the assembly that Alcibiades only wants glory for himself. “Give up this mad dream for conquest.” Alcibiades spoke for the invasion and, as a result, may be the person most responsible for the downfall of Athens (sorry to give away the ending so early). He said that the Sicilians were a motley rabble and would be easily overtaken. “It is the nature of an empire to expand.” Which is the polar opposite sentiment of what Pericles exhorted the Athenians to do. Thucydides said, “all alike, young and old, fell in love with the idea.”

They appointed three generals. Niceas didn’t want to go, but they sent him anyway. Also Alcibiades and some other guy who is never mentioned again.

ImageThere were these sacred statues of Hermes which, just before the expedition, were found to be mutilated and defaced. Alcibiades was accused. He was also accused of performing a parody of the Eleusinian Mysteries. We don’t know if he did, but we do see the swaying opinion of Alcibiades even before anyone sets foot in a boat.

They send a huge armada of 134 warships, 130 support ships, and some 25,000 men. As they are crossing the Ionian Sea, Alcibiades gets word that Athens is sending along ships behind them with the orders to arrest him. He flees to Sparta. The fleet arrives in Syracuse and has some success. Meanwhile, Alcibiades gives intelligence to the Spartans on how to attack Athens at Dekelia (a place of great Athenian land traffic, perfect for harassing the Athenians).

In Sicily, the Athenians want to build a wall. The Spartans send generals to fortify Syracuse with a counter-wall. Niceas sends a letter home to Athens. “The ships are rotting, the slaves are deserting, I have a kidney disease.” Athens sends reinforcements (one imagines Niceas groans, having hoped for a withdrawal). They lose lose lose. They get stuck in a pestilential swamp. The superstitious Niceas refuses to move during a lunar eclipse. He listens to the soothsayers who tell him that they need to go through purification after the eclipse. And I had this sad and lonely image of all of these men in a swamp at night, losing their battle, placing all of their hope on magical thinking while Syracuse sets up a wall of ships around them at sea, completely boxing them in. They are decisively defeated. Niceas flees over land with his troops. They are parched and famished when they reach a river. They trample one another to get to the water. The Syracusans rain arrows down on them. Niceas is killed and the Athenians are enslaved.

We took a narrative break to look at foreigners in Athens. Between 480 BCE and 432 BCE, the population of Athenian citizens was relatively low (due to the change in rules for becoming a citizen). But the population of foreigners (or “Metics”) almost doubles and the population of slaves almost triples in that same period. Greeks did not think in terms of what we would know as Economics, but rather in terms of “oikonomos” or The Household. The Greeks were very ambivalent about work. The Greek word for work can be translated as “work” or “pain.” It was viewed as essential but regrettable. The god of labor, Hephystus, was the only god in the pantheon who was lame. He was the only disabled god.

So there is a lot of slave and foreign labor employed by the Greeks. The Metic (from “met oikos” or “one who has changed their home”) was a resident foreigner. They paid a special tax and had to have an Athenian citizen sponsor them. They had to serve in the military when called. They also could not intermarry. But the money was excellent, so the metics came to Athens. There were resident foreigners everywhere else in the Greek world except, you guessed it, in Sparta.

Lysias was a famous orator associated with the Athenian elite. He was a wealthy metic who provided great benefits to the state and was beloved, but he was never granted citizenship. Citizenship was highly guarded.

The metics were important to Athens, but not nearly so important as slaves. Chattel slaves are people who are owned by another person as a piece of property. Chattel slaves came from war (as we’ve seen) and from markets, very much in the same way as the British/American slave trade of yore (not so much like the modus operandi of our current slave trade). There were no slave revolts and no slave consciousness largely due to the wide scattering of ethnicity. Slaves worked in agriculture, workshops, the dangerous jobs of mines and quarries, and in households.

ImageThey were also tutors (known as “child leaders” which in Greek was the word “paedagogo” from which get the word pedagogue). Slaves would be subject to horrible abuse up to, but not to cross, the line of murder. In some houses they were esteemed while in others they would be brutalized. They were only permitted to give testimony in court under torture because it was thought that they would lie otherwise. A freed slave could become a metic. A famous case was that of Pasion, who was bought by bankers, found to be an honest and hard worker, was freed and given control of the bank, and finally actually granted citizenship. This was, as the professor said, a “one-off.” This was not a thing that happened, as far we can tell, in any other case.

When Niceas was fleeing he said that “surely the gods are satisfied and the Athenians should have hope.” There is that hope of Pandora again, possibly the worst thing to be unleashed on humankind. Like the Melians, they are clinging to hope and superstition. Herodotus would love the come-uppance factor of this. There was a revolt among the allies. “Why did we invade Sicily? It’s a debacle!” Despite their loss, they keep fighting for 8 years.

Alcibiades occasioned distrust in the Spartans (there is some evidence that he tried to seduce the king’s wife) and fled to Persia.

My notes have a bunch of dates spat out on them with exposition on the events afterwards, so forgive the confused chronology of the next few paragraphs. In 413 BCE, the Sicilian Expedition ends. In 411/10 BCE, there is an Oligarch Revolution in Athens in which the oligarchs call for a “return to the ancestral constitution” (reminded me of our own Right’s “founding fathers” rhetoric). In 408/7 BCE, Alcibiades returns to Athens. In 405 BCE, there is the battle of Aeogospotami. Lysander is in charge of the Spartan forces. In 404 BCE, there is a seize and surrender of Athens. In 404/3, there is the reign of the “Thirty Tyrants.” In 403 BCE, democracy is restored and general amnesty granted.

In 410 BCE, the history of Thucydides ends, suggesting that he probably died.

In 412 BCE is the treaty of Miletus. The Spartans sell out the Ionians for Persian money. The war shifts to the north-east for grain and timber. The Spartans finally build a fleet and are immediately defeated at sea. After the battle, a Spartan general wrote a letter home, “Ships gone. Command killed. Starving. At a loss.”

The Athenians decline to accept surrender. Alcibiades is formally cleared of charges and given the position of commander-in-chief. Under his command there is a reversal of fortune at sea (while he isn’t even there) and public opinion shifts back against him. He flees again and never returns.

There was a battle in 406 BCE at sea between Athens and Sparta. The wind after the battle prevented the gathering of the wounded and dead. The Athenians were tried as a group (which was illegal). 6 generals were put to death for not gathering the dead and wounded. Socrates happened to be the overseer that day and cast the only vote against the trial.

There was a battle at Aegospotami in which the Athenian fleet was highly vulnerable. Alcibiades happened to live on the villa overlooking the harbor and actually came down to warn the Athenians. They ignored his warning and 160 out of their 180 ships were destroyed.This was, essentially, the end of the war. Xenophon said, “a howl went up the port and engulfed the entire city.”

Athens surrendered in 404 BCE. Corinth and Thebes wanted Athens to be razed and the population killed, dispersed, and enslaved. Sparta resisted (and whatever Sparta wants, Sparta gets). The walls of Athens were torn down to the sound of flutes.Their fleet was reduced to 12. Sparta ruled the former allies. The “30 Tyrants” ruled in 404 BCE. It quickly became a bloodbath. Socrates was, at one point, ordered to arrest a wealthy metic. He refused to and went home. A resistance to the 30 rallied and they were overthrown. This was when the general amnesty was declared.

In 401 BCE, the final play of Sophocles is written, Oedipus at Colonus, which harkens back to the Athens of old and in which Oedipus is given sanctuary. This is, essentially, where our story ends even though we still have two more lectures to go.

We begin our sum up with a view of Greek history as a whole: a tension between rationalism and reaction. The Greeks did not have a priestly caste, holy books, or omniscient deities. Worship was available to anyone.

In the 5th century, Athens was a magnet for intellectuals. Anaxagoras was from Asia Minor and had a very early precursor to atomic theory (trees being made up of tiny, sub-microscopic trees). He taught that “nous” or “the mind” set all matter whirling. The sun, moon, and so forth were superheated stones set fire by the vortex of this whirling. He was prosecuted for impiety.

And now we arrive at Socrates. He was born around 469 BCE. He lived the complete life of an Athenian citizen. He served on the Boulē. He left no writings of his own, but is recorded by Plato and Xenophon, and, in a denigrating parody, also by Aristophanes. His father was a stone mason and his mother was a midwife. He conversed and discussed around Athens and drew in students. He is said to have had an odd appearance:


Alcibiades said he “looks like a satyr.” Yet he attracted the gilded youth of Athens as his students. The oracle at Delphi told one of them that there was none wiser than Socrates. Socrates set out to disprove this. He went and talked to people all over Athens and concluded that he probably was the wisest because everyone else thought they knew something. He thought he was the wisest because “I know that I know nothing.”

The Socratic method is a series of direct and focused questions about justice, piety, and other big ideas. He never offered a positive response. He simply left his interlocutors realizing that they didn’t know what they were talking about.

In 399 BCE, he is put on trial on charges of “corrupting youth and atheism.” There are no prosecutors, no judge, just a jury. They vote against him. The penalty is death. He suggested a different penalty of “a lifetime maintenance at the state’s expense.” In essence, he is convicted for stinging the Athenians out of complacency. This was partly political. Despite the post-war amnesty, democracy was so fragile after the war that it could not suffer a gadfly. It is suggested that some of his teaching may have been interpreted as anti-democratic. If he had not existed at that particular time… but it’s difficult for us to play “what ifs” like that.

In the immediate aftermath of the conflict, there are some systemic changes. There is no longer the system of citizen-soldiers. The hoplite ideal is over. Loyalties go to whoever can pay the soldiers. War can now be anywhere and at anytime.

Politically, the polis is fatigued. There are now, instead, large confederations. Neighboring polises merge. Corinth and Argos form into Corinthargos. There are economic, cultural and religious, as well as military benefits to this shift.

There was also the rise of charismatic leaders. Jason comes from Thessaly and unites the Thessalian barons in the 370s. For a time, Thessaly becomes a major power. Jason is assassinated and there was no provision for a successor, so in the early 350s, there is a power shift to Macedon. In 359, King Philip II welded the Macedonians into a first rate force. You will probably have heard of his son, Alexander. Philip hires Aristotle to tutor Alexander. Philip is assassinated. Alexander succeeds and conquers Persia and points eastward to the borders of India.

But, all of that is another story and only mentioned in conclusion here, as are some of the contemporaries of the period we have studied in other parts of the world, contemporaries like Confucius and Gautama Buddha.

We study the Greeks because they still influence us. One of the major ways is in democracy. They also allow us the thought exercise of putting together fragments in an attempt to see a harmonious whole. Shelley said that the Greeks are “a reality, not a promise.”

The professor closed the class with the encouragment to:

“Keep thinking with the Greeks.”

I anticipate that I shall for the remainder of my life, and would encourage all of you to do likewise.