He went south and studied geometry, geography, astronomy, and religion in Egypt. He went west to spend time with the Pythagoreans in southern Italy, learning about their otherworldly mixture of mathematics and mysticism, absorbing from them esoteric sources of thaumazein , or ontological wonder.
Plato, already primed by Socrates not to take Athenian exceptionalism for granted, was on a path toward metaphysical speculations and ethical and political reflections beyond any entertained by his mentor.
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To be an Athenian, ran a core credo of the polis, was to partake in its aura of moral superiority. Socrates dedicated his life to challenging a confidence that he felt had become overweening. Athens was undeniably extraordinary, and the patriotic self-assurance and democratic energy that fueled its vast achievements did stand out.
It was part of a normative explosion under way in many centers of civilization—wherever a class of people enjoyed enough of a respite from the daily grind of life to ponder the point of it all. That was the essential question at the heart of ambitious inquiries into human purpose and meaning.
Every major religious framework that still operates, the philosopher Karl Jaspers pointed out, can be traced back to a specific period: from to b. From Greece emerged Western secular philosophy, which brought reasoned argument to bear on the human predicament and the reflections it inspired. Those reflections, no less urgent now than they were then, can be roughly summed up this way:. We know, each one of us, or at least we fear, that the same will happen to us.
The oceans of time will cover us over, like waves closing over the head of a sailor, leaving not a ripple, to use an image that inspired abject terror in the seafaring Greeks. Really, why do any of us even bother to show up for our own existence as if we have a choice , for all the difference we ultimately make?
Driven to pursue our lives with single-minded passion, we are nevertheless, as the Greek poet Pindar put it in the fifth century b. Such an endeavor demands a great deal of individual striving, because what counts is nothing less than outstanding accomplishments. The deeper, and humbler, sources of the ethos dated back even further, to a time of anomie and illiteracy—the Greek Dark Ages, scholars used to call the period that followed the mysterious destruction of the great palace kingdoms of the Bronze Age around b.
The wondrous ruins left behind—the massive bridges and beehive tombs, the towering edifices inscribed with indecipherable lettering—spoke of daunting feats of engineering. Clearly there had been a previous age when mortals had realized possibilities all but unthinkable to lesser specimens.
Plato's Mythoi: The Political Soul's Drama Beyond - VoegelinView
Those people had mingled so closely with immortals as to assume an altogether new, heroic category of being, celebrated in tales sung by ordinary Greeks. The reverence is embedded in The Iliad , which extols Achilles as the greatest of all the legendary Greek heroes—the man who, given the choice, opted for a brief but exceptional life over a long and undistinguished one. If I voyage back to the fatherland I love, my pride, my glory dies. Living so that others will remember you is your solace in the face of the erasure you know awaits. What is most startling about their existential response is its clear-eyed rejection of transcendence.
The cosmos is indifferent, and only human terms apply: Perform exceptional deeds so as to earn the praise of others whose existence is as brief as your own. But an ethos of the extraordinary poses a practical problem.
Most people are, by definition, perfectly ordinary, the ancient Greeks included. Ultimately, they found a solution to this problem in propounding a kind of participatory exceptionalism, encouraging a shared sense of identity that also made them highly competitive. Merely to be Greek was to be extraordinary.
After the Interlude - A Dialogue about Death and Beyond (Paperback)
In vanquishing the vastly superior forces of this world empire, the Greeks had given their poets a contemporary feat to sing about. Herodotus initiated his Histories —which is to say, initiated the practice of history itself—with these words:. The Greco-Persian Wars helped convert the ethos of the extraordinary from ancestor reverence into a motivational agenda.
And nowhere were this pride and this pushing more assertively on display than in fifth-century Athens, where business was conducted within sight of the Acropolis. The architectural splendors, proof of undaunted genius and vitality, had arisen out of the ruins to which the older shrines of the Acropolis had been reduced in b. The democracy that had gradually developed in Athens added considerably to the ethos of supreme distinction. Elevation in the minds of others, now and in the future, went hand and hand with demonstrations of power:.
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If that meant stoking political hubris, Pericles was more than ready. Quite the contrary, he celebrated the real-life deeds of imperial Athens as indelible proof of superiority:. Even, or especially, a democratic society with an exceptionalist heritage—as Plato and his fellow Athenians were hardly the last to discover—may prove unprepared to respond wisely when arrogance takes over and expectations go awry. Neither Socrates nor Plato ever challenged the Greek conviction that achieving a life that matters requires extraordinary effort and results in an extraordinary state.
But Socrates was determined to interrogate what being exceptional means. Only that kind of extraordinary accomplishment matters—and the same could be said for city-states. Power and the glory it brings are no measure of their stature.
After the Interlude: A Dialogue about Death and Beyond
The virtuous citizen, indeed, is inseparable from the virtuous polis, his claim to significance rooted in his commitment to the common good. What counts, Socrates taught, is the quest for a better understanding of what virtue is, what justice and wisdom are. The goal is a moral vision so compelling that every citizen, no matter his position, will feel its force and be guided by it. A democratic state that fosters the continuous self-scrutiny demanded by such a vision can hope for greatness.
Mere kleos is for losers. Only an exceptional man would have dared to challenge such a fundamental presumption of his society.
But if Socrates was so extraordinary, how did Athenians—who took pride in citizens of distinction and had long been fondly tolerant of their exuberantly eccentric philosopher—come to turn against him? The philosopher ran rings around Meletus, the man put up to be the prosecutor. Socrates exposed him as ill-informed and perhaps something of an opportunist, ready to declare one thing one moment and then contradict himself the next. But the date of the trial reveals a polis whose exceptionalist identity had been challenged and whose citizens had been caught off-balance: How great were they, really?
Where was their moral compass?
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Athens was still reeling from defeat in the Peloponnesian War five years earlier—and at the hands of those uncultivated Spartans, who had no high culture to speak of, no playwrights or Parthenon. The Other Wiki calls Strange Interlude "an experimental play". For starters, it is very long, extending for nine acts.
Additionally, in this play the characters actually verbalize their internal thoughts to the audience, with their inner monologue taking up more of the running time than the dialogue between characters. In some productions the actors hold up masks when delivering their dialogue to other characters, to make clear the distinction between spoken dialogue and inner monologue. Community Showcase More. Follow TV Tropes.
You need to login to do this. Get Known if you don't have an account. Ned : Only you must admit these triangular scenes are, to say the least, humiliating.