I got crazy idea a few weeks ago. I decided to spend my summer reading the Greeks. I enjoy loafing on the couch watching Law and Order reruns as much as the next guy, but after 3 weeks of that, I knew I’d get burned out. I knew it was a good idea because I laughed when I had it and thought to myself, “god that is ridiculous”.
Socrates, Plato, Aristophanes and the other masters aren’t completely foreign to me. I had studied them in college for my ethics and theater classes, but that was over 20 years ago. And, as I was remarking to my old friend Mark, “It was a hard slog even then. Usually I’d skip class and sit on the couches at the student center with an iced mocha, waiting for you or Brendan to come by.” Do you sense a couch theme yet? My go-to plan then was to put off the work as long as I could, and rush around in the middle of the night, hacking out a sloppy rough draft. Mark laughed and suggested I take it slow and skip around to the parts I will enjoy, with the help of Cliffs Notes. As good as this advice was, I didn’t take it. I dove right into Plato’s Republic. I got about five pages in and my head started to swim. A self-proclaimed theater nerd pal (Hi Ginger!) advised me to “read [it] aloud, use different voices, or beg someone to read with [you].”
All of this advising and joking came from a Facebook post of mine the other day, when I was grousing about how dense this stuff was. About a dozen people weighed in, either as cheerleaders, or to make a funny comment. Siobhan Devaney, my poet friend from Medskerpedia (and one of my college mocha suppliers, coincidently) lol-ed that Plato liked pontificating “and also butts” and said that reading Plato was like masturbation, a sentiment that another old theater friend, Thomas, agreed with. He said that when he was studying this stuff, he “kept [his] thoughts in a journal… like [his] own kind of summary. Many of the old philosophers were unnecessarily verbose.” What had I gotten myself into?
A whole slew of other folks (including my friend, the poet Sarah Nichols) chimed in and lent their support when I revealed that I just signed up for an online class at Univ. of Pennsylvania on Greek Mythology, for background and context, so my head didn’t explode (“That is fantastic!”). I wasn’t fishing for support, only trying to be funny, but I will take it where I can get it. I’m just excited that other people besides me are getting stoked about this. Hoping some of them will join me!
My current travel-mates on this journey are my old friends Eric Johnston, and Amy Bridges (an L.A.-based playwright). All of this reading and thinking isn’t just intellectual wanking, however. I have a serious goal behind it. The level of discourse in our society has sunk to perhaps an all-time-low. I often find myself sinking into that morass, and I’m sure you have too. Posting unsubstantiated articles on Facebook, or going off on someone I disagree with politically, and generally digging myself further into my ideological hole. Old Socrates would have a field day with the intellectual laziness and name-calling that’s abundant right now in America. So I’m going back to the beginning, with a flexible mind, in true Socratic form. If you are curious, the first couple of pages of Republic deal with the virtues of ageing. Quite appropriate, given how all of this studying has circled back around.
I have a week until the online class starts. I suppose that’s plenty of time to read the Cliffs Notes, cry, and reconsider. –JM
—If you liked what you read, why not make a comment below? All political rants will be disposed of unread. Thank you to Mark Fitz, Bob Acampora, Ginger Lyons, Thomas Kircher, Ina Roy-Faderman, Siobhan Devaney, Sarah Nichols, Amy Bridges, Eric “Outback” Johnston, Ed Bremson, Scotty Weeks, Carolyn Roesbery, and Moan Lisa for their support and input.—