Socrates, Plato and Aristotle

Euripides gave Socrates a small work by Heraclitus of Ephesus entitled On Nature to read, and asked him afterwards what he thought of it.  Socrates replied, “The part I understand is excellent, and so, I think, is the part that I have not understood, but the book requires a diver from Delos to get to bottom of it.”  There is a metaphor in here, but in order to make sense out of what Socrates said, we need to understand what quality were inherent in a Delian diver that would make this more meaningful than, say, that of a diver from the island of Samos or Lesbos?  What is it about Delian divers that make them better at uncovering hidden things in the deep places?  Is a diver from Delos more highly skilled at swimming and diving for objects of treasure at great depths?

The island of Delos is part of the Cyclades in the Aegean Sea.  The Cyclades is a group of Greek islands, that are centered around the uninhabited Delos, which was a holy place because it was considered to be the birthplace of Apollo, and home to some of Greece’s most important archaeological ruins.  The Ionians where the first to arrive on Delos in the 10th century B.C., and they made the island a religious sanctuary around the 7th century B.C.

When the goddess, Leto was searching for a birthplace for Artemis and Apollo, it is said she spoke these words to the island of Delos, “Delos, if you would be willing to be the abode of my son Phoebus Apollo and make him a rich temple –; for no other will touch you, as you will find: and I think you will never be rich in oxen and sheep, nor bear vintage nor yet produce plants abundantly.  But if you have the temple of far-shooting Apollo, all men will bring you hecatombs and gather here, and incessant savor of rich sacrifice will always arise, and you will feed those who dwell in you from the hand of strangers; for truly your own soil is not rich.”

Apollo was an oracular god, being the prophetic deity of the Delphic Oracle, so people came to him for advice, as he was able to see things clearly.  Artemis was the goddess of the hunt, wild animals, and the wilderness, so she was able to solve things because of her tracking abilities.  Thus a diver from Delos is connected to clarity and vision, but with Heraclitus the metaphor became an oxymoron (a diver is at home in the murky depths of the sea, but able to find treasure because of their clarity of vision).  Heraclitus loved the paradoxical and this metaphor is an intriguing paradox connected to the hunt for Soul.

On Nature was divided into three discourses; one on the universe, another on politics (and ethics), and one on theology. Heraclitus deposited his book, inscribed on a single papyrus roll, as a dedication in the great temple of Artemis, one of the largest temples of the 6th century BCE and one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  It is thought that Heraclitus deliberately made his philosophical work obscure, so that none but the already competent would be able to comprehend it. Heraclitus said that life is like a river, the peaks and troughs, pits and swirls, are all are part of the ride.  Heraclitus observed that nature is in a state of constant flux.  He noted cold things grow hot, the hot cools, the wet dries, the parched moistens.  Everything is constantly shifting, changing, and becoming something other to what it was before.  Heraclitus held extreme views that led to logical incoherence.  For he held that everything is constantly changing, opposite things are identical, leading him to conclude that everything is and is not at the same time.  Over 2000 years later, the British philosopher John Locke wondered if a ship remains the same ship if it continually has small repairs done to it over a period of many years, each replacing an original piece here or there with a new one, until finally it contains none of the material that went into the building of the ship initially.

In Classical Athens, your appearance and behavior in public was governed by strict rules.  This applied to how a person should correctly walk, stand, or sit, as well as to proper draping of one’s garment, position and movement of arms and head, styles of hair and beard, eye movements, and the volume and modulation of how loud you should talk.  Every element of an individual’s behavior and presentation, in accordance with his sex, age, and place in society was scrutinized.  In Plato’s Republic, he tells Socrates, “Men of my age flock together; we are birds of a feather, as the old proverb says; and at our meetings the tale of my acquaintance commonly is–I cannot eat, I cannot drink; the pleasures of youth and love are fled away: there was a good time once, but now that is gone, and life is no longer life.”

The three most famous philosophers of antiquity, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, basically had the same tastes and interests so they could be found together.  Each man formulated his own rhetorical argument style and hypotheses about the nature of knowledge to influence the next generation of thinking people.  All three sported a beard with short cropped hair.  For the ancient Greeks the beard was a cornerstone of masculinity, and to be in possession of a full beard marked you out as a fully adult male and in society, so this attribute was not to be taken lightly.  A man with hairless cheeks was considered to be overly effeminate.

Written for Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie Saturday Mix – Mad About Metaphor, 25 May 2019 hosted by weejars aka Sarah and our metaphor this week is – Birds of a feather flock together.

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