Friday, July 25, 2014

Philosophos: A Non-Reading

There are two times in the Platonic corpus in which we seem to be promised a dialogue we do not have. The first is the sequence Timaeus-Critias, which seems very clearly to promise us a Hermocrates dialogue; the second occurs with the sequence Theaetetus-Sophist-Statesman, since the Sophist suggests, and the Statesman strongly suggests, that there is another dialogue coming, adding the philosopher to the sophist and the statesman. So, since I did a non-reading of the non-extant Hermocrates dialogue, it seems appropriate to do a non-reading of the non-extant Philosophos dialogue.

There are several possibilities. Plato might have written it and it just was lost; if so, it would have had to be very early on, since there is no record of it at all. Likewise, it's possible that Plato intended to write it, but was unable to do so for extrinsic reasons we do not and probably cannot ever know. If we set these aside, we get the following possibilities:

(1) Plato intended to write it, but in writing the other dialogues ran into some insuperable obstacle in how he set things up -- in essence painted himself into a corner.

(2) Plato did not intend to write it, as such, but did, in fact, write dialogues to fill its role.

(3) Plato did not intend to write it, but gave hints about it in order to get his readers thinking about the subject themselves.

One possible account that would yield any of these is given by Seth Bernadete in an article on the Sophist: what the Statesman seems to promise is a dialogue between Socrates and Socrates the Younger (258a). Now, the actual conversations throughout are dramatic -- done like plays -- and indications of whose part is whose are in practice quite minimal. Thus the Philosophos would apparently have to be an extended discussion between two characters, both of whom are named Socrates. This would be virtually impossible to do without changing the set-up considerably. (We even start running into this problem at the end of Statesman, since it ends with Socrates talking and we have to guess which Socrates it is based on which one would be likely to talk that way.) So it could be that Plato realized this belatedly (1); or it could be that he was deliberately signaling to the reader that the promised dialogue was actually impossible (2) and (3).

(3) obviously has a lot of attractions, whatever one's reasons for holdingit. As Mary Louise Gill notes:

If the Sophist and Statesman are philosophical exercises, there may be a good reason why the final dialogue of the trilogy, the Philosopher, is missing. Plato would spoil the lesson if he wrote it for us (cf. Dorter 1994, 236). If we have learned how to investigate philosophical problems in the Sophist and Statesman, Plato may be challenging his audience to search for the philosopher themselves, using the techniques and recommendations these dialogues provide.

On the other hand, (2) has some attractions, as well. After all, these are indictment dialogues, and we know that there are dialogues to come, concerned with the actual trial. So one could take all the rest of the Last Days dialogues as filling the role of a Philosophos dialogue, showing us the philosopher. This would be especially reasonable if you interpret the Sophist and the Statesman as constituting a kind of additional indictment of Socrates, as some do; we get this kind of interpretation, for instance, in Catherine Zuckert's Plato's Philosophers.

A related way to do (2) would be to take the approach of Bernard Suzanne, who suggests that we can see either all of Plato's dialogues, or some select series of them other than the Last Days dialogues as the missing Philosophos. As he puts it (last update June 6, 2009):

It is possible to look at the whole set of dialogues as constituting the Philosopher, that dialogue that was hinted at at the beginning of the Sophist (217a-b) and again at the beginning of the Statesman (257b-258a), but supposedly never written, or you might want to keep this title for the last tetralogy, which describes the trip back to the cave by showing us what it is to be a true philosopher-king :

first setting the goal, happiness for man in this world, in the introductory dialogue, the Philebus;

then telling us how each part of our soul can contribute to the task at hand: the sensitive part (epithumiai) by seeking in the contemplation (the "theorization", in the etymological meaning of the Greek word theƓrein) of the created world's order (kosmos in Greek) a god given model for our own building of the city, in the Timaeus;

the willing part (thumos) by making the right choices with a trained judgment (krisis in Greek), and not relying on gods' renewed interventions to clean up men's mess, in the Critias, whose intentional incompleteness is a test of the reader's own judgment at the end of the journey;

and the reasonable part (logos) by drawing the Laws that will bring order to the city and happiness to its citizen, while the whole body and soul are on their way up toward the "cave" of Zeus, the god of gods.

This seems a little too clever by half, but it's an interesting idea.

My inclination is toward the version of (2) in which the remaining Last Days dialogues actually fulfill the Philosophos role. How about you? What's your non-reading of the Philosophos?

Thursday, July 24, 2014


Statesman (once often known by the Latinized name Politicus) is obviously closely connected with the Sophist, and what is said of one can usually be said of another. This is usually considered the more perplexing of the two dialogues, though, its organization being much more difficult to figure out. There is no general consensus about how to interpret aspects of the Sophist; and this is even more true of this dialogue.

You can read the Statesman online in English at the Perseus Project or in French at Wikisource.

The Characters

Since it picks up immediately after the Sophist, this dialogue has the same characters. In this dialogue, however, it is Theaetetus who is only present and never speaks, and Socrates the Younger who is the young man interacting with the Eleatic Stranger.

The Plot

Socrates opens the dialogue by thanking Theodorus for introducing him to Theaetetus and the Eleatic Stranger, and Theodorus replies that soon he'll be indebted three times over when they have worked out the profiles of the statesman and of the philosopher as well as that of the sophist. Socrates jokes that he's disappointed that Theodorus, expert in arithmetic and geometry, would make such a simple mistake in math: he's adding the sophist, the statesman, and the philosopher as if they were of equal value instead of weighting them according to proportion. Theodorus likes the joke and says that he'll get even with Socrates later for it, but in the meantime he asks the Stranger to go on and discuss either the statesman or the philosopher, whichever he chooses to do first. The Stranger suggests that they give Theaetetus a rest and let Socrates the Younger take over the burden of interrogation for a while, and Socrates remarks that it's appropriate, since both young men are like Socrates in different ways, and Socrates the Younger will at some point answer questions from Socrates. And so the rest of the dialogue proceeds.

One peculiarity is that it's unclear which Socrates ends the dialogue: it could be either the older or the younger Socrates who remarks on the excellence of the Stranger's portrait of the statesman.

The Thought

The Myth

The Myth section of the dialogue is the most discussed (and also the most contentiously discussed) part of the dialogue. The Eleatic Stranger is discussing the sense in which the true king is shepherd of human beings, but they've run into the problem that there are so many look-alikes competing for the title. So to clear the field a bit, they need to go a different route. So the Stranger suggests they should bring in "an element of play" (268d) and look at stories. He notes three in particular: "the portent relating to the quarrel between Atreus and Thyestes" (268e), the golden age of Chronos (269a), and "the report that earlier men were born from the earth and were not reproduced from each other" (269b). He says that these are actually three different ways of talking about the same thing. (They might seem to be a weird mix, but they are all myths that turn out to be related to politics in various ways, and they are all stories in which a prior situation suddenly changes, i.e., in which there is a sharp difference between the way things were originally done and they way they are done later.) He puts them all together and makes a story in which the heavens went an opposite direction (the Atreus/Thyestes myth), people were originally born from earth because their lives were reversed and instead of ending up in the earth after death they began in the earth before they sprang from it as old men and women (the autochthony myth), and people were originally ruled by gods (the age of Chronos myth):

A god tended them, taking charge of them himself, just as now human beings, themselves living creatures, but different and more divine, pasture other kinds of living creatures more lowly than themselves; and given his tendance, they had no political constitutions, nor acquired wives and children, for all of them came back to life from the earth, remembering nothing of the past. While they lacked things of this sort, they had an abundance of fruits from trees and many other plants, which grew not through cultivation but because the earth sent them up of its own accord. For the most part they would feed outdoors, naked and without bedding; for the blend of the seasons was without painful extremes, and they had soft beds from abundant grass that sprang from the earth. (271e-272b)

However, at some point the "steersman" of the cosmos stopped turning it in its direction, and thus it began to turn the other way; then all the gods stopped directing the realms of the cosmos they directed, and after tumult and confusion, the cosmos (as a living thing) began to manage itself, remembering as best it could how it had originally been guided. But over time disharmony and discord added up; and things were done in the reverse direction. Just like the cosmos that we imitate, we currently live trying to manage ourselves under a reversed regime until the steersman rights the universe again, making do as best we can with the remembered gifts of the gods we received long ago (fire, crafts, domestication).

The point of the story is to point to a flaw in thinking of the statesman along the lines of a herdsman: it is effectively to give the statesman a role that can only exist in a Golden Age in which human beings are ruled by gods. The divine herdsman is far greater than any king, and statesman of our day are necessarily very much like the people they rule, not as different from them as a herdsman from the animals he herds.

Paradigm and Measure

The Stranger then reflects on the importance of models (paradeigmata):

It's a hard thing, my friend, to demonstrate any of the more important subjects without using models. It looks as if each of us knows everything in a kind of dreamlike way, and then again is ignorant of everything when as it were awake. (277d)

In the use of the model we are discovering how to make true judgments about something by comparing it with something else. And the model is necessary precisely to deal with the problem we are having with the statesman of distinguishing him from many things that look like him (as the Stranger notes, we are looking for men, but we keep getting with them centaurs and satyrs, i.e., men-like non-men). So we use the models to focus in on the statesman in the proper sense, eliminating the look-alikes. The Stranger chooses weaving as a model to get them farther than herding alone could.

The discussion of weaving leads to another key point: that of excess and deficiency. When measuring something, there are two kinds of measuring we could use. One kind is a relative measure, in the same way that we measure things by saying one thing is greater or smaller than something else. But another kind, and the kind that is relevant to any kind of art/skill/craft/expertise (techne), is that of measure (to metron). For every craft or skill, by its very nature, there is a way of distinguishing what is excessive and what is defective, and thus a way of identifying what is rightly done. If you are a weaver making good cloth, it is because you are finding this measure. Thus this measure distinguishes good and bad, beautiful and ugly, and it is based on the way in which things are generated or production. (This relates to the myths, incidentally, since all the myths were said to be about different ways things come to be; the divine herdsman is not an appropriate way of thinking of the statesman, because he existed in a different order of production or generation, when things were produced or generated in different way.) It is the due measure (to metrion), the decorous/fitting (to prepon), the timely (to kairon), the due (to deon).

This is all relevant to classification (which tries to divide things 'in the middle', that is in a way that is appropriate to the thing in question, failing not by an excess nor by a defect), and to statesmanship (which as a skill will be concerned with its own kind of due measure).

Typology of Regimes

The Stranger gives a very influential typology of regimes: we have monarchy (rule of one), and oligarchy (rule of a few), and democracy (rule of many). Monarchy is of two kinds, tyrannical and royal, and the difference has to do with things like force and consent; oligarchy is likewise of two kinds, oligarchical and aristocratic. Democracy, however, tends to go by the same name regardless. The best measure of the quality of a constitution is whether those who rule have the skill of statesmanship, but as it is often difficult to find people who have the requisite skill, the second best is that the written documents or ancestral customs of the society imitate, roughly and approximately, the kind of regime you would have under someone with this skill of statesmanship, despite sometimes not fitting situations perfectly. This is the real dividing point between tyranny and good kingship, and between oligarchy and aristocracy.

Because the existence of the statesman cannot be guaranteed, and because it can be hard to discover him even when he does, it is essential "for people to come together and write things down, chasing after the traces of the truest constitution" (301e). When you have monarchy with good written laws, it is the best kind of regime; but when the laws aren't good, it is the harshest. On the other hand, if a democracy with good laws is the least good of all good regimes; yet it has the corresponding feature that a democracy with bad laws is the least bad of all bad regimes.

Definition of Statesman

In leading up to the definition of the statesman, the Stranger suggests something "astonishing" (306b): the city needs temperance (sophrosyne) and fortitude (andreia), but that these are in some way opposed to each other. Now, of course, all 'parts of virtue', as the Stranger calls it go together, but the kinds of qualities that these parts of virtue are concerned with can at times oppose each other to the detriment of the whole. Thus, following the model of weaving, we get the statesman:

Then let us say that this marks the completion of the fabric which is the product of the art of statesmanship: the weaving together, with regular intertwining, of the dispositions of brave and moderate people--when the expertise belonging to the kind brings their life together in agreement and friendship and makes it common between them, completing the most magnificent and best of all fabrics and covering with it all the other inhabitants of cities, both slave and free; and holds them together with this twining and rules and directs without, so far as it belongs to a city to be happy, falling short of that in any respect. (311b-c).

  Additional Remarks

* This dialogue in a sense has to deal with a classification problem opposite to that of the prior one. When the Stranger began dividing arts, the sophist ended up spread across several different divisions, and the problem was to make sense of why classification was so elusive. The statesman, on the other hand, turns out to be easy to locate -- but it turns out to be difficult to come up with any classification that fits only the statesman.

* One of the interesting things about both this and the prior dialogue is that in a sense they are examples of how to reason through figurative language -- Is the sophist better characterized in terms of hunting or selling? Is the statesman better characterized in terms of herding or weaving? I'm not sure that this is the intent; but almost the entire apparatus of the dialogues (division, paradigmatic cases, coordination of different 'guises', checking with likely stories) is well-suited for exploring metaphors. The reason in general, I think, is that figurative language is generally a form of indirect classification; so there is inevitably going to be some connection. It's simply brought out more clearly by the way the Stranger uses models. And this is perhaps a particularly appropriate conclusion if we think of these two dialogues as following Cratylus.

* The dialogue brings up the midwife's art again, in talking about herdsmen (268a-b). It's a passing mention, but probably a deliberate tie of some sort to Theaetetus, although I'm not sure how.

* Since the Statesman is an indictment dialogue, it is worth noting that it raises clearly and explicitly the issue of corrupting the youth.

Suppose anyone is found inquiring into steersmanship and seafaring, or health and truth in the doctor's art, in relation to winds and heat and cold, above and beyond the written rules, and making clever speculations of any kind in relation to such things. In the first place, one must not call him an expert doctor or an expert steersman, but a stargazer, some babbling sophist. The next provision will be that anyone who wishes from among those permitted to do so shall indict him and bring him before some court or other as corrupting other people younger than himself and inducing them to engage in the arts of the steersman and the doctor not in accordance with the laws, but instead by taking autonomous control of ships and patients. If he is found guilty of persuading anyone, whether young or old, contrary to the laws and the written rules, the most extreme penalties shall be imposed on him. For (so the law will say) there must be nothing wiser than the laws; no one is ignorant about what belongs to the art of the doctor, or about health, or what belongs to the art of the steersman, or seafaring, since it is possible for anyone who wishes to understand things that are written down and things established as ancestral customs. (299b-d)

Given that this is part of a very complicated arguments based on hypotheticals that are recognized that it is odd, it is difficult to know exactly what to make of this -- but it is notable that it is even brought up, particularly given that Crito has the Socrates representing the laws speaking on their own behalf. And it is noticeable that the Stranger makes quite clear that the laws, not being statesmen, cannot adapt to every situation, and therefore will not be right for every situation -- but will still need to be upheld.

There's obviously some set of implications here. But these implications are obviously indirect and would have to be teased out -- and, as noted before, there is no consensus about what these implications are. A difficulty with interpreting Plato -- sometimes the main argument is in what he is deliberately not saying.


Quotations are from C. J. Rowe's translation in Plato, Complete Works, Cooper and Hutchinson, eds., pp. 294-358.

Songs for St. Charbel

Today is the feast of St. Charbel (or Sharbel) Makhlouf. He was the son of a mule-driver who used to sneak away to pray at the monastery of St. Maron in Annaya, Lebanon. He eventually became a monk, but after some time there he decided to go further and become a hermit -- the eremitic life is one of the ancient pillars of Maronite Catholicism. He was a hermit for twenty-three years, and gained a widespread reputation for hospitality and holiness. He died on Christmas Eve, 1898. He was beatified by Paul VI at the end of the Second Vatican Council and canonized, again by Paul VI, in 1977, becoming one of the modern Maronite saints on the universal calendar.


Cedars grow tall on Liban hills,
life beyond grasp of human will;
flame is bright over muddy grave
of a hermit-saint who hid his face;
the heart is kissed by burning light
as cedar soars to sun and sky,
is charged with day without a night,
and burns but is not burned.

Chant of the Maronites


From the wilds of Syria I come,
from the holy church of Kefar-Nabo,
fleeing the Ol-Yambus Mount,
toiling for the God who gives,
my task a task of joyful bliss,
to hymn in word and deed
our glorious Lord and God.

Let those in the street be silent,
let those in the house hush down,
let the hermits retire in prayer,
as I sing the psalms of David,
the Hallelujahs of the Lord.

Blessed is the one the Father loves;
blessed the one for whom His Son died;
blessed is the one whose life is charged
with the power of the living Spirit.
Blessed is the one whose rubric of life
is an echo of heaven's liturgy,
the one who amid the cedars
feels the wild delight of God.

Bring Christ home, children of Maroun,
bring Him from the cedars of Liban,
from the enclosures of the hermits bring Him,
bearing Him in your heart in procession,
carrying Him to every city and nation.

The message goes forth: Do not be afraid!
The Glory shines out: Do not fear!
An angel appears to an Israelite maid,
telling of wonders and of heavenly favor,
foretelling a son to sit on the Throne,
the Throne that is David's, for ages and ever.
when the Spirit comes over Mary of Zion,
when the Most High's power, like glorious cloud,
overshadows the virgin that the Holy be born.

Glory to God in the highest of heights!
Glory to God in the will of the graced!
The angels are singing the highest Hosanna,
heralding the coming of the Messiah and Lord.
Highest of high meets the lowest of low;
God's Anointed is swaddled in a trough made for oxen,
the light of the Word infuses the flesh,
Christ comes to save creation from darkness.


O Simeon, awaiting the great consolation,
sing songs of blessing for God's good grace;
the Spirit's promise in fire and light
is here fulfilled in a baby boy;
God's salvation comes, a light for revelation,
a hope and a glory for Israel's nation.
But, Oh! Contradiction, rise and fall,
and a piercing sword in the Virgin's heart;
many are the thoughts brought to exposure,
great is the tumult of a world thrust in darkness
at the rising of the Infinite Sun!


O tribe of Asher, in the prophetess Anna
fortunate are you, favorite and favored,
the oil of gladness runs over your feet!
Mighty your fortresses, iron your gates,
your strength is of God, enduring forever.
The daughter of Zilpah, most holy widow,
gives thanks to her God, will not be silent,
but speaks of the Lord to all who await;
happy is Asher, the tribe of good fortune,
to herald the one who will seal every tribe!


Our Lord and God spoke to Peter
on the shore of the Tiberias Sea:
"Simon, son of John, do you love Me,
more than the rest of these?"
And Peter replied, "You know that I love you."
"Then, O Peter, feed my lambs."

We are the heirs of Peter in Antioch;
we feed the lambs with prayer and love.

Our Lord and God spoke to Peter
on the shore of the Tiberias Sea:
"Simon, son of John, do you love Me?"
And Peter replied, "You know that I love you."
"Then, O Peter, tend my sheep."

We are the heirs of Peter in Antioch;
we tend the sheep with blessing and love.

Our Lord and God spoke to Peter
on the shore of the Tiberias Sea:
"Simon, son of John, do you love me?"
And Peter replied, "You know that I love you."
"Then, O Peter, feed my sheep."

We are the heirs of Peter in Antioch;
we feed the Lord's sheep with praise and love.

Listen to me, O children of Maroun!
No province are you, no small group;
the forest of Maroun is the whole holy Church,
catholic and complete, it has no end,
blessed of God in memory of Peter,
only within it is salvation found.
Raise your eyes to the cedar-crowned hills:
on every hill is the whole holy Church.
Rome is a cedar in the forest of Maroun,
Liban is a hill in the city of Rome,
for each is in each, and each is in all:
for Christ is for each and in everything All.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Free as Life and the Free-Formed Spirit Itself

Free as life and the free-formed spirit itself, ever new, wonderful, versatile, and infinitely varied, both in internal structure and external manifestation, are the ways of man's thinking and speculative spirit. A ready and apposite illustration will clearly demonstrate this peculiar freedom and manifold variety in the methods, species, and developments of philosophy. At any rate, if it do not place it vividly before our eyes, it at least suggests the idea of it. The written dialogues of Plato—that great master of philosophical exposition and of the thinking dialogue of science, with its ever-living and changing play of thought, and earnest spirit of investigation—are perhaps not less diversified in their course; not less wonderfully manifold and exuberant with all the riches of genius; not less peculiar in their general conception, as well as external development; not less exquisite in the finish of the several parts and divisions, than the poetical productions of the greatest and most admired of dramatists.

Friedrich Schlegel, Philosophy of Language (p. 343).

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Another Poem Draft

The Ocean's Daughter

When the moonlight comes,
it dances on water,
forms a path of light
silver and fair
that leads the way
to the Ocean's daughter;
a net of stars
shines in her hair.
The night is dark,
but her eyes are deeper
than all the expanse
of heaven above.
She holds my heart,
for she is its keeper,
and the ocean's waves
spread from her with love.


Theaetetus ended with an agreement to come back the next day in order to discuss the matter further. This is done in Sophist and Statesman, the latter picking up right where the former leaves off. Since Theaetetus was very clear about occurring the day Socrates was indicted, these two discussions, despite continuing the prior discussion, occur under very different circumstances: Socrates has now been indicted and is heading for his trial. The indictment is never directly mentioned in these dialogues, so it is difficult to determine exactly what the implications of this is, but the point was made so clear in the prior dialogue, there must be some significance. Perhaps this is why Socrates is relatively quiet, taking a backseat in the discussion? It has also been suggested that, as Euthyphro and Cratylus before the indictment dealt with the general question of impiety, so this one looks, albeit indirectly, at the specific charge of corrupting the youth.

The authenticity of this and the next dialogue have usually not been questioned, because stylistically they are very closely linked with Laws, Timaeus, and Critias, and there are fairly good reasons for thinking those authentic, especially the Laws. In addition there are statements in Aristotle that seem to be references to the Sophist, although they could also be read other ways (e.g., as claiming that Plato himself made a statement about sophists). Content-wise, however, people have often been uncomfortable with the Sophist and the Statesman, because they are so very different from what one would expect of Plato. As I've said many times before, this in itself means nothing -- all the dialogues do something you wouldn't expect simply from the other dialogues -- but it is true that these dialogues give us something rather different from most other dialogues. Because of this, questions about their inauthenticity occasionally reappear. It has even been argued that they are really by Aristotle, in part because they match up fairly well with comments Aristotle himself makes about his own philosophical dialogues in the Politics. Nice as it would be to discover that two of Aristotle's missing philosophical dialogues were actually hiding in plain sight all this time, I find the arguments to this end rather tenuous, and I take it that Plato scholars do, as well.

You can read the Sophist online in English at the Perseus Project and in French at Wikisource. Mary Louis Gill has an interesting article on Method and Metaphysics in Plato's Sophist and Statesman at the SEP.

The Characters

The dialogue has the same characters as Theaetetus (Socrates, Theodorus, Theaetetus, Socrates the Younger) and one addition, the Eleatic Stranger (xenos), about whom, of course, we know only that he is a stranger from Elea and that he studied with Parmenides and Zeno.

The Plot

Theodorus opens the dialogue by telling Socrates that they've come back and brought a visitor from Elea, who is "very much a philosopher" (216a). Socrates remarks that in Homer visitors are sometimes gods in disguise, and the visitor might well be "a god of refutation to keep watch on us and show how bad we are at speaking--and refute us" (216b). Theodorus replies that it isn't the visitor's style and he is only divine in the way all philosophers are. Socrates says in return that philosophers are probably no easier to distinguish from other men than gods are:

Sometimes they take on the appearance of statesman, and sometimes of sophists. Sometimes, too, they might give the impression that they're completely insane. (216c-d)

He asks the Stranger whether they distinguish sophists, statesmen, and philosophers. The Stranger replies that they do, but it isn't easy to do so. They settle on the Stranger teaching the topic by question and answer with the young men, and Theaetetus agrees. They begin the discussion, first giving a practice run with angling before going on to sophistry.

The Thought

The Stranger makes use of division, but not a strict one, since he allows one thing to fall under different branches of a division, a point which will be essential to the attempt to pin down what a sophist is, who seems to practice both a productive and an acquisitive skill (techne). This shows why the sophist is so hard to define: he is found under different guises or appearances. The Stranger will identify five different guises under which the sophist appears (231d-e):

1. Hired hunter of rich young men.

2. Wholesaler of learning about the soul.

3. Retailer of learning about the soul.

4. Seller of his own learning.

5. Athlete in verbal combat and debate.

In addition, a sixth is mentioned and put into doubt, but is added for the sake of discussion:

6. One who cleanses the soul of beliefs interfering with learning.

None of these guises is actually put forward as a definition. Rather, the Stranger is weaving a net of descriptions (235b) to hunt down the sophist by hemming him in from several different sides. They then discuss the way in which the sophist is an imitator, since the sophist could not possibly know everything he purports to teach; he is a copy-maker, but someone who produces false copies. But this raises the question of falsity, and how anyone can speak falsely at all; a question that the Stranger answers by arguing against Parmenides. This is necessary, because the fundamental principle of Parmenidean metaphysis is 'that which is, is, and that which is not, is not'; but the sophist uses an interweaving of that which is and that which is not to mix the two. In order to capture the sophist, we need to have a proper account of falsehood, one that Parmenides cannot provide.

When we look at accounts of that which is and that which is not, we find "something like a battle of gods and giants" (246a). One side insists that being must be given an account entirely in terms of what can be sensed, what is bodily; the other insists that certain noncorporeal forms can be thought of and that these alone truly are. But, the Stranger says, neither side can be right if philosophy is to exist at all:

The philosopher--the person who values these things the most--absolutely has to refuse to accept the claim that everything is at rest, either from defenders of the one or from friends of the many forms. In addition he has to refuse to listen to people who say that that which is changes in every way. He has to be like a child begging for "both," and say that that which is--everything--is both the changing and the unchanging (249c-d)

This requires dialectic, the process of being able to make distinctions; and making distinctions requires attention to the five forms of being: change, rest, same, different, and that which is. This leads the Stranger to argue that 'that which is not' in some way is -- it is not inconsistent with that which is but something different. Thus, for instance, to distinguish the beautiful from the non-beautiful is really to set being over against being. Negation always presupposes being. This allows one to give an account of the sophists, who deal with mere copies, appearances.

And the dialogue ends with the Stranger's definition of sophistry, and Theaetetus' agreement with it:

Imitation of the contrary-speech-producing, insincere and unknowing sort, of the appearance-making kind of copy-making the word-juggling part of production that's marked off as human and not divine. (268c)

That is, the sophist is a producer of mere appearances on the basis of mere opinion, using words to force people to contradict themselves.

  Additional Remarks

* The trilogy of dialogues has a theme of appearances and copies and imitations, and that extends even to the characters: Theaetetus is like Socrates in appearance; Socrates the Younger, who will speak in the next dialogue and is said in this one to be Theaetetus' substitute or stand-in, shares Socrates' name but is not Socrates; the sophist seems to be like a philosopher but is not; Socrates seems to be like a sophist and yet is not; and so forth.

* The Stranger's being from Elea is of course significant. Theaetetus had laid out the opposition between the fluent philosophers, represented by Heraclitus, and the steadfast philosophers, represented by Parmenides; it then criticized the former and sophists like Protagoras as being of the same family. Cratylus continued the criticism of the fluent philosophers by examining implicit assumptions of Greek culture (as represented in Greek language and literature) that were allied to the fluent philosophy. With the Eleatic Stranger we get an examination of the other side of the opposition. (It is notable that there seems to be a direct reference at 216c to Socrates' own discussion with Parmenides in Parmenides.) Elea, a Greek colony in Italy, was the home of the two major Eleatic philosophers, Parmenides and Zeno, so he is, so to speak, in the know when it comes to their philosophy -- Theodorus introduces him as a follower of them, and he quotes Parmenides' poem-treatise -- and can thus serve as an informed critic of their position.

The crux of the criticism of the Parmenidean position, interestingly, is its inability to account for the sophists, and thus its inability to demarcate dangerous sophists from beneficial philosophers; an important matter as we approach Socrates' trial.

* The Stranger's account of how they will proceed at 218b-c fits very well with what the Cratylus suggested would be required:

But with me I think you need to begin the investigation from the sophist--by searching for him and giving a clear account[logou] of what he is. Now in this case you and I only have the name in common, and maybe we've each used it for a different thing. In every case, though, we always need to be in agreement abut the thing itself by means of a verbal explanation [dia logon], rather than doing without any such explanation [choris logou] and merely agreeing about the name.

However, this could also suggest the last part of Theaetetus, about how true judgment with logos is not knowledge; it at least raises the question whether we will get anything from the Stranger beyond true judgment with logos.

* The description of the sixth guise is worth noting, since it sounds remarkably like Socrates (230b-d):

They cross-examine someone when he thinks he's saying something though he's saying nothing. Then, since his opinions will vary inconsistently, these people will easily scrutinize them. They collect his opinions together during the discussion, put them side by side, and show that they conflict with each other at the same time on the same subjects in relation to the same things and in the same respects. The people who are being examined see this, get angry at themselves, and become calmer toward others. They lose their inflated and rigid beliefs about themselves that way, and no loss is pleasanter to hear or has a more lasting effect on them. Doctors who work on the body think it can't benefit from any food that's people who cleanse the soul, my young friend, likewise think the soul, too, won't get any advantage from any learning that's offered to it until someone shames it by refuting it, removes the opinions that interfere with learning, and exhibits it cleansed, believing it knows only those things that it does know, and nothing more.

This should be compared with Socrates' comments to Theaetetus at the very end of Theaetetus.

* There is no consensus on how the overall dialogue should be interpreted, in part because Socrates is quiet for most of the discussion. Some commentators see the Stranger and Socrates as being in fundamental agreement: Socrates 'noble sophistry' contrasts with sophistry in the proper sense. Others see the final definition of the sophist as an implicit attack on Socrates, an attack continued in the Statesman. One example of the latter is Catherine Zuckert in Plato's Philosophers:

If the Eleatic is an exemplar of the dialectical science and thus of philosophy, as he suggests, then in his judgment Socrates cannot be a philosopher, even though the Eleatic is too urbane to say so explicitly. He contents himself with intimating that Socrates is a sophist who imitates a knower by refuting his interlocutors in private conversations, even though he himself is perfectly and ironically aware that he does not know. (p. 706)

If this is true, the Eleatic Stranger is setting up a set of challenges to which Socrates must respond at his trial and in his final days: to show that he is a philosopher and not a sophist.


Quotations from Sophist are from Nicholas P. White's translation in Plato, Complete Works, Cooper & Hutchinson, eds., pp. 235-293.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Her Winds Have Thundered from of Old

The Unnamed Lake
by Frederick George Scott

It sleeps among the thousand hills
Where no man ever trod,
And only nature's music fills
The silences of God.

Great mountains tower above its shore,
Green rushes fringe its brim,
And over its breast for evermore
The wanton breezes skim.

Dark clouds that intercept the sun
Go there in Spring to weep,
And there, when Autumn days are done.
White mists lie down to sleep.

Sunrise and sunset crown with gold
The pinks of ageless stone,
Her winds have thundered from of old -
And storms have set their throne.

No echoes of the world afar
Disturb it night or day,
The sun and shadow, moon and star
Pass and repass for aye.

'Twas in the grey of early dawn,
When first the lake we spied,
And fragments of a cloud were drawn
Half down the mountain side.

Along the shore a heron flew,
And from a speck on high,
That hovered in the deepening blue,
We heard the fish-hawk's cry.

Among the cloud-capt solitudes,
No sound the silence broke,
Save when, in whispers down the woods,
The guardian mountains spoke.

Through tangled brush and dewy brake,
Returning whence we came,
We passed in silence, and the lake
We left without a name.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Fortnightly Book, July 20

The next fortnightly book is Eugenia Price, The Beloved Invader.

Price was a notable radio scriptwriter; she had a major conversion in 1949 and as a result started writing for Unschackled! I hadn't realized that before I looked up additional background on Price, because I had very little prior knowledge of her, but it caught my eye: Unschackled! is the longest-running series in the history of radio, and the only series from the Golden Age of Radio that is still going -- it has been coming out with a new episode every week since 1950. It is also quite old-school; sound effects are an organ and voice effects, and the production is low-budget. It focuses on conversion stories, and thus is somewhat formulaic, but some of the stories are interesting, dealing with war, love, drugs, and the entire panoply of human failings, as conversion stories tend to do. In any case, Price used her work there as a beginning for a new career as an inspirational writer.

The Beloved Invader, however, is from the third phase of her writing career, and the one that made her most famous. She was returning home once from a bookseller's convention with a friend, Joyce Blackburn; they were driving along a state highway in Georgia and had some extra time, so they decided to explore a little, and visit a small island, St. Simons, noted on their map. And that, too, was a conversion of a sort: she fell in love with the place, its beauty and its history. She had already been thinking about trying her hand at a historical novel that would have more in common with biography than historical novels usually do, and as she wandered around the island, she came upon a cemetery, and, coming across the graves of Anson Dodge and his family, wondered if there was a story behind them. She came back again to research it -- and came back again -- and finally moved there.

This book, telling the tale of Reverend Anson Dodge, is the first and third novel in the St. Simons trilogy -- it was the first published, but as successive books explored backstory, it is the third in the chronology of the works. It was extraordinarily successful. I don't have the others, but we'll see how this one goes.

Eugenia Price is still there on St. Simons Island; in love with the place until the end, she died at age 79 in 1996 and was buried in the church there.


Cratylus is not usually placed among the Last Days dialogues; but there is an argument for its being there. The dispute over this has become a major dispute, which I can only summarize briefly here.

The dialogue does not give itself a clear dramatic date. However, it does mention Euthyphro the diviner. In fact, it mentions him four times. And among these mentions, at 396d, Hermogenes remarks that Socrates seems like a prophet (mantis) who has suddenly been inspired, and Socrates responds that he had been talking in the very early morning with Euthyphro, "lending an ear to his lengthy discussion" and been inspired by his superhuman wisdom. This occurs just after a discussion of Ouranos, Chronos, and Zeus, who were explicitly mentioned in the Euthyphro. Against this, many people argue that it's not possible for Socrates to have had the discussions in Theaetetus, Euthyphro, and Cratylus all in a single morning. Debra Nails has even more subtle prosopographical arguments against it.

However, I am convinced that it should be seen as a Last Days dialogue, and for a reason I have not seen anyone else give: the dialogue not only has the obvious apparent links to Euthyphro, it has obvious content links with Theaetetus, down to making some of the same points. In both dialogues, the issue of Protagoras & Heraclitus comes up as a crucial problem, and Protagoras and Heraclitus are named explicitly. And especially compare these two passages, first from Theaetetus:

This problem now, we have inherited it, have we not, from the ancients? They used poetical forms which concealed from the majority of men their real meaning, namely, that Ocean and Tethys, the origin of all things, are actually flowing streams, and nothing stands still. In more modern times, the problem is presented to us by men who, being more accomplished in these matters, plainly demonstrate their meaning so that even shoemakers may hear and assimilate their wisdom, and give up the silly idea that some things in this world stand still while others move, learn that all things ar ein motion, and recognize the greatness of their instructors. (180c-d)

then from Cratylus:

Most of our wise men nowadays get so dizzy going around and around in their search for the nature of the things that are, that the things themselves appear to them to be turning around and moving every which way. Well, I think that the people who gave things their names in very ancient times are exactly like these wise men. They don't blame this on their own internal condition, however, but on the nature of the things themselves, which they think are never stable or steadfast, but flowing and moving, full of every sort of motion and constant coming into being. (411b-c)

Earlier in Cratylus, Socrates had used Ocean and Tethys as one of his examples that Heraclitus was saying the same thing as Homer. When one adds to this clear confluence of ideas the references to Euthyphro's inspiration, the comments about the pious son of an impious father (394e) and the gods (400d-401a), various small similarities between Cratylus on the correctness of names and Euthyphro on piety, the direct introduction of Protagoras and Heraclitus, and various smaller things reminiscent of Theaetetus like the reference to geometry (436d; cp Theaetetus 180c) and the topic of knowledge (440a-b), then it seems that we are getting too many apparent links for none of them to be actual.

In any case, we will be reading it as a Last Days dialogue.

You can read Cratylus in English at the Perseus Project or in French at Wikisource.

The Characters
(in order of appearance)

Hermogenes had a rich father, Hipponicus, and a rich brother, Callias, but was himself not wealthy, possibly because he was illegitimate, although Plato seems to suggest that he may have been unjustly deprived by Callias. He was Xenophon's source for Socrates' last days, and Plato makes him one of the students around Socrates in Phaedo.

According to a brief comment by Aristotle, Plato studied under Cratylus before he studied under Socrates; other than that, almost all that we know about Cratylus is in this dialogue. There is a story, however, that eventually Cratylus came to the conclusion that the only way to communicate anything was to point to it.


The Plot and The Thought

Hermogenes opens the dialogue by asking Cratylus whether they should have Socrates join their conversation, and Cratylus permits it. We then discover that there are two opposing positions on the table.

(1) Cratylus holds that there is an intrinsic correctness of names, independent of convention.
(2) Hermogenes, on the other hand, holds that names are purely a matter of convention so that there is no correctness of names.

Socrates will argue that there are insuperable problems with both of these. of course, there is a position that is neither of these: naming involves convention or custom but there is a correctness associated with it, and in fact this is what Socrates will end up arguing -- more precisely, he will argue that if names are for instruction, they must involve convention but also be subject to standards of correctness based on knowledge of things to which they apply.

In response to Hermogenes, Socrates asks if he accepts the Protagorean idea that man is the measure of all things. There is no non-arbitrary distinction between private and public conventions in a matter like naming, so Hermogenes's position seems to come to something like it. Hermogenes doesn't accept Protagoras's position, however, although he has difficulty not falling into it. He agrees with Socrates that we use names as instruments in order to "divide things according to their natures" (388b). On the basis of this Socrates argues that names require a nomothetes, which could be translated as 'lawmaker' or as 'custom-maker', and that the custom-maker must be supervised by the dialectician, since it is the dialectician who actually divides things according to their natures. They discuss a large number of names -- Socrates claims to have inspiration derived from Euthyphro -- and in the course of this Socrates remarks that the names seem to suggest the idea of Heraclitus and many modern thinkers that everything is constantly in flux. Socrates after this turns to a discussion with Cratylus -- who is, in fact, a Heraclitean.

Cratylus also agrees with Socrates that names are for instruction, and Socrates shows that this causes problems for the Heraclitean view, since it seems that if names are able to communicate there must be something not constantly flowing. Exactly how this works is not explored here, but Socrates gives us a good idea of what he has in mind:

But if there are always that which knows and that which is known, if there are such things as the beautiful, the good, and each one of the things that are, it doesn't appear to me that these things can be at all like flowings or motions, as we were saying just now they were. (440b)

Socrates remarks that Cratylus must investigate these matters very carefully. Cratylus promises he will, but says he has already given a lot of thought to these matters and is sure that Heraclitus is more or less right. Socrates seems to regard this as a reason to end the discussion, and tells Cratylus to tell him all about it when he gets back from his trip, and Cratylus ends the dialogue by saying that he will, but he hopes Socrates keeps thinking about these things, too.


* In the dramatic timeline, the next dialogues are Sophist and Statesman, in which a dialectician, the Eleatic Stranger, shows how to divide things in an attempt to get names to express natures correctly, the need for which is expressly argued in this dialogue. So if we take Cratylus to be a Last Days dialogue, it directly contributes to the sequence of thought that begins with Theaetetus. In addition, the dialogue can be seen as explaining the problem with the charge against Socrates, impiety: as we saw in Euthyphro, there is good reason to think that the Athenians -- as represented by Euthyphro and Meletus -- are not holding themselves to standards of correctness in names like 'piety' and 'impiety'. The reason, or at least a diagnosis, for this is given in this dialogue, as well, and links the dialogue to Theaetetus: the subjectivism of sophistry (as represented by Protagoras) and excessive focus on the flowing sensible rather than the stable intelligible (as represented by Heraclitus) is interfering with the knowledge required for correctness in naming (and thus in teaching, for which naming is an instrument).

* This dialogue has several puns on Hermogenes's name. 'Hermogenes' literally means 'son of Hermes'. Hermes is the god of profits, so the fact that Hermogenes is unsuccessful in monetary ventures is a reason why Cratylus might say he is poorly named. Hermes is the god of matters dealing with speech, and so this is also perhaps a reason why he is poorly named, since he is not good with speeches. But Hermes is the Psychopomp, Hermes Pompaios, and Socrates' last statement to Cratylus is that Hermogenes will go with (propempsei) Cratylus, a related term, so the dialogue ends happily with a joke that Hermogenes is appropriately named after all.

* Philosophers over the past century have tended to regard Cratylus as a baffling and mostly useless dialogue, which I think establishes conclusively that philosophers over the past century have been lacking in self-awareness. Of all Plato's dialogues, this one is the one that most directly touches on the kinds of philosophical issues that became central to philosophy in the twentieth century. On the 'analytic' side, the 'linguistic turn' was precisely motivated by the general kind of idea for which Socrates argues here: when it comes to conveying ideas, there is a standard of correctness by which one corrects error and misunderstanding. What is more, analytic philosophers have always struggled with the problems that arise in both engaging in this kind of dialectical activity of correcting names and also being inclined or tempted to Hermogenes's position that language is purely conventional. On the 'phenomenological' side, Heidegger can be seen as accepting the general kind of idea for which Socrates argues here, as well; but this side of twentieth century had the difficulty of being already inclined and thus at times tempted to a modern form of Cratylus's position, namely, that the understanding conveyed in language is rooted in temporal flow. This characterization, of course, is a crude representation; but one will find that it nonetheless goes quite far even without refinement.

* The perceptive reader will, I think, notice that this dialogue is in essence arguing for the viability of real classification, since that is effectively how all three participants in the dialogue are understanding naming. If you want a good way to see why the argument here is not merely some weird discussion of etymologies, think about scientific taxonomy, such as was done by Lavoisier or Linnaeus and was discussed by William Whewell. Whewell's eighth aphorism on scientific terminology conveys exactly the sort of correctness of names at issue in this dialogue:

Terms must be constructed and appropriated so as to be fitted to enunciate clearly and simply true propositions.

Scientific classification is a form of naming. It is not merely conventional, because it is held to standards of correctness; it does not naively follow the assumptions of ordinary language but is dialectically examined and corrected. Scientific classification, in other words, presupposes exactly the points made by Socrates in this dialogue.

* The main stumblingblock most modern readers have in their reading of the dialogue, of course, is the very, very long discussion of etymologies. But it's important to note that there is more going on in this discussion than just fanciful (and, note, Socrates himself flags its fancifulness at several points) playing around with syllables. In the course of doing thi, Socrates also incidentally does several other things. (1) He shows, rather than simply argues, that the correctness of names cannot be a matter of mere syllables but must somehow be a matter of understanding the natures of things themselves. (2) He prepares the discussion for the worries about Heraclitus that will come about later, by repeatedly introducing the assumption that all things flow, and in so doing also anticipates the discussion he will have with Cratylus. (3) He shows, regardless of the correctness of the etymologies, that both Hermogenes and Cratylus are wrong, since exploration of names requires attention to those things to which names are applied (pace Hermogenes) and yet also implies the need for critical care (by what amounts to a reductio by anticipation of Cratylus).

* Since we are reading this as a Last Days dialogue, the following passage in the discussion of Hades seems particularly relevant:

The words Hades knows how to speak are so beautiful, it seems, that everyone--even the Sirens--has been overcome by his enchantments. On this account, therefore, this god is a perfect sophist, and a great benefactor to those who are with him. So great is the wealth that surrounds him there below, he got the name 'Pluto'. On the other hand, because he is unwilling to associate with human beings while they have their bodies, but converses with them only when their souls are purified of all the desires and evils of the body, doesn't he seem to you to be a philosopher? For hasn't he well understood that when people are free of their bodies he can bind them with the desire for virtue, but that while they feel the agitation and madness of the body not even the famous shackles of his father Cronus could keep them with him? (403d-404a)


Quotation from Theaetetus is from Myles Burnyeat's revision of M. J. Levett's translation in Plato, Complete Works, Cooper & Hutchinson, eds., pp. 157-234.

Quotations from Cratylus are from C. D. C. Reeve's translation in Plato, Complete Works, Cooper & Hutchinson, eds., pp. 101-156.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Beowulf; and J. R. R. Tolkien, "Sellic Spell"


Opening Passage: From Beowulf:

Lo! the glory of the kings of the people of the Spear-Danes in days of old we have heard tell, how those princes did deeds of valour. Oft Scyld Scefing robbed the hosts of foemen, many peoples, of the seats where they drank their mead, laid fear upon men, he who first was found forlorn; comfort for that he lived to know, mighty grew under heaven, throve in honour, until all that dwelt nigh about, over the sea where the whale rides, must hearken to him and yield him tribute -- a good king was he! (p. 13)

From "Sellic Spell":

Once upon a time there was a King in the North of the world who had an only daughter, and in his house there was a young lad who was not like the others. One day some huntsmen had come upon a great bear in the mountains. They tracked him to his lair and killed him, and in his den they found a man-child. They marvelled much, for it was a fine child, about three years old, and in good health, but it could speak no words. It seemed to the huntsmen that it must have been fostered by the bears, for it growled like a cub. (p. 360)

Summary: If we ask what Beowulf is about, it is easy to focus on the most vivid scenes, on, for instance, Beowulf and Grendel. But if we do that, it is difficult to grasp a unified thread in the story. I think that the poet, however, has told us what Beowulf is about in his very first sentence: Danish kings. This is a poem about kingship: about its nobility, its glory, its sorrows, its responsibilities, its demands. Beowulf is in this sense not so much the main character as the representative character. And once one realizes this, one discovers that the poem goes out of its way to make this clear. We begin not with Beowulf himself but with Danish kings, and slowly focus in on Hrothgar, a wise king with a seemingly insoluble problem. Only then do we find Beowulf. Slowly we learn about him, as the poet builds up the picture of a king-in-making -- and Hrothgar himself at one point highlights it, and gives advice on kingship. Then Beowulf becomes king, and eventually dies a kingly death and is given a kingly burial.

Even the monsters Beowulf fights reflect on this theme. Grendel and his mother, scions of wandering Cain, the most monstrous summation of what it is to be an outlaw, are as it were the negative counterparts of Beowulf-as-champion, Beowulf as having the potential of kingship, and Beowulf in fighting them returns the land to law and order. The dragon, on the other hand, is the negative counterpart of Beowulf-as-king. We tend to think of hoarding treasure as just a sort of random thing dragons do; but in this tale, hoarding is what a dragon is. A dragon is an ungenerous king. He hoards without giving benefit; he hoards in such a way that if he cannot have his treasure, he will guarantee that no one has it; his hoarding is so great that in return for the theft of a drinking cup he will destroy an entire kingdom. But the purpose of a king is not to hoard, but to give; generosity is the heart of kingship.

It is a stable characteristic of this Anglo-Saxon ideal, and shared by all Nordic storytelling, that greatness, and virtue, and nobility are all taken to be not abstractions but highly concrete and material. The poet endlessly talks about material wealth -- gold, treasures, rings, swords, cups, plates, gilded benches in golden halls. It is the language in which he speaks of kingship, of heroism, of excellence. To be great is to be worthy of gold and silver and fine things. But while it is a very material view, it is not a very materialistic view, because none of this wealth is seen as a private thing. One's possession of wealth, unless one is a thief, arises from the good one does to the whole people. One's excellence as a champion is not winning wealth for oneself but for all. One's glory as a king is pouring forth treasure to those who merit it. We see this in Beowulf's death. He asks to see the dragon's treasure, all the fine wealth he has won, to ease his death; but it is not the gold itself that matters to him. He thanks God for the treasure and commands, as his last command, that it be used for the needs of the people. That seems fitting enough to us; but we, I think, have difficulty seeing it for what it really is. This is not some extraordinary fit of generosity, but the practical work of the king, the ordinary, everyday, mundane, almost pedestrian activity of a sovereign ruler. What is notable is not that this is above and beyond the call of duty; it is that Beowulf does his duty as king to the very end. And after his end, his people express their devotion to him in the same material way -- but, again, their material expression of respect for a true king is infinitely removed from anything materialistic.

Tolkien's translation is very good, but reading a number of reviews of it, I can see that people don't grasp the point of it. It was not made to present the story of Beowulf, or to give a poetic representation analogous to its original; it was made to assist in understanding the original poem, designed to draw out things that could otherwise be easily overlooked. It is an instrument serving an end beyond itself. As such it is rather different from almost any other translation available. It thus fits very well with the extensive commentary from Tolkien's lectures on Beowulf and also the short story, "Sellic Spell".

"Sellic Spell" is worth reading on its own; he presents a Beowulfian fairy tale or folk-story. But it, too, was an instrument, something written with a purpose beyond itself: by means of it, Tolkien provides a contrast by which certain features of Beowulf can be better understood. The poem is an intersection of fairy tale and historical legend, and "Sellic Spell" is Tolkien's attempt to draw out, in a coherent way, something like the purely fairy tale aspect of it, to show what kind of thing you might get if you looked beyond the historic/heroic aspect of the tale to the folktale-structures that were adapted to historical events (or to which historical tales were adapted). It holds up well enough on its own -- it deserves to take its place among classic fairy tales -- but it, too, is an instrument for understanding Beowulf.

Thus both the translation and the fairy tale adaptation foil attempts to stop at themselves. They interfere with the temptation to think that in reading a translation, or an adaptation, we in some sense have the original. They point beyond themselves, and by the very way they work, by their very purpose, they insist that you look beyond them, and see the wonder of Beowulf itself, even if you do so in the translation, or the adaptation, as in mirror darkly.

Favorite Passage:

Then was the keeper of the barrow swollen with wrath, purposing, fell beast, with fire to avenge his precious drinking-vessel. Now was the day faded to the serpent's joy. No longer would he tarry on the mountain-side, but went blazing forth, sped with fire. Terrible for the people in that land was the beginning (of that war), even as swift and bitter came its end upon their lord and patron. Now the invader did begin to spew forth glowing fires and set ablaze the shining halls -- the light of the burning leapt forth to the woe of the men. No creature there did that fell winger of the air purpose to leave alive. Wide might it be seen how the serpent went to war, the malice of that fall oppressor, from near and far be seen how that destroyer in battle pursued and humbled the people of the Geats. Back to his Hoard he sped to his dark hall ere the time of day. He had wrapped the dwellers in the land in flame, in fire and burning; he trusted in his barrow, in its wall and his own warlike might, and his trust cheated him. (pp. 80-81)

Recommendation: Highly recommended all, Beowulf and Tolkien's translation of it and "Sellic Spell"; but it is important to remember that the latter two aren't intended to stand on their own, but to contribute to the understanding of how the original works.

Two New Poem Drafts


Long with razored edge the Light of Battle
gleams in flawless line and glints with stars;
he bears it on his breast, his hands upon it,
unsheathed, the proudest sword, of biting steel.
Now rest where legends dream, O blade,
and glow with sunlike flame upon this night,
when mighty war-maids lift on glory's threads
the soul of fallen slain, and hero make;
then guide the barge below the salted wave
and mark a hero's grave with memory.

Queen of Martyrs

O Queen of martyrs, fortitude
upon your brow has wreathed its light
in tears, in ache, in solitude,
in prayers whispered in the night;
the sword has pierced your heart, your soul,
your spirit flawless flees in sigh:
each nail, the spear, they take their toll
as on the Cross your glory dies.

O Queen of heaven, pray for me,
that with your heart my heart should hold
in life, in truth, in charity,
your strength, through prayer, pure and bold.
Who will not die for virtue's sake,
who will not suffer for the good,
has failed; and none to heaven wake
save those with hearts on Cross of wood.