Book Notes: "Symposium/Phaedrus" by Plato

Symposium/PhaedrusSymposium/Phaedrus by Plato

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading ancient classics in their entirety is an interesting exercise. Not reading them from start to finish, and instead gaining one's classical education purely from secondary sources, is a sure way to reinforce modern prejudices. The standard "folk-style" (re)interpretations render one's thoughts on the classics, the Renaissance, ethics, and sexuality recast in modern fashions of morality. This is no laughing matter, and as recent as 2005, pointing out the obvious was less an exercise in self-flagellation (pardon the pun), and more an exercise in publicly shooting oneself in the foot. For example, the book Same-Sex Desire and Love in Greco-Roman Antiquity and in the Classical Tradition of the West was not going to be published (according to the Chronicle of Higher Education, 12 October 2005) following objections by "conservative activists". This is what leaves me shaking my head - if being a conservative is all about respect for the traditions of the past, where "Western" thought and the Hellenic tradition are one and the same (especially in opposition to "others"), then the veritable chink in the conservative armour is undoubtedly amour homosexuel. That is not to say that one shouldn't take the best bits of the past and reject those practices that were not simply actions between consenting adults (specifically pederasty, but bestiality and cannibalism probably count, for that matter), but to whitewash history so thoroughly dishonours George Santayana's legacy no end. In Symposium, it was a real treat to hear from Alcibiades (even if he did mention how he tried to seduce Socrates). Undoubtedly, Steven Pressfield's depiction of Alcibiades' character in Tides of War was magnificently rendered. It is a challenge to deliberately reconfigure my "knowledge", which was invariably based on abridged and whitewashed versions of history, and taught by well-meaning but oppressive moral crusaders. As I write this I am experiencing waves of liberal education that are making me feel truly free. I will have to find all of the sources that have stated time and again that if you do not read, you are not free. This is true. I am fortunate to have read History of the Peloponnesian War and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values (Vale Robert Pirsig) beforehand, but whether a proper reading of Homer is better before or after I shall not know until I get through that tome. While Baz Luhrmann innocuously advises one to wear sunscreen, I would advise one to read. But don't blame me if taking the red pill destroys the prefabricated foundations to your intellectual existence.

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