A little Socratic wisdom

I’m in a philosophical frame of mind these days.  So for the rest of 2016, my posts will highlight famous philosophical quotes and the philosophers who said them. This month (September), the focus will be on some of the greatest ancient Greek philosophers whose influence and thinking have transcended the passage of time.

SOCRATES

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“The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”

– Socrates, (469—399 BCE),  classical Greek philosopher

Socrates was considered the father of Western logic and philosophy. He espoused an ethical system based on human reason, rather than theological doctrine. According to Socrates, the more we come to know ourselves, the greater will be our ability to reason and make choices that lead to true happiness. His quest for knowledge focused on one simple idea: how to live a good and virtuous life. We know him through the writings of the students he mentored, the most famous of whom was Plato. It was Plato who later taught Aristotle, who then went on to tutor Alexander the Great.

He taught his students by asking them questions, with the objective of getting them to think for themselves. This became known as “the Socratic Method” which, in today’s world, is a method of teaching most often used by law and medical professors in universities and colleges across the globe.

“I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think”

– Socrates

Socrates refused to acknowledge class distinction or in other words, the “proper behavior” at the time. He spoke and mingled with women, servants and slaves just as easily as with nobility and scholars. This refusal to conform to social proprieties angered the so-called important men of the time. Socrates was subsequently arrested for impiety. His accusers (Meletus the poet, Lycon the orator, and Anytus the tanner) charged him with “denying the gods recognized by the state and introducing new divinities” and “corrupting the young.”  These accusations were considered (by those who favored Socrates) as being personally and politically motivated.

Socrates was sentenced to death by hemlock poisoning in 399 BCE. He died in his Athenian prison cell, surrounded by his friends. Socrates himself never wrote down any of his teachings. He focused on action, not words. His teachings and philosophy were later interpreted and written by his students, men like Plato who later went on to form their own philosophical schools.

“To find yourself, think for yourself.”

– Socrates

READ:

The Trial and Death of Socrates, by Plato

The Republic, by Plato

 

 

heatherfromthegrove’s story spotlight for today: “The Fratricides” by Nikos Kazantzakis

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Monday, July 15 – Saturday, July 20

FICTION

@ heatherfromthegrove!

Enjoy some good summer reading.

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“Their life is an unceasing battle with God, with the winds, with the snow, with death. For this reason the Castellians were not surprised when the killing began, brother against brother. They were not afraid; they did not change their way of life.  But what had been simmering slowly within them, mute and unrevealed, now burst out, insolent and free. The primeval passion of man to kill poured from within them. Each had a neighbor, or a friend, or a brother, whom he had hated for years, without reason, often without realizing it. The hatred simmered there, unable to find an outlet.  And now, suddenly, they were given rifles and hand grenades; noble flags waved above their heads. The clergy, the army, the press urged them on — to kill their neighbor, their friend, their brother. Only in this manner, they shouted to them, can faith and country be saved! Murder, that most ancient need of man, took on a high mystic meaning. And the chase began — brother hunting brother.”

Nikos Kazantzakis , The Fratricides

To the rest of the world, the brilliant Greek writer and philosopher Nikos Kazantzakis is best known for his masterpiece, Zorba the Greek.   But to the Greeks, he remains a national treasure.  His body of writing is a clear attestation of the deep love he felt for his country and his people.  This passion, along with his devotion to his faith, and  a profound fascination with the magnetic power of charismatic leadership  ―  all come into play in his final curtain call, The Fratricides

The Fratricides (the act of a person killing his or her brother), was Kazantzakis’  last novel. The story takes place in a remote mountainside village (Castellos) in Macedonia, during the Greek Civil War (December  1944 – January 1945, and from 1946-49) when Greek communists tried (unsuccessfully) to gain control of Greece.  The novel’s central figure, the village priest (Father Yiannaros), tries to reconcile the two warring factions ― the monarchist troops who are in control of the town and the communist guerrillas who are trying to infiltrate the area.  Although sympathetic to some aspects of the communists’ vision of society, he is repelled by their acts of savagery. Their inhumanity goes against his moral and religious beliefs, yet Father Yiannaros takes steps to negotiate a settlement, with tragic results.  Enough said. 

Told by a master storyteller, The Fratricides is a gripping account of a turbulent time in Greek history, when brothers were (figuratively and literally) pitted against brothers.

Other novels by Nikos Kazantzakis:

* adapted into a film (1988) by the same name; directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Willem Dafoe (as Jesus), Harvey Keitel (as Judas) and Barbara Hershey (as Mary Magdalene).

** adapted into a film (1964) by the same name; directed by Mihalis Kakogiannis and starring Anthony Quinn (as Alexis Zorba) and Alan Bates (as Basil)

In addition, he wrote a vast body of work:  plays, poetry, and a wide selection of non-fiction works (travel books, translations, anthologies, memoirs, essays and letters).

My favorite Nikos Kazantzakis quote:

“I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.”