Dialogue: Angry Feminist Assails Socrates In Epic Rant

Characters:

 Know it all (KIA)—the author imagines this to be a cis-gender, heterosexual male, a stereotypical mansplainer, but it could be anyone, really.

Knows more (KM)—the author imagines this to be someone who presents as a woman, the usual victims of mansplainers, but it could also be anyone.

Setting:

The characters meet in the kind of place people might meet and have a conversation. It could be a train, a food court, a post office, or even an open marketplace (Agora).

Our characters come across one another and greet each other in the usual ways.

KIA: Hey, what’s up?

KM: I have to go to a lecture on Socrates as the father of philosophy, which excites me as much as watching algae grow on paving stones.

KIA: I love Socrates! What’s wrong with you? Haven’t you read the dialogues?

KM: I’ve read them.

KIA: Most people who read them love them.

KM: And?

KIA: How can so many people be wrong? The people who understand him love him.

KM: So, I don’t understand him?

KIA: It’s just that most scholars find the dialogues enthralling.

KM: If you didn’t know, the dialogues are written by Plato. Socrates is just a character.

KIA: I see no reason to think Socrates wasn’t as Plato portrayed him. Anyway, Plato is just as good.

KM: Plato’s Socrates is not the same as everyone else’s Socrates. And I’m no more fond of Plato than Socrates. They both seemed to be a bit too fond of tyrants.

KIA: I thought you would like Plato because he was an early feminist.

KM: How is he an early feminist?

KIA: He wanted women to be trained as men and to share in rule as philosopher queens.

KM: Why did he want them to be trained as men?

KIA: To rule equally as men.

KM: Then why couldn’t men be trained the same as women?

KIA: Women had been deprived. He wanted to lift them up.

KM: Lift them to the level of men?

KIA: Yes.

KM: So men would have to lower themselves to be equal to women?

KIA: No, that’s not what he meant.

KM: I think it is.

KIA: Why

KM: Well, he said, “We will not then allow our charges . . . to play the parts of women.”

KIA: Because men and women would play the same parts.

KM: And he said men shouldn’t “imitate a woman young or old”

KIA: Well, of course, no one should be false to himself.

KM: By being “involved in misfortune and possessed by grief and lamentation”?

KIA: He only meant we should respond to tragedy rationally.

KM: By “rationally,” you mean “like a man.” He also said no man should act as “a woman that is sick, in love, or in labor.”

KIA: But, still, he felt that women could be elevated.

KM: And he felt they needed to be elevated.

KIA: He wanted them to make society better.

KM: By not being women.

KIA: But he recognized the potential in women.

KM: Excuse me if I’m not flattered by his opinion that I can be a worthwhile person if only I try to be more like men.

KIA: He didn’t mean it that way. He recognized many wise women.

KM: Many?

KIA: Look at Diotima. She’s the voice of reason in The Symposium. The wisest person in the dialogue was a woman.

KM: Diotima wasn’t a real woman.

KIA: Many people believe she existed.

KM: Why?

KIA: Because Plato used people’s real names.

KM: How do you know?

KIA: Because they match historical accounts of the people.

KM: Do they match historical accounts of Diotima?

KIA: There are no historical accounts of Diotima.

KM: So why do you think she was real?

KIA: Why would I think she wasn’t?

KM: Because there is no record of her other than Plato, and Plato rarely made mention of women?

KIA: He spoke fondly of Aspasia.

KM: Socrates liked Aspasia because she wasn’t a shrew, which is what he thought his wife, Xanthippe, was.

KIA: But Plato respected the opinions of Aspasia and Diotima.

KM: Because Aspasia knew how to manage a household and Diotima spoke of non-physical love as ideal Forms, but he had to invent Diotima to make his point.

KIA: Still, it was a woman who instructed the men on love.

KM: Yes, and she taught that the only true love was between men.

KIA: She taught that love was of the mind. Of ideas.

KM: And it is men, not women, who are ruled by their minds. Ultimately, The Symposium is just about Plato’s ideal forms, love being one of them. He speaks of true love between men because he didn’t see women as being capable of true understanding.

KIA: Not all the men. Not Alcibiades. He was a libertine and a horrible traitor to his country.

KM: And friend of Socrates—someone who wrestled with him, slept with him, and drank with him.

KIA: But Socrates rebuffed him.

KM: And everyone else. Or, all the men, anyway.

KIA: Socrates hated Alcibiades.

KM: But they slept together? As enemies do?

KIA: Again, nothing happened.

KM: Some might think naked wrestling is something.

KIA: But Socrates didn’t respond.

KM: I find it interesting that Alcibiades expected all wrestling matches to become sexual.

KIA: How do you know that?

KM: Why else would he be surprised that Socrates didn’t respond?

KIA: I think he was just disappointed Socrates didn’t return his feelings.

KM: Maybe it was just because Socrates was so old?

KIA: Socrates wasn’t interested because he was concerned with more important things.

KM: Maybe Socrates wasn’t interested because he wasn’t gay.

KIA: Socrates was a philosopher. Alcibiades wasn’t a serious thinker.

KM: Do you think Alcibiades might have represented Plato’s feelings?

KIA: What? Why?

KM: Well, I mean. Plato was gay, wasn’t he?

KIA: Why would you say that?

KM: Hey, remember in the Republic where it says women should do physical training like men? You know, naked? And it says it would be hard to look at the naked women, especially the ones who are ugly or old.

KIA: I’m sure he was just addressing the concerns of the day.

KM: Oh, I’m sure. By the way, who did Plato marry?

KIA: I don’t know. No one does.

KM: Socrates had two wives (see Myrto). So did Aristotle. If Plato had one, don’t you think someone would have mentioned it?

KIA: What does that matter, anyway?

KM: Well, it’s consistent with him being gay.

KIA: And why would Plato portray himself through such an awful person as Alcibiades?

KM: Maybe Plato wasn’t proud of his feelings.

KIA: What!?

KM: Maybe Plato wasn’t proud of his erotic love for Socrates, so he portrayed it in a disgusting manner.

KIA: Why wouldn’t he be proud? Homosexual relationships were encouraged in his society.

KM: I didn’t mean he was ashamed of being gay, but embarrassed that his own feelings for Socrates weren’t returned. Also, maybe being embarrassed by his less than “Platonic” love for Socrates. Also, it was Plato, not Alcibiades, who was the wrestling champion.

KIA: I think Plato was just committed to higher ideals.

KM: Or maybe Plato was wrestling with his own daimons, and he could only express them through a drunken Alcibiades.

KIA: That makes no sense.

KM: Did you see what I did there?

KIA: What?

KM: Wrestling with his daimons? ‘Cause he was a wrestler? ‘Cause Alcibiades wrestled Socrates naked? ‘Cause daimons are spirits that impart wisdom and not demons?

KIA: Oh, yeah, I get it. Who do you think you are, anyway, Mark Henderson?

KM: If only Plato had made more puns instead of wrestling naked boys.

KIA: Like Socrates, Plato was a man of wisdom and honour, not a profligate!

KM: Sure. That’s why he shows the struggle only to have love of reason to win in the end. The lust of Alcibiades is defeated in the ultimate wrestling match.

KIA: Maybe he wasn’t interested in teenagers.

KM: Wasn’t Xanthippe a teenager at the time? You know, when Socrates married her.

KIA: No one knows for sure how old she was [typically claimed to be an older wife, the exception to the rule of girls marrying as teens].

KM: Socrates was 55 when his oldest son was born.

KIA: Xanthippe may have married late. It’s possible she was in her 20s.

KM: Seems likely, right?

KIA: Of course it does.

KM: It really doesn’t. Most girls married in their teens. Socrates died at 70, and his friends were worried about his sons being fatherless, because they were still young.

KIA: Of course they were concerned.

KM: Sure. Perfectly normal.

KIA: It is.

  1. Yes, if you’re an old man who married a child.

KIA: Poor guy. Xanthippe was a total shrew.

KM: According to Socrates.

KIA: According to everyone around him. She was angry all the time.

KM: Everyone around him only knew about her through him. Maybe she was angry because she was forced to marry a middle-aged man while she was still a child.

KIA: But Socrates was well-respected.

KM: By Plato and who else?

KIA: All of Athens.

KM: That’s why they killed him?

KIA: He was a pillar of the community.

KM: What did he contribute to the community?

KIA: Knowledge.

KM: What did he contribute to Xanthippe?

KIA: He took care of her.

KM: With her own money. She came from a wealthy family. Socrates wasn’t working and bragged that he never asked for payment.

KIA: Socrates was a stonemason and a soldier.

KM: He did all that before Xanthippe met him. Most of it before she was born.

KIA: He wasn’t just a layabout.

KM: In the Apology, he said his search for truth had reduced him to poverty because, you know, he wasn’t working.

KIA: That was at the end of his life.

KM: Right, exactly when he was married to Xanthippe. He wasn’t doing any paid work, and she lived off her family’s wealth.

KIA: Well, there’s a lot more I could tell you about Socrates, but I have some appointments I need to prepare for.

KM: Oh, sure. I look forward to hearing from you. Maybe you can deliver the next lecture on Socrates and Plato.

KIA: Maybe I can.

low angle photograph of the parthenon during daytime
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Diogenes Versus Plato: Who will set you free?

No one can question Plato’s writing and rhetorical abilities. He was a superstar of the ancient world, and the fact that his dialogs have endured for millennia attests to the fact of his beautiful writing. Of course, Bertrand Russell found it ludicrous to praise Plato’s ideas based on the quality of his writing, saying, “That Plato’s Republic should have been admired, on its political side, by decent people, is perhaps the most astonishing example of literary snobbery in all history.” Other famous thinkers of the ancient world weren’t as lucky as Plato; although their reputations survive somewhat through the words of others, we often have no copies of their original works or just a few remaining fragments. It may be that Plato was simply such a great writer that his works were preserved while the works of others were not, or perhaps other factors played a role in which works were saved and which were lost.

According to the biographer of philosophers, Diogenes Laertius, the Cynical philosopher Diogenes of Sinope (no relationship to the biographer), also wrote a number of books.* If he actually did, none survives today. The biography is here. The Cynic is infamous for masturbating in public, going naked, eating in the market, and carrying a lamp around in the middle of the day. As we don’t have the original works of Diogenes, we can’t be sure which of these stories might be true and which are apocryphal as they reflect how others saw him, not necessarily how he presented himself. The lack of surviving texts may be down to Diogenes himself, at least partly. When Hegesias asked todiogenes-800px read some of his writing, he reportedly replied, “You are a simpleton, Hegesias; you do not choose painted figs, but real ones; and yet you pass over the true training and would apply yourself to written rules.”

So, it seems that Diogenes, like Socrates before him, valued face-to-face interaction over the more passive learning that comes from reading. It is worth noting that Diogenes was a student of Antisthenes, who was in turn a student of Socrates. Although Antisthenes was reluctant to accept Diogenes as a student, Diogenes considered Antisthenes, not Plato, to be the true successor to Socrates.

According to Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy, Antisthenes enjoyed a comfortable and aristocratic life until the death of Socrates. After that, “He would have nothing but simple goodness. He associated with working men, and dressed as one of them. He took to open-air preaching, in a style that the uneducated could understand. All refined philosophy he held to be worthless; what could be known by the plain man.” Also, “There was to be no government, no private property, no marriage, no established religion.”  Diogenes, it would seem, followed the lessons of his teacher to their logical extremes, which lead Plato to describe Diogenes as “Socrates gone mad.”

When studying the history of philosophy, we generally follow the lineage from Socrates to Plato to Aristotle. We could just as easily follow it from Socrates to Antisthenes to Diogenes. With the former approach, we find justification for authoritarian rule over the ignorant unwashed masses constantly threatening the fabric of society. With the latter approach, we find a rejection not only of authority but of all the values that drive the totality of social regulation and empty social status.

It should be no surprise, then, which works were preserved. We know Socrates primarily through the works of Plato, which painted Socrates as a victim of ignorant Athenian leaders who rose to positions of power through a democratic process and not on their own merit. Threatened by the wisdom of Socrates, the thoughtless and insecure leaders sentenced Socrates to death. In response, Plato promised order could be secured under the direction of educated and dispassionate leaders who would tame the rabble, leading from their own realm outside the cave of illusion and delusion. The Cynics, on the other hand, would cause disruption, encouraging the working people to believe that they could take control over their own lives even without the aid of book learning and academic discipline. The Cynics valued reason, but not the well-healed reason of the aristocrats such as Plato and Aristotle.

Further, the Cynics encouraged citizens to question the value of everything that is supposed to motivate the working class. For Plato, workers driven by their appetitive elements would produce more goods in order to receive rewards to satisfy their hungers and desires. Diogenes rejected the value of expensive clothing, food, shelter or anything else, and often lived off what he could get through begging. Having almost no possessions and no desires for any more, how could anyone take control over him or threaten him with anything? When Perdiccas threatened Diogenes with death if he didn’t appear before him, Diogenes reportedly replied, “That is nothing strange, for a scorpion or a tarantula could do as much: you had better threaten me that, if I kept away, you should be very happy.” As Todd Snider said in his song, “Looking for a Job,” “Watch what you say to someone with nothing. It’s almost like having it all.”

Imagine if the working class (note: if you work for money, you are working class) now began to question the value of cars, wide-screen TVs, sports, clothing, and “good” neighborhoods. And if the poor of the world adopted Diogenes’s views on citizenship, who would fight our wars? Diogenes gets credit for coining the word “cosmopolitan,” which is usually taken to mean citizen of the world. People who travel the world, speak more than one language, eat varied cuisine, and are not, to put it simply, provincial, consider themselves cosmopolitan, but this is not what Diogenes meant. Diogenes considered himself a citizen of the universe with no political allegiance and without political rights. He was banished from his home for defacing currency or something, and he was what would now be described as a “man without a country.” Imagine everyone being that way (John Lennon thought it should be easy, if you try).

Examined rationally, as the Cynics would have us do, virtually nothing we hold dear has any intrinsic value. We spend our lives working for trifles while ignoring anything that make us genuinely happy. When Diogenes was told it is a bad thing to live, he said, “Not to live, but to live badly.” We can live well, but we may be thought mad.

* Diogenes Laertius says, “The following books are attributed to [Diogenes of Sinope]. The dialogues entitled the Cephalion; the Icthyas; the Jackdaw; the Leopard; the People of the Athenians; the Republic; one called Moral Art; one on Wealth; one on Love; the Theodorus; the Hypsias; the Aristarchus; one on Death; a volume of Letters; seven Tragedies, the Helen, the Thyestes, the Hercules, the Achilles, the Medea, the Chrysippus, and the Oedippus.”