Jeffery L Nicholas
Philosophy and social theory
to building a society of flourishing people
united in common goods.
to building a society of flourishing people
united in common goods.
The late afternoon sun shines hot over the agora in Athens. Men and women move about slowly, most of them headed west. Plato stands in the middle of the agora, trying to talk to anyone who will listen.
“Stop!” He raises his hands pleading. “Stop listening to Pericles. Come over to the court house with me. Help save Socrates.”
One hundred feet away, a large crowd surrounds Pericles. Her smile beams. “I will save us from the Spartans. I’ve got the know how to get things done.”
Plato wipes sweat from his head. “Listen, people. Pericles is only going to lead us to war with Sparta. She’s too interested in the Delphic league’s money to break it up.” He points back east. “Come, come listen to Socrates’ apologia. We need him.”
Aristophanes stops for a moment in front of Plato. “You want us to go vote for Socrates instead of listening to Pericles?” He pointed back east toward the court house. “Socrates has his head in the clouds. Stop listening to his pie-in-the-sky illusions. We have to protect ourselves against the Spartans.”
Plato steps toward Aristophanes. He’s always enjoyed the old man’s plays. If only he could get him to be more open about Socrates. “You’ve just got to come listen to Socrates. He has the right ideas to help us make Athens better.”
By this point, Callicles has come up to the Agora. “We don’t have time for Socrates, Plato. The only person who can help us win against the Spartans is Pericles. Be realistic.”
Plato, frustrated that no one seems to be listening, turns to Callicles. “My friend, if people would vote for what is best, then we can save Socrates.” His voice raises with passion. “We don’t need to worry about the Spartans. We need to break up the Delphic league; we need to stop taking money from the other polities and giving it to people like Pericles.”
“You don’t understand the real world,” Callicles says. “No one is going to vote for an, old, gray headed philosopher. Let him go. Come join us. Pericles is telling us how she can get things done.”
“I do understand, Callicles.” Plato puts his hand on Callicles’ shoulder. “If you don’t save Socrates, then Pericles will be the only one left. And Pericles can’t stand against Sparta. Sparta knows all of her weaknesses, for they share the same weaknesses.” He shook his head. “And what’s more, Pericles is prone to her own arrogance, like someone from Sophocles’ plays.”
Callicles resists. “If don’t help Pericles, Sparta will come in here and establish a tyranny.” Raising his voice, he says, “We can’t let that happen. Look at the new king of Sparta.” He points south-west. “He’s misogynistic, ethnocentric, bombastic. Surely you don’t want him to win. He’ll destroy our democracy and make life on the other polities worse.”
Aristophanes steps in. “Can’t you see the good Pericles has done. She helped make the Delphic league. She helped make the gold flow through Athens’ markets.” Aristophanes spoke with the voice of an actor, persuasive, lilting. “We can’t let someone like Sparta’s king have control of the Delphic league. He’ll destroy the world.”
“Look, my friends,” Plato says. “I understand your fear of Sparta. Trust me, I see his insanity infecting the Spartans. But Socrates can help stop that much better than Pericles. Socrates undermines the Spartan King’s strategy at every point.”
Aristophanes and Callicles shake their heads. “I’m sorry, Plato, but it’s too late for Socrates,” Aristophanes says. Together, he and Callicles walk to the crowd around Pericles.
She continues to beam, while Xenophon rails against the king of Sparta. Plato feels betrayed for Socrates. Xenophon stops speaking. A procession emanates from the court to Pericles. In the middle is Socrates, naked. Yet, despite his nudity and his age, he is still sinewy. Callias leads the procession. He moves aside and motions Socrates forward. Socrates takes his clothes and hands them to Pericles. “You can wear my clothes,” he saisaysd. “We cannot let the King of Sparta win.”
A tear rolls from Plato’s eyes and mixes with the sweat of the day.
With great flourish, Pericles undresses herself and puts on Socrates’ garments. She selects some of the best parts. But she leaves on her own undergarments. They are filled with holes and barely stay on her. With Socrates’ garments she appears fresher.
Socrates turns to the crowd. “We have to continue the revolution with Pericles. She will help us defeat Sparta. We can never let them here in Athens.”
Callias hands him a cup. Socrates takes it and holds it up to the crowd. “This revolution was never about me. You must continue it yourselves. All of you who have listened to me in the agora.” He dranks, tilting the cup up completely. A bit of green liquid slips from his lips. He hands the cup back to Callias. “Support Pericles, or we will face the wrath of the king of Sparta.” Socrates collapses from the stage.
Plato weeps. He knew what the fall out would be. He had warned the Athenians, anyone who would listen to him. Pericles can never win against the king of Sparta. They play the same game, and the king of Sparta is just a little better at it. He shakes his head, fearing for the future.
Just then, Antisthenes walks up to Plato. “Well, look, Plato. Pericles has changed.” He points up to the stage. “She wears Socrates garments. Socrates gave them to her. He said we must support her.”
“What choice did he have?” Plato asks. “He’d already been condemned. She may be our only hope now. But that is not much hope.”
“Stop being so pig-headed” Antisthenes says. “We can’t let the king of Sparta win. It’s no time for philosophy now.”
Plato looked at his brother, who had sat next to him at Socrates’ feet. “But I warned everyone. I told everyone that if we followed Pericles, we would lose Athens. We would fall to the tyranny of the Spartans.” He points at Antisthenes. “Now you want me to support what I warned you against?”
Euthyphro comes over to them. “Look, Plato. Pericles has chosen Critias as her assistant. You and Critias studied under Socrates together. Surely you can support Pericles now.”
“I don’t know,” Plato says, his head downfallen. He turns away from them and walks up the hill to the Akropolis.
Aristotle joins him. “I wonder sometimes whether you were right about democracy.”
Somehow, Plato manages to chuckle. “I do too.” He pauses on his climb and looks back at the agora. The crowd around Pericles has turned into a festival. The smell of lamb reaches them. “I wish, I hope, I am wrong, Aristotle. I hope I am wrong.”
Together they continue their climb, looking forward to spending some time in the Parthenon. Athena had been their guide, and they wonder if more, rather than less, religion is needed. Behind them, darkness descends over Athens, though it does not ease the heat of the day. In many houses around Athens, students of Socrates drank hemlock and wait to join him. Many others commit themselves to carrying on the revolution. They eat the gristle from the lamb served at the feast. They would follow Pericles enough to save Athens.
Later that night, Pericles stands on her rooftop. She is ready for sleep but too excited from the day. To the south, an orange glow marks Sparta. She smiles. “The old moron.” She is safe now. She would continue to rule Athens with Socrates no longer in her way. The riches from the Delphic League would continue to flow into Athens, into the pockets of her friends, and into her own pockets. Her husband joins her on the roof.
“I was so happy to watch Socrates drank that hemlock,” he says. “I just couldn’t stop smiling. It’s all yours now.”
They continue to look south for a minute. Pericles hears the roar of anger from Sparta. She feels the earth rumble from the stomping of feet. But she knows there just aren’t enough Spartans to break through the walls around Athens. She has too many people, people no longer distracted by Socrates. So what if she had to promise things. Maybe she would keep her promises.
“Look what I have,” her husband says.
He holds up before her a cup.
“Yes,” he says. He pours red wine into the cup.
As the glow in the south grows stronger, Pericles and her husband drank wine from the cup out of which Socrates had swallowed his hemlock.
For Joe Cammarano
Jeffery L. Nicholas (Ph.D philosophy, University of Kentucky) is an associate professor at Providence College and an international scholar on ethics and politics. He serves as research associate for the Center for Aristotelian Studies in Ethics and Politics at London Metropolitan University and a foreign research associate at Universidad Sergio Arboleda in Bogotá Colombia. Dr. Nicholas is co-founder of and executive secretary for the International Society for MacIntyrean Enquiry. He is the author of Reason, Tradition, and the Good: MacIntyre's Tradition Constituted Reason and Frankfurt School Critical Theory (UNDP 2012), as well as numerous articles. Dr. Nicholas writes on midwifery and birth, the common good, friendship and community, practical reason, and Native American philosophy. He aims to develop a philosophy of integral humanism that synthesizes the philosophical traditions of Alasdair MacIntyre, Frankfurt School Critical Theory, and Feminist Care Ethics.