- Posted by: essay
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A religious vow to Apollo is being fulfilled (do you recall who was “the god” of the Apology?) and Socrates “seemed quite happy”. Socrates has been following a recurring dream’s injunction to “practice… ‘music’ (creative material inspired by the Muses, i.e., the arts).” How does Plato’s setting lay the groundwork for his spiritual and positive view of the afterlife?
The whole part of “The Last Days of Socrates” called “Phaedo” is actually dedicated to questions of afterlife, relations between the soul and the body, between the mortal and the divine. Plato’s vision and amazing logical chains of Socrates create quite a positive and inspiring view of the afterlife, and the high spirits of Socrates on the threshold of death illustrate this.
Shortly before death Socrates had a dream telling him to “make and cultivate music”, and therefore he made a hymn in the honor of Apollo, the god of the festival, and turned some fables of Aesop into verse. Although in the “Apology” the Delphi oracle was regarded as the god, and in this part Apollo is referred to as the god, there is no contradiction. Socrates (uniquely for those times) accepts all manifestations of god as the intention of one divine force. In my opinion, Plato has a remarkable vision of the highest powers, and managed to express this vision in “The Last Days of Socrates”.
Socrates considered philosophy to be the noblest and the best of music, and he regarded this dream as the prompt encouraging his study of philosophy, and as something that he needed to do in his life before departure as a final chord. The whole setting, the attitude of Socrates and his actions, as well as his inspiration and ardent conversations with his friends create a very positive view of afterlife. Socrates is actually awaiting this final event of his life, taking it with honor and pride, and he brightly proves that death for a philosopher is the highest reward and the pinnacle of his desires.
He says in passing that wars are based on the body and its desires, and “all wars are undertaken for the acquisition of wealth”. What do you think of this? Do you believe that the desire for wealth (land, spices, natural resources) plays a significant part in global politics and wars? Whose interests do wars usually serve? Those of yourself, poor people, the middle class, or more often the wealthy and powerful?
In my opinion, Plato’s understanding of the reasons of things is beyond any praise. As Socrates shows the opposition of the mortal and the divine as well of the body and the soul, he also shows that all body pleasures, such as gluttony, lust, desire for wealth, power etc. only tie the soul closer to the body, and act as a source of conflict and confusion. “For whence come wars, and fightings, and factions? whence but from the body and the lusts of the body? For wars are occasioned by the love of money, and money has to be acquired for the sake and in the service of the body; and in consequence of all these things the time which ought to be given to philosophy is lost” (Plato 360 B.C.).
I absolutely agree with Plato: looking at the history of the mankind, it is possible to see that all wars and conflicts had the needs of the body as the initial moving force. The reasons of wars could be different: the need for resources, the wish to gain more land, the struggle for power, for money, for other sources of economic advantage. Even if the wars started because of a conflict between rulers or because of a woman, the driving force was the need of the body. It is hardly possible to name a war which started because of the need for knowledge, or due to a philosophical disagreement. Even if a war was proclaimed to have religious origin, it actually served some personal interest, i.e. was, again, directed by needs of the body, not of the soul.
Moreover, wars lead to increased enrichment of the reach, and to further pauperization of the poor: the rich usually act as the commanders during military operations, while the people who actually take part in the military action belong to the poor or at least middle class, and will in no case benefit from the war. Thus, I believe that the wealthy and the powerful use wars to increase their wealth and power at the extent of the poor.
In Socrates’ death scene, at one point Socrates says: “I am this Socrates who is talking to you now (and not the corpse which will soon be)”. Plato here gives a very “communicative” view of the human person: the human being is one who speaks.
What do you think of this as a fundamental description of the person?
Can you relate this to the biblical metaphor for God’s creative activity in Genesis 1:3 and John’s description of Jesus in John 1:1-5, 14?
My vision of Socrates phrase “I am this Socrates who is talking to you now” is the following: Plato uses the “communicative” description in an allegorical way; he wants to show that not the body of a human is distinguishing him from others and is the ruler, but the soul and its divine essence, the thoughts, beliefs, aspirations and communication are the manifestations of truly human nature. Socrates wanted to outline that his personality, knowledge and his soul in action was the truly Socrates, but not the mortal body. I believe that understanding of a human being as “the one who speaks” is quite narrow; it should rather be extended to the perception of a human being as “the one who has a divine soul”. This description could be used as a fundamental description of a human being, and it strongly resembles biblical understanding of a human being.
For example, the words in John 1:4 “In him was life, and that life was the light of men” also indicate the divine nature of human beings. In Genesis 1 the creation of the world and human beings, and the life inspired by God into man also coincides with Plato’s understanding of the relation between body and soul, and his perception of body as the mortal and transient part of a human being, with the soul being the divine part, like the “light”, in biblical terms.