In Which I Live Blog a Marathon Weekend Reading of Plato’s Republic
- via Eidos
In Which I Live Blog a Marathon Weekend Reading of Plato’s Republic
Not sure how much I want to believe the latest coverage from Greece. Back in May of 2009, we were told that the site of the Lyceum was to be covered (Covering the Lyceum). A couple of months later, we were told it would be ‘soon’ opening to the public (Lyceum Opening Next Month). Roughly a year later, we heard that the site wasn’t really being kept up … not sure if we posted this, so here’s an excerpt from the Kathimerini coverage at the time:
[...] Archaeologists seeking the location of Plato’s Academy, with excavations sponsored by the Academy of Athens (1929-40) and the Greek Archaeological Society (1955-70s), have made many important discoveries, including sections of a wall and an inscribed boundary stone distinguishing the core area of the Academy district; a square, 4th-century BC peristyle building of unknown function; a large, late-Hellenistic, early-Roman gymnasium equipped with possible tables for students; and hundreds of slate writing tablets. Today, the peristyle building, which dates to Plato’s era, lies hidden beneath a paved, neighborhood square in which stands a marble bust of the philosopher.
The foundations of the subsequent gymnasium, on the other hand, which had no direct connection with Plato, can still be seen – within a pleasant, shady park reminiscent of the ancient precinct’s original wooded environment. Pausanias, the 2nd-century AD Roman traveler, also saw a gymnasium in this area (although perhaps a different one from that exposed today) and “not far from the Academy… the monument of Plato.”
Plato’s property – the actual site of his school – lay apart from the walled Academy precinct, somewhere between the currently visible gymnasium and the low hill to the northeast, Hippios Kolonos. Maps drawn as early as the late 18th century record this understanding of the area’s ancient topography. Today, however, some confusion can arise for visitors, who will find misleading, decades-old signs posted by the Culture Ministry that identify late Hellenistic and early Roman foundations as belonging to “Plato’s Academy.”
In addition, these archaeological remains, some of the most important for Athens’ heritage as the birthplace of Western learning, now lie completely neglected except by the occasional gardener. Eroding walls, rusty fences, haphazard collections of ancient stones, and a lack of explanatory signboards characterize a place that should be a world heritage site.
The late-Hellenistic, early-Roman gymnasium visible today may have been the site of the Platonic Academy in its final form – destroyed by Sulla when he ravaged the district and felled its trees in 86 BC – but it was never the base of Plato’s own Academy nearly three centuries earlier. The exact place where Plato resided and met with his students represents one of the great archaeological puzzles waiting to be solved. In the meantime, the Academy area and the site of Aristotle’s Lyceum deserve more informative, conscientious curatorship that ultimately will benefit both local communities and foreign visitors inspired by ancient Greece.
Now we’re hearing (once again) that the site is opening to the public … here’s the incipit:
A walk down Rigillis Street near central Athens, between Vassilissis Sofias and Vassileos Constantinou avenues, reveals glimpses into the significant progress that has been made in the excavations at the archaeological site behind the Byzantine and Christian Museum, the location of the Lyceum, Aristotle’s school of philosophy. On the banks of the Ilissos River, most of which today runs underground, the Lyceum was a part of a large complex which also housed a gymnasium where the city’s hoplites and riders were trained in the art of war.
The discovery of the Lyceum and the adjacent Palaistra, or wrestling school, was made by archaeologists in 1996 and was hailed as the “discovery of the century” by international media, not just because it is where Aristotle taught some 2,500 years ago, but also because it contained valuable information regarding the topography of ancient Athens.
For the past 15 years, archaeologists have been excavating and studying the site, which is expected to be opened up to the general public this summer to coincide with the 23rd World Congress of Philosophy, scheduled to take place in Athens from August 4-10. The congress is organized by the International Federation of Philosophical Societies in collaboration with the University of Athens.
The entrance to the site is located behind the elegant building of the Officers’ Club on the corner of Vassilissis Sofias and Mourouzi Street, where the visitor information booth will be located. The 1.1-hectare site contains the remains of the Lyceum and the Palaistra, which are also visible from the small Church of Aghios Nikolaos and the Athens Conservatory on the Vassileos Constantinou Avenue side of the site.
The perimeter of the site has been planted with herbs such as lavender, mint, sage, thyme and oregano, with indigenous trees – pomegranates, olives, laurel, cypress and acacias – here and there, giving visitors a picture of what the landscape would have looked like during antiquity.
Eleni Banou, the head of the Third Ephorate of Classical Antiquity, which oversaw the excavation and the design of the site, spoke to Kathimerini about its significance during a tour of the area, accompanied by architect and site supervisor Niki Sakka.
“The three gymnasium’s – Plato’s, Aristotle’s and Cynosarges – were complexes where the city’s youth and men would receive physical and mental training, as well as intellectual stimulation,” explained Banou.
“The Lyceum was set in a very green suburb of Ancient Athens that was named after the Sanctuary of Lycian Apollo. The Lyceum is best known for its connection to Aristotle, who had rented the facilities and in 335 BC founded his school there, known as the Peripatetic School,” Banou added.
The gymnasium, located near the banks of the Ilissos, takes up a quarter of a hectare. It consists of a large internal courtyard of 23 by 26 meters surrounded by a colonnade. Symmetrically arranged around the courtyard were the ephebeion, where young men would train to become citizens, sparring rings, dressing rooms, baths and other facilities. The building was abandoned in the 4th century AD and was used only occasionally up until the early Byzantine years.
Much of the site has been planted with grass to give it a more relaxing feel.
“We want the public to be able to sit on the grass, to lounge around, take a stroll. We want people to feel free to touch things and wander about,” said Banou.
Architect Dimitris Koutsoyiannis, who is responsible for landscaping the site together with Dimitris Koukoulas, explained how the temporary shelters over the antiquities will be removed and glass casings will cover water features representing the river and the two hot baths.
The area will also have walkways, plenty of seating areas and a pavilion.
The budget for the site’s revamp is 1.2 million euros, but Banou stresses that they have been very frugal with its use and there is money left over, which should strengthen her case for allowing the public free admission for the first year after the site opens. [...]
Over the past few days, my email box has been pretty much flooded with scores (yes, scores) of folks sending in various versions of articles dealing with Jay Kennedy’s suggestion of a ‘hidden code’ in Plato’s works. There are too many of you to thank individually, so a general tip o’ the pileus to you all. Now, after much thought, we can get down to commenting on this very interesting idea. We’ll begin with the salient bits from the University of Manchester’s press release:
Plato was the Einstein of Greece’s Golden Age and his work founded Western culture and science. Dr Jay Kennedy’s findings are set to revolutionise the history of the origins of Western thought.
Dr Kennedy, whose findings are published in the leading US journal Apeiron, reveals that Plato used a regular pattern of symbols, inherited from the ancient followers of Pythagoras, to give his books a musical structure. A century earlier, Pythagoras had declared that the planets and stars made an inaudible music, a ‘harmony of the spheres’. Plato imitated this hidden music in his books.
The hidden codes show that Plato anticipated the Scientific Revolution 2,000 years before Isaac Newton, discovering its most important idea – the book of nature is written in the language of mathematics. The decoded messages also open up a surprising way to unite science and religion. The awe and beauty we feel in nature, Plato says, shows that it is divine; discovering the scientific order of nature is getting closer to God. This could transform today’s culture wars between science and religion.
“Plato’s books played a major role in founding Western culture but they are mysterious and end in riddles,” Dr Kennedy, at Manchester’s Faculty of Life Sciences explains.
“In antiquity, many of his followers said the books contained hidden layers of meaning and secret codes, but this was rejected by modern scholars.
“It is a long and exciting story, but basically I cracked the code. I have shown rigorously that the books do contain codes and symbols and that unraveling them reveals the hidden philosophy of Plato.
“This is a true discovery, not simply reinterpretation.”
This will transform the early history of Western thought, and especially the histories of ancient science, mathematics, music, and philosophy.
Dr Kennedy spent five years studying Plato’s writing and found that in his best-known work the Republic he placed clusters of words related to music after each twelfth of the text – at one-twelfth, two-twelfths, etc. This regular pattern represented the twelve notes of a Greek musical scale. Some notes were harmonic, others dissonant. At the locations of the harmonic notes he described sounds associated with love or laughter, while the locations of dissonant notes were marked with screeching sounds or war or death. This musical code was key to cracking Plato’s entire symbolic system.
Dr Kennedy, a researcher in the Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, says: “As we read his books, our emotions follow the ups and downs of a musical scale. Plato plays his readers like musical instruments.”
However Plato did not design his secret patterns purely for pleasure – it was for his own safety. Plato’s ideas were a dangerous threat to Greek religion. He said that mathematical laws and not the gods controlled the universe. Plato’s own teacher had been executed for heresy. Secrecy was normal in ancient times, especially for esoteric and religious knowledge, but for Plato it was a matter of life and death. Encoding his ideas in secret patterns was the only way to be safe.
Plato led a dramatic and fascinating life. Born four centuries before Christ, when Sparta defeated plague-ravaged Athens, he wrote 30 books and founded the world’s first university, called the Academy. He was a feminist, allowing women to study at the Academy, the first great defender of romantic love (as opposed to marriages arranged for political or financial reasons) and defended homosexuality in his books. In addition, he was captured by pirates and sold into slavery before being ransomed by friends.
Dr Kennedy explains: “Plato’s importance cannot be overstated. He shifted humanity from a warrior society to a wisdom society. Today our heroes are Einstein and Shakespeare – and not knights in shining armour – because of him.”
Over the years Dr Kennedy carefully peeled back layer after symbolic layer, sharing each step in lectures in Manchester and with experts in the UK and US.
He recalls: “There was no Rosetta Stone. To announce a result like this I needed rigorous, independent proofs based on crystal-clear evidence.
“The result was amazing – it was like opening a tomb and finding new set of gospels written by Jesus Christ himself.
“Plato is smiling. He sent us a time capsule.”
Dr Kennedy’s findings are not only surprising and important; they overthrow conventional wisdom on Plato. Modern historians have always denied that there were codes; now Dr Kennedy has proved otherwise.
He adds: “This is the beginning of something big. It will take a generation to work out the implications. All 2,000 pages contain undetected symbols.”
It is useful to begin by noting that the author himself — and the university press release — is amongst those who have introduced this notion of a “code” into the discussion from the beginning; perhaps his publicist thought it would be a good idea. As such, I think it is salutary to point out that if one wants some ‘quickie’ attention from the press, using the word “code” a la the DaVinci Code will probably work. Unfortunately, if you want your theory to be taken seriously and/or engaged by scholars, it should be studiously avoided lest you be branded squirrel fodder. As the compiler of the Explorator newsletter for well over twelve years now (!), I can quickly list quite a few “hidden codes” that have hit the press and quickly disappeared:
… that takes us back to around the time the DaVinci Code hit the shelves and I think it should be pretty much obvious from the nachleben of the theories in this list, that using the word ‘code’ will pretty much guarantee you won’t be taken seriously in scholarly circles. Clearly, you’ll get plenty of press coverage but your theory — even if it has legs — likely won’t live much beyond your fifteen minutes.
The reason I mention this is because Jay Kennedy’s hypothesis does seem to have some merit, but likely will not be engaged in a scholarly fashion because of all this ‘code’ business that’s being attached to it. As mentioned in the above-mentioned press release, the theory is actually presented in a scholarly journal — Apeiron — and that article (perhaps in draft form?) is available at the author’s home page, along with some other useful summaries.
From the Apeiron article, we learn that Dr. Kennedy has done some serious research, especially in the realm of stichometry (counting/measuring lines and line lengths in ancient works). He picks up on the long-established notion that ancient scribes had a specific line length of 35 characters (give or take) and from that has worked out the lengths of Plato’s works. Taking that a step further, he has found a principle of structure/organization which seems to be based on the Pythagorean musical scale (breaking things into twelfths) with ‘signposts’ which are evident across dialogs at specific ‘twelfth’ locations. Dr Kennedy would like us to see some symbolic meaning in all this, and perhaps there is some, but even just from a structural point of view this seems to be an important discovery. It is from this, e.g., that Dr Kennedy can reasonably explain why Aristotle considered Plato to be a Pythagorean, a claim which has caused a fair bit of scholarly noggin-scratching in the past. It is also interesting that the hypothesis can be used to check the authenticity of some of the works ascribed to ‘Pseudo-Plato’ , which actually confirms many conjectures made by scholars.
That said, in addition to all this ‘code’ business, I also have a problem with the purported motives for Plato’s apparent use of this ‘musical structure’ as presented in the press release. Supposedly he was fearful of challenging Greek religion, yadda yadda yadda. The Apeiron article actually gives some rather less sensational motives:
The question of why an author of Plato’s magnitude resorts to a style
of writing with secondary or symbolic levels can have no simple answer.
Since intentions are, strictly speaking, inaccessible, we can at best
enumerate can didate motivations. The musico-mathematical structures
in the dialogues may serve several purposes.
First, they make the literary text a concrete instance of the metaphysics. [...]
Second, the structures unify the texts. [...]
Third, the underlying structures in the dialogues serve to convey,
with the allegorist’s peculiar balance between communication and
concealment, further philosophical doctrine. [...]
... and the initial paragraph of the conclusion is a good summary of what Dr Kennedy’s thesis is actually about:
There are now several kinds of evidence that Plato’s dialogues have a
stichometric structure: the lengths of speeches, the alignment of some
speeches and key concepts with the twelfths, the parallel passages,
and the parallel negative and positive ranges. The musical interpretation
of these features is natural and coherent: a twelve-note scale with
harmonic and dissonant ranges underlies the surface narrative of the
dialogues. The evidence and its interpretation fit the historical context:
stichometry was a common practice and applied to Plato’s dialogues,
allegory was widely debated, the new mathematics was promoted by Plato
and the Academy, the numeric representation of musical scales
and harmonic theory were well-known, Plato’s correspondents, colleagues,
and followers associated him with Pythagoreanism, and the
Neo-Pythagoreans made the scale of twelve, regularly spaced notes part
of their studies of the metaphysics allegedly hidden in the dialogues.
This does seem to be a promising line of research, worthy of more scholarly engagement. Hopefully folks — including the author of the study — will be able to get past all this ‘code’ business and seek confirmation — or refutation — of this theory not just in Plato’s works, but in the works of the Neoplatonists who followed …
Other coverage (the headlines of which are all ‘telling’):
… I’ll likely add to the list
A bit from the end:
Plato’s Socrates accepts with Protagoras the relativity of sense perception – but sense perception that yields appearances, only; he will not, however, affirm a universal relativism that does no justice to the totality of the knowing process; one that is self-contradictory and unable to account for universal truth, which some judgments, especially but not exclusively mathematical ones, affirm.
The post-modernist critical enterprise is related to Protagorean relativism in its refusal to acknowledge the possibility of universal truth, and in its denial of language’s abilty to grasp what is real. Ontologically, it acknowledges only what is becoming, not being in itself; it refuses language status beyond expressing flux, asserting there is no fixed, universally shared meaning to words. That we are able to, and do, distinguish between things in process of becoming and being itself indicates the diminution in post-modernists’ grasp of relationship between the word and reality. A phobia, almost, of affirming the real?
And yet, as one contemporary critic of post-modernism remarks, post-modernists – he names Derrida – are assured of an intrinsic connecton between the words specifying their lecture fee and the actual sum they expect to receive in payment. Curious, that.