Prelude to Potidaea

Plato-Alcibiades

For if one is willing to listen to Socrates’ arguments, they’d appear quite ridiculous at first; they’re wrapped round on the outside with words and phrases like the hide of an outrageous satyr. He talks about packasses and smiths and cobblers and tanners, and forever appears to be saying the same things in the same ways, so that an inexperienced and unreasonable man might ridicule his arguments. But if the arguments are opened, and one sees them from the inside, he will find first that they are the only arguments with any sense in them, and next, that they contain within themselves utterly divine and multitudinous images of virtue, and that they are relevant to most or rather to all things worth considering for one who intends to be noble and good.

—Alcibiades’ Speech, 222a, Plato, Symposium

Literature, real literature, must not be gulped down like some potion which may be good for the heart or good for the brain—the brain, that stomach of the soul. Literature must be taken and broken to bits, pulled apart, squashed—then its lovely reek will be smelt in the hollow of the palm, it will be munched and rolled upon the tongue with relish; then, and only then, its rare flavor will be appreciated at its true worth and the broken and crushed parts will again come together in your mind and disclose the beauty of a unity to which you have contributed something of your own blood.

—Nabokov, Lectures on Russian Literature, p. 105

No specific systems of analysis in these here hidden connections which I discovered while researching a very short piece I wanted to write—when Socrates saved Alcibiades’ life at Potidaea—here there are just metaphors, but both of them essentially say, in their own way, to consider things slowly and closely, to look at what’s taken for granted from new and different angles, to keep thinking and asking questions.

The paragraph on Potidaea will be forthcoming; far less analytical, far more action-packed.

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One thought on “Prelude to Potidaea

  1. Luna says:

    I kind of think that good literature can be enjoyed both ways. When I was nineteen, I was on this kick against all slow, systematic analysis. I thought to myself, “If a thing can’t be read at breakneck speed, then it isn’t worth reading.” I actually read a great deal of Nietzsche that way; I read through Beyond Good and Evil at the pace of a very fast novel three times in a row– that’s how I read everything from the Bhagavad Gita and the Dao De Jing to Thus Spoke Zarathustra and The Republic— quickly, as quickly as I could and several times in a row.

    It’s an interesting experience, and often very rewarding. It’s true that as I’ve gone back and read Beyond Good and Evil very slowly, one section at a time, thinking about it, talking about it and rereading it before going on to the next section, I have a new understanding of it– minutely detailed and comprehensive. But those first readings at breakneck speed gave me something that will never really leave me– a more visceral, more intimate feeling of the books. When I read Beyond Good and Evil slowly now, it’s almost as though I’m understanding why I know what I know about it, and gaining an ability to explain it better, and finding some hidden treasures here and there.

    Good literature, it seems, is more fractal. Beautiful and understandable at a glance, but capable of almost endless deep reflection.

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