Saturday, 4 July 2015

George Seferis: The Last Day

The day was cloudy. No one could come to a decision;
a light wind was blowing. ‘Not a north-easter, the sirocco,’ someone said.
A few slender cypresses nailed to the slope, and, beyond, the sea
grey with shining pools.
The soldiers presented arms as it began to drizzle.
‘Not a north-easter, the sirocco,’ was the only decision heard.
And yet we knew that by the following dawn
nothing would be left to us, neither the woman drinking sleep at our side
nor the memory that we were once men,
nothing at all by the following dawn.

‘This wind reminds me of spring,’ said my friend
as she walked beside me gazing into the distance, ‘the spring
that came suddenly in the winter by the closed-in sea.
So unexpected. So many years have gone. How are we going to die?’

A funeral march meandered through the thin rain.

How does a man die? Strange no one’s thought about it.
And for those who thought about it, it was like a recollection from old chronicles
from the time of the Crusades or the battle of Salamis.
Yet death is something that happens: how does a man die?
Yet each of us earns his death, his own death, which belongs to no one else
and this game is life.

The light was fading from the clouded day, no one decided anything.
The following dawn nothing would be left to us, everything surrendered, even our hands,
and our women slaves at the springheads and our children in the quarries.
My friend, walking beside me, was singing a disjointed song:
‘In spring, in summer, slaves . . .’
One recalled old teachers who’d left us orphans.
A couple passed, talking:
‘I’m sick of the dusk, let’s go home,
let’s go home and turn on the light.’

                                                      Athens, Feb. ’39

John Lyly: Sappho's Song

CRUEL Love, on thee I lay 
    My curse, which shall strike blind the day ; 
    Never may sleep with velvet hand 
    Charm thine eyes with sacred wand ; 
    Thy jailors shall be hopes and fears ; 
    Thy prison-mates groans, sighs, and tears ; 
    Thy play to wear out weary times, 
    Fantastic passions, vows, and rimes ; 
    Thy bread be frowns ; thy drink be gall, 
    Such as when you Phao call ; 
    The bed thou liest on be despair, 
    Thy sleep fond dreams, thy dreams long care ; 
    Hope, like thy fool, at thy bed's head, 
    Mock thee, till madness strike thee dead, 
As, Phao, thou dost me with thy proud eyes ; 
In thee poor Sappho lives, for thee she dies. 

Friday, 3 July 2015

Kafka's Inner Life

When Franz Kafka’s name mutated into an adjectival cliché it ceased to be connected in any significant way to his tremendous vision. I can recall precisely when and where the willy-nilly tossing around of his name turned ridiculous: It was the summer of 1995 in a movie theater in central Jersey. The movie was a menagerie of mental defects based on a novel of galactic stupidity—Congo by Michael Crichton. In a plot that involves homicidal gorillas, one cipher says to another cipher that their circumstances are Kafkaesque, by which the hamstrung scriptwriter—Crichton himself—presumably meant “strange.” Aside from the clangorous dropping of Kafka’s name, I don’t remember much about the movie, but I’m certain there was nothing truly Kafkaesque about it. Poor Franz—the inimitable seer of modernity without whom twentieth-century European literature would be a weakened affair—had come to be associated with either mere strangeness or else with killer apes.

Of course the promiscuous use of “Kafkaesque” was common long before Crichton and has continued long after. In 1974, Philip Roth wrote that the great man’s name “is plastered indiscriminately on almost any baffling or unusually opaque event that is not easily translatable into the going simplifications.” Just two weeks ago in The New York Times, a reviewer tried to get away with saying that a first-time author’s work contains “a realm of blackness reminiscent of Kafka.” One might as well liken the writer to Dante—such facile vagueness can mean nearly anything and so instead means nothing. There are myriad and overlapping hues of darkness in Kafka, along with myriad and overlapping hues of comic irony—he is much too multitudinous for the haphazard applying of his name whenever a situation isn’t sunny.

Kafka’s genius is easily snatched for misappropriation because it asserts itself in shadows. A vision of existence as seemingly cryptic and complex as Kafka’s inevitably becomes a strip of flypaper to catch any interpretation that buzzes by it. In 1952, literary philosopher William Hubben wrote of Kafka that “there remains something enigmatic about him that eludes classification,” and in the ensuing decades he has become, with Samuel Beckett, the go-to guy whenever someone wishes to comment upon enigmas. In his introduction to Kafka’s Complete Stories, Updike contends that it is Kafka’s “extrapolations from his experience of paternal authority and naysaying … that define the word ‘Kafkaesque.’ Like ‘Orwellian,’ the adjective describes not the author but an atmosphere within a portion of his work.”

But what about the other portions, those not easily connected to patriarchal terrorizing? Unlike “Orwellian”—which has as its principle source only two slim and unambiguous novels—“Kafkaesque” must pull from scores of stories, fables, parables, and aphorisms, three incomplete novels, 3000 pages of letters and diaries, and, contrary to Updike’s opinion, forty years of the author’s heart-wrecked life—one reaved by hypochondria, insomnia, acute sensitivity of hearing, and the tuberculosis that killed him. In Franz Kafka: The Poet of Shame and Guilt, the Pulitzer-winning Holocaust historian Saul Friedländer reassesses those letters and diaries, emphasizing “the personal anguish” that informed Kafka’s singular canon. Friedländer’s concise new book, born of both sorrow and affection, is an ideal place to begin among the hulking alps of Kafka studies. In a touching introduction Friedländer outlines the parallels between Kafka’s life and his own, “all these hidden links” that give his delving into Kafka’s work a visceral pitch absent from much of the Kafka industry. With his attention to those lines in Kafka’s letters and diaries that were excised by Kafka’s friend and puritanical literary executor, Max Brod, Friedländer does a lovely service to the real Franz Kafka.

The autopsy of a writer’s personal papers is normally a tedious endeavor, but as Friedländer makes clear, Kafka’s diaries are evidence that he was incapable of a quotidian thought; his letters are astonishing documents with an intellectual and stylistic register to rival Keats’s. (As Brod put it in 1937: “He never spoke a meaningless word.”) His famous, almost fifty-page “Letter to His Father” is an incomparably naked confession of familial truth, a cathartic eruption written just four years before Kafka’s death. Any son with volcanic feelings for his father cannot fail to be awe-smacked by this letter—a letter that never reached its target because Kafka’s mother, ever protective of Hermann Kafka’s frangible sense of self, never delivered it. Neither obnoxiously fixed to Freudian sexual theory nor convinced by Brod’s sanctifying of Kafka, Friedländer believes that “the issues torturing Kafka most of his life were of a sexual nature.” In a letter to Brod in 1918, Kafka wrote, “You are right in saying that the deeper realm of sexual life is closed to me.” What for Kafka was a “deeper realm” is for the rest of us the normal and natural pleasures of sexuality—sexuality uncontaminated by a potent cocktail of agita and disgust. Terrified of marriage and domesticity, incapable of not cogitating on the foulness of the human body, convinced that his success as an artist demanded his suffering as a man, he sabotaged every relationship he ever had with a female. Friedländer makes mention of the drawing Kafka sent to his married lover, Milena Jesenká—a ghastly mechanism of torture designed to tear a body in half. Not the best way to woo a gal, but also not altogether surprising, coming from the author of “In the Penal Colony.” In a letter to Brod about Kafka’s devitalizing fears, Jesenká wrote, “Flesh is too uncovered; he cannot stand the sight of it,” and one wonders at the disfigurement of psyche that did not permit him to see the nude female form as a source of life-giving beauty.

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Thursday, 2 July 2015

Christopher Marlowe: The Passionate Shepherd to His Love

Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove,
That Valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the Rocks,
Seeing the Shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow Rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing Madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of Roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of Myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty Lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold;

A belt of straw and Ivy buds,
With Coral clasps and Amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.

The Shepherds’ Swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May-morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me, and be my love.

Susan Sontag: Critic and Crusader

I FIRST MET Susan Sontag in the spring of 1974 at a dinner in Berkeley given by Robert Scheer, author of one of the first pamphlets against the Vietnam War and former editor of Ramparts, the radical magazine for which Susan had written in the late 1960s. I especially remember a 15,000-word “Letter from Sweden,” which began with a sentence I never forgot: “The experience of any new country unfolds as a battle of clichés.” I was then a senior at the University of California and was moonlighting as Scheer’s researcher on a book he was writing on multinational corporations and a growing phenomenon that years later would be called “globalism,” but which at the time was more familiarly known to those on the left as “imperialism.” I was to graduate in June, and Scheer and I planned to go to New York to finish our work on the book. Scheer was to bunk with his old pal Jules Feiffer, the gifted cartoonist for The Village Voice, and I would repair, at her invitation, to Sontag’s penthouse, Jasper Johns’s former studio, located on the Upper West Side at 340 Riverside Drive.

I remember the apartment well. Flooded with sunlight, surrounded by a generous terrace overlooking the Hudson River, it was spartan: hardwood floors, white walls, high ceilings; in the living room a single Eames chair, an original Andy Warhol of Chairman Mao; in the dining room a long monk’s table made of oak with a brace of long benches on either side; in the kitchen’s cupboards a stack of plates, a few glasses, and row after row of back issues of Partisan Review; leaning against one wall of Susan’s bedroom a curious stained-glass window from Italy of a spooky Death’s Head, a kind of memento mori, and, perhaps most impressive, by her bedside atop a low nightstand a 24-hour clock featuring time zones spanning the globe. Most important, of course, were the walls that bore the weight of her 8,000 books, a library that Susan would later call her “personal retrieval system.” (By the time of her death, 30 years later, the library had grown to 25,000 volumes.)

I spent the summer nearly getting a crick in my neck from perusing the books, and I remember thinking that — though I had just finished four years of college — my real education had just begun. I discovered scores of writers I’d never heard of as well as writers I distantly knew but had never read. For reasons wholly mysterious, I found myself drawn to four blue-backed volumes: The Journals of André Gide. These, like others in Susan’s library, were filled with her lightly penciled underlinings and marginal notes.

For my 22nd birthday in early August, Susan took me to see Waylon Jennings at the Bottom Line, the hot new club that had opened to great success six months earlier. (Five years later, I would return the favor by taking her to see Graham Parker & The Rumour at the Roxy in Los Angeles.) Her son, David Rieff, my age exactly, had long been besotted with country music and boasted a dazzling collection of bespoke cowboy boots, and we spent many humid evenings walking his dog, Nu-nu, an Alaskan husky with Paul Newman eyes, through the streets of the neighborhood, while talking politics and literature and the higher gossip over endless cups of espresso and smoking Picayunes, the strong unfiltered cigarettes he then favored but would later give up. Thus was a lifelong friendship forged.

Six days later, President Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace. Scheer’s book had to be retitled: now it was to be called America After Nixon: The Age of the Multinationals. Those were the days before computers, of course, and it fell to me to comb through the page proofs, meticulously changing all the present tenses to past, as in “Nixon was.” Nothing so tedious was ever so pleasurable.

Susan and I kept up our friendship, and during the near-decade that I edited the Los Angeles Times Book Review she was a cherished contributor. She was something of an Auntie Mame figure for me. We spent years haunting secondhand bookstores in Berkeley, Los Angeles, and New York, talking for hours over ever more bizarre dishes of Chinese Hakka cuisine in a hole-in-the-wall eatery at Stockton and Broadway in San Francisco, watching Kenneth Anger flicks and the surrealistic stop-motion puppet masterpieces of Ladislas Starevich, which Tom Luddy would screen for us at the Pacific Film Archive, over and over again until our eyeballs nearly fell out.

When she fell sick in the spring of 2004, I feared it would prove to be her final illness, despite having successfully survived two previous cancers. I last saw her in April 2004. She was in Los Angeles to receive a lifetime achievement award from the city’s Library Foundation. We met at her hotel. She looked, as ever, full of life, ardent as always. She drew me aside and confided the grim diagnosis she’d just received from her doctors. She said: “Three strikes and you’re out.”

Months before she died in December, I began to draft her obituary, which, in the event, would be front-page news. Twenty-five years before, I had clipped from the pages of Rolling Stone what I thought was the best interview she’d ever given: a passionate and far-ranging conversation with Jonathan Cott, an original and longtime contributor to the magazine. I quoted generously from it in my obituary.

Years went by and it came to pass that Cott discovered in his apparently bottomless closet the tapes he’d used to record his interview. It turned out that Rolling Stone had only used a third of their 12 hours of talk. And since Susan spoke in complete sentences and paragraphs, we decided last year to publish at Yale University Press, where I was now an editor, the entire conversation.

Aside from the personal loss for those lucky enough to count Susan a comrade and friend and ally, why should her death matter? What did her work stand for? And, 10 years on, does it hold up?

She was, of course, one of America’s most influential intellectuals, internationally renowned for the passionate engagement and breadth of her critical intelligence and her ceaseless efforts to promote the cause of human rights. She was, as a writer and as a citizen of the world, a critic and a crusader.

The author of 17 books, translated into more than 30 languages, she vaulted to public attention and critical acclaim with the publication a half-century ago, in 1964, of “Notes on ‘Camp’,” written for Partisan Review and included in Against Interpretation, her first collection of essays, published two years later, in 1966.

Susan wrote about subjects as diverse as pornography and photography, the aesthetics of silence and the aesthetics of fascism, Bunraku puppet theater and the choreography of Balanchine, the uses and abuses of language and illness, as well as admiring portraits of such writers and filmmakers as Antonin Artaud, Walter Benjamin, Roland Barthes, Elias Canetti, Kenneth Anger, Ingmar Bergman, Robert Bresson, Carl Dreyer, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, and Jean-Luc Godard, Robert Walser, Marina Tsvetaeva, Alice James. She was always hungry for more. All her life she aspired to live up to Goethe’s injunction that “you must know everything.” She wanted, as Wayne Koestenbaum has astutely observed, to devour the world. There were never enough hours in the day or the night. She stole from sleep the hours she spent reading and rereading, reading and rereading. She was an insomniac omnivore, insatiable, driven, endlessly curious, obsessed collector of enthusiasms and passions.

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Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Bohumil Hrabal - The Greatest Czech Writer Of The Past Century

Bohumil Hrabal (1914–1997) was born in Brno, Moravia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The motion-picture adaptation of his novella Closely Watched Trains brought Hrabal international recognition, including the 1967 Academy Award for Best Foreign-Language Film, but only in 1976 was he “rehabilitated” by the government and permitted to publish select works. By the time of his death—he fell from a fifth-floor window in a Prague hospital, apparently trying to feed the birds—Hrabal was one of the world’s most famous Czech writers and the author of nearly fifty books. The following is the introduction to Hrabal’s The Little Town Where Time Stood Still, forthcoming from NYRB Classics. 

Having to read (let alone having to write) an introduction to the fiction of Bohumil Hrabal is like being forced to listen to beer-tasting notes before drinking your draft. Which I was forced to do, recently… Stopping in Prague on a day’s layover from Odessa I settled myself down in what I’d remembered as a hospitable hospoda, a cut-rate, run-of-the-mill pub, which, however, had become—in the span between my visit and when I’d lived in Prague in the early 2000s—an “artisanal microbrewery,” with the new track lighting and frosted-glass walls reframing the plank floors and tin ceilings not as Habsburgian or even Czechoslovakian relics but as postcapitalist, postindustrial chic. A waiter in tight jeans and a tuxedo T-shirt brought me a trilingual menu, though before I even had the chance to inform myself about the “sustainable” pork goulash and the “organic” flour dumplings, he began to patter on, in gourmet Esperanto, about “Žatec-sourced heirloom hops,” “creamy malts in the nose,” “pithy citrus in the finish,” “6 percent ABV,” until I wasn’t thirsty anymore—I was asleep.

So, I’ll try to be brief.

When I first came to Prague, in the summer of 2001, all I heard in the bars was: I was too late; I’d missed out on the Good Old Days, immediately after the Fall, when the bars never closed, day or night, and the absurdist playwright who was also the president would, every Sunday or so, sneak away from the castle for a pint. Now beer was too expensive, whores of every gender were too expensive, and smokers were being compelled to take their butts outside. Soon, with EU membership looming, even the yeast levels would be regulated, and the city would become Vienna Lite. By the time of my arrival, Hrabal—the greatest Czech novelist since Jaroslav Hašek (which is to say, since World War I)—had been dead for four years, after falling out of a hospital window while feeding the pigeons (though many who told me their Hrabal stories—and everyone told Hrabal stories—claimed that the writer had been depressed and jumped). “If only you’d been here for ’89,” witnesses to the Velvet Revolution would say to me, born in 1980. They had a point—but what would I have done with beer or whores at nine years old?

Of course, the few Americans who’d been in the country under communism (mostly journalists, like Alan Levy, but also the animator Gene Deitch, who produced Tom and Jerry from Prague) directed the same Good Old Days rhetoric at the 1990s crowd of expats who were lecturing me, as did Czech novelists as diverse as Michal Ajvaz, Jáchym Topol, and Václav Kahuda, who though they never glorified the precarities of communism always spoke to ausländers about the 1980s, 70s, and 60s—their own childhoods—with a bittersweet boozy hint of nostalgia.

Ja, ja, nostalgia: that state or faculty we’ve been instructed to mistrust because all the latest research tells us that the world of yesteryear—the gaping yearning hesternal—was never as sepia-beautiful, as black-and-white easy, as it seems, or seemed. It doesn’t take a Freud to relate the sentiment to childhood: If the past appears simpler, it was because in the past we were simpler too, or just nonexistent. To feel born too late for a true life (whatever that is), and to feel that as a failure and that failure as ennobling, are very Czech emotions. Or perhaps they became very Czech emotions because they were the themes of Hrabal’s best books, two of which have been bundled here: Cutting It Short and The Little Town Where Time Stood Still, published in 1976 and 1973 respectively—illegally—in samizdat.

Cutting It Short, like Hrabal’s three volumes of memoirs, is narrated by a woman, though while the memoirs are narrated by the author’s wife, Cutting It Short issues from the mouth of his mother, called here by her nickname, Maryška. She tells the tale of her romance with Francin, the shy, dignified manager of a brewery, and of the introduction of “the modern”—the characterization is Hrabal’s—to the little town of Nymburk, Nimburg in German, the author’s home in Bohemia, about a train’s hour east of Prague, perched on the banks of the Laba, or Elbe.

The mythical innocence of Nymburk is abruptly severed— the Czech title is Postřižiny, a word referring to the Slavic and also Jewish tradition of ritualizing a child’s first haircut—by the debut of wireless telegraphy, aka the radio, which brings in voices from without to drown out all the familiar and familial voices within: the chatter and idle babble of the churchyard and market square. Once this innovation is publicized—it publicizes itself—everything else has to be interrupted (or, as the Silicon Valleyists now say, “disrupted”), cut short: The mischievous Maryška snips her hemlines to expose her knees; she saws the legs off tables and chairs; she takes a knife to truncate her dog’s tail; and eventually even has her celebrated locks of flowing blond trimmed off—that hair her barber describes as the “last surviving link with the old Austria,” meaning with the Austro-Hungarian Empire—so that she can ride her bicycle à la mode, with an aerodynamic crop like Josephine Baker’s. What Hrabal has set in motion are two cyclical plots that race each other to embody the metaphysics of history in a manner infinitely more enjoyable, and more joyous, than anything in the pages of Hegel or Spengler: Maryška’s loss of youth, symbolized by her haircut as much as by her marriage, speeds alongside the town’s loss of youth, the cause of which is mechanization, where horses are replaced by trucks, human labor is replaced by the dynamo, and local oral lore becomes transmitted globally. All the olden stories must be written down—or formalized through recording and broadcast—because the technology demands it, and all the olden storytellers are dying.

Preeminent among whom is Uncle Pepin—a character based on Hrabal’s own uncle, an itinerant cobbler and inveterate tippler who, in Cutting It Short and The Little Town Where Time Stood Still, is said to have come to the brewery for a fortnight’s visit, but stuck around for decades. The Little Town Where Time Stood Still—the English title is an exact translation, though Czech, a language that specializes in diminutives, can compress “Little Town” to “Městečko” without risking the preciousness of “village”—is in every way his book, despite it being narrated by his nephew, the son of Maryška and Francin, who’s anonymous but quite winkingly Hrabal. The Little Town Where Time Stood Still proceeds in much the same way Cutting It Short does, anecdotally, as Uncle Pepin’s swagger, blather, and tendency to repeat himself provide his nephew with both subject and style. Everything is outsize, aggrandized—violence is casual and caustically funny, even when the Nazis invade and occupy the brewery (no mention is made of the invasion and occupation of the rest of Czechoslovakia). The day Reichsprotektor Heydrich is assassinated all carousal is banned (the announcement is delivered by radio). But Uncle Pepin—a Good Soldier Švejk-like veteran of the Austrian army, which he describes, in Hrabal’s novel Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age, as “the most elegant army in the world”—keeps antagonizing Friedrich, the Nazi engineer who’s usurped Francin’s job: “If only we had a hundred Austrian divisions, my God, we’d soon have you lot beat! Old Freiherr von Wucherer would give the order: ‘Vorwärts! Nach Berlin!’ and we’d beat the lot of you.” Everything was better under the emperor—the drinking, the dancing, even the fighting—at least according to Hrabal, who was born in 1914.

World War II, and the subsequent reorganization of the brewery along socialist lines, spells the end for Uncle Pepin, who fades away like a photograph in the nursing home that Hrabal immortalized in another novel, Harlequin’s Millions. That is, he stops speaking—he cannot, or will not, gloat, joke, or even flirt with a nurse, and it’s this deprivation or surrendering of his “palaver” (Josef Škvorecký’s translation of Hrabal’s term pábení) that paves the way—like asphalt over the cobblestones—to death.

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Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Plato: Apology - Socrates' Defense

How you have felt, O men of Athens, at hearing the speeches of my accusers, I cannot tell; but I know that their persuasive words almost made me forget who I was - such was the effect of them; and yet they have hardly spoken a word of truth. But many as their falsehoods were, there was one of them which quite amazed me; - I mean when they told you to be upon your guard, and not to let yourselves be deceived by the force of my eloquence. They ought to have been ashamed of saying this, because they were sure to be detected as soon as I opened my lips and displayed my deficiency; they certainly did appear to be most shameless in saying this, unless by the force of eloquence they mean the force of truth; for then I do indeed admit that I am eloquent. But in how different a way from theirs! Well, as I was saying, they have hardly uttered a word, or not more than a word, of truth; but you shall hear from me the whole truth: not, however, delivered after their manner, in a set oration duly ornamented with words and phrases. No indeed! but I shall use the words and arguments which occur to me at the moment; for I am certain that this is right, and that at my time of life I ought not to be appearing before you, O men of Athens, in the character of a juvenile orator - let no one expect this of me. And I must beg of you to grant me one favor, which is this - If you hear me using the same words in my defence which I have been in the habit of using, and which most of you may have heard in the agora, and at the tables of the money-changers, or anywhere else, I would ask you not to be surprised at this, and not to interrupt me. For I am more than seventy years of age, and this is the first time that I have ever appeared in a court of law, and I am quite a stranger to the ways of the place; and therefore I would have you regard me as if I were really a stranger, whom you would excuse if he spoke in his native tongue, and after the fashion of his country; - that I think is not an unfair request. Never mind the manner, which may or may not be good; but think only of the justice of my cause, and give heed to that: let the judge decide justly and the speaker speak truly. 

And first, I have to reply to the older charges and to my first accusers, and then I will go to the later ones. For I have had many accusers, who accused me of old, and their false charges have continued during many years; and I am more afraid of them than of Anytus and his associates, who are dangerous, too, in their own way. But far more dangerous are these, who began when you were children, and took possession of your minds with their falsehoods, telling of one Socrates, a wise man, who speculated about the heaven above, and searched into the earth beneath, and made the worseappear the better cause. These are the accusers whom I dread; for they are the circulators of this rumor, and their hearers are too apt to fancy that speculators of this sort do not believe in the gods. And they are many, and their charges against me are of ancient date, and they made them in days when you were impressible - in childhood, or perhaps in youth - and the cause when heard went by default, for there was none to answer. And, hardest of all, their names I do not know and cannot tell; unless in the chance of a comic poet. But the main body of these slanderers who from envy and malice have wrought upon you - and there are some of them who are convinced themselves, and impart their convictions to others - all these, I say, are most difficult to deal with; for I cannot have them up here, and examine them, and therefore I must simply fight with shadows in my own defence, and examine when there is no one who answers. I will ask you then to assume with me, as I was saying, that my opponents are of two kinds - one recent, the other ancient; and I hope that you will see the propriety of my answering the latter first, for these accusations you heard long before the others, and much oftener. 

Well, then, I will make my defence, and I will endeavor in the short time which is allowed to do away with this evil opinion of me which you have held for such a long time; and I hope I may succeed, if this be well for you and me, and that my words may find favor with you. But I know that to accomplish this is not easy - I quite see the nature of the task. Let the event be as God wills: in obedience to the law I make my defence. 

I will begin at the beginning, and ask what the accusation is which has given rise to this slander of me, and which has encouraged Meletus to proceed against me. What do the slanderers say? They shall be my prosecutors, and I will sum up their words in an affidavit. "Socrates is an evil-doer, and a curious person, who searches into things under the earth and in heaven, and he makes the worse appear the better cause; and he teaches the aforesaiddoctrines to others." That is the nature of the accusation, and that is what you have seen yourselves in the comedy of Aristophanes; who has introduceda man whom he calls Socrates, going about and saying that he can walk in the air, and talking a deal of nonsense concerning matters of which I do not pretend to know either much or little - not that I mean to say anything disparaging of anyone who is a student of natural philosophy. I should be very sorry if Meletus could lay that to my charge. But the simple truth is, O Athenians, that I have nothing to do with these studies. Very many of those here present are witnesses to the truth of this, and to them I appeal. Speak then, you who have heard me, and tell your neighbors whether any of you have ever known me hold forth in few words or in many upon matters of this sort. ... You hear their answer. And from what they say of this you will be able to judge of the truth of the rest. 

As little foundation is there for the report that I am a teacher, and take money; that is no more true than the other. Although, if a man is able to teach, I honor him for being paid. There is Gorgias of Leontium, and Prodicus of Ceos, and Hippias of Elis, who go the round of the cities, and are able to persuade the young men to leave their own citizens, by whom they might be taught for nothing, and come to them, whom they not only pay, but are thankful if they may be allowed to pay them. There is actually a Parian philosopher residing in Athens, of whom I have heard; and I came to hear of him in this way: - I met a man who has spent a world of money on the Sophists, Callias the son of Hipponicus, and knowing that he had sons, I asked him: "Callias," I said, "if your two sons were foals or calves, there would be no difficulty in finding someone to put over them; we should hire a trainer of horses or a farmer probably who would improve and perfect them in their own proper virtue and excellence; but as they are human beings, whom are you thinking of placing over them? Is there anyone who understands human and political virtue? You must have thought about this as you have sons; is there anyone?" "There is," he said. "Who is he?" said I, "and of what country? and what does he charge?" "Evenus the Parian," he replied; "he is the man, and his charge is five minae." Happy is Evenus, I said to myself, if he really has this wisdom, and teaches at such a modest charge. Had I the same, I should have been very proud and conceited; but the truth is that I have no knowledge of the kind. 

I dare say, Athenians, that someone among you will reply, "Why is this, Socrates, and what is the origin of these accusations of you: for there must have been something strange which you have been doing? All this great fame and talk about you would never have arisen if you had been like other men: tell us, then, why this is, as we should be sorry to judge hastily of you." Now I regard this as a fair challenge, and I will endeavor to explain to you the origin of this name of "wise," and of this evil fame. Please to attend then. And although some of you may think I am joking, I declare that I will tell you the entire truth. Men of Athens, this reputation of mine has come of a certain sort of wisdom which I possess. If you ask me what kind of wisdom, I reply, such wisdom as is attainable by man, for to that extent I am inclined to believe that I am wise; whereas the persons of whom I was speaking have a superhuman wisdom, which I may fail to describe, because I have it not myself; and he who says that I have, speaks falsely, and is taking away my character. And here, O men of Athens, I must beg you not to interrupt me, even if I seem to say something extravagant. For the word which I will speak is not mine. I will refer you to a witness who is worthy of credit, and will tell you about my wisdom - whether I have any, and of what sort - and that witness shall be the god of Delphi. You must have known Chaerephon; he was early a friend of mine, and also a friend of yours, for he shared in the exile of the people, and returned with you. Well, Chaerephon, as you know, was very impetuous in all his doings, and he went to Delphi and boldly asked the oracle to tell him whether - as I was saying, I must beg you not to interrupt - he asked the oracle to tell him whether there was anyone wiser than I was, and the Pythian prophetess answered that there was no man wiser. Chaerephon is dead himself, but his brother, who is in court, will confirm the truth of this story. 


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