Into Light: Part Two: From Lyre to Script

pythagorean_theoremFrom Lyre to Script

(Part One is here...)

It is here in the Pythagorean Script that something written takes precedence over something voiced, down to the letters of the alphabet that are visible to us on the pages of Euclidean geometry,  next to points, lines, figures, solids.  It’s their position on the page to our eye that counts, not the sound that goes with them in the spoken word.

I picture the Pythagorean Script as executed according to three most elementary rules of writing which are all too familiar to us as the first three Euclidean postulates:

“To draw a straight line from any point to any point;”

To produce a finite straight line continuously in a straight line;”

To describe a circle with any center and distance.”

At this point I begin to perceive Socrates in the Meno drawing squares in the sand with his finger for the slave boy to show Meno that the boy is truly capable of learning geometry through re-collection or re-cognition.  Ultimately it turns out to be a finding of abiding significance, namely, that the soul as given, even to a slave boy, has seen all, has perceived our common ultimate horizon, and is capable of orienting itself within it with deeply grasped geometrical principles and skills by starting to trace and measure distances and shapes of things, and drawing maps in answer to the question, the age old enigma, where we are, where we have been, and where we are ultimately going.  For the question ‘where’ is essentially a geometrical and astronomical question.

And it is here, at what I called the Pythagorean Script, that I find a distinction that Socrates  makes in The Republic, a distinction between things written, and I repeat, written, not spoken, in small letters — deep in our souls, and in Big Letters — deep in our cities.

Both Big and small letters begin to appear to me at the ruler or ‘ruling principles’ implied in the three Euclidean postulates, deeply embedded in the souls even of slave boys, and in our cities in the Big Book of the Laws and Constitutions of the land, in the hands of its rulers:  kings, princes, guardians, custodians of the constitution and the propositions on which it is founded, like ‘all men are created equal.’  ‘Equal’ is also the predicate of all propositions in the first four books of Euclid.

At this point, I observe Socrates in the Meno, after he has drawn squares for a small boy, a slave boy, beginning to talk to a big man, a public figure in the city Athens, to Anytus, the very man who eventually throws the Big Book at him, the Book written in Big Letters that ends Socrates’ life of philosophical pursuits.

I am now at the threshhold of the prison cell in Athens, in the Phaedo, where I was going to in the first place.  And it is here on this threshhold that for the first time I catch a glimpse of the awesome appearance of man as ‘a truly rational and a truly political animal.’

I call him awesome, because he appears faceless and heartless (and bloodless,) divested of precisely that which mostly manifests his humanity to our naked eyes, namely his face and his heart.  For under the law of the land, we stand not so much with our feet, legs, arms, bodies, faces, or even hearts; we stand under the law mostly with our heads, counted as equal, discrete, and homogenous units like units i arithmetic, without faces and without hearts, hence without blush, or tears, or smiles.

I call his appearance awesome also because here, as a truly rational and political animal, he appears self-sufficient, godlike, empowered with the sovereign and awesome power of providing for himself like nobody’s business, the lofty and proud master of his own destiny, dazzling in his arrogance and brilliance.

Finally, I call his appearance awesome because he reminds me a little of Cain who, in the Book of Genesis, is walking out of the presence of God with a mark on him left by God at his request for his preservation, a sign which I am ready to read as arithmetical…”one,” the origin of all arithmetical units; and then I see Cain on his own become the founder of the first city in the Bible, a prosperous city where arts and crafts begin to flourish, and I begin to understand his prophetic words to God:  “From Thy face I shall be hidden, and I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on this earth.”

Now I am ready to step into the prison cell in the Phaedo and see beyond this awesome appearance of ‘a truly rational and political animal’ who bears a sign on his forehead of the original arithmetical ‘one’,  and I shall come into the presence of the man whose name is Socrates.

I am ready to catch a glimpse as to how Socrates has fulfilled the Pythagorean Script — from alpha [A] to omega [W], from the middle of the octave in the Pythagorean Lyre to the point of division at the Pythagorean Ruler, the division between the written letters, Big and small.  Furthermore, I am ready to say how he has fulfilled the Script from his head to his toe, at his heart, a complete philosopher in the Pythagorean sense, and a complete man in any sense of the word.

In the beginning of the Phaedo I  notice that Socrates has been composing music, setting to music the words of Aesop, and a hymn to Apollo, the god of light, the lyre, and the bow. I shall consider this his lyric song, his song at the lyre, the Pythagorean Lyre, his swan song, the swan song of philosophy to what is going on in our ongoing lives in our ever-changing horizons, divested of genuine philosophical pursuits.

At the end of the Phaedo, Socrates does what the Big Book in Big Letters thrown at him prescribed him to do:  he drinks the cup of poison to end his sentenced life according to the prescribed sentence, keeping in touch with the ruling principles deeply embedded in the life of the city, his city of Athens.  As the poison prescribed and taken voluntarily works its way from his feet to his heart, he keeps in touch in speech with the twelve youths, with the ruling principles deeply embedded in their souls engaged on the course of studies, on the way to the wholeness of their and his philosophical lives and vision of our ultimate horizon.

Now I finally come to what is at his heart and at the heart of classical philosophy:

an image and a trust;

an icon and an act of faith.

(trust and faith translating the same Greek word – pistis – which appears on the divided line in The Republic.)

I come to Socrates’ own last and lasting image, Socrates’ own last and lasting act of trust, his last testament to the twelve youths in his schooling, the cover on his face – his own icon – the eyes gazing upward – his own act of trust – made visible to them and to us.

The cover on his face, his mask, his irony:  as transparent as the clearest pool of water, and as reflective and reflecting as the calm surface of the same clearest water in the same reflecting pool.

The cover, the blindfold on his face, is transparent to the blinded eyes it covers, eyes in a fixed , motionless, upward gaze.

The cover reflects at the same time the very source that blinds the eyes from above the cover,  the awesome, blinding rays of the invisible Good gazed at, at the last moment of a life committed to the love of learning in order to understand our ultimate horizon at the source of its illumination, to which he himself gives the name of the Good.

With blindfolded eyes, wide open, motionless, the mouth open wide, breathless, speechless, the heart, the whole man, his whole body at a standstill in the stillness of a geometrical solid,  in the final act of trust of a lifetime committed to understanding, an icon in itself visible to all of the Pythagorean Script from A to W, from head to toe, written both in the Big and small letters in the stillness of the whole man, at his heart at a standstill, at the center of his humanity made visible and palpable to all.

Here I pause in wonder, as the ultimate horizon is opening up to philosophy treading in the footsteps of Socrates to his ultimate lookout point in the end of the Phaedo, and at the end of his life, as preserved to us in the writings of Plato.

[Here ends Part Two]

8 responses to “Into Light: Part Two: From Lyre to Script

  1. there’s this image, too, juliania, if you’d prefer it.

  2. Thanks so much, wendye! I actually like that second one as there’s a human figure in there, so it follows on the first part and takes up the subject of the second (man as unitary figure) very nicely.

  3. done. (i reckon it’s supposed to be pythagorus).

    i’m looking forward to reading it, but i am still trying to deal with our harvest, and all the new items we’ve received in trade.

    Added: and good! that parchment one kept bogarting the place, and it became the header, replacing the dew on the grasses one, arrggh. i showed it! i deleted the image permanently from the gallery!

  4. Your teacher’s reverence for Socrates is palpable, as are his love of learning and its ability to lead us toward Light Horizons. His simple reduction of classical philosophy as being “an image and a trust; an icon and an act of faith” confused me until he explained that he saw exactly those evident as Socrates lay dying.

    I had to read the ‘small and large letters’ section several times before I caught on, but I still have a bit of trouble with the drawn geometry v. the spoken word. The closest I can come is that they can represent such different modes of learning, even among different humans, and that without *seeing* a line, a circle, a shape, it would be hard to grok it, or explain in words alone.

    I know I get a bit too tripped out over symbols, partially because I’ve read a lot about various alternatives in early childhood education, and several schools believe that introducing symbols (letters, numbers, especially) can create insecurities that boomerang later in middle school (at least for many children).

    The paragraphs in which he waxes symbolically about the blindfold…well, I’ll try that one few more times. Good above, good below, behind…pretty grand stuff for morning, at least this one. If I imagine: a mirror, it becomes a bit more reachable.

    Thanks, juliania.

  5. Thanks for both the replacement and the analysis, wendye! I’m glad that solved the ‘up above’ problem also – I was noticing I seemed to be intruding up there as well.

    I think your surmises are extremely valid, and perhaps the ‘small’ and ‘big’ differences can be explained as the third part comes into view. One explanation, which would have been evident to the graduating class (at the college all students have proceeded through the same courses, the same readings), is that Plato’s dialogue “The Republic” asks an opening question about justice in terms of the action of an individual (small) but then Socrates decides that it would be easier to discern what justice is if the argument proceeds to a larger edifice (big) and that is why the bulk of the dialogue (and it is bulky) concerns the just state.

    The irony of this is that at the same time as ‘big’ is being evaluated, the individual participants in the dialogue are also making evident ‘small’ reactions. Some, like Thrasymachus, fall away after being embarrassed, (Thrasymachus blushes), some (like me) lose the thread and forget what has happened earlier in the conversation, and only one survives to the very end, Glaucon (Plato’s brother.)

    I’ll get onto the third part very soon – just to remind us all that the entire piece is to be a comparison between two writings in the sand, as the talk was originally entitled.

    To me, the birth of geometry from the investigation of the lyre, the string itself, is a lovely co-operation between music and mathematics that isn’t often thought about these days as technology advances – it most definitely was one of the avenues that led to the magnificent Greek temples and other edifices we so ‘religiously’ copied in our own decaying Capital city. (Big) Somebody someplace has remarked on ‘the silence of the Doric column’ – might have been Buber, I think.

  6. I will just further comment here, that I had myself some difficulty over the threshhold comparison with Cain, since for me the negatives in this comparison overwhelmed the positives that are described at Socrates’ death. As I was inputting, though, I realized that these negatives are right and proper on the threshhold, since what has just occurred, as described in the dialogue “Apology” are indeed a faceless, voiceless judge and jury (we don’t ever see or hear them in the dialogue, only seeing and hearing Socrates’ own responses to their rulings – a very dramatic presentation that always chills me when I read it.) So, dark negatives are appropriate here and to me make the entire situation entirely relevant to our own times.

  7. the lyre and poetic writing and speaking, as in: speaking to the heart and soul, as well. i love that imagery.

    yes, i think i’m grasping small and large letters, one human’s learned and morally correct values hopefully translating into the state, or city state. would that…it were more in evidence, eh?

    the tonal scales and geometry, i’d forgotten it, even though it was in this piece again. thank you. other questions may arise over time, and i’ll come back to ask them, lol.

  8. Definitely this talk is a poetic ‘take’ on subjects that have more than one interpretation or understanding – I like that it flows from music (mafr’s guitar offerings are a beautiful example of that over on the open menu, so we only need to go there to have the lyre voice its complexity.)

    Thanks for commenting!

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