The Mythopoetic Mind of Plato: The Kingdom-Sage’s Muthos in Timaeus, The Republic, and The Symposium (Parts I & II)
I: Canary-Swelled Empires
The sandy black-harpied soot of Cyprus, a memory embeds itself on new wandering soles unforgiven: impressions of eternity, bending to the moment. An old exile reclaims the estranged embers of a home’s past glow. Canopies relaxed offer him gracious shelter from the cascading transience and cacophony bright; a fall to stars and a brush of blue, sanguine-bearing bushes coldly drunk, give ethereal echoes to bends familiar. Redemption.
A: “Why don’t you rest upon the white rock, Brother? Or am I eyeing Hesperos’ ghost?”
H: “Or is it I, Akakios, that sees a shade alone in this mighty dead land, shipwrecked?”
A: “That distance makes fools of us all is a shame most profane: this tangled web of perceptions, those pure-creatured panderings who mortals entertain in time-deaf dirges.”
The lull of wine passed in hand from one continent to another, ungraciously.
A: “I must ask for a forgiveness, Brother—long overdue in both our minds. The slave-daughter, Akia, was my one true weakness, and my quick passions bed her while I fed her with family secrets, the burial of father’s treasure. Her musk cut deep inside me like the thirsty dust on fallen leaves desiring the sweat of life. I was young and driven then.”
H: “To what end is banishment ever a favour?”
A: “None at all, but it served me well then. I had this slave-daughter slit and quartered to the bowels of Tartarus before she could move tongue to whisper a word. Said she had bravely ended her life in nothing less than played turns of responsible mortification: a just and noble act—none finer—after fearing quite aptly for the dual wrath of both the men that would beat her for the secrets she had learned advantageously and those other masters that would punish her for a faith broken improperly.
A: “And I certainly had to dispose of her body in a timely, proper funeral. But how did she become learned? Well, I say, Brother: you were too much pretending to not have love for Euanthe, and so, I crafted, with honourable tools of persuasion, a sultry tale of where your affections delighted in both the hot and wild touch of her amidst the eyes of Jove.”
H: “I wondered about your trickery, the very kind that turns fathers against sons.”
A: “No sentiments for shock, this you always knew.”
H: “I would have been another man—perhaps dead—if I chose to let your old wound bear in all my actions and angers. When I left, I left that all behind, as Poseidon gave me a new soul in the violent wake of the waters, forever.”
A: “To histories unknown, as here custom dictates, I took Euanthe, a nubile blood bride in your most sadly stead. She was one to make a living impression, but never that far on someone such as I. Listen, O Brother, she smiled, no doubt, whenever I passed her; but who passed her without much the same smile—you might now remember? This grew; I gave commands; then all the lovely smiles stopped. Even that little, unforeseen one in her womb. I sacrificed much, but that painfully happens when you have to hold the birthright…”
H: “Cowardice has constantly been your only motivation, but yet I hear rumours of war, what of that? I would hate to know that all has befallen too late, at your hands.”
A: “After the mysterious illness of our father, I had taste for kingship beyond these seas of ours. So I found strength in trade, feeding the desires of other tyrant kings, while making their morals thin and weaknesses fatted, for the pleasure of my teeth. Without them wise in the full knowing, they let a disease into their inviting homes, a disease loyal to me.
A: “Yet, disease itself is not something that is loyal or ever wanting of a master. There is only so slight of time and quick of room wherein one can work with any cruel instruments before these playthings feel, well, entitled… They mimic the true learnings and strategists of the wolves. And I could not have such insurrection open, which prompted a sharp pitting serene of hardened traitors on the battlefield. I cut my losses in silver coin, but reputations become exceeded by the man, and other nations have furies to follow.”
H: “You are your own undoing; I have no sympathies.”
A: “True, but how have you faired all these years across the seas?”
H: “I wandered in the Greek homelands, forever a stranger but not enough to fail in knowing them. And for years, I was not better or happier than any man when food and life took precedence over long-gone etiquettes of old. But change was a gift… I heard a great man speak in oration, not to me yet for me. I watched this Socrates of Athens, who was flawed like all around him—but confident in the worth of his own morality.
H: “There were others like him that had words, there and elsewhere. And in catching all these voices—I cannot even say that he was the greatest, but a well-placed note within a much greater philosophy. One that longed with fine love to echo into a chalice complete, to make and make a symphony of raptures as one mind working with its all, in all. There was also this scribe, a student, said to be thieving his brilliance by night, a name forgotten: he never had words of his own, and by that, what a disgrace then in a court of philosophy.
H: “The cities were always the most unstable places, filled to the brim with costly food shortages, but no shortage of men with their own profound ideas and rules. So I left for the rural country in search of a new hospitality and provider. And a path broke around a bend, yet I knew not where I was at that moment. I moved in the only direction before me… I came to this stream, but before that stream, there did rest a large rock with a quiet woman lingering in wait and covered in full garment—perhaps an old woman. I asked her if she needed to cross, and she in desperation let me help her because her foot was weary and red from a fall. I grabbed her naïvely. Stirred her across the stream, and took her past the path.
H: “When we got to her village, she unveiled herself, and I cannot describe that deepest love reigning inside me for that moment onwards. No age had ever touched her, no false master had slighted her womanhood. Her name is all that I have left within me. We lived on the homestead for years: I grew the land and her belly with all my happiness. Then one day I had new reason to take to the sword as all but ash was left to reap of wife and child.
H: “I tracked the small garrison of soldiers; they were not hard enough to discover and lay them to the agony of the cross, skinned to the spike. A clean justice repaid for their work that served those most virtuous cities. And not long after, I heard an unkind force was breeding war in these parts—I should have known it was you, somehow. I fought the sickness as best I could with what resources laid before me as weapons, but in the end, it was too plentiful when it grew from the black heart of human cities; yet, it quieted as a sick lion succumbed to a miracle. There was talk of a new war across the seas. It did not take me to long to divine the origin, so I bound myself to ship and the Scylla-road.”
A: “What interesting tales you have for me. I am sure father would have approved if he never found you to be an unlikely traitor. How is your drink, still bitter?”
Hesperos stumbles without taking another draught, dizziness and then a great fall before the dusk twilight. No anger, just subdued to the prick of trust.
A: “Quiet, sweet Brother; it will be over soon. I’ll take us to the womb of our mother, and we will be reborn again. This time, I will be the good one.”
The eternal roots of myth have been subject to and reinterpreted into a complicated history—mostly of misunderstanding and frustration. The much naturalized meanings of the term and its associative phenomenon are perhaps the strongest indicators of what myth is, even if the modern current entangles the process beyond formal recognition. The value of such a term supersedes any given language that finds a referent for it, but the earliest uses of such a term in the (written) record comes from the Greeks—muthos, a true story that according to early philosophers, Plato and others, was both a nonfalsifiable and nonargumentative discourse.1Brisson 2000, 137. Yet, the inclusions of myth have become newly problematic in the modern mind, stuck on hyper-rationality and progress: the one-sided antagonism contra irrational muthos and rational logos in Hellenic thought, founded by the modern scholars, is incorrect given that in Plato’s works they constitute the essential part of philosophy.2Uždavinys 2004, 304. The details are in the reading, when the truths of myth are known through a proper cosmological and metaphysical exegesis.3Brisson 2008, 29-40. This layering of meaning and value makes a myth, and this knowing is fully realized with familiarity towards the ideas of Proclus, Sallustius, and Hindu Maya, respectively: myths contain inner meanings and conceal unspoken doctrines, inspired by the gods themselves; as such, the highest level of myth is akin to the transcendent divine reality and the lowest with the deceptive perceptions within the realm of the senses; thus a myth “is tantamount to the manifested cosmos itself, understood as the visible veil of the hidden invisible truth”).4Uždavinys 2004, 305. And the word itself possesses an interesting etymology: “[d]erived from the verb muein (‘to close the eyes or the mouth’), it is related to ‘mystery’ and ‘mysticism’ and has connotations of darkness and silence,” a manner of knowing through unknowing, a mode of transmitting values through art and imaginative narrative.5Armstrong 2010, 374. Myth, in many regards, has been the earliest and only psychology, able to completely describe the “underground” world of the psyche, like no other trusted instrument. Myth then confirms the suspicion that the most effective means of humanity to know itself is through itself, the act of myth as prime mediator.
Myths are total phenomena; they resonate with everything and form the basis of consciousness. The term, total phenomenon, was first introduced by a prominent French social scientist Marcel Mauss in respect to the gift, and the parallels are clear when a critic realizes that as far as myth is concerned everything is complementary and presumes co-operation between agents of awareness: myth is inextricably part of the social and cultural fabric, that its ritualistic act encompasses the totality of human experience by intersecting almost every aspect of human and collective life.62001, 45-9. The idea is quite salient, and new proponents in the cognitive sciences express it accurately. A leading psychologist notes that all narrative communities and cultures display “a ‘local’ capacity for accruing7The term “accrual” refers to a process intrinsic to narratives, wherein they grow and accumulate over time as a result of perception and the ordering element of the human mind via its consciousness. stories [… into a] structure that permits a continuity […]—in short, to construct a history, a tradition, a legal system, instruments assuring historical continuity if not legitimacy.”8Bruner 1991, 20. This mode is made possible through what cognitive science demonstrates in studying culturally resonant narratives prone to grow and accumulate “as a process of perception: human beings literally order experience in terms of narrative—a narrative that grows and changes as elements are added, fundamentally altering the whole as it is written.”9Wallin 2007, 63. The flow of what is written is determined by storytellers and artists, and this performance is the work that [Figure 1] permits and justifies a truth, “[s]ocially elaborated and sanctioned stories are the cognitive structures that hold a culture together.”10Kintsch 1998, 18. The discovery of the narrative basis of reality was confirmed by cognitive science a decade ago: “psychologists became alive to the possibility of narrative as a form not only of representing, but of constituting [a complete] reality.”11Bruner 1991, 5. This complexity moves myth from a simple story to that of worldview and mythogenesis, a sustained pattern of creative and conscious acts that unify necessary relations and re-representations with the world (and the world mediated by word). Many paths open in moments that can weave a myth in the mind.
Worldview is the interface for humanity’s access to higher cognitive functioning that renders vast amounts of data into that one grand phenomenon of experience: these varied units of meaning, both narrative and images, that the active mind will process not simply as just clusters of semantic features but as overarching, salient principles, which positively make meaning, make sense. And no single worldview is like another in that each arises from the experience of an adherent and their own struggle to shape experience. In this manner, “[w]e live by stories. We also live in them. […] If we change the stories that we live by, quite possibly we change our lives.”12Orki 1997, 46. Quite literally, the subtle reordering of narrative sequences creates mimetic gaps in which fresh or alternate worldviews can come into a fully realized descriptive possibility (a becoming), challenging all other pre-existing states. And even if Plato was not aware of the theory and its application,13There is strong textual evidence and support—i.e., 1038-1039, 401b-402b; 1161, 549b-549c; 1214—of Plato’s working knowledge of what Orki argues. Plato particularly has some early insights into how symbolic thought via poetics and narrative intermixes within the rhythms of life and comes to inform rational behaviour, i.e. living myth, from anthropological discourse and theory—see the seminal works of both Leenhardt (1979) and Young (1983) as examples. The narrative framework of these Platonic texts contextualizes this understanding of selves as Plato translates Socrates in delivering a rendition of The Republic. The plurality and positionality comes from the flow, how myth is inter-spliced within a philosophical tract on virtue and the Good. There are ample examples of role-shifting as Plato himself writes Socrates as a philosopher, opts philosophy as the dominant role, and (re)considers the distinct discourse and identity sets—each of which comes with the act of explaining how poetry and his self, an intermeshed personhood, as a poet and myth-maker are important in practicing virtue and resisting the moral turpitude of evil. Role awareness of the poet-philosopher duality is demonstrated with the logos-hierarchy, the privileged binary, as Plato situates the value of state-sponsored poets and story-tellers who drive morality and an image of virtue. All of which, these creative expressions and outlets, are themselves later perfected by a rational mind and a lifelong practice of philosophy (1035, 397e-398b). But there is also a persistence within Plato to use myth and story as a tool for self-improvement; analysis through allegory of his own deep psychology, biases, and inherited cultural worldview; and even a measure of a self-reflexivity that would itself breed self-actualization if balanced. the centrality of his self in context with the multiple selves and positionalities of the Platonic figure—the person, the character, the writer, the historian, the philosopher, and even the culture—creates a strong and heightened desire to enigmatically know himself, even if not for finality, but for growth and prosperity in seeing himself as a prism of possibilities trapped in myth. That awareness of his continued sheddings in tellings and retellings, shapings and reshapings centralized for him profound insights into his own deep worldview, allowing him to metamorphose in brilliant ways that other philosophers could not possibly imagine.
This journey of Plato as artist engenders the gift of mastering mythogenesis that is bound to an animate self. Consciousness appears therein—this sentient will immerses in the thick of sense and meaning to learn how to make a fine distinction between constituent elements and act upon them in accordance with a known image of existence that manifests into a cognitive state. We are always living in a story, always present in a myth. The key is to possess mindfulness towards worldviews and their presence in the awakened self—they are analytical frameworks of the mind that first allow the universe to be experienced in a specific manner and then formulated into pure, specific “understandings” about the nature of that universe. Worldviews can be further expressed via a three-part structure: the global picture, a sensory schema constructed from the fundamental conceptions of the lived universe; the system of rules, a set of co-ordinating axioms about how the universe works in a solely operational and causal sense; the ideal for human existence, a pragmatic ideology that aids all individuals in striving towards an idealized purpose for being in the universe. No aspect of worldview is ever its own entity, and it serves a greater aim to imagine it as something of a gestalt, a complex, or a matrix coming to a point of complete unity, yet able to illuminate diversity and function in both itself and relations to the world.
Much literature has surfaced over the years addressing what a worldview is: David Naugle’s Worldview: The History of a Concept, Diederik Aerts, et al’s “World Views: From Integration to Fragmentation,” Mark Koltko-Rivera’s “The Psychology of Worldviews,” and Michael Kearney’s “World View Theory and Study” to name a few. But despite the academic race to coin a predominant and working conceptualization, there seems to be a hardened lack of cross-disciplinary consensus of and camaraderie on the meaning and function of the term, and above that, most of the literature is inaccessible, still in the fuzzy design phases of its history of ideas lifecycle. In this absence, I have formulated what may be the simplest, most effective, and direct version of worldviews (to date as a conceptual model) to succeed in this tradition of myth and consciousness, the isolate principle. And from here, the idea can get as saturated and complex as the context needs, or as dynamic and sharp as realistic communication demands. Genius strikes an idea when collapsible, fractal, and holographic.
Plato’s worldview(s) are the focus of this analysis. There is no question that Plato is a conduit of Greek culture, and beyond that, he is an avid borrow for the traditions of alternate consciousness in the ancient world. The most interesting part is that Plato was never a philosopher (in the strictest sense), but an inspirer and admirer of philosophy—which in an unexpectedly strange way, this sleight made him a philosopher. If he was not, then what is one to make of Plato? He was a historian, a storyteller, and a scribe. Socrates was the philosopher—or all the others who he quoted that were waiting to be Socrates. Lovejoy concurs: “[f]rom this it would follow that Plato himself (in his extant writings) must be regarded chiefly as a historian of other men’s philosophies rather than as a great original philosopher,”141936, 33. This conclusion was drawn independently by scholars, Lovejoy, and I— and surely others as well—outside the discipline of philosophy. The growth of these narratives and philosophies become a natural element of the glue that holds these communities together, and this accrual signifies “a creative interaction with the past, an adaptation of existing narrative [and philosophic] structures to new situations. One could say that without old stories [and thoughts] there could be no new ones.”15Zeitler 2000, 141. The interest surrounding Plato, if himself neither original nor philosopher, comes from his juxtapositions of the creative and the critical that coalesce into a total picture, composite in blending narrative and thought into a single social dynamic.
The intent of this work is to posit itself as an intuitive essay, which is a thoroughly evocative account of truth and rhetoric wherein both logic and understanding become the domain of the reader in completing the text, finding worth. In that regard, this work is a combination of exploratory, participatory, experiential, and surety practices. The entire purpose of this work will not so much argue but re-imagine and challenge Plato, such that it breathes the warmest breath of reconsideration, rereading, and re-admiration into the Platonic dialogues. And by looking carefully at key works by Plato, the textual relations in critical practice create networks of associations, which “behind the individual works [point to] a meta-narrative [or complete worldview], one large imaginative territory closely related to actuality and from which all individual existent fictions [and philosophies] can be seen as selections.”16Watts 1982, 63. And this end is the purpose of this work, to reconstruct a possible Plato with a likely worldview. Not an easy task given that this expression will only be one permutation among countless others, depending on the models and texts selected. Yet, this work does not concern itself with being definitive, but experience-able and relatable to the point that the reader will not only see a worldview but envision its better. This speaks to how the depth of humanity should be valued. To the reader, I must give this analogy: I am sending you off into the world to discover my work with little more than a compass and a map—you chose the destination amidst these universes and stories!
Notes [ + ]
|1.||↑||Brisson 2000, 137.|
|2.||↑||Uždavinys 2004, 304.|
|3.||↑||Brisson 2008, 29-40.|
|4.||↑||Uždavinys 2004, 305.|
|5.||↑||Armstrong 2010, 374.|
|7.||↑||The term “accrual” refers to a process intrinsic to narratives, wherein they grow and accumulate over time as a result of perception and the ordering element of the human mind via its consciousness.|
|8.||↑||Bruner 1991, 20.|
|9.||↑||Wallin 2007, 63.|
|10.||↑||Kintsch 1998, 18.|
|11.||↑||Bruner 1991, 5.|
|12.||↑||Orki 1997, 46.|
|13.||↑||There is strong textual evidence and support—i.e., 1038-1039, 401b-402b; 1161, 549b-549c; 1214—of Plato’s working knowledge of what Orki argues. Plato particularly has some early insights into how symbolic thought via poetics and narrative intermixes within the rhythms of life and comes to inform rational behaviour, i.e. living myth, from anthropological discourse and theory—see the seminal works of both Leenhardt (1979) and Young (1983) as examples. The narrative framework of these Platonic texts contextualizes this understanding of selves as Plato translates Socrates in delivering a rendition of The Republic. The plurality and positionality comes from the flow, how myth is inter-spliced within a philosophical tract on virtue and the Good. There are ample examples of role-shifting as Plato himself writes Socrates as a philosopher, opts philosophy as the dominant role, and (re)considers the distinct discourse and identity sets—each of which comes with the act of explaining how poetry and his self, an intermeshed personhood, as a poet and myth-maker are important in practicing virtue and resisting the moral turpitude of evil. Role awareness of the poet-philosopher duality is demonstrated with the logos-hierarchy, the privileged binary, as Plato situates the value of state-sponsored poets and story-tellers who drive morality and an image of virtue. All of which, these creative expressions and outlets, are themselves later perfected by a rational mind and a lifelong practice of philosophy (1035, 397e-398b). But there is also a persistence within Plato to use myth and story as a tool for self-improvement; analysis through allegory of his own deep psychology, biases, and inherited cultural worldview; and even a measure of a self-reflexivity that would itself breed self-actualization if balanced.|
|15.||↑||Zeitler 2000, 141.|
|16.||↑||Watts 1982, 63.|