Coffee at the Palace

300px-Boudiccastatue

 

Plato’s The Republic is a dynamic work of deductive philosophy.

The Republic is lofty and challenging.

In his dialectic, Plato lets the us know from the start what he intends to investigate and then proceeds, through a series of conversations with local men of different ages, to prod, dig, and finally unearth what his subject is and is not.

His subject is justice.

Throughout the course of the debate, definitions of justice are offered and examined like high quality pearls, only to be thrown out after Socrates (Plato’s character who may or may not be speaking as the real Socrates) proves them to be flawed.

In The Republic is Plato’s famous Allegory of the Cave, his Theory of Forms, and his design for a Utopia in which a happy class system, comprised of tiers—the gold, the silver, and the bronze—operates in  harmony. Only one who knows how to govern and has nothing to gain other than good government (hence: justice) will be the king.

Plato believes the philosopher king is best suited for the job. This idea doesn’t raise a brow with the local philosophers because Plato is a philosopher and his character, Socrates, is a man who thinks very highly of himself.

The only way to understand the volume of material in The Republic is to break it down, part by part, just as Plato did in developing his concept of justice.

 

So, last Monday I went in search of a philosopher king to help me understand a tiny part of this big philosophical tract.

I know have known several philosopher kings: one was related to me by blood, one I am still evaluating, and one is my mentor. Only one of them is accessible for coffee and lunch: Joe.

On Monday last, I drove down to our usual meeting place: The Elephant Bar.

Something unusual happened before our usual server, Jamie (who Joe calls Yvonne), arrived to take our order.

It happened like this: I confessed to Joe that I found Plato challenging to read and hard to digest.

Joe’s eyebrows rose; his gaze narrowed.

Yvonne…Yvonne…Will you bring the lady and me coffee?

Before Jamie could respond, a low rumble started under my feet. For a split second, the San Andreas Fault came to mind.

Poof!

Our usual booth became a Greek chariot. *

Patrons faded away; the restaurant melted; modern traffic ceased; we found ourselves out in the middle of a Greek plain. This place looks like Northern California, I mentioned casually.

There we were, dressed in light clothing, protected with armor, standing up, looking over the wide withers of our two splendid steeds. One stood dutifully, waiting for his master’s signal. The other, a stallion, pawed impatiently and without warning, reared up.

How are we going to balance our coffee? I asked Joe.

By controlling the horses, Cheri. And thinking about our destination. You may have to wait until we arrive at the palace before you drink your coffee. This control over your appetites is part of the trip, Joe said.

But I need caffeine, I grumbled.

The horse on the left, mannerly and patient, we can control. The one the right, handsome and wild, will test our wills and our will power, Cheri. Only by using our minds, our reason, will we arrive at the palace, just in time for lunch.

Off we thundered, the large ancient wheels of our chariot turning round and round, the chair on which we balanced rocking to the left and right, under the uneven Greek landscape.

I tried not to think of my coffee, keeping my eyes on the dirt road and on the horse on the left.

But the beauty, power, and  strength of the horse on the right, distracted me.

Joe had his hands full, trying to guide that chariot, pulled by two different horses, to our destination. That day, I was just a passenger, a time traveler dressed like a Greek, trying to understand arête.

In the distance, I saw the light of the palace and smelled lunch.

We arrived in one piece.

Joe admonished me for jumping off the chariot and heading into the palace before the horses had been unhitched, cooled, and fed.

You cannot achieve arête unless you are a master of the entire chariot, he stated, matter-of-factly.

I knocked on the large palace door.

Jamie answered. What can I get for you two today?

I will have coffee with cream, I said.

The usual lunch order for both of us.

Joe said, I’ll have coffee, black, Yvonne.

 

* Courtesy of Plato’s Phaedrus

 

 

 

 

 

 

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About Cheri

Writer, artist, cable television host, grandmother to four!
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13 Responses to Coffee at the Palace

  1. Kyran Luhrs says:

    Plato was very wise, but I do not think he fully understood human nature.
    I do not think that any man, alive or dead, has nothing to gain but good government. Even the most enlightened of us will eventually succumb to the temptation of abusing power. “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” that sort of thing.
    Even if we were able to raise Plato himself from the dead, I am not sure that he would follow his own philosophy on the matter of justice given power over people.
    But is the story continuing? It is a very well written read, and if there is more, I look forward to it.

    –Kyran Luhrs, Founder of the Ivory Tower

  2. Cheri says:

    Hi Kyran,
    Thank you for not only reading, but also reacting .
    I agree with your piece on your blog about most people failing to think. And perhaps Plato might be remiss in following his own philosophy.
    I’d rather hope he would live his values, considering the beige society we silvers and bronzes live in today.
    🙂

    As far as the story continuing … Joe and philosophy, literature, life do appear here as imperfect expressions.

  3. andreaskluth says:

    So two riders on a chariot, like Krishna (Joe) and Arjuna (Cheri), pulled by two steeds, Reason and Passion, racing toward an understanding of the Republic.
    At first, it appears that Reason will get them there, whereas Passion is pulling in another direction, but then Joe says that the entire chariot, Reason AND Passion, are needed to achieve mastery (arete), of Plato or of anything.

    (I’m just saying it aloud to myself.)

  4. Heather says:

    I have been left far behind in the dust of your literary chariot. Thanks to Andreas for the Kluth’sNotes.

  5. Douglas says:

    Beautifully written (as always… he notes jealously) and revealing. I have downloaded Plato’s Republic for reading. It is a task I have dreaded/looked forward to eagerly since my teens but have yet to actually accomplish. I know its meanings(there seem to be so many) only tangentially. A part of it repulses (too strong a word) me; the concept of a “right to govern” among a class of men. The acceptance of a class society just irritates my own sense of justice.

  6. Cheri says:

    I look forward to your postings on The Republic.
    As you know, the translation is critical to your enjoyment of the text. I am away from my home, but when I return, I will send you the names of the translators of the edition I read.

  7. Foreign Toe says:

    THE CAREFUL LAWYER WHO COULD NOT MAKE UP HIS MIND.

    There was once a Careful Lawyer who, as the Result of a Variety of Unexpected Circumstances, Found himself Elevated to the bench. The Careful lawyer was not Entirely Satisfied that he had the Necessary Qualifications for Judicial office and his misgivings were Shared by those who Knew him Best. For, Most Unfortunately, he could not Make Up his Mind. In Chambers the Careful Lawyer Got on Well Enough by Affirming the Order of the Master and Directing that Costs should be Costs in the Cause. And in Jury Cases the Careful Lawyer Discovered that it was not a Bad Plan to read over the Evidence to the Jury and Ask them Such Questions as Counsel Suggested. But as a rule the Careful Lawyer Found himself Sadly Puzzled. On Circuit he Spent Sleepless Nights Wondering whether the Prisoner ought to Have Two Months with Hard Labour or Three Months in the Second Division; and when he Tried a Non-Jury Case it was his Custom to Reserve his Judgment for so Long a Period of Time that he Often Forgot what the Case had been About. One Day, for a Change, they Put the Careful Lawyer in a Divisional Court. It was Hoped that he would Find the Job an Easy One. But the Careful Lawyer was so Bothered by Trying to Decide, whilst the Other Judgments were being Delivered, whether he should Say that he Agreed with Them or that he Concurred with them, that he had a Nervous Breakdown from which he never Recovered.

    Moral: Toss Up
    [“Forensic Fables” by “O”]

    [Alternative Moral: Agree quickly with your adversary! – FT]

  8. Cheri says:

    I am not sure how this response relates to this post. ?

  9. Foreign Toe says:

    Sorry.

  10. Foreign Toe says:

    This comment also has only a very obscure relation to your post, and so I apologise in advance, Ma’am.

    My best friend (apart from wife and family of course), a retired neurologist and an atheist now living in Australia sent me an email recently reminding me of a fable of Aesop.

    Commenting on your blog makes me feel like Aesop’s fly who says to the chariot wheel he is sitting on: ‘Look what dust we are raising!’

  11. Pingback: The Coffee is Percolating « Notes from Around the Block

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