Monthly Archives: September 2015

Plato the Feminist?

Plato is referred to frequently as the father of western philosophy, while he has angered and provoked many with his views. One view in particular has stood out to me in terms of feminism – do modern day feminists have Plato to thank for the basis of the pillars in the judicial system that ensure feminism today? Many women have fought to instil feminism in society some falling on deaf ears others making radical differences, each and every one contributing to our cause. But is Plato via Socrates the one that’s made the idea of feminism palpable in the minds of the thinkers and politicians since then? Starting in (pg 144, 455, e4) Socrates raises a question, of judging women by their faculties rather than their gender – the same as you would a man.

Did he think up equal education and jobs for women as way to give them an equal shot to ruling or was his intention to abolish family and women as family caregivers – hence presenting women with other options? Whatever his intention Plato is one of the first men to put this thought of equality among the sexes in writing. And seeing as he is one of the most influential philosophers around – we could argue that he implanted the first feminist thought in western society. He could be the first supporter that’s helped us change the minds of the misogynistic men in authority that opposed the idea of women as anything else but caregivers. It’s funny to me that Plato being avidly against democracy has presented an idea of equality. That is nothing but a democratic notion.

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Just So Lustful

Justice is desirable. Socrates believes the men who praise it are more generously rewarded than those who worship injustice. The question of the matter is.. how does one come to be “just”?

Socrates explains a just man must have a “healthy” soul. If a man is able to acquire this, then he shall enjoy numerous pleasures in the afterlife. His belief in this theory can be seen when he first speculates on the matter and declares how justice “profits the one who has it, whether he is believed to be just or not” (P72, 329c). Even before he has a firm grasp on the concept of what justice is, he is convinced it is more advantageous to devote oneself to it. With this, I found it interesting how the myth of ER  relates to the just and unjust man. It indicates the souls of either men are able to choose if they wish to be reincarnated as animals. However, the animal they were to become was often a representation of the nature within their soul. For instance, those who are just, transformed into tame and graceful creatures such as the “eagle” (P325, 620b-5).  On the other hand, those with unjust and selfish appetites are represented to be ridiculous and have beastly characteristics, such as the “ape” (P.325, 620c).  Similarly, Socrates concludes the soul of a just man saves him from facing punishment in the next life, more specifically a thousand years of it. In other words, if one continues to practice virtuous and moral actions, they can avoid this agony altogether. If this is the case for the afterlife, then what about the mortal world? Is it equally rewarding?

Contrary to what one may think, Socrates claims the benefits are mutual in the mortal world. This can be shown with the metaphor of the shepherd and his sheep.  For instance, the shepherd provides the sheep with adequate care. In return, the sheep produces wool to be sold and brings income to the shepherd. As a result, both parties form a relationship of mutual benefit. However, should he desire to make profit, the shepherd must ensure his product is of the highest quality. In order to achieve such task, he must then make the sheep’s well-being his top priority.  Of course, this is assuming his income is decided by the quality rather than quantity of the product. What if the wage is fixed, where the price of wool is the same for either finer or poorer merchandise? Are we to believe that the shepherd will put in the same amount of effort as he did before?

The majority are likely to believe he would not do so.  Despite this, if the ideal city of Kallipolis revolves around the idea of  “justice is superior to injustice”, then it is rational to say the shepherd will continue to work as he always had. For example, Socrates indicates Kallipolis has a hierarchical structure of Rulers, Guardians, and Producers. He states justice is demonstrated where each individual respects their role in society. In other words, each class is satisfied with their place and will not venture outside of their ranking. As a result, balance is formed and maintained in this way. Then in the case of the shepherd, he is satisfied with his role as a Producer. On the other hand, if he attempts to boost his ranking, he would be charged for disturbing the harmony and acting upon injustice. Therefore, it is far more likely he will continue to function in his usual way, as it is all the more natural for him to do so.

It is with this logic, that if a just man, like the shepherd, follows the structures of their city and respect it, then their souls are similarily just. Nevertheless, when they reach the afterlife, their souls will be undoubtedly rewarded for their dedication to justice.


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Forget John Galt, Who Is Socrates?

Originally, my idea for this post was going to be somewhat angry. Not annoyed, mind you. I was thinking up a full on, bile-spitting rant of hate directed at Plato and the mob of spineless sycophants he transparently manipulates to make his opinions seem sagacious and effective. There’s a clear basis for this, especially with Adeimantus, a thoroughly uninvolved and transparent character whose only real lines are booming approval, even willingness to vote on, the arrogant and pseudointellectual convictions of a supposedly ignorant man. No joke, several of the many Post-Its in my copy of the text are just telling him to shut up. For a man who wants his disciples to live the unexamined life, Socrates seems to be fine with blind obeisance to his dictums, and maintains that almost all literature containing any kind of emotionally reactive (and therefore perspective-inducing) potential be eliminated, so as to better ensure that the citizens of his kallipolis adhere mindlessly to their niches under the watchful eye of a philosophical ruling class. And as I was preparing to wind myself up to deliver this rant, I realized something very important. Specifically, that Plato, as the writer, is using Socrates as a mouthpiece.

Not an earth-shattering revelation, certainly, but it raises some interesting questions. Socrates exists entirely out of context for us save for the writings of Plato and Xenophon, both of whom identified as his students. Both men recounted his discourses, his relationship with his students, his wife, the sophists, and the Athenian government that ultimately ordered his death. In considering this, I’m given to a bizarre conjecture – did Socrates actually exist?

Plato and Xenophon were similarly inclined, in the philosophical sense. Both were dyed-in-the-wool elitists, with Plato’s ideal state being a caste-based dictatorship and Xenophon being an outspoken supporter of Sparta, an authoritarian nation even by Ancient Greek standards. Today, we take them seriously, but I’m a suspicious man not inclined to trust such obviously self-aggrandizing text, and I theorize that Socrates never existed. He was a collective construct, made to express the views of a demographic that knew the price of speaking one’s mind. His identification with the gadfly is essentially an admittance of this purpose, which both used to make him a martyr in their renditions of the Apology.

Basically, I’m thinking Plato, Xenophon and a few other aristocratic lads created a philosophical Dread Pirate Roberts. The wisest man alive (Plato), or the most free, just and sound of mind (Xenophon), who accomplishes his brilliance through feigned ignorance. I can picture Plato, the young ideologue, expounding on his slant of the ideal city, and somebody (possibly a still-surly Thrasymachus) standing to challenge him, only for the caviling worm to lay his argument at the feet of that great unwashed genius, Socrates, of whom he is just a student. The trial could’ve been complete fiction, and once the written account is circulated, I’m guessing a few citizens could recall sitting in on the trial of some youth-corrupter who could have been Socrates. If there were refutations, they’ve been lost to time, as have many of the period’s texts. Socrates, as a character, was a legend in his own time, but not a public figure (he was pilloried by Aristophanes, but was never recorded as challenging him on it), and lived in vagrant-like conditions according to some accounts. It would be easy to say you’ve missed him, or didn’t peg him for a great philosopher, but Plato here will be glad to fill you in on his opinions.

I’ve grown to truly resent Plato’s views for over the course of this reading, especially given the modern context of totalitarianism that Russel and Popper railed against. He’s elitist, condescending and openly hateful of democracy. For a man so hell-bent on temperance (a word that reminds me of Prohibition, a concept that I just hate to my core), his views are pretty absolutist. His idea of government is you ceding your freedom to him and his ilk because you’re too stupid and uncontrollable to use it. I’ve gone past wanting to refute his arguments and more into the territory of having imagination segues involving confronting the man with a lumber ax. Now, if I’m right, he’s also a huckster and a coward. If I’m wrong, well, at least I’m least I’m making that conjecture under my own name.

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Jocasta The Queen

Jocasta’s roll in the play is dependent on Oedipus. She changes her views and her opinions based on his reactions to her statements. It is interesting to see her cast in such a traditional female roll of support to the husband and king but to juxtapose that with her roll as skeptic. While Oedipus questions the gods’ power and believes himself to be invincible, Jocasta is the real non-believer. She goes from convincing Oedipus of his innocence by saying “Apollo was clear—it was Laios’ fate to be killer by my son, /but my poor child died before his father died” (p.62-63). By stating this she is discrediting Apollo and his prediction of Oedipus’s life. She later states “fortune rules out lives./Luck is everything. Things happen. The future is darkness” (p. 66). The key element here is that fortune rules our lives no the gods. By making the only woman in the play also represent the growing influence of atheism. Attributing this to the only female character gives Jocasta a certain power that is unexpected given the fact that she is proven wrong seeing as Apollo correctly prophesized Oedipus’s fate. However, this doesn’t take away Jocasta’s power because she represents the growing school of thought. She is not meant to be the focus of the play and yet she represents a new way of seeing the world that Oedipus and many others are blind to.

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Apollo’s Wrath

Oedipus’s destiny was determined by the gods prior to his existence, he was to symbolize those who undermine the influence of the gods. Apollo, the god of plagues, used Oedipus as an example for Thebes to become aware of the penalty for all who stray from their religious roots. Jocasta’s hubris resulted in the birth of Oedipus, who was destined to murder his father and father her children. She had continued to act in defiance to the gods as she had attempted to prevent the prophecy from becoming a reality. Nevertheless, Apollo had sent a sympathetic shepherd to save Oedipus after Jocasta had “abandoned [him] on a mountain, [to] leave/him alone to die” (P56, lines 943-944), thus allowing him to fulfill his prophecy. Apollo had ensured that Oedipus was to be “born to suffer, born/to misery and grief” (P71, lines 1355-1356), to show the people of Thebes his wrath that would be revealed to those who defy him.

Oedipus’ hubris was accepted by his citizens, as a result, Apollo had cursed them for they had been influenced by the insolence he had towards the gods. Oedipus was also the source of the pestilence that his polis had fallen ill to, he had believed that if he were exiled that they would be cured. I believe that Thebes would heal when Oedipus admits that the power of Apollo is much greater than his own. Oedipus’ subjects must also declare Apollo’s strength to avoid retribution and receive his mercy. Apollo is potent enough to sicken and restore the health of the people, Oedipus was sent to remind Thebes of Apollo’s competence as well as the authority of the gods.


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From Oedipus to Mr.Kane

Before jumping into Arts One, I took a few FIST100 lessons and studied Citizen Kane, one of the greatest productions in the world. After reading Oedipus the King I realize it’s similar with Citizen Kane in story, structure and the way it connects to “seeing and knowing”. Both of them convey that, seeing cannot directly equal to knowing. As it’s incomplete without exploration.

Although Oedipus might disagree, what he sees is fragmentary. For example, the parents he can see are Polybos and Merope, who in fact not belong to him. When he finally finds out the fact he says “I, Oedipus, I am the child of parents who should never been mine.” (P77 Line 1494-1496)* Then he finds the truth of murder, his wife and the plague of his city. The shepherd’s narration reveals the crimes of Oedipus and supplies what he could not see. Actually, supplements provided by different roles gradually disclose actual meaning of the oracles. With these supplements, Oedipus and audience (even they know the storyline previously) are able to approach the truth.

Citizen Kane is also a movie composed by memories from different people. Kane’s guardian records his childhood, the colleagues witness the growth of his business, Susan remembers their marriage and the butler knows how this wealthy and influential man spends rest of his life in loneliness. The unique charm of this movie comes from the complexity of its structure. Audience could easily state that they know enough information about this man at any point. But after a new narration, they realize there could be something more. Various versions of Kane’s life accumulatively draw up his image.

The common part of Mr. Kane and Oedipus is that they used to have everything but finally lose. Tragedies happen because they trying to pursue some unreachable goals. For Oedipus, that goal is to break the oracles and control his own life. For Mr. Kane, that goal is to love and beloved. Another typical case is Great Gatsby, a character immediately jumps  into my mind every time I study the play. The American dream of Gatsby seems so near yet so far and he fails to achieve that as well. Tragedy is a form to present beauty, which is desperate but magnificent. The identical fates and failures of these characters obviously demonstrate the beauty of tragedy.

The way Oedipus the King and Citizen Kane manage to tell a story is analogous. Under the leading of a mystery thread (for the play the thread is Liao’s death, for the movie is Kane’s last word), clues from diverse perspectives are given one by one. However, in this process, audience who can see everything will never “know” the truth until the last moment. Just like Oedipus has never questioned himself until the shepherd finally confirms everything.

This is the myth of seeing and knowing. We could never know whether seeing is enough for us to know. If we make conclusions in the half way and consider that as “knowing”, we lose the opportunities to approach truth. We have to see more, to investigate more from multiple dimensions. It’s journey start with a single clue but probably never end.


*The paginating is base on kindle version


From Selina: Thank you for reading to this line! Please feel free to tell me if there is any unclear expression or inappropriate grammar in the post. As I am still learning English writing, your opinion will be extremely helpful for me. You could either leave a comment or send me an email (especially when you want to discuss the viewpoint) : I really appreciate your kindness and patience.

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Prophecy is omnipresent

Words that people say casually are likely to turn out to be a prophecy, and there’s no way to avoid or escape from it. This was the strongest feeling that I had at the moment I finished reading Oedipus the King. Oedipus’s tragic end reminded me what he says when he is giving promise to his citizens in the beginning. “The man who killed Laios might take revenge on me just as violently. So by avenging Laios’ death, I protect myself.” (P29 169-171) How could one dig a pitfall for himself and fall into it without noticing? As the murderer in his own mouth, he takes a revenge on himself personally.

Visible predictions are even more unavoidable. To prevent the prediction that Laios will be killed by his son, Oedipus is abandoned on a mountain with his feet pierced. Nevertheless, this act just leads him to hear another prediction that he would murder his father and marry his mother, and causes him to leave home and rove in foreign countries, thereby guiding him to the place where he meets his father and kills him accidently. Humans are too negligible to defy or rewrite predestination, the result of trying so would be falling into a cycle and eventually turning back to the original point.

When Oedipus is told by the messenger that his “father” Polybos has dead, the sorrow and gladness in his heart are intermingled. His excitement even overwhelms his sadness owing to the reason that he thinks that the prophecy has been broken successfully. How can he kill a person who is already not in the world? Father’s death is not a bad news, as long as the murderer is not him. Just like he says to Jocasta: “My fears confused me.”(P66 1229) His fears do not only confuse him, but also stimulate his selfishness inside.

As the outlined above, the truth would be uncovered and the prophecy would become true with or without the plague. What has created and destroyed Oedipus at the same time is his own personality and fate.

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So what about Kreon?

When I first read Oedipus the King, one character stood out for me the most. For the greater part of the play, Jocasta’s brother Kreon seemed like an unassuming bystander to the unfolding action of the story, appearing mostly to be of occasional use to Oedipus. Pious and level-headed, Kreon tries to solve problems rationally, or with recourse to the gods. He seemed to be just another member of the sad, dysfunctional family. I would often ask myself, what purpose does he have to the story?

Early in the play, Teiresias reveals to Oedipus that the king himself is the killer he is looking for. Not taking the accusation lightly, Oedipus’ first reaction is to convict Kreon of being the killer, and a threat to his throne. Kreon uses his strong sense of reason to convince Oedipus’ that he does not desire to be King. He says: “Consider it rationally, as I have. Reflect: What man, what sane man, would prefer a king’s power with all its dangers and anxieties, when he could enjoy the same power, without its cares, and sleep in peace each night?” ( p. 49 )

After their exchange, it seemed to me that there was not much evil to Kreon. His reply convinced even me. However, it foreshadows that Kreon ultimately fills Oedipus’ shoes, and without the reluctance we would assume he had according to this quote. Is Kreon trying to deceive Oedipus? What are his true intentions? At the end of the play there is evidence that Kreon has resented Oedipus’ power, long before the true identity of the false king was revealed. Oedipus pleads with Kreon, “Drive me out of Thebes, do it now, now – drive me someplace where no man can speak to me, where no man can see me anymore.” To which Kreon replies, “Believe me, Oedipus, I would have done it long ago. But I refuse to act until I know precisely what the god desires.” ( p. 89-90 )

This response of Kreon’s not only reveals his ulterior motives, but also calls back to his piety, or his unwillingness to act without god’s aid. I find it interesting how his strong faith is holding him back from his desires. In the process of banishing Oedipus, we catch a glimpse of Kreon’s power-hungry side, which is fully explored later, in Antigone. Oedipus begs, “No. You will not take my daughters, I forbid it.” Kreon’s rejects his plea, saying “You forbid me? You have no power any more. All the great power you once had is gone, gone forever.” ( p. 93-94 )

In short, Kreon really surprised me as a character in an otherwise predictable tale. What first appeared to be an innocent brother-in-law, ( and uncle, sadly ) ends up taking the throne and exiling Oedipus to, in a way, save Thebes.

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Two Faces of Jocasta

While ancient Athens is often regarded as a place of flourishing art and life, it must also be remembered that the only lives regarded as worthy and of value were those of adult, male citizens. Women, slaves, children and foreigners would have been regarded as of a lower class;  they would not be able to vote and voice opinions in society.

Jocasta, despite being a queen, initially serves as the docile, supportive wife to Oedipus that would have been typical (and expected) of wives at the time. As Oedipus asks for the “shepherd [to be] summoned” and tells Jocasta to “do it now,” she acts as what a ‘good wife’ would have done in that time and age (62, 1101). She agrees to “send for [the shepherd] immediately,” stating that her “only wish is to please [Oedipus]” (62, 1103-1104). Such an example shows that as she only knows herself to be his wife, she works to ensure that she is a good one.

After her realization that she is also the mother to the King, a change in her character and action is evident. She exhibits what is often interpreted as denial towards the truth of the prophecy, a change from her earlier skepticism. This skepticism can be interpreted as a motherly love: Jocasta is no longer the submissive wife, but rather a protective mother. She begins to speak in commands, telling Oedipus to stop searching for the truth. She says to him,  “Oedipus, you must stop.” and tells him to ask “No more questions” (71 1345, 1337). To me, this appears to be extremely crucial to the theme of knowledge in the play and the inevitable changes it can bring to ones life: as Jocasta learns she is a mother, she cannot help but become protective and act exactly as a motherly figure would.

From this perspective, Jocasta’s switch from skepticism to denial appears to be as much a commentary on knowledge as religion. Once she learns the truth, she is unable to avoid acting according to this newfound information, switching from one role into another. It appears that the Queen discovers she cannot evade her fate, she also finds that she cannot escape her past.

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Skepticism & Punishment

A very interesting topic was bought up in the seminar on Thursday, which was the skepticism of the existence of gods in the 5th century. Such skepticism arose alongside great thinkers, and manifested itself in Oedipus Rex. Oedipus’ agency & his obvious defiance to the gods is an obvious example–what is alarming, however, is the doubt that arises within the chorus.

As the elders of Thebes, one would expect them to be defiant to Oedipus’ actions in the play, and to stand by the gods. This does show at first though, right after Teiresias confronts Oedipus for being the man who murdered Laios and Oedipus denies his involvement. The chorus instead takes on neutrality, claiming, “Zeus and Apollo know/they understand/only they see” (pg. 46), taking note that only the gods know the truth, not the prophet nor Oedipus. Sure, a small amount of skepticism shines through with the chorus’ questioning of whether or not the prophet (speaker of the gods, hello) could really see more than anyone, but ultimately the chorus places the fate & answer to the plague of Thebes to the gods.

This firm belief ends–or perhaps, wavers– as the play approaches its climax, or Oedipus’ Enlightenment (he is the son who killed his father). The chorus shows their doubt with, “…o Zeus if that is your name” (pg. 63, l. 1153) and then further when they state, “nobody prays to the god of light no one believes/nothing of the gods stays” (pg. 63, l.1158-1159). This was bought up in class on Thursday as well. This is read as an ultimatum of sorts, as the chorus basically says in this passage, “If the man who murdered Laios is punished, then we will no longer believe in the gods.”

A stark contrast then follows, when it is revealed that Oedipus did indeed murder Laios. What’s also worth mentioning here, I believe, is that everyone other than Oedipus believes that him being alive is punishment enough. As the shepherd says to Oedipus, “If you were the baby that man took from me, Oedipus/ what misery, what grief is yours!” (pg. 77, l.1490-1491). Even the chorus does, as in the next passage it seems that their faith in the gods has been restored, contrasting the belief of “nothing of the gods stays” (pg. 63 l.1159) with a new belief, “…nothing human lasts” (pg. 78, l. 1522).

Paired with the fact that Oedipus Rex was shown during a time where religious skepticism was surfacing, the chorus could even be compared to Athenian society; that by the end of Oedipus Rex, their faith is restored as Oedipus is punished by the truth, or the light (Apollo). Ultimately, then, Oedipus’ punishment lays within his existence, and not by what he bestowed upon himself (stabbing his eyes out, removing himself from society).



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