Provocative Thoughts From The Next Generation
Plato & Socrates and The Meaning Of Life.
Plato sat shaking hands and writing short notes to Roman, Greek and other European philosophers. Younger students of Philosophy had gathered from around Europe to come and have a few brief moments with Plato himself. He was at his latest book signing outside of the Pantheon. It was a great honor to be invited here at this time in history and Plato was even himself a bit nervous. Of course, the Romans may not have invited Plato if his mentor, Socrates, had not agreed to give a short discussion after the signing. Plato had to twist Socrates’ arm in order to get him to agree to come along, but after Plato told Socrates that he wouldn’t have to teach any classes during the weeks missed while on the trip, Socrates announced that his bags were already packed.
Rome was buzzing on this summer night and the sky was still red from the receding sun. Many rich businessmen had come in their chariots in order to hear from Socrates the Greek who was now a legend anywhere around the Mediterranean Sea. Many of the visiting Philosophers had traveled great distances in order to meet Plato after reading all of his new publishings about his discussions with Socrates. It was a great night to be in Rome. The buildings stood magnificently tall and flexed some of the best architecture in the world. Thousands of Romans walked from their work back to home for dinner or out to watch a fight at the Coliseum. But a few hundred Romans had decided to skip out on the normal Italian activities in order to come listen to the two old Greek teachers who had made quite the name for themselves.
Plato had been signing books for a few hours straight since most of the philosophers he signed for liked to stick around and chat about their favorite ideas for a few minutes. He was quite excited and a little taken aback by how many people were reading his writings about his adventures and talks with Socrates. It was almost time to finish the signing as the line dwindled down. Next was Socrates’ speech. But as Plato looked around there was one small problem, no Socrates.
Aristotle: “Gentlemen, if you please take your seats inside the Pantheon. Socrates and Plato will be out shortly to speak.”
Plato ran to Aristotle as soon as he spotted him. “Aristotle, have you seen Socrates?”
Aristotle: “No, I thought he was with you!”
Plato. Damn. Where on earth is he, I already checked his dressing room and his makeup artist said he had walked out nearly thirty minutes ago.
Suddenly there was a large amount of cheering from across the street at a small Italian pizza parlor. The yells grew louder and Plato made out the words “Bevuta, Bevuta, Bevuta!” Which, when Plato heard the chant, knew it could only mean one thing, Chug, Chug, Chug.
P. Hurry Aristotle, he must be over there in that pizza parlor.
The two men ran as fast as their togas would allow them over across the street to find their teacher and mentor, the man who was practically a father to them, sitting on a table rather than at a table.
P. Socrates! What are you doing? We have to go speak right now you know that!
Socrates. Well it’s nice to see you too! Ladies and Gentlemen of this bar, may I introduce to you my esteemed colleague and his esteemed student, Plato and Aristotle! I’m afraid they don’t have the luxury of having last names.
Plato was not surprised by any of this after traveling with Socrates so much and for so long.
P. Great to be here. Now Socrates if you please we must be going, all of the wealthy men of Rome are waiting to hear us speak.
S. Then we shall not keep them waiting any longer. Oh, but I need to pay the bill and left my wallet in the dressing room. Would either of you happen to have some cash upon you?
A. Yes Socrates. How much do you need?
S. Umm, let’s see here. Looks like five-hundred Lire.
P. Five-hundred Lire! How much wine did you have here!?
S. Well actually I only had one bottle of their wine, which was quite tasty. A Pinot from Sicily. But then I had two sausage pizzas and a few beers as well. Oh and a rum cake.
P. They have rum cakes in Rome?
S. Exactly my thoughts, so you can understand why I had to try some.
The three Philosophers now entered the Pantheon after paying off Socrates’ expensive dinner menu. The crowd immediately stood and clapped at the sight of the Greeks entering the legendary building and taking the floor.
P. Thank you! Thank you! Gentlemen thank you. I know you are all very busy men with many affairs to take care of and I appreciate you coming for the book signing and present discussion. Remember you can buy my new book, The Republic, wherever firewood and matches are sold (the crowd let out a burst of laughter). Tonight it is my honor and privilege to introduce to you the man that has been the inspiration for all of my writings as well as the inspiration for a great deal of thought and wisdom. He is a professor at the Academy and a proud citizen of Athens. Gentlemen, I produce for you, Socrates. (The crowd stood again cheering).
Socrates turned a bright shade of red and was visibly embarrassed by all of the cheering and clapping.
S. Well thank you gentlemen. Please let me echo what my good friend Plato has said when I tell you what an honor and a pleasure it is to be here. Often I have read about your magnificent city but never in a hundred years would I have thought it would be this incredible. And I must say, your sausage pizza is to die for! (The audience laughed and continued to cheer. Socrates however stood in silence for a few moments well passed the time that the crowd had stopped cheering. Now everyone including his two Greek friends starred at him in an intense silence).
Carpe Diem! (The crowd once again burst into cheering and clapping).
Carpe Diem! (Socrates put his hand on his head rubbing his forehead. He was not a speaker per say but more of a conversationalist). Yes, Carpe Diem, seize the day! You know, I have always tried to seize my days by celebrating life with purpose passion and power. But of course, one man’s celebration is often another man’s nightmare. Really what I have come to understand in my recent years is that most often people enjoy life most when they are not thinking about their troubles but too focused on life and the moment to worry about life and the next moments. There are a bundle of different ways to do this. My good friend from Israel taught me that having a sort of “Samaritan Strategy” for life and helping others gave him the relief he needed from being too caught up in his own problems. And this is certainly important, as you all must already know with many people under your power or command. The better we treat others the better they will treat us or the better the quality of their work will be and so on.
(Socrates now shot Plato a quizzical look and then stood once again in silence looking at the crowd).
Look everyone, I’m sorry if this isn’t exactly what you expected but I am not much of a public speaker. I do much better in discussions and conversations. So what about I take a few questions? Does anyone have a few questions? Yes sir you there, who are you and what is your question.
A red bearded man stood up from among the first few rows of the crowd.
“Dear Socrates, I am Colonel Romulus of the Roman guard. Many years I have wondered what does everything mean. The actions of myself, my family, and my country. Now I have found the meaning is portrayed by our results in this world. But I pose this same question to you, what is the meaning of life?”
S. Thank you Colonel Romulus for that question. A few months ago actually I was sitting in a Symposium with many of my fellow Greeks as they were discussing love. In the end the same question was born. What is the meaning of life? What does it all mean and so forth? When the question met me I had to think long and hard. Now today the first thing that comes to my mind is that your question already presupposes itself an initial answer for if we are to give meaning to our lives we first have to live. Therefore one of the first meanings of life is in fact to live. Now two men may see life as a different thing. In Greece many men consider their children an extension of their lives. Many of us Greek Philosopher’s consider our life’s work to be more or less the essence of our lives. For Rome I can see that power and establishing many other regions under Rome’s control is an extension of the dream and life that is itself Rome. Many of your soldiers have themselves sacrificed their lives for the life and glory of Rome, have they not?
Romulus: Yes, Indeed they have.
S. Then we should never say that their lives were lost for nothing as long as the life of Rome still exists. And if she shall ever die, so then will the lives that have been given to protect her.
Romulus: So you are saying the purpose of life is to live?
S. Well Colonel, I believe there are many different interpretations of what living really is. Many people on this earth spend their lives hiding out or running away from others instead of taking a stand and fighting for their lives. They however may argue that they are fleeing in order “not to die”. But not dying may not necessarily be living in every person’s opinion eh?
Romulus: Certainly Yes. But what of others outside of Rome. What do the people of Greece live for?
S. Ah well as I have said, many fathers have dedicated their lives to bringing up their children. Furthermore plenty of them would sacrifice themselves in order to save the lives of their children. Therefore when we ask the question “what is the purpose of life” and we respond, “to live” then we additionally must add that we would be willing to sacrifice our lives for the purpose of saving our own children’s. Which is itself a form of continuing our own life.
Romulus: Forgive me Socrates. I am no Philosopher but yet a simple military man. Do not people in Greece live for money, for love, for food?
S. I believe they enjoy these things while they live but if it came between these things and life they would choose life. Then, once their lives are secured, they do indeed seek after these sorts of things as the ones you have listed today.
Romulus: So then, “how” do we “live” life?
S. I am not sure, how do you live yours?
R. What are you saying?
S. I am suggesting that with each moment that we live our lives we give meaning to it. There is no need to ask each other or look high into the heavens for answers. They are right here in front of you, here and now. The meaning that you are giving to your life is perhaps the meaning of it.
R. I am impressed Socrates, you do not reach high into the Heavens for answers that you cannot possibly understand. What you say is quite simple and comprehensible.
S. Well thank you very much Master Romulus.
Plato: Yes Romulus. If I may echo what you have pointed out for all to hear. It is very easy to get distracted by people with exotic, promising and hopeful answers to all life’s questions. What is right and wrong? What happens to us after we die? How did we get here? And, tonight’s discussion, why are we here. As Socrates has so eloquently put it, perhaps the choice is yours. As one of my good friends from Greece said, “Man is the measure of all things”.
R. But don’t you subscribe to your cultures belief in the Gods?
P. At the Academy we do not dare to stray into areas of religion. They are based on beliefs and those are of a personal nature. At the academy we focus on areas of academia and knowledge. Science, math, rhetoric and so forth. We would never disqualify the possibility of the existence of Gods, however, we cannot in good faith pretend to have proof of their existence.
R. I see, and what of those who say our very existence is proof of the Gods existence.
Plato: Romulus please, do not set a trap for me my friend. I cannot begin to understand what is incomprehensible to me. I dare not tread in waters that I do not know how to navigate. I am a man, and as a man I abide by the laws my country gives to me.
R. And what of the thousands of other spiritual men who think they understand the ways of the Gods?
P. They are on their own path and I shouldn’t presume to judge them.
R. Well my dear Greeks, I must say, I am very impressed with both of you. I may even send my son to this academy of yours! I’m sure he would learn much and enjoy the extracurricular activities in Greece!
S. Oh yes. Please do send him, I will show him the best dancing and karaoke bars he has ever seen.
And so the Roman trip was concluded at that point and after three nights of celebrating (mostly by Socrates) the trio of wise Greeks made their way back to Athens to return to teaching. The question that was posed, “what is the meaning of life?” is a dangerous question and almost a trick one. Be weary of others who answer it with a definitive answer. As Socrates said, the choice is yours and the meaning that you are giving to your life is already taking place. So, the question still stands for each of us, “What will the meaning of our lives be?” Don’t worry about it just yet, you have your whole life to figure it out and discover.
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