Marathon and the 21st Century

Are we still fighting the Greek Persian wars? With the many book tokens I got for Xmas I bought Umberto Eco On Beauty.

This has a discussion of Homer and the beauty of Helen. It describes the views of Socrates and Plato as actually being completely different and contradictory, something I had not clearly picked up on before.

For example Plato argued school children should not be taught art, but only geometry, as art is always a misrepresentation of the real truth.


The imitator is a long way off the truth

This idea is fundamental to modern Islam, submission to the truth of Allah, only geometry, no real depiction. It is a Persian and probably Egyptian idea, related to hierarchical societies with one god and their human representative in charge. It is also a continual very strong thread in xianity.

In Contrast, Socrates and much Greek thinking was pragmatic and realistic. Socrates is reported by Xenophon in Memorabilia as asking

Do your statues not have that sense of life because you closely imitate the forms of living beings? Shouldn’t we also portray the threatening look in the eyes of warriors, shouldn’t we imitate the look of the conqueror flushed with success? Indeed we should.

In this way, then, the sculptor can depict the workings of the soul through external forms. And so even a basket for carrying rubbish is thus a beautiful thing? And a golden shield may be an ugly thing, if the former is well suited and the latter ill suited to their respective purposes

Plato and Paul use the idea of the glass darkly, of us struggling to find the truth or of god, or some ideal. The Greeks said umm beauty is here, is a golden shield really beautiful or is it ugly because it does not work as a shield?

Humans have created at least two world wide religions based on this assumption of the ideal – new heaven and earth, Christ bringing together god and man, houris in paradise.

Are we seeing in the twenty first century a series of religious civil wars between groups with basically the same concept of the ideal, that somehow diverts them into asserting via for example suicide bombers that my truth is truer than yours, and dumping on the rest of humanity the collateral damage caused by their inability to be pragmatic, to get on with attempting to represent life, with increasing skill and artistry and knowledge?


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