Plato: and his dialogues - Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson - PDF ebook (Critic)

Plato: and his dialogues

Plato: and his dialogues
Plato: and his dialogues


Tue chapters that follow were originally delivered Object of as broadcast talks. I have extended the quotations from Plato but otherwise have reprinted the talks substantially as they were spoken. For it began to make a book out of them there is no knowing where I should stop; and in the end, I should probably lose the readers I have in mind—men and women who are not and do not mean to be scholars, who have not much leisure to devote to reading, but who want to know something about one of the most remarkable thinkers of the Western world. I am, however, taking the opportunity to say in a few words of introduction why I think it important to read Plato. 

For that is a view that may be disputed. It was, I think, Cobden who observed how preposterous it is that youths in the universities, who know nothing about the Mississippi, should know all about the little Athenian stream called the Ilissus. Nevertheless the Ilissus, in a sense, is more important than the Mississippi; for it was the scene of Plato’s dialogue the Phaedrus. Art, love, philosophy, ideas, are worth more than geography or geology, or trade, and the latter has only value so far as they minister to the former. 

I say this thus dogmatically not because I want to be provocative, but in order to clear the ground. Those who think otherwise Why Plato is important Similarity of the age of Plato to the Modern World should, and no doubt will keep altogether away from Plato. Some, however, of those who agree with this dogma may nevertheless insist that there is no point in reading Plato. He lived, they may say, more than two thousand years ago, he wrote in a language which, however fine a medium it may be, is dead: which will never be known in any form to most modern men; and even by scholars can never be known as it was to those who spoke it. 

As to the language, I agree. I think it is indeed the most perfect language of those I imperfectly know. But I am not speaking now to those who will read it in the original, but to those who will use translations. And I am saying that I think it well worth their while to use them. I would say this if I had in mind only the literary value of the dialogues. 

But I am not now thinking even of that. I claim that there are few writers in the whole course of Western history who will better repay study, for the matter not merely for the manner, than this Greek; and I will give my reasons why. There has, I believe, never been an age so like our own as the age of ancient Greece. Of course, the Greek world was tiny, as the Ilissus is tiny compared to the Mississippi. Of course, it was different in all its externals from our world. It had no railways, steamships, oil ships, motor- cars, telegraphs, telephones, wireless, cinemas. But what of that? These are the external trappings mixed, like everything else, of the most complicated goods and evils. What makes ancient Greece important for us is that it was faced by essentially the same political, philosophic, and religious problems as ourselves and that it dis- cussed them with an intelligence, a freshness, and a vigor which will hardly be found in the same measure in any later literature. I, at any rate, never come back to Greek books without a sudden sense of a lightening of the gloom, of clarity, first-handedness, and ever vigorous life of the mind.

Author:: Goldsworthy Lowes Dickinson
Publication date:1931

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