Saturday, November 15, 2014

Plutarch, On the Genius of Socrates (Part III: Assault and Victory)

Theanor the Pythagorean enthusiastically affirms the story of Timarchus that was related by Simmias, noting that people will take swans, dogs, and reptiles to be sacred animals, and yet are for some reason averse to thinking that a human being could be a sacred animal, as well. In reality, the gods pick out some human beings and train them in divine signs:

Now as one that loves horses doth not take an equal care of the whole kind, but always choosing out some one excellent, rides, trains, feeds, and loves him above the rest; so amongst men, the superior powers, choosing, as it were, the best out of the whole herd, breed them more carefully and nicely; not directing them, it is true, by reins and bridles, but by reason imparted by certain notices and signs, which the vulgar and common sort do not understand. For neither do all dogs know the huntsman's, nor all horses the jockey's signs; but those that are bred to it are easily directed by a whistle or a hollow, and very readily obey.

The gods themselves direct very few such souls, and only those that they wish to raise to the heights of happiness. When these people die, they are not, like the rest of us, reincarnated, but instead become daemons or daemon-like things, advising and encouraging others. (His analogy is that of an old wrestler becoming a wrestling coach!) When some of us have been reincarnated a thousand times or more, having worked out the baser mistakes, the daemons are permitted by the gods to step in and give us extra help.

Epaminondas at this point notes that Caiphisias has a wrestling appointment elsewhere, but Caiphisias draws him, Theocritus, and Galaxidorus off to a corner of the porch. They try again to get Epaminondas in on the conspiracy; but he replies again that while he knows about it, the key issue is that it is intolerable for Theban citizens to be killed without due process of law. In addition, if the conspiracy is going to go through, there need to be citizens outside the conspiracy itself, who can be recognized as having an impartial point of view; otherwise, everything done in that direction will look as if it were just done for private ends. Epaminondas goes back to Simmias, while Caiphisias and the others head off to the gym for wrestling, during which they finalize revolution plans. From there, Phyllidas takes charge of Archias and his crowd, egging them on to partying in the hopes of keeping them from executing Amphitheus before anything can be done.

As night draws on, it is cold and stormy, and different bands of conspirators meet with different exiles: "Some as they entered had a flash of lightning on their right-hand, without a clap of thunder, and that portended safety and glory; intimating that their actions should be splendid and without danger." Forty-eight conspirators and exiles then met at Simmias's house. However, as they are meeting and Theocritus is making the sacrifices for an auspicious endeavor, guards from Archias bang on the door. Charon goes out with them and is told that he is summoned by Philip and Archias. The conspirators, of course, assume that they have been discovered, with most suspecting Hipposthenides. Charon sets out, but not before handing his fifteen-year-old son to his co-conspirators, telling them that they should kill him if Charon betrays anything of the conspiracy. (The conspirators, while admiring the bravery and commitment to the cause, are insulted by the gesture, and tell him to send his son elsewhere so that if worst comes to worst he will not be harmed by the association. Charon refuses, however, and insists that his son should stay.) After Charon is gone, another conspirator comes in, and hearing about Charon, demands that they set the plan in motion, lest they wait too long. Theocritus also comes in and says that his sacrifices are auspicious.

They thus start arming themselves, but, while they are doing so, Charon returns in an excellent mood. Archias and Philip were staggering drunk. Archias said he had heard that there were exiles returned and hiding in the city. Charon, acting surprised, replied that he has heard nothing, and that it might just be an idle rumor stirring up trouble; but he promised that he would ask around to find out what was going on. Thus, Charon suggests, the time is right for moving.

It has begun to snow, and the wind is blowing fiercely. The conspirators and exiles divide into parties and head out to strike at the tyrants. Charon had scarcely left Archias when Archias received an urgent message from Athens that laid bare the entire plot. But by this point Archias was falling-down drunk and, eager for women, tossed it aside without reading it, saying that business was for the morning. They assault Archias's house, and Archias dies, as does Philip; Cabirichus, the Theban chosen as archon by lot, they try to convince to stand with the revolution. Unfortunately, persuading drunk people is very difficult, and one of the conspirators ends up killing him, as well. In the meantime, the assault on Leontidas has proceeded, as the conspirators pretend to have an urgent letter for him. The servants open the door, and they all rush in. Leontidas, hearing the commotion, is ready for them, but he makes the mistake of keeping the candles lit rather than using the cover of darkness. He manages to run Cephisodorus through and to wound Pelopidas, but Pelopidas finally manages to strike a fatal blow; he falls on dying Cephisodorus, who dies with a smile on his face. They then assault the house of Hypates, and kill him as he is trying to flee across the roof of his neighbor's house.

Everyone meets in the forum, and they all head to the prison. Phyllidas tries to fool the jailkeeper by saying that Archias wants him to bring out Amphitheus for his execution; but the jailkeeper is not fooled, and Phyllidas ends up running him through. They free all the prisoners, and the word of what is happening begins to spread through the city.

Caiphisias goes to the temple of Minerva, where Epaminondas, Gorgidas, and their friends are gathered, and gives them the news. They declare the freedom of the city and begin arming the Theban citizens. Hipposthenides and his friends come out and join in, as well. They assault the fortress and its defenders. Inside the fortress, the defenders are perplexed; Lysanoridas the Spartan gave them orders to stay inside, but he is, by chance, not there that day. They finally surrender.

And thus was Thebes liberated.

So, with such an intricate, complicated, layered structure, what in the world is going on in this dialogue?

(to be continued)

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