Saturday, February 28, 2004

Plato and the Founding of the Academy

Okay, those of you who have been with this blog since it's conception in October 2003 will know, by merely reading the title of this, that I am psychologically compensating for the fact that I ran Lil Kim's ill na-na as lead blog for two whole days straight. I can hear your collective groans from the outer limits of the blogosphere. In my fevered ex-Catholic mind I am wondering whether or not that fact makes me a pormographer. I know: I crave intellectual respectablity despite the fact that I am an inveterate gossip with a hankering for the naughty. That having been confessed, my dear reader, please hear me out on this decidedly non-snarky blog, my guilt here does not mean that the following review of John Bremer's book Plato and the Founding of the Academy, by one Noam Gedalof, from the St. John's College Alumni newsletter is not fucking fascinating. Plato's Republic to me has always been as darkly beautiful and mysterious as the Ancient Greek sense of equating morality with Geometry, even going so far as to imply in Aristotle that a formula for virtue could be found in The Golden Mean.

Give it a shot, like you might a glass of good cognac. I think it is really interesting if not amusing, like I usually am (or try to be). Noam writes in his book review:

John Bremer
says he has come into the possession of a letter purporting to be from Plato himself, and addressed to his great nephew. Bremer, a former St. John's (College) tutor, describes how the letter came into his possession, presents the text in English, and in 100 pages of footnotes and other tabulations and analyses develops and clarifies the letter's contents.

"In the letter, the author elaborates a scheme of the design of The Republic based on a twelve hour reading period, beginning at noon and ending at midnight. The way into duration is the sylable count. The Republic may be divided into 240 three minute units -- each of roughly 750 syllables. (Bremer calls them Bremer Units) The speed is fast, but not unrealistic. Plato would have composed on wax tablets, most likely of equal size, and in this way he could keep track of both the number of syllables on each tablet themselves -- by numbering them. He could follow the time frame in which each part of the conversation played out. And he could also -- and he surely did -- compose each numbered tablet with reference to other tablets, and often with them side to side.

"What emerges when The Republic is viewed through this lens is an architectural marvel -- suffused with symmetries musical, astronomical, geometrical, even choreographic. The famous Divided Line, for example, itself divided in extreme and mean ratio, comes at precisely The Golden Section (the point which divides in extreme and mean ratio) of the duration of the conversation. An elaborate and precise ring composition also reveals itself. Bremer has shown this with a table that places summaries of tablets 1 and 240, 2 and 239, and so on, side by side.

"The design of The Republic for once finds concrete exposition in Bremer's work -- a truly new way to read the ancient text."

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