Plato, Part 1
The swan flew into the sky, singing a full-throated song of the purest sweetness.
Later, in the marketplaces and harbours of the ancient world, in temples and sacred groves, in Athens and Sicily, in Megara and Italy, they would whisper the stories to each other.
Did you know, they said … have you heard …
Someone would lay another log on the fire, flames rising, the fire alive, crackling with blood and grease, the sacrifice rising to the Gods.
Later still, as the world grew up, as the ancient world gave way to Christ and Mohammed, as the light faded and the long darkness began to fall, to be found around such a fire, telling such stories, with such people - eventually all this was a passport to a slow and very painful death.
But still they told the stories, because some things matter more than pain.
And still they listened, because some things matter more than staying alive.
He was the son of God, they said. Apollo’s child.
Ariston was married to Perictione. Ariston was descended from Codrus, the last King of Athens, the King who had voluntarily given up his life to save the city. Perictione came from the lineage of Solon, the lawgiver of the ancient world, the man who had established the laws of the city and then left for 10 years so that he would not be pressured into changing them.
A noble lineage, a noble pair.
To be descended from Codrus and Solon was glorious. But his lineage, they said, as they pulled their cloaks tighter and the flames licked higher, his lineage was more glorious still.
One night, Apollo came to Ariston in a dream and forbid him from intercourse with Perictione. Ariston obeyed. 10 months later, on Apollo’s birthday, on the exact day that Apollo had been born in Delos, Perictione bore a son.
Yes, they said. Yes. That Palestinian carpenter called Joseph, his wife Mary … yes. That’s exactly the same story.
Some stories are eternal because some people are eternal.
After the infant was born, Ariston and Perictione took him up the sacred mountain to make a sacrifice to the Muses. So that they could begin, Perictione laid the baby down amongst the myrtle trees.
Suddenly a thick swarm of bees appeared, buzzing, the air heavy with their sound and their menace. There were so many that the light itself changed, turning to darkness, the sun blotted out by the overwhelming buzzing cloud. Panic arose in Ariston’s chest, a cold fear gripping his heart, a wild pounding in his head, his body shaking, and blindly he fought forward, animal instinct driving him to the infant.
Perictione laid a palm against his wrist, the gesture soft, halting Ariston, pulling him out of the panic and returning him to the world. She tilted her head, nodded it forward, and said silently, without speaking, look.
The swarm of bees had settled around the infant’s mouth. The baby slept serenely on, a little smile-grimace on its face. The buzzing was no longer menacing. It was melodic and tender, a symphony for the sleeping child.
Ariston breathed, a long deep breath that came up from the soles of his shoes, that came up in fact from the mountain underneath it, and beneath the mountain the earth, and beneath the earth the depths of the underworld, and the beneath the depths of the underworld the unlimited light of the Gods … he breathed a breath, or the breath breathed him, and then he turned away from the bees and the child and returned to building the fire for the sacred sacrifice.
After the rites had been completed, Perictione took the child into her arms. His mouth was full of honey.
The child grew and a time arrived when Ariston and Perictione decided that he needed more teaching and education than they were capable of giving him. One morning, Ariston took the little boy to the Master they wanted for their son. They arrived as he was talking to a group of people, so Ariston stood quietly at the back, waiting for him to finish.
The Master appeared to be telling the group about a dream he had had the previous night. A baby swan, the bird of Apollo, the God that the Master was bound to, had flown onto his lap. Immediately, the cygnet grew into a full-blown swan and it flew into the sky, extending its wings to the heavens, singing a full-throated song of the purest sweetness.
Suddenly, the Master stopped.
“Come here,” he said.
Without hesitation, the little boy stepped forward.
“Here,” said the Master. “Here is the swan I met last night.”
And that was how Plato met Socrates and became his disciple.