Socrates, Part 2

Socrates went down to the marketplace and spent drachmas he didn’t have on the teachers, on the men who promised wisdom and enlightenment.

Socrates, Part 2
The ancient Agora of Athens

(If you're just coming to this, Part 1 is here.)

If you think Twitter is opinionated you should have been around in Athens circa 500 B.C. You couldn’t walk more than a few feet without stubbing your toe against a man promising to teach you how the world really worked.

Come, they would whisper into your ear. Come here, come with me, and I will let you in on the big secret, the one piece of knowledge that will blow your mind, the one thing that you need to know, come and let me teach you how to be rich, happy, wise, fulfilled, in touch with God … everything!

Payment in advance, please. You understand … I do this because I love you, because it’s my passion and my purpose to help human beings … but, you know, we all have to live, right? And, anyway, who are you to judge the motives and the actions of the wise? Once you’re enlightened, you will understand.

Now come, let me enlighten you - and today, just for you, I’ll throw in my other course - The 10 Secrets of the Great Warrior Achilles That Will Change Your Life Forever - absolutely free.

Come, my friend, let me help you.

And off they went, the youth of Athens, opening their wallets wide and their hearts even wider, searching, longing for the thing that would make sense of their tumultuous world, for a salve for their suffering, for a cure to the whole damned business of being human.

And there they stood, the serried ranks of the teachers of wisdom, elbows working, scooping up the pain and the longing, taking youthful dreams and eternal suffering and turning them into cold, hard cash.

Socrates went down to the marketplace and spent drachmas he didn’t have on the teachers, on the men who promised wisdom and enlightenment.

He listened to Anaxagoras, who taught that it was nous (mind, intellect, spirit) which set the world in motion; he chatted with Thrasymachus, who said that justice was a sham and that might was right; he had an extended and unusually courteous discussion with Protagoras, the former porter who had made a fortune out of teaching philosophy, who claimed that man is the measure of all things; he had a rather more heated exchange with Callicles …

One could go on forever; and sometimes, it felt to Socrates like it did, because teachers of wisdom are not normally distinguished for their brevity. But Socrates really wanted to know how to live and so he listened, summoning the powers of absorption for which he was famous, listening so closely that it made those he was listening to uncomfortable.

Somewhere, thought Socrates, somewhere, in some moment, with someone, he would find the pearl that would make all the searching worthwhile, the wisdom that would redeem the mockery, the pain, the confusion and the uncertainty.

So on and on he searched.

But answer came there none, dear Reader. You and I might have stopped asking and become management consultants, but Socrates was a different beast. He doubled down on his quest.

Only now, instead of asking the self-appointed purveyors of wisdom, he asked everyone.

Every morning Socrates would eat his porridge, put on his sandals and his toga, and stroll down to the marketplace. On his way, and once there, he would ask anyone unfortunate enough to run into him, How should a man live? What is good? What is valuable?

This got him severely disliked on all sides, a fact which would serious implications later. But a little dislike was not going to stop a man like Socrates. He didn’t even notice it, really. What he did notice, and what did bother him, was that he didn’t seem to be getting anywhere in his search for wisdom. How should he live? What was a good life?

In fact, it wasn’t just that he was getting nowhere. He actually felt more confused than he had been at the start.

It was then that something rather startling happened.

(Read Part 3 here)