Plato’s Phaedo: In the Beginning, there were two… (59c-60e)

This article is the fourth installment of my translation of Plato’s Phaedo. Please read the previous installment before continuing. If you are just jumping in, please begin with my introduction.

The next section of the Phaedo is incredibly dense and confusing. For those of you who are continuing and will continue to read this dialogue, I ask that you show patience and don’t attempt to try to “know” the dialogue or try to make sense of it as you would a news article or a history book. Plato must be approached as a piece of poetry in that sense, and less as a doctrine of philosophy. The linear conversation in the dialogue, the linear procession is just a decoration on the outside of the cake, as the nature of time and space truly is. It is better to allow for insight, into the patterns that emerge, and into the concepts that are juxtaposed in order to affect our attention, and therefore our awakening.

This passage could be regarded as the event horizon of this dialogue. It is the initial emergence from the Source. Since we are perceiving this dialogue in a holographic reality, it too is a portion of the hologram, and so contains the image of the whole. All of Plato’s dialogues are structured in this manner. If you can understand the deep significance of the beginning section of any dialogue, you will already understand the rest of it as a whole. If you deeply understand one dialogue, you will grasp the whole of Plato. If you can comprehend the nature of the seed, you will see the fruits it will inevitably bear. If you look deeply into yourself, you will find the whole of the universe. Plato modeled his dialogues on the nature this reality, which is holographic, as I have said many times on this blog. Your life is also a hologram, that manifests as a whole, whose footprint is revealed through any single part of it. Plato wrote in a very strange manner, and it is a strangeness that is generally overlooked because academics are too busy trying to pin down his meaning or trying to look intelligent enough to complete their PhD. Plato wasn’t interested in supplying us more knowledge. He was interested in awakening us from within the Soul essence, which is not a determined logical structure within the time/space continuum of the matrix. The Soul is not and can never be a prisoner of that holographic system. But as human beings, we are initially submerged within it, as if submerged into a dream. Still, as long as we retain connection to Soul or Source, we can awaken from the dream, in order to witness the Whole (the World) and catch a glimpse of the Whole as reflected in the parts inside our own lives. I emphasize glimpse, because it is not possible for us to see in any finite way, the infinite possible worlds/wholes, let alone the entire Whole.

How does Plato awaken us to the dream? He does so by doing very odd things from within the dialogue. It is my job as translator to shed some light on some of the strangeness of the dialogue, the puns, the allusions, the metaphors, and various other techniques used to shake us out of our stupor. I cannot possibly cover all, but only a few, through my essays and footnotes. Plato is endlessly fascinating, and the beauty of his dialogues runs as deep as you are willing to travel within yourself. There is a reason why Whitehead wrote:

The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.

– Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality, p. 39 [Free Press, 1979];

Plato was, above all things, a witness of the possibilities within the seed that is the Whole, a seed that is only accessible through the comprehension of your Soul, which to him is what constitutes who YOU are, YOUR humanity. You cannot use the mind, on the other hand, to access this Whole, because the mind is similar the knife, as the Tarot suit of Knives suggests: it cuts and divides and can be used to push things together with a razor edge. It requires argument and proof in order to create sense, and those who rely on it, do not access or trust their own inner sense of Soul.

Tarot: 8 of Swords. The mind as knives

The Soul is an illumination, not an argument, and so is associated with wisdom, not knowledge. It is associated with Seeing, and not understanding. It is Being, and not an Object of mind. It is pure presence which cannot be objectified, proven, or demonstrated. It is the true mystery, but it is, ultimately who we are.

In this section, Phaedo, whose name means “shining (one)”, tells Execrates that he will attempt to describe everything from him from the beginning (ex archēs). The phrase ex archēs, means from the beginning, or from the Source.  This is the same word that is used in the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) when referring to the beginning, when God created the world. Archē is a very powerful idea, and it is no accident that Plato uses it in the mouth of Phaedo. “The beginning” however is as a black hole, a mystery that we do not see.  From it, however, emerges everything (panta) and so it marks the event horizon, the boundary between the visible universe and the invisible or incomprehensible. What emerges from that mysterious Source is of course, the two. It must be remarked the for the Pythagoreans one is not a true number, but is that from which all numbers emerge. It is the Source, the dark mystery, the black whole of number. Two, on the other hand, is the first number.  Two, which represents the emergence of what is visible, and so a conceptualized invisible. In this very account, we are witnessing the birth of duality in this world: the unseen and the seen, the Source of the story, and the story.

Phaedo launches his story by telling Execrates that every morning, at that time and always, they gathered together at dawn in the court house, the very one where the trial of Socrates began.  Again, we are seeing different forms of beginnings. Dawn is the beginning of day.  The first of all the “dawns” is the beginning of the time he is describing. Furthermore, the beginning of the day takes place where the beginning of the trial occurred.  All days begin where night and darkness ends, or so it seems.  This passage almost feels like the common genesis stories, stories that contain the origin of the gods or heroes, strange flora and fauna, or monsters. At one point, all was one, and then they were born, each one in their time. Incidentally, if you remember, Apollo was the god whose holy day allowed Socrates to continue to live during this time. Apollo is the sun god, lord of the daylight. But he was also, before Hades took over the Greek imagination, a good of death and darkness, the underworld and the night. Yet, even until this day, Apollo is thought of as being a god of the Sun, of light, of the intellect, of even Justice. He was, essentially, through the mechanism of mind, divided into two and separated from himself. His “darker half” went into the personification of Hades, god of the underworld, whose name, incidentally, is similar to the word that means “unsung”.

Phaedo points out that they all gathered in the court house, which is right next to the prison. Justice requires a prison, a place to hide the ones who do not follow the laws, the ones who will often face death, or a lifetime of separation from those who are “free”.  The duality of light/dark shows up again here, in the form of the limit and the unlimited. Those who are free, believe that they are unlimited. Those that are prison are seen as limited.  Those who are in prison cannot operate in the light of day. Those who are not in prison are in the light.  Good is what is outside the prison, namely, the law, and the courthouse. Bad is what is inside the prison. Socrates, as the philosopher has been placed into the dark side, the side that must be punishable by death. But death, like the beginning, is as dark as a black hole – it is beyond the event horizon, and as far as mysteries are concern are identical.

Xanthippe, Socrates wife is then banished from the stage. Her behavior is described as “typical of women, full of crying, and moaning”. Socrates has her removed. This is very strange, because Phaedo just told us that Apollodorus was the one crying and screaming about Socrates’ upcoming death. Is Phaedo’s story accurate? Does linear accuracy have any impact on the Whole? Do timelines or understanding them have any power whatsoever over the divine will? I will leave that question to you. I will just put in that Execrates requested to hear the logoi, the philosophical conversations. In Plato, philosophy means “love of wisdom” which means the desire to experience wisdom, or enlightenment. Imagine that I tell you about a man who fell in love with a pond because he saw his reflection in it and thought it was beautiful. Isn’t it true that the surface story, a man falling in love with a reflection, could be considered “true” or “accurate”? But, what if I told you that it wasn’t very accurate, and that the story tells something beyond its surface about the nature of ego, and the nature of self when it attempts to reflect upon itself. Philosophical dialogue is the dialogue beneath the surface dialogue. That is where Phaedo takes us.

The passage ends with Socrates commenting on the nature of duality in terms of pain and pleasure. He notices that pain is always shortly followed by pleasure and pleasure is also shortly followed by pain.  This “rat race” continues in terms of time and space, and so he imagines that Aesop would have described it as the two, who are truly connected at Source level, nevertheless pretend to be opposites who hate one another. This comment of Socrates is the core around with this dialogue spins, around with the matrix spins. Our belief in the illusion of separation of opposites, is what creates the very suffering that we then attempt to avoid. That suffering is shortly followed by pleasure to some degree, to be soon replaced again by suffering. It is duality inside dualities inside dualities. The hologram is profoundly infinite in number, but, at the same time, limited in its capacity to comprehend Being, the essence of the Whole, or Source. The limitation of the ego is revealed in its fear of death, its desire to maintain the belief in the dualities of life/death, male/female, just/unjust, limit/unlimited, as if they were real and true as functions of our identity as Souls.

Confused yet? You should be. The Pythagoreans held that the two opposites, the straight and the curved were phenomena in this reality.  The curved will, if uninterrupted, create the shape of a circle, and if the consciousness does not arise vertically, it will stay a circle. Only if the consciousness rises vertically, will the circle become a spiral. Spirals are a principle of this reality.  On the other hand, a straight line is the opposite of a circle that appears to separate itself from the Source or the beginning. Linear time is that kind of illusion. It never allows for the return to the Source, and it always finds itself at a dead end. It doesn’t matter if the consciousness arises or falls – it will always be linear. Nothing in nature is actually linear except through the imaginative construct of mind. If you read this dialogue as if it were a linear story, the begins at the moment you read it, and ends at the moment you stop, the presence of the hologram that it expresses will be completely missed, the hologram that your life expressed, and so your good life.

I’ll attempt to guide
[1] you through everything from the beginning.  For forever[2], and so also during the last few days, we were accustomed, both myself and others, to spend time around Socrates, by gathering altogether at dawn, near a courthouse, the very one when where his trial was born[3]: for the house of justice was next to the prison. Each morning while we were waiting for the prison to open, we’d pass the time talking with each other, since the prison didn’t open very early. But when it did open, we would go straight to Socrates’ side and we’d spend much of the day[4] with him.

Now, it was on that particular day that we gathered earlier than usual because on the day prior – we had always left the prison at dusk- we had learned that the ship would be arriving from Delos. So, we all urged each other to arrive at the earliest time at our customary[5] place. But as soon as we arrived, the doorkeeper came out to us, the same one who usually would obey our wishes[6], and told us to wait and not to approach Socrates until he himself commanded us: “The eleven are freeing[7] Socrates and they command that he complete his life[8]today”.   Not too long after, he came back and ordered us to go inside. Upon entering, we caught sight of Socrates who had just been freed[9], but we also saw Xanthippe – you know her – seated, holding his little boy. When Xanthippe saw us, she cried out and said the sorts of things that women customarily say, like “Socrates! Now is the very last time your students will talk to you, and you to them.” And Socrates, glancing at Crito said, “Crito! Have someone take her home.” Some of Crito’s men led her away as she continued to shout and beat her breast. And then Socrates sat up upon his bed, and began to bend his leg as he rubbed it with his hand. As he rubbed his leg, he said “How strange it seems to be, men, this thing human beings call `pleasure’, in that it naturally grows in the direction of its apparent opposite, namely, `suffering’. Yet, although the duo[10] don’t want to be present at the same time in a human being; whenever someone pursues and takes one, they are always required to take the other as well. It’s as if both, though two, are bound together from one head. “It seems to me,” he said, “that if Aesop had noticed this, he would have put together a story like this: The god, in being unable to make the two enemies friendly with each other, attached both of their heads to the same thing.  This is why, when one is produced in a human being, the other will shortly follow later, like what is happening to me now: there appeared to be suffering in my leg from the shackles, and now pleasure, following from behind, appears to have arrived.”

[1] diēgēsasthai. Generic translation means “to describe”, but the world literally means “to guide or lead” (hegemony). Phaedo, whose name means light or bright one, would be a good guide.

[2] aei. Translation is “forever” or “always”. The word looks and sounds like it could be a privative of the conditional conjunction, ei, translated as “if”.  The opposite of conditional would be unconditional, that is to say, forever.

[3] ē dikē egeneto.  Translation is “trial was born”. The imagery here is one of birth, as the usage of egeneto (root: -gen-, genesis). The entire section describes being around Socrates during the day light, as the sun rises, where the trial was born. It should be noted that the word ē dike, is also the goddess of Justice herself. It is a word that means justice in the abstract, as well as institutions that claim to substantiate it. Plato wrote a dialogue that asks the question, What is Justice? It is called The Republic. In any case, Phaedo is the light that is guiding is to the light that surrounds Socrates, and what transpired it within that day light.

[4] diēmereuomen. This is a verb that means spend the day with. Literally “to do the day”. Time here is expressed as something we actively do or create.  I suppose it is similar to the say “Make my day.” If I really wanted a good English translation, I would say “We dayed a lot with Socrates”.

[5] to eiōthos. The customary activity is now a noun.  “the customary thing”.

[6] The one who obeys now commands.

[7] lyousi. They are freeing him in the prison. This is referring to untying his legs. The irony should be clear. They are freeing him in the prison.

[8] Notice the power over the end (life). The house of justice creates a human structure of time, where life’s end is dictated by the justice system.

[9] Not freed from the prison. It is interesting to use that word here. Freedom in this sense is not unconditional, but conditional always.

[10] Ancient Greek has singular, plural, and dual nouns and verbs. Socrates uses the dual when he says “two, bound together from the head”. The dual noun emphasizes the unity of the two into one.

3 thoughts on “Plato’s Phaedo: In the Beginning, there were two… (59c-60e)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: