Plato’s Symposium is a curious text: a philosophical treatise on love, a play about a dinner party in classical Athens where the guests are all flirty and catty, and a story-within-a-story that goes at least five layers deep. Suzanne and Chris consider what it means to get intellectually pregnant, to philosophically crash a party, and to find your missing half.
For a young man all is decorous
when he is cut down in battle and torn with the sharp bronze, and lies there
dead, and though dead still all that shows about him is beautiful;
but when an old man is dead and down, and the dogs mutilate
the grey head and the grey beard and the parts that are secret,
this, for all sad mortality, is the sight most pitiful. (22.56-76)
Suzanne and Chris begin their conversations about great books with a very big and very old one: Homer’s Iliad. This Ancient Greek poem about the Trojan War is, of course, widely known, but if you haven’t read it (or if you haven’t read it in a while), you might not remember how complex (and downright strange) it gets with its reflections on war and the fallout of war. They also talk about the joys of dipping in and out of books, rather than reading them from cover to cover.
The Iliad by Homer, in the Richmond Lattimore translation.
A lecture on “The Disordered Soul: Thémis and PTSD”.
Christopher Logue’s War Music is a classic recent radical translation/retelling of the Iliad.
Next episode: The Symposium by Plato.
Reading is far from dead. More people than ever are reading—on Kindles, iPads, and phones, in paperbacks and hardcover. The choice of what to read is endless: new online content appears every morning, and many of us have that ever-growing pile of “books I might read someday.” Some of the books in that pile might be so-called “classics,” “great books” that have been read for hundreds—even thousands—of years. But who picks up a copy of Homer’s Iliad from the bookstore table, or downloads a copy of Dante’s Divine Comedy? These books aren’t always easy to begin, and the fact that you might have studied them in college or high school just makes them seem more like work and not play. It’s not always clear how to get into these books: Can you skip parts? Can you start at the end? Why isn’t this more like a novel?
At The Spouter-Inn, we want to invite you into a series of conversations about books—how they’re shaped, what kind of world they come out of, and how they speak to us right now. We’ll talk about how it feels to connect with minds from the distant past. Suzanne teaches these books for a living and likes nothing more than to talk about them; Chris is familiar with some of these books, less so with others. Whether you’ve done the reading or are just curious, join us for some conversation, here at The Spouter-Inn.