Sunday, June 12, 2016

Sonnets of Seven Greek Philosophers: Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Zeno of Citium, Diogenes of Sinope, Heraclitus, & Protagoras (Additions to "The Apology Box")

                   Plato’s Sonnet
            (A liberated caveman)

When I was tethered up inside the cave
Where I could see but shadows on the wall
I craved to see how Real Things would behave.
I plotted my escape through study:  all

Real Things should be discoverable in the end
Though first unseen directly.  I knew there
Must be Real Forms somewhere since shades depend
On Something Real to cast them.  With great care,

I studied every shadow so I might
Infer what cast the umbrage.  In that way
I burrowed backward out into the Light.
I now see plainly Forms have Forms, and they

Have culmination here in that one Form
Of Good that I predicted as the Norm.

                 Aristotle’s Sonnet

A thing is not worth less for having use.
The practical thus merits study, too,
And though we’ve axioms that we deduce,
Pure theory’s not the only thing we do.

Our life’s a mix of logic and of sense
That we must catalogue if we would know.
I thus plumbed rules and crafts, found no offense
In usefulness of anything I’d know.

And now a shade I see beyond all doubt
That theory’s blind with practice taken out.
For though I’d thought I’d navigated all,

I find I’m checked in heaven.  I can’t call
Out to the unmoved mover, make a plea
Since one unmoved can never answer me.

        Epicurus’s Prelude, Sonnet, & Postlude

Although the larger bits have now disbursed,
The finer ones continue to cohere--
I still have thought.  The mind has not yet burst
Into its dainty specks.  It would appear
I have some minutes left to bend an ear:

What is the point of living if not well?
And what is living well if not to live
By grounded principles that parallel
The real and concrete and can therefore give
Sure means of our improvement?  Therefore, we
Work up from what we sense with judgment.  This
Leads us to atoms, voids and liberty.
We study these in search of lasting bliss—
Not blasts of joyous atoms that are shot
In moments.  We would have the greater good
Of long untroubled times.  The constant’s what
We seek and not the fleeting.  As we should,
We only ask for leave to live out life
With reason minimizing needless strife.

What more to say?  I’ll simply end it there
And settle in--no one has cause to care.
I am the foe of anguish everywhere.

             Zeno Of Citium’s Double Sonnet
             (Greek father of Stoicism)

I, Zeno’s spark, have molted now at last
Into essential fire.  I’ve wafted past
The lower regions.  Lighter since I’ve cast
Off bone and flesh that held me to the ground,
My spark by nature now rose Heaven bound
As pre-determined by the universe.
There’s nothing known to man that fire can’t heat
Which proves of course affinity with all
(Since lacking close relation fire could not
Effect such heat.)  Thus, nothing’s foreign to
Fire, meaning nothing’s different from it. Hence,
We see that fire’s the basic element,
And as it’s basic and as fire must burn,
Life is determined every way we turn.

Will can’t change fire into a thing that must
Not burn.  Without such freedom of the will,
All is determined and the rational mind
Therefore concedes its fate.  If mind would be
Not only wise but virtuous as well,
Such resignation is consensual.
To question fate would be unnatural
Since all that must unfold is natural.
Right therefore bears its fortune willingly,
And unfleshed mind is lighter meaning it
Must flicker up to Heaven as it’s done.
To question that would be unnatural, wrong,
And foolish.  All’s determined.  Gods can’t doubt
They naturally lack the power to snuff me out.

            Diogenes Of Sinope’s Sonnet
       (A Greek who loathed crimes against nature)

There’s nothing more disgusting than a crime
That runs afoul of nature, that inverts
Her just proportions, smears her essence.  I’m
An enemy of any who perverts
True nature.  Thus, when Alexander stood
Between the sun and my tub (an eclipse
Of scepters, diadems and fabrics he
Was born without yet wrapped round him no less)
I boldly made him move.  I would not stand
The unnaturalness of flesh all sceptered up
Or the unnatural act of blocking light
That nature cast upon me from the sun.
Thus, I, too, chase men’s “riches,” “honors” though
I chase them off instead of chasing them.

               Heraclitus’ Sonnet

We can’t go back.  Each thing is nevermore
At once.  Our “ancient” rivers aren’t old.  For
Each moment changes currents, makes them new
So “ancient’ rivers must always be new.

To be is change.  Thus, extant rivers pour.
We can’t grasp terms unless we know therefore
Their opposites.  We can’t know “good” before
We have some mastery of “evil,” too.

We can’t go back yet claim that we explore.
So change is not a thing wise men deplore.
The tension of its opposites at war

Pulls concepts taut that resting would undo.
We stand here sharper since change overthrew
Flesh for a shade and would be sharpened more.

            Protagoras’s Double Sonnet
         (A frank and level-headed Greek)

In life or death, we struggle with the swirl
Of sense we face, we try to render it
Controllable in ways that make it fit.
We face such struggle lacking absolutes
To bring consensus when we disagree.
Without good proof there are no absolutes
Yet having proof requires proof’s instruments
Which cannot read themselves.  Reading requires
Observers for the deed and since there are
Uncountable observers there cannot
Be just one vantage point that’s absolute.
Such logic holds in death as well as life.
Since different shades and gods see differently
No absolute can measure what they see.

We measure us by how we measure us,
By how we find we tame that swirl of sense
Surrounding us.  Without an absolute,
No “common sense” can bring consensus when
We have our different ends.  Of course, we could
By imitating brutes use force to sway
But that would not account for moral qualms
(Which are as real and forceful as the rest
Of our experience).  We therefore need
Some better measures where we disagree.
We find that in word’s bloodless rhetoric.
Protagoras is proud he sheathed his sword.
And drew consensus with his measured word
That drew men round him rather than their blood.

© Harold Anthony Lloyd 2016
The current contents of "The Apology Box" can be found here.

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