He studied there with W. Balgarnie, a classicist who also taught and greatly influenced James Hilton. Cornford at Cambridge, Havelock began to question the received wisdom about the nature of pre-Socratic philosophy and, in particular, about its relationship with Socratic thought. In The Literate Revolution in Greece, his penultimate book, Havelock recalls being struck by a discrepancy between the language used by the philosophers he was studying and the heavily Platonic idiom with which it was interpreted in the standard texts.

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Shelves: favorites My summer project of reading Ancient Greek Philosophy got off to a rough start when I stumbled through Platos Republic. Expecting an insightful, albeit idealistic political solution, I was sorely confused. Interspersed between polemics against Poetry and Homer, I found traces of a simplistic, totalitarian regime. Even the running of this regime was not elaborated upon, except in the branch of education. After scouring the internet wildly for answers, I found two likely solutions to my quandary.

The second was this book. The details in education are given because of the role Poetry played in Ancient Greek education, and this is the aspect of Poetry that Plato is attacking. Havelock makes a lot of other insightful points about vocabularly etc, half of which went over my head. Further I do not understand Greek. However, the construction of his hypotheses, whether they are validated by fact or not, is intriguing in itself.

He really made me think, and question in a way I was not used to. A part of the work has become identified with the whole, or the meaning of a label has shifted in translation. But if the label has a popular and recognisable ring, it can come to exercise a kind of thought control over those who take the book in their hands.

They form an expectation which accords with the title but is belied by much of the substance of what the author has to say. They cling to a preconception of his intentions, insensibly allowing their minds to mould the content of what they read into the required shape.

Were it not for the title, it might be read for what it is, rather than as an essay in utopian political theory. It is a fact that only about a third of the work concerns itself with statecraft as such.

The text deals at length and often with a great variety of matters which bear on the human condition, but these are matters which would certainly have no place in a modem treatise on politics. Not only is he answering my concern about the lack of political theory, he is making the seemingly obvious hypothesis that maybe it is not about political theory at all.

The presentation of this hypothesis, however, disguises its sheer brilliance. Through all my confusion, I not once doubted that Plato aimed to write on political theory. Not sure if I buy it completely, however, it asks really interesting questions about the impact of our means of communication on our fundamental thinking.

The way he describes the process of self-realization is equally fascinating. And when this day came, science would awaken again. However, while few people claim to be Platonic idealists, the way we continue to describe our world in abstractions definitely has deeper parallels to Plato then I initially thought. Once again, his description of this historical process is in itself, thought-provoking.


Preface to Plato



Eric A. Havelock


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