Objections and Opposition
But this is abrupt, sir, and too absurd
For men’s more serious contemplation!
Xanthias, plainly be thy poor counsel
Corrupted by a fantasy of fools!
Boys that instruct themselves on manfulness?
‘Tis like a grape that turns itself to wine
But by the guidance of a fellow grape!
‘Tis like a lump of iron that finds a
White furnace and beats itself to a sword!
What nonsense might these misdirected minds
Style themselves if not scorn for their elders?
Does not already now a boy’s friendship
With others to his age make for sparring?
Do not already now a boy’s elders
Provide the base on which to build his mind?
This, my proposal, would tether each lad’s
Progress more to its formalization,
And leverage thy legislated intent
Such that the climate of their fellowship
Could inspirit respect of those above
As well below. For by his own tutor
May a boy imbibe the code and conduct
Of that which thy society commands,
And likewise to his young pupil impart.
In this tender tripartite of passion
Will thrive a fervent aversion to vice,
For each shall perceive in his chief and charge
The faultless reflection of his own face,
At once preventing its violation.
Enraptured by the spotless resplendence
Of their enduring self-discovery,
Thy sons shall make of their athletic limbs
A temple at once to three separate gods:
To Hermes, of youth and able action;
To Heracles, of super-human strength;
And to Eros, of passionate longing
For the beauty of eternal friendship
That blossoms by his lessons learned in love.
In love, sir?! Love?! Yet my soul but staggers
At the sophist who could forge us the fame
Of Athens with an ambiguity!
“Lessons learned in love?” Where, O sage, find we
Worth in the fruitless love ‘twixt half-made men?!
The worth, sir, is thy nation’s remedy!
Else shall three inconstant, quarrelsome clans
Dive toward their venomous civil war,
Plundering but the promise of their state!
What ship will sail in contempt of its wind?
What beast will brawl in contempt of its brawn?
What unsound assembly would govern men
In contempt of the steadfast hearts it heeds?
None, lest it looks to its own destruction!
Love alone hath strength enough to brave and
Build this precarious place called Athens!
If we are convinced, Epimenides,
‘Tis by the lurch and lee of thy wind’s words,
The salt of thy sea’s persuasive passion,
And the crashing fervor of its unproved romance.
Yet the morrow, when thy storm’s dispute hath
Fled the domed and cloudless, blue-built daylight,
‘Tis parched privation shall wake us – weary
Sailors on a shipwrecked shore whose white sun –
Tacit, unblinking – beams at our folly.
How unlike the brave Odysseus we land,
Scouring all across the Phaeacian beach,
Yet finding not a one fresh pluckable maid.
Are we back to the matter of young flesh?
Methinks I did just make it clear, my friends:
‘Tis in that very high-born company
Of their personal teachers and tyros,
Thy sons shall find solid satisfaction
Until such time as they may find a wife.
Ages twelve to thirty in a youth’s bed
Is too odd a conduct for younger boys.
If occasional passions be pried, ‘tis well.
Yet Eros is a limited creature;
He’ll not for such protracted time be seen
To supervise the molding of our men.
But come, friends, beyond this base discussion
To that which its assumptions doth suggest:
‘Twill expect, for us to adopt this school,
The consecration of our minds to peace,
And peace, we may agree, is a fine thing.
Yet peace and its ways breed passivity,
And passive men to their pleasures make slaves.
Such will we have become, then, in the midst
Of a burgeoning, breathtaking Hellas,
Where city-states by the dozen increase
Their bounds, seeking evermore to expand
Their property, possession and commerce.
Shall we to their aggression be peaceful?
From their competition shall we cower?
And what of the barbarians beyond,
And after them of unknown monsters still?
Will peace-loving loverboys appease them?
Peace, Epimenides, is a fine thing,
Yet War as the thing for men is finer.
He stands the merciless, perfect trainer;
He brooks from boys no lazy rot of limbs,
Nor else that misspent sweat but for a squirt
Of nightly pleasure ‘twixt each others’ thighs.
Who here regrets his clan in rivalry,
When ‘tis by that very constant conflict
We teach our sons their endless vigilance?
Our fathers lived and died as warriors.
Our heroes all are celebrated so
But for their dexterity in battle.
Our very gods this world their realm declared
But by their trumpet with the Titans clashed!
War is the vigour’d paean to our lives!
Are we to stand here today beneath this
Foreigner’s ill-considered arrogance
And find our ancient heritage deposed?
Shall we suddenly make of our Athens
A laughing stock ‘cross known and unknown worlds?
I must hope not, for such will destroy us.
Athenians, ‘tis not in our city
A demon that stirs us our skirmishes,
‘Tis a bless’d and affirmative spirit
What pulls it taut our contentious tension
Such that boys and men alike stay nimble.
Let us not then from our streets banish War:
Let us embrace him herein among us,
Survive or sacrifice to him as one,
And ever keep our civic sinews lean.
Xanthias, Love is a noble virtue,
Valued by all good men in microcosm,
Necessary for the arts of marriage
And the garlanding of competent sons.
Yet as such, he lives a private fellow,
And is ill at ease in the Agora.
An advanced position, Pythodorus,
And one I doth urge my clansmen accept.