Socrates Redux: Antigone Competition Winners

A Brace of Brilliant Skits

A couple of days ago we revealed the dozen or so runners-up in our latest (and 7th!) Antigone competition. As you well remember, we asked you to imagine how things would play out if Socrates himself were dragged-and-dropped into the 21st century. Who would he argue with, and how would the conversation go? (Not so well, we may wonder…)

After many hours of thigh-rubbing pleasure and pearl-clutching anguish, we eventually hit upon a final pair of most worthy winners. One is pitched in all-too-realistic management-speak English, and the other sparkles in the Platonic dress of Ancient Greek. We hope you enjoy them as much as we did!

Our winning entry proved to be rather close to the bone for many of the judges, as it sees Socrates striding straight onto the university campus. Its author, who feels that a nom de plume may be a more prudent move in public, carries off the £250 prize. Many congratulations indeed!

The Vice-Chancellor

(Setting: Café in a University management centre, ground floor, somewhere in the Western world.)

Socrates: Hello there, Madam. Where are you off to in such a hurry?

Vice-Chancellor: What’s that? To another meeting, of course. I was just grabbing my pm caffeine hit.

(Laughs weakly, walking briskly.)

And to whom am I speaking?

Socrates: Socrates, the son of Sophroniscus, of the Deme of Alopece.

(Vice-Chancellor stops.)

Vice-Chancellor: O, you’re a Dean, did you say? I’m sorry, I didn’t recognize you… But I don’t think we’ve met.

Socrates: A “Dean”? No. At least, I don’t think so. But from your godlike manner and attire, I can see you are someone of great importance in this City. Perhaps you can help me. 

Vice-Chancellor: Important, yes. I am the Vice-Chancellor of this University, in case you didn’t know. No offence, Mr – was it “Socrates”? – but you must excuse me. I have important people waiting for me.

(She makes to start walking away again, towards the nearby elevator.)

Socrates: Just one moment. A “Vice-Chancellor”, did you say? Why, then, you are exactly the kind of person I have been seeking.

(Vice-Chancellor stops again, looking restless.)

You can surely teach me: what is a University?

Vice-Chancellor: What is a University? Where have you been these last thousand years?

Socrates: Please, only answer my question. For I suppose that a Vice-Chancellor must be a kind of statesman of the University world, and someone who would be wise on these matters, if anyone could be.

Vice-Chancellor: Yes, Socrates. They would hardly pay me so handsomely if I did not know a thing or two about what goes on here, would they?

Socrates: I could hardly say. But if you know so much, you above all can make clear to me the nature of this institution which you govern so wisely.

Vice-Chancellor: Socrates, this is a place of education. At least, that’s our advertised core business. Google the Charter.

Socrates: A place of education? Excellent. So, a University then would not be like other institutions, for example, the shops in the agora, where the traders hawk their wares. I mean, because the University’s principal aim is education, not selling things, or any other purpose.

Vice-Chancellor: Indeed.

Socrates: And what then is education, your “core business”, as you call it?

Vice-Chancellor: What is education? Whoever in the world doesn’t know that?

Socrates: Socrates does not know, Madam Vice Chancellor. What I am sure of is that you can teach me, if you will shine the light of your wisdom into the darkness of my ignorance.

Vice-Chancellor: Education is the teaching of young people. Mostly young… we also take fee-paying mature-age enrolments, a good earner.

Socrates: And as the Vice-Chancellor of this University, which is a place of teaching young people (mostly, as you say), am I right in supposing that you must be the wisest amongst all of the teachers who teach here? For how else would you know so much about what goes on? It would be impossible.

Vice-Chancellor: Me, a teacher? By the Budget, no! I have not taught anyone these twenty years…

Socrates: Well, surely if the primary goal of this University is teaching, and you know the most about what happens here, as you say (that is why you are paid so nobly), then you must at least know a good deal about teaching, even though you no longer teach yourself. 

Vice-Chancellor: Sure. I know our numbers, across the entire raft of our different silos, going forward. And I know the same numbers of our competitors. I know also about our teaching budgets, and the percentage of our income which comes from international and fee-paying students, government subsidies per enrolment… The trick is always to get the most from the least.

Socrates: I am quite sure it is. Even the least student knows more than they guess. They can always surprise you, can’t they? But here is my problem.

Vice-Chancellor: There’s a problem?

Socrates: Yes, forgive me, but nothing of what you just said has helped me understand what the education you are offering here involves.

Vice-Chancellor: What do you mean?

Socrates: Well, imagine if I asked you about training horses. And you said you knew all about it, you ran the entire stable. Then I asked about what this training involved. You’d say, “Why, Socrates, it’s about instructing and disciplining the horses, when to go fast, when slow, how to bear a rider…”, and the like. 

Vice-Chancellor: Yes.

Socrates: You wouldn’t say: “I know all about it, Socrates. You see, we have fifteen horses, while our competitor has only twelve, and we get this much money from our brown horses, and this much from our greys…” Or would you?

(Vice-Chancellor, now visibly uneasy, begins to edge towards the elevator.)

Vice-Chancellor: I’m not sure what you mean, Socrates. Look. I was just in the café to get my soybean latte. And as I said, right now, there are important people I need to meet, so…

Socrates: You are going to meet some of your teachers? Wonderful! Please, let me come along! I would very much like to converse with them.

Vice-Chancellor: Converse with the teachers? Socrates, most of them have less time than I do. And I hardly think they’d find this whole question-answer game of yours any more amusing than I have. We don’t pay them to sit in corners and whisper with old men.Not that we pay them any more than we have to… 

Socrates: All the same, only let me come up with you in your elevator! Perhaps your teachers will explain to me the purpose of a University…

(Vice-Chancellor now loses temper.)

Vice-Chancellor: Listen, Socrates, you old fool, I’m not going to meet any teachers! As I said, I am meeting important people – not teachers! Why, if you really want, there’s hundreds of them around here. They’re the young, harried-looking people, or some among them. Just go across campus to the student mall.

But really, I think I’ve been very patient. Now, leave me be, before I call University Security.

(Vice-Chancellor exits at a gallop, into an open elevator, going up.)

Lycinus Secundus, Australia

The second prize also falls to a contestant from Down Under (where there must be something in the water). His remarkable entry sees Socrates engage Stephen Hawking on the questions not just of where the human form and the universe come from but on what aspects of “self-knowledge” matter most, when you really sit down and think about it.

The quality of the Greek prose is truly formidable; one of the judges observes that “in 20 years of teaching and examining Greek prose at university level, I have seen no better Platonic composition, nor any so free from error.” This achievement is all the more astounding, given that its composer is a complete autodidact, who has never had any teaching in Greek (or indeed Latin). As we have said often enough on this website, almost all of the resources (from beginner to expert) that anyone could need for learning Latin and Greek exist freely online. If you really want them, just take them.

Στέφανος, ἢ Περὶ τοῦ παντός

ΣΤΕΦ˙ χάριν γε ἡμῖν, ὦ Σώκρατες, τοῖς σοφοῖς δεῖ ἔχειν.

ΣΩΚ˙ τί δή, ὦ Στέφανε;

ΣΤΕΦ˙ εἰώθεις γὰρ οὖν τόδε ἑκάστῳ παρακελεύεσθαι, ἑαυτὸν γνῶναι· οὐ γάρ;

ΣΩΚ˙ παρεκελευόμην μέντοι νὴ Δία, καὶ ἔτι νῦν ταὐτὰ ταῦτα παρακελεύομαι.

ΣΤΕΦ˙ ἀλλὰ μὲν δὴ τῷ γε ταῦτα ἐπισταμένῳ καί σε διδάξαι ἐθέλοντι πολλὴν χάριν ἂν εἰδείης;

ΣΩΚ˙ πλείστην μὲν οὖν.

ΣΤΕΦ˙ ἐμοί τ᾽ ἄρα, ὦ Σώκρατες, πλείστην δεῖ ἀποδοῦναι χάριν καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις σοφοῖς, οἵπερ οὖν καὶ τὰ τοιαῦτα πάντα διαφερόντως ἴσμεν.

ΣΩΚ˙ Ἡράκλεις· οὐκοῦν σὺ δὴ οἴει σαυτὸν γνῶναι;

ΣΤΕΦ˙ οὐ μόνον γε, ἀλλὰ καὶ οἶδα· νῦν μὲν οὖν ταῦτά σοι ἂν ἐνδειξαίμην, εἰ βούλει, ἀλλὰ μέντοι εἴ γε ἀσχολίαν ἄγεις, εἰς αὖθις ἀναλάβωμεν αὐτά.

ΣΩΚ˙ ἤδη τοίνυν, ὦ μακάριε, ταύτην με δίδαξον τὴν ἐπιστήμην· οὐ γὰρ πώποτε εἰς τοσοῦτον μεγαλοφροσύνης ἦλθον ὥστε μήτε ἐθελῆσαι παρ᾽ ἄλλων μαθεῖν, μήτε τῷ διδάξαντι ἀποδοῦναι χάριν.

ΣΤΕΦ˙ καὶ μήν, ὦ Σώκρατες, πολλὰ δὴ καὶ θαυμάσια ηὑρήκαμεν οἱ σοφοὶ ἡμεῖς, οὐ μὴν ἀλλὰ μιᾷ γε μεθόδῳ χρώμενοι μόνον· ὅσῳ μὲν γὰρ ἂν ἅπερ ὑπεθέμεθα ὡς ἀληθῆ ὄντα ταῖς γ᾽ ἐμπειρίαις βασανισθέντα μᾶλλον βεβαιῶται, τοσούτῳ μᾶλλον εἰκὸς ταῦθ᾽ ἡγούμεθα εἶναι, ἀλλ᾽ οὖν δὴ καὶ τἆλλα χαίρειν ἐῶμεν καὶ τὰ τῶν φιλοσόφων μάταια. παγκάλως γοῦν τὸ τοῦ Εὐριπίδου δοκεῖ λέγεσθαι, ὡς ἄρα

                          ‘ὃς δ᾽ εὐγλωσσίᾳ
νικᾷ, σοφὸς µέν, ἀλλ᾽ ἐγὼ τὰ πράγµατα
κρείσσω νοµίζω τῶν λόγων ἀεί ποτε.’

ἀλλ᾽ οὖν, φαίη τις ἄν, τί ποθ᾽ οἱ σοφοὶ ταύτῃ ἀνηυρηκέναι διισχυρίζονται; τόδε μὴν εἴποιμ᾽ ἄν, ὅτι κατ᾽ ἀρχὰς ἐγένετο τὸ πᾶν οὔθ᾽ ὑπ᾽ οὐδενὸς γεννηθέν, οὔτ᾽ οὐδενὸς ἕνεκα.

ΣΩΚ˙ τί δέ; ἦ χωρὶς αἰτίου γε φῂς γενέσθαι τὸ πᾶν;

ΣΤΕΦ˙ φημὶ γὰρ οὖν. εἰ γάρ τοι δι᾽ ἄλλο τι ἐγεννήθη, ἐν χρόνῳ ἂν ἐκεῖνο ὑπῆρξεν ἵνα τοῦτο ἐγέννησεν, ἀλλ᾽ ἀδύνατον, ὦ φίλε· ἅμα γοῦν τῷ παντὶ ἐγένετο αὐτό, ὁ χρόνος, πρότερον δ᾽ οὔ. καὶ μὲν δὴ καὶ ὅθεν γ᾽ ἐγένετο τὸ πᾶν, ἐντεῦθεν πανταχοῖ τε ηὔξετο καὶ ἀμηχάνως ὡς ταχύ· τάχιστα μέν γε δή φησι τὴν Ἥραν Ὅμηρος πέτεσθαι δύνασθαι, λέγων ὅτι

‘ὡς δ᾽ ὅτ᾽ ἂν ἀΐξῃ νόος ἀνέρος, ὅς τ᾽ ἐπὶ πολλὴν
γαῖαν ἐληλουθὼς φρεσὶ πευκαλίμῃσι νοήσῃ
ἔνθ᾽ εἴην ἢ ἔνθα, μενοινήῃσί τε πολλά,
ὣς κραιπνῶς μεμαυῖα διέπτατο πότνια Ἥρη’·

ἀλλὰ μέντοι θᾶττόν γε ηὐξήθη τότε τὸ πᾶν. ἐγεννήθη δὴ ἄστρα, ἃ καὶ ἀνὰ τὸ σκοτεινὸν ἐξέλαμπεν· ἐπειδὴ οὖν ταῦθ᾽ οὕτως ἐκλάμψαντα θερμότερα γένοιτο ἢ ὥστ’ ἐν τῇ αὐτῇ ἕξει διαμένειν, ἐκραγέντα ἐξίει εἰς τὸ καλούμενον κενὸν μέρη πολλὰ καὶ παντοῖα, καὶ δὴ ἐκ τούτων καὶ πυκνουμένων τὰ ἐνθάδε πεποίηται πάντα.

ὁρᾷς ἄρα, ὦ Σώκρατες, ὅτι ὥσπερ ὁ φοῖνιξ ἐκ τῆς τέφρας γίγνεσθαι λέγεται, οὕτως καὶ ἀτεχνῶς τοιοῦτός ἐστιν ἄνθρωπος οἷος ἐκ τῶν μερῶν ἐκείνων συγκεῖσθαι ἅπερ ἄστρα ἐκραγέντα ἐξῆκεν, καὶ δὴ καὶ πῶς αὐτὸς γέγονεν παντὶ τρόπῳ ἐπισκέψασθαι· τοιγάρτοι ἑαυτόν γε γνώσεται ὃς ἂν ταύτῃ εἰδῇ οἷος ὤν.

ἐκείνην οὖν, ὦ φίλε, τὴν ἐπιστήμην, ἧς σὺ δὴ καὶ πολλὰ ἔτη σφόδρα ἐπιθυμεῖς τυχεῖν, παρ᾽ ἐμοῦ εἴληφας.

ΣΩΚ˙ θαυμασίως γε νὴ τὴν Ἥραν λέγεις, ὦ Στέφανε· εἰ δ᾽ οὖν καὶ ὀρθῶς, οὔπω οἶδα ἔγωγε. τίνα δὴ φῂς αὑτὸν γιγνώσκειν; οὐχὶ τὸν εἰδότα πῶς αὐτὸς γέγονεν;

ΣΤΕΦ˙ ἔγωγε· ἕκαστος γὰρ οὖν δὴ ἡμῶν ἐστιν οἷόσπερ πέφυκεν εἶναι, ἀλλ᾽ οὐ μὴν ἔσθ᾽ ὅπως ἄν τις μάθοι ὅπῃ αὐτὸς πέφυκεν μὴ τὴν αὑτοῦ γένεσιν ἐπιστάμενος.

ΣΩΚ˙ αὐτὸ δὲ καλόν τι οἴει εἶναι, τὸ αὑτὸν γνῶναι;

ΣΤΕΦ˙ οὐ δῆτα ἀλλὰ κάλλιστον.

ΣΩΚ˙ φέρε δή, ἐπισκεψώμεθα τί λέγεις. καί μοι εἰπέ· τῷ γ’ ἐν θαλάττῃ χειμαζομένῳ πότερον κάλλιόν ἐστιν εἰδέναι ὅτι ἐκ σμικρῶν δὴ μερῶν τυγχάνει πεφυκώς, ἢ μᾶλλον ἐκείνην ἔχειν τὴν ἐπιστήμην ᾗ κρίνων τά τε ὡς ἀληθῶς δεινὰ ὄντα καὶ τὰ μή, ἀσφαλῶς ἂν κινδυνεύοι πάντας κινδύνους καὶ αὐτὸς σωθείη;

ΣΤΕΦ˙ οὕτω μᾶλλον.

ΣΩΚ˙ καὶ ἀνδρείαν δὴ ὀρθῶς καλοῦμεν αὐτήν;

ΣΤΕΦ˙ τί οὖν;

ΣΩΚ˙ ἀνέχεσθαι γε χρή, ὦ Στέφανε, ἐμοῦ ἐπιχειροῦντος ἄλλους ἐξετάζειν· ἐπεί τοι καὶ κατὰ σμικρὸν προϊὼν τοὺς λόγους ποιοῦμαι, φοβούμενος ἑκάστοτε μή ποτε λάθω δι᾽ ἀμέλειαν ἢ διὰ ῥᾳθυμίαν ἐξαμαρτών.

ΣΤΕΦ˙ ὀρθῶς γε σὺ τοίνυν ποιῶν.

ΣΩΚ˙ μὴ οὖν θαύμαζε τὰ ἐρωτώμενα, ἀλλ᾽ ἀποκρίνου· τῷ δὴ ἡδονῶν τινων κατὰ τύχην γευσαμένῳ κάλλιον ἔσται ἐὰν μάθῃ συγκείμενός πως, ἢ ἐὰν μηδενὶ τρόπῳ ἥττων ὢν τῶν ἡδονῶν, ταῖς μὲν ἐμμέτροις χαίρειν ἐπίστηται, τῶν δὲ καὶ σφοδροτέρων κρατεῖν;

ΣΤΕΦ˙ δῆλον δὴ τοῦτό γε κάλλιον ἔσται.

ΣΩΚ˙ οὐκοῦν σωφροσύνην λέγεις ταύτην τὴν ἐπιστήμην;

ΣΤΕΦ˙ σωφροσύνην γὰρ οὖν· ἀτὰρ μὴ ἐπὶ τῷ λόγῳ τὴν ἄλλην ἡμέραν διατρίβωμεν, ἔστω καὶ περὶ τῶν ἄλλων ἀρετῶν ὡσαύτως. ἀλλὰ πρὸς τί ταῦτα ἐρωτᾷς;

ΣΩΚ˙ εἰ ἄρα καὶ τῷ μήκει τῆς ἐξετάσεως ἀγανακτεῖς ταυτησί, προΐωμεν δὴ ἵνα περανθῇ. καὶ μὲν δὴ ἐπιστήμας γέ τινας ὡμολογήκαμεν εἶναι ὧν ἑκάστη καλλίων ἢ εἰδέναι πῶς ἕκαστος ἐγένετο· ἢ οὐ μνημονεύεις;

ΣΤΕΦ˙ ἔγωγε.

ΣΩΚ˙ ἀλλὰ μὴν κάλλιστόν γε ἔφης τὸ αὑτὸν γνῶναι· ἦ γάρ;

ΣΤΕΦ˙ ναί.

ΣΩΚ˙ οὐκ ἄρ᾽ ἂν εἴη ποτὲ ταὐτόν, ὦ Στέφανε, τό τε τὴν αὑτοῦ γένεσιν εἰδέναι καὶ τὸ αὑτὸν γνῶναι.

ΣΤΕΦ˙ οὐκ ἔοικεν· καίτοι εὖ γ᾽ ἴσθι ὅτι οὐ μὴ σκοπῶν παύσωμαι τὸ πᾶν, οὐδ᾽ ἐάν με πολλάκις ἐξελέγχῃς· τοὺς γὰρ δὴ σοφούς φημι μυριάκις ηὑρηκέναι ὠφελιμώτατα τοῖς ἀνθρώποις πᾶσιν, καὶ εὑρήσειν ἄλλα μυρία οἷα οὐκ ἄν τις τῶν νῦν μαντεύσαιτο. 

ΣΩΚ˙ ταῦτ᾽ ἔστω, καὶ πρός γ᾽ ὑμῖν μὲν δὴ τοῖς σοφοῖς χάριν ἀποδίδωμι τῶν ἤδη ηὑρημένων, σοὶ δ᾽ οὖν αὐτῷ, ὦ Στέφανε, σφόδρα παρακελεύομαι διατελεῖν ὅτι βούλει σκοπῶν· ζήτει τοίνυν ἄστρα τε δή, εἴτ᾽ οὖν ἐξερράγη ταῦτ’ εἴτε μή, καὶ πλανητὰ καὶ φῶς περικαλλὲς καὶ σύνθετα καὶ μέρη καὶ τἄλλ᾽ ὄντως ὄντα, ζήτει τὸν χρόνον ὅτι ποτ᾽ ἐστὶ καὶ πότε γέγονε καὶ ποῦ, ζήτει τὸ κενὸν πῶς ἔχει καὶ πῶς δι᾽ αὐτοῦ τἆλλα κινεῖται καὶ πῶς ἄλλων τινῶν παρόντων κάμπτεται, ὥσπερ ἂν εἴ τις τῶν ἀθανάτων θεῶν τόξα παλίντονα τιταίνοι, οὐ γὰρ ἔσθ᾽ ὅπως οὐ πάμπολλ᾽ εὑρήσεις ᾗ βέλτιον ἂν μάθοιμεν τὸ πᾶν· ἂν μέντοι τοῦτό γε βούλῃ μαθεῖν, ὡς χρὴ καθ᾽ ἑκάστην ἡμέραν ἀνδρείως τε καὶ σωφρόνως καὶ δικαίως πράττειν πάντα, οὐδὲν δεήσει πραγματεύεσθαι τῶν τηλόθι πέρι, καὶ γὰρ σπουδῇ διαλεγόμενος ἄλλοις ἀνθρώποις, καὶ ὅτι ἂν οἴωνται εἰδέναι ἐξετάζων ἐμμέτρως, καὶ προσέχων τὸν νοῦν τοῖς τῶν φιλοσόφων, κἄν σοι μάταια φαίνηται τὰ νῦν, τάδε γ᾽ ἐνθάδ᾽ ἄν που καὶ εὕροις καὶ μάθοις ᾗ σὺ δὴ οἷός τ᾽ ἔσῃ ὡς ἄριστα διαβιῶναι τὸν ἄλλον βίον.

Stephen, or, On the universe

Stephen Hawking: You should thank us scientists, Socrates.

Socrates: Why is that, Stephen?

Stephen: Well, you used to encourage everyone to know themselves, did you not?

Socrates: By Zeus, I did indeed! And I still encourage the same things now.

Stephen: And I suppose you would be very grateful to someone knowing these things and willing to teach you?

Socrates: Most grateful, in fact!

Stephen: So then, Socrates, you should be most grateful to me and other scientists – we are the ones who, beyond all others, know all these things.

Socrates: By Heracles! So you think you know yourself?

Stephen: I don’t just think so – I know so. Indeed, I could reveal these things to you right now, if you like! But if you’re too busy now, let’s take them up later.

Socrates: My dear sir, please teach me this knowledge right now – I’ve never been too proud to be willing to learn from others, or to thank whoever has taught me.

Stephen: OK then, Socrates: we scientists have made many wonderful discoveries. But we’ve done this using just one single method: for we judge the probability of our hypotheses depending on the extent to which they have been confirmed experimentally, and we ignore everything else – especially the empty studies of philosophers. One of Euripides’ quotes makes the point splendidly:

‘he who conquers by eloquence is clever, but I have always considered facts greater than words.’

‘So then,’ I imagine someone will ask, ‘just what are these discoveries which scientists claim to have made in this manner?’ Here’s how I’d respond: in the beginning, the universe came into being without having been produced by, or because of, anything.

Socrates: What? Are you really claiming that the universe came into being without a cause?

Stephen: I am indeed. For you see, if the universe was created due to something else, then that other thing would have already existed in time, in order to produce the universe. But that’s impossible, my friend: time itself came into being together with the universe, not before. And then the universe expanded in all directions from that single point, with unbelievable speed – by way of comparison, Homer describes Hera’s ability to fly very quickly, saying that:

‘Quick as a thought goes flashing through a man
who’s traveled the world – “Ah to be there, or there!” –
as his mind swarms with journeys, fresh desires –
so quick in her eager flight flew noble Hera now’ –

and yet the universe expanded even faster at that time. Next, stars formed, shining in the darkness. Whenever those shining stars became too hot to maintain their same state, they exploded, projecting into the so-called ‘void’ many different types of particles. Everything here on Earth has been made out of the condensation of those particles.

You see then, Socrates, that just as the phoenix is said to come into being out of burnt ashes, so too a human being is simply a composite of those particles which exploding stars emitted – a composite who investigates their own origin in every way. Therefore, whoever knows their own nature in this way will also know themselves – and as a result, my friend, you’ve now received from me that knowledge which you’ve so desired to obtain for many years.

Socrates: Βy Hera, you speak wonderfully, Stephen! However, I don’t know yet whether you also speak truly. Who is that you claim knows themselves? Is it whoever knows their own origin?

Stephen: Exactly – for each of us is what they’ve been formed by nature to be, but no-one can learn how they’ve been formed unless they also know their own origin.

Socrates: And do you think that knowing oneself is, in itself, a fine thing?

Stephen: The finest, rather.

Socrates: OK, let’s examine what you are saying. Tell me this: is it finer for someone caught in a storm at sea (a) to know that they happen to have been formed from small particles, or rather (b) to possess that knowledge by which they can distinguish the things that are truly to be feared from those that are not, and – by means of this – securely run all risks and save themselves?

Stephen: The latter.

Socrates: And we correctly call this knowledge ‘courage’?

Stephen: What’s your point?

Socrates: Ah, Stephen, one must be patient with me when I try to examine others. For you see, I carry out my reasoning advancing by little steps, fearing on each occasion that, through carelessness or rashness, I might fall into error unawares.

Stephen: And you are quite correct to do so.

Socrates: Don’t be surprised then at my questions, but just respond: will it finer for someone who, by chance, has tasted some pleasures if they (a) understand that they are themselves, in some fashion, a compound, or instead if they, (b) being in no way enslaved to pleasures, know how to enjoy the moderate ones, and master the more intense ones?

Stephen: Clearly the latter will be finer.

Socrates: And you call such knowledge ‘self-control’?

Stephen: Yes, ‘self-control’ – and now, to avoid spending the rest of the day on this argument, let’s just assume that the same applies in the case of the other virtues too. But what’s your point in asking these things?

Socrates: Ah, if you’re now also impatient with the length of this examination, let’s advance and bring it to a conclusion. So then, we’ve agreed that there are some types of knowledge which are finer than knowing everyone’s origin: or don’t you remember?

Stephen: I do.

Socrates: But you said knowing oneself is finest, right?

Stephen: Υes.

Socrates: It follows, Stephen, that knowing one’s origin could not, in any way, be the same thing as knowing oneself.

Stephen: It seems not; and yet, as you know well, I will not cease studying the universe – not even if you should refute me many times over! Scientists have, I claim, on countless occasions discovered most useful things for the benefit of the whole human race, and will discover countless more things – things that no-one today could even foretell.

Socrates: Let us grant it; in addition, I do indeed thank you scientists for the discoveries which you have already made; as for you yourself, Stephen, I very much exhort you to go on investigating whatever you wish: investigate stars – whether or not they have exploded – and planets, and majestic light, and compounds, and particles, and whatever else actually exists; investigate time – what it is, when it came into being, and where; investigate space – its nature, how everything else moves through it, and how it’s curved when certain other things are present, like one of the immortal gods drawing their curved bow; for I’m sure that you’ll discover a great many things by which we may better understand the universe; if, however, you wish to learn this – how you ought to act every day, and in every action, in accordance with courage, self-restraint, and justice – you won’t need to busy yourself with things far away, for, by earnestly conversing with other people, examining in an appropriate way whatever they think they know, and paying attention to the studies of philosophers – even if they seem ‘empty’ to you for the time being – you might just discover and learn, right here, those things by which you will be able to live the rest of your life in the best possible way.

Chad Bochan, Australia

Very generously, and most illuminatingly, the author has provided a spectacularly learned summary of both the linguistic and philosophical issues raised in the piece. There is no-one currently wandering this globous Earth with plain outspred who can read it without learning something new, so please do give it a look – if if if if if you are curious.

Myriad thanks to everyone who took the time and effort to enter this last competition. We really were bowled over by how many clever and creative ideas you troubled to work up. Our next competition will probably be in the realm of art, so hang tight thitherto!