An Interview with Socrates & Plato
I have long been waiting for the death of either Sir Conan Doyle or Flammarion. As no other great men of our age have so convincingly promised immortality to our souls, I have been hesitant about sending through other medium a message to my remote ancestors, Socrates and Plato, with the supplication that they grant me an interview on earth.
For, I have been very anxious that they look over our progress and give me an appraisal of our civilization.
I couched my invitation in terms, which, I thought, would not fail to tempt the curiosity of the old philosophers. In the first place, I challenged the theory of the immortality of the soul. I knew that both Socrates and Plato would be aroused from their eternal placidity and would descend to chide one who has studied Plato's dialogue on the Immortality of the Soul. Moreover, I imagined that an invitation to them to discuss our civilization would be an additional incentive for them to descend to my abode.
I calculated the distance to the Lumen relying upon data furnished by the works of Flammarion. My computations indicated that Flammarion was due in Lumen on Friday at about midnight and that if Socrates and Plato were to come at all I should expect them about midnight on Saturday.
My guess proved nearly correct. At about 1 o'clock on Sunday morning, only a flickering candle light was illuminating my room. I became aware of a strange breeze which put the light out. I knew that some visitor from the other world had entered my chamber.
I was convinced that my strategy had been successful and that the philosophers had traversed space in quest of new things -- anxious for discourse.
As I was not sure that the spirits of Socrates and Plato could understand English, and fearing that they might be offended at my employing a "barbarian" language, I addressed them in as choice as Greek as I could command.
"Welcome, Great Teachers," I said in a low voice. "I hope that Flammarion has made known to you the purpose of our meeting. I am one of your descendants. I have studied with intense interest your great thoughts, and as I now live in the midst of a new people that has attained certain great things which you did not achieve in the height of your civilization, I am often perplexed with the effort to discern whether or not your achievements or those of this nation are greater and desire that you help me understand whether it is wiser for our age to continue or to alter its present course."
"I am Socrates." Came a deep and melodious voice from the center of the room. "I do not understand you very clearly. The sound of the tongue is very akin to that of our Hellenic language. But I do not understand the reasons for the cacophony. I learned many years ago that Hellas is inhabited by a race that speaks a language akin to ours. But this is the first time that I hear of one of those inhabitants speak the new tongue. I am disgusted with the want of harmony in your language and the hurried and nervous way in which you address us. You cause us suffering with your un-Hellenic speech. We cannot bear the barbaric sounds you utter."
"Have you not studied the poets and the Attic dialect in my dialogues?" asked Plato in a voice that rang like the music from a lute.
"Teachers," I apologized, "bear with me, your own descendant. The nervousness and the hurry in my speech is due to the influence of my age. We are forced by our surroundings and by our mode of living to think hurriedly, move rapidly and discourse with great precipitancy. And our language is wanting in music, balance, refinement and exactness because we don not think as calmly as you did in the great days of Athens. Be lenient with me. I shall explain what are the things that we do in our age and do you. Great Teachers, advise me if the things that we do are great things indeed and if our civlization is not superior to yours."
"From your manner of address," replied Socrates, "I conclude that your age is afflicted with egomania. You seem to labor under the illusion that your achievements are actually superior to those of our age. And this egotism is probably the main cause for the want of eloquence, harmony, and beauty in your manner of discourse."
"But do tells us," said Plato, "tell us composedly and above all beautifully what are the achievements of your age which you consider equal to the achievements of Athens?"
"Teachers," said I, calming myself and abandoning myself to a mood of receptivity and meditation, in the hope of acquiring, at least for the exigencies of the moment, a tranquil and beautiful manner of discourse with the great Masters of Athens, "bear with my barbarian speech. It is true that our age is not as elegant and beautiful as the age of your Periclean Athens. But we have other achievements which I desire to enumerate and ask you to appraise them that you may tell me if those accomplishments are not as worth while as the beauty of thought and the elegance of address to which you had arrived."
"Tell us, then, O Nicolaos," urged Socrates, "what things are those of which you speak as great attainments of your age?"
"Socrates," I replied, "in the last twenty-five years, it has come to pass that owing to the immense wealth, the vast power and the inexhaustible energy of the race which is called American, the whole world has been imitating the manner of living of the Americans, as much as other nations in your days imitated Athens and her institutions. It is not then better for me to enumerate the achievements of this great country that by analogy you may derive your own conclusions about our age?"
"By all means do so," said Plato.
"You will not deem it an offense," said I, "Socrates, if I advise you that I have been Americanized and that long since I am called an American and I therefore designate America as my country."
"Strane things we hear, Socrates," said Plato. "A Greek in the old days remained always a Greek. But these barbarian Greeks are changing countries very freely and without a sense of humiliation."
"But tell us, O Nicolaos," asked Socrates, "what is this American country and what are her achievements and we will, if we can, make an appraisal for you according as you have requested to do."
"We have a nation of one hundred million people," I began. "Our wealth is countless and our industries are run on a vast scale. Our life is made more comfortable every day by the labors of men their lives to the study of how to increase the comforts and to satisfy the craving of the people for luxury."
"We have the greatest number of millionaires, the largest number of miles of railroads and highways and the greatest engineering works in the world."
"We have the greatest number of schools and colleges and a printing shop for every hundred citizens. Our newspapers and our magazines are spread over the surface of a great continent in millions of copies every day."
"We have men who in their laboratories can turn lead into gold, men who can rebuild the heart of men and animals, men who can fly in the air and men who can man ships over the vast seas in a few days time."
"We can converse with our friends at vast distances and send them written messages from continent in only a few moments."
"In war, we can destroy whole cities and extinguish whole nations without needing phalanxes of men."
"We have millions of people engaged in writing and millions engaged in teaching the youth of our country."
"We have a government with over one hundred thousand officials and assistants; we have a constitution, a president, a numerous Boule and Senate that watch over the safety and the welfare of the land."
"We have labor unions to defend the rights of the laborers against the power of the wealthy industrialists."
"We have abolished wine and we are endowing churches by the thousands to instill religion into our poeple."
"We give millions to charitable institutions for those that suffer."
"We have two great political parties that work for the interest of the citizens of the country and we have secret organizations that attend to the things which the government finds inconvenient to do."
"We regulate everything by law and we have more laws than the Greeks and Romans acquired in all the centuries of their political existence."
"We have organized social morality and we have men who but yesterday were poor and ignorant but today are the stars of social order."
"Our country is dedicated to the welfare of the many, in spite of the fact that the few control the wealth and power of the land."
"We have, finallyy, thousands of lawyers, doctors, judges, preachers, priests, engineers, and artists and millions of writers of every sort and we have also philosophers, prisons, vast police forces, great armies and fearful naives, and we are organizing a colossal tribunal of the nations of the world."
"Socrates," intervened Plato, "this man is raving. If indeed he is a representative of this nation which he calls America and a representative of his age, I think that the country together with the age are restless and they are far from the truth and very far from the goal of human happiness and true achievement."
"And have you not great leaders," Socrates asked, "who devote their lives to direct the thoughts of your citizens to attainments other than the acquisition of wealth and the acquirements of comforts and luxuries?"
"We do have, Socrates," I replied. "We have the churches that preach religion. We have the lawgivers who regulate our lives by painful labors at legislation. We have colleges that give out millions of diplomas to our youth. We have evangelists. We have a Dry League and thousands of of other prohibiting and protective leagues. We even have laws that forbid foreigners to enter the country, unless they are smuggled in or they come in spirit as you and Plato have come."
"Socrates," said Plato, "it is hopeless. The man cannot understand what you are asking him. He always talks about numbers of organizations, of priests and preachers, lawgivers, schools, universities and diplomas, as if these things were to be considered achievements and something to be compared with the spiritual and intellectual achievements of Athens."
"But Plato," interceded Socrates, "may we not awaken this this young man to the realization of his error and to the fallacy under which his age is laboring? And shall our journey to this planethave been in vain?"
"Tell me, Socrates," I implored, "what is wrong with our civilization? Why do you and Plato condemn our achievements as worthless?"
"Very well, Nicolaos, you have asked a good question and we must now try to reason out if your achievements are really great and lasting."
"This man, O Socrates," said Plato, "has no idea of what is beautiful and true. He thinks that the material comforts and inventions as to how to turn lead into gold and how to travel vertiginous speed and how to fly through the air and how to destroy cities and nations by the help of alchemy and how to erect colossal structures and how to build vast bridges and powerful looms, such in his mind, and evidently in the conception of his age, is civilization and true achievement. Of the things that make life beautiful and of the achievements which aim at the discovery of Truth --, that Truth which embraces the whole life and the universe of which men are a part, he and his age do not seem to make any effort to be informed."
"Yes Plato," replied Socrates, "so it appears, This man and perhaps his age have not been at leisure to consider the things about which you speak. They resemble a flock of birds that are very energetic and nervous. They are gathering vast amounts of materials to build nests. They seek their material in distant places. They are gathering large stores. But it appears that they lack great leaders to gather the several labors and produce nests worthy of their great efforts. The age, if what Nicolaos advises is true, lacks great teachers--, philosophers who should devote themselves not to the study of one branch of knowledge but teachers like those who blest our Athens of old --, teachers who should be able embrace with their mind and with their soul the entire field of work severally done and to point out to the age the direction toward the life which must not be vulgarly comfortable but truly comfortable, tranquil and beautiful --, teachers who can direct the age in the pathways of truth and beauty."
"But how should we attain to that condition of true comfort which is not only physical but also mental and of the soul, O Socrates?" I asked.
"You are speaking beautifully now," Plato said. "You are now beginning to give signs that you are descended from the Hellenes. The quest after truth and the beautiful is the great secret of the Ancient Greeks."
"And the attainment of the life beautiful," Socrates said, "is not the work of one, nor of a few individuals in a nation or an age. An atmosphere must slowly and painfully be first created. The people must be slowly educated to appreciate truth and the beautiful and when the atmosphere has been created, then great teachers will appear and the horizons will be enlarged and truth and beauty will be revealed to you as they were revealed to our race and our Athenian age."
"Socrates," said Plato, "you have spoken very clearly to this man. I think that the time for us to depart has come. Nor must we be forgetful of the fact that the laws of this land do not permit us to stay here longer. I uhderstand that they have a law prohibiting aliens from entering this country without passing through the gates that overlook the statue dedicated to Liberty."
"By the Gods," screamed Socrates, "am I again to be offered that hateful hemlock for violating the laws of another land? Nor have we any political influence here to legalize our entry. So let us return to the Lumen and tell Flammarion that we completed our errand.
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About Nicholas J. Cassavetes
"Long before John Cassavetes became a Hollywood movie star, his father, Nicholas J. Cassavetes, was a household name in the Greek-American community. While still in his early 20s, he became the accidental diplomat who attended the Versailles Peace Conference after the First World War and then testified before Congress, advocating for Greece's territorial expansion. In the decadesthat followed, Cassavetes was the immigrants’ "go to" man for all their travel and immigration needs. He revolutionized excursion travel and foresaw the growth of tourism into Greece’s number one industry."
Born in 1893 Nicholas J. Cassavetes died in Studio City on April 26, 1979 at the age of 86.Nicholas J. Cassavetes - The Greek Immigrants’ Advocate by Leonidas V. Georgiou