Jun 30, 2015

"How I tried to seduce Socrates" --- Plato's Symposium (1)

Michael is working on the text side of a comic strip/graphic novel about Plato's Symposium. Yes, the philosopher, and, yes, the canonical text on male homosexuality since more than 2,000 years. 

Not easy, actually, the work. You have to condense the text ruthlessly (19 k words in English translations) and somehow maintain authenticity. Deep thoughts are occasionally expressed and need to be conveyed---the text also provides, ironically, the basis (or pretext) for the Renaissance-idea of Platonic love.

You know about the Symposium ("banquet"), right? A choice of Athenian characters---including Aristophanes (the leading antique writer of comedy), Agathon (a writer of tragedies) Alcibiades (the city's leading bad boy cum politician at the time), and Socrates---gather to celebrate Agathon's victory in the drama competition of 416 BC two days ago. They had partied all night the previous day, they are laboring under a serious hangover, and somebody thinks it would be wise to drink less. How do you do that? Eyximachus, the attending physician, has the idea that you should praise Eros; everybody should give and encomium about the God of Love. And so they do.

Anselm Feuerbach: Alcibiades arrives at the banquet, Agathon welcoming him (click for a larger image, please)

Here's our condensed rendering of the arrival of Alcibiades, Socrates is about to finish his speech (this is done per panel, so the same speaker may appear sequentially): 

Socrates: This is what I wanted to say, O Phaedrus; call it an encomium of love, or anything else. (Applause)

Aristophanes gets up, wants to say something, is interrupted by…

(Big EXPANDING letters (voice)):

Alcibiades (appears in door): Hail friends.

Alcibiades: I’m excessively drunk already, but I’ll drink with you, if you will.

Alcibiades (removing ribands from his hair fillet): If not, I’ll leave after I crowned Agathon, for which purpose I came.

(Everybody): Stay, stay.


Alcibiades is seated between Agathon and Socrates (who makes room for Alcibiades). Alcibiades ignores Socrates, “crowns” Agathon.

Alcibiades (finally becoming aware of Socrates; leaps up): YOU, Socrates, lying in ambush for me?

Socrates (to Agathon, pointing at Alcibiades): Agathon, I need your help. THIS man is bad business. Since I fell in love with him, he doesn’t allow me to speak to---let alone look at---other beautiful men.

Socrates: I fear the fury of his amatory impulses.

Alcibiades (to Socrates): I’ll pay you back for this another time.

Alcibiades (to Agathon): In the meantime, please give me back some of the ribands…

Alcibiades (pointing at Socrates): …so that I can crown the marvelous head of this fellow.

(Alcibiades removing some ribands from Agathon and binds them to Socrates’s head).

Alcibiades (sitting down, motioning a slave): Come on, everybody seems sober enough. Let’s drink some more.

(Alcibiades points at a large wine cooler. Wine cooler is filled with wine by a slave and drunk off by Alcibiades; Alcibiades hands it back to slave, who refills it. Socrates is asked to drink it off, which he does).

Eryximachus: What is this Alcibiades? We are not going to converse or sing? Simply drink stupidly as if we were thirsty?

Alcibiades: Hail, Eryximachus!

Eryximachus: We are in this famous Symposium by Plato, and you are supposed to praise Eros now.

Alcibiades: Very well. Keep in mind that I’m drunk, though. Furthermore, be advised that Socrates inverted the truth about who's jealous here. In fact, he will not let me praise anybody except himself.

Socrates: Huh?

Eryximachus: Praise Socrates, then.

Alcibiades: If you wish.

Alcibiades (to Socrates): Interrupt me, Socrates, if anything I say is untrue.

(Socrates nods).


Alcibiades: I shall begin by comparing Socrates to the busts of the Silenuses that you find in the sculpture shops. They are made to open up in the middle, and feature images of gods inside.

Alcibiades: They always resemble Marsyas, the satyr, very much the way Socrates does.

Alcibiades(interrupting himself): You won’t deny, Socrates, that you resemble Marsyas…

Alcibiades: …the flute-playing satyr.

Alcibiades: There is resemblance in other respects, too.

Alcibiades: Marsyas plays the flute, you play with words. But you both produce the same effects.

Alcibiades: The words of other speakers---even very good ones---have little effect, as a rule. Your words, however, mere fragments, even second-hand, they amaze and possess the soul of every man, woman, and child. I have heard Pericles (who was my guardian, by the way), and other great orators, Socrates tops them all.

Alcibiades: None of you knows him. He appears always smitten with beautiful boys and he always pretends to know nothing. But when I opened him up, when I discovered his inner life, I saw his serious purpose, I saw divine images of such fascinating beauty that I was ready to do anything he wanted.

Alcibiades: At the time, I fancied that he was seriously taken with my beauty, so, I thought I had a chance, if I “gratified” him, to learn from him, learn everything he knew. I asked the slave to leave us alone, and expected Socrates to speak the language of lovers when they find themselves alone with their beloved.

Alcibiades: Nothing of the sort. He dialogued as usual, and left.

Alcibiades: I managed to draw him to the gymnasium, strip, and wrestle with me when there was nobody else. I figured that would do the trick. Not a bit; I made no progress.

Alcibiades: I invited him for dinner---as if I were the lover and he the beautiful youth. He came, but left as soon as we were done eating.

Alcibiades: So I invited him again and kept him in conversation far into the night. When he wanted to leave, I pretended that it was late and that he’d better sleep over. He lay down on the couch next to me.

Alcibiades: Normally I wouldn’t go into further detail, but, as you know: in vino veritas, with boys or without.

Alcibiades: So, gentlemen, the lamp was put out and the slaves left. ‘Now or never,’ I thought. 

Alcibiades: I nudged him, and asked: ‘Socrates, are you sleeping?’

"Socrates and Alcibiades," Ch.W. Eckersberg

{Scene change; we're watching Alcibiates and Socrates together:}

Socrates (answered): Certainly not.

Alcibiades: Do you know what I am thinking?

Socrates (answered): Nooh.

Alcibiades: I’m thinking that you are the only man who deserves my favors. You’re the best. You know everything. You can teach me.

Socrates (answered): Really?

Alcibiades: Ô Socrates.

Socrates (saying): Leaving in the middle whether you are right about my abilities, Alcibiades...you suggest to swap my inner beauty for your outer beauty? It’ll be like swapping gold for bronze, you’d get the much better deal.

Alcibiades: Be it as it may. Do what is best for yourself and me.

Socrates (said): We shall do whatever is best for us.

{Scene change; dining room of the banquet:}

Alcibiades: I had shot my darts, as it were, and was convinced he was wounded.

Alcibiades: I wrapped my cloak around him---it was winter---and threw my arms around his demonic body.

Alcibiades (to Socrates): I’m not lying, right?

(Somebody, in off): And?

Alcibiades: Gentlemen, members of the jury. (Pointing at Socrates) Ponder the arrogance of this man.

(Somebody, in off): And?

Alcibiades: Nothing, happened. Nothing, all night. It was as if I had slept with my father, or elder brother.

Alcibiades: I felt devastated, dishonored. And yet, I could not be angry with him. By not conquering me, he had me conquered completely.

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