Paideia, Book I of Colloquies, A Review of Civilization in Little Songs
Wonder what Isocrates might have made of me. A Greek, I suppose. As ipso facto he did, just as he made you, Greek. We are who we are by how we know of what we are, universally, biologically, creatures who can know the universe, who by knowing the universe allow the universe to know itself. Well, “Yes;”, you say, “yet what has this to do with that Paideia?”
Paideia, Volume I of “Colloquies: A Review of Civilization in Little Songs”, begins a sequence of 504 sonnets, each a high point, a summit of Classive Civilization’s vast mountain range. As in Aeschylus’ Oresteia1., each summit is lit by a signal-flame, guide from this place to that place, to the next. Each sonnet, each peak is illuminated by an exemplary thought, person, event or observation. This, so that by illumination we might know where we were, where we are, where we might go from here.
Paideia begins in neat biography of persons who formed us in the Axial Age (circa 800 – 200 B.C.) … the “Axis”, that central staff around which human civilization revolves. The Axial Age identifies that moment in universal history when human creatures looked upward into themselves to see all that is and yet might be. You know, Truth, and the transcendent Good.
From Elijah through Homer to Buddha, Paideia passes into portraits of the Olympian Gods, their persons, attributes, foibles and adventures. I would not say that the Olympians are our elder brothers and sisters, though we do share with them the family resemblance, family traits, strands of DNA that revolve, that spiral around our central staff.
From the Olympians, Paideia naturally encounters the divine and universal truth of Love, its Beauty, a drive more powerful than each little lover’s concern. Good and Evil each has its way, and both are necessary to the balance of Life. You might consider the great forces alike water and sky, pressurized, forced against one-another, and we the little squeezed wave-tips breezed along in pattern, each rising and falling and dying, seeming all the same yet unique, from all that was through all that ever will be.
From Divinities to Persons, those of our type, Psappho through Plato to Jesus, persons whose lives are exemplary, worthy of notice, of emulation. From Persons to Events of chance and of plan, insistent occurrences necessary to mention. From Events to Festivals, meaning in the pattern of seasons, spirited in the calendar of the Athenians. After festivals, reflection, a seven-sonnet sequence, confessional, biographical, fantastical.
Paideia, though first in series is fourth in completion. The volume now in composition, Invective, sixth in series, is a critical witness to current events. Each volume has a unique structure of persons, deeds, and festivals, though each conforms to a 72-sonnet content (1,008 lines). Ordered, the books are, Paideia (pub. 2022), Commentary (pub. 2019), Confession (pub. 2021), Dispute (pub. 2020), Celebration (skd. 2024), Invective (skd. 2023), Secrets (skd. 2025). In all, Colloquies is a conversational mini epic.
And yes, “Paideia”: what is that? Paideia is the life study that makes one humane, suited to civilization. And what makes one suited to civilization? Becoming the ideal man, a model of excellence in intellect, physique, ethic, and this by practice in rhetoric, by exercise in contest, by discipline in morals as exemplified by heroes of literature, both exposition and fiction. Thales (c.624 – c.545) put it thus: “What man is happy? ‘He who has a healthy body, a resourceful mind, and a composed nature.’”2.
Isocrates (c. 437–338) the Athenian, a rhetorician, philosopher and teacher, encouraged a course of study suited to inspiring youth to civilized greatness through reason and feeling, and imagination well-expressed. Isocrates described reason: words as befits the occasion, “the endowments of human nature which raise us above mere bestiality, that enable us to live the civilized life.”, an observation later echoed by Pico.
A melding of Aristoteles (Aristotle) and Isocrates forms classic paideia, the core of liberal education, civics, culture, morality, and history, composition, oratory (inasmuch as lately liberality is conserved). Aristotle’s school is said to have survived 2,000 years; some say we are yet in the school of Aristotle. Isocrates’ school was significantly successful, lasting 50 years, and paideia’s definition, “the upbringing of young men to citizenship by training in aristocratic virtues”, is attributed to Isocrates program.
Worth noting: Philip II, King of Macedon, when choosing a pedant for his son, Alexandros III (Alexander, The Great), considered Isocrates though passed him over in selecting the younger, sympathetic Aristotle. Aristotle tutored Alexander and his set3. in civil arts and techniques in a mountain cave at the Shrine of the Nymphs (343 – 340) until Alexander reached majority when 16.
When 18, Alexander and Philip defeated their rivals at Thermopylae and Elatea, quickly advancing to Chaeronea where with Philip on the right and Alexander leading cavalry on the left, they crushed the combined force of Athenians, Thebans, and allies. Soon after news of the battle reached Athens, Isocrates died of self-imposed starvation, two days short of his 100th birthday.
Two years later (336) Phillip was assassinated, Alexander began his conquest of the known world, achieved hegemony, ultimately extending his legacy by Hellenism4., the universal adaptation of Greek language, customs, manners, Greek architecture, art, philosophy, reason in the Greek Way. The Hellenistic line of Ptolemy I, Soter (367 – 282), Macedonian Pharoah of Egypt (after Alexander III), continued until the death of Ptolemy of Mauretania (40 A.D.)
… though with the death of Cleopatra VII Philopator, and her son by Julius Caesar, Ptolemy XV Caesarion (30 B.C. [murdered by order of Octavian, Caesar Augustus5.]), Hellenism extends by variation into Imperial Rome, later reconstituted from Roman Provinces into European States, even unto America whose triumph in two world wars has extended Hellenism, Greek liberty, reason and ways, “paideia” you might say, to all the world.
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1. A series of signal-fires stretching from Troy across the Aegean Sea to Argos, announcing that King Agamemnon conquered Troy and shall soon return. You might be familiar with the echo of Oresteia when signal-fires announce the return of King Aragon to Gondor’s throne in Tolkien’s The Return of the King.
2. Later, Juvenal would paraphrase, “Mens sana in corpore sano.”, “A healthy mind in a healthy body.”
3. Hephaestion, Ptolemy I Soter (most likely, Alexander’s half-brother through Philip), Cassander, and Cleitus the Black.
4. Named for Hellen, King of Phthia, eponymous founder of true Greeks, Aeolians, Dorians, Ionians, and Achaeans. Alexander through his mother, Olympias of Epirus, believed himself ascended from Achilles (Achilleus, as noted in Liner B texts), Phthian war leader, hero at Troy. Philip II was fully Macedonian.
5. Antony & Cleopatra’s male issue, Alexander Helios and Ptolemy Philadelphus, were likely also murdered by Octavian’s order; the female, Cleopatra Selene II (c.40 – c.5), was spared, became queen of Numidia and Mauretania.
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