Thursday, September 18, 2014

May Live to See

In 1925, Popular Science Monthly readers were invited to gaze into the world of 1950 - and you can too! Zoom in and out of the picture to survey this vision of the future...

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Yo, Achilles

Preparing to deliver a lecture on Homer's Iliad for HUM 1A, I thought it'd be fun to bust out another pseudo-script. This draft covers some of the highlights but leaves much room for future development. Most definitely I hope to tease out some dialogue for Book 24 one day. In the meantime, here's what I've got so far. Warning: This is a high-typo (and an even higher snark) zone!

THE ILIAD – BOOK 1

Chryses: Hiya Greeks! So it looks like you’re about the wipe Troy off the map. Good for you!

Agamemnon: What the hell is a Greek? We’re Achaeans.

Chryses: Yeah, well, folks in the future will call you “Greeks.” It’s a long story – epic, actually.

All: [Blank stare]

Chryses: Anyway, before you sack my city, could you do me a solid and return my daughter Chryseis? I hate to pull rank on you, but I’m a priest of Apollo. And I know he’d really appreciate you showing me some respect.

Agamemnon: Sorry, old man, but I’m rather fond of the wench. She’s simply a whiz around the house, chores and all. And don’t get me started on her skills in the bedroom! I’m sure you understand.

Chryses: [Awkward silence]

Agamemnon: Well maybe you don’t. But trust me: You raised a mighty fine daughter. I think I’ll keep her.

Chryses: Apollo, do you hear that? Those Greeks aren’t satisfied with my ransom, and they’re clearly not afraid of you. What do you think of that?

Apollo: [Humming to self] Let’s see how they like these plague arrows!

Anonymous Greek soldier: [just before death] What the hell?

Achilles: Say, what’s with all the death? We’ve gotten to the gates of Troy, and now Apollo’s turned on us? Hey, Calchas, you’re a seer. What do you see?

Calchas: I’ll tell you. But do me a favor: Don’t let Agamemnon kill the messenger.

Achilles: Agamemnon? Don’t worry about him. He’s a swell fellow. So, anyway, who brought down this plague upon us?

Calchas: Um, Agamemnon.

Agamemnon: I heard that.

Calchas: Well, sire –

Agamemnon: OK, OK, I get it. Maybe I got a little testy, and maybe I shouldn’t have pissed off the old man. But there’s no way I’m gonna give back his daughter, at least not until I get something in return. All you guys have won lots of booty on this mission. And y’all know what kind of booty I mean. But all the sudden, Apollo blows his stack and now I’m the one who has to give something back?

Random Greek 1: Dude, that rhymes!

Agamemnon: Yeah, just wait ‘til I start busting out some similes.

Achilles: Um, I hate to interrupt, but here’s the problem: We’ve all divided up our treasure. And we’re not the ones who sent Chryses packing. So, yeah, you’re gonna have to suck it up this time. But, look: Give up the girl now and we’ll, like, totally make it up to you later, after we’re done sacking Troy. Cool?

Agamemnon: No. Not cool. But we’ll deal with that later. For now, fine, we’ll give up the girl. And we’ll send over a sacrifice to appease Apollo. Nothing calms down an angry god like the gift of dead goats. Later we’ll figure out a way to appease me.

Achilles: Appease you? May I remind you that all of us are just following orders? You think any of us want to be on this gods’ forsaken beach? Look, unless you’ve forgotten, we’re all here because your brother Menelaus just can’t stand how Helen ran out with that Trojan hunk Paris. So here I am, fighting your battles, settling for whatever scraps you see fit to dish out. And now I’m supposed to feel bad because you’re gonna lose some piece of Trojan furniture?

Agamemnon: Yeah, and you’ve developed such a close and caring relationship with your own Trojan prize? What’s her name – Briseis?

Achilles: [Derp]

Agamemnon: Let’s test that theory, shall we? ‘Cos I’ll be dropping by your tent later on. And Briseis? She’s coming with me! Oh, by the way, I was just wondering: Do you like apples?

Achilles: Yeah.

Agamemnon: Well, I’m gonna steal your girlfriend. How do you like them apples?

Achilles: Oh, you are so gonna die.

[Suddenly, Athena appears, but is only visible to Achilles.]

Athena: Achilles, dude. Chill!

Achilles: Of course! I mean, you are a god and all.

Athena: Well all right then! [Flies off]

Agamemnon: What are you muttering about?

Achilles: Forget it. Oh, and just wait until you need my sword again. “Oh, Achilles,” you’ll say, “I’m so sorry that I stole Brittney – Bridget…” Well, whatever her name was. Anyway, you’ll be all, “But I need you now. Can you help me out?” And you know what I’ll say? “Get bent.” That’s what I’ll say.

Nestor: Excuse me folks. Now, look, I’m just an old man. Nobody listens to me.

All: [Talking amongst themselves]

Nestor: Quiet! Like I was saying. I’m just an old fool. But I was a great man once. Fought Centaurs back in the day, and those guys were fierce! Back then I could have wiped the beach with both of you. So listen up and knock it off.  

Agamemnon: No way! He started it! And there’s no way I’m gonna let this guy make a punk out of me!

Achilles: Oh, I’m sorry. Is that mountain of corpses I built too big for you to handle? Sorry, “king,” if my extra-large sized Trojan victory makes you feel inadequate. So here’s the plan: I’m heading back to my ship. You can take this city without me.

Agamemnon: Take off, you hoser! [Speaking to his remaining armies] Come on, you guys, we got some goats to kill.

[Later, at Achilles’ quarters, two random Greeks arrive to retrieve Briseis]

Random Greek 1: Um, hi Achilles. Um, me and Random Greek Number 2 couldn’t help but notice the prominence of the word “kill” in your name. And, um –

Achilles: Fear not, friend! I’m pissed, but not so crazed that I’ll spray my anger over you poor saps. [Turning to the back room] Hey Patroclus, bring that pretty young thing in here. Uh, Brandy… Becky… You know, whichever one Agamemnon wants.

Random Greek 2: Say, that Achilles guy isn’t so enraged after all. Gonna be short, this dust-up is.

[Later, Achilles stands on the beach, shaking his fist against the clouds.]

Achilles: Mom! Mom! What’s the deal? I’ve got a god for a dad and whatever the hell you are for a mother. Like, seriously, are you a demi-god, a semi-god, or what? Anyway, for all the glory I should get being as a son of Zeus, you let that loser Agamemnon steal my girl? What gives? So, look, you need to talk to dad. He owes you a favor, right? So get him to back me up. Get him to help the Trojans kick a little Greek butt. Not a lot, you understand, just enough to remind Agamemnon how much he needs me!

Thetis: Yeah, that sounds reasonable enough. Zeus is on a road-trip, but I’ll be sure to chat with him when he’s back on Olympus.

[Meanwhile…]

Apollo: What does my godly sniffer detect? Why those crazy mortals are throwing a barbeque!

Chryses: Yeah, and in your honor! The Greeks backed down. Your plague did the trick! So naturally they’re now slaughtering boatloads of livestock and eating their guts on the beach. No health risks there!

[Twelve days later…]

Thetis: Hey Zeus, welcome back! So, about my son Achilles: I know he’s Greek and all, but he wants us to swing the war over to Troy. Just for a while. Can you do that for me?

Zeus: Wow, you don’t know what you’re stirring up. For you see, my wife, she has been most vocal on the subject of the Greeks: “Are you helping the Greeks? When are you going to help the Greeks? Why aren’t you helping the Greeks now?” And so on. So by helping the Trojans, I’m just asking for trouble at home. Man, I could use some Ambrosia right now.

Thetis: You owe me, old man. Let me remind you of the time when –

Zeus: Forget it! This poem is long enough. Achilles gets his wish. And, who knows, maybe Hera won’t find out.

Hera: I heard that!

Zeus: Hera, my sweet! We were just talking about you! About how we never keep secrets – [dramatic pause] and how you should mind your own business!

Hephaestus: Mom. Seriously. You don’t want to tangle with Zeus. You know what he’s like without his nectar.

Hera: Good point, kiddo. You may not be as handsome as Thetis’ bratty kid, but you make much more sense. Now go serve your father some ambrosia. Fill everyone’s goblets, actually. But leave plenty for me. I need a drink.

THE ILIADBOOKS 2 THROUGH 5

The Greeks and Trojans gird for war. Seeking glory (and no doubt trying to impress his brother Hector), Paris offers to represent the Trojan side in single combat with Menelaus; to the victor goes Helen. Menelaus agrees and quickly overwhelms his hapless foe. At the last minute, though, Aphrodite whisks Paris to safety. Shocked at the display, soldiers on both sides plunge into battle. At first the Trojans seize the advantage, but the Greeks soon regroup. The gods meddle and fight among themselves, but it appears that Troy is about to fall.

THE ILIADBOOK 6

Menelaus: Come on, boys! Let’s mop the beach with these Trojans.

Agamemnon: And take no prisoners!

Nestor: Or weapons from the ground. We’re here to kill, not to collect baubles. Just like the old days! In fact, did I ever tell y’all about that time I killed a Centaur?

Menelaus [Rolls eyes]

Agamemnon [Face-palm]

Diomedes: Say, who’s that dude charging across the no man’s land? Must be some sort of god.

Glaucus: Nope, just a man. Just like you. But if you’re curious, I’ll tell you my story.

Diomedes: Sure, I’ve got a few minutes – to kill.

Glaucus: Uh huh. So anyway my story begins many years ago in Argos, when a wicked king decided to kill my grandfather. He didn’t want to murder him outright, so he sent him off to Lycia, along with a secret message that would instruct the king there to do the deed.

Diomedes: Dude.

Glaucus: No, “deed.” Oh, I get it. Anyway, the king of Lycia gets the message and decides to kill his guest by subjecting him to a series of impossible tests: slaying monsters, battling amazons, stuff like that. But my grandfather overcomes every challenge. He’s so brave, the king of Lysia asks him to marry his daughter. So they hook up and start popping out kids. One of ‘em turns out to be my father. So you see, I’m royalty!

Diomedes: You know what else that means? That means we’re battle buddies! See, my grandfather once hosted your grandfather during his travels. And they exchanged presents. Heck, my dad passed some of your grandfather’s trinkets down to me. So there’s no way I’m gonna kill you. Oh sure, I’ll continue to spear every Trojan I see. And you can slaughter any Greek you find. But you and I are brothers under the skin. In fact, to celebrate our newfound friendship, I say we switch armor.

Glaucus: Right here, in the middle of the battle?

Diomedes: Sure, why not? Here’s my gorgeous set of bronze.

Glaucus: And here’s my lovely set of gold, and – hey!

Diomedes: Thanks buddy!

[Meanwhile, Hector has departed the battle to see his mother Hecuba…]

Hecuba: Back from the battle so soon? Well, drink some wine and refresh yourself.

Hector: Can’t. I’m only here long enough to warn you: We’re pretty much beaten. You’d better start praying to Athena to save our city. Me, I’m gonna have a word with Paris.

Paris: Oh, hi Hector! Back from the battle so soon?

Hector: Not that you’d know.

Paris: You’re right, and I feel really guilty about that.

Hector: What’s worse, this entire thing is your fault. You just had to steal that harlot Helen away from Sparta, because her face is so beautiful. Well, that face has launched a thousand ships, bucko, and those ships are filled with men beating down our doors!

Paris: I know. I’m such a jerk. That’s why I’ve been waiting here, wallowing in my shame and having sex with Helen. I figured, the longer I stay, the more embarrassed I’d get. That way I’d be even better in battle later on. Right?

Hector [Stunned silence]

Paris: So you run off now, back to the war. I’ll just get this armor on and come after you!

Helen: [Whispered to Achilles] I know. What a butthead.

[Hector departs in search of his wife and son, finding them atop the city gates.]

Andromache: Oh, lucky us. The valiant warrior returns to see his family.

Hector: Well, just for a minute.

Andromache: Oh, we’re so honored: Your wife and son, whom you’ve abandoned to die here in Troy. Do you think Achilles will spare women and children after he’s butchered every soldier he sees? It’s time you admit the battle is lost. Gather some forces and defend our walls!

Hector: While other Trojans die on the battlefield in glory? No way. Fact is, we’re gonna lose. And that means that some Greek’s gonna drag you off, a slave, to some foreign land. Not much we can do about that. Better that I die in honor than watch you suffer. A better example for our son too. By the way, how is the little nipper anyway? How ya doing Astyanax? 

Astyanax [Wails in terror]

Hector: [Removes his helmet] Oh, sorry about that. See? It’s me! Don’t be scared, son. We’re all pretty much gonna die, but maybe Zeus will save you. In the meantime, Andromache, let’s get back to business. You and the other women tend to your looms, or whatever you do to pass the time, and we men will get back to hacking our enemies into tiny bits. It’s fate, wife, that we do what we can and die how we must. No point in running away.

Andromache: Thanks, husband. I feel better already.

THE ILIADBOOKS 7 AND 8

The war rages on, with Greeks and Trojans enjoying brief periods of advantage. Each time one side appears ready to claim victory, gods of the opposing side meddle with the outcome. The battles are bloody, with no end in sight. At last the Trojans mount a decisive attack, pushing the Greeks back to the sea. Without the hero Achilles, all may be lost.

THE ILIADBOOK 9

Agamemnon: Men, the official military term for our situation is “screwed.” As in, “We are really screwed.” Although “hosed” is also correct. As in, “We are royally hosed.” Might as well head home.

Diomedes: Then leave, ol King Coward! We don’t need Achilles and we don’t need you.

Nestor: Now Diomedes, Agamemnon needs wisdom, not insults. Fortunately I’m an old man. Perhaps I haven’t mentioned that before. I’m old, but I’m also wise. So here’s some wisdom for our king: Dude, we need Achilles.

Agamemnon [Stares in befuddlement]

Nestor: That’s pretty much it. You stole his prize, and now Achilles sits on the beach, biding his time we smash ourselves against the walls of Troy. And how’s that working out for you, Agamemnon? Now’s the time to show some humility: Give the girl to Achilles and he’ll give in.

Agamemnon: Yeah, well, when you’re right, old man, you’re right. I’ll give in. I’ll give him a king’s ransom of horses and caldrons and gold, and girls, lots of girls. And of course I’ll give him Briseis. Then if we ever get out of this place alive, I’ll give him cities and more treasure and – what the hell? – one of my daughters. His choice. And I’ll pay him to take her. Oh, and cattle. I’ll give him some cattle too. As long as he submits to my command, I will rain gold upon his head. Lots of gold. His showers will be –

Nestor: Yes, that’s the spirit! Now then, Phoenix, Ajax, and Odysseus: Bring the message and return our champion!

[Later, in his quarters, Achilles is playing the lyre.]

Patroclus: Yes, by all means, sing another song about your courage in battle.

Odysseus: Hi Achilles! We just thought we’d drop by and –

Achilles: Share a meal? Outstanding! I’ve missed you guys!

Odysseus: We’ve missed you too. In fact, we’re missing you especially now. Zeus seems determined to help the Trojans win this war. And Hector is just laying waste to our troops. And why? Because you’re too busy battling Agamemnon when you should be leading the fight against our common foe! Now the king has given in, and he promises to shower you in, well, riches. All you gotta do is lend a hand. Better yet, even if you don’t care about the king’s trinkets, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you stood with your brothers when they needed you most. Best of all, you get to fight Hector for us! So there’s glory too.

Achilles: Yeah, glory… for Agamemnon. This “king” feasts while we fight. And now that his back is against the sea, he sees fit to drop a few more crumbs from his table. Well, “no more Jello for me, ma!” I’ve got plenty of wealth and women back home. I need none of his trifles. So I’m heading home tomorrow. After all, if I choose to fight, I’ll die here. My mother told me that. I’ll die – oh, with glory, of course – but I’ll be dead all the same. If I leave, though, I’ll live a long life. Less glory, perhaps. But I’ll live long enough to get over the guilt. So I’m bugging out – and you should too.

Phoenix: That’s your plan? You’ll scuttle off, leaving us to die on this beach? Look, boy: I know a thing or two about anger. When I was a young man, I slept with my dad’s mistress. It was my mother’s idea. Anyway, I did the deed, and boy was my father pissed. So much that he called down a curse so I could never have kids of my own. I wanted to kill the old man, but instead I fled and found lodging. Oh, and do you remember who let me in his home?

Achilles: My father.

Phoenix: Your father. So what’d I do?

Achilles: You babysat me.

Phoenix: I babysat you! And I cared for you, and then I trained you, so you could be half the man my own son would have been. And this is how you repay me? You can’t be this stubborn, kid. Even the gods change their minds from time to time, like when we pray to them. They change, and so should you. And quickly too. Wait too long, and no one will forgive you, even if you win!

Achilles: Great. Odysseus tries to trick me with his wiles and now you try to melt my heart with this sob story. Give it up, old man. Stay here tonight, for old times sake. Then tomorrow you can depart with me, or stay, for all I care. But I’m outta here.

Ajax: Well, I’ve got to admire your persistence. We offer you women and you refuse us. We beg for your help and you refuse us. Back home, even those who suffer the most grievous losses learn to forgive those who harmed them. But no, not you, Mr. I’m-too-stubborn-to-give-in. So you’ll sail and we’ll burn.

Achilles: Pretty much. If Hector charges my own ship, I’ll fight back. But otherwise, I sail with the tide.

[Later, back at Agamemnon’s camp…]

Agamemnon: So, Achilles is on his way, right? Just needs a few more minutes to sharpen his spear, right? No doubt, Patroclus can help him with that.  

Odysseus: Oh yeah, he’s sharpening up spears and mixing up potions and slaughtering oxen to prepare for battle. He just can’t wait to lead the charge against Hector! Of course he said no! He’s just as enraged as ever!

Diomedes: What’d I tell you? Achilles will never relent, or he will. Who knows? Either way, we fight tomorrow. And this time, Agamemnon, you lead the charge!

THE ILIADBOOKS 10 THROUGH 17

The Greeks are desperate. Diomedes and Odysseus enter Troy as spies and manage to raise havoc, but they cannot stop Hector from leading a successful assault against their fortifications. Satisfied with the Trojans’ success, Zeus departs the scene, unaware that Poseidon plans to turn the tide back toward the Greeks. Seeing this, Apollo appears on the battlefield to inspire a Trojan counterattack. At this point Patroclus dons Achilles’ armor and helps push the Trojans back once more. The city is now surely doomed, if not for Apollo’s choice to injure Patroclus in the midst of battle. Buoyed by this divine assistance, Hector quickly dispatches the young man and steals the armor that once belonged to Achilles.

THE ILIADBOOK 18

Thetis: Achilles, my son, remember how you prayed for Zeus to help the Trojans beat the Greeks?

Achilles: Yes, mother, and I know what you’re going to say next.

Thetis: So, you’re feeling a bit miffed that the Trojans managed to kill one particular Greek, huh?

Achilles: Yes, mother. 

Thetis: Not such a well thought-out plan, huh?

Achilles: No, mother.

Thetis: No…

Achilles: Well, I might as well die then. No point in me sticking around.

Thetis: Ah, yes. More of that bronze-clad logic.

Achilles: But first I’m gonna slay Hector. I may have lost a battle of wits with Agamemnon, but there’s no way I’ll lose a fight against that Trojan who killed my friend.

Thetis: Well, you’re gonna need a spare set of armor.

Achilles: Oh yeah…

Thetis: Yeah… Fortunately ol’ Hephaestus owes me a favor. I’ll fly up to Olympus and fetch you something special.

[Once Thetis departs, Iris (messenger of the gods) warns Achilles that the Trojans will defile the body of Patroclus.]

Iris: Yo, they’re gonna put his head on a stake.

Achilles: Yeah, well maybe you haven’t noticed, but I’m wearing no armor.

Iris: You don’t need armor. We’ll scare the Trojans with sound effects. Just yell really loud and I’ll pump up the volume.

Achilles: Um, OK. Uh, Arrrgh!

Random Trojan 1: What the hell?

Random Trojan 2: Dude, what’s that stuff leaking from your armor?

Random Trojan 1: Um, dinner.

Random Trojan 2: Hmm... I just had a great idea. Let’s fight Achilles from behind our gates.

Random Trojan 1: You know? That is a great idea!

Random Trojan 2: Well, you helped me think of it.

Hector: Shut up, you wimps. No one’s going behind the gates. We’re gonna fight that damned Greek, and we’re gonna win. And if we die…

[Across the battlefield, Achilles is speaking to his troops at the same time.]

Achilles: … We’ll die with honor! Every one of you sailed here to hurl your bodies against these Trojan walls. Well, so did Patroclus. He fought like a lion and croaked on this bloody beach….

[Hector and Achilles finish their orations simultaneously.]

Hector: …And you can expect no less from me.

Random Trojan 1: Well, that’s sort of a battle plan.

Random Trojan 2: Shut up and change your armor.

[Meanwhile Charis, wife of Hephaestus, greets an unexpected visitor.]

Charis: Oh, how nice. We have a guest. And, look, she’s come to ask a favor!

Thetis: Well, yes, actually. You see, my son has gone and lost his armor, and I was hoping –

Charis: So nice indeed to have another lady friend drop by. Of course, my husband has invented many lady friends here, all made of gold and built to follow his every command.

Thetis: And it is precisely that talent I need. You see –

Charis: It’s amazing, when you think about it, the artistry with which my husband devotes himself to building these clever fembots. So clever and so beautiful. It’s almost as if –

Hephaestus: Thetis, my friend – my platonic friend. So glad you came to visit! I understand that you need some armor for your son. And of course I’m happy to oblige.

THE ILIADBOOKS 19 to 21

Having received a powerful shield that depicts the pleasures and pains of mankind within a broader cosmic context, Achilles makes amends with Agamemnon. He will enter the war to avenge the death of Patroclus. The gods pledge to stay out of the conflict, but they meddle anyway. Still, protected by the shield of Hephaestus, Achilles mounts a savage assault upon the Trojans. Those few that survive cower behind the gates, leaving Hector to stand his ground on the battlefield. Achilles and Hector have accepted their fates; both expect to die. For honor and glory, they will fight one last time.

THE ILIADBOOK 22

Priam: Hector, son, screw this honor and glory crap. We’ve lost too many Trojans to stand on ceremony. Come in, boy. We’ll launch a hail of arrows at those Greeks from the safety of our walls. Failing that, we’ll pay ‘em off and live to fight another day. But you stand your ground and fight them outside these walls and they will take the city for sure. Then the dogs – our dogs – will feed upon my kibbles and bits. Is that what you want for your father? Or your mother?

Hector: So, great, now that all is lost – after I commanded my men to stand and fight – I should flee for the safety of these city walls? Right. Or better yet, I should strip off my armor and go up to Achilles, clad only in good intentions. “Hey Achilles,” I’d say. “We Trojans sure are sorry about stealing Helen and starting this whole war. So how about we quit this fussin’ and a-feudin’ and make peace!” Right. He’d cut me stem to stern, and he’d be right to do it.

Achilles: Sounds like a plan, dude.

[Hector, discovering a reservoir of cowardice he didn’t know he had, proceeds to run for his life. Following swiftly behind, Achilles chases Hector three times around the city. Nearby, the gods mutter to themselves.]

Zeus: This – is getting embarrassing.

Athena: As it must – Those Trojans deserve no better!

Zeus: Well, perhaps you’re right. So if you need to –

[Athena appears next to Hector, pretending to be one of his brothers.]

Athena: Hector – "brother!" – You sure can run fast for someone so determined to stand his ground!

Hector: You’re right, “brother.” You, willing to stand with me in my hour of need, you have given me strength. I will run no more. It’s time to end this once and for all.

Achilles: Oh, you’re ready to fight now?

Hector: Yes, at last. Two will fight and one will die. But before we do, let’s make a pact that the winner will pledge not to mutilate the loser’s body.

Achilles: Promise all you want. Me, I’m here for blood, not for lessons in etiquette and protocol. The dogs of war are howling for blood, and I brought just the can opener to feed ‘em right tonight! Eat spear, Trojan!

[Achilles throws and misses. Hector gains renewed confidence, unaware that Athena has beamed the wayward spear back to Achilles. Hector throws and scores a direct hit – against the shield of Hephaestus. Hector’s spear does no damage.]

Hector: Well, I’m boned. Might as well make one last good stand before I die.

Achilles: Excellent strategy, Hector, especially since you’re wearing my armor. So, did you ever have a chance to give it a proper inspection? Did you ever notice that empty space above the shoulder? No? Well I did!

[Achilles spears Hector]

Hector: OK, so I’m gonna die. Which is fine, but may I offer one last request that you leave my body in peace?

Achilles: Pieces, Hector. The dogs will rip your body to pieces.

Hector: [releasing his last breath] Hard… core.

THE ILIADBOOKS 23 to 24

Achilles joins in games to celebrate the Greeks’ victory and fulfills his promise to desecrate Hector’s body. But each day Apollo repairs the corpse. Eventually the gods send emissaries to end this humiliation. One messenger persuades Priam that he should visit Achilles to ransom the body of his son. The two men meet in Achilles’ tent. Both, having lost loved ones, come to recognize their common humanity through shared suffering. His rage quenched at last, Achilles allows Priam to depart with Hector. Troy’s greatest hero receives an honorable burial.


More Pseudo Scripts

• Yo, Euthyphro

• Yo, Medea

• Yo, Phaedrus

• Yo, Socrates [based on The Apology]

• Yo, Tartuffe

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Denver Street Art

More street art pix from my 2014 Solo. Today's focus: Denver.

1300 Champa Street [GMap
1300 Champa Street [GMap 
Champa Street and 22nd Street [GMap]
Champa Street and 22nd Street [Detail]
764 Kalamath Street [GMap]
2217 Champa Street [GMap]
2218 Champa Street [GMap]

Monday, September 1, 2014

SLC Street Art

As part of my recent 2014 solo, here's some street art from Salt Lake City!

780 S. 400 W [GMap]
300 W Pierpont Ave [GMap]
Utah Arts Alliance • 663 W 100 S [GMap]
35 W Whitlock Ave photomerge [GMap]
35 W Whitlock Ave [detail]
1572 S State [GMap]

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Yo, Phaedrus

2nd century CE fragment [Wikipedia]
Planning a COMM 250 discussion about Plato's Phaedrus, and I figured it was about time for another Pseudo Script...

Socrates: S’up?

Phaedrus: Stuffed. Just gobbled up some “food for thought,” prepared by master rhetorician Lysias: A chef of the mind, that guy is.

Socrates: Your belly full, is it?

Phaedrus: Oh that delightful Socratic sarcasm.

Socrates: OK, seriously, tell me about this “meal” of yours.

Phaedrus: Well, it was about how a “non-lover” is better than a “lover.” Juicy, huh?

Socrates: I’m guessing Lysias also agrees that short, fat, bald guys are more attractive than tall, thin, hairy dudes, too, right? Then he may be onto something. So, give me a sample.

Phaedrus: Can’t do it, dude. There’s no way I could cook up a semblance of what Lysias laid down.

Socrates: Yeah, like you haven’t been practicing all morning, just hoping I’d walk by so you could show off.

Phaedrus: Well… But I don’t have any of Lysias’ actual words memorized. They were too mind-blowing to repeat. I can just give you a taste, not the whole meal.

Socrates: Say what? You’ve got his entire speech written down. It’s right there, under your cloak.

Phaedrus: No, that’s my – Yes, it’s a scroll.

Socrates: Uh huh.

Phaedrus: By the way, doesn’t this spot remind you of a cool local folk tale?

Socrates: Yeah, but I don’t study that stuff. Well, I do, sometimes, but not seriously. I mean, I don’t even know my own true nature yet. So why should I waste time with fairy tales? And… What a second. You’re trying to weasel out of our agreement! You promised to whip up a meal of Lysias’ brilliant insights on love. And here we are, by this lovely river, under a shady tree. Isn’t this a perfect place to analyze a speech?

Phaedrus: You don’t get out much, do you?

Socrates: Yeah, I’ll work on that. In the meantime, where’s this feast you promised?

Phaedrus: OK, OK. Hold your horses. Here’s the meal. It’s a speech by Lysias about how non-lovers are better than lovers, right?

Socrates: You said that.

Phaedrus: Yeah, so now let me whet your appetite. I’m Lysias, right? And I say that lovers are bad news because they give too much of themselves to those they love, and they demand too much in return. Lovers start out great, but then they get fickle and jealous and, well, d’ya ever see Fatal Attraction? It’s like that. Lovers, I mean. Bad news. Non-lovers, though, like the Honey Badger: “Just don’t care.” I mean, they care and all, but they don’t care so much that they’d hide the truth from you. Like, if your zipper were down. Your lover might ignore it, to not embarrass you. But a non-lover would say, “Dude, your fly’s down.” And isn’t that better? And the non-lover will tell you in public, when you really need to know. Heck, the non-lover can provide an honest reflection of public perception, because he isn’t so tied to your opinion. And then there’s the fact that the lover falls in love with you at a certain point in your life, only to hate that you’ve grown older, for changing and all. The non-lover, however, tolerates your age. And if he doesn’t, so what? You can just get another non-lover? The world’s full of ‘em! Bottom line: It’s better to surround yourself with non-lovers than with lovers.  

Socrates: [Embarrassed silence…]

Phaedrus: I know, right? [Mimics head explosion] Mind: Blown.

Socrates: Mmm-mmmm. That is a tasty burger.

Phaedrus: Mocking me. You’re mocking me, aren’t you? Y’understand, Lysias is, like, this amazing rhetorician. He invents these incredible speeches, so that even the most goofy ideas make sense. And you’re making fun. Dude, do you have any friends?

Socrates: No friends like Lysias, I’ll tell you that. Look, I don’t know much about rhetoric. I’m just a small town philosopher: Wandering town. Having adventures. Challenging assumptions. Pissing off the cobblers with questions like “How do you know you make good shoes?” Stuff like that. So I can’t judge this speech – this meal, I mean – according to the standards of the chef. But I can tell you that Lysias appears to depend on a few ingredients that he slops together in icky combinations. Like Taco Bell.

Phaedrus: Like you could whip up a meal with half the good taste as Lysias.

Socrates: Well, sure, I could. I mean, it’s not that hard. The result, either from Taco Bell or vomited from my own mouth would look about the same.

Phaedrus: Barf away, my good man. And I’ll throw up a statue for you, big as life.

Socrates: Yeah, thanks for that. You know how much I love representations of truth.

Phaedrus: Again with the sarcasm.

Socrates: Look. Anyone can play around with meaningless comparisons: “Lover” versus “Non-Lover.” There’s no insight; it's all a matter of technique. The real question is: Can you start from basic principles and produce something true?  

Phaedrus: Uh huh…

Socrates: OK, so there’s no need for me to mimic Lysias then.

Phaedrus: Oh, poor Socrates. Not up to the challenge? Ugh. You’re no better than me. “Oh, Phaedrus, you’re just waiting to wax eloquently.” “Oh, no, not me!” You’re just waiting to philosophize, Socrates. So get on with –

Socrates: OK, you’ve convinced me.

Phaedrus: [Rolls eyes heavenward]

Socrates at the Vatican Museum
(Photo by Andrew Wood)
Socrates: [Joins fingers into a bridge] Yes, yes. Where shall we begin? Ah, of course, with a definition of love. Now, “the power of love is curious thing.”

Phaedrus: “Make a-one man weep –

Socrates: And another man sing,” right. What that means is that we’re devoted to two types of love. One represents our earthly desires; it’s born in us. The other is trained, or remembered. [Awkward pause…] Yes, now that second kind of love leads us toward higher ambitions. It’s like Trivial Pursuit versus Heavenly Pursuit. With me so far?

Phaedrus: I think so.

Socrates: OK, so it seems that Lysias may be right, because a lover will always try to game you. On the one hand, your lover will say sweet things. On the other hand, your lover will threaten to withhold those treats. And your lover will never want you to think of anything else, or to improve yourself. “Exercise so that I may find you attractive,” your lover will say, “but don’t work out so much that someone else might want you.” It’s a recipe for mediocrity. It’s also a quick road to lonely-town, because your lover won’t want you to have other friends, no point of comparison. And don’t get me started on age. Your lover will want you when you’re young but will abandon you later on. He’ll feast upon you. He’ll suck up your innards and then spit out the remains before leaving you a stinking carcass, waiting for the buzzards to sweep down and –

Phaedrus: Dude. Weren’t you a soldier in the war against Sparta? You saw some serious stuff, huh? 

Socrates: [Pretends to be lost in a “thousand yard stare”]

Phaedrus: OK, so “Lover: Bad.” Now what’s so good about non-lovers?

Socrates: You’d “love” for me to answer that, wouldn’t you? I haven’t given you enough? Here I am, standing on a stage for you. I’ve been speaking all afternoon and into the eve –

Phaedrus: Dude. It’s, like, noon. Chill.

Socrates: Ah yes, the sun is sticking straight up. Look, my point is: Yes. I can give as bad a speech as Lysias. I can even give an even worse speech. What does that prove? The fact is: Lysias has taught incorrectly about love. He knows a thing or two about rhetoric, nothing about love.

Phaedrus: And you know more?

Socrates: About love, my dear Padawan? Yes, of course!

Phaedrus: And…?

Socrates: Right. First, we need to understand that love and madness are closely related.

Phaedrus: Yeah, I kinda saw that coming.

Socrates: Well you sure can’t have one without the other. In fact, madness, while something we often mock on Earth, is actually proof of the divine within us. Of course there are several types of madness, such as the experience of prophets or seers, and each of these types are related to a particular god. But the madness that motivates us the most is erotic love.

Phaedrus: No surprises there.

Socrates: But it’s not just about sex. Look, you know about the soul, right? The soul is like… Hey, it’s like what you said before: “Hold your horses.” Yeah, the soul is like a charioteer being pulled by two winged horses.


Dwie Judha Satria [website]
Phaedrus: I think I saw that on a Judas Priest album cover.  

Socrates: Sure, why not. Anyway, the soul is really a combination of the three. The charioteer is immortal and, in a way, never-changing. Then there are those horses. Restless. Ever-changing. Dragging the charioteer in two different directions. The soul is both at the same time.

Phaedrus: Like a –

Socrates: Don’t even try it. The point is, each charioteer follows one of the gods, cruising the universe, savoring delights, stuff like that. Problem is, these human charioteers are pulled by opposing horses. There’s this “noble” horse that leads us toward heaven. Then there’s this “ignoble” horse that drags us toward Earth. The noble horse loves truth and beauty; the ignoble horse prefers opinion and pleasure. So the charioteer tries to manage these opposing forces, hoping to cavort with the gods. Depending upon how close he gets, he will be born as a philosopher, or maybe an artist. Otherwise they’re condemned to be something like a farmer, or a sophist, or – worst of all – a tyrant. So we live and die, trying and trying again. Some of us get closer to wisdom; others just keep crashing to earth. Eventually some go to heaven; others are condemned to live in a horrible place under the earth.

Phaedrus: I was caught in a snowstorm at Denny’s once. Had to eat two meals there, lunch and dinner, before the roads got cleared.  

Socrates: Exactly. Anyway, philosophers who get closest to heaven are reborn with enough memory of their experiences that they can’t quite fit in back on earth. Everything they see looks fake to them. They know that the crap served at Denny’s is not technically “food.” And they wonder why their friends and neighbors wolf it down. To everyone else, though, especially those drawn to the artificial pleasures of earthly existence, these folks are nuts. And in a sense they are crazy. They’re crazy for anything on Earth that reminds them of that which floats above. What’s more, we’re all crazy in different ways, depending on the gods we follow. Along the way, we meet other charioteers, each struggling with horses of their own. Sometimes we’ll give in and allow our bad horses with their earthly desires to drag us together and ultimately down to earth. But occasionally, once we learn to “hold our horses,” we may commune with other like-minded people. In this way, we may love them. Not with the madness that sends us crashing to earth, but rather with a higher love that lofts us ever upward. So you see: it’s a paradox. We must be mad to be drawn to heaven. Yet we must conquer that madness to get there.

Phaedrus: Wow.

Socrates: Yeah. So, you see: Lysias kinda sucks, huh?

Phaedrus: Yeah.

Socrates: It’d be better for him to be a philosopher, huh?

Phaedrus: Yeah.

Socrates: Indeed, that’s part of the problem. With rhetoricians, I mean. They “love” words, and they “love” the sound of applause. But they have no understanding of real love because they have no concern for the difference between good and bad.

Phaedrus: And you think we should talk about that, huh?

Socrates: Well, don’t you?

Phaedrus: Actually, I was thinking that it’s getting sort of late.

Socrates: Nonsense! We shall chat like grasshoppers, never tired to chirp of lovely things.

Phaedrus: Yes. Like grasshoppers. Of course, even grasshoppers need to – 

Socrates: So let us continue!

Phaedrus: Naturally. What shall we talk about?

Socrates: Why, talking, of course! We shall talk about talking.

Phaedrus: Of course we will.

Socrates: Now when it comes to orators –

Phaedrus: I’ve heard this one. Orators don’t care about truth. They only care about applause.

Socrates: Exactly. Orators can convince you to do silly things. Like, “Definitely, you should get a tattoo of Nickelback. Those guys are timeless!”

Phaedrus: Yeah, those guys suck… But wait a second. Isn’t rhetoric just that stuff that lawyers do to win cases and legislators do to pass laws?

Socrates: OK, let’s presume that you’re right. But what is the real topic of these matters? Legislators and lawyers aren’t just talking about laws and lawsuits; they’re talking about right and wrong.

Phaedrus: Yeah.

Socrates: But when they’re good – I mean effective – they can make the one appear as the other.

Phaedrus: Sure.

Socrates: But don’t you see? That kind of dispute isn’t limited to courtrooms and assemblies. Distinguishing right from wrong is pretty much central to all human life. The problem is that orators, because they can’t tell the difference, can cause plenty of mischief wherever they go.

Phaedrus: This is getting a bit too abstract for me.

Socrates: OK, let’s try a concrete example, then: those speeches we’ve been discussing.

Phaedrus: Let’s.

Socrates: Now Lysias: He presumes that we all agree on certain things, such as the division of terms: “lover” and “non-lover.” But that’s a distinction without real difference. At least it is, unless we first define love.

Phaedrus: Yeah, you did that.

Socrates: And Lysias didn’t. He presumes a definition of love without actually offering one. Then he meanders along a twisted line of thinking, like this river here. His words wander to-and-fro, leading us nowhere.

Phaedrus: Maddening…

Socrates: Ah yes, my speech. Now my speech begins with the argument that love is madness.

Phaedrus: Sometimes it seems that love is a battlefield.

Socrates: Bite me, my good man. I was mostly playing, weaving together a bit of myth and doggerel. But my point remains: I began by dividing madness into different types, aligning them with our different gods. Then I associated “love” with one of those types: erotic love. Remember?

Phaedrus: Yo, I was there. I still am. Where are we going with this?

Socrates: We’re talking about the process of discussion. To speak the truth about anything, sometimes you have to break things down into their parts. Sometimes you have to bring them together into a coherent whole. Ultimately you must be able to see both at the same time: the “one and many.” Folks who do that stuff well are called “Dialecticians.”

Phaedrus: Hmmm, that’s certainly not what Lysias and his rhetoric-pals do. So what is rhetoric then?

Socrates: Well, based on the handbooks I’ve read, it appears that rhetoricians cobble together rules of speech-making. Like, “start with this appeal and then use that trick…” Really, they’re all just cribbing from those old crows Corax and Tisias who squawked out techniques for confusing “long” and “short” so that the only thing we ever measure is convenience.

Phaedrus: Flaccid reasoning, to be sure.

Socrates: You're far too kind. Those rhetoricians may natter about seemingly trivial things, but we treat them like rock stars. No, not like rock stars… like doctors. We ask for their prescriptions and take what they give us, never caring to ask where they got their training. We pretend that they understand our individual maladies, when all they do is sell the same patent medicines to anyone can pay. Or if you’d have us return to the rock star analogy: Rhetoricians are like musicians who can strum a chord, though they know nothing about music.

Phaedrus: Can there be any “true” art of rhetoric then? Or is it all an endless Nickelback concert?

Socrates: Let’s just say that most rhetoric is pretty bad. But some is less bad, like a Pericles oration. Now that guy was OK, but mostly because he was trained by a philosopher. To continue our medical theme, Pericles would be a good doctor because he took the time to study the “body politic” with consideration for the “whole” body.

Phaedrus: Uh huh.

Socrates: And that’s what a good rhetorician should do. He seeks to inspire the soul. To teach his art, he’d begin by explaining the soul and then defining whether the soul is unified or composed of different parts, each requiring a different appeal. Finally he’d explain why one appeal works in a particular case but is inappropriate in another case.

Phaedrus: Yep, that seems like a pretty good job description for a rhetorician.

Socrates: But Lysias doesn’t offer that kind of training, does he?

Phaedrus: No, not as such.

Socrates: But might Lysias reply that we’re being overly strict on the matter? Is not persuasion a game of winning and losing? Is it not true that “history is written by the winners”? That’s what Tisias taught, right? Or Corax, or one of those guys… That truth is a matter of opinion?

Phaedrus: Seems so.

Socrates: Of course it does. But if Tisias were standing here today, we’d have to remind him that all words are merely representations of the truth. And that when we’re stuck with words, we must at least strive to select only the best representations.

Phaedrus: Nothing but the best for us.

Socrates: Yet only one who knows the truth may hope to tell the difference, and that knowledge does not come easy. It takes time and effort. But to be a good rhetorician – those few that may be found – such struggle is necessary.

Phaedrus: I should write this down.

Socrates: No, please don’t. For you see –

Phaedrus: Aren’t we almost done?

Socrates: Almost. You see, there’s just this matter of writing.

Phaedrus: Which is bad because

Socrates: Because writing demonstrates an even worse application of rhetoric than speaking. You see, writing was invented by this Egyptian god named Theuth –

Phaedrus: You’re making this up.

Socrates: No, really! Theuth was convinced that writing would help the Egyptians remember things. So he explains this to the god of Egypt, a guy named Thamus.

Phaedrus: Oh for gods’ sake.

Socrates: Bear with me. Or is it “bare” with me? Either way, Thamus says, “Like a doting father, you have too much esteem for your children. This ‘writing’ you invented won’t improve memory; it’ll destroy it.” And he’s right. Like, how many phone numbers do you remember right now? How many? And d’ya know why? Because of your cell phone. Get it? Once you write or tap down your information, you know longer have to remember it. What you remember instead, maybe, is the experience of writing or typing. You remember a sensation without truth.

Phaedrus: Seriously, you’re just pulling this out of your cloak, aren’t you?

Socrates: Oh, you don’t want to know what’s under there. And let’s not forget your own limitations. I mean, I tell a tale from Egypt, and you don’t believe me? Just because it's from EgyptYou don’t get out much, do you?

Phaedrus: OK, I get it.

Socrates: And that’s the point. Writing is like painting. You see an image, but you cannot ask anything of its author. And, like rhetoric, the result offers no special formulation for its audience; it never changes.

Phaedrus: Wait, isn’t truth changeless?

Socrates: Clever boy. But the only “truth” we poor humans can handle arises through philosophic analysis. Give and take. The kind of dialogue we’ve been having, actually. I’m an ugly old man and you’re a frivolous fop, but our souls speak to each other, despite the faults and foul odors of our bodies. In fact, our bodies are built for this kind of intellectual intercourse. I’m merely hoping to plant the seeds of wisdom in you.

Phaedrus: [Awkward pause] So written words are –

SocratesMere monuments to the folly of a man trying to grab onto his youth.

Phaedrus: You illustrate your point beautifully.

Socrates: So when it comes to communication…

Phaedrus: Yeah, I get it. Oral is better.

Socrates: Pretty much most of the time.

Phaedrus: OK, I’ll pass that message along to Lysias. But what about you? Don’t you have a pal named Isocrates who also fancies himself a teacher of speech?

Socrates: Most definitely, I intend to plant my wisdom-seed in him later today.

Phaedrus: Well OK then. Sprout on, old man. 


More Pseudo Scripts

• Yo, Euthyphro

• Yo, Medea

• Yo, Socrates [based on The Apology]

• Yo, Tartuffe