Wait, I Drank What?
Socrates made a big name for himself by saying the only thing he knew was he knew nothing at all. Doesn’t that mean every other thing he ever said should have been a question? What about all those lines in Phaedra and Meno and the Republic and the rest that weren’t actually questions? Did Plato misquote Socrates? Why would Plato misquote his teacher? Did Plato get too drunk on not-watered-enough wine at one of those symposia and mishear a million Socratic sentences ending with upward inflexion? Is the absence of a question mark from ancient Greek typography a key factor here? Or did Plato harbor a grudge? Did he feel humiliated the time Socrates shoved a cup in his face and Democritus laughed and shouted, “Drink up, scribe,” only to learn later on that laudanum tastes like nothing, exactly like the nothing Socrates said he knew? Did Plato take this incident to heart? Did he become thenceforth a vengeful, plotting, duplicitous Republican? Did Plato resent his role as the guy who wrote down an endless string of questions the Cretans called philosophy? Was he sick of constant conjecture and can we please just make some basic straightforward assertions, even if the jury’s still out? Isn’t that what any decent, gods-fearing Republic rests upon, the perception of certainty? Did Plato target Socrates and Democritus’ partisanship? Would Plato be so bold as to go and burn all of Democritus’ papers in the street after he himself went on record saying somebody should go and burn all of Democritus’ papers in the street? Is that why just a paragraph or two of Democritus’ writings remain to this day, albeit pretty cool paragraphs with obvious Vedantic undertones, proving Democritus was in fact the most traveled man in ancient Athens, touring as far east as India and as far west as Morocco, which was how he got to be so worldly and, you know, democratic? Did Plato check Democritus’ papers out of every library in Greece and Egypt and burn them in Greek and Egyptian streets and point a finger at Socrates, who had to be senile by then or else high as fuck? Or was Plato subtler? Craftier? Did he go about sowing carefully calculated slander in the ears of the prominent authorities, accusing his teacher of heresy and corrupting the youth, which was actually not all that hard to believe, since Socrates was always hanging around youths and, well, corruption can be read several ways? Did Socrates chuckle at the word subpoena? Did he fail to take his trial seriously? Did he regret always going around asking people if they really believed in the gods, like really-really, like literally no shit believed in big bearded invisible guys in the sky who turn into randy swans and so forth? Did Socrates wish he tried harder at his trial to not sound so obnoxious? Would he counsel others to at least attempt to convince the jury they’re just the curious type and not enemies of the city-state instead of asking question after question after question after question in the arcade on a hot and dusty Athenian afternoon while everyone sits around sweating into their wool whatever-those-were-called? Did Socrates notice how happy Plato looked sitting in the back row next to his new pupil, Aristotle? Was Socrates truly unfazed when the verdict dropped? Did he honestly feel he had lived long enough already? Or did he wet himself? Did he care that he wet himself? Wasn’t he like 99? Wouldn’t he be wetting himself even if he wasn’t being sentenced to die? Was he tired of living or tired of wetting himself? Half and half? Did Socrates even hear the judge’s sentence? Did he believe the executioner was simply offering him a tasty beverage as a courtesy as he tottered about delivering a rather unapologetic apology and asking a final million questions of the Zeus-less sky? What does hemlock even taste like? It is bitter? Sour? A tiny bit sweet? Could it be a delightful balance of hops and malt with a thick head and a long, smooth, bubbly finish? Can we believe a single word Plato ever wrote, he who coined the Noble Lie? Is the lie noble or the nobility lying? What’s on the obverse? Impoverished Truth? Unfortunate Fact? Why does Plato himself never appear in all the writings of Plato? Can we take unsalted a single word he ever put on paper? A single word anyone ever put on paper? Or must we accept as historical fact that Socrates, just before he hiccupped and collapsed into nothingness, asked the chorus, “Wait, I drank what?”
Dan Tremaglio is a recent graduate of Pacific University’s MFA program and now teaches creative writing and literature at Bellevue College. His work has appeared in Willow, New England Writer’s Network, The Albuquerque Journal, and Cease, Cows. Lately he’s been writing flash fiction when he needs a break from the novel he’s been working on forever about a Dead Sea scribe who becomes radicalized at the start of the Jewish-Roman War.
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