QOTD (2010-10-19)

From K.J. Dover, Greek Homosexuality, in which he’s explaining the character of Socrates in Plato’s Symposium, Phaedrus, etc.:

Plato’s Socrates believes that particular persons, animals, things, artefacts, acts and events which constitute our sensory experience, all possessing definable duration and location in space and all subject to change and decay, give us faint and fitful glimpses of a different world, a world of everlasting, unchanging entities, ‘forms’ or ‘ideas’, accessible to systematic reasoning…. The ultimate cause, towards which all rational explanation progresses, is Good itself; qua form, it is the goal of reason, and qua Good it is the goal of desire. Hence to perceive it is to love and desire it, and error blinds us to it; reason and desire converge upon Good, and in its vicinity fuse together.

This passage leaps off the page for me in a way in which, as good as Dover is, no other passage in this book does, and I think it’s because in its prose I hear echoes of the last few sentences of Pater’s Renaissance:

Well, we are all condamnés, as Victor Hugo says: les hommes sont tous comdamnés a morte avec des sursis indéfinis: we have an interval, and then our place knows us no more. Some spend this interval in listlessness, some in high passions, the wisest in art and song. For our one chance is in expanding that interval, in getting as many pulsations as possible into the given time. High passions give one this quickened sense of life, ecstasy and sorrow of love, political or religious enthusiasm, or the ‘enthusiasm of humanity.’ Only, be sure it is passion, that it does yield you this fruit of a quickened, multiplied consciousness. Of this wisdom, the poetic passion, the desire of beauty, the love of art for art’s sake has most; for art comes to you professing frankly to give nothing but the highest quality to your moments as they pass, and simply for those moments’ sake.

It’s not just the content of the Platonic Socrates’ views: it’s striking, I think, that Dover chose to encapsulate those views through language like “faint and fitful glimpses of a different world,” not so very different perhaps from Pater’s “pulsations,” which yield not necessarily the Good, but at least a better thing: “fruit,” “wisdom.” I’m ignorant of what there is to connect the two other than the obvious Greek-loving (in several senses) cultural context of Pater’s milieu, but I wonder if Dover was thinking along those lines at all when he wrote that paragraph. I wonder, after all, if I’m completely misguided to leap to Pater. What do you think?

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