How well I remember the aged poet Sophocles, when in answer to the question, “How does love suit with age, Sophocles–are you still the man you were?”
“Peace,” he replied; “most gladly have I escaped that, and I feel as if I had escaped from a mad and furious master.”
That saying of his has often come into my mind since, and seems to me still as good as at the time when I heard him. For certainly old age has a great sense of calm and freedom; when the passions relax their hold, then, as Sophocles says, you have escaped from the control not of one master only, but of many. And of these regrets, as well as of the complaint about relations, Socrates, the cause is to be sought, not in men’s ages, but in their characters and tempers; for he who is of a calm and happy nature will hardly feel the pressure of age, but he who is of an opposite disposition will find youth and age equally a burden.
— The Republic
A thinking man is one of the most recent productions evolved from Nature’s laboratory. The first man of brains to express himself about the world in an honest, simple and natural way, just as if nothing had been said about it before, was Socrates.
Twenty-four centuries have passed since Socrates was put to death on the charge of speaking disrespectfully of the gods and polluting the minds of the youths of Athens. During ten of these centuries that have passed since then, the race lost the capacity to think, through the successful combination of the priest and the soldier. These men blocked human evolution. The penalty for making slaves is that you become one.
To suppress humanity is to suppress yourself.
The race is one. So the priests and the soldiers who in the Third Century had a modicum of worth themselves, sank and were submerged in the general slough of superstition and ignorance. It was a panic that continued for a thousand years, all through the endeavor of faulty men to make people good by force. At all times, up to within our own decade, frank expression on religious, economic and social topics has been fraught with great peril. Even yet any man who hopes for popularity as a writer, orator, merchant or politician, would do well to conceal studiously his inmost beliefs. On such simple themes as the taxation of real estate, regardless of the business of the owner, and a payment of a like wage for a like service without consideration of sex, the statesman who has the temerity to speak out will be quickly relegated to private life. Successful merchants depending on a local constituency find it expedient to cater to popular superstitions by heading subscription-lists for the support of things in which they do not believe. No avowed independent thinker would be tolerated as chief ruler of any of the so-called civilized countries.
The fact, however, that the penalty for frank expression is limited now to social and commercial ostracism is very hopeful–a few years ago it meant the scaffold.
We have been heirs to a leaden legacy of fear that has well-nigh banished joy and made of life a long nightmare.
In very truth, the race has been insane.
Hallucinations, fallacies, fears, have gnawed at our hearts, and men have fought men with deadly frenzy. The people who interfered, trying to save us, we have killed. Truly did we say, “There is no health in us,” which repetition did not tend to mend the malady.
We are now getting convalescent. We are hobbling out into the sunshine on crutches. We have discharged most of our old advisers, heaved the dulling and deadly bottles out of the windows, and are intent on studying and understanding our own case. Our motto is twenty-four centuries old–it is simply this: KNOW THYSELF.