I’m thrilled to be one of this year’s judges for the New York Classical Club’s Contests for the Oral Reading of Greek and Latin. Our orators will compete for cold, hard cash—it’s open to students of all ages and levels, from grade school to grad school.
The competition will take place at Columbia University on Saturday, April 7, and contestants must enter by April 1. See the official advertisement for more information.
Today’s New York Times crossword takes its theme from the alternating one-way streets found throughout much of the grid layout of Manhattan, although here the crossword grid alternates the direction of both the rows and the columns:
Will Shortz and the crossword word have in mind other metaphors for this gridlock-inspired puzzle like weaving and even Escherian geometry, but when I see these alphabetic switchbacks, I think of boustrophedon, an ancient writing practice named for the back-and-forth path of oxen ploughing a field—the ancient Cretan Gortyn Code is just one of many examples:
I taught a Greek class many years ago on Plato’s Crito, and I’m happy to have had the opportunity (at last!) to write something about this dialogue over at Lapham’s Quarterly. In my new essay, I write about Socrates’ belief that “living among irreverent chaos is worse than dying under the rule of law” and consider more broadly why Socrates, “history’s paragon of free thinking,” capitulates to his unjust sentencing to death-by-hemlock. Here’s a little sip from the poisonous cup, but do go over to Lapham’s to gulp the rest down:
Bested only by Jesus, Socrates is the most celebrated of the West’s condemned men. His story is familiar to readers of Plato’s Apology, an account of Socrates’ self-defense at his 399 BC trial, and to viewers of Jacques-Louis David’s 1787 painting La Mort de Socrate: the Athenian gadfly was found guilty of corrupting the city’s young and straying from its approved theologies, crimes that earned him not a cross to bear but a cup to drink. But less familiar than these two forensic episodes—his courtroom sentencing and execution by hemlock about a month later—are the events that come between them.
So goes the wise but rarely followed advice. (See Eric Posner for some good reasons if you remain unconvinced.) Emerson’s take, through, is my favorite:
And why must the student be solitary and silent? That he may become acquainted with his thoughts. If he pines in a lonely place, hankering for the crowd, for display, he is not in the lonely place; his heart is in the market; he does not see; he does not hear; he does not think. But go cherish your soul; expel companions; set your habits to a life of solitude; then, will the faculties rise fair and full within, like forest trees and field flowers; you will have results, which, when you meet your fellow-men, you can communicate, and they will gladly receive. Do not go into solitude only that you may presently come into public. Such solitude denies itself; is public and stale. The public can get public experience, but they wish the scholar to replace to them those private, sincere, divine experiences, of which they have been defrauded by dwelling in the street. It is the noble, manlike, just thought, which is the superiority demanded of you, and not crowds but solitude confers this elevation. Not insulation of place, but independence of spirit is essential, and it is only as the garden, the cottage, the forest, and the rock, are a sort of mechanical aids to this, that they are of value. Think alone, and all places are friendly and sacred. The poets who have lived in cities have been hermits still. Inspiration makes solitude anywhere. Pindar, Raphael, Angelo, Dryden, De Stael, dwell in crowds, it may be, but the instant thought comes, the crowd grows dim to their eye; their eye fixes on the horizon, — on vacant space; they forget the bystanders; they spurn personal relations; they deal with abstractions, with verities, with ideas. They are alone with the mind.Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Literary Ethics” (1838)