The Classical Mind Newsletter for January 13, 2023
Socratic Method and Dead Ends, Beowulf, Neoplatonism, "Nature's Pitfall," Writing for the Common Good, and Dog Names
The Socratic Method and Dead Ends
The Socratic Method has become increasingly popular in the classroom, especially in light of the classical education renewal movement. In this mode of engagement, the teacher mimics Socrates by posing questions for the students, attempting to gently shepherd them to a particular goal. Anyone who has attempted this method in a classroom setting has experienced times when “those great questions receive no definitive answers.” This is also true in a subset of Platonic dialogues often called “aporetic” dialogues. The word aporia means “impasse” and the term refers to those dialogues where the end felt like a dead end. Marc Hays argues that these dialogues still have a function. They are not a “waste of time.” Rather “the goal is not to get some where but rather to see some thing along the way.” In these instances, Socrates “can show us not only more than we know, but also more than he knows.”
The Opening Lines of “Beowulf” as Translated by Tarren Andrews, Flathead Indian Reservation, Elaine Treharne, Jill M. Fitzgerald, and Angela B. Fulk
Since the next episode of the Classical Mind podcast is about Beowulf, I thought it would be appropriate to share the opening lines from the poem. This translation by Tarren Andrews, Flathead Indian Reservation, Elaine Treharne, Jill M. Fitzgerald, and Angela B. Fulk.
Heyla! We have a story about the Spear-Danes, from the old days when they were big and their kings showed their strength. There was one king, Shield Schefing, who stole many mead-benches from other tribes and terrified their leaders. At first, he was found weak and wandering, but was taken in and then grew under the comfort of the skies. He consumed honors until each of the other surrounding tribes over the whale’s road were forced to obey him and pay tribute. They say, that was a good king. After all this (when he was old), Shield had a son—a young one in the courtyard—who had been sent by God as a comfort to the people because He had seen how they were distressed, left without a strong leader for a long while. The Lord of life, ruler of glory, gifted worldly honour: Beowulf was famed with widespread renown, son of Scyld, in the northern lands. So should a young man do good things with costly gifts in his father’s care, so that in old age loyal companions remain with him afterwards; when war comes they will support their prince. Through glorious deeds a man shall prosper among peoples everywhere. Scyld then set off at his due time, the mighty lord went into the Lord’s keeping. His beloved companions carried him then to the water’s edge, as he himself had instructed when he still governed, that much-loved Scylding friend, their beloved land-prince held power a long time. There in the port a ring-prowed ship stood anchored, icy and eager, a nobleman’s vessel. They laid down their dear king, giver of rings, in the bosom of the ship, mighty by the mainmast. There were many treasures from faraway lands, such precious things loaded there. I have never heard of a finer ship fitted with the weapons and armor of war, swords and harnesses. In its embrace lay a multitude of treasures, which were to go with him far off, into the dominion of the sea. No fewer gifts were provided for him there, the very wealth of a nation, than what was once done by those who, at his birth, set him adrift, alone over the waves as a child. Then they set for him a golden banner high over his head, let the water carry him, gave him to the powers of the sea. In them there was a sad spirit, a mournful mind. Men did not know, to tell the truth, hall counselors, heroes under the heavens, who accepted that load.
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