Gordias: Aristageles, I am so glad to see you. Where have you been? Your friends haven’t sighted you for days. Have you been ill?
Aristageles: Dear friend, this cold, damp weather is no good for my bones. What’s more, the flabby old rascal dropsy has been harrassing me for days with pain in the legs and swelling. By Zeus, I challenged him this morning, saying I would go to the Agora whether he liked it or not. And as you can see I am here, grimacing somewhat but still determined, with the aid of a stick.
Gordias: I am sorry for your condition.
Aristageles: Over the years I have prayed to every god on Olympus, tried every ointment known in Greece, but this miserable beast still importunes me. It will pass, I know, like everything, and likely take me with it. But you seem lively, despite the leaden skies. There is a brightness in your eyes and a spring in your gait.
Gordias: Yes, indeed. I am preparing to host a symposium. Phokion, Thoxias and Thribias have all said they will come, and Polydoros will no doubt when he returns from Argos. And I have asked Ascaldea of Miletus, the citharede, to perform for us. It would be an honour if you too could join us, if you are able.
Aristageles: How kind. And what will be the subject of our discussion on this propitious occasion?
Gordias: Uh, well, I haven’t quite fixed on that.
Aristageles: You haven’t something in mind? Something enticing enough for Phokion, Thoxias, Thribias and Polydoros to slake their thirst for philosophy at your well?
Gordias: Well yes, I do.
Aristageles: Out with it, then. No false modesty here.
Gordias: What is Man?
Aristageles: What is Man? Is that it?
Gordias: Are you not pleased?
Aristageles: Well, it is to the point. Philosophy is nothing if it doesn’t take us to the essence of things.
Gordias: I have no doubt, if this be the topic of the night, that the discussion will be lively, deep and reasoned. But I would like to know, Aristageles, your view on the subject; for if you come I would like to place you in the best order of speakers.
Aristageles: Then you are asking me, What is Man?
Gordias: Most humbly, yes, I am.
Aristageles: Man is an animal.
Gordias: Then it is my turn to put on a perplexed face. An animal?
Aristageles: Indeed. Man is a donkey, carrying the burden of his desires.
Gordias: Just that? An animal?
Aristageles: Man is a pig, wallowing in the disasters of his own making. Man is a horse that dances when set free. Man is a nightingale that sings to the glory of God. Man is a curlew that cries out in fear in the night.
Gordias: Nothing more than an animal?
Aristageles: He is a cat, preening himself with simple pride; he is an ox, determined, steady and wilful; he is a fox who cunningly preys on all he can; an oak that with great strength lifts its arms to heaven.
Gordias: Wait, an oak is not even an animal.
Aristageles: I am stretching the cord, it is true. But I mean life, my friend, life.
Gordias: And is that all Man is, life? He is surely nobler, more refined, more advanced than a mere animal.
Aristageles: Have you no great regard for creation, and for the mighty creator and originator of all?
Gordias: Of course I do. I am questioning your placement of Man in the order of things.
Aristageles: His place is that which Zeus assigns him.
Gordias: But greater than an ox, a donkey, a nightingale and all the others you mentioned. A man has reason. It sounds ridiculous, but no ox ever came up with philosophy.
Aristageles: Ah, let me prove to you the connection between the two. Would you allow me to lead such an animal to the symposium?
Gordias: With respect, that is madness.
Aristageles: Socrates said that the greatest of goods comes to us through madness, provided it is bestowed by divine gift.
Gordias: I don’t understand. Man has created civilisation – no animal could do that.
Aristageles: Have you not seen the nests of some ants, where thousands working harmoniously together build the most contrived and delicate structures? Or the hives of bees, that through labour and ingenuity create the nectar we call honey?
Gordias: Great temples, art, poetry – you say all this is comparable to the work of ants, bees and oxen?
Aristageles: It is a matter of how one looks and sees the world. I do not privilege men because I have seen the worst and best of what we are capable. We have our own role, it is true, in this great dance of the cosmos, our unique capabilities and purpose, but as to some special altar at which we should erect and bow down to the statue of Man, of that I beg to express my disapproval.
Gordias: Why you are a contrarian, Aristageles. I have seen you worshiping at the Acropolis, taking part in the rites and processions of the Dionysia, speaking eloquently at debates of philosophy with your peers. You partake in all this, the gift of the genius of our ancestors carried forward by the good men of our time, yet you trifle with it as if it was nothing at all.
Aristageles: I don’t trifle, and I don’t wish my words to fall too hard on your years. But I do say that I would happily spend some days in the fields in the company of butterflies and grasshoppers in preference to my fellow men and women; some time watching the flight of partridges or the play of dolphins.
Gordias: And you would bring an ox to my symposium, let it stand there and defecate on the marble and break wind from its rear end?
Aristageles: It would be no better or worse than what I have seen and heard at many symposia.
Gordias: Then I have nothing more to say to you, Aristageles. Good Day, and until we meet next time.
Aristageles: Until next time, Gordias.