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Three Millennia of Greek Literature
The Greeks Us / Greece in West  

Emerson, Disclosing in every fact a germ of expansion

From "Representative Men


Icon of the Christ and New Testament Reader
Page 3

He was born 427 A.C., about the time of the death of Pericles; was of patrician connection in his times and city, and is said to have had an early inclination for war, but, in his twentieth year, meeting with Socrates, was easily dissuaded from this pursuit and remained for ten years his scholar, until the death of Socrates. He then went to Megara, accepted the invitations of Dion and of Dionysius to the court of Sicily, and went thither three times, though very capriciously treated. He traveled into Italy; then into Egypt, where he stayed a long time; some say three,- some say thirteen years. It is said he went farther, into Babylonia: this is uncertain. Returning to Athens, he gave lessons in the Academy to those whom his fame drew thither; and died, as we have received it, in the act of writing, at eighty-one years.

But the biography of Plato is interior. We are to account for the supreme elevation of this man in the intellectual history of our race,- how it happens that in proportion to the culture of men they become his scholars; that, as our Jewish Bible has implanted itself in the tabletalk and household life of every man and woman in the European and American nations, so the writings of Plato have preoccupied every school of learning, every lover of thought, every church, every poet,- making it impossible to think, on certain levels, except through him. He stands between the truth and every man's mind, and has almost impressed language and the primary forms of thought with his name and seal. I am struck, in reading him, with the extreme modernness of his style and spirit. Here is the germ of that Europe we know so well, in its long history of arts and arms; here are all its traits, already discernible in the mind of Plato,- and in none before him. It has spread itself since into a hundred histories, but has added no new element. This perpetual modernness is the measure of merit in every work of art; since the author of it was not misled by any thing short-lived or local, but abode by real and abiding traits. How Plato came thus to be Europe, and philosophy, and almost literature, is the problem for us to solve. [ ]

In all nations there are minds which incline to dwell in the conception of the fundamental Unity. The raptures of prayer and ecstasy of devotion lose all being in one Being. This tendency finds its highest expression in the religious writings of the East, and chiefly in the Indian Scriptures, in the Vedas, the Bhagavat Geeta, and the Vishnu Purana. Those writings contain little else than this idea, and they rise to pure and sublime strains in celebrating it. [ ]

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       Cf. Emerson, When the Gods come among men   Whitehead, Wide opportunities for experience  Russell Lowell, Fecundating minds  Ambrose of Milan, The ring of Gyges  Augustine, Socrates fought foolishness, Plato perfected philosophy   W.K.C. Guthrie, Life of Plato and philosophical influences  Papacy

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