The Dialogue, by Chris Wind

The Dialogue, by Chris Wind (from Deare Sister)

 

Lasthenia, your beard is slipping.

Why thank you.

Did you get the mathematics done?

No. And I tried so hard, Axio, after you left last night. I worked at it for another two hours. It’s just not clear at all. Can you help me again tonight?

All right—I should be able to get away.

Wonderful!!

Lasthenia, please be more discreet passing these notes back and forth. People will begin to notice us.

Well maybe it’s time they did. I get so angry! None of the other students have to pass notes, they murmur freely to each other whenever they have something to say. (Which is all the time.)

None of the other students have soprano voices.

None that we know of. Haven’t you wondered about that new student? The one who sits in the back—never says a word—         Also has a beard.

Stop now, Plato has come in.

See that’s the problem with this disguise. Not only does it cut us of from the men, it cuts us off from each other too.

But otherwise we couldn’t be here, and we’d be even more cut off. Now please! If Plato sees us, he’ll think we aren’t paying attention, and I’d hate to offend him so!

Do you think he’s going to continue with the concept of justice? I was thinking about that on my way here this morning. And I think the problem is that we associate justice with goodness. Look what happens if we don’t do that: something can be just without necessarily being good.

That’s an interesting idea. So the person to whom the guns were entrusted gives them back when the owner, though no longer in his right mind, requests them—the action can indeed be just, but not good.

Yes, and it can be just to charge everyone the same amount (or to charge anything at all) for medical services, but not good.

But that doesn’t get us any closer to defining justice, to deciding what is and is not just.

Well to me, it’s a lot like mathematics.

Meaning you don’t understand it?

Very funny. No, meaning it’s a matter of equations, of strict equivalences.

Go on.

Well that’s all very fine with numerical relations, but it’s impossible in human relations—unless we treat people like numbers. An example: for one child, taking away a toy is punishment, for another, the mere suggestion of it is enough.

Because the children are different emotionally, the impact will be the same even the action needs to be different.

Exactly, because numbers just have quantity, but people have quality as well—emotional quality, physiological quality, situational quality.

Hm. So are we saying justice has no place in human relations?

Oh shit, Aristotle’s getting up to speak. If he rants and raves about women again like he did yesterday, I swear I won’t be silent this time.

No, Lasthenia, you mustn’t! If you speak out, all will be lost!

If I don’t, all will be lost. If he’s allowed to continue, uncontested, he will soon persuade the others—you know how he can talk. And he’s rich too.

So?

Well, don’t you see? Plato is getting old. Unless he names a successor, the Academy will close, then Aristotle will open his own school. He knows Plato will never ask him to carry on the Academy, his ideas are too different. And as far as I know, he hasn’t named anyone. Has he sent any word to you about it?

To me?

Well why not? You heard what Speusippus said he said about you, “Axiotheo alone has the mind bright enough to grasp my ideas.”

Yes but that doesn’t mean he’s going to name me his successor. Sometimes I think he knows I’m really Axiothea. And he knows as well as I that if the next director were a woman, the state would stop its funding. And unlike Aristotle, my father is not physician to the King—I have no private backing to keep a school going.

What about Samothea? She was head of the Hyperborean University in Cornwall.

True enough. I don’t know how she managed. I would think enrolment as well as funding would decrease. But she’s a Briton, things must be different there. No, Plato would be wise to name Lycurgus or Demosthenes.

Those airheads? Maybe they speak well, but they say nothing.

How would you know? You never listen! You’re always too busy distracting me with these notes!

I listen when there’s something worth listening to. And Aristotle is not worth listening to.

Give him a chance.

A chance? Did you hear what he just said? Axio, I have to speak out!

No, Lasthenia, be careful of winning a battle only to lose a war! The time isn’t right!

The time is never right!

That’s not true. Wait until this mess with the Macedonians has passed. Everything’s at loose ends now, our voice will get lost.

But when everything’s tight, there’s no room for our voice.

No, listen, we have to wait until the men feel secure. If we rise now, we’re just one more threat. Their response will be irrational, flung out of fear. When things are settled, when they are sure of their own position, then they can listen to the arguments about ours.

No! They were ‘secure’ last century. And look what happened. Already Aspasia and Diotima are unacknowledged, forgotten. We hear only of Socrates, not of the women who taught him. And yet Diotima’s social philosophy and her theories on nature have never been surpassed. And Elpinice and Aglaonice—what has happened to them, to their work? The surer the men get of their ‘position’, the surer they are to ‘put us in ours’! Perictyone alone is remembered, her papers are still read, but only because she’s Plato’s mother; you watch, as soon as he’s dead, she’ll be buried too!

No, that won’t happen, I don’t believe it!

It will! Axio, it has! Who is credited with the golden mean concept? Pythagoras, not Theano! She was brilliant! Mathematics, medicine, physics, psychology, named successor to his Institute at Croton—but is her name ever mentioned? And Theoclea, and Myla, Arignote, Damo—     Axio, it’s gone on long enough! We have to do something, we have to speak out!

We?

No—you’re quite right—you!

Me?! You’re crazy! Why me?

Well no one knows me from a hole in the ground. But if Axio—if Axio stands up as a woman—     Plato will have to acknowledge you! You’re his favourite—he’ll have to support you! And so will all the other students: either that or retract their past judgements, admit error. And you know how unlikely that is.

Oh Lasthenia, I don’t know. You don’t know what you’re asking. As I said, I think Plato knows. And if I expose myself, I expose him. I’d be putting him in a very awkward position. You’re right, he is old, and what with the way things are, he may lose the Academy altogether if I—     No. I owe him, he’s let me attend his classes, even though I am a woman.

You’d be putting him in an awkward position? Look at us! Plato has given you less than you deserve! That’s no cause for gratitude! You owe him nothing!

But Lasthenia, you’re exaggerating about Aristotle. His system of formal logic, remember his seminar last week? You must admit that what he proposes is an excellent way of thinking.

Does he think we’re capable of it?

His three types of soul, vegetative, sensitive, rational—

Ask him which type women have.

Happiness as the aim of all human action—

Whose happiness?

Lasthenia, he’s not that bad!

Axio listen to him! “For the female is, as it were, a mutilated male”—not that bad??
Axio, I beg you—think of Arete. She’s eleven now. In a few years, she’ll be ready to come to the Academy, she can’t learn everything from her father. She’s very bright, you know that. I gave her Perictyone’s paper On Wisdom to read a fortnight ago. Do you know, she understood it? And questioned very well! Do you want her to bind her breasts too, paste on a beard and learn to swagger—do you condemn her as well to silence in school?

All right.          All right. Maybe it is time.     But Lasthenia, I can’t stand up to Aristotle.

What do you mean you can’t stand up to Aristotle! For a man interested in empirical data, he seems positively blind to the reality of women. Just tell him the facts, tell him what we can do, what we are. And his logic—it’s so weak, even I could make it collapse.

But look at who’s here—they’ll laugh—          I can’t speak.     I’ll squeak.

Axio, I’ve heard you speak. You’re intelligent, you’re articulate—you can so speak. Just pretend you’re speaking to me Axio, as you do every evening—go, you can do it!

Another poem from chris wind – thought this one especially apt since it’s September and students are back at university…it’s from her book dreaming of kaleidoscopes

 

To My Philosophy Professors

 

Why didn’t you tell me?

When I was all set to achieve Eudamonia

through the exercise of Right Reason,

When I was eager to fulfil my part

of the Social Contract,

When I was willing, as my moral duty,

to abide by the Categorical Imperative

When I was focussed on Becoming,

through Thesis and Antithesis to Synthesis–

 

Why didn’t you correct me?

Tell me that Aristotle didn’t think I had any reason,

That according to Rousseau,

I couldn’t be party to the contract,

That Kierkegaard believes I have no sense of duty

because I live by feeling alone,

That Hegel says I should spend my life

in self-sacrifice, not self-development,

That Nietzsche thinks I’m good for pregnancy

and that’s about it–

 

Why didn’t you tell me I wasn’t included?

 

(Perhaps because you too had excluded me

from serious consideration;

Or did you think I wouldn’t understand?)

 

(I do.           I do understand.)

 

1987