- 4 -

The Rise of Sophism in Ancient Greece

(or : The First Serious-Sounding Chapter Title)

MINOA(1) IN 1400 BC was a pleasant resort spot - something of an oxymoron, that, but anyway, it was about as pleasant as it could be, what with chariot traffic up the hemhaw, and ancient celebrities walking down the street and being gawked at, and tons and tons and tons of Minoa's natural resource - philosophers.

Yes, philosophers. You could walk into the street and find philosophers of every creed from every land. You'd see an old man with a iron cup (remember, this is the Iron Age) and a sign that said : "Mieko will tell you the Meaning of Life for five drachmas."

And the young men of Minoa would meet once a week with their fellow philosophers on some grassy hill somewhere and talk about deadly serious subjects like theology. (At least, that's what they'd like us to think. It's relatively common knowledge that they held wild drunken orgies.)

And they'd say things like : "The sky is blue. I am a man. I can see that the sky is blue. If I were a flower, I could not see that the sky was blue. Would I even believe there was a sky? or would I believe that I were all that existed? Would I adopt a hedonistic world-view? Does this support my personal decision to adopt a hedonistic world-view?" Of course, it never dawned on the idiots that a flower doesn't worry about philosophy (or much else, except whether the sun will come up the next day.)

Very soon, a fraternity was formed, Sigma Omega Theta. The formation of this fraternity was remarkable, since both universities and the Greek alphabet hadn't been invented yet.(2)

Now they hung around more than ever - and miracle of miracles! orgies started to get a little dull. This turn of events fascinated them, so much so that they began to notice their fellow frat brothers and the many fallacies in their adopted philosophies began to register.

So, in the name of brotherhood, they decided to argue with each other attempting to elevate their fallen minds up onto a higher plane of enlightenment. After a while this noble prospect degenerated into naked rhetoric. The Sophists, as they came to be known, argued for argument's sake, and winning the argument, rather than helping their fellow man, was their focus. They would cleverly evade a biting question, hop away from a topic they really knew absolutely nothing about, and when worst came to worst, they would lie. And, thus, the precedent for modern politics was born.(3)

Now, while the Sophists were arguing and bickering and getting absolutely nothing done in general, the Spartans were kicking some major butt on the warfield. (And everybody knows that wars have always accomplished a lot more in history than logic.)

The day finally came when, as a joke, the Sophists of Sigma Omega Theta built a large kangaroo out of plywood, with the help of Bob Vila (see Time-Life Books, Home Improvement Series Vol. 47, Do-It-Yourself Large Decoy Animals, a very useful volume teaching you how to make lawn flamingoes, Christmas ornaments, and Trojan horses.) They then wheeled the giant marsupial up to Minoa City's gates and pasted a note to it, reading : "A little goodwill gift to the people of Minoa from their sister city, Melbourne, Australia." Lastly, they crawled inside the pouch and waited.

The next morning the guards found the big wooden 'roo outside their walls. Now, not understanding English, and not knowing in the slightest where "Australia" was(4), they pondered over the meaning of the giant beast.

"I know what it's for." Teriakipus(5), one of the guards, finally ventured.

"What?" Gallagheroikipus(6), the other guard, asked.

"You know those fraternity kids? I'd bet this is one of their pranks."

"Oh, sure. But don't you wish it was really the Spartan armies waiting to climb out of that pouch and take the city by storm?"

"What a great idea!!! Do you have any idea how neat that would sound in the history books of the future?"

"A whole lot better than some frat prank."

"Right, then. Let's call the Spartans over here and get them in that pouch."

So the city guards summoned the entire Spartan army to the shores of Minoa. Finally, they landed.

Gallagheroikipus called the Sophists.

"Hey, Sophists! We're on to your little joke! Now get out and let the Spartans in!"

"Aaw, shoot." Brother Montkaparamolhillkas(7) said.

And the army and the frat kids changed spots in the pouch.

The guards then rolled the plywood marsupial into the city square.

"Now remember," Teriakipus stated, "don't start the massacre until dark." Teriakipus turned to Gallagheroikipus and giggled, "We're going to make history!" They then danced out of the city to watch the fireworks from an appropriate distance.

The Spartan Army had four generals and a commanding general. The generals were named Jimmy Carter, Michael Jackson, George Washington, and Margaret Thatcher. The commanding general was named Hypocritates, better known to history as Father of Anachronisms.(8)

And while the Sophists were arguing over what the purpose of man's ring finger was(9), the Spartans were taking Minoa City by storm.

The Spartans took the city and Hypocritates was named King of the Province of Minoa. He then began to spread the blight of anachronisms throughout the universe.

And the people of Minoa were herded into two cages, one labelled "Philosophers" and the other "Miscellaneous". They were then sailed over the Mediterranean on the Queen Mary(10).

So Sophism spread like the plague to Spartan Greece.

However, the philosopher cage was packed so full that when they arrived in Greece, the only three philosophers left were Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle - all the others having died.

So Sophism spread, like a lingering cold, to Spartan Greece.

The remaining three philosophers were prodded on by the evil Spartan taskmasters into the native Customs Office.

"Have you any fruit or other perishables to declare?" the customs official asked in Very Ancient Greek.

"Only the imperishable fruits of my wisdom carried through my perishable shell of a body. I seek admittance into your land as a slave of men, but I seek to make them slaves of wisdom." Socrates answered.

"Right. Do you have anything to declare, you simpering lowlife?" the official asked.

"I have teachings to declare to all men who care to hear."

"Any illegal substances stashed anywhere?"

"Well," Socrates' eyes darted around. "Well," he hesitated. "There's a little of the marijuana weed in my toga breast pocket."

The official confiscated the illegal drug.

"You know, there are two punishments for concealed illegal drugs in Sparta. The convict gets to pick. Either you take a lifetime exile somewhere a kajillion miles away, or..." He snapped his fingers. An attendant appeared bearing a bowl. "... you drink the hemlock." the customs official finished.

He lifted his eyebrows and awaited the reply.

"What's hemlock?" Socrates asked.

"It's a plant. A drug." the official replied.

"Oh, wow! I'll take the hemlock!"

"All right, then. Just go with Rolandiokaipolipa here to the third dungeon on your right. Watch your step, though. The dungeon floors are a bit slimy today."

Socrates eagerly followed the attendant to his doom.

"Next!" the customs official said, in a thoroughly bored monotone. He was now puffing on the marijuana joint he had confiscated from Socrates.

Plato walked in next, with the taskmaster(11), brandishing a cattle prod, right behind him.

"Oh, wow!" he stammered, stopping. "I just had a thought! If all of the galaxies of the universe revolve around a fixed point simultaneously, then that fixed point..."

The taskmaster, who had caught up with him, poked him with the cattle prod, shocking Plato forward. "Yipe!" he yelled, leaping about eight feet across the room.

"Have you any fruits and/or perishables to declare?" the official put forth.

"Well, I've got an apple!" he said, holding up an apple for the customs official to see. At this, the brute taskmaster grabbed the fruit and consumed it nosily. He then gave Plato another taste of his cattle prod.

"He had an apple." the official muttered as he busily wrote something down on a piece of papyrus. "Tell me, do you harbor any undue bias against the perfect Spartan government or its god-like emperor?"

"Undue bias?" Plato yelled indignantly. "Undue bias?! Let me tell you, sir, that if I hold anything against your rotten people, your putrid government, or if I have any kind of animosity towards your emperor, you probably deserve it!!! You plunder our island, kill our men, rape our women, torture our children, smother our infants, and eat our dogs! You stick us all in cages, give us no food for a week, no living space at all, and treat us as slaves!"

Here the taskmaster gave him some heavy shocks from his prod. "Ahhhhhhh..." Plato moaned. "Ahhhhhhh!" The shocks jolted him to the pit of his core.

"Looks like we've got a Grade-A class lunatic here." the customs official stated coldly. He glanced at the writhing figure of Plato massaging his heart, desperately attempting to keep up a regular pulse. "Thor, feel free to kill him." he ejaculated casually.

Thor, the taskmaster, gave him one last terrible shock. Plato's heart failed to beat any longer.

As attendants dragged Plato's body out of the room, the official called "Next!"

Aristotle waltzed into the room.

"And what kind of nut-case are you?" the customs official flippantly remarked.

"I love you, man." Aristotle sincerely replied. "I believe that every person should love one another even under the most extraneous circumstances."

"Let me remind you," the official started, "you have been locked in a cage with three hundred men for one week. You have been given nothing to eat, and only stagnant semi-water to drink. You have been tortured by Spartan taskmasters and your toga," here he held his nose, "is stained with filth beyond comprehension."

"I still think that we can work it out. We need to concentrate on the fact that we are all imperfect and stop judging our fellow man. We need to appreciate each other as human beings and guide them on the path to peace. We need to reach inside ourselves and others for an idea of God. We need to help our fellow man in their search. We need to bear every tribulation as a sanctifying process. We need..."

"Yeah, right. Thor, do us a favor here."

And so Aristotle, too, fell under the terrible wrath of the cattle prod.

"Next!" the official intoned.

And so Sophism rose to be a great force in ancient... wait a minute, why did I even bother to write this chapter?

1. An island in the Mediterranean, presently known as Crete.

2. Hey, you gotta admit - fraternities would be a lot more fun without their parent universities. However, even then, even

without universities and their rules, the dedicated Sigma Omega

Thetas just could not get a woman to hang around them very long.

3. Why do you think that a government made up of philosophers was considered the ideal in ancient Greece? (Interested readers might want to consider Plato's Republic.)

4. In the South Pacific.

5. Very Ancient Greek : face-like-teriyaki.

6. Very Ancient Greek : face-like-one-who-has-seen-the-terror-of-a-Gallagher-show

7. Very Ancient Greek : he-who-makes-a-mountain-out-of-a-molehill.

8. If you don't know what anachronism means, you've just ruined the whole joke for yourself.

9. Some theories set forth on that day : 1. to have somewhere to wear your wedding ring, 2. so you have an nice, round number of fingers (yes, they had ten, too,) 3. it was put there because there was room, and 4. so philosophers could argue about it until the end of time.

10. See? Already the anachronisms have begun.

11. Not to be confused with taxmaster.

Return to