Shestov on Socrates: “How painful it is to read Plato’s account of the last conversations of Socrates! The days, even the hours of the old man are numbered, and yet he talks, talks, talks . . . . Crito comes to him in the early morning and tells him that the sacred ships will shortly return to Athens. And at once Socrates is ready to talk, to ague . . . . from all sources we have it, that Socrates spend the month following his verdict in incessant conversations with his pupils and friends. that is what it is to be a beloved master, and to have disciples. You can’t even die quietly” (18-19).

Shestov has a theory about why: “Pascal, as his sister tells us, also talked a great deal before his death, and de Musset cried like a baby. Perhaps Socrates and Pascal talked so much, for fear they should start crying. It is a false shame!” What they wanted to avoid was the “horror of the sensation of groundlessness” that grips us when we come face to face with the “ghastliness of our condition” (31).

Perhaps Shestov would be more satisfied by Jesus. Perhaps Jesus stared straight at the full evil of death. Jesus talks a lot in the Upper Room, but then “like a lamb before its shearer is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.”

More on: Philosophy

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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