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  • Don’t Worry about Socrates: Three Plays for Television by Josef Pieper
  • Rashad Rehman
PIEPER, Josef. Don’t Worry about Socrates: Three Plays for Television. Translated by Dan Farrelly. South Bend, Ind.: St. Augustine’s Press, 2018. 172 pp. Paper, $15.00

In recent years, St. Augustine’s Press and Ignatius Press have been a fruitful hub for translating into English the works of German philosopher Josef Pieper (1904–1997). Pieper’s engagement with Plato is known in the English-speaking world through his short Divine Madness: Plato’s Case against Secular Humanism (Ignatius Press, 1995) and The Platonic Myths (St. Augustine’s Press, 2011). In 2018 St. Augustine’s Press published Dan Farrelly’s translation of Pieper’s Kümmert Euch nicht um Sokrates (1966), a German text initially composed as a television play for Bavarian Radio between 1962 and 1967, and as radio plays for Studio Bern in 1966. Under the English title Don’t [End Page 636] Worry about Socrates, Pieper’s text introduces a version, not translation, of Plato’s dialogues Gorgias, Symposium, and Phaedo.

Gorgias or The Abuse of Words and Power takes place between a Young Woman, a Speaker, a Professor, a Writer, a Journalist, and a Politician who discuss Plato’s Gorgias in the Professor’s study. The Professor, speaking to the Politician, says that Plato is not merely an ancient historical figure but a philosopher with contemporary relevance. The Professor in the dialogue is a man with a receptive, contemplative attitude, able to express reverential silence toward ancient wisdom. The Professor argues that for Plato, oratory (or flattery) is a modern phenomenon akin to journalism: Its essential focus is on power-oriented persuasion instead of truth. Throughout the version, central Platonic topics are both introduced and explored: the significance of truth/morality, the principle that suffering wrong is better than doing wrong, the difference between doing and being good, the importance of sacred tradition, et cetera. The dialogue ends with the Professor quoting Socrates: “Don’t worry about Socrates, worry about the truth!”

The Symposium is told in a living room of a lavishly built house in which a circle of friends gather together for intellectual discussion. The symposium or drinking session begins with Eryxhimachus’s decision that each participant will discuss love (eros). Phaedrus says that “man is worth nothing if he does not love. Love also makes him happy. Not only in life but also in death.” Eryximachus argues, contra Heraclitus, that Eros is able to be found everywhere. Aristophanes gives a mythic account of human origins, arguing that human beings were originally globelike figures before Zeus halved them. Eros is therefore the quest to be intact, whole and perfect, that is, the healing of our being and bliss. Agathon argues that Eros is the youngest, happiest, and most beautiful of all the gods. Finally, Socrates (echoing Diotima) says that Eros loves the good and the beautiful, and that it is ordered toward happiness. Socrates says that “Love needs unlimited duration, it wants immortality, it wants eternity. It doesn’t merely have beauty in its sights, but reproduction. Its aim is not just the flower, but the lasting fruit.” The Speaker ends the dialogue with a question: “[Is] Eros nothing less than the daimonic force of existence itself?”

The Death of Socrates (Phaedo) takes place at the prison Socrates remains in before his death. Phaedo, who is with Socrates on the last day of his life, tells his interlocutor Echecrates that Socrates, in expectation of his certain condemnation, did not defend himself against Meletus’s indictments. Socrates explains his reluctance: “God alone possesses true wisdom. Human wisdom means nothing at all. That is what the oracle’s statement means. It is not at all referring to Socrates. What is meant is this: anyone who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is worth nothing, is the wisest amongst you men.” Socrates interprets the political reactionaries—the “mob” or “the many”—confirmatory of this wisdom. Socrates’ singular moral obligation is to “the deity,” and therefore he must suffer his unjust punishment. Socrates says that it is only the philosopher [End Page 637] who wishes to die because “[in] that beyond...