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play "The Philosopher’s Den"

original title Jaskinia filozofow 
original language Polish 
playwright Zbigniew Herbert
title of translation The Philosopher’s Den 
translator Paul Mayewski
synopsis

The prologue takes place on a bare stage with the chorus who announces that the actionless play is about the triumph of acquiescence in the time of the creator of dialectics, Socrates.  The scene shifts to Socrates’ cell where he awaits his execution which is to be carried out in a few days time. As is the custom, the cell is left open for the prisoner’s escape, but he refuses to do so. An envoy from Athenian Council tries to convince him that he is being arbitrary because a man should not obey cruel and unjust laws. Socrates will have none of it. The guard suggests that Socrates appeal to his rich friends to buy his release but the convict denies having such friends. The Philosopher’s disciples engage him in dialog in order that they might deal with their own fears better. A soliloquy follows in verse in which Socrates addresses the god Dionysius in order to come t terms with his own fear of death. At the close of Act I, the first of two choral interludes takes place in which the chorus dices in the street and speculates on why Socrates will not escape. The pattern of official and personal visits continues through the next two acts as threats and pleas are heaped upon Socrates to no avail. At last the city is resigned to his death and he makes peace with his disciples, Xanthippe and the guard. Between Acts II and III, the dicing of the chorus speculates that Socrates’ death will bring about the collapse of the Athenian state. In Act III, Socrates reviews his childhood with Crito and he resolves with his disciples that: (a) reason will prevail, yielding a virtuous outcome, and (b) that the concept of death as a final obliteration of self is chaotic and therefore irrational. He consumes the hemlock and dies as ordinary mortal saying nothing to his followers that can be understood except that they must not “forget to offer a cock to Asclepius.” During the Epilogue, the chorus starts to lionize Socrates, but a commissar-like “keeper of the corpses” tries to discredit this idea according to his new ‘dialectical” view of history, At the close, the chorus, unconvinced, commences to dice again.


 


 

 
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