They say you should not take a book with you beyond the Pilgrims Bible and a Spanish phrase book. You do not have time to read, too heavy, etc. However, I cannot be without a book so I brought one that Mark and Hannah gave me at their wedding. The first error I made was in misreading the title. I thought it was The Last Plays of Socrates, a summary of the legendary play maker of the all conquering Brazilian world cup squad of 82. It turns out to be a completely different Socrates, from Greece of all places and seemingly a long time ago, and that Plays is actually Days. In fact, warning: there is no football in this book at all! This Socrates is much older, about 70, though he has a beard like the real one.
Anyway, we all know that Greece is having some problems right now and it seems like they were having problems then. The basis of the story is that this Socrates has fallen foul of some powerful people and is being prosecuted for not believing in the Greek Gods. One irritating thing is that it was originally written in Greek by a local Athens author and the translator who seems to have a pretty big idea of himself keeps putting in his own ideas. So he does a long introduction, provides loads of notes and, most annoying of all, tells you what is about to happen which spoils any action that takes place. (Note to self: when I am a big selling international author, make sure that my translators keep out of the way.) Not that there is much action: it is nearly all dialogue.
It starts well enough with S meeting a friend at the law court. Time to set the scene and dash straight into the court room. But no, he and the friend Euthyphro (I know, I know, but they all have names like this) just start going on and on about virtue, holiness and piety and how you can tell what is the right thing to do. As if no one had ever read the Guardian or listened to the Today programme! If you manage to get through this chapter, the next one is about Socrates mounting his defence before the jury. Again, lots of opportunities for backwards and forwards stuff between lawyers, the judge getting involved, emotions running high, cuts to the faces of the jury, all that stuff. Do we have that? In a word, no. Just Socrates banging on about how everyone has got it in for him and he doesn´t have a chance, etc. Anyway, then they find him guilty and he suggests a light fine – they disagree and pronounce the death sentence! For not believing in their Gods! (Richard Dawkins – don´t take your holiday in Greece!)
Things begin to pick up in the third chapter when Socrates´ friend Crito (no idea how he has all these friends, he is really boring) turns up in his cell the day before he is due to be put to death and offers to help him escape. Ah, now some action, you think (though the blooming translator has already given it away). What does Socrates do but refuse to escape. He does not want to leave Athens, it appears, though why he wants to be in that hot, smelly city with lots of traffic fumes, I´ve no idea. He is going to die anyway. Kos may be a bit touristy for him but there are quiet parts of Corfu that he would like. Anyway, he sends him away and prepares to die.
That´s as far as I have got. There is one more chapter to go (as long as the other three put together (sigh!)) so there is still a chance that a last minute reprieve from the King or Emperor will come along and all will end happily but I would not bet on it. One thing is for sure, he isn´t going to get the girl! There isn´t one! All the characters and men – chick lit. this is not. Even the 500 strong jury is all men. They really have not bought into the whole diversity thing. Perhaps when the ECB negotiate the next bailout they can suggest more enlightened policies. Also, no jokes. OK, so it is a serious book and you could not overdo it but the odd crack “See you at the funeral, Socrates. AhAh!” would liven things up a lot.
This last chapter is called the Phaedo which must be a mis-print, though I cannot work out what for. It is quite an old book and they obviously did not have proper spell checking on their PCs then. In fact, I do not think it was even a new book when it was bought for me which is disappointing I must say, serpents tooth and all that, but I won’t say anything more. I´ll let you know how it turns out – a bunch of his friends have turned up and, guess what, they are sitting round talking. Do not be too hopeful.