Music & Mindfulness

A mindful exploration of Satie’s Socrates after the writings of Plato.

Photo courtesy of EHDPhotography

Information

Performances

24th June – Thornton Village Hall at 7pm
25th – St Matthews, Boulevard at 7pm
26th – Hull Minster at 7pm & 9pm
28th – Beverley Memorial Hall at 7pm & 9pm

A woman relates three scenes from the life of Socrates as she deals with her personal bereavement. The scenes explore shock, denial and acceptance and the audience is guided through the performance by a mindfulness leader who acts as a Greek Chorus.

Credits

Poppy Shotts – The Woman
Jim Rogers – Mindfulness Leader
Caroline Blair – Piano

Russell Plows – Director & Translator
Ben Newton – Music Director
Liz Dees – Designer

Some audience reaction

“captivating and beautifully crafted”
“beautifully poised performance”
“amazing storytelling”
“well-presented & very moving”
“reflective and profound”
“the mindfulness was integral to the experience”

Libretto

SOCRATES by Erik Satie
Libretto assembled from the writings of Plato
Translated by Russell Plows

I

ALCIBIADES
Well, beloved friends,
An apt example or two
Will serve to give Socrates his due.
He will think perhaps that I address you in jest,
But all I’ll speak is true.

First let me say he reminds me of those statues of Silenus
You see on display in the statuaries where they’re sold,
And whom artists always represent
Either holding a flute, or else the pipes, in his hands.
And inside of which you find,
When they are opened,
By prising outward the pieces making up the statue,
Concealed within the shell,
Tiny figures representing Gods.

Let me also mention his resemblance to the satyr Marsyas.
You play the flute as well as any satyr.
Yes, I tell you.
And with a greater skill than Marsyas,
He who held his listeners captive
With the haunting music that his breath produced upon his instruments
And to this day his music has the same effect when it is played.
I would say, those who play Olympos
Owe a debt of thanks to Marsyas, his teacher.

The one important difference, my Socrates,
I must observe between this Marsyas and you,
Is that without a flute,
With only well selected words
You do the very same thing.

My friends, let me say,
Though you dismiss what I tell you as the ravings of a drunkard,
That I would swear an oath attesting to
Th’extraordinary power his words have over me
Every time I hear them.
For when he speaks, my heart seems to beat more quickly
Than if I were in the grip of the all-consuming dance of the terrible Corybantes.

At his words, the tears run down my face,
And I’ve seen many others who are just as overwhelmed as myself.
Such are the emotions awoken
In my heart and other hearts too when this satyr plays his flute…

Now you have heard me sing his praises,
It only falls to me to pass your attention to my right-hand neighbour.

II

SOCRATES
I suggest that we turn from the path
Then we’ll continue our walk
Nearer the stream, and if you wish,
There, by the Ilissos, we’ll find a quiet haven
Where we can sit, as we see fit.

PHAEDRUS
I’m very glad, really I am,
That I decided to leave my house barefoot
For, I know, that is your custom.
No reason, therefore,
Not to walk right into the stream
And let it play over our feet as we go.
It should be pleasant enough
Just at this time of the year
And at this time of the day.

SOCRATES
That would be nice;
You go ahead and see if you can find a place where we can sit.

PHAEDRUS
You see the tall plane tree up there?

SOCRATES
I see.

PHAEDRUS
There, we shall have lots of shade
A fresh breeze
And there’s a hill, which we can rest on in comfort
Or lie on the grass if we prefer.

SOCRATES
Go, lead the way.

PHAEDRUS
Socrates, tell me, was it not from these very banks, long ago, as we are told,

That great Boreas carried off the young Orithyia?

SOCRATES
So they say.

PHAEDRUS
Might this not be the actual place where it happened?
The water just here is so pure and so refreshing,
Such that any maiden
Could not have found a more apt place to play with her friends.

SOCRATES
Yet, all the same, I believe the spot was some distance downstream,
Nearer the temple of Agra.
On that same bank is an altar in honour of Boreas.

PHAEDRUS
I’m not sure I remember that.
But I beg you tell me,
Don’t you find it hard to believe in such a story?

SOCRATES
If I doubt its truth, as the learned do, I should not find my view under attack
And I might offer this explanation:
That the Northern Wind caused her to fall from the rocks at the river’s edge,
Where she was laughing with Pharmacea,
And from this manner of death grew the legend
That it was Boreas who had taken Orithyia.
Or to sound more authentic, the Areopagus rocks will do even better –
That’s a popular spot for setting this story.
But, by the way, isn’t this tree ahead the one that we want?

PHAEDRUS
That’s my plane tree.

SOCRATES
By the gods,
All is so peaceful and still
Underneath this lofty and majestic tree
While this magnificent Agnus-Castus offers us shade
With its slender branches;
You’d swear it had bloomed to sweeten the air with lovely perfume.
And lovelier still, I must tell you,
Is the fortuitous passage under the plane tree
Of this delightful spring cooling our feet.
And I strongly believe this place to be sacred terrain
Judging by these carvings in stone
And by these gifts honouring some nymphs and Achelous.
Breathe in this air, taste it yourself.
Isn’t it fresher and sweeter than any you breathed before?
The song of cicadas hangs in the air
Gladly proclaiming summer’s return.
But it’s this tufted grass I like best
Since we may both rest on the ground here
And lie at full length with our heads gently cushioned
By the immense swell of this great grassy hill.
My dear Phaedrus, you are a guide without an equal.

III

PHAEDO
Soon after Socrates was tried and convicted,
We made a resolution to see him every day.
As it happened that the court-house
Where the sentence had been passed some weeks before,
Was very near the prison gates,
Early every morning, we would gather there
And there, we’d wait for him
And spend some time in conversation until the gates opened at last,
Which never was as early as they had told us.

On that day, the guard, who as a rule let us straight inside,
Walked up to us and said they were not yet ready
And we should wait outside until he had given us the signal.
Some moments afterward, he returned and let us in.
Once inside, there we found Socrates,
Whom the guard had only just released from his chains,
And Xanthippe, you all know her,
Beside his bed, sitting down with their baby boy in her arms.

When they had freed him, Socrates sat on his bench,
Drew up the leg from which the chains had been removed
And massaged it with his hands.
Then he said: “How very strange, my dear friends,
This sensation we call pleasure seems to me.
Does it not share a bond with suffering which men like to think of as its opposite,
For in happiness and suffering, the body feels its most extreme kinship with the soul.

“How am I to sway the minds of those who do not know me
That I do not view my present lot as any great misfortune
When I cannot convince you, my dearest friends that this is true?
Do you all believe, as it seems you do,
I am less able than swans in the art of intuition and foretelling of the future?

For every swan, when he feels death is close at hand,
Sings with more delight on that day than he’s sung before
In the knowledge that he’ll meet the God who made him”.
Though there were many times Socrates amazed me,
I never felt so much respect as I did on that occasion.

I’d placed myself on his right side,
Very near his bed, on a simple footstool
And he, he was sitting looking down at me.
All at once he reached out to me and
Took my hair in his hands, gathering the curls up in them.
Tomorrow, my dear Phaedo, he said,
You must cut these lovely curls of yours, I suppose?
Then he got up and walked over to the neighbouring room
Where his bath was prepared.
Crito followed on and Socrates requested we remain there.

Soon enough, he was back on his bed,
But there was no time for much more conversation
For just then, the prison guard in whose charge Socrates was placed,
Came over to his bed.
Now Socrates, he said,
I trust that I shall have no just reason to criticize you like those here before you.

When I explain that I have come by order of government
And the poison must be drunk, they become enraged with me
And they abuse me.
As for you, I’ve always found you pleasant and dignified
And the most courageous of the men who ever dwelled within these four prison walls.
And you understand, I am sure,
That it is not I who have deserved the anger you must feel
But only those who are the cause of your present plight.
You know of whom I speak.

Now, you must have guessed what it is I’ve come to say.
Farewell, try to bear what fate has destined for you
With as much resignation as you’re able.
And with that, he turned so that Socrates might not see him weeping,
Then he left the room.
Just then, Socrates looked up and said:
And let me also bid you farewell. It shall be as you have said.
Then turning back to us,
Do you see, he said, what a charming man was my gaoler.
All the time that I was in his charge, he has often sat with me
And we have talked about many things.
He has been the kindest of men
And now, you see how good he is to weep for me.

Crito, come, it’s time. We must obey him.
Now very kindly ask them to bring the poison in if it is brewed,
If not, would you ask them to brew it now?
On hearing this, Crito looked over to his serving man.
The man left the room and it was some time before he returned
Leading in the prison guard who had come to see that he drank
The cup of poison, which he held before him.
Socrates observed the guard and said
Ah good, my friend, what must I do?
Would you tell me the procedure? I wish to fully understand it.
It’s quite straightforward, the man replied.
Just walk around the room when you’ve drunk the brew
Until you are aware that your legs are becoming heavy,
Then you may prefer to lie on your bed
While the poison’s action takes effect.
As he spoke these words, he handed him the poison.
Without fear, he held the vessel before him,
Then he drank the poison with great dignity
And an unbelievable calmness.

Until then, we had each succeeded in restraining our tears,
Though this was far from easy,
But when we knew it was done, and we had seen him drink,
All our strength deserted us then
And I, though I tried to desist, was so consumed with grief,
I could not restrain my weeping
And I used my cloak to hide my face so that no one should see me.
But it was not his misfortune, which caused my unhappiness,
But my own, knowing I must lose so good a friend.

Socrates was walking slowly round the room,
And saying that his legs were becoming tired,
Lay down on the bed on his back
In the manner the man had advised,
Just as he did so, the man who had given him the poison got up
And began a complete examination of his legs and feet
And when he had finished
He pinched him very hard on his foot, asking if he felt what he had done.
He answered “No”.
The man continued with Socrates’ legs
And with each successive pinch
We plainly saw how the cold and the numbness were taking hold.
And with his hand upon him, he said to us
When the cold advances to his heart, your Socrates will be gone at last.
Then, pulling back the sheet, he spoke these words:
“Crito, don’t we owe Asclepius a cockerel?
Don’t forget to repay what we owe him.”

A moment after this
His body seemed to shake for a time.
Then the man pulled the sheet away from his face.
Life was gone from his features.
And when he observed it was so,
Crito closed his eyes and his mouth.
There now, Echecrates, you have heard the story of our friend,
Wisest and most honest man of our generation.

END

Names & Places

Socrates – ?-399 BC. A classical Greek philosopher credited as one of the founders of Western philosophy, and as being the first moral philosopher, of the Western ethical tradition of thought.

Alcibiades – 450-404 BC. He was a gifted and flamboyant Athenian statesman and general whose shifting of sides during the Peloponnesian War in the 5th century BCE earned him a reputation for cunning and treachery. Good looking and rich, he was also notorious for his extravagant lifestyle and loose morals. He was fascinated with Socrates and tried without success to seduce him.

Silenus – The original Silenus resembled a folkloric man of the forest with the ears of a horse and sometimes also the tail and legs of a horse. The later sileni were drunken followers of Dionysus, usually bald and fat with thick lips and squat noses, and having the legs of a human. Later still, the plural “sileni” went out of use and the only references were to one individual named Silenus, the teacher and faithful companion of the wine-god Dionysus.

Marsyas – A satyr and son of Oympos. He was an expert player of the double-piped ‘aulos’ and challenged Apollo to a contest of music but was flayed alive in a cave near Celaenae for his hubris to challenge a god. Apollo then nailed Marsyas’ skin to a pine tree.

Olympos – A flute-player and student of the mythological god Pan who introduced instrumental music to Greece.

The Corybantes – sons of Apollo and the Muse Thalia. They apparently had a mystic cult, and a prominent feature of their ritual was a wild dance, which was claimed to have powers of healing mental disorder. It is possible that they originally were priests or medicine men of ancient times, later thought of as superhuman. They were credited with the invention of the drum.

Illisos – a river which ran outside the defensive walls of Athens.

Phaedrus 444-393 BC. An Athenian aristocrat and intellectual whose sons were in the crew, first cousin of Plato’s stepbrother.

Boreas – god of the North Wind and bringer of winter whose sons were Argonauts. Said to have kidnapped princess Orithyia as shed danced on the banks of the Ilisos.

Orithyia – Athenian princess as above.

Agra – a verdant suburb of Athens on the Illissos.

Areopagus – a prominent rock outcropping located northwest of the Acropolis.

Achelous – largest river in Greece and god of water and rivers.

Phaedo of Elis – a philosopher, originally a slave who was captured and forced into prostitution. He was freed by Socrates.

Xanthippe – Socrates’ wife and 40 years his junior. They had three sons. Her name became associated with a nagging, scolding person.

Crito – a wealthy Athenian who offered to finance Socrates’ escape from prison.

Asclepius – god of medicine and patron god of doctors.

Echecrates – a Pythagorean philosopher.

This production was made possible with the generous support of Arts Council England and Hull City Arts.