360 BC, Ancient Athens: A Dialogue on the Socratic and Dionysian Approaches to Life – Georgios Ardavanis (Ph.D.)

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This is a dialogue scene between two Hellenes in the Athenian Agora, Critias, who attends the Socrates’ Lyceum, and Ampelos, a Dionysian Satyr, respectively. Critias and Ampelos debate the Socratic method and the Dionysian outlook on life.


CRITIAS: The Socratic tradition emphasizes self-control, reason, self-awareness, and measure. The Socratic tradition proposed a hierarchy of the psyche in which the intuitive, passionate, and appetitive aspects of the psyche are at the bottom, and the conscious, rational elements are at the top. In contrast to the more sensual or physical lives of the artist, the soldier, or the lover, the philosopher’s intellectual lifestyle is the highest possible existence.


AMPELOS: The Dionysian tradition, however, honors a distinct style of living.

While Dionysus encourages us to let go of self-control and let go of music, dancing, drinking, sex, and ecstasy, Socrates preaches self-control. Dionysus enables us to surpass all limitations and measurements, unlike Socrates, who emphasizes reason and moderation. Our God and tutor free us from every restraint, foresight, and temperance.

We, the followers of Dionysus, celebrate the force of the unconscious, the intuition, and the profound sensation of life and joy we have while dancing, making love, or being inebriated. Socrates teaches a conscious and scientific knowledge of the self. We make fun of Socrates’ absurd claim that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates should have said, on the other hand, that the more closely you examine life, the more it withers and dies under your microscope.

Some people in Athens say that philosophers are the last people you should turn to for life advice. Look at you: weak, pale, stammering creatures, visibly unhealthy, palpably out of touch with your bodies and societies. Nature has cursed you with weakness and timidity, so you wreak your revenge on nature by constructing your own artificial, self-conscious version of happiness. “Only virtue is happiness,” the philosophers insist and cough. But we Satyrs know that you are lying, we who know the genuine joy that comes from the body, hunting, dancing, dancing, and love.


CRITIAS: Ampelos, let me tell you that this approach—pure enjoyment of the flesh and nothing else—sounded beautiful to me before I became Socrates’ pupil. But if we consider all the attention you give to creating such a huge thing of physique, power, and masculinity, you Satyrs are nothing more than a big colourful joke after the lectures and conversations with Socrates. I may admit that my adolescent Dionysian revels left me with some psychological scars. Dionysus is fantastic at parties but never comes through with the money.

I thought I was overthinking when I first started experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. I was isolated from my inner, unconscious vital springs and was mired in a cycle of negative, repeating ideas. If only I could turn off my brain! More drinking, dancing, sex, or a combination of all of these, I mused, or perhaps I should just be put out of my agony. I didn’t find much solace or relief in this approach. It led me to believe there was no hope at that time.

But I didn’t commit suicide. Instead, after a few years of hard training, I was able to improve thanks to Socrates’ teachings, which helped me see that my beliefs, rather than a psychic wound in my Dionysiac life force, were what was making me suffer. I learned how to challenge and alter my thoughts using the Socratic method of self-examination, which helped me become more conscious of my thoughts. Not Dionysus, but Socrates helped me improve.


AMPELOS: Everything is in the head. Reasoning cannot reach our deepest psychological roots.


CRITIAS: Ampelos, our instinctive emotional system, dreams, and life, unconsciously follow our ideas and beliefs. If our concepts are poisonous, so will all of our psychic energy. And attempting to get better by drinking, dancing, or having an intimate relationship is not the way to achieve it. The solution is to avoid escaping conscious thought. It entails ceasing to think foolishly, poorly, and destructively. That allows us to release our minds from overthinking when we do it. After that, we can feel less and relish the present, our bodies, and the flow.


AMPELOS: However, Socrates still has something to learn from Dionysus too. Believe me!


CRITIAS: And what is this?


AMPELOS: Sometimes, we should respect the more untamed gods of our nature because rational philosophy is insufficient.


Georgios Ardavanis – 03/06/2023

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