A Satirical Memoir Of Western (Wesley) Thought
Part 1: Pythias and Pythian Socrates
Do Not Piss off the Pythian
Socrates Loses It
Do Not Piss off the Pythian
76 AOS—Annus Occidenis Sententiae (Year of Western Thought)
The messenger followed the Sacred Way up the steep mountainside. The road wound around several small buildings that resembled Greek temples. These small buildings were city treasuries that held donations from towns across Greece, donations made to support the Oracle of Delphi. Hired mercenaries guarded each treasury.
Even though it was early morning, it was hot and the sun quickly burned off the early morning coolness. The messenger was not alone. The long line of those following the steep and twisted path added to the heat. He stood near the end of the line. He turned to the man behind him. “It sure is hot this morning.”
“We just have to deal with it. We can’t complain,” the stranger answered, “One does not piss off the Pythian. It would not be wise to antagonize Pythias, the Priestess of the god Apollo.”
The messenger turned forward. His name was Western Thought. Some called him Wes; some called him Wesley. Either was fine with him. But not the name Western.
Wesley reviewed the question his master wanted him to ask. Although he had asked Croesus the King to send another in his place, the King was adamant that Wesley go to Delphi. “I need every strong, competent and capable man here,” the King answered. “You, I can spare,” he added under his breath,
Was there anything Thought had forgotten? The proper offerings made? Yes. The proper sacrifices completed? Yes. His master had also deposited great amounts of money in one of the small Greek temples, the Lydian Treasury, for Apollo.
His master, Croesus, could well afford the vast expenses. Croesus was the richest king in the world. With tribute from conquered territories on the Greek mainland paid into his capitol, Sardis, Croesus had become wealthy beyond measure. His fortune would have made Wall Street pale in comparison.
Persia, enemy to Croesus, was a mighty empire ruled by King Cyrus the Great. But with Persia in turmoil from an internal revolt, Croesus knew that if he were ever going to extend his empire eastward and conquer the Persians, now would be the time. Since Croesus did not become wealthy by being careless, he decided to consult the Oracle at Delphi.
As the line of beseechers moved slowly, Thought reviewed the question his master wanted answered. It was a simple question after all: If Croesus attacks the Persians, will he win? The question must be asked exactly. The wording must be accurate.
Yes, a simple question requiring a simple answer: yes or no. Much depended on the answer. The Oracle of Delphi, named Pythias, honoring the god Apollo, would never lie. Apollo was the god of light, reason, and clarity. Everyone far and wide sought Apollo’s wisdom. If one followed the advice of Pythias, the Priestess speaking for Apollo, one couldn't go wrong.
The messenger moved past the Athenian Treasury and the Corinthian Treasury. Finally it passed the heavily guarded Lydian Treasury which contained the vast riches of Croesus. The sun rose higher in the sky. The heat increased. The messenger began to sweat as what little remaining morning coolness disappeared. The perspiration was not all due to the heat; Wesley Thought could only hope that Pythias wouldn’t recognize him. If she did, all hell could break loose.
An urgent need to take a whiz rose in the loins of Thought. He shifted on his feet and decided to try to hold it a little longer. Unfortunately, the line slowed even more as a petitioner took a little extra time with his question. Hydraulic pressure built up. If he didn’t do something soon he would explode! He shifted on his feet. He squeezed his thigh muscles tighter but that only intensified the pressure. What to do? He tapped the man in the line ahead of him. “I’ll pay you five drachmas to hold my place.”
“Make it ten and you have a deal.”
Thought left the line to look for a discreet place that offered a little privacy. There was nothing. Maybe that pine tree. No, there was a couple under it eating a morning meal. People wandered among the well-tended groves. He looked around with desperate eyes. Nothing. Nowhere. Holding himself, as if he could ease the pressure, he flitted among the trees like a bumblebee among the wildflowers in a high mountain meadow.
The more he searched, the more the pressure built up. Then he had an idea. The back of the temple faced the mountain. He ran toward the back of the temple, his urgent need pushing him. Maybe he could have some privacy. He rounded the corner of the temple and found that the sides of the temple extended past the back wall and formed a little alcove.
Gratefully, he slid into the hidden alcove and with a practiced aim sprayed the back wall of the temple. He impulsively squirted his initials on the back wall, YY T (W T)
Pop, pop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is.
“OOPS! Uh Oh!” His spray was a bit acidic for the soft marble that formed the back wall. The spray began dissolving the marble, leaving a smoking impression of his initials.
“Sorry about that,” he muttered.
“Hey! What are you doing?” a mercenary strolling around to the back of the temple yelled. The guard stuck his head back around the corner of the temple. “Hey, Demetrius, give me a hand here! We got a squirter!” The two grabbed Thought and wrestled him to the ground. Picking him up, they frog-marched him to the front of the Temple of Apollo. Shoving him in front of the other petitioners, they entered an outer court and took Thought into a smaller, dimly lit chamber, where the Pythian sat in her famous tripod, the three-legged stool. Under the tripod, a deep cleft in the rock produced vapor, steam, and fumes.
The guards threw him in front of Pythias. Thought fell to the ground and the mercenaries picked him up by each arm. Demetrius whispered something in the ear of one of the assistants to the Priestess. She looked horrified and spoke softly to Pythias. The Pythian stared at Thought with a glare that would melt iron. Her eyes were black holes in a pale face. She spoke. She addressed the gathering group standing in the temple’s entrance. “This man,” she said, pointing to Thought, “took a whiz on the temple of Apollo!” The crowd gasped and a growing sound of shock and anger rose from the throats of the group.
Slowly, she turned to Thought and in a still quiet voice that sent chills down the spines of everyone present, she spoke with the low tone that one reserved for dreadful things. “How dare you? How dare you defile the Temple of Apollo? How dare you desecrate his sanctified building?” Her voice was steel wrapped in silk. “You think you are above the holy god Apollo? You insult; you blaspheme this blessed temple.
“Why are you here today?” she asked. “You look familiar. What is your name?”
Thought felt a whisper of terror rush through him. His heart thumped against his ribcage. The heat, the soaring pillars, frescoed ceilings and gilt furniture overwhelmed him. He began to feel dizzy. With a quick intake of breath, like someone about to plunge into icy water, he whimpered, “My name is Western Thought, Wesley or Wes for short. I am here at the request of my master, Croesus. He told me to ask you for a prophecy…”
“You have demeaned, defiled and desecrated Apollo’s sacred temple. I will give you no prophecy. Not today; not ever. Take him away!” She motioned for the guards to take him to a small cell near the back of the temple.
One of the handmaidens whispered something to the Priestess. She hesitated. “Stop! Sophia tells me that the mighty and rich Croesus has filled the treasury of Delphi. It overflows with his wealth. Therefore, I am obligated to answer his question. Speak! Quickly!”
In a stammering voice, Thought stuttered, “Great Pythias, powerful seer of the Great God Apollo. My master, Croesus, seeks the wise and eternal wisdom of the speaker of truth and the bringer of light, Phobos Apollo, whose word is law and whose wisdom is known far across the mighty seas and distant lands. It is from him I ask this question for my master, Croesus.” He paused. What was that damned question? How did Croesus frame it? His terror blocked his mind. Struggling to remember, he said, "My master has asked, ‘What will happen if I attack the Persians?’”
Thought’s head was now spinning. The fumes and vapors rising from the cleft in the floor overwhelmed him. He became even more light-headed. Without thinking, he added, “It’s hot as hell in here. And it smells.”
The priestess shrank back. She was even more offended. “Excuse me! But you are here by the kindness of the great god Apollo. You have not only just offended him, but me also. Your words are ill conceived. You need to learn that one does not piss off the Pythian!”
“I am sorry, great seer. It’s only that I have waited so long in the heat that my words are ill-spoken.”
“Nevertheless, you have been disrespectful of Apollo and me.”
“Again, great seer, I apologize.”
“Thought…Thought,” she added, still annoyed, “Why is that name so familiar?” Frowning, Pythias turned to an attendant who shrugged helplessly.
Pythias spoke to Thought. “Return tomorrow and I will have an answer.”
As Wesley bowed and started to leave, he felt his head spinning. The lack of water, the heat, the smell began to affect his judgment. Suddenly, he was sick and vomited into the cleft under the tripod at the seat of Pythias. She reacted angrily.
“Wesley Thought! You come here and three times insult Apollo and me. I pronounce a curse on you. You will be doomed to live for a long, long time. You will find no solace in death for centuries.
“From now on and for all time, your words will be a source of confusion for every man who listens to you. Until your sins are expiated, no one who hears you will understand what you are saying. The Great God, Apollo, has spoken. Return tomorrow and I will give your master, Croesus, the answer he needs to know.”
After the room was empty, the priestess turned to her assistants. “Sophia! Philippia! Help me out here! Why is the name Western Thought so familiar? It is clear to me that this man is trouble.”
“Perhaps, Great Pythias, you might consult with Apollo, himself. Perhaps he can provide you with the answers you need,” answered Sophia.
“Excellent idea! I shall do so this evening.”
The next morning, Sophia and Philippia entered the holy room. “Ah yes,” the Oracle said to her two assistants, “Apollo has spoken. He warned me that thanks to my curse, Western Thought will bring trouble to all he encounters. He will leave confusion and chaos behind him. He will be like a plowman leaving a trail of dust and disturbed dirt in an undisturbed pasture. He is a ship troubling a calm sea leaving after him a wake of turmoil, tumult and turbulence. He is the drunkard spilling family secrets at a dinner party.
“And yet, he does not know of the havoc he will create. I foresee he will cause a future of unrest and instability. I do not like this man. I see that he will soon destroy the old ways, the ways of our ancestors. He will overthrow the old gods. Nevertheless, I am duty bound to answer his question. I cannot lie. Maybe there is a way to tell the truth, but with an unclear message to punish him. Bring him in.”
Thought was called into the holy room. He waited nervously. Pythias sat on the sacred tripod. After several minutes, she spoke in a dark liquid voice with a brooding and echoing quality.
“Apollo, teacher, revealer of all mysteries, knower of all secrets of Heaven and of the earth; Apollo, speak to me now. Speak your holy voice so that all may know your wisdom and truth. Speak that the world may see your knowledge. Speak that the mighty Croesus will understand the truth you give. Speak, oh mighty one.” Pythias fell silent as she breathed of the blessed fumes.
Wesley waited while a hard fist of fear knotted and writhed in his stomach. A chill grabbed him. A dark premonition fell on him. He held his breath.
Pythias tensed. She threw back her head and screamed a guttural cry of terror. Her body became rigid, and her wise old eyes clouded with hazy sadness as she finally spoke. “Oh miserable messenger, you most miserable of all men. Apollo has spoken. Know what he has revealed. Death and destruction will come to a mighty army and to a mighty man. A great army shall fall and a great kingdom shall be destroyed. The noble fields shall bear no more grain; weeping mothers shall not bear children; afflictions shall have no end. If Croesus crosses the Halys River, he shall destroy a mighty kingdom and a mighty army. This is the truth of Apollo. Know that he has spoken. You are now dismissed.”
* * *
East of the Halys River
“Have reports come from the battle?” Croesus turned his horse to his youngest son.
“We await the arrival of a messenger from the generals,” The young man turned to the East and shifted position on his horse. Prickles of tightness pinched his heart. “I think the messenger is arriving now.” He pointed to a cloud of dust hanging over the horizon. Both men waited with anticipation as the messenger approached.
Wes jumped from his horse. “Your majesty, I bring news from the battle.” The messenger bowed.
“Speak, man. How goes the battle?”
“Oh mighty King. Our armies fought valiantly. They inflicted many wounds and deaths on the enemy. Nevertheless, it was to no avail. Great disaster has befallen on your armies. Our horses, which have always gained victory over our enemies, were thwarted by the camels of Cyrus. The odorous beasts upset our horses, and they reared and refused to ride against the camels of the enemy. All is lost. Even now Cyrus approaches the Halys. Flee, mighty King. Flee.”
“How can this be? Apollo never lies and has told me that a great army would be destroyed if I attacked the Persians. Didn’t you tell me that he said that? How can this be?” Croesus shouted at the messenger with sudden raw and angry words.
“Father, he did report Apollo’s message word for word. He even wrote it down.”
“Apollo told me that a great army would be destroyed,” answered Croesus.
“But Father, a great army was destroyed. Your own,” Croesus’ son answered. They dismissed Thought.
As Thought left, he wondered if the King had asked the wrong question. Also, as the King fled, Croesus wondered if maybe he had sent the wrong messenger.
“I never did trust the bitch anyway.” Western Thought leaned back in his chair and folded his hands in front of his face. “She never told the truth; she always misled people. Look what happened to Croesus. Thank God we don’t have the Oracle today.”
Western Thought, a man worn down by the years, leaned back in his chair. His aged eyes, creased by worries and wrinkles, stared back at the Therapist. His formerly white toga, now yellowed, needed a good bleach bath. His hunched back, bowed by the weight of centuries and the burdens of the world, formed a basketball-sized depression in the soft leather foam of his chair.
The Therapist leaned back in her chair. She was an attractive woman of indeterminable age. One sensed an ageless wisdom, timeless and eternal, yet with the seductiveness and wholesomeness of youth. She had all the bloom of summer, yet the wisdom of winter. Her hair was shiny-brown with Medusa-style locks. She was beautiful with the bounteous magnificence of an earth mother.
Her eyes were wise, bright and bemused. They missed nothing. They held laughter and sadness as if they had witnessed an eternity of human foibles. Yet those eyes had never seen such a spectacle as the one who sat before her.
She sighed. He was going to be a difficult person to work with. “How can you be so sure that the Oracle no longer exists?”
“That’s crazy! There’s no Oracle today; it’s just a fairy tale.”
“I just want you to check out your assumptions. Are you so sure that the Oracle no longer exists? What are political polls? Surveys? Research? Or even the TV ratings? How about people who visit astrologers? Maybe…,” she leaned forward, “the original Oracle is still around but in a different form. She might show up and surprise you.
“Let’s talk about your anger with the Oracle,” she continued. “Where do you think this comes from?”
“From my childhood, I suppose.”
“Before we get into that Mr. Thought,” she said, switching tactics, “let’s talk about why you are here, since this is your first session. Your intake form says you are confused, angry and upset with how you think people see you. Could you shed further light on that?”
“First, you can call me Wes. I don’t like my real name Western Thought. It’s just that…I don’t know…maybe I am damned sick and tired about what people say about me. They keep making up stories about me that aren’t true . It confuses me. I don’t know who I am anymore.…” Thought twisted his hands together as if he wanted to strangle someone. His face became flushed and then red.
“For example, that damned psycho, Alfred North Whitehead, said,” Wesley shouted, “that I, Western Thought, am nothing more than a footnote to Plato. As if Plato was so damned almighty that I was nothing more than an appendage to him, that I wouldn’t even be in existence if he hadn’t been around. I’ll have you know that I have been around for centuries! I lived before Plato was born and I am still alive. Who is this asshole, Whitehead, to say I am a footnote? Where does he get off saying that?”
The Therapist had to defuse what was rapidly becoming an angry client. “Let’s get a little family background,” she said. “Tell me about your parents and childhood.”
“Most people don’t know about the Thought Family. My father, Cronus, was a Titan. His father’s name was Tartarus. Tartarus was not only a god, but also a place, the realm of Hades. Hades was the place where the dead would go. The Thoughts had three children, me, who they called Western, and my sister who they called Eastern. Another son disappeared under weird circumstances.”
“What were they? The circumstances, I mean.”
“I don’t really feel comfortable talking about that now.”
“How about your mother?”
“My mother was Pythias; I met her once when I went to visit the Delphic Oracle, but she didn’t recognize me. At the time it seemed discreet not to remind her of who I was.”
“Wasn’t Pythias the Oracle of Delphi?”
“Yeah, I don’t like to talk about it much. The Oracle of Delphi was my mom. So what?”
Now we’re getting somewhere, The Therapist thought. He clearly has maternal issues. This could take some time; after all he has centuries of problems to deal with. This also meant that there could be centuries of fees.
“How did you and your mom get along?” The Therapist asked.
“She was always a bossy bitch. She never answered questions clearly; she spoke in riddles and puzzles, which drove me crazy! One time I asked if we could go to the seashore. Do you know what she said? ‘That the sea was a place where unknown mysteries could be found and solved.’ What the hell was all that about?”
“What about your sister, Eastern?”
“Eastern Thought! Now she’s a piece of work! That ditzy airhead belongs out in space somewhere. She is always talking about Zen or some mystical being somewhere. I don’t pay her much mind. She makes no sense to me.”
“And your father, Cronus?”
“I guess you might as well know. It’ll come out anyway. My old man was one scary dude. He castrated his own old man, my grandfather. According to a Pythian prophecy—told by my mom of all people—he was warned that his own sons would overthrow him. He actually gobbled up my older brother and tried to gulp me down as soon as I was born. A goddess saved me by substituting a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes. Must have been one hell of a problem, passing that stone.
“She hid me away on the island of Crete until I grew up. When I returned home I made sure my old man got sent to Hades.”
“So, your mother prophesized that you or your brother would grow up and overthrow your father.” No wonder the guy has problems, she thought. I can’t decide if he needs family therapy or anger management. I can’t even find the correct DSM code for him. Maybe we need to get his family in for family therapy.
“Well our time is up for today,” the Therapist said, looking at her watch. In the next session we’ll follow up on today’s session and explore more about your complaint.”
Learner’s Guide: Section 1:
Critical Thinking questions:
- The Oracle at Delphi cannot lie because she represents Apollo, the god of truth. Yet everyone knows her prophecies are confusing and misleading. Are these kinds of prophecies a form of lying? Why or why not?
- Socrates hated the poets because he felt they were distracting people from seeking truth. Is there a modern counterpart to the poets? Who or what are today’s poets and what are they trying to accomplish?
- Socrates hated the sophists. Who or what were the sophists? What were they trying to accomplish? Are there any modern counterparts to the sophists? If so, what are they trying to accomplish?
- According to Thought, the Greek word Aretê has been mistranslated into the word “virtue,” whereas the more accurate meaning is “excellence.” What are the differences between the translations? Do you know anyone who is an example of Aretê?
- Socrates claims that if there is an afterlife, he will continue questioning as he always has. Is Socrates practicing a form of civil disobedience? Is so is it valid?
- Why was Socrates so disturbing to Athens? He was only an old man asking questions. What harm was he doing? Do you know anyone whose questions annoy or trouble others? In Julius Caesar, a play by William Shakespeare, Caesar says to Marc Anthony, “Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look. He thinks too much. Such men are dangerous.” Why do the powerful fear questioning? Was Caesar justified in his fears? Was Athens justified in its fears? What are the similarities and differences between Socrates and Cassius?
- Socrates was executed for corrupting the youth of Athens. Is there anyone today who claims that our educational system corrupts our youth? If so, who are they? What are their complaints? Evolution? Intelligent design? Humanism? Are their accusations justified? Although we don’t execute teachers or other school officials, at least not yet, how do these complainers handle their frustrations?
- Special project: Form two teams from your class. One team will be the prosecutor against Socrates. The other team will defend Socrates. One person will act as Socrates. The class will present a trial to another class who will serve as the jury. The jury will vote on the charges and determine the guilt or innocence of Socrates. Note: if you wish, replace Socrates with another controversial issue or lightening rod in the community or in your school.
Buckingham, Will., et al. The Philosophy Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained. New York: DK Publishing, 2011. Print.
Denby, David. Great Books: My Adventures With Homer, Rousseau, Woolf, And Other Indestructible Writers Of The Western World. New York: Touchstone, 1996. Print.
West, Thomas, Grace Starry West. Texts on Socrates: Plato & Aristophanes Trans.Thomas G. West New York: Cornell University Press, 1984. Print