SI Vault
Cecil J. Burnett/Department of Political Science, University of Pennsylvania
February 03, 1958
LOCALE Quillvania, Greece TIME circa 300 B.C. ISSUE Renewed tenure for Quillvania's coach CHARACTERS Burnatotle, a Philosopher; Millerpos, a Dental Extractor; Lorborstan, a Physician.
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February 03, 1958

Greeks Among The Ivy

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THE PHYSICIAN: Aristotle? Please, sir.

THE PHILOSOPHER: The Hellenic League is more than a primitive collective. In a primitive collective, physical versatility and strength are the only credentials for leadership or, rather, for the exercise of command prerogatives. The athlete has the skill and the brute force to translate this potential into food, through hunting, and into security against outsiders by his forceful abilities. But such physical skills are not pre-eminent in the hierarchy of Hellenic League values. Rule by force is inconsistent with our collective character. Our pre-eminent qualities are civilized characteristics, that is, qualities of the mind. Antigone never hurled the discus.

THE DENTIST: Our Field will become a second-rate barnyard. There were more pigeons than people at the recent Games.

THE PHILOSOPHER: All cultures began in a manure pile. But one of the great mysteries of human life is how some cultures develop from a brutish relationship based upon fear, force, taboo and the occult to a humanistic standard of consent of willing subjects—or in a word, from tyranny to law. Pride in racial singularity must be extirpated before the rise of law. Your pride of physical domination of others is based on passion. Passion is irrational and thus inconsistent with a rule-of-law. Desire to dominate others is the strongest passion of all. As Aristotle says, "Law is reason unaffected by desire." Reason enjoins men to be reasonable, reasonable concerning their acquisitive drives. Except for the Hellenic League, contemporary athletics is a forlorn and shabby image of ancient acquisitive imperatives. Don't you understand that our benign environment no longer justifies the display of conspicuous athletic prowess?

THE DENTIST: Am I unreasonable because I abhor incompetence? The coach has got to go! This is the price of my continued support. My very earthy passion for our city's athletic supremacy transcends the esoteric principles of a thinking machine. Men were born to act—to act on the basis of blood. Because I am Hellenic I admit that the corollary of this provincial pride is contempt for the non-Hellenic. I am proud that I think about important issues with my blood. Our city arose out of a flux of primeval, undifferentiated protoplasm because of pride in racial superiority. Has this useful principle of racial superiority now become obsolete? Our city faces a lethal crisis. You have compounded the gravity of the crisis by expounding the theory of inclusiveness and cosmopolitanism. I am loyal to my inheritance, loyal to the organizing principle of our city, the primacy of matter, or blood. You prattle about a primacy of ideas that are dangerous abstractions. Never forget that we were citizens before we were men. As citizens our first duty is to our city. My duty does not extend beyond the city, and my relationship to my fellow citizens is nurtured by passion!

THE PHILOSOPHER: Homer observed that singularity of passion and its kindred ally, desire, is the rule, and that reason, which should embrace all men, is the exception.

THE DENTIST: Athenian athletic administrators are indeed exceptional. They fail to recognize incompetence when they see it. You philosophers talk about justice but you never have to make a judgment.

THE PHYSICIAN: The subtlety of your argument intrigues me, sir. I would not be surprised if you were to conclude that there is a causal relationship between the decision about our coach and our status in the Hellenic League. It is axiomatic that we desire no alienation from our traditional rivals at the Games. Our minimum demand is that our youth be properly instructed. You, sir, would be stretching my credulity in the nature of things if you were to conclude that the price we must pay for continued association with our equals in the league is the indefinite retention of a coach whose teaching potential is nil.

THE PHILOSOPHER: The ends of dialectic discourse are now being realized. You are discovering truth through the technique of opposition. The truth is that loyalty to the Hellenic League is loyalty to law. The sole issue is survival of law. Before our league was organized athletic relations between Greek city-states were guided by deceit or legislated by force. This was an example of the application of brutish means for ignoble ends. Brutes are prior in time, but law and the state are prior by logic or nature. Under the rational influence of law, said Aristotle, the irrational forces of life are submerged. When law becomes the rule and not the exception it may very well happen that men will then understand the rational principle of the world—God.

THE PHYSICIAN: I wonder if Aristotle's metaphysical logic has any application to the very pedestrian problems of the Games. I must concede that my profession is indebted to Aristotle for the classification of differences in kind, that is, the biological distinctions between genus and species. Do you mean to suggest that such principles of biological classification apply to human collectives, of which the Hellenic League is one?

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