From our organization named ‘Uden Ide’ in Athens, we celebrate the Birthday of Socrates every year. The Birthday of Socrates is on 20 May. For the coronavirus situation, we could not organize any event on 20 may. So we are organizing on a closer date.
This year, we are happy to present a Bangladeshi writer, a diplomat. He is Mr. Sujan Debnath. This is our pleasure to introduce him to you.
He is a true Socratic lover. He is an expert in Socrates. He loves Socrates. He loves ancient Greece.
I am amazed by his ability to explain things so easily. He is a great story teller. He visited all over Greece, especially the places related to the Greek Classical time. Then he has written a book on Socrates and ancient Greece.
Sujan Debnath is a Bangladeshi diplomat. Now he is posted in Athens. He studied in Bangladesh and Australia. Apart from his good diplomatic career, he is well known as a writer in his country. Now he has written on Socrates and Greece.
First of all, I want to recall how we know Sujan Debnath. One day in 2018, our friend Professor Dr Vassiliadis phoned me. He said a Bangladeshi diplomat is very knowledgeable in Socrates and ancient Greece. And he can talk about Socrates and Greece in a nice way. I talked with our Socrates expert Mr. Moschonas. Then we two met Mr. Sujan Debnath. I must say, after talking to him for a few minutes, we came to know that this young man knows Socrates, he feels Socrates. He can tell about Socrates so easily. We were fascinated. We saw that he is an expert not only in Socrates, he can tell stories about ancient Greeks so nicely. We did not find any non-Greek person in the world who can talk about Socrates and Greeks so interestingly. We became friends on our first meeting. We love Socrates. We started to love Sujan also.
Now, we have very good news for Socrates lovers worldwide. Now Socrates has gone to Bangladesh. In February 2020, Sujan Debnath published his research work on Socrates and ancient Greece – a book. The name of his book in English – ‘Taste of Hemlock’. In Bangla, it is ‘Hemlock er Nimontron’. In Greek it is– ‘Η ΓΕΥΣΗ ΤΟΥ ΚΩΝΕΙΟΥ’
The book ‘Taste of Hemlock’ is a big book. It’s a novel. It’s more than five hundred pages.
We love this book. You may wonder that – how we read this book. Actually, we did not read this book. We don’t know Bangla. We don’t know the words which Mr. Sujan used. But we know the story of this book very precisely. Before publishing the book, Sujan discussed the chapters of the book one by one to us and explained. We clarified many things. We loved his story. It’s a fascinating one. The story is so interesting, anybody must love it.
The main character of this book is Socrates. It starts when Socrates was almost 18 years of old and finishes with the death of Socrates. The main friends and students of Socrates like Plato, Creto, Simon, Phaedo, his wife Xanthippe are the characters. Most important thing is that – this book covers not only Socrates, but also the whole of ancient Greece. He covered birth of Democracy, birth of literature – tragedy and comedy, birth of theatre, birth of history, birth of medicine, birth of science, birth of Olympic games and above all birth of philosophy. All ancient Greek achievements are covered in this book. Therefore, the story has the characters like – Pericles, Aspasia, Herodotus, Hippocrates, Sophocles, Euripides – all these great men came in one story. And the story is very interesting. That is the fascinating thing.
This is where Sujan’s is unique. Nobody in the world did such work before. If anybody wants to know – how the Greeks invented philosophy, democracy, science, history, medicine, tragedy & comedy, Olympic games – this one book gives you the information in a very interesting way. We will come later to discuss the book.
Before that we want to tell how Sujan wrote this book. We saw him how he was working for this book.
When Sujan was writing the book, he discussed it with us many times. Me, Mr. Mosconus and Sujan spent a lot of time together. Sujan discussed his idea, his story and we clarified many things on Socrates. We tried to tell him our view on Socrates. He changed his story from our discussion. We liked this approach so much.
We know how Sujan furnished the book:
He studied all the ancient Greek literature. He studied Plato, Xenophon, Homer, Sophocles, Euripides and so on. Then he visited all the places related to ancient Greece. Then he discussed with us. He discussed with the Socrates experts. From all these efforts, he modified his story. That is why his book is wonderful and we liked the story so much.
We loved this approach. He wanted to present the facts within one big story. Within one story the whole classical Greece was covered.
He chose an excellent name for the book – Taste of Hemlock. We all know that Socrates sacrificed his life to free the Love of knowledge. Sujan took the name from that background and this is a perfect one for the book. The name is very catchy for the readers.
Now I want to focus on the story of the book. I must say Sujan is one the greatest storyteller of the world. He made a story based on Socrates and connected all the great characters of Socrates time in a great way. It is like a real-life movie. He did not change the life of any great person. But he made it in such an interesting way.
In this book, Sujan turned the philosophy of Socrates into a story. To turn philosophy into a story is a very serious business. It is not easy. Sujan has done that so interestingly and accurately.
In his book young Socrates was becoming a philosopher. Socrates created an empire of minds. He is discussing with Crito, Simon and expressing new ideas for humans. He is telling everybody to ask questions in everything. Young boys were liking him. They were becoming his fans.
In the book, love of Socrates came in a wonderful way. He is a lover of wisdom; he is a lover of a good life. In Plato’s Symposium, Plato told us what Socrates meant for love. Sujan told that idea in a very interesting way in this book.
The story goes – Socrates and his friend Crito saw the great Athenian democratic leader Pericles buying slaves in the slave market. Here we get a vivid picture of the Athenian slave market. Then Socrates went with his friend Cherofone to the first parliament of the world on the hill Pynx. They saw how democracy worked in Athens. Socrates could not like it. It is a system of armatures. No expertise was needed to run Athens.
From there, Socrates went to the house of the most intelligent lady of Athens. Her name was Aspasia. They discussed some nice philosophical ideas. There Pericles came. Pericles fell in love of Aspasia. Pericles was telling to Aspasia – how democracy was invented; how Solon was writing the first human law in Europe; how Clisthenes came with poor people and democracy was born. Here the writer gave a clear picture of the birth of Democracy.
In this book, we see – Socrates was discussing his new ideas to the young boys. He became popular. New thinking was coming out. He was gossiping with his friends. In their Gossip, the Myth of Athena and Poseidon and relevant background of Athens was described.
In the story, Socrates is a great reader, He read whatever he got. He used to go to the house of Pericles to meet Anaxagoras. Anaxagoras told him about logic. Socrates met Zeno and Parmenides. From them he got the idea of dialectic. He started using the dialectic method like a game. This method became popular among young people. This is known as the Socratic Method.
Then Socrates was going to watch theatre with Euripides. He only went to the theatre when Euripides performed. In their conversation, we get how tragedy and comedy was born. Euripides getting ideas of new tragedies from Socrates. Euripides was writing in a cave in Salamis. They were discussing Homer and his books – Iliad and Odyssey. In this point, we find a brief idea of the battle of Troy and the struggle of Odysseus. Here the writer Sujan put a nice analysis – why Homer is the greatest, how Homer created the basement of world literature.
Then, in the story, Herodotus came. Herodotus was telling the story in Athens. He told the incidents of the Marathon war, Battle in Salamis island. The heroes – Miltiades, Themistocles, Leonidas – all came here briefly.
The origin and process of Olympic games were clearly furnished.
In the book, Socrates started his philosophical school on the road, in Agora everywhere. Socrates’ friend Cherophone went to Delfy and the oracle of Delfy said that no other man was as wise as Socrates. Cherophone started to tell people that Socrates is the wisest person in the world. Many people started to believe that Socrates was indeed the wisest man in the world. But Socrates told them he knows nothing. Socrates continued gossips with friends and philosophical idea of a good life were coming. He was telling the concept of good life, concept of truth, beauty, ethics. This is the time when Philosophy for humans was born.
Sujan connected incidents of Classic Greek period so nicely. The story moves smoothly:
Pericles started his new Parthenon. Great sculptor Phidias, architects like Ictinus and Kallikrates were designing the Parthenon. Urban planner Hippodamus made his grid plan. Herodotus published the first history book of the world. Soon Athens and Sparta started war. Socrates went to war. Socrates was discussing with Aspasia, Aspasia drafting speech for periclase. Pericles delivered his great Funeral Speech. Thereafter, the great plague came to Athens. In this time, Sophocles was writing his tragedy ‘King Oedipus’. The father of Medicine Hippocrates was coming from Cos to Athens to treat Pericles. But Pericles died before the doctor came. Many Athenians died in plague. Socrates survived.
Socrates continued his philosophical school on roads. He went to a Symposium. Some enemies of Socrates like Anytus were planning to harm Socrates. In this time, a talented young man named Aristophanes started writing humorous drama. Comedy was born. But he was misguided by a bad guy, Anytus. Aristophanes wrote the comedy ‘The Clouds’. This drama falsely states that Socrates was misleading the youth of Athens.
Socrates married and his wife started quarrelling. They got children. In this book, the conjugal life of Socrates was depicted so vividly. The chemistry between Socrates and his wife Xanthippe is a great part of this book.
Plato was born, He came into contact with Socrates. In this book, the writer told us how Plato burnt his writing and became a philosopher. How Socrates influenced the life of Plato, how Plato got the idea of writing his enormous philosophical works.
The long battle between Athens and Sparta was going on. Sophocles wrote ‘Oedipus at Colonas’.
The story continues –
Athens lost the war against Sparta. Democracy was gone, the friends and students of Socrates established tyranny. But they behaved badly with Socrates. After a few months, tyranny was gone, democracy won.
This time Euripides died, Sophocles died.
This time, the enemy of Socrates, Anytus was searching for an opportunity. He and his friends filed a false case against Socrates. And we the story in the court, the apology of Socrates in Court and verdict of death sentence.
Crito tried to convince Socrates to flee from jail but Socrates is not the man to flee. He took the Hemlock and died for humanity. In his last 30 days in prison, Socrates continuously told his philosophical ideas to his students.
I have told here the story of the book. But within this story, the Philosophy of Socrates and ancient Greeks are clearly expressed in an interesting way.
Sujan crafted the story like a movie maker. The story is so lucid and interesting. The whole Greek civilization came in one story based on Socrates. But interestingly, he did not change the fact. This is an amazing skill Sujan shows in ‘Taste of Hemlock’. He is definitely a great writer and storyteller.
Now we will hear from Sujan Debnath.
// Efstratios N Soubassakis is the Secretary General of the organization named ‘Uden Ide’ in Athens
- June 6, 2020, Athens, Greece