Tag Archives: Plato

Matt Damon’s Elysium, Plato’s Republic, and Utopias!

I’ve been too far away from pop culture recently, but I am coming back to it. Having seen a trailer for Matt Damon’s new movie Elysium, I couldn’t help but write a post. Of course, the movie’s title comes straight from one classical concept of the afterlife known as the Elysian Fields. This is very much referenced in the movie Gladiator. There is a lot to discuss when talking about Elysium because it is quite controversial. I want to focus more on this movie’s concept and relation to ancient sources than the arguments surrounding the Elysian Fields. I will say one thing about the Elysian Fields, however, and that is that they are not the equivalent to the modern beliefs many religions hold about Heaven. They were originally reserved for heroes (god-related mortals) and, arguably, later considered open to those who were chosen or initiated into the mysteries. It was also not separate from the underworld, but rather a part of it and therefore the Heaven and Hell dichotomy was not in existence.

That’s enough on the Elysian Fields since they really have nothing to do with this movie other than its title. Clearly the title was chosen because the rich are allowed to live in a paradise (Elysium) while the poor are left stranded on Earth which has been left to ruins. That’s about as much of a synopsis as you will get from me because I have not seen the movie and I am writing purely on the concept with a great excitement to see this film. I also want to see how much I can predict from knowledge of classical works and works of “utopian” literature.

It could be argued that Elysium does not present a utopia because there is still an Earth society which is not at all utopian, but I think it is fair to say that the space station where the rich are living is meant to be a utopia that Matt Damon will somehow alter, destroy, wreak havoc upon, etc. The wiki calls it a utopian space station so I am going with that. It also claims that there are instant cures to all diseases in this space habitat (WOAH COOL!).

So take a step back with me to Ancient Greece and let’s take a look at the first utopian works that we currently have knowledge of.  These works would be Plato’s Republica and Plato’s Laws. The Republic actually attempts to set out standards for a utopian society while Laws sets out a society that is as close to that as possible, but could potentially be governed by real (aka flawed) men. Plato’s ideal society is nothing like what I assume Elysium will be, but that’s assumption based on the fact that Elysium must be driven by wealth. In the Republic there is no such thing as private property, everything is communal including children and food. The children are raised by the community without knowledge of who their parents are. Food is simple, not extravagant. Basically it is that everyone lives a moderate life so that no one is below or above another, everyone is equal.

The most important main goal of the Republic was to be devoid of human weakness. This is the part I find most fascinating both about the Republic itself and its connection to the film Elysium. In the film the focus on removing human weakness comes in the form of physically curing everyone in the habitat of all diseases.  While, I think, Plato would argue that human weakness comes from desires for excess, luxury, satisfaction, etc. it is noteworthy that Elysium considers it purely physical. The nature of Elysium is actually the opposite of the Republic because the idea on the space station is that everyone can afford and has everything they could possibly want.

Of course as with all utopian works we will find out that Elysium is actually dystopian for many reasons, I’m going to bank on it being some sort of human nature flaw. It may come in a form we are not used to like compassion or it may be that the people want more and more and we find there are even limits to luxury. I don’t know, but I’m excited to find out.

That is a wandering, smattering of the origins of utopian works and Plato’s beliefs about utopia. I hope it gave you a nice little base of knowledge. I suggest reading more on these things by reading Plato’s Laws and his Republic. I also suggest Thomas Moore’s Utopia, Huxley’s Brave New World, and Bacon’s The New Atlantis (unfinished, but encourages luxury so may be a good comparison to Elysium).

Leave a comment below arguing with me, telling me your favorite work of utopian literature, or how you think this movie is going to play out. I will hopefully be seeing it shortly and writing a follow up to this.

EDIT: I love District 9 so hopefully this is as good.

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Worcestershire Sauce and Ancient Roman Garum

I love to cook and this week I was making a great venison recipe which called for Worcestershire Sauce. After about 15 minutes of debating the proper pronunciation (Lea & Perrins website lists multiple pronunciations), I went in search of the sauce and found that I had none.  Stupidly I thought maybe I could find a way to substitute the sauce and realized that I actually had no idea what Worcestershire sauce was made of or honestly tasted like on its own. Upon further research (ie Wikipedia) I learned that it is a fermented sauce. My first thought was of Ancient Rome and garum, which was apparently wiki’s thought too as I scrolled down and found out they started the history of Worcestershire Sauce with the Ancient Greeks. Wiki got something right!

Fermented sauces go back far into history. The most important of them was probably garum. Garum is a fermented fish sauce, some say it is probably similar to Indian fish sauces. It was used by both the Ancient Greeks and the Ancient Romans and was an important part of trade in the Ancient Mediterranean. Amphorae have been tested through some awesome processes and found to contain garum dating back as far as the 5th century BCE. The production and export of garum gave towns around the Roman Empire a certain level of prestige, especially those that produced the best garum; one of these towns was Pompeii.

The reason garum was a such a popular condiment for Roman nobility, besides its tradition of prestige and its Greek roots, was that it retained a high protein content. However there is something intriguing about the literature surrounding garum. Many authors write about how terrible and disgusting garum is.  Pliny the Elder called it, “that secretion of putrefying matter.” Plato called it, “putrid garum.” And Martial praised a man for still loving a woman who had eaten many helpings of garum. Although it was criticized so much in literature it was in fact used heavily and transported all around the Mediterranean. While most of the popular mentions of Worcestershire sauce are to the pronunciation of its name, it is still interesting that this sauce shows up in pop culture like garum did. Take this clip as a great example of the humor http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GQHhdy_gpcw  They are definitely from the same family, although I’ve had garum and I will stick with the evolved Worcester version.

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Criminal Minds quotes Plato, or do they?

Criminal Minds was definitely one of my favorite shows for a while and sadly I only stopped watching new seasons because of time issues; unfortunately I can’t schedule my life around the TV schedule. I still watch the reruns every time I notice one is on, which is about every hour of the day if you use enough channels. I saw a rerun not too long ago and knew I had to write a post about it. It was season 2 episode 6 The Boogeyman. This is the episode after Elle gets shot and she misses her psych evaluation. The team is after someone who is murdering children in Texas.

One of my favorite parts about Criminal Minds is the quotation at the beginning and end of the show. I always try to catch these and I (nerdy, I know) would actually get mad if I turned the TV on just a minute too late. The quotation at the beginning of The Boogeyman episode is, “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark. The real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.” The narrator, Hotch, attributes it to Plato. This like many other quotations said to be from Plato is a misattribution. While the phrase is all over the internet and can be found on T-shirts, there is not one site that gives evidence of where the quotation came from. No one can state the book and line of Plato’s works from which this quotation was pulled. Don’t get me wrong I love the phrase and I think it has so many great meanings in it, but it is not from Plato. If anyone has or can find it, please let me know, but I have been over all of the works I have (which is most of them) and I have searched a lot of scholarly discourse and I still have not found it. Some sites attribute it to Socrates which would mean it is attributed to Plato since all of Socrates’ words are written by Plato.

Criminal Minds is a great show and the quotations add intelligence and depth to many of the episodes which aren’t exactly lacking in those categories anyway. You just missed the boat on this one, Criminal Minds. Research would have allowed you to step further into the light on this one and learned that it is a statement without a source.

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