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Escaping the Cave in 2020

plato, reading plan

This post has been edited (January 4, 2020) to include a link to a podcast for those reading along.

Do reading plans help you to read more, more regularly, or better books? I’m not sure if they do, at least not for everyone. They certainly do abound though. There are, of course, Bible reading plans, but also plans for reading Shakespeare in a Year. Some argue that they are necessary to become a regular reader. While there are plenty of reading plans, not all reading plans are for the whole year. My friend and fellow CiRCE blogger, Kristen Rudd, manages multiple groups on Facebook for reading through a particular work or works in a set time: she has a new one for the epics (Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid), one for Ovid, and the original #100DaysofDante. I want people who want to read more have access to the tools that might help them to do so. So, while I am writing this post to introduce you to another reading plan, I am not afraid to tell you about all of the other plans out there, knowing it might cause you to join one of those over mine. So, what is mine? It is a Plato in a Year reading plan.

Here’s how it works. I have broken up the reading so that it can be accomplished in 20 minutes or fewer each day, and the reading is only scheduled for weekdays, leaving you weekends (plus Thanksgiving and Christmas) for breaks or for catching up. There is a Facebook group for discussion of the dialogues, Platonic thought, and other conversations. There may even be some online meetups and readings via Zoom (this will be discussed in the Facebook group, but the idea is that if we schedule a weekly Zoom call to do that day’s reading aloud, it might motivate us to catch up with our own reading so that we can follow along with the call that week).

The schedule can be downloaded here. Here is what you need to know about it.

Reading Order. The reading order follows the dramatic dating of the dialogues. Thus, they begin with Laws, which takes place while Socrates is still off to war, and they end with his death and the funeral speech (a model funeral oration, actually). This order is put forth by Catherine Zuckert, and I believe (as she argues) it will give us more insights than the typical order that scholars argue over. They often argue that the order should be that which they believe best reveals Plato’s development of thought (in the highly controversial and dubious early, middle, late periods).

Stephanus Numbers. These are similar to line numbers, although are more like section or paragraph numbers, that allow different translations to be aligned with each other or the original Greek.

Page Numbers. These correspond to the Plato: Complete Works edited by J.M. Cooper.

Total Pages. These are the total number of pages for that dialogue as printed in the Cooper text.

Reading Days. This is how many days you should spend reading each particular dialogue to finish in a year of weekdays. You should break up your reading to use that many days, no matter which text you are reading from. You could even break up the reading by Stephanus numbers rather than page numbers, so long as you finish the dialogue in the prescribed number of days.

Example. When we begin, we will start with Plato’s Laws. This dialogue is 297 pages in Cooper’s text and is given 50 days for reading. If you are reading from Cooper, you will read approximately 6 pages per day. If you have a different copy, and your copy is 350 pages long, you will read 7 pages per day for 50 days. If you have a copy that is 250 pages long, then you will read 5 pages per day for 50 days. The difference in page count should have more to do with font size, page size, and margins than with textual differences, so you should still be reading for approximately 20 minutes per day.

EDITED: Help. One of our members in the Facebook group has created a podcast in which he narrates the day’s reading. Many are finding this helpful as either a tool before reading or after. His podcast is “The Cave Dwellers.”

I think a pretty good case could be made for reading Plato, but I’m not necessarily trying to convince someone to do this who isn’t already interested in doing this. These are more for you to think about than they are to convince you to do something you weren’t already considering doing.

Plato is one of the early and more fundamental contributors to civilization as we know it today. It has been said that all of western philosophy is but footnotes to Plato (Alfred North Whitehead). It could also be said that Plato’s dialogues are philosophical (and dramatic) treatises on the same questions that Homer had raised for the Greeks in his epics. Andrew Kern likes to say, in response to the Whitehead quotation, that it is true but all of Plato is but a footnote to Homer. The dialogues, moreover, wrestle with questions fundamental to human thought and being: what is justice, love, friendship, virtue, courage, temperance, beauty, language, and more. Finally, there are very few people who can say they have read every single dialogue of Plato’s. In one short year, you could be among those who can.

If you are interested, download the schedule. Join the Facebook group. Share this article with your friends who may also be interested.

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