Clio and her eight sisters are heading for your grave. They are the nine muses and they are your very last visitors. All of them, daughters of Zeus and Memory.
Clio is the muse of History. Clio remembers all and she tells all. Nothing escapes Clio and Clio hides nothing. Clio does not tell lies and nor does she blemish or sugar-coat anything. Clio’s truth is inscrutable because Clio is inscrutable. She cannot be bought and she cannot be lobbied. Her truth is in the heart of the sun. All lies are burned off and all truth shines in all its grandeur. Hers is the honest truth.
Presidents die. So too, children. Babies die. Sons and daughters. Mums and dads die, lovers die. Soldiers die. Heroes die on the battlefield or in a bush fire and cowards who spend their days in glittering, palatial oval offices die.
Charos awaits us all.
Ask yourself now, what would you rather have these sisters do at your grave, piddle upon its dusty mount or crack a bottle of nectar, just delivered to them by the gentle doves of Mt Olympus and pour it over the daisies you’re pushing up?
And what sort of music would you have Clio pluck upon her lyre and what words would you have Euterpe sing for you? What sort of dance should Terpsichore dance for you around your tombstone?
Music, words and dance that will make the daisies spring up in a joyous and proud bloom or such that it will make them bend and blush with shame?
You will be dead, you say and behind the unassailable, unbreachable walls of Oblivion. What Clio or anyone else does on or around my grave will not touch me. I will be dead and protected from feelings, physical and mental. “Dead means peace,” you insist.
You will indeed be dead and buried then, or cremated or even eaten by the carrion birds and animals, as were the countless Danaans before the topless towers of Ilium at the beginning of the Iliad, yes, but I’m asking you now, now that you are alive and fully sentient, physically and mentally and you are sitting at your lawyer’s office, dictating your last will and testament and you are totally free to record it for all eternity.
Now, dictate to your lawyer your codicil regarding the nine muses, beginning with the words, “as for my grave I would like Clio and her sisters to…”
To do what?
This is the moment that two aphorisms appear before you. One is a sentence inscribed at the forecourt of the temple of Apollo at Delphi which says, “know thyself,” (said to be uttered by Socrates) and the other is an observation also made by the same philosopher, “an unexamined life is not worth living.”
This is the moment to check inside the drawers and filing cabinets of your life, to learn about yourself, your past, your present and your eternal future. This is the time when Clio is hovering just above your head, as did Mercutio’s “galant spirit,” just before his body became worms’ meat.
Clio pours praises upon the graves of people who have lived well, who have lived by the rules of Justice and Virtue and she piddles upon the graves of those who have lived lives of injustice and evil.
Graves are anything but silent. They are ear-smashingly sonorous and they are garrulous. They tell stories, our stories and this is the only time when the stories -your story amongst them- are true because they are told by Clio.
And our stories are the stories of our times and our cities.
But what is Justice and what is Virtue?
In his book, “The Republic,” Plato has his teacher, Socrates embark upon a trip around Athens in the hope of finding the answers to these questions. What is Justice and, more importantly, is the just man a happier man than the unjust one?
Socrates had walked through the streets of his beloved Athens, the Athens that throbbed with theatre and art and philosophy and architecture and Democracy, the Athens that was at the time the hub of cogitation and invention, the Athens that was given the name “the cradle of civilization,” and he asked anyone and everyone just those very questions about Justice and Virtue and he discussed with them their responses, in his usual dialectic manner, a manner that became known as “Socratic irony.”
One such citizen, Cephalus, suggested that Justice is seen in the act of giving people what is owed to them. Simply, pay all your debts before you die!”
Another, sitting at the same table, a certain Polemarchus, suggested that Justice is seen in the act of giving good to your friends and evil to your enemies.
A third, Thrasymachus proclaimed with a full throated assertiveness that “justice is nothing more than the interest of the stronger.” Might is right, in other words. Not quite a definition of Justice and rather more like a cynical denial that Justice is of any value at all, we might suggest. In fact, being just is more trouble than good, Thrasymachus insisted because, Justice stops us from behaving according to our very natural inclinations, inclinations such as, to desire to get more than the other guy, to steal the other guy’s land, to completely destroy the other guy’s life, to send the other guy into exile, to make him a refugee, looking for a safe place to live. These are all natural inclinations for humans and so, Justice stops us from being fully natural.
Justice is no good at all, according to Thrasymachus and thus, Justice being the very kernel of morality, Thrasymachus tells us that morality itself is a pain in the proverbial, and a hindrance to us trying to be our true selves.
And Plato wrote down all their answers and the discussions that went with them in a book he called the “Republic” and he called it that because a city, a polis, or a “City-State” (to all intends and purposes another word for “one’s country”) is like a man, a human. The constituent parts of a man’s character are the same as those of a good city. A good country is like a good man and it is good because it is made up of good men.
So, what Clio, the muse of History, will do upon our grave is a strong indication of what she will do upon the grave of our country.
What would we have her do then, piddle upon it or praise it?
Graves are the great and indisputable levelers:Tomb or multi-storied mausoleum, or a grassy knoll; a tombstone of solid marble or of mud brick; an urn made of solid gold with the rarest of gems or of tin for your ashes; a grave alone in the desert or one amidst a million other graves.
Or a mountain of blood and gore and rubble; a tempest of tears, a firmament of groans and; it’s all the same to Clio and her sisters.
In this era of bunker politics, of impenetrable wall politics, of Parliaments and Congresses, used as cowards’ castles, of Parliaments bereft of the demos but thronged by noisy money men and military men and god’s men and oil men and media moguls; of Parliaments where we see the bloody festival of Idus Martiae taking place almost on a daily basis; in this era of such Parliaments, it is hard to remain sanguine and with your equanimity intact.
It is hard not to get angry.
Another President has just died.
What will Clio do?