Ancient Greece, Ancient History, Dionysus, essay, history, Philosophy, Physics, Science, short fiction

The Atoms (A Parody As Philosophical Parable)

[Fragment of the penultimate scene in the play. Characters on stage are Democritus and his friend, colleague and fellow philosopher Leucippus]

Leucippus — Why do you eat so many dates? They stain your teeth and make you fart like a Spartan horse! Those aren’t even good dates. They’re a day old at least.


Democritus — Dates that are not good for eating are good for other things


Leucippus — Why Democritus, are you experimenting again? We are here to buy our share for the dinner at Darius’ tonight, not to go on about some crack pot thing or another!


Democritus — My favorite piece of pottery is cracked. I use to it toss all of my salads in. I find the clay makes for a good medium for vegetable preparation.


Leucippus — You know what I meant. Why can’t you ever be serious?


Democritus — Because we have our entire professional lives to be serious. Time in the marketplace is time best spent upon frivolities.


Leucippus — You say that with earnestness dripping from every syllable but your face is a mask of incredulity. What is it that you know that you are so desirous to keep from me by matter of word games and mockery?


Democritus — Oh my dearest friend! Your whole outlook is a patch of solipsism watered with disinterest. If you only knew the joke I had in mind you would understand why I am so evasive and playful in my wording. To know is nothing when one can make another know. This is a joy I will cherish and prolong as much as I can.


Leucippus — You are no dear friend. You are the cruelest of all men. You feign stupidity but prance about freely from truth to truth like an oracle drunk on wine. Dispose of this terrible predilection to taunt and joke! Tell me what it is you know!


Democritus — I see that my fun has run out along with your usually steadfast patience. I will obey your demand. Remember the dates I purchased?


Leucippus — How could I not! Even now I can smell the effluvial fumes leaking from yoru hindquarters. Get on with it then.


Democritus — Would you agree that the date I now hold in my hand is indeed a date, and, metaphysics aside, you would agree that what makes this date a date is the stuff of its composition and our perception and experience of this composition?


Leucippus — I would indeed agree to that definition.


Democritus — Wonderful! I do enjoy mutual comprehension.


Leucippus — Comprehension my ass!


Democritus — Anyhow, we agree that this date is indeed a date and that it is its qualities that we recognize that make it a date. Given that, would you hazard to guess how many dates I can make from this one specimen in my hand now?


Leucippus — Well I suppose if you were to collect and plant some of the seeds encased within the flesh you would be able to—


Democritus — I am terribly sorry, but I must interrupt. That is not at all what I meant. The process you speak of would make many dates out of the seeds of this fruit. And while I am all for the propagation of this particularly delicious species, that is beside the point. How many dates, individual, specific, identifiable as we before explained, can we generate from this one date?


Leucippus — Well I should say that you could generate no additional dates from this one if you discount growing the seeds contained within its flesh. A date is a date…It is one date and it shall be consumed as such whenever you have tired of all of this sophistry.


Democritus — My question does seem sophistic does it not? I sympathize with your lack of comprehension. Ask the same question of Democritus yesterday and he would have given the same answer you did just now. Luckily I am not the Democritus of yesterday, I am the Democritus of now and now I know a better part of the truth then I did before. Either way I am hungry and will take a bit of this wonderful fruit [bites off half of the date]. There. I have made myself another date!


Leucippus — Fool! I call you a fool because your words make no sense to me. You did not answer your own question by eating the date! You have now half a date, no more than before certainly.


Democritus — How I long for your astute mind and honest powers of conception! You are of course correct…I have made no more dates, but halved the one I already had. Would you say then that this date meets the requirements met before to make it a date in sense of its composition, if not its quality or entirety of size?


Leucippus — I will concede that point. It is still a date, if half of one.


Democritus — You are a brave man to make such an honest assertion of your understanding! I am not so brave…I am timid and feel that perhaps what I hold is indeed less a date than before.


Leucippus — Well of course it is, we discussed that just now—


Democritus — I really am sorry to keep interrupting you like this. I have not tact whatsoever…but I must correct you. It is still a date, and indeed it is lesser in size and content than before, but now it less of a date. Let me illustrate further [bites the half of a date in half and then in half again] See! The date is now even smaller! It is even less of a date than it was before!


Leucippus — But that is not so! It is indeed smaller than before, but its essence, its existence as a date is not lessened. There is just less of it for us to taste and recognize easily. I assure if you eat more it will taste ever and ever like a date.

Democritus — I cannot get anything past you. You are indeed a wiser man then I…I am so foolish that I am going to go further [takes as big a bite of the date as is possible while still leaving some flesh aside] Surely now the date is lessened even further! It must be less date now than it ever was.


Leucippus — I grow tired of your jest. It is a date and I will be a date until it is no more.


Democritus — Oh! Oh! That is a stroke of brilliance! I can certainly eat the rest of this fruit, but there would be no more topic of conversation!


Leucippus — Perish the thought.


Democritus — Let us then move on to another bit of folly I have conceived…You are surely correct and this is surely a date. I was a fool to doubt you. No matter the size the pieces are there that will always make us recognize this fruit for what it is. But perhaps…


Leucippus — Perhaps what? Are you proposing some sort of alchemy to turn what remains of this date into a golden manned horse or something like that?


Democritus — Remains! That is the point entirely! What if I were to cut what remains of this date into another smaller piece. And then another. And then another and another and another down to the smallest piece I can cut it? And by the smallest piece I mean the very smallest; the tiniest and least substantial piece of material that I could possible cut it. Down beyond the stuff if the fruit and the seeds and the skin and the juice and even beyond the flesh and the grit and the very perceivable substance of the date, down to the lowest chunk of barely understandable matter that we can conceive of. Would the date then still be a date?


Leucippus — I can honestly say that I do not know the answer to that question.


Democritus — For any save my fevered and obsessive mind that would be an honest and a wise answer. But I am cursed with taking things ever further, past the point where most minds would dare frolic. For I see that if you cut that date down to its barest material essence, then you have something remarkable. Consider we conduct the same experiment but with a piece of goat flesh. We chop it down and down and down again until we are past the sinew and the bone and the flesh and blood and skin. We are down to the barest smallest bit that it is possible to produce. What then is the difference in the composition of this smallest bit of goat flesh and the smallest bit of date?


Leucippus — Well. For one…The latter is a piece of flesh—


Democritus — But both fruit and flesh have been reduced down beyond all their recognizable traits. They are both cut down to their basic material essence, there smallest point. What then is the difference between the two?


Leucippus — Once more you have stumped me Democritus.


Democritus — Far from it my friend. You are merely running up against the wall of reasoning that I ran into headlong all last night. I could not name a discernible difference between the two bits of matter. Then I thought of the question in another way. I must now admit that my answer is the same as yours: I am stumped. I know not the difference between the two bits. But, this I do know: At some point if you were to rebuild these bits up back to the material they once were, fruit and flesh respectively, you would start slowly as they were built back up to recognize differences. At what point of substance and size this transformation occurs is unknown to me so far, but I do now that this transformation does occur and that it comes about through building upon this basic bit of matter.

Leucippus — I can find no fault in your logic so far.


Democritus — Neither can I. I now believe that the stuff that makes up the stuff of the stuff we know is itself made up of pieces, building stones of matter that can and will act and be acted upon by the forces of nature and creation. Thus acted upon and influenced they will take the form of the various things we know and consume and sell and collect. It is their movement as small pieces of matter around and around through existence and the void that brings these things into being, but of course they are only impermanent things. There is no more force compelling the pieces of matter together into the forms we know then there is pulling them apart back into the substance of basic matter floating about the void.

[Fragment ended]


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