Greek-American Stories: On Trial: Wisdom

April 11, 2019
Phyllis “Kiki” Sembos

I’ve written many articles on brilliant, exceptional, ancient Greek men in history. I am a great admirer of ancient Greek men, as long as they’re dead!  I figured I’m old enough to be considered ancient. Life has taught me a few wisdoms, so, I went to my computer and I thought to title my book, ‘Wisdoms,’ by Phyllis ‘Kiki’ Sembos. I thought and thought, went to lunch and came back. I gave up when I realized the book would be very short, about two pages.

But, for the time being, I decided to continue writing about those admirable men who gave the world information on how we should think, hoping that those who come after them would take a hint. I figured they wanted to make sure that modern old men would benefit from their wisdoms and take it from there.

Looking around, we have to admit it didn’t work. All modern men do now is rehash what they said, claim it as their own and then continue to act like the buffoons they are. But, it begins with the young and what is taught in schools. Something is definitely lacking. It appears teachers aren’t doing enough to bring the brilliance of the ancient Greek minds into the modern world.

For instance, let me give you a few samples of how ancient Greek history was being comprehended by various students from various schools: Following are a few bloopers, contributed by teachers, from eighth grade students through college:

“The Greeks were a very highly sculptured people and without them we wouldn’t have history…The Greeks also had myths. A myth is a female moth…Socrates was a famous Greek teacher who went around giving people advice. They killed him. He died from an overdose of wedlock…In the Olympic Games, Greeks ran races, jumped, hurled biscuits and threw the java. The reward was a coral wreath…Eventually, the Romans conquered the Greeks. History called people Romans because they never stayed in one place for very long…Homer wrote, ‘The Oddity’, in which Penelope was the last hardship that Ulysses endured on his journey. Actually, Homer was not written by Homer but by another man of the same name.”

Imagine! See what I mean? After reading those essays, I began to think, hey! Maybe, I’m not so unwise after all. Maybe I can write or say something that will enlighten the modern mind. So, I gave it a try.  I had read about how the wonderful endurance of Socrates was when he and Alcibiades served together at the Potidaea. Now, do you know what the Potidaea was or where it was located? Neither did I. So, I figured maybe it was some Greek restaurant and that Socrates and Alcibiades worked there as waiters. I mean, what else needs endurance; especially if the customers are difficult.

Still, I have been an admirer of Socrates, having read his dialogues as written by Plato. Let me repeat some of the wisdoms that had irked many governing Athenians who wanted to exile him from his family, friends, and country.

He preferred to take his own life. Before dying, he told his friends who had visited him in prison, one of them Simmias, “Wars are occasioned by the love of money. And, money is acquired for the sake of the body, the body that craves luxuries.”

Another daring piece of philosophy he had put forward: “A judge has sworn that he will judge according to the law and not according to his pleasure or biases thereby encouraging perjury. One should not seek to please or convince him to get an acquittal.”

He said that he could beg for acquittal by pleading that he had a family, (three sons and a wife), that he had committed no crime excepting that he pursued truth, and that he could have, easily, prevented the exile they proposed by raising the money to pay the fine of one thousand drachmae.

He said, “reflecting that I am too honest to be a politician, I did not go where I could do no good or look only to my own private interest. I am convinced that I never intentionally wronged anyone and I will not, assuredly, wrong myself. Why should I live in prison until I pay the fine you impose when I have no money? And, all this because you cannot endure my words that you all find odious.”

Since wisdom has a terrible price and I’m as outspoken, too, I decided not to write that book. That makes me very wise, indeed!


I have dealt with Hellenic College and Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology several times, highlighting some of their serious and deep-rooted problems, not limiting myself to observations but also proposing ideas and possible solutions for reflection and dialogue.

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