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From: m.driussi@genie.com
Subject: (whorl) Background: Plato's Cave
Date: Fri,  7 Feb 97 19:52:00 GMT

[Posted from Whorl, the mailing list for Gene Wolfe's Book of the Long Sun]

Reply:  Item #2740464 from WHORL@LISTS.BEST.COM@INET02#

Plato's Allegory of the Cave (beginning of Book VII in the REPUBLIC)
imagines humankind as living in an underground cave which has a wide
entrance open to the light.  Deep within are human beings facing the
back wall, chained at neck and leg so they cannot move.  They have
never seen sunlight or the sun.

Outside the cave there is a fire burning continuously, casting
firelight into the cave.  Between the fire and the cave is a raised
path and a wall, together forming a puppet theater.

 |  >           |        \|/
 cave          path      fire

Along this path stroll mysterious non-human beings (we might call
them outsiders or puppetmasters) who carry all sorts of objects so
that they project over the pathwall.  Firelight upon these objects
casts a shadow upon the back wall of the cave, and these
shadows-of-real-things are the only things which the prisoners
(humanity) can see.  To them, this is reality.

So one prisoner is unchained and turned around to see the world of
firelight (the cave, the path, the fire), then the prisoner is
dragged out to see the world of sunlight that lies beyond the world
of firelight, and the prisoner sees the sun itself, at which point
the prisoner becomes the heroic philosopher.  End of allegory, more
or less.

=Interpretation of the Allegory [insert hedgewords to suit taste]=

To the pre-Christian Socratic philosophers, the four worlds (cave,
puppet stage, fire, sunlight) represent our world (cave), the world
of Absolute Truth (sunlight), and the intermediate stages.  Socrates
is the heroic philosopher.

The Christian reading sees Jesus Christ as the heroic philosopher,
showing the way for all prisoners to escape the cave.

The Kabbalah reading immediately recognizes the four worlds and sees
stages of God at points along the way.  So firelight is a lesser
manifestation of God the sunlight.  Old Testament prophets would be
examples of heroic philosophers.

The Gnostic reading, when stripped of reflexive anti-Judaism, is
similar to the Kabbalistic reading except there is a tendency to
demonize lesser manifestations of God.  So fire is seen as the
Pretender to the throne of Sunlight.  And the sun doesn't know,
doesn't give a damn about the prisoners.  Each gnostic has the
potential to find his/her own path to becoming a unique and
untranslatable heroic philosopher.

Now then, what does all this have to do with THE BOOK OF THE LONG
SUN, you might ask?


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