It is well said that travel is life accelerated. When attempting to put our mind around a vast and unfamiliar world of history, accelerating our experience is essential.
Much of education is learning to see the connections between ideas. The beauty of history is that most of what transpires is an interwoven combination of human events: people, places, events, ideas, passions, movements- the traditional academic subject categories just do not apply. There are some men who might live lives that can be contained within the boundaries of particular academic subjects but in more interesting historical personalities such as Socrates, we find a rich complexity and fullness of life.
Let us take a moment to consider the complexity and many facets to Socrates’ life so we can grasp how much there is to understand in appreciating his life. He was a philosopher who developed very abstract theories for explaining human experience while he was also a soldier and fought nobly in battle.
His philosophy showed his very wide knowledge of fables and the stories of Homer. Further, his student Plato was a former playwright who took his ideas and put them into dramatic dialogue format. Within many of the dialogues, we find discussions of a wide range of human characteristics, including music, morality, the place of theater in a well-ordered society, the beneficial and detrimental effects of literature. He even discussed how the human soul is shaped by the study of geometry. So, should reading Socrates be understood as military history, political science, psychology, music theory, or theology? What does he not address? Socrates simply lived a rich life and to understand him, we need to experience and be as much a part of that fullness as we can. Socrates references a large and complicated world-- to understand him, we should travel to the places that inspired him.
Being able to travel and to experience life in an accelerated fashion puts us into a better context to fully grasp the world Socrates’ writing often assumes we understand. Not just Socrates’ writing, of course, but all more advanced reading requires a fairly wide understanding of life and history. Without having a background in knowing know the world and its events, reading with comprehension appears a daunting task.
History puts us in touch with a huge number of new names and places that must be understood. Being able to experience the places of history helps tremendously in grasping the significance of the stories that happened in them. And once those stories are understood, we can grasp the philosophical themes that arise from reflecting on those stories.