Chapter 3, mysteriously gray, intriguingly narrated, introduced many questions and absolutely neglected the need for answers. Finishing chapter 3, I was left with a puzzled headache. Thwarted by the philosophy play/monologue that occupied much of the chapter, my attempts to get an early grasp of the story dwindled.
As the chapter ended, all talk of ghosts and physics and our perceptions of reality did not vanish; in fact, the final ghost story which the Narrator related to Chris in the dark and spooky motel room (as the Narrator struggled to sleep despite the persistent questioning of his puzzled son), a new name was introduced: Phaedrus.
This is the point where I hang my head in shame.
OK, maybe that’s strong. But I do hang my head, slightly, for I’ve forsaken my love, my pastime…I’ve failed to fulfill my duties as a connoisseur of literature. I hate Greek mythology. Never liked it. Anything my English teachers or Lit professors thew at me was promptly devoured and left in a pile of discarded bones. Except Greek mythology. I struggled with that. Luckily I somehow managed to shun and thoroughly avoid having to read it through most of my schooling. Consequently, I’m a complete illiterate in the field of Greek gods and whores and child killers and motherfuckers. It’s bad. Maybe it’s not too late to work on it?
In any case, when I saw that name roll off the Narrator’s lips at the end of the chapter, I exhaled a hefty “ugh.”
I’d like to gloss over the passage and pretend I never saw it. I’d like to continue reading on as the strange tale unfolds as I watch this group continue on their stormy and philosophical path. I’d enjoy nothing more than to pretend this chapter ended 2 pages earlier than it did so I could ignore this Greek hiccup.
Ain’t going to happen. Phaedrus, the mystery figure, is shaping up to be a rather predominant member of the cast in this mind exercise. Phaedrus, the painfully mentioned shadow, the predecessor to this tale of the Dakotas and motorcycles.
Phaedrus who can’t be ignored.
Now one lesson I’ve learned…authors (of serious novels) do not flippantly hand names out. Names are vital; Phaedrus…what is Pirsig’s motivation?
Well I can’t fall back on my vast knowledge of Greek mythology, so I must do what everyone else does when confronted with a puzzle in the year 2009. They search the web.
First off, let’s go directly to Wikipedia, because frankly, it’s the first selection to pop up when you do a Google search about 90% of the time. In the spirit of cutting out the middle man.
According to the Wikipedia Phaedrus entry, Phaedrus was a slave born in Macedonia in 15 B.C. Doesn’t it seem that everyone from that era was either a slave or a god?
Anyways, the entry described Phaedrus as a “fabulist.” Essentially, he translated a large portion of Aesop’s fables into Latin. That seems to be his claim to fame. Or, as written in Wikipedia:
His work shows little or no originality; he simply versified in iambic trimeters the fables current of his day under the name of “Aesop,” interspersing them with anecdotes drawn from daily life, history and mythology. He tells his fable and draws the moral with businesslike directness and simplicity.
Sheesh! Not so flattering for the old dead guy.
I browsed through the entire entry and could find nothing remarkable, or remarkable in a manner consistent with 4 people on a philosophical adventure in the lightning-riddled Great Plains states.
OK, Google time. Lots of aimless-looking leads, nothing promising. I find another Phaedrus reference, pertaining not to the fabulist, but to the title of a “dialogue” written by Plato around 370 B.C. detailing the chance meeting of Socrates and Phaedrus (not the same one) outside of Athens. Phaedrus has just return from the house of Lysias where the host has given a speech on love. Socrates is in dire need of a speech (?) and he tags along after Phaedrus panting for a recital of Lysias’ talk. I can picture it but I suspect it may not have played out like this if it had been reality.
Eventually, Socrates’ powers of persuasion seem to work and he seduces the younger Phaedrus into coughing up Lysias’ talks while the two sit under a couple of trees that nice sunny afternoon. Hmm. This is Greek, is it not?
According to Wiki’s summary, “The dialogue consists of a series of three speeches on the topic of love that serve as a metaphor for the discussion of the proper use of rhetoric. They encompass discussions of the soul, madness, divine inspiration, and the practice and mastery of an art.”
I found another reference to Phaedrus and learned that the name means “wolf.” This was on an obscure literature studies website called Introduction To Writing Studies.
So what have I taken away from all this?
An unseen character hiding between the pages of a modern novel named after a 2000 year-old real or ficitonal person who 1) translated fables, or 2) violated copyright laws by reciting speeches given by ancient philosophers in the privacy of their own home.
And possibly, everything I said about authors and the names they choose was just a badly translated fable.
When all else fails, keep reading!