Baskets in clouds: the philosophy of basketry according to Socrates

[Versione italiana qui]

So… do you really need a basket? In the era of 3D printing, should you focus on beauty or functionality? And if instead I bought one ready-made, but badly made? The important thing is a good effect ….. And what would be the right price?

Ask yourself these questions before preparing everything you need to make a basket (including, after, the time and the desire to tidy up everything).

About the torments of the young artisans of the post-plastic-apocalyptic era, he also dealt with Socrates , in his own way. To the philosopher Aristippus who asked him to define beauty and goodness, he replied that people and things “are considered beautiful and good in relation to what they are usable for”.

The most expensive dustbin in the world: the work Garbage Can by artist Sylvie Fleury, in gold plated steel, sold for $ 13,750

“Maybe” asked Aristippus “is the waste basket also beautiful?”

“Yes, for Zeus! And in truth a golden shield is ugly in the case that, for the respective functions, one is well done, the other poorly.”

In summary: “this is beautiful, not what is beautiful: is beautiful what works .” And who disagrees “has a garbage can instead of the heart” (as Buffon would say).

On the other hand, the comparison with the shield is significant, because at that time armaments were very precious and prestigious personal objects: the mythical shield of Achilles is worth 130 verses of description in the eighteenth book of the Iliad. But the functional aspect was fundamental: it was literally matter of life or death. So when Socrates meets the Pistia armor, he asks him plainly because his breastplates cost so much if they are not more resistant or more decorated than the others. He replies that they are more “eurythmic”, that is well proportioned. Socrates improvises as a marketing consultant and explains that for “proportioned” Pistia intends to customized, in order to adapt to the client’s body and not to hinder his movements. At this point, Pistia is in raptures and says things that can be heard in the mouth of any artisan even today:

“You explained exactly why I believe my work is of great value; some, however, prefer to buy decorated and gilded armor”

“And yet,” Socrates observed, “if for this reason they buy armor that is not good for them, it seems to me that they are buying a decorated and gilded bad thing”

Any reference to shoes with stiletto heels is purely casual, but definitely appropriate. And then there are those who say that philosophers do not deal with practical things and have his head in the clouds! I would say that in this case they have his basket in the clouds. Literally.

Socrate nella cesta (stampa del XVI secolo)
Socrates in the basket (16th century print)

In a scene of the comedy “The Clouds” by Aristophanes, the old Strepsiades, in search of Socrates, sees him hanging in the air and asks him what he is doing.

Socrates – For the air I move and the sun scrutinize.

Strepsiades – And so you look at the gods from a basket. Could you not do it from the ground?

Basically, therefore, Socrates took care not only about the philosophy of the basket, but also about philosophy in the basket.

Or maybe not? Note that while in the first quotation the Greek word cofinos (very similar to the Corenese cofeno) is used, in the second we use the word tarros, (similar to the Corenese rata) traditionally translated with “basket”, but which would actually indicate the trellis (the rata in fact) that was used to hang the cheeses to season (what not very flattering, however, towards Socrates).

Production of a hot-air balloon basket

But neither Aristophanes nor the translators and illustrators who over the centuries have put Socrates in the basket, could have imagined that one day the baskets would really have served to touch the sky with a finger: still today they are used in hot air balloons for their lightness, flexibility and strength.

It’s really true: when the sage points to the moon, the fool looks at the finger.


NB: the quotes are translated from the italian version of the books

Xenophon, Memorable, III, 8 (4-7) and 10 (9-15), trad. Anna Santoni, Rizzoli 1989, pages 266 et seq.

Aristophanes, The Clouds, vv. 218-234, trad. Fabio Turato, Marsilio 2001, pages 86-89, 197-8

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