A Portrait of the Philosopher as a Young Man

Dear Mrs. Phaenarete,
I have bad news, you see.
Your older son (the peculiar one)
Has been a source of worry.

His latest misdemeanor
Happened earlier on today,
When he refused to do an IQ test
(It was school-prescribed, by the way).

“Why not, boy?” I asked your son
And he turned to me, grinning,
“I know that I am intelligent,
Because I know that I know nothing.”

Now, I do not disagree with this,
And I appreciate his self-awareness,
But such sass is unbecoming,
And he simply couldn’t care less!

He rolls his eyes constantly,
At everything I say.
He’s called me “unintelligent”
Thirty-seven times today.

Once when I corrected his pronunciation,
He became strangely passive-aggressive –
“I would rather die speaking in my manner,
Than speak in your manner and live.”

His excuse for not knowing formulae is
“Do we really know anything, so far?”
He refers to this as his “method”
It is honestly quite bizarre.

He walks around barefoot in P.E.
He refuses to “believe” in life skills,
But what I find the strangest of all
Is his interactions with other pupils.

“Doesn’t your inner voice prevent mistakes?”
He once asked a classmate with dyslexia
I had to then sit him down and explain the difference
Between “inner voices” and dyspepsia.

When I praised his peer’s lovely artwork
He turned and scoffed at dear Trudy,
“All beautiful things become beautiful
By nothing but means of beauty.”

Once when some students were studying,
He walked up to them and said,
“Don’t worry about this; no, worry about,
The welfare of your souls instead.”

The students were young, eight or nine,
A lot of them began to cry,
They appeared to think he was threatening them,
And the complaints I received, oh my!

So Mrs. Phaenarete, take care of Socrates,
You need to have him under control.
He seems to think he’ll be a great man one day,
Ah, the poor, deluded soul!


Many of the quotes and incidents referred to in this poem are real (well, according to Wikipedia at least):

1. “I know that I am intelligentbecause I know that I know nothing.” – Socrates

2.  Socrates “is portrayed stalking the streets of Athens barefoot, rolling his eyes at remarks he found unintelligent, and gazing up at the clouds.” – The Trial of Socrates, Doug Linder (2002).

3. “I would rather die having spoken in my mannerthan speak in your manner and live.” – Socrates

4. Socrates devised the ‘Socratic Method’ which involves asking yourself what you know and disregarding hypotheses one by one, based on this information. Read more here.

5. “Perhaps the most interesting facet of this is Socrates’ reliance on what the Greeks called his “daemonic sign”, an averting inner voice Socrates heard only when he was about to make a mistake.” – Wikipedia entry on Socrates

6. “By means of beauty all beautiful things become beautiful. For this appears to me the safest answer to give both to myself and others; and adhering to this, I think that I shall never fall, but that it is a safe answer both for me and any one else to give — that by means of beauty beautiful things become beautiful.” – Socrates

7. “He tells them they are concerned with their families, careers, and political responsibilities when they ought to be worried about the “welfare of their souls.” – Wikipedia entry on Socrates (yes, the same one)