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November 04, 2008
I'm lucky enough to be taking the Personal Writing Project module in the Creative Writing department this year. Here for you to enjoy is a flash fiction I wrote while I was trying to find my feet with the project.
Plato at sea
Although the identity of the slave had been kept quiet, the shipmaster was well aware that he was taking Plato onboard amongst the human cargo. He did not know which of his charges was the philosopher, but he enjoyed the fact. Amongst the downturned faces was a great thinker whose words and name had been circulated across the entire world. He was sure that this turn-up: that a great thinker was walking unknown amongst human cargo: showed in large part how the universe felt about humans.
During the voyage he would walk amongst the slaves and see if he could hear any of them engaged in debate - a debate which would surely uncover the identity of the great man. But no-one spoke up. The slaves muttered and jibed with one another, railing against the human mass that encroached on them since they could not move against their true captors. But there was no revelatory discussion.
Then the captain changed tack. Perhaps Plato was the quietest of the slaves - perhaps he was afraid to reveal his identity to the mass in case they turned on him for his association with the king, even if that association had turned sour. Or maybe he did not want to waste his words on the common herd. Or maybe he was simply deeply, truly and deeply downcast. But there was no slave quieter than any other. Each muttered. Each jibed.
The captain began to worry. Perhaps Plato knew that he was listening for him? Maybe the man was leading the slaves into deeper and deeper discourse when the captain's back was turned. Their quietude - normal for slaves - was a cover for their secret dissent. At present that dissent was just an act of learning - learning, and disbarring the captain from joining in. But that implied that they had already discounted the captain from a brotherhood - and wouldn't that be a fine starting point for rebellion! Perhaps Plato had already seen his way around his shackles - these Philosophers were canny men. At night Plato would slip out of them, make his way on deck and by the light of the moon steal the key from the man's jerkin pocket. Then he would go back inside and let the slaves go - and then they would throw the crew overboard.
The captain became so consumed with these doubts that he lost sleep. Every time he saw the slaves in the flesh he was convinced that nothing secret was going on. Every time they left his sight he was convinced that they were plotting rebellion. He skipped meals, and he grew lax with the charts. After a week at sea, he drove them into a tempest.
It must be Plato's fault, he thought, as the men reeled in the sails. He struggled with the rudder, desperate to keep the ship on a straight course into the waves. He had forbidden the men to look behind them on pain of having their eyes put out with awls, because the sight to stern would have paralysed them with fear. The waves were as tall as the masts and crested with white horses. They reared up above the ship like the necks of sea-serpents. Plato must be to blame - this was a punishment sent by his father, Apollo. The tempest would break the ship into tiny pieces, and all aboard would be drowned, except Plato, who would float to the shore on a balk of timber.
Plato, with his hands in cuffs, prayed for the storm to end.