Greek Theater

Posted in poetry on September 7, 2014 by admin

The following is the final version of Peter Dale Scott’s much reworked poem “Greek Theater,” now subtitled, “Mario Savio and the Socratic Quest.” It replaces earlier versions of the poem that appeared on this blog. (First draft, second draft, third draft.) The poem will be published as the Epilogue of Peter’s prose political book, The Deep American State: Wall Street, Big Oil, and the Attack on U.S. Democracy, due from Rowman & Littlefield in November, 2014.


Mario Savio and the Socratic Quest

But in diverting the city’s desires another way instead of complying with them…
that is the only business of a good citizen.
— Plato, Gorgias 517 B-C
It has taken weeks
of unsettled half-awareness
for me to recognize

the student wrestled to the ground Cohen Freedom's Orator 213
by six policemen in uniforms
a baton menacing his neck and tie

(an arm across his throat
to keep him from speaking) San Francisco Chronicle December 9 1964
on the cover of this book

about how J. Edgar Hoover
slipped lies to the San Francisco Examiner
advancing the career of Ronald Reagan Rosenfeld Subversives 212-13, 227

is Mario Savio leader of Berkeley Free Speech Movement
on the stage of the Greek Theater December 7 1964; Rosenfeld Subversives 224
wrecking the well-planned closure

of the assembly called to proclaim
an end to the protests and sit-ins
of the Free Speech Movement

and the inauguration
of a new era of freedom under law Rosenfeld Subversives 223
by an ambitious professor Cohen Freedom's Orator 213-14

hoping thereby to become
our next Chancellor
who defended the war on national TV

and is now less googled
than his daughter a language poet Leslie Scalapino
The anticlimax when Mario

came back out only to announce
there would be a Free Speech rally Cohen Freedom's Orator 213-14
on the Sproul Hall steps Rosenfeld Subversives 224

up-ended my own planned life
I was just a few yards away
at the same camera angle

one of those who had urged
the students to trust
the decency of those in power

my head then filled with Anglo-Latin
verse from the ninth century
why the return of a cuckoo in spring

spoke to the heart
expressing aspirations of friendship
more deeply than Virgil could Scott Alcuin’s Versus de Cuculo

and did more to invent Europe
at a higher level —
Christianus sum      I am a Christian

non possum militare —      I cannot make war Acta Maximiliani 1.3
than the battle stopping the Moors
on the banks of the Loire

two different kinds of power Douglass Gandhi and the Unspeakable 25
bia the power of dominance βία violence Arendt 93
versus peithein the power of persuasion πείθειν Schell Unconquerable World 218

the virtù of Macchiavelli
the founder of academic
political science

versus the politiké techné πολιτικῇ τέχνῃ Gorgias 521D
of Socrates and Gandhi
which persuades by the force of truth Kornfeld 108 Schell 119

the cop who thanked Howard Zinn
for his talk to the Police Academy
then pleaded with him desperately

to please leave the antiwar blockade
before a little later
battering him with an outsized club Ellsberg

versus Mario inspiring the crowd
to immobilize the campus police car
till Jack Weinberg inside it was released Cohen Freedom's Orator 98-120

the power to transcend enmity
as I had seen in an iconic moment
alone reading Plato's Gorgias

in the Ambassador's huge bed
when I was chargé d'affaires in Warsaw — stand-in for absent ambassador
that the way to change the world

was not through international treaties
but through changing the city's desires Plato Gorgias 503-21
the power of persuasion

versus that of the nightstick
or even the diplomatic service
with all its tempting frills —

the cook the chauffeur    that flag up ahead on the limo
the house party up the Hudson
where baffled ducks were released

for the half-drunk guests to shoot
the sit-down banquet at Schönbrunn Vienna Imperial Palace
for six hundred people

served by liveried footmen –
which I willingly abandoned
so I could teach in a university

the heritage of the Patrologia Latina
which I had skimmed so greedily
my first semester back

and then Dante    la mala condotta misguidance
è la cagion che'l mondo ha fatto reo is why the world goes wrong
e non natura che'n voi sia corrotta and not your nature that is corrupt
Dante Purgatorio 16:103-05
Well – little could I foresee
how Mario in an instant
(who himself had been inspired

by the plays of Sophocles
and Aeschylus and Euripides Cohen Freedom's Orator 35
before being beaten in Mississippi

for walking in public with a black man
as part of Freedom Summer) Cohen Freedom's Orator 59-60
had changed me from a Latinist

into an activist
no longer a mere spectator
(as I had been five days earlier

when the students filed into Sproul Hall
singing We shall overcome) December 2 1964; Rosenfeld 216-22
that same evening I spoke Scott Charlie Sellers 1

at the crisis faculty meeting Cohen Freedom's Orator 214-15
and only one month later
my first public appeal

to get troops out of Vietnam
which though I could not know it
would soon bring a painful end

to my evenings with Milosz
debating the right English
for what is poetry

that does not save
nations or peoples? Milosz New Collected Poems 78
a heartbreaking loss at the time Haven An Invisible Rope 69

but not one that deterred me
as much as the crazy violence
that developed after Mario

moved away from leadership Cohen Freedom's Orator 253
not wanting the Movement
to become too dependent on him Cohen Freedom's Orator 237-38

in the dramatic struggle between
two kinds of decency
one struggling for an end

to racial hiring
in the local supermarkets Rosenfeld Subversives 176-77
one that of the U.S. middle class

who did not want their kids dropping acid
or cursing Amerikkka Ruether America Amerikkka
and so when given a chance

voted for Ronald Reagan
the great persuader Broder Washington Post 6/7/04
while Richard Aoki

as a paid FBI informant
armed the Black Panthers Rosenfeld Subversives 418-19, 421
But Mario returned in the 1980s

and revived a dormant campus
changing the city's desires Plato Gorgias 517 B-C
with his use of philosophy

Socrates and Thoreau Cohen Freedom's Orator 202
when he spoke of shifting our values
for an America less dominated

by production for war
and more by human needs Cohen Freedom's Orator 280, 348
inspiring – yes! — even faculty like myself

to monitor a divestment protest
in support of the South African resistance Rosenfeld Subversives 501
with white armbands torn from a sheet in our basement

all helping to stoke a nationwide demonstration 15 ARRESTED New York Times 4/17/85
till finally the UC Regents
divested $3 billion in funds Skelton Los Angeles Times 12/11/13

so that — I do believe —
Mario helped contribute
to the liberation of South Africa

Mandela himself credited California
with helping push his country
toward racial integration Skelton Los Angeles Times 12/11/13

Truth-force as history!    Oh John Searle Satyagraha
you recognized in your student Mario's speeches
a kind of freshness combined

with a certain deep intellectual vision Cohen Freedom's Orator 189
but when you later came to see the movement
as a bunch of losers Cohen Freedom's Orator 317

with unreasonable expectations Searle Interview 5
you were resuming your distinguished career
as an academic philosopher

while it was Mario
at what you called a second-rate university Cohen Freedom's Orator 316
who remained on the straight path

of the Socratic quest
to change by persuasion
our misguided world

curbing the authority of violence
by appealing to those hints of freedom
encoded in our DNA

that truth-force enabling a movement
to overcome as Mario said
a machine so odious

you've got to make it stop Cohen Freedom's Orator 183, 458-59



Acta Maximiliani, ed. H. Musurillo. The Acts of the Christian Martyrs. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972.

Hannah Arendt. Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought. New York: Penguin Books, 1993.

David S. Broder, “The Great Persuader,” Washington Post, June 7, 2004,

Robert Cohen. Freedom’s Orator: Mario Savio and the Radical Legacy of the 1960s. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

James W. Douglass. Gandhi and the Unspeakable: His Final Experiment with Truth, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2012.

Daniel Ellsberg, “A Memory of Howard Zinn.”, January 27, 2010,

“15 Arrested on Berkeley Campus in Protest on South Africa Policy.” New York Times, April 17, 1985,
Mahatma Gandhi, ed. Louis Fischer. The Essential Gandhi: An Anthology of His Writings on His Life, Work, and Ideas.

Ralph J. Gleason, “The Tragedy at The Greek Theater,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 9, 1964,

Cynthia Haven, ed. An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czeslaw Milosz. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2011. Contains Peter Dale Scott, “A Difficult, Inspirational Giant.”

Jack Kornfield. Bringing Home the Dharma: Awakening Right Where You Are.
Boston: Shambhala, 2011.

Seth Rosenfeld. Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012.

Rosemary Radford Ruether. America, Amerikkka : elect nation and imperial violence. Oakville, CT : Equinox, 2007.

Jonathan Schell. The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People. New York: Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt, 2003.

Peter Dale Scott, “Alcuin’s Versus de Cuculo: the Vision of Pastoral Friendship,” Studies in Philology, LXII, 4 (July 1965), 510-30,

Peter Dale Scott. American War Machine: Deep Politics, the CIA Global Drug Connection, and the Road to Afghanistan. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2010.

Peter Dale Scott. “Charlie Sellers at Berkeley.” A Tribute at the Charles G. Sellers 90th Birthday Symposium, Berkeley, CA, September 7, 2013.

John Searle Interview. Conversations with History, Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley.

George Skelton. “Leading the way to justice in South Africa.” Los Angeles Times, December 11, 2013,


2 Responses to “Greek Theater”

  1. very lovely. thank you peter ! it’s really wonderful- and thanks to your inspirations, Mario and all, – and to the publishers.

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