Socrates and Wing Biddlebaum

Came across this funny passage in The Phaedo the other day and was reminded of Winesburg OH and of Hands. Phaedo 89b (the one stroking the hair is Socrates):

He stroked my head and gathered the hair on the back of my neck into his hand—he had a habit of playing with my hair on occasion—and said, “Tomorrow, perhaps, Phaedo, you will cut off this beautiful hair.”

“I suppose so, Socrates,” said I.

“Not if you take my advice.”

“What shall I do then?” I asked.

“You will cut it off today, and I will cut mine, if our argument dies and we cannot bring it to life again.”

Wing Biddlebaum (aka Adolf Myers) was the teacher-character in Winesburg who got in trouble for caressing the head and shoulders of young boys:

“Adolph Myers was meant by nature to be a teacher of youth. He was one of those rare, little-understood men who rule by a power so gentle that it passes as a lovable weakness. In their feeling for the boys under their charge such men are not unlike the finer sort of women in their love of men.

And yet that is but crudely stated. It needs the poet there. With the boys of his school, Adolph Myers had walked in the evening or had sat talking until dusk upon the schoolhouse steps lost in a kind of dream. Here and there went his hands, caressing the shoulders of the boys, playing about the tousled heads. As he talked his voice became soft and musical. There was a caress in that also. In a way the voice and the hands, the stroking of the shoulders and the touching of the hair were a part of the schoolmaster’s effort to carry a dream into the young minds. By the caress that was in his fingers he expressed himself. He was one of those men in whom the force that creates life is diffused, not centralized. Under the caress of his hands doubt and disbelief went out of the minds of the boys and they began also to dream.”

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