I stumbled upon the concept of Arete while I was studying Greek Tragedy in one of my College Literature courses. I was instantly drawn to this ideal and while I have often fallen short of its realities I am diligently pursuing perfection in my own life. Drawn also to their beliefs and the relative similarities I found existing between the philosophers and scripture, I subsequently began studying more of the Greek philosophers and stumbled on to this great illustration given by Plato. While this illustration and concept can be applied to many things in life, I think it is a perfect example of where we are in regards to points, scores, and relying on someone else's palate to be our guide to understanding wine.
The basic principle represented in this illustration is easy to understand, but the scope of its truth is sometimes overwhelming.
Imagine prisoners who have been chained deep in a cave since birth. Not only are their arms and legs chained, but their heads also, to the affect that they may only look in one direction and that is towards a wall.
Behind the prisoners is a large fire, and between the prisoners and the fire is a raised wall along which various puppets are moved back and forth. These puppets take many shapes and forms and when they are moved they create shadows on the wall in front of the prisoners. Behind the cave is a well used road along which many people pass by while they are walking and talking, thus making noises that the prisoners think are being made by the shadows.
The prisoners are engaged in what seems to us a game: naming shapes as they pass by them. This however is the only reality that they know. Even though they are merely seeing shadows pass by, they believe these shadows to be reality. They begin to judge the other prisoners on how quickly they can name and describe the shadows that are being portrayed on the wall.
Suppose a prisoners chains break and he is set free. It would take some time for him to even be able to walk, as he has been chained his entire life. Once he begins to stumble around he would begin to explore. Seeing the fire and puppets he knows now that this is not reality, but it will still take some time to realise what reality is. Walking toward the light he sees beyond the fire, he will eventually find his way outside into the light of the sun. This light would at first be blinding, but once his eyes began to adjust he would see the world as it is in all of its glory.
Once enlightened, he would be compelled to return to the cave to set the rest of the prisoners free. This presents a new set of problems as he must return to the darkness, even if only for a time. Because he can no longer identify the shadows or be able to see much of anything, the other prisoners would believe the light has ruined him. They would also have a difficult time understanding what he has seen and the wonders of it all would be lost on them since they know no such reality. They would most likely be content sitting on the floor watching and naming the shadows.
The prisoners here represent those who have been sitting in a cave watching the shadows that are the world of wine presented to you by wine publications and critics. Most of you have been reading since your introduction to wine and this is your reality. There is so much more! Begin to explore and begin to try and rid yourselves of the shackles that you have been enslaved to.