The Platonist on Sunset Blvd

 

On Sunset Boulevard, across the street just east of the Whisky a Go Go, is a store named Hippocampus where since it opened in 1967 people have found oddities, curiosities and treasures.  Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, or Janis Joplin probably wandered in when it was new.  By the time I was fortunate enough to find a treasure there, almost three decades later, the woman who had always run the place had become frail.  She stayed home but she was always a phone call away and any important decisions were still hers to make.  On a chilly autumn night my girlfriend and I wandered in to find in the small display area upstairs a big leather bound book.  I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the title on the spine: The Platonist.

The Platonist was a newsprint magazine published in the Midwest in late 19th century America.  I turned the thin fragile pages revealing many rare translations by the great rogue scholar Thomas Taylor, a scattering of occult classics, and an announcement about plans for a colony where devoted philosophers could study the religions of the world.  Print on demand and online archives have made the contents easily available to anyone, but then, when the Internet was young, The Platonist was famously rare.  The pages were brown with age but otherwise in excellent condition for a publication almost 110 years old.  I showed the book to my equally thrilled and reverent girlfriend.  To find such an esoteric rarity there on Sunset Boulevard seemed an impossible serendipity.

We didn’t have much money and didn’t think we could afford such a treasure.  But I knew there was the chance that they didn’t really know what it was.  You couldn’t yet click over to Amazon or Abebooks and find the going price.  I also knew that sometimes books like this were sold cheaply because their owners wanted them in the hands of people who would appreciate them.  So I picked up the book, along with a couple of old Thomas Taylor editions I found nearby, and with trepidation approached the rather severe gay man behind the counter.

I asked him how much the books cost.  He had no idea so he called the owner.   We watched him talk to her on the phone in the back of the store.  He put the phone down and walked over to ask me if I wanted the books because of their decorative leather bindings.  I told him we wanted to read them.  The telephone conversation ended quickly.  He told us we could buy The Platonist for $75, all three books for $125.

Back home we pored over the pages stuffed with Neoplatonic commentaries, wisdom quotes and inspiring facts, nearly forgotten history in dense double columns; essays and translations of rare works by men I hadn’t heard of before: Thomas Johnson, Hiram K. Jones, Aldexander Wilder.  A marvelous compendium of profound and inspiring thought, yes, but what fascinated us most about The Platonist was that it provided proof that in the heart of the old west, in the last days of Billy the Kid and Jesse James, around the time of the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral, some Americans were studying Plato.  Little did we know how popular Plato really was in those days.

Read more here: The Platonist on Sunset Blvd Part 1