'Pub philosopher' on hunger strike over Plato clash

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The Independent Online
JAMES CUSICK and JEFFREY GETTLEMAN

Down the pub in Oxford, the town of dreaming spires, dons and punts, the usual inebriate debates over who is the greatest footballer ever - Cantona or Best - have been displaced by talk of Greek philosophy.

The Phaedrus, sounding like a weapon from Star Trek, but in fact one of Plato's philosophical dialogues, has provoked the former Czech dissident and unofficial pub philosopher, Julius Tomin, to go on hunger strike.

Mr Tomin, famous in the late Eighties for delivering a series of lectures on philosophy in a pub in Swindon, has resorted to a hunger protest over the university authority's failure to recognise his genius.

While still a fashionable pettifogger in the former Czechoslovakia, Oxbridge thinkers beat a path to his flat in Prague. Sir Anthony Kenny, the former master of Balliol, was detained by the Czech authorities for participating in one of the cerebral at-homes organised by Mr Tomin, who holds a doctorate in philosophy from Charles University, Prague. But Mr Tomin is no longer courted by the Oxbridge establishment.

Resting his beloved tattered copy of the Republic on his lap, Mr Tomin drank a glass of salted water and proclaimed: "This is definitely the cheapest way to build self-discipline." The hunger strike is scheduled for seven days, and is to be repeated if necessary. The protest centres on the Czech's analysis that the Phaedrus is not - as Oxford has taught for the past 200 years - a later work of the Greek thinker but is in fact one of his earliest works. "The university are scared to let me present my analysis," he said.

The accusation is rejected by Kathy Wilkes, a philosophy tutor at St Hilda's College, Oxford. She knows Mr Tomin from his secret-seminar days in Prague and now believes the dissident misses the old days of state persecution. "He can't properly function here," she said.

Currently surviving on pounds 51.08 social security, the unemployed dissident is determined to prolong his struggle. "Next year's strike is going to be even longer," he said. The things people will do to avoid making a decision over Best or Cantona.

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