Well, the Socratic sage refers to Holmes while the essential straight man to inspector Gregory. But what does essential straight mean? And what about Socratic? Thanks in advance.

The metaphor of barking dogs has been used by historians of religions to describe various uses of comparison, but like all good myths, it bears retelling in each new context and can always be used in new ways. Sherlock Holmes once solved a mystery, the case of Silver Blaze, a racehorse, by using a vital clue of omission. When Inspector Gregory asked Holmes whether he had noted any point to which he would draw the inspector’s attention, Holmes replied, “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.” “The dog did nothing in the night-time,” objected the puzzled inspector, the essential straight man for the Socratic sage. “That was the curious incident,” remarked Sherlock Holmes. The fact that the dog did not bark when someone entered the house at night was evidence, in this case evidence that the criminal was someone familiar to the dog. Dogs bark at difference — in this case, someone different from those with whom the dog was familiar. We cannot hear the sound of one hand clapping; we cannot hear sameness. But through the comparative method we can see the blinkers that each culture constructs for its retellings of myths. Comparison makes it possible for us literally to cross-examine cultures, by using a myth from one culture to reveal to us what is not in a telling from another culture, to find out the things not “dreamt of in your philosophy” (as Hamlet said to Horatio). Moreover, we can use comparative work to test theories about our own culture, by noting where our own dogs have not barked. Comparison defamiliarizes what we take for granted. We can only see the inflection of a particular telling when we see other variants.

The Implied Spider: Politics and Theology in Myth By Wendy Doniger

1 Answer 1


The term "straight man" means this:
American Heritage Dictionary "straight man"
"The partner in a comedy team who feeds lines to the other comedian, who then makes witty replies."

The "Socratic sage", Holmes, is a wise man who uses the Socratic method:
Merriam-Webster "Socratic method"
"the method of inquiry and instruction employed by Socrates especially as represented in the dialogues of Plato and consisting of a series of questionings the object of which is to elicit a clear and consistent expression of something supposed to be implicitly known by all rational beings"

So, Holmes is using questions to provoke understanding in the inspector, and providing witty answers to the questions fed to him by his straight man, the inspector.

Definitely a mixed metaphor.

  • What a perfect explanation! Thank you, Mr. O'Flaherty.
    – user116425
    Commented Jun 26, 2020 at 6:48

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