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  • Anonymous

  • Kait

    • What is the difference between the appearance of wisdom and the reality of wisdom that Socrates is trying to establish here?

      Is he saying that actual learning can only happen through discourse, and not through reading/writing?

      Can we relate this to the Shimer moto of “not what to think but how” ?

  • Stuart

    • Cephalus is prominent in the opening section of Plato’s RepubIic, which is set in his home in Piraeus, the port of Athens. His sons Lysias, Polemarchus, and Euthydemus were known for their democratic sympathies. Acumenus was a doctor and a relative of the doctor Eryximachus who speaks in the Symposium.

    • Herodicus was a medical expert whose regimen Socrates criticizes in Republic 406a-b.

    • According to legend, Orithuia, daughter of the Athenian king Erechtheus, was abducted by Boreas while she was playing with Nymphs along the banks of the Ilisus River. Boreas personifies the north wind.

    • Typhon is a fabulous multiform beast with a hundred heads resembling many different animal species.
 Achelous is a river god. The Nymphs are benevolent female deities associated with natural phenomena such as streams, woods, and mountains.

    • What is the effect of this opening? We are immediately present to the action here, as opposed to other dialogues (e.g. The Republic or the Phaedo) in which a frame narrative indicating the speaker and sometimes their situation vis a vis the action of the dialogue are all made evident from the outset.

    • In fact, come to think of it, one might ask if Plato had a motive in raising this question of “authorship” in the first place.

    • FROM ANTONIO: Socrates’ opening question could be seen as addressed to the reader (us, not Phaedrus). A sort of joke, Plato asks us where we come from in the broadest of senses, and where we are going, i.e., what do we intend to do with him. Thus interpreted, the question’s ironic impotence points towards one of writing’s great perils: the situation of dead letter’s animation cannot be known to its author.
    • This is classic behavior in ancient Greek literature of a lovesick man pursuing his prey.

    • The archons were magistrates chosen by lot in classical Athens. On taking office they swore an oath to set up a golden statue if they violated the laws.

    • The Cypselids were rulers of Corinth in the seventh century B.C.; an ornate chest in which Cypselus was said to have been hidden as an infant was on display at Olympia, perhaps along with other offerings of theirs.


    • Socrates here suggests a farfetched etymology for a common epithet of the Muses, as the “clear-voiced” ones, on the basis of its resemblance to the Greek name for the Ligurians, who lived in what is now known as the French Riviera.

    • A dithyramb was a choral poem originally connected with the worship of Dionysus. In classical times it became associated with an artificial style dominated by music.

    • The overheated choral poems known as dithyrambs (see 238d) were written in lyric meters. The meter of the last line of Socrates’ speech, however, was epic, and it is the tradition in epic poetry to glorify a hero, not to attack him.

    • Ibycus was a sixth-century poet, most famous for his passionate love poetry. 

    • Etymologically: “Stesichorus son of Good Speaker, from the Land of Desire.” Myrrhinus was one of the demes of ancient Athens.

    • “Desire” is himeros: the derivation is from merē (“particles”), ienai (” go”) and rhein (“flow’).

    • The lines are probably Plato’s invention, as the language is not consistently Homeric. The pun in the original is on eros and pterōs (“the winged one”).

    • FROM ANTONIO: Could a piece of writing be just such an “image of wisdom,” capable of awaking “terribly powerful love”?

      If so, would the reversed direction of the love transaction diminish the benefits attributed to love in the second half of this speech? That is to say, could Lysias, embodied in his scroll, be an appropriate object of Phaedrus’ love rather than a lover, providing Phaedrus a sort of back-love in the way one might feel love from cherished book.

    • Apparently this was a familiar example of something named by language that means the opposite – though called “pleasant” it was really a long, nasty bend.

    • This is the standard form for decisions, including legislation, made by the assembly of Athens, though it is not the standard beginning for even the most political of speeches.

    • Lycurgus was the legendary lawgiver of Sparta. Solon reformed the constitution of Athens in the early sixth century B.C. and was revered by both democrats and their opponents. Darius was king of Persia (521-486 B.C.). None of these was famous as a speech writer.

    • Gorgias of Leontini was the most famous teacher of rhetoric to visit Athens. About Thrasymachus of Chalcedon (d. 267c) we know little beyond what we can infer from his appearance in Book 1 of the Republic. On Theodorus of Byzantium (not to be confused with the geometer who appears in the Theaetetus) see 266e and Aristotle Rhetoric 3.13.5.

    • The Eleatic Palamedes is presumably Zeno of Elea, the author of the famous paradoxes about motion.

    • Evenus of Paras was active as a sophist toward the end of the fifth century B.C. Only a few tiny fragments of his work survive. Tisias of Syracuse, with Corax, is credited with the founding of the Sicilian school of rhetoric, represented by Gorgias and Polus.

    • Prodicus of Ceos, who lived from about 470 till after 400 BC, is frequently mentioned by Plato in connection with his ability to make fine verbal distinctions.

    • Hippias of Elis was born in the mid-fifth century and traveled widely teaching a variety of subjects, including mathematics, astronomy, harmony, mnemonics, ethics, and history as well as public speaking.

    • Polus was a pupil of Gorgias; Plato represents him in the Gorgias, esp. at 448c and 471a-c. He was said to have composed an Art of Rhetoric (Gorgias, 462b). Licymnius of Chios was a dithyrambic poet and teacher of rhetoric.

    • Protagoras of Abdera, whose life spanned most of the fifth century BC, was the most famous of the early sophists. We have a vivid portrayal of him in Plato’s Protagoras and an intriguing reconstruction of his epistemology in the Theaetetus.

    • Literally, “the might of the Chalcedonian”: a Homeric figure referring to Thrasymachus, who came from Chalcedon. 

    • Naucratis was a Greek trading colony in Egypt. The story that follows is probably an invention of Plato’s (see 275b3) in which he reworks elements from Egyptian and Greek mythology.

      Theuth (or Thoth) is the Egyptian god of writing, measuring, and calculation. The Greeks identified Thoth with Hermes, perhaps because of his role in weighing the soul. Thoth figures in a related story about the alphabet at Philebus 18b.


    • As king of the Egyptian gods, Ammon (Thamus) was identified by Egyptians with the sun god Ra and by the Greeks with Zeus.

    • Gardens of Adonis were pots or window boxes used for forcing plants during the festival of Adonis.

    • Isocrates (436-338 B.C.) was an Athenian teacher and orator whose school was more famous in its day than Plato’s Academy.

    • FROM ANTONIO: Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but Socrates seems to emphasize the difference between the internal and the external here, recalling an earlier passage where love is “absorbed” within the lover ( G. ¶ 6). It seems consistent with Plato’s notion of light as a stream of particles to think that a physical transmission of substance is required for the subject  to make beauty one’s own.

      Wisdom may have the same requirement, with the wind of speech rather than the light of images being its transmission medium. Though light carries the written word in through the eyes, it carries “signs that belong to others” rather than speech, the latter Socrates apparently considers more immediate.

    • Pericles, who dominated Athens from the 450s until his death in 429 B C, was famous as the most successful orator-politician of his time. The quotation is from the early Spartan poet Tyrtaeus, fragment 1 2.8 (Edmonds). Adrastus is a legendary warrior hero of Argos, one of the main characters in Euripides’ Suppliants. 

    • Hippocrates, a contemporary of Socrates, is the famous doctor whose name is given to the Hippocratic Oath. None of the written works that have come down to us under his name express the view attributed to him in what follows. All doctors were said to be descendants of Asclepius, hero and god of healing.

    • Socrates may be referring to Corax, whose name is also the Greek word for “crow.” 

  • Stuart Patterson

    • Antonio and Kait, I wonder what you make (in light (!) of Socrates’ speech here) of Derrida’s reminder that writing is an imitation of speech. That is, that writing is by nature a mimicry, rather than “the real thing.”

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