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Topic #D34

Plato, Phaedrus


28 November 2001
Scribe: Jessica Varrasso


These minutes were not spoken; for another version, go to the spoken minutes



                  Professor Hutchinson introduced Wednesday’s lecture with a comparison of the Phaedrus to the Symposium, stating that the Phaedrus was a sequel to the Symposium but not necessarily a second version.  The Phaedrus revisited the same themes as the Symposium but in a different context, returning to the topic of erotic desire, and stating that humans are blessed to be creatures who love.  Professor Hutchinson held that the Phaedrus was a return the rhetoric and that the conflict between the schools of Athens, that of the Sophists and of Plato, could be observed in this text.  Private schools of rhetoric utilized manuals to teach their students whereas Socrates believed that practical skill could not be taught from a book.  274-277 of the text discusses Socrates opinion of the weakness of written texts claiming that the written word, as opposed to the spoken, cannot be based on the different kinds of soul one may wish to express.


“Socrates: You know, Phaedrus, writing shares a strange feature with painting.  The offsprings of painting stand there as if they are alive, but if anyone asks them anything, they remain most solemnly silent.  The same is true of written words.  You’d thing they were speaking as if they had some understanding, but if you question anything that has been said because you want to learn more, it continues to signify just that very same thing forever.  When it has once been written down, every discourse roams about everywhere, reaching indiscriminately those with understanding no less than those who have no business with it, and it doesn’t know to whom it should speak and to whom it should not.  And when it is faulted and attacked unfairly, it always needs it’s fathers support; alone, it can neither defend itself nor come to its own support.”  (276 d.)


                  Professor Hutchinson then commenced discussion on the beginning of the Phaedrus.  Socrates and Phaedrus met outside the city walls and after much flirtation decided to go to the river Ilisus so that Phaedrus could deliver the speech Lysias had just given.  The events that followed Socrates meeting with Phaedrus were undoubtedly full of sexuality, double entendres and innuendo.  For example:  “Socrates: Only if you first show me what you are holding in your left hand under your cloak, my friend.” (228 e.), or,  “Phaedrus: You’ve dashed my hopes of using you as my training partner, Socrates.”  (228e.), or even the location, a popular spot to turn tricks as the professor remarked.  Lysias’ speech was then presented by Phaedrus.  Lysias argued that sexual encounters and romantic love should not be joined.  He claimed that a man in love suffers from a kind of madness and that to lie with him would be shackling yourself to him.  Lysias’ speech also remarked that it would be far better to have a friendship with a boy than a lasting love and that sex should be casually open with no trace of love.  The Professor then noted that the Epicureans also believed that love was the enemy and that sex was entirely good.


                  Professor Hutchinson noted Socrates opinion; that Lysias speech was organized in classical rhetoric, essentially, that it sounded like it was written from a manual.  The Professor’s comparison of the speech to a paint by numbers toy was quite accurate; Lysias constructed the speech from instruction rather than through skill or knowledge. 


                  The Professor then carried on with the dialogue.  After Socrates gave his opinion on the quality, or lack there of, of Phaedrus’ speech Phaedrus proceeded to beg for a speech from Socrates.  After even more flirtation and entirely creepy conversational intercourse, Socrates delivered his rebuttal.  Socrates speech was constructed in the prosaic style and argued the same point, that a man in love is a dangerous creature for dangerous forces possess him.  Upon the completion of Socrates speech Phaedrus was not satisfied, he felt that Socrates had stopped half way through (more sexual innuendo).  Socrates argued that he did not want to reiterate what had already been said.


                  Socrates then concluded that both his and Phaedrus’ speeches were entirely false, that being in love is a blessing comparable to icons touched by heaven.  Plato believed that as well as being a divine thinker there was contact between the human and the divine, that the reasoning part of our soul is divine and that, essentially, we ourselves are divine.  The decision was made by Socrates (only after his seer power presented itself) to make another speech, this one in praise of love to compensate for the disgrace made to the gods for the previous speeches.  Socrates claimed that love was a blessing proposed he also rejected the basis of Lysias’ speech that madness takes over the lover and that madness was a bad thing.  Socrates then described the finer points of madness.


“The people who designed our language in the old days never thought of madness as something to be ashamed of or worthy of blame; otherwise they would have used the word ‘mantic’ for the finest expert of all – the ones who tell the future – thereby weaving insanity into prophecy.  They thought it was wonderful when it came as a gift of the god, and that’s why they gave its name to prophecy; but nowadays people do not know the fine points, so they stick in a ‘t’ and call it ‘mantic’.” (244 b.)

“Next, madness can provide relief form the greatest plagues of trouble that beset certain families because of their guilt for ancient crimes: it turns up among those who need a way out; it gives prophecies and takes refuge in prayers to the gods and in worship, discovering mystic rites and purifications that bring the man it touches though to safety for this and all of time to come.  So it is that the right sort of madness finds relief from present hardships for a man it has possessed.” (244 e.)

“Third comes the kind of madness that is possession by the Muses, which takes a tender virgin soul and awakens it to a Bacchic frenzy of songs and poetry that glorifies the achievements of the past and teaches them to future generations.  If anyone comes to the gates of poetry and expects to become an adequate poet by acquiring expert knowledge of the subject without the Muses’ madness, he will fail, and his self-controlled verses will be eclipsed by the poetry of men who have been driven out of their minds.” (245 a.)


Professor Hutchinson was then asked by a student about crazy possessed writers who seem to be sane when they are not writing, he replied that these people at these particular times are possessed by white hot creativity, that they are in the zone or in the groove of things and are entirely possessed.


                  Professor Hutchinson suggested that the students read the ion to better describe the workings of divine inspiration.  Poetry is in the divine realm, he said, the Muses inspire the poet who then inspires the performer who, in turn, inspires the audience.  The ion is a magnetic force that joins thing together and poetry is a chain of inspiration, a literary art.  Plato believed that creative art was an outlet of madness.


                         245 c of the text stated that every soul is immortal and that every soul is animated for the purpose of making the body animated.  Socrates claim was that a soul in motion results in a body in motion, an idea comparable to the Phaedo.  The soul, in fact, is required to be immortal.


“Ever soul is immortal.  That is because whatever is always in motion is immortal, while what moves, and is moved by, something else stops living when it stops moving.  So it is only what moves itself that never desists from motion, since it does not leave off being itself.  In fact, this self mover is the source and spring of motion in everything else that moves; and a source has no beginning.  That is because anything that has a beginning comes from some source, but there is no source for this, since a source that got its start from something else would no longer be the source.  And since it cannot have a beginning, then necessarily it cannot be destroyed.  That is because if a source were destroyed it could never get started again from anything else and nothing else could get started from it – that is, if everything gets started from a source…” (245 c – e.) 


                  Professor Hutchinson then accounted for a mythological account told in the Phaedrus.  The Professor asked the class to picture an amphitheatre with a round stage in the middle and tiered rows reaching up to the highest rim.  He explained that mortals place is on the bottom, crowded and yearning to see up, while the gods are situated in the isles, each making their way to the eventual highest rim; heaven.  The gods have full view of the stage, they have full knowledge of the world around them, mortals on the other hand have only a partial view, for they are blocked, and have only partial knowledge, but, Socrates continued, after three thousand years of life a mortal can choose to have wings if his or her life had been good enough, and could make their way into heaven.  Socrates, following the trend of sexual flirtation in this book, compared the wings to that which allows man to love, throbbing and itching, the wings grow and swell.  At the end of the lecture Professor Hutchinson reminded the class of Socrates belief, that non-consummation is the only true philosophical approach, to do otherwise is look down, to give in to earthy desires when a philosopher is supposed to look up, up to the world of the forms.