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| Plato and his dialogues :
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(4th tetralogy : The Soul - 1st dialogue of trilogy)
| Introduction :
that madness is not always an evil
Prologue : authorship of the speech
Starting point : madness (mania) is not always evil
1st example : those who foretell the future (name of most famous and etymologies)
2nd example : those who establish rites of purification
3rd example : the poets under the inspiration of the Muses
Conclusion and transition with the case of love
|1. Nature of the soul
and behavior "in heaven"
1.1. The soul as principle and the image of the winged chariot
1.2. Divine souls and their journey toward "what really is"
1.3. Human souls and their wandering within bodies
|2. The idea of beauty
and its effects on embodied human souls
2.1. Role of "ideas" in human life and privilege of beauty
2.2. Effects of beauty on man's soul
2.3. Consequences depending on which god the soul followed
|3. Behavior of loving and
loved souls here on earth
3.1. Behavior of the lover
3.2. Behavior of the loved one
3.3. Styles of life that may result and conclusion regarding Lysias
(back to overall plan of the dialogue, or to plan of first or third speech)
Note : the numbers in parentheses represent the approximate number of full lines of text in each section or subsection, in the Greek text of the Budé edition. It is only intended to give an indication on the relative size of the sections with regard to one another.
Contrary to that of his first speech, the structure of Socrates' second speech is a model of balance. It is built according to a threefold pattern inspired by the threefold structure of the soul, that reproduces the pattern of the trilogy and of the three speeches and keeps repeating itself as we move deeper into details. Plato wants to show us the composite nature of the soul. But, at the same time, he wants to have us understand that the soul is the place where man has to build his unity, and that it has in itself the power to do that. So, rather that stressing differences and describing "anatomically" the various parts of the soul one after the other, he tries to constantly hold them together at the very same time he is showing us differences by focusing on one or another aspect of its structure or behavior. Rather than describing, say, the nature and functions of the epithumiai (as does an Aristotle in his De Anima), he shows us a soul, a whole soul, in which the epithumiai have taken over (in the "soulless" speeches) ; rather than dedicating a dialogue to the thumos, he dedicates a dialogue to the behavior of a whole soul in the world, within and without (the Republic) ; and so on...
The general pattern is organized around three "hubs", three focal points of analysis, three sets of themes grouped by affinities, that may take various shades depending on what the stress is on :
And then, there is the whole, and things that primarily relate to it, because they are not specific to one group or another : love, eros, which plunges its roots into nature and the epithumiai, but is not limited to this field, and has its place even in logos (one more reason for the Phædrus to offer logoi on eros, speeches on love, before the dialogos on logoi, the dialogue on speeches) ; pleasure, which is the fulfillment of love and, as it, finds a place at all levels of the soul (as witnessed by Phædrus himself at 258e, in an anticipation of the Philebus, just before the start of the dialogue on rhetoric, that is, at the very center of the dialogue limited to Socrates' speeches) ; virtue, which is nothing more than the proper behavior of anything, any part of the soul among other things ; and, on top of all this, the good, which is the telos of all of them. The whole is all of them together at their proper place, not one at the expense of another. And Plato's primary purpose in categorizing all these items by affinities in a threefold scheme is not to prepare the exclusion of one group as not "real", as did most of those who preceded him with their dualistic approaches (being at the expense of becoming, or becoming at the expense of being, nature at the expense of law, and so on), but on the contrary, to make sure that each one of them is properly taken into account and put to its due place, and to highlight the key role of the intermediary group in such an endeavor.
Seen as a part of the whole, the soul is in the middle group : it is a "mixed", an intermediary between the visible and intelligible, and that's why it is dealt with in the middle tetralogy. But seen as a whole of sort, the soul itself is a compound with a foot in each one of the three fields : it is a principle of motion, that is, it has a phusis that makes it "grow", and, as such, there also is a telos to that growth, a terminus where it finds rest, for better or for worse, because all motion is motion toward something ; it also has within itself a power to find this telos outside of itself in something that transcends the changing material visible world, and, as self-moved, it has a part capable of choosing what telos to aim at. Accordingly, the middle trilogy on the soul deals successively with the nature of the soul that makes it move in the Phædrus, the choice of its goal by the soul in the Republic, and the telos of the soul "after" death in the Phædo.
But the nature of the soul, the principle of growth in it is not itself simple. Each part in it is in a sense principle, has its own goal or goals and may lead, if left alone or allowed to take over, to a specific behavior, different in each case. To show this, Plato, in the dialogue that deals with the soul as principle of motion, the Phædrus, displays three successive combinations of nature, logos and behavior, that is three images of whole souls : three forms of "love", the speeches they elicit and the behaviors they lead to : selfish love of a soul only driven by its desires for erotic bodily pleasure and the many guises it may give to its speeches to fake reason and wisdom only to better fool the preys of its appetites and reach its short-sighted ends, in the two "speeches without soul" ; inspired love of a middle soul that has in itself the power to choose, but must get its "food" from the other parts, a food made up of divinely inspired speeches the logos should serve it to "charm" it combined with the kind of feelings beauty properly understood may induce through the lower part to drive it in the right direction, in the speech on the soul ; spiritual love fully able to give a proper account of itself in a dialectical dialogos and to lead the whole soul toward its own truth, being and unity, in the dialogue on rhetoric, the logos on logoi.
The central speech to the thumos, the principle of action in the soul, is meant to reveal the soul to itself by investigating its nature, as indicated at the end of its introduction : "we must first, as regards the nature of the soul (psuchès phuseôs peri), divine as well as human, reach true understanding by observing what it endures as well as what it does (245c)". It takes place between a prelude showing a god (Eros) making a speech happen in man (the requirement for a palinode) and an epilogue showing a man defusing the speeches that supposedly make men gods. The whole speech is given as divinely inspired and mixes all along logos and muthos, rational demonstrations and images talking to the feelings.
If, in this middle speech addressed to the middle part of the soul, love is equated to a mania, it is because the meaning of the Greek word mania, "god-inspired passion", points at something that ties together the two extreme parts of the soul, passion and the thirst for god and the godly. But before mentioning love as a fourth kind of mania in the middle of the speech (249d), Socrates, in the introduction, refers to three kinds of mania, following the same pattern that keeps repeating itself all through the dialogues : the first kind has to do with foretelling the future, that is, with the telos, and leads to a discussion on etymologies, that is, on logos ; the second kind has to do with rites, that is inspired forms of action meant to protect and cleanse us from evil, bringing us at the intermediate level of that part of the soul that is similar to the guardians in the Republic, while the third kind deals with poetry, poiesis (a Greek word whose general meaning is "making"), the craftsmanship on words meant to make them speak to feelings more than to reason, that equates poets to the craftsmen in the Republic, analog in the city of the epithumiai in the soul. At the end of this downward move through various forms of mania, love is the fourth form that will allow us to move back upward, because it is the form that deals with the whole.
The first part of the speech investigates the soul as principle of movement and gives an apt image of it in such a perspective, in that of a winged chariot with two horses and a charioteer. It focuses on the origin of the soul, the time before it was "born", that is, nature as the "where it comes from", but at the same time depicts the food it needs and the drive toward the divine and everlasting that makes it move, that is, nature as the "how does it make it grow". In this part of the speech, the soul whether divine or human, is shown mostly in motion. We are predominantly in the sphere of "nature", though we move through all levels of the whole and even get a glimpse of what's "above the heavens (huperouranion)" but not outside of the "whole". And right from the start, we get a flavor of what pervades the whole speech, the will to constantly speak to reason as well as feelings : the first subsection, which sets the tone of the whole speech by stating the very nature of the soul, does it in two parts. The first one is a rational speech on the notion of principle and the soul as principle of movement and as such immortal, while the second one moves into mythology and images to introduce the analogy of the chariot.
The middle part of the speech highlights the role of ideas in the earthly life of the soul and, in that perspective, while dealing with the privileged "food" of logos, puts the stress on the idea that best talks to the lower part of the soul, to the epithumiai as well, that of beauty ; it stays at the level of timeless principles and describes "mechanisms" rather than specific behaviors ; but it nonetheless describes principles of understanding (ideas), principles of reaction in soul's nature (the effects of beauty on the soul), and principles of choice (the different gods we may follow). Here we are mostly in the sphere of "ideas" though again, we are told of the role of ideas at all levels of the soul and are explained how it works its way from the lowest level up. And here again, especially here, should I even say, we are from the start submitted to a mix of rational speech (the role of ideas for human mind) and mythical imagery (recollection of our antenatal journey, reminiscent of the Meno, growth of the wings), all the more needed here where the concepts at hand are harder to catch for the "feeling" part of the soul.
The last part of the speech combines elements from the first two parts, nature and ideas, using the image from the first part and the principles from the second, blending them in a speech where it is no longer possible to separate the rational and mythical parts, to show how they combine in life to explain different types of behaviors and to lead us to a "judgment", of the speeches heard so far and on the characters in presence, Phædrus, Socrates and Lysias, meant to inspire action on the part of both Lysias and Phædrus. But here again, within the limits of what is the perspective of this section, we move through all levels : the "active" partner in action (the lover) standing for "form", the "passive" partner in action (the beloved) standing for "matter", both combining in the resulting "mix" of various shades of possible lives together ending up on the choice Phædrus has to make between Lysias' physical love that doesn't want to tell its name and love for sophia inspired by Socrates' spiritual love.
Thus, though each of the three parts focuses on one of the three "hubs" identified above, they all give a balanced account from their specific standpoint, that doesn't break the unity within the soul or the whole. Besides, from the standpoint of literary composition, all three parts are of almost equal size and each has a threefold structure dividing it in three almost equal subsections along the same principles. More ! The central subsection of the first part provides the starting point of the second part (the ideas seen above the heavens), while the central subsection of the second part provides the starting principle of the third part (the "mechanisms" of beauty inspired love within the soul).
The speech of the soul to itself about itself meant to attune its various parts together under the leadership of an inspiring god is attributed by Socrates to "Stesichorus, son of Euphemus, of Himera (244a)", and this is brought about by the interlude about the need of a palinode to bring back sight to Socrates who had his head veiled during his first speech. But, though Stesichorus is a historical character, it is worth noting that his name means "choir master", that of his supposed father "one who speaks words of good omen" and that of his native city "desire, passion, thirst for love" (1). Remembering that Plato remained free to choose whomever he would mention in his dialogues, we may find in these names a reason for the choice : the choir master is the one who must bring unity among the many (the choir) in order to get them in tune for a logos he gets from someone else (the author of the play or song) ; here, Stesichorus might stand for the will that must attune the many passions (the choir members from his native city of "Desire", in Sicily) to the logos of good omen he inherits from his father (in "heaven").
The effect of this wonderfully built speech on Phædrus is to elicit both agreement ("suneuchomai soi (257b)" that is, "I join you in your prayer for the better") and wonderment ("I have a lot of wonderment (palai thaumasas echô) for your logos (257c)"), in contrast with his state of mind after Socrates' first criticism of Lysias' speech ("what you say is empty (ouden legeis) (235b)" that is, "you have no logos"). Lysias is now brought back in Phædrus' eyes to where he should have always been, that is, "down to earth (tapeinos) (257c3)" and wonderment is allowed, unlike what was the case with Socrates' first speech ("if, with the progress of my speech, I become most of the time possessed by the Nymphs, don't wonder (mè thaumasès) (238d)"), as the first step toward philosophy (see Theætetus, 155d). As a further proof that we are moving upward, Phædrus immediately brings into the picture the politicians that are supposed to criticize Lysias as well when calling him a logographer (257c). And this, prompting Socrates' demystification of this apparent opposition, paves the way for the dialogue on true rhetoric with a Phædrus now ready to listen and take part.
(1) The word himeros for desire, passions, quite unusual in the dialogue (10 occurrences, out of which 4 are in the Phædrus and 3 more in the Cratylus), is used three times in a few lines (251c7, d4, e3) in the center of the central section of the middle part of the central speech of Socrates, to describe the effect of beauty on the soul, and one more time in the central section of the third part of the speech (255c1) to depict its effect on the beloved. This may not be fortuitous. (back)