Monday, November 21, 2016

Plato‘s Phaedrus contrasted with his Republic - with a glance at the Parmenides and the Phaedo, and at Aristophanes' Clouds

In the Phaedrus Plato’s Socrates introduces the Forms to prove that ‘love is sent by the gods to lover and beloved for their benefit (ep’ ȏpheliai ho erȏs tȏi erȏnti kai tȏi erȏmenȏi ek theȏn epipempetai)’, and ‘that this sort of madness is given by the gods to allow us to reach the greatest happiness (ep’ eutuchiai tȇi megistȇi para theȏn hȇ toiautȇ mania didotai, 245b5-c1)’. The philosopher-lover and his beloved direct their lives towards Love (pros Erȏta), spending their time in philosophic discussions (meta philosophȏn logȏn, 257b6). At the sight of the beauty of his beloved the philosopher-lover is reminded of true Beauty (to tȇide horȏn kallos, tou alȇthous anamimnȇiskomenos, 249d5-6), which he saw prior to his fall and incarnation, when he followed his god. Getting in touch with it by memory (ephaptomenos autou tȇi mnȇmȇi), he fills the soul of the loved one with love as well (kai tȇn tou erȏmenou psuchȇn erȏtos eneplȇsen, 255d2-3), and their days on earth are blessed with happiness and concord (makarion kai homonoȇtikon ton enthade bion diagousin, 256a8-b1).

The role that the lover’s reminiscence of the Form of beauty plays in this is described as follows (in Hackforth’s translation): ‘In the beginning of our story we divided each soul into three parts (Kathaper en archȇi toude tou muthou trichȇi dieilomen psuchȇn), two being like steeds (hippomorphȏ men duo tine eidȇ) and the third like a charioteer (hȇniochikon de eidos triton). Well and good (kai nun eti hȇmin tauta menetȏ). Now of the steeds (tȏn de dȇ hippȏn), so we declare, one is good (ho men, phamen, agathos,) and the other is not (ho d’ ou, 253c7-d2) … Now when the driver beholds the person of the beloved (hotan d’oun ho hȇniochos idȏn to erȏtikon omma), and causes a sensation of warmth to suffuse the whole sole (pasan aisthȇsei diathermȇnas tȇn psuchȇn), he begins to experience a tickling or prickling of desire (gargalismou te kai pothou kentrȏn hupoplȇsthȇi); and the obedient steed (ho men eupeithȇs tȏi hȇniochȏi tȏn hippȏn), constrained now as always by modesty (aei te kai tote aidoi biazomenos), refrains from leaping upon the beloved (heauton katechei mȇ epipȇdan tȏi erȏmenȏi); but his fellow (ho de), heeding no more the driver’s goad or whip (oute kentrȏn hȇniochikȏn oute mastigos eti entrepetai), leaps and dashes on (skirtȏn de biai pheretai), sorely troubling his companion (kai panta pragmata parechȏn tȏi suzugi te) and his driver (kai hȇniochȏi), and forcing them to approach the loved one (anankazei ienai te pros ta paidika) and remind him (kai mneian poieisthai) of the delights of love’s commerce (tȇs tȏn aphrodisiȏn charitos). For a while they struggle (tȏ de kat’ archas men antiteineton), indignant (aganaktounte) that he should force them to as monstrous and forbidden act (hȏs deina kai paranoma anankazomenȏ); but at last (teleutȏnte de), finding no end to their evil plight (hotan mȇden ȇi peras kakou), they yield and agree to his bidding. And so he draws them on (poreuesthon agomenȏ, eixante kai homologȇsante poiȇsein to keleuomenon), and now they are quite close (kai ep’ autȏi t’ egenonto) and behold the spectacle of the beloved flashing on them (kai eidon tȇn opsin tȇn tȏn paidikȏn astraptousan). At that sight (idontos de) the driver’s memory (tou hȇniochou hȇ mnȇmȇ) goes back to that form of Beauty (pros tȇn tou kallous phusin ȇnechthȇ), and he sees her once again (kai palin eiden autȇn) enthroned by the side of Temperance upon her holy seat (meta sȏphrosunȇs en hagnȏi bathrȏi bebȏsan); then in awe and reverence he falls upon his back (idousa de edeise te kai sephtheisa anepesen huptia), and therewith is compelled (kai hama ȇnankasthȇ) to pull the reins so violently (eis t’oupisȏ helkusai tas hȇnias houtȏ sphodra) that he brings both steeds down on their haunches (hȏst’ epi ta ischia amphȏ kathisai tȏ hippȏ), the good one willing and unresistant (ton men hekonta dia to mȇ antiteinein), but the wanton sore against his will (ton de hubristȇn mal’ akonta.’ (253e5-254c3)

Hackforth (and similarly C. J. Rowe ‘at the sight he becomes frightened’ - idousa de edeise te) misrepresents Plato’s text by making the charioteer the subject of beholding the Form of beauty ‘once again enthroned by the side of Temperance upon her holy seat’. It is the charioteer’s memory (mnȇmȇ) that sees the Form of beauty, as the feminine idousa ‘seeing’ indicates.

Plato struggles to be true to the Phaedran thesis that the incarnated souls can only reminisce the Forms, they cannot see them. Socrates is introduced in the Phaedrus steeped in his philosophic ignorance: ‘I can’t as yet (ou dunamai pȏ) “know myself”, as the inscription at Delphi enjoins (kata to Delphikon gramma gnȏnai emauton); and so long as that ignorance remains it seems to me ridiculous to inquire into extraneous matters (geloion dȇ moi phainetai touto eti agnoounta ta allotria skopein, 229e5-230a1, tr. Hackforth).’

When Plato wrote the Phaedrus, his first dialogue, he had seen the Forms, to which testifies his enthusiastic description of ‘that place beyond heaven’ (ton huperouranion topon, 247c3), the Plain of Truth (to alȇtheias pedion, 248b6), where the Forms reside. But when he wrote the Phaedrus he did not have an inkling of his ideal State, in which true philosophers would be rulers, and he was happy to present the Forms through the prism of the Socratic not-knowing.

Socrates never saw the Forms. For him the Forms were a hypothesis: from his youth, when he confronted with them Zeno and Parmenides (in the Parmenides), to his last day (in prison, in the Phaedo). He viewed them as coming to us from the divine sphere, which he could at best reminisce. In the Clouds, staged when Plato was a little boy, Aristophanes in his comic way masterfully represented this aspect of Socrates’ not-knowing. As the Clouds enter the stage, Socrates introduces them as the goddesses ‘that give us thought, discussion, and intellect’ (haiper gnȏmȇn kai dialexin kai nous hȇmin parechousin, 317).

In the Phaedrus Socrates maintains that ‘the soul that has never beheld the truth (i.e. the Forms) (ou gar hȇ ge mȇpote idousa tȇn alȇtheian) may never enter into this our human form (eis tode hȇxei to schȇma): seeing that man needs understand (dei gar anthrȏpon sunienai) what is said according to Forms (kat’ eidos legomenon), as it passes from a plurality of perceptions (ek pollȏn ion aisgthȇseȏn) to a unity gathered together by reasoning (eis hen logismȏi sunairoumenon, 249b5-c1)’. And again: ‘every human soul (pasa men anthrȏpou psuchȇ) has seen true Beings (that is the Forms) by reason of her nature (phusei tetheatai ta onta), else she would never enter into this living being (ȇ ouk an ȇlthen eis tode to zȏion, 249e4-250a1).

In stark contrast to the view expressed by Socrates in the Phaedrus, in the Republic only very few can see the Forms, and those who can do so, see the Forms here on earth; if they become rulers of a State, they organize everything in it in accordance with the Forms that they behold.

In Republic V, Plato’s brother Glaucon compelled Socrates to overcome his not-knowing. The latter introduces there the Forms to define the philosophers (diorisasthai tous philosophous) as those who can see (dunatoi horan, 476b10) the truth (tȇn alȇtheian, 475e4), i.e. the Forms. Only true philosophers can do so, and that’s why ‘they are to rule in the State (tous philosophous … dein archein, 474b5-6)’. The Forms are absolute, eternal, and immutable (aei kata t’auta hȏsautȏs onta, 479e7); with their mind’s eye directed at them only philosophers can properly guard the laws and the institutions of the States (phulaxai nomous te kai epitȇdeumata poleȏn, 484b9-10). The motive of love (erȏs) inspired by the Forms reappears in the Republic as follows: ‘Let us suppose it agreed that philosophical minds love any form of science (Touto men dȇ tȏn philosophȏn phuseȏn peri hȏmologȇsthȏ hȇmin hoti mathȇmatos aei erȏsi) which may give them a glimpse of an eternal reality (ho an autois dȇloi ekeinȇs tȇs ousias tȇs aei ousȇs) not disturbed by generation and decay (kai mȇ planȏmenȇs hupo geneseȏs kai phthoras, 485a10-b3, tr. Jowett).

Jowett’s ‘which may give them a glimpse of an eternal reality’ for ho an autois dȇloi ekeinȇs tȇs ousias tȇs aei ousȇs may suggest the glimpses of the Forms of beauty and temperance that the Phaedran philosopher-lover’s memory recalls as he approaches his beloved. But in the Republic there can be no reference to such glimpses, no reference to the memory of the Forms that the soul had seen prior to her incarnation. In the given passage Socrates speaks of the philosophical natures’ (tȏn philosophȏn phuseȏn peri) abiding desire (aei erȏsi) of any learning (mathȇmatos) that makes visible, manifest, known to them (ho an autois dȇloi) something concerning the eternal reality (ekeinȇs tȇs ousias tȇs aei ousȇs). Here, at the beginning of Republic VI, Socrates points out what the philosophical nature must be so that it can be led to the Forms in the course of education outlined in Republic VII.

Let us return to the Phaedrus and see what happens to the philosopher-lover after his memory had recalled true Beauty at the sight of his beloved and thus prevented the bad horse from ‘leaping upon the beloved’ and committing a ‘monstrous and forbidden act’: ‘Now that they are a little way off (apelthonte de apȏterȏ), the good horse (ho men) in shame and horror (hup’ aischunȇs te kai thambous) drenches the whole soul with sweat (hidrȏti pasan ebrexe tȇn psuchȇn), while the other (ho de), contriving to recover his wind after the pain of the bit and his fall (lȇxas tȇs odunȇs, hȇn hupo tou chalinou te eschen kai tou ptȏmatos, mogis exanapneusas), bursts into angry abuse (eloidorȇsen orgȇi), railing at the charioteer (polla kakizȏn ton te hȇniochon) and his yoke-fellow (kai ton homozyga) as cowardly and treacherous deserters (hȏs deiliai te kai anandriai liponte tȇn taxin kai homologian). Once again (kai palin) he tries to force them to advance (ouk ethelontas prosienai anankazȏn), and when they beg him to delay awhile he grudgingly consents (mogis sunechȏrȇsen deomenȏn eis authis huperbalesthai). But when the time appointed is come (elthontos de tou suntethentos chronou), and they feign to have forgotten, he reminds them of it (amnȇmonein prospoioumenȏ anamimnȇiskȏn), struggling (biazomenos, ‘overpowering by force’) and neighing (chremetizȏn) and pulling (helkȏn) until he compels them a second time to approach the beloved (ȇnankasen au proselthein tois paidikois) and renew their offer (epi tous autous logous); and when they have come close (kai epeidȇ engus ȇsan), with head down (enkupsas) and tail stretched out (kai ekteinas tȇn kerkon) he takes the bit between his teeth (endakȏn ton chalinon) and shamelessly plunges on (met’ anaideias helkei). But the driver (ho d’ hȇniochos), with resentment even stronger than before (eti mallon t’auton pathos pathȏn), like a racer recoiling from the starting-rope (hȏsper apo husplȇgos anapesȏn), jerks back the bit in the mouth of the wanton horse with an even stronger pull (eti mallon tou hubristou hippou ek tȏn odontȏn biai opisȏ spasas ton chalinon), bespatters his railing tongue and his jaws with blood (tȇn te kakȇgoron glȏttan kai tas gnathous kathȇimaxen), and forcing him down on legs and haunches (kai ta skelȇ te kai ta ischia pros tȇn gȇn ereisas) delivers him to anguish (odunais edȏken). And so it happens time and again (hotan de t’auton pollakis paschȏn), until the evil steed casts off his wantonness (ho ponȇros tȇs hubreȏs lȇxȇi); humbled in the end (tapeinȏtheis), he obeys the counsel of his driver (hepetai ȇdȇ tȇi tou hȇniochou pronoiai), and when he sees the fair beloved (kai hotan idȇi ton kalon) is like to die of fear (phobȏi diollutai). Wherefore at long last (hȏste sumbainei tot’ ȇdȇ) the soul of the lover (tȇn tou erastou psuchȇn) follows after the beloved with reverence and awe (tois paidikois aidoumenȇn te kai dediuian hepesthai).’ (254c3-255a1, tr. Hackforth)

Could the philosopher-lover of the Phaedrus be presented in the Republic as the man who should rule in the States on account of his seeing the Forms? In Republic VI Socrates describes the philosopher’s-to-be erotic attraction to the Forms as follows: ‘The true lover of knowledge is always striving after being – that is his nature (pros to on pephukȏs eiȇ hamillasthai ho ge ontȏs philomathȇs); he will not rest in the multiplicity of individuals which is an appearance only (kai ouk epimenoi epi tois doxazomenois einai pollois hekastois), but will go on (all’ ioi) – the keen edge will not be blunted (kai ouk amblunoito) nor the force of his desire abate (oud’ apolȇgoi tou erȏtos) until he has attained the knowledge of the true nature of every essence (prin autou ho estin hekastou tȇs phuseȏs hapsasthai) by a sympathetic and kindred power in the soul (hȏi prosȇkei psuchȇs ephaptesthai tou toioutou - prosȇkei de sungenei), and by that power drawing near and mingling and becoming incorporate with very being (hȏi plȇsiasas kai migeis tȏi onti ontȏs), having begotten mind and truth (gennȇsas noun kai alȇtheian), he will have knowledge (gnoiȇ te) and will truly live (kai alȇthȏs zȏiȇ) and grow (kai trephoito); and then and not till then will he cease from his travail (kai houtȏ lȇgoi ȏdinos, prin d’ ou). (490a8-b7) … And the philosopher, holding converse with the divine order (Theiȏ dȇ kai kosmiȏi ho ge philosophos homilȏn), becomes orderly and divine as far as the nature of man allows (kosmios te kai theios eis to dunaton anthrȏpȏi gignetai, 500c9-d1) … And if a necessity be laid upon him (An oun tis autȏi anankȇ genȇtai) of striving to transfer what he sees there to the characters of men, whether in States or individuals (ha ekei horai meletȇsai eis anthrȏpȏn ȇthȇ kai idiai kai dȇmosiai tithenai), instead of fashioning himself only (kai mȇ monon heauton plattein): will he, think you, be an unskilful artificer (ara kakon dȇmiourgon auton oiei genȇsesthai) of justice, temperance (sȏphrosunȇs te kai dikaiosunȇs), and every civil virtue (kai sumpasȇs tȇs dȇmotikȇs aretȇs; 500d4-8)?’ (Tr. Jowett)

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