Thursday, December 28, 2017

1 Plato’s Phaedrus in the light of the dating of his Charmides, with reference to his Seventh Letter and to Aristophanes’ Frogs

In June and July of this year I devoted eleven posts to ‘Plato’s Charmides in the light of its dating’. Now I intend to view Plato’s Phaedrus in the light of the dating of the Charmides. Let me begin by restating my dating of the latter. I am dating the Charmides in the early days of the Thirty, which Xenophon characterises as follows: ‘Now at Athens the Thirty had been chosen as soon as the long walls and the walls around Piraeus were demolished … as a first step, they arrested and brought to trial for their lives those persons who, by common knowledge, had made a living in the time of democracy by acting as informers and had been offensive to the aristocrats; and the Senate was glad to pronounce these people guilty, and the rest of the citizens – at least all who were conscious that they were not of the same sort themselves – were not at all displeased.’ (Hellenica II.iii.11-12, tr. C. L. Brownson)

Socrates’ interlocutors in the Charmides are well known historical figures: Chaerephon, Critias, and Charmides. Charmides and Critias took an active part in the aristocratic revolution that took place after the dissolution of democracy with which the military defeat of Athens ended. This regime deteriorated in a few months into tyranny under Critias’ leadership and became known as the rule of the Thirty Tyrants. In the Charmides, Chaerephon, an ardent democrat, is on the best terms with Critias and is presented as a great admirer of Charmides. Chaerephon went into exile when the aristocratic regime began to show its true nature (cf. Apology 20e-21a); I therefore date the Charmides in 404, before Chaerephon went to exile.

My main reason for this dating of the Charmides is provided by its closing scene, in which Charmides decides to be instructed by Socrates in the virtue of sôphrosunê (temperance/self-control), and Critias not only commends him for this decision, but commands him to be an assiduous follower of Socrates. In response, Charmides says to him: ‘Rest assured that I will follow him and won’t desert him. I’d be behaving terribly if I didn’t obey you, my guardian, and didn’t do what you tell me.’ – Critias: ‘I’m telling you.’ – Charmides: ‘Well then, I’ll do it, beginning this very day.’ – Socrates: ‘What are you two plotting to do?’ – Charmides: ‘Nothing, we’ve done our plotting.’ – Socrates: ‘Are you going to use violence, without even giving me a preliminary hearing?’ – Charmides: ‘Yes, I shall use violence, since Critias here orders me to – which is why you should consider what you’ll do.’ – Socrates: ‘But there’s no time left for consideration. Once you’re intent on doing something and are resorting to violence, no man alive will be able to resist you.’ – Charmides: ‘Well then, don’t you resist me either.’ – Socrates: ‘I won’t resist you then.’ (175e2-176d5)

I cannot see how Plato could have closed the Charmides in this manner after the Thirty attempted to implicate Socrates in their crimes, of which Socrates said at his trial: ‘when the oligarchy of the Thirty was in power, they sent for me and four others into the rotunda, and bade us bring Leon the Salaminian from Salamis, as they wanted to put him to death … when we came out of the rotunda the other four went to Salamis and fetched Leon, but I went quietly home. For which I might have lost my life, had not the power of the Thirty shortly afterwards come to an end.’ (Plato, Apology 32c4-d8, tr. B. Jowett) In his old age, in the Seventh Letter, Plato pointed to this incident as the decisive moment after which he became indignant and withdrew himself ‘from the evils of those days’ (apo tôn tote kakôn, 325a4-5)’.

Diogenes Laertius writes in his ‘Life of Plato’: ‘There is a story that the Phaedrus was his first dialogue’ (logos de prôton auton grapsai ton Phaidron, III. 38). There are mistakes and conflicting indications in Diogenes Laertius – thus at III.2 he gives 427 B.C. and at III.3 the year 429 B. C. as the date of Plato’s birth – and it would be wrong to accept the ancient story that the Phaedrus was Plato’s first dialogue simply because Diogenes refers to it. But it would be equally wrong to reject the story without asking a question: what would Plato and his work look like if we viewed the Phaedrus as his first dialogue.

The dating of the Charmides in the early days of the Thirty simplifies the task with which the ancient story confronts us; we have to enquire, what does the Phaedrus look like if we view it as written before the Charmides. If the experiment fails, then we can discard the ancient story with good conscience. If it succeeds, then we must see what does the Charmides look like, if we view it as a dialogue that follows the Phaedrus, and then we must ask the same question concerning Plato’s other dialogues.

If the Phaedrus was written prior to the Charmides, it must have been written in the closing stages of the Peloponnesian war. We can infer from Plato’s Seventh Letter that those were the days in which Plato’s desire to get involved in politics was most ardent (324b8-c1). For when the Thirty took power, they invited Plato ‘at once to join their administration, thinking it would be congenial’ (kai dê kai parekaloun euthus hôs epi prosêkonta pragmata me, 324d2-3), but although Plato hoped that they ‘would lead the city out of an unjust way of life into a just way’ (ek tinos adikou biou epi diakaion tropon agontas, 324d4-5), he says that he waited and watched what they would do: ‘And indeed I saw (kai horôn dêpou) how these men within a short time (tous andras en chronô̢ oligô̢) caused men to look back on the former government as a golden age (chruson apodeixantas tên emprosthen politeian, 324d6-8, translation R. G. Bury)’.

Plato’s Phaedrus is full of hope and optimism. Most of its second part is devoted to the project of philosophic rhetoric. In democracy all political activity relied on persuading the demos, ‘the people’, and its main tool was rhetoric. If Plato wrote the Phaedrus prior to the Charmides, he wrote or began to write it in the atmosphere of a renewed hope that democracy might be mended, which was marked by the victorious battle of Arginusae, and was reflected in and promoted by Aristophanes’ Frogs.

B. B. Rogers writes in the ‘Introduction’ to his edition of the Frogs: ‘The comedy of the Frogs was produced during the Lenaean festival, at the commencement of the year B. C. 405 … about six months after the great naval victory of Arginusae … the result of an almost unexampled effort on the part of the Athenian people. Conon, their most brilliant officer, had been defeated at Mytilene, and was closely blockaded there. One trireme managed to run the blockade, and bring news of his peril to Athens. The Athenians received the intelligence in a spirit worthy of their best traditions. All classes at once responded to the call with hearty and contagious enthusiasm. In thirty days a fleet of 110 triremes, fully equipped and manned, was able to put to sea. The knights had emulated the devotion of their forefathers (as recorded in the parabasis of the comedy which bears their name [i.e. Aristophanes’ Knights produced in B. C. 424]), and volunteered for service on the unaccustomed element. The very slaves had been induced to join by the promise of freedom and, what was more than freedom, the privileges of Athenian citizenship … These exertions were rewarded by a victory which, if it was the last, was also the most considerable of all that were gained by the Athenians during the Peloponnesian War.’ (The Frogs of Aristophanes, the Greek text revised by B. B. Rogers, second edition, London 1919, pp. v-ix.)

Concering the play, Rogers writes: ‘It carried off the prize at the Lenaean contest … and the victorious poet was crowned in the full theatre with the usual wreath of Bacchic ivy. But it achieved a far higher success than this. It enjoyed the, apparently, unique distinction of being acted a second time, as we should say, by request; and at this second representation the poet was again crowned, not now with mere leaves of ivy, but a wreath made from Athene’s sacred olive, an honour reserved for citizens who were deemed to have rendered important services to Athene’s city. It was not for its wit and humour that these exceptional honours were accorded to the play; nor yet for what to modern readers constitutes its pre-eminent attraction, the literary contest between Aeschylus and Euripides. It was for the lofty strain of patriotism which breathed through all its political allusions, and was especially felt in the advice tendered, obviously with some misgivings as to the spirit in which the audience would receive it, in the epirrhema of the parabasis. There the poet appeals to the Athenian people to forego all party animosities, to forget and forgive all political offences, to place the state on a broader basis, to leave no Athenian disfranchised. More particularly, he pleads for those who having been implicated in the establishment of the Council of Four Hundred [replacing democracy by oligarchy] had ever since been deprived of all civic rights … we are told on the authority of Dicaearchus, a writer of the very greatest weight on such matters, that it was this very appeal which won the admiration of the public, and obtained for the play the honour of a second representation.’ (pp. v-vii)

It is in the spirit of Aristophanes’ parabasis in the Frogs that Plato’s choice of Phaedrus as Socrates’ interlocutor in the Phaedrus should be seen. Aristophanes pleaded that the civic rights should be restored to those who were deprived of their citizenship. Phaedrus was exiled in 415; by choosing him as Socrates’ interlocutor Plato implicitly raised the question of the exiles whose return and reintegration into the life of the city he undoubtedly viewed as imperative. This could happen only if Athens negotiated peace with Sparta. The scene Plato chose for the Phaedrus – the scene of which he and his readers could only dream ever since Spartans occupied the fort of Decelea on Attic soil in 413 B.C. – breathes the desire for peace. For Plato takes Socrates and Phaedrus outside the city walls, and it is there that the dialogue takes place. Let me end this post with the opening scene of the Phaedrus.

Socrates: ‘Where do you come from, Phaedrus my friend, and where are you going?’ (Ô phile Phaidre, poi dê kai pothen;) – Phaedrus: ‘I’ve been with Lysias (Para Lusiou), Socrates (ô Sôkrates), the son of Cephalus (tou Kephalou), and I’m off for a walk (poreuomai de pros peripaton) outside the wall (exô teichous), after a long morning’s sitting there (suchnon gar ekei dietripsa chronon kathêmenos ex heôthinou). On the instruction of our common friend (tô̢ de sô̢ kai emô̢ hetairô̢ peithomenos) Acumenus (Akoumenô̢) I take my walks on the open roads (kata tas hodous poioumai tous peripatous); he tells me that is more invigorating (phêsi gar akopôterous einai) than walking in the colonnades (tôn en tois dromois).’ (227a1-b1, translation of the passages from the Phaedrus by R. Hackforth)

Phaedrus is going to read to Socrates the speech with which Lysias had been entertaining his audience that morning: ‘Well (alla), where would you like us to sit for our reading (pou dê boulei kathizomenoi anagnômen)?’ – Socrates: ‘Let us turn off here (Deur’ ektrapomenoi) and walk along the Ilissus (kata ton Ilisson iômen); then (eita) we can sit down in any quiet spot you choose (hopou an doxê̢ en hêsuchia̢ kathizêsometha).’ – P.: ‘It’s convenient, isn’t it, that I chance to be bare-footed (Eis kairon, hôs eoiken, anupodêtos ôn etuchon): you of course are always so (su men gar dê aei). There will be no trouble in wading in the stream (ra̢ston oun hêmin kata to hudation brechousi tous podas ienai), which is especially delightful at this hour of a summer’s day (kai ouk aêdes, allôs te kai tênde tên hôran tou etous te kai tês hêmeras). – S.: ‘Lead on then (Proage dê), and look out (kai skopei hama) for a place to sit down (hopou kathizêsometha).’ – P.: ‘You see (Hora̢s oun) that plane-tree over there (ekeinên tên hupsêlotatên platanon;)? – S.: ‘To be sure (Ti mên;).’ – P.: ‘There’s some shade (Ekei skia t’ estin), and a little breeze (kai pneuma metrion), and grass to sit down on (kai poa kathizesthai), or lie down if we like (ê an boulômetha kataklinênai).’ – S.: ‘Then make for it (Proagois an) (228e4-229b3) … By the way (atar, ô hetaire, metaxu tôn logôn), isn’t this the tree (ar’ ou tode ên to dendron) we were making for (eph’ hoper êges hêmas;)? – P.: ‘Yes, that’s the one (Touto men oun auto).’ – S.: ‘Upon my word (Nê tên Hêran), a delightful resting-place (kalê ge hê katagôgê), with this tall, spreading plane (hê te gar platanos hautê mal' amphilaphês te kai hupsêlê), and a lovely shade from the high branches of the agnus (tou te agnou to hupsos kai to suskion pankalon): now that it’s in full flower (kai hôs akmên echei tês anthês), it will make the place ever so fragrant (hôs an euôdestaton parechoi ton topon). And what a lovely stream under the plane-tree, and how cool to the feet (hê te au pêgê chariestatê hupo tês platanou rei mala psuchrou hudatos, hôste ge tô̢ podi tekmêrasthai)! Judging by the statuettes and images I should say it’s consecrated to Achelous and some of the Nymphs (Numphôn te tinôn kai Achelôou hieron apo tôn korôn te kai agalmatôn eoiken einai). And then too (ei d’ au boulei), isn’t the freshness of the air (to eupnoun tou topou) most welcome (hôs agapêton) and pleasant (kai sphodra hêdu): and the shrill summery music (therinon te kai liguron hupêchei) of the cicada-choir (tô̢ tôn tettigôn chorô̢)! And as crowning delight the grass (pantôn de kompsotaton to tês poas), thick enough on a gentle slope to rest your head on most comfortably (hoti en êrema prosantei hikanê pephuke kataklinenti tên kephalên pankalôs echein).’ (230a6-c5)

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