Sunday, January 7, 2018

3 Plato’s Phaedrus in the light of the dating of his Charmides, with reference to his Phaedo, and to Aristophanes’ Frogs and Clouds

Full of admiration for Aeschylus ascending to Athens to save the city, the Chorus of the Frogs sang: ‘Right it is and befitting (Charien oun), not (mê), by Socrates sitting, idle talk to pursue (Sôkratei parakathêmenon lalein) … fine-drawn quibbles to seek, fine-set phrases to speak (to d’epi semnoisi logoisi kai skariphêsmoisi lêrôn diatribên argon poieisthai), is but the part of a fool (paraphronountos andros).’ (1482-99, tr. B. B. Rogers)

Rogers comments: ‘This perpetual talking which surrounded Socrates is in truth the adoleschia of which the comic poets speak (Clouds 1480; Eupolis Fragm. Inc. 10), and to which Plato makes such a pathetic reference in the fourteenth chapter of the Phaedo.’ Both Rogers’ references, to Aristophanes’ Clouds and to Plato’s Phaedo, are worth considering, for Plato’s presentation of adoleschia in the Phaedrus deserves to be viewed in their light.

The scene in the Clouds to which Rogers refers is the closing scene of the play. To explain it, I must say a few words about its background. Strepsiades, a simple farmer who married a female from aristocratic circles, got into debts because of the aristocratic leanings of his son Pheidippides. He wanted to send his son to Socrates’ Thinkery (Phrontistêrion, 94) to learn rhetoric, so that Pheidippides might defend him against his creditors at the courts. But Pheidippides knows all about Socrates and Chairephon and those around them, and flatly refuses to go to them: ‘I know, those miserable wretches’ (aiboi ponêroi g’, oida, 102). Strepsiades himself therefore goes to Socrates to be taught by him, but after several attempts to teach him, Socrates throws him out for his stupidity (789-90). Strepsiades therefore sends there his son, in spite of his unwillingness and objections. When Pheidippides accomplished his course of learning, Strepsiades brought him home and prepared for him a welcoming feast (1211-12).

After this, Strepsiades runs out of his house to complain to his neighbours about the beating he received from his son. He narrates: ‘I asked him to narrate me something from Aeschylus (ekeleus’ auton tôn Aischulou lexai ti moi), and he said immediately: “I consider Aeschylus to be the first among the poets (egô gar Aischulon nomizô prôton en poiêtais – [spoken with a heavy Socratic irony] – full of bombast (psophou pleôn), full of contradictions (axustaton), a ranter (stomphaka) using big and rugged words (krêmnopoion, 1366-7)”.’ However much he was vexed at his son’s verdict on Aeschylus, Strepsiades asked him: ‘“But tell me something of those new things (su d’ alla toutôn lexon ti tôn neôterôn), those that are full of wisdom (hatt’ esti ta sopha tauta),” and he immediately sang (ho d’ euthus ê̢s’) some speech from Euripides (Euripidou rêsin tin’) about a brother sleeping (hôs ekinei adelphos), o god keeping off ill and mischief (ôlexikake), with his half-sister (tên homomêtrian adelphên, 1369-1372).’ This was too much for Strepsiades; he began to chastise his son with harsh words, and his son gave him a beating.

In the closing scene, Strepsiades prays to Hermes to forgive him ‘that I was chasing away gods because of Socrates (hot’ exeballon tous theous dia Sôkratê, 1477) … I was deranged by idle talk’ (emou paranoêsantos adoleschia̢, 1480).’ He asks Hermes for advice whether he should prosecute Socrates and his acolytes [charging them with impiety]: ‘You advise me correctly (orthôs paraineis) not allowing me to stitch up lawsuits (ouk eôn dikorraphein), but to set on fire the house of those idle babblers as quickly as possible (all’ hôs tachist’ empimpranai tên oikian tôn adoleschôn, 1483-4).

Let us now see Plato’s ‘pathetic reference’ to adoleschia in the Phaedo. Pace Rogers, I find it apposite. Let us see it in context. Socrates’ friends assembled in prison to spend with Socrates his last hours, and Socrates appeared a happy man to them (eudaimôn anêr ephaineto, 58e3). So much so that Simmias reproached him for taking so lightly his leaving them and the gods, who, as he himself admits, are good rulers (63a). Socrates defends himself: ‘It is reasonable for me not to take it hard or be resentful at leaving you and my masters here (eikotôs humas te apoleipôn kai tous enthade despotas ou chalepôs pherô oud’ aganaktô), since I believe that there [in Hades, in after-life] also (hêgoumenos k’akei), no less than here (ouden hêtton ê enthade), I shall find good masters (despotais te agathois enteuxesthai) and companions (kai hetairois, 69d8-e2).’ Since Socrates in his defence spoke much about the good life of the soul liberated from the body with all its evils, Kebes says to him: ‘What you say about the soul is the subject of much disbelief (ta de peri psuchês pollên apistian parechei tois anthrôpois): men fear that when it’s been separated from the body (mê, epeidan apallagê̢ tou sômatos), it may no longer exist anywhere (oudamou eti ê̢, 70a1-2) … True (epei), if it did exist somewhere, gathered together alone by itself (eiper eiê pou autê kath’ hautên sunêthroismenê), and separated from all the evils (kai apêllagmenê toutôn tôn kakôn) you were recounting just now (hôn su nundê diêlthes), there’d be plenty of hope (pollê an eiê elpis, 70a6-8) … but on just this point (alla touto dê), perhaps (isôs), one needs no little reassuring (ouk oligês paramuthias deitai) and convincing (kai pisteôs), that when the man has died, his soul exists (hôs esti te psuchê apothanontos tou anthrôpou), and that it possesses some power (kai tina dunamin echei) and wisdom (kai phronêsin, 70b1-4).’ – Socrates: ‘That’s true (Alêthê legeis), but then what are we to do (alla ti dê poiômen;)? Would you like us to converse on these very questions (ê peri autôn toutôn boulei diamuthologômen), and see whether this is likely to be the case or not (eite eikos houtôs echein eite mê;)?’ – Cebes: ‘For my part anyway (Egô g’oun) I’d gladly hear (hêdeôs an akousaimi) whatever opinion you have about them (hêntina doxan echeis peri autôn).’ – Socrates: ‘Well, I really don’t think anyone listening now, even if he were a comic poet, would say that I’m talking idly (Oukoun g’ an oimai eipein tina nun akousanta, oud’ ei kômô̢dopoios eiê, hôs adoleschô), and arguing about things that don’t concern me (kai ou peri prosêkontôn tous logous poioumai). If you agree, then (ei oun dokei), we should look into the matter (chrê diaskopeisthai).’ (70b5-c3, translation D. Gallop, with one alteration. He translates diamuthologômen (in line 70b6) ‘to speculate’, I translate it ‘to converse’; I do so following his note 15: ‘diamuthologein … need mean no more than “converse”, as at Apology 39e5.’)

Bent on defending Socrates against Aristophanes’ derogation of him, Plato in the Phaedrus presents adoleschia very differently, giving it a prominent place in his outline of the philosophic rhetoric.

Socrates: ‘I am inclined to think (Kinduneuei), my good friend (ô ariste), that it was not surprising (eikotôs) that Pericles became the most finished exponent of rhetoric (ho Periklês pantôn teleôtatos eis tên rêtortikên genesthai).’ – Phaedrus: ‘Why so (Ti dê;)?’ – Socrates: ‘All the great arts (Pasai hosai megalai tôn technôn) need supplementing (prosdeontai) by a study of Nature: your artist must cultivate garrulity and high-flown speculation (adoleschias kai meteôrologias phuseôs peri); from that source alone can come the mental elevation and thoroughly finished execution of which you are thinking (to gar hupsêlonoun touto kai pantê̢ telesiourgon eoiken enteuthen pothen eisienai); and that is what Pericles acquired to supplement his inborn capacity (ho kai Periklês pros tô̢ euphuês einai ektêsato). He came across the right sort of man, I fancy, in Anaxagoras (prospesôn gar oimai toioutô̢ onti Anaxagora̢), and by enriching himself with high speculation (meteôrologias emplêstheis) and coming to recognise the nature of wisdom and folly (kai epi phusin nou te kai anoias aphikomenos) – on which topics of course Anaxagoras was always discoursing (hôn dê peri ton polun logon epoieito Anaxagoras) – he drew from that source and applied to the art of rhetoric (enteuthen heilkusen epi tên tôn logôn technên) what was suitable thereto (to prosphoron autê̢).’ (269e1-270a8, translation by R. Hackforth)

The Phaedo is a late dialogue (see my post on ‘The dating of Plato’s Phaedo of April 3, 2017), and the remark Socrates makes in it concerning adoleschia can be viewed as a correction of the depiction of it in the Phaedrus. It is hardly an accidental correction, for in the Phaedrus the notion of adoleschia is linked to the picture of Anaxagoras, of whom Socrates speaks very differently in the Phaedo. Speaking of his philosophical beginnings, Socrates says in the latter: ‘One day I heard someone reading from a book he said was by Anaxagoras (akousas men pote ek bibliou tinos, hôs ephê, Anaxagorou anagignôskontos), according to which it is, in fact, Intelligence that orders and is the reason for everything (kai legontos hôs ara nous estin ho diakosmôn te kai pantôn aitios, 97b8-c2) … I made all haste to get hold of the books and read them as quickly as I could (panu spoudê̢ labôn tas biblous hôs tachista hoios t’ ê anegignôskon, 98b4-5) … as I went on with my reading (proïôn kai anagignôskôn), I beheld a man (horô andra) making no use of his Intelligence at all (tô̢ men nô̢ ouden chrômenon), nor finding in it any reasons (oude tinas aitias epaitiômenon) for the ordering of things (eis to diakosmein ta pragmata), but imputing them to such things as air and aether and water and many other absurdities (aeras de kai aitheras kai hudata aitiômenon kai alla polla kai atopa, 98b8-c2).

In fact, when I see that Plato’s Anaxagoras in the Phaedrus ‘arrived at the nature of mind and the absence of mind (epi phusin nou te kai anoias aphikomenos) … which were the very subjects about which Anaxagoras used to talk so much (hôn dê peri ton polun logon epoieito Anaxagoras, C. J. Rowe’s translation)’, and compare it with what Socrates says in the Phaedo – ‘as I went on with my reading (proïôn kai anagignôskôn), I beheld a man (horô andra) making no use of mind at all (tô̢ men nô̢ ouden chrômenon)’ – I suspect that when Plato wrote the Phaedrus he hadn’t yet read Anaxagoras’ books.

Let me end this post by noting that the exalted picture of Pericles, which Plato presents in the Phaedrus, chimes with Aristophanes’ oblique reference to him in the Frogs. For it is the advice that echoes the counsel of Pericles thanks to which Aeschylus returns to Athens as its saviour: ‘When they shall count the enemy’s soil their own (tên gên hotan nomisôsi tên tôn polemiôn einai spheteran), and theirs the enemy’s (tên de spheteran tôn polemiôn): when they know that ships are their true wealth (poron de tas naus), their so called wealth delusion (aporian de ton poron).’ (1463-5, translation by Rogers). Rogers notes: ‘It is, as the Scholiast observes, the counsel which was given by Pericles at the commencement of the war (Thucydides i. 140-144). “What if the enemy ravages Attica? So long as Athens is mistress of the sea, the whole world will be open to her fleet.”’ – In the wake of the great naval victory of Arginousae the thoughts of those who hoped that Athenian democracy could renew itself and be saved turned to Pericles as a man worth emulating; in this spirit Aristophanes alludes to him in the Frogs and Plato speaks of him in the Phaedrus.

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