Discovering Love and Not Sinning Against Mythology

I have been reading Plato's Socratic dialogues along with Brandon over at Siris and reread Phaedrus last night; posts in which I have written about this dialogue before are, in order of focus, Words, Madness; Bearing Something; Birds and Words; Myriad Creatures; Tzitzikas; here; here; here; here; recently here. Below I will try to address what has stood out to me this time but for a better review and summary please see Brandon's posts 1, 2, 3, 4 (which I have to get to but take it on past experience that the posts are thorough).
Socrates invokes the muses when he delivers his speeches - the first time to "make his friend [that of Phaedrus, Lysias] seem wiser still" though during it concedes that "perhaps the attack [of Lysias, that he is also taking as his theme] may be diverted ... that ... is in the hands of God" 238d. And while he begins orderly enough, beginning almost immediately with a definition, which he later explains as crucial to good rhetoric, he stops himself, for he is "speaking in hexameters not mere dithyrambics though finding fault with the lover" so wonders what kind of speech would praise the non-lover (Lysias' subject, 241). He quotes Ibycus, "I was distressed lest I be buying honour among men by sinning against the gods" (again, the theme of his speech was not of his own invention; he was implored to give it by Phaedrus who swore by a plane tree). Socrates then criticises the kind of speaker who puts "on airs as though they amounted to something" to cheat mere manikins (243a). Of relevance to a recent post, he notes that some "have sinned in matters of mythology" - the example of sin here being speaking against love though love is a god.
Then comes the bit about madness: "the greatest blessings come to us through madness when it is sent as a gift from the gods" (which is handy consolation for a bad day?) This is compared to sanity of human origin. This bit is followed by that of the soul compared to the "composite nature of a pair of winged horses [one good and one bad] and a charioteer" (246a). The part I was most interested this time here was the illustration of those souls "yearning for the upper region but unable to reach it ... trampling upon and colliding with one another, each striving to pass its neighbour" (248 a-b). This, it seems to me, is so much like life where even among the "good" there can be much pushing, shoving, righteous indignation, vicious competition, petty judgmentalism. It is reminiscent of Thucydides' "enmity which equals foster toward one another" (here) not to mention the fantastic comparison to the horrors of the chariot race. Also interesting is that because of the injuries sustained from such racing, people come away without a view of reality and "feed upon opinion".




This is all important because it illustrates the understanding of memory: for one is to employ such memories of what the soul beheld when journeying through God in order to become perfect (249c). The price of this is to be rebuked by the vulgar, "who consider him mad and do not know that he is inspired" by madness, the mad like "a bird gazes upward and neglects the things below" (249d). To partake in such madness is to be called the lover. (I think he is also, secondarily, commenting on the practice of the erastes-eromenos [explained under Remarks], and saying that the best such relationship is never consummated physically, though apparently this was allowed within certain guidelines?)
Memory is also important because in "the earthly copies of justice and temperance and the other ideas which are previous to souls there is no light, but only a few, approaching the images through the darkling organs of sense, behold in them the nature of that which they imitate" (250b). I think this is also good counter support for those arguments positing that there is no reason to try to be good and honest because the world is unjust. Memory is to help one keep to the good - which is why later when Socrates says the only good reason for writing is to function as a reminder particularly in old age and to form a good diversion instead of attending banquets (276). In other words, one is always to keep the good in mind: "a man of sense should surely practice to please not his fellow slaves, except as a secondary consideration, but his good and noble masters" (274a).
This may be the key point uniting this who dialogue particularly when viewed in terms of Socrates' later prayer (257 a-b) where he addresses love by saying: "do not in anger take from me the art of love which thou didst give me, and deprive me of sight". This goes back to two illustrations (at 243a) including one of Homer, who did not know why he went blind (he had insulted love).




There is a great bit on rhetoric, that boils down to the importance of addressing the truth which is particularly relevant when "doubtful things" are discussed, for they can more easily lead to deception (260-end; 260-3). Also opposed to truth, in addition to deceit, is "probability" which is often used to convince (272). The art of rhetoric is compared to that of healing: one must know to whom one is speaking, when, and how much one administers (268-70). [What an art - there is always something new to learn.]
With regard to the lack of clarity surrounding "doubtful things" it is noted that "he who knows the truth is always best able to discover likenesses". This seems connected to what Socrates thinks about invention, saying at the beginning of the dialogue that "arguments which are not inevitable and are hard to discover, the invention deserves praise as well as the argument" (236a, emphasis added twice) - after all, Socrates is inventing the whole way through particularly in his second speech with so many invocations: to Love, to the Muses... Related to invention are references to water, including: that the ignorant (who Socrates first claims to be) is "filled through the ears like a pitcher" (235c-d) and cannot remember sources of where something was heard - but after Socrates adapts the premise of Lysias' speech and finds it offensive, he wants to "wash the brine from my ears with the water of a sweet discourse" (243d).
The problem with writing (less of a chance to wash out the printed words on a page with a large print run or on the internet) is that it is possible to read things without instruction (puts far more elegantly than what I wrote yesterday) and because the printed word "has no power to protect itself" nor can it argue back to the reader in the case that it is misunderstood when read 275a-b.
Reading creates deception because people can appear to know more than they do and this is proved by the fact that they are not easy to get along with: were they truly wise, and not just appearing so, it would be very easy to interact with them (I am paraphrasing 275 a-b, which I love). Also, young people are chided for considering it more important where someone comes from and who they are than whether their words are true or not (275b-c): deception is also caused by misplaced priorities. In this vain is Socrates' closing prayer, wishing the gods grant him beauty of soul and that he consider himself rich for wisdom and only have enough wealth as his self-restraint might endure (279b-c). Priorities need to be checked all the time for love is hard to discover.



Magazine: Marie Claire Maison; Brush: Ewansim's tape at DeviantART.

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