Introduction

In his dialogues, Plato “stages” encounters between Socrates, his mentor, and some of the most celebrated intellectuals in the second half of the 5th century BCE, including the priestesss-seer Diotima and Aspasia, the “mistress” of Pericles. The language of these conversations, capturing the thoughts of the various interlocutors, reflects Plato’s keen ear for the complex traditions of verbal art. What comes to life in Plato’s works is a wide range of debates, ongoing in the era of Socrates—a half century before Plato’s own—about the artistry of such classical forms as epic, lyric, and drama. At the same time, Plato assimilates and reshapes these and other forms of public discourse, such as political and forensic oratory, into his own “sophisticated” genre of dialogue. The seminar will examine selected works, including the Ion, Apology, Symposium, and Phaedo, observing how Plato constructs a Socrates based on the historical person but transformed into a character who both articulates and embodies Plato’s agenda. The readings for the seminar will also include a number of complementary texts, for example, selections from the Homeric poems and the dramas of Athenian playwrights.