Phaedo Mamary

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    Reading Timaeus and Phaedo together, I have been wondering about a possible connection between the “likely account . . . that this world of ours was made in truth by god as a living being, endowed, thanks to his providence, with soul and intelligence” (Timaeus 19; 30b), a “moving likeness of eternity” (25; 37d) and the arguments for the immortality of the soul in the Phaedo. One argument is that, as beautiful things share in the Beautiful (137-8; 100c), the soul shares in the ideā (Nagy paragraph 14 of Hour 23) of immortality—“the Form of life itself, and anything that is deathless, are never destroyed” (144; 106d).

    When Socrates makes a myth worthy of Aesop, he reminds of us others bound and liberated: Aesop, the founder of fable making, was thought to have been enslaved on Samos (Holzberg 15); Phaedo of Elis, was sold into slavery and ransomed by the Athenians at Socrates’ urging; the fourteen Athenians sent as to face the Minotaur and liberated by Theseus and Ariadne; Socrates himself about to liberated from his prison. His composition of a hymn to Apollo and his setting of Aesop’s fables to verse (97; 60d)—in short his practice of mousike, the arts of the Muses (Nagy paragraph 28)—seem to me to connect poetry and philosophy, joining them together at the head (97; 60c) as arts of the Muses, both to each other and also to virtue.

    Professor Nagy points out that “to garland the theoric ship” (paragraph 16) bound for Delos marks the entering of a sacred space, a space of “theōriā . . . as a ritualized journey undertaken for the purpose of achieving a sacralized vision (paragraph1). Plato’s poetry, his poeisis or making of worlds, is peopled with individual characters, but it is also creates a cultural fabric that endures in the retelling and in the performance long after the individual characters—or their author—are gone. Socrates says to Phaedo that the two of them should cut their hair in mourning immediately should they succumb to misology (127; 89b-d). As Professor Nagy says, Plato “garlands a theoric ship” (paragraph 15) and that “such theory is a journey of the soul that is meant to be ongoing forever, through dialogue” (paragraph 22).

    I wonder if it’s too much of a stretch to think of dialogue as “world soul,” bringing life to particular people and to their cultural context through its eternal weaving and reweaving? That is, does the version of theōriā Nagy describes help us to see a glimpse of the immortal in the particular—a kind of mortal approximation or moving image of the Timaeus’ demiurge’s world soul in the cosmos?

    I’m also wondering what to make of the garlanded poet sent to live in another city (Rep III 39; 398). If we were to find and also cultivate our human excellence through dialogue, would we change the polis so much that it would become “another” city conceptually while being the “same” geographically—the poet welcomed “home” because the city has become “other?”



    Using an interesting analogy, Plato writes:

    It is likely that those who established the mystic rites for us were not inferior persons but were speaking in riddles long ago when they said that whoever arrives in the underworld uninitiated and unsanctified will wallow in the mire, whereas he who arrives there purified and initiated will dwell with the gods. There are indeed, as those concerned with the mysteries say, many who carry the thyrsus but the Bacchants are few. These latter are, in my opinion, no other than those who have practiced philosophy in the right way (Phd. 69c-d).

    Although this analogy is very significant, it has been virtually overlooked in the scholarly literature. This analogy is intended to set apart those who do things improperly from those who do things properly, in addition to pointing out the rarity of outstanding practitioners. We do not expect Plato to use an analogy for understanding this that asks us to see philosophers as similar to worshippers of Dionysus. If Plato is going to create the analogy around proper and improper worshippers of a god, we might expect him to make the analogy revolve around Apollo, who the Greeks associated with order and rationality. And certainly Plato could have chosen to use the proper and improper practitioners of some craft completely unrelated to any of the gods, like medicine.

    While Plato makes conscious literary choices to place the dialogue against a Pythagorean backdrop, the Phaedo is also shot through with Bacchant elements. In addition to the analogy at 69c-d, there is Plato’s heroization of Socrates when he alludes to Socrates playing the role of Heracles, while Phaedo plays the role of Iolaus (Phd. 89c). There is also another reference at 109b to Heracles, who was the exemplar of the hero for both the Pythagoreans and the Bacchants. Even the general connection between good philosophers and worshippers of Dionysus should give us pause. I question some of the assumptions commonly made in how we think about practicing philosophy the right way. The Phaedo is usually interpreted as a dialogue in which we observe loathing for the body. But this analogy cuts against that view. So, how should we make sense of this in the context of the Phaedo?
    Nagy writes, “A question remains: what kind of immortalization after death can we hope for if we do in fact ‘practice philosophy correctly’? As we will now see, what is at stake here for Plato’s Socrates is not the resurrection of the sōma, the ‘body’, or even the preservation of the psūkhē, the ‘soul’, but simply the idea that the living word of philosophical dialogue must stay alive” (The Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours, 23§40). This is a promising approach and helps to rescue Plato from being interpreted as a body-hater.

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