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Robert Eisner SOCRATES AS HERO The very first experience that philosophy had on Greek soil, the Sanction of the Seven Sages, is an unmistakable and unforgettable feature of the Hellenic image. Other people have saints; the Greeks have sages. ' Nietzsche Plato composed in a mythomorphic vein, or rather he attempted in his dialogues to superimpose a new kind of myth on the much older palimpsest of the sagas. To do this effectively he had to present Socrates not just heroically, but as a hero far different from the bronzed figures of that timocracy and shame culture whose legacy he resented and whose lingering influence on the Adienian present he was, in his more Utopian moods, determined to eradicate. Hence many of the traditional traits of the Homeric warrior are found in the Platonic Socrates, but they have been substantially modified to sustain the new philosophic content of die hero's role. These revitalized characteristics serve to highlight the radically novel establishment of the hero as philosopher and the philosopher as hero. The heroic comparisons that Socrates and Plato make, delineating a new prototype , risk the inflation of Socrates' ego, to use a modern term for what the Greeks called hubris. In the agonistic world of politicians, sophists, athletes, and lovers, Plato's Socrates stands out as the most erotically powerful intellectual in Athens. Even the chryselephantine Alcibiades shows himself captivated by this most charismatic of pedagogues. The self-proclaimed ignorance of the philosopher restrains him from too overt a display of his pride and arrogance, but the repeated success of his ironic gambits constantly tempts him to press his rhetorical advantages too far. For the Greek who is also a Socratic philosopher and therefore primarily concerned with the problems of the ethical life, the discernment of rational standards , patterns, and paradigms is not only the epistemological road to the examPhilosophy and Literature Vol. 6 Nos. 1 and 2 Pp. 106-118 0190-0031/82/0061-0106 © 1982 by The Johns Hopkins University Press Robert Eisner107 ined life but is also the mimetic way to Virtue.2 For such an individual, questing along new heights of moral speculation, there are older figures for him to model himself on, despite Alcibiades' insistence at Symposium 221c-d that no parallel in the sagas exists for Socrates. With the death of Socrates and the emasculation of political possibilities for civic man after the Peloponnesian War, Plato sought to absorb the external world of battlefield and assembly into the no less contentious inner domain of the soul. As reconstituted or invented by Plato this monde intérieur needed myth for its shores to be made accessible to the likes of mere men, and in this requirement it did not differ from the Troad of the Achaean expedition or the Persia of Xenophon's dreams and deeds.3 What better hero to animate the new myth of the quest for virtue and the forms than the man who was himself entheos, "enthused"? Platonic myth, however, is not simply a matter of a new sort ofhero searching for a new sort of treasure. The several sorts of myths employed in the dialogues are all more or less supplementary in those areas where Logos is more or less deficient. From the ancient point of view human reason is especially weak in science and history, where myth must aim at the truth and explore its ramifications , even if it must take the place of rational knowledge, as in the great central myths of the Timaeus and the Critias. In ethics, however, where human reason is adequate to the task of knowing, myth adds to the rational and speaks to man's passions, as in the accounts of the cave, the chariot of the soul, and Ei^s visit to the Underworld. Ludwig Edelstein remarks on this function of myth: "It rouses and confirms hopes; it enhances courage and allays fears. It is like a charm that one must sing to oneself."4 Unlike the rational certainty obtained through dialectic, the myths provide the reader (the silent but never absent interlocutor of the dialogues) with an essential and otherwise unobtainable conviction. Only myths can ease the rational helplessness of man...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 106-118
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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