Plato and Tradition
The Poetic and Cultural Context of Philosophy
Publication Year: 2013
Plato’s dialogues are some of the most widely read texts in Western philosophy, and one would imagine them fully mined for elemental material. Yet, in Plato and Tradition, Patricia Fagan reveals the dialogues to be continuing sources of fresh insight. She recovers from them an underappreciated depth of cultural reference that is crucial to understanding their central philosophical concerns. Through careful readings of six dialogues, Fagan demonstrates that Plato’s presentation of Socrates highlights the centrality of tradition in political, erotic, and philosophic life. Plato embeds Socrates’s arguments and ideas in traditional references that would have been familiar to contemporaries of Socrates or Plato but that today’s reader typically passes over. Fagan’s book unpacks this cultural and literary context for the proper and full understanding of the philosophical argument of the Platonic dialogues. She concludes that, as Socrates demonstrates in word and deed, tradition is essential to successful living. But we must take up tradition with a critical openness to questioning its significance and future. Her original and compelling analyses may change the views of many readers who think themselves already well versed in the dialogues.
Published by: Northwestern University Press
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Title Page, Copyright Page
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This book has been in the making for a number of years. I have had the good fortune to be able to present versions of each of the first five chapters to audiences at a variety of universities; in every case I have been grateful for the helpful and stimulating responses to my work. ...
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Plato’s dialogues occupy a unique place within the European and North American intellectual traditions. These texts, more than any others, are regarded as essential to understanding what it is that human beings are doing when they do philosophy. ...
Part I. Eros and Tradition
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Chapter 1: Alcibiades I and Pederasty
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The Neoplatonic philosophers believed that the study of Plato should begin with the Alcibiades I. I similarly will begin my study of Plato’s literary and philosophical craft with this dialogue. The authenticity of Alcibiades I has sometimes been doubted, though I do not believe that a compelling case has been made for rejecting Plato’s authorship.1 ...
Chapter 2: The Symposium and Sappho
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In this chapter, I shall be asking Sappho, through a discussion of some of her fragments, and Plato, through a discussion of Diotima’s account of eros in the Symposium, “What is love?” I shall begin by exploring how love manifests itself in Sappho’s poems; from an analysis of fragments 5, 94, and 55, I will argue that Sappho provides us with a notion of love as care.1 In particular, Sappho shows us that love is embedded in relationships of reciprocity of ...
Part II. Polis and Tradition
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Chapter 3: Republic 3 and the Sirens
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Diotima’s account of eros in the Symposium reveals to us how tradition arises out of human desire for immortality and how eros is what keeps tradition alive, functional, and real to those who live within it. Socrates’s transfiguring of the pederastic relationship in Alcibiades I conversely reveals how tradition gives form to desire by providing the parameters through which erotic relationships between human beings are enacted. This transfiguring takes place in Alcibiades I through precisely the kind of activity that Plato himself ...
Chapter 4: Laws 4 and the Cyclopes
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The opening discussion of the constitutions of Crete and Sparta in Laws 1 (624a–626b) reveals two features central to the creations of laws, constitutions, and education: they are received from a god through a human intermediary (Zeus through Minos in the case of Crete, Apollo through Lycurgus in the case of Laconia). Second, aspects of the constitution develop out of the interactions of human groups with the terrain they inhabit. ...
Part III. Philosophy and Tradition
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Chapter 5: The Apology and Oedipus
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When considering Plato’s attitude toward myth, we must be clear about what we mean when we say “myth” in a Platonic context. As I noted in chapter 3, when I refer to “myth,” I mean “a traditional tale used by a culture to tell itself something important about itself.” By “traditional” I mean “accepted by being told and retold over time.”1 ...
Chapter 6: The Crito and Thersites
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Near the beginning of the Crito, Socrates explains to Crito why he does not think that the sacred ship (after whose arrival in Athens Socrates will be executed) will be arriving on the present day. He has had a dream, he says, in which a beautiful and shapely woman in white robes called to him and said, “Socrates, on the third day you might arrive in fertile Phthia” (ēmati ken tritatōi Phthiēn eribōlon hikoio) (Crito 44a5–b2). ...
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This book has been divided into three parts: eros, politics, and philosophy. I have chosen these three headings because each of them represents an essential aspect of human experience, action, and endeavor. Eros is the primary moving force of the soul. Politics is the domain of human life among other humans, the arena of shared experience. ...
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Page Count: 164
Publication Year: 2013
Series Title: Rereading Ancient Philosophy
Series Editor Byline: John Smith, Will Wordsworth