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1 Editors’ Introduction Plato’s Menagerie As every student of philosophy well knows, Socrates was truly a beast, a philosophical animal par excellence. In the Apology, he compares himself to a gadfly who has spent his entire life stinging the lethargic horse that is the city of Athens in order to keep it from falling into slumbering ignorance. In the Meno, Socrates is portrayed as a stingray or, more accurately, a torpedo ray who shocks or benumbs his interlocutors and causes them to question all their previously held beliefs, while in the Symposium he is compared to a venomous snake whose philosophical discourses strike at the heart or soul of those who hear them. In other dialogues, Socrates compares himself not to some stinging or biting beast, some predatory animal, but precisely the opposite, to a fawn at the mercy of a lion in the Charmides or, in Alcibiades I, to an old stork who hopes to be cared for by his young, that is, by his students. And then there is the Phaedo, the dialogue that takes place on the day of his execution, where Socrates compares himself to a prophetic swan singing his most beautiful song—arguments about the immortality of the soul—in anticipation of his imminent death. Gadfly and horse, swan, snake, stork, fawn, and torpedo ray: this is already a pretty impressive and diverse assembly of animals. But it is really just the beginning of the enormous bestiary contained in Plato’s dialogues. Indeed, animal images , examples, analogies, myths, or fables are used in almost every one of Plato’s dialogues to help characterize, delimit, and define many of the dialogues’ most important figures and themes. They are used to portray not just Socrates but many other characters in the dialogues, from the wolfish Thrasymachus of the Republic to the venerable racehorse Parmenides of the Parmenides. Even more, animals are used throughout the dialogues to develop some of Plato’s most important political or philosophical ideas. In the Republic, for example, the guardians of the ideal polis are compared to trained guard dogs who must protect the state from marauding wolves, that is, from tyrants and sophists of various kinds. In the same dialogue, the human soul is itself compared to a composite animal 2 | Plato’s Animals with a human head, a lion’s torso, and nether parts like a multiheaded beast, while in the Phaedrus it is likened to a charioteer and two horses, with the former ruling over and guiding the latter. It is thus often through images or examples of animals, along with the analogical relationships that come along with these, that Plato is able to develop a hierarchy not just between humans and animals but between rulers and the ruled, men and women, adults and children, free men and slaves, and so on. It is not too much to say that animal references are employed to help characterize, explain, or value almost every aspect of human life. In the Republic and the Phaedo, we even hear Socrates argue that the character and destiny of animals pursue humans beyond life right into the afterlife, since it is suggested there that a human soul that does not devote itself to a life of philosophy is likely upon its death to pass into the body of a donkey, hawk, kite, or wolf, or, if it is lucky, a bee, wasp, or ant. Plato’s dialogues are thus teeming with animals of every kind, not only gadflies , horses, swans, snakes, and torpedo rays, but wolves, dogs, pigs, donkeys, hawks, bees, roosters, bulls, foxes, monkeys, locusts, oysters—and the list goes on. By our reckoning, there is but a single dialogue (the Crito) that does not contain any obvious reference to animals, while most dialogues have many. What is more, throughout Plato’s dialogues the activity or enterprise of philosophy itself is often compared to a hunt, where the interlocutors are the hunters and the object of the dialogue’s search—ideas of justice, beauty, courage, piety, or friendship —their elusive animal prey. Hence animal images, examples, metaphors, and tropes are used throughout the dialogues to develop not just Plato’s dialogical characters, and not just the differences between the human and the animal, but many of the most important aspects of his ontology, epistemology, ethics, aesthetics , and political theory. To understand Plato’s dialogues, then, it seems necessary to explain the presence of all these animals in the dialogues, their strategic or rhetorical necessity...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780253016201
Related ISBN
9780253016133
MARC Record
OCLC
907092951
Pages
270
Launched on MUSE
2015-04-10
Language
English
Open Access
No
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