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115 Taming Horses and Desires Plato’s Politics of Care Jeremy Bell In what is perhaps the most well-known (animal) image in Plato’s corpus, Socrates likens himself to a μύωψ, a gadfly, that has been set upon Athens as if upon a large and well-bred horse. Because of its size, this horse has grown sluggish and complacent and is now at risk of sleeping its life away. Thus Socrates proclaims that it is in need of an analeptic, the sting of the gadfly, to rouse it from its torpor (Apology 30e). That this has become one of the most famous images not only in Plato’s corpus but in the whole of the Western literary tradition is due, no doubt, to the remarkable aptness of the comparison between Socrates and an unsightly, unpleasant, and inexhaustible pest, rather than to the aptness of the comparison between Athens and a large, sleepy horse. Indeed, the nearly ubiquitous tendency of English translators to render μύωψ in the Apology as “gadfly” rather than “horsefly” reflects the equally pervasive tendency of scholars to overlook , dismiss, or downplay the other image that Socrates invokes in this passage, the image of the horse. We speak primarily and unhesitatingly of Socrates the gadfly not Socrates the horsefly, despite the fact that the latter translation is justified , if not recommended, both lexicographically and entomologically. Moreover, when speaking of this image we remain largely silent regarding its correlate. Yet, to overlook the likeness that Socrates draws between Athens and a horse is to overlook the analogical character of the image that he presents when he proclaims that his relation to the polis is the same as that of a gadfly to a horse. The complementarity of these terms—Socrates as a gadfly, the city as a horse—not only establishes a strict parallelism between Socrates’s entomic qualities and the equine qualities of Athens; it also sets these qualities in a mutually reciprocal relation with one another so that Socrates’s gadfly-ism is dependent upon and derived from Athens’s equinity and vice versa. To be sure, Socrates is a gadfly, but only insofar as Athens is a horse. This fact takes on still greater significance when 7 116 | Jeremy Bell one recalls that Socrates offers this entomic image as a way of accounting for his philosophical practice: philosophy is the practice of waking up sleeping horses. If, therefore, one wishes to better grasp this understanding of philosophy, one must determine how the tracks of the horse have worked to form the landscape of Socrates’s and Plato’s thought. Because the horse has forged an exceptionally broad path throughout Plato’s corpus, one that cuts across nearly every text and terrain therein, a comprehensive account of the myriad connotations that it carries within his thought and writings would require a much longer study than what can be offered here.1 I will therefore limit the scope of the present inquiry to a single issue, or complex of issues, brought to light by the dual image of Socrates’s gadfly-ism and Athens’s equinity. On the one hand, this image portrays how Socrates philosophizes: he bites, spurs, and annoys, he relentlessly disrupts and displaces—in a word, he rouses. On the other hand, it illustrates why he philosophizes: he converses with others in order to exercise care over both the polis and his fellow citizens, so that they, in turn, may care for themselves and each other. Moreover, in the portrayal of how and why Socrates philosophizes, this image demonstrates the unity of these two features: the activity of philosophizing is an exceptional instance of the practice of care (ἡ ἐπιμέλεια). Finally, this image proffers the horse as a privileged example of an object of philosophical care. In the first instance, care is concerned with wakefulness, with an almost insomniac vigilance against sleep, to which Socrates opposes the oversized and drowsy horse of state. However, if one examines the horse further, if one looks it in the mouth, as it were, one sees that it likewise bespeaks the idiosyncrasy of an animal that, like a human, is tame by nature yet wild by birth, and that, therefore, requires supplementary practices, practices of care, in order to return to its nature. In what follows, I will trace out the contours of this idiosyncrasy in order to map out the point of coincidence between horses and humans and to demonstrate that the persistent and recurring concern over the twin tropes of...

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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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