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161 Animality and Sexual Difference in the Timaeus Sara Brill Plato made much of the connection between vitality and vividness that is at work in the Greek verb ζάω, as is evident by the variety and significance of phenomena explicated in the dialogues by means of an appeal to life [ζωή] and living beings [ζῷα] of various sorts: λόγος is characterized as a living being (Phaedrus 264c), the κόσμος as being alive (Timaeus 30b–c), and the πόλις as a living body (Republic 462c–d, 464b).1 Throughout the dialogues, flocks and swarms of animals are treated as revelatory of human political and intellectual life, and particular animals as illuminating conditions of souls, forms of life, and kinds of character, from the virtuous to the vicious. The lion and boar, for instance, are lauded for their courage (Laches 196e–197c), the bee and ant for their social natures (Phaedrus 82b), noble puppies for their melding of spirit and gentleness (Republic 375e), the swan for its loyal service (Phaedrus 84e), while the wolf is castigated for its wildness (Republic 566a, Sophist 231a, Laws 906d–e), the cow for its slavishness (Republic 586a–b), and the donkey for its gluttony (Phaedo 81e). Occasionally, in the context of telling a mythos about the afterlife, Socrates will speak about animals as animated by souls that had formerly resided in human bodies, treating animal embodiment as punishment for or, as in the myth of Er, liberation from a human life.2 In both metaphorical and mythical references, living beings are discursively useful because their lives are taken to be signifying entities; that is, they mean something beyond the fact of their existence. This is to say, animal life is treated less as an object of analysis than an event calling for interpretation (and thereby as useful for didactic purposes). What is, for Plato, philosophically significant about the lion or the wolf, for instance, is its illumination of the nature of courage or ferocity. That life as such tends toward signification is itself a noteworthy assertion, but it also invites the question: What do the lives of living beings signify? 10 162 | Sara Brill In one sense, the Timaeus’s relevance to this question, and to a study of Plato’s thinking about animals, is obvious. The bulk of this dialogue, at once a cosmogony and a zoogony, is taken up by an account of the origin of the cosmos that characterizes the cosmos as a living being and includes an account of the origin of mortal animals. But there is a more subtle and troubling line of relevance . Timaeus’s answer to the question of how mortal animals come to be also purports to answer why they come to be; that is, the dialogue claims to discern the workings of mind not only in the behavior of certain animals but also in the diversity of animal life and in the processes of its generation. Thus, the Timaeus’s answer to the question of what life signifies is that, in the motions that engender it and actions that comprise it, life makes manifest to philosophic thought the workings of mind and mindlessness. But this vision of ζωή and ζῷα is accomplished only by granting a very peculiar generative capacity to human action and life. To be sure, such anthropocentrism is in part a function of the task that Timaeus accepts—to offer, as a prelude, an account of the origins of human beings in order to hand these beings to Critias, who will, in turn, display them in that action which, it is claimed, is most illuminating of the character of the city that nurtures them: war.3 But, I argue, it is precisely in its attempt to separate an account of human nature from an account of political life that the cosmogony fails with respect to the task Socrates has set out for Timaeus. More specifically, this cosmogony posits a masculine human prototype whose actions generate the need for sexually differentiated bodies, thereby enshrining masculinity as a fecund generative force in the cosmos. However, its attempt to offer an account of human nature divorced from an account of the city renders it incapable of engaging in the kind of analysis that would permit probing inquiry into the question of human generation. The result is a vision of human nature with which Socrates could have hardly been satisfied. This, in turn, invites exploration of just what Plato is doing with his construction of Timaeus’s cosmogony. Thus, an investigation into the emergence of sexual...

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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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