(Beiträge zur Altertumskunde 341) Gabriele Cornelli - Plato’s Styles and Characters Between Literature and Philosophy-Walter de Gruyter (2016)
particular for the τέχνη of rhapsodists, ἀπορεῖ καὶ οὐκ ἔχει συμβαλέσθαι
(533c2–3). But for the recitation or the interpretation, the text of Homer kindles
Ion: from εὐθύς τε ἐγρήγορα καὶ προσέχω τὸν νοῦν καὶ εὐπορῶ ὅτι λέγω
(532c3–4) arises ἐγρήγορέν τε καὶ προσέχει τὸν νοῦν καὶ εὐπορεῖ ὅτι εἴπῃ
(533a5) for painting. The model is polarized, marked by parallel structures: the
crucial point here is δεινός, a term that Plato offers for painting, δεινός ἐστιν
ἀποφαίνειν (532e8–9), for sculpture with δεινός ἐστιν ἐξηγεῖσθαι (533b2), for
music, in particular after the mention of Olympus, with δεινός ἐστιν ἐξηγεῖσθαι
(533b8)²⁴. Form pervades explanation after explanation. It is plausible at this
stage to postulate a good capable judge only with regard to Polygnotus and Dae-
dalus, Epeius and Theodorus? With emphatic force for painting, ἑνὸς μόνου
(533a4): for sculpture a more balanced ἑνὸς πέρι (533b2).
But one may progress. In the frame of archaic production, the incipit, the ex-
hortative λάβωμεν (532e4), recalls the invocation: for example the invocation
that, in the Iliad, opens the catalogue of the ships (II 484–493) or that, at the
end of the Theogony of Hesiod, makes the catalogue of women natural (1019 –
1022). And the incipit reaches us interwoven with the quantitative problem, ἁπα-
σῶν, with the result of research, σκέψις (532c5–d3)²⁵. The catalogue indicates the
style achieved through paratactic accumulation. With ἤ Plato separates the Dae-
dalus, Epeius, Theodorus sequence (533a7–b2) and the Olympus, Thamyris, Or-
pheus, Phemius sequence (533b7–c1), with οὐδέ he underlines the result for
music, in particular the τέχνη of the flute, the τέχνη of the cithara, the τέχνη
On the function of item, entry and rubric in a catalogue, Sammons (2010, pp. 3–22).
For similar questions in the text of Homer, Edwards (1980, pp. 81–105).
On δεινὸς ἐπαινέτης as adequate adulation of Ion, Lowenstam (1993, pp. 19–32).
For the quantitative problem in the invocation which opens the catalogue, Minton (1962,
pp. 188–212) and De Sanctis (2006, pp. 11–33).
Plato and the Catalogue Form in Ion
of song with the cithara and the τέχνη of rhapsodists (533b6–7): ἤ after ἤ, step
by step, οὐδέ after οὐδέ, the discourse that Plato offers on ἐνθουσιασμός reaches
us with plasitc force.
This discourse is rendered concrete by the systematic use of antedating.With
the frame of ἐνθουσιασμός, Plato wishes to project Ion onto archaic production,
connected with the god and the origin of inspiration. In the Iliad, knowledge, a
knowledge of the past that the author does not own, reaches us from the abode
of the god (I 1–7, II 484–493, II 760 –762, XI 218–220, XIV 508–510). With the
invocation, the author obtains knowledge, which is indispensable for the narra-
tion. Certainly, in the Odyssey, the direction is mostly similar (I 1–10, VIII 72–78,
VIII 471–498, XVII 518–521). A knowledge that flows through invocation, which
is a concrete favour by the god.
It is not difficult, however, to observe a sign of a rather important dynamic.
Phemius is guided by νόος (I 345–349), Demodocus by θυμός (VIII 40 –45). The
implacable massacre descends on the μνηστῆρες and does not involve Phemius
who in the song, even if constrained by the μνηστῆρες, is αὐτοδίδακτος: he pos-
sesses knowledge and does not neglect research (XXII 344–353)²⁶. In the proem
to the Theogony, the knowledge arrives unexpectedly to Hesiod (22–34). But it
nevertheless arises from a selection, because the shepherd destined for song
is not common on the barren slopes of Helicon. Criticism has perceived here
an ‘I’ that, in the proem to the Erga, indicates in Zeus not just knowledge, but
an ally for the rebuilding of a pact on the basis of δίκη (1–10)²⁷. Tradition no lon-
ger has any sense. Soon, with the πανάριστος, the conscience of Hesiod goes be-
yond Zeus (293–297)²⁸. But Parmenides brings it to the zenith. He transfers νόος,
Phemius, and θυμός, Demodocus, to the proem, and indeed with the image of
the ὁδός, collocates the πανάριστος of Hesiod there (28B1, 1–5 DK)²⁹. In the
proem, which in the code of archaic production contained the invocation. Parme-
nides passes beyond the shadows guided by θυμός: tradition offers the code to
ensheath in solemn elegance the knowledge gained through research³⁰.
With the frame of ἐνθουσιασμός, Plato conceals a slow development. Ion in-
dicates the magnetic force of Homer, which reaches down link by link from the
god and eventually lights on the dreamy listener as victim. Plato certainly recalls
the condition of the Iliad, through the invocation of the god for song, and the
condition of the Odyssey, through the inspiration that the author without merit
On the peculiar combination with the support of Zeus, Danek (1998, pp. 435–438).
See Thalmann (1984, pp. 33–77).
See Arrighetti (2006, pp. 3–27).
For the relevance of this choice, Giuliano (2005, pp. 137–218).
See Tulli (2000, pp. 65–81).
asks for. Daedalus and Thamyris or Epeius and Orpheus: a glorious past that Ion
suggests because he is lacking in τέχνη and in thrall to the god. And the glorious
past emerges through the form for excellence of archaic production: the cata-
logue. Phemius, αὐτοδίδακτος, is not reconcilable with the frame of ἐνθουσια-
σμός. Plato collocates Ion before Hesiod: Socrates is the πανάριστος of Hesiod,
whose purpose is philosophy.
Arrighetti, G 2006, Poesia, poetiche e storia nella riflessione dei Greci, Giardini, Pisa.
Balansard, A 2001, Technè dans les dialogues de Platon, Academia Verlag, Sankt Augustin.
Blondell, R 2002, The Play of Character in Plato’s Dialogues, CUP, Cambridge.
Cambiano, G 1966, ‘Dialettica, medicina, retorica nel Fedro platonico’, Rivista di Filosofia 57,
Capuccino, C 2005, Filosofi e rapsodi, CLUEB, Bologna.
Cerri, G 1996
, Platone sociologo della comunicazione, Argo, Lecce.
Danek, G 1998, Epos und Zitat, Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften,
De Sanctis, D 2006, Tecnica compositiva nel Catalogo di Esiodo, in G Arrighetti & M Tulli
(eds), Esegesi letteraria e riflessione sulla lingua nella cultura greca, Giardini, Pisa,
Diller, H 1971, ‘Probleme des platonischen Ion’, Hermes 83 (1955), pp. 171–187, now in
Kleine Schriften zur antiken Literatur, Beck, München, pp. 201–219.
Edwards, M W 1980, ‘The Structure of Homeric Catalogues’, Transactions of the American
Philological Association 110, pp. 81–105.
Flashar, H 1958, Der Dialog Ion als Zeugnis platonischer Philosophie, Akademie-Verlag,
Giannantoni, G 2005, Dialogo socratico e nascita della dialettica nella filosofia di Platone,
Giuliano, F M 2005, Platone e la poesia, Academia Verlag, Sankt Augustin.
Halliwell, S 2002, The Aesthetics of Mimesis, Princeton University Press, Princeton-Oxford.
Heitsch, E 1992, ‘Die Argumentationsstruktur im Ion’, Rheinisches Museum n. F. 133 (1990),
pp. 243–259, now in Wege zu Platon, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen, pp. 88–101.
Janaway, C 1992, ‘Craft and Fineness in Plato’s Ion’, Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy 10,
Keuls, E C 1978, Plato and Greek Painting, Brill, Leiden.
Lowenstam, S 1993, ‘Is Literary Criticism an Illegitimate Discipline? A Fallacious Argument in
Plato’s Ion’, Ramus 22, pp. 19–32.
Minton, W W 1962, ‘Invocation and Catalogue in Hesiod and Homer’, Transactions of the
American Philological Association 93, pp. 188–212.
Murray, P 1996, Plato on Poetry, CUP, Cambridge.
Palumbo, L 2008, Mimesis, Loffredo, Napoli.
Pöhlmann, E 1976, ‘Enthusiasmus und Mimesis: zum platonischen Ion’, Gymnasium 83,
Plato and the Catalogue Form in Ion
Regali, M 2012, Il poeta e il demiurgo, Academia Verlag, Sankt Augustin.
Reinhardt, K 1960, ‘Hekataios von Abdera und Demokrit’, Hermes 47 (1912), pp. 492–513,
now in Vermächtnis der Antike, Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen, pp. 114–132.
Rijksbaron, A 2007, Plato, Ion, Brill, Leiden-Boston.
Sammons, B 2010, The Art and Rhetoric of the Homeric Catalogue, OUP, Oxford.
Schweitzer, B 1932, Xenokrates von Athen, Niemeyer, Halle.
Thalmann, W G 1984, Conventions of Form and Thought in Early Greek Epic Poetry, Johns
Hopkins University Press, Baltimore-London.
Tobin, R 1975, ‘The Canon of Polycleitos’, American Journal of Archeology 79, pp. 307–321.
Tulli, M 2000, Esiodo nella memoria di Parmenide, in G Arrighetti & M Tulli (eds), Letteratura
e riflessione sulla letteratura nella cultura classica, Giardini, Pisa, pp. 65–81.
Tulli, M 2013, ‘La μίμησις nel III libro della Repubblica: il rapporto di Platone con la
tradizione’, in N Notomi & L Brisson (eds), Dialogues on Plato’s Politeia, Academia
Verlag, Sankt Augustin, pp. 314–318.
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von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, U 1969
, Platon, II, Weidmann, Dublin-Zürich.
Orphic Aristophanes at Plato’s Symposium
Plato is a philosopher, so he is not ashamed of abstracting from private facts that
which he believes as the universal truth. And Plato is a dramatic poet, in a way
that, whether true or false, facts must consist of a wholeness of image and story.
He is, therefore, a tributary author of Apollo and Dionysus. These two classical
axioms guide our readings of the characters in Plato’s dialogues. And each char-
acter is a private entrance to the understanding of his philosophical theater.
In this study, we are going to explore one of his most instigating, and
therefore, controversial characters: Aristophanes, the comedy writer. It is about a
central character at the Symposium, whose shadow also reaches other dialogues,
either through clear references to his name and works, as in the Apology², or in
less clear references imitating or pointing to his verses or poetic procedures, as in
the delusional etymology of Cratylus³.
Aristophanes is an important historical character of the 5th century Atheni-
an culture, whose works were fairly well conveyed to us (eleven full comedies,
from about forty he wrote). However, the character constructed by Plato in the
dialogues not only has a real documented reference, namely that of a writer, it
provides us textually with a style of speech, and also a discursive genre. Apart
from the possibility of comparing the speech and actions of the character built
by Plato with the works of the historic personality, this fact opens the possibility
of constructing a particular reading of Plato’s Symposium as a dialogue which
not only depicts some 5th BC century Athenian high culture celebrities having
a dialogue and making compliments to the god Eros, but also brings into play
a friendly and yet loving dispute between the representatives of literary genres.
It is not surprising to readers and interpreters of the Symposium that a com-
petition of speeches in it is composed of speeches which are not only the expres-
sion of their authors, but also representatives of discursive genres: the epic myth-
ology, the medical art, Gorgias’ rhetoric, the disproving dialectics, the initiatory
mystique, comedy, tragedy, among many other genres which with interested eyes
it can be interpreted. Not always is the correspondence between the discursive
genre and the character univocal. In his speech, Socrates, for example, tries
many genres like the fable, the dialectic disproof, the narrative mime… Nor
English translation by Collin Bowles, revised by Nicholas Riegel. I gratefully acknowledge the
financial assistance of Capes (Brazil)/Cofecub (France) for this research.
18d. Cf. Santoro, F. “La citation des Nuées dans l’Apologie de Socrate de Platon” (2013).
Cf. Buarque, L. (2011).
does the speech made by the Platonic character necessarily correspond to the
discursive genre in which the real character composes; so, the speech by Aga-
thon, the acclaimed author of tragedy, is, by no means, a tragic speech, rather
a perfectly structured encomium according to Gorgias’ stylistic. Therefore, even
if it is well established that the Symposium is an erotic duel of discursive genres,
the interpretative contention among commentators for the identification of said
genres and their implications inside the general sense of the dialogue is still in-
teresting and even controversial.
With Aristophanes, we believe his Platonic character also has a complex
construction which evades the univocity expected by the most current reading,
according to which it is a character with comic gestures and speech.⁴ Well,
what else could one expect from a comedy writer? For though there is a clear
comic character in Aristophanes’ gestures and speech in the Symposium, I be-
lieve it is also possible to extract from there elements of other discursive genres
and to investigate the Platonic proposals when constructing and giving life to
that character in the dialogic theater of the Symposium. I still believe it to be a
mistake, that not even the great Aristotle shirked from⁵, to believe that the
works necessarily mimic their author and that, therefore, the composition of
comedies must born from a man of comic character. If so, and we deduce the
author’s character through the genre of the works, we probably would not get
to the famous conclusion to which Socrates induces the resistant guests at the
end of the Symposium: that the same author is able to write comedies and trag-
edies⁶. That conclusion is shown with the omission of the Socratic arguments
and adds to the long list of Platonic enigmas, always with varied interpretations.
For that enigma, I still cannot find anything better than the famous answer by
Wilamowitz, that a so-called dramatic author is a self-reference to Plato himself
and his dialectic art⁷. So we prefer to free the works from this interpretation
Cf. Wilamowitz-Moellendorff (1959), Platon: sein Leben und seine Werke, pp.307–308; Hein-
) (2007 French translation, p.70); Strauss (2001) p.119.
Agathon, Aristophanes and Socrates are the only ones who still resist sleep and spend the
night talking. In the morning Aristodemus finds them arguing whether the same man, through
poetry, is able to write a comedy and a tragedy. Socrates makes them admit it so.
“For those oppositions, the artist who put the pictures side by side, mixed all their colors;
Phaedo is laid out in completely dark tones, the symposium shines in colorful lights. But Soc-
rates is the winner in both, winner over the others, over the world, because he won himself,
raised as a hero by the power of Plato’s poetry. Tragedy and comedy are complementary: only
when we read them as such, we can reach the full understanding, the full pleasure.” Wilamo-
witz-Moellendorff (1959), pp.307–308.
through the mimesis of the author’s character and understand that the reasons
can have their own course.
But let us not be fooled by another ruse of fiction: it is not about identifying
Aristophanes’ personality, the comedy author, with his genre of poetic writing or
with any of his other characters. We are neither in the backstage of the theater of
Athens nor examining one of Aristophanes’ plays, but we are in the theatrical
scene of a Platonic dialogue. Now, this might as well build Aristophanes’s char-
acter in the Symposium as Aristophanes himself constructs a comic character. To
some extent Plato does it, as if meeting the common expectations of seeing a
comic comedy writer. However, to reiterate, we believe the Platonic character
is more complex and other traits beyond comedy can be glimpsed in the Sympo-
sium’s Aristophanes. We are not then going to worry so much about what is
comic, which has already been very much addressed by Platonizing readers;
rather, we are going to search for other discursive genres which are also repre-
sented by this Aristophanes.
A particularly interesting reading, in this line of investigation, is the one pro-
posed by Lucas Soares (2002) in an article called “La concepción del poeta trag-
icômico en el Banquete de Platon”. For him, the Platonic Aristophanes is the one
who meets the aforementioned enigma of the poet able to write tragedy and
comedy. Soares lists and describes the elements of comedy and tragedy compris-
ing the character’s speech like this. They are, on the tragic side: 1. The resource to
mythology; 2. The hubris of ancient human nature; 3. Human beings as the gods’
toys; 4. Eros’ tragic conception as an attempt to restore the lost archaic integrity;
5. The intervention of practical reason in the erotic quest process; 6. The piety/
impiety towards the gods. From the comic side he lists: 1. The physical move-
ments of ancient human nature; 2. The conferences of the gods in the form of
parody; 3. Pederasts and politics; 4. The reference to the relationship between
Pausanias and Agathon and their effeminate characters.
Soares’ reading points out the complex composition of the character’s ges-
tures and speech, with elements which can be attributed to comic and tragic gen-
res. I would dispute whether it results in a tragicomic text or effect and whether
it meets the suggestion of the poet idealized by Socrates. If Aristophanes is in the
Symposium a character of tragic and comic traits, Plato is still the most dramatic
poet responsible for the composition. In this sense we can include everything he
does as a dramatic character in his characterization: his gestural interventions,
such as hiccups, laughter and sneezes, his comments between the lines of the
other guests and his encomium speech to Eros. On the other hand, if we do
not see Aristophanes in his wholeness as a character, but only as a character
characterized as a poet—meaning that at the moment he delivers his speech,
the comic and tragic traits are sewn in the quilt of another discursive genre, a
Orphic Aristophanes at Plato’s Symposium
kind of cosmogonic narrative, a myth followed by a performance, analogous to
the myth of Prometheus and Pandora, which Plato puts in the mouth of another
of his characters: Protagoras, in the homonymous dialogue⁸—tragicomedy would
then be deprived of many of its properly theatrical elements, even if the narrative
is full of dramatic elements, such as the scenes of insurrection of men, confer-
ence of gods, punishment and reparation.
I would like to propose a different reading of the genre of speech which is
represented by Aristophanes, which would also be able to include both the
comic and tragic elements which are present in his encomium to Eros. The read-
ing I suggest is previously announced by Socrates (177d-e), when the proposal
made by Phaedrus and endorsed by Eryximachus is accepted by himself and
(1) “No one, Eryximachus”, said Socrates, “will vote against you: I do not see how I could
myself decline, when I set up to understand nothing but love-matters; nor could Agathon
and Pausanias either, nor yet Aristophanes, who divides his time between Dionysus and
Aphrodite; nor could any other of the persons I see before me.⁹
Οὐδείς σοι, ὦ Ἐρυξίμαχε, φάναι τὸν Σωκράτη, ἐναντία ψηφιεῖται. οὔτε γὰρ ἄν που ἐγὼ ἀπο-
φήσαιμι, ὃς οὐδέν φημι ἄλλο ἐπίστασθαι ἢ τὰ ἐρωτικά, οὔτε που ᾿Aγάθων καὶ Παυσανίας,
οὐδὲ μὴν ᾿Aριστοφάνης, ᾧ περὶ Διόνυσον καὶ ᾿Aφροδίτην πᾶσα ἡ διατριβή, οὐδὲ ἄλλος οὐ-
δεὶς τουτωνὶ ὧν ἐγὼ ὁρῶ.
Aristophanes is introduced as somebody whose vital occupation (diatribe) is
fully dedicated around Dionysus and Aphrodite. In general it is only believed
that Aristophanes is a man busy with theater and lust. With theater he surely
is, but, apart from this mention, I do not know of any historic information
that the comic writer has been a lustful man. I allow myself another more literal
reading: Aristophanes deals with issues involving the gods Dionysus and Aphro-
dite, from the effective theological point of view. From the Greek theological
point of view, it is obviously a question for the theológoi, which means, for the
poets. He shows his theological perspective from the beginning of his speech,
when he recriminates men for “not being sensitive to Eros’ power, since if
they had noticed it, they would build him the largest temples and altars and
would make the greatest sacrifices”.¹⁰
In this perspective I would like to read Aristophanes’ speech as a speech
coming from an Orphic-Dionysian background of wisdom. From said background
320c – 322e.
Translated by Lamb, W. R. M. (1925).
189c. ἐμοὶ γὰρ δοκοῦσιν ἅνθρωποι παντάπασι τὴν τοῦ ἔρωτος δύναμιν οὐκ ᾐσθῆσθαι, ἐπεὶ
αἰσθανόμενοί γε μέγιστ’ ἂν αὐτοῦ ἱερὰ κατασκευάσαι καὶ βωμούς, καὶ θυσίας ἂν ποιεῖν μεγίστας.
theatrical spectacles such as comedy and tragedy also originated, and for this
reason comic and tragic elements are also found in his speech. This is not be-
cause he is innovating in the elaboration of a tragicomic genre, but because
he is talking about from a common origin of many Dionysian manifestations
and speeches. Aristophanes is one of the Dionysian voices speaking in Plato’s
Let us recollect Aristophanes’ speech, firstly paying attention to the cosmo-
gonic myth narrating the origin of human race. The myth told by Aristophanes is
probably an origin of what will be amongst us a widespread conception of love:
the attraction for the “soul mate”. It is also the first image of the Platonic con-
ception of desire and pleasure, as repletion of a lack, an idea which will be re-
sumed in Socrates’ speech¹¹ and also in the Philebus, which is about pleasures¹².
Aristophanes announces that to compliment Eros’ powers it is necessary “to
learn about human nature and its conditions”. His myth narrates a genealogy
of human race, in a structure very similar to myths of origin, such as Prome-
theus’, which we have already noticed, or even Adam (to not only stay in the
Greek tradition) – essentially tragic myths. First, men lived in an idyllic, power-
ful and self-sufficient prime condition; they were twice as strong and fast be-
cause they were twice as we are today: four legs, four arms, two faces on a
head, four ears, two genitals… Their shape was spherical and made a full
whole – holon. There were not two genders, but three: male, the son of the
Sun; female, the son of the Earth; and the androgynous, the son of the Moon,
with male and female features. As they were very powerful and self-sufficient,
they arrogantly turned against the gods. This is another tragic element, as
noted by Soares: hubris. Zeus punishes them by breaking them in two. To
these amputations, Diotima’s speech will make a reference in Socrates’ speech.
The description of ball men and the sewing surgery performed by Zeus and Apol-
lo is completely achieved with figures and vocabulary of comedy, including som-
ersaults, one-legged jumps, skin twitches, patched belly buttons, folds and riv-
ets. After the surgery finished, the number of men doubled, but their power
weakened to half and, the main thing, they were not self-sufficient anymore,
Socrates puts in Diotima’s mouth a correction to Aristophanes’ idea: The desire is not to com-
plete a lack if that fullness is not beautiful. Making a clear reference to the image of the ampu-
tations that appear in the speech of the comedy writer (205e)Καὶ λέγεται μέν γέ τις, ἔφη, λόγος,
ὡς οἳ ἂν τὸ ἥμισυἑαυτῶν ζητῶσιν, οὗτοι ἐρῶσιν· ὁ δ’ ἐμὸς λόγος οὔτε ἡμίσεόςφησιν εἶναι τὸν
ἔρωτα οὔτε ὅλου, ἐὰν μὴ τυγχάνῃ γέ που,ὦ ἑταῖρε, ἀγαθὸν ὄν, ἐπεὶ αὑτῶν γε καὶ πόδας καὶ χεῖ-
ραςἐθέλουσιν ἀποτέμνεσθαι οἱ ἄνθρωποι, ἐὰν αὐτοῖς δοκῇ τὰἑαυτῶν πονηρὰ εἶναι. Aristophanes
still tries a replica (212c) but he is interrupted by the untimely entry of Alcibiades.
Cf. the “Catártica” chapter in Santoro (2007).
Orphic Aristophanes at Plato’s Symposium
winning the current human condition of needy beings, who need to run after
their satisfaction; they are not full wholes anymore, but incomplete beings.
Breaking in two, there were only two genders left: male and female, because
the androgynous also dissolved in both. Scattered halves, they ran to connect
with their matches and when united they did not leave each other, and succum-
bed, inseparable, to inertia and starvation. Again the gods had to take action: so
they changed the genitals of humans to the front, making the union of male and
female genders generate the offspring, and, especially, making that union gener-
ate enjoyment and satisfaction in a way which allows the lovers to separate and
to carry out the other errands of life. The Aristophanic wisdom is: pleasure is not
what attracts lovers, but something which allows them, when fulfilled, to sepa-
rate! Pleasure is not an end as an aim, a teleological end of a loving activity.
Pleasure is an end as extreme, which consummates and ends the movement
of desire; it is the eschatological end of desire. So that enjoyment is not what
determines love, but only what allows the calm of that flame and thus seasons
the moods of human nature. Love bearing enjoyment is what heals the indigence
of prime division, at the same time allowing a harmonious life to each human
soul mate. For this reason, Aristophanes’ Eros is the most philanthropist
god¹³, the same feature usually attributed by the Greek to Prometheus. This lov-
ing union gets a very significant name from the poet. He calls it sýmbolon. The
“symbol” is originally a medal-shaped pottery piece which friends break in
two, as a sign of friendship and hospitality. Each friend has what complements
the other. Aristophanes mentions the two values of symbolic love: philia – mu-
tual friendship, and oikeiotés – intimacy, being at ease at home. So he provides
the interpretative key of his mythical narrative, which will constitute his defini-
tion of love: “Therefore, Eros is the name of the desire and search for the whole.”
This sentence concentrates the nucleus of what we call Dionysian wisdom: the
eternal coming back – the breaking of parts as a lack, the quest for the whole,
the cathartic resolution in the whole – and that we will find in other poetical
and even philosophical manifestations about Dionysus. To find it, let us examine
the relationship between the cosmogonic myth of the origin of men delivered by
Aristophanes of the Symposium and other cosmogonic myths. First let us com-
pare it with the cosmogonic myth delivered by the choir of the Birds by Aristo-
phanes, who is in this case the direct author and not Plato’s character. There we
will see more similarity of images than content, but from this comparison we will
be able to find in Orphic cosmogonies and anthropogonies the model of speech
which probably inspired the composition of the myth of the Symposium. Then we
189d ἔστι γὰρ θεῶν φιλανθρωπότατος.
will compare it to Orphic versions of the birth of Dionysus Zagreus, which are
also myths about the origin of the human race and which seem to be the
main inspiration of Platonic texts. Through this inspiration we will understand
that Aristophanes is one of the many voices of Dionysus we find in the dialogue,
the voice which starts the initiation rite in the Symposium, a rite which will con-
tinue in the voices of Diotima and Alcibiades – characters we will not discuss
As we already noted, Aristophanes is Plato’s character who is subject to com-
parison with texts written by the historic personality. So that, for an understand-
ing of the meaning of the character and the way Plato constructs it, the first clear
step is to search for analoguous elements in the texts written by Aristophanes
which are a legacy to us.
There is a passage in the choir of the comedy The Birds, which is in many
aspects similar to the speech of the character of the Symposium. No one can
help suspecting it guided Plato in the composition of the speech attributed to
him. It is about a cosmogony, under the perspective of the birds, in which the
prime generating element is an egg laid by the night and in which all gods
are winged. Aristophanes explores the oviparous image in a comic manner,
but the expression of cosmogonies with the images of an egg and winged
gods, particularly love, is not new. In the poems by Empedocles¹⁴ we find a criti-
cism of that type of figuration of the gods, which supposes it is part of a tradi-
tional lineage of theogonies, although different from the Hesiodic lineage. Con-
sider the choir of the comedy:
(2) The Birds 693–702
At the beginning there was only Chaos, Night, dark Erebus, and deep Tartarus. Earth, the
air and heaven had no existence. Firstly, black-winged Night laid a germless egg in the
bosom of the infinite deeps of Erebus, and from this, after the revolution of long ages,
sprang the graceful Eros with his glittering golden wings, swift as the whirlwinds of the
tempest. He mated in deep Tartarus with dark Chaos, winged like himself and thus hatched
forth our race, which was the first to see the light. That of the Immortals did not exist until
Eros had brought together all the ingredients of the world, and from their marriage Heaven,
Ocean, Earth and the imperishable race of blessed gods sprang into being. Thus our origin
is very much older than that of the dwellers in Olympus. We are the offspring of Eros; there
are a thousand proofs to show it. We have wings and we lend assistance to lovers. ¹⁵
Χάος ἦν καὶ Νὺξ Ἔρεβός τε μέλαν πρῶτον καὶ Τάρταρος εὐρύς·
γῆ δ’ οὐδ’ ἀὴρ οὐδ’ οὐρανὸς ἦν· Ἐρέβους δ’ ἐν ἀπείροσι κόλποις
695 τίκτει πρώτιστον ὑπηνέμιον Νὺξ ἡ μελανόπτερος ᾠόν,
Cf. frag. 134 DK.
Anonym Transl. by Athenian Society, London (1912).
Orphic Aristophanes at Plato’s Symposium
ἐξ οὗ περιτελλομέναις ὥραις ἔβλαστεν Ἔρως ὁ ποθεινός,
στίλβων νῶτον πτερύγοιν χρυσαῖν, εἰκὼς ἀνεμώκεσι δίναις.
Οὗτος δὲ Χάει πτερόεντι μιγεὶς νύχιος κατὰ Τάρταρον εὐρὺν
ἐνεόττευσεν γένος ἡμέτερον, καὶ πρῶτον ἀνήγαγεν εἰς φῶς.
700 Πρότερον δ’ οὐκ ἦν γένος ἀθανάτων, πρὶν Ἔρως ξυνέμειξεν ἅπαντα·
ξυμμειγνυμένων δ’ ἑτέρων ἑτέροις γένετ’ οὐρανὸς ὠκεανός τε
καὶ γῆ πάντων τε θεῶν μακάρων γένος ἄφθιτον. Ὧδε μέν ἐσμεν
πολὺ πρεσβύτατοι πάντων μακάρων ἡμεῖς. Ὡς δ’ ἐσμὲν Ἔρωτος
πολλοῖς δῆλον· πετόμεσθά <τε> γὰρ καὶ τοῖσιν ἐρῶσι σύνεσμεν
As opposed to the myth told in the Symposium, it is not about the origin of men
(anthropogony) but the origin of gods from the primeval deities (theogony). How-
ever, we already have some important elements of the characterization of a Dio-
nysian wisdom which also appears in the myth of the Symposium. First, the
image of a primeval sphere, the cosmic egg similar to the first spherical and
whole men. These men, in the myth of the Symposium, are direct children of cos-
mic entities: the sun, the earth and the moon; therefore they are round as them.
The sphere and the cycle are recurrent images from the Dionysian wisdom. Be-
sides, we have the presence of Eros with his power responsible for mixing all
things and intertwining lovers. This model of cosmogonic theogony dates back
to the Orphic theogonies such as Protogonos’ (6th century B.C.), and the original
deity which appears in the Orphic Hymns, with the same images of a primeval
egg and winged powers. Let us see the hymn to Protogonos (a Hellenistic version
from 3rd and 4th centuries).
O Mighty first-begotten [Protogonos], hear my pray’r, two-fold, egg-born, and wand’ring
thro’ the air, Bull-roarer, glorying in thy golden wings, from whom the race of Gods and
mortals springs. Ericapæus [Erikapaios], celebrated pow’r, ineffable, occult, all shining
flow’r. From eyes obscure thou wip’st the gloom of night, all-spreading splendour, pure
and holy light hence Phanes call’d, the glory of the sky, on waving pinions thro’ the
world you fly. Priapus, dark-ey’d splendour, thee I sing, genial, all-prudent, ever-blessed
king, with joyful aspect on our rights divine and holy sacrifice propitious shine. ¹⁶
Πρωτόγονον καλέω διφυῆ, μέγαν, αἰθερόπλαγκτον,
ὠιογενῆ, χρυσέαισιν ἀγαλλόμενον πτερύγεσσι,
ταυροβόαν, γένεσιν μακάρων θνητῶν τ’ ἀνθρώπων,
σπέρμα πολύμνηστον, πολυόργιον, Ἠρικεπαῖον,
ἄρρητον, κρύφιον ῥοιζήτορα, παμφαὲς ἔρνος,
ὄσσων ὃς σκοτόεσσαν ἀπημαύρωσας ὁμίχλην
The Hymns of Orpheus. Translated by Taylor, Thomas (1792). University of Pennsylvania
Press, 1999. (current edition)
πάντη δινηθεὶς πτερύγων ῥιπαῖς κατὰ κόσμον
λαμπρὸν ἄγων φάος ἁγνόν, ἀφ’ οὗ σε Φάνητα κικλήσκω
ἠδὲ Πρίηπον ἄνακτα καὶ ᾿Aνταύγην ἑλίκωπον.
ἀλλά, μάκαρ, πολύμητι, πολύσπορε, βαῖνε γεγηθὼς
ἐς τελετὴν ἁγίαν πολυποίκιλον ὀργιοφάνταις.
The construction of the cosmogonic myth of The Birds by Aristophanes follows
the cosmogony present in Orphic myths in a form of parody, making use of im-
ages, cosmic entities and the Dionysian wisdom background of a happiness in
the originating spherical whole. We can assume that to mimic Aristophanes,
Plato had not chosen to reproduce any text by the comedy writer, but had
used the same method to comically parody the same lineage of sources. He
did not copy Aristophanes, but as a good playwright, he put himself in his
own perspective of poetic composition. So, we believe that the anthropogonic
myth told by the Symposium’s Aristophanes is directly built from Orphic anthro-
pogonic myths, as well as the cosmogonic myth of the Birds is made from its cos-
The Orphic anthropogonic myth par excellence is Dionysus’ dismemberment
myth. Dionysus is the cosmic link between immortal deities and mortal beings.
Dionysus is Life which renews in the cycles of nature: the seasons, the alterna-
tion of generations. In it death is not the end but the return to the starting point
to a new beginning. This is the myth of Dionysus’ dismemberment and resurrec-
tion which is latent in the myth of humans born from cutting in two halves, told
by Aristophanes in the Symposium, with the same magic plot and its significant
elements, even sometimes remixed. We do not have all the elements and the plot
of the myth of death and resurrection of Dionysus Zagreus together in the same
source. The text of the original theogony has not come intact to us, only traces in
references and quotations. The most complete passage we found in Protrepticus
by Clement of Alexandria, a Christian apologist from the 2nd – 3rd century who
mentions it to exemplify the pagan savagery and punctuates the narrative with
comments of censorship and ridicule.¹⁷ It is conjectured that the contents to
which Clement had access, called Initiation (Telete), a poem attributed to Or-
pheus, date back to a tradition which was possibly put in text by Onomacritus,
a counselor of Pisistratus, in the 6th century B.C. Let us see the text by Clement:
For an analysis of the references to Dionysus in Clement of Alexandria’s Protrepticus, cf.
Orphic Aristophanes at Plato’s Symposium
The mysteries of Dionysus are wholly inhuman¹⁸; for while still a child, and the Curetes
danced around [his cradle] clashing their weapons, and the Titans having come upon
them by stealth, and having beguiled him with childish toys, these very Titans tore him
limb from limb when but a child, as the bard of this mystery, the Thracian Orpheus,
says: – “Cone, and spinning-top, and, and fair golden apples from the clear-toned Hesper-
ides.” This was a common story among the infant gods: “Now the lofty Ida resounds with
tinklings, that the boy may cry in safety with infant mouth. Some strike their shields with
stakes, some beat their empty helmets. This is the employment of the Curetes, this of the
Corybantes. The matter was concealed, and imitations of the ancient deed remain; the at-
tendant goddesses shake instruments of brass, and hoarse hides. Instead of helmets they
strike cymbals, and drums instead of shields; the flute gives Phrygian strains, as it gave be-
fore.” And the useless symbols of this mystic rite it will not be useless to exhibit for con-
demnation. These are dice, ball, hoop, apples, top, looking-glass, tuft of wool. Athena, to
resume our account, having abstracted the heart of Dionysus, was called Pallas, from
the vibrating of the heart; and the Titans who had torn him limb from limb, setting a cal-
dron on a tripod, and throwing into it the members of Dionysus, first boiled them down,
and then fixing them on spits, “held them over the fire.” But Zeus having appeared,
since he was a god, having speedily perceived the savour of the pieces of flesh that were
being cooked, —that savour which your gods agree to have assigned to them as their per-
quisite, assails the Titans with his thunderbolt, and consigns the members of Dionysus to
his son Apollo to be interred.¹⁹
II, 17, 2–18, 1 (Kern, fr. 35) Τὰ γὰρ Διονύσου μυστήρια τέλεον ἀπάνθρωπα• ὃν εἰσέτι παῖδα
ὄντα ἐνόπλῳ κινήσει περιχορευόντων Κουρήτων, δόλῳ δὲ ὑποδύντων Τιτάνων, ἀπατήσαν-
τες παιδαριώδεσιν ἀθύρμασιν, οὗτοι δὴ οἱ Τιτᾶνες διέσπασαν, ἔτι νηπίαχον ὄντα, ὡς ὁ τῆς
Τελετῆς ποιητὴς Ὀρφεύς φησιν ὁ Θρᾴκιος· κῶνος καὶ ῥόμβος καὶ παίγνια καμπεσίγυια,
μῆλά τε χρύσεα καλὰ παρ’ Ἑσπερίδων λιγυφώνων. Καὶ τῆσδε ὑμῖν τῆς τελετῆς τὰ ἀχρεῖα
σύμβολα οὐκ ἀχρεῖον εἰς κατάγνωσιν παραθέσθαι· ἀστράγαλος, σφαῖρα, στρόβιλος, μῆλα,
ῥόμβος, ἔσοπτρον, πόκος. ᾿Aθηνᾶ μὲν οὖν τὴν καρδίαν τοῦ Διονύσου ὑφελομένη Παλλὰς
ἐκ τοῦ πάλλειν τὴν καρδίαν προσηγορεύθη· οἱ δὲ Τιτᾶνες, οἱ καὶ διασπάσαντες αὐτόν, λέβ-
ητά τινα τρίποδι ἐπιθέντες καὶ τοῦ Διονύσου ἐμβαλόντες τὰ μέλη, καθήψουν πρότερον·ἔ-
πειτα ὀβελίσκοις περιπείραντες “ὑπείρεχον Ἡφαίστοιο.” Ζεὺς δὲ ὕστερον ἐπιφανείς (εἰ
θεὸς ἦν, τάχα που τῆς κνίσης τῶν ὀπτωμένων κρεῶν μεταλαβών, ἧς δὴ τὸ “γέρας
λαχεῖν” ὁμολογοῦσιν ὑμῶν οἱ θεοί) κεραυνῷ τοὺς Τιτᾶνας αἰκίζεται καὶ τὰ μέλη τοῦ Διονύ-
σου ᾿Aπόλλωνι τῷ παιδὶ παρακατατίθεται καταθάψαι.
We also find a version of Dionysus’ death by the Titans in the Dionysian by Non-
nus of Panopolis, an Egyptian epic poet from the 3rd – 4th century:
(5) But he did not hold the throne of Zeus for long. By the fierce resentment of implacable
Hera, the Titans cunningly smeared their round faces with disguising chalk, and while he
contemplated his changeling countenance reflected in a mirror they destroyed him with an
Christian comment by Clement.
Translated by Schaff, Philip (1885).
infernal knife.²⁰ There where his limbs had been cut piecemeal by the Titan steel, the end of
his life was the beginning of a new life as Dionysos.²¹
VI, 169–175 οὐδὲ Διὸς θρόνον εἶχεν ἐπὶ χρόνον• ἀλλά ἑγύψῳ
κερδαλέῃ χρισθέντες ἐπίκλοπα κύκλα προσώπου
δαίμονος ἀστόργοιο χόλῳ βαρυμήνιος Ἥρης
Ταρταρίῃ Τιτῆνες ἐδηλήσαντο μαχαίρῃ
ἀντιτύπῳ νόθον εἶδος ὀπιπεύοντα κατόπτρῳ.
ἔνθα διχαζομένων μελέων Τιτῆνι σιδήρῳ
τέρμα βίου Διόνυσος ἔχων παλινάγρετον ἀρχὴν
There are older references to the Orphic version of the birth of Dionysus dismem-
bered by the Titans and resurrected, as in the historian Plutarch, 1st – 2nd cen-
tury (De Esu Carnium 996c, De E apud Delphos 388E), in Diodorus Siculus, 1st
century (Biblioteca Historica, III, 62; V, 75), in one of the Aristotelian Problems²²
(Unpublished Problems, III, 43), and in Euripides, 5th century B.C. (Cretans,
In the Orphic myth of Initiation (Telete), death and rebirth of Dionysus Za-
greus immediately precede the appearance of men. Titans tear, cook, roast and
eat Dionysus, except his heart collected by Athena (or Hermes) and the remains,
which are buried by Apollo. Zeus destroys Titans. From their ashes or more prob-
ably from soot, men are born. Versions differ, but the result of Zeus’ punishment
of the Titans is always the dawn of mankind. In the 1st century, Dio Chrysostom
refers to the myth by saying all men come from Titans’ blood.²³ However, only
after Olympiodorus, a neo-Platonic philosopher from the 6th century A.D., in
his comment to Plato’s Phaedo, do we have a more complete textual reference
on the link between the crime committed against infant Dionysus, the Titans
who sacrificed him, and the appearance of mankind. An anthropogony, as de-
scribed by Aristophanes in the Symposium.
(6) According to Orfeus, four kindgoms succeeded him. First, that of Uranus, after which
Cronos castrated his father’s genitles; after Cronos, Zeus reigned having promoted the fa-
ther to Tartarus; and still after Zeus came Dionis, who they say conspired with Hera and
Cf. Eustakius, On Illiad II, 735.
Cf. XXVII, 228
Unpublished Problems added by Bussemaker to Bekker’s edition were attributed to Aristotle
century B.C.) or his commentator Alexander of Aphrodisias (2
century A.D.), the au-
thorship and date are still dubious, generally vaguely attributed to the Hellenistic period.
Orphic Aristophanes at Plato’s Symposium
was cut to pieces by the Titans, having his flesh chewed by them. Zeus exploded with rage,
and the matter that rose with the soot of the smoke gave rise to the birth of mankind.²⁴
1.3. παρὰ τῷ Ὀρφεῖ τέσσαρες βασιλεῖαι παραδίδονται. πρώτη μὲν ἡ τοῦ Οὐρανοῦ, ἣν ὁ Κρό-
νος διεδέξατο ἐκτεμὼν τὰ αἰδοῖα τοῦ πατρός· μετὰ δὲ τὸν Κρόνον ὁ Ζεὺς ἐβασίλευσεν κατα-
ταρταρώσας τὸν πατέρα· εἶτα τὸν Δία διεδέξατο ὁ Διόνυσος, ὅν φασι κατ’ ἐπιβουλὴν τῆς
Ἥρας τοὺς περὶ αὐτὸν Τιτᾶνας σπαράττειν καὶ τῶν σαρκῶν αὐτοῦ ἀπογεύεσθαι. καὶ τού-
τους ὀργισθεὶς ὁ Ζεὺς ἐκεραύνωσε, καὶ ἐκ τῆς αἰθάλης τῶν ἀτμῶν τῶν ἀναδοθέντων ἐξ
αὐτῶν ὕλης γενομένης γενέσθαι τοὺς ἀνθρώπους.
We assume Plato constructs the myth told by Aristophanes in the Symposium in
the same way Aristophanes himself constructs the theogonical myth delivered by
the Birds’ choir: as a parody of parts of Telete, the Orphic poem of Initiation. The
procedure is the same. The main difference is in the parts of the poem which are
taken to make the parody. Aristophanes chooses the beginning of theogony,
which shows the primeval deities Protogonos and Eros. Plato chooses the part
about the last generation of divine power according to the Orphic narrative, in
the part describing the dismemberment of Dionysus Zagreus carried out by the
Titans, from whose ashes men emerged. Why does he choose this model? Surely
because Plato’s Aristophanes is one of the spokesmen of Dionysus in the Sympo-
sium. The whole Symposium is a Dionysian celebration, a collective rite of drink-
ing wine, as the Greek word sympósion suggests. The body is prepared with food
and drinks; initiation is performed with incantatory speeches praising a primor-
dial cosmogonic god, until the time of the revelation reserved to the beginners, at
the end of Diotima’s speech and in Alcibiades’ indiscretions. Aristophanes has a
very important job in the rite, wearing the Dionysian mask of anthropogonic
Let us see how Aristophanes’ speech is constructed corresponding to the Or-
phic myth. The first relevant aspect is, as we already mentioned, the background
of Dionysian wisdom: the integration of parts in the whole. The myth narrates
the three stages of the cycle of cosmic return: first, the original and powerful
whole; second, the crime resulting in the division of the whole in parts; third,
the return and reintegration of the parts in the whole, by the effect of love. Man-
kind comes from the separation of a complete original condition; the human
condition is not only mortal but also essentially needy. Love is the power able
to meet this need and lead men again to lost integrity and to a much closer in-
stance to the blessing of gods.
In the Orphic myth, the human condition results from a crime against Dio-
nysus, committed by the Titans. Men are generated both from the remains of the
Translated by Santoro (from Greek) and Bowles (to English).
Titans who committed the crime and from Dionysus’, the swallowed victim. Both
Dionysus’ and Titans’ flesh are disintegrated and reduced to soot which compos-
es men. Crime and punishment provide the tragic aspect of this cycle of separa-
tion and reintegration which repeats in the myth of the Symposium. In Plato’s
myth, the arrogance of confronting gods comes from those double, round
men, children of the stars, who being whole and complete, still do not have
the manlike needy condition. Those double, giant men are analogue to Titans.
Revenge and punishment come in the same way in both myths, with Zeus’ drying
and striking lightning. Healing also comes, in both myths, from Apollo, who col-
lects the remains of Dionysus to bury them and fertilize the earth and who sews
the skin cut from splitting halves.
The Platonic parody has a tragic plot, but the images, figures of speech and
action are comical. The double men are not as monstrous as the Titans, but they
are funny acrobats who roll on the ground. Apollonian healing is not a funereal
ceremony but a funny sewing scene.
The only element we cannot find in the known traces Telete’s anthropogonic
myth is what differentiates the parts from the whole among male and female
genders. On the other hand, there are versions (usually late) which show primev-
al deities such as Phanes and even Zeus and Dionysus in androgynous figura-
tion²⁵. But Aristophanes in the Symposium is a character of the dialogue who
makes sure to value love between men and women, especially when he performs
the myth he had just told, therefore being a fairly important element. We do not
find the separation of the genders in the traces referring to the Orphic Telete. Ber-
nabé (2010) notes that Phanes is described with his “genitals in the same anom-
alous display”²⁶ in the Comment to Four Speeches of Gregory of Nazianzus,
wrongly attributed to Nonnus (Pseudo-Nonnus). As the reference is late, Bernabé
prefers to attribute the similarity with Aristophanes’ ball-men to chance or even
to Platonic influence, and lists the passage between the doubtful references to
Orphic poems²⁷. However, the image of double beings which have male and fe-
male genders appear in another 5th century B.C. cosmogonic poem, in which
love is a primordial power. This poem also shares the background of Dionysian
wisdom of the relationship between the whole and the parts, although it often
shows a critical distance from Orphic theogonies. It is the poem of a philosopher
whose images appear in many Platonic myths and whose theories already in-
spired Eriximacus’ speech in the Symposium. Curiously though, its name is
Cf. Orphic Hymns.
On the other hand, Bernabé finds traces of the myth of Dionysus dismemberment in two
other passages of the Laws: 701b and 854b (p. 234–242).
Orphic Aristophanes at Plato’s Symposium
never mentioned. Let us see fragment 61 from the poem about the Origins, by
Empedocles, located in the cosmogonic moment when the beings of monstrous
aspect are generated, mixed beings, a moment preceding the generation of spe-
cies as they are constituted in the present:
(7) Many creatures were created with a face and breast on both sides; offspring of cattle
with the fronts of men, and again there arose offspring of men with heads of cattle; and
(creatures made of elements) mixed in part from men, in part of female sex, furnished
with hairy limbs.²⁸
πολλὰ μὲν ἀμφιπρόσωπα καὶ ἀμφίστερνα φύεσθαι,
βουγενῆ ἀνδρόπρωιρα, τὰ δ᾿ ἔμπαλιν ἐξανατέλλειν
ἀνδροφυῆ βούκρανα, μεμειγμένα τῆι μὲν ἀπ᾿ ἀνδρῶν
τῆι δὲ γυναικοφυῆ σκιεροῖς ἠσκημένα γυίοις.
The last observation on the relationship between the Aristophanic myth of the
Symposium and the Orphic Telete: the name Aristophanes himself gives to his
image of love as attraction between two halves of a whole: sýmbolon. The
word, besides the image of the broken tessera which we already mentioned,
clearly also evokes the symbolic performance of images. A primeval function
of theogonical myths in Orphic initiation rites. An important part in initiation
is the learning of Hermeneutics, for understanding of the meaning of rite sym-
Aristophanes does not end his speech at the end of the myth, but he keeps
on interpreting the images of the symbol according to the present facts. The com-
edy writer’s language would not miss the opportunity of making fun of the living
situation itself at Agathon’s house. After symbolic love is explained in general,
we still have to see how genders and individuals behave. There are two genders
left: male and female; but three ways of loving union are left: one, of the major-
ity, comes from the androgynous whole, it is the love between men and women;
the male parts coming from the male whole love men similar to themselves, like
the guests of the symposium; and the female parts coming from the female
whole love women like them. Everyone loves according to a taste inherited by
their primordial nature. Besides valuing love between men and women, he
makes an ironic twist treating heterosexual as resulting from androgyny, whereas
other come from pure genders. And he starts talking about love between men as
not only pure, but the most audacious, brave and virile. The only one in the sym-
posium who does not share the taste for pederasty, Aristophanes makes a mock-
Translated by Freeman (1978), Ancilla to the Pre-Socratic Philosophers, pp.58–59.
Cf. Também DK fr. 62, 63, 65, 67 e Parmênides DK fr. 17.
ing compliment to those who love the boys. “Some say they are shameless, but
they are lying…” “the proof is that, once mature, they are the only ones who be-
come men for politics.” As a last joke alluding to the relationships of the attend-
ees: “And I do not suppose Eryximachus was making comedy in the speech, as
he was talking about Pausanias and Agathon…”
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Álvaro Vallejo Campos
Socrates as a physician of the soul
In my contribution to this Symposium I would like to analyze Socrates as a char-
acter of the Platonic dialogues from the perspective of his conception of philos-
ophy as therapy. I am going to distinguish three phases in the development of
this idea: the definition of philosophy as ἐπιμέλεια (or θεραπεία) τῆς ψυχῆς in
the so-called Socratic dialogues, and especially in the Apology, the transforma-
tion of philosophy into the art of politics in the Gorgias and the holistic thera-
peutics which Plato has put to work with the utopian character of the ideal city.
In the Apology we encounter a conception of philosophy which is complete-
ly bounded to Socrates as a recognizable character of Athenian culture at that
moment. He was convinced that, if he wanted to maintain his commitment to
justice in his own city and survive, “he must necessarily confine himself to pri-
vate life (ἰδιωτεύειν) and leave politics alone” (μὴ δημοσιεύειν, Apol. 32a). Thus
Socrates is, in his own words, a character who appears only on a private stage
and whose philosophical project can be delivered only through a personal en-
counter with an interlocutor. We recall that his inner voice, the daímon, which
used to dissuade him from certain acts, “debars him from entering public life”
(31d), probably because it would have been a risk to his life, but also because
he would have sacrificed it “without doing any good” either to himself or to
the Athenian citizen. He has been perhaps the first philosopher to define explic-
itly and systematically with full consciousness philosophy as therapy of the soul
in a way which calls up Epicure’s assertion that “a philosopher′s words are
empty if they do not heal the suffering of man” (Usener 221).
I would like to comment on this philosophical project to clarify the differen-
ces with the development of Socrates’ character as it appears in the Gorgias,
which I believe to be one of the first dialogues where we find the most distinctive
features of the Platonic Socrates¹. The background of Socrates project in the
Vlastos included the Gorgias in the group of the early or Socratic dialogues, although he
recognized that “most present-day Platonists would agree that the G. is the last dialogue in this
Group” (1991, p.48, n.4). In relation to the Socrates of the Gorgias I agree with Kahn, for, as he
says (Kahn, 1996, 130), the Socrates who aspires to undertake the true political art (521c) “is no
longer the ignorant Socrates of the Apology”. See also Dodds, 1990, p.21. (Álvaro Vallejo Campos,
Department of Philosophy II, University of Granada, email@example.com).
Apology is determined by its nearness to rhetoric and medicine. The connection
with the sophistical movement is perhaps not evident at first glance, but we
must remember that Antiphon the Orator was credited with the invention of a
method or Techne which consisted of an art intended to cure (θεραπεύειν) the
afflictions or sufferings of the soul (87DKA6). He was supposed to cure these af-
fections “by words” (διὰ λόγων), so that he could determine “the causes (τὰς αἰ-
τίας) of the malady” and “prescribe the remedy”. And Gorgias compares the art
of rhetoric with medicine on declaring that “the power of logos has the same re-
lation to the disposition of the soul as the disposition of drugs on the nature of
bodies” (B 11.14).
Nevertheless, Socrates’ conception of philosophy as ἐπιμέλεια (or θεραπεία)
τῆς ψυχῆς has a normative instance in a double aspect, from an epistemological
and a moral perspective, which relates it directly to medicine. This normative
character of Socrates’ practice, as defined in the Apology and the related dia-
logues, is what we might expect of the very notion of therapeía, which refers
to the possibility of curing the disturbances of the soul or maintaining it in its
proper and healthy state. From an epistemological viewpoint the normative as-
pects of the therapeutic understanding of philosophy are present in the unequiv-
ocal reference to intelligence and truth in Socrates’ words (φρονήσεως δὲ καὶ
ἀληθείας 29e) and from an ethical perspective the concept of ἀρετή is a key
word that establishes an indissoluble link between the moral and the psycholog-
ical or anthropological teleology of human nature which provides the fundament
to the Socratic therapy. This is the great difference between the frequent compar-
isons with medicine which we find in rhetorical or sophistical texts and Socrates’
intentions. For Gorgias the word φάρμακον is morally neutral, and it can equally
mean remedy or poison, but this is not true of Socrates, who declares the neces-
sary relation between the word therapeía and the existence of an end² and re-
minds us that we need a technician for the proper treatment of the soul (περὶ
ψυχῆς θεραπεία, 185e), so that we can become “good and noble” (187a): this
end is naturally the ἀρετή or excellence of the soul.
This proper condition of the soul which is the object of the Socratic therapy
is the transcendental condition of all other goods, because, as he says, “wealth
does not bring goodness, but goodness, that is, ἀρετή, brings wealth and all
other good things, both to the individual and to the state”³ (30b). Nevertheless,
we cannot regard this supreme good as an exclusively moral good, for ἀρετή is
not only moral excellence but rather that condition of the soul which brings
Cfr. Laches 185d.
Tredennick’s translation (Hamilton, Cairns, 1982).
Álvaro Vallejo Campos
human nature to the perfection of its being. This will be very clear in the Gorgias
where the noble and good soul is also happy (470e) and a soul that is not healthy
is for that very reason “corrupt, impious, and evil” (479b–c). This is why Socrates
says that justice is “medicine for wickedness” (478d), because wickedness repre-
sents for the soul “the greatest of evils” (478d) and injustice is called a “disease”
(τὸ νόσημα τῆς ἀδικίας, 480b1) of the soul⁴.
In relation to this therapy practiced by the Socrates of the Apology and the
related dialogues, I would like to raise three questions: What method of thera-
peutic treatment is advocated by his conception of philosophy? What part of
the subject is addressed? And finally, what scene can it be practiced in? The an-
swer to the first question is too well known to require a detailed explanation⁵,
but we may remember in relation to this specific issue of Socrates as healer of
the soul that he says to Charmides, that “the cure of the soul has to be effected
by the use of certain charms” and that “these charms are fair words” (καλλοὶ
λόγοι) by which temperance is implanted in the soul (157a)⁶. In the Apology Soc-
rates gives a critical and negative version of his method that seems oriented to
destroy the false beliefs of an ill society. Anyone who claims to be interested
in these matters will be “questioned, examined and refuted” (29e). Socrates is
“the stinging fly” appointed to the city by God and his method is intended “to
rouse”, “persuade” and “reprove” the citizens with regard to their conscious-
In these terms the answer to the second question is already clear, for this is a
method that can be addressed only to the intellectual and rational faculties of
the human being: Socrates declares that his method is destined to awaken the
interest of his fellow citizens in “truth and understanding” (29e). In the Protago-
ras the salvation of our lives depends on a science (ἐπιστήμη), capable of de-
stroying the power of “appearances” which “leads us astray and throws us
into confusion” (356d)⁷. The key which opens the path of a “good life” for us
is “knowledge and a science of measurement” (357a).
Finally, regarding the third question, these are tasks which can be accom-
plished only in a private scene. It is true that the benefits of the Socratic method
are intended for the whole city of Athens, but its aims and methods can be ach-
Woodhead’s translation (Hamilton, Cairns, 1982).
I am referring to Socrates’ “search for moral truth by question and answer” (Vlastos, 1994, p.4)
without entering in the detailed description and in the philosophical complexities of the Socrat-
ic elenchus. See, on the different interpretations of Socrates’ method, Tarrant, 2006, 254–272.
Jowett’s translation ( Hamilton, Cairns, 1982). On this καλλοὶ λόγοι and the rational nature of
these Socratic charms, see Vallejo, 2000, 324–336.
Guthrie’s translation (Hamilton, Cairns, 1982).
Socrates as a physician of the soul
ieved only on a stage destined to practice a therapeutic action which consists of
examining, refuting, and questioning a subject in order to activate the individu-
al’s intellectual powers. Socrates rejects explicitly, as we have seen, any interven-
tion in politics that would have represented a risk for his own life, but especially,
I presume, because this risk would have been assumed “without doing any
good” either to himself or to the Athenian citizen⁸.
I have already quoted the Gorgias, because we still find in it many traits of the
Socratic character that is known to us through the so-called Socratic dialogues. I
see the Gorgias, nevertheless, as a transitional dialogue or (borrowing the termi-
nology from C. Kahn) a “threshold dialogue”, which opens the path clearly to the
Platonic Socrates of the Republic. However, I do not accept C. Kahn’s conjecture
that the Gorgias was written before what he calls the threshold dialogues, which
do not include this work, but a group formed by dialogues from the Laches and
Charmides to the Meno and Euthydemus⁹. Nor can I agree with him when he de-
nies “any fundamental shift in philosophical position” between the so-called
Socratic dialogues, on the one hand, and the Phaedo and Republic, on the
other. Although we can discern certain elements of continuity between the Gor-
gias and the Apology¹⁰, such as I have noted in the preceding lines, I believe that
we can also detect a very important shift in the conception of philosophy as ther-
apy. For the Socrates of the Apology the main object of philosophy was the care
of the soul, but now in the Gorgias this task, the τῆς ψυχῆς θεραπεία, is attrib-
Naturally, as Ramtekar puts it, “there is a sense, a special Socratic sense, in which Socrates’
moral engagement with individuals is political”, but “this is not politics in the ordinary sense at
all” (Ramtekar, 2006, p.215). Nevertheless, I would also admit that Socrates’ critiques to Atheni-
an democracy and his proposal of “professionalizing political rule”, if it is genuinely Socratic
and not a Platonic reconstruction, would have consequences for political thought (see, loc.
cit. 223–226). A different thing is whether he drew himself these consequences. Perhaps
Kraut is right when he refers to “conflicting elements in the early dialogues” (Kraut, 1984,
p.244), for Socrates was critical of rule by the many, but he also saw a great value in critical in-
quiry and the intellectual freedom provided by the Athenian Democracy (see “Socrates and De-
mocracy”, loc.cit., 194–244).
Although Vlastos included, as we have seen, the Gorgias in the group of the early dialogues,
he has shown how many things, already present in this dialogue, are new in the path of the
“metamorphofosis of Plato’s teacher into Plato’s mouthpiece” (Vlastos, 1994, p.37).
Kahn (1996, 40) naturally acknowledges the difference between the Apology and the Gorgias
and especially the unsocratic character of the moral téchnē alluded to in this dialogue.
Álvaro Vallejo Campos
uted to the political art, constituted by legislation and justice, which corresponds
respectively to gymnastics and medicine, these taking care of the body: thus the
counterpart of medicine in the case of the soul is not philosophy, without any
further specification, but rather the political art (464b–c). The fundamental
shift is in a certain sense recognized when Socrates now asserts that he is
“one of very few Athenians, not to say the only one, engaged in the true political
art” and that he alone “practices statesmanship” (521d). We could state in favour
of a unitarian interpretation of the dialogues that, after all, the “true” political
art is not so different from the practice of philosophy described in the Apology
as tendance or care of the soul (28e-29a, 29d). But this is precisely the point that I
want to question.
Various threads of continuity can still be observed. Philosophy is not ne-
glected by Socrates; on the contrary, he declares to have being in love with phi-
losophy all his life (481d, 482a) and this love is expressly contrasted with the love
that Callicles professes to the Athenian demos. Nevertheless, now, paraphrasing
Clausewitz’s words, it could be said, as Dodds did¹¹, that philosophy seems to be
the continuation of politics by other means, rather than its explicit rejection, as
we have seen in the Apology. The aim of politics is still the same as Socrates’ in-
tention in the Apology, for the objective is “to make the Athenian citizens as
good as possible” (521a), but the differences are evident, because in the Gorgias
Socrates’ project no longer consists only in examining other people and discus-
sing virtue and other questions with them in the belief that life without exami-
nation is not worth living (38a). Now the therapeutic action must be applied di-
rectly to the city and Socrates refers to the necessity of proceeding to a θεραπεία
τῆς πόλεως (521a, cfr.513e). The conversion of philosophy into a political art
means that, although the objective is still the improvement of the citizens and
the welfare of the soul, the method envisaged, as a plan to be implemented,
and the scene are different, because the treatment has to be applied directly
to the city and not to the individual. The illness now affects primarily the city,
which is said to be “swollen and festering” (518e) and must be treated by the pol-
itician in the guise of a doctor (521a). The new Socrates is thinking that it is not
enough to operate directly on the citizens and indirectly on the city, but the op-
posite: to heal the sufferings of mankind it is necessary first to practice a political
art destined to operate on a diseased society. Naturally Socrates seems the same
character, for the Gorgias presents him in discussion with Gorgias, Polo and Cal-
licles, but his philosophical project has been radically altered: the scene des-
tined to receive its direct action has changed. Now it will no longer consist in
Dodds, 1990, 384.
Socrates as a physician of the soul
the cross-examinations of Socrates’ interlocutors, questioning his fellow citizens,
but in a new stage where the therapist must act through very different devices,
for the patient has changed and so must the treatment methods.
A key sign of the dramatic change that has taken place is given by Socrates
when he shows how to achieve the end of this πολιτικὴ τέχνη: it is like doing
battle with the Athenians (διαμάχεσθαι ᾿Aθηναίοις, 521a). Socrates previously ad-
dressed his discourses only to those fellow citizens who would “profess to care”
about the perfection of their soul (Apol. 29e), disregarding all the others, but now
the therapeutic action must be practiced against the will of its patient. This pa-
tient, as we have seen, is the city, and the new statesmanship cannot provide her
“with what she desires” (517b), but rather its aim consist in giving these desires
“a different direction instead of allowing them free scope” (517b5). This means a
fundamental turn in Socrates procedures, because the therapy must be applied
to the citizens, “by persuading and compelling” them. We might ask how the
Socrates of the Apology could have compelled any citizen to submit to the inqui-
ries and refutations. We are naturally dealing with a complete transformation of
the original Socratic project, which had in truth and intelligence and in the con-
sent, freely given by his fellow citizens, the only way of practicing philosophy. It
is easy to understand the change if we take into account that now the care has
been converted into a medical treatment of a patient who is a different subject.
The subject is a city that has developed a “sickness” (νόσος), “disregarding the
rules of health” (518d) and these rules must be re-established even if the citizens
do not wish to be submitted to that treatment and have to be forced, when per-
suasion fails. This situation is very naturally understandable as a political de-
vice, but it is absolutely incompatible with Socrates’ conception of philosophy
as tendance of the soul. “Persuading and compelling” seem to be antithetic, be-
cause persuading is possible for the Socrates of the Apology as a task which had
to be accomplished “informing and convincing” (διδάσκειν καὶ πείθειν, 35c), but
compelling means to force without the voluntary assent of those companions of
Socrates whose friendship was necessary in the practice of his maieutic method.
The Therapy of Totality
I find no notable break between the Gorgias and the Republic, but it is clear that,
in this work, some of the implications which involve the concept of the political
art that Socrates is professing to practice in the Gorgias become evident and are
fully developed. One of the most important ideas of this work, which sustains the
whole building of the ideal city, is the philosopher ruler and, in my opinion, it is
clear that this essential element of Plato’s political philosophy is the develop-
Álvaro Vallejo Campos
ment of the concept of a political art such as the one proclaimed in the Gorgias.
In the Republic the philosopher is paradoxically the person who is supposed to
possess this art and the one who is also frequently compared to a physician that
has to treat the city as a patient suffering from its own diseases (VI 489b–c, VII
564c1). Although the first philosophical movement of this work is oriented to dis-
covering justice as a good for the soul in itself, as we know, the discussion is re-
directed to the city as the larger scale where the quest will be more easily fulfil-
led. In the realm of the individual soul, justice continues to be conceived as a
healthy state which results when “its principles are established in the natural re-
lation of controlling and being controlled by one another”¹² (IV 444d). Establish-
ing reason as the controlling power over the soul ensures justice as “a kind of
health and beauty and good condition of the soul” (444d–e). But the same
could be said about justice in the city. For, to discern the origin of justice and
injustice in the state, we have to take into account, says Socrates, what it
means to be a “healthy” (II 372e, 373b) or a “fevered state” (372e). This is also
why in the Republic he can present the deviations of the ideal state, such as tyr-
anny, democracy, oligarchy, and timocracy as “maladies of the state” (πόλεως
νόσημα 544c; cfr. 556e, 563e–564a, 564b).
Definitively, the philosopher is established in the Republic as a lawgiver of
the state and Plato makes a great effort to demonstrate why philosophers have
been erroneously separated from government in the Greek states and confined
to that private ambit where the Socrates of the Apology wished to remain. But
this lawgiver of the state is at the same time “a good physician” (564c), although
we cannot imagine a greater transformation of the character and his project
which appeared in the Apology. Remembering his commitment to truth and rea-
son, we now realize that the physician of the state is a very different character
and that he has to conceive of the discourse not as a device intended to find
the truth and dissolving all the false appearances through the cross-examination
of his interlocutor. The new philosopher who is destined to act as a physician of
the state will have to employ what Socrates calls “falsehood in words” as a med-
icine or φάρμακον useful to maintain the healthy condition of the state (382c,
389b). “It is obvious, says Socrates (389b), that such a thing must be assigned
to physicians, and laymen should not have nothing to do with it”. The philoso-
pher kings “will have to make considerable use of falsehood and deception” (τῷ
ψεύδει καὶ τῇ ἀπάτῃ), as it is recognized later in the work (459c).
Socrates’ attitude in relation to truth has changed radically from the Apology
to the Republic and this fundamental shift is correlative to the transformation of
Shorey’ s translation (Hamilton, Cairns, 1982).
Socrates as a physician of the soul
his character as a physician of culture. That is, in the Apology the therapeutic
action of his philosophical enterprise was to be applied directly on his fellow
citizens while the normative knowledge which was presupposed was relative
to the soul and its healthy condition, but now the citizen is to receive the treat-
ment indirectly through the mediation of the medical legislation which has to
improve the conditions of life without necessarily involving the individual’ s
free will or conscious consent. The philosophical justification of the new practi-
ces that will be advocated come from a new conception of the human nature. The
tripartite soul and the predominance of the irrational parts in most of the city
would signify that not all persons are suitable “to be governed by the divine
and the intelligent” (ὑπὸ θείου καὶ φρονίμου ἄρχεσθαι, 590d) principle dwelling
within us to which the Socratic discourses were addressed. The abandon for
most of the people in the ideal city of the Socratic intellectualism that founded
all virtues on knowledge and intelligence signifies that, in the absence of the
order that should be imposed by this divine principle from within, such order
will have to be imposed from the outside (590d). Exterior reason, which resides
in the philosopher ruler, will replace the interior order that Socrates sought to
fundament through those καλλοὶ λόγοι “by which temperance is implanted in
the soul” (Charm. 157a).
Every treatment presupposes, as we saw, a normative instance and the most
profound transformation in my opinion takes place in the knowledge which is
now involved. The philosopher kings who will act as physicians of the city
are, as we know, a selected class, “the smallest part” of itself (428e), and the
city will be wise as a whole by virtue of the knowledge (ἐπιστήμη) which resides
exclusively in them, but, leaving aside this profound lack of symmetry between
the individual and the city, I would like to examine the type of knowledge that
functions as a normative instance of the therapeutic procedure of these physi-
cians of society. This question is explicitly raised by Socrates and he declares
that it is not a knowledge “about some particular thing in the city but about
the city as a whole” (428c-d). The ontological status of this whole or of this
unity which Socrates declares to be the greatest good for a state (462a–b) has
been highly controversial. But it is evident that the philosopher who has to op-
erate as a physician of culture has to bear in mind this whole in order to decide
even about the life and death of the individual, as Socrates says in relation to a
“political Asclepius” (407e) who “did not think worthwhile to treat” a patient
when it was not going to be useful “either to himself or to the state”. Leaving
aside this controversial question about the ontological status of the unity of
the state, which gave rise to Popper’s critique of Plato’s conception of the state
Álvaro Vallejo Campos
as an organicist theory¹³, I would like to concentrate on the knowledge of the
whole that seems to me necessarily presupposed.
The question of the totality of the state is raised in the Republic when Soc-
rates’ interlocutors object (IV 419a, VII 519d) that the guardians of the state were
not going to be very happy in a city which was controlled by them. Socrates’ an-
swer is that they were not considering how to obtain “the greatest possible hap-
piness of any one class, but the possible greatest happiness of the city as a
whole” (420b; 519e). I do not want to raise the question of the ontological status
of this totality, but of the knowledge presupposed. I would like to recall two elu-
cidating passages. The first is very important to clarify Plato’s intentions about
the philosopher rulers. Socrates establishes that the “first point of difference”
between these lawgivers and ordinary reformers (501a) is that they will refuse
to legislate unless they receive a clean slate or they will clean it themselves
by erasing all the features of the previous state (501a–c). This is one of the essen-
tial features of the utopian thinking, as criticized by Popper¹⁴ and analyzed by I.
Berlin: the utopian therapeutic treatment would have to design the totality of the
state¹⁵, rebuilding the broken fragments into a perfect whole, as Berlin said, with
the idea that “all the true answers, when found, must necessarily be compatible
with one another and form a single whole”¹⁶. Naturally we do not have to follow
Popper in all his critical details to realize that the Socrates of the Republic wants
to redesign “the characters of men” (501c) through the establishment of a new
state that presupposes the knowledge of “a heavenly model” (500e). This parád-
eigma implies a science of a totality which has to determine the life of the indi-
vidual in a holistic way completely different from the Socratic therapeía exer-
cised on the individual soul.
The second passage is quite illustrative of this feature of the new political
therapy characteristic of the utopian model. Socrates is defending his model
of an ideal state from the objection adduced by Adiemantus that in such a
state the rulers would not be as happy as they could be in any other city
under them (IV 419a). Socrates replies that his aim was not “the exceptional hap-
piness of any one class but the greatest possible happiness of the city as a
whole” (IV 420b). The philosopher as lawgiver and physician of culture has to
Cfr. Popper, 1966, vol.I, p.85f. (1981, 84–86); on this point, against the supposed organicism
of Plato’s theory of the state, see Vlastos, 1995, vol. II, 82 and Schofield, 2006, 220, but I think
that Popper’ s case is by no means desperate; see, on Republic IV 420b-e, Brown, 1998, 21.
Cfr. Popper, 1966, vol.I, 169.
“Holistic or utopian social engineering” in Popper’s words, cfr. Popper, 1961, 46f., 1966, vol.
I, 160 –172.
Cfr. Berlin, 1992, p.42.
Socrates as a physician of the soul
place his therapeutic action under the perspective of the city as a whole (420c)
and this action will determine the destiny and way of life of the individual. In the
example of the statue given in this passage the painter has to proceed with an
idea of the statue as a whole in order to paint the eyes or any other part, not
to make each part as beautiful as possible but as beautiful as would correspond
to its being a component of that whole. The perspective must be that of assigning
to each part “what is proper to each” in order to make “the whole beautiful”
Criticizing the theory advocated by Grote and Popper that for Plato the state
was conceived as an abstract unity or a superindividual whose happiness was
distinct from the happiness of all the citizens, Vlastos affirmed¹⁷ that in Plato’s
conception of the state the citizens imparted benefits to the community as some-
thing equivalent to imparting benefits to one another. Leaving aside once more
the question of the ontological status of this entity, it seems evident that the phi-
losopher who has to act as a physician to purge the city will have to determine
the happiness of the individuals in accordance with his conception of this whole.
Whatever its ontological status might be, it is clear that, from the perspective of
the happiness achieved through the action of these lawgivers¹⁸, the result is not
equivalent to the sum of the happiness of each of the citizens, but that the way of
life and happiness of these are determined by the knowledge of the whole. This
is why they will have to be persuaded or even “constrained” (421c). Socrates is
defining a kind of therapeutic action which has to operate by “harmonizing
and adapting the citizens to one another by persuasion and compulsion” and,
consequently, will create “such men in the state”, “not that it may allow each
to take what course pleases him, but with a view to using them for the binding
together of the city” (VII 520a, Shorey’s translation slightly altered). In this task,
as a philosopher who has to design the whole and has to proceed with the cor-
responding knowledge, not only the guardians, but all the other citizens will be
determined as farmers, potters or cobblers (420e–421a) by the glance of the phi-
losopher directed at “the city as a whole” (εἰς τὴν πόλιν ὅλην βλέποντας, 421b).
The happiness of each class and the way of life of its citizens is determined by its
nature (421c), but this nature cannot be separated from what Socrates calls the
development of the entire city and its good ordinance (οὕτω συμπάσης τῆς
πόλεως αὐξανομένης καὶ καλῶς οἰκιζομένης, 421c), which is of course a result
of the holistic knowledge of the philosopher. Each part of the state, the classes
Vlastos, 1995, vol. II, p. 83.
Cfr. Republic, IV 421a. See Brown, 1998, p. 21.
Álvaro Vallejo Campos
and the men who belong to them, is to be made happy, but, as L. Brown puts it¹⁹,
“with that happiness which it derives from its place in the polis as a whole”.
Plato seems to have been fascinated by the therapeutic potency of the whole.
We find three texts in Plato that belong to works probably written in very differ-
ent and distant moments of his long career as a writer: all of them seem to un-
derline the necessity of taking into account the totality. He is convinced in the
Laws that “any physician or craftsman in any profession does all his work for
the sake of some whole” (903c)²⁰. In the Charmides, Socrates holds that “the rea-
son why the cure of many diseases is unknown to the physicians of Hellas” is
“because they disregard the whole” (156e). Charmides is interested in a remedy
for curing his headache and Socrates sustains that it is not possible to cure the