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Kamtekar, R., “The Politics of Plato’s Socrates”, in S. Ahbel-Rappe, R. Kamtekar, A
Companion to Socrates, Oxford, 2006, 214–227.
Kraut, R., “Socrates and Democracy”, in Socrates and the State, Princeton, 1984, 94–244.
Mansfeld, J., “Plato and the Method of Hippocrates”, en Greek, Roman and Byzantine
Studies, 1980, 21:4, 341–362.
Popper, K.R., The Open Society and Its Enemies, Princeton, New Jersey, fifth edition, 1966;
The Poverty of Historicism, London, third edition, 1961.
Schofield, M., Plato, Political Philosophy, Oxford, 2006.
Stempsey, W., “Plato and Holistic Medicine”, Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy, 2001, 4,
Tarrant, H., “Socratic Method and Socratic Truth”, in S. Ahbel-Rappe, R. Kamtekar, A
Companion to Socrates, Oxford, 2006, 254–272.
Vallejo Campos, A., “Maieutic, epôidê and myth in the Socratic dialogues”, in T.M.
Robinson-L.Brisson, Plato, Euthydemus, Lysis, Charmides, Sankt Augustin, 2000,
Vegetti, La medicina in Platone, Venecia, 1995.
Vlastos, G., Socratic Studies, Cambridge, 1994; “The Theory of Social Justice in The Polis in
Plato’s Republic”, in Studies in Greek Philosophy, Princeton, 1995, vol. II, 69–103.
Berlin, 1998, p.392.
Socrates as a physician of the soul
The Style of Medical Writing
in the Speech of Eryximachus: Imitation
In this article, I wish to stress the theme of the medical writing in the speech de-
livered by Eryximachus in the Symposium.² In the analysis of the style of writing
and in the disposition of its contents, this example fits well in showing the skill-
ful art of Platonic writing, that weaves texts and hypotexts together, creating nu-
merous possible senses that the reader can catch and choose according to the
object of the analysis he is developing.
In this discourse we can find that the style of medical treatises of the Corpus
Hippocraticum is borrowed by Platonic discourse, imitating the medical one and,
at the same time, intersecting it with the introduction of the philosophical dis-
It is not possible here to analyze deeply all the connections between this
speech of the Symposium and the treatises of the Corpus Hippocraticum; for
this reason I would like to stress just three aspects that illustrate the retake of
expositive and demonstrative schemes of medical treatises made by Plato:
1. The demonstration of the existence of the techne iatrike and its praise.
2. The principles which give life to the kosmos in this praise of the medical art
are similar in both Eryximachus’ speech and in On Winds.
3. The lexical and conceptual resemblance between Eryximachus’ speech and
the “physiological”³ treatises of the C.H.
These three aspects will help to show the contamination and the reinterpretation
of the medical discourse which Plato operates in the Symposium.
I would like to thank here my friend Carl O’Brien for having revised the first English version of
For the reassessment of Eryximachus’ speech, an important essay is the article by L. Edel-
stein, The Role of Eryximachus in Plato’s Symposium, in “Transactions and Proceedings of the
American Philological Association” 76 (1945), pp. 85–103.
When I use the term “physiological” between inverted commas I mean that which concerns the
historie peri physeos.
Medicine: Its Praise and the Demonstration of its
At the beginning of his speech on love, Eryximachus recaps Pausania’s dis-
course, which distinguished two erotes, two loves, a noble one and a vulgar
one, making these two erotes the principles of reality. The opening of the speech
deals with medicine in order to honor this techne (presbeteuein). This device pro-
duces a double praise: on one hand the praise of eros, the god present in every-
thing, on the other hand the praise of the techne itself, the techne by which ev-
erybody can realize that in every being there is the presence of eros
(katheorakenai…ek tes iatrikes, tes hemeteras technes, Symp. 186a7–b1).
Proposing a praise of the techne and stressing its importance, this speech
agrees perfectly with the “epistemological” treatises of the Corpus Hippocrati-
cum. If we look at these treatises, we can very quickly realize that one of the
aim of the Hippocratic authors is to give a strong epistemological foundation
to medicine. Actually the techne iatrike had numerous opponents, both on the
popular plane (religious medicine), as well as on the philosophical one (sophists
in primis). We can make a reference of this perspective by the treatises On Ancient
Medicine and On the Art,⁴ among all, to perceive this effort.
Furthermore, concerning the fact that eros is in everything Eryximachus
it seems to me that it’s an observation we can find out from medicine, our science […].⁵
This statement indicates that the method of medicine is valid also for the inquiry
of all the things that exist, that is to say of the entire physis. The stress placed
upon the correctness of the method by which we have to investigate nature, is
also stressed by the author of On Ancient Medicine:⁶
For the argumentation of the existence of medicine in On the Art see A. Jori, Medicina e medici
nell’antica Grecia, il Mulino – Istituto Italiano per gli Studi Storici, Napoli 1996, capp. VII, VIII,
IX. For the demonstration of the existence of medicine in On Ancient Medicine see Hippocrates,
On Ancient Medicine, translated with introduction and commentary by Mark J. Schiefsky, Brill,
Leiden-Boston, 2005, pp. 115–117; 133 ss.
“καθεωρακέναι μοι δοκῶ ἐκ τῆς ἰατρικῆς, τῆς ἡμετέρας τέχνης”.
See Hippocrates, On ancient medicine, translated with introduction and commentary by Mark
J. Schiefsky, cit., pp. 297–298 and 310 ss; J, Cooper, Method and science in On Ancient Medicine,
in H. Linneweber-Lammerskitten e G. Mohr (eds.), Interpretation und Argument, Würzburg 2002,
I think that to know clearly nature in general no other source but medicine exists.⁷ (On An-
cient Medicine, XX, 2, Jouanna p. 146, 9–11)
The words of Eryximachus are not just a praise of this techne, but also a clear
demonstration of its existence. Stressing the fact that there are good physicians,
good technicians, good demiourgoi – as Eryximachus does – is not just the praise
of good physicians. Four times in the Symposium, there are expressions stating
that the physician belongs to the art of medicine:
1. At 186c5, we find the term technikos and it is stated that whoever wants to be
technikos has to impede the bad and sick parts of the body and to support
the healthy ones (εἰ μέλλει τις τεχνικὸς εἶναι).
2. At 186c6–d1, the term indicating the physician is iatrikotatos, and it is the
attribute of the physician to be able to distinguish (but the verb is signifi-
cantly diagignoskein) the beautiful eros and the ugly one. Considered in its
technical meaning, the verb diagignoskein indicates here exactly “to diag-
nose” the presence of both erotes (καὶ ὁ διαγιγνώσκων ἐν τούτοις τὸν
καλόν τε καὶ αἰσχρὸν ἔρωτα, οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ ἰατρικώτατος).
3. Then, we have two occurrences of the expression agathos demiourgos: the
first one is at 186d4–5, where it is said that the “good demiourgos” is the
one who is able to engender (eggenesthai) the good eros where it ought to
be and to remove the bad eros where it should not exist (ἐπιστάμενος ἐμποι-
ῆσαι καὶ ἐνόντα ἐξελεῖν, ἀγαθὸς ἂν εἴη δημιουργός).
4. The second occurrence of agathos demiourgos is at 187d3–4, and it is used
in relation to the specialist in music; here it is stated that in complicated sit-
uations a “good demiourgos” is needed (ἐνταῦθα δὴ καὶ χαλεπὸν καὶ ἀγαθοῦ
Considered from a medical standpoint, the terminology used by Plato is extreme-
ly technical and gives rise to a strong conceptualization of techne.⁸ If we look at
the Hippocratic treatises, we can find the use of the term “demiourgos”,⁹ quali-
fied as good or bad; and this term is employed in order to demonstrate the ex-
istence of the techne iatrike. It is not by chance that the majority of the occurrenc-
es of the stem demiourg- (noun and verb) are in On Ancient Medicine and in On
“Νομίζω δὲ περὶ φύσιος γνῶναί τι σαφὲς οὐδαμόθεν ἄλλοθεν εἶναι ἢ ἐξ ἰητρικῆς”.
See G. Cambiano, Platone e la tecniche, Laterza, Roma-Bari 1991², pp. 35–45 and pp. 61–84.
For a different approach with respect to the works of Cambiano concerning the term demiour-
gos, see A. Balansard, Technè dans les dialogues de Platon : l’empreinte de la sophistique, IPS,
Academia, Sankt Augustin, 2005.
The Style of Medical Writing in the speech of Eryximachus
If we consider On Ancient Medicine, the term demiourgos is always related to
the expertise or incompetence. In the first occurrence, after the statement of the
existence of medical techne – an art “that really is” (τέχνης ἐούσης, I, 1, Jouanna
p. 118, 8) – the author states that “everybody praises greatly the good practition-
ers and the good professionals” (καὶ τιμῶσι μάλιστα τοὺς ἀγαθοὺς χειροτέχνας
καὶ δημιουργούς, I, 1, Jouanna p. 118, 9–10). This discourse on the ἀγαθοὶ
δημιουργοί leads to specifying the epistemological sense of competence and in-
Some practitioners are bad, while others are much better. This would not be the case if med-
icine did not exist at all and if nothing had been examined or discovered in it; rather, all
would be equally lacking in both experience and knowledge of it, and all the affairs of the
sick would be governed by chance.¹⁰ (V.M. I, 2, Jouanna p. 118, 10 –119, 1; transl. by M.
In the third occurrence of “demiourgos”, the author links medicine to all the
other technai, showing that in all of them, it is possible to distinguish good
and bad professionals; in this way, sharing the same characteristics of the
other technai, medicine has the existence too.
But there is another text of the Corpus Hippocraticum showing specific affin-
ities with Eryximachus’ speech in relation to the organization of the subject and
to the content: On Winds.¹¹
First of all, as in the Symposium, there is praise of medicine, an art – as the
author says – that gives pain and horrible views for the physician, whereas it
gives relief to the patient, who can slip away from diseases and pains thanks
to art (dia technen) (On Winds I, 1–2, Jouanna pp. 102–103).
As Eryximachus, the author of On Winds stresses the need of a technical in-
tervention in hard cases, because only the mastery of the art can solve them,
highlighting the distinction between professionals and laymen (δημότῃσιν, I,
3, Jouanna p. 103, 7; this is a term that – from a semantic point of view – is equiv-
“Εἰσὶ δὲ δημιουργοὶ οἱ μὲν φλαῦροι, οἱ δὲ πολλὸν διαφέροντες· ὅπερ, εἰ μὴ ἦν ἰητρικὴ ὅλως
μηδʼ ἐν αὐτῇ ἔσκεπτο μηδʼ εὕρητο μηδέν, οὐκ ἂν ἦν, αλλὰ πάντες ἂν ὁμοίως αὐτῆς ἄπειροί τε
καὶ ἀνεπιστήμονες ἦσαν, τύχῃ δʼ ἂν πάντα τὰ τῶν καμνόντων διοικεῖτο”. For the relation techne-
tyche cf. Hippocrates, On ancient medicine, translated with introduction and commentary by
Mark J. Schiefsky, cit. pp. 5–13; A. Jori, Medicina e medici nell’antica Grecia, cit. pp. 317–332;
Id., Il caso, la fortuna e il loro rapporto con la malattia e la guarigione nel Corpus hippocraticum,
in Thivel, A.-Zucker, A. (éd.), Le normal et le pathologique dans la Collection hippocratique. Actes
du Xème colloque international hippocratique (Nice, 6–8 Octobre 1999), vol. 1, Publications de la
Facultés des Lettres, Arts et Sciences Humaines de Nice-Sophia Antipolis, 2002, pp. 197–228.
On the contrary M. Vegetti, La medicina in Platone, Il Cardo, Venezia, 1995, p. 70, thinks that
we are not allowed to compare Eryximachus’ medicine to that of On Winds or of Regimen.
alent to ἰδιώτης, another word meaning the layman in many other treatises).
From this standpoint, the terminology of On Winds and of On Ancient Medicine
is very close and shows a common background: the proof of the existence of
medicine, in On Ancient Medicine, is given by the qualitative difference of the
physicians (and so, primarily by the difference between those who are physi-
cians and those who are not). The verb used in On Ancient Medicine is diaphero,
a verb used also in On Winds in a similar context:
In these diseases [the most hidden and hard ones, scil.] competence mostly differs from in-
competence.¹² (On Winds I, 3, Jouanna p. 103, 12–13)
We find the consideration that only a good physician can solve a difficult case
both in On Winds and in On Ancient Medicine (IX, 4–5, with the example of
the good and of the bad pilot): it is in difficult cases that the good physician
clearly differs from the incompetent one.
The techne iatrike, in On Ancient Medicine, in On Winds and in Eryximachus’
speech is, first of all, demonstrated as existent (remember the formula “technes
eouses” of V.M.), and it is illustrated by the difference among professionals and
laymen, good physicians and incompetent physicians. After this foreword shared
by some treatises, Hippocratic texts get into the specific matter of the treatise,
proposing their conceptions of the human body and of the pathogenic causes
by which diseases start. And it is at this point that Eryximachus’ speech becomes
closer to On Winds than to On Ancient Medicine.
Praise of eros, Praise of pneuma, Praise of logos
The praise of medicine is joined to the praise of eros, a praise of the constituent
principle of all the realities existing in the kosmos. In this way, Plato attributes
Eryximachus’ conception to a particular medical tendency, sharing the princi-
ples of the speculation peri physeos that starts with Ionian thinkers; a tendency
contested by the author of On Ancient Medicine, but well documented by some
Hippocratic treatises, in primis, by Regimen.
From this point of view, we are dealing with a particular medical perspective
that does not refuse the “physiological” plane of discourse, but, on the contrary,
that starts from this standpoint to propose a conception of living beings in gen-
eral and especially of human beings. The principle of this “tendency” is that it is
not possible to know a man, and therefore it is not possible to have an effect on
“διαφέρει δʼ ἐν αὐτοῖσι πλεῖστον ἡ πεῖρα τῆς ἀπειρίης”
The Style of Medical Writing in the speech of Eryximachus
him, if we do not know the nature of the whole (holon) to which man belongs
and which encompasses him.
First of all, Eryximachus broadens the domain of eros to all the things that
exist; in fact this god is in every body:
in the bodies of all animals and in the plants that grow up on earth, and – so to speak – in
all the things that are.¹³ (Symp. 186a5–7)
Eros is within the constitution of all animated or inanimate things as the princi-
ple of their being; furthermore, eros is a god, a principle that reaches out both to
the human level and to the divine one, including each level of reality, starting
from the lower ones (inanimate things) right up to the highest ones (the gods
The medical discourse becomes “physiological” discourse; in fact Eryxima-
chus states that:
The nature of the bodies contains this double eros.¹⁴ (Symp. 186b4)
Positing in this way only one φύσις for all bodies, Eryximachus’ speech follows
on from the medical treatises of the end of 5th century-beginning of the 4th cen-
tury, and develops a physiology of the body, starting from the principle of the
double eros (good and bad). By doing this, the physician of the Symposium
sketches a theory of erotic fluxes that are in the human body and considers
them as the origin of health and illness, identifying the principal aspects of
this humoural physiology sui generis in the replenishment and in the emptying
of the body. Medicine is – apertis verbis – “the science of erotic fluxes of the body
in relation to replenishment and emptying (ἐπιστήμη τῶν τοῦ σώματος ἐρωτι-
κῶν πρὸς πλησμονὴν καὶ κένωσιν)”¹⁵. The terms (πλησμονή and κένωσις) used
here are very significant for the comparison which I am proposing here, because
both terms are precisely used by the author of On Winds to indicate the way to
cure diseases. Even if it is a common conception for ancient medicine, what is
important to remark is that this is the only locus in the Corpus Hippocraticum
“ἐν τοῖς ἄλλοις, τοῖς τε σώμασι τῶν πάντων ζῴων καὶ τοῖς ἐν τῇ γῇ φυομένοις καὶ ὡς ἔπος
εἰπεῖν ἐν πᾶσι τοῖς οὖσι”.
“ἡ γὰρ φύσις τῶν σωμάτων τὸν διπλοῦν Ἔρωτα τοῦτον ἔχει”.
Symp. 186c6–7: “erotic fluxes” as Agathon says (“flussi erotici” as it’s translated by M.
Nucci, Platone, Simposio, Einaudi, Torino, 2009), since in 196a2 he says that eros has a fluid na-
ture (ὑγρὸς τὸ εἶδος).
in which both terms are combined to describe the physiological dynamics of the
body. In fact – the author states –
The emptying is cured by replenishment and replenishment is cured by emptying.¹⁶ (On
Winds I, 4, Jouanna p. 104, 8–9)
The therapy through contraries is explicitly theorized in this treatise, just as in
Eryximachus’ speech medicine is the bearer of an erotic allopathy whose princi-
ple is to support the good eros against the bad one.
Both principles, eros and pneuma, flow through everything and unite the dif-
ferent parts of the kosmos. And from this point of view the praise of the respec-
tive principle is legitimized for both authors, a praise of the dynamis operated
with a terminology very close to and which pertains to another important text,
especially for Platonic philosophy: the Encomium of Helen by Gorgias.
In Eryximachus’ speech it is well stated that
Thus Love, conceived as a single whole, exerts a wide, a strong, nay, in short, a complete
power: but that which is consummated for a good purpose, temperately and justly, both
here on earth and in heaven above, wields the mightiest power of all and provides us
with a perfect bliss; so that we are able to consort with one another and have friendship
with the gods who are above us.¹⁷ (Symp. 188d4–9)
The principal characteristic of eros is the power, properly the dynamis. But what
has the greatest power, the megiste dynamis, is that eros aiming to good things
and accompanied by wisdom and justice.
If we observe On Winds we can find for the pneuma the same characteristic
underlined for eros in the description Eryximachus did:
[Air, scil.] is the greatest sovereign in all things and dominates all things. It is right to con-
template his power.¹⁸ (On Winds, III, 2, Jouanna p. 106, 2–4)
So, the power of the pneuma is in everything, even if it is not visible:
“πάλιν αὖ πλησμονὴν ἰᾶται κένωσις, κένοσιν δὲ πλησμονή”.
Transl. by Harold N. Fowler, in Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes,Vol. 9 translated by Harold N.
Fowler. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1925. “Οὕτω
πολλὴν καὶ μεγάλην, μᾶλλον δὲ πᾶσαν δύναμιν ἔχει συλλήβδην μὲν ὁ πᾶς Ἔρως, ὁ δὲ περὶ
τἀγαθὰ μετὰ σωφροσύνης καὶ δικαιοσύνης ἀποτελούμενος καὶ παρ’ ἡμῖν καὶ παρὰ θεοῖς,
οὗτος τὴν μεγίστην δύναμιν ἔχει καὶ πᾶσαν ἡμῖν εὐδαιμονίαν παρασκευάζει καὶ ἀλλήλοις δυνα-
μένους ὁμιλεῖν καὶ φίλους εἶναι καὶ τοῖς κρείττοσιν ἡμῶν θεοῖς”.
“Οὗτος δὲ μέγιστος έν τοῖσι πᾶσι τῶν σωμάτων δυνάστης ἐστίν. Ἄξιον δʼ αὐτοῦ θεήσασθαι
The Style of Medical Writing in the speech of Eryximachus
however [air, scil.] is invisible to sight, but visible to the reason.¹⁹ (On Winds,
III, 3, Jouanna p. 106, 9–10)
This megistos dynastes is in everything and determines the cycle of seasons: in
winter it becomes cold and dense (psykron, pyknon), in summer mild and calm
(prey, galenon) (On Winds III, 3) just like the erotes of Eryximachus which deter-
mine the constitution (systasis) of the year. By finding a right krasis, the erotes
give prosperity and health to men (Symp. 188a).²⁰
The aspects of proximity between Eryximachus’ speech and the medical dis-
course especially the one developed in On Winds, are various. I would like to
show just a particular resemblance among this speech in the Symposium, in
On Winds and, as I have already mentioned, the Encomium of Helen of Gorgias.
It has been already stressed that the terminology used in On Winds is close
to the praise of the logos pronounced in this text of Gorgias.²¹ The converging
point of these three texts (Encomium of Helen, On Winds and Eryximachus’
speech in the Symposium) that I would like to stress is the qualification given
to the proper object of praise: logos, pneuma and eros.
It has been noted that Eryximachus attributes a megiste dynamis to eros and
that the author of On Winds speaks about the pneuma as a megistos dynastes.
In Gorgias, we find the same characteristics of the pneuma – in On Winds –
attributed to the logos:
Logos is a great sovereign, which achieves the most divine works, with a very small and
completely invisible body.²² (En. El., § 8)
In On Winds and in the Encomium of Helen, the respective principles praised are
described by the same terms, thus creating a circle among these texts which de-
termine conceptions of reality that are functionally similar, even if different in
relation to the content:
1. Eros, pneuma and logos have a great dynamis.
2. Logos and pneuma are great sovereigns (megas and megistos dynastes).
3. Logos and pneuma are invisible (aphanes and aphanestatos).
“᾿Aλλὰ μήν ἐστί γε τῇ μὲν ὄψει ἀφανής, τῷ δὲ λογισμῷ φανερός”.
M. Vegetti, La medicina in Platone, cit., p. 69–70, refers to Airs, waters, places I-II and XII,
and to Epidemics I for the reference to seasons’ homonoia and krasis.
Cfr. J. Jouanna, Notice in Hippocrate, Des vents – De l’art, Les Belles Lettres, Paris, 2003 (ed.
or. 1988), pp. 13–24.
“λόγος δυνάστης μέγας ἐστίν, ὃς σμικροτάτωι σώματι καὶ ἀφανεστάτωι θειότατα ἔργα
What is important to note is that these three principles are the basis of what re-
ality really is; in the respective conceptions, they give form to and determine the
For what concerns the pneuma, it is the primary cause of health and of all
diseases of living beings. But it is the primary cause not only in the sense of a
pathological etiology; it is the primary cause also from an ontological point of
view, since nothing could be without it (“Without it, what could exist? Or from
what it is absent? Or in what is it not copresent? “, On Winds, III, 3, Jouanna
p. 106, 10 –11: Τί γὰρ ἄνευ τούτου γένοιτʼ ἄν; ἢ τίνος οὗτος ἄπεστιν; ἢ τίνι οὐ
On another level of discourse, in the Encomium of Helen, the logos carries
out a performative function of reality. Once the rift between things and the
logos is established,²³ psychic reality becomes the battlefield in which the victory
derives from persuasion. Now, this field is not exempt from analogies with the
sphere of humoural medicine: Gorgias himself builds an image of the soul
and of the changes that soul can have starting from the analogy between psyche
and soma on one hand, and, on the other hand, between logoi and pharmaka
(En. El. §14). In other words, the logos operates as a drug and it can give pleasure,
scare, pain, instill courage, and this power, this dynamis, ensures that the logos
“informs” the soul it is in contact with. Persuasion, indeed, adding itself to the
logos, shapes also the soul as it likes.²⁴ (§13)
Through the considerations mentioned above, I would like to stress the way
by which Plato operates more than a simple imitation of style and of contents; he
substitutes the object of praise, the megas dynastes, identifying it in the dialogos
and not in the logos of Gorgias. At this point, we can note that Plato mixes up
medical discourse with his philosophy against the rhetoric of Gorgias.
Praise of eros or praise of the dialogos?
At the intersection of these three texts appears el convidado de piedra, as Tirso
de Molina could say. The presence of the rhetorician of Leontini is very signifi-
cant since in Eryximachus’ speech there is not only the presence of medical
terms, but also of terms precisely belonging to the Platonic theory of dialogical
Cfr. G. Casertano, Sofista, Guida, Napoli, 2004, pp. 53ff.
“προσιοῦσα τῶι λόγωι καὶ τὴν ψυχὴν ἐτυπώσατο ὅπως”.
The Style of Medical Writing in the speech of Eryximachus
In the comparison between medicine and music, introduced by an imprecise
quotation of the fragment of Heraclitus DK 22b51 (“differing with itself, it is in
concord with itself, as the harmony of the bow and of the lyre”), Eryximachus
shows how these two arts follow the same methodology.
Now the activity of eros is to harmonize what is discordant:
Harmony is consonance, and consonance is a kind of agreement; and agreement of things
varying, so long as they are at variance, is impossible […]. In all these cases the agreement
is brought about by music which, like medicine in the former instance, introduces a mutual
love and unanimity.²⁵ (Symp. 187b4–c4)
The terminology used here by Plato has not so much in common with the med-
ical thought of the Corpus Hippocraticum. Συμφωνία occurs only three times (all
of them in Regimen); ἁρμονία occurs seven times (four of them in Regimen); ὁμο-
λογία occurs twice (but in De decente habitu and in the Epistulae); at last, there is
no occurrence of ὁμόνοια.
Eryximachus’ speech identifies a particular horizon of medical discourse,
which belongs to the first book of Regimen,²⁶ the book where an explanation
of the constitution of whole kosmos is proposed. Speaking about the particles
composing man, indeed, the author of this treatise introduces medical discourse
into the musical one:
Since they [the particles, scil.] changed place and found a correct harmony that has musical
ratios according to the three consonances, the fourth, the fifth, and the eighth, they live and
grow up thanks to the same aliments they used before. But if they do not find the harmony,
if the bass sounds are not in concord with the shrill ones in the first, in the second or in the
eighth interval, since even if just one of them is deficient, the whole pitch is with no ef-
fect.²⁷ (Regimen, I, VIII, Joly, CMG, p. 132, 6–10)
Transl. by Harold N. Fowler, cit.: “ἡ γὰρ ἁρμονία συμφωνία ἐστίν, συμφωνία δὲ ὁμολογία τις
– ὁμολογίαν δὲ ἐκ διαφερομένων, ἕως ἂν διαφέρωνται, ἀδύνατον εἶναι·[…] τὴν δὲ ὁμολογίαν
πᾶσι τούτοις, ὥσπερ ἐκεῖ ἡ ἰατρική, ἐνταῦθα ἡ μουσικὴ ἐντίθησιν, ἔρωτα καὶ ὁμόνοιαν ἀλλήλων
Cfr. E.M. Craik, Plato and medical texts: Symposium: 185c–193d, in “Classical Quarterly” LI,
2001, pp.109–114; A. Thivel, Eryximaque et le principe des contraires, in “Cuadernos de filologia
clàsica” (G) XIV, 2004, pp. 35–44.
“χώρην δὲ ἀμείψαντα καὶ τυχόντα ἁρμονίης ὀρθῆς ἐχούσης συμφωνίας τρεῖς, συλλαβήν, διʼ
ὀξέων, διὰ πασέων, ζώει καὶ αὔξεται τοῖσιν αὐτοῖσιν, οἵσί περ καὶ πρόσθεν· ἢν δὲ μὴ τύχῃ τῆς
ἁρμονίης, μηδὲ σύμφωνα τὰ βαρέα τοῖσιν ὀξέσι γένηται ἐν τῇ πρώτῃ συμφωνίῃ ἢ τῇ δευτέρῃ
ἢ τῇ διὰ παντὸς, ἑνὸς ἀπογενομένου πᾶς ὁ τόνος μάταιος”.
The way in which the discourse of Regimen establishes the analogy between the
physiology of the body’s components and the intervals of the pitches without an-
nouncing nor explaining it is very significant.
The need to interpret reality in terms of a relational structure brings the au-
thor of Regimen – again in the first book, in chapter XI – to propose one with no
explicit referents, a structure able to be adapted to the most diverse realities.
In fact, everything is similar even if they are dissimilar; everything is in concord even if they
are not; everything is in dialogue even if they have no dialogue; everything has intelligence,
even if they have not; the way of each thing is contrary even if it is in concord. The nomos
and the physis, by which we do everything, are not in concord even if they are in concord.²⁸
(Regimen, I, XI, Joly pp. 134, 24–136, 1)
Eryximachus’ speech and the passage quoted above aim to define a relational
structure that could operate on different levels: from the singular bodily realities
until the extra-individual ones (the dialogue and the political community). If we
draw conclusions, the stress put by Eryximachus on the impossibility of an ac-
cord among dissimilar elements is of great relevance to Plato’s philosophy.
Contamination of Models and Platonic Proposal
It is worth stressing the activity that eros produces through its megiste dynamis.
Its erga consists in allowing a mutual coexistence and in making friends (philoi):
not just human beings with one another, but also gods with men. But the func-
tion of eros is the same in each plane of reality of the kosmos. At a dialogical and
political level producing coexistence and friendship among men means, at a
physiological level, producing friendship among the parts of the body, as if to
mean that the semantic horizon produced in a dialogue is functionally equal
to the order established in a body, an order that is the sign of health. In this per-
spective, Eryximachus’ medicine turns out to be a techne producing friendship
(philia) at each level of reality:
Indeed he must be able to make friends and happy lovers of the keenest opponents in the
body.²⁹ (Symp. 186d5–6)
“πάντα γὰρ ὅμοια, ἀνόμοια ἐόντα· καὶ σύμφωνα πάντα, διάφορα ἐόντα· διαλεγόμενα, οὐ
διαλεγόμενα· γνώμην ἔχοντα, ἀγνώμονα. ὑπεναντίος ὁ τρόπος ἐκάστων ὁμολογεόμενος.
Νόμος γὰρ καὶ φύσις, οἷσι πάντα διαπρησσόμεθα, οὐχ ὁμολογεῖται ὁμολογεόμενα”.
Transl. by Harold N. Fowler, cit.: “δεῖ γὰρ δὴ τὰ ἔχθιστα ὄντα ἐν τῷ σώματι φίλα οἷόν τʼ εἶναι
ποιεῖν καὶ ἐρᾶν ἀλλήλων”.
The Style of Medical Writing in the speech of Eryximachus