The power of eros and logos: an interpretation of Plato's Phaedrus

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Buccioni, Eva M.
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University of Guelph

This thesis interprets Plato's 'Phaedrus' against the Athenian social, political, and legal backdrop. The apparent disunity of a dialogue that stresses the need for organic compositional unity and seems to condemn writing in writing has puzzled and intrigued readers. From antiquity eros, logos, and psyche were suggested as thematic contenders. I show how these themes are intimately connected both as internal substratum of human nature and within the external societal practices. First, rather than discussing only the surface claims about eros of the three pederastic speeches, I examine the underlying logos in the light of the social, political, and legal belief system and practice. Searching below the surface 'rhetoric' of Lysias' speech reveals its nonlover's proposition for secret sexual indulgence to be grounded in the Antiphonian stance, a subversive solution to the ' phusis-nomos' (nature-law/convention) antithesis that recommends following one's natural urges in private, while appearing as law-abiding citizen in public. Socrates' first speech turns the focus from outward appearances to the inner state by formulating the presuppositions of the general view in terms of a 'two-principle' hypothesis based on this 'phusis-nomos ' antithesis. Socrates' second speech completes the inward turn by depicting the triadic (rather than bi-polar) psyche affected by the power of eros. Psyche by nature has three forces (which I identify as the guiding, the selfish, and the communal force) and can fulfil its highest role of ordering and caring only when the guiding force utilizes both other forces. This account of psyche already foreshadows one of the demands for genuine rhetoric discussed later, namely that one must know the nature and powers of psyche. A second demand, knowledge of logos, necessitates that one must first gather together all kinds of logoi, both public (political, judiciary, and legislative) and private, under one comprehensive techne of rhetoric. Such collection constitutes the first part of dialectic, introduced by Socrates. I utilize the second, division, not only in analyzing the underlying logoi of the pederastic speeches, but also to reveal that eros and logos are powers through which psyche acts and is affected, and so are united in psyche and unify the 'Phaedrus ' as an organic whole. Finally, I argue that the critique of writing is not as negative as many scholars believe. It neither necessitates theories about unwritten doctrines, nor a Platonic apologia, but illuminates why Plato wrote dialogues.

Eros, Logos, Power, Plato, Phaedrus