Panel 4.1: Platonic Images

This panel was chaired by Natalie Enright and included papers from David Preston, Jeffrey Ulrich, Matthew Johncock, and Christopher Green, the abstracts, powerpoints, handouts, and audio for which are shown below.

David Preston, Royal Holloway, The University of London

Title: Between the Dionysia and the Dialogues: Comic Metaphors in Plato.

There is an ancient tradition which held that Gorgias once labelled Plato ‘The Archilochus of Athens’ on account of the abuse levelled in his dialogues. Although seemingly strange, Gorgias’ attack was not unfounded, as Plato was quite the satirist – a generally illusive fact in modernity due to the greater tendency to judge the dialogues purely on philosophical merit. To do this, however, is to let part of Plato’s genius slip away, as philosophical rigour is not the only way Plato gets the better of his interlocutors. For the dialogues employ a vast range of comic motifs and metaphors aiming to undermine certain opponents by loading them with idiosyncrasies characteristic of the comic alazon. This attenuates the character of the speaker, and thus the credibility of their doctrines. Socrates, conversely, plays the part of the comic hero, deflating braggartry and exposing ignorance.

In this paper I will highlight how Plato does this by drawing attention to the comic undertones that permeate a selection of the dialogues. The elaborate scene-setting and dramatis personae of the Protagoras, for example, strongly reminisces then setting of Eupolis’ now lost Kolakes, while presentations of Protagoras himself can be viewed as nothing more than a pastiche of the comic antagonist. Elsewhere, the encounter between Socrates and the eristic brothers of the Euthydemus bears all the hall-marks the comic student/teacher relationship found in plays such as Aristophanes’ Clouds. The main question that should arise is what are Plato’s motives in doing this? Could he not rely solely on his own method? Or do light hearted works like the Euthydemus indicate that certain dialogues were written to appeal to the lay-man as an advertisement for the Academy over any of the rival rhetoric or philosophical institutions that had recently been established in Athens?


Audio –

Jeffrey Ulrich, The University of Pennsylvania

Title: The Reception of Platonic Images in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses.

The role of Platonic thought in Apuleius’ Metamorphoses has long been a subject of scholarly inquiry, and interpretations have been divided between ‘serious’ and ‘satirical’ readings of Apuleius’ Platonism ever since its earliest reception. The methodologies of deciphering Platonism generally followed two paths, either (a) finding Platonic moments in the narrative that loosely gesture to a Platonic undertone (Schlam (1970)) or (b) placing the novel within its milieu of Middle Platonism (Walsh (1981)). In this paper, I suggest an alternate approach to finding Platonism in the Metamorphoses, not by searching for a philosophical takeaway from the Platonic moments, but by analyzing Apuleius’ reception of images from Platonic myth.

I will focus on two Platonic allusions at the beginning and the end of the Metamorphoses. The first is a parallel scene to the famous ‘Typhonic choice’ of the Phaedrus, where Socrates likens his soul to the monster Typhon. While, in the Platonic model, Socrates’ image prepares the reader for the later analogy for the soul and the quest for winged flight, Lucius, in facing his own ‘Typhonic choice,’ comically misunderstands Socrates’ analogy and attempts to acquire wings for his body. Then, at the end of the novel, Lucius loses his curiositas that connects him to the figure of Typhon (Defilippo (1990)). In this conclusion, Apuleius points us to a moment from Plato’s myth of Er, where Odysseus chooses a better paradeigma biou than his Homeric life, that of an ‘incurious individual.’ In Plato, this scene of souls picking different lives teaches us an ‘un- Typhonic’ path for pursuing knowledge, but Apuleius’ reception of this scene again highlights the hermeneutic ambiguity of Platonic images. Ultimately, I argue that Lucius is represented as a bad interpreter of Plato, but for the attuned reader, Apuleius playfully teaches us a different way of reading Plato.


Audio –

Matthew Johncock, Royal Holloway, The University of London

Title: Lucretius’ Reception of Plato’s Metaphors for the Body and Soul.

Lucretius employs multiple persistent metaphors to depict the principal processes underlying his materialist philosophy. These include a ‘container’ metaphor (Garani 2007), by which one bodily substance can contain another via the medium of void; a complementary ‘liquid’ metaphor, by which one bodily substance can ‘fill’ another; and a ‘weaving’ metaphor (Snyder 1983, Garani 2007), by which composite bodies consist of impermanent ‘woven’ textures of atomic primordia. These metaphors are extensively established in Books 1 and 2 of De Rerum Natura, forming a foundation for Lucretius’ theory of the soul in Book 3. The body is depicted as a container (or ‘vessel’) for the soul, which itself displays liquid qualities in its swift movement. The relationship between body and soul is also described in weaving terms, with the two forming a composite thoroughly ‘interwoven’ at first birth. The ‘container’, ‘liquid’ and ‘weaving’ metaphors complement each other to display different aspects of the body and soul.

Lucretius’ metaphors echo those found in Plato, for whom the relationship between body and soul is one of confinement. Within this framework, Plato (in particular in the Phaedo) depicts the soul as ‘confined’ or ‘imprisoned’ within the body, and ‘bound’ to the body, until it is ‘set free’ at death (Pender, 2000). Like Lucretius, Plato carefully defines his metaphors of imprisonment and binding to represent different aspects of the soul’s relationship with the body. The metaphors are complementary, together depicting the soul as entering and departing the body intact before moving on to be confined in another body. This paper will show how Lucretius exploits and adapts Plato’s metaphors in line with those of his own materialist philosophy, for the very opposite purpose: to show that the soul is born and dies with the body.

Audio –

Christopher Green, The University of Leeds

Title: Phaedo’s Similes and their Buddhist Counterparts.

What is the purpose of similes in philosophical writings? Can the allegorical be combined with the literal? Indeed, is it possible to conceive of a philosopher embedding philosophical musings within an image? Plato is at once an early philosopher and a literary writer, transcending disciplinary stereotypes entrenched in academia. It is possible to write beautiful prose and ontological truths at the same time. Plato is not alone in the ancient world, Buddhist writings lean heavily on imagery as a vehicle for ontology. Interestingly, both Plato and early Buddhism share common philosophical imagery.

It is possible to use Buddhist images to gain a deeper understanding of Platonic concepts in Phaedo, such as ascension and moral responsibility. Specifically, I examine philosophical similes concerning ascent in Phaedo and the Lotus Flower in Buddhism. In both, the ascent represents a philosophical journey from a state of ignorance to a condition called wisdom. Interestingly for both, that ascent is combined with a release from this bodily world into a disembodied state. Though, Phaedo and Buddhism disagree on the ‘destination’ and ‘state’ of said release.

Secondly, I show how a Buddhist simile, a seed and fruit, can be used to help clarify Phaedo’s closing ‘after-life’ myth. Phaedo’s closing myth leaves questions to be answered, not least, why should I be good? Specifically, why should I be good if I am not one-and-the-same thing later? Through the Buddhist simile, Platonic moral responsibility is seen as a causal line of continuation: as a seed is planted, a fruit comes into fruition; as an action is done, a consequence is necessary. Therefore, even if the re-substantiation of soul blurs a Platonic judgemental ontology, it does not condemn Phaedo to moral triviality.


Audio –


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