Phaedrus by Plato. - HTML preview

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There are two principal controversies which Parmenides between the criticism of the Platonic have been raised about the Phaedrus; the first ideas and of the Eleatic one or being; the Gorgias relates to the subject, the second to the date of between the art of speaking and the nature of the Dialogue.

the good; the Sophist between the detection of There seems to be a notion that the work of a the Sophist and the correlation of ideas. The great artist like Plato cannot fail in unity, and Theaetetus, the Politicus, and the Philebus have that the unity of a dialogue requires a single also digressions which are but remotely con-subject. But the conception of unity really ap-nected with the main subject.

plies in very different degrees and ways to dif-Thus the comparison of Plato’s other writings, ferent kinds of art; to a statue, for example, far as well as the reason of the thing, lead us to the more than to any kind of literary composition, conclusion that we must not expect to find one and to some species of literature far more than idea pervading a whole work, but one, two, or to others. Nor does the dialogue appear to be a more, as the invention of the writer may sug-style of composition in which the requirement gest, or his fancy wander. If each dialogue were of unity is most stringent; nor should the idea of confined to the development of a single idea, this unity derived from one sort of art be hastily trans-would appear on the face of the dialogue, nor ferred to another. The double titles of several of could any controversy be raised as to whether the Platonic Dialogues are a further proof that the Phaedrus treated of love or rhetoric. But the the severer rule was not observed by Plato. The truth is that Plato subjects himself to no rule of Republic is divided between the search after jus-this sort. Like every great artist he gives unity tice and the construction of the ideal state; the of form to the different and apparently distract-15


ing topics which he brings together. He works throughout is rhetoric; this is the ground into freely and is not to be supposed to have arranged which the rest of the Dialogue is worked, in parts every part of the dialogue before he begins to embroidered with fine words which are not in write. He fastens or weaves together the frame Socrates’ manner, as he says, ‘in order to please of his discourse loosely and imperfectly, and Phaedrus.’ The speech of Lysias which has which is the warp and which is the woof cannot thrown Phaedrus into an ecstacy is adduced as always be determined.

an example of the false rhetoric; the first speech The subjects of the Phaedrus (exclusive of the of Socrates, though an improvement, partakes short introductory passage about mythology of the same character; his second speech, which which is suggested by the local tradition) are is full of that higher element said to have been first the false or conventional art of rhetoric; sec-learned of Anaxagoras by Pericles, and which in ondly, love or the inspiration of beauty and knowl-the midst of poetry does not forget order, is an edge, which is described as madness; thirdly, illustration of the higher or true rhetoric. This dialectic or the art of composition and division; higher rhetoric is based upon dialectic, and dia-fourthly, the true rhetoric, which is based upon lectic is a sort of inspiration akin to love (com-dialectic, and is neither the art of persuasion nor pare Symp.); in these two aspects of philosophy knowledge of the truth alone, but the art of per-the technicalities of rhetoric are absorbed. And suasion founded on knowledge of truth and so the example becomes also the deeper theme knowledge of character; fifthly, the superiority of discourse. The true knowledge of things in of the spoken over the written word. The con-heaven and earth is based upon enthusiasm or tinuous thread which appears and reappears love of the ideas going before us and ever present 16


to us in this world and in another; and the true theless the form of the work has tended to ob-order of speech or writing proceeds accordingly.

scure some of Plato’s higher aims.

Love, again, has three degrees: first, of interested The first speech is composed ‘in that balanced love corresponding to the conventionalities of style in which the wise love to talk’ (Symp.).

rhetoric; secondly, of disinterested or mad love, The characteristics of rhetoric are insipidity, fixed on objects of sense, and answering, per-mannerism, and monotonous parallelism of haps, to poetry; thirdly, of disinterested love di-clauses. There is more rhythm than reason; the rected towards the unseen, answering to dialec-creative power of imagination is wanting.

tic or the science of the ideas. Lastly, the art of rhetoric in the lower sense is found to rest on a

‘ ’ Tis Greece, but living Greece no more.’

knowledge of the natures and characters of men, which Socrates at the commencement of the Plato has seized by anticipation the spirit which Dialogue has described as his own peculiar study.

hung over Greek literature for a thousand years Thus amid discord a harmony begins to appear; afterwards. Yet doubtless there were some who, there are many links of connection which are like Phaedrus, felt a delight in the harmonious not visible at first sight. At the same time the cadence and the pedantic reasoning of the rheto-Phaedrus, although one of the most beautiful of ricians newly imported from Sicily, which had the Platonic Dialogues, is also more irregular ceased to be awakened in them by really great than any other. For insight into the world, for works, such as the odes of Anacreon or Sappho sustained irony, for depth of thought, there is no or the orations of Pericles. That the first speech Dialogue superior, or perhaps equal to it. Never-was really written by Lysias is improbable. Like 17


the poem of Solon, or the story of Thamus and chiefly in a better arrangement of the topics; he Theuth, or the funeral oration of Aspasia (if genu-begins with a definition of love, and he gives ine), or the pretence of Socrates in the Cratylus weight to his words by going back to general that his knowledge of philology is derived from maxims; a lesser merit is the greater liveliness Euthyphro, the invention is really due to the of Socrates, which hurries him into verse and imagination of Plato, and may be compared to relieves the monotony of the style.

the parodies of the Sophists in the Protagoras.

But Plato had doubtless a higher purpose than Numerous fictions of this sort occur in the Dia-to exhibit Socrates as the rival or superior of the logues, and the gravity of Plato has sometimes Athenian rhetoricians. Even in the speech of imposed upon his commentators. The introduc-Lysias there is a germ of truth, and this is fur-tion of a considerable writing of another would ther developed in the parallel oration of Socrates.

seem not to be in keeping with a great work of First, passionate love is overthrown by the so-art, and has no parallel elsewhere.

phistical or interested, and then both yield to In the second speech Socrates is exhibited as that higher view of love which is afterwards re-beating the rhetoricians at their own weapons; vealed to us. The extreme of commonplace is he ‘an unpractised man and they masters of the contrasted with the most ideal and imaginative art.’ True to his character, he must, however, of speculations. Socrates, half in jest and to sat-profess that the speech which he makes is not isfy his own wild humour, takes the disguise of his own, for he knows nothing of himself. (Com-Lysias, but he is also in profound earnest and in pare Symp.) Regarded as a rhetorical exercise, a deeper vein of irony than usual. Having impro-the superiority of his speech seems to consist vised his own speech, which is based upon the 18


model of the preceding, he condemns them both.

partly in joke, to show that the ‘non-lover’s’

Yet the condemnation is not to be taken seriously, love is better than the ‘lover’s.’

for he is evidently trying to express an aspect of We may raise the same question in another the truth. To understand him, we must make form: Is marriage preferable with or without abstraction of morality and of the Greek man-love? ‘Among ourselves,’ as we may say, a little ner of regarding the relation of the sexes. In this, parodying the words of Pausanias in the Sympo-as in his other discussions about love, what Plato sium, ‘there would be one answer to this ques-says of the loves of men must be transferred to tion: the practice and feeling of some foreign the loves of women before we can attach any countries appears to be more doubtful.’ Suppose serious meaning to his words. Had he lived in a modern Socrates, in defiance of the received our times he would have made the transposition notions of society and the sentimental literature himself. But seeing in his own age the impossi-of the day, alone against all the writers and read-bility of woman being the intellectual helpmate ers of novels, to suggest this enquiry, would not or friend of man (except in the rare instances of the younger ‘part of the world be ready to take a Diotima or an Aspasia), seeing that, even as to off its coat and run at him might and main?’

personal beauty, her place was taken by young (Republic.) Yet, if like Peisthetaerus in mankind instead of womankind, he tries to work Aristophanes, he could persuade the ‘birds’ to out the problem of love without regard to the hear him, retiring a little behind a rampart, not distinctions of nature. And full of the evils which of pots and dishes, but of unreadable books, he he recognized as flowing from the spurious form might have something to say for himself. Might of love, he proceeds with a deep meaning, though he not argue, ‘that a rational being should not 19


follow the dictates of passion in the most impor-not helpers but hinderers of one another: they tant act of his or her life’? Who would willingly cannot undertake any noble enterprise, such as enter into a contract at first sight, almost with-makes the names of men and women famous, out thought, against the advice and opinion of from domestic considerations. Too late their eyes his friends, at a time when he acknowledges that are opened; they were taken unawares and de-he is not in his right mind? And yet they are sire to part company. Better, he would say, a praised by the authors of romances, who reject

‘little love at the beginning,’ for heaven might the warnings of their friends or parents, rather have increased it; but now their foolish fondness than those who listen to them in such matters.

has changed into mutual dislike. In the days of Two inexperienced persons, ignorant of the world their honeymoon they never understood that and of one another, how can they be said to they must provide against offences, that they choose?—they draw lots, whence also the saying, must have interests, that they must learn the

‘marriage is a lottery.’ Then he would describe art of living as well as loving. Our misogamist their way of life after marriage; how they mo-will not appeal to Anacreon or Sappho for a con-nopolize one another’s affections to the exclu-firmation of his view, but to the universal expe-sion of friends and relations: how they pass their rience of mankind. How much nobler, in conclu-days in unmeaning fondness or trivial conversa-sion, he will say, is friendship, which does not tion; how the inferior of the two drags the other receive unmeaning praises from novelists and down to his or her level; how the cares of a fam-poets, is not exacting or exclusive, is not impaired ily ‘breed meanness in their souls.’ In the by familiarity, is much less expensive, is not so fulfilment of military or public duties, they are likely to take offence, seldom changes, and may 20


be dissolved from time to time without the assistance of the courts. Besides, he will remark

‘Let me not to the marriage of true minds that there is a much greater choice of friends Admit impediments. Love is not love than of wives—you may have more of them and Which alters when it alteration finds.

they will be far more improving to your mind.

They will not keep you dawdling at home, or

dancing attendance upon them; or withdraw you from the great world and stirring scenes of life Love’s not time’s fool, though rosy lips and and action which would make a man of you.


In such a manner, turning the seamy side out-Within his bending sickle’s compass come; wards, a modern Socrates might describe the Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, evils of married and domestic life. They are evils But bears it out even to the edge of doom.’

which mankind in general have agreed to conceal, partly because they are compensated by But this true love of the mind cannot exist be-greater goods. Socrates or Archilochus would tween two souls, until they are purified from the soon have to sing a palinode for the injustice done grossness of earthly passion: they must pass to lovely Helen, or some misfortune worse than through a time of trial and conflict first; in the blindness might be fall them. Then they would language of religion they must be converted or take up their parable again and say:—that there born again. Then they would see the world trans-were two loves, a higher and a lower, holy and formed into a scene of heavenly beauty; a divine unholy, a love of the mind and a love of the body.

idea would accompany them in all their thoughts 21


and actions. Something too of the recollections read in one another’s eyes the thoughts, wishes, of childhood might float about them still; they actions of the other; how they saw each other in might regain that old simplicity which had been God; how in a figure they grew wings like doves, theirs in other days at their first entrance on and were ‘ready to fly away together and be at life. And although their love of one another was rest.’ And lastly, he might tell how, after a time ever present to them, they would acknowledge at no long intervals, first one and then the other also a higher love of duty and of God, which fell asleep, and ‘appeared to the unwise’ to die, united them. And their happiness would depend but were reunited in another state of being, in upon their preserving in them this principle—not which they saw justice and holiness and truth, losing the ideals of justice and holiness and truth, not according to the imperfect copies of them but renewing them at the fountain of light. When which are found in this world, but justice abso-they have attained to this exalted state, let them lute in existence absolute, and so of the rest. And marry (something too may be conceded to the they would hold converse not only with each animal nature of man): or live together in holy other, but with blessed souls everywhere; and and innocent friendship. The poet might describe would be employed in the service of God, every in eloquent words the nature of such a union; soul fulfilling his own nature and character, and how after many struggles the true love was would see into the wonders of earth and heaven, found: how the two passed their lives together and trace the works of creation to their author.

in the service of God and man; how their charac-So, partly in jest but also ‘with a certain deters were reflected upon one another, and gree of seriousness,’ we may appropriate to our-seemed to grow more like year by year; how they selves the words of Plato. The use of such a 22


parody, though very imperfect, is to transfer his vail among ourselves. To return to the Phaedrus:—

thoughts to our sphere of religion and feeling, Both speeches are strongly condemned by to bring him nearer to us and us to him. Like the Socrates as sinful and blasphemous towards the Scriptures, Plato admits of endless applications, god Love, and as worthy only of some haunt of if we allow for the difference of times and man-sailors to which good manners were unknown.

ners; and we lose the better half of him when The meaning of this and other wild language to we regard his Dialogues merely as literary com-the same effect, which is introduced by way of positions. Any ancient work which is worth read-contrast to the formality of the two speeches ing has a practical and speculative as well as a (Socrates has a sense of relief when he has es-literary interest. And in Plato, more than in any caped from the trammels of rhetoric), seems to other Greek writer, the local and transitory is be that the two speeches proceed upon the sup-inextricably blended with what is spiritual and position that love is and ought to be interested, eternal. Socrates is necessarily ironical; for he and that no such thing as a real or disinterested has to withdraw from the received opinions and passion, which would be at the same time last-beliefs of mankind. We cannot separate the tran-ing, could be conceived. ‘But did I call this sitory from the permanent; nor can we trans-

“love”? O God, forgive my blasphemy. This is late the language of irony into that of plain re-not love. Rather it is the love of the world. But flection and common sense. But we can imagine there is another kingdom of love, a kingdom not the mind of Socrates in another age and coun-of this world, divine, eternal. And this other love try; and we can interpret him by analogy with I will now show you in a mystery. ’

reference to the errors and prejudices which pre-Then follows the famous myth, which is a sort 23


of parable, and like other parables ought not to soul as the great motive power and the triple receive too minute an interpretation. In all such soul which is thus imaged. There is no difficulty allegories there is a great deal which is merely in seeing that the charioteer represents the rea-ornamental, and the interpreter has to separate son, or that the black horse is the symbol of the the important from the unimportant. Socrates sensual or concupiscent element of human na-himself has given the right clue when, in using ture. The white horse also represents rational his own discourse afterwards as the text for his impulse, but the description, ‘a lover of honour examination of rhetoric, he characterizes it as a and modesty and temperance, and a follower of

‘partly true and tolerably credible mythus,’ in true glory,’ though similar, does not at once re-which amid poetical figures, order and arrange-call the ‘spirit’ (thumos) of the Republic. The ment were not forgotten.

two steeds really correspond in a figure more The soul is described in magnificent language nearly to the appetitive and moral or semi-ratio-as the self-moved and the source of motion in all nal soul of Aristotle. And thus, for the first time other things. This is the philosophical theme or perhaps in the history of philosophy, we have proem of the whole. But ideas must be given represented to us the threefold division of psy-through something, and under the pretext that chology. The image of the charioteer and the to realize the true nature of the soul would be steeds has been compared with a similar image not only tedious but impossible, we at once pass which occurs in the verses of Parmenides; but it on to describe the souls of gods as well as men is important to remark that the horses of under the figure of two winged steeds and a Parmenides have no allegorical meaning, and charioteer. No connection is traced between the that the poet is only describing his own approach 24


in a chariot to the regions of light and the house the way of philosophy, or perfect love of the un-of the goddess of truth.

seen, is total abstinence from bodily delights.

The triple soul has had a previous existence,

‘But all men cannot receive this saying’: in the in which following in the train of some god, from lower life of ambition they may be taken off their whom she derived her character, she beheld par-guard and stoop to folly unawares, and then, al-tially and imperfectly the vision of absolute truth.

though they do not attain to the highest bliss, All her after existence, passed in many forms of yet if they have once conquered they may be men and animals, is spent in regaining this. The happy enough.

stages of the conflict are many and various; and The language of the Meno and the Phaedo as she is sorely let and hindered by the animal de-well as of the Phaedrus seems to show that at sires of the inferior or concupiscent steed. Again one time of his life Plato was quite serious in and again she beholds the flashing beauty of the maintaining a former state of existence. His mis-beloved. But before that vision can be finally sion was to realize the abstract; in that, all good enjoyed the animal desires must be subjected.

and truth, all the hopes of this and another life The moral or spiritual element in man is rep-seemed to centre. To him abstractions, as we call resented by the immortal steed which, like them, were another kind of knowledge—an in-thumos in the Republic, always sides with the ner and unseen world, which seemed to exist reason. Both are dragged out of their course by far more truly than the fleeting objects of sense the furious impulses of desire. In the end some-which were without him. When we are once able thing is conceded to the desires, after they have to imagine the intense power which abstract been finally humbled and overpowered. And yet ideas exercised over the mind of Plato, we see 25


that there was no more difficulty to him in real-horses of the gods are both white, i.e. their ev-izing the eternal existence of them and of the ery impulse is in harmony with reason; their human minds which were associated with them, dualism, on the other hand, only carries out the in the past and future than in the present. The figure of the chariot. Is he serious, again, in re-difficulty was not how they could exist, but how garding love as ‘a madness’? That seems to they could fail to exist. In the attempt to regain arise out of the antithesis to the former concep-this ‘saving’ knowledge of the ideas, the sense tion of love. At the same time he appears to inti-was found to be as great an enemy as the de-mate here, as in the Ion, Apology, Meno, and else-sires; and hence two things which to us seem where, that there is a faculty in man, whether quite distinct are inextricably blended in the to be termed in modern language genius, or in-representation of Plato.

spiration, or imagination, or idealism, or com-Thus far we may believe that Plato was seri-munion with God, which cannot be reduced to ous in his conception of the soul as a motive rule and measure. Perhaps, too, he is ironically power, in his reminiscence of a former state of repeating the common language of mankind being, in his elevation of the reason over sense about philosophy, and is turning their jest into a and passion, and perhaps in his doctrine of trans-sort of earnest. (Compare Phaedo, Symp.) Or is migration. Was he equally serious in the rest?

he serious in holding that each soul bears the For example, are we to attribute his tripartite character of a god? He may have had no other division of the soul to the gods? Or is this merely account to give of the differences of human char-assigned to them by way of parallelism with acters to which he afterwards refers. Or, again, men? The latter is the more probable; for the in his absurd derivation of mantike and oionistike 26


and imeros (compare Cratylus)? It is character-the condition of life to which fate has called him istic of the irony of Socrates to mix up sense and (‘he aiblins might, I dinna ken’). But to sup-nonsense in such a way that no exact line can be pose this would be at variance with Plato him-drawn between them. And allegory helps to in-self and with Greek notions generally. He is much crease this sort of confusion.

more serious in distinguishing men from animals As is often the case in the parables and proph-by their recognition of the universal which they ecies of Scripture, the meaning is allowed to have known in a former state, and in denying break through the figure, and the details are not that this gift of reason can ever be obliterated always consistent. When the charioteers and or lost. In the language of some modern theolo-their steeds stand upon the dome of heaven they gians he might be said to maintain the ‘final behold the intangible invisible essences which perseverance’ of those who have entered on are not objects of sight. This is because the force their pilgrim’s progress. Other intimations of a of language can no further go. Nor can we dwell

‘metaphysic’ or ‘theology’ of the future may much on the circumstance, that at the comple-also be discerned in him: (1) The moderate pre-tion of ten thousand years all are to return to destinarianism which here, as in the Republic, the place from whence they came; because he acknowledges the element of chance in human represents their return as dependent on their life, and yet asserts the freedom and responsi-own good conduct in the successive stages of bility of man; (2) The recognition of a moral as existence. Nor again can we attribute anything well as an intellectual principle in man under to the accidental inference which would also fol-the image of an immortal steed; (3) The notion low, that even a tyrant may live righteously in that the divine nature exists by the contempla-27


tion of ideas of virtue and justice—or, in other pression partly of Plato’s enthusiasm for the words, the assertion of the essentially moral idea, and is also an indication of the real power nature of God; (4) Again, there is the hint that exercised by the passion of friendship over the human life is a life of aspiration only, and that mind of the Greek. The master in the art of love the true ideal is not to be found in art; (5) There knew that there was a mystery in these feelings occurs the first trace of the distinction between and their associations, and especially in the con-necessary and contingent matter; (6) The contrast of the sensible and permanent which is af-ception of the soul itself as the motive power forded by them; and he sought to explain this, and reason of the universe.

as he explained universal ideas, by a reference The conception of the philosopher, or the phi-to a former state of existence. The capricious-losopher and lover in one, as a sort of madman, ness of love is also derived by him from an at-may be compared with the Republic and tachment to some god in a former world. The Theaetetus, in both of which the philosopher is singular remark that the beloved is more affected regarded as a stranger and monster upon the than the lover at the final consummation of their earth. The whole myth, like the other myths of love, seems likewise to hint at a psychological Plato, describes in a figure things which are be-truth.

yond the range of human faculties, or inacces-It is difficult to exhaust the meanings of a work sible to the knowledge of the age. That philoso-like the Phaedrus, which indicates so much more phy should be represented as the inspiration of than it expresses; and is full of inconsistencies love is a conception that has already become fa-and ambiguities which were not perceived by miliar to us in the Symposium, and is the ex-Plato himself. For example, when he is speaking 28


of the soul does he mean the human or the di-which extinguishes rather than stimulates vul-vine soul? and are they both equally self-moving gar love,—a heavenly beauty like that which and constructed on the same threefold principle?

flashed from time to time before the eyes of We should certainly be disposed to reply that the Dante or Bunyan? Surely the latter. But it would self-motive is to be attributed to God only; and be idle to reconcile all the details of the passage: on the other hand that the appetitive and pas-it is a picture, not a system, and a picture which sionate elements have no place in His nature. So is for the greater part an allegory, and an alle-we should infer from the reason of the thing, gory which allows the meaning to come through.

but there is no indication in Plato’s own writ-The image of the charioteer and his steeds is ings that this was his meaning. Or, again, when placed side by side with the absolute forms of he explains the different characters of men by justice, temperance, and the like, which are ab-referring them back to the nature of the God stract ideas only, and which are seen with the whom they served in a former state of existence, eye of the soul in her heavenly journey. The first we are inclined to ask whether he is serious: Is impression of such a passage, in which no at-he not rather using a mythological figure, here tempt is made to separate the substance from as elsewhere, to draw a veil over things which the form, is far truer than an elaborate philo-are beyond the limits of mortal knowledge? Once sophical analysis.

more, in speaking of beauty is he really thinking It is too often forgotten that the whole of the of some external form such as might have been second discourse of Socrates is only an allegory, expressed in the works of Phidias or Praxiteles; or figure of speech. For this reason, it is unnec-and not rather of an imaginary beauty, of a sort essary to enquire whether the love of which Plato 29


speaks is the love of men or of women. It is really In the Phaedrus, as well as in the Symposium, a general idea which includes both, and in which there are two kinds of love, a lower and a higher, the sensual element, though not wholly eradi-the one answering to the natural wants of the cated, is reduced to order and measure. We must animal, the other rising above them and contem-not attribute a meaning to every fanciful detail.

plating with religious awe the forms of justice, Nor is there any need to call up revolting associa-temperance, holiness, yet finding them also ‘too tions, which as a matter of good taste should be dazzling bright for mortal eye,’ and shrinking banished, and w