Saturday, August 16, 2008

Some Thoughts on Plato's Phaedrus

I have been mulling over the possibility that Plato's "Phaedrus" is a philosophical satyr play of and paralleling Euripides' "Hippolytus." It does seem to have structural similarities, at least. Take for example "Phaedrus." It begins with a discussion of eros (love) in the first half of the dialogue, then shifts to a discussion of rhetoric. In "Hippolytus," Phaedra is going on and on about her love for Hippolytus then, after she kills herself, writing a suicide letter in which she lies about Hippolytus, his father accuses him, as he tries to defend himself, of engaging in mere rhetoric. Of course, so has Phaedra, only hers, while convincing, was a lie while Hippolytus's is not convincing. Further, we have the issue of writing vs. speaking in each work. One cannot question Phaedra about her letter, because she's not around to be questioned. Thus, one cannot tell if she is lying or not. This is the problem Plato is talking about in discussion issues of truth when it comes to writing in "Phaedrus." Throw in the fact the Hippolytus was a famous horse trainer, and Plato's discussion of the wild vs. the well-trained horse as elements of the soul, and the parallels seem to keep arising. This might also explain Plato's choice of Phaedrus as the person of choice for the dialogue, as Phaedrus is the masculine of Phaedra.

Why do I consider "Phaedrus" to be a kind of satyr play? Well, I would argue that in many ways "Phaedrus" is making fun of "Hippolytus" in structure. Also, there are some pretty funny and outrageous parts in "Phaedrus." It does seem to have the same feel about it as does the (unfortunately) only satyr play we have in its entirety, Euripides' "Cyclops."
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