Chapter 1. Terpsichore

To Terpsichore, the cicadas report those who have honored her in the choral dance (τοὺς ἐν τοῖς χοροῖς τετιμηκότας), and make them dearer to her
Phaedrus 259c–d
Capra fig1
From the third frieze of the François vase, ca. 570 BC. The frieze depicts the procession of the gods to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, including nine Muses, all duly labeled by this graphomaniac painter.
  • On the third frieze of the François vase, the names of the Muses closely match Hesiod’s nine Muses in the Theogony, with one major exception: as is clear from the above image, one STÊSICHORÊ has “replaced” TERPSICHORÊ. This has prompted the suggestion that a Stesichorean performance might have influenced the depiction of the processing gods (see e.g. Stewart 1983 and, contra, Haslam 1991).
  • Perhaps the very name STÊSICHOROS was itself a sprechender Name (“chorus setter”), the real name of the poet being TEISIAS. Such is the information provided by the lexicon Suda, s.v. “Stesichoros (IV p.433 Adler).”
  • In the Phaedrus, Plato openly puns on Stesichorus’ name: his own speech is modeled after STESICHORUS of HIMERA son of EUPHÊMUS: Socrates will discuss HIMEROS (desire) in a respectful way (EUPHÊMÔS), and he will describe the celestial CHORUSES and of the gods and the blessed, celestial CHOREUTÊS (cf. 247a, 250b, 252d).

Socrates’ Palinode in the Phaedrus

This is not a genuine logos”: here is the famous beginning of Socrates’ palinode in the Phaedrus. [1] The false logos is of course Socrates’ own previous speech, in which he puts forward the idea that love, and by implication a number of related phenomena, such as madness and poetry, are intrinsically bad. Socrates’ words, however, are thought to reflect a more general issue—one that goes well beyond the limits of the Phaedrus and refers back, instead, to Plato’s own philosophical development. Martha Nussbaum, for example, has adopted the phrase “This Story Isn’t True” (a slightly different version of the Greek) as part of the chapter title of her lucid and influential account of the Phaedrus in her 1986 book. [2] In the view of Nussbaum and many others, the “false logos” is taken to be Plato’s philosophical past, and, for these scholars, Phaedrus’ and Socrates’ first speech neatly encapsulates a number of features and tenets that Plato had elaborated in previous dialogues. Their argument continues with the claim that Socrates’ palinode is in fact Plato’s, and the Phaedrus itself a turning point in Plato’s philosophical career: that is, he has finally found a way to accommodate the irrational element in his otherwise “Apollonean” world. Thus, the Phaedrus is said to stage Plato’s own “recantation,” since “he admits that he has been blind to something,” and has set about “revising the world of the Symposium.” [3]
Such interpretations, however brilliantly argued, fail to recognize one obvious fact: well before it became the incipit of Socrates’ (or Plato’s) recantation, “this is not a genuine logos” was a verse in a famous song by the melic poet Stesichorus, and, as we shall see, it is very likely that the song included both the ode and the palinode. Socrates, I maintain, reenacts Stesichorus’ performance closely and subtly, and his two speeches are really the two halves of a uniformly inspired and performative sunolon. This, together with other important aspects of the Greek cultural tradition that need to be taken into consideration, suggest a rather different interpretation than that provided by evolutionary accounts such as Nussbaum’s.

Plato’s Stesichorus

The core of this chapter will be a close analysis of Stesichorus’ multifaceted presence within the Platonic text. Before embarking on it, however, I would like, very briefly, to provide some external evidence that may account for Plato’s engagement with Stesichorus and set the background for the actual examination of the internal data. [4]
I shall begin with the most basic question, which concerns the circulation of Stesichorus’ poems: was he popular and well-known during Socrates’ and Plato’s lifetimes? Very much so, it seems. Stesichorus was a major influence on both tragedy and comedy, which is tantamount to saying that, potentially, he was known to every Athenian. [5] His poems were widely adapted for sympotic performance, and Plato’s three-line quote from Stesichorus’ palinode was a favorite in Athenian symposia during the classical age. [6] It is also important to note that a number of linguistic features found in Stesichorus’ poems, such as certain Dorisms from the dialect of Syracuse, suggest the existence of a Sicilian “edition” of his works. [7] In all likelihood, the edition was made possible by the patronage of Dionysius I, the tyrant of Syracuse. In the light of Plato’s unfortunate visit(s) to Syracuse, this has an immediate relevance to the Phaedrus.
Plato, however, had even more personal (and surely more inspiring) reasons to be familiar with Stesichorus’ poetry. Plato was a close friend, and possibly a pupil, of the Pythagorean Archytas of Taras, who played an important role in Plato’s escape from Syracuse. By Plato’s time, the Pythagoreans had developed a peculiar way of reviving epic myths, which consisted largely in “clearing” Homer’s bloody heroes, in an attempt to turn them into morally acceptable paradigms of behavior. [8] Stesichorus, the poet who had spectacularly cleared Helen’s name, suited their needs perfectly, which is why, in different stages, they manipulated the poet’s biography so as to make him a protegé of the heroine. [9] The same cultural ambient was also responsible for developing Stesichorus’ reputation as a fearless opponent of tyrants, [10] something that could not have failed to impress Plato after his experiences in Sicily. [11] Finally, and even more importantly, the Phaedrus calls the palinode “an ancient form of purification” (katharmos arkhaios, 243a): such vocabulary clearly calls to mind Pythagoreanism.
Plato had every reason to sympathize with Stesichorus’ poetry from a musical point of view as well. To the surprise of modern readers, Plato’s Republic and Laws repeatedly trace the corruption and decadence of society to the innovations of modern music, in which modes are mixed and melody eventually takes the upper hand over text. This, of course, is not an idiosyncrasy of Plato’s, for the theme is well attested by a number of authors, from Aristophanes to Aristoxenus (and others). [12] Apparently, Stesichorus was a follower of the Phrygian mode, [13] which Plato approved of, and Stesichorus quickly acquired a steady reputation for his sober and austere melodies, in which the melody was firmly subordinated to the words. In this context, the following two quotations from Eupolis (ca. 446–411 BCE) are pertinent:
Tὰ Στησιχόρου τε καὶ Ἀλκμᾶνος Σιμωνίδου τε
ἀρχαῖον ἀείδειν, ὁ δὲ Γνήσιππος ἔστ’ ἀκούειν.

Stesichorus, and Alcman, and Simonides:
it is outmoded to sing them, we should go for Gnesippus.
Eupolis fr. 148 PCG, 1–2
δεξάμενος δὲ Σωκράτης τὴν ἐπιδέξι’ 〈ἄιδων〉
Στησιχόρου πρὸς τὴν λύραν οἰνοχόην ἔκλεψεν.

And Socrates, receiving the song [14] from the right in relay
while singing Stesichorus to the lyre, stole the wine vessel.
Eupolis fr. 395 PCG
Given that Gnesippus was regarded as a morbid poet, it is clear that in this context Stesichorus stands for sober and austere music. We do not know why Eupolis decided to have Socrates sing a poem by Stesichorus, nor can we determine how this relates to the anecdote reported by Ammianus Marcellinus, whereby Socrates, before he died in prison, wanted to learn one of Stesichorus’ poems. [15] Yet in the light of Socrates’ “performance” in the Phaedrus—as we shall see, he reenacts Stesichorus’ palinode in some way—this is surely an interesting detail.

The Divine Turn

As I mentioned in the Introduction, inspiration is undoubtedly one of the main themes of the Phaedrus. At 242d–243e, Socrates suddenly feels very uneasy about the speech he delivered (to match Lysias’ speech), in which he argued, as Lysias had done, that a young boy should give his favors to a “non-lover.” Phaedrus thinks the speech was brilliant, but Socrates now says that it was a “dreadful, dreadful logos,” one that foolishly went “parading itself” (the personification is noteworthy) for its capacity to deceive “a couple of homunculi” (242e). The speech was also impious, in that it offended the gods, namely Eros, in an attempt to curry favor with mortals. Socrates is ready to get up, cross the river, and walk back to the city, but his “divine voice,” so he claims, prevents him from doing so. He must now purify himself with a new speech “of unsalted water” (243d). It is precisely at this point that Stesichorus comes in, as we shall see shortly. So far, Socrates has already referred to a number of inspirational sources he deems responsible for his unusual fluency. And more soon follow. Here they are, in their order of appearance: [16]
  1. Sappho, Anacreon, and prose writers (Socrates’ bosom is “full” of them, 235c).
  2. Muses (Socrates summons the Μοῦσαι … λίγειαι to contribute to his μῦθος, 237a).
  3. Landscape (it makes Socrates νυμφόληπτος, 238d). [17]
  4. Nymphs (they “enthuse” Socrates ὑπὸ τῶν Νυμφῶν … ἐνθουσιάσω, 241d).
  5. Ibycus and Stesichorus (implicitly: Socrates follows their lead, 242d–243b).
  6. Muses (they arouse tender souls to a Bacchic frenzy, 245a).
  7. The cicadas (they can bestow upon humans the gift of the Muses, 258e–259d).
  8. Local gods and Muses’ prophets (i.e. the cicadas, inspiring Socrates, 262c–d).
  9. Pan and Nymphs (they are superior to Lysias, 263d; cf. 278b, Νυμφῶν νᾶμά τε καὶ μουσεῖον).
Socrates’ sources fall into two clear categories: [18] on the one hand, he is inspired by a number of local numina; on the other, by the Muses and certain poets—Socrates mentions Sappho, Anacreon, Ibycus and Stesichorus. It is important to note that two of these sources are mentioned before Socrates delivers his first, non-erotic speech (1, 2), one in a pause of speech shortly afterwards (3) two between the first and the second speech (4, 5), one within the second speech (6) and three after the end of both speeches (7, 8, 9). It would seem, therefore, that both speeches must be taken to be inspired, though the first, by extolling human prudence, is soon criticized as impious and non-divine. This is indeed a crucial problem, which I will discuss it in due course.
One may wonder what is the common ground, if any, between landscape and poetry. A promising starting point is the role of gardens as a favorite setting for erotic scenes. [19] This is a common feature of archaic lyric, and all four poets provide striking examples of it. It would seem that Stesichorus even went so far as to recount the story of a nymph who abducted Daphnis! [20] As Aelian remarks, [21] he thus initiated the bucolic genre, with a striking example of literal nympholepsy. Nympholepsy is, of course, another crucial point of intersection between inspiration and landscape: “the term numpholêptos … has several possible meanings, but in this case it describes an access of poetic inspiration brought on by Socrates’ surroundings.” [22]
The influence of Anacreon and Sappho on Socrates’ second speech is the subject of a number of studies and has been amply demonstrated: in the words of Liz Pender “Plato draws directly on the poetic language of the lyric poets, but he sets against them a need for self-control to redirect the soul’s energy from physical beauty to the Forms.” [23] In so doing, I may add, Plato was merely conforming to a peculiarly Athenian way of appropriating the lives of certain poets. As Paul Zanker has convincingly argued, the mid-fifth-century statue of Anacreon that stood on the Acropolis beside Pericles’ father expressed the quintessentially Athenian love of beauty epitomized in Pericles’ celebrated epitaph. [24] The external appearance of Anacreon, who had spent some years in Athens and was often portrayed as an Ionian debauchee, [25] was remodeled to reflect the image of a noble symposiast and, as is further argued by Alan Shapiro in the light of illuminating parallels with fragments of Greek painting, of a moderate paiderastês. [26] By Plato’s time, the Athenians had fully appropriated Anacreon, [27] both as an idealized singer and virtuous lover. This explains why Plato’s Anacreon is called “the wise one” and inspires Socrates’ erotic speech, and why Sappho becomes “Sappho the beautiful.” [28]
It seems, therefore, that a moral concern was integral to Plato’s choice of these poets, and I have already pointed out that Stesichorus had the best credentials from this point of view. [29] Both he and Ibycus are mentioned to the effect that they somehow sensed the danger of offending the gods by placing human recognition before divine favor, which is Socrates’ explicit concern in the Phaedrus. Ibycus was probably alluded to very early in the dialogue, when Phaedrus invokes the myth of Boreas: one of his most famous poems contrasts the delightful charm of a garden with the erotic mania induced by Boreas. [30] Be that as it may, Socrates’ first pang of guilt for his impious speech is expressed through the verse of Ibycus. The intervention of Socrates’ daimonion, and the failed attempt to cross the river and return to Athens, signal a remarkable turning point (242b–d): [31] from this moment onwards, values and perspectives would be reversed, with divine concerns replacing human preoccupations. Ibycus’ verse, as quoted and partly rephrased in the expression of Socrates’ fear that “for offences against the gods, I win renown from all my fellow men” illustrates the point perfectly. [32] Various other authors also quote these same lines, and the relevant contexts suggest that biographical tradition connected them with Ibycus’ proverbial renunciation of political power (a most Socratic—and Platonic—motif indeed). [33]
The quotation from Stesichorus follows immediately in a kind of crescendo:
ΣΩ. Δεινόν, ὦ Φαῖδρε, δεινὸν λόγον αὐτός τε ἐκόμισας ἐμέ τε ἠνάγκασας εἰπεῖν. ΦΑΙ. Πῶς δή; ΣΩ. Εὐήθη καὶ ὑπό τι ἀσεβῆ· οὗ τίς ἂν εἴη δεινότερος; ΦΑΙ. Οὐδείς, εἴ γε σὺ ἀληθῆ λέγεις. ΣΩ. Τί οὖν; τὸν Ἔρωτα οὐκ Ἀφροδίτης καὶ θεόν τινα ἡγῇ; ΦΑΙ. Λέγεταί γε δή. ΣΩ. Οὔ τι ὑπό γε Λυσίου, οὐδὲ ὑπὸ τοῦ σοῦ λόγου, ὃς διὰ τοῦ ἐμοῦ στόματος καταφαρμακευθέντος ὑπὸ σοῦ ἐλέχθη. εἰ δ’ ἔστιν, ὥσπερ οὖν ἔστι, θεὸς ἤ τι θεῖον ὁ Ἔρως, οὐδὲν ἂν κακὸν εἴη, τὼ δὲ λόγω τὼ νυνδὴ περὶ αὐτοῦ εἰπέτην ὡς τοιούτου ὄντος· ταύτῃ τε οὖν ἡμαρτανέτην περὶ τὸν Ἔρωτα, ἔτι τε ἡ εὐήθεια αὐτοῖν πάνυ ἀστεία, τὸ μηδὲν ὑγιὲς λέγοντε μηδὲ ἀληθὲς σεμνύνεσθαι ὡς τὶ ὄντε, εἰ ἄρα ἀνθρωπίσκους τινὰς ἐξαπατήσαντε εὐδοκιμήσετον ἐν αὐτοῖς. ἐμοὶ μὲν οὖν, ὦ φίλε, καθήρασθαι ἀνάγκη· ἔστιν δὲ τοῖς ἁμαρτάνουσι περὶ μυθολογίαν καθαρμὸς ἀρχαῖος, ὃν Ὅμηρος μὲν οὐκ ᾔσθετο, Στησίχορος δέ. τῶν γὰρ ὀμμάτων στερηθεὶς διὰ τὴν Ἑλένης κακηγορίαν οὐκ ἠγνόησεν ὥσπερ Ὅμηρος, ἀλλ’ ἅτε μουσικὸς ὢν ἔγνω τὴν αἰτίαν, καὶ ποιεῖ εὐθὺς—Οὐκ ἔστ’ ἔτυμος λόγος οὗτος / οὐδ’ ἔβας ἐν νηυσὶν εὐσέλμοις, / οὐδ’ ἵκεο Πέργαμα Τροίας· καὶ ποιήσας δὴ πᾶσαν τὴν καλουμένην Παλινῳδίαν παραχρῆμα ἀνέβλεψεν.
S.: A dreadful speech it was, Phaedrus, dreadful, both the one you brought with you, and the one you compelled me to make P.: How so? S.: It was foolish and somewhat impious; what speech could be more dreadful than that? P.: None, if you’re right in what you say. S.: What? Don’t you think Love to be the son of Aphrodite, and a god? P.: So it is said. S.: Not I think by Lysias, at any rate, nor by your speech, which came from my mouth, bewitched as it was by you. But if Love is, as indeed he is, a god, or something divine, he could not be anything evil; whereas the two recent speeches spoke of him as if he were like that. So this was their offence in relation to Love, and besides their foolishness was really quite refined—parading themselves as if they were worth something, while actually saying nothing healthy or true, in case they would deceive some poor specimens of humanity and win praise from them. So I, my friend, must purify myself, and for those who offend in the telling of stories there is an ancient method of purification, which Homer did not understand, but Stesichorus did. For when he was deprived of his sight because of his slander against Helen, he did not fail to understand, like Homer; because he was a true follower of the Muses, he knew the cause, and immediately composed the verses: “This is not a genuine logos, / you made no journey in the well-decked ships / Nor voyaged to the citadel of Troy.” And after composing the whole of the so-called Palinode he at once regained his sight.
Plato Phaedrus 242d–243b, trans. Rowe (modified)
This is a remarkable passage for many reasons. Phaedrus is still unconvinced. [34] As for Socrates, he is here adopting an anti-intellectualistic stance: his first, impious speech is emphatically labeled as deinos, which, given the rhetorical context, should mean something like “clever” or “terrific.” This is probably how Phaedrus himself is inclined to understand it, given that he uses the very same word to describe Lysias’ unmatched ability as a speech writer at the beginning of the dialogue. [35] However, as I argue more thoroughly in my Conclusion, Socrates ends up re-denoting the significance of this famously ambiguous word by emphasizing its purely pejorative meaning of “terrible.” [36] Then there is also Stesichorus, whose quoted lines and purification story are equally interesting for the history of lyric poetry per se.

The Palinode: Socrates’ Re-Vision

Many scholars have shown interest in the lines quoted (or perhaps we should say sung) by Socrates, but only to the extent they might reveal clues to an understanding of Stesichorus. Along with Isocrates’ Encomium on Helen, Plato’s Phaedrus is the only classical source to inform us about this poem, or, as many believe, “poems” in the plural. Socrates’ words can in fact be construed in such a way as to imply that Stesichorus wrote an earlier poem denigrating Helen of Troy (the Helen), and a later one designed to rehabilitate her (the Palinode).
In his Encomium, Isocrates dwells at some length on Helen’s capacity to compensate Menelaus, whom she made a god forever: as Spartan traditions attest, the Spartans made sacrifice to the immortal couple as gods rather than heroes (61–63). This is where Stesichorus comes in:
Ἐνεδείξατο δὲ καὶ Στησιχόρῳ τῷ ποιητῇ τὴν αὑτῆς δύναμιν· ὅτε μὲν γὰρ ἀρχόμενος τῆς ᾠδῆς ἐβλασφήμησέν τι περὶ αὐτῆς, ἀνέστη τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν ἐστερημένος, ἐπειδὴ δὲ γνοὺς τὴν αἰτίαν τῆς συμφορᾶς τὴν καλουμένην παλινῳδίαν ἐποίησεν, πάλιν αὐτὸν εἰς τὴν αὐτὴν φύσιν κατέστησεν. Λέγουσιν δέ τινες καὶ τῶν Ὁμηριδῶν ὡς ἐπιστᾶσα τῆς νυκτὸς Ὁμήρῳ προσέταξεν ποιεῖν περὶ τῶν στρατευσαμένων ἐπὶ Τροίαν, βουλομένη τὸν ἐκείνων θάνατον ζηλωτότερον ἢ τὸν βίον τὸν τῶν ἄλλων καταστῆσαι· καὶ μέρος μέν τι καὶ διὰ τὴν Ὁμήρου τέχνην, μάλιστα δὲ διὰ ταύτην οὕτως ἐπαφρόδιτον καὶ παρὰ πᾶσιν ὀνομαστὴν αὐτοῦ γενέσθαι τὴν ποίησιν.
And she [Helen] displayed her own power to the poet Stesichorus also; for when, at the beginning of his ode, he spoke in disparagement of her, he arose deprived of his sight; but when he knew the cause of his misfortune and composed the Palinode, as it is called, she restored to him his normal sight. And some of the Homeridae also relate that Helen appeared to Homer by night and commanded him to make a poem on those who went on the expedition to Troy, since she wished to make their death more to be envied than the life of the rest of mankind; and they say that it is partly because of Homer’s art, yet it is chiefly through her that his poem has such charm and has become so famous among all men.
Isocrates Encomium on Helen 64–65, trans. Goold (modified)
It is obvious that Isocrates, like Plato, is referring here to both Homer and Stesichorus, [37] and he might equally be taken to imply that the latter composed two odes. The problem has been greatly complicated by the fact that a papyrus published in 1963 has the Peripatetic Chamaeleon referring to as many as two Palinodiai, complete with different beginnings. [38]
As far as we know, Hesiod’s Catalogue was the first poem to mention the eidôlon of Helen. [39] This implies that the poet knew of a story according to which Helen never reached Troy, where the Achaeans fight for what is actually a phantom crafted for their ruin by the gods. So, according to one interpretation, Stesichorus assimilated and criticized both traditions: not only was Helen not in Troy (versus Homer), but she did not even leave Sparta (versus Hesiod). [40] Herodotus knew the story of the phantom, and he considered it to be true, for he believed that the Trojans would surely have returned Helen, if she had been in their hands. [41] Herodotus attributes the story to Egyptian priests, and claims that Homer knew it too, though he preferred to have Helen reach Troy so as to build a “more epic” narrative. [42] Later sources often refer either to the Helen or to the Palinodia, but, on the whole, they do not quote them together, so that one is left with the impression that the Helen and the Palinodia(i) might have been be one and the same poem divided into different sections after all. [43]
Even from my simplified account it is obvious that this is a thorny problem, the sources being “both confused and confusing.” [44] It is no wonder, then, that classicists have been hotly debating it for decades, with an impressive array of arguments and fine scholarship. Were there one, two, or three poems? And was it a Spartan or otherwise Doric audience, with its own particular performative and political mindset, that persuaded Stesichorus to rehabilitate Helen? [45] The evidence has proven inconclusive, and a clear consensus has yet to be reached. However, in 1989 David Sider suggested a different approach. [46] In his view, both Plato and Isocrates evoke a highly performative context: this consists of Stesichorus (or another performer adopting his persona) rising up at the end of a song that heaped slander upon Helen, as if deprived of sight; then, after addressing and rehabilitating Helen with a revised song, the performer would, very theatrically, pretend to recover his sight, his palinode thus becoming quite literally a form of “re-vision.” [47] This interpretation is consistent with a detail that is very hard to explain otherwise: according to Socrates, Stesichorus composed his palinode “immediately” and recovered his sight “at once” after composing “the whole of the palinode,” that is, possibly, at the end of it. The “immediate” creation of the quoted lines would seem to indicate a performance, as does Isocrates’ hint that Stesichorus “went blind at the beginning of the ode” and then “arose.” [48]
Of course, no interpretation of this kind can possibly settle the number of Stesichorus’ poems conclusively. As some scholars have suggested, what was once a single song might later have circulated in the form of two, or even three, distinct poems. [49] A reverse scenario is also possible: Stesichorus might have composed two or three separate songs, which at some point he (or some other performer) stitched together in a highly spectacular performance, possibly for the benefit of a Doric audience. Nor should one exclude intermediate solutions such as that put forward by Adrian Kelly, whose main argument is that a single composition by Stesichorus, possibly divided into “two hymnodic ‘segments’ ” in the rhapsodic manner, [50] was devoted to Helen’s epiphany, prompting Stesichorus’ poetic persona to rehabilitate her (note the “apostrophizing” character of the quoted lines). [51]
Stesichorus’ poem would, then, have followed a common pattern, according to which “each composition is driven by an encounter in which the poet-narrator appears as a character referring to a (generally) past episode, but one contained entirely within the current poem.” [52] As so often happened, this, in turn, would have given rise to the biographical tradition of an alleged exchange between Stesichorus and Helen, and at the same time would have provided material for the likes of Chamaeleon, who “may well have been the first critic to separate the hymnody for biographical reasons, but was not necessarily right to do so.” [53] Whatever the number of poems, Sider’s and Kelly’s “performative” interpretations are more than plausible: their explanations are convincing, and a performance involving spectacular gestures (Sider) and Helen’s epiphany (Kelly) constitutes a very attractive argument. [54] As we shall see, a close examination of the Phaedrus cannot but confirm their hypothesis, and this kind of reconstructed performance on the part of Stesichorus would shed light on a number of otherwise inexplicable details in Plato’s dialogue.
As already mentioned above, a debate has been raging among classicists, many of whom are primarily interested in Stesichorus, and who, therefore, tend to read Plato and Isocrates only insofar as they provide clues for a reconstruction of the Realien of Stesichorus’ poetry. So what about Platonists then? The almost esoteric tone of many philological discussions has not helped them and, to make matters worse, Platonists seem to have no interest whatsoever in Stesichorus’ role in the Phaedrus. [55] The result of this mutual incommunicability is that scholars tend to see Plato’s quotation from Stesichorus as a mere embellishment, with the tacit assumption that it has no bearing on the interpretation of the Phaedrus. [56]

Socrates’ Performance

It is important to interpret Socrates’ strange gestures from a performative point of view, and in the light of Stesichorus’ song, for he covers his head in a veil, ostensibly out of shame, [57] before delivering his first “impious” speech:
ἐγκαλυψάμενος ἐρῶ, ἵν’ ὅτι τάχιστα διαδράμω τὸν λόγον καὶ μὴ βλέπων πρὸς σὲ ὑπ’ αἰσχύνης διαπορῶμαι … “ἄγετε δή, ὦ Μοῦσαι, εἴτε δι’ ᾠδῆς εἶδος λίγειαι, εἴτε διὰ γένος μουσικὸν τὸ Λιγύων ταύτην ἔσχετ’ ἐπωνυμίαν, ‘ξύμ μοι λάβεσθε’ τοῦ μύθου, ὅν με ἀναγκάζει ὁ βέλτιστος οὑτοσὶ λέγειν, ἵν’ ὁ ἑταῖρος αὐτοῦ, καὶ πρότερον δοκῶν τούτῳ σοφὸς εἶναι, νῦν ἔτι μᾶλλον δόξῃ.”
I shall speak with my head covered, so that I can rush through my speech as quickly as I can and not lose my way through shame, from looking at you … “Come then, you Muses, clear-voiced (ligeiai), whether you are called that from the nature of your song, or whether you acquired this name because of the musical race of the Ligurians, ‘take part with me’ in the myth which this excellent fellow here forces me to tell, so that his friend, who seemed to him to be wise even before, may seem even more so now.”
Plato Phaedrus 237a–b, trans. Rowe (modified)
Thus, the beginning of the “impious” speech features, among other things, Socrates covering his head, and his no less curious invocation to the Muses.
On the subject of this curious head covering, Marian Demos makes the important point that “the legend that Stesichorus lost his sight because of his defamation of Helen is analogous to Socrates’ lack of vision during the speech he delivers with his head covered … Immediately before delivering his palinode, which is intended as an apotropaic gesture, Socrates uncovers his head. When in reality he regains his vision (at 243b6–7), he simultaneously regains his figurative sight into the true nature of love.” [58] This makes perfect sense provided we replace “legend” with “performance.” Socrates’ delivery of his two speeches is clearly analogous to Stesichorus’ performance, and Socrates, it may be added, goes so far as to ask Phaedrus for directions, as if he were a blind man (“where is my boy, the one I was talking to?”). [59]
It is also significant that Socrates, just before launching into his palinode, draws attention to his daimonion, which has prevented him from leaving the scene before “making expiation” (ἀφοσιώσωμαι) towards the god. [60] As we know from “Plutarch” (On Music), singers of hymns “make expiations (ἀφοσιωσάμενοι) to the gods as they wish” and then “move immediately (εὐθύς)” to the poetry of Homer and other poets. [61] This corresponds perfectly to the “performance” of Socrates, who makes expiation and then, at the beginning of the palinode proper, adopts the persona of Stesichorus, who, says Socrates, “being mousikos immediately (εὐθύς) composed the verses” of the palinode. Socrates is precise enough even to specify the details where his own performance departs from Stesichorus’. This is what he says immediately after quoting the poet’s lines:
ἐγὼ οὖν σοφώτερος ἐκείνων γενήσομαι κατ’ αὐτό γε τοῦτο· πρὶν γάρ τι παθεῖν διὰ τὴν τοῦ Ἔρωτος κακηγορίαν πειράσομαι αὐτῷ ἀποδοῦναι τὴν παλινῳδίαν, γυμνῇ τῇ κεφαλῇ καὶ οὐχ ὥσπερ τότε ὑπ’ αἰσχύνης ἐγκεκαλυμμένος … Καὶ γάρ, ὠγαθὲ Φαῖδρε, ἐννοεῖς ὡς ἀναιδῶς εἴρησθον τὼ λόγω, οὗτός τε καὶ ὁ ἐκ τοῦ βιβλίου ῥηθείς.
So I shall follow a wiser course than Stesichorus and Homer in just this respect: I shall try to render my palinode to Love before anything happens to me because of my slander against him, with my head bare, and not covered as it was before for shame … for you see how shameless the speeches were, this second one and the one which was read from the book.
Plato Phaedrus 243b–c, trans. Rowe (modified)
After this, Socrates elaborates briefly on the shamelessness of both speeches, which, he explains, would be suitable for a gathering of vulgar salesmen. Consequently, he now needs to “wash out their salty taste,” and to this effect he pretends to address the same beautiful boy as before in the flesh, preparing to utter the speech that belongs not to Phaedrus, but “to Stesichorus son of Euphemus, of Himera, and it must go like this, ‘this is not a genuine logos’ ” (243e–244b).
It is worth noting the very strong emphasis on Stesichorus’ role, which makes Socrates’ remarks all the more meaningful. He actually informs us that he is introducing a variant in Stesichorus’ performance by regaining his sight even before delivering his palinode. As no commentator has failed to notice, Socrates makes a pun on, or partly makes up, the poet’s name: Stesichorus, namely the “chorus setter,” son of “Euphemus,” that is “speaking respectfully,” and born in “Himera,” which sounds like Passionville, [62] thus prefiguring the crucial role of passion (himeros) in the palinode. This brings to mind a suggestion put forward by Francesca D’Alfonso, who claims that Stesichorus’ “musical” nature, unlike Homer’s lack of it, points to the capacity of oral, “topical” discourse to adapt itself and address the expectations of the audience, as opposed to the fixed forms of speech (written or not) exemplified by what can be described as the monumentalization of Homer’s poems. [63] This idea is consistent with what Alexander Beecroft refers to as Stesichorus’ “revenge of the epichoric.” As summarized by Beecroft himself, this means that an examination of the vocabulary found in the lines quoted by Socrates “shows that the language … is carefully chosen to situate Stesichorus’ work in opposition to epic and Panhellenic versions of the story of Helen.” [64]
I believe that the foregoing arguments, put forward by Demos, D’Alfonso, and Beecroft, all together constitute more than sufficient grounds to doubt whether Plato ever meant his quotations to be embellishments. On the contrary, Stesichorus, whether his poems were originally choral or cytharodic, [65] fully resonates with three essential elements of the Phaedrus: namely, Socrates’ strangely “theatrical” behavior, the opposition of oral versus fixed or written, and an unparalleled emphasis on local setting and related myths. [66] I would venture to say that, besides “resonating,” they help us to understand a number of facts, and, in particular, Socrates’ otherwise puzzling behavior. The second and third points are more complex, but I should like to point out in passing that the opposition between Stesichorus’ local flexible song and Homer’s fixed Panhellenic poetry is a neat summation of what scholars have being arguing about on more theoretical grounds. Namely, that what is at stake in the Phaedrus is not an opposition between oral and written speech as such, but one between the erotic, “local,” flexible discourse of philosophy, capable of adapting itself and taking into account the true nature of the addressee by sowing “seeds” in his soul, and the fixed anonymous discourse of traditional rhetoric, incapable of a true relationship with the soul of the addressee and passively absorbed by way of memorization. [67]

Socrates vis-à-vis Stesichorus: Verse and Muses

In what follows, I shall try to unravel a number of hitherto unrecognized threads that tie Socrates’ performance—allow me to call it that now—even more closely to Stesichorus’. And, as is only fitting, I shall start with the Muses. Thanks to the two-palinode papyrus, we now know the beginnings of what were probably two hymnodic sections of the poem:
[μέμ-/φεται τὸν Ὅμηρο[ν ὅτι Ἑ-/λέ]νην ἐποίηϲεν ἐν Τ[ροίαι/καὶ οὐ τὸ εἴδωλον αὐτῆ[ϲ, ἔν/τε τ[ῆι] ἑτέραι τὸν Ἡϲίοδ[ον/μέμ[φετ]αι· διτταὶ γάρ εἰϲι πα-/λινωιδ〈ίαι δια〉λλάττουϲαι, καὶ ἔ-/ϲτιν 〈τ〉ῆ〈ϲ〉μὲν ἀρχή· δεῦρ’ αὖ /τε θεὰ φιλόμολπε, τῆϲ δέ·/χρυϲόπτερε παρθένε, ὡϲ/ἀνέγραψε Χαμαιλέων· αὐ-/τὸ[ϲ δ]έ φηϲ[ιν ὁ] Ϲτηϲίχορο[ϲ/τὸ μὲν ε[ἴδωλο]ν ἐλθεῖ[ν ἐϲ/Τροίαν τὴν δ’ Ἑλένην π[αρὰ/τῶι Πρωτεῖ καταμεῖν[αι·
(in one Palinode) he blames Homer because he put Helen in Troy, not her phantom; and in the other he blames Hesiod: for there are two different Palinodes, and the beginning of one is “Hither again, goddess, lover of song and dance” and of the other “Golden-winged maiden,” as Chamaeleon wrote. Stesichorus himself says that the phantom went to Troy while Helen remained with Proteus
P. Oxy. 2506 fr. 26 col. I, trans. Campbell = PMGF = PMG 193.2–16
Predictably, both beginnings feature an invocation, although the second one is probably directed to a Siren rather than to a Muse. [68] Now, let us have a second look at the beginning of Socrates’ speech:
ἄγετε δή, ὦ Μοῦσαι … “ξύμ μοι λάβεσθε” τοῦ μύθου
Come then, you Muses, clear-voiced (ligeiai) … “take part with me” in the myth
Plato Phaedrus 237a, trans. Rowe (modified)
A number of details should be noted here. To begin with, the mere fact that Socrates is summoning the Muses, though not unique, [69] sounds surprising to modern, as well as to ancient, ears: one has only to recall the amusing commentary provided by Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who depicts himself quietly reading the Phaedrus, lulled by the serene rhythm of the prose, until Socrates’ lofty invocation strikes him as a bolt from the blue, making him jump out of his skin. [70] Remarkably, Socrates does not ask for a full revelation, but limits himself to a request for cooperation: he expects the Muses to help him along with his performance (“with me”). Now, this is surely unparalleled in Plato, and, indeed, very rare elsewhere. [71] On the other hand, Stesichorus’ Oresteia also began with precisely the same request for cooperation:
Μοῖσα σὺ μὲν πολέμους ἀπωσαμένα μετ’ ἐμοῦ
Muse, leaving aside wars and with me …
Stesichorus 210.1 PMG
Stesichorus’ request is striking, and it is no surprise that it was remembered: Aristophanes echoes it in the Peace (774–779), a sure indication that it was widely known to Athenian audiences.
The epithet ligeiai is another remarkable feature: this is the only place in extant classical prose to feature the adjective ligus, and Socrates emphatically provides a twofold etymology of this word. The form ligeia is rare even in poetry, except in epic, where it modifies mainly the lyre in the archaic period. Very occasionally ligeia modifies the Muse(s), [72] but no pre-Hellenistic poet, including epic and tragic, uses it more than once in this way. No one, that is, except Stesichorus, [73] in whose scanty fragments it appears twice with reference to the Muses. [74] At this point, a pattern starts to emerge, because Socrates’ strange invocation is beginning to look more and more like a curious concoction of Stesichorean mannerisms. That Plato’s intention was to create a kind of Stesichorean pastiche is confirmed, I believe, by the conclusion of Socrates’ first speech, the manuscript text of which, as printed by Burnet, is as follows:
ταῦτά τε οὖν χρή, ὦ παῖ, συννοεῖν, καὶ εἰδέναι τὴν ἐραστοῦ φιλίαν ὅτι οὐ μετ’ εὐνοίας γίγνεται, ἀλλὰ σιτίου τρόπον, χάριν πλησμονῆς, ὡς λύκοι ἄρνας ἀγαπῶσιν, ὣς παῖδα φιλοῦσιν ἐρασταί.
So these, my boy, are the things you must bear in mind, and you must understand that the attentions of a lover are not a matter of goodwill, but of appetite which he wishes to satisfy: just as wolves love lambs, so is lovers’ affection for a boy.
Plato Phaedrus 241c–d, trans. Rowe (modified)
The very last words of Socrates, as reported by the manuscripts (ὡς λύκοι κτλ.) feature a quasi-hexameter, though Socrates actually claims he is now uttering epê, epic verses. [75] Accordingly, recent editors, with some support from indirect tradition, [76] tend to prefer a slightly different text, which results in a complete hexameter: [77]
ὡς λύκοι ἄρν’ ἀγαπῶσ’, ὣς παῖδα φιλοῦσιν ἐρασταί

just as wolves love the lamb, so is lovers’ affection for a boy
This hexameter line is irregular in that the word παῖδα breaks the rhythm in an unusual position (violation of Hermann’s bridge). [78] Interestingly, Socrates will later quote two lines allegedly taken from the repertoire of the Homeridae, one of which features precisely the same violation. [79] Somewhat paradoxically, then, the very irregularity of the hexameter has been construed as yet one more reason for preferring the indirect tradition to the non-hexametric text of the manuscripts, as if the crafting of slightly irregular hexameters were some kind of jocular “signature” on the part of Plato. [80]
In my view, none of these arguments—indirect tradition, Socrates’ uttering of epê, self-conscious violation of Hermann’s bridge—is even remotely persuasive. Firstly, the indirect tradition is clearly inconsistent. This seems to reflect independent attempts to create a full hexameter line in order to confirm Socrates’ claim to epic inspiration. [81] The reverse scenario—a full hexameter corrupted by tradition—is very unlikely: as a general rule, the meter tends to “protect” the older wording. [82] Secondly, epê does not have to imply hexameters: as some authors attest, epê can refer equally well to the verse of Stesichorus, [83] and in Plato’s Protagoras the word is even used to introduce a melic poem. [84] Thirdly, the parallel with the lines from the Homeridae simply backfires: by assigning them to the Homeridae, Socrates is clearly discrediting these two lines, and he even registers the shameless irregularity of one of them (252c).
In short, there is nothing wrong with the manuscripts. What are we left with, then? In my view, Socrates’ closing words do form a complete verse anyway (ὣς παῖδα φιλοῦσιν ἐρασταί). This is precisely the kind of verse we find in Stesichorus’ palinode as quoted by Socrates to introduce his second speech. Moreover, we know from Chamaeleon that this same verse marked the very beginning of Stesichorus’ twofold palinode. Thus, the overall picture is as follows:
  • ὣς παῖδα φιλοῦσιν ἐρασταί (last words of Socrates’ first speech)
  • Οὐκ ἔστ’ ἔτυμος λόγος οὗτος (PMG 192.1, i.e. line 1 of palinode)
  • οὐδ’ ἵκεο Πέργαμα Τροίας (PMG 192.3, i.e. line 3 of palinode)
  • Δεῦρ’ αὖτε θεὰ φιλόμολπε (PMG 193.9–10, i.e. incipit 1 of palinode)
  • Χρυσόπτερε πάρθενε 〈Μοῖσα〉 [85] (PMG 193.11, i.e. incipit 2 of palinode)
These lines all share the same metrical pattern (which scans ‒‒⏑⏑‒⏑⏑‒x). To the ears of Plato’s original audiences, then, Socrates’ final words in the first speech announced the characteristic rhythm of the palinode, which is why Socrates calls them epê. Note also that the first line of the quotation (οὐκ ἔστ’ ἔτυμος λόγος οὗτος) is uttered a second time by Socrates, who introduces his second speech by punning on Stesichorus’ name (as we have seen) and by saying that “this is not a genuine logos, if it says that when a lover is there for the having one should rather grant favors to the man who is not” (244c). As such, this line stitches the two speeches together and is given a very special emphasis. Thus, a powerful Stesichorean network is at work here, insofar as the first speech ends on the very same “note” struck by the beginning of the second.

Stesichorus’ Shadow

Stesichorus’ poem undoubtedly takes on board the story of Helen’s phantom or eidôlon, according to which Helen never reached Troy, and the war was fought over a false image, “out of ignorance of the truth”—as Plato remarks in the Republic when he explicitly mentions Stesichorus. [86] The phantom theme is already to be found in Hesiod and is integral to Herodotus’ and Euripides’ accounts, [87] though Stesichorus seems to have given it a unique slant. In his version, Proteus is said to have provided Paris with a Helen-like eidôlon in a tablet so that, by contemplating it, he could “soothe his eros” after losing his (real) beloved (ἵνα ὁρῶν παραμυθοῖτο τὸν αὐτοῦ ἔρωτα). [88] If authentic, this arresting detail would be a perfect example of objectified feeling, the tablet somehow standing for Helen’s haunting image. It would also account for a very strange detail in Socrates’ second speech:
ἐρᾷ μὲν οὖν, ὅτου δὲ ἀπορεῖ· καὶ οὔθ’ ὅτι πέπονθεν οἶδεν οὐδ’ ἔχει φράσαι, ἀλλ’ οἷον ἀπ’ ἄλλου ὀφθαλμίας ἀπολελαυκὼς πρόφασιν εἰπεῖν οὐκ ἔχει, ὥσπερ δὲ ἐν κατόπτρῳ ἐν τῷ ἐρῶντι ἑαυτὸν ὁρῶν λέληθεν. καὶ ὅταν μὲν ἐκεῖνος παρῇ, λήγει κατὰ ταὐτὰ ἐκείνῳ τῆς ὀδύνης, ὅταν δὲ ἀπῇ, κατὰ ταὐτὰ αὖ ποθεῖ καὶ ποθεῖται, εἴδωλον ἔρωτος ἀντέρωτα ἔχων· καλεῖ δὲ αὐτὸν καὶ οἴεται οὐκ ἔρωτα ἀλλὰ φιλίαν εἶναι.
So he is in love, but with what, he does not know; and he neither knows what has happened to him, nor can he even say what it is, but like a man who has caught an eye-disease from someone he can give no account of it, and is unaware that he is seeing himself in his lover as if in a mirror. And when his lover is with him, like him he ceases from his anguish; when he is absent, again like him he longs and is longed for, because he has an eidôlon as a counter-love for love. So he calls his name and thinks he is experiencing friendly affection rather than love.
Plato Phaedrus 255d–e, trans. Rowe (modified)
The whole expression “he has an eidôlon as a counter-love for love” (εἴδωλον ἔρωτος ἀντέρωτα ἔχων) is rather obscure, and—what is more—the word “counter-love” (ἀντέρως) has no real parallel: all of its very few later instances depend on the Phaedrus. [89] Plato’s creation, I suggest, is best explained as a reworking of Stesichorus’ eidôlon, that is, of an image designed to provide a weird kind of ersatz love (note, also, the strange mention of the eye-disease, possibly one more reference to Stesichorus).
The last point I wish to discuss extends the scope of Stesichorus’ influence beyond the boundaries of Socrates’ two speeches. On the way to the plane-tree, Phaedrus questions the credibility of the myth of Oreithyia, who was supposedly abducted by Boreas on the banks of the Ilissus (229b–c). Socrates famously replies that he has no time for the rationalization of myth, and that in such matters he prefers to stick to tradition (nomizomenon). With characteristic pompousness, [90] Phaedrus refers to the story of Oreithyia as a “piece of mythology” (mythologêma), another very rare word probably drawn from some kind of rationalistic jargon: [91]
ἀλλ’ εἰπὲ πρὸς Διός, ὦ Σώκρατες, σὺ τοῦτο τὸ μυθολόγημα πείθῃ ἀληθὲς εἶναι;
But by Zeus, Socrates: do you believe this piece of mythology to be true?
Plato Phaedrus 229c
Is this story true? Local myths command respect. Is that other logos true, i.e. the one provided by wily rhetoric? Definitely not; that is not a genuine logos. As scholars have often pointed out, Plato’s beginnings often contain his agenda in a nutshell. [92] By triggering off the Stesichorean subtext, which will prove to be so important and far-reaching, Phaedrus’ question and Socrates’ reply function in precisely this way. Stesichorus casts his shadow over the whole of the first part of the dialogue, i.e. until Socrates completes his palinode to mighty Eros.
The first part of the Phaedrus is consistently projected on to Stesichorus’ Helen poem in the form song and anti-song (palinode). [93] The resulting “song” is, in a certain sense, dialectical: Socrates’ ode and palinode amount to an argument in utramque partem, thus providing a dialectical assessment of the treated topic, namely eros. Plato’s “song” is also dialectical or dialogic in its being “topical,” and insofar as it takes into account the nature and needs of the listener-interlocutor. Thus, the discourse of philosophy is conceptualized as a form of dialectical music. Perhaps this explains why Stesichorus too is given a strange philosophical aura. As Socrates says, “because he was a true follower of the Muses,” “he knew the cause, and immediately composed the verses (ἔγνω τὴν αἰτίαν, καὶ ποιεῖ εὐθὺς): ‘This is not a genuine logos,’ [etc.] (243a). Stesichorus’ ability to “know the cause” is, on the whole, a philosophical quality: thus, philosophy is “musical,” and music, conversely, is philosophical.
By adopting the persona of Stesichorus, Socrates can compare unfavorably the fixed impersonal discourse of a Homer with the flexible personal speech of the lyric poet, who can “know the cause” and adapt his song accordingly. This implicit tension between “lyric” and “rhapsodic” forms of discourse becomes quite explicit towards the end of the dialogue, when Socrates makes a strange comparison in order to describe his ideal writer:
Ὁ δέ γε ἐν μὲν τῷ γεγραμμένῳ λόγῳ περὶ ἑκάστου παιδιάν τε ἡγούμενος πολλὴν ἀναγκαῖον εἶναι, καὶ οὐδένα πώποτε λόγον ἐν μέτρῳ οὐδ’ ἄνευ μέτρου μεγάλης ἄξιον σπουδῆς γραφῆναι οὐδὲ λεχθῆναι, ὡς οἱ ῥαψῳδούμενοι ἄνευ ἀνακρίσεως καὶ διδαχῆς πειθοῦς ἕνεκα ἐλέχθησαν, ἀλλὰ τῷ ὄντι αὐτῶν τοὺς βελτίστους εἰδότων ὑπόμνησιν γεγονέναι … οὗτος δὲ ὁ τοιοῦτος ἀνὴρ κινδυνεύει, ὦ Φαῖδρε, εἶναι οἷον ἐγώ τε καὶ σὺ εὐξαίμεθ’ ἂν σέ τε καὶ ἐμὲ γενέσθαι.
But the man who thinks that there is necessarily much that is merely for amusement in a written speech on any subject, and that none has ever yet been written, whether in verse or in prose, which is worth much serious attention—or indeed spoken, in the way the rhapsodes speak theirs, to produce conviction without questioning or teaching, but that the best of them have really been a way of reminding people who know … this is likely to be the sort of man, Phaedrus, that you and I would pray that we both might come to be.
Plato Phaedrus 277e–278b, trans. Rowe
This ideal writer, who does not take writing too seriously and who prefers “genuine logoi” (gnêsious) is of course the philosopher, as Socrates promptly remarks (278d). Thus, everything comes full circle: the “genuine” discourse of lyric-philosophy is contrasted with the “spurious” (ouk etumos) discourse of rhapsody-rhetoric. [94]
A second and related point is that Plato’s “song” highlights a tension between current rhetoric and philosophy (or philosophical rhetoric) in such a way as to suggest a distinction between “musical” and “non-musical” arts. As I have mentioned in my Introduction, rhetoric, along with historiography and other forms of “human” (as opposed to divine) discourse, defined itself as non-musical, whereas philosophy, from the archaic period up until Plato, seems to occupy an ambiguous position as regards the divide between “musical” and “non-musical” arts. From this point of view, Socrates’ “divine turn,” i.e. his siding with the poets against the “cleverness” (δεινότης) of the likes of Lysias, can hardly be coincidental. Socrates identifies fixed discourse, i.e. current rhetoric, with static Homeric rhapsodies, and in so doing he adopts the persona of “musical” Stesichorus as opposed to that of “non-musical” Homer, i.e. to the fixed text of Homer as monumentalized and recited by rhapsodes. This is highly significant from a cultural point of view in that it builds on the historical opposition “Rhapsodes versus Stesichorus,” indeed the title of a seminal article by Walter Burkert. [95] In the sixth century BCE, the rivalry revolved around, or even resulted in, highly musical performances of Stesichorus’ songs as opposed to the rhapsodes’ abandoning of “the element of music and the element of improvisation in favor of a fixed text.” Thus, the rhapsodes were “ousted from the field of music,” and reacted by sticking to a fixed text to be recited, thus promoting the first ever “separation of performer and author.” [96]
Nor was Socrates’ siding with “musical” Stesichorus any mere “archaeological” exercise designed to revive a long-gone rivalry. On the contrary, it had a very contemporary relevance, as a proverb preserved in a number of sources suggests. Here is Zenobius’ version:
οὐδὲ τὰ τρία τῶν Στησιχόρου γιγνώσκεις· ἐπὶ τῶν ἀπαιδεύτων καὶ ἀμούσων εἴρηται ἡ παροιμία
“You don’t even know the three by Stesichorus.” The proverb is said about uneducated non-musical people
Zenobius Athous I 23 Miller 351.23
Unlike other sources, which provide no context, Zenobius understands “the three” to be a reference to the triadic structure of Stesichorus’ verse. It has been argued convincingly, however, that “the three” originally referred to three verses sung in symposia, as other sources clearly attest. [97] The proverb may be traced back to some Attic comedy, in which an uneducated character was ridiculed precisely for his inability to sing the three lines Socrates quotes in the Phaedrus and to take active part in the symposium. [98]


Throughout the first half of the Phaedrus, Socrates identifies with pious Stesichorus and reenacts his ode-cum-palinode. A close examination of the numerous points of contact helps to shed light on both Stesichorus and the Phaedrus. Among other things, it adds corroborative evidence to the performative interpretation of Stesichorus’ Helen poem, illuminates Socrates’ theatrical behavior in the Phaedrus, and demonstrates the complementarity of his two speeches. A more general point also emerges: both speeches are ostensibly “inspired” and must be seen as forming a whole. The palinode should not, therefore, be read as a statement of Plato’s alleged evolution from the (equally alleged) intellectualism of his early career to a more mature philosophical outlook. Rather, by reviving the opposition between Stesichorus’ poetry and epic rhapsodies, Socrates is in fact exalting the virtues of philosophical discourse against the shortcomings of rhetoric. As becomes clear towards the end of the Phaedrus, philosophical discourse includes philosophical writing, and, given that Socrates was no writer, this can only objectify the opposition between Platonic writing and, primarily, fourth-century rhetoric. [99] Above all, in the light of what I have already argued in the Introduction, we are confronted with yet another instance of Platonic “self-disclosure.” Philosophical discourse, moreover, is once again construed as a form of poetry, at least insofar as it takes the form of long speeches, as is the case in the first half of the Phaedrus. [100]
It must be concluded, therefore, that Socrates’ ode and palinode further enrich Plato’s implicit description of philosophical discourse. Philosophy is clearly looked upon as a form of mousikê, albeit of a proto-philosophical kind: unlike Homer, Stesichorus “knows the cause” and adjusts his song accordingly. Plato, on the other hand, was perfectly aware of “the three of Stesichorus’ ” which were seen as the hallmark of the “musical” man. [101] Thus, mousikê is integral to philosophical rhetoric, which ventures to explore, much as poetry does, the invisible realms of the soul and the divine. It is also the saving grace of philosophical writing, since it makes it flexible and capable of “seeing” the needs of any given interlocutor and of adjusting itself accordingly. In Plato’s dialogues, speeches are addressed primarily to specific persons, and only secondarily to Plato’s audience. In so doing, they constantly emphasize their personal, provisional, and ultimately protreptic nature. By contrast, ordinary rhetoric, just like Homer, is notionally “blind”: it results in fixed and self-contained texts, either written or oral, consumed by undifferentiated and passive audiences. Phaedrus’ endeavour to memorize Lysias’ speech slavishly, and his failure to question it and “know the cause,” can be seen as a living embodiment of “unmusical” writing and passive consumption.

Endnote: New “Facts”

  • A complete survey of the inspirational sources mentioned in the Phaedrus shows that Socrates is consistently portrayed as an inspired “poet” throughout the dialogue. The palinode is no exception.
  • Among his “sources,” Socrates mentions four poets. According to biographical tradition, three of them, namely Anacreon, Ibycus, and Stesichorus, recovered after being involved in some kind of “incident,” and a similar story was probably circulated about Sappho. As is confirmed by later sources, the simultaneous mention of these poets is not coincidental, and there is evidence that Athens had incorporated the traditional biographies of some of them into the fabric of its own ideology.
  • Scholars have long debated the number of poems Stesichorus devoted to Helen, given that the sources are random and contradictory. According to a recent interpretation, there was just one poem, which was delivered in the form of a theatrical performance divided into different parts (or acts) that later came to be known as distinct poems. This interpretation is consistent with a fresh and thorough reading of the Phaedrus:
  • Points of vocabulary suggest that the invocation Socrates addresses to the Muses prior to his impious discourse is a Stesichorean pastiche.
  • The final words of Socrates’ first speech are in the same meter as the first of Stesichorus’ palinode, as quoted by Socrates before he launches into his second (pious) speech (as such, they may hint at an unknown Stesichorean fragment).
  • As Marian Demos has suggested, Socrates’ removal of his veil before delivering his second discourse corresponds to Stesichorus’ regaining of his sight in the performance of his Helen poem. At some point, Socrates even pretends to be blind and “makes expiation,” which may have been the cue for the singers to start their song. Taken together, these facts suggest that Socrates is reenacting Stesichorus’ performance.
  • The whole conversation between Socrates and Phaedrus is actuated by the latter’s questioning of the myth of Boreas and Oreithyia: is the “mythostory” (mythologêma) true? Mythologêma is an intellectual catchword used specifically in a context where a rationalization of myth is attempted. At the same time, it prepares us for Stesichorus’ palinode, which is famously introduced by the words: “This story is not true.”


[ back ] 1. Socrates utters the phrase twice, in the form of a quotation (Οὐκ ἔστ’ ἔτυμος λόγος οὗτος, 243a) and as a statement of in his own (Οὐκ ἔστ’ ἔτυμος λόγος ὃς ἂν … φῇ …, 244a).
[ back ] 2. Nussbaum 1986:200–239. The full title of the chapter runs as follows: “ ‘This Story Isn’t True’: Madness, Reason, and Recantation in the Phaedrus.”
[ back ] 3. Nussbaum 1986:203, 212. Another influential and lucid account of the Phaedrus as a transitional dialogue is that of Kahn 1996:371–392. Even Lysias’ speech arguably features “Platonic” elements (cf. Trabattoni 2011, who is not a developmentalist).
[ back ] 4. For these general points, which are hardly ever mentioned in Platonic scholarship, I owe much to Marco Ercoles’s recent, outstanding monograph: it contains a full edition and commentary of the testimonies concerning the life and works of Stesichorus (Ercoles 2013). The book, which I had the opportunity to consult before its publication, has an excellent command of the relevant literature and provides extensive references.
[ back ] 5. For Stesichorus’ influence on tragedy, see Ercoles and Fiorentini 2011. For comedy, see the current chapter, below.
[ back ] 6. See Ercoles 2013:30–32.
[ back ] 7. Cf. Pavese 1972:100–101 and Cassio 1999:202–203, 207–220. Ercoles 2013:576–578 provides a learned survey, with added bibliography.
[ back ] 8. Cf. Delatte 1915, Chapter 3 (“L’exégèse pythagoricienne des poèmes homériques”). Special attention was given to Achilles and Helen. For the latter, cf. following note. For the former, cf. e.g. the scholium for Homer’s Iliad 1.66c (I p. 30 Erbse), Iliad 16.225 (IV p. 217 Erbse), and Detienne 1962.
[ back ] 9. Cf. Eustathius Commentary on Odyssey 4.122 (I p. 154.30–36 Stallbaum), with Detienne 1957 and Jesi 1961.
[ back ] 10. See Aristotle Rhetoric 1393b8–1394a1 (Stesichorus vs. Phalarides) and Conon FGrH 26 F 1 42 (Stesichorus vs. Gelon). Cf. Sgobbi 2003:26–37.
[ back ] 11. Plato’s Letter 3 to Dionysius, which, if not genuine, is at least very close to being contemporary with Plato, ends with a quote from Stesichorus’ Palinode, in an attempt to persuade the tyrant to abandon falsehood and embrace truth (3.319e). On this letter, cf. Isnardi Parente 2002:xxiii–xxiv.
[ back ] 12. Cf. e.g. Lasserre 1967, and, more recently, Pelosi 2010:29–67 (“The theory of ethos and musical mimesis”). However, the idea of a purely aesthetic evaluation of music is not completely absent from Plato’s dialogues: see Rocconi 2012.
[ back ] 13. Cf. e.g. PMG 212, with the commentary of Ercoles 2013:596–597. For Plato’s appraisal of the Phrygian mode, see Republic 399a–c, with Gostoli 1995 and Pagliara 2000.
[ back ] 14. Or possibly a cup, or some other symposiastic implement (cf. Olson 2007:235, who favors cup). This is not an important difference anyway, given the frequent metaphorical overlapping between wine and song in symposia.
[ back ] 15. 28.15.
[ back ] 16. Some of the items, along with other factors such as Phaedrus’ role in eliciting Socrates’ speeches, can be seen as “frequent disclaimers of authorial responsibility” on Socrates’ part (Giannopoulou 2010:155).
[ back ] 17. And it may result in divine inspiration, ἐπιόν. However, the meaning of ἐπιόν is disputed and is construed as either “inspiration” (e.g. Hermias p. 59.29–31 Lucarini-Moreschini and Velardi 2006 ad loc.) or as “incumbent danger” (e.g. de Vries 1969 ad loc., Ryan 2012 ad loc.).
[ back ] 18. Of course, the supernatural landscape also includes its own “sign” (242b–c).
[ back ] 19. Motte 1973. Philip notes that the locus amoenus of the Phaedrus closely recalls the haunts of Eros as described by Agathon in the Symposium (Philip 1981:469). Aristophanes, too, takes for granted that “les amours naturels sont liés à la campagne” (Thiercy 1986:330), and satyr-plays, often replete with scenes of sex and rapes, are of course set in the countryside (cf. Laws 815c–d; along with, for example, Paganelli 1989:242).
[ back ] 20. Cf. e.g. Ibycus 286 PMG, Sappho 2 Voigt, Anacreon 417 PMG, Stesichorus 279 PMG. The poem Daphnis (279 PMG) shared with the Kalyke and Rhadine (277 and 278, respectively) a romantic subject, which has been construed as a Hellenistic feature. Consequently, some scholars have rejected its attribution to Stesichorus (Page himself includes 277–279 PMG among the spuria). But, as Lehnus 1975 has argued, the poems also share an “esigenza religioso-etiologica” (193), and this squares well with Stesichorus’ extant poetry. Even the romantic subject is far from being unparalleled in archaic melic poetry: Lehnus cites Pindar (frr. 72 and 252) and Myrtis (716 PMG).
[ back ] 21. Cf. Aelian Historical Miscellanies 10.18 and On the Nature of Animals 17.37, with De Martino 1984:124–127.
[ back ] 22. Larson 2001:10.
[ back ] 23. Pender 2007:54; Pender 2011 is an abbreviated version. As Cornford 1950:68–80 famously pointed out, the idea that the soul is equipped with “fluxes” that can be variously channeled is typical of Plato’s philosophy of eros as found in the Symposium, which can be fruitfully compared with “flux” passages such as Republic 328d, 485d, 588e–589a. Building on Cornford’s findings, Sassi 2007 has convincingly shown that similar examples can be found in a number of dialogues, including the Gorgias (493a–b), the Timaeus (42d and passim), and in particular the Phaedrus (245c–246a), where the very vocabulary points to Empedocles and to the Hippocratic corpus (at p. 287 Sassi quotes, exempli gratia, On the Sacred Disease 7.1, On Aliment 1.27.2–3 and 1.35.3). Thus, Plato’s flux theory in the Phaedrus features an interesting (and quintessentially Platonic) blend of lyric and Hippocratic motives.
[ back ] 24. Zanker 1995:22–31. (By contrast, Ridgway 1998 argues against a classical date for the original statue.) In Corso’s words “Athenian imperial policy clearly aimed at creating an Athenian culture which epitomized and appropriated the best of earlier Greek poetry” (Corso 2008:270, on the Athenian statues of Anacreon and Pindar).
[ back ] 25. “Besides the barbiton, there is a variety of other features that mark the Anacreontic singer in Anacreontic vase paintings. They include (1) a long khitôn with a cloak or himation worn over it, (2) boots, (3) earrings, (4) a parasol, (5) a turban; significantly, all of these features, including (6), the barbiton, were linked with Asiatic Ionia” (Nagy 2007:240). These six features “are not only Ionian and Asiatic in theme: they are also orientalizing, even feminizing” (Nagy 2007:242).
[ back ] 26. Cf. Shapiro 2012.
[ back ] 27. In earlier days, “Hipparchos made the powerful gesture of sending a warship to Samos to fetch Anacreon and bring him to Athens (Pl[ato] Hipparch[us] 228c). This way, the Ionian lyric tradition as represented by Anacreon was relocated from its older imperial venue in Samos to a newer imperial venue in Athens. Likewise relocated was the Aeolian lyric tradition as represented by Sappho—and also by Alcaeus” (Nagy 2007:226).
[ back ] 28. 235c. Note the adjective kalos chosen by Plato/Socrates, indicating a “serious” reception of Sappho as opposed to her presence as a character on the comic stage. On Sappho as a Muse in vase painting, see Chapter 2 in this volume.
[ back ] 29. In a moment of jocund festivity due to his recovery after some episode of “academic violence” (cf. Penella 2007:69), Himerius (Speech 69.5–6) explicitly associates Anacreon with Ibycus and Stesichorus (and no one else), on the grounds that they too, were involved in some kind of “incident” from which they successfully recovered. As Lazzeri 2002 has shown, Himerius’ passage is clearly meant to evoke Stesichorus’ palinode. A similar incident was possibly part of Sappho’s biographical tradition as well. (On Sappho and the rock of Leukas, see Compton 2006:102–105.)
[ back ] 30. PMG 286.
[ back ] 31. For the symbolism associated with the crossing of the river, and for the relevant topography in the Phaedrus, see Treu 2003.
[ back ] 32. 242d: καί πως ἐδυσωπούμην κατ’ Ἴβυκον, μή τι παρὰ θεοῖς “ἀμβλακὼν τιμὰν πρὸς ἀνθρώπων ἀμείψω” (cf. PMG 310).
[ back ] 33. De Martino and Vox 1996:292, 333.
[ back ] 34. Phaedrus’ remark “so it is said” echoes the very same words he had used to express his skepticism towards the myth of Boreas. Compare 242e λέγεταί γε δή and 229b λέγεταί γάρ. Few commentators have shown awareness of the sinister overtones of Phaedrus’ skepticism. As Bonazzi 2011 points out, Boreas was an Athenian war hero (Herodotus 7.189, Pausanias 1.19.5), and Phaedrus’ rationalism “ben si attaglia a un personaggio noto per aver profanato i misteri di Eleusi e per aver partecipato alla distruzione delle statue di Hermes” (15n20).
[ back ] 35. 228a, δεινότατος … τῶν νῦν γράφειν.
[ back ] 36. The locus classicus for the ambiguity of δεινός is, of course, Sophocles Antigone 332–333.
[ back ] 37. As well as to the Homeridae, the performers of Homer that were supposedly Homer’s biological offspring. The Phaedrus attributes them with two verses, though Plato may have written them himself. For opposite views, see Huxley 1960 and Labarbe 1994, and cf. below, page 46.
[ back ] 38. P. Oxy. 2506 fr. 26 col. i. See below.
[ back ] 39. The fragment features as number 358 M-W, i.e. among Dubia. However, scholars are increasingly inclined to accept it as genuine. See Brillante 2001–2002:n1. It is worth remembering that the story of Helen’s eidôlon has clear Indian equivalents, both in its names and contents, so it cannot be considered Hesiod’s (or Stesichorus’) invention. See Pisani 1928, and, more recently, Skutsch 1987. Helen and her eidôlon can be construed as the feminine counterpart of Helen’s twin brothers (cf. Bettini and Brillante 2002:74–75).
[ back ] 40. Bowie construes Stesichorus’ twofold invocation to the Muses as criticism of Homer and Hesiod “for being misled by false utterances of the Muses” (Bowie 1993:25). Cf. also Brillante 2001–2002:23.
[ back ] 41. Herodotus 2.112–120.
[ back ] 42. Herodotus 2.116. This is part of a broader strategy, designed to provide a paradigm polemically at variance with the epic tradition (cf. Nicolai 2012).
[ back ] 43. “Yet it is noticeable that neither of the two later sources who refer to the Helen by name (Athenaios and the author of the argumentum to Theokritos 18) ever cite the Palinode, and the same is true mutatis mutandis of the very much larger group of authors who cite the Palinode but not the Helen” (Kelly 2007:13).
[ back ] 44. Blondell 2013:119.
[ back ] 45. Cf. Massimilla 1990 for a very lucid status quaestionis. More abundant material is found in Constantinidou 2004, which provides an unparalleled amount of information about Herodotus, and in Vasilescu 2004, who, interestingly, sees the palinode as a reaction to the story of the Doric invasion of the Peloponnese. Many scholars have argued that either Locri or Croton commissioned Stesichorus to write the palinode, on the grounds that the best known version of the story of Stesichorus’ healed blindness is associated with that of Leonymus (cf. e.g. Pausanias 3.19.11–13; Conon FGrH 26 F 1 18), the general from Croton who was allegedly wounded in the battle of Sagra and then healed by Ajax and Achilles on the island of Leuke (where he also met Helen, who asked him to inform Stesichorus of the real reasons for his blinding). However, Sgobbi has provided conclusive evidence that the legend of Leonymus took shape under the influence of Pythagoras, that is to say, in the first half of the sixth century BCE, and ended up including Stesichorus only on the eve of the battle of Himera (Sgobbi 2003:480), when Croton and Himera formed an alliance against the Doric league. The palinode certainly fits in very well with the Pythagoric reinterpretation of the Homeric heroes, so that it is easy to see how Stesichorus’ story was connected to Leonymus’ story. Consequently, “il fatto che il collegamento di Stesicoro con la saga di Leonimo sia secondario e non possa risalire ad una ‘fase originaria’ di essa, fa cadere tutta una serie di ipotesi che legavano la composizione della Palinodia ai fatti accaduti lungo le rive della Sagra ed il contenuto di essa alle leggende sorte intorno a quegli avvenimenti” (Sgobbi 2003:17, with bibliography).
[ back ] 46. Sider 1989.
[ back ] 47. I owe the pun to Bassi 2000:18. On the (pre-)theatrical nature of Stesichorus’ compositions, see Ercoles 2012.
[ back ] 48. To this I might add that Isocrates’ reference to Stesichorus’ “standing up” suggests a typical rhapsodic gesture, one which could be reconstructed in the light of two passages from Lucian (Encomium on Demosthenes 17.4–14) and Synesius (Letter 5 p. 18.1–6 Garzya). Moreover, the staging of the blinding probably influenced the production of Sophocles’ Thamyras: according to Pollux (4.141), Thamyris’ mask had one sightless and one functioning eye, which suggests that the Muses struck him blind on stage (see e.g. Meriani 2007; of course, one also thinks of Oedipus, although in Sophocles’ play the blinding takes place offstage). This may well have contributed to a revival of Stesichorus’ performance.
[ back ] 49. According to Arrighetti 1994, it is highly unlikely that Stesichorus got to know the Spartan version of Helen’s myth at some point in his life, i.e. when he had already composed the Helen along traditional lines. According to Plato the poet proceeds to the Palinode “right away” (εὐθύς), which implies that he knew this very famous story (especially for the Dorians) from the very beginning. Arrighetti endorses Sider’s interpretation, and thinks the poem eventually circulated in two books (Helen and Palinode, as it were).
[ back ] 50. Kelly 2007:1.
[ back ] 51. According to Costantinidou, the “ ‘apostrophizing’ character of the Palinode … does not function for creating emotional effect or highlighting its theme, as most apostrophes do in Homer according to modern critics, but by addressing Helen Stesichoros seems to validate and justify his poetry through her” (Costantinidou 2004:174).
[ back ] 52. Kelly 2007:6. Another attractive viewpoint is that put forward by Bowie, who claims that “what Chamaeleon said … was not that Stesichorus composed two Palinodes, but that the Palinode had two beginnings (archai), or, as Aristides 33.2 puts it, a second prelude (prooimion)” (Bowie 1993:24).
[ back ] 53. Kelly 2007:18.
[ back ] 54. And certainly one that squares well with what we know about Helen cults in Sparta. As Constantinidou notes: “Herodotos’ story [6.61.2–5, cf. Pausanias 3.7.7] according to which in the sixth century [BCE], and most probably in his time, Helen was worshipped in Therapne for the possession of powers of attributing beauty to ugly human beings, especially to young girls, nearly coincides with the period when tradition said that with similar powers she inflicted Stesichoros with blindness because he had accused her for running away to Troy” (Constantinidou 2004:187).
[ back ] 55. Some of them have discussed the relationship between the Phaedrus and Isocrates’ Encomium (see e.g. Burger 1980:118), whereas the study of Stesichorus as quoted in the Phaedrus has had only limited appeal for scholars interested in literature as opposed to philosophy. See e.g. D’Alfonso 1994 and Demos 1999, discussed below.
[ back ] 56. Of course, a large number of Plato’s citations from the poets do amount to mere embellishments, as opposed to others that may be labeled “integral.” (see Tarrant 1951, who offers a very useful survey). According to Halliwell 2000, “we need to consider Plato’s specific citations in relation to a double model of meaning as, on the one hand, grounded in internal context, and, on the other, modified by a further interpretative act of application or appropriation” (Halliwell 2000:101). Both authors stress how blurred the boundaries between these modes often are. For my purposes, it is important to remember that some quotations, like that from Euripides’ Antiope in the Gorgias (484e–486d), can be fundamental for the argument of a given dialogue. See Nightingale 1995:67–92. Capra 2007a makes the further point that the Gorgias also presupposes Eubulus’ parody of the Antiope. See also Tarrant, who argues that “a particular kind of anti-intellectual argument, or anti-intellectual rhetoric … did have a place in public debate in the Athens of the late 420s, and for very good reasons” (Tarrant 2008:20).
[ back ] 57. Douglas Cairns has explored the cultural meanings of the gesture of veiling in ancient Greek culture (see most recently Cairns 2009, with added bibliography).
[ back ] 58. Demos 1999:70.
[ back ] 59. 243e. I owe this observation to Pieper 2000 (originally published in 1962): “ ‘Where is that boy?’ Socrates asks, like a blind man calling for his companion. At the same time, however, he means the boy he addressed earlier. Moreover, he is speaking not as himself, Socrates, but as another; a perfidious deceiver. ‘Where is that boy I was talking to? He must listen to me once more, and not rush off to yield to his non-lover.’ Strictly speaking, neither the boy who guides the blind man, nor the one to whom the previous blasphemous speech was directed, is meant; the one actually meant, but not mentioned by name, is Phaedrus! And Phaedrus, at once understanding, plays along: ‘Here he is, quite close beside you, whenever you want him’ ” (Pieper 2000:44).
[ back ] 60. Plato has Socrates use this verb only here and in the Phaedo (60e–61a). This is a highly significant fact, as I argue in my Conclusion.
[ back ] 61. On Music 1133b–c τὰ γὰρ πρὸς τοὺς θεοὺς ὡς βούλονται ἀφοσιωσάμενοι, ἐξέβαινον εὐθὺς ἐπί τε τὴν Ὁμήρου καὶ τῶν ἄλλων ποίησιν. δῆλον δὲ τοῦτ’ ἐστὶ διὰ τῶν Τερπάνδρου προοιμίων. Cf. Power 2010:187.
[ back ] 62. As Nussbaum 1986 concisely renders it (211). It is no coincidence that Socrates, at 251c, etymologizes the word himeros, and later, at 265b, claims to have sung Eros “respectfully” (euphemôs).” Note, moreover, that according to Suda, “Stesischorus” was also a nickname (s.v. … ἐκλήθη δὲ Στησίχορος, ὅτι πρῶτος κιθαρῳδίᾳ χορὸν ἔστησεν· ἐπεί τοι πρότερον Τισίας ἐκαλεῖτο), and that Plato’s punning might be even more extended, involving the—real—name of Phaedrus too (cf. Nussbaum 1986:472n23). Cf. Ercoles 2013:282–282 for a detailed discussion.
[ back ] 63. D’Alfonso 1994:172. Needless to say, I have no intention of entering into the hotly debated question of Homer’s text in the late archaic and classical age: whether, and to what extent, it was written or oral. For my purposes, it is sufficient to refer to it as a fixed text. See e.g. Cassio 2002, with further bibliography, who allows for the possibility that both oral and written phenomena were responsible for the fixation of the text that “was regarded as sacrosanct” (132).
[ back ] 64. Beecroft 2006:47.
[ back ] 65. Plato emphasizes Stesichorus’ “choral” name, but this is not the place to revive once again this debated issue (is Stesichorus’ poetry choral or cytharodic? Power 2010:234–243, from a “choralist” perspective, provides a recent and informed discussion). For my purposes, it is sufficient to admit, as a minimal requirement, that a chorus must have been involved in performances of Stesichorus’ poems at least as a dancing chorus, as is the case with Demodocus’ performance in the Odyssey (see D’Alfonso 1996, part 2, for a survey of the relevant scholarly positions and cf. the sensible point made by Ercoles 2012:5, namely that “nel caso dei coreuti che accompagnavano Stesicoro è verosimile pensare ad una maggiore integrazione tra canto e danza”).
[ back ] 66. In other words, Stesichorus has a structural impact on the Phaedrus. Interestingly, the same is true for Euripides, whose Phoenician Women are structurally influenced by Stesichorus’ so called Thebaid (cf. Ercoles and Fiorentini 2011).
[ back ] 67. Cf. e.g. Trabattoni 1994:48–99 and Nightingale 1995:166–168.
[ back ] 68. As Cerri 1984–1985 has argued, on the grounds that golden wings were appropriate for a siren, but not for the Muses.
[ back ] 69. E.g. Euthydemus 275c–d, Republic 545d–e, cf. Timaeus 27c. The meaning and import of these more or less jocular invocations is not always easy to pin down.
[ back ] 70. On the Style of Demosthenes 7.9–19. Cf. Aristotle Rhetoric 1408b12–20, referring to irony as the hallmark of poetic style in the Phaedrus.
[ back ] 71. In fact, it is paralleled, only partially and much later than Stesichorus, in the verse of two very innovative poets: Timotheus (in the Persians 202–205) and the Simonides (in the late Elegy for Plataea fr. 11.21 W2) Note that both were in fact describing historical, rather than mythical, facts, and so it was of course much easier for them to dispense with a full revelation.
[ back ] 72. E.g. Homer Odyssey 24.62.
[ back ] 73. And the Homeric Hymns, if one considers them to be the work of one and the same poet. Ligeia modifies a Muse in four minor Hymns, thus providing some evidence for Kelly’s suggestion that Stesichorus’ poetry might be hymnodic in character (Kelly 2007).
[ back ] 74. PMG 240 and 278.1.
[ back ] 75. 241e. Socrates says he is now uttering epic verses (epê) rather than dithyrambs.
[ back ] 76. “ἄρν’ ἀγαπῶσ’ Hermias 61,26 Bekker ἄρνα φιλοῦσιν Hermias 61,7 Stephan. ἄρνα φιλεῦσ’ Hermog.” (Apparatus from the 1985 Belles Lettres edition by C. Moreschini.)
[ back ] 77. For example, Yunis 2011, the author of the recent yellow-and-green Cambridge commentary, claims that “it is certain … that Plato composed a hexameter verse for this spot” (ad loc.). Cf. also e.g. Hackforth 1952 ad loc. and de Vries 1969 ad loc., with further bibliography.
[ back ] 78. The violation is in fact extremely rare. By the count of Cantilena (1995:39–40), there are only sixty-six instances in Homer (= 0.24%), and it is a well-known fact that post-Homeric examples are even less frequent.
[ back ] 79. See Phaedrus 252b–c.
[ back ] 80. For this argument, see Labarbe who duly notes that the hexameter “est mal ficelé. Il comport, en effet, une grave irrégularité du coupe. Au 4e pied d’un hexamètre grec, s’il est un dactyle, les brèves ne peuvent être partagées entre deux mots différents” (Labarbe 1994:229). This feature is shared by the first hexameter—probably of Plato’s own making—quoted at 252c (τὸν δ’ ἤτοι θνητοὶ μὲν ἔρωτα καλοῦσι ποτηνόν). According to Labarbe, this is a subtle indication of parody. On the contrary, Cantilena 2007 argues that Plato would have hardly noticed what we moderns refer to as a “violation.”
[ back ] 81. Both Hermogenes and Hermias explicitly connect Socrates’ claim to epic (ἔπη φθέγγομαι) with the crafting of the hexameter. The same is true for a further passage that has found no place in the editors’ critical apparatus. I refer to Syrianus Commentary on Hermogenes’ Book on Types of Style, 41–42 Rabe, reporting the hexametrical form ὡς λύκοι ἄρν’ ἀγαπῶσ’ κτλ. Note, moreover, that in the following passage, Aristaenetus seems to side with the manuscripts: ὡς γὰρ λύκοι τοὺς ἄρνας ἀγαπῶσιν, οὕτω τὰ γύναια ποθοῦσιν οἱ νέοι, καὶ λυκοφιλία τούτων ὁ πόθος (2.20.26–28).
[ back ] 82. This would receive further confirmation if some relationship were proved to exist between Socrates’ words and a proverb that, according to the relevant Homeric scholia, underlies Iliad 22.263, a passage that Socrates allegedly parodies when uttering his own hexameter. A few scholia (263b) give the proverb in metrical form as follows: ἄρνα φιλοῦσι λύκοι, νέον ὡς φιλέουσιν ἐρασταί. Further material is collected in the Corpus Paroemiographorum Graecorum (I 268).
[ back ] 83. Cf. Heraclides Ponticus 157 Wehrli (†ἀλλὰ καθάπερ Στησιχόρου τε καὶ τῶν ἀρχαίων μελοποιῶν οἳ ποιοῦντες ἔπη ?τούτοις μέλη περιέθεσαν. Cf. Power 2010:231–234) and Pausanias 9.11.2 (ἐπιδεικνύουσι δὲ Ἡρακλέους τῶν παίδων τῶν ἐκ Μεγάρας μνῆμα, οὐδέν τι ἀλλοίως τὰ ἐς τὸν θάνατον λέγοντες ἢ Στησίχορος ὁ Ἱμεραῖος καὶ Πανύασσις ἐν τοῖς ἔπεσιν ἐποίησαν). A similar misunderstanding of the term ἔπη has long prevented a correct interpretation of an epigram of Theocritus’ (Palatine Anthology 7.664 = Gow 21 = Gow-Page 14), which I discuss in Chapter 4. For a correct understanding of ἔπη in this epigram, cf. Aloni 1984:2.
[ back ] 84. 338e.
[ back ] 85. West’s Supplement (cf. PMGF 193). Quite possibly, a Siren should be supplied instead of Μοῖσα: cf. Cerri 1984–1985.
[ back ] 86. 586b–c.
[ back ] 87. For a general discussion, see Austin 1994.
[ back ] 88. Scholium on Aelius Aristides’ Speech 13.131 (I p. 212 Dindorf). Cf. Brillante: “Non conosciamo altri elementi di questo racconto singolare. Anche l’attribuzione a Stesicoro resta dubbia (Page non include questo testo tra i frammenti del poeta). Apparentemente questa storia presuppone l’instaurarsi di uno scambio, in qualche modo concordato, tra Paride e Proteo, che consente al primo di rifarsi parzialmente della perdita subita con la sottrazione della donna. Non possiamo tuttavia escludere che l’autore di questa versione fraintendesse il ruolo svolto dall’immagine nell’opera stesicorea cui forse non aveva accesso e, attribuendo al termine eidôlon il significato di ‘pittura, disegno,’ immaginasse che Proteo avesse donato a Paride un’immagine di Elena a titolo di indennizzo” (Brillante 2001–2002:26–27).
[ back ] 89. Cf. de Vries 1969, on 255d8–e1: “ἀντέρως in the sense of counter-love is found only in Plato and in his imitators; but the cognate ἀντερᾶν is found elsewhere (including Aeschylus Agamemnon 544). Pausanias VI 23,3 reports on altars for Eros and Anteros in Elis.” However, the instances of ἀντερᾶν that imply reciprocal love are of little or no use in determining the meaning of Plato’s strange expression.
[ back ] 90. Phaedrus is subtly presented as an opinionated maître à penser throughout the dialogue: cf. e.g. Griswold 1986:37.
[ back ] 91. Once again, Plato’s choice of words is striking: there are only two instances of the word muthologêma in BCE literature (Plato Laws 663e and Philochorus FGrH 328 F 109 17 = Plutarch Life of Theseus 14.2, in addition to the passage under discussion) and in all three cases the context is one in which the credibility of a story is put to the test. Accordingly, it is likely to be a technical word related to the rationalization of myths, and thus a very appropriate one for a character such as Phaedrus. Cf. Brisson, who examines the two Platonic instances and suggests that “muthologêma indicates more than the result of the action designated by the verb muthologeô. In Plato, this word also means that the myth in question has been subject to a labor of elaboration and/or interpretation” (Brisson 1998a:152).
[ back ] 92. See e.g. Clay 1992 and Burnyeat 1997, who, however, refer to the very first words of a given dialogue. Although he does not mention muthologêma, Lebeck has some good points to make about the links connecting the prologue of the Phaedrus to the rest of the dialogue (Lebeck 1972:280–284). Nesselrath 2006 surveys Plato’s use of the stem mutholog-.
[ back ] 93. Or psykhagôgia, the word that Socrates will use, retrospectively, to qualify his own “performance.” Cf. 261b; 271c–d and Chapter 2 in the current volume.
[ back ] 94. Incidentally, by contrasting Homer to such diverse poets as Sappho, Anacreon, Ibycus, and Stesichorus, Plato comes close to “inventing” the very notion of lyric poetry, which is otherwise considered to be a modern category, unknown to the ancient writer (especially so after the seminal work of Genette 1979. Republic 379a is a possible exception: cf. Stanzel 2012).
[ back ] 95. Burkert 1987. Further discussion in Sbardella 2012:223–244.
[ back ] 96. Burkert 1987:53;55. Cassio 2012 argues that Stesichorus reworked Homer’s text, one that—he claims—was already relatively fixed.
[ back ] 97. Cf. Hesychius τ 1343 (= Tb9(c) in Ercoles 2013): τρία Στησιχόρου· ἔθος ἦν παρὰ πότον ᾄδεσθαι, ὡς καὶ τὰ Ὁμήρου.
[ back ] 98. Here is how Ercoles reconstructs the story of the proverb: “Nell’antichità (probabilmente già a partire dal IV sec. a.C.) doveva essere piuttosto diffusa l’espressione proverbiale ‘non conosci nemmeno i tre di Stesicoro?’ come documentano le numerose attestazioni presso le raccolte paremiografiche. Il riferimento originario del detto era, con tutta probabilità, ai tre versi della Palinodia citati da Platone nel Fedro (243a = PMGF 192) … una chiara prova di questa valenza originaria è fornita dalla testimonianza di Esichio … ove si attesta che vi era un tempo l’abitudine di cantare durante il simposio ‘i tre di Stesicoro’ ὡς τὰ Ὁμήρου: è evidente che il termine da sottintendersi è ἔπη, non μέρη. La notizia, d’altronde, concorda perfettamente con quanto sappiamo da altre fonti … riguardo all’uso di cantare brani delle opere del melico … in occasioni simposiali. In séguito, tuttavia, venne perdendosi il vero significato dell’espressione, e la si intese riferita ai τρία μέρη della struttura triadica del canto (strofe, antistrofe, ed epodo), della quale Stesicoro era ritenuto il πρῶτος εὑρετής. Questa è la spiegazione che si può ritrovare in Zenobio (Tb9(a)) e nella tradizione paremiografica (vd. ad Tb9(a)), nella tradizione S (Fozio e Suda: cf. Tb9(b)) e nel Lexicon Coislinianum … Tale interpretamentum … si sarà verosimilmente affermato nel momento in cui il detto οὐδὲ τὰ τρία τῶν Στησιχόρου γιγνώσκεις è stato incluso in un lessico ordinate alfabeticamente ed è stato lemmatizzato. Nel corso di questo processo, l’espressione τὰ τρία τῶν Στησιχόρου, conservata nella recensio Athoa di Zenobio, ha subito la decurtazione dell’articolo τὰ; davanti a τρία (o la sua posposizione, per es. in Suda t 943,3 A. = Tb9(b),4) e del τῶν pronominale davanti a Στησιχόρου (fondamentale per la comprensione del senso originario), riducendosi a τρία Στησιχόρου, il cui referente—perdutosi ormai quello originario—è stato individuato in un tratto macroscopico della produzione stesicorea, la sua articolazione strofica triadica. Questa spiegazione si è ampiamente affermata ed è stata ripresa anche nella recensio Athoa di Zenobio, ove pure la disposizione non alfabetica del materiale paremiografico ha fatto sì che si conservasse la forma originaria del proverbio, quella che ha permesso di risalire al suo reale significato” (Ercoles 2013:533–534). As for the comic origin, at n728 Ercoles endorses Crusius’s opinion “che si tratti di una citazione estrapolata da una commedia del V sec. a.C. e divenuta espressione proverbiale. Nella commedia antica, infatti, erano frequenti i riferimenti all’ignoranza dei contemporanei in fatto di poesia arcaica” (Ercoles 2013:533n908).
[ back ] 99. I develop this point in the last paragraph of Chapter 4.
[ back ] 100. Since it culminates in a mythic hymn not devoid of a jocular element, this new moment of self-disclosure is wholly consistent with the seriocomic nature of Plato’s dialogues. Presented as the charming purification of an earlier song, the palinode combines the two modes of Plato’s philosophy, “purification” and “incantation,” perfectly. Cf. the Introduction to the current volume.
[ back ] 101. Stesichorus, the figure who opens this chapter on the cover page, is surely an appropriate name for this Plato-Socratic Muse. The name Stêsichorê is unlikely to be an extemporaneous invention of Kleitias, the painter of the François vase. Regarding the names of the Muses on the vase, it has been suggested that “the observation that the variants which occur on our vase also fit the meter, practically rules out the possibility that they are just careless mistakes on the part of the vase painter. A second argument against this view is the Ionic form … which clearly shows that this list is a faithful citation from a literary text, as was pointed out by W. Schulze … moreover it seems more likely that such small differences between the two hexametrical lists of Muses we are dealing with, one in Hesiod and one reflected in our vase-painting, came about in a context of oral poetry rather than of copying a fixed text within the first century of its existence. If this is correct, it might even tell us something about the much discussed question of whether Hesiod invented the names of the nine Muses or not. Personally, I do not think he did, but in view of the lack of contemporary hexametrical lists … we have no means of proving that this list reflected a tradition that was alive already before Hesiod” (Wachter 1991:108).