Chapter 2. Erato

To Erato, the cicadas report those who have honored her in the affairs of love
Phaedrus 259d
Capra fig2
“Athens, N.M. 1260. RF hydria. From Vari. Group of Polygnotos. 440–430 (Beazley). Third quarter fifth. SUBJECT: in the center, a seated woman reading from a book roll; on the left, a companion holds out a wreath; on the right, another holds out a lyre; a third. INSCRIPTIONS: companion on the left: Νικοπολις; companion with lyre: Καλλις; the third companion is not inscribed. The reader: Σαππως = Σαππους. On the roll, vertical on the rolled up parts: επεα and πτεροε〈ν〉τα. On the sheet: θεοι. ηερι|ων vac. |επε|ων v. |αρχ|οµ|αι Α|ΙΝ?ΛÚ|Ν?Τ|ΤΙ|Ν. The last word miswritten for αειδειν” (Attic Vase Inscriptions Database).
  • Plato is alleged to have recognized the tenth Muse in Sappho, and composed a couplet in which he addresses Sappho as the “Tenth Muse” (Palatine Anthology 9.506).
  • As one critic puts it, “The chelys lyre in the Polygnotan scene brings Sappho into the realm of the Muses, a compliment to her talent akin to Plato’s sobriquet ‘the tenth Muse’ ” (Bundrick 2005:101).
  • Famously, the great statesman Solon, a contemporary of Sappho and an ancestor of Plato, is said to have heard a boy singing one of her songs and to have asked him to teach it to him so that he might learn it and die.
  • According to Maximus of Tyrus, Sappho should be regarded as the “mother” of Socrates’ speech in the Symposium: “What else could one call the art of love of the Lesbian woman other than the Socratic art of love? For they seem to me to have practiced love after their own fashion, she the love of women, he of men. For they said they loved many, and were captivated by all things beautiful” (Dissertations 18.9).

Erotic Rhetoric: Sappho’s Helen and the Plane-Tree

In the previous chapter, I explored the wealth of connections between the Phaedrus and Stesichorus’ Helen poem. Another major influence was, of course, Isocrates, who is mentioned explicitly only once in the Platonic dialogues, at the end of the Phaedrus. [1] I shall begin this chapter, therefore, by examining the relationship between the Phaedrus and two prose works devoted to Helen: Isocrates’ Encomium on Helen, and the Helen of Isocrates’ master, Gorgias. Scholars have noticed for some time that both works are reminiscent of Sappho’s Helen poem, and Plato’s references to both texts seem to highlight their Sapphic overtones. These combine to create a full-fledged network of allusions pointing to Helen. This is somewhat surprising: after all, the heroine is named only once in the Phaedrus. However, I will argue that Helen is present in the very landscape of the Phaedrus, given that Plato’s celebrated plane-tree seems to be designed deliberately to evoke the arboreal cult of Helen dendritis. It is no surprise, therefore, to find that the Phaedrus interacts with a number of works devoted to Helen. Of these, Sappho’s Helen poem, which I believe to be integral to Socrates’ palinode, has a crucial (if overlooked) role to play. It is through Sappho that the theme of memory and oblivion is put into sharper focus, with the result that Sappho’s Helen becomes a part of Plato’s philosophical argument. And it is through Sappho’s Helen again that Plato sketches his theory of poetic inspiration, which I shall examine in more detail in Chapter 3. Helen, therefore, proves to be a key figure (a “stone guest”) through which Plato merges rhetorical and lyric discourse.

Gorgias’ and Isocrates’ Helen

It is generally agreed that the Phaedrus registers Plato’s reaction to a number of attacks he had suffered at the hands of Isocrates: scholars have tried to reconstruct these exchanges and critiques in a number of works. [2] In addition to Against the Sophists, [3] scholars point to Isocrates’ Encomium on Helen as a likely intertext for the Phaedrus, given that both works, with almost the same words, cite Stesichorus’ Palinode along with Homer; both direct and reverse analogies can be adduced, moreover, as proof of some kind of relationship between the two texts. [4] When first declaring himself to be inspired (235c), Socrates also mentions “a number of prose writers” besides Sappho and Anacreon. This might point to Isocrates, and to Isocrates’ master, Gorgias, whose Helen is the explicit model for the Encomium on Helen.
Gorgias’ Helen is not really about Helen. At a certain point, Gorgias breaks off the account of her life abruptly, because, so he claims, “to tell those who know … does not provide pleasure.” [5] In fact, by Gorgias’ time, Helen had already been the subject of endless discussion and countless poetic accounts, [6] and it is very clear that her myth was only the starting point for the presentation of a theory and an example of the power of logos. Between the striking lines of his poetic prose, we see Gorgias evoking poetic tradition: when he lingers on the beauty of war as a foil for Helen, for example, he is alluding to Sappho’s celebrated juxtaposition between military and erotic beauty, [7] though he generalizes and sometimes reverses Sappho’s viewpoint. [8]
Acknowledging the limits of human understanding, Gorgias starts from the premise that man is carried away by irrational forces that captivate and enslave his mind, and of these the principal one is logos, namely rhetoric. The Phaedrus shares the view that rhetoric is a force capable of captivating and enchanting a man’s mind, and it seems to me that Plato goes so far as to reproduce the quadripartite argument that forms the core of Gorgias’ Helen. Four are the irrational forms that lead Gorgias’ Helen astray, and four are the divine types of madness that Plato rehabilitates in the Phaedrus. In fact, Plato devises a specific word for enchanting rhetoric, psykhagôgia, which comes very close to Gorgias’ idea of rhetoric. [9]
Textual echoes highlight the connection between the Phaedrus and the Helen, [10] but it should also be noted that Plato’s psykhagôgia is fundamentally related to truth, whereas Gorgias’ rhetoric develops a wholly “doxastic” perspective, and, apparently, ends up denying the very possibility of truth. [11] Gorgias’ Helen ends with the shocking remark that the whole speech is only a “game,” whereas Plato’s Socrates refers to his palinode retrospectively as a quadripartite game in the form of a playful hymn not devoid of truth. Later on, he also reminds Phaedrus of Gorgias’ claim “that probabilities (τὰ εἰκότα) were to be given preference over truths” (267a), which sounds very much like a reply to the sophist. [12]
The notion of psykhagôgia provides us with a convenient introduction to Isocrates. Elizabeth Asmis points out that Isocrates resorts to this term when describing either poetry or Gorgias’ poetic rhetoric, which he deems to be cheap. [13] On the other hand, his own Encomium is no more informative about Helen, who is apparently “almost incidental to Isocrates’ program.” [14] Paragraphs 1–15 serve as a self-congratulatory introduction, whereby Isocrates criticizes the writings and methods of other authors or thinkers, including his master Gorgias. [15] Paragraphs 16–38 are devoted to Theseus, who eventually gives way to Helen’s other suitors, and to Paris in particular. There is also some brief mention of the Trojan War, seen as the archetypal divide between East and West, Greeks and barbarians (39–53). [16] Paragraphs 54–60 are concerned with beauty. Not until the last paragraphs does Helen take center stage (61–69), when Isocrates, like Plato, cites Stesichorus’ Palinode. Unlike Plato, however, Isocrates glosses over Stesichorus’ criticism of the epic tradition: Homer is cited immediately after Stesichorus, and, astonishingly, receives honorable mention as a poet inspired by Helen herself.
Two things should be noted about Isocrates’ treatment of Helen. Firstly, as is clear from the paragraphs devoted to beauty, Helen is by and large a symbol: she stands for the ultimate goal of all human striving. Secondly, her presence is probably stronger than it seems, since Isocrates, like Gorgias, echoes the time-honored tradition of praise and blame that had pursued Helen down the ages. This background is taken for granted and only occasionally alluded to. The Encomium begins by criticizing those who “have grown old” asserting a number of implausible things, and Plato is unmistakably included among these “old” men. They are described as follows:
Εἰσί τινες οἳ μέγα φρονοῦσιν, ἢν ὑπόθεσιν ἄτοπον καὶ παράδοξον ποιησάμενοι περὶ ταύτης ἀνεκτῶς εἰπεῖν δυνηθῶσι· καὶ καταγεγηράκασιν οἱ μὲν οὐ φάσκοντες οἷόν τ’ εἶναι ψευδῆ λέγειν οὐδ’ ἀντιλέγειν οὐδὲ δύω λόγω περὶ τῶν αὐτῶν πραγμάτων ἀντειπεῖν, οἱ δὲ διεξιόντες ὡς ἀνδρία καὶ σοφία καὶ δικαιοσύνη ταὐτόν ἐστιν καὶ φύσει μὲν οὐδὲν αὐτῶν ἔχομεν, μία δ’ ἐπιστήμη καθ’ ἁπάντων ἐστίν, ἄλλοι δὲ περὶ τὰς ἔριδας διατρίβοντες τὰς οὐδὲν μὲν ὠφελούσας, πράγματα δὲ παρέχειν τοῖς πλησιάζουσιν δυναμένας. Ἐγὼ δὲ …
Some say that it is impossible to say, or to gainsay, what is false, or to speak on both sides of the same questions; others that courage and wisdom and justice are identical, and that we possess none of these as natural qualities, but that there is only one sort of knowledge concerned with them all; and still others waste their time in captious disputations that are not only entirely useless, but are sure to make trouble for their disciples. But as for me, I …
Isocrates Helen 1–2, trans. Norlin
It has been rightly suggested that this incipit, with its very emphatic Priamel, is meant to recall one of the most celebrated beginnings in Greek literature. [17] Once again, I am referring to Sappho’s Helen poem which presents the same structure: “Some say (hoi men … phais’) … (hoi de) on foot … still others (hoi de) borne but I say (ego de),” etc. As no reader of Isocrates can fail to remember, the ensuing stanzas focus on Helen as a living proof of Sappho’s tenet. Similarly, Isocrates postpones the mention of Helen, who is ostensibly the subject of his speech.
It is well known that literary beginnings tend to display what Gian Biagio Conte refers to as a “rhetoric of imitation,” [18] and are thus densely intertextual, both as echoing texts (they allude to other works, particularly to their beginnings) and as echoed subtexts (they are likely to be remembered and alluded to by other authors). When Isocrates attacks those who “have grown old” thinking that “courage and wisdom and justice are identical,” he is no doubt referring to Plato’s Socrates and to his famous “unity of the virtues” thesis. [19] It is not surprising that Plato’s only mention of Isocrates in the Phaedrus, and indeed in his whole corpus, also includes a precise reference to the beginning of the Encomium on Helen and its somewhat rude attack on those who “have grown old”:
νέος ἔτι, ὦ Φαῖδρε, Ἰσοκράτης: ὃ μέντοι μαντεύομαι κατ’ αὐτοῦ, λέγειν ἐθέλω … οὐδὲν ἂν γένοιτο θαυμαστὸν προϊούσης τῆς ἡλικίας εἰ περὶ αὐτούς τε τοὺς λόγους, οἷς νῦν ἐπιχειρεῖ, πλέον ἢ παίδων διενέγκοι τῶν πώποτε ἁψαμένων λόγων, ἔτι τε εἰ αὐτῷ μὴ ἀποχρήσαι ταῦτα, ἐπὶ μείζω δέ τις αὐτὸν ἄγοι ὁρμὴ θειοτέρα: φύσει γάρ, ὦ φίλε, ἔνεστί τις φιλοσοφία τῇ τοῦ ἀνδρὸς διανοίᾳ.
Isocrates is still young, Phaedrus, but I’d like to say what I prophesy for him … there would be no surprise, as he grows older, if in the very speeches that he works at now the difference between him and those who have so far undertaken speech-writing were greater than that between man and boys … for there is innately a philosophy of sorts in the man’s mind.
Plato Phaedrus 278e–279a, trans. Rowe (modified)
The point about Isocrates’ age is an amusing and telling one. By the time the Phaedrus was in circulation, Isocrates, who completed his last, and almost longest, speech in his late nineties, was in all likelihood known as a persistent coffin dodger, still busy reshuffling his self-congratulatory writings in an attempt to please new patrons. [20] From another point of view, however, the remark on Isocrates’ “youth” sounds like a pointed reply to the orator’s attack in the Encomium on Helen.
It would appear, then, that the two most obvious parallels between the Phaedrus and the Encomium are both closely associated with Helen and poetry. [21] Not only does Plato echo Isocrates when he cites Stesichorus’ palinode to Helen, but he also alludes to the beginning of the Encomium, where Isocrates interacts with Sappho’s Helen poem. Moreover, Plato’s seemingly marginal mention of Stesichorus, as we have seen in the first chapter, amounts to a full-fledged appropriation of Stesichorus’ Helen poem(s). [22] Something similar happens with Sappho, but before I try to assess her far-reaching presence in the Phaedrus, I would like to dwell further on the role of Helen. As in the case of Stesichorus, Plato mentions the heroine only once in the Phaedrus (243a), though a network of allusions makes her presence very much felt. Not only does Helen “haunt Socrates’ second speech,” as Nicole Loraux has perceptively noted, [23] she is somehow physically present in the Phaedrus too, as I shall try to demonstrate.

Helen’s Tree

As I mentioned in the previous chapter, Isocrates reminds his reader that Helen was the object of special devotion in Sparta: [24]
Καὶ τούτοις ἔχω τὴν πόλιν τὴν Σπαρτιατῶν τὴν μάλιστα τὰ παλαιὰ διασῴζουσαν ἔργῳ παρασχέσθαι μαρτυροῦσαν· ἔτι γὰρ καὶ νῦν ἐν Θεράπναις τῆς Λακωνικῆς θυσίας αὐτοῖς ἁγίας καὶ πατρίας ἀποτελοῦσιν οὐχ ὡς ἥρωσιν ἀλλ’ ὡς θεοῖς ἀμφοτέροις οὖσιν.
And I can produce the city of the Spartans, which preserves with especial care its ancient traditions, as witness for the fact; for even to the present day at Therapne in Laconia the people offer holy and traditional sacrifices to both Menelaus and Helen, not as to heroes, but as to gods.
Isocrates Helen 63, trans. Norlin
Isocrates goes on to mention Stesichorus’ blindness, the palinode, and Helen’s dream-epiphany, whereby, according to some of the Homeridae, she commanded Homer to celebrate the heroes of Troy “to make their death more to be envied than the life of the rest of mankind” (64–65). [25]
Plato seems to have no time for Helen’s cultic status as described by Isocrates. One striking detail, however, does prompt second thoughts. The plane-tree of the Phaedrus is somehow personified, as Phaedrus’ words make clear in the following passage:
οὔκ, ἀλλὰ καὶ δὴ λέγω· ὁ δέ μοι λόγος ὅρκος ἔσται. ὄμνυμι γάρ σοι τίνα μέντοι, τίνα θεῶν; ἢ βούλει τὴν πλάτανον ταυτηνί; ἦ μήν, ἐάν μοι μὴ εἴπῃς τὸν λόγον ἐναντίον αὐτῆς ταύτης, μηδέποτέ σοι ἕτερον λόγον μηδένα μηδενὸς μήτε ἐπιδείξειν μήτε ἐξαγγελεῖν.
No I shall [say it]; and it’ll be an oath. I swear to you—but by whom, by whom among the gods? What about this plane-tree here?—I swear that if you don’t make your speech in her very presence I shan’t display or report to you any speech of anyone’s ever again
Plato Phaedrus 236d–e, trans. Rowe (modified)
The plane-tree is referred to, surprisingly, as a divinity. [26]
In Greek terms, the quasi-personification of the plane-tree can only be read as an instance of the very common idea that trees (always feminine in Greek) stand for, or are the embodiment of, divine creatures. [27] On the island of Lesbos, an inscription mentions a nymph called Plataneis, [28] but even more interesting is the fact that platanê seems to have been a Spartan word for nymph. [29] Now, the first example of the word “nymph” in Greek literature appears in Iliad III, where it is used to summon Helen herself. [30] Similarly, in what is clearly an echo from Odyssey 15.171–178, Stesichorus refers to Helen as a nympha. [31] Nor is this all. Pausanias informs us of another Doric tradition in Rhodes, where, after being hung on a tree, Helen was worshipped as δενδρῖτις, or the goddess of the tree. [32] As for Sparta, Helen was worshipped in two places: Therapne, and, more importantly for my argument, Platanistas, a self-explanatory toponym.
It is interesting to note that the only plane-tree found in Homer is in the setting of the famous sacrifice in Aulis that resulted in the prodigy of the dragon. [33] The plane-tree is thus ominously associated with the Achaean expedition launched to win back Helen, and Troy itself was at a certain point associated with the Platanae, a race of nymphs haunting the destroyed city and its plane-trees. [34] Pausanias also mentions that Menelaus was said to have planted a plane-tree (an example of ersatz love?) [35] while gathering the heroes for the Trojan war. [36] Finally, Helen’s iconography provides us with further evidence: a red-figure lekythos depicting the heroine crouching naked under a tree may represent the traditional story of her bathing, [37] while, more importantly still, a coin from Gythion seems to represent her as a tree rising between her twin brothers, the Dioscuri. [38]
What I have discussed above is surely enough to suggest that the goddess “hidden” in Plato’s plane-tree could indeed be Helen. In actual fact, I regard it as no more than added confirmation of yet another crucial piece of evidence. This is a passage from Theocritus’ Epithalamion to Helen, a poem that, according to a scholium, is indebted to Stesichorus’ Helen. [39] A chorus of maidens sings the praises of Helen and make offers to her under a shady plane-tree (ὑπὸ σκιερὰν πλατάνιστον) near Sparta. As a crowning touch, they inscribe the plane with an appropriate name:
γράμματα δ’ ἐν φλοιῷ γεγράψεται, ὡς παριών τις
ἀννείμῃ Δωριστί· “σέβευ μ’· Ἑλένας φυτόν εἰμι.”

And a Doric rede be writ i’ the bark for him that passeth by to mark,
“I am Helen’s tree; worship me.”
Theocritus 18.47–48, trans. Edmonds (modified)
Whether Helen is considered a goddess, a heroine, a pre-Greek arboreal divinity, or something else again, [40] it is quite clear that plane-trees could stand for Helen; [41] or even, as Carl Bötticher bluntly put it, the name of Helen and that of the plane-tree could be interchangeable. [42]
Isocrates’ very choice to celebrate Helen in an Athenian context testifies to Helen’s popularity in classical Athens. In fact, in the last decades of the fifth century the cult of Helen became wide-spread in Attica, where—according to the Athenian tradition—she was conceived by Nemesis. [43] Some time later she was certainly the object of direct worship, since “a sacrificial calendar of the fourth century BCE, carved on stone … includes sacrifices to her together with her brothers.” [44] The specifically Athenian connection with Nemesis possibly points to Helen’s power to punish and reward, and it may be no coincidence that the Phaedrus explicitly mentions Nemesis. [45] Besides Plato’s well-known philolaconism, [46] it is worth mentioning that Plato’s Academy, which was famous for its plane-trees, owed its name to Hecademus, [47] who is only known to us as the rescuer of Helen after Theseus abducted her. (As Richard Hunter has argued, the episode was most certainly included in Stesichorus’ Helen poem, on which Socrates projects his palinode. [48] ) In short, I believe that the plane-tree in the Phaedrus is a powerful symbol for Helen. As Plato’s poetic (and political?) entanglements suggest, the heroine is integral to the Phaedrus, and with good reason. For not only is she the quintessential manifestation of beauty and eros, but “her association with logos is implicit from the beginning” of her literary career. [49] Thus, she embodies perfectly the two main themes of the Phaedrus.

Plato’s Sappho

As we have seen, Helen is almost physically present in the Phaedrus. But what about Sappho? The network of “rhetorical” connections pointing to Helen ultimately calls to mind the poetess, and Sappho is one of Socrates’ explicit sources of inspiration. In what follows, I shall explore Plato’s involvement with Sappho’s poetry, and, more specifically, with Sappho’s Helen.
Phaedrus has just finished reading aloud a clever speech by Lysias, which maintains that a beloved boy, an erômenos, should grant his favors to a non-lover rather than to a lover. A fan of Lysias, Phaedrus is confident that such a paradox will not fail to impress Socrates. Yet the latter has reservations and does not share Phaedrus’ statement that Lysias’ speech is a matchless achievement:
{ΣΩ.} Τοῦτο ἐγώ σοι οὐκέτι οἷός τ’ ἔσομαι πιθέσθαι· παλαιοὶ γὰρ καὶ σοφοὶ ἄνδρες τε καὶ γυναῖκες περὶ αὐτῶν εἰρηκότες καὶ γεγραφότες ἐξελέγξουσί με, ἐάν σοι χαριζόμενος συγχωρῶ. {ΦΑΙ.} Τίνες οὗτοι; καὶ ποῦ σὺ βελτίω τούτων ἀκήκοας; {ΣΩ.} Νῦν μὲν οὕτως οὐκ ἔχω εἰπεῖν· δῆλον δὲ ὅτι τινῶν ἀκήκοα, ἤ που Σαπφοῦς τῆς καλῆς ἢ Ἀνακρέοντος τοῦ σοφοῦ ἢ καὶ συγγραφέων τινῶν. πόθεν δὴ τεκμαιρόμενος λέγω; πλῆρές πως, ὦ δαιμόνιε, τὸ στῆθος ἔχων αἰσθάνομαι παρὰ ταῦτα ἂν ἔχειν εἰπεῖν ἕτερα μὴ χείρω. ὅτι μὲν οὖν παρά γε ἐμαυτοῦ οὐδὲν αὐτῶν ἐννενόηκα, εὖ οἶδα, συνειδὼς ἐμαυτῷ ἀμαθίαν· λείπεται δὴ οἶμαι ἐξ ἀλλοτρίων ποθὲν ναμάτων διὰ τῆς ἀκοῆς πεπληρῶσθαί με δίκην ἀγγείου. ὑπὸ δὲ νωθείας αὖ καὶ αὐτὸ τοῦτο ἐπιλέλησμαι, ὅπως τε καὶ ὧντινων ἤκουσα.
SOCRATES There I cannot go along with you. Ancient sages, men and women, who have spoken and written of these things, would rise up in judgment against me, if out of complaisance I assented to you. PHAEDRUS Who are they, and where did you hear anything better than this? SOC. I am sure that I must have heard; but at this moment I do not remember from whom; perhaps from Sappho the fair, or Anacreon the wise; or, possibly, from a prose writer. Why do I say so? Why, because I perceive that my bosom is full, and that I could make another speech as good as that of Lysias, and different. Now I am certain that this is not an invention of my own, who am well aware that I know nothing, and therefore I can only infer that I have been filled through the ears, like a pitcher, from the waters of another, though I have actually forgotten in my stupidity who was my informant.
Plato Phaedrus 235b–d, trans. Jowett [50]
With its mention of Sappho and Anacreon, the passage provides an interesting litmus test for Platonic scholarship. In the past, such references to poetry as these under discussion would have either been ignored or quickly dismissed as light-hearted embellishments. Plato, it would have been argued, notorious censor of poetry as he was, must not be taken too seriously when referring to poetic authorities. But that was some time ago.
The first article specifically devoted to our passage dates back to 1966, when a distinguished scholar made the novel suggestion that “the purpose for naming these poets is to anticipate poetic reminiscences.” [51] Nowadays, most readers would find such a statement amusingly unsophisticated, since a lively debate is currently being waged regarding “Plato’s Sappho.” [52] To mention but a few, the key issues under discussion include the following: how did the philosopher view the poetess? To what extent do Sappho’s poems inform Socrates’ speeches? What is the precise relationship, if any, between Platonic and Sapphic love—whatever these notions may mean? And is Plato’s notion of memory indebted to Sappho’s?
I shall return to this debate later. For the time being, suffice it to say that at least four poems seem to be echoed in the Phaedrus, [53] and that both of Socrates’ speeches feature lyric reminiscences. [54] Ode 31 Voigt, Sappho’s so-called “Poem of Jealousy,” is a crucial source for Socrates’ list of love symptoms (251a–b); Sappho 2, the “Ostrakon Ode,” is an important precedent for the setting of the Phaedrus, and Sappho’s locus amoenus has much in common with Plato’s; Sappho 1, the “Ode to Aphrodite,” is possibly echoed in Socrates’ first speech, when he describes the lover’s flip-flop (241a–b), and is again discernible in the second speech’s recurrent image of the charioteer; Sappho 96, the poem expressing a girl’s poignant nostalgia for Sappho’s pupil Atthis, may have been the inspiration for Plato’s images of natural growth in Socrates’ second speech, when he describes how the lover grows wings (251b).
The question is not just one of specific echoes from specific poems. Scholars have become increasingly interested in the thematic and even philosophical links between Plato and Sappho, given also the longstanding tradition that has looked upon Sappho as a proto-philosopher, “concerned,” to quote Bruno Snell’s grand formulation, “to grasp a piece of genuine reality: to find Being instead of Appearance.” [55] Besides love, Plato’s Sapphic entanglements include the feeling for nature, the emphasis on sight, together with what may be called a visual aesthetics, and, last but not least, memory and the notion of time. All in all, the relationship between Plato and Sappho seems to be firmly established, though many points, including Plato’s overall attitude towards the poetess, are hotly debated. In what follows, I shall integrate a new poem and a new subject into this debate: namely Sappho’s Helen poems and oblivion as a necessary counterpart to memory.

Plato’s Hymn to Memory

Socrates’ palinode opens with the famous distinction between two opposed forms of madness; one good and divine, one bad and human. Here is a major innovation, which has remarkable consequences, for Socrates’ vocabulary too. For example, the lover is described as astonished and overwhelmed, the Greek word being ekplêttô. [56] Along with its cognate ekplêxis, which LSJ renders as “mental disturbance,” this verb is a favorite of Plato’s; it conveys the basic idea that passions overwhelm and blot out human rationality. As one would expect, therefore, its Platonic usage bears very negative connotations. [57] Only in Socrates’ speech and in Aristophanes’ myth in the Symposium does the verb bear positive connotations. [58] In both cases, Plato, through the persona of an inspired speaker, deals with the subject of divinely mad love provoking a reversal of values. Aristophanes’ and Socrates’ lovers are similar inasmuch as their love is an exclusive, overpowering passion that obliterates all other concerns. Although there are important differences between Socrates’ speech and Aristophanes’ myth, divine love is apparently a “poetic” characteristic that finds its way into the fabric of Plato’s philosophical discourse.
Memory is another key factor in divine madness, in that ekplêxis strikes the lover’s mind leaving it blank, while at the same time rekindling the recollection of the Forms, which the chariot of the soul can glimpse in its journey through the hyperuranion world. On spotting a youth bearing the marks of beauty, the lover is shocked and overwhelmed. This, in turn, triggers the growth of wings and “a recollection (anamnêsis) of those things which our soul once saw when it travelled in company with a god” (249c). But this divine reaction is, of course, the privilege of a philosophical soul only: “for so far as it can it is close, through memory (mnêmê), to those things his closeness to which gives god his divinity.” Other souls are struck by oblivion (lêthê) and are unable to recapture eternal beauty. Few souls are capable of recollection (anamimnêskô: twice in 249e–250a) or memory (mnêmê 250a). Only those who are capable are struck by beauty (ekplêttontai 250e) as by lightning (cf. 254a opsin astraptousan), which leaves them completely beside themselves. The lightning strikes and sparks off glimpses of their divine past, when they followed their gods dancing through the skies and visited “the plain of alêtheia” (truth or, perhaps, “non-oblivion”). [59] Has this anything to do with Sappho?
Before attempting an answer, I would like to emphasize the concluding remarks of the passage I have been examining. With yet another reference to memory, Socrates proceeds to deal with a new topic, beauty:
Ταῦτα μὲν οὖν μνήμῃ κεχαρίσθω, δι’ ἣν πόθῳ τῶν τότε νῦν μακρότερα εἴρηται· περὶ δὲ κάλλους …
Let this be our token of gratitude/farewell to memory, which has made me speak now at some length out of longing for what was before; but on the subject of beauty …
Plato Phaedrus 250c, trans. Rowe (modified)
The very unusual expression μνήμῃ κεχαρίσθω is usually translated more or less as “thanks be given to memory.” [60] The notion of gratitude, of course, is not entirely irrelevant, but the verb khairô, used as a device to change the subject, recalls its hymnodic usage. In the Homeric hymns, the verb is regularly used to take leave of a god and to introduce a new hymnal theme, and such usage surfaces in other genres as well. [61] One should also bear in mind that Socrates’ speech is guaranteed by divine inspiration, and at a certain point it is referred to with the verb humneô, an explicit reference to poetry (247c). As such, the speech was considered by Menander the Rhetor as an early example of prose hymn. [62] In short, our passage can be construed as a prose hymn to Mnêmê, with a capital “M,” as a goddess of Memory.
Once it has been established that Memory is being introduced as a godlike faculty, the question arises as to whether this prose hymn is consistent with Plato’s overall conception of memory? Although no systematic theory of memory is discernible in the dialogues, we know that Plato carries out interesting analyses of this faculty, both as an intentional process (in the Theaetetus) and as a process complete with propositional content (in the Philebus). [63] This is understandable, because memory is a vital component of human behavior and regarded by Plato, in particular, as an important quality of the philosophical soul. Plato makes it quite clear, however, that no tekhnê based on empirical memory can qualify as authentic knowledge, and he is very quick to debunk any so-called knowledge based on experience. [64] Thus, memory is a characteristic quality of the cave’s inhabitants, who remember the patterns and movements of the cave’s shadows, and are thus pathetically lulled into thinking they are wise. [65] Consequently, memory can be good only insofar as it remembers good things, which rules out memory as an empirical tool in such areas as rhetoric or current affairs.
Good memory presupposes a good choice of what to remember and what to forget. An unqualified hymn to Memory, therefore, may seem out of place in Plato’s world, but the necessary qualifications are implicit, inasmuch as Socrates’ memory is based on the recollection of the highest and most desirable entities. As such, recollection is tantamount to dialectics, as is clear from Socrates’ first mention of recollection:
δεῖ γὰρ ἄνθρωπον συνιέναι κατ’ εἶδος λεγόμενον, ἐκ πολλῶν ἰὸν αἰσθήσεων εἰς ἓν λογισμῷ συναιρούμενον· τοῦτο δ’ ἐστὶν ἀνάμνησις ἐκείνων ἅ ποτ’ εἶδεν ἡμῶν ἡ ψυχὴ συμπορευθεῖσα θεῷ καὶ ὑπεριδοῦσα ἃ νῦν εἶναί φαμεν, καὶ ἀνακύψασα εἰς τὸ ὂν ὄντως.
A man must comprehend what is said universally, arising from many sensations and being collected together into one through reasoning; and this is a recollection of those things which our soul once saw when it travelled in company with a god and treated with contempt the things we now say are, and when it rose up into what really is.
Plato Phaedrus 249b–c, trans. Rowe
The process of arising and collecting things together is an unmistakable reference to dialectics, and such a process is said to be equivalent to recollection . [66] Yet there is an important difference. Whereas recollection, in the Phaedrus and the Symposium, is a dramatic process brought about by the shock of beauty, dialectics, as sketched in the Republic and in other dialogues, is a long and painstaking procedure. In other words, the goal is the same, but love may provide a kind of shortcut to the Form(s). Moreover, this short passage tells us implicitly that recollection entails contempt, and, by implication, oblivion, of earthly realities, which have no real existence. So the question arises, could a good form of forgetfulness be part of the picture? And can one be sure that Memory is the hero of the story, and Oblivion the villain?

Sappho’s Helen

In order to address the problem, we shall turn to the section of the Phaedrus that immediately follows Socrates’ “Hymn to Memory.” To begin with, we encounter a distinction between the corrupt man and the initiated, who has seen much of the Forms in his prenatal wanderings. The former “does not move keenly from here to there, to beauty itself” (250e), so that the sight of beauty makes him “surrender to pleasure” in an attempt to cover his beloved as a beast. By contrast, the initiated is overwhelmed by beauty and stands in awe, shuddering, sweating, highly feverish, until he grows divine wings (251a–e). It is generally agreed that this list of symptoms is inspired by Sappho 31. [67] Other Sapphic elements include a strong emphasis on sight—Sapphic love is first and foremost a desire to contemplate the beloved—and on the power of memory, which, when the lover’s soul cannot contemplate the youth, causes a mixture of pain and pleasure, since memory retains the sight of beauty even when the latter is absent. [68] This brings us to the climax of the entire passage, which I quote in full:
… πᾶσα κεντουμένη κύκλῳ ἡ ψυχὴ οἰστρᾷ καὶ ὀδυνᾶται, μνήμην δ’ αὖ ἔχουσα τοῦ καλοῦ γέγηθεν. ἐκ δὲ ἀμφοτέρων μεμειγμένων ἀδημονεῖ τε τῇ ἀτοπίᾳ τοῦ πάθους καὶ ἀποροῦσα λυττᾷ, καὶ ἐμμανὴς οὖσα οὔτε νυκτὸς δύναται καθεύδειν οὔτε μεθ’ ἡμέραν οὗ ἂν ᾖ μένειν, θεῖ δὲ ποθοῦσα ὅπου ἂν οἴηται ὄψεσθαι τὸν ἔχοντα τὸ κάλλος· ἰδοῦσα δὲ καὶ ἐποχετευσαμένη ἵμερον ἔλυσε μὲν τὰ τότε συμπεφραγμένα, ἀναπνοὴν δὲ λαβοῦσα κέντρων τε καὶ ὠδίνων ἔληξεν, ἡδονὴν δ’ αὖ ταύτην γλυκυτάτην ἐν τῷ παρόντι καρποῦται. ὅθεν δὴ ἑκοῦσα εἶναι οὐκ ἀπολείπεται, οὐδέ τινα τοῦ καλοῦ περὶ πλείονος ποιεῖται, ἀλλὰ μητέρων τε καὶ ἀδελφῶν καὶ ἑταίρων πάντων λέλησται, καὶ οὐσίας δι’ ἀμέλειαν ἀπολλυμένης παρ’ οὐδὲν τίθεται, νομίμων δὲ καὶ εὐσχημόνων, οἷς πρὸ τοῦ ἐκαλλωπίζετο, πάντων καταφρονήσασα δουλεύειν ἑτοίμη καὶ κοιμᾶσθαι ὅπου ἂν ἐᾷ τις ἐγγυτάτω τοῦ πόθου· πρὸς γὰρ τῷ σέβεσθαι τὸν τὸ κάλλος ἔχοντα ἰατρὸν ηὕρηκε μόνον τῶν μεγίστων πόνων. τοῦτο δὲ τὸ πάθος, ὦ παῖ καλέ, πρὸς ὃν δή μοι ὁ λόγος, ἄνθρωποι μὲν ἔρωτα ὀνομάζουσιν …
… the entire soul, stung all over, goes mad with pain; but then, remembering the beautiful, it rejoices again. The mixture of both these states makes it despair at the strangeness of its condition, raging in its perplexity, and in its madness it can neither sleep at night nor keep still where it is by day, but runs wherever it thinks it will see the possessor of the beauty it longs for; and when it has seen the possessor and channeled desire in to itself it releases what was pent up before, and finding a breathing space it ceases from its stinging birth-pains, once more enjoying this for the moment as the sweetest pleasure. This it does not willingly give up, nor does it value anyone above the one with beauty, but quite forgets mother, brothers, friends, all together, not caring about the loss of its wealth through neglect, and with contempt for all the accepted standards of propriety and good taste in which it previously prided itself it is ready to act the part of a slave and sleep wherever it is allowed to do so, provided it is as close as possible to the object of its longing; for in addition to its reverence for the possessor of beauty, it has found him the sole healer of its greatest sufferings. This experience, my beautiful boy, men term love …
Plato Phaedrus 251d–252b, trans. Rowe
As two critics have put it, “the body moves into the very substance of the soul,” so that “l’âme est entièrement somatisée.” [69] In fact, Plato’s powerfully eroticized description of the soul contemplating beauty could easily be mistaken for a page of erotic mysticism from the Middle Ages. [70] Remarkably, both the subject and the object of love are presented as abstract, barely individual entities, even though there are overtones that evoke erotic intercourse. Moreover, the lover’s contempt for earthly things, a consequence of his recollection of the Forms, results in his values being turned upside down, a reversal that takes the form of oblivion, thus making the case for a good form of forgetfulness explicit. [71] The lover is someone who forgets everyday values—mother, brothers, friends, riches—only to devote himself exclusively to what Plato refers to as “the possessor of beauty,” that is, the embodiment of the relevant Form. The beloved, in turn, will undergo a similar experience, as he realizes that “not even all his other friends and his relations together” can match the lover. Consequently, he devotes himself to the lover and “is in love, but with what, he does not know” (ἐρᾷ μὲν οὖν, ὅτου δὲ ἀπορεῖ). [72] What is the source of this dramatic change? At a metapoetic level, an answer is readily available: Sappho and Helen. Socrates calls his speech a palinode because Helen had received such compensatory praise from Stesichorus, who, like so many other poets, had attacked her as a symbol of lust and guilt (243a–b). At this point, it is enlightening to read the poem Sappho dedicated to Helen (additional supplements are emphasized): [73]
ο]ἰ μὲν ἰππήων ϲτρότον οἰ δὲ πέϲδων
οἰ δὲ νάων φαῖϲ’ ἐπ[ὶ] γᾶν μέλαι[ν]αν
ἔ]μμεναι κάλλιϲτον, ἔγω δὲ κῆν’ ὄτ-
     τω τιϲ ἔραται·
πά]γχυ δ’ εὔμαρεϲ ϲύνετον πόηϲαι
π]άντι τ[ο]ῦ̣τ’, ἀ γὰρ πόλυ περϲκέ̣θ̣ο̣ι̣ϲ̣α
κ̣άλ̣λο̣ϲ̣ [ἀνθ]ρ̣ώπων Ἐλένα [τὸ]ν ἄνδρα
     τ̣όν̣[    ἄρ]ι̣ϲτον
κ̣αλλ[ίποι]ϲ̣’ ἔβα’ ϲ Τροΐαν πλέοι̣[ϲα
κωὐδ[ὲ πα]ῖδοϲ οὐδὲ φίλων το[κ]ήων
π̣ά[μπαν] ἐμνάϲθ〈η〉, ἀλλὰ παράγ̣α̣γ̣’ α̣ὔταν
     οὐδὲ θέλοι]ϲαν
    ]αμπτον γὰρ [
    ]...κούφωϲτ[              ]οη.[.]ν̣
..]μ̣ε̣ νῦν Ἀνακτορί[αϲ ὀ]ν̣έ̣μναιϲε
     ϲ’ οὐ ] παρεοίϲαϲ,
τᾶ]ϲ 〈κ〉ε βολλοίμαν ἔρατόν τε βᾶμα
κἀμάρυχμα λάμπρον ἴδην προϲώπω
ἢ τὰ Λύδων ἄρματα κἀν ὄπλοιϲι

Some say an army on horse, some say on foot,
or borne by sea, is the most beautiful thing
upon the black earth—but I say most beautiful
     is the thing one loves.
And nothing is more easily made plain
to all, for even she who surpassed in beauty
all that is human, Helen, abandoned
     the best of men
when she departed for Troy by sail,
and neither child nor beloved parent
did she remember at all, but was led astray
     —far from willing
for by
brings to my mind now Anaktoria,
     who is gone
and her beloved step, the spark
of her lambent eyes I would rather see
than the chariots of Lydia, than any march
     of soldiers at arms.
Sappho 16 Voigt
This is the only time in the extant fragments that Sappho tries to “demonstrate” a general thesis to an equally general audience (π]άντι), [74] which may give the impression of a proto-philosophical turn. [75] As in Socrates’ speech, the poem seems to entail a full Umwertung aller Werte [76] in what is ostensibly an inquiry into the ultimate object of human love (compare Sappho’s ὄττω τις ἔραται and Plato’s ἐρᾷ μὲν οὖν, ὅτου δὲ ἀπορεῖ). Sappho’s Helen, referred to as the “hyper-possessor of beauty” (6–7), undergoes a complete reversal of values and forgets relatives and riches. At the same time, Helen’s story, moving from the general to the particular, brings back to Sappho the vision of Anactoria’s shining face (κἀμάρυχμα λάμπρον ἴδην προσώπω), [77] which calls to mind the Phaedrus’ shining form of Beauty (κάλλος ἰδεῖν λαμπρόν) and its radiant incarnation as the lover’s vision of a divine face (ὅταν θεοειδὲς πρόσωπον ἴδῃ). [78] Apart from the interesting dialectics between memory and oblivion, there is also the striking juxtaposition of the verb memnêmai, “remember,” and anamimnêsko, “(cause somebody to) recollect,” which also sounds somewhat “proto-philosophical.” [79] Anactoria is absent, but her radiant memory is quite vivid, just as Socrates’ beauty on earth is “shining” or “glittering” (250d, 254b). Whether Sappho was a proto-philosopher or not—I am in fact skeptical—her Helen poem certainly had enough to attract someone like Plato. [80]
As we have seen, Socrates’ speech is compared to a palinode to Helen, and Plato conjures up both Gorgias’ and Isocrates’ Helen, who becomes “physically” present as a plane-tree. All of this makes Plato’s allusion to Sappho’s poem a powerful one, though no scholar, to the best of my knowledge, has ever noticed it. [81] Sappho is a model for the reversal of values brought about by the traumatic experience of falling in love, and, more specifically, for the oblivion this provokes: because of beauty, the lover forgets all her usual pursuits, while her mind is fully taken up by the recollection of love. Yet what is the content of this memory?
The evocation of the beloved has a shining quality in both Sappho and Plato, but perhaps the two texts have more than this in common. In Sappho’s extant poetry, whenever a character longs for her beloved, the poet evokes a moment of performance, like the dance and music practiced by Sappho and her companions. [82] This is implicit in our poem as well: Sappho remembers Anactoria’s “lovely step,” which alone is evocative of dance, and even the “shining spark of her face” seems to suggest movement: amarugma or amaruga are used in early Greek poetry either to describe shining gestures or as an epithet for the Graces, who were, of course, dancing goddesses. [83] As for Plato, the lover, when struck by beauty, remembers the time when he followed his god as a choreutês, that is, member of a chorus (252d). [84] Thus, Sappho’s lesson for Socrates is one of memory and oblivion: forget earthy things, remember beauty in the divine sparkle of dance.

The “Mother” of Socrates’ Speech

Ultimately, what are we to make of Plato’s Sappho? As I mentioned earlier, this question, though a very old one, has recently given rise to a lively debate. The text quoted on the cover page of this chapter has Maximus of Tyrus going so far as to equate Sapphic with Platonic love, and claiming that Sappho should be recognized as the “mother” of Socrates’ palinode. Building on Maximus, Helen Foley argues that in both authors “both masculine and feminine erotics are represented as not exclusively about bodies.” Thus, Foley “counters a tendency in recent feminist criticism that pits Sappho as the paradigmatic celebrant of the materiality of the body against Plato’s philosophic aim to transcend it.” [85]
The latter is, indeed, the dominant view on the whole, but Elizabeth Pender has very recently published the most thorough discussion of the subject so far, and this has resulted in a more balanced assessment. [86] I fully share Pender’s view, already quoted, [87] that “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.” Moreover, she claims that “in Phaedrus [unlike in Sappho’s poetry] memory does not serve as a consolation but as a spur to further effort—it is merely the beginning of an arduous task … Thus through his love story of recollection Plato challenges the lyric tradition by placing eros within a much larger framework of experience and understanding.” [88]
Sappho idolizes her beloved ones, while Anacreon, Plato’s other lyric model, goes so far as to state that “Boys are my gods.” [89] By contrast, Plato’s lover and beloved are abstract creatures, without names or individual traits. Through what he refers to as “enthusiasm through memory” (253a), Plato’s lover transcends earthly beauty and attains to divine beauties behind the divine face of beautiful boys, as if their radiant faces were iconic windows open to Beauty. Sappho is fond of closeups: she likes to blow up poignant details of the past, particularly when they involve moments of dance and performance. Again by contrast, Plato’s eye captures no less poignant and breathtaking a view of the metaphysical, prenatal world with extreme long shots that reveal the hyperuranion dance of the souls. Both experiences, however, entail the severing of everyday memories.
What one finds in certain lyric poems is undiluted eros manifesting itself in devastating ways. As is the case with Sappho’s Helen, this brings about a complete reversal of values, resulting in the severing of all ties that bind us to everyday life—which is precisely what makes “lyric oblivion” attractive to Plato. But oblivion of earthly values goes hand in hand with the scintillating memory of the beloved, and it is memory, rather than oblivion, that opens up the gap between Plato and Sappho. Sappho’s Helen poem “shows a tendency towards particularization,” [90] and Sappho’s memory, as in other nostalgic poems, is obsessed with particular details: she intensifies the light shining on the face of a dancer, magnifies the hand playing a lyre, and so on. [91] Somehow, Sappho makes a sad fetish of her beloved ones, and this is precisely where Plato is not willing to follow her. One cannot fail to recall how in Republic 10 he attacks poetry precisely because it indulges in “recollections of pathos” (ἀναμνήσεις τοῦ πάθους) and “lamentations” (ὀδυρμούς). [92]
To conclude our discussion of memory and oblivion, we may say that Plato’s “hymn to memory” incorporates and radically transforms Sappho’s references to memory in a way that parallels Socrates’ reply to Aristophanes in the Symposium. In the playwright’s myth, the lovers can never forget their lost half and are obsessed with the individual. On the other hand, for Socrates, who openly refers to Aristophanes, that same poignant nostalgia can be channeled upwards in such a way as to transcend the individual in a search for Beauty. [93] Nevertheless, Sappho remains the undisputed, matchless master of oblivion, without which no true memory is possible. Moreover, as I shall now argue, she is a model in the appropriation of past texts, or, to put it more simply, a model of memory at work in texts. [94]

Mobilizing the Poetry of the Past

My own discussion confirms Pender’s interpretation. However, Pender’s very sensible conclusions can be explored further and explained in greater depth. Elsewhere, Plato makes it very clear that it is no use scrutinizing texts in the absence of their authors. [95] Why then does he feel the need to argue through lyric poetry? Two passages from the Phaedrus may provide a credible answer. The first is in the explicit of the palinode (257a), when Socrates claims his palinode “was forced to use somewhat poetical language because of Phaedrus.” [96] Not only do these words declare openly Plato’s intention to echo lyric poetry, but they also suggest that good speech must be fashioned to meet the needs of the listener. Authentic, philosophical rhetoric is an erotic form of discourse that takes notice of the individual nature of its addressee—which is why lyric poetry may be useful for such an interlocutor as Phaedrus.
The second passage is from the myth of Theuth (275a–b), when the pharaoh describes writing as “an elixir not of memory but of reminding.” [97] Whether read or recited, written composition is not true memory, but rather an aid to remembrance. The latter point is in itself ambiguous: on the one hand, Plato is probably attacking the rhetorical practice of learning written speeches by heart, which is precisely what Phaedrus had set out to do at the beginning of the dialogue; on the other hand, however, written aids may work in a different way, and poetic myth can work as a “trigger for intuitive recollection,” as Daniel Werner aptly puts it. [98] Let us have one last look at Helen’s poem.
A favorite among early poets, Helen’s story was probably perceived to be the very stuff of epics. The story of Helen is one of war and destruction, which may account for the martial images that form the background to the poem. But as Sappho composes her poem, Helen serves as a reminder of Anactoria. This is a different mode of poetic recollection. It might be interesting at this point to look back at the image reproduced on the cover page of this chapter. This painting, from a hydria dating from ca. 440–430 BCE, shows Sappho sitting on a chair in the company of three young women who hold a crown and a lyre. [99] As Franco Ferrari has suggested, “the iconographic scheme whereby a famous poet is on the point of playing and is surrounded by young female figures clearly does not recall a performance in action but a moment in preparation for the same. Hence the iconography shows Sappho holding a papyrus roll in her hands in keeping with a well-attested tradition of joint scenes and reading … It is worth noting that the two recognizable sequences of letters on the roll, ἔπεα πτερόεντα, refer to a frequent epic formula and hence do not allude to a text that the poet has composed or is in the act of composing. Instead, they refer to an epic episode that has come to her memory.” [100]
Ferrrari’s perceptive reading does not extend, however, to another sequence of letters, namely the column Sappho is actually looking at (ἔπεα and πτερόεντα are written on the external margins of the roll). In this column, the sequence ΘΕΟΙ ΗΕΡΙΩΝ ΕΠΕΩΝ is clearly visible. [101] ΘΕΟΙ (“GODS”) is a dedicatory formula, [102] possibly “intrusive from the language of official documents,” [103] or, I would add, from the usage of ΘΕΟΙ as a heading in private graffiti, a practice that began to spread in Athens very early in the fifth century BCE. [104] If this is so, the “extratextual” formula is followed by the “text” proper, namely, ΗΕΡΙΩΝ ΕΠΕΩΝ. And, if this is so, I suggest that the “text” should be read as the first half of an epic hexameter. [105] This reading accords perfectly with both the epic formula ἔπεα πτερόεντα (“winged words”), of which ΗΕΡΙΩΝ ΕΠΕΩΝ may be regarded as a rephrasing, [106] and with comparable representations of papyri from other vases which feature the beginnings of epic or quasi-epic poems, [107] as opposed to lyric beginnings. (The latter do not appear on vases in the form of book rolls, but as streams of letters flowing directly from the performer’s mouth. [108] )
The epic past seems to be integral to Sappho’s own poetic practice as depicted by the painter. [109] Before she begins to sing her own songs, Sappho “consults” an epic poem, or else the papyrus is there to symbolize Sappho’s poetic memory. [110] I believe that, in either case, this constitutes the creative paradigm for poetic memory that Plato fully endorses. It is through his poetic memory, which includes lyric poetry as well as other genres, or even “written aids,” that Plato composes his own hymn to memory and depicts the hyperuranion world “as no other poet has previously done.” [111]


The Phaedrus is inextricably interwoven with the works of Gorgias and Isocrates dedicated to Helen. Both interact playfully with Sappho’s Helen poem, and Plato readily plays along with them. Far from being a rhetorical embellishment, however, Plato’s Helen is integral to the palinode. Not only is Helen “physically” present as Helen dendritis, the goddess of the plane-tree, but, more importantly, it is through Sappho’s Helen that Plato elaborates his theory of oblivion and recollection. Gorgianic rhetoric explicitly takes advantage of the weakness of human memory and mind, and, in so doing, overwhelms and “drags” the listener’s mind around. Plato, too, characterizes rhetoric as a form of “psychagogy” (dragging of souls), clearly hinting at Gorgias and Isocrates. But it is through Sappho’s Helen that he reverses the role of memory: the emotional shock provoked by beauty, so integral to lyrical discourse, brings about the oblivion of mundane things and at the same time triggers off the bright recollection of more precious things. In Plato’s case, the latter coincides with a long shot of the prenatal world of the Forms, as opposed to the “closeups” so typical of Sappho’s poignant memories. Plato, moreover, evokes Sappho’s active, creative reworking of epic themes, which led to a different model of intertextuality.

Endnote: New “Facts”

  • Building on a number of previous studies, this chapter offers a new survey of the intertextual relations between the Phaedrus and the two prose works dedicated to Helen by Gorgias and his pupil Isocrates. Echoes from Sappho 16 Voigt prove to be essential components of the intertextual play.
  • A careful comparison shows that the Phaedrus reproduces, even in points of detail, the quadripartite argument of Gorgias’ Helen, while it also appropriates the idea of rhetoric as a playful activity that can stir and mobilize the listener’s soul. At the same time, by attacking the εἰκός while advocating truth, the Phaedrus reverses Gorgias’ approach.
  • Whereas Isocrates criticizes Gorgias by attacking psykhagôgia, Plato appropriates and transforms the notion. Psykhagôgia acquires a sublime status, thanks to the fundamental contribution of lyric poetry. Far from being an embellishment, as is the case with Gorgias and Isocrates, lyric echoes in the Phaedrus are integral to the discourse of philosophy. This is true for both Stesichorus, as discussed in Chapter 1, and for Sappho, as discussed in the current chapter.
  • In the Phaedrus, Helen functions as a kind of “stone guest”: she is only mentioned once, but her presence is made evident through a web of allusions to a number of works dedicated to her (by Stesichorus, Sappho, Gorgias, and Isocrates). Her relevance is confirmed by a detail that has been passed over until now: at 236d–e, the plane-tree is in fact addressed as a goddess. A survey of the relevant poetic and cultic traditions offers an explanation for this striking detail: the plane-tree, which ancient readers felt to be metonymic for the Phaedrus, or even for Plato as a writer (see Introduction), was closely associated (or even identified) with Helen, who emerges with a pivotal role in the dialogue.
  • At 250c, Plato appropriates the traditional feature of the hymn in order to praise memory, which is addressed as a goddess. This “hymn” to memory provides a convenient introduction to a major (and unnoticed) poetic allusion. Not only is Sappho 16 Voigt a vital weapon in Plato’s intertextual battle of wits; it also proves to be a crucial subtext at Phaedrus 251d and other key points of the palinode, while contextual and lexical elements make for a very powerful allusion. Sappho 16 Voigt is exceptional in its demonstrative character, which takes the form of a semantic opposition between memory and recollection, while at the same time introducing oblivion of earthly things as the most striking symptom of eros. Plato was clearly interested in this paradigm, to the extent that he adopts and transforms all these elements: he makes the idea of oblivion as a crucial step in the transcending of earthly pursuits his own, but turns Sappho’s erotic remembrances into the no less erotic recollection of the Forms.
  • The role of text and writing, as discussed at Phaedrus 275a–b, is also inspired by Sappho 16 Voigt. In the poem, the epic past functions as a form of poetic memory that prompts the creation of original poetry. This interpretation is supported by pictorial evidence: a close examination of the inscription visible on the Sappho hydria attributed to the group of Polygnotus (Athens National Archaeological Museum 1260) shows that the notion of reception that the painter had in mind was precisely this—especially if my interpretation of the words depicted on the papyrus roll as the beginning of an epic hexameter proves to be valid.


[ back ] 1. 278e–279b. The only other (passing) mention is in Letter 13.360c, probably a spurious work. On the other hand, there is a general consensus that the unknown character dialoguing with Crito at the end of the Euthydemus should be identified as Isocrates. For a persuasive attempt to reconstruct the political background of Plato’s references to Isocrates in the Euthydemus, see Dušanić 1999.
[ back ] 2. See e.g. Asmis 1986 and Brancacci 2011, with bibliography. Cf. also Rossetti 1992: many of the shorter contributions collected in the second part of the volume address the question.
[ back ] 3. See e.g. McAdon 2004 and Roscalla 1998.
[ back ] 4. For a new persuasive argument pointing to Phaedrus 279a–b as a reply to the beginning of the Encomium on Helen, see Brancacci 2011:32. Heitsch 1993:257–262 makes a very strong case for “Isokrates im Phaedrus.”
[ back ] 5. Gorgias Helen 5.
[ back ] 6. Blondell 2013, a recent and clear discussion of the relevant literary traditions, discusses Isocrates as “the last classical author to make Helen the focus of a major work” (222).
[ back ] 7. Gorgias Helen 15–16. Cf. Pelliccia 1992:70–71.
[ back ] 8. Cf. Race 1989–1990 and Pelliccia 1992.
[ back ] 9. See 261a–b, which may reflect or reproduce Gorgias’ words (cf. Buchheim 1989:148, with further references), and 271c–d. For a comparison of Gorgias’ and Plato’s theories of rhetoric, see Leszl 1985, who makes a strong case for their similarity, except of course for the relationship between truth and eikos. Cf. also Asmis 1986:156 and Tulli 2007a (on the Menexenus). As far as I know, however, no scholar has identified the important ways in which Gorgias’ Helen is echoed in the Phaedrus (only a hint is found in Laplace 2011). Among the most recent works on Plato’s psykhagôgia, see Peixoto 2011, who sees it as an unifying element of the dialogue, whose parts can all be “esaminate e raggruppate sotto il segno della psicagogia” (205), and Perine 2011, who advocates a sharp distinction between psykhagôgia and didaskalia, to the detriment of the former.
[ back ] 10. In paragraphs 20–21, Gorgias explicitly summarizes the four irrational causes that led Helen astray and reveal the author’s jocular attitude: 1. love (ἐρασθεῖσα); 2. speech (λόγωι πεισθεῖσα); 3. violence (βίαι ἁρπασθεῖσα); 4. divine intervention (ὑπὸ θείας ἀνάγκης ἀναγκασθεῖσα). He concludes that the encomium is jocular in character (Ἑλένης μὲν ἐγκώμιον, ἐμὸν δὲ παίγνιον). Note that in this summary the order is reversed, whereas in the actual speech (15) eros was mentioned as the fourth element (τὴν δὲ τετάρτην αἰτίαν); and note that persuasion is radically divorced from truth at 11 (πείθουσι δὲ ψευδῆ λόγον πλάσαντες) and 13 (οὐκ ἀληθείαι λεχθείς). In like manner, at Phaedrus 265b–c Socrates summarizes the four types of mania. The list culminates with the mention of eros, and Gorgias’ direct influence is suggested by Socrates’ combined mention of persuasion, truth, and a jocular element. (The idea of the logos as a game is conveyed by the verb προσεπαίσαμεν, which resurfaces at 265b–c.)
[ back ] 11. For this paradox, see Halliwell 2011b:266–284. Valiavitcharska 2006 offers a different interpretation, whereby Gorgias is in fact committed to orthos logos rather than to deceptive doxa.
[ back ] 12. Such a reference would hardly be surprising: scholars have argued persuasively that Plato’s Apology closely follows the blueprint of Gorgias’ Apology of Palamedes. Cf. Calogero 1957 (featuring no fewer than nine important parallels), Coulter 1964 (who interprets Plato’s imitation as polemical), Barrett 2001 (more nuanced—Plato evokes the “traditional” Palamedes as well as that of Gorgias). For Gorgias’ Palamedes as a subtext for Plato’s Phaedrus, see Nightingale 1995:149–154. Finally, it should be noted that the opposition between “philosophical” truth and sophistic “probabilities” (εἰκός) is possibly a malicious distortion on the part of Plato, who may be deliberately misinterpreting the original meaning of εἰκός. See Kraus 2006.
[ back ] 13. “Plato uses the noun, psykhagôgia, only in the Phaedrus; but the verbal form occurs in two other dialogues. In the Laws (909b), he plays on the basic sense of ‘conjuring’ souls of the dead to add to it the notion of ‘beguiling’ the living; and in the Timaeus (71a) he uses the verb to refer to the beguilement of the desiring part of the soul by means of images. His contemporary and rival, Isocrates, uses the verb to describe the effect of poetic devices on the listener. In Evagoras (10), he points out that poets can ‘charm’ their listeners with beautiful rhythms and harmonies even though their diction and thoughts may be poor; and in To Nicocles (49), he remarks that rhetoricians who wish to ‘allure’ their listeners must use the crowd-pleasing device of myth, just like the poets. Gorgias did not use the term, as far as we know. But it is well suited to convey his notion that speech has the power to effect ‘most divine’ deeds, as attested by poetry and magical incantation” (Asmis 1986:156; cf. Pizzone 2009).
[ back ] 14. Edmunds 2011:22. Yet Gorgias’ Helen possibly stands for Rhetoric, which would make her integral to Isocrates’ work.
[ back ] 15. Cf. Papillon 1995–1996.
[ back ] 16. Unsurprisingly, Aristotle criticized the unity of Isocrates’ Encomium (Rhetoric 1414b24–28), which can be described as an attempt “to praise Helen via an encomium of Theseus, or even on the basis of Theseus’ opinion on her” (Constantinidou 2008:105).
[ back ] 17. See Tulli 2008b:93. According to Pelliccia 1992, Herodotus and Gorgias also interacted with Sappho’s Priamel. Later imitations include Plato Lysis 211d–e, Synesius Hymn 9.20–24, Anacreontea 26. Cf. Yatromanolakis 2007:256n392.
[ back ] 18. Conte 1986.
[ back ] 19. And to the Protagoras in particular. See e.g. Tulli 2008b and Brancacci 2011.
[ back ] 20. This is precisely the allegation we find in the Letter to Philip by Plato’s nephew Speusippus, who succeeded his uncle as head of the Academy. In his attack on the Philippus, which Isocrates composed in his early nineties, he ridicules Isocrates’ self-congratulatory statements about his lucidity in old age and harshly criticizes him for dedicating basically the same speech, with minor adjustments, to Agesilaus, Dionysius of Syracuse, Alexander the Thessalian, and, finally, to Philip himself. Panathenaicus 1–38 is, by and large, a self-serving (and unusually lengthy) introduction designed to discredit Isocrates’ opponents. Astonishingly, Isocrates claims he will resume his argument in a future speech (Panathenaicus 34).
[ back ] 21. Cf. also Phaedrus 261b, with the commentary of Heitsch 1993:260.
[ back ] 22. This is all the more important because—as Belfiore 2011 has shown for the Symposium—the ability to quote contextually and critically, as opposed to the use of quotation as mere embellishment, is the very hallmark of Socrates, who, in this as in other respects, triumphs over any other speaker. Belfiore argues that Plato emphasizes Socrates’ superiority over his table companions “by means of each speaker’s use of literary quotations and allusions.” (166). Cf. Most 1994. The opposite, anti-contextualist approach was of course the rule, especially for Homer: cf. Ford 1997. Socrates’ superiority also prevails in relation to other competing genres, as Sider 1980 has demonstrated brilliantly.
[ back ] 23. “Helen haunts Socrates’ second speech: 248c2 (allusion to Adrasteia, epithet for her mother, Nemesis); 251a (the beautiful face of the young boy is, like that of Helen, of divine aspect and, like her face, makes one shudder); 252a (leave everything for the beautiful object, as Helen in Sappho fr. 16 Campbell); 252d (make the beloved into an agalma), etc.” (Loraux 1995:314n3).
[ back ] 24. Scholars, especially after Martin West’s study devoted to “Immortal Helen” (1975), tend to assume that Helen was the object of a divine rather than heroic cult, a view that has recently been questioned by Edmunds, with regards to the passage from Isocrates (Edmunds 2011) and in other respects (Edmunds 2006–2007). Cf. Nagy 2008, who points out that “in the wording of Herodotos (9.120.3) concerning the hero cult of Protesilaos and in the wording of Pausanias (9.39.12) concerning the hero cult of Trophonios, there are references to the cult hero as a theos ‘god’ in the context of imagining him in an afterlife” (Nagy 2008:259).
[ back ] 25. Isocrates recalls Helen’s divine power again at 66, where he goes on to pan-Hellenize Helen’s divine status by including wealthy and cultivated “philosophers” in the cult (i.e. the likes of Isocrates himself, presumably).
[ back ] 26. This oath was bound to become famous, even notorious, and although it is actually uttered by Phaedrus, was used over and over again as evidence of Socrates’ alleged (im)piety. References can be roughly divided among accusatory or otherwise aggressive (e.g. Lucian Sale of Creeds 16.2), apologetic (e.g. Philostratus Life of Apollonius 6.196), and neutral (e.g. Lucian Icaromenippus 9.3).
[ back ] 27. This is also reflected in literary sources: cf. e.g. Callimachus Hymn 6.38, Apollonius Rhodius 4.1312. Of course, such associations are typical of many cultures: cf. e.g. Schröder 1953–1954, who provides ample, though disparate, material on trees and cults in different cultures and at different times. Despite its title, Die Platane am Ilissos, the book has hardly anything to say about the Phaedrus. The most informative work on the Greek cult of trees is still the impressive, and almost forgotten, Baumcultus der Hellenen by K. Bötticher (1856).
[ back ] 28. IG XII 2,129. For the connection of the inscription with the Trojan War (see below), cf. the learned and lucid study by Curbera and Galaz 1995:154–155, with further bibliography.
[ back ] 29. Scholium on Lycophron’s Alexandra 1294 (πλᾶτιν καὶ πλατανας, πλατῖδας καὶ λῖνας δαγῖλας τὰς νύμφας καλοῦσι Λάκωνες, Κύπριοι καὶ ἕτεροι). This and other data on plane-trees are largely taken from an analysis of all the instances of plane-trees in Greek literature as given by TLG.
[ back ] 30. Homer Iliad 3.130. Needless to say, the word nympha can mean very different things in different contexts. Cf. e.g. Andò 1996 and Larson 2001 (Chapter 1, “What Is a Nymph?”).
[ back ] 31. See PMG 209.1 (νύμφα … Ἑλένα), with Frame 2009:610–611.
[ back ] 32. 3.19.11. See Wide 1893:343–345.
[ back ] 33. Homer Iliad 2.307. As certain details (such as the religious setting, the fresh water spring, and the mystic atmosphere) suggest, the passage was probably an important model for Plato’s Phaedrus.
[ back ] 34. Cf. Murr 1969: “Am Grabe des Protesilaos, welcher zuerst unter den Griechen vor Troia gefallen war, liessen die Nymphen Platanen wachsen, welche, wo oft sie eine solche Höhe erreicht hatten, dass von ihnen aus Troia gesehen werden konnte, tertrocknet, dann aber immer wieder von neuem emporgesprossen sein sollten (Plinius Natural History 16.44.89; Antiphilus in Palatine Anthology. 7.141). Ebenso, befanden sich zu des Plinius Zeit am Grabe des Ilos neben der Stadt Troia Platanen, welche schon damals gepflantzt worden sein sollten, als die Stadt den Namen Ilion erhielt” (Murr 1969:12).
[ back ] 35. On the connection, cf. e.g. Wide 1983, who mentions Menelaus’ plane-tree and maintains that “Die Vergleichung mit der spartanischen Helenaplatane liegt auf der Hand” (345). Borghini 1996 connects this story with Herodotus’ account of an unusual episode (Xerxes “courts” a plane-tree, 7.31). It is worth recalling that Statius, too, recounts a story in which a plane-tree stands for the loss of a beloved nympha, the disillusioned lover being Pan (Silvae 2.3).
[ back ] 36. Pausanias 8.23.4.
[ back ] 37. See Shapiro 2005:55–56.
[ back ] 38. Chapouthier 1935:90, 149. The identification is questioned by Edmunds 2006–2007, whose laconic comment is that “despite his [i.e. Chapouthier’s] assertion, it is far from certain that the object between the Dioscuri is a tree” (12n42). I am unable to confirm the identification in any way, though it seems strange that the scholars who catalogued the relevant coin, and who had no agenda other than that of cataloguing it, had no such doubts: see Mionnet 1829:233n75, and cf. Imhoof-Blumer and Gardner 1886:66n7.
[ back ] 39. Scholia on Theocritus (argumentum, p. 331 Wendel). Moreover, Luccioni 1997 argues that a number of similarities between lines 29–31 of Theocritus’ poem and Gorgias’ Helen are best explained if one posits Stesichorus as a common source.
[ back ] 40. I am not concerned with the thorny problem of Helen’s divine status, which is of great interest, of course, for the history of religion. The debate is vast: see the very informative accounts by Bettini and Brillante 2002:43–65 and by Edmunds 2006–2007. For a concise and balanced study, with further insights and bibliography, see Frame 2009:75, 95–97.
[ back ] 41. It is also interesting to note that Theocritus’ poem has clear similarities with Alcman 1 PMG, which can be construed as an early testimony of Helen’s cult. See e.g. Brillante 2003:185.
[ back ] 42. “So lebte Helena im Baume fort, der Baum nahm das Wesen der Helena in sich auf, wie der Mandelbaum an welchen sich Phyllis erhing und wie es überhaupt für jeden Baum der Fall ist in welchen eine menschliche Persönlichkeit verwandelt oder aufgenommen wird. Hiervon bekam er den Namen der Helena und umgekehrt” (Bötticher 1856:51).
[ back ] 43. On Helen’s popularity in Attica, see Bettini and Brillante 2002:70–71; Edmunds 2006–2007; Shapiro 2009.
[ back ] 44. Shapiro 2009:52.
[ back ] 45. Under the alternative name of Adrasteia (248c).
[ back ] 46. Plato’s philolaconism, which can be easily inferred from the many Spartan characteristics of his Kallipolis as well as from the Academy’s famously frugal sussitia (Athenaeus 4.186b) and from the principle of homoiotês (cf. Cherniss 1945:73–74), has recently found spectacular confirmation. A Hellenistic replica of a ca. 370–365 BCE portrait of Plato, previously believed to be a modern forgery, has been (re-)discovered, and we now know that Plato, during his lifetime, was represented in such a way as to suggest the philolaconian practice of wrestling (see Miller 2009). Of course, this is not to deny that the dialogues, to quote the title of Monoson 2000, feature a number of “democratic entanglements” such as the philosopher’s parrhêsia.
[ back ] 47. Cf. the Introduction and Chapter 4 in the current volume.
[ back ] 48. Hunter 1996:150 (and cf. PMG 190 and 191). P. Oxy. 2735, whose fragments contain the remnant of a “Spartan” poem, may be relevant here. The poem mentions the Dioscuri and the athletic contests on the Eurotas, and M. West assigned it to Stesichorus: “it must have been one of the Helen poems” (West 1969:148).
[ back ] 49. Wardy 1996:25.
[ back ] 50. C. Rowe construes this passage as wholly ironic (see note 54), and his translation seems to reflect his interpretation. This is why I opt for Jowett’s version in this case.
[ back ] 51. Fortenbaugh 1966:108.
[ back ] 52. Along with Pender 2007 (cf. Pender 2011) and Fortenbaugh 1966, see Burnett 1979, Dubois 1985 and 1995, and Foley 1998. A similar, if much less extensive, debate revolves around Anacreon (see especially Pender 2007). A discussion of the echoes of Anacreon and other poets and writers is beyond the scope of this work. For a very useful list of Plato’s possible sources, see Cairns 2013:240n13.
[ back ] 53. For a full survey, see Pender 2007 and 2011.
[ back ] 54. This is not a trivial point, given that Socrates names Sappho and Anacreon before delivering his first speech. Thus, Rowe 1988 finds it “impossible to accept Robin’s suggestion that he is already looking forward to his second speech” and argues that Socrates’ praise of the two poets is ironic and points exclusively to the first speech, alleging that the subject of Sappho’s and Anacreon’s poetry is “ordinary, non-philosopical love” (151). Yet Socrates’ two speeches are conceptualized as a uniformly inspired speech-act (cf. Chapter 1 in the current volume), and the evidence for lyric echoes in the second speech is overwhelming. Arguably, the poets provide both good and bad examples of love.
[ back ] 55. Snell 1953:50. Philosophical interpretations of Sappho, though not as idealistic, are now common in the Anglo-Saxon world too. See e.g. Baxter 2007, who builds on the testimony of Maximus of Tyrus (18.9), and Green-Skinner 2009 on the “new Sappho” and its philosophical issues. Sappho’s poems have been rightly described as “both intensely passionate and resolutely abstract” (Most 1996:34). For other references, see below. (Given the vast bibliography on the subject, my references to Sappho as a proto-philosopher are limited to the poem directly under discussion, namely Sappho 16 Voigt).
[ back ] 56. 250a, 255b, cf. 259b. The “Platonic” definition of ekplêxis is “fear caused by the expectation of something bad” (Definitions 415e Ἔκπληξις φόβος ἐπὶ προσδοκίᾳ κακοῦ).
[ back ] 57. Pace 2008 discusses the meaning of the word in pre-Platonic texts.
[ back ] 58. 192b, echoed in some way at 211d. There are about forty instances of the verb in the Platonic corpus. See Capra 2000.
[ back ] 59. 248b (τὸ ἀληθείας ἰδεῖν πεδίον οὗ ἐστιν, “to see the plain of Truth where it lies”).
[ back ] 60. Overall, the TLG counts six more instances of κεχαρίσθω in the whole of Greek literature. Three of them are direct quotations from the Phaedrus (Hermias p. 87.3 and 10 Lucarini-Moreschini; Proclus Commentary on Plato’s Republic 1.205.22 Kroll), and the other three are quite obviously direct imitations (Ammonius Commentary on Aristotle’s De Interpretatione p. 186.9 Busse; Simplicius Commentary on Aristotle’s Physics IX p. 90.2 Diels; Commentary on Epictetus’ Enchiridion p. 89.26 Dübner). The form, then, is virtually a hapax legomenon, although no commentary, to my knowledge, makes that point.
[ back ] 61. Cf. Hesiod Theogony 963–965, Pindar Isthmian Odes 1.33; Simonides 11.19 W2.
[ back ] 62. See Velardi 1991.
[ back ] 63. See Cambiano 2007.
[ back ] 64. Gorgias 463a–d is the locus classicus.
[ back ] 65. Republic 516c–d. Similarly, memory, as discussed in the Theaetetus, seems to be a form of empiricist “memorism,” as Frede 1990 puts it.
[ back ] 66. This is no mere pun (see e.g. Carter 1967:115–116). As Trabattoni points out, “this connection may seem bizarre to contemporary scholars only, who maintain there is a fundamental incompatibility between the doctrine of recollection and dialectics: it is commonly held that at first Plato based his epistemology on the mythical theory of anamnêsis, but later abandoned this naive and fanciful doctrine in favor of a far more scientific process, represented by dialectics. In this perspective, a diachronic history charting the development of Platonic thought would set forth before us the makeover from muddled philosopher—mainly devoting himself to telling legendary tales and framing metaphysical theories as far-fetched as they are childish—to contemporary analytical philosopher who is both mature and reasonable. Yet it would suffice to read the passage just quoted to debunk this idea: the two aspects of Plato’s philosophy—the calm, systematic exercise of dialectics alongside the relatively mythical construction of a metaphysics that is strongly marked by ontological dualism—always go together and it can neither be said that they are in contradiction with one another, nor that at some point Plato has traded one for the other” (Trabattoni 2012:313–314).
[ back ] 67. Cf. e.g. Yunis 2011:152.
[ back ] 68. Cf. e.g. the excellent discussion in the introduction of Di Benedetto 1987.
[ back ] 69. Loraux 1995:144 and Stella 2006:142.
[ back ] 70. As Belfiore 2012 notes: “Socrates’ image of the wing recalls, throughout his second speech, the images of winged phalloi frequently represented in Greek art and graffiti” (226). Eros “is described in physical terms” (227). Cf. also Ferrari 1987:150–159, who gives the passage a Freudian interpretation.
[ back ] 71. This reversal is in some ways reminiscent of the conversion of the soul as described in the myth of the cave. As Vallejo Campos rightly notes: “La situación del enamorado es muy semejante a la del prisionero que vuelve a la caverna después de haber salido al exterior y haber tenido una visión de lo verdaderamente real. Cuando este hombre vuelve a la morada de sus antiguos compañeros de prisión se ha producido una transformación en él que le hace despreciar todos los honores y elogios que allí se tributaban. Este cambio no consiste sólo e una nueva concepción teórica del mundo sino en lo que nosotros describiríamos como una transformación de la voluntad: han cambiado sus valores y, en consecuencia, también sus deseos (cfr. [Plato] Rep[ublic] 515d3–4), porque aspira a tener contacto con el mundo superior y desprecia ocuparse de los asuntos humanos” (Vallejo Campos 2007:93–94).
[ back ] 72. 255b–c.
[ back ] 73. The supplement suggested by Martinelli Tempesta 1999—οὐδὲ θέλοι]—at line 12 is almost certainly right, on palaeographical grounds.
[ back ] 74. Cf. e.g. des Bouvries Thorsen 1978:13.
[ back ] 75. Accordingly, scholars have labeled Sappho’s stance as sophistic (e.g. Race 1989–1990, who stresses Sappho’s arguments for subjective and emotional choices), aesthetic (e.g. Koniaris 1967, who takes τὸ κάλλιστον as the pivotal element of the ode), relativist (Zellner 2007, arguing that the poem is an instance of “Inference to the Best Explanation”), political (Svenbro 1984, arguing for a feminist interpretation), logical/rhetorical (Most 1981, who interprets the poem in the light of Aristotle Rhetoric 1398b19–1398a6). Other scholars have indeed resisted the temptation to interpret 16 Voigt from a philosophical standpoint, either by claiming that the poem is obscure (e.g. Page 1955:53) and discontinuous (Fränkel 1955:92), or by stressing its religious (e.g. Privitera 1967), performative (e.g. Dodson-Robinson 2010), or ritualistic dimensions (e.g. Bierl 2003, who also offers a good survey of previous interpretations).
[ back ] 76. Such is the title of Wills 1967, who stresses the strongly assertive tone of Sappho’s poem.
[ back ] 77. Cf. Dane 1981.
[ back ] 78. 250b and 251a.
[ back ] 79. Before Plato, there is just one more instance in another poem by Sappho (Sappho 94.10, cf. Burnett 1979:18) and one in Sophocles (Oedipus the King 1133).
[ back ] 80. In Capra 2009, I have expressed my reservations about the teleologism often implicit in such reconstructions.
[ back ] 81. This is all the more surprising because the poem was very famous. Not only was it well known to a number of prose writers, as we have seen, but allusions to it by the tragedians are a clear sign of its popularity. Cf. Casali 1989 (on Euripides Bacchae 881), Di Marco 1980 (on Euripides Cyclops 182–186), Scodel 1997 (on Euripides’ Hypsipyle and Phoenician Women 88–177, and Iphigenia in Aulis 185–302), and Calder 1984 (on Aeschylus Agamemnon 403–419). The poem continued to be imitated in the Hellenistic Age (cf. Livrea 1968 on Apollonius Rhodius 1.538–539) and the Imperial Age. (Bierl 2002 argues that Chariton’s novel can be construed as a development of Sappho’s thesis as expressed in the Priamel of 16 Voigt.)
[ back ] 82. Lardinois 2008.
[ back ] 83. On amarugma, cf. Brown 1989. In some fragments, Sappho seems to aspire to an afterlife that takes the form of eternal dance and song (see Lardinois 2008), whereas in one of her most famous (and discussed) lines she claims that her love of the sun has granted her splendor and beauty, as opposed, it would seem, to other people’s inglorious aging and death. The latter she does through a reference to the myth of Tithonus, who became so decrepit that he could not move, though his divine voice continued to flow, until—according to one version of the story that Sappho and her audience were likely to have known—he was eventually turned into an ever-singing cicada. This, of course, is not the place to discuss the problems raised by the recent publication of P. Köln XI 429 (inv. 21376), in particular, whether or not the final lines of fr. 58 Voigt belong to the poem about old age, i.e. fr. 58 1–24 Voigt. For a discussion of the so-called new Sappho, see e.g. Aloni 2008, as well as Green and Skinner 2011.
[ back ] 84. Lebeck 1972 examines the palinode “as if it were choral lyric” (267). One may add that after the end of the palinode Socrates chooses sun-mad cicadas as a symbol for the true pursuit of philosophy, the cicadas being a choros (dancing team, 238d) who, because of their passion for music—a passion that eventually persuaded the gods to grant them eternal song—had forgotten to eat and drink. This is possibly one more Sapphic echo: see previous note.
[ back ] 85. The quote is from page 6 of M. Wyke’s incisive introduction to the edited volume, Parchments of Gender: Deciphering the Bodies of Antiquity, which includes Foley’s 1998 article.
[ back ] 86. See Pender 2007 and 2011.
[ back ] 87. Pender 2007:54, quoted above at page 32.
[ back ] 88. Pender 2007:55.
[ back ] 89. Testimonium 7 Campbell.
[ back ] 90. Dane 1981:192.
[ back ] 91. Discussions of Sappho’s “memory” can be found in Burnett 1979, Jarratt 2002, Rayor 2005, and Lardinois 2008.
[ back ] 92. 604d.
[ back ] 93. For a good account of the relationship between the speeches of Aristophanes and Socrates in the Symposium, see Fussi 2008.
[ back ] 94. Implicitly, this anticipates the enthusiasm prompted by the reading of poetry as described by Pseudo-Longinus 13. For other relevant parallels, cf. e.g. Manieri 1998:68 and passim.
[ back ] 95. Protagoras 347e is the locus classicus.
[ back ] 96. τά τε ἄλλα καὶ τοῖς ὀνόμασιν ἠναγκασμένη ποιητικοῖς τισιν διὰ Φαῖδρον.
[ back ] 97. οὔκουν μνήμης ἀλλὰ ὑπομνήσεως φάρμακον.
[ back ] 98. Werner 2012:264.
[ back ] 99. The name of Nikopolis, as well as the presence of a wreath, suggests a musical contest, thus highlighting Sappho’s status as a (winning) poet (cf. Bundrick 2005:101–102). This, I believe, rules out the interpretation put forward by Glazebrook, who, building on the work of Snyder McIntosh (1997), claims that “the female figure with book roll, interpreted in the context of an oral culture like Athens, highlights the absence of a female voice and even alludes to the erasure or temporary muting of the female voice” (Glazebrook 2005:35).
[ back ] 100. Cf. Ferrari 2010:106–107. For a thorough discussion of this and other vases representing Sappho, see Chapter 2 of Yatromanolakis 2007.
[ back ] 101. This is perhaps followed by ΑΡΧΟΜΑΙ (cf. the image on the cover page), but the first letter is far from clear as it is partly covered by the poet’s thumb, which might also cover a letter in the following line. I doubt whether the painter ever intended this to be read as ΑΡΧΟΜΑΙ (by contrast, the first five lines are perfectly clear). What follows is even more debatable, and I cannot agree with Edmonds, who reads the sequence as ἠερίων ἐπέων ἄρχομαι ἀλλ’ ὀνάτων (Edmonds 1922:3). More plausibly, Sider 2010 does not strive to reconstruct a continuous text and puts forward a number of suggestions pointing to dactylic sequences (n17).
[ back ] 102. Cf. e.g. Herzog 1912:22–23 and Edmonds 1922:2. For other references, cf. Yatromanolakis 2007:160. However, Yatromanolakis considers ΘΕΟΙ, together with the following lines, to be part of a lyric poem (cf. below, note 101).
[ back ] 103. Immerwahr 1964:39. ΘΕΟΙ is frequently found at the head of a given text, as in both of the epigraphic decrees (the earliest example dates from 448–447).
[ back ] 104. Graffiti featuring ΘΕΟΙ as a heading include lists of gods (National Epigraphic Museum of Athens 5949), a private letter and a list of kalos names (cf. Lang 1976, C21), the last two from the first half of the fifth century BCE. Another private letter (lead tablet from the Pnyx, cf. Jordan 2003 VII:33), and a curse (cf. Strÿd 1903:58) date from a later time, between the fifth and the fourth centuries. These items are discussed in a doctoral dissertation by R. Pounder (1975), who later provided a brief summary of his work (not including our headings) in Pounder 1984. I was not able to see the dissertation by Traywick (1968).
[ back ] 105. On the contrary, the line is considered to be a lyric fragment by Campbell and Page (printed as fr. 938d PMG). Note, however, that the adjective is very often found at the beginning of a hexameter, which surely adds to the epic note of ΗΕΡΙΩΝ ΕΠΕΩΝ.
[ back ] 106. “In Iliad 3.7 the cranes are called ἠέριαι, which despite LSJ and a variant in the scholia probably means ‘high in the air’ … Thus the phrase ἠέρια ἔπεα may be connected with the bird metaphor for speech” (Immerwahr 1964:47n1). This is now confirmed by the recently published Posidippus 23.1 (ἠερίην αἴθυιαν). For a different interpretation, see Yatromanolakis 2007, who, however tentatively, interprets the rephrasing as a “metonymic juxtaposition of epic discourse to an écriture féminine associated with an East Greek song-maker like Sappho” (163).
[ back ] 107. On book rolls on Attic vases, cf. Immerwahr 1964 and 1973. Edmonds summarizes the comparative evidence as follows: “We have a close parallel in a vase-picture by Euphronios … which belongs to a date not much more, perhaps, than a generation earlier than our present vase, and shows a rolled-up book with the title written across the back as it is here, Χιρώνεια, an epic poem presumably on Chiron the centaur … The parallels from other vase-pictures cannot be proved to be first lines of books, but if we may include citations represented as coming from the lips of singers, the majority of them are the first lines of poems, some of them otherwise extant, for instance Theognis 1365 and Praxilla 5 PMG. And in spite of their difficulties the words inscribed on the book which figures in the famous school-scene of Douris, Μοῖσά μοι ἀμφὶ Σκάμανδρον κτλ., are undoubtedly intended for the first words of an epic poem” (Edmonds 1922:4–5). Note, however, that the last example comes in the context of a school scene: according to Sider 2010, the verse visible on the papyrus is the result of an awkward attempt at composition by an incompetent schoolboy.
[ back ] 108. Cf. Immerwahr 1964:47. Overall, monodic texts are never shown on depicted book rolls. These feature mostly epic lines (including the beginning of one minor Homeric hymn), dactylo-epitrites, and, in one exceptional case from a school scene, a prose mythological text (cf. Immerwahr 1973).
[ back ] 109. In fact, much has been written on Sappho’s appropriation of epic motives. For 16 Voigt in particular, see e.g. Bowie 2010 and Rosenmeyer 1997.
[ back ] 110. Immerwahr 1964 concludes his survey of book rolls on Attic vases with the important remark that “none of the pictures shows a single figure engaged in individual reading, but the book roll is always used in a larger social context, although this context is sometimes merely suggested. The book roll is thus a mnemonic device facilitating recitation, not a real ‘book’ for reading alone” (36–37). He then comments on the only exception he found, in the famous Grottaferrata funerary relief.
[ back ] 111. Τὸν δὲ ὑπερουράνιον τόπον οὔτε τις ὕμνησέ πω τῶν τῇδε ποιητὴς οὔτε ποτὲ ὑμνήσει κατ’ ἀξίαν. ἔχει δὲ ὧδε—τολμητέον γὰρ οὖν τό γε ἀληθὲς εἰπεῖν, ἄλλως τε καὶ περὶ ἀληθείας λέγοντα; “As for the region above the heavens, no earthly poet has ever yet sung it as it deserves, nor will he ever sing it. But it is like this—for one must be bold enough to say what is true, especially when speaking about truth” (Phaedrus 247c, trans. Rowe, modified).