Plato’s Four Muses: The Phaedrus and the Poetics of Philosophy

  Capra, Andrea. 2015. Plato's Four Muses: The Phaedrus and the Poetics of Philosophy. Hellenic Studies Series 67. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.


This book was written almost entirely at the Center of Hellenic Studies: I owe to the Center much more than I can put down in words. I loved the place and I adored the people. In the Phaedrus, Socrates says that trees, unlike people, have nothing to teach him, but the dialogue belies him. I suspect I cannot thank places, but I remember them with gratitude and affection—the shady creek of the nearby wild park made me think of Plato’s Ilissos, and the two landscapes merge in my head with poignant nostalgia. The city, too, helped me a lot with its cheerful variety and, of course, its great libraries: Dumbarton Oaks, Georgetown University, the Library of Congress … Who could ask for more? I felt like Tityrus seeing Rome for the first time.

The library of the CHS is unmatched, not least because of the great people who work there. Most of the time, I count myself lucky when I meet librarians who are either kind or competent. But Erika Bainbridge, Sophie Boisseau, Lanah Koelle, and Temple Wright, besides forming an amazing combination of diverse characters, stand out for both kindness and knowledge: their smiling competence was a treasure. I cannot begin to mention all of the other nice people who work at the CHS, but I have sweet memories of each of them. However, I owe a special mention to Zoie Lafis. I heard people say that “she has the magic,” and it’s true: she helped me well beyond the duration of my fellowship. Ivy Livingston, Valerie Quercia, and Jill Robbins provided invaluable help when it came to revising the book for publication. I warmly thank the editorial team: everybody was friendly, encouraging, and professional. Greg Nagy suggested the “Four Muses” of the title, so I thank him here. But of course Greg meant much more, not only as the CHS director and as an inspiring scholar but also in his everyday epiphanies: in my memory, his iconic figure—jogger, smiling host, cheerful white-shirt tablemate—is part of the CHS landscape.

How could I ever thank enough my “fellow fellows,” as we used to call each other? The shortest of notes for the sweetest of memories: they have been a second family for almost a year and will be in my heart forever. In an attempt not to (further) surrender to sentimentalism, let me say something scholarly: they attended my CHS research talk and/or my paper at the 2012 CHS symposium, and their multi-faceted and interdisciplinary suggestions and criticisms greatly contributed to my understanding and enthusiasm. The help and affection I got from Alex, Cristina, and Madeleine is far beyond words, but at least I can jokingly switch to other languages: ευχαριστώ, grazie, 고마워 (hope this one is right).

I owe a very special thank to two friends who made it all possible for me: with uncommon generosity, Stefano Martinelli Tempesta and Giuseppe Zanetto volunteered to teach “my” course in Milan while I was on leave. After being my wedding witness, Luana Rinaldo visited me at the Center under the fantastic title of my “best woman,” just because I was silly enough to call her that on a CHS form. This did not affect her generosity: she provided the beautiful drawings for the cover pages of my four chapters: grazie Lu!

A few people have been so kind as to read (parts of) the manuscript at various stages. Rudolf Carpanini and Aglae come first, and by far. I have sweet memories of Rudolf, a dearest family friend from my childhood. He reappeared in my life a few months ago, and he read and improved the book with stylistic competence and immense care. Aglae, too, read it again and again. Generic conventions, at least in my country, would suggest something like “with unfailing patience, my wife supported and tolerated me during the long and painstaking process of writing and revising the book” etc. Happily, this would be totally off the mark. It was hard work, but writing a book was definitely not prescribed to me: I did it because I liked it, and if I look back I see great moments, including a few wonderful months together in DC. Granted, reading the same book over and over again must be boring, but, whatever the reason, I’m very happy that she seems to like Plato better than she did a few years ago.

My other readers include Antonio Aloni, Matteo Cadario, Daniela Colomo, Lucia Floridi, Luigi Lehnus, Stefano Martinelli Tempesta, Cecilia Nobili, Alexandra Pappas, Alice Patrioli, Mario Regali, Alessandro Sgobbi, the anonymous CHS reader and, last but not least, my parents. They all helped me immensely, and I thank them all from deep in my heart. I have delivered and discussed parts of my research at various sites and institutions: Bryn Mawr College, University of Virginia, University of Durham, University of Pennsylvania, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Universidade de São Paulo. I was lucky enough to find very perceptive audiences, who helped me with all sorts of suggestions and constructive criticism. Among the many nice people I had the privilege to meet, let me thank at least those who invited and/or hosted me: Radcliffe Edmonds, Georgia Sermamoglou-Soulmaidi, Phillip Horky, Johannes Haubold, Barbara Graziosi, Jeremy McInerney, Christian Werner, Daniel Rossi Nunes Lopes, Marco Zambrano.

This book is dedicated to Ermenegilda Bianchi Favara, my unforgettable high school teacher of Greek and Latin. She introduced me and my classmates to the amazing complexity of the Phaedrus—we read it together in Greek when I was 17—and I couldn’t imagine my lifelong engagement with Plato without her example: she just opened my eyes.