Capra, Andrea. 2015. Plato's Four Muses: The Phaedrus and the Poetics of Philosophy. Hellenic Studies Series 67. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_CapraA.Platos_Four_Muses.2014.
Chapter 2. Erato
- 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
Gorgias’ and Isocrates’ Helen
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.  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.
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.  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.
The plane-tree is referred to, surprisingly, as a divinity. 
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.”
Plato’s Hymn to Memory
The very unusual expression μνήμῃ κεχαρίσθω is usually translated more or less as “thanks be given to memory.”  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.  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.  In short, our passage can be construed as a prose hymn to Mnêmê, with a capital “M,” as a goddess of Memory.
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 .  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?
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
κ̣αλλ[ίποι]ϲ̣’ ἔβα’ ϲ Τροΐαν πλέοι̣[ϲα
κωὐδ[ὲ πα]ῖδοϲ οὐδὲ φίλων το[κ]ήων
π̣ά[μπαν] ἐμνάϲθ〈η〉, ἀλλὰ παράγ̣α̣γ̣’ α̣ὔταν
]αμπτον γὰρ [
..]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—
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.
This is the only time in the extant fragments that Sappho tries to “demonstrate” a general thesis to an equally general audience (π]άντι),  which may give the impression of a proto-philosophical turn.  As in Socrates’ speech, the poem seems to entail a full Umwertung aller Werte  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),  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).  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.”  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. 
The “Mother” of Socrates’ Speech
Mobilizing the Poetry of the Past
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.