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.

Chapter 3. Calliope and Ourania

… and to Calliope, the eldest, and to Ourania who comes after her (τῇ μετ᾿ αὐτῇ), the cicadas report those who spend their time in philosophy and honor the music that belongs to them—who most of the all the Muses have as their sphere the heaven (οὐρανόν) and the logoi, both divine and human, and utter the most beautiful voice (καλλίστην φωνήν)

Phaedrus 259d

Capra fig3

From the third frieze of the François vase, ca. 570 BC (cf. Chapter 1, cover page). In this section of the procession, the Muses Ourania and Calliope form a couple. The other seven Muses (not visible in this frame) follow them and Zeus from the left. On the right, a number of figures (the Horae, Dionysus, Hestia, Chariclo, Iris, Chiron and Peleus) stand in front of the Thetideion (one of the Horae is visible at the far right of the frame). Calliope, then, is at the head of the procession.

  • Calliope and Ourania lead the procession, the boundaries of which are marked by the signature of the potter (ΕΡΓΟΤΙΜΟΣΜΕΠΟΙΕΣΕΝ), running parallel with the horses’ forelegs. The two muses are thus framed by Zeus on Ourania’s left and, on Calliope’s right, by the author’s name, which marks the culmination of the procession. This gives the couple an exceptional emphasis, suggestive of author(ial)ity.
  • Calliope is unique in that she is seen frontally. In contrast with the other Muses, who are arranged in two groups of four and three and represented as parallel “synchronized” figures, Ourania and Calliope diverge from (and potentially interact with) each other.

The Initiation to Dialogue

Mimêsis and Enthousiasmos: A Very Short Introduction

Socrates’ palinode raises a series of problems. What happened between the Ion, supposedly an early work, and the Phaedrus? Did Plato reconvert to the Muse of Poetry, after famously rejecting her in his youth? A full discussion of this vexing question is beyond the scope of the present study, not least because of the sheer vastness of the relevant bibliography. [18] In our case, it is more sensible merely to reproduce the crucial passage from the Ion:

{ΙΩΝ.} Τί οὖν ποτε τὸ αἴτιον, ὦ Σώκρατες, ὅτι ἐγώ, ὅταν μέν τις περὶ ἄλλου του ποιητοῦ διαλέγηται, οὔτε προσέχω τὸν νοῦν ἀδυνατῶ τε καὶ ὁτιοῦν συμβαλέσθαι λόγου ἄξιον, ἀλλ’ ἀτεχνῶς νυστάζω, ἐπειδὰν δέ τις περὶ Ὁμήρου μνησθῇ, εὐθύς τε ἐγρήγορα καὶ προσέχω τὸν νοῦν καὶ εὐπορῶ ὅτι λέγω; {ΣΩ.} … ἔστι γὰρ τοῦτο τέχνη μὲν οὐκ ὂν παρὰ σοὶ περὶ Ὁμήρου εὖ λέγειν, ὃ νυνδὴ ἔλεγον, θεία δὲ δύναμις ἥ σε κινεῖ, ὥσπερ ἐν τῇ λίθῳ ἣν Εὐριπίδης μὲν Μαγνῆτιν ὠνόμασεν, οἱ δὲ πολλοὶ Ἡρακλείαν. καὶ γὰρ αὕτη ἡ λίθος οὐ μόνον αὐτοὺς τοὺς δακτυλίους ἄγει τοὺς σιδηροῦς … οὕτω δὲ καὶ ἡ Μοῦσα ἐνθέους μὲν ποιεῖ αὐτή, διὰ δὲ τῶν ἐνθέων τούτων ἄλλων ἐνθουσιαζόντων ὁρμαθὸς ἐξαρτᾶται … καὶ οἱ μελοποιοὶ οἱ ἀγαθοὶ ὡσαύτως, ὥσπερ οἱ κορυβαντιῶντες οὐκ ἔμφρονες ὄντες ὀρχοῦνται, οὕτω καὶ οἱ μελοποιοὶ οὐκ ἔμφρονες ὄντες τὰ καλὰ μέλη ταῦτα ποιοῦσιν, ἀλλ’ ἐπειδὰν ἐμβῶσιν εἰς τὴν ἁρμονίαν καὶ εἰς τὸν ῥυθμόν, βακχεύουσι καὶ κατεχόμενοι … Ἔχε δή μοι τόδε εἰπέ, ὦ Ἴων, καὶ μὴ ἀποκρύψῃ ὅτι ἄν σε ἔρωμαι· ὅταν εὖ εἴπῃς ἔπη καὶ ἐκπλήξῃς μάλιστα τοὺς θεωμένους … τότε πότερον ἔμφρων εἶ ἢ ἔξω σαυτοῦ γίγνῃ καὶ παρὰ τοῖς πράγμασιν οἴεταί σου εἶναι ἡ ψυχὴ οἷς λέγεις ἐνθουσιάζουσα, ἢ ἐν Ἰθάκῃ οὖσιν ἢ ἐν Τροίᾳ ἢ ὅπως ἂν καὶ τὰ ἔπη ἔχῃ;{ΙΩΝ.} Ὡς ἐναργές μοι τοῦτο, ὦ Σώκρατες, τὸ τεκμήριον εἶπες· οὐ γάρ σε ἀποκρυψάμενος ἐρῶ. ἐγὼ γὰρ ὅταν ἐλεινόν τι λέγω, δακρύων ἐμπίμπλανταί μου οἱ ὀφθαλμοί· ὅταν τε φοβερὸν ἢ δεινόν, ὀρθαὶ αἱ τρίχες ἵστανται ὑπὸ φόβου καὶ ἡ καρδία πηδᾷ … {ΣΩ.} Οἶσθα οὖν ὅτι οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ θεατὴς τῶν δακτυλίων ὁ ἔσχατος, ὧν ἐγὼ ἔλεγον ὑπὸ τῆς Ἡρακλειώτιδος λίθου ἀπ’ ἀλλήλων τὴν δύναμιν λαμβάνειν; ὁ δὲ μέσος σὺ ὁ ῥαψῳδὸς καὶ ὑποκριτής, ὁ δὲ πρῶτος αὐτὸς ὁ ποιητής· … καὶ ὁ μὲν τῶν ποιητῶν ἐξ ἄλλης Μούσης, ὁ δὲ ἐξ ἄλλης ἐξήρτηται—ὀνομάζομεν δὲ αὐτὸ κατέχεται, τὸ δέ ἐστι παραπλήσιον· ἔχεται γάρ—ἐκ δὲ τούτων τῶν πρώτων δακτυλίων, τῶν ποιητῶν, ἄλλοι ἐξ ἄλλου αὖ ἠρτημένοι εἰσὶ καὶ ἐνθουσιάζουσιν, οἱ μὲν ἐξ Ὀρφέως, οἱ δὲ ἐκ Μουσαίου· οἱ δὲ πολλοὶ ἐξ Ὁμήρου κατέχονταί τε καὶ ἔχονται.

ION. Why then, Socrates, do I lose attention and nod off and have absolutely no ideas of the least value, when any one speaks of any other poet; but when Homer is mentioned, I awake at once and am all attention and have plenty to say? SOCRATES. It’s not hard to imagine, it’s crystal-clear. The gift which you possess of speaking excellently about Homer is not an art, but, as I was just saying, an inspiration; there is a divinity moving you, like that contained in the stone which Euripides calls a Magnet, but which is commonly known as the stone of Heraclea. This stone not only attracts iron rings, but also imparts to them a similar power of attracting other rings […] In like manner the Muse first of all inspires men herself; and from these inspired persons a chain of other persons is suspended, who take the inspiration […] And as the Corybantian revelers when they dance are not in their right mind, so the lyric poets are not in their right mind when they are composing their beautiful strains: but when falling under the power of music and meter they are inspired and possessed […]. I wish you would frankly tell me, Ion, what I am going to ask of you: When you carry the audience away in the recitation of some striking passage […] are you in your right mind? Are you not beside yourself and does not your soul in an ecstasy seem to be among the persons or places of which you are speaking, whether they are in Ithaca or in Troy or whatever may be the scene of the poem? ION. That proof strikes home to me, Socrates. For I must frankly confess that at the tale of pity, my eyes are filled with tears, and when I speak of horrors, my hair stands on end and my heart leaps (ἡ καρδία πηδᾷ). […] SOC. Do you know that the spectator is the last of the rings which, as I am saying, receive the power of the original magnet from one another? The rhapsode like yourself and the actor are intermediate links, and the poet himself is the first of them. […] And every poet has some Muse from whom he is suspended, and by whom he is said to be possessed, which is nearly the same thing; for he is taken hold of. And from these first rings, which are the poets, depend others, some deriving their inspiration from Orpheus, others from Musaeus; but the greater number are possessed and held by Homer

Plato Ion 532b–536b, trans. Jowett (modified)

The longer the chain, the weaker the force of the magnet. The process may be represented as follows:


POET (“First ring”)

RHAPSODE (“Second ring”)

AUDIENCE (“Third ring”)

Magnetism, possession, Bacchic fury: at first sight, nothing could be more remote from Plato’s alleged sobriety or from Socrates’ celebrated intellectualism. [20] Ion is usually regarded as a quintessentially non-philosophic character. He seems to be a helpless, gullible fellow, who succumbs all too easily to Socrates’ mocking questions. On second thought, however, Ion cannot be dismissed so lightly. Let us just reflect for a moment on Socratic discourse. In the Symposium, Alcibiades gives a full and ultimately reliable description of it. [21] Socrates and his speeches are compared to a mesmerizing Silenus, a Marsyas, and to the satyrs. Unlike these mythological doubles, however, Socrates can captivate the soul of his listeners through the sheer magic of his words, whose power of enchantment rival Marsyas’ flutes and Olympus’ melodies. [22] This comparison calls to mind the Bacchic and enthusiastic music that involved chains of delirious dancers. Socrates’ words, moreover, induce a kind of possession:

ἡμεῖς γοῦν ὅταν μέν του ἄλλου ἀκούωμεν λέγοντος καὶ πάνυ ἀγαθοῦ ῥήτορος ἄλλους λόγους, οὐδὲν μέλει ὡς ἔπος εἰπεῖν οὐδενί· ἐπειδὰν δὲ σοῦ τις ἀκούῃ ἢ τῶν σῶν λόγων ἄλλου λέγοντος, κἂν πάνυ φαῦλος ᾖ ὁ λέγων, ἐάντε γυνὴ ἀκούῃ ἐάντε ἀνὴρ ἐάντε μειράκιον, ἐκπεπληγμένοι ἐσμὲν καὶ κατεχόμεθα. ἐγὼ γοῦν, ὦ ἄνδρες, εἰ μὴ ἔμελλον κομιδῇ δόξειν μεθύειν, εἶπον ὀμόσας ἂν ὑμῖν οἷα δὴ πέπονθα αὐτὸς ὑπὸ τῶν τούτου λόγων καὶ πάσχω ἔτι καὶ νυνί. ὅταν γὰρ ἀκούω, πολύ μοι μᾶλλον ἢ τῶν κορυβαντιώντων ἥ τε καρδία πηδᾷ καὶ δάκρυα ἐκχεῖται ὑπὸ τῶν λόγων τῶν τούτου, ὁρῶ δὲ καὶ ἄλλους παμπόλλους τὰ αὐτὰ πάσχοντας·

As for us, when we hear the speeches of someone else, even if he’s a very good orator, well, let’s face it: we couldn’t care less. But if one listens to you or hears your words as repeated by others, even if the speaker is no good, then it’s totally different. Men, women, children: we all get carried away, we are possessed. And if I weren’t afraid that you would think me hopelessly drunk, I would have sworn as well as spoken to the influence they have always had and still have over me. For my heart leaps more than that of any Corybantian reveler, and my eyes rain tears when I hear them.

Plato Symposium 215d–e

Capra diagram

The narrators are not especially talented, and yet Socrates’ words do not lose their magic. This would seem to confirm Alcibiades’ point that “even if the speaker is no good, we all get carried away, we are possessed” by Socrates’ words, “even at secondhand, and however imperfectly repeated.” The narrative structure of the Symposium clearly adds further evidence to Alcibiades’ claim:

SOCRATES (“First ring”)

ARISTODEMUS (“Second ring”)

APOLLODORUS (“Third ring”)


x (ad infinitum)

One can conclude, therefore, that though Plato remained deeply attached to poetic tradition, he nevertheless transformed it profoundly. The dialogues can be seen as a kind of poetry because their very genesis and elaboration were conceptualized along recognizably rhapsodic lines. Plato strongly disapproved of the passive attitude he regarded as constitutive of his contemporaries’ consumption of poetry. Nevertheless, his criticism was not aimed at every conceivable kind of poetry, and far less at emotional involvement as such, which plays a crucial role in the circulation of Socratic logoi.

It is now time to return to the Phaedrus, in which a similar pattern is clearly discernible. In Socrates’ “palinode,” we hear that on being “struck” by the beauty of the beloved (250a), the lover gains access to the divine realm of the Forms. His experience is described in terms that bring to mind an electric shock; something that sets in motion a kind of mimetic flux, including a verbal flux described in Bacchic terms. [30] The process binds three poles together, namely the Forms, the lover, and the beloved:


LOVER (“First ring”)

BELOVED (“Second ring”)

Once again, differences are no less important than similarities. The flux is akin to the poetic chain of the Ion, but two things stand out in particular. Firstly, the process is triggered off by the beloved rather than by the lover. Secondly, it includes a kind of rebound effect: when the lover is struck, the flow of beauty “rebounds” as if from a mirror and strikes the beloved, who then goes through the same experience as the lover, albeit in a milder form. [
31] This prefigures an endless process, which ultimately blurs the boundaries between the traditional roles of lover and beloved, as well as those of poet and audience. [32] Once again, the conclusion is that the “rings” take a clearly active role in the process. This is evident from the final pages of the Phaedrus, when Socrates emphasizes the superior quality of oral dialogue to fixed and written speech. Not on any papyrus scroll, but in the soul of the beloved does the philosopher write, and his speech germinates in that soul, producing new speech that will fecundate more souls. In other words, philosophy brings about a long, uninterrupted chain of erotic speech, all carefully fashioned for the soul of the beloved.

Averting Poetic “Termination”: Socrates and Thamyris

Socrates’ prayer to Eros brings the palinode to a close:

Αὕτη σοι, ὦ φίλε Ἔρως, εἰς ἡμετέραν δύναμιν ὅτι καλλίστη καὶ ἀρίστη δέδοταί τε καὶ ἐκτέτεισται παλινῳδία, τά τε ἄλλα καὶ τοῖς ὀνόμασιν ἠναγκασμένη ποιητικοῖς τισιν διὰ Φαῖδρον εἰρῆσθαι. ἀλλὰ τῶν προτέρων τε συγγνώμην καὶ τῶνδε χάριν ἔχων, εὐμενὴς καὶ ἵλεως τὴν ἐρωτικήν μοι τέχνην ἣν ἔδωκας μήτε ἀφέλῃ μήτε πηρώσῃς δι’ ὀργήν, δίδου τ’ ἔτι μᾶλλον ἢ νῦν παρὰ τοῖς καλοῖς τίμιον εἶναι. ἐν τῷ πρόσθεν δ’ εἴ τι λόγῳ σοι ἀπηχὲς εἴπομεν Φαῖδρός τε καὶ ἐγώ, Λυσίαν τὸν τοῦ λόγου πατέρα αἰτιώμενος παῦε τῶν τοιούτων λόγων.

This, dear Eros, is offered and paid to you as the finest and best palinode of which I am capable, especially given that it was forced to use somewhat poetical language because of Phaedrus. Forgive what went before and regard this with favor; be kind and gracious—do not in anger take away or maim the erotic expertise which you gave me, and grant that I be valued still more than now by the beautiful. If in our speech Phaedrus and I said anything harsh against you, blame Lysias as the father and make him cease from speeches of this kind.

Plato Phaedrus 257b–c, trans. Rowe (modified)

With its sole Platonic instance of the verb “to maim” (pêroô), the prayer expresses Socrates’ concern for his somewhat elusive ars amatoria. [
35] As I noted in the first chapter, the maiming refers back to the blinding of Stesichorus. But this is not the whole story: Socrates also alludes to the archetypal “incident” of this kind. I am thinking of Thamyris, the Thracian poet who was famously maimed by the Muses and who became a very popular subject in classical Athens. [36]

In the Iliad, the poetic “termination” of Thamyris—included as it is in the emphatically Muse-inspired Catalogue of Ships—seems to provide a negative foil for “Homer” himself. [37] Homer’s blindness was synonymous with inspiration, as if blindness were the price he had to pay for his prodigious song (one thinks of Demodocus in the Odyssey). [38] By contrast, Thamyris is trapped in a somewhat unexpected “lose-lose situation,” for after suffering physical damage, he is also deprived of his song. [39] It is worth revisiting the relevant passage in the Iliad:

… ἔνθά τε Μοῦσαι
ἀντόμεναι Θάμυριν τὸν Θρήϊκα παῦσαν ἀοιδῆς
Οἰχαλίηθεν ἰόντα παρ’ Εὐρύτου Οἰχαλιῆος·
στεῦτο γὰρ εὐχόμενος νικησέμεν εἴ περ ἂν αὐταὶ
Μοῦσαι ἀείδοιεν κοῦραι Διὸς αἰγιόχοιο·
αἳ δὲ χολωσάμεναι πηρὸν θέσαν, αὐτὰρ ἀοιδὴν
θεσπεσίην ἀφέλοντο καὶ ἐκλέλαθον κιθαριστύν

… where the Muses
met Thamyris the Thracian and made him cease from his song
as he was journeying from Oechalia, from the house of Eurytus the Oechalian:
for he vaunted with boasting that he would conquer, were the Muses themselves
to sing against him, the daughters of Zeus that bears the Aegis;
but they in their wrath maimed him, and took away
his wondrous song (ἀοιδὴν ≈ τέχνην), and made him forget his minstrelsy

Homer Iliad 2.594–600 trans. Murray (modified)

It seems to me that the verbal similarities with Socrates’ prayer are striking. [
40] With an apotropaic shift, Socrates depicts himself as a potential Thamyris, with two interesting qualifications. The first is that the Muses and song are replaced by Eros and erotic expertise. The replacement of song makes perfect sense: Socrates is promoting a form of erotic rhetoric in which speech is prompted by love—and it should be noted that in the Euripidean Rhesus, Thamyris is blinded, and song and tekhnê are mentioned together. [41] Moreover, by Plato’s time the myth had acquired sexual overtones, which made it even more suitable for the erotic context of the Phaedrus. Thamyris, who had since been credited with the discovery of pederasty, was unable to contain his sexual appetite, and so struck a bargain with the Muses: were he to prevail, they would let him lie with them all [42] —which, rather predictably, proved impossible.

The Gift of the Muses

Having examined the averted termination of Socrates, I shall now move on to the myth of the cicadas and to the initiation proper. The myth binds together the first part, devoted to eros, and the second, which discusses rhetoric. [44] Socrates describes the story as something that no “friend of the Muses” should ignore, thus strongly conjuring up the idea of mousikê. [45] Almost the whole passage reads as follows:

Σχολὴ μὲν δή, ὡς ἔοικε· καὶ ἅμα μοι δοκοῦσιν ὡς ἐν τῷ πνίγει ὑπὲρ κεφαλῆς ἡμῶν οἱ τέττιγες ᾄδοντες καὶ ἀλλήλοις διαλεγόμενοι καθορᾶν καὶ ἡμᾶς. εἰ οὖν ἴδοιεν καὶ νὼ καθάπερ τοὺς πολλοὺς ἐν μεσημβρίᾳ μὴ διαλεγομένους ἀλλὰ νυστάζοντας καὶ κηλουμένους ὑφ’ αὑτῶν δι’ ἀργίαν τῆς διανοίας, δικαίως ἂν καταγελῷεν, ἡγούμενοι ἀνδράποδ’ ἄττα σφίσιν ἐλθόντα εἰς τὸ καταγώγιον ὥσπερ προβάτια μεσημβριάζοντα περὶ τὴν κρήνην εὕδειν· ἐὰν δὲ ὁρῶσι διαλεγομένους καὶ παραπλέοντάς σφας ὥσπερ Σειρῆνας ἀκηλήτους, ὃ γέρας παρὰ θεῶν ἔχουσιν ἀνθρώποις διδόναι, τάχ’ ἂν δοῖεν ἀγασθέντες … λέγεται δ’ ὥς ποτ’ ἦσαν οὗτοι ἄνθρωποι τῶν πρὶν Μούσας γεγονέναι, γενομένων δὲ Μουσῶν καὶ φανείσης ᾠδῆς οὕτως ἄρα τινὲς τῶν τότε ἐξεπλάγησαν ὑφ’ ἡδονῆς, ὥστε ᾄδοντες ἠμέλησαν σίτων τε καὶ ποτῶν, καὶ ἔλαθον τελευτήσαντες αὑτούς· ἐξ ὧν τὸ τεττίγων γένος μετ’ ἐκεῖνο φύεται, γέρας τοῦτο παρὰ Μουσῶν λαβόν, μηδὲν τροφῆς δεῖσθαι γενόμενον, ἀλλ’ ἄσιτόν τε καὶ ἄποτον εὐθὺς ᾄδειν, ἕως ἂν τελευτήσῃ, καὶ μετὰ ταῦτα ἐλθὸν παρὰ Μούσας ἀπαγγέλλειν τίς τίνα αὐτῶν τιμᾷ τῶν ἐνθάδε. Τερψιχόρᾳ μὲν οὖν τοὺς ἐν τοῖς χοροῖς τετιμηκότας αὐτὴν ἀπαγγέλλοντες ποιοῦσι προσφιλεστέρους, τῇ δὲ Ἐρατοῖ τοὺς ἐν τοῖς ἐρωτικοῖς, καὶ ταῖς ἄλλαις οὕτως, κατὰ τὸ εἶδος ἑκάστης τιμῆς· τῇ δὲ πρεσβυτάτῃ Καλλιόπῃ καὶ τῇ μετ’ αὐτὴν Οὐρανίᾳ τοὺς ἐν φιλοσοφίᾳ διάγοντάς τε καὶ τιμῶντας τὴν ἐκείνων μουσικὴν ἀγγέλλουσιν, αἳ δὴ μάλιστα τῶν Μουσῶν περί τε οὐρανὸν καὶ λόγους οὖσαι θείους τε καὶ ἀνθρωπίνους ἱᾶσιν καλλίστην φωνήν. πολλῶν δὴ οὖν ἕνεκα λεκτέον τι καὶ οὐ καθευδητέον ἐν τῇ μεσημβρίᾳ.

We have plenty of time, it seems; and I think, too, that as the cicadas sing above our heads [i.e. on the plane-tree] in their usual fashion in the heat, and dialogue with each other, they look down on us too. So if they the two of us as well, just like most people at midday, not dialoguing but nodding off under their spell through lazy-mindedness, they would justly laugh at us, thinking that some slaves had come to their retreat and were having their midday sleep around the spring, like sheep; but if they see us dialoguing and sailing past them un-bewitched by their Siren song, perhaps they may respect us and give us that gift which they have from the gods to give to men […] The story is that these cicadas were once men, belonging to a time before the Muses were born, and that with the birth of the Muses and the appearance of song some of the men of the time they got carried away by pleasure, so much that in their singing they neglected to eat and drink, and failed to notice that they had died; from them the race of cicadas was afterwards born, with this gift from the Muses, that from their birth they have no need of sustenance, but immediately sing, without food or drink, until they die, and after that go and report to the Muses which among those here honors which of them. To Terpsichore they report those who have honored her in the choral dance, and make them dearer to her; to Erato, those who have honored her in the affairs of eros; and to the other Muses similarly, according to the form of honor belonging to each; but to Calliope, the eldest, and to Ourania who comes after her, they announce those who spend their time in philosophy and honor the music which belongs to them—who most of all the Muses have their sphere both the heavens and talk, both divine and human, and pour the most beautiful voice. So there are many reasons why we should say something, and not sleep in the midday heat.

Plato Phaedrus 258e–259d, trans. Rowe (modified)

A very familiar pattern is clearly evident here too. The cicada song is expected to inspire Socrates and Phaedrus just as Homer inspires Ion: they should be both alert and “carried away”; instead of “nodding off” (the same word used for Ion), they should be loquacious and yield to the power of their own Muses, just as Ion is carried away exclusively by Homer. However, the solar gift of the cicadas amounts to an ultimately positive paradigm, as should be clear from the following scheme:

1(a) Cicadas sing and dialogue (ἀλλήλοις διαλεγόμενοι).
1(b) Socrates suggests he and Phaedrus should dialogue (διαλεγομένους).
2(a) Cicadas ignore bodily needs.
2(b) Socrates suggests he and Phaedrus ignore sleep.
3(a) The cicadas’ perseverance earned them a gift (γέρας) from the Muses.
3(b) Socrates’ and Phaedrus’ perseverance may earn them a gift (γέρας) from the cicadas.

Yet again, there are important differences to be noted: rather than listen passively to the cicadas, Socrates and Phaedrus should take an active role and fashion their own dialogic song, just as the cicadas did in the past. As we have already seen, Plato constantly plays with the rhapsodic tradition in order to appropriate and transform it. As a result, the myth ultimately confirms the difference between the passivity of rhapsodic chains, with their numbing effect, and Socratic chains, which require alertness and active participation on the part of the “rings.” Yet the myth has even more in store than this.


And one day the Muses taught Hesiod glorious song while he was shepherding his lambs under holy Helicon, and this word first the goddesses said to me […]: “Shepherds of the wilderness, wretched things of shame, mere bellies, we know how to speak many false things as though they were true; but we know, when we will, to utter true things.” So said the ready-voiced daughters of great Zeus, and they plucked and gave me a rod, a shoot of sturdy laurel, a marvelous thing, and breathed into me a divine voice to celebrate things that shall be and things there were aforetime; and they bade me sing of the race of the blessed gods that are eternally, but ever to sing of themselves both first and last. But why all this about oak or rock?

Hesiod Theogony 22–35, trans. Finley


In the first part of this chapter, I took my cue from the Ion and the Symposium to argue that the discourse of philosophy is genetically akin to that of poetry: Plato conceptualizes Socratic logoi as a chain of speech, which closely parallels that of poetry as described in the famous magnet simile of the Ion. The modes of transmission and the “symptoms” experienced by the human “rings” are identical, and yet the very similarity between the two phenomena, poetry and philosophy, is meant to highlight a number of significant differences. “Philosophic” chains are never-ending and imply the collapse of all distinctions between performer and audience: Socrates’ logoi stir the speech of other people in a never-ending process that is fully vigilant and retains its strength when passing from one ring to another. By contrast, “poetic” chains entail self oblivion and a gradual weakening of the original “magnetic” strength. The discourse of philosophy is best described as reformed song and poetry in that it shares the same genetic process, which explains why poetry is so crucial to Plato’s dialogues.

After the Ion and the Symposium, I returned to the Phaedrus, where a similar process of word chains can be seen at work. In particular, I showed how Socrates adopts the persona of a poet by adapting a number of archetypal features from the lives of the poets. Thus, for example, in his prayer to Eros, Socrates distances himself from the mythical paradigm of Thamyris, the singer who had famously undergone the tragic experience of poetic un-initiation, or “termination.” The culmination of this process, however, is the myth of the cicadas, which closely parallels a number of different scenes of poetic initiation, and thus neatly complements Socrates’ allusion to Thamyris: for, after averting poetic termination, Socrates then undergoes a proper, albeit potential, initiation. Once again, the differences are as significant as the similarities. By projecting philosophical discourse on to the traditional pattern of poetic initiation, Plato highlights the distinctive character of philosophy, which now emerges as a vigilant, unending, personal form of discourse. Above all, philosophy stands out because of its dialogical nature, which is why the list of Plato’s Muses culminates in the dialoguing pair of Ourania and Calliope. Their voices embody philosophy as dialogue, as opposed to philosophy as continuous speech (Terpsichore and Erato), which is the mode adopted by Socrates in the first part of the Phaedrus. A turning point in the Phaedrus, the myth of the cicadas signals the memorable birth of a new genre, the dialogue.

Endnote: New “Facts”

  • Scholars have on occasion suggested that the discourses of poetry and philosophy as developed in the Ion and the Symposium (when read together) reveal a number of surprising analogies. This chapter features a first comprehensive study of what has previously been suggested. Through a careful analysis of the vocabulary and structure of the Symposium, it can be shown that Socratic logoi share the following features with Ion’s poetry: an unhinged mind (ἐκπλήξῃς ~ ἐκπεπληγμένοι), palpitations (καρδία πηδᾷ ~ καρδία πηδᾷ), tears (δακρύων … οἱ ὀφθαλμοί ~ δάκρυα ἐκχεῖται), possession (κατεχόμενοι ~ κατεχόμεθα), and Corybantism (κορυβαντιῶντες ~ κορυβαντιώντων). The discourse of both philosophy and poetry is conceptualized as a chain of logoi, but in philosophic chains the rhapsodic distinction between performer and audience is collapsed: philosophy is an active engagement, which should be “performed” by everyone. The same image can also be seen at work implicitly in the Phaedrus.
  • By examining a number of lexical peculiarities, including the Platonic hapax legomenon πηρόω (“to maim”), I have shown that Socrates’ prayer to Eros in the Phaedrus (257b–c) is composed in such a way as to evoke the story of the contest between Thamyris and the Muses, first attested in the Iliad, 2.594–560. Sophocles revived the story in his Thamyras, and a close examination of the relevant evidence allows me to conclude that Sophocles’ more eroticized version is also clearly discernible between the lines of the Phaedrus.
  • The initiation scene in Hesiod’s Theogony exercised a considerable influence on Greek literature and may itself be an instance of a much more common mythologeme: roughly the same features can be found in the initiation stories of such diverse figures as Archilochus, Epimenides, Callimachus, and Aesop. The myth of the cicadas (Phaedrus 258e–259d) can be read, I argue, as yet another instance of this mythologeme, complete with a number of hitherto unnoticed echoes from earlier poetry. The encounter with the daemons, their disparaging comments, the magic gift of song, all these features make up the traditional pattern of the initiation scene, which is given a particularly epic flavor by means of allusions to Homer and Hesiod.


[ back ] 1. Cf. Lévinas 1969:50, reported in Fussi 2006:53.

[ back ] 2. Nussbaum 1986. Cf. Chapter 1 in the current volume.

[ back ] 3. Cf. e.g. the very influential commentary by Hackforth 1952:61

[ back ] 4. Notable and influential examples are Vlastos 1991 and Blondell 2002.

[ back ] 5. Annas 1982, according to whom “within the Republic […] Plato’s attitude is split, and he is not like the socialist realists, or Tolstoy, who think that it is both possible and necessary to throw out ephemeral, entertainment art and to promote deep, truth-promoting art” (23).

[ back ] 6. Giuliano 2005 provides an excellent discussion of both doctrines, complete with bibliographic guidance. Distinguishing between two separate doctrines is a common activity among scholars, but can be questionable at times. Murray 1996:1–12 maintains that the two doctrines eventually and exceptionally merge in the Laws (719c), but this is probably not the whole story. Giuliano 2005:191–204 further develops the point in the light of earlier poetic traditions, and Morgan 2010 has argued that inspired mimêsis is found in Phaedrus 252d. Moreover, Palumbo 2011, in what she aptly refers to as “un gesto decisamente controcorrente” (166), plausibly suggests that the two doctrines are generally complementary rather than distinct. Büttner 2000, too, is a theoretically sustained, if excessively dogmatic, attempt to reconcile mimêsis and enthousiasmos. Cf. the sensible criticism provided by Halliwell 2002b.

[ back ] 7. The term is, in fact, extremely complex: given that identification, in ancient performative practices, entails the reproduction of exterior postures known as skhêmata, the two meanings of mimêsis can in fact be reconciled. See Leszl 2007, especially 254–255. Halliwell 2002a:46–50 distinguishes among no fewer than six different semantic areas pertaining to Platonic mimêsis. With its theatrical pedigree, mimêsis is integral both to Plato’s cave and to Plato’s hypothesis of the Forms, as Palumbo 2008 has put forward.

[ back ] 8. See in particular Republic 397c–d, where we learn that the best performer for a polis is τὸν τοῦ ἐπιεικοῦς μιμητὴν ἄκρατον, i.e. as we find out at 398b, ὃς ἡμῖν τὴν τοῦ ἐπιεικοῦς λέξιν μιμοῖτο. Lapini 2003 suggests that this must refer to the performer/poet who imitates only (purely) the decent man (ἐπιεικοῦς, he rightly argues, cannot possibly be neuter, as most scholars believe). Plato’s Socrates, moreover, seems to encourage young people to imitate him (see Blondell 2002:86). The same conclusion broadly applies to the previous discussion as well, as we learn from Republic 395c–d and 396c–d (cf. e.g. Asmis 1992:347 and Lapini 2003). As scholars have often noted, however, these two passages from the Republic are complicated by an apparent contradiction. As Murray writes: “In the light of all that is said here we would expect S[ocrates] to advocate the virtues of poetic mimesis in his discussion of lexis at 392d5–398b4. But in fact he concludes (a) that potential guardians should imitate only good men (396c5-d3), and (b) that they should imitate as little as possible, using the mixed style exemplified by Homer, but with a small amount of mimesis (396e4, cf. 395c3–7). These views are not incompatible, but there is a certain ambivalence in P[lato]’s attitude … P[lato] seems to be caught between the view that mimesis is beneficial provided that its object is suitable, and the feeling that there is something potentially harmful about mimesis in itself” (Murray 1996:13). However, Plato himself seems to suggest that an appropriate filter, such as playful narration and contextualization, can be an effective means in making the imitation of indecent things harmless, which is an important point: such imitation is to some extent desirable in that one has to know evil in order to avoid it (cf. 396a), a principle that is likely to have inspired Plato himself in composing his dialogues. (Cf. Capra 2003 and Lapini 2003. See also Tsouna 2013, and, more generally, Elias 1984 for Plato’s “poetry”—mainly his myths—as a kind of writing wholly in accord with Plato’s own theories.)

[ back ] 9. 471c–473b, with Gastaldi 1998. The paradigm of the divine painter is consistent with the ὀρθότης of mimêsis as discussed in Laws 667a–668c (see Tulli 2007c) and seems to look forward to the author of the Republic. Cf. also Reydams-Schils 2011 and Regali 2012 (Chapter 3) who argue for such an interpretation of the Timaeus-Critias.

[ back ] 10. M. Regali aptly notes that the Timaeus-Critias is conceptualized as a hymn-cum-egkômion, i.e. the one type of poetry approved of in the Republic. (See Republic 607a and Timaeus 20e–21a, and compare Republic 388e with Timaeus 29d, where reference is made to “accepting”—ἀποδέχομαι—poetry. See Regali 2012, especially 33, 40–41.) Regali also argues that “la μίμησις di Timeo è priva … degli aspetti negativi che Socrate denuncia nella Repubblica in relazione alla μίμησις dei poeti: il racconto di Timeo non è copia inferiore di un modello tradito, ma è un racconto verosimile sviluppato nel segno dell’εἰκός, unica via per attingere ad un modello altrimenti non raggiungibile perché appartenente alla sfera del divino” (Regali 2012:10). Cf. Chapter 3 of Regali 2012 for the close relationship between the Timaeus-Critias and mimêsis as discussed in the Republic).

[ back ] 11. Cf. Allen 2010 and Werner 2012. For a thorough treatment of the subject, cf. Gonzalez 1998, Chapter 5. Ferrari 1990 also notes that Plato is “careful to mark with caveats the various poetic resources to which he is nevertheless driven within the dialogues (myths, allegories and images)” (144). In the history of scholarship devoted to Platonic mimêsis, attempts to identify good forms of imitation can be found earlier as well. See Le Moli 2012 for a good survey, including the influence of the debate on twentieth century hermeneutics.

[ back ] 12. Cf. Erler 2011. In Letter 7, which is in his own voice, Plato calls Socrates “the most rightful man of his time” (δικαιότατον … τῶν τότε, 324e); this closely parallels the Phaedo’s concluding praise of Socrates at 118a.

[ back ] 13. This point is implicit in Republic 604e, where “Socrates is describing himself, which is to say that Plato … is describing the subject of his own dramatic imitations” (Clay 2000:146).

[ back ] 14. For a lucid and succinct account, see e.g. the excellent article by Carter 1967, who includes Timaeus 72a and who suggests “that one who is possessed, divinely or naturally, is unable to evaluate the results of such madness and that the task of evaluation ought to be left to one who is sound of mind. This passage suggests that truth is not a necessary quality of any kind of madness; it must be judged by rational means” (113). My account is, of course, a simplified one. For example, Leszl has recently noted that apparently “when Plato talks inspiration in the Ion, he has two different views in mind. One of these views is suggested by the parallel with the oracle-teller (mantis) which is propounded (implicitly) in 534c–e, where it is said that the poets are used by the god as his servants or ministers, just as oracle-tellers and divine prophets are used by him and that it is the god himself who talks through them … The other view is that of 535b, where the poet is ‘out of himself’—and brought to this condition by his ‘enthusiasm’ (thus, it would seem, because of some divine intervention)—not because ‘invaded’ or ‘possessed’ by a god, in the way in which an oracle-teller like the Pythia is possessed, but because he travels with his mind to the place where events happened in the distant past. In this way the poet communicates what he has seen, and what he has seen by divine intervention, but does not directly communicate what the divinity tells him to communicate, using him as a mere instrument of intermediary” (Leszl 2006:345).

[ back ] 15. The first explicit references to poetry as a rational expertise (τέχνη) date from the late fifth century BCE (cf. Aristophanes Peace 749; Frogs 762 and passim), although the idea is implicit earlier, especially in the Hymn to Hermes, which was probably composed in Athens between the sixth and the fifth century. See Nobili 2011, especially 160–165.

[ back ] 16. On Plato’s notion of tekhnê, cf. the incomparable work of Cambiano 1991.

[ back ] 17. Some scholars and philosophers have, however, interpreted an important detail that distinguishes Socrates’ enthusiasm from that of the “simple” poets: namely, it does not entail the loss of rational thought; nor is it, like Ion’s, occasional or intermittent. Besides Lévinas, cf. Giuliano 2005:205–216, who carries out a careful examination of the matter.

[ back ] 18. I shall just mention Gonzalez 2011, whose interpretation is very close to mine, as expressed in Capra 2007b. Capuccino 2005:208–249 provides a detailed discussion and a massive bibliography.

[ back ] 19. Cf. LSJ s.v. II.10.

[ back ] 20. Plato is sometimes described as anti-Homeric even in the way he describes emotions. See Bouvier 2011.

[ back ] 21. Alcibiades’ description of Socrates is usually considered a “faithful” one, that is, one fully endorsed by Plato himself (see e.g. Brisson 1998b:51–54 and Zanker 1995:32–39), though its relationship to Socrates’ speech is debated (see Destrée 2012 for a brief discussion of the better known interpretative approaches). Nevertheless, some distinguished scholars have tried to undermine its credibility by suggesting, for example, that Alcibiades is “the last person to understand the ironic Socrates,” something that “cannot but compromise his praise” (Nightingale 1995:120 and cf. e.g. Narcy 2008). There is no doubt as to Alcibiades’ ambiguous character, and the Symposium hints maliciously at the notorious scandals he was allegedly involved in (see Cornelli 2013). Does this affect the credibility of his description of Socrates (and, therefore, my present argument)? The question was variously debated at the 2013 Symposium Platonicum of the International Plato Society, which was entirely dedicated to the Symposium. The traditional view seems to predominate on the whole, though a few scholars share Nightingale’s doubts. Interestingly, some scholars strike a middle ground: Petrucci 2013 and Nucci 2013 argue that Alcibiades gives us a faithful description of the manifestations of Socrates’ virtue, even though he probably does not understand its philosophical foundation. My own argument is wholly compatible with this convincing interpretation.

[ back ] 22. The comparison with Olympus calls to mind Socrates’ reenacting of Stesichorus’ song (see Chapter 2). Stesichorus’ poems were also said to resemble Olympus’ melodies (Plutarch On Music 1133f, with Barker 2001:11–12).

[ back ] 23. Fabio Massimo Giuliano sketches most of the parallels in his 2005 work, Platone e la poesia: Teoria della composizione e prassi della ricezione (see a “Note to Plato’s Symposium,” pages 216–218, cf. Giuliano 2004:176–179). The analogy receives no more than a passing remark in Asmis 1992:347 and Crotty 2009:xix. My own arguments develop a previous article of mine, cf. Capra 2007b, though I would like to emphasize that Giuliano’s “Note,” however sketchy, was a fundamental starting point for my own work.

[ back ] 24. For a good narratological account of the Symposium, see e.g. Scarcella 1987. Halperin 1992 has rapidly become a classic of sorts, and has made its way into the Oxford University Press’s “Critical Assessments” of Plato (Smith 1998). In Halperin’s clever interpretation, the chinese-box structure of the Symposium is an instance of what he refers to as the “erotics of narrativity,” a literary procreation that both endorses and undermines the Symposium’s theory of reproduction as a human path to immortality. Blondell 2002 makes the interesting point that the narrators of the Symposium are meant to remind us of the danger of idolizing Socrates (106–112).

[ back ] 25. That Diotima’s words are “the core” does not imply that they express the totality, or even the climax, of the Symposium’s philosophical message. Gonzalez 2012, for example, argues that “there is a tension between the mortal knowledge of the philosopher, continually demanding to be reborn by its continual retreat into oblivion, and that secure knowledge and possession of divine reality that the philosopher can only dream of” (51, from the abstract).

[ back ] 26. Diogenes Laertius 2.124 lists the titles of nine dialogues by Glaucon.

[ back ] 27. Of Plato’s dialogues, only the Parmenides features a similarly complicated framework, though the similarity only highlights the considerable difference between the two. Most telling of all is the way Plato depicts the effects of Eleatic discourse. Rather than create a mesmerizing, multiplying chain of narrations, as is the case with the Socratic logoi in the Symposium, those in the Parmenides backfire disastrously: the last “ring” of the chain, Antiphon, who, as a boy, was repeatedly exposed to Eleatism, ends up abandoning philosophy altogether; and the same is probably true of Pythodorus. As we show in Capra and Martinelli Tempesta 2011, the narrative chain of the Symposium dramatizes the protreptic force of Socratic discourse, whereas the narrative chain of the Parmenides reveals the apotreptic character of Eleatic discourse.

[ back ] 28. The reversal emerges also from another interesting detail. In the Symposium, Alcibiades weeps while people around him burst out laughing (222c). Conversely, in a truly hilarious passage, Ion says that, ultimately, if he succeeds in bringing his audience to tears, he’ll make a lot of money, and so he will be the one to laugh (535e). I owe this observation to Alexandra Pappas.

[ back ] 29. Panathenaicus 12.263, with Graziosi 2010:113.

[ back ] 30. Cf. 253a–b, where reference is made to Bacchic frenzy and mimêsis.

[ back ] 31. For a good account of the mirror image in the Phaedrus, see Belfiore 2012.

[ back ] 32. Role reversal is typical of Socratic eros as described in the Symposium. Edmonds rightly points out that “it is the lover himself, already pregnant by virtue of his stage in life, who gives birth with the assistance of the beloved. In the Symposium, Plato depicts his teacher not as the progenitor and begetter of ideas upon beautiful youths but as Socrates the Beautiful, the beloved who assists as a midwife at the labor of the fertile young men, helping them bring their spiritual progeny to light” (Edmonds 2000:266). The scholar also notes that “this confusion over the roles of the lover and beloved is a theme that recurs throughout the Symposium, and Plato includes a number of hints that this pattern is significant for his ideas of philosophic education” (Edmonds 2000:272). Besides the obvious example of Alcibiades, who famously ends up being the lover rather than the beloved, Edmonds points to Aristodemus, who behaves like a beloved but at 173b is called the lover of Socrates. Agathon, too, takes the initiative of sharing his couch with Socrates, thus contradicting Alcibiades’ claim that Socrates is always on the hunt for beautiful boys (contrast 175c–d and 213c).

[ back ] 33. Gutzwiller 1991 suggests that “the movement of the dialogue as a whole is governed by the paradigm of a herdsman’s conversion to poet or seer” (75). She does not develop this brilliant intuition, however, perhaps because the Phaedrus is not, after all, her main concern. Thus, she limits herself to applying the analogy to the progression of the three speeches in the first half of the Phaedrus.

[ back ] 34. A third passage is Socrates’ prayer to Pan at the end of the dialogue, which could be read as “poetic license.” This is discussed in Chapter 4.

[ back ] 35. In the Symposium, Socrates famously states that love is the only field in which he can claim some kind of knowledge (177d and passim). That love is something divine and potentially fruitful for pedagogy is also clear from the Alcibiades by Aeschines (fr. 11 = SSR vi A 53): cf. Ioppolo 1999 for a useful comparison with the Symposium and Belfiore 2012 (especially 1–12) for an overview of Socrates’ erotic art. However, the only other instance of erôtikê tekhnê as such is found in the Sophist (222e), where according to the Stranger it refers to a despicable knack in conquering young boys by way of presents and flattery. In the Phaedrus itself, erôtikê tekhnê is twice paralleled by the similar expression erôtikê mania, which marks the unusual overlapping of the two otherwise very different notions of mania and tekhnê. Other Platonic passages relevant to the problem of Socrates’ knowledge of things erotic include Charmides 155d, Lysis 206a, and Theagenes 128b. All in all, the Socrates of the Phaedrus is very similar to the Socrates of the Alcibiades, who is equally fascinated by the notion of divine, dionysian enthusiasm.

[ back ] 36. Note that Plato mentions Thamyris no fewer than three times: Ion 533b, Republic 620a, and Laws 829e. Thamyris became very popular in fifth-century Athens, probably because Sophocles dedicated an early tragedy to him, the Thamyras (see Meriani 2007 and Wilson 2009), in which, according to the Vita Sophoclis, he also performed as an actor. The Athenian pictorial record is also very interesting, and Thamyris was famous enough outside Athens to feature in Polygnotus’ Nekyia in the Cnidian leskhe at Delphi (Pausanias 10.30.8): see Cillo 1993, who cautiously assigns to Polygnotus a similar image, which, according to the Vita Sophoclis, was also in the Stoa Poikilê (212). In the fourth century, no fewer than two theatrical plays were dedicated to him, namely Antiphanes’ Thamyris (fr. 104 PCG) and the Rhesus. As Biles 2011 has argued, Thamyris’ influence was so strong that it shaped the poetics of competition between comic playwrights (12–55). See also Wilson 2009:59–70.

[ back ] 37. Cf. e.g. Ford 1992:97; Martin 1989:229–230; Nagy 1990:376.

[ back ] 38. Odyssey 8.62–64. Cf. Graziosi 2002:143–144.

[ back ] 39. Iliad 2.599, αὐτὰρ ἀοιδὴν, seems to “introduce a contrast,” that is a compensation (Wilson 2009:50).

[ back ] 40. And, to the best of my knowledge, unnoticed.

[ back ] 41. Euripides Rhesus 921–925. Cf. also Hesiod fr. 65 M-W.

[ back ] 42. The complete version can be found in Apollodorus 1.16. Sexual overtones are implicit, however, as early as in Timaeus (FGrH 566 F 83), and possibly in the myth of Er at the end of the Republic (620a). The latter also mentions Orpheus’ metamorphosis into a nightingale right after the account of his death at the hands of women, which might possibly be related to the crude myth and well-known metamorphoses of Procne, Tereus, and Philomela. Even more importantly, the story is given almost in full, complete with the spicy detail of Thamyris’ erotic proposal, by Isocrates’ pupil Asclepiades (FGrH 12 F 10), whose work Tragodumena was based on versions of the myths known from tragedy: thus it is very probable that the proposal appeared as early as in Sophocles’ Thamyras (see Meriani 2007:48). For different reasons, Brillante 2009 also concludes that “il mito di Thamyris … doveva essere compiuto in tutte le sue parti già in età arcaica (Iliade, Catalogo esiodeo, Minyas)” (20).

[ back ] 43. Power 2010:208, with further bibliography. The evidence amounts to an inscription (SEG.503) and a fragment of Amphion of Thespiae (FGrH 387 F 1).

[ back ] 44. The rather mysterious “pleasant bend” (γλυκὺς ἀγκών), which appears a few lines earlier (257d), has been plausibly interpreted as a metaliterary reference to a turning point in the dialogue. See Segoloni 2007.

[ back ] 45. “It certainly isn’t appropriate for a man who loves the Muses (φιλόμουσον ἄνδρα) not to have heard of things like this” (259b).

[ back ] 46. This should be enough evidence to discourage readers from construing the cicadas as a negative paradigm, and it is worth mentioning that Hermias Alexandrinus had no hesitation in identifying them as divine creatures, whose metamorphosis and devotion to music he ascribes to their philosophical nature. (Cf. on 259b, p. 226.5–30 Lucarini-Moreschini) Among modern critics, however, “negative” interpretations seem to be predominant. Cf. de Vries 1969:193; Griswold 1986:166; Ferrari 1987:57 (where the cicadas stand for Phaedrus’ excessive philologia); Burger 1980:73–74 (where they stand for the deceitful fascination of the written word); White 1993:190; De Luise 1997:26–27; Carson 1986:138–140; Nicholson 1999:220–21 (where their metamorphosis is a sign of degradation); Männlein-Robert 2012:92 and 100 (where they stand for “rein ästhetischen Sinne” and “produzieren nun Klang”); and Werner 2012:133–152 (where they stand for the potentially bewitching power of Socrates’ own palinode). Nor should the cicadas’ ekplêxis and the comparison with the sirens prove the point, for neither yields any negative meaning: as we have seen in the second chapter, ekplêxis is the hallmark of philosophical love (above, page 72), and sirens are depicted in a clearly positive light in the dialogues (cf. Republic 617c, Symposium 216a, and Cratylus 403d, with Capra 2000). In a nutshell, “Zoals de Cicade is de filosoof een muzenvriend” (Pinnoy 1986–1987:111).

[ back ] 47. One may add a third ring, namely that of Socrates’ and Phaedrus’ companions as mentioned at 279a: the two friends will report to them the message they have received from the local gods.

[ back ] 48. Cf. e.g. Borthwick 1966, Lelli 2001, Cunha Corrêa 2010 (179–200), and Bodson 1976, the last of whom encapsulates the idea by noting that “les poètes grecs ont tous, ou peu s’en faut, chanté les cigales et, à travers elles, exalté les charmes des Muses ou la grâce souveraine d’Apollon” (Bodson 1976:93).

[ back ] 49. Cf. e.g. Aristophanes Knights 1331, with Dušanić 1992:25, and especially Hoffmann 1988 for the archaeological and numismatic evidence.

[ back ] 50. See Capra 2000.

[ back ] 51. As early as Hesiod, the cicada, both an idler and a singer, “could both represent the poet and be a foil for him.” I owe this suggestion to Lilah-Grace Fraser Canevaro, whose PhD dissertation (Durham UK, discussed September 2012) is an interpretative commentary on Hesiod’s Works and Days.

[ back ] 52. For the equation gift of the Muses = poetic inspiration, cf. e.g. Tarditi 1989 and Aloni 2011.

[ back ] 53. That γέρας refers to inspiration is made quite clear from its further use at 262d, when Socrates refers back to his inspired palinode and attributes its efficacy to the inspiration provided by the local gods and by the cicadas.

[ back ] 54. For a good overall reconstruction of Epimenides’ initiation, based on a number of various fragmentary sources, see Brillante 2004. For a sensible account of Epimenides’ place in the epic tradition, see Arrighetti 2006:109–118. The collection provided by Federico and Visconti 2001 offers a number of valuable insights on different aspects of this elusive figure.

[ back ] 55. See Clay 2004:109.

[ back ] 56. This is Clay’s reading (2004:14, 55) of the picture that appears in the current volume on page 119 of Chapter 4.

[ back ] 57. Hesiod is mentioned and discussed countless times in Plato’s dialogues: see Boys-Stones and Haubold 2010 (and Graziosi 2010 for the Athenians’ acquaintance with Hesiodic performances). Epimenides was said to have purified Athens and is mentioned a couple of times by Plato himself: see Laws 644d and 677d. Finally, Corso 2008 comments: “Archilochus is remembered by Herodotus (1.12), and Sophocles (Electra 96), Euripides (Medea 679), and Aristophanes (Acharnenses 119–120, 278; Pax 603–604, 1148; Aves 1764; Lysistrata 1254–1256; Ranae 704; Plutus 476) quote Archilochean expressions … That an oligarch like Critias condemned Archilochus because of his low social rank and unethical behavior suggests that the poet may have found further favor within Pericles’ radical democratic party, since he did not comply with aristocratic desiderata. It is quite likely that this period saw the erection of the portrait that would become the template for later images of the poet” (Corso 2008:271–273). For a full account of the ancient reception of Archilochus, ranging from Pindar and Cratinus to the Roman poets, cf. Gerber 2008. Alexis, Plato’s contemporary, wrote the Archilochos or Archilochoi, a title that suggests this comedy may have dealt with Archilochus’ biography.

[ back ] 58. Cf. 279b with my Introduction to the current volume. As Kathryn Gutzwiller perceptively remarks, “Maximus of Tyre tells of a Melesagoras, an Eleusinian prophet, who was “possessed by the nymphs” (ἐκ νυμφῶν κάτοχος, 38.3a). This information immediately follows a discussion of Hesiod’s conversion from shepherd to poet (γενόμενον ποιητὴν ἐκ ποιμένος, 38.2a) and precedes a discussion of Epimenides, who was converted from herdsman to seer during a sleep that began at noon. The order of the list shows that the divine encounter of the herdsman was conceived of as a form of possession by the gods that, if not actually called nympholepsy, was equivalent to it” (Gutzwiller 1991:77).

[ back ] 59. Grottanelli 1992 has an excellent discussion of stories 1–3, to which he adds, quite appropriately, the initiation story recounted in the Romance of Aesop. Caillois 1988 provides other fascinating parallels, including modern lore.

[ back ] 60. Cf. e.g. the proem of Callimachus’ Aetia, which is consciously modeled on that of the Theogony, and cf. Theocritus 7, which presents even more clearly most of the elements I list below. The story of Aesop, on the contrary, does not seem to be constructed in the same literary way, that is, as a self-conscious attempt at a subtle imitation of a given model. Note, moreover, that there are significant differences in the way Archilochus is initiated: the version provided by Mnesiepes’ inscription does not coincide completely with that visible on the pyxis.

[ back ] 61. Cf. the discussion in Kambylis 1965. In the light of Palatine Anthology 9.64 and of other parallels involving noon inspiration, he concludes that “dass diese Vorstellung auch in der Zeit des Hesiodos und besonders unter den Landleuten verbreitet war, ist nach den bereits angeführten Beispielen durchaus wahrscheinlich. Man wird sich heute noch umso leichter davon überzeugen lassen, wenn man einmal im Sommer diese geheimnisvolle und wirklich göttliche Stunde des Mittags im Süden erlebt hat” (Kambylis 1965:60–61). Cf. also Sens 2011 for more parallels related to noontime inspiration (312).

[ back ] 62. Most scholars assume that Archilochus’ encounter with the Muses takes place at night or very early in the morning, but the inscription is vague on the point, and the pyxis certainly does not support a nocturnal setting. Brillante 1990 makes a strong case for noon as the implicit time of the encounter as recounted in the inscription.

[ back ] 63. Life of Aesop 6. Two more examples are worth mentioning. In the Homeric Hymn to Hermes, the child god plays the first ever lyre at midday (17). Secondly, Pausanias tells the story of a shepherd who fell asleep by the tomb of Orpheus around midday and suddenly started singing Orpheus’ poems while sleeping (9.30.10). On the latter, see Grottanelli 1992:233.

[ back ] 64. The mention of oak and rock at Theogony 35 (ἀλλὰ τίη μοι ταῦτα περὶ δρῦν ἢ περὶ πέτρην;) is a notorious crux (cf. the thorough discussion of West 1966 ad loc.). For my purpose, it is important to note that the Phaedrus mentions both oak and rock at 275b–c. He clearly understands them in a literal sense, as part of the prophetic landscape of Dodona. “Oak and rock” are, of course, part of a formula found in Homer as well, and Labarbe 1949 reads 275b as an “evocation … fugace,” so that “Homère ne peut guère avoir été mis en cause. On pensera à l’association proverbiale de l’arbre (du chêne) et du rocher (de la pierre)” (305n2). However, the emphasis on truth, together with the context of the dialogue as a whole, suggests that Plato had the Theogony in mind.

[ back ] 65. In classical prose, νώ, a poetic form, is found only in the Phaedrus (in the cicada myth and at 278b) and in the Greater Alcibiades (124d).

[ back ] 66. Aesop, too, meets the Muses in a locus amoenus full of cicadas (Life of Aesop 6).

[ back ] 67. Cf. Hesiod Theogony 79–84.

[ back ] 68. Poets: Hesiod Shield 393–397; Callimachus Aetia 1.29–34; Anacreontea 34. Philosopher: Aristotle The History of Animals 532b10–13. For further details and parallels, cf. Borthwick 1966:103–104, 107–108.

[ back ] 69. For the importance of this connection, see Nagy 2009b. Haubold 2010 interprets the episode as the first stage of a “narrative of cultural and intellectual progress” (11), which spans the three major works of the Hesiodic corpus.

[ back ] 70. Cf. e.g. Aesop 195 Hausrath-Hunger and Callimachus Aetia 1.29–34, with the useful discussion provided by Lelli 2001. The same contrast can be found in a griphos, which Athenaeus, citing Chamaeleon’s On Simonides, ascribes to Simonides (10.457a). Livrea 2012 argues convincingly that Simonides is in fact the author of the griphos, which in turn inspired Callimachus.

[ back ] 71. Cf. Archilochus 223 W as commented on by Lucian (The Liar 1), and see Petropoulos 1994, Chapter 5, who provides illuminating parallels with modern Greek folklore. As for Tettix, cf. Plutarch On the Delays of Divine Vengeance 560d–f and Suda s.v. Archilochos. Cf. the useful discussions of Nagy 1999, Chapter 18, Clay 2004:25–26, and Cunha Corrêa 2010:200–209. The Roman Phaedrus, too, implicitly identifies with a cicada (cf. 3.16 with Lelli 2001:247).

[ back ] 72. As Aloni 2011 notes.

[ back ] 73. At Troezen, whose close connections with Athenian cult are well known, people used to worship Hypnos and the Muses together, as the former was especially dear to the latter: cf. Pausanias 2.31.3.

[ back ] 74. Sophist 266b–267b (in all likelihood, mimêsis as mentioned at 267a includes poetry as well).

[ back ] 75. Panathenaicus 263.

[ back ] 76. That the inspiration of Socrates, unlike that of the poets, is rational and vigilant is something that scholars have sometimes argued on different grounds. Cf. e.g. Morgan 2010:59 and Männlein-Robert 2012.

[ back ] 77. Cf. Hardie 2013.

[ back ] 78. As Ryan 2012 aptly notes (247).