Marian Demos, Lyric Quotation in Plato: Chapter 4. Stesichorus’ Palinode in the Phaedrus


Chapter 4. Stesichorus’ Palinode in the Phaedrus

Socrates’ reference to Stesichorus’ famous palinode in the Phaedrus has not been studied with respect to its context. Although scholars have focused upon the palinode with respect to the question of whether or not Stesichorus composed more than one “recantation,” few have analyzed its role within the dialogue. [1] It is curious that Plato has Socrates present a lengthy speech in order to retract it. Why does Socrates fabricate an elaborate oration in support of a view that he later critiques? More importantly, why does Socrates incorporate the palinode of Stesichorus into the framework of his disquisition on erotic love? Plato may, of course, be merely drawing a comparison between Socrates’ supposed reversal of opinion concerning the nature of ἔρως and Stesichorus’ retraction of his former denigrating portrayal of Helen. Nevertheless, it is worth considering whether Plato has Socrates adopt the persona of the lyric poet Stesichorus, and suggesting that Socrates’ view of himself as one who is μουσικός characterizes the nature of his own subsequent “palinode.” Although Socrates, like Stesichorus, composes his own “palinode” in order to avert potential divine retribution, his comments to the young Phaedrus regarding love and poetry as types of divine inspiration reflect his own poetic inspiration in the dialogue. The purpose of this study is to argue that Plato portrays Socrates in the Phaedrus as an inspired poet and lover who, unlike Lysias, can teach Phaedrus about the true nature of love by way of philosophy rather than through the medium of rhetoric.
While censuring Homer for his failure to correct his mistakes, Socrates praises Stesichorus for employing a καθαρμός (‘purification’), in the form of the palinode, to correct his earlier mistake. Socrates’ diction is colored by these notions of ritual purification and lyric sensibilities. One infers that Socrates, unlike the epic poet Homer but like the lyric poet Stesichorus, is μουσικός (‘one who has a true relationship with the Muses’). [2] It is significant that Socrates praises a lyric poet. Perhaps Plato is indirectly lauding lyric poetry by way of comparing Socrates to a poet like Stesichorus who, by “setting the record straight” concerning the glorious deeds of earlier times, is communicating to the polis positive moral values. Socrates has an objective similar to Stesichorus’. He is trying to impart to the young Phaedrus an ennobling comprehension of the nature of love rather than aiming at a mere refutation of the sophistic speech of Lysias. Like Stesichorus, Socrates is being portrayed by Plato as an educator who corrects misguided thought.
More importantly, Plato contrasts the two very different types of “lovers’ education” espoused by Lysias and Socrates respectively. Both figures can be viewed as potential ἐρασταί (‘lovers’) of Phaedrus who offer the youth (ὁ παῖς) their individual arguments for the sake of winning the youth’s love and admiration. What I mean by the phrase “lovers’ education” is the notion that love and education (παιδεία) are interrelated in the eyes of the Greeks, and this conceptual framework is the basis of Socrates’ views on the nature of love as portrayed in the Phaedrus. [3] Socrates attempts to persuade Phaedrus that a relationship of love between two individuals entails the mutual education of their souls. Consequently, Socrates’ speech to Phaedrus should be regarded as a reflection of his love for the young man. Philosophical discourse, practiced by Socrates in his dialogue with Phaedrus, tries to displace sophistic oratory, employed by Lysias, as a means of communication between lovers. It is only a philosopher who can be a lover of beauty, a lover of the Muses, and a lover. Plato has Socrates fulfill all of these functions in the course of the dialogue.
Socrates’ quotation of Stesichorus occurs after his own speech that supposedly is meant to counter Lysias’ λόγος. Phaedrus has just read aloud, at Socrates’ behest, Lysias’ speech in which the orator maintains that ‘one ought to bestow favor upon a nonlover rather than upon a lover’ (cf. 227c7-8: λέγει γὰρ ὡς χαριστέον μὴ ἐρῶντι μᾶλλον ἤ ἐρῶντι). Socrates, unlike the young Phaedrus, is unimpressed by Lysias’ speech. [4] He says that he would be challenged by the ‘wise men and women of old’ if he were to agree with Phaedrus’ high opinion of Lysias’ rhetorical display. Socrates here (235b7-9), as in the Protagoras, for example (cf. 345e), feels that the orators are upstarts in comparison to the παλαιοὶ καὶ σοφοὶ ἄνδρες (‘wise men and women of old’). Although he cannot remember offhand in what context he has heard a better account than Lysias’ treatment of love, he asserts that the works of lyric poets such as Sappho and Anacreon and of some prose writers are doubtless better than Lysias’ λόγος regarding love (235c2-4: δῆλον δὲ ὅτι τινῶν ἀκήκοα, ἤ που Σαπφοῦς τῆς καλῆς ἤ Ἀνακρέοντος τοῦ σοφοῦ ἤ καὶ συγγραφέων τινῶν). Socrates’ opinion that Sappho and Anacreon are better authorities than Lysias on erotic matters does not seem ironic in I he immediate context because Socrates continues to claim that he himself could speak better than Lysias regarding love. It is important to notice Socrates’ words here because he is describing himself as though he were a seer or a poet who is inspired by an external source:

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.
I am of course well aware it can’t be anything originating in my own mind, for I know my own ignorance; so I suppose it can only be that it has been poured into me, through my ears, as into a vessel. [5]
In spite of his usual claim that he is conscious of his ignorance, Socrates is setting the stage for his subsequent discussion of love, which is, in addition to prophecy and poetry, a type of divine ‘madness’ (μανία). The ‘external streams’ that fill the ears of Socrates, who likens himself to a ‘vessel’ (ἀγγεῖον), do not necessarily derive from the wise men and women of an older generation. Socrates, while educating the young Phaedrus regarding the best and most divine madness of all—love—is portrayed as one who is himself divinely inspired not only by Eros during his “palinode” to the deity but also by the Muses and the ‘god-inhabited’ pastoral setting in which their conversation takes place. [6]
Since the focus of this study is Socrates’ quotation of Stesichorus’ palinode, it is necessary to look briefly at Socrates’ first speech, which he later recants in his own palinode that is designed to avert the wrath of the god of love. Socrates, who describes himself as ‘a lover of speeches’ (ἀνὴρ φιλόλογος), [7] pretends that Phaedrus has compelled him to deliver a speech designed to outdo Lysias’ (cf. 236b2 and 236e4-5). Before he offers his oration, he says that he will cover his head, run through the speech as quickly as possible, and not look at Phaedrus, since he would feel shame if he were to run into trouble (or ‘be at a loss’) at some point: ἐγκαλυψάμενος ἐρῶ, ἵν’ ὅτι τάχιστα διαδράμω τὸν λόγον καὶ μὴ βλέπων πρὸς σὲ ὑπ’ αἰσχύνης διαπορῶμαι (237a4-5). This statement is a foreshadowing of Socrates’ subsequent repudiation of the views he is about to express in this first speech. It is odd that Socrates would cover his head and hurry through a disquisition in which he has the opportunity to counter Lysias’ rhetoric. I interpret Socrates’ gestures as purposeful hinting on Plato’s part; Socrates covers his head, since he is already ashamed of what he is about to do. [8]
Socrates could never deliver wholeheartedly a speech that would agree with Lysias’ pragmatic views on love. Socrates, to accommodate the young and impressionable Phaedrus, agrees to give a better speech containing the same overall gist as Lysias’; however, he will ‘run through the speech as quickly as possible,’ since it will not truly reflect his own opinion. Moreover, he dares not to look at Phaedrus not only because he is ashamed to appear as a worse ποιητῆς (as compared to Lysias) in the eyes of the youth but also because he is ashamed of the view he is about to expound. Socrates, whose role as Phaedrus’ older potential suitor and educator is intimated by Plato throughout the dialogue, feels shame, since he will be teaching a young ἐρώμενος (‘beloved’) to have an impious view regarding Eros. Socrates’ symbolic gesture is, as one discovers later in the dialogue, related to his quotation of Stesichorus’ palinode. The legend that Stesichorus lost his sight because of his defamation of Helen is analogous to Socrates’ lack of vision during the speech he delivers with his head covered. Socrates’ blindness is metaphorical as well as real when he first discusses love because what he says while his head is covered he later retracts by way of a ‘true account’ or, in Stesichorus’ terms, an ἔτυμος λόγος (243a8), which is his own palinode to Eros. Immediately before delivering his palinode, which is intended as an apotropaic gesture, Socrates uncovers his head. When in reality he regains his vision (at 243b6-7), he simultaneously regains his figurative sight into the true nature of love.
Socrates invokes the Muses for inspiration (237a7-9) before embarking upon his first monologue. [9] Already he has begun to assume the guise of a poet. Socrates, after a lengthy preamble, defines love as some kind of desire (ἐπιθυμία: 238b8; cf. 237d2). He then interrupts his speech, asking Phaedrus whether he agrees with the view that Socrates has undergone a religious experience (238c6: θεῖον πάθος πεπονθέναι). Socrates is referring to his divine inspiration, which is derived from the ‘divine’ (θεῖος) locality. He likens his state to ‘possession by Nymphs’:

τῷ ὄντι γἀρ θεῖος ἔοικεν ὁ τόπος εἶναι, ὥστε ἐὰν ἄρα πολλάκις νυμφόληπτος προϊόντος τοῦ λόγου γένωμαι, μὴ θαύμασες· τὰ νῦν γὰρ οὺκέτι πόρρω διθυράμβων φθέγγομαι.
For truly there seems to be a divine presence in this spot, so that you must not be surprised if, as my speech proceeds, I become as one possessed; already my style is not far from dithyrambic.

Socrates’ statement foreshadows the theme of ‘possession’ or ‘madness’ (μανία) that is used in his future description of the state of being in love. More importantly, he is describing his divine inspiration in terms of ‘possession’; he thinks his madness may be attributed to the Nymphs of the locale. [10] His attributing the source of his madness to the Nymphs reappears at 241e3-5 when he hesitates to continue the tenor of this speech. Surely Phaedrus knows that Socrates will be possessed by the Nymphs into whose clutches the young man deliberately has thrown him (ἆρ’ οἶσθ’ ὅτι ὑπὸ τῶν Νυμφῶν, αἷς με σὺ προύβαλες ἐκ προνοίας, σαφῶς ἐνθουσιάσω;). [11] Socrates’ description of his present utterance as ‘not far from dithyrambic’ (238d2-3) is probably ironic insofar as the most famous composers of the dithyramb were already dead by the fourth century. [12] However, one must bear in mind that Socrates considers himself to be inspired, [13] even if his reference to the dithyrambic style may suggest that his relationship to the Muses is not what he thinks it ought to be. He is inspired at this point by the local Nymphs and not by the Muses.

It must be noted that at this point in the Phaedrus, Plato highlights Socrates’ premonition that the views expressed in his first speech may lead to something disastrous. Exactly what Socrates fears is left ambiguous. However, he expresses the hope that ‘the imminent danger may be avoided’ in the course of his subsequent words. He tells Phaedrus to listen to the rest of his excursus with the hope that ‘the forthcoming threat’ may be avoided: ἀλλὰ τὰ λοιπὰ ἄκουε· ἴσως γὰρ κἄν ἀποτράποιτο τὸ ἐπιόν (238d5-6). Although one may understand τὸ ἐπιόν as designating ‘the threatening nympholepsy’ of Socrates, [14] it also may be a veiled allusion to the wrath of Eros. Socrates’ palinode, itself an apotropaic gesture designed to avert any possible punishment of Socrates for his slighting of Eros, may be foreshadowed here. Since Socrates is portrayed later in the dialogue as being aware of the danger one can incur by casting reproach upon a divinity (the blinding of Stesichorus is an example), it is preferable to view τὸ ἐπιόν as a reference to the possibility of divine retribution inflicted upon mortals. Socrates’ use of the verb ἀποτράποιτο here is striking; ἀποτρέπω is usually found in the context of rituals designed to appease the gods and thus ‘turn away’ or avert their anger.
Socrates’ hypothetical speech (λόγος) to the imaginary youth (παῖς) continues at 238d8. [15] One is meant to understand that Phaedrus is the young man to whom Socrates directs his words. He describes the lover as someone who should not be entrusted with the education of the beloved; an older lover would make certain that his beloved not come into contact with philosophy, since ‘divine philosophy’ (ἡ θεία φιλοσοφία), the source of wisdom, threatens the lover’s control over the beloved (239b3-c2). Socrates’ disparaging depiction of a lover’s detrimental influence over the object of his affection is reiterated in the remainder of the speech. His main argument is that contact with a lover is harmful to the education of a young man’s soul (241c4-6). The relationship between lover and beloved ‘young man’ (παῖς) is compared to that between wolf and sheep: ὡς λύκοι ἄρνας ἀγαπῶσιν, ὥς παῖδα φιλοῦσιν ἐρασταί (241dl: ‘wolves love sheep just as lovers like young men’). [16] It is noteworthy that Socrates ends his speech with a “poetic” proverb that, ironically, can be understood as an αἶνος (‘meaningful saying’) advising Phaedrus to be wary of old men like Socrates. However, as the dialogue progresses, it becomes clear that Socrates is different from the ἐρασταί (‘lovers’) he has described here. His attempt to cultivate in Phaedrus an understanding of the central role of philosophy (and, by extension, that of love) as part of the ‘education’ (παίδευσις) of the human soul makes Socrates himself a counterexample to the type of lover he advises Phaedrus to avoid.
Socrates proclaims that his speech has reached its end. By his use of the colloquial phrase τοῦτ’ ἐκεῖνο (241d2), he tells Phaedrus that this is the speech that he would use to counter Lysias’. [17] He states that he will no longer continue his speech to Phaedrus: οὐκέτ’ ἄν τὸ πέρα ἀκούσαις ἐμοῦ λέγοντος, ἀλλ’ ἤδη σοι τέλος ἐχέτω ὁ λόγος (241d2-3). The emphatic placement of the dative σοι alludes to Socrates’ having offered his speech only to please Phaedrus (cf. 236el-237a6). The young man expresses surprise at Socrates’ abrupt ending, especially since Socrates failed to mention the positive attributes of a ‘nonlover’ (ὁ μὴ ἐρῶν) and the reasons for bestowing favor upon a nonlover rather than upon a lover (241d4-7). “Why indeed do you break off now, Socrates?” asks Phaedrus. Socrates’ response expresses his own fear at the views he has expressed so far; he does not dare to continue because he fears the power of the inspiration he attributes to the Nymphs. He tells Phaedrus:

οὐκ ᾔσθου, ὦ μακάριε, ὅτι ἤδη ἔπη φθέγγομαι ἀλλ’ οὐκέτι διθυράμβους, καὶ ταῦτα ψέγων; ἐὰν δ’ ἐπαινεῖν τὸν ἕτερον ἄρξωμαι, τί με οἵει ποιήσειν; ἆρ’ οἴσθ’ ὅτι ὑπὸ τῶν Νυμφῶν, αἶς με σὺ προύβαλες ἐκ προνοίας, σαφῶς ἐνθουσιάσω; λέγω οὖν ἑνὶ λόγω ὅτι ὅσα τὸν ἕτερον λελοιδορήκαμεν, τῷ ἑτέρῳ τἀναντία τούτων ἀγαθὰ πρόσεστιν. καὶ τί δεῖ μακροῦ λόγου; περὶ γὰρ ἀμφοῖν ἱκανῶς εἴρηται. καὶ οὕτω δὴ ὁ μῦθος ὅτι πάσχειν προσήκει αὐτῷ, τοῦτο πείσεται· κἀγὼ τὸν ποταμὸν τοῦτον διαβὰς ἀπέρχομαι πρὶν ὑπὸ σοῦ τι μεῖζον ἀναγκασθῆναι.
My dear good man, haven’t you noticed that I’ve got beyond dithyramb and am breaking out into verse, despite my faultfinding? What do you suppose I shall do if I start extolling the other type? Don’t you see that I shall clearly be possessed by those nymphs into whose clutches you deliberately threw me? I therefore tell you, in one short sentence, that to each evil for which I have abused the one party there is a corresponding good belonging to the other. So why waste words? All has been said that needs saying about them both. And that being so, my story can be left to the fate appropriate to it, and I will take myself off across the river here before you drive me to greater lengths.

This passage echoes Socrates’ earlier reference to his imminent possession by the Nymphs (238d 1-3); however, he now thinks that by the end of his speech he no longer utters dithyrambs but instead has broken out into epic (241el: ἤδη ἔπη φθέγγομαι). The shift in Socrates’ description of his style from ‘almost dithyrambic’ (238d2-3: οὐκέτι πόρρω διθυράμβων φθέγγομαι) to ‘epic’ is important because Socrates is stressing, once he has finished his speech to Phaedrus, how “carried away” he was while talking. [18] He is attempting to disclaim any responsibility for what he has said under the influence of external forces such as the Nymphs; like the poets who, he believes, do not have a true understanding of what they themselves say, Socrates himself has been “possessed.” The word he uses to designate his speech, μῦθος (241e8; cf. 237a9), is significant because it implies that Socrates views his speech as a story and not as a Lysianic oration designed to persuade Phaedrus. [19] Socrates sees Phaedrus as the instigator of this μῦθος that deserves to ‘suffer’ (πάσχειν) a dreadful fate.

That Socrates is anticipating something terrible will happen as a result of his speech is expressed by his apparent attempt to make his way back across the river and leave Phaedrus alone in the supernatural surroundings. However, Phaedrus says that Socrates should stay until the midday heat lessens and, more importantly, he urges Socrates to continue the discussion of the matter at hand. [20] The young man’s yearning for more discussion is important in the context of the dialogue because it signifies his readiness to participate in the activity which most typifies a philosopher, a ‘lover’ of wisdom. In other words, he will be receptive to Socrates’ subsequent instruction (παιδεία) on love and philosophy. Although Phaedrus wishes to have more discussion, as the dialogue progresses, Socrates will be the one who does most of the talking.
Although it seems at first that Phaedrus is responsible for stopping Socrates when he starts to cross the river (242a3-6), [21] Socrates makes it clear that something else has prevented him from leaving. He attributes his staying to his ‘divine sign’ (τὸ δαιμόνιον), which, as in Apology 31c-32a, checks him when he is on the verge of doing something (242b8-cl: τό δαιμόνιόν τε καὶ τὸ εἰωθὸς σημεῖόν μοι γίγνεσθαι ἐγένετο—ἀεὶ δέ με ἐπίσχει ὅ ἄν μέλλω πράττειν). The prohibitory ‘divine sign seemed to be telling him that he would not be allowed to leave until he ‘expiated’ (242c3: ἀφοσιώσωμαι) for having committed some wrong against ‘the divine’ (τὸ θεῖον). His feeling the need to purify himself is significant because, as we shall later see, the palinode represents a form of ancient ritual purification (243a4: καθαρμὸς αρχαῖος). In addition, the declaration of his being a ‘seer’ (μάντις) foreshadows his future description of prophecy as one type of divinely inspired ‘madness’ (μανία). [22] Although he tries to downplay his prophetic power (242c3-4: εἰμὶ δὴ οὖν μάντις μέν, οὔ πάνυ δὲ σπουδαῖος—‘I am a seer, although not a very good one’), he claims to understand the nature of his ‘offense’ (242c6 and 242d2: ἁμάρτημα). [23] He compares himself to the poet Ibycus, who had expressed the fear that he had somehow offended the gods while gaining renown from mortals. Like Ibycus, Socrates feels fear and perhaps shame at the prospect of offending the gods:

ἐμὲ γὰρ ἔθραξε μέν τι καὶ πάλαι λέγοντα τὸν λόγον, καί
πως ἐδυσωπούμην κατ’ ’Ίβυκον, μή τι παρὰ θεοῖς ἀμβλακὼν τιμὰν πρὸς ἀνθρώπων ἀμείψω· νῦν δ’ ᾔσθημαι τὸ ἁμάρτημα. [24]
For I felt disturbed some while ago as I was delivering that speech, and had a misgiving lest I might, in the words of Ibycus, “By sinning in the sight of God win high renown from man.” But now I realize my sin.

The verb by which he describes his apprehension, ἐδυσωπούμην, conveys Socrates’ shamefacedness and alludes to his actual and figurative lack of vision during his first speech to Phaedrus. [25] By comparing himself to Ibycus, Socrates already places himself in the ranks of the lyric poets and therefore sets the stage for his forthcoming comparison to Stesichorus.

When Phaedrus asks Socrates what error has been committed, the latter responds that each has provided a terrible speech (242d4-5: δεινόν, ὦ Φαῖδρε, δεινὸν λόγον αὐτός τε ἐκόμισας ἐμέ τε ἠνάγκασας εἰπεῖν). [26] Although λόγον is an accusative singular, it refers to the two speeches hitherto offered: the speech of Lysias (as delivered by Phaedrus) and that of Socrates in compliance with Phaedrus’ behest. It is important that Socrates regards the two separate speeches as a single speech that is ‘foolish and somewhat impious’ (242d7: εὐήθη καὶ ὑπό τι άσεβῆ). Socrates is again blaming Phaedrus for the views he has been forced to expound; namely, Lysias’ views. Socrates’ criticism of the speeches presented so far becomes explicit in the passage beginning at 242dll. He claims that Phaedrus, having placed a spell on his (i.e., Socrates’) mouth, bewitched him into presenting Phaedrus’ own impious λόγος regarding love; in other words, Phaedrus has used Socrates as a medium. [27] Later in the dialogue (244al-2), Socrates explicitly claims that his speech was actually that of Phaedrus. The pair of speeches [28] have treated Eros, which Phaedrus agrees is a god or some type of divine entity, as evil (242e2-4). According to Socrates, the speeches ‘do not say anything which is healthy’ (τὸ μηδέν ὑγιὲς λέγοντε); they appeal only to ‘homunculi’ (243a: ἀνθρωπίσκους). Consequently, since his mouth was ‘drugged’ by Phaedrus into speaking ‘unhealthy’ words, Socrates feels the need to purify himself (243a2-3: ἐμοὶ μὲν οὖν, ὠ φίλε, καθήρασθαι ἀνάγκη). [29]
The act of ritualized purification takes the form of Socrates’ subsequent recantation with the palinode of Stesichorus serving as its exemplar. He mentions an ‘ancient rite of purification’ (καθαρμὸς αρχαῖος) available to ‘those who err with regard to the telling of myths’:

ἔστιν δὲ τοῖς ἁμαρτάνουσι περὶ μυθολογίαν καθαρμὸς ἀρχαῖος, ὅν Ὅμηρος μὲν οὐκ ᾔσθετο. Στησίχορος δέ. τῶν γὰρ ὀμμάτων στερηθεὶς διὰ τὴν Ἑλένης κακηγορίαν οὐκ ἡγνόησεν ὥσπερ Ὅμηρος, ἀλλ’ ἅτε μουσικὸς ὤν ἔγνω τὴν αἰτίαν, καὶποιεῖ εὐθὺς—
οὐκ ἔστ’ ἔτυμος λόγος οὖτος,
οὐδ’ ἔβας ἐν νηυσὶν εὐσέλμοις,
οὐδ’ ἵκεο Πέργαμα Τροίας-
καὶ ποιήσας δὴ πᾶσαν τὴν καλουμένην Παλινῳδίαν παραχρῆμα ἀνέβλεψεν.
Now for such as offend in speaking of gods and heroes there is an ancient mode of purification, which was known to Stesichorus, though not to Homer. When Stesichorus lost the sight of his eyes because of his defamation of Helen, he was not, like Homer, at a loss to know why. As a true artist he understood the reason, and promptly wrote the lines:
False, false the tale.
Thou never didst sail in the well-decked ships
Nor come to the towers of Troy.
And after finishing the composition of his so-called palinode he straightway recovered his sight.
Although the possible form (or ‘forms’) of Stesichorus’ use of the “palinode” as a vehicle for retraction has been the subject of much scholarly debate, especially since the discovery of P.Oxy. 2506 (fr. 26, col. 1), Plato’s reference to it in the above passage has not been studied with regard to its role within the context of the dialogue itself. [30] The description of the palinode as a καθαρμὸς ἀρχαῖος is in itself significant because Plato has Socrates portray the poetic practices of Stesichorus and, by analogy, those of Socrates, in quasi-ritualistic terms. [31] In order to avert the wrath of a deity, religious practice necessitates the performance of an apotropaic ritual. Socrates’ reference to Stesichorus fuses the realm of poetry, the medium for μυθολογία (‘the telling of myths’), with that of ritual purification.
Stesichorus’ palinode then is not just a work of poetry; it is an act of religious significance. Such a depiction of Stesichorus’ palinode is important for the dialogue as a whole because Socrates’ own palinode is intended not only to protect Socrates from the possible retribution of Eros but also to initiate the young Phaedrus into philosophy. Socrates subsequently attributes to philosophy the religious power he earlier ascribes to poetry (exemplified by Stesichorus’ palinode). Consequently, he concludes that the soul of the philosopher alone is made perfect by complete initiation into the mysteries (249c7-8: τελέους ἀεὶ τελετὰς τελούμενος, τέλεος ὄντως μόνος γίγνεται). [32] Instead of Stesichorus, the poet described as μουσικός (243a6), Socrates the philosopher becomes the performer of “correct” ritual within the context of his dialogue with Phaedrus. Stesichorus’ phrase οὐκ ἔστ’ ἔτυμος λόγος οὗτος is not simply a retraction of views which are somehow misguided. Since Socrates appropriates the phrase for himself when he begins his own palinode at 244a3, he imparts to these words a ritual significance. This quotation from Stesichorus may be said to provide a “catch-phrase” for the rite of recantation in the palinode of Socrates.
Socrates’ ritual of recantation resembles that of Stesichorus not only by its adoption of the poet’s own persona [33] and words (at the beginning of the palinode to Eros) but also by its reference to the restoration of the sight of those guilty of ‘slander’ (cf. 243a6 and 243b5: κακηγορία). Socrates says that Stesichorus ‘immediately regained his sight after having completed his palinode’ (243b2-3). [34] In other words, Stesichorus’ sudden blindness prompted his composing the palinode to appease Helen. Socrates, however, boasts that he is wiser than Homer and Stesichorus and, consequently, he will offer his palinode before becoming the victim of possible divine retribution:

ἐγὼ οὖν σοφώτερος ἐκείνων γενήσομαι κατ’ αὐτό γε τοῦτο- πρὶν γάρ τι παθεῖν διὰ τὴν τοῦ Ἔρωτος κακηγορίαν πειράσομαι αὐτῷ ἀποδοῦναι τὴν παλινῳδίαν, γυμνῇ τῇ κεφαλῇ καὶ οὐχ ὥσπερ τότε ὑπ’ αἰσχύνης
Now it’s here that I shall show greater wisdom than these poets. I shall attempt to make my due palinode to Love before any harm comes to me for my defamation of him, and no longer veiling my head for shame, but uncovered.

Socrates’ unveiling his head at this moment is significant. Like Stesichorus, he performs a gesture; however, Socrates regains his sight before delivering his palinode to Eros, while Stesichorus must complete his palinode to Helen before he can see again. The palinode, which is an act of atonement in the case of Stesichorus, becomes an apotropaic gesture for Socrates. As a result, the latter can be said to surpass the former. Stesichorus, whose own style may be considered “Homeric,” transcends Homer and is therefore called μουσικός by Socrates (243a6). [35] In a similar vein, Socrates’ first speech resembles that of Lysias but now the message of his second speech (the palinode to Eros) will be superior to that of Lysias. Perhaps it can be said that the composer of a palinode not only recants but also surpasses his predecessor’s work on a given theme.

Although the explicit goal of Socrates’ own palinode is to rescind the views expressed in his former speech which in essence agreed with that of Lysias, an implicit connection between Socrates and another orator, namely, Isocrates, is achieved by Plato’s having Socrates quote Stesichorus’ palinode. Isocrates also refers to Stesichorus’ palinode when describing Helen’s ‘power’ (δύναμις) in his famous encomium:

éνεδείξατο δὲ καὶ Στησιχόρῳ τῷ ποιητῇ τὴν ἑαυτῆς δύναμιν· ὅτε γὰρ ἀρχόμενος τὴς ᾠδῆς ἔβλασφήμησέ τι περὶ αὐτῆς ἀνέστη τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν ἐστερημένος, ἐπειδὴ δὲ γνοὺς τὴν αἰτίαν τῆς συμφορᾶς τὴν καλουμένην παλινῳδίαν ἐποίησε, πάλιν αὐτόν εἰς τὴν αὐτὴν φύσιν κατέστησεν.
(Helen 10.64)

And she demonstrated her own power to the poet Stesichorus also; for when he disparaged her in some way at the beginning of his song, he stood up and was deprived of his sight. When he understood the cause of his misfortune, he composed the so-called ‘palinode’ and she restored him to his original state.

If one compares this passage to Socrates’ words at 243a5-b2, a verbal resemblance between the two texts is immediately apparent. Especially striking is the phrase τὴν καλουμένην παλινῳδίαν (‘the so-called palinode’) found in the two accounts of Stesichorus’ blinding. While Isocrates mentions the palinode in the context of his praise of Helen’s influence over poets such as Stesichorus and Homer, Socrates refers to the palinode as an example of Stesichorus’ superiority over Homer with respect to μουσική. Like Robert Howland, Christoph Eucken sees Socrates’ reference to Stesichorus’ palinode in the Phaedrus as part of Plato’s overall attack on the oratory of Isocrates. [36] Eucken writes: “Wie Platon Stesichoros gegen Homer so stellt er sich selbst gegen Isokrates.” [37] Unlike Socrates, Isocrates confirms the portrayal of Helen by the epic poets, since he later claims that some of the Homeridae regard Helen as having ‘commanded’ (προσέχαξε) Homer to compose the Iliad and credit her for the poem’s beauty and renown (10.65). Thus, Eucken sees a dichotomy between the following pairs: Homer/ Isocrates and Stesichorus/Plato (Socrates).
Such an interpretation, although oversimplified, is attractive because Isocrates is mentioned by name at the end of the dialogue. Phaedrus asks what message Socrates imparts to ‘the fair Isocrates’ (278e8: ’Ισοκράτη τὸν καλόν); Socrates responds with a backhanded compliment referring to Isocrates’ literary superiority over Lysias and his innate predisposition toward φιλοσοφία (279a3-bl). [38] Isocrates then can be considered as part of Plato’s intended audience in the Phaedrus. Although the relationship between the references to Stesichorus’ palinode by Isocrates and Plato is uncertain, one can confidently assert that Socrates is portrayed in the dialogue as the enemy of oratory and the advocate of philosophy, which, as practiced by Socrates upon the young Phaedrus, replaces the stories of Homer and Stesichorus with its own brand of μυθολογία.
Before concluding this brief study of the role of lyric poetry in the dialogue, I would like to focus upon certain other aspects of Socrates’ final speech which are worthy of mention. Socrates begins his “palinode” with the assertion that a lover ‘is mad’ (244a5: μαίνεται), and he compares this type of madness to divinely inspired prophecy. [39] Plato later depicts Socrates as a type of seer who has a special knowledge of what is beyond the heavens. Socrates is superior to any poet, present or future, because he alone can see ‘the region’ (τὸν τόπον) where true ‘being’ (οὐσία) resides (247c3-d1). Plato has Socrates present himself as the only poet who ‘will sing worthily’ (247c4: ὑμνήσει κατ’ ἀξίαν) on this subject. Socrates’ words at the beginning of his account of this region (ἔχει δὲ ὧδε) are those of an inspired poet beginning his ‘song’ (ὕμνος).
The theme of the inspiration of Socrates by external forces is stressed throughout the Phaedrus. At one point, he claims that, ‘because of his inspired state’ (263d 1-2: διὰ τὸν ένθουσιαστικόν), he cannot remember whether or not he defined ἔρως at the beginning of his last speech. As has been mentioned earlier, he attributes his inspiration to a variety of sources. Along with the Muses, the Nymphs, and other local deities (e.g. Pan at 263d6), the cicadas as ‘prophets’ of the Muses and ‘singers’ (ᾠδοί) inspire Socrates with oratorical skill (262d3-6). More importantly, we are told by Socrates in an elaborate myth supposedly known by anyone who is ‘a lover of the Muses’ (259b5: φιλόμουσον ἄνδρα) that the cicadas help mankind win the favor of the Muses (259b5-d7). The cicadas were once men who predated the Muses. When the Muses provided them with the gift of song, they found such pleasure in singing that they forgot to eat and drink and subsequently died. It is from these men that the race of cicadas was born. The Muses make it possible for the cicadas to sing constantly without having any need for sustenance. Upon their death, the cicadas report to the Muses concerning the honor which individual mortals pay to them individually (259c6: τίς τίνα αυτῶν τιμᾷ τῶν ἐνθάδε). Socrates says that Kalliope and Ourania are the Muses who have a reciprocal relationship with philosophers; philosophers honor the μουσική of this pair which is concerned with heaven and with the stories of gods and men (259d5-7). Surely Socrates regards himself as a devotee of this type of μουσική.
The relationship between mortals and the Muses seems to be one of symbiosis. Perhaps the prayer to Pan and the other local deities at the end of the Phaedrus can be understood as Socrates’ own display of honoring the external sources of his inspiration while obtaining their favor:

ὦ φίλε Πᾶν τε καὶ ἄλλοι ὅσοι τῆδε θεοί, δοίητέ μοι καλῷ γενέσθαι τἄνδοθεν · ἔξωθεν δὲ ὅσα ἔχω, τοῖς ἐντὸς εἶναί μοι φίλια. πλούσιον δὲ νομίζοιμι τὸν σοφόν· τὸ δὲ χρυσοῦ πλῆθος εἴη μοι ὅσον μήτε φέρειν μήτε ἄγειν δύναιτο ἄλλος ἤ ὁ σώφρων.
Dear Pan, and all ye other gods that dwell in this place, grant that I may become fair within, and that such outward things as I have may not war against the spirit within me. May I count him rich who is wise, and as for gold, may I possess so much of it as only a temperate man might bear and carry with him.

There appears to be a relationship between “the external” and “the internal” in the first and second parts of the prayer. Socrates asks ‘to become fair within’. Perhaps Socrates’ being in the presence of the beauty of Phaedrus, as well as that of the surroundings, will result in Socrates’ becoming beautiful in both his body (representing “the external”) and his soul (representing “the internal”). One is reminded of Socrates’ remarks at 256d-e when he says that the souls of lovers will develop the same plumage. His second request, a prayer for a “friendly” relationship between his external possessions and his internal ones, can be interpreted as an expression of Socrates’ acknowledgment of the importance of divine inspiration combined with his fear of its power to beguile the soul. Like the cicada, Socrates can be understood to have no need for material things such as ‘gold’ (χρυσός) which, like food and drink, are regarded by nonphilosophers as essential for life. [40] The wisdom of the philosopher is the greatest possible wealth. The blessings of Eros thus resemble the blessings Socrates requests from Pan and the local deities. [41] Μουσική has become the heightened appreciation of the interrelationship between the various sorts of divinely inspired madness: prophecy, poetic sensibility, and love. In addition, it refers to the best possible relationship one can have with the external source of inspiration, the Muses: a relationship based on φιλοσοφία. [42] Plato ends the dialogue with a Socrates who has been inspired again by his surroundings. His inspiration has enabled him to be a lyric poet, a prophet, and, more importantly with respect to the young Phaedrus, a lover.


[ back ] 1. See Sider 1989.423 for an extensive bibliography on the various interpretations of the ancient testimonia regarding the palinode(s) of Stesichorus. De Martino 1979.255-260 provides one of the only discussions of Socrates’ “imitation” of Stesichorus’ palinode. He argues (pp. 258-59) that although Stesichorus composed two palinodes, the structure of the Phaedrus requires Socrates to offer a single palinode becausc Socrates’ first speech should be considered in conjunction with the speech of the absent Lysias (read by Phaedrus). Some recent philosophical interpretations of the Phaedrus are Nussbaum 1986.200-233, Ferrari 1987, and Rossetti (ed.) 1992.
[ back ] 2. Socrates attributes Stesichorus’ understanding of the cause of his own blindness to his being μουσικός (Phaedrus 243a5-7). Although this adjective may designate a lyric poet, another of its connotations is clear in the immediate context. Socrates emphasizes Stesichorus’ relationship with the Muses. Plato portrays Socrates throughout his “palinode” to Eros as someone else who, although not a poet, has this special relationship with the Muses (cf. 248d3 where Socrates attributes the quality of being μουσικός, along with other characteristics, to the superior soul of the philosopher).
[ back ] 3. See Lewis 1985.197-222 for a discussion of the relationship between παιδεία (‘education’) and παιδεραστία (love of boys’) as exemplified in the Theognidean corpus.
[ back ] 4. Note that Socrates calls Lysias a ‘poet’ at 234e6.
[ back ] 5. English translations of passages from the Phaedrus are by R. Hack- forth in Hamilton and Cairns (eds.) 1961.476-525, with the permission of Cambridge University Press.
[ back ] 6. Cf. Socrates’ words at 238c9-dl: τῷ ὄντι γὰρ θεῖος ἔοικεν ὁ τόπος εἶναι. He provides a brief description of the locale at 230b2-c5. The dialogue ends with Socrates’ prayer to Pan and the other deities of this seemingly sacred place (279b8-c3). For the role of this prayer in the dialogue as a whole, sec Rosenmeyer 1962.34-44, Clay 1979.345-353, Griswold 1986.226-229, Gaiser 1989.105-140, and Motte in Rossetti (ed.) 1992.320-23. See also the insightful discussion of the importance of the dialogue’s setting by H. Görgemanns in Most, Petersmarn, and Ritter (eds.) 1993.122-147.
[ back ] 7. The word φιλόλογος, in the context of 236e5, probably means ‘a lover of speeches’, although it may also refer to Socrates’ fondness for discourse.
[ back ] 8. Cf. 242c8 for Socrates’ subsequent claim that he felt troubled and fearful while he had delivered his first speech: ἐμὲ γὰρ ἔθραξε μέν τι καὶ πάλαι λέγοντα τὸν λόγον, καί πως ἐδυσωπούμην…. Perhaps Socrates is reenacting here a performative gesture indicating blindness, a gesture which Stesichorus allegedly employed while delivering his palinode to Helen; cf. Sider 1989.430.
[ back ] 9. Note Socrates’ “epic” diction here, especially his use of the epithet λίγειαι (‘clear-voiced’) modifying the Muses.
[ back ] 10. For a discussion of the Greek views regarding nympholepsy, see Connor 1988.155-189. Note in particular Connor’s observation, applicable to the description of Socrates’ “possession” by the local Nymphs in the Phaedrus, that there is a “close link between the nympholept and a specific location” (p. 162). More importantly, Connor concludes from a wide variety of extant sources that “nympholepsy is not an illness or form of madness, but a state of heightened awareness and expression” (p. 164).
[ back ] 11. Cf. 238d5 for an early example of Socrates’ claim that Phaedrus is ‘responsible’ (αἴτιος) for his poetic outburst. Another reference to Phaedrus’ spell over Socrates occurs at 242el.
[ back ] 12. The dithyramb is mocked in the fifth century by Aristophanes (Pax 829). Plato has Hermogenes call the awkward sounding name σελαενονεοάεια, coined by Socrates, διθυραμβῶδες (Cratylus 409c3). My interpretation agrees with that of Ferrari 1987.100.
[ back ] 13. Cf. P. Vicaire 1960.199 n.I: “Dans le Phèdre l’intention satirique est moins nette: une inspiration authentique va percer dans le discours de Socrate.”
[ back ] 14. Cf. De Vries 1969.89 for such an interpretation.
[ back ] 15. Socrates describes the youth at 237b2-3: Ἧν οὕτω δὴ παῖς, μᾶλλον δὲ μειρακίσκος, μάλα καλός· τούτῳ δὲ ῆσαν ἐρασταὶ πάνυ πολλοί.
[ back ] 16. This proverb ends in a hexametric cadence (παῖδα φιλοῦσιν ἐρασταί).
[ back ] 17. Some (e.g. De Vries 1969.102, who accepts the interpretation found in Kiihner-Gerth 1955[1].650) understand ἐκεῖνο to refer here to Socrates’ own earlier forebodings al 238dl-3. This seems an overly complicated reading; surely one can understand τοῦτ’ ἐκεῖνο, ὠ Φαῖδρε simply to mean that Socrates has just completed the type of speech that Phaedrus begged him to recite.
[ back ] 18. Note Socrates’ emphasis on oral communication (φθέγγομαι at 238d3 and 241el). Plato might be setting the stage for Socrates’ criticism of the written word later in the dialogue (cf. 275d4 and following). In addition, the fact that Socrates considers his words to be poetic highlights his depiction as someone who is ‘possessed’; as Connor 1988.158 n.ll points out, “possessed persons in antiquity were often said to express themselves through verse.”
[ back ] 19. Cf. Socrates’ reference to a ‘myth’ (μυθολόγημα), that of Boreas’ rape of Oreithuia, at the beginning of the dialogue (229c5). Ferrari 1987.116 comments on Socrates’ use of myth in general in the dialogue; he cannot espouse myth wholeheartedly, but only as a necessary resource from which he must maintain a careful distance.”
[ back ] 20. Plato’s presentation of the setting here seems to have erotic overtones. See Nussbaum 1986.472 n.20 for bibliography on the Greek superstition linking summer heat with intense sexual desire.
[ back ] 21. In his response to Phaedrus’ request, Socrates manages to make Phaedrus’ enthusiasm for discourse responsible for necessitating his own forthcoming speech (242b4-5).
[ back ] 22. Cf. 244a6-c5 (note especially his etymological word play with μανική and μαντική). See Dodds 1951.64-75 for a discussion of “prophetic madness.”
[ back ] 23. Whether or not Socrates’ divinatory powers are a basis for his claims to certain knowledge has been the subject of intense scholarly debate. Vlastos 1991 and Brickhouse and Smith 1994 provide opposing viewpoints on precisely this problem.
[ back ] 24. See PMG 310 for additional references to this fragment of Ibycus. Socrates’ introduction to the quotation (242c9: μή τι παρὰ θεοῖς) paraphrases Ibycus’ words as quoted by Plutarch Qu. Conv. 9.15.2: δέδοικα μή τι πὰρ θεοῖς / ἀμβλακὼν….
[ back ] 25. Cf. note 10 above.
[ back ] 26. See De Vries 1969.107 for a discussion of Plato’s “pathetic effect” of anaphora here (δεινόν…δεινόν) and elsewhere in his dialogues. Charles Segal has called my attention to the “richly ambiguous” meaning of δεινός here, especially in light of Socrates’ subsequent “palinode” in his second speech. Although Hackforth 1952.51 translates λόγον as ‘theory’ at 242d4, I agree with De Vries 1969.107 that it means ‘speech’, since the context makes it clear that Socrates is referring to both Lysias’ speech (delivered by Phaedrus) and his own speech which he had been compelled (ἠνάγκασας) by Phaedrus to provide.
[ back ] 27. Socrates’ description of his being Phaedrus’ mouthpiece is indeed graphic; he characterizes Phaedrus’ λόγος (‘speech’) with the following relative clause (242dll-el): ὅς διὰ ἐμοῦ τοῦ στόματος καταφαρμακευθέντος ὑπὸ σοῦ ἐλέχθη.
[ back ] 28. The dual nominative τὼ λόγω (242e3) refers to the speeches presented by the two interlocutors. It is interesting to note that both Phaedrus and Socrates offer speeches which, in some sense, are not their own. Phaedrus delivers Lysias’ speech while Socrates himself now maintains that he delivered Phaedrus’ speech. Perhaps Socrates is suggesting that Lysias bewitched Phaedrus who, in turn, bewitched Socrates.
[ back ] 29. Socrates’ diction throughout the Phaedrus is permeated by his metaphorical use of “pharmaceutical” and “purificatory” terminology (for example, 242el: καταφαρμακευθέντος; cf. 229c8: Φαρμακεία, mentioned in Socrates’ reference to the ‘myth’ [229c5: μυθολόγημα] dealing with the rape of Oreithuia by Boreas; in addition to 243a3 and a4 [καθήρασθαι, καθαρμός], cf. 243d5: ἀποκλύσασθαι [‘to wash away’]). See Derrida 1972.69-198 for his discussion of “la pharmacie de Platon.”
[ back ] 30. The controversy surrounding Stesichorus’ palinode stems from the supposed incompatibility between references to a single palinode, found in the Phaedrus and in Isocrates’ Helen 10.64, and those describing two separate palinodes (e.g., P.Oxy. 2506, fr. 26, col. 1 = PMGF I 193 Davies). See Cingano 1982.17-33 for a study of some neglected testimonia which suggest that Stesichorus composed two palinodes.
[ back ] 31. Cf. Sider 1989.426 n.12 for bibliography on “verbal καθαρμός.”
[ back ] 32. Note that one finds the terms καθαρμός and τελετή mentioned together at 244e2 (the description of the “second” type of madness which, by prophesying ‘rites of purification and initiation’, finds deliverance from afflictions brought about by the former transgressions of one’s ancestors).
[ back ] 33. Socrates prefaces his palinode with the comment that the first speech (i.e., the speech he delivered against Eros) was that of Phaedrus, whereas the second speech which he is about to deliver is that of Stesichorus of Himera, the son of Euphemus (243e9-244a3: οὑτωσὶ τοίνυν, ὦ παῖ καλέ, ἐννόησον, ὡς ὁ μέν πρότερος ἦν λόγος Φαίδρου τοῦ Πυθοκλέους, Μυρρινουσίου ἀνδρός · ὅν δὲ μέλλω λέγειν, Στησιχόρου τοῦ Εὐφήμου Ἱμεραίου).
[ back ] 34. I translate in accordance with the interpretation offered by Sider 1989.426-430. He argues that Stesichorus’ blinding “is essentially to be understood as an act of theater in which Stesichorus, either alone or, more likely, in company with a body of singer-dancers, himself danced and sung as if unable to see” (p. 430). Sider, combining the references to Stesichorus’ palinode in the Phaedrus and in Isocrates’ Helen, hypothesizes that Stesichorus acted out his having been struck blind by Helen; he ‘stood up’ (Isocrates’ Helen 10,64: ἀνέστη) in the midst of his song, acted out his blindness which, he realized, was caused by having blasphemed in some way against Helen soon after he had begun to sing, recanted in the ‘so-called palinode’ and thereafter immediately regained his vision.
[ back ] 35. Perhaps one can claim that just as Stesichorus “outdoes” Homer, Socrates, who views his first speech as dithyrambic and epic, sees himself as surpassing the lyric poet Stesichorus, the epic poet Homer and, of course, the ‘maker’ (ποιητής; cf. 234e6) of speeches, Lysias.
[ back ] 36. Cf. R. L. Howland 1937.154 and Eucken 1983.115-120.
[ back ] 37. Eucken 1983.116.
[ back ] 38. See De Vries 1969.264 for the ambiguity of the word φιλοσοφία in this context. Is Socrates ironically referring to Isocrates’ notion of ‘philosophy’? Perhaps one is meant to conclude that, just as Isocrates can picture himself as a philosopher, Socrates can depict himself as a poet like Stesichorus.
[ back ] 39. See note 24 above.
[ back ] 40. I understand both ὁ σοφός and ὁ σώφρων as designations for a philosopher.
[ back ] 41. Cf. Clay 1979.348: “In the Phaedrus, Eros and Pan are connected.”
[ back ] 42. Cf. 259d3-8.