Marian Demos, Lyric Quotation in Plato: Chapter 5. Conclusion


Chapter 5. Conclusion

My goal in this study has been to consider three famous lyric quotations in their respective contexts within the works of Plato. The interpretation of the Simonides poem in the Protagoras, I argued in chapter two, is an integral part of the dialogue between Socrates and his interlocutor, the sophist Protagoras. Although Socrates’ exegesis has been regarded by many as a lengthy digression which adds nothing to the dialogue as a whole, a careful look at the contents and purpose of his remarks suggests the contrary. Plato has Socrates provide a fundamentally sound interpretation of the meaning of Simonides’ words, even though Protagoras is portrayed as having introduced the discussion of the poem’s meaning in such a way that it would be difficult to defend the lyric poet Simonides against the sophist’s charge of self-contradiction. Socrates’ remarks following his own ‘‘philosophical” approach to the poem are significant. Discussion regarding the interpretation of poetry is deemed unbefitting to educated men (347b8 ff.).
The third chapter focused upon Callicles’ quotation of Pindar in the Gorgias. A purposeful misquotation of Pindar’s words placed in the mouth of Callicles by Plato is not altogether implausible in light of the quotation’s context. The reading of the manuscripts, βιαιῶν τὸ δικαιότατον, should not necessarily be emended in favor of the correct Pindaric text, δικαιῶν τὸ βιαιότατον. A misquotation on the part of Callicles not only suits the immediate context of the Pindaric reference but also adds vividness to the characterization of Callicles.
Socrates’ quotation of Stesichorus’ palinode in the Phaedrus was discussed in the fourth chapter. Like Stesichorus, Socrates composes his own palinode in order to avert potential divine retribution. Plato’s portrayal of Socrates as μουσικός (‘one who has a true relationship with the Muses’) is significant in light of Socrates’ comments to the young Phaedrus regarding the nature of love and poetry, which are described as divinely inspired types of μανία (‘madness’). The description of the poet in the Ion might also be applicable to the depiction of Socrates in the Phaedrus:

κοῦφον γὰρ χρῆμα ποιητής ἐστιν καὶ πτηνὸν καὶ ἱερόν, καὶ οὐ πρότερον οἷός τε ποιεῖν πρὶν ἄν ἔνθεός τε γένηται καὶ ἔκφρων καὶ ὁ νοῦς μηκέτι ἐν αὐτῷ ἐνῇ.
(Ion 534b3-6)
For a poet is a light, winged and holy thing, and he is not able to compose until he is inspired and beside himself, and his mind is no longer within him.

Plato portrays Socrates as more than a philosopher; indeed, his poetical sensibility places him in the ranks of the lyric poets whom he quotes.