Marian Demos, Lyric Quotation in Plato: Foreword


Gregory Nagy, General Editor
Building on the foundations of scholarship within the disciplines of philology, philosophy, history, and archeology, this series spans the continuum of Greek traditions extending from the second millennium B.C.E. to the present, not just the Archaic and Classical periods. The aim is to enhance perspectives by applying various disciplines to problems that have in the past been treated as the exclusive concern of a single given discipline. Besides the crossing-over of the other disciplines, as in the case of historical and literary studies, the series encourages the application of such newer ones as linguistics, sociology, anthropology, and comparative literature. It also encourages encounters with current trends in methodology, especially in the realm of literary theory.
Lyric Quotation in Plato, by Marian Demos, is a study of Plato’s command of Greek literary traditions, with specific reference to lyric poetry in its performative as well as compositional dimensions. As test cases, Demos has selected three celebrated lyric “quotations” within the respective contexts of three celebrated Platonic works: the Protagoras, the Gorgias, and the Phaedrus.
The first chapter introduces us to the study. The second centers on the problem of interpreting correctly a lyric poem by Simonides as “quoted” in the Protagoras. It is argued that Plato has Socrates provide a fundamentally sound approach to understanding the intended meaning of Simonides’ words. By contrast, Protagoras is portrayed as having introduced the discussion of the poem’s meaning in such a way as to fit in his own sophistic agenda, that is, to make the lyric poet Simonides most vulnerable to the charge of self-contradiction. The third chapter contends that Plato has Callicles “misquote” Pindar in the Gorgias in order to animate the character of Callicles—and to suit the immediate context of the Pindaric reference. The fourth chapter highlights Socrates’ “quotation,” in the Phaedrus, of Stesichorus’ notorious song of recantation, the Palinode to Helen. Like Stesichorus, Socrates composes an ad hoc palinode. This time, the recantation is not a song about Helen but a speech about Eros. Like the lyric poet, the philosopher seeks to avert potential divine retribution.
Socrates’ comments to the young Phaedrus regarding love and poetry as types of divine inspiration reflect his own poetic “inspiration” in the dialogue. By extension, Plato reflects his own poetic education through his skill in making famous lyric songs come back to life. Such is the power of lyric “quotation.”