“Oratory is the art of enchanting the soul, and therefore he who would be an orator has to learn the differences of human souls—they are so many and of such a nature, and from them come the differences between man and man.”
— Socrates in Plato, Phaedrus

I have abandoned my questions for these texts, as I do not see them as directly applicable to my interests. In total honesty, I have included them only because Plato is such a canonical figure. This allows me to experience and address his work, but it also challenges me to see it in a useful context. I am not certain that I have been entirely successful, but at the very least I can see it as an example of generative creativity. Perhaps.

Phaedrus

This text does field some interesting ideas that might find a home within my course of study. The extended discussion of love and spirituality in the text–which is at least entertaining and perhaps also quite profound–does not particularly orient to my interests, but the discussion of rhetoric and its evolution are, on the other hand, directly relevant. For instance, when Socrates asks:

“Is not rhetoric, taken generally, a universal art of enchanting the mind by arguments; which is practised not only in courts and public assemblies, but in private houses also, having to do with all matters, great as well as small, good and bad alike, and is in all equally right, and equally to be esteemed—that is what you have heard?” (Phaedrus Kindle locs. 1158-1160).

Socrates also asserts the importance of wide-ranging skill on the part of the orator:

“The perfection which is required of the finished orator is, or rather must be, like the perfection of anything else; partly given by nature, but may also be assisted by art. If you have the natural power and add to it knowledge and practice, you will be a distinguished speaker; if you fall short in either of these, you will be to that extent defective” (Phaedrus Kindle locs. 1304-1307).

Later, he asserts the importance of rhetoric being practiced in a moral, responsible fashion–as “medicine” to the “soul”:

“Why, because medicine has to define the nature of the body and rhetoric of the soul—if we would proceed, not empirically but scientifically, in the one case to impart health and strength by giving medicine and food, in the other to implant the conviction or virtue which you desire, by the right application of words and training” (Phaedrus Kindle locs. 1313-1316).

All in all, the text offers an engaging discussion of rhetoric, responsibility, and love. Most of this lies outside my interests, but it is certainly worthy enough to have examined.  Also notable, of course, is Plato’s criticism (in the voice of ancient Egyptian god, Thamus, to Theuth, who had invented the craft of writing) of the written word:

“And in this instance, you who are the father of letters, from a paternal love of your own children have been led to attribute to them a quality which they cannot have; for this discovery of yours will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written characters and not remember of themselves.” (Phaedrus Kindle locs 1397-1400).

Of course, the instruction to “know thyself” is also of note:

“I must first know myself, as the Delphian inscription says; to be curious about that which is not my concern, while I am still in ignorance of my own self, would be ridiculous.”
— Socrates in Plato, Phaedrus

And finally, I note that I found Plato’s closing speech quite eloquent and lovely:

“Beloved Pan, and all ye other gods who haunt this place, give me beauty in the inward soul; and may the outward and inward man be at one.”
— Socrates in Plato, Phaedrus

Timaeus

I really don’t quite know what to do with this text. It seems entirely concerned with early attempts at making sense of the world and ordering society. It is proto-science mingled with theology, all entangled with myth. I cannot see direct application for the ancient Greek beliefs about the composition of matter, the birth of the universe, or other such concepts. I could perhaps fit this better into my other list–as an example of mythopoeia as an epistemic method–but that may be a bit of a stretch, as well.

The text offers some rather shaky logical justifications for itself, such as:

“To know or tell the origin of the other divinities is beyond us, and we must accept the traditions of the men of old time who affirm themselves to be the offspring of the gods—that is what they say—and they must surely have known their own ancestors. How can we doubt the word of the children of the gods?”
— Timaeus in Plato, Timaeus

The volume closes, appropriately:

“We may now say that our discourse about the nature of the universe has an end. The world has received animals, mortal and immortal, and is fulfilled with them, and has become a visible animal containing the visible—the sensible God who is the image of the intellectual, the greatest, best, fairest, most perfect—the one only-begotten heaven.”
— Timaeus in Plato, Timaeus

Citation

Plato. Phaedrus. 370 BCE. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. 2012. Kindle edition.

Plato. Timaeus. 360 BCE. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. 2012. Kindle edition.

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