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Hadley argues that Plato’s Theages counters the charges of Aristophanes’ Clouds that Socrates is impious and corrupts the young. Hadley pursues the character of Plato’s response by exploring the relation between Socrates’ wisdom and his invocation of the daimonion. Hadley shows, more specifically, that one’s interpretation of the daimonion will bear decisively on how one understands the putatively philanthropic character of Socrates’ activity.
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For example, Paul Friedlander, Plato (trans. Hans Meyerhoff, Princeton University Press, 1958–70), 44 (with note 22); Leo Strauss, Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), 46–47.
Plato’s Laches shares some similarities with the Theages. But there, the question of whether a specific art should comprise part of a young man’s education is the guiding question and this then leads to a consideration of courage. In other words, the issue of Socrates as educator does not directly arise there (until the very end of the dialogue), nor does Socrates directly question the youths (even though they know of him: 181a).
This term occurs elsewhere in Plato; we note that it is perhaps distinct from techne, episteme, or sophos (all of which occur in Theages). Benardete, Plato’s Symposium (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001) translates it as “science” at Symposium 211a; Nichols, Jr., in Thomas Pangle, The Roots of Political Philosophy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987), translates it as “study” in Laches 182b (however compare Pangle, Roots, 253 note 24); Lord as “science” in Alcibiades I (see 126a in Pangle, Roots). Leake translates it as “things that can be learned” ( Lovers 134d in Pangle, Roots). I am partial to this latter translation to distinguish it from other terms of knowing. Given our concern with the type of knowledge or wisdom that Socrates possesses, as well as how it relates to the story of the daimonion, it is worth noting that Socrates presents erotic matters as learnable and not simply (as the account of the daimonion throughout Plato suggests) as divinely granted or inherited. Whatever the source of Socrates’ expertise in erotic matters, he has certainly honed it while seeking to understand it.
We note that this is precisely the error Socrates elsewhere attributes to the craftsmen ( Apology 22c9–e1).
Contrast Michael Davis and Gwenda-lin Kaur Grewal, “The Daimonic Soul: On Plato’s Theages” in Socratic Philosophy and Its Others, ed. Christopher Dustin and Denise Schaeffer (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013), 44, who argue that “[t]he underlying theme of the Theages is the nature of the sunousia formed by a teacher and a student.” Sunousia here translates as “being together” or “intercourse.” It is a term used throughout Theages and as Davis and Grewal correctly argue, it links education and eros, including, as we will see, the nature of the student himself. However, in my view, this formulation is too broad because it abstracts from the action of the dialogue, driven by Demodocus (compare Christopher Bruell, On The Socratic Education: An Introduction to the Shorter Platonic Dialogues (Rowman and Littlefield Publishers Inc., 1999), 108–109) and thus negates the pious and political concerns necessarily contained in one’s view of corruption.
Bruell, Socratic Education, 112.
Compare Bruell, Socratic Education, 106.
This exact quotation, again attributed to Euripides, occurs in the Republic (568b1–2) during the investigation of the tyrannical soul and tyranny.
If we consider that the poets generally teach about love and war, we may note that what the tyrant could learn from the poet is the desires of men, something not simply reducible to an art, as Socrates speaks here of an art of rule. Therefore some understanding of man’s eros would be the prerequisite for the transition from tyrannical rule, as Theages crudely but possibly accurately characterizes it as rule by force, to political rule which requires some willingness on behalf of those being ruled. This willingness is generally achieved through an appeal to the common good; that all those in the polity will benefit more or less from the arrangement the ruler proposes. This is indeed so much the case that even most tyrants of any perception would understand it to be to their advantage to at least appeal to this common good initially, thereby reducing possible resistance to their rule.
Leo Strauss, Socrates and Aristophanes (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1966), 41.
Consider Alfarabi’s account of the Theages in his “The Philosophy of Plato, Its Parts, The Rank Order of Its Parts, From The Beginning To The End,” in Philosophy of Plato and Aristotle (trans. Mushin Mahdi, Cornell University Press, 2001; originally published by Glencoe Free Press, 1969), 59–60. At first blush, Alfarabi’s account seems to have little basis in the actual dialogue. I do not fully comprehend Alfarabi’s interpretation of the dialogue; however, I believe that once we notice Socrates’ challenges to what Theages believes wisdom is as well as the possible wisdom of the political men, sages, and poets, the themes Alfarabi brings out in his cryptic summary do in fact illuminate the dialogue.
We should recall that the dialogue takes place in the portico of “Zeus the Liberator” (121a7–8). And this reminds us of the topics of the dialogue, education, and wisdom, as well as one possible source of wisdom, the gods.
Thucydides’ account ends in 411, but Xenophon’s continues and ends in 404 or 403. The Theages takes place in 409.
Consider Davis and Grewal, “The Daimonic Soul,” 43.
This sequence can be established based on narrative clues and the physical location mentioned within each dialogue.
This is not to be confused with the order in which Plato wrote the dialogues, that is, with the attempt to discern and thus impart the designation of “early,” “middle,” and “late.” This attempt presumes a change in Plato’s thought, rendering certain dialogues of less importance than others. By now, this attempt has come under attack since its Plato’s Socrates whom we are witnessing, and more importantly, because one must make the assumption of perfect knowledge of what Plato could and could not have written to assume that one thought is less developed than another. See Thomas Pangle, “Editor’s Introduction” (in Roots), for one treatment of this issue.
Compare Bruell, Socratic Education, 63–64 for important observations on the relationship between Laches, Euthydemus, and Theages, along with Alcibiades I and Theaetetus.
This is not to deny that Aristeides’ attraction to Socrates is relevant to his progress. It is though, more broadly, the nature of the young man that determines their progress, since simple attraction to Socrates is not enough.
Bruell, Socratic Education, 106.
Contrast William S. Cobb, “Plato’s Theages,” Ancient Philosophy 12 (1992): 267–284, who wants to explain away the mystical or mysterious aspects of the daimonion, albeit with a view to authenticating the content of Plato’s Theages and thus its status as genuine Plato. And while noting the parallel between the passage on erotic expertise here with Symposium (and others), Cobb does not connect eros to the presentation of the daimonion, thereby misreading the Aristeides story (see especially 281–284).
This is a reminder that Plato set Theages during war, as did Aristophanes with his Clouds.
Alcibiades seems to share a similarity with Aristeides: by the account Plato has him give in the Symposium, he is able to be benefited only while he is with Socrates. But unlike Aristeides, Alcibiades left Socrates not by chance, that is, a military expedition, but because he was “incapable of contradicting him or of saying that what he commands must not be done” ( Symposium 216b3–5). Thus, having had this experience and unable to resist the lure of politics, he fled Socrates’ company. His speech in the Symposium reveals that, once apart from Socrates, he was susceptible to the flattery of the many—Alcibiades was overly preoccupied with honor (compare Thucydides 6.15.2 on Alcibiades’ first two reasons for his speech). He was persuaded by the truth of Socrates’ speeches, but would flee him to avoid the shame he experienced at not acting in accordance with their agreements ( Symposium 216a2–c4). But this means he was not genuinely persuaded or did not truly understand the ground of Socrates’ critiques and therefore could not fail to act in a manner that revealed his true concerns.
Noteworthy in his account of his political activity also is the fact that Socrates discusses the injustice of the Athenians both in the case of the ten generals and when he was summoned by the Thirty Tyrants. He drops from this discussion during his trial any further connection between the daimonion and his avoidance of politics ( Apology 31c–32e1).
The word never appears in Socrates’ most obvious discussion of his activity: his speeches in the Apology. This needs to be tempered of course by the mentions of the daimonion in the aforementioned dialogue: but again, there we see that philosophy as a way of life is contrasted with political activity, an activity characterized, to speak broadly, by both ignorance and a concern with things besides wisdom (36b4–9).
Strauss, Socrates and Aristophanes, 33.
However, as Bruell, Socratic Education, observes (110–111), the question of Demodocus’ satisfaction with Socrates as the solution is left as a question by Plato, since we do not see the interaction between father and son (and thus cannot as clearly compare it to that of Pheidippides and Strepsiades in Aristophanes’ Clouds).
Contrast Xenophon, Memorabilia I.1.3–4.
Compare Thomas Pangle, Political Philosophy and the God of Abraham (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003), 1–3.
I leave aside the Symposium here since there we hear an account of Socrates’ education on eros and the demonic, not a discussion of his experience of it.
Compare Bruell, Socratic Education, 151–153.
- Socrates’ Motives and Human Wisdom in Plato’s Theages
Travis S. Hadley
- Chapter 10