Phaedrus Paperback – Dec 27 2005
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About the Author
Plato (c.427-347 BC) stands with Socrates and Aristotle as one of the shapers of the whole intellectual tradition of the West. He founded the Academy in Athens, the first permanent institution devoted to philosophical research and teaching, and theprototype of all Western universities. Plato wrote over twenty philosophical dialogues, appearing in none himself. (Most have Socrates as chief speaker.)
Christopher Rowe is a Professor of Greek in the University of Durham, and from 1999-2004 held a Leverhulme Personal Research Professorship. His books include Plato, The Cambridge History of Grek and Roman Thought, and New Perspectives on Plato, Modern and Ancient. He has also translated, and/or written commentaries on Plato's Phaedro, Statesman, and Symposium. His present project is a comprehensive treatment of Plato's strategies as a writer of philosophy.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
1. Alexander Nehamas & Paul Woodruff (Hackett Pub Co, 1995).
2. Stephen Scully (Focus Pub/R.Pullins Co , 2003).
3. James Nichols (Cornell University Press, 1998).
I have given all 3 editions 5 stars for their own unique perspectives.
Throughout the centuries, scholars have debated on what exactly is the central theme of Phaedrus: is it a dialogue about rhetoric? Or is it about Love? Or perhaps it is about both? If so, how are we supposed to understand the connection between Rhetoric and Love? The book itself is divided into 2 parts: the first part is about Love and the second is about Rhetoric, and because of this division in the book that it generated a lively discussion about Rhetoric versus Love.
The 3 editions I review here provided 3 unique perspectives.
Nichols argues strongly that Phaedrus is definitely about Rhetoric, in fact he links Phaedrus to Gorgias. His argument is that in Gorgias, Plato discusses Rhetoric in relations to justice, and in Phaedrus, he discusses Rhetoric in relations to Love. Love, therefore is a subordinate subject to Rhetoric.
Similarly, Nehamas also argues that Phaedrus is about Rhetoric albeit not as strongly as Nichols. It is a "sustained discussion of Rhetoric" in which Plato used Eros as examples. (xxxviii)
Scully's interpretation is slightly different; this is where I find my own position to be closer to. His argument is that Love and Rhetoric are equal parts of Plato's Phaedrus. This unity is possible because "both [love and rhetoric] requires the philosopher at the helm. As a lover, the philosopher guides the soul of the beloved, as a rhetorician, he guides the soul of his partner in conversation." (88)
My own position is that: it is about both with a slight emphasis on Love, and not on rhetoric. If Love is defined as that madness and uncontrollable urge to search for the ultimate truth and beauty, then, rhetoric is the tool to achieve that. Rhetoric, for Socrates, is understood as a tool that will guide the soul in search for the beautiful. What he is saying here is: it's all about Love, but you are not getting any Love, if it is without Rhetoric.
Overall, I like Scully's edition the best for its completeness: in addition to the translation, it has a wealth of valuable information in the Appendix, including copies of poems by Sappho, Anacreon, Ibycus, etc; plus interpretive text and sample photos of "Phallus Bird". Highly recommended.
Get another translation instead. Might I suggest the one published by Hackett? Or perhaps Cornell University Press? Both of those translations take care to make the dialogue as lively annd exciting as it rightfully should be.
_The first part of the dialogue deals with three speeches on the topic of love. This is used only as an example and is not the primary theme (though it is an extremely thorough and compelling examination of the subject.) The first speech (by Lysias) is clearly in error- it is badly composed, badly reasoned, and supports what is clearly the wrong conclusion. The second speech (by Socrates), while an impeccable model of correct rhetoric, and reaching the correct conclusion is also essentially flawed- for it makes no appeal to the deepest fundamental causes of things. Simply put, it lacks soul. The third argument (attributed to Stesichorus) however, delves deeply into the soul. In fact, the core of the argument is centered around the proof of the existence and nature of the soul. That is the consistency here- unless you are Philosopher enough to have looked deeply within your own soul, to have made contact (recollection) with ultimate Reality (Justice, Wisdom, Beauty, Temperance, etc.) then your arguments are just empty words- even if you are accidentally on the correct side.
_The second part of the dialogue concentrates on showing how true rhetoric is more than "empty rhetoric" (i.e. just clever arguments and tricks used to sway the masses.) True rhetoric is shown to literally be the art of influencing the soul through words. It also reads as the perfect description, and damnation, of modern politics and the legal system. No wonder Socrates was condemned to later take poison- he actually BELIEVED in Justice, Truth, and the Good. As a Philosopher he could not compromise on such things for he knew the profound damage and that it would do to his soul and to his "wings."
I also recommend their companion translation of Gorgias.
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