CriticaLink | Plato: Phaedrus | Guide to Sections 234 D - 237 A

Socrates: It's a miracle, my friend. I'm in ecstasy.

Socrates claims to have been swept up in Phaedrus's enthusiasm for Lysias's speech. Even this sarcastic praise of Lysias's skill reinforces the theme of the seductive--and potentially dangerous--power of language.

Socrates's disagreement with Phaedrus on the merits of the speech introduces the question of what criteria we should use to judge a rhetorical performance. Socrates distinguishes between the formal qualities of a speech--the style, diction, and arrangement of the material--and its substance and appropriateness for the occasion. The separation of form and function is fundamental to a number of critical approaches, some of which are primarily concerned with the language and structures of the text itself, while others focus on the text's social and historical context and the impact of its reception. The study of rhetoric in the ancient world (and in ours) accommodates both of these approaches.

After suggesting that other writers, among them the poets Anacreon and Sappho, have produced better work on the theme that Lysias has chosen, Socrates pretends to feel mysteriously inspired to make a speech himself. In a comic presentation of the concept of anamnesis, Socrates says that he cannot have conceived the ideas that are streaming into his mind, but that he is receiving them from a source that he cannot recall. Phaedrus encourages him to perform, and offers him as a starting point the argument that the lover is more emotionally unstable than the non-lover.

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