CriticaLink | Plato: Phaedrus | Guide to Sections 238 D - 243 E

Socrates: Then be quiet and listen. There's something really divine about this place. . .

After establishing his working definition of eros as a hedonistic drive in competition with the reason and self-restraint of sophrosyne, he delivers a speech outlining the harmful effects of a boy's liaison with a man who is passionately in love with him. He develops the argument suggested by Phaedrus--that the lover is overcome with an insane love-sickness that causes him to undermine the boy's physical health, finances, and the well-being of his soul. The speech concludes with the lover finally returning to his senses-- and dropping the boy.

When Socrates stops without listing the advantages of association with the non-lover, Phaedrus urges him to continue, but Socrates claims to be afraid of what might happen if he remains under the influence of the deities who are inspiring him; he believes that he has been speaking in dithyrambs, a metrical form used in songs honoring the god of wine and ecstasy Dionysus, and has moved at the end of his speech into hexameters, the meter of Greek epics such as Homer's Illiad.

As he is about to leave, Socrates receives a sign from his daimonion, a kind of guardian spirit that warns him when he is about to make a bad choice, and he stops and explains to Phaedrus that both Lysias's speech and his own have amounted to impiety. In characterizing love as a destructive force, they have insulted the god Eros. Socrates proposes a penance for himself: to make a speech that "undoes" the impiety of his earlier statements.

The literary form for "taking back" an earlier statement has come into the rhetorical tradition in the genre of the palinode (from the Greek word Socrates uses here) and in the figure of metanoia (from the Greek word for "conversion").

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