CriticaLink | Plato: Phaedrus | Guide to Sections 244 A - 245 C

Socrates: You'll have to understand, beautiful boy, that the previous speech was by Phaedrus. . .

Socrates's retraction of his earlier speech begins by reversing the negative characterization of the lover's "insanity" to claim that "the greatest of blessings come to us through madness". After all, he argues, the oracles and prophets in sacred sites such as Delphi and Dodona, as well as the legendary Sibyl were seized by madness when they deliver their helpful prophesies. With this argument, Socrates continues to build the theme of knowledge as coming through human beings from a divine source. He supports his position with another etymology, linking the word mania with the word for prophesy, mantike.

Socrates recognizes two other forms of beneficial "insanity": the madness that overcomes persons who are destined to suffer, assuaging their pain and allowing them to make amends with the gods, and the madness of inspiration by the Muse that enables poets to compose valuable works. The details of this last kind of madness are important for literary critics to note--the kind of "inspired" poetry Plato seems to be endorsing here is based on the deeds of heroes and aimed at educating its public. This position on didactic literature is in keeping with Plato's arguments in Book X of the Republic.

Following the advice he gave his imaginary audience in his first speech, Socrates outlines the philosophical task of his second speech. Socrates wishes to advance an argument about the value of love that will convince the truly wise listener (the one who, as a lover of knowledge, is philosophically oriented) and not simply people whose intelligence is superficial and who are impressed with meres appearance of sound argumentation (like Lysias and his listeners, Socrates implies). To do so, he must explain the nature of the soul (psyche in Greek). In more contemporary terms, he must develop a psychology.

go to next page