The Erotikos in the Phaedros.
2. The Erotikos in Plato's Phaedros
(pp. 230 E —234 C).—Plato makes Phaedros read to Sokrates a speech of Lysias in which the claims of the nonlover are urged as against those of the lover. Even to ask whether this speech is or is not an actual work of Lysias might seem at first sight to argue a want of sympathy with the broad literary characteristics of the dialogues. This speech of Lysias, it might be assumed, is as much Plato's own creation as the funeral speech by Aspasia which Sokrates repeats in the Menexenos,
—or as the discourses put into the mouths of the sophists in the Protagoras,
— or as those delivered by Aspasia, Agathon, Aristophanes and others in the Symposium.
The gravity of the imitation is, of course, perfect; but only a matter-of-fact reader could be misled by it.
This is probably the light in which the question would appear at first to most readers of Plato. But a nearer examination of the Phaedros
brings out two points which seem to distinguish this case in an important way from cases apparently analogous.
1. Preparation for a verbally exact recital.
The first point is the elaborate dramatic preparation made for such a recital of the speech as shall be verbally exact.
Phaedros is asked to repeat it from memory—makes excuses—is pressed; and presently it turns out that he has the book with him. Now if the speech was merely Plato's imitation of Lysias, surely this preface would be somewhat heavy —inartistic, indeed, as forcing attention too strongly upon the illusion. It is perfectly fitting, on the other hand, as the dramatist's apology for bringing into his own work of art so large a piece of another's work1
. There is surely a special emphasis here:—
What do you mean, Sokrates? How can you imagine that I, who am quite unpractised, can remember or do justice to an elaborate work, which the greatest rhetorician of the day spent a long time in composing. Indeed, I cannot; I would give a great deal if I could.
I believe that I know Phaedros about as well as I know myself, and I am very sure that he heard the words of Lysias, not once only, but again and again he made him say them, and Lysias was very willing to gratify him; at last, when nothing else would satisfy him, he got hold of the book, and saw what he wanted—this was his morning's occupation—and then when he was tired with sitting, he went out to take a walk, not until, as I believe, he had simply learned by heart the entire discourse, which may not have been very long....Therefore, Phaedros, as he will soon speak in any case, beg him to speak at once.
As you don't seem very likely to let me off until I speak in some way, the best thing that I can do is to speak as I best may.
That is a very true observation of yours.
I will do my best, for believe me, Socrates, I did not learn the very words; O no, but I have a general notion of what he said, and will repeat concisely, and in order, the several arguments by which the case of the nonlover was proved to be superior to that of the lover; let me begin at the beginning.
Yes, my friend; but you must first of all show what you have got in your left hand under your cloak, for that roll, as I suspect, is the actual discourse. Now, much as I love you, I would not have you suppose that I am going to have your memory exercised upon me, if you have Lysias himself here2
The second point to be observed is the closeness
2. Character of the criticism.
of the criticism made by Sokrates on the speech— corresponding to the elaborateness of the contrivance for an accurate report of it. General criticism of expression or of moral drift would have been perfectly in place even if the speech had been fictitious. But detailed criticism—recognition, on the one hand, of ‘clearness,’ ‘roundness,’ ‘polish’ in every phrase— on the other hand, ridicule of the chaos of topics, of the repetitions, and especially of the beginning which is no beginning—would this have much meaning or force if the satirist were merely analysing his own handiwork?
Well, but are you and I expected to praise the sentiments of the author, or only the clearness, and roundness, and accuracy, and tournure of the language?...I thought, though I speak under correction, that he repeated himself two or three times, either from want of words or from want of pains3
Again, further on:—
Read, that I may have his exact words.
‘You know my views of our common interest; and I do not think that I ought to fail in the object of my suit because I am not your lover, for lovers repent of the kindnesses which they have shown, when their love is over.’
Here he appears to have done just the reverse of what he ought; for he has begun at the end, and is swimming on his back through the flood of words to the place of starting....Then as to the other topics—are they not a mass of confusion? Is there any principle in them? Why should the next topic or any other topic follow in that order? I cannot help fancying in my ignorance that he wrote freely off just what came into his head4
Then comes the comparison of the speech to the epitaph on Midas, and Phaedros can bear it no longer:—
You are making fun of that oration of ours.
Well, I will say no more about your friend, lest I should give offence to you5
It is surely clear that the speech of Lysias is both so introduced and so handled by Plato as to stand on a wholly different ground from such dramatic fictions as those in the Protagoras, where the sophists are persons of the drama, imitated in their general method and style of discourse; or from the fiction of Aspasia's authorship in the Menexenos—a fiction, indeed, which Plato has taken so little trouble to keep up that he makes her allude to the Peace of Antalkidas6
. It would not be much to the purpose to analyse the composition of the Erotikos, or to
show that it bears the special marks of the style of Lysias7
. This could prove nothing. Plato could have imitated Lysias, if he had chosen, without much danger of being found out by us. It is the evidence of the dialogue, not the evidence of the speech itself, which is important.
Lysias is the earliest known writer of Erotic discourses8
; and he is in a twofold sense the object of Plato's attack in the Phaedros. The primary subject of that dialogue is the antithesis between the false and the true Rhetoric. The true Rhetoric springs from Dialectic, and Dialectic from love of the ideas. Hence the secondary subject of the dialogue is the antithesis between false and true Love. Lysias is by his profession a representative for Plato of the false Rhetoric; by his Erotikos in particular he is the representative of the false Eros. Plato could have imitated well enough for his purpose the general rhetorical characteristics of Lysias; but he embodied the Erotikos in his dialogue, because, further, he wished Lysias to speak for himself upon a special subject9