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Essay on History of Political Thought: Analysis of the Character is Euthyphro and Pausanias

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1) What kind of a character is Euthyphro?

In the dialogue of the Apology, there appear only two characters, Socrates and Euthyphro. Here, Socrates is present on behalf of charges that accuse him for “corrupting the young and of not believing in the gods in whom the city believes, but in other new spiritual things” (Euthyphro 24b8 – c1). Euthyphro, in contrast, is present on behalf of an unusual case: he is prosecuting his aged father for having unintentionally killed a murderous hired hand. He relates to Socrates that this decision is from his claim to knowledge of what piety is, stating, “the pious is what I am doing now: to proceed against whoever does injustice regarding murders or thefts of sacred things, or is doing wrong in any other such thing…and not to proceed against him is impious” (Apology 5b10 – 13). Of course, by the end of the dialogue, it is apparent to readers that Euthyphro lacks knowledge of the piety that he so boasts at the beginning.

It is evident that dramatically, Euthyphro’s personality is intended to serve as an ideal contrast to that of Socrates: one is a defendant, the other a plaintiff; one a layman, the other a theologian; one claims no knowledge of the pious and impious, the other claims full knowledge of these affairs; one questions the mythical conduct of the gods, one accepts it unquestioningly; one is unsure of his prosecutions outcome, the other is confident of its results; one looks to a formalist approach, and the other to the spirit of religion. The dramatic use of this contrast in the text reveals much of Euthyphro’s character: an ultra-orthodox soothsayer and diviner who is notorious for his fanatical devotion to matters of religion. Indeed, it is a consequence of his extreme orthodoxy that Euthyphro brings his own father on trial under the charge of impiety. He appeals to the deities for his decision, stating that “Human beings themselves believe that Zeus is the best and most just of the gods…[and yet they] agree that he bound his own father because he gulped down his sons without justice” (Euthyphro 5e1 – 2; 6a). Euthyphro goes on and supports his own actions by boasting claims that he has knowledge of what the pious by justification of his special position as a theologian. The implication here is clear: Euthyphro, a traditionalist, believes that he is a defender of the community and a protector of the moral order who has knowledge of religious matters far superior to those of the Athenian populace. There is irony present here: while Euthyphro boasts claims of superior knowledge, he is ridiculed by the Athenian public as a madman. Certainly, as the dialogue progresses, it becomes clear that Euthyphro has no understanding at all of what the pious is. As he muddles through his various definitions of piety, it becomes clear that Euthyphro lacks a logical comprehension of what the piety is, making him utterly incapable of understanding Socrates and thus exposing his ignorance. Euthyphro’s character can hence be described as a pretentious figure who fails to understand the conception of what Socrates teaches in the Euthyphro. He serves more as an implicit metaphor for characters like Meletus who are charging Socrates for impious actions despite lacking any definitive knowledge of the concept.

2) Who is Pausanias?

Pausanias is an older man who is the long-time lover of the tragic poet Agathon in the Symposium. Little else is known of Pausanias beyond what we are told in the dialogue, whereby he is characterized as a legal expert who his notorious for his love of Agathon and vigorous championship of paiderastia -pedastry. In Plato’s dialogue, Pausanias insists on defining “which kind of Love we are to praise” (Symposium 180d). Love, Pausanias proposes, can be distinguished into two kinds:

  • A superior, “celestial” or “heavenly” love – a more noble type of eros which is finer and more ennobling
  • An inferior, “common” love – a vulgar form of eros which more common people experience

For Pausanias, much of the difference comes down largely to the intentions of the participants. Here, he believes that heterosexual love is always “common”, whereas homoerotic love is either “common” or “celestial” depending on the intentions of those who are involved and their focus on the development of virtue. He argues that the most sublime kind of love arises when lovers are attracted to each other’s intelligence and character, and not just what they deem to be physically beautiful. “Love”, he states, “is not in himself noble and worthy of praise that depends on whether the sentiments he produces in us are themselves noble” (Symposium 180a7 – 9). Pausanias appeals his argument to mythology and the origin of Love. He states that Love has two different origin stories, each corresponding to a different manifestation of Aphrodite: Aphrodite Pandemos (Aphrodite common for all the people or the goddess of sensual pleasures) and Aphrodite Urania (Celestial Aphrodite). Aphrodite Urania is born of foam after Cronus castrated Uranus, and thus has no mother; this, for Pausanias, is the Aphrodite associated with “celestial” or more “noble” love, who is entirely male. Aphrodite Pandemos, in contrast, is born of both Zeus (male) and Dione (female) and thus is therefore partly male and partly female. Pausanias argues that this female element is what accounts for the sensual immaturity of mere physical, “common” love, as he states, “This, of course, is the love felt by the vulgar, who are attracted to women no less than to boys, to the body more than to the soul, and to the least intelligent partners, since all they care about is completing the sexual act” (Symposium 181b2 – 6). He argues that those who are inspired by Aphrodite are naturally drawn to the male, Aphrodite Urania as he is a stronger and more intelligent creature.

The remainder of Pausanias’s speech is then devoted to the examination of paiderastia – a sexual relationship between an older and younger male. Pausanias points out that this form of relationship is acceptable in Athens, but not elsewhere. Because of this variance, he then proceeds to inquire whether such an act can be considered ethical or moral. Through a legalistic plea, he suggests it can: this displays much of Pausanias’s very lawyer-like argumentation. In his arguments and literary style of speeches, Pausanias shows a much higher degree of reasoning than that of Phaedrus before him. Appropriately, much of his speeches concern the laws of the state; and this in itself, itself is sufficient to show that Pausanias is not only a student of sophistic teaching, but that he is a sophist himself.

3) What is the difference between the “old accusers” and the “present accusers” of Socrates?

The Apology consists of three or so speeches made by Socrates at his trial in 399 BC. Here, Socrates is brought before the Athenian court on charges of impiety and corruption; more specifically, for corrupting the youth, not believing in the gods of the state and sometimes it is added that he was also guilty of introducing new gods to Athens. In the first speech of the Apology, it becomes clear that Socrates was not prosecuted by the state – the city of Athens, but by three individuals, Anytus, Meletus, and Lycon (Apology 23e). But as Socrates explains, behind these “new accusers” there are also “old accusers” which he feared moreso and wished to present a defence against first. He feared these accusers more than the recent ones because the former were many in number who had been speaking out against him for some time, prejudicing many of the jury members from the time of when they were most trusting: their youth. The charges they brought forth, Socrates states, are that he does “injustice and is meddlesome, by investigating the things under the earth and the heavenly things, and by making the weaker speech the stronger, and by teaching others these same things” (Apology 19b5 – 8). Socrates argues to the jury that these accusations are based entirely on falsehoods that have given him a bad reputation over the years, lodging a deep prejudice against him. He gives an example of one of the numerous “first accusers”, a comic poet by the name of Aristophanes (mentioned at 19c). Aristophanes wrote a play called The Clouds, wherein Socrates is presented as an eccentric sophist who appears to be swinging from a basket in mid-air, uttering all sorts of nonsense about divine matters, and teaching his students to beat their parents (based on fallacious reasoning). Socrates argues that the play’s supposed distorted misrepresentation had contributed toward the unfavourable opinion that had been formed about him. Their numerous and persuasive accusations he believes, are the reason why Anytus, Meletus, and Lycon have charged him with crimes and are bringing him to trial.

Socrates then addresses the accusations by his “new accusers” in the form of Meletus the prosecutor. Socrates professes that he is not as fearful of these new accusers as much of their accusations can be refuted by simple logic. Indeed, upon Meletus’s accusations that Socrates has engaged in impiety and corruption, Socrates is able to cross-examine and expose Meletus for his contradictory statements. Having exposed Meletus’s contradictions, Socrates once again mentions that he is more fearful of his old accusers than of the new.

Accordingly, it seems that much of the difference in the “new accusers” versus the “old accusers” lies in the fact that the old accusers have much more authority of persuasion than many of the new accusers. Certainly, as Socrates has evidently shown, many of the jurors sitting on Socrates trial have been persuaded since childhood that Socrates is guilty of wrongdoing.

4) What is the difference between advice of the Delphic oracle and the daemon of Socrates?

In the Apology, Socrates often mentions that he is guided by a “daemon”, or “sign” that takes the form of an inner voice. This voice frequently attempted to dissuade Socrates from undertaking certain actions, but never definitively told him what to do. Socrates describes this in the Apology, stating, “you have heard me speak of many times and in many places, that something divine and daimonic, comes to me, a voice…This is something which began for me in childhood: a sort of voice comes, and whenever it comes, it always turns me away from whatever I am about to do, but never turns me forward” (Apology 31c7 – d 5). This internal “sign” is analogous to the internal principle of Socrates’s behaviour; in contrast, the Delphic oracle within the Apology can be thought of the external principle of Socrates’s behaviour. In the Apology, we learn of the Delphic oracle when Socrates claims that many of the false accusations brought forth against him stem from his reputation of possessing what he acknowledges as a limited “human wisdom” (Apology 20d); this is opposite to the “more than human wisdom” (Apology 20e) that would require him to speak imperiously about matters that those such as the sophists discuss. This wisdom, he claims, comes from a prophecy at the oracle of Delphi which claimed that he was the wisest of all men. When told that the Oracle of Delphi had revealed that he was one of the wisest men in Athens, Socrates responded not by boasting or celebrating, but by proving the oracle wrong.

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Also of relevance is the famous motto inscribed above the entrance to the oracle at Delphi: ‘Know thyself.’

This distinction is quite important, especially when compared to of the Delphic oracle.

The Platonic Socrates, however, never refers to the daimonion as a daimōn; it was always referred to as an impersonal ‘something’ or ‘sign’.[17] By this term he seems to indicate the true nature of the human soul, his newfound self-consciousness.[18]

5) What is the point of Aristophanes’ story in the Symposium?

One of the most memorable and famous speeches in the Symposium is of the droll and feisty poet, Aristophanes. His speech is essentially a highly eccentrical, mythological creation on the origin of man and how he evolved into his present form vis a vis the nature of love (Symposium 189d). In his account, Aristophanes explains that to show what love (Eros) is, one must first understand “human nature and its condition” (Symposium 189q). He thus begins by stating that humans were originally three sexes begotten by the Sun (the all male), the Earth (the all female), and the Moon (the androgynous male and female). Each of these sexes was doubled and coupled as a whole, thereby each possessing four arms, four legs, and a single head made of two faces. These original people were very powerful and so terrible was their strength that they threatened to conquer the gods and assault the heavens. Fearful of their might, the gods were perplexed as to what they should do. Destroying the humans would mean that they would no longer receive their tributes that they so relished. In response, Zeus proposed a creative solution: he would slice each human in half for punishment of their pride. This would also double the number of humans, enabling the gods to receive twice as much tribute than prior. As a consequence of this split, each part began to crave the return of its “other half”. It is this craving, that Aristophanes calls love. Love is rooted in the idea that each human is one part of a whole that craves for its original nature. As he states, “The cause of it all is this, that our original form was as I have described, and we were entire; and the craving and pursuit of that entirety is called Love” (Symposium 192e11 – d 13).

To assess the intention of Aristophanes’ story in the Symposium, there are a few of factors that must first be considered: the placement of the speech in relation to the others, the reactions of the other characters, and the use of language through vivid imagery and clever metaphors, are important in determining the significance of Aristophanes’s speech.

First, the literary structure of the Symposium and the placement of Aristophanes’s speech must be examined. Here, Aristophanes’s attack of hiccups has a certainly noticeable and significant purpose as it forces a change in the order of the speakers. Where Aristophanes was to follow Pausanias, Eryximachus, the medical doctor, now speaks in his place. What becomes clear is that this divides the speakers into two groups from the first sequence of speeches to the second: Phaedrus, Pausanias, and Eryximachus are arranged in the first group, and Aristophanes, Agathon, and Socrates in the other. This may have been a deliberate strategy by Plato for the reader to recognize that Eryximachus’s speech belongs to the first group of speeches, while Aristophanes’s belongs to the second. What distinguishes these speeches is that the speakers of the first group are more concerned with the effects of Eros; while the others explain the nature responsible for those effects. This shift in theme parallels the shift in tone of the speeches.

Further, moving Aristophanes’s speech to the second sequence can be seen as an indicatory allusion of Socrates’s upcoming discourse. Aristophanes’s speech, which recounts the nature of love as involving the craving for one’s other half, is anticipatory setup for Socrates’s speech after, which illustrates the nature of love as the notion of craving or desiring (Symposium 205e). This development leads to a most ironical contrast: where in The Clouds, Aristophanes would mock the seriousness of philosophy and the character of Socrates, Socrates now seems to mock Aristophanes’ poetic use of mythology to present a philosophically reasoned argument for a concept such as love. When Aristophanes depicted Socrates as a wanderer who would just stare at the heavens, Socrates speech takes Aristophanes into the heavens by recalling a dialogue he had with the priestess of Diotima. Diotima is quick to deconstruct and dismiss Aristophanes here, as she states, “though by my account love is neither for half nor for whole” (Symposium 205e3 – 4). This moment in her speech displays a rich comparison of the intellectual capacities between Aristophanes and Socrates: Socrates is able to quickly refute much of Aristophanes’s claims, and it is because Socrates focuses more on conceptual applications than artistic ones.

The characterization of Aristophanes as one who uses poetic speech to manipulate and justify his arguments is further demonstrated by Erixymachus’s reaction to the speech. Erixymachus is the only one of the guests who remarks on the speech, claiming that he found it “delightful” (Symposium 193e). This is significant as Erixymachus is characterized as a man with little philosophical disposition, with his speech providing no rational observations on the nature of love. Thus, by using Erixymachus as the only commentator to Aristophanes’s speech, it seems that Aristophanes’s philosophical argument should not be taken seriously.

Although it seems that Plato intended to express the inability of poetry or mythology to explain a philosophical argument, Aristophanes’s speech does provide a major contribution to the overall argument of the Symposium when he states that love is the need or craving for fulfillment. This being said, it must be noted that it is not so much the conclusions of Aristophanes’s speech that Socrates is contrary to, rather in the methods of application that Aristophanes uses to justify his conclusions: his poetic logas. Nevertheless, conceptually, the most important idea that Aristophanes introduces is that love, or Eros, is the pursuit of desire or aspiration in need of fulfillment. In his speech, Aristophanes points out that because of impiety, humans are born radically incomplete. He uses the imagery of a half-cut person as a clever metaphor for the human desire of close intimate relationships. Humans intrinsically often feel incompletely without some form of companionship, and thus love, stems from and drives this fundamental desire. He states this clearly in the Symposium at 192b – c, “And so, when a person meets the half that is his very own, whatever his orientation, whether it is to young men or not, then something wonderful happens: the two are struck from their senses by love, by a sense of belonging to one another, and by desire, and they don’t want to be separated from one another, not even for a moment” (Symposium 192b – c). Aristophanes’s speech, is thus a story which allows us to understand the creation of human erotic longing through our impious actions. Only through such an understanding can we comprehend that force or drive in us that strives for another’s physical partnership.

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