play and myth in plato's phaedrus
Keywords:Plato, play, myth
Plato’s Phaedrus is a famously intriguing dialogue. It employs a wide range of writing styles, such as myth, dialectic discussion, rehearsed and spontaneous speeches, and lines of verse. It makes a sharp transition from speech-making and storytelling, which make up the first half of the dialogue and deal with love, to dialectical discussion and an analysis of rhetoric in its second half. Socrates himself claims erotic madness is man’s greatest blessing. How seriously can we take such a strange dialogue? How serious can we be regarding its message?
In this article I will suggest a playful reading of the Phaedrus. Not only does the notion of play (paidia) feature prominently in several key passages of the text, but there is also an atmosphere of playfulness throughout the drama of the dialogue, which takes place on the banks of the river Ilisus. This is a philosophical playfulness which is not divorced from childish playfulness. As we will see, the philosopher and the child have much in common, and their shared attributes figure in the Phaedrus: the child is commonly perceived to be irrational, but irrationality in this dialogue is a blessing, according to Socrates; play is childish, but philosophy, mythmaking and writing are a form of play; and children are inherently learners—which is also what the philosopher ultimately aims at.
The argument presented in this paper is based on a textual analysis of the word “play” (in its various forms) in the Phaedrus. The substantial link made between play, myth and writing will be shown to have important implications on Plato’s concept of philosophy as play, as well as on his view of the philosopher as child-like.