GSI: Jerilyn Sambrooke
Phaedrus as the Gateway of Wisdom
In Plato’s Phaedrus the titular character and Socrates have a discourse on the matter of love in terms of mentorship. Specifically, Socrates and Phaedrus flesh out whether or not it is best for a mentor to have a romantic relationship with his mentee. By the end of the work Phaedrus has become a figure representing the ideal mentee and the effects of an ideal mentee on the mentor and the mentor’s effect on the mentee.
Phaedrus opens with Socrates and the titular character discussing a speech by Lysias in which he argues that one should prioritize non-lovers over lovers as it prevents heartbreak, gossip, jealousy, and fosters a beneficial relationship in terms of rewards gained. Socrates mocks the speech and states he can create a better argument than Lysias. He then proceeds to argue that beauty instils madness in the mentor and causes him to stifle the growth of his lover so that the lover may forever be what the mentor desires. Phaedrus however disagrees and claims that by having a mentor-lover the mentee is less likely to get into trouble, instead he will attempt to honor his mentor which creates a virtuous cycle of doing the right thing to gain favor.
At this point, Socrates desires to leave until the voice in his head tells him he is in the wrong and Socrates proceeds to argue that love is a divine gift and thus good. He starts by detailing the four types of divine madness: prophecy, mysticism, poetry, and love, saying that many great men were guided by such madness. Furthermore he continues by delving into the chariot analogy in which the Gods, led by Zeus, are at the head of a chariot parade driven by winged horses. The horses of the Gods are pure and thus able to take the Gods to the highest levels of the heavenly plane in which justice, knowledge, and goodness can be seen. Because human souls are not as pure our horses are weaker and cannot take us the level of the Gods without serious training and virtue on the part of the human soul. The knowledge that the Gods are capable of witnessing through their divinity is said to be so immense it is maddening to those human souls which may catch a glimpse of that level. Eventually souls are recycled back to Earth with the memory of whatever divinity and truth they saw.
On Earth one of the triggers for such divinity stored within the subconscious of our souls is beauty as the divine is itself beautiful beyond belief. Socrates submits that when a mentor see’s a beautiful boy he is struck by the beauty and descends into the divine madness which is a memory of the beauty from the heavenly plane. There is an internal battle and ideally the drive towards beauty installs discipline within both the mentor who has trained his spiritual horse and the mentee who has been gifted wisdom. If the mentor and mentee can suppress the desire for sexual gratification, then the battle is won and they have completed “the true Olympic Contest.”
Phaedrus himself is a mentee of Socrates and is thus the perfect representation of the figure of the beautiful mentee within Socrates second speech. Throughout the work there are numerous sex-puns in the form of double entendres. Socrates asks what Phaedrus has under his cloak referring to Lysias’s speech and sexual desire. When Socrates first arrives Phaedrus comments on how Socrates rarely leaves Athens to which the old philosopher states, “A hungry animal can be driven by dangling a carrot…” which references the animalistic as eating is a basic function, as is sexual desire. Socrates is highly enticed by the idea of making his mentee his lover as well.
Beyond puns and actions the nature of the relationship itself is further evidence for Phaedrus being a representative figure. Because Socrates desires to please Phaedrus he follows him and performs his first speech. This embarks him down a road which leads to a little epiphany for both Socrates and Phaedrus as to madness, love, and rhetorical usage. Within Socrates himself is the desire he describes; the truth is internal to him and directed at Phaedrus. It is through pulling out that desire and examining it within the context of beauty being divine that he cements his understanding.
By the end of the work Phaedrus is both the figure and the reality of what Socrates describes in his second speech. Phaedrus’ beauty reminds Socrates of divinity and the truth gained from heaven and helps to pull knowledge and wisdom out through sparking that very memory. The loop described by Socrates in the abstract is completed as Socrates and Phaedrus leave as “friends” symbolizing that they have overcome the base desire and won the “Olympic Contest.”