Rhetoric, Drama and Truth in Plato's Symposium

in The International Journal of the Platonic Tradition
Open Access

Abstract

This paper draws attention to the Symposium's concern with epideictic rhetoric. It argues that in the Symposium, as in the Gorgias and the Phaedrus, a contrast is drawn between true and false rhetoric. The paper also discusses the dialogue's relationship to drama. Whereas both epideictic rhetoric and drama were directed to a mass audience, the speeches in the Symposium are delivered to a small, select group. The discussion focuses on the style of the speeches delivered by Aristophanes, Agathon, Socrates and Alcibiades. Aristophanes speaks in the simple style of comedy, fable and folktale, also used by Protagoras in Plato's Protagoras. Agathon speaks in the high-flown style of Gorgias. Socrates' speech is a miniature Platonic dialogue, and both Alcibiades' speech and Socrates' speech may be compared to satyr play. The paper concludes with a suggestion that the claim at 223D, that the same person should be able to write both comedy and tragedy, refers to style as well as subject-matter.

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