Bryn Mawr Classical Review

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2007.05.09

Devin Stauffer, The Unity of Plato's Gorgias: Rhetoric, Justice, and the Philosophic Life.   Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2006.  Pp. vii, 191.  ISBN 0-521-85847-X.  $75.00.  

Reviewed by Dustin A. Gish, Ohio University (
Word count: 3880 words

Table of Contents

Scores of articles and book chapters are devoted to Plato's Gorgias, but few monographs. Devin Stauffer provides the first book-length study of the dialogue in many years.1 Although the Gorgias has been widely read and interpreted, scholars rarely articulate coherently the unifying idea which ostensibly binds together this complicated dialogue. Stauffer promises that a close reading, attentive to the twisting and turning path of the dialogue, links its diverse themes and reveals its true unity. In both detail and depth, Stauffer engages the text, and grapples with its hydra of arguments, making his book an essential and thought-provoking companion to the serious study of this dialogue in any academic discipline.2

The Unity of Plato's Gorgias examines the three sections of the dialogue (partitioned according to Socrates' three interlocutors) in four concise chapters, with the examination of the third section (the confrontation between Socrates and Callicles, which dominates the second half of the dialogue) divided into two. Stauffer's thesis is that the unity of the Gorgias derives from Socrates' concern throughout the dialogue with rhetoric. This means that the ascent implied by the tri-partite division of the dialogue (and Stauffer's subtitle) is deceptive, for the thrust of its arguments toward (a defense of) the philosophic life -- its action -- never transcends rhetoric at all. Stauffer thus illustrates how the Gorgias exposes the limits of rhetoric and the limitations of Socratic rhetoric in particular. He also reads the dialogue on its own terms, taking his bearings from its dramatic cues, "thinking through" the text rather than imposing his interpretation on it. Because his book is conceived as a "journey of gradual discovery" with the dialogue disclosing its themes gradually (8), this review proceeds by weaving its remarks into brief summaries of the chapters and sections that form the densely rich fabric of Stauffer's reading.

In his "Introduction" (1-14), Stauffer outlines his method for taming this rather unruly dialogue, drawing our attention to the dialogue form itself -- employed by Plato to embellish and create an enchanting portrait of the Socratic life, "the most obvious theme of the dialogues as a whole" (8). Here we discern a center of gravity for the Platonic corpus, for by Plato's own confession "there are no writings of Plato" but only those bearing his name that really belong to "a Socrates who has become beautiful and young" (9, 181; Second Letter 314c1-4). In this way, Plato appeals to readers with "a richer and truer account of human life, of the soul and its deepest concerns," than is found in modern philosophy (1, 179-180). This enchanting account cannot be easily extracted from the circumstances of Socratic conversation; it is embedded in the dialogues. Stauffer proposes to use "the most direct portrait" of the Socratic life in Plato's Apology as a guide and observes similarities with the Gorgias: the conflict between politics and philosophy, the apparent necessity of defending the Socratic life, and the prominence of rhetoric as a theme (9-12). His reading of the Gorgias builds on the Apology by pointing toward a form of "noble rhetoric" exercised by Socrates, which in turn illuminates the aims of Plato's own "literary-rhetorical project" (13, 181). In framing his reading of the Gorgias with the Socratic life and rhetoric on display in Plato's Apology, Stauffer thus forgoes the relation between its themes of justice and rhetoric and the treatment of those same themes in the Republic and the Phaedrus.3

Chapter One, "Examining the Master of Rhetoric" (15-39), demonstrates Socrates' interest in Gorgias and his art of rhetoric, and his own formidable rhetorical skills. Evident differences between Socrates' dialectical activity and Gorgias' rhetoric prompt us to wonder why Socrates wants to converse with Gorgias at all. The "mystery of Socrates' interest in Gorgias" is raised but not resolved in the dialogue's prelude (20). Stauffer focuses on this "unanswered question" about Socrates' intention (29) without rushing to answer it (see 127, 166, 177-182; cf. 81, 122). Stauffer instead considers how Socrates "ensnares" Gorgias. Socrates urges Gorgias to speak frankly about the power of his rhetoric by tempting his pride. Gorgias takes the bait; he exposes the moral ambivalence of his art but then quickly retreats into a claim about justice to escape blame should one of his students use rhetoric unjustly (25). He thus "draws attention to what makes rhetoric so attractive to potential students," but "at the expense of highlighting what is dubious about rhetoric" (31). Stauffer unveils the reasons behind Gorgias' crescendo and sudden retreat (31-33). Realizing his mistake, Gorgias learns the limit of his art -- namely, that "the power of [his] rhetoric is not so great that it can overcome the need for concealment" especially regarding its power to accomplish unjust ends (33). With silence he concedes to the implicit refutation worked by Socrates' rhetoric.

Socrates however does not humiliate Gorgias once caught; in fact, Stauffer shows how Socrates helps him free himself from his dilemma (33-37). Gorgias, like us, must wonder what Socrates has in mind when he releases Gorgias from the elenchos with the friendly remark that "the two of them would need to spend more time together" in order to sort out the matters under discussion (37). Socrates treats Gorgias rather as a potential friend or ally (37-39). To his credit, Gorgias neither becomes angry nor flees after Socrates' refutation (though excuses can be made: see Gorgias 448a). Stauffer's suggestion that Socrates speaks "indirectly" with Gorgias through the conversations with Polus and Callicles, as allies in some common cause (39-40), is provocative, though not original.4 His reading nevertheless does shed light on the purpose of this apparent Socratic enterprise. Socrates does not condemn rhetoric outright but envisions a noble form of rhetoric never yet seen (see 41, 126-127). This noble rhetoric cannot be grasped fully by Gorgias (or us) until the confrontation between Socrates and Callicles (see 166-167).

Chapter Two, "Polus and the Dispute about Justice" (40-81), builds a bridge from the silence of Gorgias through the recklessness of Polus to the outspokenness of Callicles and therewith from Socrates back to Gorgias. In his refutation of Polus, Socrates treats the man and his rhetoric as negligible, and his attack serves to draw Polus then Callicles into the quarrel or "battle" (43-44) announced in the dialogue's opening scene.5 According to Stauffer, Socrates signals to the listening Gorgias that there can never be harmony between his sophistic form of rhetoric and the polis since it disregards and so lacks an account of an ingrained human desire for justice (45-50). By observing him in action, Gorgias learns from Socrates "lessons that would carry less force if conveyed simply by arguments"; and the heart of those lessons concerns the importance of justice to human beings, even (or precisely) in those who deny it (41). This is the foundation upon which rhetoric may be ennobled. Stauffer argues that, to reveal this, Socrates intentionally demeans rhetoric in the extreme to trigger Polus' shameless defense of an unjust rhetoric that openly serves a tyrannical desire: "Far more openly than Gorgias ever did, Polus calls attention to the capacity of rhetoric for injustice" (50).

Socrates counters Polus in a Machiavellian mode, adopting an extreme stance, commonly known as 'the Socratic thesis,' according to which doing injustice, far more than suffering injustice, is the greatest evil for human beings (50-55). This severe formulation of justice, obviously at odds with what passes for conventional justice (55-58), aims less to persuade Polus than to expose the depth of his (and our) attachment to justice itself. Socrates demonstrates that even a reckless man like Polus feels indignation toward the injustices committed with impunity by tyrants (62). Thus, according to Stauffer, Polus' opinions are inconsistent with his own "buried concern" for justice; his failure to "deny the shamefulness of doing injustice reflects an unwillingness to deny it" and "stems from the fact that he truly believes that doing injustice is shameful" (74, 80). Even if Polus remains recalcitrant, Socrates has revealed to Gorgias a deep, at times hidden, human attachment to justice.6 Still, the blame for Polus' refusal to accept the bitter dose of this Socratic elenchos may be attributed to Socrates (71-80, cf. 165), who is unpersuasive. There thus appears a need for an alliance with a man like Gorgias, reformed to see "a better and more just use for his powers" (80, 41). Stauffer conjectures that Socrates has in mind an implicit additional use for a noble rhetoric as a means of self-defense when unjustly accused, since "one must take care not to suffer injustice at the hands of one's enemies" (81). Against the backdrop of the Apology, a grand Socratic enterprise for rhetoric comes into view.

Chapter Three, "The Confrontation between Socrates and Callicles" (82-122), charts the tension in the dialogue's tone as it "becomes more serious and demanding" (82). Quarrelling over what is the best way to live, Callicles attacks Socrates and his life of philosophy (in the harshest terms allowed by Plato) and opens a seemingly impassable divide between them. Unlike the foreigners Gorgias and Polus, who failed rhetorically because of their conventional sense of shame (85-92), Callicles speaks frankly. Praising "real men" who adhere only to "the law of nature" (483e5) and exercise "true justice" (87), Callicles articulates and defends as a natural right what are in effect the unforgiving policies of Athenian imperialism, and the ancient origins of Realpolitik or political Darwinism (see Thucydides 5.89, 105). Stauffer rightly detects a subtle shift in Callicles' defense of realism, from praise of tyranny simply, to a justification of participation in politics as the remedy for the shameful vulnerability of impotent philosophizers (89-92). Shifting from rule by force in the name of natural law, on the one hand, to the pursuit of greatness through political affairs, on the other hand, an activity which seeks nobility as much as insures self-preservation, "Callicles seems to waver over the precise character of his objection to philosophy" (92). This lack of clarity in Callicles' argument leads Stauffer to wonder whether his hostility to philosophy betrays a misunderstanding of his own disdain for the vulnerability of philosophers in politics.

Socrates welcomes Callicles, and his brutal honesty, as a touch-stone, but does not gratify him (or us) immediately with a defense of philosophy, turning instead to an examination of the moral views embedded in Callicles' soul (92-102). He thus prefaces his defense of the superiority of the philosophic life by exposing the moral virtue lurking in Callicles' defense of natural justice. By following Socrates' lead, Stauffer explains that his interlocutor is not wholly shameless: "Callicles is not simply a debunker of justice and virtue," for he "believes in a kind of justice based on a certain view of virtue" (101). To make this clear Socrates digresses again, turning instead to argue for moderation and leaving unfinished his examination of Calliclean justice (102-120). This digression exposes the hedonism latent in Callicles' argument, to which Callicles himself is averse, and thus draws out the belief in Callicles that there is a good beyond pleasure itself worth pursuing. Whatever appeal 'might makes right' has, Callicles rejects the base desires liberated by such an argument; he longs for the noble (to kalon), and his longing cannot abandon the standard beyond pleasure which comes from and reinforces an attachment to virtue (113-120). Socrates uncovers in Callicles an even deeper fear regarding the vulnerability of the virtuous to injustice, which is that virtue and the philosophic life are not their own inherent reward (121), precisely the 'thesis' that Socrates is willing to defend with his life. Stauffer lays bare Callicles' soul and shows how he has buried his commitment to virtue beneath a shameless defense of political realism. Fearing that the nobility he yearns for cannot withstand the success of vice, Callicles lacks courage in his convictions and so conceals his moral seriousness with harsh rhetoric, thus rendering his soul discordant (see 482b2-c3).7 Stauffer's analysis of Callicles' conflicted soul is strikingly original and a vindication of his approach to reading the Platonic dialogues.

Before ending this chapter Stauffer reminds us that "Gorgias is watching" (120), intervening to prevent Callicles from withdrawing. Stauffer glosses these interventions as a sign that Socrates has captured Gorgias' interest (120-121); more can be said.8 Gorgias' collaboration with Socrates offers a glimpse of his own moral seriousness: There may be more virtue in Gorgias (see 456b1-6) than in his powerful art of sophistic rhetoric. We nonetheless suspect that Gorgias has not penetrated the mysteries surrounding "Socrates' own activity or the substance of his thought" (41).9 Stauffer's suggestion here that Socrates is educating Gorgias in a "nobler form of rhetoric" -- whose "ultimate purpose is the defense of philosophy against its critics and potential enemies" (122) -- anticipates his final chapter.

Chapter Four, "Socrates' Situation and the Rehabilitation of Rhetoric" (123-176), tracks Socrates' maneuvers in speech to foreground rhetoric and its power, even as he postpones his defense of the philosophic life. Stauffer argues that Socrates' rejection of rhetoric has shifted to its rehabilitation and restoration based on knowledge of the proper order (kosmos) of the soul (127-140). Wielding this paradigm Socrates launches into a critique of Athenian politics and Callicles' heroes, the architects of Athenian imperialism (128-129) and the corrupt opponents of Socrates' noble rhetoric which cares for the soul and serves others (130-133). Socrates honors justice and moderation as the highest virtues, and associates them with the nobility of philosophy not politics. Stauffer rightly points out that Socrates' definition of moderation (like justice, here and in the Republic) "departs quite far from any ordinary notion of virtue" (136). Indeed, one might go further: Socrates so conjoins the philosophic life with moderation that his own self-professed nature as "an erotic man" (481d5-482b1; see Symposium177d8-9) is nearly forgotten. As in other dialogues, Socrates seems strangely at odds with the portrait of the philosopher, and of the best regime, in his own rhetoric.

With respect to Socratic rhetoric, I would argue the Gorgias participates in a distorting abstraction from eros, and hence conveys a half-hearted defense of the philosophic life. An erotic deficiency in Callicles forces Socrates to treat his misguided soul with geometry, an intellectual substitute for philosophy (137; 508a3-8, cf. 465b1-c9). It also compels Socrates to abandon dialectic and resort to a mythical logos about the afterlife, exhorting Callicles to embrace his longing for virtue (167-176). In light of Socrates' extreme defense of moderation and justice, Stauffer raises the "far-reaching question" about Socrates' own views: Does he really hold as true or irrefutable his extreme arguments in the Gorgias? Even if Socrates acts as a doctor dispensing medicine to heal Callicles' soul (163-165), must we accept what he says "as an expression of his own deepest beliefs" about virtue itself, or human excellence (138-140)?

Rather than answer these questions, Stauffer follows Socrates as he takes up the issue of self-protection initially raised by Callicles (140-149). Socrates turns the tables on Callicles, arguing that a healthy desire for self-preservation must care for justice in the soul, not only the protection of the body. He displays a manly disdain for Callicles' concern for his safety and disparages the dangers awaiting him (148). Though he is not persuaded by this defense of philosophy, due to his love for the demos (147), Callicles feels shame before the "noble and heroic figure" of Socrates (148). Stauffer notes here that this display of Socratic courage and condemnation of forensic rhetoric still allows for a noble rhetoric which defends against suffering injustice, under certain conditions, "those who are virtuous and have good lives to lose" (148-149). Stauffer hints at what these conditions are (see 81, 148n28), but such a rhetoric of self-defense would seem to run contrary to a strict adherence to 'the Socratic thesis' about justice.

Having overturned Callicles' accusation that the philosophic life is ignoble because weak, Socrates returns to his critique of Athenian politics. Imposing a new litmus test for political expertise (150-151), Socrates insists "the true task of politics is to make the citizens better" (152). By this measure, the careers of Callicles' heroes prove failures; they not only fail to tame the demos, but are themselves at its mercy (152-154), victims of the same feverish imperialism that they neglected to diagnose and treat in their fellow Athenians by educating them to virtue (157-159; see Thucydides 2.43, 63-64). But the noble rhetoric envisioned by Socrates benefits the polis while also protecting its practitioner from harm (155-157), being administered by genuine statesmen without fear of reprisal (162-165). Once more Stauffer takes note of the flaws in an extreme argument (159-160), suggesting that Socrates is well aware that instilling virtue in an entire polis may be an impossible task, an observation which calls to mind Socrates' own unwillingness to practice such a noble rhetoric himself. "Might the thread that runs throughout Socrates' seemingly ever more unreasonable condemnation of political leaders be an indirect and well-disguised reflection on the limits of politics?" (160).

This "well-disguised" Socratic reflection underscores the undeniable tension between politics and the life of philosophy. And yet Stauffer is keen throughout the book to perpetuate the image of Socrates as the true hero who emerges from the Gorgias (3, 12-13, 143, 148). Socrates comes to light as a "real man" who, guided by Philosophy as his constant companion (482a-b), resembles "the great Achilles" (11; Apology 28b1-29b9) and strides courageously into the conflict with the polis without fear of vulnerability, or of suffering an unjust death, not to mention "a crack on the jaw" (486a-c, 508c-e). This vivid image of Socratic manliness and self-sufficiency (autarkeia), however, defends the Socratic life by elevating it in palpably political terms (cf. Xenophon, Apology). That this new Achilles deserves to rule leads to Socrates' most extreme claim in the dialogue -- the height of Socratic hubris -- that he alone of all the Athenians of his day truly possesses the political art (politike techne) and practices political affairs (ta politika) (521d6-7). Plato's Socrates wins "the battle" with Callicles over the best way of life (5), and this victory foreshadows his heroic resistance in defending his life during "the conflict" with the polis at his trial (10). But there is an unsettling sense that Socrates conquers in speech at the expense of a true defense of philosophy, for the question "is no longer posed as a contest between the private philosophic life and the political life, but rather as one between two versions of the political life" (161), at best a pyrrhic victory.

In his "Conclusion: A Final Reflection on Noble Rhetoric" (177-182), Stauffer at last sketches out what he thinks has been brought to light by his reading. Socrates has presented philosophy "as something like the moral conscience" of the polis, the pursuit of wisdom for the sake of establishing harmony between human virtue, the polis, and an orderly kosmos. This aim is at "the heart of the noble rhetoric that Socrates is urging Gorgias to practice in the Gorgias" (179). But recognizing that his way of life wins enemies as well as friends, Socrates seeks an ally to supply him with a rhetoric of self-defense when his representation of philosophy, as inevitably it must, fails to overcome the animosity of those who, like Callicles, uncritically admire the polis. According to Stauffer, that alliance cannot be forged with Gorgias, for he cannot see beyond the "impression" of Socrates and his rhetoric (178). Such a defense can only be provided by a "greater master" in the art of rhetoric, who also has "much closer ties with Socrates and a much deeper appreciation of his life and activity" (180-181). Stauffer concludes, therefore, that Plato assumed this task and accomplished "what Socrates had in mind" (181). The failure or limit of Socratic rhetoric -- which is the problem of the dialogue -- is overcome by an alliance with Plato who, after Socrates' trial and execution, chose to portray Socrates in his writings as the exemplar of the philosophic life, the persecuted hero whose death has inspired readers since antiquity.

This politically salutary view of the Socratic life as heroic and most noble presented by Plato and reinforced by Stauffer encourages readers to see in the "young and beautiful" Socrates of the Platonic dialogues the proper use of noble rhetoric in defense of philosophy. But this account makes Plato seem more eager to defend before the polis the reputation of one philosopher who was unjustly accused and executed by his fellow citizens than to defend philosophy itself on its own terms. In other words, Stauffer seems to limit the Platonic project to the political defense of philosophy, such as it appears especially in the Gorgias, the Republic, and of course the Apology. We are therefore forced to wonder whether such a defensive project helps or hinders our pursuit of an answer to the crucial question raised by Stauffer himself at the outset of his book: "What precisely is Plato's account of the philosophic life?" (2).

With this end in mind, what is disappointing about Stauffer's reading is his reticence to engage Socrates' reference to his erotic soul and, by comparison, to reveal the deficiency with respect to eros in his interlocutors. Callicles, like Alcibiades,10 is an erotic young man, which Stauffer at least acknowledges (179). But his reading of the Gorgias abstracts from the eros which Socrates declares near the dialogue's center characterizes his soul, and which ironically he shares with Callicles (487b8-d9, cf. 513c4-d1). This passage linking eros and philosophy introduces the conflict between Callicles and Socrates in terms of the "most serious" question about the best way of life (487e7-9, 500b7-d4). Because Stauffer does not discuss the passage in detail (cf. 82-85, 147n25) he risks obscuring Socrates' eros and overly stressing his thumos. Holding in awe the manliness of Plato's Socrates, readers may mistake the heroic and hubristic resistance of Socrates to the polis for the peak of his philosophic existence, forgetting that he flourished under Athenian democracy and empire.11 Moreover, in eclipsing eros, Stauffer is silent about the core of the Socratic life and the nature of a truly philosophical rhetoric with power to appeal beyond the realm of thumos to the transcendent longings of the soul. Socratic rhetoric in the Gorgias disarms yet still fails to persuade the erotically -- perhaps philosophically -- inclined Callicles. In this regard, then, we see the limits to which Socrates is willing to examine and lead souls by means of persuasion without corrupting or compromising his proper activity. But why or how eros is essential to the philosophic life itself as conceived and lived by Socrates remains a mystery.

Stauffer has written an admirable book. The Unity of the Gorgias unfolds the polyvalent arguments and action of the dialogue with deliberate attention to dramatic setting and a sustained examination of its interlocking themes. Stauffer's most insightful comments thus emerge by reflection on transitions and shifts in particular speeches, the character of interlocutors as revealed in their speech, and the motion of the dialogue from one part to the next. The reader of his book, like the serious reader of any Platonic dialogue, must be willing to accept the task of wondering about and questioning themes as they gradually arise in context. Where one disagrees with Stauffer's reading, his goodwill and knowledge prompt further conversation and lead back to the dialogue itself.


1.   Stauffer briefly discusses (5n8) how his book differs from the interpretive studies by Seth Benardete (1991), George Plochmann and Franklin Robinson (1988), and Ilham Dilman (1979), not to mention the commentaries by E. R. Dodds (1959) and Terence Irwin (1979). Of the three, Benardete's study is by far the most impressive (infra, n. 6). Most articles and chapters in the vast secondary literature tend to dwell on a section or sections of the dialogue at the expense of interpreting the entire work. Stauffer takes up each section, in order, to discern how all of the dialogue's parts fit together as an intelligible whole.
2.   Stauffer's approach firmly situates him and his interpretation within the academic horizon of political philosophy (7n9). His own views, Stauffer admits, have been influenced by reading unpublished transcripts of two courses on the Gorgias taught by Leo Strauss (13). But the degree to which his interpretation has been shaped by those transcripts is hard to determine since the transcripts are not cited in his Bibliography and no further references are made to them in his otherwise extensive footnotes. One reviewer notes that Stauffer acknowledges "the elephant in the room" and then proceeds to ignore it; see the review by Russell Bentley, in POLIS 23/2 (2006) 415-418. A second reviewer mentions the selectivity of Stauffer's secondary resources, noting the absence of any references to rhetorical studies in his Bibliography, but says that such omissions do not call into question Stauffer's analysis (see the review by Michael Svoboda, in Rhetoric Society Quarterly 36 (2006) 473-477).
3.   References to the Phaedrus and its analysis of the psychological impact of rhetoric are surprisingly infrequent (see footnotes on 23, 29, 41, 48). References to the Republic and its critique of the limits of politics are somewhat more frequent (see footnotes on 29, 48, 63, 136, 179), not surprisingly given his illuminating treatment of this dialogue elsewhere (see his Plato's Introduction to the Question of Justice, SUNY 2001).
4.   See James Nichols, Jr., "The Rhetoric of Justice in Plato's Gorgias," in his translation of Plato: Gorgias (Cornell University Press, 1998) 131-149, esp. 131, 133, 137, 148-149; see also, Roslyn Weiss, "O, Brother! The Fraternity of Rhetoric and Philosophy in Plato's Gorgias," in Interpretation 30 (2003) 195-206, esp. 200, 204-206; see as well, Dustin Gish, "Rivals in Persuasion: Gorgianic Sophistic versus Socratic Rhetoric," in POLIS 23/1 (2006) 46-73, esp. 49, 52-53, 55-67.
5.   On the dialogue as a battle against the backdrop of a great war, see Arlene Saxonhouse, "An Unspoken Theme in Plato's Gorgias: War", in Interpretation 11 (1983) 139-169. Stauffer mentions this article in his footnotes, but hardly refers to the war in his reading, though he is well aware of the intertextual relation, say, between Thucydides and Plato: see his Empire and the Ends of Politics: Plato's Menexenus and Pericles' Funeral Oration (Focus Publishing, 1999), co-authored with Susan Collins. For an example of what may be learned from reading the dialogue in relation to the war, see Michael Svoboda, "Athens, the Unjust Student of Rhetoric: A Dramatic Historical Interpretation of Plato's Gorgias", forthcoming in Rhetoric Society Quarterly 37 (2007); see also, the new translation of the Gorgias by James Arieti and Roger Barrus (Focus Publishing, 2007), esp. 11-14 and Appendix A, which includes selections of speeches from Thucydides reflecting themes also present in the dialogue.
6.   Polus' response to 'the Socratic thesis' establishes the rhetorical limits of the conversation, since he is unwilling or unable to raise and consider dialectically the question "What is Justice?" (58-64). This limitation pertains to the dialogue as a whole (63n25); see Seth Benardete, The Rhetoric of Morality and Philosophy (University of Chicago Press, 1991) 6, 57, 195-196.
7.   For an alternative reading of the flaw in Callicles' soul as a deficiency in eros and not in thumos, see Waller Newell, "The Problem of Callicles", in his Ruling Passion: The Erotics of Statecraft in Platonic Political Philosophy (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2000) 9-41. These two readings are not opposed, however, since the flaw uncovered by Stauffer explains why Callicles feels compelled to embrace a misguided love of victory, and so -- like his own beloved, the Athenian demos -- is consumed by imperial ambitions and a tyrannical eros (infra, n. 10 and context).
8.   For a detailed discussion of Gorgias' interest in the Socratic activity on display and what this says about his character, as opposed to the character of his education and that of his students, see Gish (supra, n. 4) 61-67.
9.   See Plato, Symposium 174d1-175d8, 214c9-222c2; Xenophon, Symposium 2.15-20; cf. Homer, Iliad 5.127-132.
10.   In the (now published) transcript of a course on Plato's Symposium, Strauss refers to Callicles as "a lower Alcibiades" -- but unlike Alcibiades, who is intensely attracted to Socrates on account of that part of his erotic nature which he is able to divine, Callicles is merely repelled by him (Leo Strauss, On Plato's Symposium, The University of Chicago Press 2001, 286-288). Both suffer the same affliction, love of the demos: see Plato, Alcibiades I 131e1-132a7.
11.   Strauss (supra n.10, 243, 246-247 and 288) suggests Socrates' failure to persuade Callicles has something to do with the absence or deficiency of spiritedness, or thumos, in his soul. This claim, together with Stauffer's reading of the Platonic corpus as the true defense of Socrates, indicates one way in which Plato as well as Xenophon -- the two students of Socrates whose writings have been best preserved -- diverged from their teacher.

Read Latest
Index for 2007
Change Greek Display
Books Available for Review

HTML generated at 13:31:52, Friday, 03 April 2009