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What was he doing standing in the doorway?
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Michael Reid



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PostPosted: Mon Oct 22, 2012 8:17 am    Post subject: What was he doing standing in the doorway? Reply with quote

Socrates turns up late to the symposium and is reported to have been standing in a doorway, completely still for a long time.

I and many I've spoken to have presumed a kind of meditation to still the mind and prepare enough emotional energy to partake fully in the dialogue that is to come.

Is there anywhere in the works of Plato or any orther writer of those times where Socrates explains the practicalities of this exercise or are we merely to remain presuming?

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Tim Addey



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PostPosted: Tue Oct 23, 2012 9:56 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I think the best indication of the purpose and state described in preliminary section of the Symposium is to be found in the masterly final speech - that of Alcibiades. At 221c he reports an incident during a military campaign concerning Socrates:

"For thinking deeply about something one morning, he stood considering it; and though he was not able to discover what he was investigating, he did not desist, but stood exploring. It was now too midday, and the soldiers perceived him, and wondering, said one to the other, that Socrates had stood from the morning cogitating. At length some of the Ionian soldiers when it was evening, having supped (for it was then summer), laid themselves down on the bare ground, that they might observe whether he continued in the same posture through the night. But he stood till it was morning and the sun rose; after which he departed, having first adored the sun."

So the time he spent in deepest thought in the doorway (which, by the way, Aristodemus said, "that it was usual with him so to do") was but brief compared with this earlier episode. The description here certainly indicates a meditative state, leading, perhaps towards some devotional contemplation (given the oft used symbolism of the Sun as an image of The Good).

However, it may be worth looking more closely at the substance of the dialogue. The participants of the symposium agree to give speeches in praise of Eros (Love): but the final speech is obviously in praise of Socrates. Diotima describes Eros has having been born from Poverty (who had come begging at the door at the birthday party of Aphrodite) after she had seduced Resource in the garden of Zeus, and this is her description of his character:

" . . . in the first place, he is always poor; and is far from being either fair or tender, as the multitude imagine him; for he is rough, and hard, and dry, without shoes to his feet, and without a house or any covering to his head; always grovelling on the earth, and lying on the bare ground, at doors, and in the streets, in the open air; partaking thus of his mother’s disposition, and living in perpetual want. On the other hand, he derives from his father’s side qualities very different from those others: for hence it is that he is full of designs upon the good and the fair: hence it is that he is courageous, sprightly, and prompt to action; a mighty sportsman, always contriving some new device to entrap his game: much addicted to thought, and fruitful in expedients; all his life philosophizing, powerful in magic and enchantment, nor less so in sophistry."

Now Socrates is often described as being bare-footed, but in the Symposium his companion notices that he is in shoes - and is surprised by this. And here we have Socrates in a doorway (although not lying, but standing and meditating) so perhaps the whole incident is a means by which Plato can show Socrates as partaking of both Resource and Poverty - and thus leads us naturally to consider his ideal philosopher as an embodiment of Love. For having passed through Diotima's initiations of love, Socrates has drawn close to the Beautiful itself, and has the power to generate true virtue in that Beauty. Which is, after all, the message of the Ivy-wreathed, wine-soaked, Alcibiades.

An interesting exercise is to count the number of doors mentioned in Symposium - and then pass through Plato's door of understanding.

Tim
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Peter Blumsom



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PostPosted: Wed Oct 24, 2012 2:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yes, its an intriguing question isn’t it chaps; and an equally intriguing response from Tim. I hope what I have to say compliments Tim’s contribution.

I agree that Diotima’s relationship with Socrates is crucial. He must have learnt much from her, and the natural respect of a pupil to mentor would probably have restrained him from talking openly about things Diotima seemed herself to have kept discreet about. There is perhaps a more speculative reason as to Diotima’s silence. Nothing is known of this prophetess from Mantineia, but the fact that she is a woman makes me wonder if she was a hierophant of the Eleusinian mystery school. Though men ruled the Assembly, women often played the important roles in religion.

Generally Socrates seems to have had a troublesome relationship with these priests and priestesses who presided over the ‘lower’ and ‘higher’ mysteries. He alludes to them in the Dialogues but would have been mindful of the dangers of discussing their special techniques openly for knowledge of the higher mysteries were fiercely guarded by the hierophants and we should also be aware that this was the state religion of ancient Attica. All the important folk of Athens would attend at least the lower mysteries.

However Socrates, being Socrates, wasn’t above a sly reference here and there, and in his myths he was even more adventurous, The Myth of Er, though profound, is especially cheeky, as it concerns Mnemosyne (memory) and Lethe (forgetting). These are direct references to spiritual exercises performed by mystery aspirants in order to clear their minds when approaching the temple of the dread goddess Demeter. They would drink their 'forgetting' before drinking the renewal of 'memory'. This would have occurred on the night of the sixth day (of nine) in the higher mysteries and one can imagine the irritation of the priests when they found that their beautiful sacred rites were being plundered by ‘a mere philosopher’.

By the way, it is interesting is it not to note the similarity of Diotima’s name to that of the goddess?

The second day of the higher mysteries was put aside for ‘purification’ which took place in the nearby ocean. There's a passage in SOPHIST spoken not by Socrates (though in his presence) but by Zenos, the Stranger. He talks, in the sixth division of his dialectic, not only of purification (catharsis) of the body but also of the soul. These divisions were set out by Zenos to the brilliant young geometer Theaetetus. Their purpose was to chase down and trap the cursed sophist, but it is generally thought that this sixth division, which has no particular relevance to the ‘hunt’, was a reference to the Socratic discipline regarding catharsis of the soul, It is tempting to speculate as to what special exercises the priests gave to their mystae in accompaniment to their bodily cleansing. Alas, they seem now to be lost forever 'like tears in the rain'.

Pete.
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Michael Reid



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PostPosted: Wed Oct 24, 2012 3:06 pm    Post subject: Another source perhaps Reply with quote

Thank you Gentlemen for your replies.

They were read with great interest.

May I push to a wider field by making a presumption.

I presume that Socrates taught his inner circle, at least, his practices. It is very difficult to believe that they wouldn't have asked.

If so, then there may be reference to such practices in the Platonic academy perhaps or some other offshoot.

Do you know of any such references?

Michael

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Tim Addey



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PostPosted: Thu Oct 25, 2012 9:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hello Micheal

I don't know of anything very specific. We are confronting a problem here, which modern thinkers rarely acknowledge: Platonic philosophy (by which I mean the philosophical tradition in which Plato worked - rather than something he himself started) was primarily oral. See both the Phaedrus and his Seventh Letter. What was written down was not meant to be an exhaustive explanation of the art of the philosophical life: in the Phaedrus Plato has Socrates say that the written text serves as a reminder to the philosopher of what she or he has learnt through the more direct practice beforehand.

Adding to this difficulty is the fact that so much of what was written by Plato's immediate successors is lost. The suggestion is that even the corpus of Aristotle in its extant form is far from complete. The truth is that we know almost nothing of the actual practices of the Academy under Plato: to quote John Dillon from his lecture to the 2011 Prometheus Trust Conference on Orality in the Platonic Tradition, "Sadly, however, we have precious little evidence as to the activities of the Academy in Plato’s time. . . . Such snippets about the life of the School as have come down to us, even of a rather dubious nature, we cherish."

Moving forward through the centuries, Plutarch (the Biographer) gives a little more insight into the orality of the tradition (early 2nd century AD); but we must rely upon the more open discussions of these things by the late Platonists for more specific instances of what might be termed in later ages "spiritual exercises." There are certainly passages in Plotinus which can be read in this way - for example Ennead,I, vi, 9: "Recall your thoughts inward . . . etc" and V, viii, 7: "Let there be then in the soul a lucid imagination of a sphere, containing all things in its transparent receptacle; whether they are agitated, or at rest; or partly mutable, and partly stable. Now preserving this sphere receive another in your soul, removing from this last the extension into bulk, take away likewise place, and banish far from yourself all imagination of matter . . ."

I think the best we can do as regards your question, is to look carefully and with an informed eye, at the hints that may be in other dialogues. One advantage we have in our age is, of course, the fact that the West has gone East to see how the Hindu and Buddhist schools actual work. What seems to be mere argumentation in the Parmenides may, when taken into the solitary soul, turn out to be a path to the highest contemplative state, or even union with divinity. Proclus, in his Commentary on the dialogue says,

"But our intention in pursuing these mysteries is no other than by the logical energies of our reason to arrive at the simple intellection of beings, and by these to excite the divine one resident in the depths of our essence, or rather which presides over our essence, that we may perceive the simple and incomprehensible one. For after, through discursive energies and intellections, we have properly denied of the first principle all conditions peculiar to beings, there will be some danger, lest, deceived by imagination after numerous negations, we should think that we have arrived either at nothing, or at something slender and vain, indeterminate, formless, and confused; unless we are careful in proportion as we advance in negations to excite by a certain amatorial affection the divine vigour of our unity; trusting that by this means we may enjoy divine unity, when we have dismissed the motion of reason and the multiplicity of intelligence, and tend through unity alone to the One Itself, and through love to the supreme and ineffable Good."

It is such insights as this that make it essential that our understanding of Platonic dialectic is not limited to the level of the exchange of each other's reasoned positions, but rather allows for the growth of consciousness onwards towards those living, eternal and divine ideas from which the whole of manifested reality is derived. But this is a growth of consciousness that, paradoxically, simplifies, strips away, stills and silences the babble of the word-bound mind.

Tim
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Michael Reid



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PostPosted: Sun Oct 28, 2012 7:40 am    Post subject: Skating across the surface of Plato Reply with quote

Tim,

Thank you very much for a very thought provoking reply, especially the Plotinus references. I have to admit to have taken little notice of Plotinus up 'til now but found it quite compelling and was drawn into reading on from the references that you gave. There was a bit of difficulty finding them and that may have been due to a different translation. Which translation do you have?



Skating

Your point of looking below the surface of Plato is one that has come up repeatedly in discussions in Cambridge and Peterborough. It is very easy to read through a dialogue and smile at the clever way that Socrates dismisses the arguments of Laches and co and enjoy the show, as it were.

But that is just skating across the surface and not deeply satisfying. One is left with the feeling of having just missed something crucially important whilst indulging in the trivial.

Although one does break through the surface on occasion, especially during our Plato days each spring under the guidance of David Horan.

This has long been a personal frustration and confirmed by what you have written, that the daily practices by Socrates and the platonists are not recorded for it is the process by which we may be led, as in the analogy of the cave, from our subterranean puppet show to the real and thence to look upon the sun itself, that is desired to be known.

All our efforts to break through this surface must therefore be of great value in uncovering these mysteries.

Any other clues and pointers gratefully received.

Michael

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Tim Addey



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PostPosted: Sun Oct 28, 2012 11:21 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

The translations are by Thomas Taylor - his extensive writings and translations are essential for anyone who is looking to do more than skate! He was at the height of his powers 200 years ago, so his English is a little old fashioned - but his use of the late Platonists' (misnamed the neoplatonists) writings to understand and explain the dialogues throw a wonderful light on them. If you'll forgive the plug, his entire output is available from the Prometheus Trust, see www.prometheustrust.co.uk

Tim
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BecHartwick



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PostPosted: Mon Jan 21, 2013 12:46 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
See both the Phaedrus and his Seventh Letter. What was written down was not meant to be an exhaustive explanation of the art of the philosophical life: in the Phaedrus Plato has Socrates say that the written text serves as a reminder to the philosopher of what she or he has learnt through the more direct practice beforehand.


Tim, I take these references in the Phaedrus to mean that, even in its most effective form, the written word can only ever serve as a reflection and reminder of the essential knowledge/memory carried in the being. Is this what you mean by "the more direct practice beforehand", or are you referring to philosophic practices and exercises, the "art of the philosophical life"?

As for lingering in the doorway for what seems to us a strange amount of time, I guess it only seems strange because we're used to being on perpetual missions to outcomes and destinations. If something appears to necessitate lengthy consideration - or the daimon suggests it might not be prudent to move on just yet - perhaps for Socrates there is simply no reason to move.

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Michael Reid



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PostPosted: Fri Mar 01, 2013 5:23 pm    Post subject: The Daimon dictates Reply with quote

What an interesting thought. If I might put it another way. That he might stand there until the Daimon, which never tells him to do something but will reliably tell him when not to, relents from forbidding him from moving from the spot.

It is often my experience that whilst allowing the thinking to die down and the mind to come to rest at the end of an activity, I move on to the next thing despite the knowledge that complete inner peace has not yet been achieved. It is entirely believable that Socrates might never do as I do and in fact remain still until he knows that it is the right time to move on.

What do you think?


Michael

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Michael Reid



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PostPosted: Fri Mar 15, 2013 7:40 am    Post subject: A statement in support Reply with quote

I've just completed a read of Mark Vernon's book; Plato's Podcasts.

The main point of interest and the reason for the title is very close to Tim's points about the nature of the teachings of Plato.

He states that Plato's thoughts in the Seventh letter; that philosophy cannot be transmitted except orally, posed a problem when the Academy became so successful that it was difficult to fit any new students in.

How then to transmit an oral tradition in the written word?

The answer is in a "podcast" of an actual oral exchange or dialogue as opposed to the transcript of a speech.

I'm not promoting the book, in fact that is probably the only real insight that it contains but was rather struck by the comparison.

It does chime with my own experiences of the dialogues, that although they do usually seem to leave the central questions unanswered, they somehow cause a crystallisation of an understanding in one's own mind over time and especially when considered in the company of those equally curious.

Is that the experience of others here?

Michael

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Michael Reid



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PostPosted: Mon Aug 05, 2013 9:21 am    Post subject: Odd email. Reply with quote

The question is; if one's Daimon forbids one to move from the spot and relents only a long time afterwards, What of that?

Could we live our lives entirely this way, with guidance only from within?

Did Socrates?

(the forum server sent me an email saying that someone has posted on this thread and having eagerly awaited a response for some time, it was disappointing to find that there was no response. After a moment's reflection I thought that fate was demanding something more. Hence the above. Still desperately keen to know what others think of this idea)

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Peter Blumsom



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PostPosted: Mon Aug 05, 2013 10:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

It's an interesting question but I'm not sure quite what you mean, Michael. In your first remark you use the word 'forbid' which seems a little anti philosophical. Your second sentence mitigates this by using the word 'guide'.

From my perspective your rephrasing of the question goes to the heart of Platonic teaching. Consider the cardinal virtues. The highest of these is Sophia, wisdom. Yet there is a beautiful dynamic posed here. Sophia doesn't act, nor does it seem to compel, it merely discloses itself to a man or woman. That is where andreia or courage (lit. manliness) comes in. Have we the courage to act on what wisdom has disclosed for us? But courage is not enough. Spirit must be 'tempered' with discipline (sophrosyne) otherwise anything can happen. One thinks of Don Quixote tilting at windmills. Now you may not agree but this seems to me to be the ultimate act of free will. It surely is an act of free will that Socrates did not leave the spot in Phaedrus until, correcting his first (inferior) speech, he delivered the famous palinode. However dramatically it is couched in the text, he 'chose' to obey his inner voice or daimon or local deities or the musai (his various sources of inspiration).

My question is, can we call this act of obedience a form of catharsis or purification? - as it sometimes means that we have to go against all the habits of a lifetime.

Pete

PS. A slight caveat: when you say 'only from within' my own feeling is 'only when the need arises'. Otherwise surely we'd be no better than automatons.
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Michael Reid



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PostPosted: Wed Aug 07, 2013 8:18 am    Post subject: Daimon and free will Reply with quote

Thank you for a very thought provoking answer.

Your post caused a couple of days of consideration and still I'm cautious to reply because you make several points the consequences of which are far ranging and I fear not doing it justice.

Addressing only a couple of the most striking ones, first to turn to the free will question.

If one's daimon were to tell us what to do then indeed, blind obedience would be the opposite of free will as you suggest.

If, as Socrates says, it only ever councils against certain courses of action, then we have two types of free will available. The first as you imply is the free will to ignore the guidance, the second is the freedom to do anything at all that the Daimon does not tell us not to do.

That leads to the core of my original question, which is to ask, "What would life be like if we always listened to and accepted the guidance of our Daimon?"

The second point addressed here is your question regarding the cathartic effect of not following blindly the commands of old habit (surely the true automaton state) when our daimon advises against it. This seems to be the route to true freedom and a more interesting, and exciting or at least less repetitive life.

Does that hang together?

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Peter Blumsom



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PostPosted: Wed Aug 07, 2013 12:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Michael,

There’s an interesting passage in the fourth book of Republic that I think is relevant to what we’re talking about. You remember that in the second book Socrates feels that in order to penetrate the subject of the just man he needs to expand his subject and look at the state as a kind of magnification of the man. In the fourth book he seems to have satisfied himself on how justice expresses itself in the state and once more collapses his attention down to the individual. He wants to see if the ‘macro’ applied itself accurately to the ‘micro’, as it were. This passage starts at 436 and it’s difficult but well worth reading. Socrates identifies the parts of the soul. He singles out thumos or spirit for special consideration. Traditionally the Greeks had linked spirit to the appetitive part of soul, but Socrates said that on the contrary it was an ally of reason.

So I suggest he is reaffirming that courage is the natural servant of wisdom. Thus, in another dialogue, when Socrates exhorts the talented Theaetetus not to baulk at the formidable task of discovering what is meant by knowledge, he says: “Never say it is beyond your power; it will not be so, if heaven wills and you take courage.”

I have some more to say on all this, which is turning out to be most interesting to me, however I’d like first to see if you have anything more to add.

Pete
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Michael Reid



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PostPosted: Mon Feb 24, 2014 12:15 pm    Post subject: Not sure I understand how that passage relates. Reply with quote

Sorry to be dim but please spell it out.

Michael

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