Plato: A Friend in Phaedrus

“Through each speech,” John said, “Socrates is trying to convey that what sex is to the body, good, improving speech is to the soul. And that the true lover wants to uplift and elevate the beloved for the beloved’s own sake, and not for his own sake. True love isn’t a selfish thing. It’s a form of altruism, do you see? So, for Socrates, there is a telos, a purpose, to love, and that is to elevate the other’s soul to something sublime and almost divine. For instance, Socrates is trying to show Phaedrus what the point of love is and how to write about it.”

***

 

“Do you believe that if love is guided, instructed, and nurtured, we come closer to something nearly divine?”

 

“I agree, love can sweep us off our feet and elevate and uplift us.”

 

“True love is an infinite feeling between two people. The difficulty as you have put it is guiding it, instructing it, and nurturing it for the betterment of the beloved. It has to be something continuously worked upon, pruned, and perfected for it to not rot and wither away. We will always struggle with getting the proportion right, but that’s part of what it means to be human. We must always work on proportionality to get things right.”

 

“What do you mean love is infinite?” Daniel asked.

 

“I mean that true love is nothing you achieve perfectly, but rather are always striving to get closer and closer towards because there’s always more and more room for growth. For the lovers it’s for ever greater attachment and for the philosopher it’s for ever greater wisdom. Furthermore, love takes us out of time and space into eternity. Love can arrest time itself. It’s something you can never tire of; it’s something you can never bore of. It stops time in its tracks and wisps us away from the world of tables and chairs.  It wisps us away from the world of mere materiality to the heavens where love is eternal and undying like true knowledge. On this high point, let us continue on, it’s getting hot outside. Later on in Socrates second hymn to love he says:

 

Of the nature of the soul, though her true form be ever a theme of large and more than mortal discourse, let me speak briefly, and in a figure. And let the figure be composite-a pair of winged horses and a charioteer. Now the winged horses and the charioteers of the gods are all of them noble and of noble descent, but those of other races are mixed; the human charioteer drives his in a pair; and one of them is noble and of noble breed, and the other is ignoble and of ignoble breed; and the driving of them of necessity gives a great deal of trouble to him”

 

“This passage is what arrested my attention,” Daniel said. “The soul as a charioteer. The gods have two white noble steeds and fly easily towards the heavens. Meanwhile, we have this white horse on the right hand side of noble stock; and to the left we have a dark horse, ignoble in breed. It is a most difficult task to tame this wild beast of passion and emotion. But if one wants to live a self-directed life–a life governed by reason–then one must tame the dark horse. The Charioteer and the white horse must work together in order to bring a certain aptness and fitness to the soul. We are constantly in conflict with our desires and passions, which the dark horse represents.”

 

“Yes, Daniel. The struggle of our lives is found between passion and reason. I believe, like Plato, we are like charioteers driven by two horses. We, the Charioteers, represents reason. The light horse represents honor, glory, and modesty, and the other is a dark horse of passion and emotions. It’s our job to tame the dark horse in order to live a life governed by reason. However, the way to celebrity today is through vulgarity. It’s our job to rein in that dark horse that demeans and depreciates in order to live a life that’s elevating and nearly divine.”

 

“That’s beautiful, John. However, the only thing I see troubling from this charioteer analogy is what is sublimated. What most moves us can be hidden within unbeknownst to ourselves. So one must often know thyself in great measure in order to rein in that dark horse. Nevertheless, not all passions are bad. Socrates was a philosopher, and the term philo means love; his love was the search after wisdom. So passions ought to be rightly considered. But I regress, because the dark horse should never be the driving or directing force blindly pursuing its own appetites. Our higher selves should search for passions that are noble, beautiful, and good.”

“This charioteer example is universally applicable, John said. Like with the light and dark horse, we all have a dark passionate side that we try to control, tame, and rein in. If not, we fall victim to our own follies. Worse yet, we may find ourselves a slave to our passions, strapped down and bound to earth, only able to achieve a physical love. It would be sad to never be able to achieve platonic love, a noble love of the soul which is an immortal thing. Platonic love isn’t passionless. Rather, it’s full of passion! It’s just directed to achieve the goodness for the other, for the other’s own sake. This may be my favorite Platonic dialogue. Let’s continue”, John said:

“The wing is the corporeal element which is most akin to the divine, and which by nature tends to soar aloft and carry that which gravitates downwards into the upper region, which is the habitation of the gods. The divine is beauty, wisdom, goodness, and the like; and by these the wing of the soul is nourished, and grows apace; but when fed upon evil and foulness and the opposite of good, wastes and falls away.”

“Both of these horses have wings,” Daniel said. “However, when fed upon what is demeaning and depreciatory the wings wither and wry away, leaving the charioteer flightless. I always thought that the point of education was to reach up. Forget the mere facts and opinions of the welter of information. We must search for principles and precepts, and find definitions that are universal in their reach, so that one can judge not by a case by case scenario, struggling and juggling right from wrong, but instead, seeing the ruling principle in order to act accordingly.”

“Do you think this is an accurate description of our winged soul?”

“Yes I do. Trash in trash out. That is what society provides. Instead of having us reach upward, it keeps us in childhood irrevocably. The few who have nourished their wings have gone nearly unnoticed if at all.”

“I fear that too. It’s the struggle of our times. However, there is hope. Movies and shows are beginning to have that Greek tragedian essence to them. They’re beginning to expose what’s beneath the surface, getting to something much deeper than a mere laugh and flash. We’re beginning again to see tragic flaws and where they lead. Let me read further on about the heavens and the absolute beauty to behold up there, which we should all hope to see:

But of the heaven which is above the heavens, what earthly poet ever did or ever will sing worthily? It is such as I will describe; for I must dare to speak the truth, when truth is my theme. There abides the very being with which true knowledge is concerned; the colourless, formless, intangible essence, visible only to mind, the pilot of the soul. The divine intelligence, being nurtured upon mind and pure knowledge, and the intelligence of every soul which is capable of receiving the food proper to it, rejoices at beholding reality, and once more gazing upon truth, is replenished and made glad, until the revolution of the worlds brings her round again to the same place. In the revolution she beholds justice, and temperance, and knowledge absolute, not in the form of generation or of relation, which men call existence, but knowledge absolute in existence absolute; and beholding the other true existences in like manner, and feasting upon them, she passes down into the interior of the heavens and returns home.”

“What it must be like to be a god,” Daniel said, “and see such a sight. The mind capable of such knowledge must be a rare thing.”

“This is a different version of the allegory of the cave which we will come go over in the future. However, instead of being chained down in a darkened cave, like in the allegory of the cave, we are here, earthbound and wingless due to this dark horse keeping our chariot grounded. What we long for is to catch a glimpse of what is beyond the heavens. Socrates sees beauty in Phaedrus and is reminded of the beauty he has seen beyond the heavens. His soul has seen the universal beauty eons ago; which Phaedrus is but a mere glimpse, a mere particular of it. In a later reading, the Symposium, we will discover the ladder of love in which we perceive a beautiful particular being. Then from seeing the beauty in one particular we then see that beauty in another, and then to see the beauty in all forms. Rung after rung one reaches up the ladder of beauty until we get to beauty absolute, and from that height we should never lose sight. Let me read further on Phaedrus and the nature of our souls:

Such is the life of the gods; but of other souls, that which follows God best and is likest to him lifts the head of the charioteer into the outer world, and is carried round in the revolution, troubled indeed by the steeds, and with difficulty beholding true being; while another only rises and falls, and sees, and again fails to see by reason of the unruliness of the steeds. The rest of the souls are also longing after the upper world and they all follow, but not being strong enough they are carried round below the surface, plunging, treading on one another, each striving to be first; and there is confusion and perspiration and the extremity of effort; and many of them are lamed or have their wings broken through the ill-driving of the charioteers; and all of them after a fruitless toil, not having attained to the mysteries of true being, go away, and feed upon opinion. The reason why the souls exhibit this exceeding eagerness to behold the plain of truth is that pasturage is found there, which is suited to the highest part of the soul; and the wing on which the soul soars is nourished with this.

That’s the problem, John said. The first two speeches were of opinion, not true knowledge. Lysias’ speech wasn’t even organized and didn’t define the term love. Nevertheless, even though Socrates, in his first speech, did so–he held fast to opinion–even if aided by reason. In this last speech of love, Socrates steps away from mere opinion, and holds fast to try to get a glimpse of what is beyond the heavens. Beyond the heavens is where true knowledge is found. True knowledge is what makes this a golden speech. It doesn’t point to opinion. Instead, the charioteer can soar upward to see what he once recollected. Once up there, the horses can graze on the green grass and nourish their wings, the wings being the grandest part of their souls.

 

 

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