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Epoché: A Journal for the History of Philosophy

Volume 12, Issue 1, Fall 2007

Jacob Howland
Pages 17-47

Plato’s Dionysian Music?
A Reading of the Symposium

Like Aristophanes’ Frogs, Plato’s Symposium stages a contest between literary genres. The quarrel between Socrates and Aristophanes constitutes the primary axis of this contest, and the speech of Alcibiades echoes and extends that of Aristophanes. Alcibiades’ comparison of Socrates with a satyr, however, contains the key to understanding Socrates’ implication, at the very end of the dialogue, that philosophy alone understands the inner connectedness, and hence the proper nature, of both tragedy and comedy. I argue that Plato reflects in the character of Socrates the primordial wisdom embodied in satyric drama. I conclude with a brief consideration of Nietzsche’s challenge to Plato’s Dionysian wisdom.

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