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Crito as a Story?

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Crito as a Story?

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Sun Jun 01, 2014 10:25 pm

I am wondering if Plato can be read as an amusing narrative without bothering to inquire about what it means?

An old friend from 40 years ago was over for a visit of several hours last friday. He has lectured extensively on the topic of greek philosophy. He teaches something sort of like the foundations western civilization for people from other cultures. Anyway, I don't have much interest in greek philosophy but after doing some work in the Apocalypse this morning I picked up LOEB Plato v1 and read some of the first page of CRITO. It looks to me like this could be amusing if not taken too seriously. The greek is easy. No need to fuss and bother with all kinds of secondary literature. Nothing on the order of reading Sophocles or Aeschylus. Does anyone else read Plato just for the dialogue?
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Re: Crito as a Story?

Postby mwh » Mon Jun 02, 2014 12:37 am

Good that you've started a new thread, rather than continuing with the "Plato, Phaedrus 245a" one, where it probably wouldn't get much traction. :D

It's an intriguing (and philosophically important) fact that Plato wrote dialogues, and wrote nothing in his own person (unlike Aristotle's dialogues). And most of them, Crito among them, are made more engaging by virtue of their being cast in dialogue form - they're pseudo-drama. But I wouldn't call them amusing, exactly, even if Plato's Socrates can certainly be something of a homo ludens (and infuriating). There's nothing better than Plato for learning Attic Greek (it's the closest we can get to how it was actually spoken by the more educated members of society), and I suppose it is possible to read him without regard to the substantive issues discussed by his characters. But why would you want to do that? If you read beyond the first page, you'd find that he often deals with topics of high relevance today -- civil disobedience, for instance. Maybe it would help if you didn't think of it as "philosophy," which is probably not what a comparable piece of writing would be called today. And it's no great struggle to figure out "what it means."
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Re: Crito as a Story?

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Mon Jun 02, 2014 4:36 am

Yeah, I go past the first page and read samples from other "books" in the Loeb vol one. I can see that the humor would be limited to the irony of Socrates situation and his commentary on it. It is kind of a downer reading about a greek wiseman who is under sentance of death. Too much of that sort of thing going on in modern police states to make it very funny.

Do we know that Socrates for a fact existed as historical figure or is he a creation of Plato, or perhaps some each?
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Re: Crito as a Story?

Postby Scribo » Mon Jun 02, 2014 12:17 pm

Socrates certainly existed, yes, there's nothing inherently mythical about his personage and we find him cited by a wide range of authors: Plato, Xenophon...there's a reference to him later by Aeschines (or Antiphon? rhetoric be damned I can never remember) and, of course, Aristophanes Clouds. The latter is supremely satisfying.

MWH: Why Plato as more representative cf'd to inscriptions or comedy? also aren't there some Ionian elements in Plato's writing? I can't remember, it's been a while since I've concentrated on them. I do think they're an excellent introduction to Attic and Greek prose in general, especially since the modern mind can't really digest Lysias and Xenophon anymore. Dialogues like the Hipparchos are really easy. Ion too.
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Re: Crito as a Story?

Postby mwh » Mon Jun 02, 2014 12:27 pm

Inscriptions are formal and non-conversational, comedy is in verse. Not to say we can't learn a lot from both. Comedy is second only to Plato as a guide to how Athenians expressed themselves, I'd say, and of course less gentile.

You were thinking of Aeschines Socraticus, perhaps?
EDIT: No, you were thinking of the other Aeschines' Against Timarchus. But let's not forget that (a different) Aeschines also wrote Socratic dialogues, just like Plato (except that Aeschines' seem all to have been in monologue form with Soc as speaker, like P's Republic - an observation I haven't seen made in the literature, by the way).
Last edited by mwh on Mon Jun 02, 2014 12:51 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Crito as a Story?

Postby Scribo » Mon Jun 02, 2014 12:33 pm

I hope you realise that your comment is now responsible for my going on a Plato binge. The last few times I've ever read anything about Plato I've been much less linguistically aware and or reading it for other, usually social, information. I'm curious how it holds up against inscriptions, formal and informal, and the varying registers of comedy etc.

Wait. I'm going about this the wrong way like a fool. First I should find a book on Plato's language. 90% chance someone has done this earlier and better than I in an accessible fashion.
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Re: Crito as a Story?

Postby mwh » Mon Jun 02, 2014 1:03 pm

As to Socrates' historicity, the big question as far as Plato is concerned is is how much of his Socrates represents Socrates and how much Plato. Philosophers worry a lot about that, and Plato has not made it easy for them. Which is significant in itself.
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Re: Crito as a Story?

Postby Paul Derouda » Mon Jun 02, 2014 2:32 pm

mwh wrote:how much of his Socrates represents Socrates and how much Plato

Why would anyone represent himself as such an ***hole? ;)

Regarding the difficulty of Plato: I find it very variable. Phaedrus I found very difficult, the Apology quite easy, Crito I haven't read.
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Re: Crito as a Story?

Postby Qimmik » Mon Jun 02, 2014 2:35 pm

The main point of Plato's dialogues is that Socrates always wins the argument--usually by some sort of verbal legerdemain.
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Re: Crito as a Story?

Postby Paul Derouda » Mon Jun 02, 2014 3:01 pm

Yes. I'm glad I never met the guy. 2413 years since his death and he still gives me the creeps.
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Re: Crito as a Story?

Postby cb » Mon Jun 02, 2014 4:12 pm

hi, the best study of platonic language i know is still riddell's digest of platonic idioms, in the back of his apology edition:

https://archive.org/stream/apologyofpla ... 8/mode/2up

socrates doesn't always win btw, he gets annihilated in the parmenides where plato raises heaps of problems with his own theory of ideas. people are often also saying in the dialogues how annoying socrates is being. he was a v strange guy. nevertheless i paused a long time a few months ago in front of the stoa of zeus eleutherios in athens imagining him doing what he did in that little space...

i took a phil degree at uni, and read plato almost every day (and in fact took up classics as a result of philosophy), and so am too biased in his + socrates' favour to give a reasonable account of his interest as a writer, others' views here would be better guides. nevertheless i think you could definitely read plato without getting too deeply into the philosophy, just as you could read herodotus without going too deeply into the history. but once i get sucked in to a text i tend to want to know as much as possible what the text is saying, beyond what the simple dictionary definitions + syntax parsing reveals, and if that's you're inclination too and you don't want to get too involved in the philosophy side, perhaps look at other fields like the 10 orators. lots of great attic but also lots of variation across the 10 and of course lots of good real-life fact stories at the centre of the disputes.

cheers, chad
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Re: Crito as a Story?

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Mon Jun 02, 2014 10:40 pm

mwh wrote:As to Socrates' historicity, the big question as far as Plato is concerned is is how much of his Socrates represents Socrates and how much Plato. Philosophers worry a lot about that, and Plato has not made it easy for them. Which is significant in itself.



Thats what I was driving at. The "historical" Socrates is lost in the mists …
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Re: Crito as a Story?

Postby pster » Tue Jun 03, 2014 11:25 am

The Platonic dialogues fall into different groups. In the early dialogues we get a Socrates that is starkly different from the one found in the middle dialogues. He is exclusively concerned with moral philosophy, has no over arching theory, and proceeds by the elenchus. And most of the early dialogues end inconclusively. This is all very familiar to people who work on Plato. So the burden is really on those who want to claim that we aren't getting a picture of the historical Socrates in those early dialogues.

More generally, it is all good and fine to mock Plato. I have shared many a laugh at Plato's expense:...and so you see he is both the younger and the elder so he is his own son... And perhaps from a classics perspecitve it is understandable when Plato just seems one great writer among so many to spend ones time on. But if you take a broader perspective, oh, like say the perspective of Western civilization, it should be understood that we are talking about somebody who invented Western philosophy and somebody who is more influential than Shakespeare. Ask yourself a hard abstract question, like oh, what is a number? It won't take long before you find yourself seriously considering positions that are Platonic. I would like to think that none of this would need to be mentioned on textkit, but a few of the comments above made me wonder. Plato's thought is still alive and well among people who think about very hard questions. Believe it or not, there are towering figures who regard themselves as hard core Platonists with respect to certain kinds of very difficult questions. They take Plato very seriously. And their not stupid for doing so.
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Re: Crito as a Story?

Postby C. S. Bartholomew » Thu Jun 26, 2014 7:08 pm

Not mocking Plato. Just not a Greek Philosophy aficionado. Never had either the aptitude nor the inclination to pursue it.

I have been working in Phadeo for a week now. Trying to read a page a day in Loeb. So far the story is interesting. I think a page a day will be doable after while, right now it is more like a page some days and half a page other days.

Embroiled somewhere else in a discussion of eastern thought, monism and dualism. Was Plato a monist in the metaphysical sense?
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