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Listening to the Cicadas : A Study of Plato's Phaedrus

by G. R. F. Ferrari, P. E. Easterling, M. K. Hopkins, etc.

Buy the book: G. R. F. Ferrari. Listening to the Cicadas : A Study of Plato's Phaedrus

Release Date: 30 November, 1990

Edition: Paperback


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Buy the book: G. R. F. Ferrari. Listening to the Cicadas : A Study of Plato's Phaedrus

Platonic Pharmacology

For twenty-five hundred years we assumed Phaedrus was a badly put together dialogue, an early work, a botched job. Only recently have we decided to take a different tack and think about it as though it were a Masterwork. This is probably the result of literary criticism which places Phaedrus, on the basis of it's literary similarity to other works of that period, not at the beginning of Plato's career, but at the end of the middle period when he was at the height of his powers. It seems ironic that a book that claims that one of the deficiencies of writing is a book's inability to defend itself against misinterpretation should suffer such a fate.

When we assume that the Phaedrus is well written and the author is cogent, then we get commentaries on it like this one that takes the imagery, myth and eroticism of the Phaedrus seriously and explicate it brilliantly. Ferrari covers all the various aspects of the Phaedrus, showing that the parts do make a consistent whole, even a beautiful and profound one. Plato's aim is to show how rhetoric and philosophy differ from each other, as do their practitioners. This he does by having the two interlocutors present three speeches and then speak about the speeches. The speeches are about love, authentic and inauthentic.

What Plato does in Phaedrus cannot be called psychology, it must be called psychomythology. The problem is to comment without demythologizing (Socrates denounces demythologizing as activity for the wise man with nothing better to do). Rather, Ferrari respectfully explicates the myth as myth (unlike Pirsig in Zen and Motorcycle Maintenance), achieving a clarity and fertility of interpretation that is very persuasive. It has to be persuasive because in the end he takes on Jacques Derrida and his famous interpretation of Phaedrus "Plato's Pharmacy" (In his book "Dissemination").

Because of the profoundity of its subject matter, this book is no easy read. But Ferrari helps us out by avoiding academese and writing in a clear, even elegant style. One seldom reads a book so completely satisfying as this one

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