Short version – I’m going to read and blog about Plato’s dialogues, beginning with The Apology of Socrates by next Sunday – I invite you to join in.
Longer explanation – Last fall, I took a class about Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War. In addition to being interesting in its own right, reading Thucydides made me think more historically about the Greek texts with which I was already familiar: mostly Homer, Sophocles, Aristotle, and most notably Plato. I had already read them just as these monumental Classics of universal significance, rarely stopping to consider who actually wrote them, when and why and how.
I did not realize until taking this course (and listing to James Redfield talk about it) just how many of the characters appearing in Plato’s dialogues are based on historical figures. The most prominent, of course, is Socrates, but Alcibiades appears in six different dialogues, and even some as seemingly minor as Crito had a real-world counterpart. From what I remember, most of the characters become more archetypes than historically accurate portrayals (after all, Plato was a philosopher, not a dramatist or a historian, even if those categories didn’t mean what they mean to us now back then). Still, learning what we do know about their historical realities seems interesting to me, and hopefully, to the other authors of this blog.
I’m not only interested in history, and given that David and Nates are actual working philosophers (unlike yours truly, just a lowly PhD dropout turned high school teacher) I thought a fresh consideration of these texts might spur some interesting dialogue. Probably each of us has studied different Plato texts with different purposes in mind, but they are definitely the sort of things that reward re-reading, especially in light of new questions and perspectives.
I propose that we work Plato’s dialogues at the rate of about one per week. If/when we get to the longer dialogues, we can break those into smaller sections and talk about them.
There’s been lots of debate down through the years about the order of composition of Plato’s dialogues, and thus no consensus, but it does seem like there is general agreement that we can break them into early, middle, and late (there is also some arguably spurious work).
One sequence is probably as good as another for the purposes of this blog, so I’ll take the one Wikipedia endorses (below – it includes clickable links to the Wikipedia article on each of those dialogues). You can follow those through to available online texts too, mostly from the Jowett translation, which I’ll be reading because I have an old 2-volume set I’ll be using for my own reading. I’m sure that’s not the best or most recent translation, and of course we can argue about translation too if that happens.
This list also has the advantage of beginning with one of the most widely read of all the Platonic texts: The Apology of Socrates. We’ll likely go viral.
I’m going to re-read The Apology and post about it by next Sunday (1/11) evening.
Anyway, here’s the Wikipedia list, which is divided by period and then alphabetical after that [I really wanted to work in a joke here about “spades, then reverse-alphabetical after that” but was unable to, so I’ve just resorted to a bracketed reference to Greenwood-style 5-card stud].
|The dialogues of Plato|
|Transitional and middle dialogues:|
|Later middle dialogues:|
|Of doubtful authenticity:|