Myth and Philosophy from the Presocratics to Plato

Myth and Philosophy from the Presocratics to Plato

Myth and Philosophy from the Presocratics to Plato

Myth and Philosophy from the Presocratics to Plato

Synopsis

This book explores the complex relationship between myth and philosophy in writings by Greek intellectuals between the late-sixth and mid-fourth centuries BC. Although philosophy may seem far removed from mythological stories, closer examination reveals that Plato and others realized that philosophic accounts too were "stories" about reality. Kathryn Morgan shows how these philosophers used myth to express philosophic problems. Her book traces a tradition of strictly rational and philosophical myth through two centuries.

Excerpt

In the previous chapter we saw how viewing the mythological tradition as a text allowed the sophists to create ironising mythological epideixeis. These epideixeis demonstrated the manipulation of linguistic and social convention through the creation and undermining of rhetorical and ethical paradigms. I suggested that mythological role-playing enabled the sophists to enter into a close relationship with these paradigms. Hippias can play Nestor, Antisthenes can impersonate both Ajax and Odysseus. Epideixeis that concentrate on paradigms for correct ethical behaviour assimilate themselves to, and manipulate, the traditional and societally non-threatening genre of 'advice to young men'. There was, however, an omission: Protagoras' myth of the origins of civilisation as transmitted in Plato's Protagoras. Because of the complexity of the issues involved, the Protagoras has been reserved for separate treatment. Interpretative problems abound. Are we to believe that the speech Plato puts into Protagoras' mouth represents a Protagorean or a Platonic, myth? If Protagorean, how is it affected by being embedded in a Platonic context?

In the following pages I shall argue that the myth of the Protagoras is substantially Protagorean and accurately represents a sophistic use of myth with close ties to other sophistic epideictic practice. This demonstration will have two ($$) parts, both indicative of the role of social and mythological convention. the first concerns the use of myth to disguise the unexamined nature of conventional belief in the prerequisites for a just society. Protagoras' introduction to his myth suggests that mythos and logos are easily distinguishable – and interchangeable – styles of presentation. Careful analysis shows that the myth is a crucial underpinning for his arguments, couched as mythological narrative to disguise its lack of rigour. Plato demonstrates the impasse reached when . . .

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