The Drama of Ideas: Platonic Provocations in Theater and Philosophy

By Martin Puchner | Go to book overview

1
The Poetics of the Platonic Dialogue

Plato, Dramatist

Sometime during the fifth century BCE, a young playwright submitted his tragedy to the annual theater competition at Athens. Despite his youth, he was already quite experienced in the theater. He had secured the financial backing of a patron, Dion, and so acquired one of the most desirable posts in the Athenian theater world: leader of the chorus (choregus). This was apparently not enough for the young man, for there was one higher honor to be had: winning first prize as playwright. The competition was fierce. Everyone would be there, assembled in the huge open-air Dionysius Theater, holding more than fifteen thousand, to witness triumph or humiliation. If his play won, it would be the making of his career. He would be feted for days on end and become an instant celebrity; surely he would stop going to school and quit wrestling, his other two occupations. But as he made his way to the theater to submit his play, something unexpected happened. He ran into a small group of people who were listening to a disheveled, stub-nosed creature whom he recognized as the notorious public speaker Socrates. He started to listen and was strangely compelled by Socrates’ witty and ironic phrases, which cut like razors through the incoherent speeches put forward by various bystanders. He decided to become a student of this man. And then, on the steps of the great Dionysius Theater of Athens, he burned his play.

The playwright, of course, was Plato, and the scene is transmitted to us by Plato’s first biographer, Diogenes Laertius, who even has Plato exclaim melodramatically, “Come hither, O fire-god, Plato now has need of thee,” as his play goes up in flames.1 But why did Plato burn his tragedy? Much is at stake in the answer, for Western philosophy has tended to construe a history according to which Plato had to consign to the flames his ambition as a playwright in order to be reborn as a philosopher.

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The Drama of Ideas: Platonic Provocations in Theater and Philosophy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface vii
  • Contents xi
  • 1 - The Poetics of the Platonic Dialogue 3
  • 2 - A Brief History of the Socrates Play 37
  • 3 - The Drama of Ideas 73
  • 4 - Dramatic Philosophy 121
  • 5 - The New Platonists 173
  • Epilogue - Dramatic Platonism 193
  • Appendix 1 - Socrates Titles 199
  • Appendix 2 - Charting the Socrates Play 209
  • Notes 211
  • Bibliography 237
  • Index 245
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