The Drama of Ideas: Platonic Provocations in Theater and Philosophy

By Martin Puchner | Go to book overview

2
A Brief History of the Socrates Play

On November 7, 1468, Lorenzo de’ Medici arranged for an evening commemorating Plato’s birthday to be held at a villa in Careggi, outside Florence. Such commemorations had been common in antiquity but had since fallen out of fashion; in fact, 1,200 years had passed since the last such celebration had taken place, and the evening was therefore meant as an important historical moment—a return to Plato. Nine guests were invited, including a bishop, a physician, a poet, and a rhetorician. The evening began with the rhetorician, Bernardo Nuzzi, reading aloud the entire text of Plato’s Symposium. After this dramatic reading, Nuzzi asked each of the guests to give a lecture on one of the speeches. This second part of the evening thus mirrored Plato’s text, with each of the participants taking turns delivering commentaries on Plato. The interpretation of the Symposium was itself a symposium, and the whole event both a reading of Plato’s Symposium and a new version of it.

The (probably fictional) account of this evening can be found in De Amore by Marsilio Ficino, the person chiefly responsible for Plato’s revival in Renaissance Europe.1 With the encouragement of his patron, Cosimo de’ Medici (grandfather of Lorenzo de’ Medici), Ficino had immersed himself in Plato’s original text and laboriously translated Plato’s entire oeuvre, much of it for the first time, into Latin. It was this translation that catalyzed and shaped the breathtaking revival of Platonism in Western Europe. Ficino also created a network of Plato enthusiasts and called it Plato’s Academy, named after the school founded by Plato outside the agora of Athens; this became the center of Platonism in Florence. Ficino’s Academy and his celebration of Plato’s birthday continued to be seen as a crucial scene even centuries later. In 1862, the Italian painter Luigi Mussini revisited this scene in a painting called Celebration of Plato’s Birthday at Lorenzo Il Magnifico’s Villa in Careggi on November 7, 1474.2 The figure at the center, Ficino (or Nuzzi), is reading a speech taken from the Symposium or commenting on a particular passage, with his right hand resting on the open book and his

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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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