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Synopses

Edited by Gregory Recco and Eric Sanday Indiana University Press ePub

1    Reading the Laws as a Whole: Horizon, Vision, and Structure

Mitchell Miller

My project in this essay is to orient—or, both more precisely and more modestly, to mine the text in order to provide some suggestions as to how one might orient—a reading of the Laws. To that end, I will offer three sets of reflections, guided by these questions: (1) To begin from the negative, what fundamental dimensions and motifs does Plato exclude from the dialogue, indicating that they lie beyond the horizon of relevant possibilities for thought that delimits the Athenian Stranger’s conversation with Cleinias and Megillus? (2) How, positively, does Plato define this horizon itself? That is, with what basic terms, in what basic relations—and conveyed by what allusions, in this case to his earlier major works on polity—does he have the Athenian establish this horizon? (3) Finally, what is the basic force he intends the text of the Laws to have, and what is the structure he has the Athenian Stranger give his discourse as a whole in order that it might have that force?

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4. Education in Plato’s Laws

Edited by Gregory Recco and Eric Sanday Indiana University Press ePub

4    Education in Plato’s Laws

John Russon

The basic story of Book 2 of Plato’s Laws is easy enough to tell. The Athenian Stranger, who is discussing the establishment of a good state with Cleinias the Knossian and Megillus the Spartan, argues for the primary importance of education and discusses the importance of song and dance in this context.1 Specifically, he maintains that children will have their adult perspectives formed through their early experiences of pleasure and pain, and that good education primarily involves training children to align their experiences of pleasure and pain with what wise adults would in fact recognize to be noble and ignoble behaviors respectively. Since children are playful by nature, it is through controlling their play that this education will be accomplished. Games, songs, and dances in particular are the structured forms of play in which children will participate in order to become educated into good citizenship (2.659e).2 The communal experience of song and dance, which is the focus of Book 2, will primarily be enacted through three choruses—a children’s chorus, led by the muses, a young men’s chorus led by Apollo, and a Dionysian chorus of adults, including especially old men (2.664c–d). It is the oldest men who, being wisest, will appreciate what the children should learn, and it is their insights—which should be the equivalent of the needs of virtue—that will determine the implicit content of the songs, dances, and games learned by the children (2.659d; 7.797a). The message being communicated will mostly express the importance of maintaining the existing social order, and its central message (its “noble lie,” so to speak—2.663d–e) will be the unity of justice and happiness (2.664b; also, 660e).

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10. The “Serious Play” of Book 7 of Plato’s Laws

Edited by Gregory Recco and Eric Sanday Indiana University Press ePub

10  The “Serious Play” of Book 7 of Plato’s Laws

David Roochnik

R. G. Bury begins the introduction to his translation of Plato’s Laws by stating that this work “lacks the charm and vigour of the earlier dialogues … [it] is marked also by much uncouthness of style, and by a tendency to pedantry, tautology and discursive garrulity which seems to point to the failing powers of the author.”1 Even without acceding to his suggestion that the inferior quality of this dialogue is due to Plato’s diminished abilities, it is tempting to acknowledge Bury’s description of the work. For the Laws does lack the sparkling density and playful irony of other dialogues. The Athenian is indeed pedantic, and his long-winded discourse is remarkably laborious. Especially for a reader inspired by the endlessly provocative minimalism characteristic of Socrates in so many other dialogues, tackling the Laws is a terrible chore. For above all else, what characterizes the Athenian’s speech is its sustained and relentless seriousness.

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7. “He Saw the Cities and He Knew the Minds of Many Men” Landscape and Character in the Odyssey and the Laws

Edited by Gregory Recco and Eric Sanday Indiana University Press ePub

7    “He Saw the Cities and He Knew the Minds of Many Men”: Landscape and Character in the Odyssey and the Laws

Patricia Fagan

The opening discussion of the constitutions of Crete and Sparta in Laws 1 (624a–626b) reveals two features central to the creation of laws, constitutions, and education: they are received from a god through a human intermediary (Zeus through Minos in the case of Crete, Apollo through Lycurgus in the case of Laconia). Second, aspects of the constitution develop out of the interactions of human groups with the terrain they inhabit. The Athenian stranger asks Cleinias, why does your law demand the common messes and the and weapons you employ (625c)? Cleinias replies that their has emerged from the landscape of Crete: it is not flat, so the Cretans do not use horses, but run. When running, light arms like bows and arrows are necessary. So, because of the landscape they inhabit, the Cretans have developed a particular set of military practices and a that supports that military practice. This paper traces a part of the working-out of these two themes, the relation between terrain and political character and the role of the divine in a , in the earlier and central books of the Laws. My discussion begins from the point about the relationship between constitution and terrain. I will examine here the opening of Book 4, where the stranger explains the significance for the development of virtue in the new city, of the city’s having a proper location and the right type of productive land; the new city’s virtue will depend upon her being isolated from other cities and agriculturally self-sufficient. I will discuss this analysis in light of the Cyclopes of the Odyssey, another isolated and agriculturally self-sufficient group, whom the stranger invokes in Book 3 as an example of the most just type of rule. The landscape the Cyclopes inhabit and the landscape the new city will inhabit, I will argue, indicate that the citizens of the new city will, like the Cyclopes, be characterized by hostile and closed-minded stances toward what comes to them from outside. I will turn next to a discussion of how the very opening of the Laws (as I have noted above) points to the crucial necessity of openness to the strange for the creation of laws and constitutions through its mention of the divine and mortal lawgivers of Crete and Sparta. Openness to the strange reveals itself here as openness to the divine, a theme that the Laws pursues through the figure of Dionysus. In the final section of the paper I will examine what I take to be the key features of Dionysus for the Laws: his ability to drive humans to madness in his rites and his violent punishment of cities that refuse to be open to the divine. Plato’s use of the Odyssey and of Dionysus-myth, then, invite us to challenge some of the claims that the Stranger so authoritatively makes about the sources and nature of virtue in a city.

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5. On Beginning after the Beginning

Edited by Gregory Recco and Eric Sanday Indiana University Press ePub

5    On Beginning after the Beginning

John Sallis

Almost always, it seems, one begins after the beginning. So it is with Socrates when, in the Phaedo, he tells of launching a second sailing, as sailors, in the absence of wind to fill their sails, take to the oars. What prompted Socrates was the recurrent failure of his efforts to grasp things directly and the consequent entanglement in intractable aporias. Thus finally, as he explains, he turned away from things, forsook immediate vision of them, and, instead, had recourse to , seeking to discover therein the truth of things.

Today, too, it is difficult to begin otherwise than after the beginning and in such a way that this posteriority is decisive. For, despite all efforts and claims to the contrary, we continue—we cannot but continue—to draw on linguistic and conceptual resources that originated in the Platonic texts. Even when what is sought is another beginning that would divert thinking from the first beginning, there is no escaping the necessity of reanimating and interrogating the Platonic beginning. Even in the present instance, in which a discourse focused otherwise than on the beginning of a dialogue is inserted into a sequence of discourses, the beginning—in whatever way it is launched—will be made after the beginning. The discourse will not only take as its theme beginning after the beginning but also will enact beginning in such a manner.

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