Plato's Erotic World
From Cosmic Origins to Human Death
Cambridge University Press 2012
It’s traditional in Plato scholarship to divide his dialogues in various ways. One common division is a temporal one that distinguishes among early, middle and late dialogues. Another is by content: there are the so-called erotic dialogues, which include Symposium, Phaedrus and Alcibiades I, where themes of love and friendship are explicitly treated, and then the rest, which deal with such non-erotic themes as language and knowledge and ontology. Jill Gordon, Charles A. Dana Professor of Philosophy at Colby College, argues that this second division deeply misinterprets the role of eros in the Platonic corpus. In her new book, Plato’s Erotic World: From Cosmic Origins to Human Death (Cambridge University Press, 2012), she argues that paradigmatically non-erotic dialogues, such as Theaetetus, Parmenides and Phaedo, are in fact deeply erotic, and that the theme of eros unifies the corpus rather than divides it. For example, the Socratic dialectic, or elenchus, is a give-and-take that is erotic in nature, and doing philosophy itself is an erotic endeavor akin to naked exercise in the gymnasium. Her argument begins with a close reading of Timaeus, Plato’s creation myth, and the role of eros in the immortal human soul, and comes full circle with a reading of Phaedo in which Socrates’ growing rigidity as the hemlock takes hold is an erotic pun.