Symposium (Xenophon)

Symposium (Xenophon)

Xenophon's "Symposium" (Συμπόσιον) records the discussion of Socratesand company at a dinner given by Callias for his eromenos Autolycus, son of Lycon. (Some commentators identify this Lycon with the Lycon who was one of Socrates' prosecutors. [p. 531, O. Todd, "Xenophon IV: Memorabilia, Oeconomicus, Symposium, Apology", Harvard U. Press 1923.] However, others doubt the identification; John Burnet, for example, claims it "is most improbable". [p. 151, "Plato's Euthyprho, Apology of Socrates, and Crito", Clarendon 1924. Also, James Adam says of Socrates' prosecutor, "we know nothing except that he was the mouthpiece of the professional rhetoricians" (p. xxvi, "Platonis Apologia Socratis", Cambridge University Press 1916), which suggests agreement with Burnet in this matter. See further p. 29, T. Brickhouse & N. Smith, "Socrates on Trial", Princeton University Press 1989; p. 189, D. Nails, "The People of Plato", Hackett 2002.] ) 421 BC is the dramatic date of Xenophon's "Symposium".

While Plato's "Symposium" consists of a series of lengthy speeches in praise of love, Xenophon's is dominated by witty repartee.

A contest of words emerges between Socrates and Callias, and each of the symposiasts is asked to describe the thing which he prides himself on most. All their answers are playful or paradoxical: Socrates, for one, prides himself on his knowledge of the art of pimping.

The story comes to a climax when Socrates praises the love Callias had for Autolycus.

Relationship to Plato's "Symposium"

There has been some dispute about whether Xenophon's or Plato's work was written first. Henry Graham Dakyns, a Victorian-era scholar who translated many works by both Plato and Xenophon, believed that Plato knew of this work, and that it influenced him to some degree when he wrote his own "Symposium".

However, most later scholars have taken the argument against an army of lovers in Socrates' final speech as proof that Xenophon had based his work on Plato's, since this concept is mentioned in Plato's work. The speech seems to parody or pastiche the erotic speeches in both Plato's "Symposium" and "Phaedrus".

Though some scholars have argued that the long speech of Socrates contains later additions, and opinion is divided as to which author was first to write a Socratic symposium, a work considered the standard study of this piece as of early 2000 holds that Xenophon wrote the "Symposium" in the second half of the 360s, benefiting from Plato's former Socratic literature. []

As for being informative historical sources about Socrates, Xenophon's "Symposium" and his "Oeconomicus" are regarded by most scholars today as practically worthless. [p. 57, T. Brickhouse & N. Smith, "Socrates", in C. Shields, "The Blackwell Guide to Ancient Philosophy", Blackwell 2003.]



* Strauss, Leo; "Xenophon's Socrates", Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1972.
* Xenophon; "The Shorter Socratic Writings: "Apology of Socrates to the Jury," "Oeconomicus," and "Symposium," trans. and with interpretive essays by Robert C. Bartlett, with Thomas Pangle and Wayne Ambler, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, The Agora Editions, 1996.

External links

* Project Gutenberg has the e-text of [ Dakyns' translation of Xenophon's "Symposium"]

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