Radcliffe G. Edmonds III

Office: Thomas 245

Office Phone: 526-5046

Canaday 314

W 2:00-4:00

Office Hours: MWF 1:30-2:30

or by appointment


Required Texts:

Course Description:

Plato's dialogues present a challenge to any reader, for they are constructed on many levels: as philosophical discussions between a number of interlocutors, as a narration of such a discussion between another set of characters, and, ultimately, as a communication between the absent author, Plato, and his audience. Platonic myth poses a particular problem, since the presented myths are told by a specific character who shapes the myth for his audience within the dialogue, while, at the same time, Plato is the one manipulating the form of the myth for the audience of the reader of the dialogue. Any understanding of Plato's use of myth must therefore take into account both levels of myth-telling. In this seminar, we will explore the problems of Platonic myth — why does Plato use myth and how does he use it in his dialogues? We will examine the myths Plato works into his dialogues as well as the explicit critiques Plato includes of the poetic and mythic tradition of which he makes such careful use. Combining a reading of the entire dialogue in English with a close reading of the myth in the original Greek, we will situate these myths in the contexts of the dialogues. For each of Plato’s myths, we will explore its relation to the mythic tradition, its relations to Plato’s philosophical projects, and its relation to the concepts and themes of the dialogue in which it is situated. We will discuss how these specific contexts shape the myths Plato tells and how Plato manipulates the mythic tradition to achieve his philosophic ends.

Course Requirements:

Class participation:

Participation, of course, includes attendance, since you cannot participate if you are not in class. If, for some reason, you cannot attend class, please inform me in advance. In each class session, we will do some translation aloud from the portions of the text assigned for the week. Please be prepared to translate any of the readings specified in the previous class session. If, for some reason, you cannot prepare for class, please attend anyway - you will be better prepared for the next class.

We will also spend time discussing the characters and ideas that animate these texts, since one of the greatest features of Plato’s dialogues is their ability to stimulate readers to do their own arguing. We will make reference to various secondary literary studies on these dialogues and the myths within them, examining the strengths and weaknesses of these approaches.

Seminar Paper:

Each student will write a research paper of topic and scope to be determined in discussion with the instructor. In the final weeks of the term, each student will give a brief, in-class presentation of the material in the paper.

Week I: 9/6


Defining Myth

History of Scholarship on Platonic Myth


Week II: 9/13

Myth as Agonistic Discourse

Symposium - 177a-185c; 189c-193d; 199c-212c


Week III: 9/20

Plato’s Attack on Myth

The Dangers of Poetry

Havelock, Preface to Plato

Brisson, Plato, the Mythmaker, part I

Republic 357a-368e/402b


Week IV: 9/27

Plato’s Own Use of Myths

The story of Gyges in Plato and Herodotus

Myth of Er in the Republic — 613e-621d

Detienne, Creation of Mythology

Brisson, Plato the Mythmaker, part II


Week V: 10/4

The Myth in the Gorgias 523a-527c

Edmonds, "Whipscars on the Naked Soul"


Week VI: 10/11

The Myth in the Phaedo 107c-114c


Week VII: 10/16-22 BREAK


Week VIII: 10/25

Myth in the Phaedrus — 246a-257a


Week IX: 11/1

Myths of History - Thamus and Theuth

Myth in the Protagoras — 320c-323a


Week X: 11/8

Myth in the Statesman 268e-274e


Week XI: 11/15

Myth in the Timaeus 20d-27c


Week XII: 11/22

Myth in the Critias 106a-121c


Week XIII: 11/29

Myth in the Laws 676a-682e


Week XIV: 12/6

Conclusions on Platonic Myth

Student Presentations


Week XV: 12/11-13-15

Conclusions on Platonic Myth

Student Presentations