Platonic Gossip

My friend Lily has this idea that Plato was the Perez Hilton of ancient Athens. Sure, we all go on talking about Plato’s ideas (literally– sometimes his theory of the Ideas)– the concepts of justice, love, philosophy, ethics, found in the dialogues that he wrote. But, according to Lily, what was probably the juiciest for Plato’s fellow ancients was the straight-up gossip that he shared in his work. After all, his works are dialogues that take place between a bunch of different people, most of whom were the intellectual lights of their day. Back when the agora was their version of Facebook, a place to see and be seen and talk with friends and see what others are up to. In his dialogues, Plato reveals deets about these ancient Greeks’ sex lives (uh, yeah, there’s a lot of pederasty in the Symposium), their drunkenness, their hang-ups.

 

Like take this one passage that Lily pointed out to me, from the opening passages of Plato’s Republic. Socrates’ friend Cephalus is talking about what a relief it is to have gotten old enough not to have to have sex– he says, “Old age is altogether a time of great peace and freedom from that sort of thing.” Cephalus divulges some juicy gossip about the late playwright Sophocles, telling Socrates: “I was there once when someone asked him, ‘How is your sex life, Sophocles? Are you still capable of making love to a woman?’ ‘Don’t talk about it, good sir, was Sophocles’ reply. ‘It is with the greatest relief that I have escaped it. Like escaping from a fierce and frenzied master.'” Plato is recording the hearsay of a hearsay (recording what Sophocles said to someone, which Cephalus overheard, and which he is telling Socrates)…which a lot of us just call gossip. Maybe Plato needed to hook his readers before going on a ten-book excursus of the components of the ideal city! Those Greeks…

 

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