In the Symposium, Alcibiades famously compares Socrates to a Silenus statuette that, once opened, reveals god-like qualities (215a4ff.). It is widely believed that this arresting comparison, which proved a crucial influence for Socratic iconography, is Plato’s invention. My paper challenges this view: Plato, I argue, appropriates and ‘transcodes’ a comic image so as to promote philosophy. The image of ‘Socrates-silenus’ was in fact Aristophanes’ invention: Plato and his followers, both writers and sculptors, just appropriated it. Scholars have long recognised that ancient portraits of Socrates belong to two different types, conventionally called ‘A and ‘B’. Portraits ‘B’ are likely to derive from an official statue made by Lysippus, whereas ‘A’ can be traced back to a privately sponsored work, to be identified with a bust of Socrates erected by Plato and his associates in the Academy. In type ‘B’, Socrates is ‘normalised’ and portrayed as a good citizen, whereas type ‘A’ is more silenus-like and wild: Paul Zanker has famously interpreted it as a self-conscious provocation against the ideal of the good citizen, by definition ‘good and beautiful’ (kalokagathia). This fascinating argument can be further developed: Socrates’ very first words in the Clouds at line 223 feature a generally overlooked Pindaric quote, through which Socrates implicitly presents himself as Silenus. This, I argue, is safe evidence that the actor’s mask was ‘silenic’ in character. Socrates-Silenus, then, was not Plato's invention. The bulk of my paper explores some consequences of this reconstruction. The celebrated Silenus simile in the Symposium, as well as the bust in the Academy, is an example of self-deprecatory irony, namely the philosopher’s appropriation, for the sake of truth rather than laughter, of comic images originally designed to ridicule him. Like other dialogues, the Symposium plays with Socrates’ comic image, with the result that comic images are transcoded to break new semantic ground. This is explicitly suggested by Alcibiades himself, as he introduces the silenic image: ‘I’ll try and praise Socrates through images (δι΄ εἰκόνων). And maybe he’ll think I want to be funny, but the purpose of the image is not laughter but truth’ (215a). I take this as a golden interpretative rule, which - I maintain - has a huge potential and amounts to a self-conscious interpretative hint on Plato's part: Plato consistently ‘opens’ and transcodes comic images with a serious goal. Along with other passages from the Symposium, this pattern is clearly seen e.g. at 321b, where Alcibiades quotes Clouds 362. Originally intended as abusive, this description of Socrates’ bull-like gait and countenance is ‘opened’ and transcoded so as to convey Socrates’ unsurpassed military prowess. This neatly matches the case of Socrates’ silenus-like features: an abusive image in Aristophanes’ Clouds, Socrates’ silenus mask becomes the hallmark of Socrates’ virtue in the Symposium. Further examples confirm the pattern: in the Symposium, Plato reshapes comedy into an effective, if paradoxical, means to promote philosophy.
|Titolo:||Transcoding the Silenus : Aristophanes, Plato and the Invention of Socratic Iconography|
|Parole Chiave:||Plato; Socrates; Aristophanes; Silenus; portrait|
|Settore Scientifico Disciplinare:||Settore L-FIL-LET/02 - Lingua e Letteratura Greca|
Settore M-FIL/07 - Storia della Filosofia Antica
|Data di pubblicazione:||2016|
|Tipologia:||Book Part (author)|
|Appare nelle tipologie:||03 - Contributo in volume|