our greatest blessings come to us by way of madness Phaedr. 244a


Alcibiades and the Socratic Lover-Educator

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.07.14

Marguerite Johnson, Harold Tarrant (ed.), Alcibiades and the Socratic Lover-Educator.   London:  Bristol Classical Press, 2011.  Pp. x, 254.  ISBN 9780715640869.  $80.00.   

Reviewed by Owen Goldin, Marquette University (Owen.Goldin@Marquette.edu)
The present volume has its origin in a symposium: “Socrates, Alcibiades, and the Divine Lover/Educator” held at the University of Newcastle in December 2008. Most but not all of the papers have as their focus Alcibiades I (a dialogue whose attribution to Plato remains a matter of dispute); several others deal with other, post-Platonic texts that directly or indirectly bear on the relationship between Socrates and Alcibiades, antiquity’s most famous example of an eroticized relationship between teacher and student. While contemporary sensibilities are apt to condemn such a relationship as inappropriate at best, and predatory at worst, the author of the dialogue takes it to be fundamental to philosophical education.
In “The Role of Eros in Improving the Pupil, or What Socrates Learned from Sappho”, Marguerite Johnson develops the suggestion of Maximus of Tyre that Socrates and Sappho shared the same erotic pedagogy. Johnson thus sees the relationship of Platonic philosophical love as a development of the Greek poetic tradition. For both Sappho and Socrates, the art of love is taught through performing “the rites of Eros”; for both, the pursuer becomes the pursued. Socrates’ understanding of love has, however, moved beyond Sappho. For Socrates, unlike Sappho, the successful erotic performance involves restraint; only through moderation can the lover be protected from the wounds of which Sappho sings. Further, unlike the beloved of Sappho, the ultimate object of Socrates’ love is impersonal. more