This course is packed with gems. Timaeus presents the grand myth of the creation of the world, body and soul. Critias follows on with the myth of Atlantis. When Meno asks whether virtue can be taught, Socrates answers via the famous demonstration of learning-as-recollection where the slave-boy doubles the square. We finish with enthusiastic rhapsody in Socrates’ interview with the performance-poet, Ion.
- Six weekly small-group sessions
- Read a set passage before the evening talk and discussion
- Not for beginners—take Reading Plato before doing this course
This class will likely run again in 2022. Watch this space for details or subscribe to our blog.
Access to the texts
The following translations of the readings are recommended. Note that Critias, Meno and especially Ion are quite short dialogues and so, if print proves difficult to obtain, then reading online (or printing from online) is recommended.
- Timaeus and Critias: in print Penguin (or Oxford) | Online translated by David Horan Timaeus only, for Critias try Gutenberg
- Meno: in print Penguin | online translated by Horan | also the Greek/English Loeb edition and in pdf
- Ion: This short dialogue is difficult to obtain | In print Penguin Classical literary criticism (or this Yale collection translated by Allen | pdf ?copyright?) | Guttenberg online
Session 1 | The harmonious world soul | Timaeus page 17 to 37c
A summary of the ideal republic is followed by a myth of archaic Athens as its very exemplification. Timaeus then tells a story of the creation of the physical world as an imperfect copy of the formal ideal. The soul of the world is depicted as in perfect musical harmony.
Session 2 | Time, space and the Platonic solids | Timaeus page 37c to 58c
Timaeus continues with an account of the birth of time, the creation of lesser gods and the housing of souls in bodies. There is also an account of the gift of sight and hearing before the famous and perplexing account of the ‘receptacle’ or space. Our reading finishes with the four elements and the first account of the Platonic five solids to appear in our tradition.
Session 3 | Atlantis | Critias (complete)
This short and unfinished dialogue is concerned entirely with the myth of archaic Athens and the civilisation it was at war with, Atlantis.
Session 4 | Learning as recollection | Meno page 70 to 86c
Meno comes straight out and asks Socrates whether virtue is something that can be taught. This introduces the most famous account of the Platonic doctrine of learning: that it is the recalling of what we already know.
Session 5 | Knowledge, judgement and enthusiasm | Meno page 86d to 100b
The discussion of the question whether virtue can be taught finds that it is no ordinary art with no ordinary knowledge, and so Socrates concludes that it must be of divine provenance. With this resolved, still the question, What is virtue? remains hanging at the end of the dialogue.
Session 6 | Enthusiastic Rhapsody | Ion (complete)
Socrates interviews famous young Ion, the “rhapsode” who draws enormous crowds for his mesmerising solo performances of Homer. What exactly is Ion’s art? Socratic analysis reveals that rhapsody is no art at all. Instead, it is an enthusiasm transmitting divine frenzy into the audience.