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    DANCING WITH THE GODS: THE MYTH OF THE

    CHARIOT

    IN

    PLATO'S

    PHAEDRUS

    ELIZABETH BELFIORE

    Abstract. In

    Plato's

    Phaedrus,

    Socrates

    compares

    the

    soul

    to a

    team

    of two

    horses,

    one

    obedient

    and one

    unruly,

    driven

    by

    a human charioteer.

    This article

    argues

    that

    essential clues to the psychological ideas expressed in this myth are provided

    by

    the

    imagery

    of the

    dance and

    that of the

    unruly

    horse,

    which resembles

    not

    only

    a

    satyr

    but also

    Socrates himself.

    Satyrs

    are

    daimonic

    beings

    with

    the

    ability

    to

    mediate

    between mortals and

    gods.

    They

    can

    thus

    represent

    qualities

    that are

    essential to

    the

    psychic equilibrium

    of

    a soul

    moving

    in what Socrates character-

    izes as

    choral dances

    led

    by

    the

    gods.

    1. INTRODUCTION

    Socrates'

    second

    speech

    in

    the Phaedrus

    contains

    a

    powerful

    image

    in

    which the

    soul

    is

    compared

    to a

    winged

    team

    and

    charioteer

    (246a7).x

    Both

    horses of the

    gods'

    souls are

    good

    and

    obedient,

    but

    mortals

    have one horse that is

    beautiful,

    good,

    and

    white,

    and

    one that

    is

    ugly,

    unruly,

    and

    black. The

    charioteers

    of the

    gods

    drive around

    the

    vault of

    heaven and see

    divine

    sights,

    and,

    in a

    previous

    existence,

    mortals

    followed

    them as

    initiates

    in

    the

    rites of

    the

    gods.

    After a

    time,

    however,

    the charioteers of mortals were unable to control their horses, and in the

    confusion,

    mortal

    souls lost their

    wings

    and

    fell

    to earth.

    According

    to

    Socrates,

    they

    can

    become

    winged

    once more

    and

    return to the

    rites of

    the

    gods

    if

    their

    charioteers

    succeed

    in the difficult

    task

    of

    controlling

    their

    ill-matched teams while the

    soul is under

    the influence

    of erotic

    madness

    (246a-257b).

    The

    myth

    of the chariot

    raises

    many questions

    about

    such

    impor?

    tant

    issues

    as

    immortality

    and

    recollection,

    the nature

    of

    the

    gods,

    eros,

    rhetoric

    and

    myth,

    and the

    persona

    of Plato's Socrates.

    This article does

    1

    Unless

    otherwise

    noted,

    I

    follow the text of Burnet's

    OCTs,

    and

    all translations

    are

    my

    own.

    American

    ournal

    f

    Philology

    27

    2006)

    85-217 2006

    y

    The ohns

    Hopkins niversity

    ress

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    186

    ELIZABETH BELFIORE

    not

    attempt

    to address these

    larger

    issues

    but instead

    focuses

    on

    the

    psychological

    views

    expressed

    in a

    single passage

    in Socrates' second

    speech?the

    description

    of the

    struggle

    among

    the charioteer

    and horses

    (253c7-255al).

    This

    passage

    has been

    the

    subject

    of much

    controversy,

    especially

    concerning

    the role of the

    black horse.

    According

    to

    some

    scholars,

    this

    horse

    represents

    an ineradicable

    evil

    in

    the

    soul,

    being

    the

    cause of

    the

    original

    fall to earth as well

    as

    impeding

    progress

    as the

    soul

    attempts

    to return to the

    gods.2

    This

    interpretation,

    I

    will

    argue

    below

    in

    section

    2,

    fails to account for the fact that

    it is

    always

    the black

    horse

    who

    initiates

    movement

    (254a5-6,

    254d4-7).

    Other

    scholars

    attribute some

    good

    qualities

    to the black horse but do not

    give

    a sufficiently clear and

    detailed

    analysis

    of

    the nature of these

    qualities

    and

    of the

    ways

    in

    which

    they

    are

    represented

    as

    functioning

    within

    the soul.3

    In

    attempting

    to

    provide

    such an

    account,

    Martha Nussbaum

    argues

    that the

    black horse

    represents

    the

    independent

    motivational

    and

    cognitive

    role

    of

    emotion

    and

    appetite:

    The role

    of emotion and

    appetite

    as

    guides

    is

    motivational:

    they

    move

    the

    whole

    person

    towards the

    good.

    But

    it is also

    cognitive:

    for

    they

    give

    the whole

    person

    information

    as to

    where

    goodness

    and

    beauty

    are,

    searching

    out

    and

    selecting,

    themselves,

    the beautiful

    objects. 4

    Against

    her

    interpretation,

    however, it should be noted that information about

    beauty

    does

    not

    come

    from the horses

    but from the

    charioteer,

    who first

    sees

    the

    beloved

    object

    (253e5)

    and who

    alone

    is reminded

    by

    it of the

    beauty

    he has seen before

    (254b5-7).5

    Moreover,

    the black

    horse does

    not

    move the soul

    towards the

    good.

    His

    desire,

    before

    being

    tamed,

    is for

    physical

    pleasure (254a5-7,

    d5-6),

    and

    he has

    no

    conception

    of

    any good

    apart

    from this. The

    most

    illuminating analysis

    of

    this

    difficult

    passage

    is

    given by

    John

    Ferrari,

    who

    argues

    that

    the charioteer's

    task

    is

    not

    to

    repress

    or

    eradicate the desires

    represented

    by

    the black horse

    but to learn from them and to

    integrate

    the whole soul

    by allowing

    these

    desires

    to find their

    proper

    place

    within

    it.6

    This article builds on Ferrari's

    interpretation

    to

    argue

    that two as?

    pects

    of

    Socrates' second

    speech?the

    imagery

    of

    the dance and

    the

    satyr-

    like

    characteristics

    given

    to the black

    horse?can

    help

    to elucidate

    both

    2For

    example,

    Hackforth

    1952,107-8;

    Lebeck

    1972,277-78;

    McGibbon

    1964,60-61;

    Robinson

    1970,117,122;

    Rowe

    1990, 234, 241;

    White

    1993,104-5,160-61.

    3Bluck 1958, 157-58; Burger 1980, 65-66; Griswold 1986, 121, 136; Stoeber 1992,

    277;

    Thompson

    1868,73.

    4Nussbaum

    1986,

    215.

    5

    Rowe

    1990, 236-37,

    makes similar

    objections

    to Nussbaum's

    views.

    6Ferrari, 1987,185-203,

    esp.

    194. On

    integration,

    cf. Griswold

    1986,135.

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    DANCING

    WITH

    THE

    GODS

    187

    the kind

    of

    integration

    of the soul toward

    which

    the

    charioteer strives

    and the roles of the two horses in this

    process.

    When Socrates describes

    the black horse as

    having

    a number of

    satyr-like

    characteristics

    (253el-4),

    he does not

    merely

    characterize it

    as

    bestial

    and

    ugly

    but also

    suggests

    that this

    horse

    shares

    in

    the

    superhuman,

    daimonic

    qualities

    of

    satyrs.This

    horse is not

    purely

    evil

    but resembles

    a

    satyr

    in

    being

    a mixture

    of the

    bestial and

    the

    divine,

    with an

    important

    role

    in

    helping

    the soul return

    to the rites of

    the

    gods.

    The dance

    imagery

    in

    Socrates'

    speech supports

    this view.

    When he

    characterizes the rites

    of the

    gods

    as

    initiatory

    dances

    (Geiou

    xopou,