Drunk with wisdom: metaphors of ecstasy in Plato's Symposium and Lucian of Samosata

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Abstract

Among the metaphors that Plato employed in the context of his apophatic approach to philosophical truth and its experience, inebriation stands out in the Symposium where famously Socrates is compared to Dionysian figures such as the Silenoi and Marsyas (215a-c), and to frenzied Corybantic dancers (215e; 216d; 218b). The contentious nature of inebriation as a proxy of ecstasy is aptly exemplified in Euripides’ Bacchae where Pentheus, the distrusting new tyrant of Thebes, is keen to associate the Bacchic trance with common intoxication and lewd behavior; although Plato tries to anticipate such criticisms by repeatedly stating in the Symposium that Socrates is sober and of sound mind (e.g. 214a; 216d; 219d; 220a), later authors are unforgiving of his metaphorical style, which is deemed inconsistent with Plato’s stern disapproval of poetry. Among such later authors, Lucian of Samosata deserves closer attention apropos his treatment of inebriation as a most confusing and inappropriate metaphor for philosophical inspiration. Despite the jocular style of his dialogues, Lucian’s depiction of Platonic inebriation powerfully sketches a deep intellectual crisis that afflicts especially the young people of his time. Thus, Lucian sheds unexpected light to a less prominent chapter of Plato’s reception during the Roman imperial period.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages16
JournalReligions
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021

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