Category: Plato in 80 entries

The Myth of the Charioteer

In the central myth of the Phaedrus Plato likens the human soul, in its most clear form, to a chariot, which consists to a charioteer (often understood as the rational part) and a winged team of two horses (often understood as the appetitive and the spirited part respectively) and invites us to imagine it traveling on the outer circle of the universe, next to the souls of the Olympian gods. This journey allows the soul to nourish its best part, that is, reason, with the food that is appropriate to it: Forms themselves, which lie in a supra celestial region. Depending on its ability to see this vision before its incarnated state (this ability is described in the language of initiation), the embodied soul is able, while looking at the object of its erotic desire, to bring to its memory the Form of Beauty, which was shining then more than any other Form. It is then that wings grow again on the lover. The erotic experience triggers the lover’s transcendence of the bodily sphere of the senses, and allows him to orient himself again to the world of the Forms. But the beloved also enjoys a share of this transcendence, since he also receives, as if through a mirror, the image of beauty he sees in the eyes of the lover. This privileged state characterizes only the philosophers, and depends on the ability of the charioteer to lead the soul’s horses upwards.

The myth is part of Socrates’ palinode, i.e. of his attempt to counter Lysias’ speech, both in terms of content (treatic erotic desire as a positive force), as well as in terms of form (by juxtaposing to the orator’s written speech an oral story, a product, as Socrates himself points out, of enthousiasmos).

Author: Chloe Balla
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