Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Plato’s Similes: A Compendium of 500 Similes in 35 Dialogues

Plato’s Similes: A Compendium of 500 Similes in 35 Dialogues
By John Ziolkowski


In Plato’s Dialogues there are many vivid comparisons. The soul is compared to a sieve, or a tomb, or a shooting star. The Greeks are like ants or frogs living around a marsh. Socrates calls himself a philosophical mid-wife and a gadfly that pesters Athenians. These similes have become familiar images in our literary and philosophical tradition. They also reveal to us an aspect of Platonic writing that is humorous, imaginative, and subtle. They provide an insight into Plato’s efforts to explain philosophic topics in an appealing manner to his audience. Similes are also an important but by no means obvious source of our impressions of Socrates, who is the speaker of most of the famous comparisons found in Plato.
Although there are studies of similes in Homer and other poets, no such work exists for Plato—or indeed for any ancient prose writer.[1] In order to fill this gap for Plato at least, the following compendium lists and analyzes over five hundred similes taken from the Platonic corpus of thirty-five Dialogues. From this survey emerges an interesting perspective of Plato’s portrait of Socrates: the ways Socrates describes himself and others as well as the opinions of various speakers about Socrates. Because some of the examples presented here may seem to be metaphors according to the traditional definition going back to Aristotle, the Introduction will discuss the definition of simile, the distinction between this figure and metaphor, and a new proposal to clarify the difference. As an aid to non-specialists all passages are cited in English (with significant Greek words added and transliterated in parentheses). Greek texts may be found on the Perseus website (www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper).
[1] See D. J. N. Lee, The Similes of the Iliad and the Odyssey Compared (Melbourne University University Press 1964); Carroll Moulton, Similes in the Homeric Poems, Hypomnemata 49 (Goettingen 1977); and William C. Scott, The Artistry of the Homeric Simile (Dartmouth College press 2009).

No comments:

Post a Comment