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Symposium, cont./Genesis (preview)

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(click here for continuation of Genesis pages)


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Symposium wrap-up: Socrates and Alcibiades
For Thursday, after we've briefly recapitulated the content of the speeches (make sure you are prepared to do this, as I will be calling on people at random), I'd like to focus on the way Plato portrays his characters, and other literary features (including "hiccups") of the text that we can examine in order to refine our interpretation.

In case you're interested, there's an interesting (and short) document discussing Plato's use of historical characters in the Symposium at http://members.aol.com/drpnvcc/lect-1.htm. And you can click here to see a copy of Alcibiades' appearance and speech from Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War.

For your online discussion (and for class), please reconsider the study questions from last time and/or add your thoughts on the following issues:

Think about the characters (especially Socrates and Alcibiades) and how they work. Did you find tensions or anything else exciting in the book, and how did these affect your reading? How about ambiguity? How does Plato use it to draw you into the book (or did you not find this to be the case)?

About Socrates in particular: what do you think of the way he invites the deliberately-uninvited Aristodemus to Agathon's party? What about the way he then abandons him to go off and stands moonily in someone's porch, leaving Aristodemus to assure his surprised host, in essence, "don't worry, he's just having one of his episodes, it happens all the time"?

By the way, why do you think Diotima is a woman? Can you draw any parallels between Diotima and Alcibiades, based on their roles in and contributions to this text?

About Alcibiades in particular: Consider (a) the timing and the manner of his interruption; (b) his speech: What does it reveal about Socrates? about Alcibiades himself (note that this is one of the first examples we have of "autobiographical" lit. [even though it's actually Plato doing the writing])? How does Alcibiades uphold or tear down Socrates' argument? (Which is it?) What does he want from Socrates? Who's lover, who beloved here? Which of them did you root for, as you read Alcibiades' account of their relationship? Which of them knows/understands more about love?

How Should We Live?
It seems Socrates has successfully followed his own directions and made the transition from the contemplation of physically beautiful individuals to the contemplation of Beauty at some more abstract level; the proof of his success being that he is impervious to the appeal (and to the appeals) of Alcibiades. But is this model of human success--the attainment of perfect abstraction, to the exclusion of human emotion and sensation (note that Socrates is equally impervious to cold, fear, etc., according to Alcibiades' story)--OK by you? Is the price of enlightenment too high? Or, to look at it from another angle, what happens to a society if everyone's a philosopher? (You can also think about this in the terms of Diotima's pregnancy metaphor; suppose all men transcend the urge to reproduce "in body," and become instead "pregnant in soul" (The Speech of Diotima, p. 56)--what then?) You can (and should) ask similar questions of Genesis/Exodus and Job; what can we distill from the Hebrew texts about How We Should Live? What are we striving for? According to the Hebrew texts, what do we need from a deity? And how do those texts use the motif of pregnancy (what does it signify)?

Note that Genesis is only the first chapter of the Torah or Pentateuch, the Five Books of Moses, traditionally considered to belong together. So it's a bit like reading Book I of the Iliad--in some respects it's self-contained, but other aspects of its signification come to fruition only in later books of the Pentateuch, such as Exodus (which we will discuss after Thanksgiving).

Within Genesis, Ch. 1-11 are often referred to as the Primeval Cycle (self-explanatory); Ch. 12ff., the "Patriarchal Cycle" (because they deal with the "Patriarchs" or forefathers of the Hebrews: Abra[ha]m, Isaac, Jacob. Note that the Hebrews themselves don't appear until Exodus).

As you read, please don't explain away the difficulties and contradictions/enigmas with which the text presents you; these are part of the narrative strategy of the text, which asks to be read very actively. Try to read it as if you hadn't already heard most of the stories before (which I'm sure many of you have); read the words on the page, not the version in your head.

For Thursday, please read ONLY Chapter 1-3 (the two accounts of Creation and the story in Eden).

Preliminary Study Questions
(1) Structure: Any discernible examples of ring structure in Genesis? Or is/are there other structural pattern(s) you notice?

(2) Creation: compare the 2 accounts (1-2:4, 2:5-3). How does each of them work, what models and mythic structures does it seem to resonate with, and what is the effect of including both?

(3) Eden: What is accomplished by this account of human transgression and suffering? What are its terms (hows, whats, whos and whys)? What is the basis of God's relationship with Adam and Eve/how does God deal with them? In our classes on the Odyssey, we discussed some of the similarities between Homer's Phaiakia (Odyssey VII) and Eden. Now, think as well about Eden and Ogygia (Odyssey V). What parallels are there? What drives Odysseus out?

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