Plato’s religious voice: Socrates as godsent, in Plato and the Platonists1

In Anna Marmodoro & Jonathan Hill (eds.), The Author's Voice in Classical and Late Antiquity. Oxford University Press. pp. 313 (2013)

An obvious feature of Plato’s writings that distinguishes them from the works of later Platonists is his use of the dialogue form. Even more specifically and strikingly, the character of Socrates—whose voice is sometimes so hard to disentangle from that of Plato himself—occupies centre stage in almost all of Plato’s writings, while he is conspicuous by his absence from those of later Platonists. Yet the voice of Socrates can still be heard in the writings of later Platonists, even though it is not presented in a dramatic form as in Plato’s dialogues. This chapter investigates a key Socratic theme that remains very important in later Neoplatonic writers, namely the ability of the individual to seek for and find knowledge, particularly self-knowledge. In Plato’s own representation of Socrates in his dialogues, Socrates is portrayed as speaking of himself in almost religious terms, presenting himself as a revealer of the truth to others. In their pessimistic view of human beings’ ability to discover the truth, and in their emphasis upon the need for divine revelation, the later Neoplatonists exhibit an understanding of the role of Socrates which reflects the way in which Plato has him portray himself in his dialogues. Thus, the voice of Socrates continues to speak in the writings of the Neoplatonists, despite their abandoning of the dialogue form which Plato used to make him address the reader explicitly.
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DOI 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199670567.003.0012
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