Abstract
The Eleatic Stranger plays a central role in all reconstructions of Plato’s “Platonism.” This paper is a study of the literary form of the Sophist and Statesman and its significance for interpreting the Eleatic’s account of the nature of philosophy. I argue that the Eleatic dialogues are best understood through a comparison with the source-texts in the Odyssey that Plato used in their composition. I show that the literary form of the Sophist is a straightforward reworking of the encounter of Odysseus and his crewmen with Polyphemus the Cyclops; and that the form of the Statesman is a somewhat more complex reworking of the narrative in which Odysseus and those loyal to him oppose Antinoös, leader of the Ithacan suitors. The comparison reveals that the Eleatic Stranger is no way Plato’s spokesman. On the contrary: by casting the Stranger in the role of Polyphemus and the Cyclopean Antinoös, Plato intends the Sophist and Statesman to be read as an explicit critique of the metaphysical and political doctrines that have since come to be identified as Platonism. In Plato’s characterization, the Eleatic Stranger is neither a philosopher nor a sophist. He is an intellectual—the sort of person who professes to be a philosopher and is often mistaken for one.
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DOI 10.1163/22134417-00311p14
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