THE MYTH OF THESEUS IN PLATO’S PHAEDO

D Futter

Abstract


According to Phaedo Socrates spent a long time in prison after his trial because no executions could be carried out during the time of a religious festival. This festival had its origins in the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur. The Athenians had vowed to Apollo that if Theseus and his companions were saved ‘they would send a mission to Delos every year’ (58b2-3).

What is the relevance of the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur for an interpretation of Phaedo? This paper argues that the dialogue evokes three different re-enactments of the Theseus myth. The first is the Athenian delegation to Delos (58a). The second is the trial and execution of Socrates. The third is Socrates’ struggle against the fear of death. Each of these re-enactments can be understood as an attempt at spiritual purification. Both Socrates and the Athenians are in different ways purifying themselves by re-enacting the myth of Theseus. These different modes of catharsis are implicitly evaluated by the eschatological myth which Socrates presents just before his death.


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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7445/59-0-946

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ISSN 2079-2883 (online); ISSN 0303-1896 (print)

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