Outline of Plato's Phaedrus


Bibliography on the Rhetorical Phaedrus
Read the text of Phaedrus at Perseus.

Date ca. 360



One of the great Attic orators. Born ca. 450. Immigrated from Sicily to Athens as a boy, with his father Cephalus, at Pericles’ invitation. Left at 15 to study in Syracuse (Thurii). Studied with Protagoras and Tisias. Expelled from Sicily when Athens was defeated there in 413. Wrote speeches in Athens until his death in 380.


A student. Appears to have been a real follower of Socrates.


Introduction: Under the Plane Tree (227a-230e)

Outside the Wall (227-228)

Phaedrus' proposal
Phaedrus proposes to read the speech; Socrates expresses determination to hear Phaedrus no matter how long it takes

Discussion of memory and writing

Phaedrus claims not to be able to recite the speech from memory; Socrates calls his bluff: he knows he has borrowed the book and committed it to memory.
Socrates is the lover of discourse who will not let Phaedrus go until he speaks
Socrates finds the book under Phaedrus' cloak

Along the brook (229-230)

They turn aside along the brook Ilissus, under a tall plane tree

Discussion of myth

The Ilissus is not the site where Boreas carried off Ôreithuia.
Natural explanations of myth are irrelevant when one does not yet know oneself
The plane tree is sacred to some nymphs and to Achelous and resounds with cicadas
Phaedrus remarks that Socrates must seldom leave the city walls; Phaedrus has found the charm to bring him out

Three Speeches (231-259)

Lysias' Speech, Read by Phaedrus

Claim: I ought not to be refused what I ask because I am not your lover.
Premises: Nonlovers don’t change their minds; don’t attach blame for their losses; are not fickle…

Discussion of Lysias' Speech

Phaedrus: he has omitted none of the points that belong to the subject (235B)

Socrates' First Speech (237b-241d)

Claim: Defines love as desire: but both the lover and the nonlover desire the beautiful. Therefore distinguish between the lover and the nonlover.. The desire that overcomes rational opinion (doxa) is akin to that very force and is called love (pun here in Greek)

Discussion of Socrates' Speech (241d-243e


Socrates breaks off. It is noon. Socrates’ muse commands him not to continue (cross water) until he has erased the false speech on love with a true one.

Socrates' Second Speech (244a-257)

Three forms of madness: prophecy, catharsis, inspiration by the Muses (244-245b)
The immortality of the soul and its journeys in the train of the gods; the fall to earth. (245c-249d)
The fourth madness: seeing the divine in human beauty: the lover and the beloved. (249d-253d)
The Charioteer (253d-257b)
Writing speeches is not a disgrace, but writing them well or badly (257b-258e)
Story of the locusts (259)

On Speech Writing

Theory of good speaking and writing (259e)

Phaedrus: heard that what the orator must know is not what is but what seems just to the multitude
The ass example: speaking without knowing the truth (260c)

Definition of rhetoric (261)

Is not rhetoric in its entire nature an art which leads the soul by means of words, not only in law courts and the various other public assemblages, but in private companies as well? (261a-b)

Argument from resemblance (261c-262c)

"He who does not understand the real nature of things will not possess the art of making his hearers pass from one thing to its opposite by leading them through the intervening resemblances, or of avoiding such deception himself" (262b)

Criticism of Lysias' Speech (262c-264e)

Love belongs to the class of doubtful things (263c)
Discourses must be organized like a living body (264c)

Discussion of Socrates' Second Speech (265)

Divisions of madness (265b)
Definition of dialectic (265d-266b)
Books on Rhetoric

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