The Phaedo as an Alternative to Tragedy

Classical Philology 118 (2):153-171 (2023)
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This article argues that the Phaedo is written as a new sort of story of how a hero faces death; this story provides an alternative to existing tragedy, as understood by Plato. The opening of the Phaedo makes clear that two features that Plato closely associates with tragedy, pity and lamentation, are inappropriate responses to Socrates’ impending death, and that tuchē (chance) did not affect his happiness. This is the first step in the dialogue’s sustained engagement with tragedy. Tragedy for Plato falls under the category of stories about heroes and gods. Plato wrote the Phaedo so that we would see Socrates as a philosophical hero, a replacement for traditional heroes such as Theseus or Heracles. I argue that in fact the Phaedo meets every requirement in Republic Books 2–3 for how to tell stories about heroes and gods and so belongs to the same broad category as tragedy. Within this framework, it tells its new story of how the true hero faces death.

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David Ebrey
Universitat de Barcelona


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