In one of the most charming works to survive from classical antiquity, Xenophon’s Symposium depicts an amiable evening of wine, entertainment, and conversation shared by Socrates, and a few of his associates, with certain Athenian gentlemen who are gathered to honor a young man for his recent victory in the Panathenaic games. The subtle playfulness which characterizes the animated discussions conceals a light-hearted, yet surprisingly philosophical inquiry regarding the rival claims of virtue, articulated and defended by the Socratics and gentlemen to establish the praiseworthiness and excellence of their competing ways of life. Gentlemanliness, taken as an admired political virtue, and philosophy, as pursuit of wisdom and self-sufficiency, emerge as contested ideas about what constitutes the path to human happiness, especially in response to the beautiful and its compelling arousal of erotic desire in the body and soul.
Offering a comprehensive account and interpretation of the Symposium, this book follows the speeches and action of the dialogue through its many twists and turns, from beginning to end, with particular attention to the place of rhetoric in the argument of the work as a whole. Thus, Xenophon's Socratic Rhetoric examines foundational aspects of the philosophic life manifest in the words as well as deeds of Socrates in this dialogue--starting from an original reading of the opening scene as a harbinger of the competition in wisdom that occurs over the course of the symposium, and concluding with a provocative consideration of conjugal erotics as the continuation and completion of the Socratic logos about the role of love in guiding human beings toward virtue and happiness.
Dustin A. Gish is Associate Professor in The Honors College at the University of Houston.
Introduction: Opening Reflections
Part I: Xenophon’s Symposium in Context
Chapter 1: Situating the Dialogue: Athenian Competitions
Chapter 2: Setting the Stage: Sophistry versus Philosophy
Chapter 3: The Banquet Begins: Rule and the Symposium
Chapter 4: Rival Ways of Life: Καλοκἀγαθία and Virtue
Part II: Sympotic Entertainments
Chapter 5: Display Speeches and the Promise of Wisdom
Chapter 6: Defense Speeches and the Socratic Way of Life
Chapter 7: Socratic Moderation in Pursuit of the Beautiful
Part III: Socratic Rhetoric in the Symposium
Chapter 8: Refutations, Accusations, and Education
Chapter 9: Digression, Reconciliation, and Restoration
Chapter 10 : Educating Gentlemen and Moderating Erōs
Chapter 11 : Performative Rhetoric and Conjugal Erotics
Conclusion: Xenophon’s Socrates and Political Philosophy
It has been exciting and enlightening to see Xenophon’s stature rise in the eyes of serious readers over the last several decades, and this new book-length study of a short but charming dialogue will surely help continue the trend. It carefully probes the dialogue and helps us see better the complexity of Xenophon’s presentation of Socrates and makes an important contribution even in its extensive bibliography and inclusion of diverging points of view.
Dustin Gish has written a learned, detailed, and insightful running commentary on the most intriguing of Xenophon’s Socratic works, the Symposium. Gish writes in the influential scholarly tradition established by the late German-American political philosopher, Leo Strauss, but, unlike Strauss and many of his followers, Gish writes in a way that will be accessible and useful to scholars and students from any background. So in addition to producing the only monograph on Xenophon’s Symposium, and a fine one at that, he has made a vital contribution to making Straussian thought more accessible. His commentary on the Symposium will be essential reading for anyone interested in Socrates, Xenophon, sympotic literature, or classical political philosophy.
In Xenophon’s Socratic Rhetoric, Dustin Gish offers a meticulous reading of one of the more neglected Socratic dialogues, Xenophon’s Symposium, a work dedicated to recollecting the “deeds of noble and good men…in times of play.” Gish, with a keen eye and a playful pen, shows us that what is involved in such a recollection is no laughing matter. For the thrust of Socrates’ moderate and moderating teaching on eros here, which seeks to unite those desirous of becoming gentlemen with service to the welfare of their polis, constitutes a preemptive defense against the charges that Socrates proved a danger to Athens by corrupting its youth. And yet, as Gish shows us, Xenophon does not merely follow his teacher here. Instead, Xenophon's artful rhetoric points to the possible harmony between conjugal and philosophical eros, a kind of marital excellence that in its “mutual pursuit of desire and virtue” holds out the promise of bringing together the bodies and souls of lovers in a manner compatible with the pursuit of human excellence in its highest forms. To this intoxicating suggestion, let us raise a glass! But as Gish’s reading of the Symposium reminds us, let us do so in the peculiar spirit of sobriety embodied by Xenophon and his Socrates.
Xenophon’s Socratic Rhetoric: Virtue, Eros, and Philosophy is the first book-length study of Xenophon’s Symposium published in English to date. Through a detailed and thought-provoking commentary on each section, Gish offers a comprehensive, careful, and persuasive analysis of this work on its own merits. Without neglecting that “mixture of playfulness and seriousness” which Xenophon himself claims for his work, this book presents readers with an alternative to the Platonic portrait of Socrates through its finely reconstructed perspective on Socratic rhetoric, virtue, and the philosophic life.