This article argues we can better interpret key aspects of Plato's Phaedo, including Socrates' cryptic final words, if we read the dialogue against the background of Greek manumission. I first discuss modes of manumission in ancient Greece, showing that the frequent participation of healing gods (Apollo, Asklepios, and Sarapis) reveals a conception of manumission as “healing.” I next examine Plato's use of manumission and slavery as metaphors, arguing that Plato uses the language of slavery in two main ways: like real slavery, metaphorical slavery could be good, if it reflected a natural hierarchy, or bad, if it entailed an inversion thereof. Accordingly, metaphorical manumission from good and bad “slavery” are shown to be bad and good, respectively. Finally, I reread Plato's Phaedo, showing that Socrates, a willing “slave” of the gods, seeks the “manumission”/healing of his soul. It is in exchange for his complete “manumission,” attainable only through the death of his body, that Socrates offers a cock to the healing/manumission god Asklepios.
The Manumission of Socrates: A Rereading of Plato's Phaedo
For their helpful comments at various stages of this project, I thank Ruby Blondell, Sandra Joshel, Leslie Kurke, Sarah Levin-Richardson, Ron Stroud, and Classical Antiquity's two anonymous reviewers. I also thank Leslie Kurke for inspiring the idea for this paper in the first place. All errors are of course my own.
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Deborah Kamen; The Manumission of Socrates: A Rereading of Plato's Phaedo. Classical Antiquity 1 April 2013; 32 (1): 78–100. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ca.2013.32.1.78
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