In Phaedrus, Plato invokes a mythic exemplum concerning the Egyptian deity Thoth. Though often interpreted as an overt critique of writing, this argument posits Thoth is offered analogically to contrast Plato's rhetorical epistemology with that of the ancient Egyptians. To do so, this argument addresses why a mythic Egyptian figure might be so significant to Plato in the 4th Century B.C. Greece, whose culture already had multiple gods and cultural heroes to whom the invention of writing is attributed, when the episode in Phaedrus is axiomatically described as a critique of writing. Because Plato may have had some degree of firsthand knowledge of Egyptian traditions it explores those traditions personified in the figure of Thoth, which should be examined as an analogical device advised by Egyptian rhetorical epistemology. A closer examination of the comparative rhetorical epistemological perspective not only illuminates Thoth's appearance in Phaedrus but also the Egyptian rhetorical-epistemic tradition. Thoth's role as epistemic mediator between humans and truth, in the broadest terms, was to act as psychopomp who moves both between humanity and the arrival at knowledge that prefigures rhetorical action.
Skip Nav Destination
Shawn Ramsey; Psychopompos: Thoth, Plato's Phaedrus, and the Context of Egyptian Mythic Rhetoric. Rhetorica 1 August 2022; 40 (3): 233–255. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/rh.2022.40.3.233
Download citation file: