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The Problematic Third Speech of the Phaedrus and Ficino’s Neoplatonic Reinterpretation

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  1. Introduction
  2. The situating of the entire work in a numinous pastoral setting
  3. Describing a focus on the transcendent
    1. When intimacy is established
    2. Love based purely on physical attraction or lust
    3. A blatant sensualism
  4. The description of how a soul ascends into the heavens
  5. The inability of language to express this pure, divine knowledge
  6. Solving the problem of the opposites
  7. Ficino's attempts to transpose into Platonic metaphysics
  8. Conclusion
  9. Bibliography

There has been much scholarly debate concerning the relative merit of the three speeches in Plato's Phaedrus; the third speech, in particular, is much contested. While the first two speeches are undeniably mired in self-contradiction and materialism, the third speech, though mythical in content and focusing on the power of the soul, arguably still commits the error of entrapping the soul in empirical concerns. Despite, or perhaps because of, this failing, the allegory of the charioteer had an immense impact on the 15th-century Italian scholar Marsilio Ficino. His Neoplatonic reinterpretation of the myth, which evolved over the course of his life, was plagued by the ontological confusion of Plato's original; ultimately, however, Ficino was able to reconcile the relationship of body, mind and soul through a Christian application of the concepts of will from St. Augustine and charity from St. Paul.

[...] Not surprisingly, however, this is briefly and weakly argued, for the relationship should in fact give up any pretense of being a love of the soul; and so, significantly, the speech ends with the more probable outcome of the relationship: the consummation of their desires, having been caught their which puts their friendship a lower plane? and the end they emerge from the body without wings.? This is the logical end result of the materialist viewpoint, one which is even advocated by some critics such as A.W. [...]

[...] In his analysis of the Phaedrus, Ficino applies the idea of five ontological categories that had been touched upon in Plato's late work, the Sophist, and more developed in Plotinus (Westra 176): essence or being, rest, motion, identity, and difference. The charioteer as intellect represents essence, while the good horse on the right side is reason and so participates in rest and identity, and the bad horse on the left is appetite which is associated with motion and difference (Allen 88-89). [...]

[...] The Platonism of Marsilio Ficino: A Study of His Phaedrus Commentary, Its Sources and Genesis. Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies-UCLA. Los Angeles and Berkeley: University of California Press Ferrari, G.R.F. Listening to the Cicadas: A Study of Plato's Phaedrus. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Grube, G.M.A. Plato's Thought. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc Kristeller, Paul Oskar. The Philosophy of Marsilio Ficino. Trans. Virginia Constant. No Columbia Studies in Philosophy. New York: Columbia University Press, (1943) 1964. Plato. Phaedrus and Letters VII [...]

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