Loading Events
  • This event has passed.

CANCELLED: International Conference on “Plato and Lyric Poetry” Change of venue: May 10 – May 11 Dodd Hall 248

May 10 - May 11
Dodd Hall 248,

At the urging of the faculty of the UCLA Classics department, and in light of the situation on campus, the conference on Plato and Lyric has been cancelled.

Conference Schedule:

Friday May 10th, 2024:
9 am. Breakfast
9.25 am Opening remarks

Session 1
9.35 am-10.35 am. Glenn Most (University of Chicago): “Pindar’s nomos basileus (Fr. 169 Sn.-M.) in Plato”

Pindar’s Nomos basileus fragment (Fr. 169 Sn.-M.) is one of his most celebrated and controversial texts. Papyrus discoveries have extended our textual knowledge of Pindar’s poem but have not resolved its interpretative difficulties. The most celebrated and controversial ancient discussion of it is provided by Callicles’ citation and interpretation of it in Plato’s Gorgias. But even the text of this quotation is uncertain, to say nothing of the meaning attributed to it. I will discuss the extant remains of Pindar’s poem and this passage in the Gorgias, bringing to bear upon these other ancient testimonia, especially Herodotus 3.38 and Plato’s Laws 4 715a, in the hope of complicating and perhaps even revising the communis opinio.

10.45 am-11.45 am. John Tennant (Stanford University): “Speaking lyrically, speaking proverbially.”

Plato’s quotation of excerpts from lyric poetry in the dialogues highlights the status of those excerpts as detachable statements, removed from their original, textual context. This invites the question, what makes a statement detachable? What quality allows for a text’s quotability as a “stand-alone,” a “detachable?” I argue in this paper that an essential element of detachability consists in a statement’s capacity to function proverbially – as a stand-alone aphorism, maxim, proverb. Plato’s quotations from various lyric poets – among them Simonides, Theognis, Solon, Pindar, and Phocylides – illustrate how lyric poetry seems especially possessed of this capacity to generate detachable, proverbial statements. Readings from Plato’s quotation of lyric poets in Protagoras, Meno, and Republic reveal that within the context of the dialogic exchange, to speak lyrically is to speak proverbially – that is, to marshal lyric quotation as stand-alone proverb in the dialectic. In addition, lyric “proverbs” often seem to contradict one another, even when composed by the same poet and within the very same poem (e.g., Simonides’ “Ode to Scopas” in Protagoras, verses from Theognis in Meno). Aside from noting the connection with the sophistic educational practice of the antilogiae – itself consonant with the antilogical arrangement of ancient gnomic anthologies with their assorted proverbs gathered from different texts – I argue that the positioning of contradictory proverbs in the lyric poetry of Simonides and Theognis (“contradictory” at least, in Plato’s act of citation) enjoys a correspondence with modern counterparts, such as Robert Frost’s dueling proverbs in “Mending Wall.” Moreover, lyric detachables in both Plato and Frost highlight the Janus-faced nature of proverbial expression, revealing that contrary to popular belief, proverbs are hardly univocal but rife with paradox and ambiguity, qualities essential to lyric poetry.

12.00- 1.30 pm:  Lunch break

Session 2
1.30 pm-2.30 pm. Eleonora Rocconi (University of Pavia): “The role of melopoiia in Plato’s taxonomy of lyric genres”

In a well-known passage of Republic Book 3 (399a–400c), Plato deals with the musical attributes of lyric poetry discussing which musical modes and rhythmical patterns should be allowed in Kallipolis for educating the guardians.  While commenting on their mimetic (and consequently ethical) capacity, this passage also seems to describe which technical elements were perceived by the ancients as belonging to a specific poetic genre and gave it such a clearly recognisable character (thus anticipating what will be said in Laws 3, 700a–c, where a distinct μέλους εἶδος is advocated for each type of composition).  Interestingly, these remarks are echoed in later Aristoxenian handbooks on music theory, such as Cleonides’ Isagoge (2nd cent. CE?) when discussing modulations in μελοποιΐα (a term used by Plato too to indicate the selection of rhythms and harmoniai in poetic compositions, cf. Symp. 187d and 205c).  The purpose of this paper is to investigate the role of melopoiia in Plato’s conception of poetry by bringing the technical interpretations (both musical and philosophical) of these passages into dialogue with those more focused on the question of poetic genres.

2.35 pm.-3.35 pm. David Blank (UCLA): “The presence of Plato in Diogenes of Babylon’s treatise On Music

The first Herculaneum papyrus to be unrolled, so that its last 37 columns could be read (nearly) continuously contained the fourth book of Philodemus’ treatise On Music. This text, so disappointing to its first readers, who were dismayed not only because it was not Aeschylus or Sappho, but also because it contained an attack on the art of music, is an Epicurean demolition of a book by Chrysippus’ student, Diogenes of Babylon, and it does in fact have a great deal to contribute to our understanding of Stoic epistemology and ethics. Diogenes is clearly building on Platonic and, to a lesser extent, Peripatetic theories of the emotional and dispositional effects on behavior and moral character. My paper will not only examine Diogenes’ borrowings from and citations of Plato, which extend from individual phrases to a general conception of musical êthos; I shall also trace Diogenes’ tactics in connecting Stoic theory to the Academy and vindicating the claims of the Stoa to belong to the Socratic tradition. In this, he anticipated the later Academic, Antiochus of Ascalon.

3.35-3.50 pm: Coffee break

Session 3
3.50 pm-4.50pm. Julia Pfefferkorn (University of Trier): “The gods’ rewards: Plato, lyric poetry, and divine retribution”

The question what role lyric poetry plays in the Republic is an important one, for at least two reasons: first, it remains exempt from the formal critique of poetry in Book 3 which condemns epic and drama. And second, the entire argument of the Republic takes its start from references to Pindar, in the context of Cephalus’ worries about divine retribution in the afterlife, and to Simonides, whose poetry provides the first tentative definition of justice. In order to shed light on this question, I turn to a hitherto neglected passage in Book 2 (362d1–368b1) in which Adeimantus joins his brother Glaucon in exhorting Socrates to praise justice in itself. He adds, in particular, that although some poets do praise justice, they focus only on the honours and rewards that ensue from it, and concludes that this will be insufficient to convince anyone of its intrinsic value. While the first part of Adeimantus’ discourse is based mostly on Homer and Hesiod, at the end he conspicuously resorts to lyric poetry (with quotations from and implicit references to, again, Pindar and Simonides, a mention of Archilochus, and further probable references to Solon and/or Theognis). This occurs precisely when he switches to a first-person perspective, picturing himself as a young man who is confronted with ambivalent representations of the gods and the way they reward virtue or vice. I contend that Adeimantus’ way of introducing lyric poetry in this passage anticipates important aspects of the critique of poetry, with regard to both contents and form, and that it may help to explain why lyric poetry, while it is certainly included in the critique of poetic contents, is left untouched by the formal critique: it is through Pindar’s “whether … or” (πότερον … ἤ, 365b2) that Adeimantus presents the young man as a responsible first-person agent who makes a choice, in a way that foreshadows the Myth of Er. While the lyric recount of divine retribution, just as the Myth of Er, can only be an addition (612b6–c2) to the philosophical account of justice, establishing this perspective on one’s life is fundamental.

5.00 pm-6.00 pm. Kathryn Morgan (UCLA) “The great contest: exploring life choices through Pindar in Plato’s Republic

This paper starts from a group of Pindar quotations and reminiscences early in Plato’s Republic and proceeds to explore the ways in which Pindaric lyric, particularly epinician, informs the dialogue.  Concerns with ponos, with the correct objects of praise and blame, and with the accurate assessment of achievement are common to both, and Socrates’ frequent references to rewards, prizes, and contests reinforce the agonistic atmosphere.  Yet the nature of the contest and prizes under consideration is different, and is reflected in a tension between the threnodic and epinician modes that is resolved in the closing pages of the dialogue.

Saturday May 11th, 2024
9 am. Breakfast

Session 1
9.30 am-10.30 am. Giulia Sissa (UCLA) “No hymns to Eros? Platonic rhythms and rhymes in the Symposium

This paper will study the continuities and discontinuities between lyric/melic poetry and the Symposium, as a hybrid dialogue in which narrative, praise, banter, and refutation come together.  I would like to start with the lamented lack of a hymn to Eros and go from there. The premise is that lyric poetry can be understood at large, including theatrical choruses. And the hypothesis I would like to test is that the polyphonic and multi-genre conversation at Agathon’s drinking party deploys the poetic function of language both in in the speech-act of extolling Eros, and in the verbal, musical composition of that kind of utterance. It may sound funny. But who has the last laugh?

10.45 am-11.45 am. André Rehbinder (University of Paris, Nanterre) “Plato’s encounter with lyric in the Phaedrus

Lyric poetry’s influence on Plato in the Phaedrus has long been underestimated, so much so that Ch. Rowe, in his edition of the dialogue, treats Socrates’ praise of Sappho and Anacreon at 235c as ironic. In two major papers, both published in 2007 , E. Pender has shown the deepness and the extent of Platonic borrowings from lyric in the Phaedrus, not only in the central myth, but starting with the famous description of the locus amoenus in the Prologue. However, Pender’s conclusion was highly deceptive: in the image of the bad horse falling on its knees with its jaws full of blood, she saw an “ugly conclusion”, where the “the lightness of Anacreon’s verse is destroyed”. At this point, Pender says, Plato “parts company with the poets”, because his scope is fundamentally different: where poets were only describing desire and the abandonment of oneself to it, the philosopher wants to show how the “best inner-ruler” (takes control over the lower parts of the soul, in order to achieve the contemplation of Forms. The purpose of the present work is, while acknowledging the deep relationship shown by Pender between Plato and lyric poetry, to reevaluate it: Plato is not just quoting lyric poetry as a good description of the shock of love and using it for its own purpose; rather he valorizes lyric experience as a whole and reveals its philosophical meaning. He is not opposing lyric mania to the control of the reason-charioteer, as Lysias does when he boasts about “not being defeated by love, but controlling [him]self” (233c1-2, οὐχ ὑπ᾽ ἔρωτος ἠττώμενος ἀλλ᾽ ἐμαυτοῦ κρατῶν). On the contrary, for Plato, to be defeated by love and to lose every control on oneself is the very means for the charioteer to obtain the greatest good, the regrowth of the wings. In sum, my claim is that Sappho and Anacreon could be seen as platonic lovers according to the Phaedrus: they experience the real pathos of love, which manifests itself in the mania they described so vividly.

12.00- 1.00 pm: Lunch break

Session 2
1.15 pm-2.15 pm. Marcus Folch (Columbia University) “Lyric and the geographic imagination in Plato’s Laws

What does Plato do with lyric and what does lyric do for Plato in his last and longest work, the Laws? To answer that question, this paper examines allusions to elegiac poetry in Books 1&2. Plato’s engagement with poetry in the Laws has been a topic of several fascinating publications in the past decade. Taken together, these works have advanced our understanding of Plato’s late thought on mimetic poetry, his engagement with ancient performance culture, and the indebtedness of fourth-century philosophy to the poetic tradition. In this paper I move away from the questions of mimetic poetry and performance culture, and consider instead how lyric poetry in Plato is deeply embedded within, and invites readers to reconsider, the history of space and geography. Plato’s lyric engagements will be shown to provide a provocative guide to the allusive and argumentative tactics employed in the formation of philosophy as a literary genre. It will also illuminate the position of lyric poetry in the fourth century as a site of shared memory, a discursive space in which diverse authors, poets, and presumably their audiences debated and sorted out their own collective identities, tensions between local history and Panhellenism, and the ethical underpinnings of legislation and colonization—the central preoccupations of the Laws as a whole.

2.25 pm.-3.25 pm. Michael Brumbaugh (Tulane University) “Between nature and culture: Platonic chorality in the Guaraní Republic of Paraguay”

Early modern Europeans were fascinated with the musical talents of the Guaraní, the indigenous peoples of greater Paraguay. Indeed, their travelogs, private correspondences, and official reports are full of testaments to their amazement. One European visitor among the Guaraní recorded in a letter that he had witnessed a twelve-year-old indigenous boy flawlessly reproduce the most challenging of Italian concertos during an impromptu cello recital. Another remarked that “[the Guaraní] were endowed with the ingenuity of birds, whom nature herself inspires to sing.” While this interest in Guaraní musicality was doubtless influenced by European tendencies to exoticize non-European cultures, its roots can be traced back to Plato’s interest in music as a phenomenon belonging both to the world of nature and the world of the polis. This paper investigates ways in which music – and choral music in particular – operated at the intersection of nature and culture in the early modern tradition and how some even saw it as central to the European colonial enterprise. These observations, in turn, offer new and provocative heuristics for interrogating Plato’s Laws, a text framed as a colonial venture that figures music as a powerful and enigmatic force necessary for animating and perpetuating the political experience.

3.30-3.50 pm: Coffee break

Session 3
3.50 pm-4.50pm. George Gazis (Durham University) “Dialectic lyricism: subjectivity and the search for true doxa

Plato’s relationship with poetry is arguably one of the most intriguing and complicated topics relating not only to the philosopher’s oeuvre in general but also both to his epistemological and metaphysical approach to fundamental concepts such as truth, phenomenology and objective virtue, to name just a few. In this paper, I would like to argue that despite Plato’s and Socrates’ negative criticism of poetic composition as an uninformed and often dangerous product of human ignorance, there appears to be a subtly drawn distinction by the philosopher concerning different poetic genres and the source of inspiration that leads to their very conception.

More specifically, I argue that although Plato seriously discredits epic and dramatic poetry, he appears to be more sympathetic towards lyric, since the latter poets do not claim direct inspiration from a divine source, but rather present personal interpretations not only of divine narratives but also and more importantly of the ways in which human beings can achieve a (philosophically) good life. Through a reading of Socrates’ analysis of Simonides’ ode in the Protagoras, and Stesichorus’ Palinode in the Phaedrus, I aim to set the initial foundations for a further examination of the use of the lyric genre in Platonic dialogues as a subjective and self-examining process that is closely reminiscent of the philosophically motivated Socratic inquiry. I will argue that a holistic reading of the Platonic corpus shows that lyric poetry is indeed the only genre that retains its standing both in terms of entertainment and educational value, even after a strict and unforgiving Socratic elenchus (e.g. Phaedo 60a, Laws 7.799a, Republic 10.607a, etc.).

5.00 pm-6.00 pm. Pierre Destrée (Université catholique de Louvain) “Plato and iambic humor”

Athenaeus wrote: “The story goes that when Gorgias read the dialogue named after him, he said to his friends: ‘Plato’s quite talented at writing abuse-poetry (iambizein)’. Hermippus says in his On Gorgias: ‘When Gorgias visited Athens after dedicating the gold statue of himself in Delphi, and Plato saw him and said: ‘Our fine, gold Gorgias has arrived!’, Gorgias responded: ‘And this is a fine new Archilochus that Athens has produced!’” (505d-e, trans. Olson). In this paper, I unpack these assertions (allegedly) made by Gorgias, and I analyze a few samples of Platonic passages that echo Archilochus’ poetic devices


May 10
May 11
Event Category:
Event Tags:


Department of Classics
View Organizer Website


Dodd Hall 248