Friday, May 16, 2014

Sokrates Seilenos

A fresco painting of a Silenus comic mask:

FS exedra, comic mask

Xenophon, Symposium 4.14 [Tredennick and Waterfield, trs., Penguin (1990) p. 242]:

"What's this," said Socrates. "You're bragging as if you were more beautiful than I am."

"Of course," said Critobulus, "otherwise I should be uglier than any Silenus in the satyr-plays."

Plato, Symposium 215a-216e:

[Alcibiades:] And now, my boys, I shall praise Socrates in a figure which will appear to him to be a caricature, and yet I speak, not to make fun of him, but only for the truth's sake. I say, that he is exactly like the busts of Silenus, which are set up in the statuaries, shops, holding pipes and flutes in their mouths; and they are made to open in the middle, and have images of gods inside them. I say also that he is like Marsyas the satyr. You yourself will not deny, Socrates, that your face is like that of a satyr.


  1. Wade McKenzie9:32 AM

    Here's a quote I just happened to read the day before:

    "If you have to put Plato's writings in any literary genre, they're not tragic. They're comic. That's an impoverished set of categories, but that was the main set for the Greeks. Tragedy, comedy and the satyr plays. They're not satyr plays. They're comic. They're funny. What happens in all of these Platonic dialogues is the classic comic trope: the deflation of pretense."

    Now, the reason I share this has to do with the contention that the dialogues are not satyr plays. Of course, this is literally true--but what do you make of the likeness of Socrates to a satyr? Surely it has a figurative significance? And could it relate in any way to the idea of a satyr play?

  2. branemrys10:12 AM

    I think it's probably significant that in both Xenophon and Plato the reference occurs in a Symposium dialogue. Satyr plays, as far as we know, were structured largely by jokes about drunkenness, sex, and what we would call slapstick. I say 'as far as we know' because the only satyr play we have a full copy of is Euripides's Cyclops, and a lot of our information is secondhand. But I think in this case one could very well see it as an instance of the drinking-party dialogue naturally suggesting themes from the major kind of drinking-associated public literature. But that's just first assessment. It could be that there is indeed something more here; it would require a stronger grasp on the topic of satyr plays than I currently have, though.

  3. branemrys10:24 AM

    I suspected someone might have written something on the subject, and, indeed, here is a very interesting discussion of satyr-play themes in Plato's Symposium:

    I don't know that it sheds any light on the overall significance, but it does do a good job of showing that there is a real link between satyr plays and Plato's Symposium, at least.

  4. Wade McKenzie12:29 PM

    Thank you, Brandon--both for your own response and the link.


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