An Introduction to Erotic Madness

In the Phaedrus, Plato problematizes the dichotomy between self-control (sophrosyne) and madness (mania). A superficial reading of many of Plato’s dialogues might lead an interpreter to thinking that Plato thought that self-control is always good while madness is always bad. Perhaps, at some point in his life Plato’s view was that simplistic. Yet, in the Phaedrus, Plato explores the negative consequences of such a dichotomy.

At the opening of the dialogue, Phaedrus offers a dramatic presentation of a speech, which argues that the lover damages both himself and his beloved, while the non-lover benefits both himself and his beloved. Socrates is swept away by this powerful speech and offers his own speech with the same theme, but with the argument refined. After delivering his speech, Socrates realizes that their speeches where horrible, foolish and impious. Why? Because their speeches both spoke ill of Eros. So, Socrates offers another speech as a sort of penance for his blasphemy.

Socrates begins his again-speech (palinode) by questioning the underlying premise of the previous speeches. Both Phaedrus and Socrates had assumed that madness was “bad, pure and simple” (244a). Yet, in the palinode Socrates recognizes four types of madness that are good: prophecy, purification rites, possession by the muses, and the god-given erotic madness. If you have read the last several posts, you will realize that I am particularly interested in this last form of madness. In the last post, I suggested that Christians should be erotically inclined schemers after the beautiful and the good. Now, I would like to suggest that this activity is sometimes rational and sometimes suprarational. Sometimes Christians should display self-control and sometimes they should display madness. Previously, I suggested that I wanted to explore who God is and who I am and how God and I are related. Here, I am suggesting that I am a hybrid and a contradiction. In me, mania and sophrosyne are intertwined. In me, the lion and the lamb have lain down together with neither subjugating the other. In my next post, I will make my first attempt at setting the boundaries between proper Christian mania and improper Christian mania.

3 Responses to “An Introduction to Erotic Madness”
  1. Our passions must be channeled.

    • isandisnot says:

      I think I agree, but that all depends on those two thorny words: “passion” and “channel”. I think I will be discussing Plato’s charioteer myth in my next post, which should address your comment at least to some degree.

  2. dion says:

    I like the idea of being mad or insane for my passion.

    I realize you are going to attempt to point out proper and improper mania. doesn’t this depend on our convictions or ideas of what is right. Therefore the mania will actually be controled by our limits? not sure if we can pin everyone’s down to be the same????

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