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From Mad Ritual to Philosophical Inquiry: Ancient and Modern Fictions of Continuity and Discontinuity

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This paper will explore one of the more creative and influential moments of mythmaking and fictionalizing from the ancient Mediterranean world: the (re-)invention of prophetic madness as recorded in Plato's Phaedrus. The fictionalized encounter between Socrates and Phaedrus ranged over topics ranging from homoerotic lovers to the skills of rhetoricians. In the midst of this dialogue Socrates famously interrupts himself with the palinode where he invokes ancient rites of purification that facilitate human access to knowledge of the divine. Here Socrates investigates the links between prophecy and divine madness, and ultimately applies the purported gifts of this madness to pursuits that are generally considered to be more rational. Overlapping social identities and cultic traditions are alluded to in the palinode; drawing from the work of Walter Burkert, Eric Hobsbawm, Bruce Lincoln and Jonathan Z. Smith the paper concludes with an inquiry into whether the multiple religious identities that lie behind this dialogue could be thought to advance and invent a tradition that later came to be known as philosophy.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Classics, Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts 02766, United States of America


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