Divine Madness in Plato’s Phaedrus

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Critics often suggest that Socrates’ portrait of the philosopher’s inspired madness in his second speech in Plato’s Phaedrus is incompatible with the other types of divine madness outlined in the same speech, namely poetic, prophetic, and purificatory madness. This incompatibility is frequently taken to show that Socrates’ characterisation of philosophers as mad is disingenuous or misleading in some way. While philosophical madness and the other types of divine madness are distinguished by the non-philosophical crowd’s different interpretations of them, I aim to show that they are not, in fact, presented as incompatible. Socrates’ pair of speeches demonstrates that madness can be divided into harmful and beneficial kinds, and in Socrates’ key discussion of philosophical madness (249c4-e4), I argue that the crowd correctly recognises that the philosopher is mad on the basis of his eccentricity, but wrongly assumes that the philosopher’s madness is of the harmful type because it fails to realise that the philosopher is enthused. Socrates’ second speech provides information about human souls and gods which shows that philosophical madness belongs to the beneficial type and so falls under the heading of divine enthusiasm after all. Importantly, human souls and gods are shown in the speech to be roughly isomorphic. Both philosophical and other kinds of divine madness involve having something divine inside a human body (entheos): in the former a human soul has become godlike; in the latter a human soul has been displaced by a god. Because of this, I propose that philosophy is presented as a genuine form of divine madness alongside the other more conventional examples.