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Jacques Louis David, "The Death of Socrates" (1787). Oil on canvas. Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art

John P. Birkelund Lecture

The Idea and Image of Slavery in Plato’s Phaedo

Plato’s Phaedo shows an incarcerated Socrates sharing his final day talking with his friends about the immortality of the soul. While claiming that a philosopher should welcome rather than fear death, Socrates makes a seemingly tangential argument against suicide, premised on the idea that the body is a prison for the soul. He claims that gods are to humans as masters are to slaves, and so committing suicide is akin to an enslaved person running away from a good master. In another argument, Socrates says that slavery with the appropriate master-slave relationship is good, but that slavery can also be corrupt. The shared premises are that the master-slave relationship best approximates human existence, that human life is like slavery, and that true freedom exists only in death. The historical Phaedo was himself a freed slave from the Spartan-Elean war, and so as the narrator of this dialogue, he should represent a perspective on slavery (literal or metaphorical) that is cognizant of its harms and injustices. In this lecture, Jackie Murray focuses on the significance of Phaedo’s role as she explores the function of the slavery analogy in the dialogue.

10 Nov 22
19:30 - 21:00
American Academy in Berlin
Am Sandwerder 17-19
14109 Berlin-Wannsee
Speaker: Jackie Murray

This event took place on November 10, 2022.

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