I’ve been delaying blogging on the Lysis because I’m not sure what to make of it.  It’s odd!  The subtitle is “On Friendship” (philia), and that’s what the bulk of it is about, but the frame is much more concerned with eros.  Socrates visits a wrestling-school and finds a young man besotted by a boy (he is described as “quite young” and designated a pais; but how old?  10? 12?).  The initial part of the dialogue involves Socrates instructing the young man how best to go about wooing his favorite.  It is only in this context, as he demonstrates how Hippothales should converse with his beloved Lysis, that we get the discussion about friendship.

Even this discussion begins elsewhere, with Socrates showing the boy that he is ignorant and in need of a guide.  But when the boy has been convinced of this, his pal (and age-mate) Menexenus returns to the scene, and Lysis quietly asks Socrates to ask Menexenus the same sorts of questions.  At this point begins the discussion of friendship.

Part of the reason I don’t know how to respond to the dialogue is that Socrates really seems to be cheating through lots of this — to be purposefully confusing, or deceptive, in his argument.  And part of the difficulty is probably that philia covers a broader semantic range than “friendship” and Socrates sneakily shifts from one sense to another throughout the dialogue.  Thus he can say that one’s body is a “friend” to medicine for the sake of health, and that health, as it is good, is also “a friend” — but of course using these abstracts takes the discussion far from what I would consider “friendship.”

So while other dialogues, even when I haven’t closely followed the argument or when I disagree with parts, have given me a sense of an important set of ideas being debated, this one really didn’t.  My Loeb claims that “we learn how large and morally important is the question that we have been discussing” but I just don’t see it; the dialogue doesn’t strike me as showing that at all.  And the relationship between eros and philia which I was initially hoping might be clarified is only glancingly touched upon.  So anyone who can let me know what I’m missing here should chime right in!

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